Category Archives: Business

Some Places to Find Businesses For Sale Online

Want to be an entrepreneur? You don’t necessarily have to start and build your own brand-new business; sometimes the best move is to buy and grow an already-established company.

Aspiring owners who don’t know where to start should consider looking into websites, which direct you to the best businesses and properties for sale. From there, you can decide which best fits your entrepreneurial goals and budget.

Here are seven companies to find a business to take over:

1. BizBuySell.com
BizBuySell.com boasts that it is “the Internet’s largest business for sale marketplace” and offers users options to buy a business, buy a franchise, sell a business, get help with financing and more. Users can search for businesses by category, state and country, and even set a minimum and maximum price. You can also search franchises by type, state, and amount of capital you have available to invest. Or, you can search for a business broker near you.

2. BizQuest.com
Search on BizQuest.com for your desired businesses, franchises or business brokers by location and business type or industry. And perks for sellers are good, too: BizQuest.com allows you to post ads in just five minutes. The ads are then shared on the company’s partner websites, like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. BizQuest.com also gives you the option to browse listings in top cities as well as the most popular franchises and industries.

3. BusinessBroker.net
BusinessBroker.net has more than 30,000 business-for-sale listings just waiting for you to sift through. As with the other websites, you can search for businesses and franchises, find brokers and see listings by industry and location. BusinessBroker.net also has a finance and loan center that offers professional help to guide you in your business purchasing decisions.

4. MergerNetwork.com
MergerNetwork.com has more than 15,000 active business-for-sale listings around the world. It allows sellers to post ads for their business for free and connect with over 14,000 entrepreneurs, investment bankers and business brokers.

5. BusinessesForSale.com
This website currently has more than 62,000 business listings in the United States and around the world, including available franchises. Users can search by business sector and location to find the perfect business for them. BusinessesForSale.com also has features like email alerts and a services directory for those who need accountants, brokers, lawyers and more.

6. LoopNet.com
With more than 800,000 listings available, it’s easy to understand why LoopNet.com is a reliable resource for discovering businesses for sale in your region. If you’re already a business owner or an entrepreneur with a busy schedule, LoopNet is available in app form (on Google Play and in the App Store) to peruse listings on your schedule, from wherever.

Additionally, the site is partners with commercial real estate firms like Century21, Chusman & Wakefield, CBRE, Sperry Van Ness, and Re/Max Commercial.

On the other end of it? If you’re looking to sell your current business, LoopNet provides the opportunity to list your business.

7. BusinessMart.com
BusinessMart.com, like many of the other websites, has both businesses and franchises available as well as resources and services to help you get funding. It also allows you to search by location and business category, or search franchises by your available capital.

Let’s Learn About Business Plan Tools for Startups and Small Businesses

Have a killer business idea? A killer business plan can help you turn it into a successful business. Creating a well-crafted business plan is no easy task, however. You’ll need to not only flesh out your idea, but also have a deep understanding of the different aspects of running a business — before you even start one. Figuring out how to do this correctly is hard enough, but there are several tools available to make this arduous task a little bit easier for would-be entrepreneurs. Instead of starting from scratch, here are a collection of business plan templates, software, apps and services to help you start a business the right way with a professional business plan.

Business plan templates
Business plan templates show you exactly what a business plan is supposed to look like and what goes in each section. You can find them as downloadable sample business plans that you can copy and modify to fit your business, or as fill-in-the-blank or question-and-answer forms. There are also different types of business plans: simple business plans that cover the essentials, comprehensive ones that cover every aspect of a business, and those designed for a specific purpose, such as to raise funding or find business partners. Here are some business plan templates worth considering.

The $100 Startup One-Page Business Plan. One-page business plans take the fuss out creating a business plan by getting down to the basics of what your business is about and how you intend to meet its goals. Think of it like writing down your business on a napkin, but with a purpose. The $100 Startup’s One-Page Business Plan is one such business plan template. Simply answer a few questions like “What will you sell?” “What will you charge?” and “How will customers learn about your business?” in a couple sentences and you’re good to go.

SCORE Business Plan Templates. Small business resource SCORE has a collection of free PDF and Word business plan templates for startups, established businesses and even nonprofits. The organization also offers additional types of business planning resources and templates, such as financial projections, market research, sales forecasts, SWOT analysis and more. Once your business plan is finished, you can meet with a SCORE mentor for feedback and guidance.

Bplans.com. Looking for free sample business plans? Bplans.com offers a wide range of them for all types of businesses, including retailers, online businesses, service providers, restaurants and more. These sample templates come complete with a table of contents and sections like executive summary, company summary, products and services, financial planning, market analysis and other standard business plan sections. Bplans.com offers more than 500 sample business plans that can be downloaded as Word, PDF and other file formats.

