Tips for Successful Business Travel in 2018

Even with all the advances in telecommunications that have come our way over the past two decades, such as the prevalence of smart mobile devices, robust collaboration tools, webconferencing, and the rapidly growing field of virtual communication, there are still times when business travel is a must.

While some surveys indicate that technology has made business travel more productive, the reality on the ground is that traveling for business is actually much more complicated then it used to be. Trying to stay connected while you’re away can make even the most experienced business road warrior anxious and frustrated. Business travelers must budget for the extra expenses connectivity incurs and spend more time planning for things like, Wi-fi availability, device recharging, data plans, data security, and even the banning of certain platforms with in some countries.

But with a little forethought, you can overcome many of these hurdles. Here are a few pro tips to consider:

Connect to Wi-fi. One of the first things a business traveler needs is access to the Internet, but the data roaming charges your mobile devices can incur while on the go can easily put your travel budget in a tailspin. Luckily, it’s not so hard to find both free and secured Wi-fi hotspots to use. Most airlines are making Wi-fi available to passengers, and there are numerous apps on the market that can help you locate the closest hotspot.

Just make sure you take the necessary precautions before using an open, unsecured connection- even if you plan on doing “generic” things, like catching up on the latest news. There are plenty of cybercriminals around that regularly monitor free hotspots in the hope that they’ll be able to access the valuable information of some unsuspecting user or better yet, hack into the platforms or systems the user frequents.

When using an open Wi-fi connection, Likehacker offers a few things to keep in mind:

  • Avoid connecting to or sending sensitive data, such as site credentials.
  • Keep your antivirus and anti-malware system up to date
  • Turn Wi-fi off when not in use
  • Turn off file sharing and AirDrop options
  • Use semi-open Wi-fi networks, like those found in coffee shops and airport lounges.

Alternatively, you could bring along a portable Wi-fi router and create your own Wi-fi hotspot. This may be more secure than a public one. You could also try to tether your laptop, tablet, or other Wi-fi-enabled device to your smartphone and surf the Internet from your phone’s connection.

Access what you need without an Internet connection. With a little planning you can have much of the information and tools you need already downloaded on to your device. Many collaboration tools, location services, and even whole wepages can be made accessible off-line.

Protecting sensitive documents and files. While you are on the road, you’ll likely need access to important business documents, such as presentations, marketing materials, or financial reports. While it may be easier to just download all of these files onto your device, you may want to think again. Practically, anything that’s left on your device can be hacked into- perhaps without you even realizing it. Plus, if you make any changes to these files before uploading or sending them to a different location, and your device is lost or stolen, you will not only loose your work but expose yourself or your business to hacking. In this case, it’s better to rely on cloud storage and collaboration solutions, such as DropBox or SpiderOak.

Keep your data usage low. Turn off any apps that you’re not using, especially those that use data-intensive services like location tracking in the background. Even better, you can turn off cellular data altogether when you don’t need it, to stop any internet connection being forged at all.

Look into data plan travel deals. Many service providers offer special discounts or packages on their data plans for travelers. Some may offer special plans for specific country groups, such as Europe or North America.

Rely on VoIP whenever you can. Like data plans, calling charges can quickly balloon when you have a lot of international calls to make. Before you go make sure you research the availability of special calling plans for travelers. But barring that, one of the easiest ways to keep calling costs down is to avoid making so many phone calls in the first place. One way to do that is to use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) via platforms such as Skype, Google Phone, GoToMeeting and Apple’s FaceTime.

Use a VPN. If you need to travel in country such as China or Turkey, that actively blocks social media, popular apps, or other cloud-based platforms, then the best way around it is to be a part of a VPN. A VPN (virtual private network) provides encrypted links directly to private networks in other countries allowing your computer to behave as though it logged in from a different country

In short, while business travelers have an assortment of sophisticated tools to keep them happy and productive on the road, an added level of planning is necessary to not only make the most of them, but to keep the data that they have access to safe and secure.

What Should You Do if Your Small Business has Been Hacked?

When it comes to cyber crime, such as system hacking and malware infections, it is well known that small businesses suffer disproportionately as compared to their bigger corporate counterparts. According to a recent report by the Ponemon Institute, over 60 percent of small businesses experienced a cyber attack in the past 12 months in 2017. That’s up from 55 percent in 2016. Partly to blame for this trend is the fact that small, resource-strapped businesses tend to have more vulnerabilities and are thus open for attack.

If you own a small business, there are certainly precautions you can make to keep most cyber criminals away. But what should you do if you find out that your business has already suffered a security breach?

