What is a PEO? And How to Choose the Right One for Your Business

You probably started your business because you enjoyed the work. Maybe you opened your ideal restaurant or started an electrical contracting business. That part was fun, but other responsibilities surfaced. Now, you have to deal with employees’ human resource issues, find ways to offer benefits and make sure all payroll taxes were filed and paid. Fortunately, small business owners don’t have to cope with these responsibilities by themselves. Professional employer organizations can lift those chores off of the owners’ shoulders. This helps business owners focus more on managerial tasks and growing their businesses. Now, what is a PEO, exactly?

What is a PEO?

A professional employer organization and a business enter into a shared relationship known as “co-employment.” Co-employment means that the PEO is the employer on record. They provide human resource support and handle payroll functions – while you, as the owner, keep the authority and responsibility. You’ll still manage your employees’ day-to-day activities.

Through the co-employment model, PEOs:

  • Are responsible for paying wages, managing employee compensation claims and overseeing other wage-related requirements
  • Assist with regulatory paperwork and compliance issues
  • Manage human resource issues and risk management functions
  • Provide employee benefits. Benefits include- but aren’t limited to – health insurance, unemployment insurance, Section 125 plans and other voluntary insurance products.

What are the Client’s Responsibilities?

The business owner is responsible for:

  • Managing employees’ daily activities
  • Maintaining a safe work environment
  • Keeping track of hours worked and reporting these figure to the PEO
  • Making sure payroll funds are paid in advance to the PEO

Advantages of a PEO

PEOs can take time-consuming HR tasks and responsibilities off your plate. A PEO:

  • Handles all human resource activities so you can focus on managing and growing your business
  • Provides competitive benefits and health insurance. A PEO has the purchasing power to negotiate better health insurance rates and more affordable benefits, such as a 401(k)plan, dental and vision coverage. Using the lower-cost benefits from a PEO enables small- and medium-size companies to compete with and attract employees from larger companies.
  • Stays up-to-date on regulations. As a business owner, you don’t have the time to read the latest regulations. A PEO does this for your and makes sure that you remain compliant.
  • Provides attorneys and HR professionals to handle employee-related issues. PEOs give advice on proper employee termination and disciplinary procedures.

Disadvantages of a PEO

Method of pricing

Sometimes, it can be difficult to determine how much you’re really paying. Many PEOs price their programs as a percentage of wage payroll, but this figure can vary monthly. So, sometimes it’s hard to figure out how much you’re actually paying. The other pricing method is the per-employee-per-month. This approach has add-ons for setup fees, administrative fees and costs for running some payroll reports.

Inflexible health plans

PEOs partner with certain insurance companies, and you don’t have a choice. If you like UnitedHealthCare, but the PEO promotes Aetna, you have to accept Aetna.

Customer service

PEOs handle large numbers of clients and employee issues. Customer service responses can sometimes seem rushed and indifferent.

How to Choose a PEO

Choosing the best PEO for your company requires doing your homework. Here’s a list of questions to help you get started.

  • Assess your company’s needs. What do you need help with -Payroll processing, HR issues, employee benefits? Define what you need before approaching a PEO.
  • Is the PEO a member of the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations? Membership in the industry’s trade organization indicates professionalism and respect.
  • Does the PEO have experience in your industry? You want a PEO that understands the daily lives of your employees and the risks they take on their jobs. How many employees do they represent in your industry?
  • Conduct a background check; ask for references to check; get first-hand feedback directly from the PEO’s clients.
  • Are the financial statements independently audited by a CPA? You want assurance that the PEO is legitimate.
  • Are their risk management practices certified by the Certification Institute?
  • Have their ethical practices been accredited by the Employer Services Assurances Corporation? ESAC audits PEOs annually to make certain each PEO has at least a $1 million surety bond.
  • Does the PEO have certification from the IRS? Check for accreditation such as the Certification Program for Professional Employer Organizations from the Internal Revenue Service.
  • Review the fine print in the contract. What guarantees does it provide? How can you terminate the contract if the relationship goes bad?

 

According to NAPEO, the U.S. has over 900 PEOs. While you have plenty of choices and setting up a co-employment agreement with a professional employer organization will relieve you of a ton of administrative tasks, you must thoroughly investigate each PEO candidate before signing on the dotted line. You don’t want any surprises.

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Best Books for Small Business Owners: Start with Why

January Monthly Must-Reads: Best Books for Small Business Owners

It’s easier to say you’ll make time to learn new things that really doing it, especially when you own and operate your own business. But research has shown that continuous learning is essential to business and career success. So, how do you make time in your busy schedule to think about new ideas and how you might apply them at work? Read—or listen—to great business books. With our pick of the best books for small business owners, you’re sure to find the inspiration you need to succeed.

To help you choose the best business books for your situation, we’ve created our Monthly Must-Reads Series. This series highlights helpful books for small business owners and also save you time. How? For each featured book, we share the main focus, key take-aways, and even reader reviews, so you can quickly determine whether the book is worth your valuable time. We hope this makes it easier for you to keep up with current innovation, management and workforce trends.

To kick off 2020, we’re sharing Start with Why by Simon Sinek. For a list of past Monthly Must-Reads, like December’s Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, check out the bottom of this article.

Business Book:

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, by Simon Sinek

Focus:

Identifying how the most influential leaders think about, act on, and communicate their why.

Main Idea:

Understanding the underlying purpose–the why— behind an idea, product or service inspires people to make positive changes in their lives.

Great for Small Business Owners Who:

Want to innovate and inspire by discovering their true mission and operating from it.

