From Solopreneur to Entrepreneur

This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series. Many solopreneurs choose to be independent based on their goals.  Some start that way and decide to build a bigger business, while others seek to build a company once they realize that they have more business… Read more »

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This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series.

Solopreneur to EntrepreneurMany solopreneurs choose to be independent based on their goals.  Some start that way and decide to build a bigger business, while others seek to build a company once they realize that they have more business than they can handle.

At a recent Alexandria SBDC seminar on hiring, we discussed how to think about what expertise and services you need and whether that should include employees.

The triggers for adding outside services, consultants, independent contractors, or employees are the same main three:

  • Turning away business or work
  • Adding new products or services
  • Improving customer service for retention and growth

Ask yourself these questions to decide what help you really need to hire.

  1. Why are you considering hiring an employee?
  2. What are the main work requirements you need additional help to do? Be specific about both the work and the skills and experience needed to do the work.
  3. What is the time frame for hiring?
  4. What is the estimated amount of work to do per week (in hours) or over another time frame (e.g. short-term needs, seasonal needs)?

Once you have thought deeply about these questions, you can more clearly see what type of help you may need. An employee is the best choice when you have a consistent, long-term need to fulfill and the resources to manage and pay a person. Many solopreneurs start by hiring specialized help for short-term or intermittent needs via an independent contractor or by out-sourcing the work to another company.

If you have not, do check out the Employer Checklist on the Alexandria SBDC website under Resources in the HR and Employer Issues section. It will provide steps you need to take and links to government websites needed in the process to become a legal employer.

Tip of the Month

“You need the same powerful software that large enterprises need to run your business. The good news for small businesses is the emergence of SaaS (software as a service) has made it easy to find a great web content management system (CMS), CRM, email automation, social media manager, and sales automation in one easy package.” Mo Hasan www.shikani.com

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Why Are Millennials So Important?

Everybody’s talking about millennials and it’s no wonder; they are a very influential cohort. There are two important contexts that compel small businesses to better understand millennials: marketing and the labor force. Millennials are a desirable consumer demographic, and businesses need to understand how to grab their attention and how to appeal to their distinct… Read more »

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millennialsEverybody’s talking about millennials and it’s no wonder; they are a very influential cohort. There are two important contexts that compel small businesses to better understand millennials: marketing and the labor force. Millennials are a desirable consumer demographic, and businesses need to understand how to grab their attention and how to appeal to their distinct preferences.

Additionally, as boomers exit the workforce en masse over the next decade, the workplace is being reshaped by millennials. Employee retention and motivation are changing, and savvy employers must stay ahead of that curve.

In a recent presentation on marketing to this group, Maurisa Potts, CEO of Spotted MP, pointed out that, by 2030, millennials will outnumber baby boomers by 22 million. They will account for one third of all retail spending in the next five years, and soon, millennials will be 50% of the workforce.

Each generation is shaped by the circumstances they grew up in, so millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) have different living, working, shopping and socializing preferences from the preceding generations. This was the first generation to grow up accustomed to unfettered access to technology and the internet. As their cohort reaches adulthood and occupies a greater percentage of our workforce and society, we’re paying attention to their preferences, and those preferences are increasingly influencing the shape of our communities and institutions.

Recognizing the characteristics and preferences of millennials is the first step. The greater challenge is to determine what your business needs to do in order to successfully incorporate millennials into your workplace. The Alexandria Small Business Development Center conducts occasional programs on generational issues; some on marketing to millennials and others on engaging them as employees. You can sign up for program announcements at the bottom of the center’s home page (www.alexandriasbdc.org) and can also register for no-cost educational programs.

There is also a wealth of research and news on millennials. These articles cover everything from their spending habits, to how they consume advertising, to what office configurations they prefer. A quick online search of your specific industry or needs can help small business owners gain a better understanding of millennials and generate ideas on how to appeal to them.

In Alexandria, we are fortunate to have access to a growing millennial labor force. In fact, Alexandria has one of the fastest growing millennial populations in the country. In general, millennials feel a greater sense of connection to their friends and peers than previous generations, which translates to a preference for mixed-use developments and walkable, urban communities. Alexandria has this sense of community and the amenities that millennials are seeking.

With access to a millennial workforce and guidance on how to successfully engage this generation, both as employees and as consumers, Alexandria businesses are in an excellent position. It is important for businesses to start planning for the changes spurred by millennials, and Alexandria has the resources to support businesses with any transitions.