Rocket Lawyer. If you need to make your business plan a legal document, check out Rocket Lawyer. Rocket Lawyer lets you create your own legal documents and provides access to various legal services. Its business plans section lets you create business plans in three steps: build, save and sign. You can also print and share your business plans for easy access. Rocket Lawyer business plans come with standard parts of a business plan, as well as sections for funding requests and appendix for supporting documents.

Business plan apps
You don’t have to be glued to your desk to create a business plan. There are several business plan mobile apps that will let you write a business plan anytime, anywhere right on your smartphone or tablet. Here are two worth checking out.

StartPad. Recognized by Entrepreneur and Forbes, StartPad is one of the top business plan apps available for the iPad. This app offers a wide range of business planning resources, such as strategic business planning tutorials, professionally made sample business plans, financial projections and other reports. Business plans created on StartPad can also be exported as high-resolution PDFs or printed out. The basic version of StartPad is free to download and use, but requires in-app purchases for additional features. Get StartPad from the Apple App Store.

Business Plan & Start Startup. Are you an Android user? Business Plan & Start Startup is the app for you. This app isn’t just for creating a business plan, however. It also aims to do three things for entrepreneurs: help start a business the right way with a well-crafted business plan; keep them motivated and on track; and provide a community of fellow entrepreneurs, small business owners and experts to help guide users in creating their business plan and running their businesses. Business Plan & Start Startup can be downloaded from the Google Play marketplace

Business plan services
Don’t want to use any of the above? Try an online business plan service, which guides you throughout the business plan writing process. The services offer similar tools as business plan software — such as document collections and chart generators — with the difference being that they typically offer business and legal specialists who can help you better understand complex aspects of your business and business plan. Two online business plan services to consider are LivePlan and the SBA Business Plan Tool.

Bizplan.com. Need funding? Check out startup.co’s business plan service, bizplan.com. This web-based business plan comes with a step-by-step guide to help you build your business plan and optimize it for investors. Business plans can also be completely tailored to your business with logos, graphics, layouts and custom designs to fit your brand. After building your business plan, you can share and publish it on startup.co’s crowdfunding site, fundable.com, where you can connect with investors and add elements like photos and videos to highlight your business.

LivePlan. LivePlan is a cloud-based business plan service that offers everything from document generation to planning tools, financial calculators, guidance resources and more. The service guides you through each component of the business plan and provides step-by-step instructions and advice based on the objective of your business plan (starting a business, business development, funding, etc.)

SBA Business Plan Tool. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Business Plan Tool covers everything from executive summary and company description to market research, product line, marketing and sales, and financial projections in detail. You can also personalize your business plan with your company logo, as well as save, print and update your business plan as needed.

6 Things First Do When Writing a Business Plan

Entrepreneurs are often advised to write a business plan before they officially start their business. The act of writing the business plan will help focus on the details, find items that were not previously considered and fine-tune the approach to running a successful business.

Before a formal plan can be written, however, there are a few key elements you’ll need to work out that will ultimately help you craft that document. Entrepreneurs and business experts recommend taking the following steps before you sit down to write your plan.

Determine your purpose
The primary purpose of a business plan is to show investors, lenders and other potential stakeholders how your company plans to make a profit. Profit is important, but it’s far from the only thing that matters when you start a business, experts say.

“Business plans can be helpful tools to clarify … business activities, [but] they … encourage entrepreneurs to focus on what they are going to do,” said Alan Williams, co-author of “The 31 Practices” (LID Publishing Inc., 2014). “This overlooks two more important questions: ‘why’ — why it exists and why employees would want to get out of bed in the morning, and ‘how’ — the values of the business, what it stands for, how people representing the business will behave.”

Williams noted that entrepreneurs should take time to identify and articulate their business’s core values and purpose, which will serve as your organization’s compass for decision making at all levels. Williams’ co-author, Alison Whybrow, said that this “compass” can be discovered by having an honest, open conversation with your team.

“One thing that a team might want to do is engage in a formal assessment process — looking at habits, beliefs, values and capability — so that they are working from a clear starting point and have a framework for discussion about working styles, strengths, and individual and collective blind spots,” Whybrow said. [See Related Story: How to Write a Business Plan: Outline, Format & Sections]

Build your vision
The key to business success is having a clear vision of what you want to accomplish as a company, experts say. But before you write a business plan, you should come up with three to five key strategies that will enable you to achieve that vision, advised Evan Singer, general manager of SBA loan service SmartBiz.

“Sometimes, less is more,” Singer said. “It’s far better to do three things very well versus 10 things not so well.”

Clarify your business model
A good business plan always includes financial projections, but before you can figure out facts and figures, you’ll need to work through potential scenarios to make sure your business model is going to work.

“Start [answering] ‘what ifs,'” said Alex Muller, CEO of retail mobile engagement platform GPShopper. “If I sell this product at this price point, and this is the cost of client acquisition, what rates of return can I get? When you’re done building [and testing] the business model, then you can go back [and] write a business plan.”