Synopsis:

Simon Sinek’s 2009 TED talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, is the third most-viewed TED talk of all time. In it, he urges all leaders to start asking, “Why?”

“Why do I get out of bed in the morning?”

“Why does my company exist?”

“And why should anyone care?”

And he named his book with that in mind. Start with Why delves deeper into his central idea, offering real world examples that illustrate what happens when companies successfully communicate their why.

Key Take-Aways:

  • Too many companies start with, focus on, and talk about their what: the product or service they sell.
  • When companies understand their why’ (i.e. their mission and the values that support it; the reason they’re in business), they can better identify appropriate audiences and more effectively market to them, creating a loyal customer base in the process.
  • A company’s why should also influence its culture, its hiring decisions, and its teambuilding strategies. Employees, not just customers, should understand and buy into your company’s why.
  • When you organize everything from your operations to your marketing efforts keeping your why in mind, you build a loyal customer base and an engaged, motivated team.

Reviewers Say:

“[Wow.] I cannot rate this book highly enough to take a different, positive approach to life and work. Like others, I have watched Sinek’s TED Talk on this, and questioned whether the book would add anything more, and, boy, yes it did. Imagine the TED Talk expanded to two hours, with more depth, intrigue and examples. What I like most about the book compared to the TED Talk is that it delves more in to how Starting With Why can influence home life, not just work. [It definitely makes you think], and I’m even finding myself taking a different approach around my team at work. I agree, a lot of the examples are repeated (a lot) throughout the book, in particular Apple. I’m not against Apple and found it useful how the different topics are explained using the same companies as examples. It helps provide the fuller picture. However, let me assure any potential readers that there are also plenty of new examples given too.”

“The author’s TED talk is one of the most-viewed ever; and it’s really quite good. In fact, it’s so good that you don’t need to read this book! He takes a very, very simple concept and expands, and expands, and repeats, and seemingly never edits, and then repeats, and expands, and — well, you get the idea. The whole thing could’ve been done in 50 pages or less. Example: Yes, there’s a difference between WHAT one does in business and WHY one does it. And sometimes they diverge. He calls this the “Split” and has a graphic and whole chapter on it. Really?? Not needed.”

Monthly Must-Read Business Books:

August, 2019 – Blitzscaling

September, 2019 – The E-Myth Revisited

October, 2019 – Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

November, 2019 – Built to Last

December, 2019 – Multipliers

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A Small Business New Year Checklist to Help You Ring in the 2020s

After crunching for year-end deadlines, the arrival of a new year–and decade–gives you a chance to take a breath, reevaluate your business and get back on track. Depending on the seasonality of your products, January may be a good time to make changes and begin long-term projects to help your company run better. Here’s a list of items to consider adding to your Small Business New Year Checklist for 2020 and beyond.

Formal Goal Setting

This may be the year to start setting clear business goals if you haven’t done so in the past. What do you want to get out of your company? What are some areas of potential improvement? Are you happy with the amount of business you bring in, or would you like to try new strategies to increase growth? Setting formal goals with a supporting action plan can help you propel your business forward.

Implementing Process Changes

If something is simply not working and causing you unnecessary stress, the start of the new year is a good time to revamp a broken process. Does your equipment need to be upgraded? Have you outgrown your manual record-keeping system? Would you benefit from technology that streamlines financial recordkeeping?

Develop a Budget

Goal setting and strategizing are big picture tasks. Experienced owners also recognize the importance of setting a detailed budget to keep spending in check. At the very least, start tracking your business spending. Open a separate bank account or credit card to help determine where the company’s money goes. Look for opportunities to improve profitability by lowering expenses.

Review Insurance Coverage

Has your business changed significantly in the last year? You should review insurance policies annually and add new items to coverages to reduce loss risk.

Tax Preparation

The beginning of the year is also tax prep season. Resolve to start the process early and know when your deadlines are. You may also want to research small business tax credits that you may qualify for.

Tax Planning

As you prepare tax forms for last year, keep an eye out for opportunities to save in the future. If tax laws change, research the ways they may affect your company. Consult with a tax expert, if warranted.

Facilitate Growth

You may need to invest in your business and prepare to handle more customers and higher sales volumes to increase growth. A new truck, expanding to another storefront, or hiring more employees will increase your expenses in the short-term, but also help to facilitate expansion. To help manage cash flow during growth periods, look into business financing options.

Start the new decade off right by using this small business new year checklist: set clear goals supported by tangible actions steps. Develop a budget and keep an eye on cash flow to determine how you’ll manage your company through the coming weeks and months. The new year is a chance to start over and improve your business aspirations. It is the perfect time to make improvements and upgrades to your company.

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Thriving as a Female Veteran Business Owner With a Disability

Kaney O’Neill, the founder and CEO of ONeill Contractors, was attending community college and working as a waitress when she entered the military at 19 years old. She yearned for more excitement and a chance to see the world. She dreamed of being a search-and-rescue swimmer for the Navy and hoped to jump out of a few airplanes.

After joining the Navy, O’Neill jokes she became a “professional paint scraper.” She spent the next two years as a shipyard worker on the docked nuclear aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz.

The Life-Changing Accident

When O’Neill was 21 in 1999, Hurricane Floyd hit Newport News, Virginia. She fell off a balcony and severed her spinal cord. The accident rendered O’Neill a quadriplegic. “It was a freak accident,” she says. “I went out on my balcony to take a closer look at the oncoming storm and a gust carried me over the edge of the railing.” In an instant, her life changed forever.

After spending seven months rehabilitating at Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Illinois, O’Neill continued community college and later transferred to Northwestern University to earn a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. Despite her education, O’Neill couldn’t find any work.

