9 Smart Money Ideas to Get Your Business Off to a Great Start in 2018

From consolidating debt to putting a succession plan in place, here are nine ways you can ensure your business is well-positioned for 2018.

Smart companies realize three things:

No. 1: The importance of making their balance sheets healthy.

No. 2: How to access the extremely low cost of available capital.

No. 3: Recognizing the demand in our economy is rising at a healthy 3% growth. 

All three of these realizations will help your company to maintain or expand market share.  

Now is a good time to review, correct and forecast your financial strategies to better leverage your firm for growth. This year-end review and forecast is important, due in part, to the changes underway on Capitol Hill and new federal policies on finance and regulations. The federal changes will have impact on most all businesses, no matter the size.

Here are nine ideas that could help your 2018 get off to a roaring start.

Idea No. 1: Taxes. The Big Elephant in the room. Contact your accounting firm to ensure you are taking full advantage of all your options to reduce taxes based on the new federal tax laws currently underway in Congress.  This also applies to your personal taxes.

Idea No. 2: Investments. For most, this has been a robust year in the investment arena.  Review with your investment advisor your yearend picture to determine if there is a need to make any changes to better reflect your risk in the market on both the company and personal investment side. The deadline for your investment changes is Dec. 31.

Idea No. 3: Insurance. Look over all company and personal insurance policies to ensure your assets are fully covered. These policies could include:

  • general liability insurance
  • professional liability insurance
  • business owner’s policy
  • directors and officers insurance
  • data breach
  •  property insurance
  • commercial auto insurance
  • worker’s compensation
  • homeowner’s insurance
  • renter’s insurance
  • life insurance
  • personal automobile insurance.

Idea No. 4: Debt consolidation. Interest rates have been at historically low rates. Look at all outstanding loans, consider consolidating outstanding notes for a better rate. Credit cards continue to offer great rates for as low as 0% until 2019 when you consolidate debt from other credit card companies. Make sure you understand the fine print. Analysts forecast the Fed rate will increase before year end, and again slightly in the new year, however, will remain low in 2018, following retiring Janet Yellen’s past performance.

Idea No. 5: New capital acquisition. Growing companies require more working capital for operations, inventory and equipment.  It takes money to make money. While conventional banks have kept interest rates attractively low, overall 12-month business loan growth is at the lowest since 2013. But they are still lending. Consider reviewing alternative financial options including interviewing potential private equity or venture capital partners, joint ventures/alliances with compatible companies that compliments your business strategy, large corporate sponsorship or grant funding,  public/private government sponsored funding. The beauty of preparing your 2018 business plan and forecast, is that you will be able to strategically see where and when you need funding. When you do sit down to negotiate new financing, most capital sources will ask to review many of the items listed here. Know where your realistic capital options are, including the requirements to secure the capital, before you need it.

Idea No. 6: Leases. Capital spending on equipment leasing in the first three quarters of this year has risen at 7.3% annual rate, fastest in the past three years. Instead of outright purchasing equipment—whether a $5,000 video-conference system or a $500,000 injection molding machine—seriously consider leasing rather than tying up this capital that could be better used elsewhere. Additional leasing benefits include $1 buyouts at the end of the lease and the ability to upgrade equipment during the term of the lease to take advantage of newer technology platforms.  The trend today is for  larger equipment to have  built-in computer and artificial intelligence.

Idea No. 7: Owner draws and distributions. Review with your CPA how your firm is paying out draws and/or distributions and how this impacts your overall tax picture.  The difference between a draw and a distribution is significant for tax reporting purposes. A sole proprietor or single-member LLC can draw money out of the business—this is called a draw. It is an accounting transaction, and it doesn't show up on the owner's tax return. A distribution or distributive share, on the other hand, must be recorded (using Schedule K-1) and it shows up on the owner's tax return. Further, depending on your tax bracket and forecasted 2018 compensation, determine if it would be better to take money out in 2017 or 2018. 

