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Should you consider remote work for employees?

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By Debbie Gregory.

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There has been a huge surge in both business owners and employees working remotely from home because of the pandemic. This change has been well received all around.  Projections show that remote work may be here to stay. Employees are still able to effectively communicate, productivity has not gone down, employee satisfaction has gone up, and businesses are saving quite a bit of money on overhead such as office space rent.

While there are a lot of benefits of remote work for both the employee and the business, there are also a lot of concerns and challenges to address. We are all exploring new issues with productivity, boundary setting, and personal relationships. Employers are worried their workers at home are too easily distracted with everything going on in their home life. They worry they do not have as much control over their remote workers and have concerns on effectively managing them; even while they feel that the work-life balance for employees is the greatest benefit of remote working.

With all the challenges, most small business owners have worked from home for years. A vast majority of them work from home and that number is even higher amongst the younger business owners.  It seems that age plays a big role in how remote work is perceived. A recent study found that the younger the owner, the more positive they are about their employees working remotely. Younger business owners tend to feel that remote workers are more productive, more positive, and overall harder workers than those working in a traditional office setting.

Should You Have Your Employees Work Remotely? This is a hard question to answer. In order to figure out if a remote workforce would be best for your business, you need to consider the employees’ specific job duties, their ability to work effectively from home and their ability to work securely from home.

Below are a few ideas to consider:

  • Is the employee safer at home than in your office?
  • Would your business benefit from lower overhead?
  • Does the employee have the equipment and technology at home to work efficiently and effectively? If not, are you willing to provide it?

FYI – VAMBOA is partnering with Dell Technologies to provide significant discounts on computers and you can check them out here:  https://vamboa.org/dell-technologies/

  • Does the employee work with highly sensitive business data? If so, do you have security practices and solutions in place to safeguard that data when accessed remotely?
  • Does the employee have the tools to provide customer service or customer support?

If you choose to allow your workforce to continue to work remotely, you will need to put in place policies on how they will work, how you will manage them and how you will deal with the various challenges that will come up.

Below are some of the things you will need to work on:

  • Make sure you put in writing your new remote work policies and distribute them to your team so that everyone is on the same page.
  • Schedule and conduct regular check-in calls, video chats, or meetings to ensure everyone stays on the same page and works together.
  • Provide opportunities for remote social interaction. Even though you are not all working in the same location, team building and bonding is still very important. Schedule and conduct virtual happy hours, trivia contests, team luncheons, etc.
  • Make sure to deploy the correct technology to keep your employees connected and collaborative. Things such as video conferencing tools, instant messaging, office productivity software, and more. This is also an excellent time to update your computers and other equipment.  You may want to transition from desktops to laptops
  • Additionally, take the time to assess how working remotely is going for your staff. Schedule one-on-one talks and ask your employees how things are going for them and if they need more support from you.

People were already adopting remote work; the pandemic simply accelerated the popularity of the trend and it seems to be growing significantly. More and more companies are looking to expand the remote team model and shift a large portion of their workforce to remote work for good. Since more employees now have the technology and equipment they need to work remotely, it is easier for companies to offer that ability going forward.  Small business owners should seriously consider moving to this model too.

As employers and employees alike experience the benefits of working remotely, more companies will inevitably decide to make the leap. In the future, once the pandemic has finally passed, there will be a dramatic rise in fully remote companies with no physical workplace and providing savings.

Speaking of savings, VAMBOA is pleased to announce that we have partnered with Dell Technologies to provide VAMBOA members and friends significant discounts.   Please check them out here:  https://vamboa.org/dell-technologies/

COVID Pandemic Business Lessons

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By Debbie Gregory.

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It does not matter whatever area your small business is in; it looks very different today than it did last year. Unfortunately, it might never look quite the same again. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced every industry to drastically change the ways in which they conduct business to keep both their employees and customers safe.

Below are a few powerful lessons that you can take away from this pandemic and ones that will assist you in changing your business for the better:

1.) Be Flexible:

COVID-19 tossed a massive wrench into all our plans this year. Regardless of when you re-opened, when you plan to re-open, or if you never closed your doors, you must be flexible and creative when solving current problems. If you can embrace these challenges, your business will not only survive, but should grow once the pandemic has passed.

