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Consulting with Start-Ups (6th in Series)

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BUSINESS PLAN

The first and most important task for any start-up is a two-page executive summary outlining your business model. In two pages, you need to be able to summarize the market, operations, management, and financial projections of your new company. It must have real information (not fluff and wishes), and it must build logically. The sections of the executive summary are the same for the lengthier business plan. They are as follows:

  1. Business Name and Legal Status
  2. Market Analysis
  3. Key Objectives
  4. Financial Objectives
  5. Market Opportunities
  6. Market Threats (Competition)
  7. Operations
  8. Personnel & Staffing
  9. Management Team & Governance
  10. Pro Forma Targets (Financial Projections)

“Real information” speaks to the need to gather actual community data toward the representation of your market, logic of your objectives, and efficacy of your financial projections. Census data, consumer research, commerce data, and even verifiable observations made over time can provide a foundation of reality for your projections. Do not express what you think. Communicate what you can support with data

“Build logically” reminds you to connect each part of the summary in a logical chain of support for the business. By the time the reader gets to the Pro Forma Targets, he/she should consider the projections justified by the preceding discussion. While you write, continually ask yourself, “What does the previous section support?”

DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB

There is a reason some of the most successful companies started in basements or garages: Low Overhead! Consider the financial swing from having a job and income of $2,500 per month to quitting the job and hiring a building at $1,200 per month. My advice is to keep your current employment situation while you build your business plan, secure capital, and develop your brand.

Yet, when planning to launch a business while working at another business, keep in mind the policies of your current employer. Policies regarding competition, secondary employment, and intellectual property are of the utmost importance.

Competition

Many employers, recognizing the demand for experienced professionals, now require some form of non-compete clause to be signed as a condition of employment. These contracts usually specify an amount of time that you must wait before engaging in an enterprise that could be seen by your employer as competing. Notice that most contracts allow the employer to determine whether the activity is a competing activity. For example, the employer may ask you to sign an agreement not to accept their former clients as your clients for a period of 2 years after separating from the company.

Some states outlaw the use of non-compete clauses. Employers in these situations may require strict, periodic reporting of your “outside” activities. This could include the amount of compensation you obtain from outside sources and a mandatory conflict of interests review by a risk assessment officer. Realize that not all levels of the human resources chain make this apparent during the hiring process. Read your entire contract and personnel policy documents to know what your employer allows, discourages, and seeks to monitor.

Secondary Employment

Most often, the concern on the part of the employer is to ensure that your business start-up does not infringe on your ability to complete your duties as assigned. You can satisfy this by submitting documentation that your secondary employment occurs during hours that you are not expected to work. For example, if you are employed 9am – 5pm Monday through Friday, you may carry out secondary employment from 7pm – 11pm. If you are on-call during the evenings, you can engage in secondary employment during weekends.

Another concern could be potential conflicts of interest. A conflict of interest exists when your interests compete with the interests of the company. It is important to make your employer aware of potential conflicts of interest and the steps you have taken to ensure that the conflict does not impair your performance, damage the company, or run afoul of ethical conduct. The existence of a conflict does not necessarily mean that the activity is unethical. Many companies have procedures for reporting and monitoring potential conflicts.

Intellectual Property

It is hard to believe that there once was a time when employers did not have specific policies for the inventions and advancements created by their employees. Generally, when you produce something for hire, the entity that pays you owns all the rights to that product. But, this has become an important point of concern, and sometimes litigation, in certain instances.

Many employers now have a thoughtful policy covering intellectual property rights. Intellectual property is essentially the question of rights to your creation—who owns it. It could be unique ways to prop open a door. It could be a line of programming code. Some have argued that it could be a process for checking out in an online store.  Before you produce anything beyond your job description, familiarize yourself with the intellectual property rights of your employer.

Typically, your employer will claim explicit rights to anything you produce with their support. This means that if you use their computers, Internet connection, materials from the break room, copiers, or meeting room space, your employer may claim rights to what is produced. Employers also claim rights to what you produce while you are clocked in or reasonably expected to be “engaged in work for the company.” Be sure to complete paperwork detailing your entrepreneurial work as secondary employment. Do not use materials (even paperclips or recycle-bin bottles) in your inventions. Produce what is yours away from the employer’s offices.

