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Small and medium business owners are benefitting from a strong economy but, owing to a lack of qualified workers, are struggling to meet high customer demand. In Q1 of 2018, 30 percent of surveyed medium-sized businesses reported “attracting and retaining a quality work force” as their biggest challenge for the year, and it appears that problem continues unabated. In addition to facing a tight labor market, SMBs have to compete with larger companies for talent. (Some business owners have even recruited still-imprisoned inmates to work for them.)
Almost half of small businesses surveyed (48 percent) are extremely confident their business will grow in 2018.
The majority of small business owners surveyed (60 percent) were in need of financing for growth due to increased demand, and 30 percent of those surveyed thought raising debt financing in the next six months would be easy.
A plurality of small businesses surveyed (39 percent) are planning on hiring 1 to 2 employees in the next six months, but 13 percent of the survey respondents cited the inability to find qualified employees as the main reason for not being able to hire.
Past surveys have shown SMBs were less likely to hire new employees because they were unsuccessful at obtaining outside financing, but now it seems SMBs are ready and able to hire but can’t find employees, especially quality ones. There are some things small and medium businesses can do to help alleviate this issue, and Business Credit Expert Amber Colley has some good recommendations on how to attract and retain quality employees.
If you are unable to hire because you’ve been denied a bank loan, you may be able to get alternative financing. Learn more about alternative lenders and how you may be able to get funding.
Net neutrality rules, which prevented internet service providers (ISPs) from favoring certain sites or content over others, have been repealed by the Federal Communications Commission. Any actual change from the repeal will come directly from the ISPs, and if they begin taking advantage of the rule changes, small businesses and entrepreneurs could be severely affected.
Net Neutrality Changes Impact on SMBs
Net neutrality rules were intended to prevent ISPs from doing three main things:
Blocking lawful sites or apps from customers
Slowing down connections for any legal content
Charging a premium to companies for a faster internet connection
With the repeal, ISPs could restrict certain sites to only premium, high-price packages, cause certain content to load slower, or allow companies to pay for faster connections to their sites. The effects of these changes on SMBs may not be trivial.
It’s not uncommon for consumers to live in an area where they only have access to one ISP, giving them a limited number of options when choosing an internet plan and potentially limiting their access to certain content all together. This can make it difficult for small businesses with less capital to compete against companies who are partnering with ISPs for broad coverage and fast load times. Small businesses, entrepreneurs, startups, and freelancers could have a harder time getting their brand found online or getting their sites to load quickly. Slow load times often equal customers going elsewhere — and that’s if customers have access to the site at all.
Preparing Your SMB for a Post-Neutrality World
SMBs should consider preparing for impending ISP changes and figure out how they can stay competitive in a post-neutrality world. Here are four things you may want to consider doing now that can help protect your business:
It will be even more important to reach your customers where they are if ISPs roll out changes that affect your business. Knowing where your best prospects are primarily located, which sites they prefer to use, and which ISPs they have access to can be crucial in choosing a plan for your business. Do you want to pay for faster load times if your prospects and customers are using a plan that may not include your content? If you don’t already have advanced data and analytics on your target audience, now is the time to consider collecting and analyzing.
Set Up a Strong Nurture Program
You could lose access to your customer base depending on what changes ISPs make, so having a strong nurture program in place before you lose access can be critical. Start by making sure your contacts are up to date (that you have the correct email, address, and phone number for each customer and prospect), and then work on developing to keep your business top of mind with your audience even if you can no longer reach them as easily through the internet.
Optimize Your Website
Faster connection speeds and load times are likely going to become premium options for ISPs post-net neutrality, so having an optimized website can be key for SMBs. Making sure your site is reactive, optimized for mobile, and not bogged down by too many large images or videos can help you succeed, even if ISP changes slow down your site. You may also want to consider your site layout and make sure you’re displaying your most important information in a way that will load quickly and be easily accessible by visitors. If prospects do end up waiting longer for your site to load, they will want to find what they need even faster than before. Consider auditing your web properties to see where you can make improvements over the next few months.