“My resume got me job interviews but when I pulled up in my wheelchair no one wanted to hire me,” she says. Instead, O’Neill says potential employers ardently questioned how she’d be able to handle certain job functions or the type of special accommodations she’d need.

“After a year of trying, I decided to do something different,” she says. O’Neill followed the mantra, “I don’t allow an obstacle to loom larger than my own determination.” She started O’Neill Contractors, a roofing company in the Chicago suburbs in 2007. It helped that O’Neill’s father, uncle, and brother were all roofers. Still, it took her a long time to gain momentum. “In the beginning, I tried to do everything on my own,” she says.

Looking for Support

Eventually, Kaney O’Neill (who is also a single mother) realized that she was working in a vacuum. She was figuring things out for herself. So, she started networking and meeting other small business owners. She even attended local events held by the Small Business Administration and Women’s Business Development Center.

“It was a game-changer,” says O’Neill. She’s the 2015 recipient of the National Veteran-Owned Business Association Woman Vetrepreneur of the Year Award. She received the 28th Annual Woman Veteran of the Year Award from the Women’s Business Development Center in 2014, too. “For small businesses, there is so much to do and it takes so much time to attend events, but the payback has been extraordinary.”

That’s been especially important for O’Neill, she says.

“I work in a male-dominated industry,” O’Neill says. “To be around other women, to go somewhere to be around other veterans is what gives you the motivation to go back to the office and be excited.”

For any entrepreneur that’s essential, she says. That’s why listening to other speakers talk about their businesses can help with gleaning tips and energize daily routines.

“It’s so important, as entrepreneurs, to keep the spirit of how exciting it is to be running your own business,” she says. “It’s easy to get caught up in the mundane of daily activities.”

Growing an 8(a) Business

When O’Neill first started she “just kind of winged it” without an official business plan. Everything changed when she needed a line of credit and a more formalized plan with financial projections. “That’s when I realized how much I still needed to learn.”

O’Neill soon recognized that owning a business isn’t only about the day-to-day operations. It’s about the marketing, the financials and so much more, she says. She took a class at the Women’s Business Development Center in Chicago. She received help from Bunker Labs, a nonprofit that helps veterans and military spouse entrepreneurs start their businesses and immersed herself in training through the SBA’s Emerging Leaders program. Also, she received training through Operation Hand Salute, a program AT&T offered to help disabled veterans grow their small businesses.

“As I educated myself on all aspects of running a business, I started to have more confidence in how to run a business,” O’Neill says. She began work on her two-minute elevator pitch for potential clients and lenders. “Most people have a very short attention span to hear what you have to say,” she says. “You have to be able to sell yourself and what you’re good at.”

To bid on government procurement projects, Kaney O’Neill became a certified woman-owned, service-disabled, veteran-owned 8(a) business. The idea behind the federal government’s 8(a) business development program is to award at least five percent of contracting funds to entrepreneurs who, among other qualifications, own small, socially and economically disadvantaged businesses.

Part of the application process required O’Neill to write an essay on the disadvantages she faced either as a woman-owned business or disabled, veteran-owned business. “It was difficult,” she says. “You [have] to choose, even though I tried to tie it all together. You have to find concrete examples of [discrimination].”

Positivity Equals Possibility

Too often, O’Neill says many people have questioned her ability to run her own businesses because she is quadriplegic.

“Unfortunately, some people look at someone with a disability they look at all the things we can’t do rather than look at how we’ve overcome our burdens,” says O’Neill, a Veterans Wheelchair Games medalist who mentors young adults in wheelchairs and authored the children’s book “Dream and Reach.”

Eventually, Kaney O’Neill landed a $132,000 roofing contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which helped her land a modest contract with Boeing. Now she runs a 22-person, multimillion dollar contract managing business. ONeill Contractors expanded into a design-build-general contracting firm. They manage government procurement projects for the U.S. Air Force, Department of Veteran Affairs, Coast Guard, U.S. General Services Administration and Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC).

“People forget being in business is just as much about the people as [it’s] what you are doing,” says O’Neill.

Kaney O’Neill’s advice to aspiring small business owners? “If you are considering running a business, start hanging around people who are running a business. Go to conferences and attend seminars to learn before making the leap.”

 

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As a Business Owner, Do I Need a Life Coach?

You’ve just returned from a networking event where you learned that a colleague recently hired a life coach. They told you all about the experience, and it seemed to be a good one. It led you to wonder:”Do I need a life coach?” The more you think of it, the more you’d like to have someone on your side, coaching you through your journey. But you’re not quite sure it’s right for you.

We talked with Jenni Schubring, life coach and speaker, to identify what small business owners can gain from working with someone, how it differs from hiring a business coach, and how to determine if a life coach is the right fit for you. Here’s what she had to say.

Do I Need a Life Coach?

As a small business owner, you’re the heart of your business, whether you’re a solopreneur or have a large staff. You wear all the hats. You work early mornings and late nights. You also determine how much risk you’re willing to take to grow your business. Unless you have a business partner, you’re left bearing the weight of all that responsibility.

Wouldn’t it be nice to partner with someone who can help you determine your strengths and weaknesses? They can help you plan to use this knowledge more in your business – and life – so you can work towards your goals and achieve more.

Schubring explains it by saying, “Small business owners throw everything they have into their businesses. If any part of their life is ‘off’ it can — and will — affect their business. A life coach will address the whole person helping them get from where they are to where they want to be.”

