Friday, August 2, 2019

Eight Low-Cost Growth Hacks That Can Help Your Small Business - Forbes

Eight Low-Cost Growth Hacks That Can Help Your Small Business - Forbes


Eight Low-Cost Growth Hacks That Can Help Your Small Business - Forbes

Posted: 02 Aug 2019 05:15 AM PDT

Business development can be tricky, especially for small business owners who are just launching their company. With a limited budget and resources, you might feel restricted. However, you don't have to break the bank to grow your business.

We asked a group of Forbes Los Angeles Business Council members for some low-cost yet effective ways leaders can growth-hack their business. Here is what they advise:

Members discuss a few ways small businesses can improve growth.

Photos courtesy of the individual members

1. Networking

Yes, it's your time—and time is money. But people like to do business with people they know. Connect with like-minded individuals in your field, build a referral network, and create meaningful and authentic connections that will help your contacts keep your business top of mind. - Kelly HowardEightSixtySouth

2. Local Media Outreach

While PR firms can be costly, one smart placement in a high traffic publication is not. Pitch your product or service to local journalists and make sure you have a good story. The payoff can be exponential. - Anna Nguyenova, Cablato

3. Bartering

You can barter a number of ways to grow your business in either social following, sales or awareness. You can offer your expertise (time), your distribution (social post/brick and mortar), your relationships (introduce to someone strategic) or your product (give them your product for free). The opportunities are endless. You just need to offer something they need that you have! - Mark MastrandreaIKONICK

4. Promoting Your Work Across Digital Channels

Share your success. Promote your most recent work on all digital platforms: That allows your network and clients know what you have been up to, and how your business is evolving. The work is done, so take credit! Every client wants relationships that have an impact, so by sharing other work I have expanded relationships and received referrals. It's easy for brand building. - Jessica FirstKilter

5. Building Trust-Based Relationships

Warning: You can't throw money at this one. Building trust with people takes time and effort, but the reward is virtually priceless. You didn't become a leader flying solo, so why would growing your business be any different? But don't forget: It's not about taking, it's about giving and building the community around you up. - Eden GillottGillott Communications LLC

6. Sending Handwritten Notes

If you want to stand out with a "technology" that does not get buried in the barrage of daily emails, send a handwritten note to a client, vendor or supplier. It can be written from a place of gratitude, it can be a "great to meet you" note, or an unexpected note that says, "I am thinking about you and wanted to say hello." Do not underestimate the power of this growth hack. - Michael AlbaneseElement Lifestyle

7. Targeted Paid Communications

Start by identifying keyword searches for your product or service on Google. Create very specific videos that give that person an answer to the exact challenge they want to solve. Deploy video ads on YouTube to people performing these searches on Google, or to people in similarly targeted niche categories on Facebook. This process builds a reputation among your audience over the long term. - Robert BrillBrill Media Company

8. Focusing On Your Niche Market

Choose to serve a very specific customer and develop deep, reciprocal relationships with them. This is especially effective in B2B today because social media allows customers to make connections and lean on each other more and more for product recommendations. If you can get your customers to sell your product on your behalf because they are so happy, that's the ultimate growth hack. - Mike WhitmireFloQast

DOL Small Business Retirement Plan Rule Not The Cure-All That’s Needed - Forbes

Posted: 01 Aug 2019 08:37 AM PDT

In a nod to the small business community, the Department of Labor issued a final rule earlier this week that may nudge more employers to offer joint retirement plans—MEPs—but it's not all that employers were hoping for. "This is NOT the MEPs that everyone has been so excited about," says Nevin Adams, chief of marketing for the American Retirement Association via email.

The DOL rule, effective September 30, allows companies in different industries to band together to create a joint retirement plan (a 401(k) or profit-sharing plan) if they are in the same geographic area. For example, the Dallas Chamber of Commerce could sponsor a MEP under the new rule, says Erin Turley, an employee benefits lawyer with McDermott Will & Emery in Dallas, Texas. It also clarifies that Professional Employment Organizations (benefits providers) that sponsor MEPs are okay to be doing so (it was a grey area under DOL regs before). And there's a new exception that lets worker/owners without employees into PEO MEPs. Before, employers had to have a commonality of interest to form a MEP: An engineering association, for example, could have a "closed" MEP for its members. So, the rule is basically an expansion of existing MEPs—sometimes branded as Association Retirement Plans.