BUILDING YOUR BRAND

When consulting with a start-up, maybe the most challenging task is to assist the entrepreneur to build a brand. A brand, in the sense of branding, is more than the logo or the product or service the business is known by. A brand is a warm feeling that the public gets from the smells, sites, or sounds that your business practices create. It is the association of your company with your product along with some amount of positive regard.

Once you have developed a solid business plan, you must consider your brand. The brand will be built over time, but it is wise to outline its trajectory. Considerations of your brand will influence strategy in hiring, priorities in production, emphasis in marketing, and targets for growth.

First, consider your product. Second, develop the infrastructure for production. Third, create a schedule and mechanism for communicating your impact. To launch you in this process, consider whether your start-up is producing expertise, service, or a product.

Conceptualizing Your Expertise

Experts come in many flavors. Your first task is to specify the outcome to clients who hire your expertise. Articulate the brand of expert you seek to be: Grant Writer, Evaluator, Producer, Subject Matter Expert, Blogger/Copy Writer, Trainer, or Motivational Speaker. Many more options exist.

If the product is expertise, credibility is of primary importance. Credibility can be communicated through degrees, affiliations, or experience. The greatest of these is experience. If you can effectively communicate your experience, you are closer to securing a contract.

Infrastructure for the expert will include a method to capture and present experience in an easily accessible form. For example, a motivational speaker may set-up recordings of presentations she gives and post clips to a promotional website. A blogger may track unique visitor and interactions data among readers to demonstrate the value and influences represented by the blog.

A press kit detailing your credibility will be an important mechanism. In addition to a website listing contact information and examples of your work, a printed press kit is also desirable. As much as our world relies on digital copy, many still enjoy a well-developed printed presentation. Be sure to engage a print designer to take your skills and accent them visually.

Developing Your Service

When you launch a service, your primary concern is to provide the highest quality experience for the client. Consequently, this should be the first process you consider when developing your service. Create a process map, also called service plan, which details the process each client will experience. The process map is a flowchart that utilizes specific symbols to communicate decisions, documentation, and other processes. Include all elements of the process including early exits, disciplinary actions, referral options—any procedures that any client may experience.

A curriculum or mechanism is the infrastructure in a service venture. It answers the question, “How will clients reach the goals your start-up has for them?” It should be specific. For example, if your service is training provided over 8 weeks, you must outline what each of the weeks will entail. Resist the common urge to simply write the topics that will be presented each of the weeks. At least describe the content, the activities, and the resources involved in each week. Other infrastructure for a service venture include policies & procedures, board development plan, accounting plan, insurance & licenses, zoning considerations, and fundraising plan.

I recommend that you keep these items in an organizational compendium. An organizational compendium is my phrase describing the storage place for program and organizational documents. The key feature of the compendium is that the items are centrally housed, digital when possible, and updated regularly. The compendium should be such that everything needed for a grant proposal, press release, or an annual report can be easily accessed.

Constructing Your Product

If you are thinking about launching a tangible product, your primary concern is your market. Your market describes the clients who will purchase your product. You must identify a need and a way to engage the clients with the product satisfying the need. Before you move forward with the considerations of production, calculate whether the market can support your product. That is, figure out if there are enough potential customers to at least break even on the expenses of production. Consider adjusting your price point to increase the pool of customers.

The primary infrastructure for production of a product is your development cycle. The development cycle details your contracts with suppliers, development of content, packaging, distribution, billing and client engagement. You will also want to plan for inventory storage, distributor requirements, support of products, marketing and social media monitoring. Connect with the department of treasury in your state and local government to learn what sales and use taxes you may be required to pay on the sales of your product. Even states that do not require sales and use taxes may require that you report your sales activity.

Financial planning is an important consideration of impact when launching products. Calculation of the break-even is one task. Another is calculating what you need to make the venture worthwhile for you in comparison with other activities. Rather than a vague hope to “make money,” consider the lifestyle you desire. Calculate the amount of income required for that lifestyle. Reflect on the market calculations you have completed. If your market can bear your desired amount, set this as your target and plan your growth and investment accordingly.

