Monthly Archives: January 2017
Whether it’s a birthday, holiday or other special occasion, there are many times throughout the year that people need to purchase gifts. But finding the perfect one isn’t always easy, and sometimes, you just don’t want to give the same old predictable present.
Fortunately for gift givers, plenty of startups offer unique and exciting ways to show someone you care. From mobile gift cards to video gift messages, these 7 businesses are putting a new spin on the art of gift giving.
If you’re mailing a gift to someone far away, you might wish you could be there in person to give your recipient a thoughtful, face-to-face greeting along with his or her present. Vift, a video messaging service, allows you to record or upload a video for your recipient that arrives digitally the moment that the physical package arrives. All you need is the person’s contact information (email or mobile phone number) and the package tracking information, and your Vift message will arrive within 60 seconds of the carrier’s delivery confirmation notice. Alternatively, you can schedule your message for a specific date and time. Giving your recipient the ability to hear and see you right when he or she receives the package you sent adds an extra-thoughtful touch to your gift.
With Sugarwish, you can send anyone a personalized assortment of candies without even asking them about their favorites. All you have to do is select a size — 4, 8 or 16.25-pound (0.11 kilograms) bags of candy — personalize an e-card and send the gift to your recipient. Your recipient will receive an email with your e-card and a coded link to the Sugarwish website, where he or she can select candies for the box. Once your recipient has submitted those choices, Sugarwish packages up the gift and sends it out. If you’re sending this sweet-tooth-approved gift to friends, family, employees, clients or even your boss, Sugarwish makes it easy for you to send a thoughtful gift by giving someone exactly what he or she wants.
Giftsnideas is an international gift-sending website that allows customers to send special gifts to more than 180 countries. The staff hand-picks a wide variety of gifts from around the world, and customers are able to browse the wide array of products. You can find the perfect gift for every occasion, knowing it can be sent to your loved ones, no matter how far away they live.
Gift baskets are a fun and exciting way to give a variety of items that your recipient can use. However, compiling and packaging a basket on your own can be time-consuming and expensive. GiftTree creates beautiful themed gift baskets, all hand-assembled, that are designed to have an impact on the people who receive it. You can search baskets by price, occasion and gift type. In addition to its keepsake baskets, GiftTree also offers an extensive collection of personalized and engraved gifts for all occasions.
This company allows you to design and send a custom bottle of wine to anyone you wish. Personal Wine offers red, white and sparkling varieties in standard and mini bottles, and all options are sommelier-tasted and approved. Once you’ve selected the wine you want to give, you can design a custom label, complete with personalized text and photos. Custom labels come free with your wine purchase, but you can also engrave a bottle for an additional fee.
Personal Creations offers a personalized gift-sending experience, selling a wide range of thoughtful and fun gifts. All products offered are available to etch, monogram or embroider with names, initials or a personalized message. Personal Creations focuses on major holidays, and releases limited-time items for each occasion.
Collecting cash from a group to buy a gift for your boss, friend or a loved one can get complicated. The next time you plan to collaborate on a group gift, make it easier with GiftStarter. This business combines crowdfunding and gift giving to help you give personalized, meaningful gifts without the hassle of keeping track of who owes how much. You can search GiftStarter’s website to find a gift (there are currently more than 4 million products to choose from) or work with a concierge to create a custom gift. From there, you can split the cost evenly into “pieces” that can be adjusted, depending on the number of people contributing. Once you’ve chosen your gift and you have split it up, you can invite the rest of the gift-giving group to contribute online. GiftStarter will then deliver the gift with a card featuring the contributors’ personal messages.
There are many good reasons to pursue government contracts — not least among them is growing your business with a client that spends more than $440 billion a year on goods and services.
Businesses can do several things to position themselves for success in the government-contracting world, said Lourdes Martin-Rosa, adviser in government contracting for American Express OPEN.
“The Small Business Administration (SBA) is mandating procurement forecasts for government agencies, giving small businesses the opportunity to see how much money is going to be spent by division, by quarter, [as well as] who the contracting officer may be and if the contracts are going to be set aside for any particular certification,” Martin-Rosa told Business News Daily.
