Several Western Berkshire businesses have been shortlisted for a ‘Muddy Stiletto’ honor.

Muddy Stiletto is a lifestyle blog and metropolitan guide to the countryside and the accolades encourage visitors to vote for the most notable businesses in their area.

In Berkshire, 135 businesses have been shortlisted under 27 categories after rendering it through the first circular.

Whitewall Gallery, in Parkway, Newbury, has been shortlisted in the very best MEMORIAL category.

Newbury’s Platinum Mobile Pub plus the Newbury pub have both been nominated for Best Club, while Belle Chic (Hungerford) received a nomination for Best COSMETIC SALON.

In the mean time, The Hungerford Bookshop made the shortlist for Best Bookshop.

Under Best Store Stays, both Royal Oak (Yattendon) plus the Pheasant (Lambourn) made the list.

The Pantry (Yattendon) and Caf? Pineapple (Thatcham) are nominated to discover the best Caf?, while Bucklebury-based Isla Boo made the shortlist for Best Children’s Business.

The Floating Point (Pangbourne) and the Orchard Medical clinic (Top Basildon) were shortlisted in the very best Complementary Remedy Centre category.

In the meantime, The Vineyard (Stockcross), Donnington Valley Spa and Swan at Streatley Spa (Streatley) all received a nomination to discover the best Day Spa.

Vicar’s (Ashampstead), Saddleback Plantation (Brightwalton), and Make & Butcher (Thatcham) have all made the shortlist for Best Deli/ Plantation Shop.

The Bladebone (Bucklebury) was nominated for Best Vacation spot Pub alongside The Newbury plus the Royal Oak (Yattendon).

Beneath the Best Family Appeal, the Cobbs Play Barn (Hungerford) and Bucklebury Plantation (Bucklebury) received shortlisted.

Joanna Nightingale, Nightingale Fitness (Newbury) and Kate, Spin City (Newbury) are both shortlisted for Best PERSONAL TRAINER.

In the meantime, The White Equine Rose Co (Newbury), Martin & the Magpie (Hungerford), and Buttercups & Daisies (Thatcham) will be among those fighting it out in the very best Florist category.

Gift idea Pop (Newbury) plus the Nook Shop (Woolhampton) were nominated under Best Product Shop, while Julian’s (Newbury) was nominated for Best BEAUTY SALON.

No.96 Home furniture (Newbury) and Pineapple Palace (Thatcham) made the shortlist to discover the best Interiors award, while Break free Jewellery (Newbury) and Limezest Jewellery (Newbury) were nominated for Best Jewellery Store.

Tutts Clump Cider was shortlisted for Best Local Maker (Food/Drink), while Dapper Avenue (Newbury) was nominated for Best Men’s Store.

Michelin-starred restaurant The Woodspeen (Newbury) has been shortlisted for a Best Restaurant honor.

Both Corn Exchange as well as the Watermill have been shortlisted for Best Theater.

YOUR WINE Man (Yattendon) and Inn in the home (Newbury) were nominated for Best Wine beverage Shop.

For Best Women’s Shop the next received nominations: Fifi & Moose (Newbury), White Coco (Hungerford), and Lizzie’s Hats (Lambourn).

Soulstice Wellbeing (Newbury) was shortlisted for Best Yoga exercise/Pilates Studio.

Chris Kemp (Newbury) and Adam Hillier (Thatcham) have been shortlisted in the very best Photographer category.

Finally, Kushti Cabins (Pangbourne), Hollington Recreation area Glamping (Newbury) and Shepherd’s Hut (Chieveley) will challenge it out to discover the best Glamping award.

Voting for the accolades opened last night (Thursday) and closes on June 14.

Creating a strong international presence is rarely as simple as telling your customers you ship overseas and then waiting for the sales to roll in. There are numerous things to think about when selling and marketing in another country, and these factors must be considered carefully. Ask yourself the following questions to determine whether your business is really ready to expand.

Have I ensured that a customer base exists in the country or countries I want to enter? A product that sells well in your home country may not necessarily have the same appeal elsewhere, so it’s crucial to invest time and energy into researching potential foreign markets.

“First, make sure your customers exist,” said Joseph Paris, Jr., chairman of business consulting firm XONITEK and founder of the Operational Excellence Society. “Is there a need for your offering? Are they inclined to purchase? Don’t think that they might — know that they will.”

Mike Zani, CEO of business consulting firm PI Worldwide, advised traveling to the country or countries you want to expand into to really do your homework and get a first-hand idea of how your business will fare. This will give you the opportunity to not only conduct research and test your product in the foreign marketplace, but also to experience the culture and social norms of the people you’ll be marketing to, he said.

Is the foreign market I’m looking at compatible with my own market? Michael Lee, head of international marketing and business development for e-commerce platform Alibaba.com, advised looking for markets that are similar to yours. While the business environment won’t be identical to that in your home country, you should make yourself familiar enough with it that you can ensure smooth, seamless business discussions.

“Take into consideration trade barriers, proximity, currency and culture,” Lee said. “Seek out homogeneity — the fewer differences between your country and the one you export to, the easier it will be to do business with [that country].”

Do I have the available resources and staff to focus on both expansion and my established business? Trying to juggle an overseas operation while maintaining your current domestic customer base with a small staff is incredibly difficult, and you likely won’t be able to sustain your growth. Before you decide to expand, make sure you have the financial and structural stability to add staff members who can handle the new influx of work that comes with such growth.

“An organization should have a strong team solely focused on international growth that is ready to face challenges and fully support the expansion,” said Taki Skouras, co-founder and CEO of international wireless accessories retailer Cellairis.