2.) Consider Alternatives to The Standard Office:

Many businesses have been forced to close entirely or work with a very limited amount of staff in the office while the rest worked remotely from home. Many businesses are now choosing to allow their employees to stay remote indefinitely as they close physical offices to save on overhead. If you can do it, now is the perfect time to embrace working with reduced overhead while providing your employees more flexibility in their work schedules.

3.) Utilize Technology:

Utilizing tools such as Slack, Zoom, and Skype businesses are keeping employees connected, focused, and on-task. These tools also continue to facilitate camaraderie by allowing virtual team lunches, meetings, happy hours, and more.

Technology is also helping companies keep on top of customer service with chatbots, messengers, newsletters, and other online tools; as well as helping companies expand their offerings with things like online stores. Technology has made the transition from traditional office to home-office incredibly simple as well as boosted how companies can find and communicate with their customers. Helping to keep business marching forward, keep up morale and keep everyone feeling connected to one another.

VAMBOA recognizes that many small businesses may need to update their computers and technology.   For this reason, VAMBOA has made the decision to partner with Dell Technologies to VAMBOA members and friends significant discounts on their outstanding technology products.  Here is a link to check out what they offer:  https://vamboa.org/dell-technologies/

4.) Involve Your Customers:

When looking for new and creative ways to boost your business during these challenging times, it is an excellent idea good to involve your current customers.  You need to find out from them how you can better serve them.  They may have a few ideas that you would never have thought of without their input. Some businesses have pivoted to online sales, at-home kits that are delivered, virtual meetings or gatherings and much more. Your customers know what they want and adding their desires to your offerings may open up a whole new revenue streams for your business.

5.) Pivot:

If your business is not open, you need to find a new way to get your offerings into the hands of your customers. If you have not yet added other services or ways for people to purchase your offerings, now is the time to do so!  If you are a restaurant then offer curbside pickup, online ordering, delivery services, or at-home meal and dessert kits. If you are a retailer then open an online store. Find ways to bring people together and connect your products and services to them.

The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over and will continue to dramatically change the way small businesses operate as we head into the future. To survive and thrive, you need to find new and unique ways to continue to serve your customers.

Please check out the discounts for VAMBOA members and friends offered by Dell Technologies to upgrade your computers and technology here:

https://vamboa.org/dell-technologies/

During COVID Use Crowdsourcing to Support Your Business

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By Debbie Gregory.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to financially impact small businesses negatively.  Consider a crowdsourcing campaign might help your business to stay afloat and prosper.

Nearly every small business across America has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.   Some have had to their operations or shut down completely. The financial impact of state lockdowns and social distancing has been a very challenging burden for many business owners, especially those who can no longer afford to pay their employees and bills.  Even with government stimulus packages such as PPP loans in the CARES ACT, many local businesses simply cannot wait for state or federal aid to come happen and remain in business.   Some have turned to their loyal clients and wider communities to help them meet their immediate needs in these uncertain times. Service businesses that cannot operate remotely, have launched coronavirus crowdfunding campaigns to help them support employees who have been temporarily laid off or had their hours cut due to COVID-19.  This has been very popular in the restaurant business.

If your business is considering a crowdfunding campaign to mitigate COVID-related financial losses, below is what you need to know and a few popular platforms to consider.

