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Paid Sick Time? Question 4 Has People Talking

In Massachusetts, Question 4 on this November's upcoming ballot is asking whether or not paid sick time should be a guarantee for every worker in the state. That includes part-timers as well as full-timers, from public to private employees - and this issue has businesses and workers split, asking more questions along the way.

The issue that will grace voters' ballots covers paid time off to handle an illness or care for a spouse, parent or child who has fallen sick. Workers who need time away to see a doctor will also get paid, as will employees coping with the effects of domestic violence, including legal obligations. 

This would be key for part-time staff members who rely on hourly wages.

Questions about Question 4?
Question 4 has only led to more questions, from workers to politicians and local businesses. According to The Boston Globe, supporters include many of the 1 million workers who would directly benefit from this law and workers' rights groups in the state. Asking for changes to the legislation's wording are small business employers and business associations, who argue that the proposal as it stands has too many negatives.

While many on both sides of the issue feel that paid sick time is an important and admirable goal, this hasn't stopped it from being a hot-button topic for voters. Democratic nominee Martha Coakley and independent Evan Falchuk are in favor of Question 4, while Charlie Baker, the Republican nominee, is opposed.

Pros for paid sick time include more flexibility and financial support for employees. On the other hand, detractors are afraid that the law would allow businesses to avoid hiring single parents or people with medical conditions. It might also financially penalize employers or reward irresponsible workers.

What are your thoughts on Question 4? Weigh in below. 

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4 Small Business Certifications You Might Not Know About

Certifications are important for many types of organizations, especially small businesses that want to work with the U.S. government or receive special accommodations.

Although there are a number of certifications depending on your gender, location and business type - here are four that are worth learning about.

1. Small Disadvantaged Businesses
The Small Disadvantaged Businesses certification, or SDB, is designed for companies with owners who classify themselves as socially or economically disadvantaged.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, there is no application for this certification. You can register yourself - assuming you meet the criteria, which includes a majority ownership of one person who is socially or economically disadvantaged.

2. HUBZone Program
HUBZone Program is for historically underutilized businesses, including those in urban and rural areas. With this certification, your company would be first in line for select federal aid and assistance, according to the SBA. At least 35% of your employees must be in a designated "HUBZone," per one eligibility requirement.

3. Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Businesses
The Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Businesses certification is for small businesses owned by U.S. military veterans with a service-related disability. The SBA explained that this certification sets aside resources from the federal government for this type of organization. Veterans must own at least 51% of the business, among other requirements, to qualify.

4. 8(a) Business Development Program
Similar to the SDB designation, the 8(a) Business Development Program was created to assist socially and economically disadvantaged small businesses. According to the SBA, this program is broken up into two parts: first, the development process covers the first four years, followed by the five-year transition stage. Once certified, you can receive specialized contracts and form partnerships with fellow 8(a) organizations. 

Were you aware of these small business certifications? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section. 

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Want Higher Revenue in 2015? You Might Just Be in Luck

According to a new report, economic conditions and increased confidence are helping to spur small business growth. The Sage Business Index polls roughly 14,000 small- to medium-sized businesses each year, and this year's results are positive.

2014 marked the first time since 2010 that more SMBs are optimistic than pessimistic.

U.S. companies are confident in their financial futures, thanks in part to a favorable opinion of the local economy, but concerns over the global economy remain.

So, what can small businesses expect in terms of financial growth?

The Sage Business Index found that 58% of the businesses polled believe their revenue will increase by 3.1% on average over the coming year. Almost half of the respondents expect an uptick in the number of workers during that time. Risk has become a more integral part of the business landscape as well, with 7% more companies considering themselves "risk seekers" over the past 12 months.

Will increased confidence lead to sales growth?
Gabie Boko, executive vice president of marketing for Sage North America, believes that the answer is yes. In a telephone interview with Small Business Computing, Boko pointed out that since SMB confidence is at a new high, these positive emotions can help sales grow in the near future.

One of the driving forces behind these changes is risk. The Sage Business Index highlighted an increased willingness to take risks, and Boko told Small Business Computing that for small businesses, risk can be a good thing.

She stressed that risk-taking is a sign that SMBs are comfortable with the current market and being rewarded for their efforts. Those that gamble with risk believe that their decisions will pay off.

Overall, confidence and risk-taking appear to be helping fuel SMB growth, and these trends have business owners expecting increased revenue sooner, rather than later.

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3 Bits of Advice from Successful Small Business Owners

Are you ready to take your small business to the next level? Here are three pieces of advice from small business owners that could help you find success today:

1. Don't Be Afraid
The first step is learning how to control your fear. As a small business owner, you will encounter new experiences, challenges and roadblocks on your path to success.

Letting fear get in the way of your goals will prevent you from moving forward. 