Dr. Michael Wright: Michael A. Wright, PhD, LAPSW is a Social Work Helper Contributor. He offers his expertise as an career coach, serial entrepreneur, and publisher through MAWMedia Group, LLC. Wright has maintained this macro practice consultancy since 1997. Wright lives in Reno, NV.

          
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Work Together to Prepare for the Next Big Storm

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Year by year, hurricanes are growing stronger and more frequent. We are witness to these changes as we watch two catastrophic storms devastate the southeastern United States in as many weeks.

This month, Hurricane Michael slammed the Florida Panhandle, southern Virginia, and the Carolinas. The massive storm killed at least 16 people, flooded cities, highways, and rivers, and reduced much of the region to rubble.

Barely two weeks ago, Hurricane Florence killed at least 36 people in three states, forced thousands to evacuate their homes, dumped record floodwaters on North Carolina, created power outages for hundreds of thousands, and killed millions of farm animals. The most recent damage estimates put the economic toll at a staggering $100 billion, once accounting for property damage, medical costs, and lost wages.

Natural forces emboldened by climate change continue to overwhelm our outdated stormwater management practices and inadequate urban planning, putting us in a precarious position. Short-term economics have often driven development where considering long-term environmental impact was needed instead. When it comes to handling the effects of more storms, we’re not as prepared as we think.

As we assess the damage done by Michael, Florence, and other storms, the shrewdest move is to prepare for the next big storm — and the one after that. Municipalities, businesses, and individuals can brace for the next storms by focusing on the following areas:

Additional Pollution Prevention

Florence and Michael disrupted two of North Carolina’s biggest industries: coal power and hog farming. This created environmental trouble and the potential for health problems. Duke Energy officials in North Carolina said slope and landfill erosion caused stormwater with coal ash — containing heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, and mercury — to spill into Sutton Lake. Watchdog groups have expressed concern about the effect on water quality.

Floodwaters also breached multiple hog lagoons, designed to keep solid waste from polluting sources of drinking water, in at least two North Carolina counties, causing varying degrees of damage. The North Carolina Pork Council says the state’s other 3,000 hog lagoons are holding up, but the state’s Department of Environmental Quality will have to perform inspections.

The landfills, dams, and lagoons containing pollutants need to be stabilized and reinforced. Cities can reduce landfill washout by using gravel stabilizers, terracing, drainage diversions, and other measures to safeguard their slopes against erosion. To avert overflow of detention ponds like hog lagoons, companies can add pond depth, secure the perimeters, and place impervious barriers around the site.

Adjusted Damage Estimates

Because of climate change, we can count on heavier rain and shorter intervals between storms increasing flooding risk. Data is still being gathered for Michael, but we know that for Florence, greenhouse gas emissions and warmer weather made for more intense rainfall. When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston last year, the city matched its annual rainfall (typically 50 inches) in a matter of days.

Cities, businesses, and infrastructure planners need to set new damage expectations, as 500-year storms” arise with increasing regularity. Adequate planning and preparation may seem expensive overall, but it’s more expensive to deal with damage in the aftermath of flooding. It’s important to remember there’s no immediate fix or silver bullet. Instead, we need long-term solutions first acknowledging the problem and then planning for it.

Broader Public Education

Weathering the next storm requires a public education process that touches all sectors on the solutions available to help protect communities against floodwater. In my hometown of Houston, the community has come together with a discussion on the web, in public forums, and in community meetings.

The Houston Green Building Resource Center provides a public resource at the permitting building, providing engineers, architects, contractors, and homeowners with techniques on how to reduce flooding on the macro and micro levels, including information on building codes, permeable and sustainable materials, and engineering technologies to incorporate. Examples include elevated construction, or raising buildings above the rising floodplain, and permeable paving techniques that can reduce the extreme weather’s impact on the earth’s surface. Both are cost-effective improvements worthy of broader public education.

The intensity of storms like Michael and Florence raise the bar for planning and preparation. Governments, businesses, and communities must plan ahead and work together during the quiet times before the storm returns.