Where to Launch a Coronavirus Crowdfunding Campaign:  As with a regular crowdfunding campaign, it is important to do your research and find a platform that best suits your business needs and goals. Below are a few popular crowdfunding sites to check out:

  • GoFundMe:  This Crowdfunding site was founded in 2010, GoFundMe is a popular crowdfunding platform used to raise money for emergencies and charitable causes. GoFundMe can be used by both individuals and businesses, but the most successful campaigns tend to center around service-based causes. Unlike other popular crowdfunding platforms, your campaign does not have to meet a deadline or goal requirement, meaning you keep everything you raise minus a 2.9% processing fee and 30 cents for every donation.
  • KickstarterKickstarter is a rewards-based crowdfunding platform designed to “help bring creative projects to life.” To launch a campaign, you set a fundraising goal, deadline, and different pledge levels for backers to choose from. Each pledge level provides something in return, such as a small gift, early access to a product, a personal experience and so on. Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing platform. A campaign that does not reach the fundraising goal within the timeline will go unfunded. For successful campaigns, Kickstarter charges 5% of the total funds raised, plus payment processing fees that range between 3% and 5%.
  • IndiegogoLike Kickstarter, Indiegogo campaigns are usually centered around creative works, charities or start-up businesses. Unlike Kickstarter, a campaign can be fixed or flexible. A fixed campaign is all or nothing, whereas a flexible campaign allows you to keep all the funds whether you meet your goal or not. If you do not meet your goal on a fixed campaign, you will not be charged any fees. For flexible funds, you will be charged a 5% fee plus a 3% processing fee, plus 30 cents per transaction.
  • KivaUnlike other crowdfunding platforms, Kiva is a non-profit organization that connects entrepreneurs who need a loan with people who want to loan money. Kiva is ideal for individuals who are considered “unbankable” by traditional financial institutions because they have no collateral, no credit history or are otherwise seen as a “risky” investment.

What Can I Use My Crowdfunding Proceeds for?

According to the crowdsourcing site, GoFundMe, businesses that have used its platform to cover coronavirus losses have used the money they have raised for any or all the following:

  • Health insurance for employees
  • Monthly rent or mortgage payments
  • Health insurance for employees
  • Paid sick time for employees impacted by COVID-19
  • Crisis pay for employees who are not sick but are out of work.
  • Employees who need time off to care for their children.
  • Other operational expenses you are struggling to pay.
  • Matching discounts for their donation spread out over time.
  • Discounted gift cards for when business is back to normal.
  • Priority booking for service-based businesses.
  • Free upgrade or add-on service.
  • Buy one now get two during the first week back in business.

Unique ways to reward your customers for their support

While not every crowdfunding platform requires you to offer a “reward” in exchange for a donation, some platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo do. Even if your chosen platform does not, it may be a nice gesture to offer your patrons a “thank you” for their support, even if it’s just a coupon for a future purchase.

Here are a few unique ideas for thanking your customers for their generosity:

  • Matching discounts for their donations spread over time
  • Discounted gift cards for when your business is back to normal
  • Priority booking for service-based businesses
  • Free upgrade or add-on service
  • Buy one now and get two during the first week back in business

Rebuilding Your Business After COVID-19 : Part 2 of 2

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By Debbie Gregory.

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The current COVID-19 pandemic has been raging all over the world since late 2019 and almost every small business has suffered various types of negative financial effects. Having a keen understanding of exactly how much your business has suffered, as well as having a solid plan in place, will dramatically help your business get back on track during this pandemic and hopefully after the danger has passed.

In Part one of this mini-series we covered some ways you can prepare your business.  This part will continue to provide you a few more things you can do right now to prepare your business for a post-COVID-19 world.  VAMBOA, the Veterans and Military Business Owners Association wishes you great success and prosperity.

 

4.) Time to Revise Your Budget:

To place your business back on its feet, you may need to invest a significant amount of money and/or resources to make money.   You may need to launch new ad campaigns as well as invest in new marketing materials and collateral.  You may also need to determine if you need new inventory as well as there might be new and improved   equipment that you need to buy.  You may also to hire or rehire employees with additional skills such as eCommerce expertise.  You must have a clear vision of   how much you need to get your business rolling on a day-to-day basis.   It is a reasonable assumption that your pre-COVID-19 budget is no longer applicable, and you need to tweak it for this “new normal”.

 

5.) Put Together a Re-Build Timeline:  

It will take hard work and energy to get your business back following the pandemic and doing everything all at once is not very realistic. Putting together a timeline that prioritizes your most important actions will help you reach each of your re-opening goals in an easier and quicker manner. For example, you may want to start by securing a loan, then rehiring your employees, then restocking inventory, etc. Also, make sure to track your progress each step of the way.   Having a timeline and plan in place will keep you organized.

