So You Want To Start a Business

So You Want To Start a Business

That’s great! You will be one of 3,190 individual’s (2015 figures, via the Kauffman Index) across the United States who is adding to a still-vibrant economy, in spite of war and recession elsewhere. In fact, entrepreneurship is actually up from 2014, by about 10 percent, so clearly some people are still hopeful about the economy, Wall Street aside.

Like many entrepreneurs, you may have to shoulder the burden of the workload by yourself for a while, with part-timers on call when things get really crazy.

Those part-timers can help you get through the sticky stuff, so go ahead and hire them. Young and strong, or older and wiser, they are an important addition to your business. If you are successful, they may even transition along with you to become permanent, full-time employees.

But there are rules, even when hiring part-time or temporary help, and you could lose your precious startup – and everything else you own – if you are not careful to follow them.

What Defines Part-Time

You do. Not the government, and not some anonymous management company, but you. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) applies whether your new employee works 14 hours, or 30 hours. However, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics describes “part-time” as working one to 34 hours per week, so that is a good guideline.

Mandatory Benefits

What are you required to offer, or pay? Mandatory benefits include workers’ compensation and Social Security – or a short-term benefits package for disability, depending on your state. You are required to pay minimum wage in most cases. This is equivalent to $7.25 per hour.

Starting out, you may want to keep it simple and hope that your employees are healthy and capable. On the other hand, a small, simple, very carefully crafted benefits package may be just the incentive your new employees need to work just that much harder to help you succeed.

Health Insurance

Don’t forget the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) for health insurance. Again, depending on your status as an employer, etc., you may not have to offer anything to those working less than 20 hours a week, but your insurer can advise you and help you plan for an acceptable minimum of coverage – perhaps with employee participation.   

The law says you must pay for health insurance if you have 50 full-time employees or more. This is the 2016 threshold. This means you either offer health insurance, or pay a tax penalty. You can get around this by cutting hours, or dividing your company into two parts (e.g., manufacturing and sales), and some larger firms are doing just that, but that’s kind of a shabby way to meet the letter of the law while ignoring the intent.

If your employees are seasonal – if, for example, you build sailboats, but only in the summer – you are required to offer health benefits to employees if there are more than 50 of them, and they work for a consecutive 120 days (4 months) in a row.

Whatever you do, remember that any health insurance you offer must meet the guidelines of “affordability”. That is, it must not exceed 9.56 percent of your employee’s combined household income.

There is a caveat, of course. Since you, the employer, are unlikely to know what your employee’s combined household income is, you can take advantage of any one of three “safe harbor” stances. These are:

  1. The amount of wages on the W-2 form
  2. The rate of pay, typically calculated at 130 hours per month or more times the hourly wage
  3. The Federal poverty line, or FPL, takes the position that the coverage is affordable if your employee’s contribution is not greater than 9.5 percent of the FPL for a single individual during the calendar year.

Best Advice

Good employees are a treasure beyond gold. Learn to spot them, and reward them, outside of mandatory state and federal employment guidelines. For example, that Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas bonus may mean more in the long run than all the niggling little attempts you make to stay precisely within the law.

Pets Are Big Business

Pets Are Big Business

In America, pets are big business. In fact, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 65 percent of U.S. households, or almost 80 million families, own a pet.

This figure is 22.7 million more than it was in 1988, the first year the survey was conducted. It’s clear America’s love affair with pets is strong, and growing stronger.

Most prefer dogs, by a margin of almost 12 percent, but cats aren’t far behind. In fact, remove percentages and actual ownership involves 85.8 million cats versus 77.8 million dogs. This is because people who own cats often own two or more, while dog owners typically own one – especially if it is a large dog.

People are also, and increasingly, turning to fish (12.3 percent), birds (6.1 percent), small animals (5.4 percent), and even reptiles, especially lizards, which are no longer seen as cold, uncaring, indifferent creatures but ones with personalities as distinct as those of cats and dogs.

The same is true of snakes and, yes, even tarantulas. Nothing seems to escape our love and fascination with the other members of earth.

Pet Ownership Translated into Dollars

In 2006, Americans spent $38.5 billion on pets, pet care, and pet sitting or grooming establishments. This is the same amount that the Federal government spent on education during that year.

