Image credit: Luis Alvarez | Getty Images
This article was originally published by Entrepreneur on June 12, 2018
Co-working is often considered a millennial venture — strictly for those who are young, starting out and crave the unstructured work environment.
While co-working may have begun in this demographic, this is less and less true as co-working becomes increasingly popular. All kinds of workers are realizing they can have a flexible and diverse working environment without sacrificing the professionalism of the office.
As someone who has been in the game for a while now — we opened our first co-working space in 2010 — I have seen the change firsthand.
Each year, we survey our members to find out how we’re doing — and how they’re doing. This year’s survey came back with a clear message about the health of the co-working community. In short, co-working spaces are proving to be economic engines that produce prosperity for owners, employees and service providers alike. Below are some recent findings that shatter the perceptions of co-working spaces.
Not just for solo artists.
More and more, co-working is becoming group-oriented. It is a common misperception that co-working spaces are filled with solo entrepreneurs desperate for some social interaction. Our most recent member survey demonstrated that this is definitely not the case. Of those surveyed:
- Only 50 percent self-identified as individual workers (consultants, freelancers, or telecommuters)
- 40 percent categorized themselves as employees (people who work for an employer at a coworking space)
- 10 percent classified themselves as employers (business owners or business unit managers who had employees)
Co-workers are thriving and hiring.
Another co-working myth is that co-working members are small operations who intend to stay that way. Reality? Co-working spaces act as accelerators for business growth. The constant interaction with outside companies allows for natural networking opportunities, helping businesses find new clients, customers, talent and collaboration opportunities that fast-track growth. Out of our survey respondents, roughly 3/4 of employers and 1/3 of individuals expect to add new employees in 2018.
- 40 percent expect to hire 1 to 2 people
- 27 percent expect to hire 3 to 5 people
- 10 percent expect to hire 6 or more people
Co-working members are big spenders.
Co-working members contribute significantly to their local and regional economies by spending on business services internally with other members and with local restaurants and other businesses. At Fueled Collective specifically, nearly 40 percent of employer members reported spending money (cash or barter) in 2017 with other Fueled Collective members for services, with a median transaction amount of $5,000 to $9,999. Employers spent more money with companies outside of Fueled Collective, with a median spend of $50,000 to $99,999. More than 1/3 spent more than $100,000. Individual members also have an economic impact. More than 1/4 (29 percent) of them reported spending money (cash or barter) in 2017 with other Fueled Collective members for services, with a median transaction amount of $1,000 to $4,999.
Age of business.
As mentioned before, co-working is not just for the fresh-faced startup, as is a common perception. Members often include a considerable portion of experienced business owners. From our survey, among employer respondents:
- 38 percent reported being in business for 3 to 5 years
- Nearly 1/4 of employer respondents and 28 percent of individual respondents reported being in business for more than 10 years
- Only 12 percent of employer and individual respondents report being in business for 1 year or less
Enterprise is making a showing in co-working.
Larger corporations are increasingly making use of co-working. Gone are the days of co-working spaces filled with companies you have never heard of. Corporations have been finding value in co-working spaces for different reasons, including improving recruitment efforts, lowering real estate costs, gaining flexibility and boosting employee satisfaction.
Fernanda Roso, Assistant Vice President of The Nexus Portfolio. The Nexus Workspaces is a member of the West Boca Chamber of Commerce and is partnering with the chamber to host meetings and lunch-and-learns.
This article was originally published by the New York Times
Photo by Delcan & Company + Saad Moosajee
Small businesses may be able to receive a big tax break this year, thanks to the new rules. They also may face a big headache: figuring out whether the tax break applies to them.
The problem is that a centerpiece of the legislation is a write-off for “qualified business income,” but it’s unclear whether certain activities count. That is sowing confusion as the April deadline for filing the first returns under the law approaches.
“Parts of the law were not well thought out,” said Lisa Goldman, a partner in the international tax practice of the accountancy Berdon L.L.P. Congress was in a rush to enact the law before the end of 2017 and was more concerned, she said, with big businesses than small: “I’m not surprised it’s convoluted.”
While the Internal Revenue Service issued additional clarifications in January, much of the uncertainty continues, often focused on a 20 percent deduction for qualified business income.
It is available for many sole proprietorships, partnerships and pass-through entities, such as S corporations. Most small businesses are formed under one of these structures, and most are eligible for the deduction. But not all of them are.