Your company can also get a leg up on the competition by obtaining a small business set-aside certification. These set-aside categories include woman-owned, disadvantaged-owned, service-disabled-veteran–owned and HUBZone small business. “Set aside” means that the contract needs to go a small business that has one of those certifications, preventing large businesses from submitting proposals or bids on the solicitation. In some cases, there is a “sole-source award,” and the contract is awarded to a qualifying company without a competitive process.
The federal government has formal goals to achieve each fiscal year in awarding contracts to small businesses. The government aims to allocate:
- 23 percent of prime contracts to small businesses
- 5 percent of prime and subcontracts to women-owned small businesses
- 5 percent of prime and subcontracts to small disadvantaged businesses
- 5 percent of prime and subcontracts to HUBZone small businesses
- 3 percent of prime and subcontracts to service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses
Martin-Rosa also encourages small businesses to monitor and respond to sources sought and request for information (RFI) posts on www.fbo.gov(FedBizOpps), the site where the federal government lists all of its contracts. Though going through the process takes some time, she said, the ability to find, explore and discuss these contracting opportunities is critical.
“What the government really wants to see with a sources sought or RFI posting is if they can set it aside in some way,” Martin-Rosa said. “Don’t be afraid to call the contracting officer and ask questions. Is this a new contract or recompete? Who is the incumbent? You can do research on the incumbent on www.fpds.com, learn more about the contract and even reach out to them for teaming.”
Martin-Rosa encouraged small businesses to contact other small or large businesses to explore teaming up on a contract. Working with businesses already performing government contracts allows a small business that’s new to the market to gain valuable insights. You can learn about meeting contract expectations, completing internal and behind the scenes processes to meet requirements and regulations, and building a past performance portfolio that will strengthen your ability to individually pursue contracts in the future.
“The key to successful teaming partnerships is to find a partner that is an extension of your company in integrity and quality,” Martin-Rosa advised. “Small businesses know as much or more than large businesses. You just get to offer it to the federal government at a very affordable price.”
Martin-Rosa said she sees a lot of potential in a new rule that the SBA implemented this year. Overseas contracts, valued at nearly $100 billion per year, will now be measured toward the SBA small business goals. This opens up the entire world to small businesses, who may lack the resources or experience to try working globally on their own.
“This gives small businesses the chance to learn how to do business internationally,” she said. “Having strong certifications, with the commitment to use them, provides expansion opportunity and the security of getting paid in U.S. currency.”
Right now, aspiring entrepreneurs all across the country are planning their paths to business ownership. It’s a journey that requires a lot of hard work, and many people end up failing. But if your company survives, the rewards of entrepreneurship are well worth the obstacles you’ll face on the road to success.
If you think you’re ready to start your first business, here’s a step-by-step overview of what you need to do to make it happen.
1. Brainstorm ideas
2. Build a business plan
3. Assess your finances
4. Determine your legal business structure
5. Register with the government and IRS
6. Select your technology
7. Purchase an insurance policy
8. Choose your partners
9. Build your team
10. Brand yourself and advertise
11. Grow your business
Every new business starts with an idea. Maybe there’s something you’re really knowledgeable and passionate about, or perhaps you think you’ve found a way to fill a gap in the marketplace. Wherever your interests lie, it’s almost guaranteed that there’s a way to turn it into a business.
Once you’ve narrowed your list of ideas down to one or two, do a quick search for existing companies in your chosen industry. Learn what the current brand leaders are doing, and figure out how you can do it better. If you think your business can deliver something other companies don’t (or deliver the same thing, but faster and cheaper), you’ve got a solid idea and are ready to create a business plan.
Another option is to open a franchise of an established company. The concept, brand following and business model are already in place; all you need is a good location and the means to fund your operation.
David Silverstein, a global business consultant and CEO of operational strategy consulting firm BMGI, cautioned would-be entrepreneurs against starting a business just for the sake of being a business owner: You need a viable business model, not just an idea, he said.