Idea No. 8: Succession plan. Discuss and review any needed business succession planning updates. During the year were there retirement events, disability or death of an owner or other foreseeable events affecting the company? Review age of the owner(s) and family stage, business stage, size of the business, direction of the business and future leadership. Ensure that succession viability, retirement exit strategy, transition strategy in place.  In the event of death or disability of an owner, take into consideration tax planning, family law considerations, shareholder’s agreements and determining the selection a successor and future management to liquidation of assets or sale of business.

Idea No. 9: Estate plan. Review and update your will to reflect current situation. Consider a trust if you have property and you don’t wish to have your survivors to go through the sometimes long and arduous task of going thru probate court.  Review and update health care directives, financial powers of attorney, beneficiary forms, protect your children’s property, estate taxes, funeral arrangements and expenses. Store your documents with your attorney-in-fact and/or your executor, the person you choose in your will to administer your property after you die. You will sleep better knowing your wishes are in place.

Marsha L. Powers, a finance and strategic development professional, author, entrepreneur and investor is the founder of Powers Advisors and Shale Capital Resources. She has been a contributing writer on Finance for Crain’s Cleveland Business for nine years. Her management consulting areas of expertise includes finance – ranging from senior debt, government finance programs to private equity, market strategy, operations, marketing communications and economic development.  She’s a recognized award-winning leader with proven strategic direction and leadership to over 1500 companies, from early stage to Fortune 50 companies. You can reach Marsha at (216)965-3633, marsha@powersadvisors.com and www.powersadvisors.com to learn more about how she can help your company succeed.

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  • Next up: Active Shooter Planning: 9 Things You Must Include in Your Emergency Action Plan

    Active Shooter Planning: 9 Things You Must Include in Your Emergency Action Plan

    It’s everyone’s worst nightmare and something we never expect will actually happen in our own places of business. But understanding the warning signs and having an effective plan in place should an emergency like this arise, can help reduce fears and prepare your workforce as much as possible.

    Every business, no matter the size or type, is a potential target for an active shooter. It can happen anywhere including malls, businesses, movie theaters, schools and places of worship. As a business owner or manager, you should have a thorough understanding of the warning signs, preparations that need to be taken, and a plan for actions and responses in the event you are ever confronted by an active shooter.

    The FBI conducted a study of active shooter incidents that occurred from the years 2000-2013. In order for the incident to be classified as an active shooter incident, there had to be four or more deaths or people who were injured from that incident. Within the13-year study, an average of 11.4 incidents occurred annually. During the first seven years of the study, there was an average of 6.4 incidents and it increased to an average of 16.4 over the last seven years of the study.

    According to the FBI, 2014 and 2015 each saw 20 active shooter incidents. That’s more than any two-year average in the past 16 years, and nearly six times as many as the period between 2000 and 2001. Seventy percent of incidents occurred in either a commerce/business or educational environment. And 60% of these incidents ended prior to police arriving. That means you must know what to do in the event you are confronted by an active shooter incident at your business.

    Be knowledgeable and prepared

    Understanding an active shooter is a good starting point. An active shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area. Often, they use fir­­­­earms and there may be no pattern or method to their selection of victims. 

    An active shooter looks for ease of movement that allows them to just walk into a business. This means a retail store, movie theater or any other business that has open public access is a prime target for them. The reason for this is that they can enter the building without having to go through security checkpoints. So, while your business may need to maintain open access there are actions you can take to prevent shootings and to know how to properly respond in the event of a shooting.

    It is also important to understand that an active shooter can be either an employee or someone off the street. While you have no influence on a stranger, it is easier to deter an employee shooter because they have contact with co-workers and managers on a daily basis. There is a personal relationship that may work in your favor. Keep in mind that active shooters may be motivated by external circumstances such as marital issues, custody issues or financial issues, as well as by workplace issues.

    Shooting events are not spontaneous…they require planning. They are unpredictable and evolve quickly, often taking only ten to 15 minutes and usually before law enforcement arrives. The shooter plans knowing the layout of the business and determining its security and access features. They then select their target by deciding on a favorable feature or convenience that makes it easier for them.

    Planning is crucial for handling an active shooter situation

    One of the first actions you should take is to assemble a planning team that works with your HR department. If you are too small of a business to have an HR department, you still need to develop a plan. The role of this team is to teach employees how to identify potentially dangerous behavior and to develop a method to report any behavior issues.