 

Start your own service business by following this advice:

1. Ensure That People Will Pay for Your Service

This sounds simple, but it is critical to your success. There must be a need for what you do in your community. Do plenty of market research, understand and learn from your competitors, and learn as much as you can about the people—your future clients—in your town or community you plan on marketing to.

2. Start Slow

It may not be the best idea to quit your job and jump into your new endeavor head-first. If possible, consider first offering your services on the side while you still work a full- or part-time gig. This allows you to evaluate your market and get a feel for what it takes to run the business. Plus, you can slowly build your clientele until you are generating enough business to make your new venture a full-time job.

3. Be Realistic About Your Earnings

An experienced CPA in a high-income area could easily earn six figures in the first year. A dog groomer, not so much. Upon starting up, you might barely break even. Early on, you might even spend more money than you take in. Before doing anything, create a budget and ensure that you have enough savings to support the business and yourself until you start turning a profit.

4. Draft a Business Plan

Whether you decide to start slow or go at it full-steam, spend some time writing a complete business plan. Doing so will give you a realistic assessment of how much money you will need to start the business and how much money you can expect to generate in the first few years. But be aware that once the business has started, your business plan will need to be updated and changed to fit reality. You may find that the money you actually make is only half of your projections. As such, make sure your plan addresses these possibilities.

5. Put Your Finances in Order

Once you know how much you need to start the business, figure out how you are going to obtain the funding. Can you turn to your savings? A family member? Or will you need to get a loan from a bank or an investor?

6. Learn Your Legal Requirements

Check with your local government to obtain the proper permits and licensing for your area. In addition, apply for any certifications and licenses required for your industry, field and locale.

7. Get Insurance

It’s worth the cost to protect yourself and your business. Many providers offer insurance to small business owners, so shop around and find one that you can afford.

8. Educate Yourself

Part of this will be done in your business plan, but it is up to you to take your time and go further. Many people put pressure on themselves to start a business as soon as possible, as if success was determined by speed to market. In reality, the people that often succeed take their time and really learn about their industry, business and market. Find out where, how and why your type of business is successful, and find out where it doesn’t work. Is it a business that will need to scale in order to turn a profit, and if so, do you have a plan to do so? Ask as many hard questions as you possibly can, and then go out and get the answers.

9. Market Your Services

To make it big, you must promote your services. You can start small, for example, by ensuring that your information is correct on Yelp and in the Yellow Pages. In addition, hang signs in local shops with the owners’ permission, post your services on Craigslist, and offer current clients discounts for referring you to others. Then, as you build your client base, create a website, take out ads in the local paper, and even consider direct-mail pieces and T.V. and radio ads.

10. Don’t Do It Alone

One of the biggest traps that entrepreneurs face is getting lost in the details and the day-to-day tasks. Anyone who has started a successful business will tell you about the people that helped them succeed, just as everyone who fails will have an “if I only knew” story. The best way to combat this is to surround yourself with people that have more experience and are wiling to help you succeed. Mentors are invaluable not just at the beginning, but also before the beginning and well after. Make sure you seek them out and nurture those relationships.

11. Commit

Getting your business off the ground can be an extremely difficult proposition, especially if you are working another job. So be ready for the rigors of business ownership. Make sure that you have the dedication and energy to push through the hard times. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, but this is also one of the reasons why it can be so rewarding.

Three Tips for Better Budgets

You owe it to your business to make the process as straightforward, efficient and accurate as possible. Fortunately, with the right techniques and apps, budgeting can be reduced from a stressful, high-stakes endeavor to a logical, simple sequence of steps.

1. Overestimate your expenses and underestimate your revenues.

When it comes to maintaining and even growing revenue, you may want to err on the side of caution. If you overestimate how much money you make, your cash flow will be lower than expected, which means that you might have to cut potentially crucial areas of spending, like marketing, staffing or inventory.

Overestimating your profits (as opposed to overestimating expenses) means that you will have less money to work with, take home and rely on in lean times. Furthermore, if you underestimate your income, you likely won’t have to rely so much on fickle factors like seasonal bumps or consistent referrals. (Remember, hope is not a business strategy.)

2. Update your budget regularly, so you always know the numbers.

Another mistake business owners can make is to treat their budgets as static and unchanging. For instance, it’s easy to see an entrepreneur keeping the same balance sheet month-to-month (or even from one year to the next), rather than updating it as business conditions change.

For example, if you run a restaurant, your fixed costs (like equipment and rent) won’t change that much, but your variable costs (like produce and waitstaff) are constantly changing. For one, it’s possible that your supplier will suddenly go out of business or raise its prices. Or worse, your landlord might suddenly cancel your lease, forcing you to settle on a more distant (and more expensive) location.

Lastly, understand that while variable expenses will fluctuate (as their name implies), they often do so in very unpredictable ways and at unpredictable times. New legislation in areas like minimum wage, health care or tax regulations come and go more frequently than you’d expect, and each change can lead to new considerations, expenses and headaches.

3. Plan for your busy and slow seasons ahead of time.

Fashion houses have showings for their spring, summer, fall and winter clothing lines. So it’s easy for department stores and clothiers to plan out their inventory ahead of time. Alternately, an HVAC contractor may end up selling more inventory during the summer months only, and can also plan accordingly as far as a year in advance.

Businesses with clear busy and slow seasons can still face one major hazard—overextending the business, which usually takes the form of excessive spending or insufficient planning to get through the low months. After all, there are still year-round expenses, such as payroll, equipment maintenance and rent.

That’s why it can be important to balance the revenue from your peak season alongside the revenue you’ll have to survive on during your low season to maintain a functioning business (and income) year-round.