By 2015, that figure had risen to $60.59 billion, with the lion’s share going toward veterinary surgical care. The next largest category covered food. Third were routine vet visits, and fourth were boarding facilities.

Food treats came in at about 25 percent of the actual food total – $269, in the case of dogs (with cats only $20 million behind).The smallest amount, a miserly $28-47 million, was reportedly spent on toys – a figure that seems almost fictional knowing how much doting pet owners spend on their “fur people”.

Pet Ownership, By Age and Sector

When the Great Recession (2007-2009) struck, Americans tightened the purse strings. Retail sales fell, as did sales of vehicle fuel, fast food, vacations, and major appliances.

Pet spending did not, proving yet again that a pet business is good business. This willingness to spend on fur people is very much evident among homeowners, who spend about three times as much as renters. An even better demographic for pet product and service sales is among married couples without children. Whether new nesters or empty nesters, this group spent the most on their pets.

This is also the group, or demographic, that sees their pets as “family” (by a 63.2- percent margin), as opposed to those who see their pets as companion animals (35.8 percent). These are the pet lovers who go online and refer to a beloved animal as “my baby”, or “my kid”.

Millennials Taking over the Industry

The most promising group of pet-product consumers are Millennials, the 18-34-year-old segment, who have seen their futures shrunk to the size of a corporate cubicle and an efficiency apartment. Millennial singles often see pets as their only recourse to companionship: relationships are too difficult to sustain, and marriage is economically hazardous.

For married Millennials, pets serve the same purpose, only more so. Compared to other pet owners, notes consumer marketing agency Packaged Facts in their National Pet Owner Survey, many Millennials seem to regard their pets as surrogate children, and pet ownership as a good way to practice for that “real” family.

Thus, as the Boomers decline in both health and prospects and give up their pets, expect Millennials to take over the pet industry. Because this demographic is inclined to splurge on their pets – sometimes even to the extent of foregoing personal purchases – entrepreneurs can also expect rapid and enthusiastic uptake of fads, fashion accessories, feeding and watering devices, treats, carrying cases, cat stands, pillow beds, healthful foods and, most notably, electronic apps that allow owners to keep track of a pet’s health and safety.

Entrepreneurs planning on starting a pet business would do best to focus on this demographic when it comes to advertising and social media (try Snapchat and Instagram, as well as the old faithful apps like Facebook and Twitter). Product focus should be on innovative designs and technologically advanced tracking and monitoring devices.

But a good, old-fashioned dog walking service, or a 21st century Sherpa tent designed for dogs and hot summer nights, would likely be successful, too. Just focus on the right market and make sure you consult the VA Law & Business Review to make sure you and the IRS are on the same page, legally speaking.  

The Importance of Mentorship When Building A Business

The Importance of Mentorship When Building A Business


When it comes to entrepreneurship, many want to start a business but they may find themselves stomped when defining their objective, which is why seeking mentorship has been beneficial in helping others building out their plans. Creating a clear mission is necessary when developing and growing a business. What is it about your business that is special and unique? You may have started a business that solves distinct problems or provides a valuable service. Starting is just the beginning. The work that comes with building, branding, and establishing business goals and a strong team is a whole other ballpark. Develop a clear vision and goal. You can do this by seeking mentorship in the process.


Stay positive!


Having a great idea is only part of your success. Determination and having a strong plan is the key to growing a small business. If you’re serious about growing your business, hang around others who are on a similar journey and already have successful businesses. Ask questions and take lots of notes. Learn from them and feed off the positive energy. Motivate yourself with inspirational quotes on leadership and innovation. You and your dream are worth it, and staying positive is your number one goal as you launch and build. You will have difficult days in the beginning, but negative thinking will get you nowhere!


Find mentorship and funding programs


There are practical ways to grow your small business idea. Here are a few to consider:


Find mentorship Ever watch the show “Shark Tank”? Having a successful business owner offer you tips and mentorship on business development and longevity is powerful. Often we may not have a clear objective in the beginning. Entrepreneurs have creative ideas, but may be limited in time and finances. Learn from those who are successful. Take notes. Go to conferences. It may even be worth it to seek a life coach to help you develop a life strategy.