What small businesses really want is "open" MEPs, or plans that cover employees of employers with no relationship other than their joint participation in the MEP. The DOL says that this issue deserves further consideration, and at the same time it issued the final rule, it issued a Request for Information on Open MEPs. One big question: If commercial financial services firms can sponsor an Open MEP, what conflicts of interest arise that could harm retirement savers? Another avenue: Legislation is pending in Congress that could give Open MEPs a boost by creating Pooled Employer Plans or PEPs in one provision in the stalled SECURE Act.  (Here's what else is in the big retirement bill).

Technically, what the DOL rule does is broaden the definition of employer. So, "bona fide" employer groups or associations and Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs) may act as an "employer" for purposes of sponsoring a MEP. The idea is that by banding together they can negotiate lower fees and pass those cost savings on to employees.

Note: These multiple employer plans are not to be confused with the faltering defined-benefit multiemployer plans, which face severe funding shortfalls putting 10 million union workers' retirement prospects at risk, that Congress is trying to figure out how to rescue.

The DOL rule is a good first step, says Turley, and may help some small businesses. A small employer client founder with 130 employees already reached out to her as he is looking to move to a PEO for healthcare and hoping that switching the company's 401(k) to a PEO would save costs too. Companies that don't have a 401(k) plan at all will be the first movers. "This is a solution they need," she says.

There's no question there is a lack of coverage: more than 28 million full-time private sector employees and more than 23 million part-timers do not have access to a workplace 401(k) retirement plan, according to the American Retirement Association.

Why won't these plans be adopted wholesale? With a MEP the employer offloads the plan administrator role and that fiduciary responsibility. But the employer is still the plan sponsor and has that fiduciary role. That's something else that the DOL RFI hopes to address.

How Your Small Business Can Make A Mighty Impact - Forbes

Posted: 01 Aug 2019 09:56 AM PDT

No business is too small to do good. 

In 2016, the 90 employees at California-based Antis Roofing donated 693 labor hours to install roofs on eight new Habitat for Humanity homes. They also performed more than 100 leak repairs and provided 10 large-scale roof projects.

The company's mighty effort led to a "Best Corporate Steward" award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation in 2017 and helped establish the business as a community player. Their initiatives have included partnerships with Ronald McDonald House Charities, American Red Cross, Alzheimer's Orange County and more.

Corporate social responsibility programs are increasingly crucial for businesses of all sizes. According to a study from Score, consumers want to spend money with socially conscious businesses—and millennials want to work for companies that do more than just make a profit. 

"In the past, it used to be charitable contributions," said Marc DeCourcey, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. "That's great, but companies can actually do so much more than just cut checks. They can not only leverage their treasure, but also their time and talent to help address societal challenges."  

While small and medium-sized businesses rarely have the kind of resources large corporations can pour into corporate social responsibility programs, size is not a deal-breaker for making a positive impact. Here are a variety of ways smaller businesses can contribute to their communities at scale.

Build a program around your superpower:

When developing a corporate social responsibility program, DeCourcey recommends looking inward and ask: What's your company's superpower?

"Banks are able to help people with financial education and invest in communities to help with affordable housing," said DeCourcey. "Banks can do that because that's what banks do. A roofing company can't do that—but a roofing company can help fix someone's roof."  

The best use of a smaller business' resources is utilizing what it already has. A doctor's office might provide medical care to underserved communities or a pet supplies shop might donate pet food to a local animal shelter, for instance.

Consider community needs:

Of course, who should receive those resources is an important decision as well. To decide, Reba Dominski, chief social responsibility officer and president of U.S. Bank, suggests starting with research.

"Some of the data and insights I would encourage small businesses to think about is, what are your competitors doing and what are the most pressing needs in your community? You can look through media, or you can use the Chamber as a resource to understand what the community's most pressing needs are."