Build a business plan
Now that you have your idea in place, you need to ask yourself a few important questions: What is the purpose of your business? Who are you selling to? What are your end goals? How will you finance your startup costs? All of these questions can be answered in a well-written business plan.
A business plan helps you figure out where your company is going, how it will overcome any potential difficulties and what you need to sustain it. A full guide to writing your plan can be found here.
Assess your finances
Starting any business has a price, so you need to determine how you’re going to cover those costs. Do you have the means to fund your startup, or will you need to borrow money? If you are planning to make your new business your full-time job, it’s wise to wait until you have at least some money put away for startup costs and for sustaining yourself in the beginning before you start making a profit.
While many entrepreneurs put their own money into their new companies, it’s very possible that you’ll need financial assistance. A commercial loan through a bank is a good starting point, although these are often difficult to secure. If you are unable to take out a bank loan, you can apply for a small business loan through the Small Business Administration (SBA) or an alternative lender.
Startups requiring a lot more funding up front may want to consider an investor. Investors usually provide several million dollars or more to a fledgling company, with the expectation that the backers will have a hands-on role in running your business. Alternatively, you could launch an equity crowdfunding campaign to raise smaller amounts of money from multiple backers.
Determine your legal business structure
Before you can register your company, you need to decide what kind of entity it is. Your business structure legally affects everything from how you file your taxes to your personal liability if something goes wrong.
If you own the business entirely by yourself and plan to be responsible for all debts and obligations, you can register for a sole proprietorship. Alternatively, a partnership, as its name implies, means that two or more people are held personally liable as business owners.
If you want to separate your personal liability from your company’s liability, you may want to consider forming one of several different types of corporations. This makes a business a separate entity apart from its owners, and therefore, corporations can own property, assume liability, pay taxes, enter into contracts, sue and be sued like any other individual. One of the most common structures for small businesses, however, is the limited liability corporation (LLC). This hybrid structure has the legal protections of a corporation while allowing for the tax benefits of a partnership.
Register with the government and IRS
To become an officially recognized business entity, you must register with the government. Corporations will need an “articles of incorporation” document, which includes your business name, business purpose, corporate structure, stock details and other information about your company. Otherwise, you will just need to register your business name, which can be your legal name, a fictitious “Doing Business As” name (if you are the sole proprietor), or the name you’ve come up with for your company. You may also want to take steps to trademark your business name for extra legal protection.
After you register your business, the next step is obtaining an employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS. While this is not required for sole proprietorships with no employees, you may want to apply for one anyway to keep your personal and business taxes separate, or simply to save yourself the trouble later on if you decide to hire someone else. The IRS has provided a checklist to determine whether you will require an EIN to run your business. If you do need an EIN, you can register online for free.
Regardless of whether or not you need an EIN, you will need to file certain forms to fulfill your federal and state income tax obligations. The forms you need are determined by your business structure. A complete list of the forms each type of entity will need can be found on the SBA website. You can also find state-specific tax obligations there. Some businesses may also require federal or state licenses and permits in order to operate. You can use the SBA’s database to search for licensing requirements by state and business type.
Select your technology
Just about every business today needs a solid set of tech tools to operate. Some will be more tech-heavy than others depending on the industry, but at the very least, you will likely need a powerful and reliable business laptop or smart device to help you keep things organized.
There are a lot of different factors to think about when you’re looking for business technology. Since many key business functions — accounting, invoicing, point-of-sale software, presentations, etc. — can now be managed via mobile apps, you might be able to get away with just a smartphone or tablet. For more complex business functions, you’ll want to consider a computer with strong security features, storage options and performance speed.
For those who want to operate their business on a smart device, think about whether you’ll need a separate phone or tablet for your professional apps and data. For instance, you could route your calls through a third-party app on your existing phone so you don’t need to give out your personal cell number. However, if you use the same apps for business and personal purposes, it might be easier to separate them so you don’t accidentally share information with the wrong audience.
