Small Business Insurance: A Necessity From the Start

Insurance
Insurance (Photo credit: Christopher S. Penn)

The “to do list” is long and daunting when you are start a new business. What entity to use ? What about office space ? What office furniture and equipment do I need ? All are good and necessary questions. Frequently missing from the list – what type of small business insurance will I need ? This question is one of the most important.

Insurance protects your business from losses due to fire, theft, yours and your employee’s negligence, and accidents that occur in your office. In its various forms, it provides peace of mind for you, protection for your business, its assets and your own personal assets.

While insurance needs depend on the business’ nature, almost all businesses should have a commercial general liability (CGL) policy. This policy protects the business from the costs of defense and settlements or judgments that result from bodily injury, property damage, libel, and slander claims. Depending on the policy and the nature of the claim, it may cover the costs of defense and a settlement or judgment for a breach of contract claim.

In addition to a CGL policy, if a business provides services, error and omissions (malpractice) insurance is a necessity. This policy provides protection for claims which allege negligence in the provision of services to customers and clients. A CGL policy does not cover these claims.

If the business owns the building or the business has business personal property, property insurance is a necessity. Property insurance protects the business property from fire, theft, vandalism and the like. If the business owns motor vehicles, then commercial auto insurance is necessary to protect the business from any claims arising from accidents in company owned vehicles. If employees drive their own cars for business purposes, then non-owned auto liability coverage is necessary in case the employee does not carry auto insurance or has inadequate coverage.

Depending on circumstances, other insurance policies that a small business should consider are: workers compensation insurance (required if the business has employees), business interruption insurance, disability insurance, data breach insurance, directors and officers insurance, and products’ liability insurance.

Many of the above coverages may be combined into a Business Owner’s Policy (BOP). A BOP is a package policy that combines the more common coverages, CGL, property, auto, business interruption, for example, into a single policy with premiums that are lower than if you purchased each policy separately.

To assess the types and amount of insurance that best suits your business, seek out an independent insurance agent who specializes in commercial lines insurance. Such an agent has the ability to shop the policy around for the best coverages and deductibles for the best premium. Since not all policies are created equal, the independent insurance agent is invaluable in comparing policies to ensure that you are buying the most appropriate insurance for your purposes. As 2012 comes to a close and 2013 dawns, it is a great time to assess or reassess your insurance needs. 

Law Office of Paula M. Potoczak
218 North Lee Street, Third Floor
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
(703) 519-3733 (Telephone)

Retire? Me?

retirement
retirement (Photo credit: 401(K) 2012)

Retire? That’s a discussion for others……… isn’t it?

A century ago, we worked until we died or became disabled. The Depression and WWII gave us Social Security and pensions. Now we have folks fearing they will never be able to retire – while many losing their jobs in the recession are involuntarily doing so.

Personal capacity building

Have you actually thought much about retirement? Do you, like many, intend to get around to thinking about it …. sometime? Do you love your work so that you fool yourself into believing that you will never retire? That your circumstances will never change? The most common predictor of early retirement for men is illness or job loss. For married women: the disability or illness of their husband.

 

Retirement

Retirement has both financial and personal aspects. Many of us don’t plan for either. And real planning should begin early, at least five years out for both.

Do some personal ‘what-if’ planning. Studies show that women still are more likely to be the care-givers. And this may mean that you will, as I have, end up caring for several older relatives in their last years. Dealing with the medical, emotional, and housing issues is not easy. All these and others related to aging family take far more time and energy than you expect — even if you can afford good help. And this hits your business directly, often disastrously.

Retirement and disability issues are all more difficult if you are a business owner. You can stockpile large emergency funds, buy key-man insurance, have disability insurance and a retirement plan for yourself, take other steps, or do all of these. But you still need to discuss what might happen with your family, your partners, your lawyer and CPA and other advisors – and plan!

For those of us fully invested in our work, planning the personal side is often even harder than the financial. Yet it is critical too. Think of all you gain from your work. How will you replace those positives – respect, recognition, creativity, learning, whatever – when you retire? If you plan to work forever, what will you do if you cannot?

Got employees?