She continues, “People see life through their own lens. That lens is usually tinted by life events. A life coach is an expert in helping people become more self-aware. This is such an important skill as a small business owner because our intent can be misunderstood. Those misunderstandings can be detrimental to our business. We can’t fix what we don’t know. A life coach will speak truth when it’s hard to hear. A life coach will help you see a more accurate picture of your reality.”

But, Wait. Why Not Hire a Business Coach?

Business coaches have their purpose for sure! Schubring says, “A business coach’s focus is on the business and performance. They will give you action steps on how to step up your business and help you meet your business goals.”

She then explains how the two fields differ, and says, “A life coach focuses on the whole person and the coachee’s personal development. A life coach’s process is to work on the coachee as a whole so they can better impact their world, which also includes their business.”

For example, when working with a new client, Schubring might start off with a personal assessment. She says, “My personal favorite is the Gallup Strengths Finder. This tool, and others like them, can help small business owners uncover a personal awareness that can lead to positive change.”

She then shares in more detail, “We know that to have a good business we need to have good relationships. It is important to recognize how we interact with others. We can then make the appropriate changes to positively impact those relationships. While the results of these assessments can help with that personal awareness, having [someone] walk you through the results and teach you how to apply them is a powerful piece that could be missed without a coach.”

How Can Business Owners Find the Right Life Coach?

If you’re wondering, “Do I need a life coach?”, the best approach to finding that answer is to interview life coaches and see how those meetings make you feel. Schubring recommends starting your search by looking for a life coach who is licensed or certified. In addition to that, she says that finding someone who feels “right” is so important, too. But how do you know when there’s a match?

Schubring says, “Find that out by taking coaches up on their free discovery calls, follow them on social media, watch their videos. Do the research. I also highly recommend making sure your life coach has their own life coach. We need to walk the talk.”

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Best Books for Small Business Owners – Built to Last

November Monthly Must-Reads: Best Books for Small Business Owners

Life-long learning is an essential ingredient to business and career success. However, it’s easier said than done – especially for business owners with a lot on their plate. If you own and/or run a business, you may find it difficult to make time for your own learning and professional development. So, we’re here with a strategy that you can fold into your everyday life: Reading the best books for small business owners. Keep up with current innovation, management and workforce trends by reading the right business books for your situation.

Save time by staying tuned to our Monthly Must-Reads series in which we cover well-known and new business books. For each featured book, we share its main focus and key take-aways, allowing you to determine within a minute whether it’s worth your valuable time. This month, we’re sharing Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. For a list of past Monthly Must-Reads, see the bottom of this blog post.

Business Book:

Built to Last, by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras

Focus:

What goes into building a successful company that lasts for generations to come

Main Idea:

Visionary companies that achieved long-term success did so by identifying and staying true their purpose.

“Managers at visionary companies simply do not accept the proposition that they must choose between short-term performance or long-term success. They build first and foremost for the long term while simultaneously holding themselves to highly demanding short-term standards.” – Built to Last

Great for Small Business Owners Who:

Want to take a long-term view of success and build a strong company culture.

Synopsis:

Building upon their six-year research project at Stanford University Graduate School of Business, Collins and Porras surveyed hundreds of CEOs at leading corporations. They used these responses along with industry research to identify 18 leading organizations that they call “visionary companies.” These visionary companies have not only stood the test of time, but many have also outpaced their competitors, even ones that had formerly been industry leaders.

So, what did they have in common that helped them rise above their rivals? Collins and Porras compare these companies to their peers throughout various stages of their lifecycles. In Built to Last, the authors lay out their discovery: The practical principles—with examples—behind how visionary companies set themselves apart.

Key Take-Aways:

  • Visionary companies identify their purpose and live for it. A purpose is a meaningful reason for a company to exist. In a truly visionary company, every decision meets and must support the organization’s guiding purpose.
  • Purpose takes precedence – especially over short-term profits. The leaders of time-tested visionary companies put their purpose first every time in order to support their long-term mission.

Reviewers Say:

“As a well-researched book might indicate, the authors provide a tremendous amount of detail on what makes companies such as Coca-Cola, Citi Bank, Wal-Mart, Walt Disney, Nordstrom, stand the test of time. These companies have been active in our lives for generations, and they reveal exactly how they have endured, and how they will continue to endure for many generations to come. Whether you are an entrepreneur, owner, middle manager or a salesman, this book will undoubtedly inspire you to reach great heights.”

“Thoroughly researched and filled with great points. … after the first few chapters, it becomes incredibly redundant. I could only read about Ford and 3M’s same success stories so many times before I became saturated with it and couldn’t take another dose. For the last few chapters, I read the first few pages and then went to the chapter’s ‘Take Away’ section and still got everything I wanted out of the book.”

Check out some of our other Monthly Must-Reads Business Books:

August – Blitzscaling

September – The E-Myth Revisited

October – Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

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The Ultimate Small Business Owner Playlist

It’s important to make your own soundtrack that will take you through your good days and your bad when you’re a small business owner. Certain songs encourage, motivate, and inspire. Though there isn’t one ultimate small business owner playlist that is universal, each individual business owner needs to choose songs that mentally prepare them to lead their business every day.

To get you started, we asked ten professionals what they’re currently listening to, and they chose the number one song that would make it on their personal ultimate small business owner playlist. Here is what they had to say.

10 Songs that May Find Their Way To Your Ultimate Small Business Owner Playlist

“Lose Yourself” by Eminem

Cristin Downs, co-founder of Much More Media, says, “Lose Yourself, in my opinion, is the perfect come-from-behind song. When you feel down and out, or [if] someone else has counted you out, it’s the perfect song to buckle down and work hard to.”

“Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” by Green Day

“I definitely listen to songs from when I was in college,” says Robin Walker, owner of Women’s business Workshop. “It reminds me of when I was young, energetic, and carefree, and after listening to it, I feel like I can take on anything. ‘Good Riddance’, reminds me to live in the moment because this is the time of our lives!”

“You Say” by Lauren Daigle

Life coach Jenni Schubring says, “Sometimes it’s easy to lose myself in my work, whether it is from someone’s difficult story or recognizing where I am lacking in my business. ‘You Say’ reminds me of the truth of who I am and why I do what I do.”

“Good Life” by Zhu

When you’re choosing your ultimate small business owner playlist, think about what you like more — the beat or the lyrics. Some songs have both. “I love listening to “Good Life” by Zhu,” says Greta Reid, owner and operator of Layerfied Designs. The beat is catchy and the lyrics are upbeat and empowering.”

“Play That Song” by Train

Here’s another song with lyrics and a beat. “When I work, fun music motivates and de-stresses me,” says Carrie Sharpe, communications consultant and speaker. “Train’s ‘Play That Song’ is upbeat and light, which helps me not get bogged down by tasks and heavy projects.”

“Better When I’m Dancing” by Meghan Trainor

Need a tune to liven up your day? Melissa Droegemueller, former early-childhood educator and founder of Rolling Prairie Readers, says, “When I need a bit of energy, I like to play “Better When I’m Dancing’ and have an impromptu dance party with my kids. It never fails to improve my mood!”

“Try Everything” from the Zootopia soundtrack by Shakira

Suzanne Brown, author and marketing consultant, says, “I heard ‘Try Everything’ while watching Zootopia with my young boys and thought the words spoke to entrepreneurs. So often, we need to continue to try and make effort without giving up. And, let’s be honest, it’s Shakira!”

“I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross

Downs says, “I’m Coming Out” is the perfect song for when you’re feeling like you’re riding high. In my head, I see a montage of me walking down the street with an entourage and back-up singers. I want the world to know I crushed it, and this song does that for me.”

“Days Like This” by Van Morrison

Every day isn’t perfect as a small business owner, so sometimes, you need a song that will get you out of a funk. “Days Like This” does just that. Attorney and Realtor, Kate Berard says, This song’s perfect. It gets you out of a downward frame of mind so you can start feeling better and accomplish what you need to get done. It reminds me that if you’re struggling, it’s only temporary.”

“September” by Earth Wind and Fire

Mallika Malhotra, brand mentor and photographer says, “Every time I listen to “September”, it instantly puts me in a better mood! The music, the beat, the lyrics never get old and always has my body moving and shaking off any stress or fatigue.”

How Far I’ll Go from the Moana Soundtrack by Auli’i Cravalho

As for me, one of the top songs on my playlist is “How Far I’ll Go” from the Moana soundtrack. It reminds me of my calling as an entrepreneur — something that I toyed with until I jumped in! I remind myself of this when I’m starting a new project or upleveling my business.

 

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The 4 Best Hotels for Business Travel

It doesn’t matter if you travel for work every week or just once a year. When you need a place to rest and recharge during your trip, you want it to be at one of the best hotels for business travel. But with so many choices, how do you know what the best-for-you hotel is? We’ll take the stress out of booking for you. Here are four of the best hotels you can stay at while traveling for work.

The 4 Best Hotels for Business Travel

Marriott

According to the Certify SpendSmart™ Quarterly Report for 2019’s second quarter, Marriott was the front runner of all other lodging vendors. The hotel chain makes up for 10.30 percent of lodging expenses with an average expense of $306.50. It’s easy to see why: If booked directly with Marriott through a program like Best Rate Guarantee, the company will match rates found elsewhere — with an additional 25 perfect off the stay.

Also, Marriott offers workspace options — regardless of whether it’s used by solo travelers or professionals who need larger spaces for meetings and more. Furthermore, there are additional digital tools available that assist with planning events at their properties.

The Marriott Bonvoy rewards program also allows guests the opportunity for room upgrades, VIP travel, members-only pricing and other common benefits that frequent travelers may be looking for.

Hyatt

According to the Certify report, the Hyatt ties with the Marriott for the top-rated lodging vendor. Both brands earned a 4.5 out of five stars. So, what makes Hyatt one of the best hotels for business travel?

First, consider the financial aspect. Just last year they announced the launch of Hyatt Leverage, their global business travel program. In this program, small and mid-sized enterprises can book their lodging at a five to 15 percent discount. This is especially helpful for companies who plan their employees travel, because they offer better rates. They have a specialized dashboard where administrators can track what’s being spent, as well as where their staff are currently traveling.

But for the traveler themselves, one of the reasons why Hyatt is so highly rated is the company’s efforts to have practical amenities readily available. Forget your phone charger? Need a lint brush? Hyatt has both available. Never mind the standard in-room hairdryer — if you need a curling iron, call the front desk! Hyatt puts in consistent effort to improve the customer experience wherever they can.

best hotels for business travel pillows on a bed

Photo by Nik Lanús on Unsplash

Hampton Inn

The second-most expensed lodging vendor on Certify’s report was the Hampton Inn, with 8.99 percent. With over two thousand locations worldwide, this Hilton-owned chain is convenient and provides all amenities business travelers need — and at no additional cost(s). Coffee and tea are always available in the lobby; a free hot breakfast is served daily. For the business traveler who is on the go, the Hampton Inn provides On the Run™ Breakfast Bags during the work week.

Additionally – and most important for business travelers – free high-speed WiFi is available in all guest rooms and the lobby. That way, work doesn’t have to stop when you’re off-site.