First, the relatively simple part: Businesses generally can receive the full deduction if their owners are married and file jointly and their taxable income does not exceed $315,000, or half that amount for single filers. More than 90 percent of pass-through entities qualify for the deduction, said Mark Jaeger, director for tax development at TaxAct, a provider of tax filing software.
“If you’re a typical business owner, your net profit on Schedule C is going to be qualified business income,” he said. Schedule C of Form 1040 is where individuals report business income.
“Don’t even worry about it if your income is under those amounts,” Mr. Jaeger said. And a partial deduction is available on incomes up to $415,000 for people who file jointly, or $207,500 for single filers.
The complications are mind-numbing
But it’s not just qualified business income that’s used to figure eligibility for the deduction; it’s also total taxable income. So if you make $250,000 in your business and your spouse makes $200,000 in a salaried job, the total income on your return is $450,000. In that case, you could lose the qualified business income deduction.
Not necessarily, though.
If you pay wages to employees, including yourself, you could be eligible to take a qualified business income deduction equal to 50 percent of those wages, even if your income exceeds the threshold. In any case, the deduction cannot be more than 20 percent of qualified business income.
If your head isn’t spinning yet, there is more: An alternative calculation allows real estate firms to claim a qualified business income deduction of 25 percent of wages and 2.5 percent of the amount invested in property. But that’s only available if the I.R.S. deems the enterprise an eligible business. The agency last month ruled that renting out property is a business for which the deduction applies, and is not just a passive investment, under certain circumstances. Separate books and bank accounts must be kept and 250 hours a year must be devoted to active management, the agency said.
There’s still more fine print. The deduction is out of bounds to anyone who has income above the threshold and runs what the law calls a “specified service trade or business.” That’s one whose main asset is the owners’ reputation and skill.
The law lists several examples, including health, law, financial services, entertainment and consulting. Those businesses don’t qualify for the deduction. But for some reason, architecture and engineering do.
In the batch of rules released last month, the I.R.S. acknowledged that some activities can go either way, such as the operation of a pharmacy. The question for pharmacies is whether owners are regarded as dispensing health care. The I.R.S. said it depended on the circumstances.
Ian Shane, a partner at the law firm Michelman & Robinson, said: “As these final regulations are put into effect by tax practitioners, I am confident that there will still be a substantial number of gray areas where it comes down to anybody’s guess as to whether the activity or type of business will qualify for the deduction in the eyes of the I.R.S.”
Mr. Shane highlighted some “interesting anomalies.” One is whether a business engages in consulting, which disqualifies it for the deduction. Providing training courses or related services qualifies for the deduction, but providing advice and counsel — which can be part of training — constitutes consulting, in the agency’s view. What a business puts on its invoices and how it has represented itself over the years will go a long way to determining how it’s regarded, he said.
For an entrepreneur like Paige Cornetet, the distinction might amount to considerable money. Her business, Millennial Guru, which she started a year and a half ago in Grand Rapids, Mich., provides workshops and one-on-one training to help companies manage younger employees better. She runs Millennial Guru as a sole proprietor.
Ms. Cornetet’s adviser, Greg Rosica, a partner in Ernst & Young’s private client services practice, said Millennial Guru is clearly an education business, adding that he is not worried that the I.R.S. will view it as a consultancy. In other words, he says, the business should be eligible for the deduction.
Ms. Cornetet said the various breaks in the tax bill have saved her enough to pay for a full-time assistant, allowing her “to have fewer things on my plate, focus on what I’m good at and stay in my lane.”
Mr. Shane encourages entrepreneurs to use a tax professional to help accomplish those same objectives and to navigate the law generally.
“There are so many questions you don’t know how to answer, especially about what’s a qualified trade or business,” he said. “Go to an accountant. You don’t want something disallowed because you didn’t do one little thing.”
This article was originally published by Entrepenuer
Benjamin Franklin said it best when he coined the phrase, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”
Many business owners take years to understand that taxes are one of their biggest costs, and it really doesn’t take a lot of effort to make sure you aren’t missing something on your taxes.
Before setting forth my list of the top 75 deductions/strategies, allow me to make an important point: You are the captain of your own ship. You don’t have to be an accountant to manage your accountant. Make sure you have a regular conversation with your tax preparer and discuss these items.