 

6.)  BE PREPARED!  Put Together A Plan Now for the Next Crisis:

Though this pandemic seems like a once-in-a-lifetime event, the reality is that an emergency of this nature may well happen again and again.   For example, we are seeing a resurgence in hot spots and COVID 19 cases in areas that may have re-opened too soon and may have to close before they can again reopen. Use what you have learned during this pandemic to put together a comprehensive plan to help you insulate your business from future shocks and downturns.

You may want to:

  • Build up liquid cash savings
  • Pay down or pay off any debts
  • Trim your nonessential spending
  • Find ways to help your staff work more efficiently
  • Cut operating costs

 

The more you can prepare now, the better off you will be once the pandemic has passed. Having at least one plan in place will greatly improve your odds of surviving now during these tough financial times and eventually thriving again more quickly and more efficiently.

 

Rebuilding Your Business After COVID-19 : Part 1 of 2

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By Debbie Gregory.

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Unless you have been living under a rock or in seclusion, you understand the COVID-19 pandemic has ground many businesses to a halt and wreaked financial havoc all over the world. Many businesses are continuing to struggle as the pandemic continues to rage months after it first began. According to a recent study by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), as of March 30, 2020 approximately 92% of small businesses that responded said they were suffering negative financial impacts as a result of the pandemic. Only 5% said they have experienced no effects at all.

A plan can dramatically help your business get back on track once the danger has passed. The short-term outlook for businesses varies widely depending on your industry.   No one knows what the “new normal” will be and we can only make guesses at how the overall economy will look. There are a few things you can do right now to prepare your business for a post-COVID-19 world.  They include the following:

 

1.) Assess the Overall Financial Damage to Your Business:

Before you can start planning how you will recover, you need to know exactly how your business has been impacted.  Now is the time to collect all of the numbers (from places such as profit and loss or cash flow statements) in order to compare them to previous years and determine just how much it has affected you. Next you will need to take a close look at how at what other parts of your business have been impacted including if you had to lay off workers, you were forced to greatly reduce marketing budgets or it became necessary to have workers perform their jobs remotely from in home offices.

 

2.) Will you Need Funding to Recover?

Your business may need a fresh infusion of cash to get back on its feet. The earlier you get the ball rolling on financing, the better off you will be. Take the time to research your options so that you find the right financing for your individual needs.

There are several options that you may consider, such as:

  • Small business loans and microloans
  • The Paycheck Protection Program (which is designed to provide funding to small businesses that are struggling to retain their employees during the pandemic)
  • Economic Injury Disaster Loans(short-term pandemic financing for things other than employee retention)
  • Business credit cards
  • Business lines of credit
  • Inventory financing
  • Merchant cash advances
  • Small business term loans from banks, credit unions and online lenders
  • Vendor trade-lines
  • Accounts receivable financing
  • Purchase order financing
  • Equipment financing
  • And more

Each option has its own pros and cons so do your research and always consult a professional if you need guidance.

 

3.) Revise Your Business Plan:

Your business plan may have been working perfectly for your business pre-COVID-19, but now it may need some fine-tuning or outright re-writing. Specifically, you need to consider how your business will be able to adjust to the new normal once to survive during COVID or hopefully after it is gone. Take a good look at what was working for your business before the pandemic that may not work as well now and see where you can adjust or improve to remain competitive in your industry.

If you previously had a traditional brick and mortar shop before COVID-19, you may want to now expand into eCommerce or digital offerings since more people are turning to online shopping for all of their needs. If your employees are now working from home, you may consider keeping that arrangement.  In other words, you need to fine tune your business.

You should also take a good look at the current trends and what your competitors are doing in your industry. You may find a gap that your business could easily fulfill which could be critical to reclaiming and expanding your customer base going forward.

 

The second part of this series will offer you more recommendations including going over your budget, your budget, your re-build timeline and why you should have a plan in place for the next crisis. Stay tuned.

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