Hilton

Another hotel chain ranked high in Certify’s report was the Hilton brand. With one of the best rewards programs available, it’s easy to see why guests like Hilton so much. Even at the lowest member tier, benefits include complimentary WiFi, late checkout options and the ability to choose your own room in the hotel. Move up a level in rewards and guests can potentially earn access to a VIP lounge, free nights of stay, room upgrades and breakfast.

Speaking of food, the entire Hilton chain is making changes to the offerings guests have access to. For example, Hilton Garden Inn recently transformed their food and beverage options to include healthier and organic options, as well as new flavors, such as craft beers or locally-sourced food. Their breakfast buffet provides both grab-and-go and made-to-order options. Furthermore, the chain offers a 24/7 retail space with everything from healthy snacks to wholesome meals.

If you’re looking for the best hotels for business travel, these four brands offer lodging experiences that would make anyone traveling for business feel at home. With options for different budgets and various benefits, you’re sure to find your favorite hotel in one of these business-friendly chains.

 

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How Fearless Cooking Became an Environmentally-Friendly, Sustainable Business

Catherine Siebel, a former sociology professor from Northeastern Illinois University and a mother of two, was getting to know other parents in her Chicago neighborhood when she realized a surprising fact about cooking.

“A lot of parents were asking for help with pretty basic things, like how to make French toast,” says Siebel. [Siebel] is the owner of Fearless Cooking, a concept that began as a pop-up shop before becoming a Chicago storefront. “The sociologist in me was interested in this idea that there’s been easily two generations now who didn’t see cooking growing up, they only saw microwaving.”

While there are plenty of cooking schools in Chicago, Siebel realized there weren’t a lot of options for people who wanted basic cooking skills.

That’s when Siebel, who has a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Illinois at Chicago, came up with the idea to create an eco-focused cooking store geared towards everyday home cooks.

But she needed a plan.

“Just because you like to knit doesn’t mean you should open a yarn store,” Siebel says with a laugh. “Being passionate about a topic like cooking isn’t the same skillset as being able to run a business. That is something people often confuse.”

Conducting Market Research

To launch a business, Siebel knew she’d need some help.

“Having a sociology doctorate is great, but it doesn’t prepare you for running a business,” Siebel says.

To find mentors and business education workshops, Siebel turned to SCORE, a nonprofit organization that partners with the U.S. Small Business Administration and the city of Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs & Consumer Protection.

The classes helped Siebel answer fundamental questions such as: “Who is your target audience?” and “Why is someone going to buy your product?”

“Or to have someone tell you to get a better plan than this,” she says.

Siebel also made a point of saying yes to any reasonable business suggestion. She’s been to events such as the Inspired Home Show, formerly called the International Home + Houseware Show in Chicago.

“I tried to get out of my comfort zone,” Siebel says.

Siebel slowly began researching her business idea, first by making observations about friends who weren’t good at cooking.

“I wanted to see if I could figure out what their hang-ups were,” she says.

Then, Siebel conducted a few focus groups to gauge the interest of potential customers. She polled parents to better understand the types of cooking classes they’d like to take. She also surveyed their cooking skills by asking what types of foods – if any – could they cook without a recipe.

“If people aren’t confident cooks, they will not improvise, they will not substitute,” Siebel says. “So if a recipe calls for a half of teaspoon of basil and they don’t have basil then they won’t make the recipe instead of realizing there are a million other things you can do.”

She also realized a lot of inexperienced home cooks buy cheaply-made cooking tools that don’t work very well.

“And then people wonder why they don’t do as well, but it doesn’t occur to them it’s the tool,” says Siebel. That’s why she sells as many USA-made, eco-friendly cooking tools in her shop as possible.

Learning How to Run a Business

In 2017, after several years of prep-work, Siebel tried, unsuccessfully, for nine months to negotiate a commercial lease in Chicago.

After being told Fearless Cooking was a “stupid business idea,” Siebel found her current storefront location and signed a lease in January 2018. Following an initial approval from the city of Chicago, she began construction in the spring of 2018. In a 3,800-square-foot building, she has a 2,100-square-foot retail and kitchen space.

Siebel hired 2 Point Perspective, a boutique architectural firm in Chicago known for sourcing eco-friendly and reclaimed materials. She also partnered with ReBuilding Exchange, a Chicago nonprofit that repurposes building materials, creating all of her cabinetry out of reclaimed wood.

After passing her first three rounds of city inspections, Siebel thought her storefront would open in June or July 2018.

On her fourth inspection, Siebel says the city told her she had to put in a $40,000 black iron, restaurant-grade exhaust hood over the stove if she wanted to open Fearless Cooking. This hadn’t been in the original plans the city had approved or addressed in the first three inspections.

Devastated, Siebel cried and then went for a long walk.

“I wanted to put in a residential hood because it was critically important to me that my space wasn’t intimidating and looked like someone’s home kitchen, not a restaurant kitchen,” she says. “I wanted people to think that whatever they do here they can go home and replicate.”

Siebel realized she needed to find a work-around.

She spent several months “working through the chain of command” within the city of Chicago. Siebel knew she needed to find a source of income to offset her expensive cooking store buildout and the $2,500 monthly rent she was paying on a space that still wasn’t open for business.

Becoming an Innovative Entrepreneur

In preparation for the opening of Fearless Cooking, Siebel started building a Facebook following and a website. During the summer before her original opening date, she also paid for a booth at a local street fair and collected email addresses of potential customers.

She didn’t want to lose momentum.

In October 2018, Siebel signed a five-month lease on a 2,000-square-foot pop-up space located a block from her storefront and opened for business.