This article first appeared in the Alexandria Times on May 28, 2015.

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Health Care Rules Under the Affordable Care Act

This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources after encountering many small business owners who were not aware of changes in health care rules under the Affordable Care Act. Many small organizations provide pre-tax or post-tax payments to employees instead of offering a group health-care plan. The IRS has now reminded small… Read more »

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This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources after encountering many small business owners who were not aware of changes in health care rules under the Affordable Care Act.

Changes in Health Care Rules Under the ACAMany small organizations provide pre-tax or post-tax payments to employees instead of offering a group health-care plan. The IRS has now reminded small employers that you no longer can do this. If you provide an allowance or reimburse employees for their health care costs, directly or through a Health Reimbursement arrangement (HRA), you must stop this practice by June 30, 2015.

You have options for your next step but need to decide on these quickly.  You may:

  • Find a group plan via the federal SHOP exchange for small organizations
  • Work with your insurance broker to find group coverage that works for your situation
  • Include some or all of the payments for health care coverage which you have been making in the employees’ regular pay rate or salary

There are exceptions to these rules for Subchapter S Corporation employee-shareholders and retiree benefit plan beneficiaries.  Please check with your insurance broker and lawyer on these.

If you continue to provide such allowances or reimbursements after June 30, 2015, you will be subject to a fine of $100 per employee per day.

For many small businesses, this will create an employee morale issue.  It is vital that you learn your options, make your decision, and clearly communicate to each currently covered employee what you are doing and what their options are if you will offer any.  We are available to discuss this with you.

Although this IRS rule, under IRS Notice 2015-17, was issued in February, the Alexandria SBDC has recently become aware that some small business owners have not been aware of this change, hence this post.  You should consult your insurance broker, employment lawyer, human resources advisor, or CPA for further information.

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Solopreneur’s Challenge: Professional Development

This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series. I recently got an invite to an interesting looking one-day event directly relevant to my interests and, with discounts, the price would only be $1600 plus expenses! I was talking with another consultant about all… Read more »

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This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series.

Solopreneurs_Professional DevelopmentI recently got an invite to an interesting looking one-day event directly relevant to my interests and, with discounts, the price would only be $1600 plus expenses! I was talking with another consultant about all the events coming up in same week and she lamented how much was available locally that she wanted to go to compared to her available time.

Most of us realize it is important to stay current in our field. All of us need to learn new skills and technologies. Some fields require seminars, classes, or continuing education credits for licensing or recertification. Finding ways to keep your professional development a priority while funding it as well as making the time are challenges many solopreneurs find difficult.

When you are busy with clients or customers, it is hard to make the time. When you aren’t, you worry even more about the costs. Yet polishing your skills and knowledge is critical to your continued success.

Review Your Options

What is available locally? Take a look at professional associations in your field and what local chapters offer. Consider community college classes or university run seminars. Many professional groups and training companies offer programs in the Metro DC area, which cuts out travel and lodging costs.

The Alexandria SBDC runs a wide range of programs to help you learn new skills or keep up with changing trends. Many of these focus on marketing, retail, contracting, and employee issues. Also, the SBDC offers access to professionals who provide a wide range of free advice and consulting assistance each month to SBDC clients, including a lot of solopreneurs.

Local Chambers of Commerce and area business associations offer speakers and events that provide development options. Perhaps a Meetup group has what you need. There are a variety of small business, technology, women and veteran focused organizations offering great programs.

Check out online options. The SBA offers a myriad of online training programs. The Virginia SBDC Network does webinars on many topics, too. Consider a MOOC – many big name universities offer them and many also offer podcasts and webinars. Look at the various YouTube, podcasting, and webinar options – a little searching turns up a wide range of interesting programs.

Ask your mentors and others you trust for leads. You may find great events you would never hear of otherwise, I certainly have.

Make your continuing development a priority in your business plan. Set aside time and money each year to learn something new, keep up with changing technology, and develop new skills. This is easier if you are keeping abreast of trends in your field via books, trade publications, general business publications, professional associations, newsletters, and other similar resources – both online and off. In my field and many others, an annual legal seminar is critically important. Sure there are some quite expensive options but there are also local law firms which often offer less expensive or free legal updates. Your IT vendors and software providers may offer webinars or publications to help you keep abreast of important changes and security issues.
The Washington Post, Washington Business Journal, Potomac Tech Wire, Washington Network Group and others regularly publish lists of upcoming seminars, talks, and meetings which may meet your development goals – while offering good networking opportunities too.