Muller said a good financial model should include many of the details you would put in your formal business plan — for example, hiring, pricing, sales, cost of acquisition, expenses and growth. As with a business plan, your model should be revisited and updated as the realities of your business start to unfold, Muller noted.

Work out your name and legal structure
The way your company is structured — sole proprietorship, LLC, corporation, etc. — plays an important role in your business operations and strategy. David Pomije, CEO of jewelry e-commerce retailer Bijouxx Jewels, noted that it’s important to not only officially register your company, but also to ensure that you own the naming rights before you work on your business plan. The last thing you want to do is put your company name all over the official documents and website, only to find out that someone else holds the copyright, Pomije said.

Identify your target market
Of everything a new business owner or entrepreneur thinks of, the most murky is often the target market, or the ideal group of people for whom the product or service solves a problem. Grant Leboff, principal of Sticky Marketing Club, says to answer the question, “Why am I uniquely placed to solve the problem?”

“If you are unable to answer the question, you either have the wrong target market or the wrong offering,” Leboff wrote in a blog post. “In this case, more work will need to be done before you start targeting your potential customers.”

By painting a picture of the customer and then looking internally at your company, you can determine if what you have to offer is the most attractive to the type of client you want, Leboff said. If not, you may need to change your offering or define your target market differently.

Test out your business idea
There’s no point in spending time on a formal business plan if you’re not even sure there’s a market for your idea. Kara Bubb, a product manager at digital asset management software Widen Enterprises, said entrepreneurs should go out and talk to industry experts, potential customers in their target market and other entrepreneurs to determine their business’s viability.

“Talk to some real potential future clients [and experts], and ask for some honest feedback,” Bubb told Business News Daily. “What do they think about your business idea? Who, specifically, are you targeting with your business? How big is the market? Will your market buy what you are selling? Who is your competition?”

Bubb also recommended identifying your potential opportunities and risks, which can be done by conducting a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of your business.

Simply writing a business plan will not make your organization successful, but it does give you a road map to get there. The forethought put into the plan identifies the milestones by which you can mark your progress.

Should You Know About 10 Free Online Tools Every Entrepreneur

If you are going to start a business, you should make best use of your limited budget and try to bootstrap as much as possible. Therefore, take a look at the below free tools which will make your life easier and help you take-off your business right away.

1. Launchrock
Launchrock helps you to build a simple “launching soon” web page and allows your potential customers to sign up your email list. In this way, you can get a list of people interested in your business long before you actually launch your website.

2. Madmimi
Madmimi is great for email marketing. It makes it easy to create, send and track emails online. It is free up to a certain amount of contacts and lets you send unlimited emails for free.

3. Google Analytics
Google Analytics is one of the best tools for all businesses. It lets you track your website’s visitors, see how long they have visited your website, which pages they’ve visited and from which location they are from. It has more specific features as well which lets you create custom goals and even do a/b testing for a new home page.

4. Hiver
Hiver turns your Gmail into a helpdesk. You can track your tasks in a sidebar and assign them to your teammates. It is free to use up to three users.

5. SurveyMonkey
SurveyMonkey is a great surveying tool not just for entrepreneurs but for everyone. Its interface is very simple. You can design, create, publish your survey in minutes and then, Survey Monkey analyzes your results for you.

6. Evernote
Evernote makes it easier to save your notes in any format and share it with anyone you want. You can then reach these notes from any device because they are saved on the cloud.

7. Slack
Slack is a messaging app for teams. It lets you organize work related messages in one place. It also allows you to share files, images and spreadsheets with anyone you want.

8. Dropbox
Dropbox is great not just for business use but also for personal use. It gives you 2GB of free space so that you can keep your important stuff on cloud and access those files from any device you want.

9. Google Hangout
Google Hangout makes it easy for everyone with a Gmail address to make a video conference. You can also share your desktop and let others see your screen during a hangout.

10. Trello
Trello lets you organize projects of any size. You can organize your work on cards, make comments and even assign others tasks.

Information About 4 Free Small Business Marketing Tools

There’s only one thing better than finding a cool new marketing tool, and that’s finding a free, cool new marketing tool. Here’s a list of four marketing tools that add real value — but don’t cost a thing!

1. Portent’s Content Idea Generator
Ever get stuck trying to come up with ideas for your next article, blog post or free guide? If so, this is a great tool for you. With Portent’s Content Idea Generator, you simply enter a subject of your choice and the tool provides you with a series of unique angles on that content in the form of a headline.

For example, “Small Business Marketing” becomes “The 18 Best Small Business Marketing YouTube Videos.” While all the suggestions won’t be on the mark, it’s certain to help with your creative process!

2. Hemingway App
Hemingway helps you simplify. It makes your sales copy more impactful and understandable for your online and offline prospects. It does this by analyzing your content and returning color-coded alerts signaling overly long or complex sentences, unnecessary adverbs and passive voice.