When your digital data network has been compromised by hackers or malware, a slow or apathetic response can mean even bigger problems for your business. Below, we’ll look at several actions you need to take as soon as you find out your business has been hacked in order to help manage and contain the situation.

6 Things You Should Do if Your Small Business Has Been Hacked

First, take a deep breath and get some composure.

Depending on the scope and nature of the breach, you may have an urge to start doing something, anything right away. While you do want to get a handle on the situation as soon as possible, making impulsive decisions will usually backfire, causing even more harm in the end. Now is the time to take deliberate, measured steps to contain the data breach and minimize the damage.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that you want any evidence of the breach to remain intact so it can potentially be traced back to the source of the crime. In particular, that means you shouldn’t erase or alter your system logs in any way until after the situation has been investigated.

Locate and contain the problem.

Now it’s time to contain the threat. Your objective is twofold: 1) to stop any ongoing activity or communication between the impacted devices or areas in your system; and 2) as mentioned above, make sure any traceable evidence is preserved. Where a connected device has been hacked, you should disconnect it from your business’ network, but do not shut it down. With a virtual machine you can take a system snapshot to record the details of the situation while the breach is happening or immediately after. This snapshot can then be analyzed later on.

You should also make sure to change the passwords and/or limit account access on any user accounts, particularly those suspected in the breech.

Investigate the security breach and its impact

Now the real detective work starts. You need to figure out what happened, and that addresses three things:

  1. What information was accessed?
  2. What kind of attack occurred? For example, was it a virus, malware, or an unauthorized remote access?
  3. What weak point(s) the cyber criminals exploit in order to get into your system? Did someone click on a bad link? Did someone plug their own, infected device into the network? Did you neglect to update your security systems?

Figure out what needs to be done

There are two main paths that need to be taken care of. The first is a series of technical steps designed to prevent another attack from the same source. This could include running an anti-virus or malware scan, remotely wiping a stolen mobile device, updating your system with security patches, or changing the network firewall rules.

The second area involves communications- though not yet within the public sphere. You will likely need to communicate the details of the breach to some of your staff so they can help the company through the restoration phase. You may also need to report the incident with law enforcement officials. The FBI currently has an Internet Crime Complaint Center that allows your to report online crimes like malware and ransomware attacks.

Make public announcements and prepare for responses

While it may not be a pleasant thing to do, your company may need to make the breach public- particularly where customer information may have been compromised. There should be a series of public statements and announcements about the situation. These announcements can take several forms, such as a press release, a series of emails, or a message on your website, and they should explain what your company has done thus far to repair the security breach. It should also include any relevant steps customers may need to take to protect their information, such as changing their passwords. You should also provide some way for concerned customers to contact your company and get answers to any questions they may have.

Learn from the experience.

If you don’t want to find yourself in the same situation a few years or even months down the road, then there are several things you should do after the storm has past. The first is recognizing where the weak points are that made your business vulnerable to an attack and then working to strengthen them. This may include security training, monitoring employee activity, and improving or upgrading your network security systems, for example, via encryption or user authentication protocols. Plus, if you don’t have a security incident response plan in place, then now is the time to create one!

Bottom line: when your business is hacked, you can’t afford to be passive or slow to act. Only by proactively dealing with the problem and its cause can you hope to move on swiftly and safely.

How to Rebound After a Major Business Mistake

Whether we like it or not, life doesn’t always go the way we planned it. The same is true in business. While most entrepreneurs accept the fact that the journey to success may be a bit bumpy along the way, that same acceptance is harder to maintain when the cause of the turbulence is a personal mistake. Still, it’s those very mistakes (and our response to them) that can make all the difference between the success and failure of even the most promising business venture.

Why Making Mistakes in Business Are a Good Thing

On the surface, it would seem that making mistakes is something to avoid at all costs. But, the reality is most of the setbacks and failures that occur within a business are a goldmine of valuable information and experiences. When they are handled properly (more on this below), mistakes can help business owners and managers discover stopgaps, wastage, and wrong assumptions so they can refocus and realign their priorities and their resources, and ultimately streamline operations. Failure also can lead to personal growth and learning, and it is a vital part of innovation and experimentation.

In short, it’s all a matter of perspective. Smart entrepreneurs expect that there will be some unavoidable failures ahead. But instead of running away from them, they embrace them and turn them into valuable learning opportunities.

Here is an example:

In the late 1990s, Christopher Gergen, co-founded an online tutoring platform for high school and college students called Smarthinking.com. Everything was looking good in the beginning of 2000. The company was experiencing rapid growth and had the backing of investors. But then the dot com bubble burst. Shaken investors pulled out their financing, leaving Gergen and his partner with practically no money to work with. They had failed to foresee the impending collapse of the market and were cuaght unprepared.