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Three Mobile Marketing Strategies to Raise Awareness

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Today, mobile marketing is one of the most powerful forms of digital marketing. Social media, email and video marketing are other channels for digital marketing, but none of them is quite as efficient as mobile marketing. Mobile marketing entails providing mobile phone users with personalized info which promotes goods and services.

It has an extensive reach. Billions of people around the world actively use mobile devices. The audience is there to be harnessed. With mobile marketing, you can send time sensitive information and personalized deals via push notifications, mobile applications, text messages, QR codes, Bluetooth, and multimedia messages.

Mobile marketing can be vital for enhancing brand loyalty. It also increases the chances of gaining new customers while simultaneously making sure that existing ones return to patronize your business.

Like other forms of digital marketing, there are various mobile marketing strategies out there. The trick is to choose an approach that works with your audience; an approach that increases brand engagement, awareness, and customer participation.

Below is a list of mobile marketing strategies that are guaranteed to drive up engagement rates and conversions for your business:

Make the best use of micro-moments

Micro-moments is a term coined by Google. It primarily refers to moments in time when people use their phones to get advice or information. The unprecedented accessibility to the world wide web mobile devices grant conditions many users to seek immediate answers, as quickly as possible, preferably without extraneous data. Extraneous data includes charts, PDF files, and graphs.

There are four major micro-moments you should take advantage of repeatedly. They are:

  • “I want to know” moments, e.g., “Who invented the mobile phone?”
  • “I want to go” moments, e.g., “Where can I see a movie?”
  • “I want to do” moments, e.g., “How do I upgrade my personal computer?”
  • “I want to buy” moments, e.g., “Buy Samsung Galaxy S9.”

Optimizing these micro-moments can make all the difference for your business.

You have to research and anticipate the most common searches and needs of your target audience. The next step is to go on to create actionable content that addresses those needs.

Take proper care to make sure that your content is straight to the point.

Mobile marketing truly shines when you promote your brand while providing answers to these micro-moments.

Take for example a clothing company. While answering a query about tying a necktie knot, you could provide a hyperlink to a page on your website with a collection of ties for sale.

You can also get creative by including suggestions and information about shopping deals and discounts as a part of your content. Just makes sure that you include these links and deals without compromising the brevity and quality of the information you are providing.

Use QR codes to improve user experience

Most mobile phone users are now aware of the fact that scanning QR codes with smartphones is an accessible source of information. A considerable percentage of shoppers have confessed to using smartphones to scan QR codes to compare prices.

Use QR codes to provide a seamless information to your target audience.

Remember that everyone wants information as quickly and as directly as possible. When scanned, your QR codes should lead directly to a specific, valuable and useful information. View them as a shortcut for your customer base to get the answers they need.

Make sure that your QR codes do one of the following:

  • Take users to a page with detailed information about a product
  • Offer users deals, promos, or a coupon
  • Allow users to follow your brand on social media.

Utilize SMS to connect with your customers quickly and on the go

According to statistics gleaned from Venture Beat, the open rate for promotions and campaigns sent via text messages is 98%. This represents the highest open rate among the available forms of digital marketing.

On the other hand, the number of mobile coupons users is projected to reach 1.05 billion by 2019. Text messages are a great way to engage with your customers by offering special deals and personalized promotions, among other things.

Since text messages are almost always opened, you must make sure that your customers are ready to add their numbers to your messaging lists.

You can do this by offering compensation in the form of discounts for customers that sign up with their phone numbers. Furthermore, you can use text messages to publicize sales, send reminders for appointment-based businesses, conduct customer surveys, and check up on reluctant customers.

There are many other ways mobile marketing can empower a brand and increase its reach, but the strategies listed above are tested and work admirably if incorporated accurately.

Study your audience, understand their needs and play the strengths of your brand through some inobrtusive, yet engaging mobile marketing.

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Women Have Fundamentally Different Journeys to Financial Wellness, Merrill Lynch Study Reveals

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A new Merrill Lynch study conducted in partnership with Age Wave, “Women and Financial Wellness: Beyond the Bottom Line,” celebrates the progress made by women while examining the financial challenges women still face throughout their lives, and offers potential solutions. The study finds that 70 percent of women believe that men and women have a fundamentally different life journey, reinforcing the need to better understand women’s financial concerns and opportunities. The study is based on a nationally representative sample of 3,707 respondents, including 2,638 women and 1,069 men.