Look for grants You may be surprised at how many grants are available to small business owners. Do the research! Contact non-profit organizations and investors. Tell your business idea and get the funding you need to grow.


Legal advice. Don’t be afraid to seek out legal advice. A lawyer may help answer all of those questions you have about the legal and financial side of having a business.


Networking is the key


Entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said, “You cannot succeed by yourself. It’s hard to find a rich hermit.” You can’t grow a business without networking. Social media networking may not be enough, especially if you have a small business. Consider joining or starting a meetup for entrepreneurs in your area.  Networking is invaluable when growing and expanding a business.


If you don’t already have a website, you want to invest into one. Many business owners who aren’t code savvy now have WordPress accounts which make it easier to post content to your site whenever you want. You can’t go wrong with strong business cards. Go to a local community fair and set up a table. Have your business cards at hand and introduce yourself to locals. The more personable you are, the better. Be friendly and reach out. You never know what opportunities will open up for you as you step out!

Small Businesses & Parental Leave

Small Businesses & Parental Leave

Without a strong team of dedicated employees, a business of any size can suffer. If you run a small business, you undoubtedly rely on your employees and in turn try to offer them benefits and other incentives for staying with and supporting your small company. While many employees of a small business are offered health insurance and even a retirement plan, parental leave is another story. It continues to baffle business owners and employees, alike, that in a developed country like the United States, women are not guaranteed time off from work to care for their newborn after birth.

Although larger businesses are required to provide employees with 12 weeks of unpaid leave, through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), smaller businesses with less than 50 employees are not required to provide the same kind of leave. If you’re not required to provide parental (or maternity) leave, here are some reasons why you may want to consider offering it for expectant parents in your company:

Employees May Return After Leave

If you decide to provide parental leave your employees, there’s a good chance that a majority of the employees will return to work after leave. By providing parental leave, giving either men or women an option to take time off after the birth or adoption of a child, you are taking action and showing your employees that you care about them and their families. In turn, you are more likely to have employees that value you as an employer and express mutual respect.

Creating a Parental Leave Policy

Whether you want to include both women and men is up to you, but when you create your parental leave policy it should be clear and you should be consistent with no exceptions and included in all employee manuals and in terms of employment. (Yes, even small businesses with a small amount of employees should have employee manuals and terms of employment.) When creating your policy, consider the FMLA:

  • Employees must be employed with your company for at least 12 months and works a regular work week (or works a minimum of hours per week).
  • The time of leave must be continuous, not broken up over a period of time (such as 6 to 12 weeks).

If you can’t offer paid leave or can’t afford to be without your employee for 12 weeks, consider alternatives such as working from home or allowing your employee to bring the child to work (if it’s safe and suitable).

Prepare Your Business

Just as you would with another lengthy absence in your company, you should have a plan for conducting business without an integral employee. Depending on the type of business you run, you have a few options that may work such as temporarily offering up or delegating tasks to existing employees, hire out your work to freelancers, or hire a temporary employee during the time of your employee’s absence.

Is Your Startup Business Idea Any Good?

Is Your Startup Business Idea Any Good?

Whether you are still in the brainstorming stage of a startup business or if you’re already a business owner and have ideas for starting another business, the thought that crosses your mind more often than not is, “Is this even a good idea?” When coming up with business ideas, it’s easy to be optimistic and confident until someone tells you it’s not the greatest idea or you find out that a business like yours already exists.

Dreams of starting a business can be a fleeting thought, but if you really want it to work, you can definitely give it a go. Will it be easy? Not always. Will everyone love it? Probably not. However, remember the old saying, “You’ll never know until you try”? Keep that in mind as you come up with a business idea or two.

Got an Idea? Questions to Ask Yourself

Having a long list of ideas are better than none. While you may only have a few viable ideas out of the bunch, it’s a good start. When tossing around ideas, it’s important to ask yourself some questions and see if your business idea can answer them. Here are some questions to consider when planning your business:

Is Your Idea “Trending”?:

When planning a startup business, it’s wise to keep your eye on trending businesses. While not every business that starts out trending and strong is in for the long haul, it can give you a good starting point. Pay close attention to businesses that continue to trend as they grow.