    To best prepare your staff for an active shooter situation, create an Emergency Action Plan (EAP), and conduct regular training exercises. Create the EAP with input from your human resources department, your training department (if one exists), owners / operators/ managers, and always include local law enforcement and/or emergency responders. 

    This is where your preparedness comes into play. Determine the best way to protect your own life and everyone around you. People will follow the lead of employees and managers who are trained for the situation. Your EAP should include the following nine things:

    Safety tip No. 1: A preferred method for reporting emergencies.

    Safety tip No. 2: An evacuation policy and procedure that includes emergency escape procedures and route assignments (i.e., floor plans, safe areas). Leave personal items behind. Keep your hands visible. Do not move anyone who is wounded. Follow police instructions.

    Safety Tip No. 3: A crisis plan including contact information for, and responsibilities of, individuals to be contacted under the EAP, as well as designated spokespeople who have been trained to talk to the media or others.

    Safety tip No. 4: Information concerning local area hospitals (i.e., name, telephone number and distance from your location).

    Safety tip No. 5: An emergency notification system to alert various parties of an emergency including: Individuals at remote locations within premises, law enforcement and area hospitals.

    Safety tip No. 6: Mock active shooter training exercises and information on how to recognize and react to the sound of gunshots. Training exercises are the most effective way to train your staff to properly respond to an active shooter situation.

    Safety tip No. 7: Information on how and where to hide out. Lock doors and block with heavy furniture if possible. Hide under furniture or in closets. Stay quiet and as calm as possible.

    Safety tip No. 8: At least two evacuation routes that you post on the premises.

    Safety tip No. 9: A plan to stay aware of indications of workplace violence and take immediate actions in an attempt to avert any workplace violence situations.

    Taking these steps and preparing for workplace violence and active shooters will help keep everyone safe in the event of a confrontation.

    President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Speaker, Trainer, Corporate Security Expert Timothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues. He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University. Contact him at info@sacsconsulting.com

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  • Next up: Are You a Strategically Valuable CIO

    Are You a Strategically Valuable CIO

    Information technology has the potential to transform an enterprise and drive performance to unseen levels. But it’s not just about deploying new technologies or keeping servers running or ensuring everyone’s email is working. 

    Information technology has the potential to transform an enterprise and drive performance to unseen levels. But it’s not just about deploying new technologies or keeping servers running or ensuring everyone’s email is working. 

    To really drive the enterprise, IT must be business partner and be integrated within business operations. While that’s easy to say and many companies purport to do so, many are not successful. 

    Matt LoPiccolo, Swagelok CIO, shares his experiences with achieving incredible synergies between information technology services, operations and strategies with enterprise planning. Ensuring the strategic value of IT to Swagelok has helped the company achieve incredible growth results and helped position it as a market leader in multiple areas. 

    Listen here.

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  • Next up: Are You an Effective Leader? 5 Hard Questions to Ask Yourself

    Are You an Effective Leader? 5 Hard Questions to Ask Yourself

    Read on below for the first in a series of articles examining what you need to do to develop your leadership influence.

    “Leadership is Influence—nothing more, nothing less.”—John C. Maxwell, international leadership guru. 

    So, you are in a leadership role and you have authority to make things happen. You have people reporting to you and looking for direction. This is positional leadership and is the least impactful level of leadership. To be successful as a leader and have people follow you because they believe in you, you need to grow your level of influence.  There are nine key elements important in developing influence that are listed below, we will dive into two of them here and more in the following series.

    Let’s begin by examining what exactly comprises a person of influence. A person of influence:

    • Maintains integrity with people.
    • Nurtures other people
    • Has faith in people.
    • Understands people.
    • Enlarges people.
    • Navigates for other people.
    • Connects with people.
    • Empowers people.
    • Reproduces other influencers.

    *Source: Becoming a Person of Influence, John C. Maxwell

    Genuine integrity is not for sale—and having personal integrity as a leader means that your character is one that is honest, can be trusted and carries this into everything they do at home and in the workplace.  There are multiple ways to influence people but those with strong character have long lasting influence.   

    What’s your influencing style?