Why is this important? Great marketers know that simple and clean messages cut through the noise. Simplicity gives you the absolute best chance to resonate with your prospects.

3. Pablo by Buffer
Do your social media efforts slow to a halt when it comes to producing compelling images to accompany your content? Worry no more. Buffer makes creating social media images super-fast and super-easy!

With access to over 600,000 free images, basic photo effects, the ability to add text and tools to easily size for a variety of social networks, it provides a practical, “light” alternative to more complex software tools like Photoshop.

4. Open Site Explorer
Links are a big deal when it comes to search engine optimization. Open Site Explorer allows you to enter the URL for any website and it immediately returns all the inbound links (other web pages that link to you). For each inbound link, it also reports the page and rank authority. This is important because Google and other search engines will reward your site if other “high authority” sites are linking to it.

You may also want to use Open Site Explorer to run an analysis on your competitors. What high quality websites are linking to them? Is there opportunity for you to gain a link with these same sites, either through a submission process or a personal request?

Tips About Investing In Employee Training Benefits Your Business

Corporate training is growing. Fast. It’s quickly becoming a “do or die” decision for many businesses across the world, but it is felt particularly acutely for companies here in the UAE where staff retention is a big issue.

We know that happy staff means retained staff, so let’s look at two statistics that illustrate this: first, a major research project by Middlesex University’s Institute for Work Based Learning found that 74% of UK workers felt they were not reaching their potential and wished they had received more job training. Second, according to Canadian tourism and hospitality HR association Go2HR, around 40% of employees who do not receive adequate training end up leaving their post within a year.

This presents something of a dilemma for both HR and leadership because it has often been high-turnover rates that were cited as a reason for not providing ongoing employee training in the first place. Now we have a situation where on one hand we can say, “What if we train an employee and they leave?” and on the other, “What if we don’t train them and they stay?”

Where you fall along this line will probably determine your approach to corporate training. Whatever your stance, it needs to be the one that most benefits your business as you build for the future.

Corporate training in the UAE
Given that these findings show the importance of staff training as a method of employee satisfaction and retention, what does this mean for businesses in the UAE where staff turnover is particularly high? Well, it’s not necessarily a doom and gloom scenario: as far back as 2001, the International Journal of Training and Development stated that “Emirati companies are very aware of best training and development practice as implemented in their foreign counterparts.”

While exact figures on some aspects of training in the region are hard to come by, the journal notes that 82% of UAE companies did have a formal process to assess the training needs of their employees– a figure in line with that of the UK or France.

But not all employee training is equal. And not all of it has the desired results.

So what areas need to be covered? Most organizations that offer complete training programs tend to include modules on employee relations, time management, and project planning. These have the potential to improve the productivity of your workforce, lessen your own workload, and get your business running as smoothly as possible. Good for the employer.

But what do employees want to learn? Interest here is mainly around increasing performance. A recent Skillsoft survey from the UK found that 70% of workers view training as essential for developing skills that directly relate to their role. Meanwhile, 66% stated they expect training to make them better at their job. Perhaps the most notable finding from the Skillsoft survey was that employees do not expect this training to stop once they are no longer a new-starter. Some 68% felt workplace training was always relevant, regardless of seniority or time in service.

So training is not a one-off. It’s an ongoing concern.

Employee training to reduce your business costs
While many training programs are judged on employee benefit, businesses also see boosts from such initiatives. In fact, a reported 92 out of 96 Fortune 500 CEOs stated in 2011 that they took notice of the impact on their businesses from the various educational and development programs they were running.

So what exactly is in it for the employer? Well, as mentioned, one issue that is close to our hearts here in the UAE is staff retention. Comprehensive training programs have proven time and again to help lower staff turnover. A recent study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that 95% of hiring managers considered employee training as a key retention tool – and it’s not hard to see why. We know that employees actively want to be trained, and doing so boosts morale and increases worker happiness.

When we get down to actual figures, the case becomes even more convincing: A report by Oxford Economics puts the cost of a new hire at around $30,000. Meanwhile, the average spend of $1,500 per employee for ongoing training barely registers in comparison. Even aside from theory, there are real-world results such as telecommunications giant Motorola who calculated that for every dollar spent on staff training programs, they gained 30% in productivity. And that was just within three years.

As for the fear of training an employee only for them to leave, the Middlesex University study mentioned earlier has good news. Only 23% of workers stated that they viewed training as a way of increasing their skills before leaving for new employment.

Creating your ideal employee
How do you know if your training program is bringing results? First, make sure you continuously monitor your employee’s engagement levels to decipher what is working and what is not. Secondly, try not to get too caught up on ROI alone. In reality, training programs have many other benefits aside from financial.