Instead of ignoring the problem, the two founders brought their whole staff together and explained exactly what needed to happen to save the company. They skimped and saved for a half a year and were eventually able to raise a $5 million round of financing.

That experience ultimately helped the business to take a much more disciplined approach to their cash flow management, and unlike many of the tech companies of that time, Smartthinking.com still exists today and has survived even the recent recession.

How to Turn Mistakes into Opportunities

In tech oriented circles these days, failure is actually embraced; it’s almost become a badge of honor and a sign that success will come later on. The result is that entrepreneurs looking for outside investors assume that prior failures are a plus in their favor. They make mistakes and just as quickly move on from them.

This attitude may sound more positive, but it is deceptively so. Not all failures are created equal. The kinds of failures that make an entrepreneur more likely to receive the support and backing of outside investors and the ones that will truly lead to future success are the ones that show smart decision-making, a rational approach to solving a problem, as well as real learning and growth. These factors are themselves the indications that success may well be on its way.

But, how do you get to this place in your business- especially if you’ve made some big blunders?

Here are a few points to keep in mind:

Start with acceptance. Being in the wrong does not mean you are weak or bad; it just means you are human. Once you can get that into your head, it becomes much easier to be transparent, honest, and to take personal responsibility for the error. The worst thing you can do is to try to pin the blame others- even if there were other people involved. Also, in situations where someone was hurt, make the effort to make amends.

Feedback is key. Realize that by nature it will be hard to look objectively at your failure. The urge to either gloss over the mistake or overreact to it is extremely difficult to overcome. For that reason you need an outside perspective.

Do not ignore and actively seek out critical feedback- from mentors, customers, employees, peers, and partners. Successful entrepreneurs assume some adaptation and change will be required, so they actively seek feedback, spot failures and fix them early. They avoid the instinctive reaction of denial, or the stubbornness of charging straight ahead despite evidence that a strategy is not working.

But a caveat: not all feedback is created equal. Even though it’s important to seek out the advice of others, you at the same time need to sift out the golden nuggets of suggestions, advice, and even complaints while throwing out or just putting on the side, the ideas that are not currently applicable.

Look failure in the face. Listen to feedback, and then have the courage to explore the root cause of the mistake. What was in your control to change, and what factors were outside of it? Define the mistake in a non-defensive way so that everyone involved can better understand what happened and how to avoid it in the future.

By going through this process, you are more likely to end up fixing the real problem, and not just a symptom.

Look for the silver lining. Now it’s time to reframe the whole situation. Determine not only what went wrong, but also what went right and how you can learn from the experience. chart your own path. New paths are the key to success for an entrepreneur, but unless you listen and do your homework, you will be unable to recognize the old proven paths to perdition.

Take action. The last step to this process is to implement change based on what you learned from the experience. Your goal is to not only try to rectify the problem, but to get things back on track. Failures should result in better processes and better documentation, or they will become mistakes repeated. Moreover, the process of change needs to be implemented quickly before negative and hard to change assumptions get in the way of progress.

The key take away to all of this is that failure is very much a matter of perspective. Mistakes happen. They’re an unavoidable part of life, but failure is in the eye of the beholder. To the extent that you can turn a blunder- even a major one- into a learning experience that forever changes the way you do things- both now and in the future- then the truth is there was no real failure after all. Instead, it becomes just another opportunity for success down the road.

 

How Much Sleep Do You Need to Run Your Small Business?

A short while back, I saw an interesting infographic over at Small Business Trends that shows the sleeping habits of over 20 successful entrepreneurs and small business owners. It got me thinking…

How often do we hear about the crazy hours entrepreneurs and small business owners put into their companies- especially at the beginning when the business is starting up or during a period of rapid growth? In fact, being able to function on as little sleep as possible is often glorified.

But, many studies point to the negative impact of chronic sleep fatigue on a person’s health and well being. Since sufficient sleep is related to sustainable success, that brings up some vital questions:

  • How much sleep is enough?
  • Should you be taking naps?
  • When is the ideal time to go to sleep?
  • Does sleep broken down into smaller chunks of time have the same benefits of sleeping straight through the night?

Any entrepreneur or small business owner looking for some balance between work and life should know the answers to most if not all of these questions. The continue success of their business or their endeavors may depend on it.