“Women’s life journeys are not only different than men’s, they’re different than the life journeys of our mothers and grandmothers.”

“Women have come a long way both personally and professionally, but when it comes to their finances, there is still a trail left to blaze,” said Lorna Sabbia, head of Retirement and Personal Wealth Solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “As women are at a tipping point to achieve greater financial empowerment and independence, it is even more essential that we support women in helping them pursue financial security for life. This includes encouraging women to invest more of their assets, save earlier for retirement, and pursue financial solutions that closely align to their personal values and life paths.”

Findings include:

Women look beyond the bottom line
While they definitely care about the performance of investments, women view money as a way to finance the lives they want. Seventy-seven percent say they see money in terms of what it can do for themselves and their families. Eighty-four percent say that understanding their finances is key to greater career flexibility. When it comes to investing, about two-thirds of women look to invest in causes that matter to them.1

Superior longevity
Longevity needs to be a factor in everyone’s financial strategy, but more so for women, who on average, live five years longer than men. Eighty-one percent of centenarians are women.2 While 64 percent of women say they would like to live to 100, few feel financially prepared, with 44 percent of women stating they worry they will run out of money by age 80.

Confidence in all but investing
The study finds that women are confident in most financial tasks, such as paying bills (90 percent) and budgeting (84 percent). However, when it comes to managing investments, their confidence drops significantly; only 52 percent of women say they are confident in managing investments, versus 68 percent of men. Millennial women were the least confident at 46 percent. Of women who do invest, their financial confidence soars; 77 percent of women who invest feel they will be able to accumulate enough money to support themselves for life.

A trail left to blaze
The study also finds how important understanding the gender wealth gap (as opposed to the wage gap) and wealth escalators are to women’s financial wellness. Women experience a gender wealth gap – the difference between men’s and women’s financial resources across their lifetimes, including earnings, investments, retirement savings and additional assets. This wealth gap can translate to a woman at retirement age having accumulated as much as $1,055,000 less than her male counterparts.3Contributing factors include:

  • Temporary interruption, permanent impact: Many women experience lasting effects when they take time away from the workforce to provide care, including for aging parents, their own spouses, and their own children. One in three mothers who returned to the workforce after caring for children says she took on less demanding work, which resulted in lower pay. Twenty-one percent say they were paid less for the same work they did previously.
  • Greater lifetime health and care costs: The average woman is likely to have higher health costs than the average man in retirement – paying an additional $195,000 on average4 – due to living longer and having to rely on formal long-term care in later years.

“Women’s life journeys are not only different than men’s, they’re different than the life journeys of our mothers and grandmothers,” said Maddy Dychtwald, co-founder and senior vice president of Age Wave. “We have more opportunities and choices when it comes to family, education and careers, but we’re so busy taking care of other people and other priorities, we often don’t take the time to invest in ourselves and our future financial wellness. If more women can actively take control of their financial future all along the way, it would not only benefit them, but also their families and our society overall.”

Doing more to promote financial wellness
Bank of America’s Global Wealth and Investment Management business serves affluent and wealthy clients through two leading brands in wealth management: Merrill Lynch and U.S. Trust. Advisors specialize in goals-based wealth management, including planning for retirement, education, legacy, and other life goals through investment, cash and credit management.

“In a period of remarkable advances for women in society, a remaining frontier is financial well-being,” said Andy Sieg, head of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. “It’s a basic component in the quality of life. This report lays out a blueprint for helping to achieve it – and we at Merrill Lynch relish the opportunity to provide women everywhere with advice and support that can make a meaningful difference at every stage of their lives.”

Through its advisors, educational offerings and other resources, Bank of America is positioned to help clients overcome the common challenges presented in the study by:

  • Addressing women’s top financial regret: not investing more. Forty-one percent of women say not investing more is their biggest regret. Women cite lack of knowledge (60 percent) and confidence (34 percent) as top barriers.
  • Focusing on disparities in wealth, not just income. Women’s financial security is about more than closing today’s pay gap. It’s about accumulating assets or wealth at all income levels, and increasing women’s access to wealth escalators (e.g., employee benefits such as paid time off and pretax savings opportunities).
  • Breaking the silence about money. Sixty-one percent of women say they would rather discuss details about their own death than talk about their money. Forty-five percent of women report they don’t have a financial role model.