Offering simple retirement options is attractive in hiring and retaining staff. Recent studies show even young employees are very concerned about money for retirement. Your benefits broker can show you a range of retirement savings options tailored to your organization’s needs and finances.

But you also need to think about what you plan to do when a valued employee suddenly is confronting elder care issues or an ill spouse. You may not have to comply with specific laws, if you are small enough, but you will find it hard to decide what you should do in the heat of the moment.

Do It Now!

Put a little time on your calendar NOW and think about the retirement related issues you face personally and in your business. List the advisors you have who can help. Get this on your planning horizon, act now, and make your life easier tomorrow.

Good Promotions for Back to School Season

Back to School season is really important for Small Business retailers. And, after Labor Day weekend sales are over, the rush of the autumn season pushes not only our clocks back an hour, but sometimes sales. Pat Melton, researcher extraordinaire (among many other hats) of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, came across a great article by Sharon McLoone at the Old Town Alexandria Patch site. As the article states, “Heather Stouffer, founder of Alexandria-based Mom Made Foods, shares some healthy eating tips for kids starting the school year.” She is finding creative ways to promote her business through the Back to School season, and not just because her line of food lends to kids start school shortly. Every event, holiday or celebration must be contemplated by Small Business retailers and services providers to see if there’s an opportunity to highlight products and services. This economy is going to get better thanks to the work we do as Small Business to kickstart the US market, so let’s take advantage as often as we can!

Read the full story over at Old Town Patch.

What are you doing for Back to School season to push out good promotions to finish your third quarter well?

Small Business Evangelist. Web & Digital Technology Strategist. Business Management Consultant. Presenter | Speaker | Trainer. Evernote Certified Consultant. Google Small Business Advisor, Productivity. Productivity, Technology & GTD Enthusiast, Coach & Podcaster.

Small Business Marketing…on the Go

Marketing doesn't have to stop while small business owners have some summer fun on the beachJuly and August are often a time when businesses slow down, and employees and their families take vacations while school is out for the long summer break. If your business or staff takes a break, it does not mean that you should stop promoting your business. Have you ever realized that travel-related items can be an effective way to promote your enterprise, whether in summer or any other time of year? Tourism and hospitality companies, such as travel agents, hotels, and tour operators have been doing this for a long time. Their clients may be other businesses who use their hospitality or travel services, or they may market direct to the end customer. You may be able to relate your business to travel in some way, and if so, travelers can be walking around displaying your business name wherever they may go with travel-related items

Let me give some examples. Have you ever noticed luggage tags or straps while you are checking your luggage at an airport or retrieving it from a carousel? Luggage tags and straps not only serve the obvious practical purpose of identifying luggage, but a standout color or design really help the luggage, that is so often black, stand out from the rest. This is a welcome advantage for the busy traveler and anyone who does not want to search among dozens of look-alike piece of luggage. One of my favorite (and inexpensive) ways to identify luggage is with a colorful Luggage Spotter which wraps around a handle, with a logo on the outside and the personal identification on the inside, so that it is protected from casual view. The Luggage Spotter™ uses Velcro to stay in place and the bright colors make it easy to spot from a distance. I use them all the time on my own luggage. Several of our customers have selected this as a way to give travelers something useful at a low cost. The logo could be that of a hotel, travel group or some affinity group that the traveler belongs to.  There are also many styles of luggage tags to choose from that hide personal information.

Still on the subject of air travel, did you know that TSA approved locks, and also plastic pouches that hold the allowed three oz. or less liquid or gel in bottles in a one quart zip top bag can be imprinted with a business logo? These are very useful items for any air traveler. If you wish to make a special gift, consider a travel wallet that will hold a passport and airline or other tickets. Low cost ones are available in vinyl, or go for a first class impression in leather.

Luggage itself may be one of the ultimate special gifts, and is certainly likely to be kept and used again and again by the recipient. A piece of luggage may include anything from a simple duffel bag or a garment bag to a set of luggage in different sizes. Inexpensive custom cameras will appeal to ad wide audience and can be tied into a special event or location. Maps and guides are other ways to make a traveler feel valued. Conventions and meetings planners can provide custom fold out maps to their attendees, whether it is a map of the exhibit hall and meeting space in a convention center or a map of the city and location that they are meeting in. If it is designed for the attendees at that event, it Has greater value and will certainly be appreciated.

