Five Tips for Creating a Successful Home Remodeling Business

by Susan Solovic29. September 2014 07:59

remodeling a room

Are you addicted to HGTV? I admit, I’m a junkie, and one of my favorites is a show called, “Love It or List It.” I am amazed how the decorating team is able to transform homes simply by moving a wall or two or remodeling a kitchen. The increased interest in these types of programs seems to be spawning an increased interest in the home-remodeling industry.

After a slow start this year, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry reports a marked second quarter increase. According to the association’s report, the number of inquiries, request for bids, and conversion of bids were all on the rise. Additionally, the sales value of jobs made a significant upswing.

So if you’re thinking about launching your own home-remodeling business, there is no time like the present. Here are some tips to help you succeed:

  1. Give it the hobby test. DIY remodelers often do their work as a hobby or special interest. If that’s the case, you need to think about whether you'll still love it if you’re doing it as a full-time job. What’s interesting and fun as a vocation may be tedious and stressful when it’s your real job. 
  2. Know your skills. When you first launch a business and you need sales, it’s tempting to take on projects that you may not be prepared for. Don’t do it. That’s the quickest way to go out of business. Instead, stick with your area of expertise. If you’re great at building decks, don’t take a major kitchen-remodeling project if you’ve never done one. Get some experience first so you don’t jeopardize your chance of earning referrals.
  3. Know the legal stuff. Because home remodeling is somewhat risky, it’s a good idea to set up a legal entity for your business. This protects you from personal liability. You can do this easily and inexpensively online with one of the legal websites, such as Bizfilings.com. Also, check out what permits and licenses you need. And don’t forget about your insurance needs! You’ll likely need General Liability Insurance to start and Workers’ Compensation Insurance when you hire some help. (Fill out an application with insureon to make sure you have the coverage you need.)
  4. Understand your costs. Newbies in the home-remodeling industry often lower their prices in order to win a job. By lowering the price, they cut into their profit margins, which means there is no room for error. But there will be mistakes. Make sure a job generates enough profit so that you can cover the cost of a redo.
  5. Make customer service your priority. Homeowners are often nervous about working with home-remodeling companies, particularly someone who is new to the industry. Make sure you manage expectations appropriately and live up to your commitments. Referrals are one of the best ways to grow your business, and satisfied customers are your biggest assets.

Susan Solovic is THE Small Business Expert. In addition to her work guiding small businesses, Susan is a NYT bestselling author, media personality, keynote speaker, and former ABC News small biz contributor. Follow her on Twitter, or visit her website, SusanSolovic.com.

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The Holiday Season Starts Now

by Rieva Lesonsky26. September 2014 07:51

couple shopping

Let’s not kid ourselves: the holiday season really starts with back to school. Halloween quickly follows, and then there’s Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday…it’s enough to make you want to declare a holiday from the holidays. But if you’re a business owner, it’s the most wonderful time of the year to capture those purchases.

According to Internet Retailer, the challenge is the short shopping season – there are only 26 days between Black Friday and Christmas this year.

So let’s get started. Here’s your checklist for what to do now so you can be ready later:

  • Get creative with your marketing ideas. As you plan your email and social media marketing messages, think about how you can be helpful during the holidays. Reward shoppers for their early shopping by sending out coupons. Have a business that works great visually? Send short videos that show how to wrap a present in a new way, or post some pictures to Pinterest. You can also hold a photo contest on Instagram and reward shoppers with a gift they can re-gift.
  • Adapt to your customers’ mobile lifestyle. How does your website look on smartphones? Or on a tablet? Most digital marketers recommend not making your email messages or newsletters any bigger than 600 pixels wide so they can be seen on most smartphones. Also, make sure your mobile website is simple, with big icons or pictures to click on so it doesn’t take too long to load. IBM estimates that 20 percent of website sales and more than 43 percent of site traffic will come from mobile devices this November. 
  • Make sure you have enough staff to work during the holidays. Not only do you need salespeople, but you also need people to fulfill the sales and customer service personnel. If necessary, start looking into temporary staffing or paid interns.
  • Make suggestions. The holidays are a great time to encourage shoppers to add items to their online shopping carts before checkout. You can also add a pop-up window to see if they have any questions about their orders. Don’t make it difficult for customers to find the information they need, or they may give up and shop somewhere else.
  • Don’t get caught short on popular items during the holidays. Check with suppliers now to make sure they’ll be able to get you your top sellers in case of sudden high demand. You can also take preorders so you know how much to order.