Finally, if you are currently working at an organization that is on the fence about whether to provide or improve an employee training scheme, ask yourself this: How many times have you heard people within that same organization complain about a skill shortage– or curse the fact that out of the 100+ applications received for the last role you advertised, only five were even close to being qualified?

There lies the single biggest reason why companies of all sizes must commit to training and developing their employees. Because if employers want highly talented, educated and skilled employees here in the UAE, then the answer is quite simple: we have to create them.

Learn More About 4 Secrets Behind the Best Employee Training

In many ways, employee training is the secret to the long-term success of a workforce. The opportunities employees are given to grow and develop allow them to do their best work and advance their careers. These opportunities also keep a company competitive as its industry changes and evolves.

From the top senior leadership to the newest hires, everyone benefits from great employee training. There’s just one problem: Most employees hate the training they receive.

The State of Employee Training 2015 report from West Unified Communications Services surveyed more than 200 full-time employees about their experience with work training. One-third of respondents said the training they’d been through wasn’t a productive use of time. Another third said the material wasn’t interesting or engaging.

Clearly, there’s a disconnect between the purpose of employee training and how it’s actually being implemented. A big part of the problem is the assumption that one method of learning benefits everyone. But as any visual learner who’s struggled through a math class knows, that’s not true. To give employees the best learning experience, employees must consider what makes them unique.

Here are four ways to find out what type of training is best for employees:

1. Evaluate generational gaps.
When you consider the evolution of educational technology over the past few decades, it makes sense that there are generational differences in how employees prefer to learn. But the differences might not be what’s expected.

A 2016 study of 1,000 professionals by Activia Training found that younger employees prefer the classroom as a learning setting over elearning. While 55.9 percent of employees between 18 and 24 in the study had a positive attitude toward classroom learning, just 15.9 percent liked elearning.

At first, this might seem counterintuitive. Why would the digital generation prefer face-to-face training? But, consider the different lifestyles of younger and older employees. Older employees are more likely to be balancing work with family and children at home, which makes the flexibility of elearning more appealing to them. Younger employees, on the other hand, have just recently left school, making the classroom setting more familiar.

Address these generational gaps by offering employee training options that can meet every lifestyle. And let employees choose. Just because the majority of younger workers prefer classroom learning doesn’t mean all do. Give individuals the chance to pick the course that’s right for them.

2. Consider all learning types.
One of the biggest factors in the success of training is how engaging the material is. If employees can’t feel a connection with what they’re learning, it’s less likely that they’ll absorb and be able to recall the information later on. Some people learn better through hands-on methods, while others learn better independently.

By providing a variety of ways for employees to learn about and practice their skills, employers increase their chances of finding an engaging method that works for them. For example, many believe that rote repetition of a task is the best way to master something. However, 2014 research from Harvard BusinessSchool found that learning is more effective when the learner takes the time to reflect after performing a task, rather than just repeating it over and over.

Allow employees time to think about what they’ve just learned, so they can interpret and interact with the material in a way that makes sense to them. Maybe they need to write out the process in their own words, have a conversation about what they just did or even show the skill to someone else. Whatever form of reflection fits them as an individual will help them learn more efficiently.

3. Address your teams’ and individuals’ strengths and weaknesses.
The whole point of employee training is to give the team the skills and information they need to perform at their highest level. However, not everyone starts out at the same level or even needs to know the same skills. By knowing the strengths and weaknesses of individuals and the overall team, employers can implement more effective training.

For example, say there’s new software coming out that will make the entire organization run more smoothly. Chances are, everyone would benefit from experience with and basic knowledge of how the program works. In that instance, group learning is probably the best way to get everyone up to speed quickly.

Now, if six months after initial training pass, and several employees are still struggling with the software, individual training will help them catch up. That way, they receive the additional training they need, without having to put everyone else through the material again.

4. Ask for employee feedback.
One of the best ways to determine how effective different training experiences are is to get feedback from employees. Their input points out holes in the materials, what information was confusing and even what training was unnecessary. Not to mention that it shows employees that their training is meant to help them grow and succeed, not just help out the organization.

One way to collect feedback on employee training is with a tool like Vohtr. These kiosks, which can be placed anywhere in the office, provide everyone with a physical spot to voice their opinions. Organizations can create their own engaging questionnaires that get to the bottom of how well training programs are going. The feedback system also gives trackable data that reveals trends in the overall effectiveness of employee training.

In sum: It’s said that knowledge is power. For employees, the quality of the knowledge they receive is completely dependent on the training they receive. By better understanding individuals’ learning differences, offering a variety of training options and gathering feedback, you will create more effective developmental opportunities.

More Information About Improve Employee Performance

There are thousands of reasons to train and develop employees. New employees need to understand how to perform the required work. Current employees need to keep their skills sharp.

Changes in technology, new product introductions or modifications to policies and procedures are all reasons for training.