To learn more about women’s financial wellness, read “Women and Financial Wellness: Beyond the Bottom Line.”

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Top Apps and Tools Recommended for Every Entrepreneur

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Running a small business takes a lot of work. Today there’s technology that will help you with this. This technology won’t only help you stay on top of what you’re doing but it will also help you free up time so you’re not always chained to your office.

Accounting and Expenses

One of the most important parts of your business has to do with accounting and expenses. When you don’t properly manage this area of your business you probably won’t be in business for long. Although you can clearly see how this could take up a lot of your time, PC Mag says it doesn’t have to be this way. Some apps that will help you stay in control in less time include:

NetSuite OneWorld is a completely scalable enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that helps you manage expense reports, purchase orders, business dashboards, and security records. Many business owners have made this their one-stop shop for managing their business when they’re away from their computer.

Acumatica is a general ledger accounting software. This is a browser-based tool that lets you access your accounting data from any device that has an internet connection – including a downloadable iOS or Android app. You can enter time cards, run expense reports, and enter purchase orders from the app.

Expensify is an expense report software for use on your mobile device. With its app, you can upload receipts through OCR SmartScan. It does a great job at accurately processing scanned data, which will save you and your employees time when it comes to inputting and processing expenses.

Tsheets is a mobile app that lets you clock in or out and track time even if you don’t have cell coverage. As a manager, you can clock team members individually or all at the same time. You can also see who’s at work and where they’re working from. Additionally, you can create, edit, and publish scheduled jobs or shifts, automate timesheet alerts, and track paid time off, sick days, and holidays.

QuickBooks is still a solid accounting tool that will help you track and manage your finances. While the app isn’t a fully featured, mobile version of the desktop application it still lets you track sales, send out invoices, and review recent payments while away from the office.

Collaboration and Communication

There are some other great communication and collaboration tools you should also check out. These include:

SurveyMonkey lets you see what’s going on with your customers and employees – something that’s crucial for a business of any size today. Simply create a survey that people can create and participate in from their mobile device. You can then analyze the data from your mobile device once the poll ends.

MailChimp is very helpful when it comes to email marketing, which is a 24/7 job. They’re on suite tools make it easy for you to launch a campaign from your mobile device. All it takes is a few taps and you can recreate the same campaign that you would have created from your desktop. From there you can also monitor the campaign’s progress, edit subscriber profiles, and run multivariate reports.

HubSpot is a marketing automation tool that provides you with a robust iOS and Android app. From there you can manage contacts between your marketing, sales, and service teams while on the go. You can also monitor leads as they move through your sales funnel, communicate with partners who are members of other teams and evaluate campaign metrics to decide if you need to make any wholesale changes.

Evernote Scannable is a great mobile scanning app that quickly and automatically scans business cards, documents, meeting notes, and other files for you. It also connects to LinkedIn and offers you a great text-parsing tool so that you can clean up any docs that turn out jumbled.

UberConference for online meetings. Another important area of your business lies in communicating with your customers and collaborating with your employees. It’s a solid video conferencing app that allows you to meet remotely with employees and clients. The platform is flexible, allowing you to connect with users on any device. This is a great way to virtually drop into a staff meeting while you’re away from the office.

Business Management

Although collaboration, communication, and accounting lie at the heart of your business, there are other important work-related tasks you can probably think of as well. There are some business management tools that are helpful here, including:

Salesforce Sales Cloud Professional is a CRM software tool that gives you access to customer and sales data. You can then use this data to improve your business’ operations. This comprehensive and flexible platform helps you stay in step with your competition. Business News Daily also points out that there’s a free extension that you can add on to this app. It encompasses your service’s Chatter, CRM, apps, and processes within your Android smartphone. This allows you to customize these apps so that they’re more functional and you can stay up-to-date with any notifications and alerts.

Zoho CRM is just as functional as Salesforce, but it also ties in nicely with the rest of the Zoho software ecosystem – including your Zoho email, document management, and email marketing client.