Purchase an insurance policy
It might slip your mind as something you’ll “get around to” eventually, but purchasing the right insurance for your business is an important step that should happen before you officially launch. Dealing with incidents like property damage, theft or even a customer lawsuit can be costly, and you need to be sure that you’re properly protected.
Gyawu Mahama, social media and marketing manager at small business insurer Hiscox, said to choose insurance that’s tailored to your specific business practices to ensure you’re not paying for more coverage than you need.
“As a small business owner, you don’t need a once-size-fits-all insurance plan,” Mahama said. “Coverage doesn’t have to cost a lot. General- and professional-liability insurance coverage for a sole proprietorship can be purchased for a few hundred dollars a year.”
If your business will have employees, you will, at minimum, need to purchase workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance. You may also need other types of coverage depending on your location and industry, but most small businesses are advised to purchase general liability (GL) insurance, or a business owner’s policy. Mahama said GL covers three basic categories: property damage, bodily injury, and personal injury to yourself or a third party.
If your business provides a service, you may also want to consider professional liability insurance. It covers you if you do something wrong or neglect to do something you should have done while operating your business, Mahama said.
Mahama advised checking in with your insurance provider throughout the year to keep the provider updated on any changes happening in your business.
Choose your partners
Running a business can be overwhelming, and you’re probably not going to be able to do it all on your own. That’s where third-party vendors come in. Companies in every industry from HR to business phone systems exist to partner with you and help you run your business better.
When you’re searching for B2B partners, you’ll have to choose very carefully. These companies will have access to vital and potentially sensitive business data, so it’s critical to find someone you can trust. In our guide to choosing business partners, our expert sources recommended asking potential vendors about their experience in your industry, their track record with existing clients, and what kind of growth they’ve helped other clients achieve.
Build your team
Unless you’re planning to be your only employee, you’re going to need to hire a great team to get your company off the ground. Joe Zawadzki, CEO and founder of MediaMath, said entrepreneurs need to give the “people” element of their businesses the same attention they give their products.
“Your product is built by people,” Zawadski said. “Identifying your founding team, understanding what gaps exist, and [determining] how and when you will address them should be top priority. Figuring out how the team will work together … is equally important. Defining roles and responsibility, division of labor, how to give feedback, or how to work together when not everyone is in the same room will save you a lot of headaches down the line.”
Brand yourself and advertise
A great startup idea won’t do you any good if people don’t know about it. Before you start selling your product or service, you need to build up your brand and get a following of people ready to jump when you open your literal or figurative doors for business.
A company website and social media profiles are practically essential for any small business in today’s world. Create a logo that can help people easily identify your brand, and be consistent in using it across all of your platforms. Use social media to spread the word about your new company. You can even use social media as a promotional tool to offer coupons and discounts to followers once you launch. Be sure to also keep these digital assets up to date with relevant, interesting content about your business and industry.
Grow your business
Your launch and first sales are only the beginning of your task as an entrepreneur. In order to make a profit and stay afloat, you always need to be growing your business. It’s going to take time and effort, but you’ll get out of your business what you put into it.
Collaborating with more established brands in your industry is a great way to achieve growth. Reach out to other companies or even influential bloggers and ask for some promotion in exchange for a free product sample or service. Partner with a charity organization and volunteer some of your time or products to get your name out there. In this article, Business News Daily offers some suggestions for rapid growth.
Starting a business can be risky and challenging, but armed with the proper tools and information, you can put yourself on the path to entrepreneurship.
When employers talk about their “compensation packages,” they don’t mean just salary. Typically, this package includes an employee’s pay, plus a number of other perks like health insurance, retirement plans and paid time off.
But a truly impactful employee benefits program goes well beyond medical coverage, said Alex Shubat, CEO at work-life balance platform Espresa. It’s a tool you can use to engage and retain your workforce.
“I believe that benefits are all about employee recruitment and retention, which comes from people feeling valued,” Shubat told Business News Daily. “They want to know that their employers care about their well-being and respect their time.”