Entrepreneur magazine recently questioned a number of small business owners, asking their advice for other professionals looking to forge their own paths. Dr. Mehdi Yazdanpanah, CEO and founder of NaugaNeedles, spoke of fear when asked what he would say to small business owners.

"I guess I would say don't be afraid," Yazdanpanah told Entrepreneur. "If they have a business idea but are afraid because of a lack of funding or experience and so on, I have to tell them don't worry, these are not going to be an issue in this country."

2. Lean on Your Team
The next step is to rely heavily on the team around you. Although training and supervising new hires may become tough as your business grows, trust your staff to handle their duties.

"The best resources a smaller business can utilize [for training] are its current employees," Mark Newman, CEO of video recruiting platform HireVue, told the news source. "They can provide helpful tips and tricks that will help bring the new hire up to speed, and aren't built into training programs."

3. Know Your Finances
Finally, you must understand your finances in order to succeed. Evan Farmer, owner of Cuppa coffee shop, spoke to Michigan's MLive media outlet about his experience running a small business. He stressed the importance of money management.

"That's something we've had to learn over time," Farmer told MLive. "My wife takes a lot of responsibility with the bookkeeping, fortunately, because I'm just not a numbers person. ... I'm more creative."

With a firm knowledge of finances, you'll have an easier time growing your business and finding more success in the future.

What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received? Tell us in the comments below.

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Open Enrollment: A Trick or a Treat for Your Small Business?

By the time your Halloween decorations are taken down and boxed up you'll be getting ready for another important event this year: the 2015 health insurance open enrollment period.

Will this time around be a treat for your small business, or will it turn into a trick?

Starting on Nov. 15, 2014 and running through Feb. 15, 2015, individuals can acquire new health insurance policies or make key changes to their existing benefit plans. In order to keep the scares confined to Halloween, here are three tips to get the most out of this open enrollment period:
 

1. Know Your Options
The Affordable Care Act has opened up new doors for employers and individuals. Since it went into effect, many people have changed their coverage around to get a better deal. You may also want to go this route, and it helps if you know your options. Remember to research group benefit plans and individual ones.

You might save some money should you decide to ditch the group policy and instead financially support each employee as they purchase their own coverage.

2. Talk It out with Your Staff
A lack of communication can be a serious problem during the open enrollment period. Instead, make sure you talk it out with your staff ahead of time. Too many employees aren't aware of the nuances of the ACA. Sit down with each of them to hash out the pros and cons of health insurance, so they know what they want to do this year.

3. Don't Be Afraid to Offer Benefits
Offering substantial employee benefits can be scary - it's a definite financial investment. However, the right coverage, more variety and more options for employees can lead to improved retention, productivity, loyalty and other positives.

Have you started exploring your options during the 2015 open enrollment period? Tell us in the comments below. 

 

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How to Not Feel Overwhelmed Anymore

Does the average workday for you sound like hundreds of tasks piled on top of each other?

Sure, the life of a small business owner can get hectic at times. Transforming an idea into a successful small business takes guts, dedication and determination, and the result of that may be the opinion within your team that you are the go-to, do-it-all leader extraordinaire.

However, don't let this mean that you have to tackle every project alone - you'll surely burn out.

Instead, focus on doling out some direction in the office.

Why You Should Delegate
As you grow, it's important to look for ways to get your staff members more involved in your business to take some of the work off your plate. 

Why is delegation important? Most importantly, it frees up your time to focus on more important duties. You have your job - you shouldn't be doing everyone else's as well.

Delegation also helps grow and educate your employees. The more you rely on other people to handle important tasks, the more pride they will take in their role. Plus, it will reduce training time should you experience turnover or see a senior employee evolve in their role. Always show trust and confidence in your team as you delegate.

How You Can Delegate
Keep in mind that there is a right way and a wrong way to delegate. The best way is to dedicate the time and resources to provide the right context. For example, plan ahead to ensure the person who receives the new work understand why the task is important, and that they have the right training to get started. If you don't set the stage, chances are you could just end up taking the job back and doing it yourself. 

Your tactics can also get better if you first identify team members who are up to the challenge. Start delegating with them before branching out. Figure out each person's strengths and weaknesses and assign duties accordingly. With this complete, you'll be delegating like a pro in no time.

How do you delegate among your team members? Tell us below. 

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The Greatest Small Business Names of All Time

There are a lot of factors that make a business great: A visionary leader, dedicated employees, and loyal customers. But what about the company’s name? Sure, classic mega-brands like Apple and Amazon will always make the official top-10 lists. But we’re partial to the creativity and humor that we see in the names of small businesses from all around the world.

Here are some of our favorites:

 

 

The Merchant of Tennis: a tennis supply store in Canada. It's considered "Shakespeare’s racket purveyor of choice".