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at rieva@smallbizdaily.com, follow her on Google+ and Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit her website, SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.

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It’s Not Too Late to Celebrate National Preparedness Month!

by Brenna Lemieux24. September 2014 07:54

two people high fiving

In 2004, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced the first National Preparedness Month. Since then, the event has been celebrated in the United States every year in September with the goal of encouraging Americans to prepare their families, schools, businesses, and homes for a variety of events that might cause serious damage.

If you’ve never heard of National Preparedness Month, don’t worry. It’s not too late to check out the resources offered by FEMA and others or to use the “holiday” as an excuse to get your business ready for worst-case scenarios. Think of this month like spring cleaning: there’s no real reason we have to prepare for disasters in September, but designating a spot on the calendar for preparation makes it harder to forget.

What Does “Preparedness” Mean?

In order to prepare your business for disaster, you have to take the time to determine which disasters are most likely to happen. On ready.gov/business, FEMA recommends considering how you’d deal with…

  • Floods.
  • Fires.
  • Hurricanes.
  • Tornadoes.
  • Earthquakes.
  • Illness epidemics (think H1N1).
  • Acts of violence or terrorism.
  • System malfunctions.
  • Software malfunctions.
  • Power outages.
  • Data breaches.

If you don’t already have a disaster plan in place, now is the time to put one together. Sound overwhelming? Remember that the important thing is not to have every single detail accounted for, but to have a strategy in place for the following big-picture items:

  • How you’ll contact employees, clients, or suppliers if you have to close down.
  • How you’ll replace broken equipment or repair office damages after a storm.
  • How you’ll bring in revenue if you’re forced to close your doors (e.g., through Business Interruption Insurance).
  • How you’ll respond if someone or something threatens the safety of you, your employees, or your customers.

Getting a Plan in Place

FEMA’s site is the best place to start for a comprehensive guide to assessing your risks, developing a plan, testing the plan, and making changes within your business to ensure you’re ready to emerge strong after disasters.

Keep in mind, too, that disaster preparedness complements the protection offered by business insurance. When something goes wrong in your business and you have to make a claim on a General Liability or Commercial Property Insurance policy, the claims process tends to be smoother when you have a disaster preparedness plan in place.

Why? Because part of planning involves taking careful stock of what you have and what you’d need to replace or repair. With records of every piece of equipment, for example, submitting a claim of property damage becomes much more efficient.

So if you haven’t yet taken a look at FEMA’s National Preparedness Month resources, do it today. And start planning ways to protect your business.

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Susan Solovic’s Small Business Tip Featuring Patrick Palmer

by Susan Solovic22. September 2014 07:57

Susan Solovic, THE Small Business Expert, is an entrepreneur, attorney, keynote speaker, media personality, best-selling author, and former ABC News small biz contributor. She uses her expertise to help others run successful businesses.

Check out this video where Susan talks with Patrick Palmer about how freelancers can optimize their productivity when working from home, how to get new business, and which technology can help keep them organized. Full transcript below.

Insureon – Freelance with Patrick Palmer

Today’s Small Business Tip is being brought to you by insureon.

Susan Solovic: Hi, everyone. I'm Susan Solovic, THE Small Business Expert, and you’re listening to today's Small Business Tip.

We’re going to be talking about getting your freelance business and your home-based business off the ground with one of my good friends, Patrick Palmer. He's known as “The Computer Guy.” You can check him out online at www.thecomputerguy.bz.

And Patrick, thanks for being here.

Patrick Palmer: Oh, you bet. Thanks for having me.

Susan: So Patrick, first let's talk about when you're working on your own, you’re freelancing, you’ve got your business in your home – how do you stay motivated?

Patrick: Well, you know, first of all, you have to treat your home-based business just like a regular business. You have to set the alarm clock and get up because you're going be keeping office hours in your home, so that’s how I pretty much started out was treating it like another job I had. Got dressed in the morning, took the shower, and ready to face the day with my computer. Because here in my home, I never know when somebody's going to drop by and drop off a computer, so you certainly don’t want to go to the door of your hair askew and in a bathrobe. You want to make sure that you look professional and greet the people like you’d greet them if they’re walking into your store downtown.

Susan: That's very true. Plus, I think it just kind of makes you feel more professional like, “I'm at work now. It's time to get going.”

Patrick: Yes. I remember when I had a former job at a radio station and the dress code was dress shirt and dress pants. More like, probably, business casual now, but they wanted you to look the part and feel the part. They thought that being better dressed you’d come off more professional on the radio. And so T-shirts and cutoffs and things like that weren't allowed back then. They are certainly now, of course, but it was just all in the way that you want to be representing yourself as a professional.