A major portion of our careers has focused on creating effective workforces. As you might guess, we are huge proponents of training and developing workers. Well-trained staffers produce higher quality work, less scrap and less wasted time. They’re better prepared for future challenges and additional roles in your organization.

However, all reasons for focusing on workforce development boil down to performance. We’ve previously written two of a five-part series on ways to improve employee performance in your organization. These paths include include providing clear objectives, removing roadblocks internal to the company, emphasizing training and development, motivating staffers and coming to grips with an employee unable or unwilling to perform.

Doug often says that business is about figuring out what to do and getting people to do it. Therefore, concentrating on those two goals makes good business sense. Here’ll, we ‘ll address the third lever business owners and managers can pull: training.

First, though, a word of warning: Training and development is not always the answer. Don’t get pulled into the trap that says, “If my employees are underperforming, I should provide more training.” Instead, first ask the following questions to determine why employees underperform.

What are my employees doing or not doing that is causing the issue in my organization?
Do the employees know how to perform that specific action/process/procedure?
Have the employees been given enough time to become proficient?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then training is not the solution. Look to the four other possibilities in this series for your solution.

But if the answer to your questions is no, then ask this question: “Exactly what do I want my employees to be able to do differently as a result of the training? Do they need to recognize quality problems, answer customer questions more completely and accurately, garner more sales?

Once you have analyzed the need, determine the “make or buy decision.” Do you have the skills and resources to provide the training internally, or would it make more sense to engage resources outside of your organization to develop and/or deliver the training?

Training that’s internal to the organization
Many organizations provide new employee orientation and on-the-job (OTJ) training. Training normally consists of one or more experienced employees passing on her/ his knowledge to the newcomer.

Since smaller organizations often don’t have well-documented processes, the success of such programs may vary. Training depends on the skills of the experienced employee to deliver correct and consistent information. Even when a process is in place, most internal OTJ and orientation programs we’ve seen have no clear objectives and do not measure outcomes.

If a new employee fails to “catch on,” the student is often blamed, not the teacher or the training itself.

An example: We worked with a broker-dealer in Philadelphia. The investment advisors complained about the inconsistencies in the company’s employees’ performance. Sometimes those employees executed their trades in two days, and sometimes it took them five or more days to execute. Mistakes were the norm.

Through our analysis, we found that what employees believed to be “the process” depended completely on who had initially trained them. So, we took action, developing clear processes; we assigned internal resources to retrain the back office staff. This solved the immediate problem, as well as created a consistent process for future training.

Such internal training can be highly effective, but requires that organization leadership determine training objectives, develop processes/curriculum and deliver the information in a way that maximizes the probability that employee will perform in the desired way.

Internal training also requires that outcomes be evaluated. Determining whether or not the organization has the time and the expertise to develop and deliver these programs is critical to the organizatin’s overall success.

Training that’s external to the organization
Sometimes it makes sense to bring in outside resources. Organizations can use human resource development (HRD) professionals in a variety of ways:

Determine training needs: Experienced HRD professionals can conduct surveys, focus groups, interviews and other techniques to help an organization determine the skill and knowledge gaps in its workforce. Gap analysis can ascertain exact needs, allowing the organization to target training and development to specific individuals or organizational requirements, ultimately saving both time and money.
Develop curriculum: Sometimes the organization knows what it needs but lacks the time or expertise to create the programs and materials. In this case, the company should hire an outside expert to work with one or more subject matter experts (SME) internal to the organization to develop the curriculum. The SMEs provide the internal knowledge while the curriculum expert develops the appropriate materials.

Delivering information: If you want a message given special attention, having an outside “expert” deliver it may do the trick. Internal experts can suffer from “prophet in their own land” syndrome. We worked with an HR manager who had been trying for several months to get the managers in her organization to hire employees with a particular system without success. As external experts, we explained the hiring system to the managers in a training session — and they accepted the system immediately. We were able to provide the needed emphasis and, therefore, help to change behavior.

Determining delivery: An outside expert may be able to help you determine the best method/s for delivering the information. Would your organization be best served by using a classroom method, via computer, through self-study or a combination of these or other vehicles? An experienced HRD professional can help you to determine the most effective methodologies given your specific goals.

Evaluating training: Finally, an HRD professional can help you to determine the effectiveness of your training. How much and what did the participants learn? What knowledge, skills and behaviors have they used in their job and did the changes have the desired effect? Measuring the results of your training and determining ROI can help you improve your training processes.

Whether you decide to assess needs, develop and deliver your training internally or use the skills of an expert to help with some or all of the process, your focus should be on increasing the skills and performance of the employee. If you concentrate on outcomes, your training will benefit your organization.

Should You Know About The Retirement Plan Strategy Small Business

Entrepreneurs are gravely mistaken if they think an IRA or SEP are the only strategies for tax-deferred retirement planning. The 401(k), historically only reserved for large companies and their employees, has evolved to be one of the most creative and flexible retirement vehicles for small-business owners.