Two Budgeting Apps to Consider

Thanks to the digital startup boom, it can be easier than ever to find the right budgeting tool for your business. However, there are two apps that may be worth checking out: Level Money and Goodbudget.

1. Level Money

Level Money

One of Level Money’s features is its ability to analyze spending trends and predict future spending. For instance, if you live in a seasonal climate, Level Money can predict utility bills based on past spending and budget more money to set aside during the coldest (or hottest) months.

Still, Level Money does lack some more advanced functions, like payroll and taxes. Nonetheless, it can be a helpful program—especially for entrepreneurs on a shoestring budget.

2. Goodbudget

A popular idea for personal finance is the envelope system, where individuals (and sometimes, business owners) set aside money for various expenses into different envelopes. According to this neat, tidy system, when buying items like groceries, books or clothes, you would dig into the appropriate, labeled envelope and pay accordingly.

Obviously, the envelope system seems impractical for individual use, to say nothing of businesses. Luckily, Goodbudget

is the digital version: Instead of carrying out manila envelopes with cash (which can be both unwieldy and risky), Goodbudget allows entrepreneurs to set aside money in virtual spending categories, which are deducted or replenished as income flows in. This may help make it easier to visualize and track spending categories, cash flow and expenses all at once.

However, Goodbudget requires users to enter transactions manually rather than automating the process. Still, even this can be helpful, as it gives business owners a chance to reflect on their expenses and revenues.

We get it: Budgeting can be intimidating, especially because there are such high stakes involved. After all, anyone can dream up a business idea on the back of a paper napkin. But budgeting is what keeps the dream alive.

Growing-the-Business

1. Market segmentation

“Market segmentation” simply means picking a sub-set of the entire marketplace that you can organize your sales efforts around. Out of all the people in the world, who will you try to sell to?

Most big businesses are good at carving out their corner of the market. Then they do whatever they can to own that space.

Red Bull gets its energy drinks in front of a young, adventurous crowd: its segment of the market. Have you wondered why Red Bull owns a Formula One racing team? That’s why.

Pepsi was losing its battle with Coca-Cola to become the heavyweight cola company. Instead of trying to beat Coke at its own game, Pepsi focused on a young, fun-loving demographic. Many Pepsi commercials show younger music stars, celebrities or other young status symbols.

In other words, Pepsi stopped targeting the over-30 crowd and segmented its market. Coke is still the top dog, but thanks partially to market segmentation, Pepsi has built a very successful brand as well.

Most small business owners would be happy with building the next Pepsi, but many are afraid to eliminate part of a potential market. It can seem scary, but you need to focus on your core customer if you want a clear path to growth.

Segmenting your market comes down to making choices. Who will you serve? Who will you avoid? And which segment can you focus on to improve profitability?

2. Leveraging partnerships

Some small business owners love to complain about how they can’t compete with the vendor relationships that the big guys enjoy. It’s true you can’t “pay to play” like the Fortune 500s, but you can leverage partnerships in a savvy way.

For example, let’s say your small business makes tennis balls and you have a technology that makes the balls bounce better and last longer. You have a great product, but you don’t have a manufacturing facility, a distribution channel or any of the other parts of the tennis-ball supply chain. All you have are great tennis balls.

You may not be able to compete with the big industry players like Wilson, Penn or Prince for sponsorships or tournament partnerships, but you could partner with a tennis-ball factory and a distribution company. In fact, you could partner with them without having to pay a cent for your own factory or distribution. Just pay your partners a portion of the profit every time you sell a tennis ball.

The result? You negotiate for mainstream production and distribution without paying the huge upfront cost of building a plant or hiring a shipping company. Now you can focus on selling tennis balls instead of worrying about making them.

Big businesses can pay for partnerships up front. Small businesses have to negotiate for partnerships that pay per sale.

3. Use checklists

Big businesses have massive facilities, complex supply chains and large equipment. Managing the day-to-day operations in these environments is too complex for one person. There are too many variables to track.

Guess what? Small businesses are the same way. Small business owners have to wear many hats. If you don’t hold yourself accountable and remind yourself to do something that “brings home the bacon,” then it’s easy to get caught up doing things that aren’t essential. In the rush of a normal day, it’s also easy to forget to do a critical task.

Take a page from big business and develop process lists or checklists for specific tasks and jobs. Give yourself a guide to success and a reminder to do the essentials each day.

4. Acquisitions

Perhaps the primary way that most big businesses grow is through acquisitions. Before you think I’m off my rocker by suggesting this move for small businesses, let me explain.

First, acquisitions are tough. You can easily break the bank with one bad purchase. That said, acquisitions can be a massive source of profit and a means to growth if you make a few key moves.

You know what’s a good buy in your industry. Follow tip No. 3 and keep to a specific list of characteristics that you’re looking for. Don’t let emotion or ego play a role in a major purchase. Stick to the checklist.

Secondly, do you have the budget to buy up everyone in the industry? Probably not. I’m not suggesting that you buy something you can’t afford. But you can afford some businesses, especially those that you can improve. Don’t dismiss acquisitions just because you’re small.

5. Become a leader in the industry

Big businesses often make their name by leading an industry. They make moves when other businesses sit by the wayside.

I was recently talking with the employees of a large distribution company that wants to do business in China. There’s just one problem: The distribution company ships products for other companies and those businesses don’t trust the distribution channels in China yet. As a result, the distribution company isn’t selling in that region.

If there are no products to ship to an area, the company doesn’t set up distribution in that area. But if there’s no reliable distribution network, nobody ships products. It becomes a chicken or egg problem where neither side wants to move first.

So what does this company do? They say, “We know you don’t like the distribution there, so we’re going to fix it. Then, you can give us all of your business in China.”