Susan: Right, that's an excellent point. So let's say you have been in your career for a while, and now you're a freelancer, working out of your home, so you're not bumping into people all the time. Got your shingle out there, open for business, but how do you let people know that you're available so you can get those jobs?

Patrick: Well, the first couple things I did was since I’m in a town of about 4500 people, I joined the Chamber of Commerce, which really helps out a lot. And now, as matter fact, I’m a member of four different Chambers of Commerce in North Iowa. Also, I wanted to make sure that I joined a few social media events. So I go to two social media breakfasts a month and then another social media event that is usually held at night. Just to socialize and to mingle, and also to talk a little bit of business. Then every Wednesday at noon, we meet at the local wing joint for Wings on Wednesday with a bunch of people that really aren't related with social media or aren’t really related to the Chamber of Commerce stuff. Just some friends we kick back and shoot the breeze and talk a little bit.

Susan: That's great, so you don't feel isolated. Because I think that's what happens a lot of times when people are working on their own, they’re freelancing. You know, you can kind of feel like, “Oh my gosh, I'm out here all by myself.”

Patrick: Yeah, that’s for sure. And, you know, the day goes pretty slow if you don't have anything but just work to do. Get out and take a noon hour, if you can do that, or take a walk around the block, or something like that. Just get out of the house, get out of the four walls for about 15 to 20 minutes. It will really do you a lot of good.

Susan: I need to follow that advice, Patrick. I'm one of those heads down and I’d look up, and the day is almost over. So I'm going to follow Patrick’s advice. Let me ask you about this: so many people… like I remember, when I started a business a number of years ago and was working out of my home, people kind of look down on it. But now, it's really accepted, and probably a lot of that has to do with technology.

Patrick: I remember a gentleman telling me a story at a social media event. He took his wife to the hospital one time, and he had to write down his occupation. And he wrote down, “entrepreneur,” and the nurse walked up to him says, “Oh, okay. So you're unemployed then.”

Susan: Oh, that’s a great one.

Patrick: So anyway, it’s really, entrepreneur is the new buzzword now, and it’s great to work at home for those folks who really enjoy it and can handle it. Now there are people, when I first started out, I figured, well, I was scared I was just going to sit and watch game shows and talk shows and cooking shows all day. Luckily, that didn't happen. But the temptation is there if you have a TV and you can get caught up in that, you can get caught up in Facebook and things like that, and take your mind off of work. Sometimes too much of a good thing isn't a good thing.

Susan: So when somebody is starting their freelancing career and working at home, what kind of technology do you recommend that they get right out of the box?

Patrick: Well, really, a good voicemail system because you don't want to miss calls, if that's your business. Personally, I use Google Voice, where if you do miss a call, it goes to voicemail and then it will email me a copy of the call as a voice to text. If I’m in a meeting, it'll send the same thing to my cell phone. When my phone rings and nobody else’s phone is on, I can look down at my phone and read the voicemail, then call people back on a break. So that's really a big one, I think, is to have a voice to text voicemail, no matter what company use. It's handy for meetings, if you're on a phone call, or are working with a client, it can go right to your voicemail and you can actually read that.

Susan: Right, you don't have to be tethered to your desk anymore, that's for sure.

Patrick: Right. And another thing I used for my business, I want to know who's out there talking about me – good or bad. If there's a good thing being said or somebody says, “Oh, that computer guy blah blah blah,” I use Google Alerts. And what you can do is log into Google Alerts and type in phrases like “the computer guy” or your name, your competitors’ names, your hometown name, or whatever keywords that you want to search. Then every time those words come up on the Internet together, they send you an email. And so it’s some good reputation management tools there if you want to keep paying attention to what possibly people are saying about you on the World Wide Web.

Susan: That's a great idea, too. If you are a freelancer and you want to get work from a particular company, just kind of keep track of what they're doing, and maybe you can get in the door and be a problem solver for them.

Patrick: That's for sure. And of course, on my cellphone I've got a couple of payment tools when I go out to deliver computers. Someone says, “Oh, I forgot my checkbook,” or, “I don't have cash.” Well, I take credit cards through a couple different sources. One would be, of course, PayPal. You could take the Square. Many, many, many choices on that. I also take Dwolla. And Dwolla is an Iowa-based unit of currency, you might say, or a credit card transaction company. And anything that’s under a $10 transaction, there's no service fee on that. Anything over a $10 transaction is just a 25-cent service fee, whether you pay it or they pay it, it's only a quarter.