Get employee buy-in:

Since employees are often deeply involved with corporate social responsibility programs through paid volunteer time or program coordination, they should have a say in what projects they'll be participating in. 

"It works best when you've got everyone at the company plugged in and ready to go," said DeCourcey. "You've got to have the internal conversation first before you start jumping outside your four walls to try to do something good."  

Ask employees what they're passionate about and what they'd like to spend their time doing. 

"If you can put together a program that engages your employees and serves a real need in your community, it's probably going to be a successful program," said Dominski.

Start with a narrow scope:

Large enterprises with corporate social responsibility programs often target multiple causes. They may address sustainability through their supply chain, homelessness with the donation of volunteer time and community education by leveraging internal expertise. 

Smaller businesses, however, are often better off with a more specific focus. 

"You might need to find just one cause," said Dominski. "That focus doesn't have to be lifelong. You can start with a focus on one thing, and then as your business grows, you can then build up that focus and expand."  

Pair the extent of your business' investment with your size, too. If sending your entire staff to volunteer for a whole day will break your budget, consider other options. 

"Board service is an incredibly important way for a business to show up in a community and for a business leader to contribute their expertise," Dominski said. "You're going to have to be scrappy in the resources that you use."

Consider a partnership:

One way to amplify your community investment is to partner with another business or local nonprofit. "Partnerships are really critical," said DeCourcey. "You only have so many resources, but if you're able to aggregate them, all of a sudden, you become a much larger force for good."  

Evaluate your impact:

Corporate social responsibility programs can be tough to evaluate. On one hand, you can count the number of hours volunteered, events hosted or products donated, but that data doesn't necessarily offer insight into the impact you've made on your community.

Dominski recommends a little of both—capturing the data that's trackable, and looking at the big picture, too: Are those you're attempting to serve better off? Is your business making the world a better place?  

Evaluate business outcomes as well. "Does this help employee morale? Does this lift your brand in the community?" said DeCourcey. "Does this help your relations with government? Does this sell another widget? That's not why you do all these things, but all those things help—and they help you do more of it."  

Enjoy it:

Service with a smile is important when contributing to your community. Even just one unenthusiastic participant risks diminishing the impact of your initiatives. 

"Running a small business is hard, hard work," said Dominski. "Launching a corporate social responsibility program—engaging your consumers, engaging your employees, having a positive impact on your community and in the world—I hope that that brings you joy. It can be incredibly rewarding."

And if you approach it with intention, strategy and heart, a corporate social responsibility program is rewarding for staff members, your business and the entire community.

3 Things Successful Businesses Do Right - Small Business Trends

Posted: 02 Aug 2019 03:00 AM PDT

Ramon Ray and Ben Brewer met up at the B2SMB Institute in Napa, California to talk people and impact. Ben runs the small and mid-sized business segment for SAP Concur, a travel and expense management company based in Bellevue, Washington. Ben's segment includes about 1,000 employees globally who service nearly 30,000 clients worldwide. They service businesses up to 4,000 employees, but Ben says their sweet spot is really companies with 50-100 personnel.

Consulting Business Tips

3 Things to Get Right

Ramon asked Ben what are businesses that partner with SAP Concur doing right. Ben says that things have evolved and changed over the last several years, but that there are three things he consistently sees:

1. Hiring and Retaining Good Talent– Small and mid-sized companies are trying to draw in and keep good talent, but sometimes they can't afford to pay the best salaries or offer the best benefits. It's competitive!

2. They Want to Stay Connected– They want to be in the know and feel like they have that edge. They need those "secrets" and to hear from their peers on what's working.

3. Prove It– Both internally with your employees and externally, when someone is implementing a service within their company, they have to prove that it's going to provide value quickly. Both to their bosses and to the people who are using it.

Mistakes First

As a company, one of the things they've learned very quickly at SAP Concur is that you can't be an expert at everything. Do your mission extremely well. Once you do that, Ben says, reach out and see what else you can bring into your world. He gives the example of their app center. Ben says that it was SAP Concur's way of acknowledging that they "can't be experts at everything, but we can connect you to who can." That in and of itself is just as valuable as the actual service you provide. "Not just what you're doing with your service, but how you're bringing others into it," says Ben.