Competing digitally is already hard for many SMBs, and changes as a result of net neutrality being repealed could make it even more difficult. Change in business is constant, however – as we’ve seen recently with GDPR – and companies should always have to find ways to stay resilient. The tips above may help you prepare your business for other future regulatory changes, so bookmark this page for future use!
Small business suppliers and supplier-hopefuls, rejoice! The SBA just announced they are launching a Supply Chain Training Initiative in partnership with Connecticut-based United Technologies (who itself just announced it will invest $19 billion into hiring US small business suppliers over the next five years). According to the official press release, the program will include “events, webinars, and procurement conferences, all in an effort to break down barriers and prepare small businesses to compete for supply chain opportunities with large businesses across America.”
When you start a new business, you can’t completely avoid the risk of losing all of the money you (and potentially others) have invested in it –but you can work to minimize this risk. It’s important to know exactly how much money your business needs to earn to break even and what your return needs to be in the first five years to ensure your investors are satisfied. A strong business plan will help you determine these things.
Odds are your business isn’t going to create an entirely new market, so in most cases, you’re going to be trying to enter a market that’s already home to established businesses. You need to strongly consider how many competitors you’ll be facing and who the biggest players are. How will your business be able to stand apart from the pack?
Do you have a clearly defined market in mind for your products or services, or do you plan on tossing your line into the ocean to see what bites? Knowing your market and exactly who you are targeting is crucial to streamlining your way to success. Ideally, to minimize market risk, your products or services should solve an immediate and pressing need in an under-served sector of a financially growing industry.
When entering your market, you have to have a solid and sensible strategy if you want to compete. But such things as inappropriate pricing, mistargeted marketing, and distribution inefficiencies can greatly increase your market-entry risks.
As a new business owner, you may not yet have the ability to properly gauge new-hire potential. This can lead to hiring employees with inadequate or unsuitable experience and skills, making it difficult to build the talent pool you need. To help minimize this risk, perform background checks on job candidates and verify their previous-experience claims by contacting their references.
Technology is crucial to the upstart small business because it helps protect assets while improving performance. But technology failures can threaten a business in a variety of ways, from preventing the company’s compliance with federal regulations to damaging the company’s reputation in its industry. Having the IT infrastructure to protect against data breaches, cyber-fraud, and network failure are essential for mitigating technology risk.
If your business sells luxury goods, then choosing to start the business during an economic recession can have a significant impact on your profitability. Before launching your business, you should make sure the business outlook of the market you plan to enter is as favorable as possible.
Does your business require any special equipment in order to operate? If it does, then do you have a plan of action ready in the event a key piece of equipment goes down? Failing to recognize your key operational risks can come back to hurt your business at the least opportune time.
Some places just aren’t made to house businesses. For instance, you don’t want to open up a glass factory on a fault line or a paper company in a floodplain. Knowing the environmental risks in your chosen location is a must if you want to minimize losses from potential natural disasters.
Many of the most attractive businesses to new entrepreneurs are those that are the most likely to fail. For instance, businesses in the food-service industry, the consulting field, retail, and the work-at-home fields traditionally have a very high failure rate. Choosing to start a business in one of these fields, or in another with a high attrition rate, will make your risk of failure that much higher. Unless you can confidently identify an advantage your company would have over others in a high-attrition-rate industry, consider entering a market with a lower failure rate.
When it comes to tax preparation, it’s in a small business owner’s best interest to learn as much as they can about staying in compliance and meeting their tax obligations. Even though small business owners may deal with taxes through their in-house accountants or an outside accounting firm, having a working knowledge of tax preparation can still be extremely beneficial.
Keeping poor records and failing to identify all the items that make up gross receipts – otherwise known as taxable business income – are two of the major pitfalls small business owners need to be aware of. Solid record keeping is essential, as it ensures that you’ll have everything that’s needed when it comes time to file company tax returns.