Susan: Well, that's a really cool system. We’ll have to look around and see where that might help in other states. Finally, one more question for you, Patrick.

A lot of freelancers, they’re in business for themselves, they get started, they don't think about business licenses or permits or things like that they need. Any advice?

Patrick: Really, you need to just check all that out with your local state, city, or county. I know that sometimes for computer repair, some states require it, some states don't. But just know exactly what you need for your state because there's nothing worse than starting to do business, and, of course, your competitors will turn you in. That’s kind of the handy thing about competitors is they’re always your watchdogs. When you start to make a little bit of money or start to be successful, and they feel it, that’s when they’re going to be calling those agencies and say, “Oh gee whiz, did you know that you need a license for A, B, and C?”

Susan: Right.

Patrick: So, promote yourself as having those licenses. Promote yourself as being insured, bonded, or whatever regulatory thing that you need. And just promote that.

Susan: That’s great. Even if you think you know the answers, check it out first. Make sure you're safe.

Well, Patrick, thank you so much for joining me. That's great advice, and as I said, if you want to check out Patrick…by the way, he does a really cool newsletter, too. So check out The Computer Guy online, which is www.thecomputerguy.bz. We’ll also have that up on our website.

You’ve been listening to THE Small Business Expert, Susan Solovic, with our Small Business Tip today. Join us again next time.

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Del Taco Faces EPLI Lawsuit over Alleged Pregnancy Firing

by Jaclyn Patulo19. September 2014 08:30

pregnant woman at work

In Gresham, Oregon, a former Del Taco employee is seeking $242,000 in damages from the company for firing her after she was noticeably pregnant, according to The Oregonian. Claudia Melesio-Rojas claims in fall 2013, the restaurant managers allegedly told employees they weren’t allowed to become pregnant. Melesio-Rojas filed a pregnancy discrimination complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries.

Whether this is a legitimate case of discrimination or an unfounded claim, Del Taco now faces a pricey lawsuit. And even small businesses can find themselves in the crosshairs of a similar type of legal mess. Keep in mind that even if a business is not found liable, it must defend itself in court. And that costs money – lots of it.

How Does Employment Practices Liability Insurance Protect Your Business?

Say you’re interviewing applicants for an open position at your IT consulting firm, and you decide to hire a qualified young professional straight out of school. Another applicant, an older man with less IT security experience, files a lawsuit against your business, citing discrimination based on age.

Employment Practices Liability Insurance can cover legal costs when such a lawsuit is brought by prospective, current, or former employees. EPLI coverage can help pay for settlements or judgments and lawyer fees, which can snowball even if you aren’t liable for the claim.

Think of EPLI as a necessary safety net for employers. It can cover a wealth of managerial mistakes, including allegations of…

  • Mismanagement of employee benefits.
  • Sexual harassment.
  • Wrongful termination.
  • Discrimination based on age, gender, religion, nationality, or race.
  • Privacy invasion.
  • Emotional or mental distress.

Of course, you should always try to do everything in your power to create a safe and fair workplace. That may mean brushing up on federal legislature governing U.S. employment practices, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Act and the Family Medical Leave Act.

For example, EEO laws prohibit employment discrimination based on gender, which includes pregnancy status. To learn more, check out the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s site.

3 Ways to Minimize Your Risk of Employment Practices Lawsuits

The most even-handed small-business owners may still face an employment discrimination lawsuit at some point in their careers. That’s why you should…

  1. Establish and document comprehensive employee policies and practices. Write guidelines for worker practices, and review them frequently with your team.
  2. Keep an “open door” policy. Tell your employees they can share their concerns regarding work practices without fear of reprimand. All questions and activities should be fairly investigated.
  3. Don’t cancel your EPLI coverage. Employment Practices Liability Insurance is issued on a “claims-made” basis. A claim will only be covered if the incident in question occurred while your insurance policy was active and your policy is still in force when the claim is reported.

To learn more about workplace discrimination, check out our EPLI blog series

how is your business exposed

Are You Ready for the Freelance Revolution?

by Susan Solovic17. September 2014 08:00

a studly freelancer

In sports, talented athletes look forward to the day they become free agents. They can shop their services around to the highest bidder or look for the best "working" environment. A certain basketball player, Lebron James – maybe you've heard of him – recently did that very thing.

In many ways, freelancers are the business-world equivalent of professional athlete free agents. This is especially true today when a lot of very talented businessmen and women have lost full-time corporate employment.