Sprout Social offers you help in creating and maintaining a solid social media strategy. It also provides the best social media management and analytics tools that you can access directly from your mobile device without sacrificing any functionality. Through these apps, you can identify influencers, ideal moments for customer engagement, and have data that back all these things up.

HootSuite offers a mature, complete set of social media management and analytics tools in a nicely designed hub. This lets you conduct comprehensive monitoring, influencer identification, and publish to social media channels.

As you look through these tools, remember that your company is only as good as the tools it uses. With so many tools available, the selection process can become quite daunting. However, you can’t ignore the fact that you need these tools so your business can run 24/7 while you only work weekdays from 9 – 5.

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When Business and Social Good Intersects Communities Benefit

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Photo Credit: @ArupAccessible

Annually, London Borough hosts the Camden’s Business Awards where a range of local companies, large and small, were up for recognition for their contribution to innovation, the local economy, design and the creation of new job opportunities.

I was there to support the Accessible Environments team of the design and engineering company Arup who over several years have worked tirelessly to support our work as a small local charity – we were initially approached by this team because they were interested in doing some fundraising for a local charity that supported disabled people.

We soon found further common ground, and the relationship has since led to Arup training service users and staff to carry out access audits and providing placements for young people with a learning disability in their high-tech, high performance and yet awesomely inclusive work environment.

Our relationship with Arup really exemplifies a voluntary sector organisation and a business working together at its best. What I’ve learned is that when the corporate world engages with charities and voluntary sector organisations, some key elements determine the long-term value achieved. Below I identify 3 of them:

Shared values

One is around the importance of shared values, in this case focusing on a genuine commitment to pursuing inclusion and community participation.  The most effective outcomes come from working with businesses like Arup that embrace the same outcomes we care about and approach them with the same respect, rigour and commitment.

That attitude is also demonstrated by the staff of John Lewis, Oxford Street, when they take our students on work placements throughout the store. They have a genuine personal commitment to helping young people with a learning disability succeed. That’s shown wonderfully when we have events at the store to mark student achievements and staff from all departments flock to take part in the celebrations – not because they are told to or have to but because, like our supporters at Arup, they care about the lives and progress of the young people their company hosts.

Last year, I also spent an evening at the 15th birthday celebrations of The Front Yard Company a small social enterprise who share their beautifully designed building with a community of other makers and designers across the road from our offices. My invitation came about because, over the last few years, due to some wonderfully supportive and collaborative interactions with the Front Yard Company. They designed and supplied the plant lockers which decorate the road outside our building and provide places for cyclists to securely lock their bikes. Most importantly, they also worked with our students with a learning disability to place and fill them with bulbs and bushes.

The celebrations were a wonderfully warm and vibrant evening with the diverse guests and speakers showing how deeply embedded this little company is in their part of North London. The company chose to mark their place and story in the community by highlighting organisations nearby, including Elfrida Rathbone Camden (ERC). The company is so physically close to our location they see our young people, families, and staff coming in and out every single day. They value all our stakeholders as neighbours and contributors to the local community too.

Respect

Secondly, it is vital to have respect for the skills that exist on both sides of the relationship – the partnership has been about mutual learning and especially a recognition that we all learn from the experiences of service users. It’s important to state that this is a learning process that flows both ways too. Arup’s Accessible Environments team tell me that working with our service users have improved their understanding of some of the day-to-day barriers that the built environment presents.

Apparently, there is little in today’s building codes and standards which directly addresses the requirements of people with neuro-diverse needs. An added benefit of working with charities, it can help sharpen professional insights and skills on the side of the business partner too. Much as with the relationship with local authorities, it’s important that voluntary organisations and their service users are not just seen as absorbing resources. We want businesses to see their interactions with us as beneficialal opportunity as well.

Pragmatic support

Lastly, it has been really important for ERC that our corporate partners whose resources are so much greater understand the limitations and pressures on our side (such as having to prioritise the demands of service delivery over fundraising) to make sure the support offered is pragmatic and enables real change. Ongoing access to work placements like those described above has helped our learners build their self-esteem, and overcome barriers around access to academic qualifications, role models and confidence in the workplace.