You can learn about business tax regulations and potential deductions by using resources provided by the Internal Revenue Service. Here are three all-important online tax tools to help guide you as a small business owner.
IRS Video Portal
The IRS Video Portal contains an extensive archive of live panel discussions, webinars, and video clips. In this portal, business owners can learn about a broad selection of tax topics directly from the agency tasked with collecting receipts. Topics include starting a business, filing/paying taxes, business expenses, retirement plans, forms, and more. Learn about the tax benefits available to you and how best to avoid common mistakes small business owners often make.
Small Business Taxes: The Virtual Workshop
A subsection of the video portal, Small Business Taxes: The Virtual Workshop, contains nine interactive lessons designed to help small business owners understand and meet their federal tax obligations. The workshop is available online 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and because this is a virtual workshop, business owners can choose the lessons that apply to their business.
Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center
The Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center addresses many questions regarding income tax and payroll taxes. A business owner can access additional tax tools, tax information, forms, and updates. You can also find out about small business tax workshops in your area by subscribing to a newsletter. There’s even a desktop calendar tool (IRS CalendarConnector) that provides access to tax-calendar deadlines right from your desktop.
Each of these online tax resources offers valuable information, but it’s important to ensure that the concepts apply to your business. And it’s always a good idea to seek advice from a tax professional before making major decisions about how you prepare your business taxes.
If you find your business in the lookup, then your company has a D&B D-U-N-S Number and you’re already listed within the D&B database (and it’s probably a great time to sign up for alerts to changes in your file using our free CreditSignal* product.)
If you can’t find your business in our lookup, make sure to get a free D&B D-U-N-S Number now so you can establish your business credit profile. And of course, if you have any D&B D-U-N-S Number related questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments!
Hiring employees you trust is a fundamental part of running a small business. After all, the whole point of bringing on more help is to delegate responsibilities to other people. Unfortunately, employee theft is a real threat that can yield disastrous results for your business. According to the 2016 Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse, certified fraud examiners estimate that the average business loses 5 percent of its total revenue to fraud every year.
A company credit card can be a prime conduit for employee theft. It’s often all too easy for someone to include personal purchases alongside business expenses. How can a business owner make it more difficult for employees to disguise fraudulent charges?
First, pay close attention to your business credit card statements. Investigate anything you don’t understand or purchases that look suspicious. Keep a keen eye on fuel expenses for company vehicles to make sure no one is filling up their personal car on your dime.
Next, ask vendors to provide itemized invoices for purchases. Without a detailed breakdown of what you’re paying for, an employee may be able to sneak in their own expenses.
“Checks and balances” can be a business owner’s best defense against payroll fraud. If you have one employee handling the entire payroll process for your business, it can be easy for them to hide illegal activity. From paying phantom employees to signing off on inflated overtime, thieves who perpetrate payroll fraud have a range of different tricks and techniques they use to keep their misdeeds under the radar.
To help prevent payroll fraud, segment the payroll process among multiple employees so no one individual has control over writing checks. You can also review employee payroll details – like addresses, account numbers, Social Security numbers, and overtime hours worked versus what they were paid – to ensure that spending is appropriate.
No. 3: Procurement
Depending upon the size of your operation, you may do business with multiple vendors. When a dishonest employee connects with a greedy supplier, you could end up footing the bill.
One of the more common schemes is for an employee to add fraudulent charges to a purchase order. The supplier, who’s in on the theft, then invoices the business for the phantom goods or services. When the business pays, the employee and supplier split their ill-gotten gains.
Spreading the purchasing process among several staffers can help guard against procurement fraud. Task one employee with creating purchase orders, then have another approve them. Bring in another person to sign off on invoices. This is one instance where putting more “cooks in the kitchen” can actually help.
In addition, you should have a complete list of active vendors on file. Validate the list regularly to help prevent unauthorized or fake vendors from being added.
No. 4: Data and Information Systems
A company’s data is one of its most important assets. As a result, this information can be extremely valuable to competitors. But the reality of corporate espionage lacks classic spy-movie romance and heroism – it’s simply the effort of one business to steal secrets from another. Your data and information systems need to be monitored regularly for both internal and external intrusions.