Freelancers are American's fastest growing workforce. And according a survey released by Freelancers Union, almost 90 percent of freelancers say they would keep their independence even if offered a full-time job.

Maybe this speaks to the desire to maintain a healthy work-life balance. But the benefits of freelance work don’t stop there. Freelance professionals enjoy…

  • Flexibility.
  • Schedule control.
  • Being their own boss.
  • Doing what they love.

The freelancing boom can be traced back to a "perfect storm" of telecommuting meets the Great Recession. We know that recessions always give a boost to the number of small business startups, so when the last one hit – after the Internet had made telecommuting effective and efficient – everything was in place to create a bumper crop of solopreneurs. (For more, read, “Temps Are Making a Comeback. Are They Right for Your Business?”)

The question today is: are you thinking about joining this revolution? If so, here are a few tips to help you start strong:

  • Make sure you have a nest egg. This will help you get through the lean startup months. As an alternative, you can piggyback a freelance business onto your current gig, and then transition to the freelance lifestyle as it grows. Not recommended: forcing a reluctant spouse back into the workforce.
  • Track down a couple "anchor" gigs. If you’re currently working for someone, ask if they want to keep you on in a freelance position for a long-term project. This could provide a sizable chunk of the new business you need to drum up. In any case, without a few steady clients, you will end up spending far too much time hunting down jobs.
  • Leverage collaboration and networking. Sometimes, there are gigs or elements of jobs that you can’t handle yourself. Develop a network of like-minded freelancers who you can turn to in these situations. They can also do the same for you. Not only will you get additional work through networking, but you’ll also be able to offer more services to potential clients.
  • Get insured. When you're a freelancer, you only have yourself to rely on. And when clients are unhappy with your work, they could try to recoup their losses through the legal system. Be sure to carry adequate liability insurance (e.g., Errors and Omissions Insurance and General Liability Insurance) to protect yourself.

One of the promises of the Internet was that it would liberate and empower individuals. The move toward freelance employment is one tangible measure that at least some of the Web's promise is being fulfilled.

Susan Solovic is THE Small Business Expert. In addition to her work guiding small businesses, Susan is a NYT bestselling author, media personality, keynote speaker, and former ABC News small biz contributor. Follow her on Twitter, or visit her website, SusanSolovic.com.

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Genetic Engineering to Keep Workers’ Comp Costs Low

by Jaclyn Patulo15. September 2014 08:32

peach trees

Peach and nectarine growers may see the cost of their Workers’ Compensation Insurance dropping, as researchers are using genetic engineering to breed shorter trees, according to an LA Times article. These farmers typically pay 40 percent more for Workers’ Comp Insurance than grape growers because of ladders. Unlike the traditional 13-foot trees, the eight-foot trees will allow workers to harvest from the ground. According to sources, these “ladderless” orchards will decrease the number of accidents and improve worker safety.

That’s great news for peach and nectarine orchards, but what does it mean for your small business? In a nutshell, even seemingly small improvements to workplace safety could result in markedly lower Workers’ Comp premiums.

Putting a Number on Workplace Accidents: How Workers’ Compensation Premiums Are Determined

Maybe you’re not running a small family-owned peach orchard. Rather, you’re the owner of flower shop – so your workers don’t risk falling off ladders, right? But they face other hazards. Sharp pruning shears for trimming stems could cut a gardener’s fingers. Puddles on the floor from watering pots could cause a sales associate to slip and fall. The cashier could have a terrible allergic reaction to an exotic plant. And the list goes on.

When determining Workers’ Comp premiums, each of these risks translates into numbers. In total, the cost of your Workers’ Comp Insurance depends on…

  • The number of employees you have. Premiums are based on your gross annual payroll.
  • Experience modification and claims history. This compares your losses to the expected losses for others in your industry.
  • Employee activities and classification. Work classification codes identify risks associated with different professions.

And while you may swear up and down that you run a safe and risk-free workplace, chances are Workers’ Comp coverage isn’t optional. You can learn about your state’s requirements in our Workers’ Compensation Laws by State guide.

Save Money By Reducing Opportunities for Worker Injuries

Like the peach and nectarine farmers creating ladderless orchards, you can implement ways to lower the risk of injury for your employees. Genetic engineering may not be the answer for your small business, but technology and smart safety practices can be.

For example, say you run an IT business and your staff spends a lot of time typing away at the computer. To reduce repetitive motion injuries, you could use ergonomic office equipment, such as split keyboards and elevated desks.