Your accountant should be suggesting these to you … and they should be trying to find ways to write-off expenses — not just telling you no and talking down to you. Use this list as a discussion point and make sure you have the right person helping you with your taxes.
Consider this list of 75 possible tax deductions for business owners. It’s just a start and not every one of these items is always a viable deduction, but certainly worth a discussion.
75 possible tax deductions (plus two bonus deductions)
- Accounting fees
- Auto Expenses – Article and Video
- Banking fees
- Board Meetings – Article and Video
- Building repairs and maintenance
- Business Travel – Article and Video
- Business association membership dues
- Charitable deductions made for a business purpose
- Children on Payroll – Article and Video
- Cleaning/janitorial services
- Collection Expenses
- Commissions to affiliates
- Computers and tech supplies
- Consulting fees
- Continuing education for yourself to maintain licensing and improve skills
- Conventions and trade shows
- Costs of goods sold
- Credit card convenience fees
- Dining and Office food – Article and Video
- Education and training for employees
- Exhibits for publicity
- Franchise fees
- Freight or shipping costs
- Furniture or fixtures
- Gifts for customers ($25 deduction limit for each)
- Group insurance (if qualifying)
- Health insurance – Video
- Equipment repairs
- Health Reimbursement Arrangement – Article and Video
- Health Savings Account – Article and Video
- Home office – Article and Video
- Internet hosting and services
- Investment advice and fees
- Legal fees
- Leased Vehicle or equipment
- License fees
- Losses due to theft
- Maintenance and janitorial
- Mortgage interest on business property
- Newspapers and magazines
- Office supplies and expenses
- Outside services
- Payroll taxes for employees, including Social Security, Medicare taxes and unemployment taxes
- Parking and tolls
- Pass-Through 199A Deduction
- Pension plans
- Prizes for contests
- Real estate-related expenses
- Rebates on sales
- Research and development
- Rental Property – Article and Video
- Retirement plans – Article and Video
- Safe-deposit box
- Spouse on Payroll – Article
- Social media advertising
- Software and online services
- Storage rental
- Taxes (Personal and Real Property)
- Video equipment for business YouTube channel
- Website design
- Workers’ compensation insurance
Surprisingly, there isn’t some master list included in the Internal Revenue Code or provided by the Internal Revenue Service. There is simply the tax principle, set forth in Code Section 62, which states a valid write-off is any expense incurred in the production of income. Each deduction then has its own rules.
A good CPA should be teaching their clients to think above the line — that is, your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) line. Your AGI is the number in the bottom right-hand corner on the front page of your tax return. Any tax return. And what I mean by thinking above this line is constantly trying to think of any and all personal expenses that may have a business purpose. With a small-business venture in your life and on your tax return, you may be able to convert some personal expenses to business expenses, as long as you have the proper business purpose for that expense.
Seasoned business owners become proficient over the years at keeping good records and realizing when expenses have a legitimate business purpose. For some, this thought process becomes so ingrained that it becomes almost impossible to buy something without first considering a tax purpose for that item or service.
In sum, try to track every single expense related to your business and comb over them with your CPA at the end of the year to ensure you only take legitimate deductions. Good record keeping and thoughtful consideration will minimize your risk of an audit if the IRS ever comes knocking.
This article was originally published on Her Agenda
Calling all women business owners and creators! This article is for you. When the new year started, you set your business intentions. You made a plan. You promised yourself this year would bring new levels of success. This article is to help you keep that promise. It is filled to the brim with grants, programs, competitions, and more to jumpstart your year in Q1.
Before we jump into the opportunities for you, let’s set the tone with a mantra to refocus your mind from the obstacles and self-doubt to all the achieving you’re going to do this year.
I will not be afraid of any challenge placed in front of me because fear holds me back and winning takes courage.
Now let’s start applying! Here’s our round up of the top funding opportunities and more for women entrepreneurs:
1. MVMT50, NEW VOICES FUND Apply by February 15
Originally when MVMT50 announced their pitch competition the mission was to award a Black female entrepreneur with $10,000. Since then Shea Moisture and New Voices Fund joined forces with MVMT50 to increase the grand prize to $100,000! Applicants have until February 15 to apply for the competition which will take place on March 9 at University of Texas at Austin. Click the link to learn more.