Why Adequate Sleep is Important

Even if you may be out of commission, when you sleep your body is getting a lot done. While you are sleeping your body goes into maintenance-mode. It restores muscle tissue, removes harmful waste, and strengthens the memory of events that occurred during the day. While you sleep you are also helping to regulate a host of vital processes that support your immune system, metabolic functioning, and appetite.

Lastly, sleep is an essential factor in regulating the so-called circadian rhythm. This is your inner “body clock” that governs when you feel alert and awake versus tired and sleepy.

Some Sleep Research

According to recent research from the National Sleep Foundation, adults ages 18 to 64 should be getting on average 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, while older adults over the age of 65 need a bit less sleep, only 7 to 8 hours. But there is a bell curve. Some people can truly function on less than 7 hours, while others may consistently need over 9 hours a night. However, most sleep experts hold that regularly getting less than six hours of sleep a night compromises a person’s health as well as physical and mental performance.

Research shows that people who are chronically sleep deprived tend to have a number of negative effects:

  • They show signs of insulin resistance, a disruption in the way the body normally processes glucose for energy that can eventually lead to diabetes.
  • It compromises cognitive performance, meaning individuals are less capable of making good decisions, display less creativity, and their physical reflexes are also impaired
  • Sleep deprivation also leads to emotional negativity, lack of enthusiasm, and less productivity.
  • Studies have further found that sleep deprivation is linked to the appearance of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and obesity.

Tips for Improving Sleep Quality

The quality not just the quantity of your sleep can also impact how much a you need. Someone who sleeps poorly can still feel tired even when he or she has technically been sleeping enough hours. Even if you don’t have a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, there are many things that can adversely affect the quality of a your sleep, namely:

  • Curb the Consumption of caffeine, alcohol and nicotine: researchers have linked caffeine, alcohol and nicotine use to poor sleep quality.
  • Don’t sleep at odd times.  Going to bed at the same time each night helps regulate your circadian rhythm mentioned above. Following an irregular sleep schedule will lead to poor sleep quality.
  • Cut out electronics and electric lighting before going to bed. Electronic lights, such as those from a computer screen or phone, act like a stimulant which interferes with your circadian rhythm as much as physical stimulants, such as caffeine and alcohol. Even exposure to bright room lights before bed may negatively affect your sleep. And for heaven’s sake keep your phone away from your bed!
  • Being repeatedly woken up. Waking up multiple times in the middle of the night can leave you feeling exhausted. (If you’re a parent of small children, then you know this very well.) But, at least do your part to ensure that you room and bed are as comfortable as can be. Sleeping in a quiet, darkened room, in a comfortable bed and at a comfortable temperature can help you sleep better.
  • Learn about sleep cycles. Recent research suggests it’s not the hours we sleep that matter the most; it’s that we don’t interfere with the natural sleep cycles we go through during that sleep. The brain actually has a pattern of sleep. It goes through cycles containing both non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, and REM sleep. Each of these cycles lasts roughly 90 minutes, and you should pass through five or six of them during the night. Waking up mid-cycle can leave you feeling exhausted. The goal is the time your wake up for the period between cycles. To help you figure out when that is, there are a few “sleep calculators” that do the work for you. Here is one you can try.

In short, how you sleep can set the tone for the whole day. If you want to be successful, in business and in life, then this is one activity you should learn how to maximize.

Gathering Market Intelligence for Your Small Business

In today’s hyper-competitive, hyper-connected world, where just about any transaction can be tied to a data point, market intelligence is fast becoming an indispensable business asset. But how can cash-strapped small businesses make gathering marketing intelligence a priority, and where should they even begin?

What is Market Intelligence?

The typical business is sitting on a wealth of data. Not only are many businesses maintaining an online presence, but most interactions with customers, vendors, employees, or partners are being recorded in some way. This is due to the fact that an increasing number of vital business tools, such as POS systems, accounting software, and CRM solutions are generating treasure troves of information that can be accessed, manipulated, and analyzed on demand.

This goes hand in hand with the shear amount of information about the economy, market trends, and even the competing businesses in the industry that can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection.

This data, or market intelligence, is now being leveraged by businesses to spot trends and opportunities, confirm productivity and market reach, and improve operational efficiency.

Are Small Businesses Relying on Market Intelligence?

The short answer is not so much. According to a recent report by Market Intelligence company Crayon, unlike their big competitors, small companies struggle to invest in market intelligence in any form. Large enterprises, they found, actively invest in people, software, and services dedicated to market and competitive intelligence. A full 89% of these large companies have a team of people focused on the task, and 26% use three or more competitive intelligence (CI) software tools. This compares to just 13% of small businesses of 1 to 10 employees who have a team dedicated to market intelligence. It is probably safe to assume that this tiny percentage of small businesses are offering some cutting edge technology in a highly competitive industry that demands their ability to shift and evolve with changing market conditions.