If you own a hair salon, you might require stylists to keep hair shears in padded cases or holsters. You could also require that stylists organize hair appliance cords, which may prevent electrical hazards. You may even provide padded floor mats to ease back tension for stylists standing all day.

Construction professionals can don appropriate safety attire, such as hard hats and goggles.

You can also prevent worker injury by…

  • Creating and distributing safety guides. Prepare detailed safety procedures for your employees to follow while working.
  • Reviewing and practicing safe habits. Regularly train your employees in all your industry’s standard safety practices to keep the information fresh.
  • Replacing old equipment. Tools and equipment in frequent use need to be regularly checked and maintained to prevent deterioration and malfunction.

Even when you are mindful of possible hazards, accidents can still happen. And when they do, you’ll be glad you have Workers’ Comp to cover the cost of employee medical bills and replacement wages.

Need a policy? Apply online for free Workers’ Compensation Insurance quotes.

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Visual Marketing, Starring: You!

by Rieva Lesonsky12. September 2014 08:01

movie clapperboard

Do you ever join a webinar, listen to a podcast, or watch a video blog and think, “I want to do that!” Visual (and auditory) marketing tactics are increasingly popular. According to research from PewInternet.org, women significantly outnumber men in visual social media activity, which is good news if you want consumers to post and share your videos with their friends. Any business can take pictures and film short videos, but webinars, video blogs and podcasts are a different animal.

For starters, these tactics involve a lot more work than you may think. To do it right, you need professional equipment and help from someone who knows what they’re doing. If you try to do it yourself without the proper know-how or tools, you could end up looking like an amateur and convey the wrong image to your audience.

Here are some tips that can help you nail these visual marketing techniques.

Webinars

“Before creating webinars or videos, consider how they will fit into your content strategy,” says Candice Stennett, marketing manager at SCORE.org. “Develop a plan that outlines the purpose of the new content, how frequently it will be produced, and what resources are available to do it effectively.”

When should you do a webinar rather than just a video? If you want people to be able to ask you questions and interact with you, a webinar is the platform for you. The Adobe Connect Blog offers some webinar stats to keep in mind:

  • 51 percent of visitors to a site will end up registering for a webinar. Make sure your registration process is simple and the event is described in detail.
  • 36 percent who register actually attend. Make sure you send out reminders to those registered and include an Outlook calendar invite.
  • 54 minutes is the average time an attendee stays tuned, but most webinars last one hour. Make sure you announce a Q&A portion will be coming at the end so people stick around. 
  • 55 percent of registrants will view the webinar recordings even after attending. Once the webinar is finished, send a recording of the webinar to attendees.

“Before you start a webinar program, consider your budget for choosing a conference provider,” says Stennett. “The platform you use is a crucial element to your webinar success. The ReadyTalk blog and On24 Resource Center have some great educational resources around building an effective webinar program. Incorporate some of their best practices to avoid common mistakes.”

Videos

If you’re not looking for interaction from your audience – for example, you want to offer a demonstration – a video will work better than a webinar. For best results, you still need professionals (e.g., videographers and editors) to help you make it appealing and polished.

Your video doesn’t have to be as long as a webinar. In fact, short videos can capture a ton of attention because they’re easier to view on a smartphone or tablet. “If you’re interested in creating videos, there are many tools you can use to get started, such as Powtoon, Screenr, and WeVideo, to name a few,” says Stennett.

Podcasts

The great thing about podcasts is that customers can download the podcast and listen on their mobile devices whenever and wherever they choose – in their cars, while exercising, on a plane, etc. You’ll need professional recording equipment and software to make a podcast, and you should comply with the iTunes formatting requirements.

A better idea (at least in the beginning) is to find a partner company that already has the equipment and technology in place. Offer them your expertise for a podcast, and then promote the podcast on your website.

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at rieva@smallbizdaily.com, follow her on Google+ and Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit her website, SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.

how is your business exposed

Lessons from Ferguson: Does Business Property Insurance Cover Damage from Civil Unrest?

by Jaclyn Patulo10. September 2014 07:45

closed sign

Civil unrest stirred in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9, 2014. Moved to action, residents gathered to protest the tragedy. But as the protest and tensions grew, some local storefronts were collateral damage.

As the world looks on at the news coming out of Ferguson, many business owners wonder what the cost of recovery might be. Does insurance cover damages from civil disturbance? All the broken shop windows, fire damage, and stolen property?

You might be surprised to know that a Business Owner’s Policy does indeed cover these costs. Let’s explore it in more detail.