So your business need not take a vacation, even if your employees do. With the imaginative use of some customized travel-related items, travelers can be out there promoting your business while they are on the go from place to place and they do not have to be anywhere near your business location to do this for you.

If you would like to discuss promotional ideas for your business, please contact Judith Harley at Oxford Communications, Alexandria, Virginia. Oxford Communications has been providing custom-imprinted promotional items, business gifts and corporate clothing to the business community for over ten years. Oxford Communications may be reached at 703-922-4193 or [email protected]. You are invited to visit our website at www.oxfordpromos.com.

 

Photo courtesy of Horia Varlan

Facebook Timeline Comes to Brand Pages

W3 Consulting's New Facebook Page Timeline

If you’re like most Small Business owners, your Facebook Page stood the same way today as it will tomorrow. However, Facebook has changed your Page to the new Timeline format whether you, I or your customers like it or not. Actually, they did so on March 31, 2012. Facebook is not where I engage my target audiences primarily so all I do is typically syndicate curated content and self-published content to our Facebook Page (like my blog posts and tweets), but for many Small Business owners it is currently their main Social Media hub. (My Facebook Page with all of 26+ Likes would have stayed the same, except that I posted a coverphoto to my Facebook Page in anticipation of writing this post today.) I am writing this article to educate you about the good, the bad and the ugly (sorry, there’s not much good here) of Facebook Timeline, in hopes of providing you with a small business strategy to leverage the change to benefit your bottom line.

Continue reading…

Small Business Evangelist. Web & Digital Technology Strategist. Business Management Consultant. Presenter | Speaker | Trainer. Evernote Certified Consultant. Google Small Business Advisor, Productivity. Productivity, Technology & GTD Enthusiast, Coach & Podcaster.

Federal Business Development and Marketing for Service Providers (Event)

Start Manage and Grow with the Alexandria SBDCSo you want to provide services to the federal government. Where do you begin to develop your book of business? How do you identify opportunities? How do you get face time with government staff?

Join us for the second in an interactive series of START, MANAGE, GROW your business workshops for federal contractors.  Workshop # 1 gave you the top 10 proven activities you need to do to obtain federal business.  In this workshop, Federal Contracting Consultant John Boulware will provide suggestions on how service providers can conduct Federal business development activities.  He’ll give service providers tips on how to identify Federal opportunities and how to get meetings with government staff.  He’ll also discuss reasons why some development efforts for services fail. He’ll also identify critical actions you shouldn’t do when seeking a federal contract.

REGISTER NOW

This FREE federal contracting SMART, MANAGE, GROW your business workshop is sponsored by the Alexandria Small Business Development Center and the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership.

Join us at for two hours of interactive programming in our new office Board Room, 625 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA beginning at 9:00 AM.    Learn federal contracting from someone who has seen it all through 23 years federal teaming and subcontracting experience.  John expects you to bring your questions!

 

Save the date for these other federal contracting workshops:
  • Tuesday, March 13: “Federal Proposal Development – Focus on Technical Proposal” presented by John Boulware, Federal Contractor Consultant
  • Tuesday, March 27: “Federal Proposal Development – Focus on Cost Proposal”presented by Sequin Lukon, The Essential Agreement, LLC
  • Tuesday, April 24: “Subcontracting to Prime Federal Contractors” presented by Sequin Lukon, The Essential Agreement, LLC
  • Tuesday, May 8: “Financing for Government Contracting: The Importance of Timing” presented by Barbara Greenwald of Sheinwald Financial Strategies.

For more information these and other SBDC trainings and programs, please contact:
Genny Lush
www.alexandriasbdc.org

Funded in part through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Small Business Federal, State and Local Government Contracting, an Overview

Alexandria Virginia City HallMany Small Business entrepreneurs interested in growing their businesses look to government contracting to sell their goods or services to state and federal agencies.  Alexandria Small Business Development Center can help you in many areas of government contracting.  To begin, you will need to register–think of it as the driver’s license to do government contracting–at all levels of government, and the requirements are separate and distinct for each level of government (i.e., local, state and federal).  There is a great deal of information on the Alexandria SBDC website under the “Grow Your Business” heading about the registration requirements for Virginia state (eVA) and federal (CCR) registration.  These registrations are generally done online, and it is necessary to have your formation documents (LLC or Corporate registrations, local business license, EFIN, and DUNS numbers) ready before you start the process.