 

 

 

 


 

Florist Gump: a florist in Scotland. Run, florist, run!

 

 


 

 

 

Pho Shizzle: a Vietnamese restaurant in Washington State. The favorite soup restaurant of Slurp Dog.

 


 

 

 

Indiana Bones and the Temple of Groom: pet care store in California. Extra points for pulling off the tricky double-pun with style! 

 

 


 

What's your favorite small business name? Tell us in the comments below. 

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The 3 Coolest Small Businesses in Tampa

With interesting retail stores, dedicated non-profits and creative eateries, Tampa is home to a number of incredible local businesses that play an integral role in the community. Although we think all small businesses are cool, below are three that are really caught our eye. 

1. Bill Jackson's Inc.
Located in Pinellas Park, Florida, Bill Jackson's Inc. is a small business that specializes in outdoor goods and services. Here, shoppers can pick up the gear they need for hiking, climbing, kayaking and many more exciting activities. A range of educational classes makes getting outdoors easier than ever.

2. Success 4 Kids & Families
This Tampa-based non-profit offers in-home treatment options for families with children dealing with behavioral, emotional or mental health concerns. Staff members take a holistic approach to the process, working with the entire family to help children realize their full potential.

3. VectorLearning, Inc.
VectorLearning, Inc. offers continuing online education and training for a variety of professionals across multiple industries. With a full-time staff of fewer than 100 people, this small business helps its clients  reduce costs, mitigate risk, and increase worker productivity

What's your favorite small business in Tampa? Tell us in the comments below. 

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4 Things Nobody Told You about Being a Small Business Owner

When you think about your daily life as a small business owner, what part of your job makes you the happiest?

Odds are; your answer doesn't involve your finances or taxes. Managing your books isn't often what made you become a business owner in the first place - and is rarely discussed when you set out on your journey. 

Here are the four biggest pitfalls small business owners are often unaware of in the early days:

1. Estimating cash flow needs is difficult
Many entrepreneurs have difficulty estimating the amount of cash flow they'll need on hand in the beginning stages of their business. Until you have a strong grasp on the number of customers you'll be serving, your margins and cash flow conversation cycles, finding out how much you need can be a challenge. 

2. Same goes for financial planning
Many business owners forgo forecasting financial needs ahead of time - or do so with inaccurate and overly optimistic predictions for the health of their firms. Even if you don't have all of the information, its imperative that you use the best estimate you can start laying out your pricing strategies, expenses, etc. 

It is always best to aim low and be pleased when you surpass your estimates, rather than assume too much and get in trouble down the line.

3. No man is an island
Successful small business owners are confident, committed and skilled at their jobs. However, many decide early on that they can use these traits to do everything on their own, but trying to do too much can be a serious negative. For example, if financial planning and forecasting truly bores you, consider hiring a business manager or accountant to handle that side of the business. It will allow you to focus on what you do best and enjoy. 

4. Tax time is all the time 
Sure, mid-April is the tax deadline we all know, but companies have many other tax obligations that don't always fall on this due date. As a small business owner, you have a responsibility to deal with the IRS throughout the year. Forgetting that could end with you backed into a corner, especially when it comes to cash flow (all the more reason to hire an accountant). 

What do you wish someone had told you about running a business? Tell us in the comments below. 

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Independent Contractors vs. Full-Time Employees

Independent contractors or full-time employees - which one is the right choice for your business as you grow? Naturally, each option has its pros and cons, and the answer may be more nuanced than you think. 

Pros of Choosing Full-Time
- Full-timers are typically more productive, motivated members of your team. They are locked into their roles, so they can feel pride about their job. 

- When business picks up, you also won't have to invest more funds in training and hiring, and you can watch your employees grow and contribute to your company over time. 

Cons of Choosing Full-Time
- You will need to provide full-time employees benefits, and depending on the size of your small business, including health insurance options (read more about the ACA here). 

- Full-time employees need to be on a set payment schedule, regardless of your revenue for that month. This also requires you adhere to specific payroll paperwork and withholding taxes, social security, Medicare, etc. 

Pros of Choosing Contractors
- Contractors are essentially freelancers who can come in for a short periods of time and accomplish specific tasks. Although the pay is typically comparable to full-time employees, you won't be required to pay out benefits or commit to a salary. 

- Contractors often bring a detailed knowledge to the table. You can hire a person with the exact skill set you need for each job.

Cons of choosing contractors
- What you gain in flexibility, you sacrifice in loyalty, commitment and dedication that full-timers provide. You also aren't guaranteed that the same contractor will always be available when you need it. 

- The time and money you do invest in contractors is more likely to pay off in the short-term, not the long-term. 

Overall, choosing the right type of employee comes down to your personal situation. Consider your finances, your company's goals, your current situation and the type of job before you make the call for your small business.

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