TIP of the Month

“Make connections with people with complementary expertise. As a writer, my network includes great designers, photographers, PR experts, and others. I refer business to them and they refer business to me. The client benefits, and so do we.” Paula Whitacre www.fullcircle.org

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Does Your Small Business Need an Attorney?

At a recent Alexandria Small Business Roundtable, business owners discussed whether they needed an attorney for their business. All businesses must deal with some legal issues when they get started including the first step of registering and licensing their business. Determining which business structure (sole proprietorship, LLC, S-Corp, etc.) will work best for your business… Read more »

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Do You Need An Attorney BlogAt a recent Alexandria Small Business Roundtable, business owners discussed whether they needed an attorney for their business. All businesses must deal with some legal issues when they get started including the first step of registering and licensing their business. Determining which business structure (sole proprietorship, LLC, S-Corp, etc.) will work best for your business is a question that involves issues of liability and taxation.

There is some legal advice on the internet regarding these different business structures (www.nolo.com and www.bos.virginia.gov are among the best), but each business owners’ circumstances and desires are unique. It is always recommended that you have a consultation with an attorney to pick the structure that is right for you. If after this consultation you determine that a sole proprietorship will work for you, the business license is something that you can file for yourself.

Likewise, if a simple LLC will be your structure, you can file the paperwork, whether through an attorney, directly with the State Corporation Commission, or through the Virginia One-Stop website (www.bos.virginia.gov). If you will be structured as a more complicated LLC (several persons being members) or some form of corporation, it is always recommended that you work with an attorney to get set up correctly. Things like by-laws for a corporation or Operating Agreement for a LLC should also be reviewed by an attorney.

There are other areas where the consulting services of a small business attorney are recommended. Often, people come in to see us at the SBDC because their landlord has invoked some clause in their lease that they feel will hurt their business. If an attorney had reviewed the lease and explained important provisions to them before they signed it, they would be less likely to be surprised by “hidden clauses”.

Likewise, if a business owner is hiring employees, he or she may want to review Human Resources laws and regulations with an attorney or HR professional to be sure that they are complying with all federal, state and local requirements in hiring. Depending on the type of business, there may be contracts with vendors or customers that should be completely explained and understood before they are signed by the business owner.

If you have a relationship with a small business attorney because they have helped you to get set up, lease space, develop contracts, or hire employees, you have a business partner who is engaged in your business. While there will be some cost involved in this relationship, you need to consider that the price for peace of mind. Over the life of your business, there are always things that can happen that will put you in “crisis mode” – someone falls in your shop, claims to get sick from your food, an employee files a complaint, etc. Whether these issues have merit or not, business owners must deal with them.

Having an attorney who already knows you and your business can go a long way to furthering your success.  It will also make sense financially, since you will not be paying someone to come up to speed at the higher “emergency or representation” rates or fees, rather than the generally lower fees for consulting services. “Pay a little bit now, or a lot later” is something to keep in mind.

The Alexandria SBDC has a referral list of local attorneys that our clients have used and liked. We do not put anyone on the list unless we have seen how they operate and we are comfortable with them. All of the attorneys on our list have also agreed to offer a brief free “parameter setting” consultation.

You may wish to interview a few attorneys to find one that fits both the needs of your business and your comfort level in terms of personality and cost. Do not be afraid to ask questions about specialty areas and cost – your attorney expects these questions and should be eager to respond to them.  If you establish and grow this relationship with your small business attorney, you have a partner for the life of your business.

Photo credit

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HR & Hiring: Finding the Right People

This week’s video blog is presented by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources. Patricia is one of the counselors at the SBDC and specializes in HR and employment. In this clip, she discusses tips and recommendations for finding enough of the right types of people during the hiring process. If you’re interested in more… Read more »

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This week’s video blog is presented by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources. Patricia is one of the counselors at the SBDC and specializes in HR and employment. In this clip, she discusses tips and recommendations for finding enough of the right types of people during the hiring process. If you’re interested in more information about HR and employment issues, visit our HR & Employer Issues page. The Alexandria SBDC also offers monthly HR Counseling sessions with Patricia for businesses located in the City of Alexandria. If you are interested in attending one of these sessions, please contact Gloria Flanagan.

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