Taking Care of People

How do you lower margins and raise profits while taking care of your employees? Ben says that hiring and retaining talent is massively important. But in order to keep good people, you have to take what they are looking for into consideration. When hiring millennials especially things you have to keep in mind include:

  • Flexibility
  • Heavy doses of thoughtful recognition
  • Transparency

Empowering Employees to Make Decisions

Ben gives the example of expense reporting and empowering your employees. If you're sending a group of employees to a conference, they might rather stay together at an Airbnb than separate hotel rooms. He suggests empowering them to do such things that are more flexible and better meet their needs as well as reduce your expenses. Your challenge as the employer is how to capture this and bring it into your accounting systems.

Part of Something Bigger

A key to keeping top talent is tying what your employees do into a bigger purpose. Employees today are concerned with things like sustainability and global footprint. At SAP Concur, Ben says that by using technology, they offer employees the ability to choose different trips based on the green footprint they supply. Ramon summed it up perfectly: "we're using technology to enable you to make choices."

Be Current on Your Vision

Know what you're trying to do. How do you measure your impact? Ben referenced Chris Tuff's idea of measuring your impact every day. (Chris Tuff is the author of The Millennial Whisperer and you can check out Ramon's interview with him here, Ben agrees it's fantastic!). Ben continues that he was discussing with someone, how to measure impact and how to do that outside of growth and profitability. Ben says her response was, "If we were gone tomorrow, would our community notice." This is a great way to measure impact outside of the numbers and you can apply the same principle to your personal life.

Image: Depositphotos.com

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The Social Security 2100 Act is critical for millennials and small business owners | TheHill - The Hill

Posted: 01 Aug 2019 09:45 AM PDT

Expanding Social Security is critical for millennials and small business owners — and especially for millennial small business owners. 

We are co-owners of a small business, We Act Radio in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, DC. As small business owners and managers, one of whom is a millennial, one a Gen-Xer, and with mainly millennials as employees, we strongly support the Social Security 2100 Act.

This important legislation expands Social Security and ensures that all benefits can be paid in full and on time into the 22nd century. House Democrats, led by Rep. John LarsonJohn Barry LarsonThe Social Security 2100 Act is critical for millennials and small business owners Warren introduces universal child care legislation Unchain seniors from chained inflation index MORE (D-Conn.), the chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee, have united around the Social Security 2100 Act. The legislation has 210 co-sponsors – nearly 90 percent of House Democrats.

In addition to being the co-founder of We Act Radio, Alex is also the executive director of Social Security Works, which has nine full time employees – all of whom are millennials or Gen-Xers. So, we're very familiar with how the Social Security 2100 Act is structured. It increases Social Security benefits for everyone, fixes the formula for yearly cost-of-living-adjustments so that it reflects the real expenses beneficiaries face, and raises Social Security's minimum benefit to 125 percent of the poverty level. It also ensures that Social Security remains strong for current and future generations, into the 22nd century. 

Republicans, led by Rep. Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyHouse panel releases documents of presidential tax return request before Trump The Democratic plan for smaller paychecks On The Money: Trump, Congress reach two-year budget, debt limit deal | What we know | Deal gets pushback from conservatives | Equifax to pay up to 0M in data breach settlement | Warren warns another 'crash' is coming MORE (R-Texas), are attacking the bill in predictable fashion: Manipulating numbers in an attempt to foment generational warfare and undermine all of our economic security, falsely claiming that this wise legislation will hurt millennials and small business owners, like us.

As small business owners, we are worried about increasing costs — especially health care and rent. But we are not at all worried about the modest and gradual payroll contribution increase in the Social Security 2100 Act. We are much more worried about the costs we will face if we do nothing to address the looming retirement income crisis.

We want to ensure that our employees are economically secure, along with ourselves. Even large corporations rarely provide their employees with disability insurance themselves. Instead we provide that benefit, as well as life insurance, through our contributions to Social Security. But those benefits are inadequately low and need to be increased.