How a BOP Can Keep Your Business Afloat in Times of Uncertainty

A Business Owner’s Policy is only available to small-business owners who meet certain requirements. It bundles together Property Insurance and General Liability Insurance at an affordable price. Because a BOP protects your business property against loss or damage, it can be written to include coverage for direct physical loss caused by civil unrest, such as theft, broken windows, fire, and vandalism. (Note: some policies need to be written to explicitly include glass window insurance for broken store windows and plate glass windows.)

But what if a protest happens right in front of your business? Police may block off streets, or conditions may be unsafe near or around your workplace. And each day customers can’t walk through your doors is money lost.

It’s a good thing BOPs can also include Business Interruption Insurance, which reimburses you for lost income or extra expenses when a covered event brings your business to a halt. However, business income coverage only kicks in if…

  • There is physical damage to the property severe enough that the business must suspend its operations.
  • There is physical damage to other property that prevents customers or employees from gaining access to the business.
  • There is a curfew or other restrictions in place by civil authorities keeping people away from the area.

Even if these conditions are met, most businesses must wait several days before their Business Interruption coverage can take effect. Check out insureon’s Desirable Coverages Checklist to see what other types of coverage can improve the safety and productivity of your business.

Understanding the Fine Details of Your BOP

A Business Owner’s Policy can include many different types of coverage to protect your business, but it’s important to understand what’s included and what’s not. Policies differ depending on the size of your business, location, property, and industry.

For example, your BOP may give you the option of two kinds of Property Insurance:

  • A named-perils policy. This only covers losses resulting from specific events named in the policy.
  • An all-risk policy. This covers all events except those specifically named in the policy.

It’s difficult to predict risks your small business might face. To help you get prepared, contact an insureon agent for advice on your coverage needs. 

know your business risks

Susan Solovic’s Small Business Tip Featuring Barbara Weltman

by Susan Solovic8. September 2014 08:21

Susan Solovic, THE Small Business Expert, is an entrepreneur, attorney, keynote speaker, media personality, best-selling author, and former ABC News small biz contributor. She uses her expertise to help others run successful businesses.

Check out this video where Susan talks to tax attorney Barbara Weltman about what freelancers need to know about their self-employment taxes and home-office deductions. Full transcript below.

Insureon – Freelance with Barbara Weltman

Susan Solovic: Hi everyone, and welcome! I'm Susan Solovic, THE Small Business Expert.

Thanks for joining for today's Small Business Tip, and we're going to be concentrating mostly on those of you who are joining the freelancers’ revolution in this country. And many of you are working out of your home, so I reached out to one of my friends – and absolutely probably one of the best experts when it comes to taxes and legal issues for small businesses – and that’s Barbara Weltman. She is a tax and business attorney. She shares great advice and information to help you get ahead in your business, but also most importantly, to really protect your business. And I really encourage you to check out her website: it's just www.BarbaraWeltman.com.

One of the things that she has that I absolutely love is her “Idea of the Day,” which lands in your inbox with just a tidbit of important information to help you with your business. And she just told me she has a new book out. It’s J.K. Lasser’s Guide to Self-Employment. It’s all that information that you need about taxes to help you when you are now a Schedule C worker.

And Barbara, welcome. Thanks for joining me.

Barbara Weltman: Oh, it's my pleasure.

Susan: I'm just going to start off because I imagine a lot of people who are listening to us now don't even know what a Schedule C worker is. So when you're filing a Schedule C, what does that mean, Barbara?

Barbara: That means that you report your business activities – that is, the income that you earn and your expenses – on a Schedule C that’s part of your 1040 annual tax return.

Susan: Okay, so let's talk about taxes because, as I mentioned in the intro, there are so many people who are joining the freelancer revolution. They can't find jobs or simply it’s something they've always wanted to do. They get paid, and then, they just put that money in the bank. But there's a lot more they should consider when it comes to taxes because no one's withholding taxes for them. What should they do?

Barbara: Well, that’s a big challenge for people, especially people who used to be W-2 employees with mandatory and regular withholding. Versus now, they are what might be considered 1099 workers because the businesses that they provide services for will issue a form 1099 information return to them, as well as to the IRS. And it’s their responsibility to report their income and pay their taxes. And this is more than just filing a Schedule C. It also includes the responsibility of paying those taxes quarterly through estimated taxes because there is no withholding. And those estimated taxes include not only the tax on your profits – the income tax on your profits – but also your Social Security and Medicare taxes called self-employment tax. Which is really twice the FICA amount. Because, in effect, you pay the employer and employee share even though you're not an employer or an employee.