For the majority of small businesses, the idea of having an entire team of people, let alone even one individual, spending their days tracking the business’ online presence, as well as competitor websites, news sites, content from industry experts, and social media accounts, may seem totally unrealistic.

How to Bring Market Intelligence into a Small Business… on a Budget

The Crayon report concludes that small companies will still struggle to invest in market and competitive intelligence in the near future.

But, it doesn’t have to be this way…

Not only are there a number of budget-friendly solutions in the market that cater to small businesses in particular, but there are a host of platforms that can make the gathering of market intelligence much more doable.

For example, instead of hiring a dedicated market intelligence team, small business owners could turn to freelance platforms, such as Fiverr and its alternatives. These platforms are host to many professional internet and market researchers who offer their services at a discount.

And, precisely because their resources are limited, small businesses have to be much more focused than their bigger counter parts. That means each piece of market intelligence can be tied to a specific goal, such as using company websites and social media profiles to understand how competitors describe themselves and their products or services in order to gauge how current and potential customers respond that those messages.

In the end, armed with relevant market intelligence and the picture it paints, even the smallest companies will have the ability to compete, grow, and succeed today and tomorow.

Is Your Small Business Benefiting from the Sharing Economy?

Over the past few years, the term “sharing economy” has been increasingly grabbing the spotlight. It’s not just the breadth of available products and services that are drawing attention, it’s the fact that these emerging markets, which allow people to share resources with one another, are disrupting the status quo of some of the world’s oldest, most enduring industries.

The question now arises: how much will the sharing economy shape the future of business- especially the smaller, more agile entities?

What is the Sharing Economy?

The sharing economy refers to an evolving web of markets and communities (most of which are based online) that allows people to share resources, such as equipment, services, and skills- often at a significantly lower cost than traditional retail or employment arrangements. These exchanges tend to benefit both sides of the transaction. It allows people and entities to use valuable resources, such as cars, office or residential space, and credit, without having to own these resources or go through an extended process to access them. At the same time, it creates opportunities for others to get additional value from their possessions, talents, or efforts.

For smaller companies the sharing economy means that they can now get a loan directly from peers or small lenders, get professional services, such as copy writing, app development, and graphic design, share office space, hire someone to drive them to their destination, and stay at someone’s house instead of a hotel when on business travel. And, the best part of it all is that it costs them a fraction of the price and requires significantly less time to conduct the transaction.

Five Areas Where the Sharing Economy is Helping Smaller Businesses

Let’s take a closer at each of the five areas mentioned above and how small businesses are benefiting from them:

1. Business financing. In some respects, after the Great Recession the traditional financial world has been upended. In order to fill a small business funding gap left by many mainstream banks, an assortment of platforms and products, often backed by powerful proprietary technology, having been cropping up in recent years. These products and platforms include: business cash advances, short-term microloans, peer-to-peer lending, crowd-funding, and peer-to-peer banking, to name a few. Collectively, these products are known as alternative financing, and their streamlined approach to getting money to the businesses, organizations, and individuals that need it are starting to turn heads even among the traditional financial institutions.

2. Professional services. Freelance market-places, such as Fiverr, Odesk, Guru.com, and assortment of alternatives, have been a game changer when it comes to connecting businesses to freelance workers offering affordable professional services, in areas such as writing and translation, graphic design, app development and web development. These platforms all help to match buyers with the sellers of desired services. Service providers generally are asked to create a profile where they include a description of the services which they offer, examples of their work and in some cases information about their rates. Buyers register with the platform and then post projects outlining their requirements or search through seller profiles before settling on a particular service provider.

3. Co-working.  One of the biggest expenses new small businesses have is maintaining a physical presence once they get too big to run out of a home office. Trying to rent office space can get very expensive, quickly eating up their profit margins. Enter co-working. Co-working allows freelancers and micro businesses to work in a dynamic office environment at relatively low cost by spreading overhead expenses, such as rent, utilities, storage, mail, and office supplies, as well as sharing some equipment and other resources. Businesses typically pay a weekly or monthly fee that’s based on space requirements as well as the amount of time spent onsite.