Here are a few key points about the 401(k) you need to know that could save you thousands and require your action before Dec. 31.

Why a 401(k) vs. a SEP IRA?
The SEP IRA is a super-charged IRA account that runs off of IRA rules, while the Solo 401(k) is an employer-based retirement plan used solely for the business owner(s) when they have no employees. The 401(k) has several features that are either similar or far superior to that of the SEP. Here are a few of the similarities and differences:

Both a SEP IRA and a Solo 401(k) can be self-directed and invested into real estate, private company stock or precious metals. Under a SEP IRA, you will have a self-directed IRA custodian. However, under a Solo 401(k), you can serve as your own trustee and administrator, saving you administrative costs and giving you more control of your investment choices.
Under a SEP you can contribute up to 25 percent of your salary or self-employment income. However, with a Solo 401(k), gives you a much more cost-efficient contribution strategy. You can contribute $18,000 ($24,000 if you are 50 and over), plus 25 percent of your salary or self-employment income. This creates tremendous tax savings when you couple your 401(k) with an S-Corp. You can keep your FICA amounts much lower and still put away the same amount as a SEP with tax efficiency.
All SEP contributions are traditional dollars and all funds in a SEP must be traditional dollars. However, through a Solo 401(k) business owners can have a traditional account and a ROTH account within the same plan. You can also convert traditional sums over to Roth as well within the 401(k) plan and not having to take a distribution from the SEP first.

The Power of the Solo 401(k)
First, keep in mind that the Solo 401(k) is only available to self-employed persons, while a standard 401(k) would include multiple employees. It is called a “Solo” 401(k) plan because only the business owner and his or her spouse can participate in the plan.

Next, the primary reason why a business owner would choose the 401(k) is because they want to put away more tax-deferred dollars, whether in a ROTH or for a tax deduction.

Here’s what it comes down to: If you want to put away around $5,000 a year, stick to an IRA. If you want to put away around $10,000 to $15,000, use the SEP. If you want to put away more than $20,000, utilize a combo strategy of the Solo 401(k) with an S-Corp. The tax efficiency is amazing and you can sock away those big dollars you are envisioning and also self-direct the funds on the backside.

Setting up the 401(k)
If you want to take advantage of a 401(k) tax deduction in 2016, even if you make the contribution and “match” later next year, you must set up the 401(k) this year. Moreover, you must plan sponsors — companies that help you establish your 401(k) are going to file your paperwork in early December. Don’t wait until the last minute. A lot of sponsors will turn you away and suggest you wait until 2017 if you call them around Christmastime.

The cost to set up a 401(k) will vary based on whether it’s a “Solo 401(k)” or a “traditional plan” because you have other employees besides you and your spouse. Prices can range from about $1,250 to $3,000. Some companies may assist you in setting up a lower cost 401(k), but your investment options will be limited to their portfolio of funds, so you want to be careful when you sign up and confirm how much flexibility you have in your investment choices.

Takeaway: Consider a 401(k) plan and get it set up before Dec. 31 if you want the deduction in 2016.

How much should I contribute?
For S-Corporation owners, you have some critical decisions you need to make before year-end. Others can wait until next year. The first is how much money you want to contribute to the 401(k).

The second decision is if and how much you should contribute to the spouse’s 401(k). The same deadline being that you need to report this on his or her W-2 in early January. I typically recommend you never put your spouse on payroll unless you are going to contribute to his or her 401(k).

Why issue a W-2 to the spouse and incur the cost of FICA, if you aren’t going to contribute to the 401(k)? It doesn’t make sense even for social security benefit reasons. Now if you are going to contribute to the spouse’s 401(k), I strongly recommend you “back into” the amount of payroll necessary for the 401(k) contribution. For example, if you are going to contribute $18,000, then the payroll amount will be around $21,000 (to cover FICA) and you keep the cost of doing the “contribution” to the least amount possible. The company match amount can be decided upon next year before filing the tax return.

Takeaway: Only put your spouse on payroll if you’re going to contribute to his or her 401(k) this year.

Should I be my own trustee for the 401(k)?
Yes, you can probably set up a 401(k) before year-end on the cheap if you give up control to a broker-dealer offering you limited investment options. You can guarantee there will be some management fees buried in the 401(k) as well.

However, if you want to self-direct the funds, and/or play a more active role in the management of the 401(k), I strongly recommend you serve as trustee. This allows you to self-administer your 401(k) plan, under the guidance of a law firm or third-party administrator (TPA) that keeps you out of harm’s way of committing a prohibited transaction.

When it comes to investing the money in your 401(k) or other retirement accounts, don’t feel trapped into using one of the menu options you get from your financial advisor — you don’t have to settle for a select group of mutual funds when investing your retirement money.

Instead, you can self-direct your IRA into all kinds of legal investments, including small companies, real estate, loans or precious metals.