Most employers seem to agree with this perspective: In research by Thomsons Online Benefits, nearly 90 percent of employers said their top benefits objectives are attracting talent and improving engagement. However, many of the employers (70 percent) said they struggled to deliver and communicate their benefits packages effectively.
“Global employers spend a significant amount on benefits, on average 31 percent of employee salary, but there’s a real risk that they won’t see the full return on this investment,” Chris Bruce, co-founder and managing director of Thomsons Online Benefits, said in a statement. “HR professionals understand the link between benefits engagement and broader workplace engagement, but they’re stumbling at the first hurdle: engaging employees in their reward schemes.”
If you’re looking to build a comprehensive, cost-effective and engaging benefits program for your small business, here’s what you need to know.
Not sure what to include in your benefits package? Here are some key perks that many businesses offer, according to Money-Zine:
- Health insurance, including medical, dental and vision
- A retirement savings plan such as a 401(k)
- Additional insurance, like life and disability
- Paid time off for vacation, sick days and personal days
- A pre-tax commuter benefits program if your company is in a major city. For example, New York City requires all employers with 20 or more full-time, nonunion employees to offer this type of program.
- Flexible and/or remote work options to help employees save on commuting costs and achieve better work-life balance
Of course, these are just the basics. To stand out and make your company more attractive to employees, you’ll need to go above and beyond, within your small business budget.
“All companies wish they could spend more on benefits, but it is a balancing act,” said Jeff Yaniga, chief revenue officer of Maestro Health benefits enterprise company. “It’s been hard for smaller employers to offer choice. Voluntary benefits continue to improve and evolve.
Employers must budget benefits with the same rigor by which they budget payroll, innovation, and building great products and services.”
Benefits don’t have to eat up your whole budget, though. Small perks like free food or discounted services can go a long way in keeping employees happy.
“Something as simple as free drinks in the kitchen may only cost a few hundred dollars a year, but it’s amazing how much the ‘little things’ affect morale and performance,” Shubat said. “A soda machine … free massages or onsite dry cleaning … aren’t going to break the bank, and the value they generate in terms of retention is unbelievable.”
Other low-cost perks include employee-recognition programs (with small rewards or prizes), points-based programs that let employees earn discounts or cash, gift cards, and drawings/raffles.
Making your program work
Offer choices. Yaniga said voluntary benefits are a great, low-cost way to add value to your total compensation package. This is especially true for health insurance, a notoriously high-cost item.
“Voluntary benefits … [can help] employees get the most value out of their high-deductible health plans,” he said. “For example, employers can offer low-cost loans for employees to leverage in times of crisis. Empowering employers with the best benefits options will put them on a path toward higher retention rates, greater employee engagement and a more thriving workplace.”
Other popular voluntary benefits include wellness plans, telemedicine, pet insurance and financial advisory tools, said Yaniga.
Use technology to your advantage. The Thomsons report states that online portals that give employees access to their benefits anywhere, anytime are becoming a critical tool in engaging employees and realizing global benefits strategies.
“Most traditional benefits, like medical and retirement plans, can be viewed and managed through online portals,” said Shubat, whose company helps small employers digitize their benefits management. “The next wave is making all benefits and services available through digital platforms. Most companies don’t have those tools in place right now, but it’s becoming more and more common every day.”
Additionally, Thomsons found that employers that use data analytics have 14 percent higher employee-engagement scores than those that do not. However, nearly half of all HR and reward professionals surveyed said they don’t yet use analytics at all, and are therefore unlikely to be fully realizing their objectives and ROI.
Ask employees what they want. Thomsons reported that only about half of U.S. employees feel their benefits are “very relevant” to their personal situations, and approximately the same percentage of employers take the opportunity to engage with their workforces about benefits during key life stages. That’s why Yaniga emphasized the importance of knowing your employees and finding out what benefits they really want.
“The more we understand about the benefit priorities of our employees, the more we can meet them at their priorities,” Yaniga said. “Best-in-class companies build a great culture by applying all they know about their employees’ priorities to their benefit structures.”