Susan: That's a good point and that surprises a lot of people. Barbara, if you're just starting out now, let’s say you’ve left your job and you’re starting freelancing just this year in 2014, how would you know though – how much to pay in those quarterly estimated taxes?

Barbara: Well, that’s a big challenge because you don't know what's going to happen in the future. You can always make adjustments, and there are certain safe harbors where you can rely on what you paid in the previous year to avoid any penalties. But the challenge is to make sure that you pay some taxes all along so that you don’t have this giant payment at the end – even if it's not going to be penalized because you have to come up with that cash to pay the tax.

So, what I advise is that you put a certain percentage aside, whatever you decide – whether it's 10 percent or 20 percent – of all the earnings that come through and put that aside so you'll have cash on hand when it's time to pay estimated taxes. And then as I said, you have to figure what those taxes should be. It may be wise to work with a CPA or some other tax advisor to help you get a handle on what you should be paying.

Susan: Great advice. Another question for you with freelancers out there, they're getting work coming in. I have a lot of people say to me, “Oh, I know Joe or Sally. I worked with them when I was in the corporate world. We're going to do this deal together. They agreed to pay me. You know, all is good. I don't need to put anything in writing.”

What would you say to that person?

Barbara: Oh well, you don’t want to find out at the end that there's a problem. You’d better address the issues upfront. And one of the things you can do, especially as a freelancer is, it's really advisable to structure your payments for the work that you do so that you get something all along – so that you're not left with a big bill at the end that you have to collect.

So, for example, if you're doing a project for a company, make sure that you get paid a portion on signing an agreement, a portion when a quarter of the work has been finished, or a certain milestone in the project has been completed. Again, this will prevent any problems later on about collection, and also you’ll have a regular stream of income coming in.

Susan: One of the things that I have seen personally is sometimes if you get a project with a major company, they want to know that you have a certain level of insurance policy to cover you if there are any mistakes or things made along the way. Can you explain that to me and why that's important for a freelancer?

Barbara: Sure. You may be required to have what's called an E&O policy, an Errors and Omissions policy. And you can talk to a commercial insurance broker, who can help you get the kind of coverage that you need. But basically, this kind of policy covers you for the agreements that you make so that if you make a mistake or you fail to do something that you should have done, the insurance will protect the company that you're doing the work for because there will be money on hand. And also, it’s a really great idea because many freelancers work as self-employed individuals. They don't incorporate; they have no personal liability protection. Having this insurance will make sure that the insurance pays if you goof rather than being sued and having your personal assets at risk.

Susan: Right. What is the old saying? An ounce of protection beats a pound of cure, or something like that, right?

Barbara: I think you nailed it.

Susan: Yeah, good. Okay, one more quick question. I get asked this a lot. So lots of freelancers are working out of their homes, should they take the home-based tax deduction, or is that a red flag?

Barbara: Great question, because I get asked that all the time. And the fact is that right now, 52 percent of all businesses in the U.S. are home-based. That’s a statistic that came from the Small Business Administration. And the IRS, just this previous year, instituted a simplified home office deduction option instead writing off your actual cost. Which I think kind of acknowledges the fact that so many people are working from home legitimately.

My advice to people is: make sure that you look at the requirements for eligibility to take the home office deduction. In other words, that the home office is your principal place of business and you don't have an office some other place that would prevent you from taking the write-off. And keep good books and records about any expenses if you're writing off your actual costs. In other words, if you're entitled to the deduction: take it, because even if the IRS should question your deduction, you will be protected. You will probably come out victorious. But more than that, I think that the IRS has backed off considerably on challenging home office deductions.

Susan: That's very good. We love to hear the IRS is backing off. So Barbara, thank you so much. You have so much information to share, so I encourage everyone, please, go to Barbara’s website. Once again, that’s www.BarbaraWeltman.com.

She has that “Idea of the Day” that I mentioned to you. She also has a great newsletter you should sign up for as well. And look for her new book, J.K. Lasser’s Guide to Self-Employment. She'll have lots more detail about this subject we've been talking about today, about protecting your freelance and/or home-based business.

Barbara, once again, thanks for being here.

Barbara: My pleasure.

Susan: And thanks for joining me, THE Small Business Expert, for today’s Small Business Tip. We'll see you next time.

Today’s Small Business Tip has been brought to you by insureon, America’s choice for small business insurance. Be sure to check us out on the web at insureon.com.

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