Is it a bold move? Yes.

Is it an expensive move? Yes.

Is anyone else currently doing it? No.

Does that mean that there is a huge opportunity for growth? Yes.

What’s the lesson for small businesses? Don’t be afraid to solve the hard problems that everyone else avoids. There is a lot of money to be made when you’re the first person to fix something.

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The capacity to focus on what matters is fundamental to securing business growth. It is worth pointing out that understanding where not to focus your attention can be just as critical as recognizing the importance of concentrating your focus on areas with the highest return. The following article highlights five of the areas which are key drivers of business success.

1. The core value proposition (CVP)

All companies have their own USPs – or unique selling propositions. These are aspects of their offering which are truly valued by customers and which help to differentiate an organization from its competitors. It is all too easy for an ambitious company to become distracted from its core competences, the result being that it loses focus and dilutes its offer and/or position. It is recommended, therefore, that resources are channeled into a company’s existing, rather than its potential, strengths.

2. Customer centricity

Independent research has determined that the greater the importance placed on a company’s customers, the greater the growth potential of that company. In some instances, a mere rise of 5% in customer retention rates has resulted in an increase of profits of up to 80%. What’s more, it can be up to 20 times more expensive to win new customers than to retain existing accounts. It makes sense, therefore, to work on improving satisfaction and loyalty levels among existing customers as they can be considered lower hanging fruit with a higher return on investment (ROI).

3. Segmentation

The whole purpose of segmentation is to enable a company to focus on the groups of customers and/or prospects that deliver the highest return. It is commonly acknowledged that the top 20% of customers in any given business may generate as much as 80% of the company’s profits, half of which are lost serving the bottom 30% of unprofitable customers. Logic therefore dictates that companies should be prepared to let certain customers defect in order that they may concentrate on those which are more important to them.

Savvy marketers should closely target their offerings to the customer segments that most value them. These market segments are almost always the most profitable to a business, and are likely to be where a company enjoys the greatest competitive advantage.

4. People assets

One of the highest costs to any business is its labor. However, its employees are also one of its biggest assets. Research among Sears’ employees revealed that a 5-point improvement on its employee attitude scale led to a 1.3% improvement in customer satisfaction; this, in turn, boosted revenues by $250 million a year. It follows that more satisfied employees leads to more satisfied customers, who are then inclined to spend more.

Many companies are guilty of viewing staff as a means to an end, rather than recognizing them as the valuable asset that they are. Focusing attention on the likes of employee engagement and development of talent will help to maximize the ROI in labor.

5. Continual improvement

Complacency can be fatal. Businesses that believe they know everything about their customers and markets are setting themselves up for a fall. Every market evolves and every product has a life cycle. As demand increases, often so does choice, making it all the more vital to improve a product/service in order to increase its appeal, as well as continuously drive higher awareness through to loyalty levels.

Any improvements need not necessarily be confined to the product itself. A focus, for example, on improving the customer experience is likely to result in financial gain, with eight out of ten customers stating they would be willing to pay up to 25% more for a superior customer service.

Whatever the chosen point of focus, key to success is prioritizing resources for maximum return and never deviating from the ultimate goal.

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Like many business owners, I wasn’t born to be an entrepreneur, I never planned on running a business, and I most assuredly had no experience in successfully growing one.  However, over the course of my nearly 21 years of business ownership, I have learned a few things that have helped keep the bumps and bruises to a minimum while maintaining double-digit growth year over year. Regardless of the industry you are in, you can be highly successful if you live by these very simple ideologies:

1. Know what you do and what you don’t do.

Some of the best advice I learned early on was  don’t try to be all things to all people, because it typically means you are not very good at any one thing. As such, I believe that it is a mistake to take on far-reaching service offerings, develop products outside your comfort zone or expand outside of your target markets just to make a few extra bucks. When you do that, you jeopardize your true strength to focus on what you may not be successful at and create undo pressures for your team, your budgets, and your company as a whole.

2. Stay focused on the prize.

We have always tried to be very strategic in our approach to growth. We set three year business plans, track against those plans, and modify them when necessary. I believe that if you don’t set goals you have no way of measuring yourself, your team and your company against some pre-determined objectives. When everyone understands in a very crystal clear way what the overall goals of the organization are, it allows everyone to rally together and take pride in successfully accomplishing them.

3. Remember that people work for people, not companies.

It is rare when a business can successfully operate and grow without talented people. In fact, we often talk about our people being the only asset we have to sell and we are always looking for ways to improve our culture, our benefits, and the reasons why employees would want to keep working for us. I believe that many companies forget that true loyalty comes when employees believe that the organization and its leadership team care about them personally and professionally. This ultimately results in long-tenured employees, which has a very real and direct effect on company growth.

4. Running a business well is different than being good at a trade or profession.

I have often said that just because someone is good in PR, it doesn’t mean they will be good at running a PR agency. The same is true for any profession. Growing a successful business is all about having a good business mind, combined with a strong skillset in your particular area of expertise. The behind-the-scenes side of business–such as process, people management, billing and operations–are critical to business success. I have seen a number of very smart people get into business only to ultimately fail because they didn’t look at their business through the lens of operational success, and instead focused solely on being good at their profession.

5. Passion is contagious.

When you love what you do it shows to the people surrounding you every day in the office, facility or production plant. Showing excitement and enthusiasm cannot be underscored enough in terms of how it relates to your team working harder, being more focused, and ultimately more successful at their job. This translates to a better end-product. The opposite can be said for someone who is an unhappy person, leads through negative motivation, creates a challenging work environment or frankly doesn’t love what they do.