4. Business Travel. Ridesharing and carsharing has forced traditional taxi services and rental car companies to adopt to technology, such as the ubiquity of smartphone apps, and may actually lead to lower industry-wide prices over time. With apps like Uber and Lyft, you can hail a ride from drivers in their personal vehicles. With services like Car2Go and Zipcar, you can rent a shared vehicle and only pay for the time you drive it. Depending on the time and location, rides with ridesharing companies can cost half the amount of an identical trip made by a taxi, and since carsharing companies mostly charge for the actual time and distance you drive, they are much cheaper than rental car companies, which typically charge by the day.

5. Business Accommodations. The online home-sharing network Airbnb has given the hotel industry a run for it’s money by allowing private home owners to open up their properties to paying guests. While business travelers by and large may still prefer a stay at a hotel as opposed to overnight accommodations at a private residence, there seems to be increased interest in using the service for business trips, particularly since prices tend to be more affordable.

In short, the sharing economy has been a boon for small businesses, and all indications suggest that its influence is set to grow in the coming years.

How to Offer Employee Stock Options in Your Company

The owners of smaller, high growth potential startups often want to compensate their employees with options to acquire stock in the company. Not only is this a potentially lucrative reward for your hardworking team who has stuck it out through the ups and downs, it can help to significantly enhance employee motivation, engagement and loyalty.

But, like most other things in business (and in life), it has to be approached in the right way. If you would like to create a stock option program in your company, there here are a few things to consider:

First Off, What Are Stock Options?

Options give your employees the right to acquire stock in your company at a future time, at a set exercise or “strike” price. The price your company sets on the stock is typically discounted. Often, companies rely on the market price of the stock at the time the employee is granted the options. In other words, the exercise price cannot be lower than your company’s market value per share at the time of grant. The number of shares available and the time during which employees can exercise their option to buy would also be set by your company from the start of the option. Until your employee exercises the options to purchase actual shares, the employee has none of the rights of a shareholder.

Since the options cannot be exercised right away, if the price of the shares increase over time, then selling them later at a higher market price would yield a profit.

The Benefits of Offering Stock Options to Your Employees

There are several real benefits to having a stock option program in your company:

  • It will help you to attract and retain valuable employees
  • It will help to foster a sense of ownership among your team
  • It can also help to improve motivation since the better your company does, the higher your stock value will be.
  • Finally, this gives you a form of compensation that does not involve cash- which could be helpful if your company is new and needs to preserve as much capital as possible.

What to Consider When Offering a Stock Option Program

Aside from a number of legal issues that are beyond the scope of the article (they will need to be discussed with your lawyer, instead), there are several things to consider before implementing an employee stock option program in your business:

To whom will you offer these options? Stock options are not cheap candy. They need to be given out thoughtfully. Keep in mind, when your employees exercise their option to buy, they are becoming real shareholders in your company. You should primarily be investing in the people that count, the key employees that are indispensable to your business, and then work out from there.

How many shares will you offer? You need to determine each year how much stock you are willing to make available to your employees. This includes factoring in how much you expect your employment to grow in the next few years. If you offer too many options too soon, you may end up with little room for additional options to future employees later on.

Will these options have a vesting period? Depending on your answers to the first two questions above, you may want to factor a vesting period into your stock options. A vesting period is designed to spread out the total number of shares an employee can buy over a specified number of years. So for example, an employee with stock options to buy 200 shares with a five year vesting schedule, would be allowed to buy up to 40 shares a year till the fifth year.

Finally, does your company have real potential growth? Before you create a stock option program in your company, you first have to objectively consider how much potential there is for real, profitable growth. If your company is not successful or growth is slow, then a cash compensation may be a better option for your employees. Since it may be hard for you to look at your business objectively, you should seek the counsel of an outside professional or even a professional mentor.

In short, stock options certainly have their benefits- especially for young, high growth-potential companies. But, you don’t want to just dive into it. The more thought and consideration you give this program, the greater the chances of it being a success.

How to Hire Quality Seasonal Workers

Over eighty percent of hourly employers expect to face challenges filling holiday positions in 2016, based on data released from online job marketplace Snagajob. According to its annual Holiday Hiring report, 44% of employers cite a lack of qualified workers, while 34% cite a lack of available workers, and 30% report increasing competition with other employers.

Many of the businesses surveyed, however, are well-known big box retailers, and that presents a challenge. As a small business, how can you compete with bigger competitors such as these for a seemingly small pool of seasonal workers this year, and more importantly, how do you ensure that the people you are bringing in will actually do a good job?