2. FedEx Small Business Grant Contest Apply by February 19
For the 7th annual grant contest, FedEx will be doubling their prize money for 10 finalists. This means the grand total for all ten grants is $220,000. Click the link to learn more.
3. 2019 Student Entrepreneur Program Apply by February 22
WBENC is proud to invest in the next generation of Women’s Business Enterprises. Since the program began in 2008, nearly 200 students from over 80 colleges have been helped. Participants receive a tailored entrepreneurial curriculum, entrance in a pitch competition awarding $20,000 in seed capital, and experiential learning through off-site visits to WBEs, corporate campuses, and accelerators. Click the link to learn more.
4. PitchIt @LendIt USA 2019Apply by February 25
If you’re a founder of a fintech company, this Pitch competition is for you. The event is sponsored by none other than 500 Startups, the world leader in investing in and mentoring early-stage fintech startups. Check out the link to see if you qualify and apply if you do.
5. Flash Pitch NYC Apply by February 27
This monthly event series gathers entrepreneurs, investors, and mentors in a room to watch startups pitch their companies. So far two principals and one venture capitalists are confirmed investors for the late February event. Click the link to learn more.
6. Caffeine-Induced Pitch Competition Apply by February 27
If you’re looking for a pitch competition in Florida, this event takes place in Melbourne, FL. Fun fact: Melbourne is part of Florida’s Space Coast, an area that offers more engineering talent per capita than any other in the United States. Enter for a chance to win cash and other prizes, network, practice your pitch, and get some insightful feedback. Click the link to learn more.
7. Amber Grant Apply by February 28
The Amber Grant is on a mission to help women bring their entrepreneurial dreams to life. Each month candidates are eligible to win a $1,000 grant. Then at the end of the year all 12 winners are eligible to win a grant of $10,000. The deadline for February is approaching, but if you need more time there’s always next month. Click the link to learn more.
8. 2019 Global Startup Competition: Applications opened February 1
St Louis, this lucrative grant is for you! According to their website, “Arch Grants is looking for innovative technologies, products, or services, wrapped within scalable for-profit business models with the potential to make national or international impact.” The winner will be awarded a $50,000 equity-free cash grant, amongst many other expensive resources. Click the link for more details.
9. Tory Burch Foundation Fellows Program Apply by March 12
Need $5,000? The Tory Burch Fellows Program is one of the most sought after opportunities for women. Fellows receive four days of guidance and networking in the Tory Burch offices, a one-year fellowship, a $5,000 grant, and for a select few fellows the opportunity to pitch their business to industry influencers. Click the link to learn more.
10. The Farm Accelerator Application– Apply by March 4- May 23
Atlanta’s startup community is constantly growing and Comcast NBCUniversal figured out a way to support new businesses and technologies with The Farm, an innovation hub in Atlanta. The Farm, which runs twice a year for 12 weeks, offers a $20,000 startup accelerator to each team, premium startup incubator office space, a cutting-edge hardware prototyping lab, coworking facilities, a customized curriculum, company-building guidance, mentorship, and a network of startup community supporters. Whew, that’s a lot! Click the link to learn more.
11. Brainhit2019 Startup Innovation Competition Apply by March 1
BrainHIT is scouring the globe, literally, for the best brain health innovations and technology. All early startups are encouraged to apply and present their ideas to judges, clinicians, peers, and industry leaders. Click the link to learn more.
12. MassChallenge Boston Apply by March 13
MassChallenge Boston has become one of Massachusetts’ premiere programs for new innovators. The program awards up to $1.5 million in cash prizes and $50,000 in scholarships, a coworking space, access to expert mentors, top corporate innovation teams, a tailored curriculum, world-class resources, and more – all at zero cost and for zero equity. Click the link for more information.
13. Montclair State University 2019 Pitch Contest Apply by March 26
The New Jersey pitch competition awards $50,000 to the first prize winner, $20,000 to the second prize winner, and $10,000 to the third prize winner. Click the link to learn more.
14.Pitch Pitch Women Entrepreneurs with SMPLCT Lab Apply by March 27
If you’re a female entrepreneur in NYC who wants to crowdfund your project you should definitely check out the upcoming Pitch Pitch competition. The event will be hosted by The Farm, a coworking space in SOHO. Click the link to find out how you can attend.