Ensure that access to sensitive data is only given to those who need it to do their jobs. Establish a clear data security policy and make employees adhere to it. Proactive moves on your business’s part can help thwart a costly data breach.
No. 5: Sales and Receivables
Offering your sales staff commissions can be a powerful motivator. It might also encourage a thief to inflate their own receipts. For this reason, companies that pay commissions or bonuses based upon sales need to monitor these figures closely. Business owners should also make it a habit to review customer accounts for suspicious terms, large discounts, and other peculiarities.
Taking steps to prevent fraud is an investment in your business, where the ROI is protecting your bank account and reputation. While adopting the methods above may create some inefficiencies, deception and theft can be much more damaging.
For many entrepreneurs, a sense of optimism and promise accompanies the launch of a new business. However, an overabundance of enthusiasm can set business owners up for disappointment later on. This is because a lot of first-time entrepreneurs fail to recognize and address the risks that can threaten a startup.
If you’re in the process of starting a small business, keep an eye out for these five commonly overlooked startup risks.
No. 1: Lack of Funding
Gaining access to funds can be nearly impossible for companies just starting up because they lack a business credit history. Traditional lenders and investors tend to shy away from businesses that can’t demonstrate a record of responsible financial behavior. Many new business owners therefore tap into alternative funding sources such as personal savings or loans from family.
And funding the launch of the business is just half the battle: entrepreneurs must also think about maintaining cash flow to keep the company up and running. Make sure you’ve lined up the financial resources to give your new business a fighting chance to succeed.
No. 2: Liability
One of the biggest risks for a new business owner is personal liability in the event that the company is sued. A single lawsuit can result in the potential loss of not only the business itself but also your personal savings and other assets. As a result, purchasing a business liability insurance policy is often a smart move.
A business’s structure also has implications for how liability is assessed. For example, operating as a limited liability company, or LLC, can often shield a business owner’s personal assets in the event of a lawsuit. As you might expect, the best time to learn about business structures is before you’ve opened your doors.
No. 3: Lack of Planning
Daydreaming about success can provide some inspiration to business owners, but it’s no substitute for a business plan. A well-researched strategy is essential for guidance during this critical time (and most reputable investors will require it).
You should be able to identify your company’s core goals, primary challenges, growth strategy, and more. Writing a business plan means removing the rose-colored glasses for an honest look at the marketplace. If you don’t like what you see, it may mean the idea isn’t viable.
No. 4: Strained Relationships
Starting a business demands a lot of time and attention, and as a result, your personal relationships can deteriorate or even fall apart completely if not given proper care. To make everything work, entrepreneurs need to be able to juggle both their business and their relationships – or risk losing one or both in the process.
Decide if you have time to devote to a new business. Getting married soon, or expecting a baby in nine months? Take stock of your priorities in order to determine whether or not this is the right time to dive into a new business venture.
No. 5: Unsustainable Business Growth
Rapid business growth may seem like a dream come true. So long as expansion is fueled by rising revenue, this can be very exciting. Unfortunately, inexperienced business owners may hire too many employees, purchase excess inventory, or overextend themselves in other ways.
Business growth must be sustained by customer demand. Rapid expansion during a hot streak can leave you underfunded when things cool off, so it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of the market. Seasonal businesses must be especially sensitive to the ebb and flow of sales.
Starting a business can be incredibly challenging, and the above is by no means a complete list of all the things that can go wrong on the road to success. Remember that being the boss comes with a wide range of responsibilities, and navigating potential threats is an important part of building a lasting company.
These days, one might think that a cash-handling small business is a dinosaur, given how popular debit and credit cards have become among American consumers. But don’t be fooled – cash is still king when it comes to buying stuff. Yet for all of the effort put into ensuring business owners are aware of the risks associated with credit card fraud, little is shared about the risks of handling cash.