Will My Business Solve a Problem?:

Think as your startup business as the scientific method (in a way). You must ask yourself a question, do your research, and come up with a conclusion. A successful business often solves a problem. Whether you are looking for a way to keep people from losing their car keys or how to decrease the number of roadway accidents, your business should solve a problem. The problem may not be yours, but you’re likely to find someone with the problem.

Are People Willing to Pay for My Business?:

Whether you’re selling a product or a service, a big question you should ask yourself is if people will pay for whatever you’re selling. These days, there are a lot of services available for no cost (which can make for tough competition), so you’ll need to determine what makes you stand out from the others.

Does it Excite You?:

Many people start up a business because they know it’s a good idea, but they only feel a little passion for it. Sure, a business may be profitable, but if your heart’s not in it, it’s not going to thrive as well as it could nor will it last. Although you have a specific audience that you’re trying to capture and excite, don’t forget about your own emotional investment. Remember, if you believe in your business idea and are excited, it’s a great starting point. Ask others what they think, take advice into consideration, but don’t let the naysayers steer you away from something you really want to do.

Startup Trends of 2016

Startup Trends of 2016

Startups are dramatically impacting modern society, and it is safe to say that they are shaping this new generation. Unlike larger organizations, these agile companies take much larger risks and give opportunities to unproven new visionaries in the hopes of bringing something great to the consumer. New startup launches are everywhere. They appear in developed and less developed countries with equal flare and enthusiasm in pursuing product and service perfection. The year 2015 was recognizable for the startup trend of 3D printing, the exaggerated usage of drones, and the ‘internet of things’. Some inventions were great while others had some issues. Competition and consumer expectation are demonstrably growing bigger and bigger each year. 2016 is expected to be a year of improving the services and products created last year, with that handing out some world-changing ideas. Let’s take a look at the trends we hope to see from startups in 2016.
Tech for Everyday Living
First on the list is the improved usage of Wearables in multiple industries. Consumers are showing great demand for wearables, and it is a seemingly addictive product niche. Almost 80% of the initial adopters of this technology consider the Wearables market to be a significant strategic asset to the future of their business. The spending on Wearables by previous consumers is expected to have a repurchase percentage of 90%. There are also new customers ready and willing to adopt and install them in their businesses as well. Even though Smart home devices were greeted with some skepticism, after additional adoption occurred, and people started actively using them and connecting every tech product in their home to it, the trust factor was developed. Along with Wearables, it is expected that in 2016 Smart homes adoption will hit full market penetration and will become commonplace for many families that desire progress and security in their lives. When you have already connected everything in your life to one system, the risk of having your personal information leak or hacked does increase. To fight this, many companies will work on developing privacy protection for potential consumers in order to meet their needs. This opens up an entirely new market for the cyber privacy business.
More Advanced Technology
The creation of Smart cities really started getting noticed in 2015. These systems allowed zones to be controlled through one, all-connecting system. The aspect of health is also a major focus. Digital health has exponentially grown. Some examples are faster sequencing of DNA, in depth clinical analysis, technological advancements, and online services for mental healthcare. A new movement took shape in the form of autonomous cars. Autonomous cars are becoming more and more popular as people are willing to accept them because of the many benefits they carry (safety, health, environment). This is still in its infancy and the software has many details that still need to be worked on. Even though it is a much more budget heavy endeavor, the space exploration segment of startups will have a significant role in 2016. Small developers are going to be the backbone for the leading two companies, SpaceX and BlueOrigin, in their quest for knowledge.
All things are moving in the tech-direction, and as more and more individuals bring their own ideas to the table, it is only expected that daily life will get better, easier and more innovative.

Customer Base : How to Build

Customer Base : How to Build

Starting a new business can be terrifying. You pump time and money into your new venture with no idea of how it will turn out. All business owners start somewhere, though. And one thing every new start-up needs is a customer base.


Here are five things any new business can do to begin building that brand.


Use Social Media (and Do a Good Job of It)

Every company needs an online presence these days. Most businesses realize that, but they often neglect the details. Unless you’re selling a product directly online, you should focus more on social media than on an elaborate page.


Few customers will spend time navigating through an elaborate website. You need to go to your customers. A healthy social media presence will allow customers to incorporate your deals and ads into their own time.


And make sure your social media presence is up to date. If your page hasn’t been update in three years, no one will know how accurate your information is. Spend the time needed to get good content available online.