Practical support can come in other ways too like that given to us by Bikes for Good Causes (BGC) a Wood Green social enterprise that sells good quality, donated bikes and also provides a full bicycle repair and maintenance service.

When I and 3 ERC colleagues committed to do the London to Brighton Bike Ride in 2016 the manager of BGC, Sue Wade kindly agreed to support ERC by making sure our bikes were in good condition ahead of the ride. What struck me when I contacted Sue was how quickly she had said yes (which is not to say that BGC can always do this – they have to raise income and be sustainable to meet their own objectives).

Before my good fortune in coming across BGC I had been in contact with a national cycling chain with a Camden branch which two of us had actually bought our bikes from. That big company didn’t feel able to help us with our request which is, of course, their prerogative but I did think at the time that it was a slightly short-sighted decision on their part, bearing in mind all the local recognition and publicity we would have given them. But for BGC it was an automatic decision based on their community spirit and ethos regardless of whether it held any possible benefit for them.

I think there is something in our experiences about how voluntary organisations and businesses, whether either is big or small, that can create meaning and sustained relationships based simply on retaining a sense of generosity and respect in giving support and in working with each other. When that happens we all become community workers no matter who pays our wages.

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Business

The One Question That Fuels My Approach to Life: What Can I Do For You

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Through my three battles with cancer, I can’t even count how many times I received this question. And with three young children at home, what was I going to say? “Sure. Can you make sure my kids get fed? Can you do a load of laundry for me?”

I was blessed to have such giving, selfless people in my life, but the truth was that my priorities had changed. Cooking, cleaning and chores like them weren’t at the top of my to-do list anymore; I was in survival mode. So when people asked what they could do for me, I usually responded with, “I don’t know.”

One of the human spirit’s most enduring traits is a desire to be useful during times of crisis. The people around me needed to do something, and so did I. Even as I fought to maintain my own health, finding even the smallest way to help someone in need filled me with strength and purpose.

I want every step I take and every move I make to count, for myself and others who are in need. That mantra informs everything I do, be it personal or professional, and is all a product of receiving the kindness I didn’t know I needed when I needed it most.

Putting gratitude into all we do.

It amazes me, the strength we gain from the smallest things. During one of my cancer stints, I bought my then-husband glass-blowing lessons for his birthday, and one night, he brought home a votive he’d made.

After I dropped a tea light inside, the combination of light and color draped me in this feeling of warmth and comfort that I’d never experienced before or even realized I wanted. And I immediately knew I wanted to give others the same solace I felt at that time.

That was the impetus for glassybaby, where we sell glass votives and drinking glasses. We made these pieces in specific colors and attached origin stories to them to help buyers feel more connected with the glass vessels and with our story. While we hope to recreate that same feeling I felt the first time I dropped that light in, we don’t want the glow to end there.

Ten percent of our pretax revenue goes to charitable organizations focused on healing people, the planet and animals. Before we had any kind of business objective, we had the simple desire to help people, to give them comfort. That’s how sustainable giving has worked so well in our company. It’s not an add-on; it’s 100 percent part of our mission, our core and our bottom line. It’s the embodiment of success to me.

When giving actions come from everyday personal interactions rather than some sense of obligation, they can become authentic gestures that transcend the professional, personal and recreational silos we put up in our lives. We compartmentalize our lives so rigorously, but if we take down some of those walls, that’s where we find the opportunities to reach out and help — because it’s the things we care about that inspire the most passion.

Building generosity into those passions is the best way to ensure we’re giving to worthwhile causes. I didn’t come from a traditional business background. Instead, my vision for glassybaby was inspired by my time in the chemo room. It gave me an insight into what people needed and wanted during that critical time. I came to understand their unique problems — the mother who missed a chemo session because she couldn’t find childcare, the woman who was late because she couldn’t afford the bus.

Once we start understanding the problems and basic needs around us, we’ll be able to put that insight into your business plans and personal endeavors. Let our own personal structure and value sets organically tie to people’s needs, and a model of sustainable giving will follow.

“What can I do for you?” is one of the most fundamental human questions in times of need and has helped mold my personal and professional life approaches. Where will it take you?

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