Moreover, the nation is facing a retirement income crisis. Even decades ago, when large corporations offered traditional pensions, small businesses did not have the resources to do the same. Now even the largest corporations have substituted 401(k) plans, which have proven totally inadequate for all but the wealthiest owners and employees. Consequently, Social Security retirement benefits will be even more important to millennials, Gen-Xers, and all the generations that follow.

All of this is funded in two ways. Firstly, the Social Security 2100 Act gradually phases out the cap on payroll contributions, so that the millionaires and billionaires pay into Social Security at the same rate as the rest of us. Secondly, the Social Security contribution rate for all workers and employers is very gradually increased from 6.2 percent to 7.4 percent. This increase is phased in over the course of 24 years and amounts to an annual increase of just 50 cents a week for a worker earning $50,000.

For a worker making the current Federal minimum wage, it's considerably less — 14.5 cents a week. Of course, we'd never pay our workers that poorly. Nobody should work for starvation wages. If the bill recently passed by the House to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour made it past Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump doubles down on support for budget deal Senate barrels toward tight budget vote The Hill's Morning Report - Attacked repeatedly, Biden fires back MORE (R-Ky.) and Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpComedy Central shoots down Trump Jr. after he joked network should host Democratic debates Booker: If Obama was running for a third term, 'I wouldn't be running' De Blasio releases plan to substantially raise taxes on the rich, corporations MORE, and became law, the worker now making the new minimum wage of $15 an hour would pay just an additional 30 cents a week per year. In 24 years, when the payroll tax increase is fully phased in, it will be an extra $7.25 per week.

The Social Security 2100 Act is a great deal for millennials. Stephen C. Goss, Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration, broke down the numbers at a recent Ways and Means Committee Hearing on the bill. If the Social Security 2100 Act were enacted this year, someone turning 29 today would pay about $15,000 more towards Social Security over the course of their career (as would their employer). In return, if they retire at age 66, they'll get over $80,000 more in retirement benefits than they would if this law was not enacted.

Of course, Social Security includes other critical protections for workers in addition to retirement benefits. If that 29-year-old became disabled or died leaving dependents, their Social Security disability benefits or their family's Social Security survivors benefits would also be considerably higher than they would be without the Social Security 2100 Act.

Millennials should also bear in mind that the Social Security Administration projects that average wages will be more than 25 percent higher in 2035 than they are today. The modest payroll contribution increases in the Social Security 2100 Act will be negligible relative to wage gains, so long as we enact policies that ensure those wage gains are evenly distributed.

The Social Security 2100 Act is well designed for small business owners. As we mentioned, the payroll contribution increase is phased in extremely gradually over nearly a quarter century, giving businesses more than enough time to plan. We're more than happy to contribute a little more to ensure our workers have adequate retirement, life, and disability insurance. In contrast, our businesses' health care and rent costs are going up so astronomically that it's entirely possible for them to triple the entire cost increase for the Social Security 2100 Act – in only one year! And, of course, we can deduct the employer side of the small additional payroll contribution, making it even easier for business to absorb.

Republicans don't actually care about helping millennials or small businesses with retirement security – or anything else. In fact, the only Social Security bill the Republicans have put forward recently would drastically cut everyone's benefits. The younger you are, the bigger the cuts would be.

Their supposed concern for young people and small business owners is a smoke screen to disguise their actual objective which hasn't changed in 84 years, since the enactment of Social Security. That is to reach their hands into our pockets and steal our earned benefits, to dismantle the Social Security system and sell it off piece by piece. A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, in which two Republicans (one of whom Donald Trump recently tried to nominate to the Federal Reserve Board) attempt to resurrect the zombie idea of privatizing Social Security, is extremely telling.

Republicans want to destroy Social Security so they can turn your money over to their billionaire friends on Wall Street. It's no surprise then that the Social Security 2100 Act, which protects and expands Social Security while requiring the wealthy to pay the same rate as the rest of us, is anathema to them. They're just lying about the real reason why.

Alex Lawson and Kymone Freeman are co-owners of We Act Radio. Lawson is also executive director of Social Security Works.

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