She was strapped for cash. Siebel says she hung up curtains for her backroom while her staff made a desk out of two cardboard boxes and plank for an office.

“With the grace of God we got it going,” she says with “pretty good” fourth-quarter sales revenue of $65,000.

She was first unable to offer cooking classes. Siebel focused on filling her shop with cookware, bakeware, tools and gadgets. She had a kid’s section, too. She  sells serve ware, linens, hostess gifts and accessories including eco-friendly “stasher” bags (as alternatives to disposable plastic bags), stainless steel straws and reusable beeswax food wrap.

“I try as hard as I can to find as many local things as possible,” Siebel says. “It’s what I believe in personally; but it makes business sense to find things that people can’t find on Amazon.”

Having a pop-up store before she officially opened her Fearless Cooking storefront helped Siebel get in front of her target customers. She says collecting the emails of more than 800 unique customers helped increase her social media following.

That traction helped Siebel.

How to Become an Innovative Environmentally-Friendly, Sustainable Business
Source: Mike Kaskel

Where is Fearless Cooking Now?

She got approval from city inspectors to use a residential-style cooking hood in the kitchen. Siebel opened her storefront location in July 2019.

In addition to hosting cooking classes, Siebel’s staff now also composts all the food waste. She says “it’s one of the things that annoys my staff the most because it’s inconvenient.”

Her advice to other small business entrepreneurs: hire an attorney and realtor to negotiate your commercial lease.

“It is worth every penny,” she says, even if you’ve barely got the money to write the check. And then listen to customer feedback and let go of ideas that don’t resonate with customers.

“You have this idea of how it’s going to look in the beginning,” says Siebel, who discarded an idea to rent large kitchen gadgets like pasta makers. “And then you listen to your customers.”

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Best Books for Small Business Owners – Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

October Monthly Must-Reads: Best Books for Small Business Owners

As a business owner, you likely wear many hats, from human resources to operations and from sales to fulfillment. So, where do you fit in time for learning and professional development?

Keep up with innovation, business and leadership trends by reading the right business books for your small business.

In our Monthly Must-Reads series, we share a featured business book’s main focus and key take-aways, so you can determine within a minute if it’s relevant to you and your small business—really, whether it’s worth your valuable time. This month, we’re covering Dr. Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which seeks to teach you how to use six universal principles of persuasion as well as how to be aware of when others use them on you.

Business Book:

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini

Focus:

Understanding the psychology and main principles behind effective persuasion

Main Idea:

There is useful science behind how people are persuaded

Great for Small Business Owners Who:

Want to improve their sales conversations

Synopsis:

Dr. Cialdini identifies and explains six principles of persuasion. He argues that utilizing them ethically will help readers more successfully win people over to their way of thinking. In fact, he says, employing tactics related to each principle to make small, free and practical changes can often improve your results.

While exploring each principle, Cialdini shares research and past studies that illustrate each principle in action. He then uses real-life examples to help readers understand each one in ways that will help them apply these principles to their own efforts.

The six principles are:

  • Reciprocity – The inclination to return favors
  • Scarcity – When people perceive a scarcity, demand tends to go up
  • Authority – People want to believe they’re working with someone who’s credible
  • Consistency – If someone has previously said or done something, they’re more likely to take a similar or related action than those who have not
  • Liking – People are more likely to go along with someone they like
  • Consensus – People are more likely to go along with your points if you can show that others agree with you
Key Take-Aways:
  • Understanding and using these principles empowers you to grow more persuasive—in an entirely ethical way.
  • When trying to persuade people:
    • Build the beginning of a positive relationship by looking for similarities between yourselves and consider genuine compliments you can offer.
    • Always be the first to give. Something unexpected and even personalized works best.
    • Share not only what is unique about your offering or argument, but also what they stand to lose if they don’t consider your ideas.
    • Find ways to present or display proofs of your credibility.
    • Look for ways to tie your ideas to something that they have said or done in the past.
    • Show them that others—especially people similar to themselves—already agree with and/or have acted on your ideas.
Reviewers Say:

“I own perhaps 2,000 books on the subject of selling. This is certainly in the top 5.”

“This book is dated and largely appears to pre-date what we consider the modern internet/TV phenomenon, and that’s obvious in reading it. That’s its only real flaw… and, to be fair, this wouldn’t likely receive much improvement from an updated revision. [The] lessons inside about how we are susceptible to persuasion don’t really need updating… they are solid enough, outlined well enough, and supported with facts and data enough that they withstand the obvious test of time.”

“I read this book when it first came out 25 years ago. It had an enormous impact on my thinking and behavior. Since then, I have recommended it to thousands of people…In return, I have had hundreds of people thank me for recommending it. I recently decided to reread the updated version. It does not disappoint. I will still be recommending it. I would say that this is a book you need to read in self-defense, if for no other reason. You have no idea how many times a day people try to influence you using the techniques described in this book. If you like to think that you are an autonomous person who thinks for yourself, you would be wrong. This book shows just how much you respond to influence cues in your environment without any thought at all. Unfortunately, we all function on autopilot far more often than we realize. This book will help you get off of autopilot, at least some of the time.”


Kapitus Monthly Must-Read Business Books:

August – Blitzscaling

September – The E-Myth Revisited

October – Influence

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Supercharge Your Employee Benefits With These 5 Out-of-the-Box Perks

When you think of expanding your company’s employee benefits, you might be blinded by dollar signs. When mega-companies offer perks like free meals, luxury on-site gyms, and complete student loan forgiveness, sprucing-up your own game can seem like an expensive endeavor.

However, not all high-value benefits are costly to offer!