6. Challenge yourself to always keep improving.

Technology is changing the world we live in every day. In order to stay relevant, it is important to innovate, regardless of your industry, as well as want to get better. This could mean new programs, new thinking or new processes. I believe that you are either moving forward or you are becoming obsolete. At Formula, we are constantly looking at our way of doing things and looking for ways to improve our end product, improve our client relations skills, and become more efficient at what we do, which ultimately drives greater profitability.

7. Forget the “Build it and they will come” mentality.

During a challenging economy, many brands look at marketing as an expense and therefore try to cut it from the budget. However, the marketplace is littered with good ideas that lacked the marketing support to gain traction or they were launched with the ideology of “our product is so great, that consumers will flock to it.” Consumers are incredibly discerning about their money; as a result, they generally buy products that they have either sampled or have been referred to them. Therefore, make sure that marketing is completely aligned with product innovation and roll-out to ensure that when the product is ready for retail consumption strong consideration has been given to how the product will be marketed.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee for business success. It takes a combination of right brain strategic logic and left brain creative thinking to ensure that a brand or business is successful. However, the aforementioned recommendations will help alleviate some of the common pitfalls that many businesses face as they look to gain traction and acceptance.

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Family-owned businesses comprise 35% of the Fortune 500 and contribute 64% of GDP, 68% of employment and 78% of new jobs. Estimates are that 80-90% of businesses in the United States are family-owned, 90% of family-owned enterprises control more than one business and 54% plan to start a new entrepreneurial endeavor. All of these statistics are from the Family Business Institute’s research.

Family firms are female friendly as well: 24% are led by a female CEO and 60% have women in management positions. This compares to the Fortune 1000 companies of which only 2.5% were led by women in 2007.

The mean age of the family business controller is 60.2 years old. And while 40.3% of those entrepreneurs want to retire in 2017, less than half of them have chosen a successor. Only one-fifth have an estate plan despite the majority stating that they are aware of the estate tax impact on their business and family.

For the next generation, one-third say they have no knowledge of the senior generation’s transfer plans and get no updates on ownership. 

Plan for Family Business Success

The statistics on longevity are quite sobering. According to Family Firm Institute and PWC’s annual family business surveys, only 30% of businesses survive into the second generation, 12% make it to the third generation and just 3% make it to the fourth generation and beyond.

While 88% of family business owners surveyed expect their firm to be viable in the next five years, many are hesitant to take the steps to make sure that the business survives them. Ira Kalb, Professor of Marketing at the Marshall School of Business at the University of California says that too many founders micro-manage the business and fail to delegate or promote leaders so they can step away. 

There are numerous reasons for this failure to plan. All too often, the CEO loves running the business and is afraid if he or she steps away and retires, they are facing the end of their life. No one wishes to face mortality, yet two things in life are certain: death and taxes!

In attempting to create a succession plan, entrepreneurs often make technical mistakes as they fail to seek outside counsel and advice. All too often, they plan in a vacuum, not recognizing changing markets and tax impacts. Too many make the mistake of leaving the business to the surviving spouse who may have never actually worked in the business. The big elephant in the room is how to treat all the children and other heirs equitably. 

Create a Legacy

While each family has specific issues and challenges unique to their family and business, the process to create a legacy and increase the odds for success in transferring ownership to the next generation is similar. One must start with a vision of what both the current generation and upcoming generation have for the family business.

After vetting out the vision, governance is the next critical step. Creating a short and long-term strategy for ownership, roles of family members, any outside shareholders, and how to treat family members who choose not to work in the business are critical pieces to the governance criteria.

Bringing in outside advisors helps orchestrate the process. An outside advisor can help lead meetings, set agendas, open discussion points, inform the family of both income and estate tax consequences and help keep the plan in motion to completion. (For related reading, see: Do Small Business Owners Need Financial Advisors?)

So make it a goal to tackle this issue to help your family be in the minority of those businesses with a formal succession plan!

The work-from-home job force is rapidly expanding, with an increasing number of people kissing the dreaded commute to the workplace goodbye. Thanks to ever-evolving technologies like Skype, Facetime, shared computer drives and cloud computing – not to mention good ol’ texting and e-mail – it’s no longer necessary to be physically in an office to be a productive member of the team. In fact, many kinds of work can be done just as effectively – if not more so – from a home office. As the advocacy group the Telework Coalition puts it, “Work is something you do, not someplace you go.”

Appealing as telecommuting is to employees, it wouldn’t be such a strong trend if employers didn’t also recognize benefits from their side of the desk. Companies that have implemented virtual workplaces appreciate the cost savings on office facilities (estimated by the Telework Coalition to be as much as $10,000 a year per employee); greater employee productivity; fewer missed work days due to illness or commuting problems and a much bigger pool of potential workers. And, in the event of a natural or manmade disaster, a distributed workforce is in a better position to keep operations running even if some of the group goes offline. In fact, a survey by the London Business School and Deloitte showed that business experts expect that by 2020 half of the workforce will be working from home as virtual workers.

Where the Jobs Are

The good news is, work-at-home jobs are no longer limited to multi-level marketing (MLM) outfits, like Amway or Avon. Improved technology and the need to cut costs and/or keep overhead low have encouraged businesses of all sizes and a variety of fields to create more work-from-home opportunities.

FlexJobs, a job-hunting website that vets its telecommuting/part-time/freelance listings for legitimacy, conducts periodic surveys of where the growth in flexible work is. Here are some of the top fields it’s identified in the last two years.

Health and Medical Services

In the health sector, the leading companies with work-at-home employment include healthcare giants Aetna, Broadspire, Covance, Forest Laboratories, Humana, Parexel and UnitedHealth Group. The job titles they have sought to fill included computer- or phone-based jobs such as account manager, actuarial consultant, business-intelligence manager, case manager, medical writer, patient-education or case advocates, revenue-integrity director and sales representative.