Here, you’ll find the five most common risks of handling cash and what you can do to protect your business against them.Tweet This
No. 1: Cash Theft
Cash theft – stealing directly from the till or cash box – is the easiest and most common type of fraud committed against businesses that deal mostly in cash. This is because it often takes a while before the theft is discovered. Usually, cash theft is only uncovered after the fact, when the sales numbers don’t correlate with the financial records.
In order to deter straight-up cash theft, a small-business owner has to establish controls over cash drawer keys and ensure the company’s cash is securely held at all times. In addition, cash balances should be kept to a minimum and the balances should be recorded and verified regularly.
No. 2: Cash Transactions Go Intentionally Unrecorded
This type of theft occurs when an employee makes a sale, collects the cash, and then fails to record the transaction. The best way to control this risk is to use serialized receipts. The receipts should be accurate and complete, and if possible, automatically generated. In addition, if your company receives cash payments through the mail, then make sure all mail is opened in a controlled environment and all received cash is recorded. All income should be deposited into the company’s bank account, with all accounts reconciled regularly.
Submitting invoices for companies that don’t exist
Making duplicate payments
Paying the wrong person
Increasing the value of one payment at the expense of another
In order to prevent the risk of fraud, you should routinely review vendor lists to ensure accuracy and should separate duties so no single individual has control over more than one element of the payment process. Access to any system used to generate, alter, or authorize payments should be restricted, and all payment orders should be independently authorized by upper management prior to execution. Before the funds are finally transferred, all payment reports should also be reviewed for accuracy.
No. 4: Financial Records Are Falsified to Hide Unauthorized Payments
If an employee has too much access to account information, then it can be all too easy for them to falsify financial records to cover up unauthorized payments. It can be very difficult to track down this sort of fraud, so small-business owners need to be actively protect the integrity of account records.
All amendments to accounts should be independently authorized and signed, checked, and countersigned. Routine spot checks should be conducted, and all accounts need to be reconciled on a regular basis. Any unresolved discrepancies should be thoroughly investigated. In the event that they cannot be validated or resolved, then they should be reported as part of a formally defined process.
No. 5: Unauthorized Use of Company Checks
A small business should never leave its checkbook open and available for unrestricted use. It needs to be secured and used only by those with the delegated power to sign checks and payable orders. In addition, all non-transferrable payment instruments should be enforced as non-negotiable. All payments should be printed in tamper-proof indelible ink to make manipulation of payment amounts more difficult and easier to detect. Lastly, when issuing a payment for a substantial amount, ask the recipient to confirm receipt of the payment.
Some minority-owned businesses may find themselves eligible for certain tax breaks if they’re located in distressed areas or if they’re just getting started in business. They may also benefit from investments made by those seeking a tax break.
New markets tax credits are not aimed at minority-owned businesses directly, but rather at people who invest in low-income communities. This program permits any taxpayer who invests in a designated community development entity (CDE) a credit against their federal income taxes.
The credit received is equal to 39% of the amount invested and can be claimed over seven years. Investors who claim the tax credit must wait the full seven years before they can cash out or redeem their investment with the company.
Federal Tax Breaks for Businesses in Distressed Areas
The government offers certain tax breaks to companies that operate within economically distressed areas, with the hope of attracting more businesses to those areas. It is important to note that these tax breaks are available to all businesses that relocate to those areas, not just minority-owned businesses. Such tax credits include: the Empowerment Zone Employment Credit ($3,000 per eligible new hire), Capital Gain Exclusions, and First-Year Expense Write-Offs.
State Tax Breaks for Companies in Distressed Areas
Many states also offer tax breaks for businesses operating in distressed areas, and state tax credits similar to the New Markets Tax Credit are available for investors who invest in low-income communities.
Tax Credits for Employing American Indians
Businesses that employ workers who live on or near American Indian Reservations are eligible for the Indian Employment Tax Credit. This credit is equal to 20% of all qualified wages.
If you’re a minority-owned business, speak with your tax accountant to learn more details about the tax credits you qualify for, so you can take advantage of all the credits you’re due.
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