Here are five ideas for low-cost, high-value benefits to offer your employees. With a small investment, you might find that you significantly increase employee satisfaction.

Flexible Savings Accounts

Better health, dental, and vision benefits are top of the list for many when it comes to employee benefits. Expanding your benefits to include flexible spending accounts (FSAs) can instantly make your health coverage more robust.

These accounts let employees contribute tax-free dollars into a special savings account. This account can be used throughout the year to pay for qualified health expenses. Additionally, with a low per-employee cost (some plans are under $10/employee per month), it’s an easy benefit expense to absorb.

Flexible Spending Account

Source: NueSynergy

Health Add-Ons

Want to expand your company’s health benefits? There’s an app or membership for that. Technology’s given rise to apps and physician membership programs that can provide your employees an edge on their care.

Here are a few lower-cost add ons to boost your company’s medical benefits:

  • One Medical – Offers concierge-level care for a much lower monthly fee, including telemedicine with zero copay and app-based health support.
  • Maven – If you’re a majority-female workplace, don’t miss Maven. They have specialty medical plans tailored toward a woman’s every stage of life.
  • Doctor on Demand – This app can help your employees connect with a doctor via their phone — no waiting for virtual primary care.

Pet Insurance

Your company’s pet parents could be hungry for benefits that recognize their furry dependents. Pet insurance is a low-cost offering with a high appreciation rate.

In fact, many of the nation’s leading pet insurance providers have zero enrollment fees for employers. Your company can sign-up as a partner, and employees will have instant access to preferred partner rates.

If you’re looking to attract younger talent, keep in mind that millennial pet ownership just surpassed the baby boomer generation. Because of this, pet insurance can help your benefits package seem more robust to a younger field of workers.

Source: Nationwide

Wellness Apps

Today’s workforce is more attuned to their mobile devices than any other generation. Why not add benefits that tap into those devices?

Wellness apps can help your employees lower stress, get fit, and zone out with purpose. Check out meditation apps like Headspace; group activity apps like Fitbit Health Solutions; and team challenge apps like MakeMe. These apps all have corporate plans with low investment with the potential for high return and employee satisfaction.

Personal Care Perks

Beyond the apps and subscriptions, you can amp-up your benefits by scheduling personal care days throughout the year. By working with local salons, spas, and barber shops, you can host in-house events like free to low-cost beard trims, blowouts, group yoga classes, or massages. A single day each month can help your employees feel valued and appreciated and for a low, scheduled investment.

With these five low-to-no-cost employee benefits ideas in your pocket, you’re one step ahead. Expanding your benefits doesn’t have to be a high-cost endeavor. In fact, you might even find higher employee satisfaction by spending less.

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Best Books for Small Business Owners Series: The E-Myth Revisited

September Monthly Must-Reads: Best Books for Small Business Owners

Business and career experts often stress the importance of lifelong learning. But, as a business owner, you have a lot on your plate, making it difficult for you to make time for learning and professional development.

You need a strategy that’s simple and can be folded into your everyday life–try reading. One simple way to keep up with current innovation, management and workforce trends is by reading the right business books for your situation.

With our Monthly Must-Reads series, we aim to save you time by covering well-known and new business books. We share each featured book’s main focus and key take-aways, so you can determine within a minute if it’s relevant to you—really, whether it’s worth your valuable time. This month, we’re sharing The E-Myth Revisited as one of our best books for small business owners, and you can also check last month’s must-read: Blitzscaling.

Business Book:

The E-Myth Revisited, by Michael E. Gerber

Focus:

Exploring why 80% of small businesses fail and what pitfalls new business owners should avoid

Main Idea:

Even if you understand and perform technical work wonderfully, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can successfully start and run a business around that type of work.

Great for Small Business Owners Who:

Are still in the early stages of business planning.

Synopsis:

Voted as the #1 business book by Inc. 500 CEOs, The E-Myth Revisited opens by dispelling the “entrepreneurial myth” with what author, Michael Gerber, calls the “Fatal Assumption: if you understand the technical work of a business, [then] you understand a business that does that technical work.

Gerber argues that new business owners must prepare to take on three different roles to achieve success:

  • Technician (e.g. an expert)
  • Entrepreneur (e.g. a “big picture” thinker)
  • Manager (e.g. the one who sees to the details that get things done).

While walking readers through a typical business’s lifespan, Gerber points out that successful companies run on repeatable processes and achieve success using proven business models. Beyond hard work, Gerber argues, business owners must focus on three ingredients to create a thriving business: rules, regulations and a plan.

Key Take-Aways:
  • Successful small business owners balance their time between managing employees, getting things done and performing big picture thinking.
  • Work on your business, not just in it. It can be tempting to let yourself remain distracted by the day-to-day tasks of running your business—think ordering inventory, serving customers and making sales—but in order to succeed and grow their companies, business owners must make time to work on their businesses. Working on your business includes high-level thinking like strategic planning, market research and developing unique selling propositions.
Reviewers Say:

“I own a small service business with around 15 employees. I had been struggling for years doing all managerial work myself so that it was done up to my standards. We did great work but at the expense of my sanity! A mentor told me to read this book. The E-Myth was the driving factor that took my small business, which had been controlling my life, and transformed it into a business I could run remotely. If you own a small business, you need to read this book as soon as possible.”

“I owned my own successful retail business for 12 years and this was the Resource Book that helped the most. Here’s the core message – it’s easy to spend time working IN your business, but If you want it to grow, you need to block out critical time to work ON your business.”

 

Kapitus Monthly Must-Reads:

August – Blitzscaling

September – The E-Myth Revisited

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