Once you have reviewed the registration requirements, it is wise to see if there are any certifications for which you qualify that could give your business preference in the contracting process.  At the Virginia state level, SWaM (Small, Woman-owned and Minority) certification is available for most small businesses.  The application process is easier at the state level than at the federal level, so we generally advise small business owners to begin there.  Again, there are SWaM resources on our website to that describe the process and walk you through the registration and certification.

As indicated, the federal certification process is more complicated and the requirements for preferential contracting set-asides are more onerous.  Review the various programs through links on the SBDC website for the 8(a), WOSB, and other programs, described in detail on the SBAs website at www.sba.gov.  The Alexandria SBDC is ready to assist you in determining which program works for your company, and we can assist in the certification process.

Finally, once you have completed all registration and certifications requirements, you will need to work on developing government business.  This can be a time-consuming process, but there are certain “tricks and tips” that can assist you.  The Alexandria SBDC is offering a six-part series on Federal Contracting during the winter and early spring of 2012, so visit our website events page often, connect with us however you’d prefer (email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or AlexandriaSmallBusiness.com) or contact the SBDC for more details.  We also offer inpidual business development counseling for both federal and state contracting to City of Alexandria businesses.

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Photo courtesy of Cliff

Do I Really Need a Business Plan?

Alexandria SBDC Business Planning GuideMany people ask themselves that very question before starting a business or expanding an existing one and the quick answer is yes. Many entrepreneurs state that they have most of the information in their heads or on notes in outline form – why take the time to write it down in a format? It is well-accepted that if you take the time (a true commitment) to put your ideas in a clearly written form, the chances that your plan will be successful is multiplied many times over.

If you have never been a business operator and owner before, a detailed yet succinct formal business plan is what you need to give you tracks upon which to run. This train, with each of its cars (sections), will be pulled by a strong engine from the departure platform directly to a successful destination.

If you are an existing business owner considering an additional office or another retail store nearby (or completely out of town), a modified business plan will be helpful as you consider the costs and sales ramp-up period involved to reach breakeven.

On the other hand, if you are an experienced entrepreneur and have been through the process a few times, a “mini-plan” may be all that will be necessary for you to move ahead and obtain financing, if that is necessary.

If you foresee that funding the project will involve a lender, investor(s) and/or a landlord, a Business Plan is mandatory. Write for your intended audience but always write the plan for yourself. This plan will be an individual creation different from any other and bear your personal stamp.

Now, let’s talk about exactly what is in a business plan and how it works to help you. It is comprised of five major sections:

  1. Executive Summary;
  2. Business Description;
  3. Marketing;
  4. Operations; and,
  5. Financial.

In addition, there are sub-sections to the marketing and financial areas, cover page, table of contents and an appendix.

Contrary to what you may think, the Plan is not written in the order one may read it. The first section to complete is the Marketing section. This is the “engine” that drives the train and delivers the revenue you need to insure that your business can meet its cash flow requirements. The second section to craft is the Financial section with the project costs and performance projections spanning up to five years supported by written financial assumptions. When these two sections are considered to be in final form, you have completed about 80% of the hard work.

Finally, you are likely interested in how long it will take to finalize a business plan. You can anticipate it taking about 60-90 days if you work on it studiously and consistently. How long will it be? It will be anywhere from 30-40 pages (plus copies of tax returns for lender) dependent upon the audience for your plan. How does it affect the plan if it’s just for yourself? It shapes into a shorter and less wordy document. And, for a bank or other lender? Work on just the facts and prove the ability to service the debt. Lastly, for an investor(s)? Show returns over longer periods, concentrate on the return on investment (ROI) and exit strategy for the investor. You will find the task engaging and rewarding in many ways and glad that you took the time to do it right.

For more details on creating your business plan, visit Alexandria Small Business Development Center’s website or call us to schedule a meeting to discuss your needs.