The most popular self-directed retirement account investments include rental real estate, secured real estate loans to others, small-business stock or LLC interest, and precious metals such as gold or silver.

In sum, if you want to make a significant contribution to a retirement account before year-end, you need to act now. The deadline is approaching fast and if you don’t use the 401(k), you will either be limited to $5,000 to $6,000 with an IRA or paying a lot in self-employment tax (FICA) to make a large contribution to a SEP. The 401(k) could be the difference in thousands of taxes you may pay next year.

Let’s Learn About 4 Cloud Tools to Kickstart Your Marketing Team’s Productivity

Are forces beyond your control putting your marketing team under the microscope, with severe pressure to remain ROI-positive, despite being spread across an increasing array of customer acquisition channels?

You’re hardly alone. A recent report from Ascend has found that more than 80 percent of marketing professionals believe that data helps them arrive at “more accurate decisions” and/or “more cost-efficient decisions.” As a result of this phenomenon, organizations are becoming smaller and more agile, which means more people are multitasking, with heightened pressure to perform.

It is therefore critical for marketing teams to be equipped with the tools required to ensure maximum productivity and transparency. There are plenty of powerful enterprise tools that are optimized for flexibility among large teams, and you can always go the build-your-own route, but these options are unnecessary when you’re first getting started.

You might find it worthwhile to temper costs and try some affordable and free tools that can help with boosting marketing productivity. Here are four of the best to choose from.

1. Workflow management with WorkflowMax.
Whether you are ticking off small accomplishments or working toward some bold business targets, your marketing team needs to keep track of tasks, assets, discussions, assignments and projects. A workflow management platform can help you consolidate tasks into one integrated service, but there are plenty of apps that can do this. Ideally, the system you opt for should work seamlessly with other aspects of your business.

WorkflowMax offers an integrated platform to manage the major tasks involved with marketing and beyond, with modules that cover key functionalities like customer relationship management, timekeeping, documents, invoicing and payments. This way, marketing works in tune with the rest of your operational units, such as sales and accounting.

With more businesses opting for remote work or even hiring employees on a remote basis, then cloud-based project management tools play an even more important part in the organization. WorkflowMax has a no-risk 14-day trial.

2. Database hygiene with Trifacta Wrangler.
To an increasing degree, your marketing strategy is only as good as the data upon which you’re basing your choices.

Take content personalization as an example. Your audience may not be so careful filling out your lead capture forms — some people might use all lowercase letters and others all caps. So when the time comes for you to use that data for your email campaigns, you might end up alienating people more than endearing them.

It’s up to you to clean up and sanitize your database. Trifacta’s Wrangler tool lets you work on databases quickly and has functionalities such as removing or merging duplicate entries and backups. Best of all, Wrangler has a free edition and can be run on a desktop, which is especially useful if you want to work with confidential information before uploading it to the cloud.

3. Social media measurement with Cyfe.
Social media makes it extremely easy for you to directly engage with prospects and existing customers. The average user has about five social media accounts and spends nearly two hours daily on social media, with around 45 minutes of their workday checking social feeds. For marketers, that is a huge opportunity that is not to be underestimated.

Your business likely needs to be active on a handful of major social networks. Depending on what kind of company you’re operating and where your audience is most active, you might be on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google Plus. As a result of this diversity, keeping track of the big picture of your brand’s reach, engagement and audience growth can seriously compromise your productivity.

Cyfe is an integrated business dashboard tool that lets you keep track of performance analytics across touch points — not only social. Among its pre-built tools are social media widgets that let you track post statistics, likes, traffic sources and audience demographics on Facebook, as well as view latest tweets and follower counts on Twitter.

Cyfe has a “forever free” plan that is reasonably powerful, while the $19 a month premium plan gives you full access to all functionalities.

4. Qualitative insights with SurveyMonkey.
Keep in mind that there’s only so much you can learn from your various analytics tools. Your marketing data may be able to tell you that a video you posted to a sharing community is getting thousands of upvotes, but these figures cannot readily tell you the reasons why people like it. Surveys can provide the stories behind the numbers.

SurveyMonkey provides cloud-based survey services and is the go-to polling tool for some 25 million users, including large companies such as Facebook and Samsung. SurveyMonkey offers templates for well-crafted surveys that can be modified or used as-is in order to gain additional insight about your brand and the people who might or might not be interested in it.

The app includes a basic free service, although you can also pay for premium enterprise-grade features. You can even pay for a targeted audience to fill out your surveys, if you are performing exploratory studies. This kind of groundwork may be antithetical to today’s “fake it ’til you make it” startup culture, but truly maximizing productivity calls for in-depth, data-driven strategies.

Improving your marketing workflow does not need to be expensive. With affordable cloud-based solutions, you can start enhancing your marketing team’s productivity and efficiency without the burden of committing to a large investment.