    How do you influence others?  Which of these methods (listed from worst to best) do you practice most often?

    1. Force—there is no choice in the decision.
    2. Intimidation—“My way or the highway.”
    3. Manipulation—there is a winner and a loser.
    4. Positional—we follow because we have to.
    5. Exchange—we both win something.
    6. Persuasion—we follow because we want to.
    7. Respect—we follow because of the request and respect for the influencer.

    Answer these hard questions

    How do you measure your integrity?  Here are five questions to ask yourself:

    • How well do I treat people from whom I can gain nothing?
    • Am I transparent with others?
    • Do I quickly admit wrongdoing without being pressed to do so?
    • Do I put other people ahead of my personal agenda?
    • Do I make difficult decisions, even when they have a personal cost attached to them?

    Take time to answer these questions. If character development is a need for you, it is better to know this now and begin working on this. If the answer you give isn’t what you wish was true, then work on those areas and get clear about what you want those answers to be in the future.

    Abraham Lincoln once stated, “When I lay down the reins of this administration, I want to have one friend left. And that friend is inside myself.”  He was a man of principle and integrity was his best friend. 

    Why should you focus on integrity?  It allows others to trust you—and without trust you have nothing.

    Jill Windelspecht of Talent Specialists Consulting is an executive organizational consultant, coach, trainer and keynote speaker.  Leveraging neuroscience to focus on People…Science….Purpose. Contact her at jillwindel@talentspecialists.net.

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  • Next up: Are You Listening?

    Are You Listening?

    Can you really learn to listen? With these active listening techniques and steps, you might just be well on your way to becoming a Power Listener.

    How great of a listener are you? Hello? Are you even listening? It’s pretty safe to say that in this modern world full of technology and other distractions, many of us are poor listeners. But, as they say, the first step is admitting it. Now, instead of just lamenting about it—or ignoring the condition—there are lots of simple ways to make listening work for you if you want to improve this critical skill.

    But before we get into how exactly to make listening work, it’s good to identify reasons why it’s not working. The following are seven barriers to listening.

    Barrier No. 1: Ruling out the speaker. “He is of no interest to me.” “She has nothing to say. Why listen?”

    Barrier No. 2: Reaching a premature conclusion. “I’ve heard enough to know where he’s going with this argument. I’ve heard it before and it’s all wrong.”

    Barrier No. 3: Reading in expectations. “I know what you’re going to say, I can finish your sentence when you pause.”

    Barrier No. 4: Reading in threats. “I know you didn’t mean that, you couldn’t have said it, you didn’t say it.”

    Barrier No. 5: Rehearsing a response: “I am preparing what I want to say. I’m just waiting until you pause so I can break in.”

    Barrier No. 6: Responding with evaluation. “The way you say it is a) clever, b) creative, c) crude. I am more interested in the way you say it than what you are saying.”

    Barrier No. 7: Rejecting the person: “You come on too strong. I don’t need to listen further.”

    Active Listening Techniques

    One way to begin overcoming the various barriers to listening, or at least resisting them for the moment, is to consciously practice active listening techniques, such as:

    • Concentrating, allowing for some silence;
    • interpreting feelings as well as fact;
    • staying on one subject at a time;
    • allowing the speaker to finish his or her thought;
    • Using questions to clarify;
    • occasionally summarizing what is being discussed; and
    • looking for concepts behind the facts.

    Show You’re Listening

    Saying to someone else, “I hear you,” is lame. Of course, we hear them—hearing is a physiological process over which we have little control. Saying “I’m listening,” rarely works—it sounds patronizing and often false. But showing you’re listening usually works. Here are six types of word tracks to help get you there:

    Word Track Type No. 1: Encouraging. This tactic helps to show interest and to keep discussion going: “I see…” “Uh-huh … “ “And…”

    Word Track Type No. 2: Echoing. This tactic helps to show you are listening: “This is what I think we should do.” “This is what you think we should do.”