Education

Some of the more surprising opportunities FlexJobs found are in fields you might typically think of as requiring face-to-face contact – like education, for instance. The growth of online learning companies like InstaEDU, K12, Connections Academy, Kaplan and Tutor.com has led to more listings for freelance and part-time positions like curriculum writer, parent mentor, SAT instructor, science teacher, student-services coordinator and tutor. Related to this are opportunities for those fluent in different languages. Companies like Appen, which evaluates and coordinates communications for international clients, or Asurion, which offers multilingual customer support for electronics companies’ product insurance plans, obviously have a need for people to serve as interpreters and translators.

Government

Government agencies are not institutions you immediately associate with innovative or unconventional personnel policies. But organizations at the local, state, and national level are increasingly adopting flexible work options – FlexJobs listings in these sectors grew by 50% between 2015 and 2016. The federal government, in particular, has been a champion of telecommuting in recent years, and actually leads the private sector in terms of adopting telecommuting policies and encouraging employees to work from home (in fact, almost one in three federal employees does so at some point during the year.) Particular agencies include the Department of Agriculture, Department of the Interior and the Department of Transportation. The job titles: foreign affairs officer, security specialist, economic assistant.

Tech & Engineering

Less surprising work-at-home–friendly categories are technology, which is known for its progressive approach to virtual offices, and engineering, which is often done on a project basis. Some employers, such as IBM (see below), First Data, Infor, Overland Solutions, Red Hat and SAP, offer job listings in high-tech sales (sales being one of the original flex-time professions). Other job titles tech companies seek to fill include positions such as project manager, retail-solution architect, software developer, power-systems engineer or technical writer.

Work-From-Home-Friendly Firms

Dozens of legit companies, even those listed on the Fortune 500, offer a wide array of telecommuting jobs, from positions requiring advanced degrees and experience all the way down to entry-level gigs. The following 10 corporations represent a great place to start when looking for a work-at-home job that actually pays the bills.

Amazon.com Inc.

Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN

 

) employs nearly 250,000 workers around the world, many of them reporting to work from their home offices. Only about 10% of Amazon.com employees work in the state of Washington, where the company is headquartered. With employees spread out everywhere, those not working at the home office need not feel left out. Work-at-home job openings at Amazon.com run the gamut from customer service positions paying $10 per hour to global account manager jobs that pay over $100,000 per year.

Dell Inc.

Headquartered in Austin, Texas, Dell offers work-at-home jobs as well as flexible jobs that include both office time and working remotely. The company is known for an assortment of other employee-friendly perks, such as compressed work weeks. Dell has work-at-home job openings in many fields that require various education and experience, from outside sales to tech support to marketing management. Salaries at Dell range from $20,000 to $40,000 for customer service, and $75,000 to $275,000 for marketing consultants.

Humana Inc.

Health insurance company Humana (NYSE: HUM

 

) employs 50,000 people both on-site and working from home. The latter are doing everything from sales management, which requires great people skills but has no hard-and-fast educational requirements, to physical therapy, which requires three years of post-college coursework. The company’s median salary is $67,000.

Aetna Inc.

Health care company Aetna Inc. (NYSE: AET

 

) allows employees to work from home after they have been with the company for one year. Telecommuting positions include customer service representatives, supervisors and even frontline nurses. Employees who work from home enjoy extensive technology to keep them plugged into company happenings and maintain communication with teammates. The company’s median salary is $80,000.

American Express Co.

American Express (NYSE: AXP

 

) offers full-time, part-time, temporary and contract work-at-home jobs. The positions span a wide spectrum and include business development management, a job typically requiring an MBA and/or years of experience, to a part-time virtual customer care representative job that pays $15 per hour. American Express encourages a work-life balance and personal growth for its employees. The median salary at American Express is $90,522.

Kaplan

Kaplan is a tutoring company that helps students prepare for standardized tests required for admittance to college or graduate school. Its most popular telecommuting position is that of a tutor. The job requires little to no office time but may involve traveling to meet students. Tutors at Kaplan make $20 per hour or more, and can work from less than 10 hours per week to 40 hours per week, depending on time available and demand for services. To get hired as a Kaplan tutor, a candidate must demonstrate strong performance on one or more standardized tests, such as the SAT or GRE.

Salesforce.com Inc.

Salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM

 

) has been named by Fortune magazine as a top 100 company to work for, and by Forbes as one of the world’s most innovative companies. Many of its over 20,000 team members work from home. The company’s telecommuting job openings usually require several years of prior experience. An entry-level candidate’s best bet to work from home for Salesforce is to pursue a sales job, such as a field sales account executive. The company’s median salary is $111,045.

Automatic Data Processing

Automatic Data Processing (NYSE: ADP

 

) provides outsourcing and payroll solutions to businesses around the world. The company employs over 60,000 people, many working from home at least some of the time. Most of its work-at-home job openings are in sales and customer service, which means entry-level candidates have a chance at being hired. Others are in software and application development, which pay more but require specialized skills. ADP’s median salary is $88,182.

IBM

International Business Machines (NYSE: IBM

 

) offers telecommuting jobs both in the United States and internationally. In addition, the company hires freelancers, which range from chemists to software developers, who work on a contract basis and get paid by the job. Many of these workers also have the flexibility to work at home. A benefit of these freelance jobs is that many of them require only a unique skill, rather than a specific degree or work background. The median salary at IBM is $84,972.

Xerox Corp.