Last month Her Agenda spoke with Mahisha Dellinger, Curls CEO and star of OWN’s Minding Your Business, who shared her mission to create more generational wealth in the black community by sharing the knowledge she’s gained as a successful business owner with other black women. The immersive course that encourages you to work and play hard costs $1,200, which includes your airfare, hotel accommodations, food, excursions, activities, and more.
The free 2-week, online course is designed to provide women business owners around the world with a business and management education, networking opportunities and access to capital. Once completed, those who earn high scores on the exam are invited to take the Full 10-week course in which women will develop their Business Growth Plan. Click the link to learn more.
The certificate program which was developed by Cornell faculty and experts is also 100 percent online. Those interested are asked to fill out the Request Information page to be informed when Spring 2019 sections are opened. Seats are first come, first serve. Click the link to learn more.
Opportunities to keep an eye on
18. ERA’s Summer 2019 NYC Accelerator program Apply by April 1
ERA invests $100K in seed funding with potential follow-on funding and gives entrepreneurs access to NYC’s largest mentor network of 400+ industry leaders and the strongest alumni network of 180 companies. The program begins on June 17, 2019.
19. URBAN-X Spring 2019 Apply by April 1
Does your startup reimagine city life? The Urban-X venture accelerator program in Brooklyn partners with MINI and Urban US to explore the boundaries of design. “MINI experts guide founders in design, manufacturing, engineering, marketing, community building and branding. Urban Us connects startups with the leading community of founders, investors, companies and city officials. Together, we’ve invested in many of the leading startups working on city solutions.” On average, teams raise over $100,000. Not bad right? Click the link to learn more.
20.Women’s Founders Network Fast pitch Apply by April 1- June 1
Women entrepreneurs across all industries are welcomed to apply. It’s a lengthy process (winners don’t pitch until October) but it’s worth it. The grand prize is $45,00 and professional services. Click the link to learn more.
21. Eileen Fisher Grants: Returning Spring 2019
In the past, Eileen Fisher Grants awarded 10 women a year with grants up to $100,000. Additionally, in order to qualify your business must be majority woman-owned and promote social and environmental change. Eileen Fisher has not released information about the 2019 grants yet but wrote this statement on their website:
“In Spring 2019, we expect to launch new and/or updated grant programs. While we cannot guarantee that the funding criteria will be similar to past programs, we encourage you to return to our Grants page at that time to see if your organization might be a fit for our 2019 opportunities.”
Click the link to learn more.
22. InnovateHer Challenge powered by the SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership: Returning Spring 2019
This grant provides federal grant money to women entrepreneurs whose business aimed to improve the lives of women. First place was awarded with $40,000, second place received $20,000 and third place received $10,000. Details for the 2019 grants have not been released but in an interview with Maverick Monday they issued a statement saying:
“Currently, we are planning an even better and more exciting InnovateHER for 2019! Please be sure to follow us [the SBA] on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn so you don’t miss any updates.”
23. Girlboss Foundation– Grants awarded biannually
It’s only fitting that a company called Girlboss live by their name and empower some fans to become bosses of their own. Women creators receive a $15,000 grant each to improve their businesses and since launching in 2014 the Girlboss Foundation has issued over $130,000 in grants. The application is currently open.
Check out the August 2018 grant recipient Black Girl Magik, an online platform and collective that speaks to women of the African Diaspora. Click the link to learn more.
KIVA provides microloans with 0% interest up to the amount of $10K for entrepreneurs. You crowdfund through your network and depending on your city, their partners will match the amount you raise, helping you to reach your goal faster.
Support your girls
EnrichHER created an exciting community for people to support and invest in women-owned businesses and women creators. In addition, when they’re not helping you invest in the next generation of women leaders, the EnrichHerSpark Community is helping you hone your own skillset so you can be empowered as well. It’s just an overall dope concept that you should know about, so check it out. Click the link to learn more.
Article was originally published by Forbes
Content marketers understand how long-form content, SEO, social media and video help raise brand awareness and build a loyal audience, but others in our orbit sometimes need convincing. That’s when having the right data comes in handy. Recent research shows why today’s brands continue to prioritize content in their marketing mix. When making your business case, keep these industry stats and insights in mind.