5 Steps to Hiring a Great Seasonal Workforce

One of the most important things to remember is that even though the positions you are trying to fill may be temporary, they can have a big impact on the overall performance of your business. This means you need to go into the hiring process thinking about the bigger picture. Here are five steps to consider:

1. Start the process early. Don’t wait till the last minute to begin your holiday hiring. Not only will that create pressure to quickly fill the positions- even if the applicant pool isn’t so great- but it may put added pressure on your regular staff as well since they will need to work with and likely train these individuals. The holiday season is a stressful time to begin with; you don’t need to add to it unnecessarily. You also will want to take your time finding the best people for the job. So, begin your search process months in advance.

2. Create a profile of your ideal seasonal worker. Before you start your search, make sure you are very clear about what you want your seasonal staff to do and when. Then, breakdown the kinds of skills, qualities, and experience needed to fulfill that role.

Keep in mind that there are different ways to hire holiday help:

  • You could bring in temporary employees who perform work on a short-term basis, say for a few weeks or months. You could hire these people directly or rely on a temporary staffing agency.
  • You could hire an independent contractor. These professionals provide their services to on a contractual basis. Some examples are mangers, marketers, and freelance writers.
  • You could on-board part-time staff. Part-timers generally work 10 to 20 hours per week. One benefit to this strategy is that these people could stay on as permanent employees and eventually take on full-time positions.

3. Decide where to look for your seasonal hires. While the majority of big employers consider online job postings to be the best way to hire seasonal candidates, small businesses really need to think beyond the Internet. Here are some effective ways to attract short-term talent.

  • Consider using a staffing agency. As I mentioned above, if you are looking for temporary workers to give you more man power through the holiday season, then relying on a temporary staffing agency may be a good option since they will do a lot of the screening work for you. You can give the agency a list of what you are looking for, and they will sift through the applicants. While you will have to pay a fee to work with a staffing agency, you will free up precious time and other resources, and if one of the workers isn’t a good fit, you contact the agency, and they can send you someone else.
  • Rely on referrals. You can also ask your current permanent staff for referrals. The benefit to this is that your workers already have an idea which kinds of people would be the best fit for your business and the job that needs to be done. To ensure a steady pipeline of referral candidates, you could even start a formal employee referral program that rewards employees for quality suggestions.
  • Tap college students. Another option for businesses next to a college or university or even in a town with a young population is to seek college students for holiday job openings. College students are usually not taking classes during the holiday season and/or they may be in need of extra cash. To reach this population you can recruit on campus a couple of months before the break and also post your openings on college job recruitment sites.

4. Ask for feedback. Once the holiday season is over, ask your staff for feedback on their experience. In particular, you want to know how well they understood the responsibilities given them, how comfortable they felt on the job, how your permanent staff interacted with them, and what things they wish they could change or improve. While this may not help the current holiday season, the information you receive can help you create a better experience the following year.

5. Stay connected with your seasonal staff. Finding quality staff is a challenge for all employers- big and small- throughout the year. Your seasonal hires may be there to fill a short-term need, but they could also become a pool of potential talent for future positions- even permanent ones. So, try to maintain the relationship.

In short, though you may not think of it this way, when you hire seasonal workers, you are making an investment in them and in your business. If you want to get the most ROI from this investment then you need to go into the process with the right attitude from the start.

How to Take Your Craft Business to the Next Level

Whether you are tired of working at your day job, you want to earn some extra money on the side, or you are looking to monetize the passion that already consumes a good part of your week, turning your craft into a profitable business may be a good option.

But, just because it may seem good doesn’t mean that success will come easy or that it will even come at all.

What most business experts out there don’t tell you is that one of the hardest parts about turning your hobby into a viable business is the mental flip that has to happen. If you want your hobby to become a serious source of income, then you have to treat it this way. Without this initial, internal shift, it will be very hard to put the systems, processes, and goals in place needed to build a sustainable business.

That said, here are 9 steps that you need to take if you really want to cash in on your hobby:

Step 1: Get out of the “hobbiest” mentality. There’s nothing wrong with being an artist, designer, or crafter. But, until you start looking at yourself as perusing a professional career designing handmade items, you will never get to the next level.

Step 2: Get to know your ideal customer. The second step is finding out if there is a market big enough for your products. If the answer is yes, then you need to settle on a profile of your ideal customer. This is important because it helps you to figure out what your customers want, how best to reach them, and how to craft your marketing strategy.

Step 3: Build up your systems. By “systems,” I’m referring to appropriate time management, inventory management, payment processing, as well as accounting programs and tools. Having the right systems and processes in place will help you to create structure in your craft business which will allow things run smoothly and efficiently. Don’t give in to the urge to resist them. As I mentioned above, making the transition from crafter to business owner is critical, and that process starts with figuring out how all the aspects of your business will come together in a professional way.