Xerox (NYSE: XRX

 

) has work-at-home job openings and offers flexible scheduling for many of its on-site employees. Available telecommuting jobs include executive recruiting, which requires a bachelor’s degree and sales experience; part-time call center positions, which have no educational or background requirements; and project management, which requires eight years of previous experience. The median salary at Xerox is $75,600.

 

The Top Types of Work-From-Home Jobs

Not all work-at-home jobs are for corporate employees. Many people work for firms as freelancers, choosing to form their own businesses – and, as noted in several instances above, companies are increasingly turning to these independent contractors to fill a variety of positions. Working from home also offers the opportunity for those who have the time and organizational skills to manage two or three jobs at once. It is not uncommon for enterprising types to eventually turn a freelance work-from-home job opportunity into a small business, even to the extent of employing others.

Here are some of the most common homework options. Some are more on the unskilled/entry-level side, while others require training and expertise.

Virtual Assistant
Think of a virtual assistant as an off-site secretary. A traditional secretary comes with many expenses to a company, and if the company is small, it may not need a full-timer anyway. Virtual assistants work from home, often communicating with the boss via chat, Skype or another real-time service. They can do most of what a traditional administrative assistant does (think: responding to emails, creating business documents, calling clients, scheduling appointments, handling social media, bookkeeping and data entry), but at a lower cost. Key talents for this sort of job include good communication skills, and some office and computer experience.

Translators
International companies need translators all the time. They may translate files and documents, or transcribe and translate conversations and conference calls. People who speak uncommon languages are even more in demand, and these home-based jobs are plentiful. The median salary is approximately $21 per hour, with much higher wages paid by large corporations.

Call Center/Customer Service Representatives

Many companies, large and small, outsource their customer service work to home-based agents – and, since customers may have trouble communicating with agents who speak English as a second language, or have heavy accents, a growing number of firms are trying to find more call-center workers situated on U.S. shores. Most jobs entail inbound calls, helping people with orders or account information, but some also require outbound calling. Most also come with a set work schedule – though the pay is often by the minute, while you’re on an actual call. The typical qualification needed for this type of job is good communication and people skills, and most employers require a background check. An outgrowth of the traditional customer service job is that of the chat agent, who answers customer questions live via the company’s website.

Data Entry and Transcription

Although they can be two different types of jobs, data entry and transcription jobs usually require the same skills and qualifications. Data entry involves entering facts and figures into a software program or spreadsheet. It could involve entering payroll data, catalog or inventory items, or managing a customer relationship management system. Transcription work involves creating documents from audio files. This is typically done for businesses that need documentation of meetings, workshops, conference calls or podcasts. In most cases, the employer provides the software and content management system needed for the work. For both jobs, employers generally look for detail-oriented people with good typing skills.

Teacher/Tutor

With the growth of online education, there is a growing demand for online instructors. Virtual schools are popping up everywhere, offering elementary-, high school- and college-level programs of study, and their faculty can typically work from anywhere. While many online teaching jobs require teaching credentials, jobs for online tutors do not (though an educational background is often desired). Tutors for advanced subjects, such as calculus and physics, can earn a higher hourly rate. There are also opportunities to simply do standardized test scoring at home. Scoring jobs may require a teaching background or a college degree, at a minimum.

Avoid the Scams

Obviously, work-at-home jobs have come a long way from those old “make money stuffing envelopes” ads. Still, for every legitimate gig, there are 57 scams, according to a study conducted by the job site Rat Race Rebellion. Anybody looking to earn a living without leaving home has to be very careful.

So, do your homework on a potential work-at-home employer. Make that the company is established. If you can’t find evidence that it has a physical address and sells a product or service, then it’s best to avoid it. Make sure you get contact info too, and test it out. Many con artists pretend to be working for household-name corporations, either directly or as sub-contractors.

As with any job, there should be an application and probably an interview: Anybody who is legitimately looking to hire someone wants to meet, or at least talk to, applicants. Lastly, you shouldn’t incur any out-of-pocket expenses to be hired. If a work-from-home opportunity requires you to pay a fee up-front or buy a “start-up kit” or make any other sort of sizeable cash outlay, then it’s probably a scam. You will, however, most likely need to invest in a fast, stable internet connection, if you don’t already have one, and a high-quality phone headset.

Work-At-Home Life Lessons and Tips

Though the glittery and vastly appealing idea of being your own boss, setting your own hours and operating within your own four walls has merit – and definite benefits – it comes with a few drawbacks as well, for both the self-employed and the telecommuting employee.

1.You Can’t Pass the Buck

When you work from home, the amount of work you do is entirely your responsibility. Your failure or success depends on you: your ability to focus, to hustle, to connect with clients and the bottom line on what you produce and what you get paid for. When it’s just you, at your desk, in your home office, you can’t blame a pesky boss or chatty coworkers for your lousy or unproductive workday.
 
And even if you work as part of a virtual team, you’re still the only team member around. Some folks love the thought of working in solitude, but even the most introverted among us can start feeling a little claustrophobic after a few weeks at home, alone, staring the same project in the face. It can get lonely. Be ready for that, and try to schedule some connect-with-the-outside-world time, like a lunch hour (even if you take it at 3 PM).

2. Take Yourself Seriously

Every person who has spent time working from a home base will have to deal with a lack of understanding from people who think working from home doesn’t really mean working. The burden lies upon you to set your working hours, stick to them, actually work during those hours, and refuse to let anyone else dissuade you from the idea that you’re truly employed.