Content Strategy & Platform Trends
1) Sponsored articles that include brand mentions sparingly get better reader engagement than those with frequent brand mentions. (Pressboard Brand Publishers Study 2018)
2) 90% of the most successful content marketers prioritize educating their audience over promoting their company’s sales message, compared with 56% of those who describe their content marketing efforts as unsuccessful. (B2B Content Marketing 2019)
3) 61% of marketers surveyed publish content several times per week; 89% of those respondents reported content marketing produced higher quality leads than other forms of marketing. (ContentWriters)
4) 82% of CMOs expect to increase their digital budgets by about 50% in 2019. (Nielsen 2018 CMO Report)
5) Over the past two years, direct mobile traffic to publishers’ websites has grown by 30%, surpassing referral traffic from Facebook. (Chartbeat/ MediaPost)
6) In a survey of 500 digital marketers, 88% said their marketing strategy includes blogging, and most posts they publish have at least one visual. (Venngage)
The most successful content marketers recognize content marketing as an opportunity to build trust. Once your brand becomes a source of useful, reliable information, you won’t have to chase customers—they’ll come to you.
7) 82% of consumers have made a purchase based on a company’s online content marketing. (Clutch Survey)
8) 96% of the top-performing B2B content marketers say their audience views their brand as a credible and trusted source. (B2B Content Marketing 2019 by Content Marketing Institute)
9) 71% of consumers say they would be willing to spend more money to support products and services from a brand they trust. (Readers’ Digest Most Trusted Brand Survey 2018)
10) 38% of buyers visit at least four sites to research prior to making a first-time B2B purchase. (e-tailing group’s B2B Buyer Behavior)
Each piece of content your brand publishes is an opportunity to leave readers with a positive impression. Creating content that’s thoughtful and informative gives visitors a reason to engage and the motivation to continue exploring what your brand has to offer. Ultimately, this builds the foundation of trust needed to turn prospects into customers.
Organizations trying to innovate are wired to think big. They want to make a big impact, set big goals, and talk about big plans and big successes. No one is interested in anything that appears small. At first blush, this makes sense: in order to move the needle on your P&L you need to have a big success. Small is uninteresting.
This thinking is flawed. My research on innovation has shown that a vast majority of the “big” innovations we admire started as something small. These innovations did not become big by executing on a plan to create something big: they became big by providing inspirational offerings that enhanced customer experiences. Financial rewards were not the reason for the innovation: they were the outcome—the reward to a company that increased societal value through innovation.
Google and Uber and Airbnb
Google started off as an academic experiment by two PhD students to understand how web pages link to each other. It wasn’t even a commercial initiative; search results were simply a byproduct of the index they created. In fact, when the founders noticed that their search results were superior to those of other search engines, they were ready to sell the company to Excite (a leading search engine of the time) for under a million dollars. Excite refused.
Of course, Google became very big, but the big didn’t happen by executing on a big strategic plan: it happened by providing a big positive change to the experience of users. And the financial rewards that followed? Generating billions through advertising revenues was not part of executing on a strategic plan: it was simply that, as the company increased its value to society, society was happy to reward the company.
Google is not alone. Uber started with three cars and the goal of providing a better service than taxis. The founders of Airbnb rented out their own loft with an air mattress and free breakfast to make extra money; they certainly had no plan to build the planet’s largest home sharing network.
The wrong kind of big
Unfortunately, most companies I come across think of big only in terms of P&L. Consequently, they are ruled by financial models and strategic plans that are filled with assumptions. Very rarely do companies pursue plans based on the how much a customer experience is altered (something I call the “experience delta”), or on products that inspire at a small scale.
This often causes companies to invest in areas that seem like they’ll have the best financial outcomes based on their assumption-filled plans. However, as we all know, big breakthroughs rarely come from strategic plans and financial models.
Worse yet, while executing the strategic plan, companies very often pass up on inspiring products or developments or ideas because they don’t appear to make a big contribution to the bottom line, or may not fit with their traditional business model. Inspiring ideas are exactly the ones you don’t want to pass on because they are the ones most likely to become word-changing innovations.
Remember that the big opportunity you are chasing may often appear as something quite small. The key is to learn to recognize the opportunities that enhance customer experiences, even in a small way. Once you start viewing innovation from the lens of the experience delta (the change in customer experience you provide) chances are high you will find the opportunities that transform your company and give you the big rewards you are looking for.