Hire a Few Reliable Employees

The more employees you have, the more time you’ll need to spend in human resources and management. A large staff may sound appealing, but remember that each person will need wages, paperwork, and maybe even benefits packages. And the more people you’ve got working together, the more likely it will be that people will feud and cause problems.


Find a few good people. Hire them. And keep your staff lean. Good employees—so long as your treat them well—will be loyal and hardworking. They will also attract customers. Customers like to go to a business where they know the people working. That customer-business relationship is key to growing your start-up.


Get to Know What Everyone Does

Learn the basics of what every one of your employees does on a normal day. This will help you build rapport with your staff; you’ll understand how hard their work is, and that understanding will help build the mutual respect between employee and employer that is necessary for building a strong workforce. It will also prevent your employees from thinking you don’t understand how the place actually works.


Know Your Customer

Again, customers like going to places where they know the workers. Learn your customers’ names, talk with them about their days, and slowly build that relationship. Remember to be sincere, though; nothing turns potential regulars again like a slimy conversation with the owner.


Once people know you, they will feel personally invested in your establishment. If it’s home to them, they’ll keep coming back, and will feel the importance of spending their money on you instead of the similar shop a few blocks down.



Do Good Work

This one should go without saying, but it pays to remember that customers will be happier when they get high quality service. Whatever it is you do, do it well. Solid product or content will be the best marketing tool you’ll ever have. Quality is the first thing customers consider when planning a shopping trip.   


Advice for Startups

Advice for Startups

It doesn’t matter if you are a fresh college graduate, recently retired worker or an average middle-aged person just wanting to try something new, there is always an opportunity to start your own small business. That is the beauty of a small business; it can be started anytime you want. That is not to say that starting and maintaining a small business or startup is a piece of cake. On the contrary, you have to be prepared to do a lot of work in order to be successful. Many people invest a lot both economically and intellectually at an initial stage and often don’t plan for the long term. The key is to have a solid plan of action to avoid failure. Let’s face it, there is a chance that your business may not work out the way you want, but if you follow some basic advice, it will increase the chances of success by a huge margin.

How to get started

Obviously, the first thing you need is to find out the kind of business you want to start. Here, it is important to keep a few things in mind. The most common mistake people make at this stage is that they choose whatever is trending. While there is a chance that it may work for a short duration, the odds are low that it will be a success in the long haul. Pick an idea that you are passionate about, and that you are confident about executing. Do your research and be sure that there is a market for your product or service. Choose something that combines both your passion and current market need. These are a few things you must ask yourself at this stage:

  • Will it be worth the time and money spent?
  • Do customers need it? Will customers like it?
  • What is the future of this small business?
  • Am I really confident about doing this?
  • Who are my competitors? How am I different/unique?

Another significant factor which can make a huge impact on business is the location of your company. Ensure that the placement of your small business is within the reach of the customers. Even if your shop is online, make sure you are reaching the right audience and are able to be found by potential customers.

Protecting your investment

It is imperative that you are on the right side of the law when starting your own business. Securing your business from fraud, copyright infringement, and other legal troubles can be vital, especially if you have come up with the “next big thing.” When it comes to online companies, the risk is even greater in the form of cyber-attacks, copycats, and even online scams. Brick and mortars stores are also in danger of lawsuits or other legal issues involving employees. Therefore, it is quite imperative to make your business safe and secure. In this case, knowledge in business law can help significantly. A deep understanding or trusted consultant in Business law can help you steer clear of any unwanted situations that may arise while you are developing out your small business. Be aware of the laws in your area prior to starting your own small business. If this is not an area of strength for you, be sure to reach out to professionals who can help you through the process.