Unfortunately, home life has its own distractions that can burn precious daylight and put well-meaning home workers behind on important projects. In addition to the typical interruptions in the nine-to-five (vendor calls, power outages, accidents, pet or child needs), there are personal boundaries that will continue to be pushed. Close family member have to understand that you can’t help them move during the workday, or even chat on the phone for an hour. Setting limits if you have children at home (“yes, Mommy is here but she can’t play with you now”), can be especially tough. On the positive side, letting kids see you work hard at something you love – even at the parts you don’t love – can greatly influence their future career choices and entire attitude toward work.

3. You Can’t Leave the Office

Efficiency and flexibility are two of the top 10 reasons that people want to work from home, along with shorter hours (it’s amazing what you could accomplish with eight straight hours of keyboard pounding, uninterrupted by emails or daily staff meetings). But sometimes flexibility is too much of a good thing. When your office is always there, waiting, with that deadline looming over your head, it’s pretty hard to just close the door and pretend you’ve left for the day. Many home-based workers find themselves working more hours, not fewer, logging in work time on nights and weekends, just because it’s there and they can’t ignore it.
 
It’s true that many work-at-home professionals keep a five-hour day, as opposed to an eight-hour day. This does not mean, however, that they work less. Hours are often calculated as “billable hours,” meaning that for every hour spent performing a task that they charge for, there are many minutes spent doing non-compensated administrative tasks.

4. You May Not Save Money

Without a daily commute, mandatory lunches and the cost of office-appropriate attire, it may seem that working from home will bring a budgetary boost. But there are additional costs that can crop up. The expense to set up an office may include computers, printers, internet service, cell phones or a second phone line, business cards, web hosting and software. Forget about using your existing equipment for your business if you plan on taking the full cost of each as a tax write-off. Personal and business purchases need to be kept separate in order to comply with tax law.

So hold on before you try to deduct half your mortgage for “office rent” or the entire cost of your internet. There are the strict limits to what can be claimed as deductions or credits on your return. You can deduct valid work-related expenses, but only the percentage that is actually used for your work. So if you pay for an internet service that is also used by your spouse and children, and even yourself for non-work-related matters, you can’t deduct the full cost – only the (estimated) portion that is exclusive to employment-related matters. Same goes for office supplies, telephone bills and utilities. (Learn more in How To Qualify For The Home-Office Tax Deduction.)

If you’re an independent contractor, you have to pay your own Social Security tax (the self-employment tax) and payroll taxes (an expense that most employers pay half of). So, generally, a sole proprietor won’t see drastic cuts to his or her tax bill.

The Bottom Line

Working from home can be exciting, empowering and even profitable, provided you are realistic about the pros and cons. Whether you are a freelancer, a company part-timer, or a full-time employee who just doesn’t hit the office on certain days, it’s a way to escape the daily grind. But there are added responsibilities that come with freedom, not to mention planning, foresight, self-discipline, and focus. Oh, yes, and hours of uninterrupted hard work. As many a home-based employee will tell you, it’s not easier to work from home – it’s just a different location.

Life is full of calamities. That’s why insurance was invented — people buy life insurance, auto insurance, flood insurance. But what about the one asset you have that allows you to pay for all those insurance policies? That would be your income, which most people don’t think about insuring.

It’s understandable that most workers envision or at least hope that they will remain strong, healthy and able to continue working up until retirement. But unfortunately, that is not always the case. If misfortune does strike, a steady flow of income may be the only way to get through it financially.

Here are some things to think about when it comes to insuring your income. 

Benefits of Disability Insurance

There are many types of income insurance; disability insurance is the most common as it provides a way for people to insure their income and protect their family’s assets if an illness does occur. Many people mistakenly believe that once they have purchased a life insurance policy, they have sufficiently protected their family financially in the case of an untimely death. That may be true, but what if that income earner becomes injured in a car accident or contracts a long or short-term illness and is unable to continue working? In this scenario, life insurance won’t be of much help.

That’s why more and more financial advisors are suggesting that their clients purchase disability income protection insurance, which will typically replace a portion of one’s income if the policyholder suddenly becomes unable to work due to an accident, illness or a disability. There are many different types of these policies available and while their terms may differ, most will continue to pay one’s salary until the policyholder can start working again or passes away.

Typically, there’s a waiting period before a disability policy kicks in, but it will usually start paying out immediately after any sick pay from an employer ends. The amount a policy pays out may decrease over time, but most will continue to cover the policyholder during the period of time that their illnesses leaves the policyholder unable to work. Some payouts may only continue until the policy expires, which may be at the end of a stated period, or when the person reaches retirement age.

In this way, disability income policies differ from critical illness insurance, which pays just a single lump-sum payment if the policyholder is impacted with a serious or life threatening disease. Short-term disability income protection insurance may also differ from a more standard plan in that it pays out a monthly sum in relation to one’s income for just a set or limited period of time.

High Costs of Being Sick

The high day-to-day costs of maintaining a household while out of work can be daunting, but many people are shocked to find out how much an illness can end up costing them in terms of medical bills — even if they have health insurance. There are often additional doctor bills and hospital costs that are not covered by insurance, and these costs can add up to the point of being overwhelming.

The various types of disability income insurance can help cover those costs and can help a family avoid going into bankruptcy in the most extreme cases.

Disability insurance is not the only type of insurance that can help protect one’s income during difficult times. There are also income insurance products that only kick in when someone becomes unemployed. Unemployment protection insurance, also referred to as redundancy insurance, protects policyholders’ incomes if a person suddenly loses their job for any variety of reasons; it pays out a monthly sum for a set period of time. These policies typically cover the portion of a person’s weekly salary that is not covered by government unemployment benefits. 

Mortgage payment protection insurance is another type of insurance that can be extremely beneficial if a person loses his or her income. These policies protect policyholders by paying out the equivalent of their monthly mortgage payments during any period in which they become unable to work.