Step 4: Embrace technology. Even for the most tech-phobic craters and artisans, in just about every niche imaginable, there are powerful, yet extremely easy-to-use programs that are designed to help small business owners run their business better. Find out what businesses similar to yours are using, and pick 2 or 3 core products to try out.

Step 5: Invest in yourself financially. There is no such thing as a business that you can start and run for free. Every successful business requires an investment of some sort- whether it is an investment of time, money, tools and equipment, or some kind of combination. Don’t sell your business short by skimping on the tools, professional services, training, and other support you need to be successful.

Step 6: Identify your niche. You can’t be everything to everyone, so don’t even bother trying. Generally, the more defined your niche, the better. You just need to make sure that your niche is big enough to earn the income you are looking for. Once you’ve established your business and have built up a customer base, then you can think about expanding into other areas.

Step 7: Create a memorable brand. Don’t just let your products speak for themselves. Create a unique identity of you and your company in order to connect with your customers in a more personal and memorable way. So, don’t be afraid to show your personality and some of the behind the scenes parts of your business.

Step 8: Partner up with other businesses and entrepreneurs. As the saying goes, there is strength in numbers. If you want to expand your reach, then one of the best ways to do that is to join forces with other businesses and craters that compliment your own products. You can, for example, co-host an event or cross-promote your products. Such collaborations tend to uplift all the businesses involved.

Another aspect of making connections is getting support and feedback from those who have businesses similar to yours. Don’t underestimate how important this is- especially if you are new to running a business!

Step 9: Get feedback from your customers. This last step is vital to the continued success and growth of your craft business, but so many new business owners overlook it. Make it a point to regularly ask your customers what they like and dislike about your products and the way you serve them. You can also find out what other types of products they may be interested in over the future.

Obviously, the kind of feedback you get will depend on how loyal and engaged your customer-base is; it also depends on what questions you ask and in what format. You can get this valuable feedback in several ways, such as emailing your customers a short list of questions, using a free app like Survey Monkey, or asking questions over social media.

Turning your hobby into a viable business may take an initial change in attitude and some hard work, but the potential rewards are great. Pay attention to the steps mentioned above, and your favorite hobby or pastime may soon become a source of serious income.

Is Brick and Mortar Retail Making a Rebound?

If you have been paying any attention to the headlines coming out of the retail industry over the last few months, you may think that off-line retail is going the way of the dinosaur. In the first half of 2016 alone, the industry has been flooded with unfavorable news, such as that poor sales are to blame for the closing of numerous Kmart, Macy’s, Target, Walmart and Sears stores throughout the country. Then there was Nordstrom’s embarrassing stock downgrade. Later, reports came out that Sports Authority and Aéropostale are filing for bankruptcy

Few would argue that the dismal performance of both big box and small, mom-and-pop retailers is not being affected by the growing prevalence and preference for ecommerce. Platforms such as Amazon, eBay, and Paypal, as well as the emergence of mobile technology has forever changed the way we make purchases. But that change need not be a death knell for brick and mortar retailers. In fact, over the past year or so, behind all the doom and gloom, the retail industry has actually been showing some signs of healthy growth and expansion.

According to Douglas Hope, of GlobalShop, in his session at the Microsoft Envision 2016 conference, some corners of the retail industry appear to be going strong. In 2015, retailers spent some $62 billion on in-store “shoppers’ experiences,” and it seems that at least some of this investment is making an impact. Even as several big box retailers began pairing down their operations, retail revenues hit $5 trillion last year- that represents a 72% increase in sales since the year 2000. Plus, there are currently 3.8 million storefronts in the U.S.- which represents an increase of 190,000 within two years. Perhaps the biggest eye-opener of all: about 90% of those storefronts are small, independent shops.

So, what could be driving this resurgence of off-line commerce? The retailers that are expanding in this age of digital commerce tend to have a couple of things in common:

1. They are very focused on providing a good customer experience. For example, consider the case of hunting and sporting goods chain Cabela’s. Stores feature in-door rock climbing, and an in-store cafe, animal and cave exhibits and a wide selection of products. The chain is now building two new 70,000-square-foot retail locations, one in Georgia and one in Missouri.

2. They don’t ignore their digital footprint. Successful retailers today work to seamlessly blend their online presence with their off-line one. In fact, many bring the two together. Some great examples of this in action include: Geo-Targeting and Proximity Marketing as well as in-store virtual dressing rooms.

While it may seem like the sky is falling when it comes to “real world” retail, the industry is going through an evolution and it is one that will likely include physical storefronts for a long time to come. Those who adapt now will be the ones in the best position to survive.