How do you protect your small business from legal issues? Please leave your comments below:

5 Ways to Avoid Startup Failure

These days it’s not uncommon for someone to change career plans and decide to start up a small business. The great thing is that it’s socially acceptable. Everyone is cheering each other on, saying “go for it!” and “what have you got to lose?” and in reality, some startups succeed and some fail. Maybe you’re ready to ditch corporate America and open up that specialty shop or maybe you finally decided to be an independent consultant rather than rely on being part of a company. If you’ve got the patience and the drive, there’s no doubt you can get started. In order to stay on the right track and be successful, there are some things that you should avoid doing that often lead to the failure of a start up. Make a couple of “right” moves to avoid failure and you’ll be happy you went after your dream job.
Be Confident, Even When You’re Not

Once you begin to establish your startup, it’s important to have familial and friend support, but you need to be confident in your startup and your ability to succeed. If you constantly second guess every decision, how do you expect to sell your ideas and promote your business to others? Sure, a startup is a big, scary, and often times risky decision, but you need to be confident for the sake of your customers, your employees, and yourself. If you fail to be confident, your startup is likely to fail.
Ask For Feedback and Advice

Startup businesses can be intensely personal; a part of you. Unless you have years of experience running your own business, you may need a mentor or consultant. Find someone who you respect and trust to bounce ideas off of, yet someone who is not part of your personal circle (spouse, family, best friend).
Hire the Right People

The beginning stages of a startup are often a whirlwind. You may not expect needing employees right away, but then all of a sudden you do. Eager to keep the business moving forward, you hire the first person who seems qualified. Hiring the wrong people can break your business. Choose people who understand your plan and vision and show potential for having the same passion. It may take a while, but it’s worth the search.
Be Original

Many new startup business owners want to own a business, but rather than choosing something they are passionate about, they base their plan on what’s trending. While this is important to do to some extent, don’t “copy and paste” another existing business. For example, if you are really interested in making specialty cakes, you need to create a style or a product that will set you apart from every other trendy cake shop in your city. The most successful startups are a perfect balance of originality and trend.
Listen to Your Clientele

Your customers will make or break your business. If you don’t care how your customers perceive your business or your products, then you probably don’t care whether or not your business will succeed. Ask for feedback, even if you may not want to hear the truth. Whether customer feedback is positive or negative, listening, learning, and taking action can help your startup grow and have a better chance at returning customers.

Make It Like New: Renovating an Old Building for a New Retail Space

Make It Like New: Renovating an Old Building for a New Retail Space

Whether you are starting a new business or are expanding, finding the right space is essential. Depending on your location, there are may be many older and abandoned properties with historical value, loads of potential, and in need of a little TLC. These days, when city dwellers across the country are urging to keep downtown business districts alive, an older building may be the perfect fit for your business; particularly if the price is right.

Whether you love the clean lines on a Classical Revival building or are head over heels about the masonry construction and arches of a Romanesque Revival building, any old building you choose to renovate may require some work. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by your work in progress, look at your purchase as an opportunity to make your business stand out.

Safety First

Much of an old building’s charm is visible on the outside, but in order to capture the original look on the inside, it may require peeling and tearing out layer upon layer of outdated building materials (such as paneling, plaster, carpeting, and linoleum). However, you may also come across a building that looks as though it has never been touched by modern architecture. Either way, you will need to make sure that your building is a safe place for your business and that it won’t put you or your patrons in danger.

  • Inspection: Have the building inspected by a professional. He or she will closely examine every aspect of the building from the roof to the foundation to determine the building’s safety. This report will help you decide how much to invest in the remodel and how much assistance you may need from a designer/architect.

  • Beware of Red Flags: The price tag may be too good to pass up, but are there are some red flags to consider such as hazardous materials like asbestos. Many old buildings contain the carcinogen and should not be destroyed or removed without a professional.

Asbestos can be found in almost every type of building material prior to the late 1970’s. “Asbestos has been used in heating and domestic water systems, including pipes, boilers and tanks. It also has been used in vinyl and linoleum flooring, and drop-in ceiling tiles,” says Belluck & Fox

Design Tips

Once you’re given the green light to go ahead and start renovating, it may be hard to decide where you want to start. While money will most likely be the deciding factor, plan a design that focuses on energy conservation and safety without losing your business’s unique style.

  • Spend to Save: There are many features in the old building that you may want to hang on to such as tall ceilings, ornate light fixtures, and large store front windows. You can keep some of these charming features and add some updated, money saving designs. Consider saving light fixtures, but adding more efficient lighting. Keep the large windows, but make sure there is new weather stripping around the windows.

Additionally, get rid of features such as mail chutes, that may interrupt efficient heating and cooling. If you’re lucky, you may find some inexpensive replicas (flooring or lighting) that perfectly match some of your building’s vintage charm.