    Word Track Type No. 3: Paraphrasing. Occasionally paraphrasing will help to show you are understanding, to indicate what you think, to allow for clarification, to highlight important points and to increase clarity: “If I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that…”

    Word Track Type No. 4: Reflecting. You can use reflection to respond to a person’s feelings, to show sensitivity and to allow for venting: “You feel caught in the middle when…” “That situation has really been frustrating…” “You’re irritated that…”

    Word Track Type No. 5: Perception Checking. This tactic helps to indicate what conclusions you are making, as well as to show interest and sensitivity: “I’m getting the sense that…” “Let me check my view of the situation…”

    Word Track Type No. 6: Questioning. You can propose questions in order to get information and opinions, to check your understanding and to encourage more discussion: “What do you think about…?” “Can you tell me about…?” “Do you want this or that?”

    Small Steps

    If all these techniques sound like a lot of work, you’re right! That’s why effective listening is so difficult and, therefore, most of us don’t do it very well. But, fear not. You can begin with taking these four small steps toward becoming a Power Listener:

    Power Listener Step No. 1: Admit that you’re bad at it and that you regularly fall victim to one or more of the common barriers to listening.

    Power Listener Step No. 2: Accept the critical importance of more effective listening at work (at home, too) and commit to doing something about improving your skills.

    Power Listener Step No. 3: Begin practicing some of the seven active listening techniques. Start small and focus on sustaining improvement.

    Power Listener Step No. 4: Show you’re listening by using more of the six types of word track outlined above.

    It took your whole adult life for your listening skills to get to where they are now. Give yourself plenty of time to work on these simple-but-not-easy improvements to get you where you want to be. 

    Are you listening?

    Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, www.communicate-confidently.com, 440-449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. 

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  • Next up: Attending COSE Events Gives Small Businesses Big Benefits

    Attending COSE Events Gives Small Businesses Big Benefits

    As part of the Mind Your Business monthly feature on COSE investor-level members, this month we sat down with Nevin Bansal, president and CEO of Outreach Promotional Solutions. He talks about what drove him to start his own business, and how COSE events help his business to grow.

    Nevin Bansal started Outreach Promotional Solutions in 2012 after over 10 years in various corporate roles. He was driven by his desire to build a business of his own and the opportunity to extend the legacy of his family’s printing business.

    Outreach Promotional Solutions is a marketing agency that helps businesses and organizations grow and build their brand through products including print, promo and apparel, as well as creative services including web design, graphic design and digital marketing. Their ELEVATE solution provides small businesses with an outsourced marketing team to help tackle their most important digital marketing efforts including social media management, email marketing, automation, online advertising and content development. 

    The field of marketing touches every business and is ever-changing, which Nevin says makes running Outreach an interesting endeavor. And of course his role as president and CEO is similar to many small business owners; he wears a lot of hats. Nevin is responsible for the financials, operations, sales, human resources and overall strategy of the business.  

    As part of his investor-level membership with COSE, Nevin has the opportunity to attend many networking and professional development events each year. We asked Nevin about the impact attending these events and the information he learns from his participation has on his business.

    MYB: What COSE event that you attended in the past really stuck out to you?

    Bansal: BizConCLE has really stood out to me over the years. The networking, speakers and fun events centered around it are worth the time away from running my business. In particular, the content delivered in 2017, which centered around talent and engagement, was interesting and valuable.

    • RELATED: Take a look at COSE’s upcoming events here and GCP’s upcoming events here.

    MYB: What’s one impactful lesson you took away from this event?  

    Bansal: The idea that I need to make a concerted effort to keep my team engaged and the ways that best-in-class companies build engagement was valuable to me as someone who constantly looks at ways to improve our team dynamics.

    MYB: How did you apply this lesson to your business? 

    Bansal: The presentation delivered by GALLUP around engagement and the 12 questions is something that I used in my business. I had our team go through those 12 questions and it has really helped me identify areas where I need to better engage my team. We built a process around the lowest scoring question that we use today.

    MYB: What has been the result on your business after this lesson was applied? 

    Bansal: The team is more open in sharing their opinions and ideas on how our company can improve how we do things and gain more clients—and they recognize that we can actually take these ideas into action.

    Learn more about the benefits of being a COSE Member by clicking here. Or, contact our Membership Team directly via email at memberservices@cose.org or by phone at 216-592-2355.

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