I research innovation and personal excellence and am the author of The Innovation Biome available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/163299156X/
This article was originally published by Forbes on Feb 21, 2019
The next time you are making a purchase at a major retailer, take a look at the cash register. The likelihood is that it has a little sticker on it with an asset number. Asset #12345678 or something like that. And, if you were to go in the back to the store manager’s office, you would find each computer has a similar asset label on it. And, whether we are talking about retailers or manufacturers or service industries, with some companies, you would find an asset label on every desk, chair, bookcase, storage cabinet, etc. Some companies are more disciplined (obsessive) about company asset management and others are less disciplined.
As you go down in company size, you will typically see less and less discipline when it comes to company asset management. To allay your concerns, we will not be recommending that you go out and buy a bunch of asset identification labels and slap them on everything in sight. (Although, you should for at least your big ticket items.) No, instead, we hope to scare the living daylights out of you. There is one asset that can kill your company. The problem is we don’t know which one specifically . . . you don’t know which one . . . no one in your firm knows which one . . . and, worse, no consultant or anyone else can ever tell you exactly which one.
To be certain, you have this problem whether your firm has $100 thousand in revenue or $100 million in revenue or $100 billion in revenue. Every firm has this problem . . . even the companies that have asset stickers on paper clips. So, if you think your firm is disciplined with asset management, you will be shocked at your firm’s vulnerability when you understand it for what it is. And, for families that own middle market companies, you have substantial wealth at risk and even your team members’ jobs are at risk. Feeling anxious or frustrated?
The asset that can kill your company is software. If you don’t believe it, just do an Internet search of how Iran’s uranium enrichment program was taken down. Software. If you don’t believe that “software asset management” — described in just a bit — is an issue, do a little research on the root cause of the massive data breach at a major U.S. credit reporting agency in the past few years. Then, consider the case of software company Ashton-Tate. It was not until after it was bankrupt it was discovered that a competitor had induced a fatal flaw into Ashton-Tate’s primary software product that doomed that company.
But, don’t think just because you’re not in the business of producing weapons-grade nuclear materials that you’re not a target. Don’t think “why me, I have a small company.” You are a target whether you realize it or not.
A few years ago, a business owner called me about doing asset protection planning because she and her company were being sued. (By the way, the time to do asset protection planning is before a claim arises . . . not after.) The pertinent issue in the case was her company and a competitor had both been able to drill into each other’s servers — corporate espionage as defined. Each had been able to poach customer lists, proprietary product information, etc.
But, it doesn’t stop there. Let’s say that your firm has some unique part or fabrication process or software. Let’s say that you even have a patent or copyright on it. Now consider a company in another country that is aware of your item. They would rather not spend money on research and development to have a similar capability. So, they drill into your vulnerability point and they get it. The likelihood is that you might never miss the non-U.S. sales they get. But, magically, they find a U.S.-based distributor and you have a new competitor who sells a similar product or service for less in your markets. They can do this for less because they don’t need to recover any R&D expense in their pricing. And, you don’t discover what is going on — like Ashton-Tate — until it is too late. Companies see these offshore attacks happening every day. This is real, this is happening, and this is why you need to sit up and pay attention.
Okay, fine. But, does your company really have a problem? At the simplest level, ask whether any Windows-based computer in your company is running the Windows XP or 2007 operating system. Neither of these operating systems are receiving (normal) support — including security updates — from their maker. If the simple stuff is a problem, just imagine what’s going on with the more complex stuff.
Most companies have no idea what software they have (in aggregate) or on which hardware any given application resides or which version of each application is installed from one piece of hardware to the next. When you add up all of the software applications that your company has — whether you realize it or not — you are likely in the dozens or even above 100.
Don’t believe it?
Let’s say that your company is fairly disciplined with those asset stickers. And, you have a comprehensive list of every physical asset. That list will have the usual suspects: desktop computers, laptop computers, tablets, and cell phones. (Right now, pull out your cell phone and count how many apps are on it.) Add to that list your mission critical equipment with application specific programs (ASPs). Maybe that includes automated sorting machines, packagers, fabricating equipment, equipment that moves items around your building, and you name it. Then, what about the products you make that have embedded software?
In the same way that you have a list of physical assets, you need a list of software assets. Step 1: from the list of physical assets, you need to identify every physical item that has software. Step 2: on physical item #1, you need to identify every application on it AND what version of each application it is. Step 3: on physical item #2 to #X, repeat Step 2. That gives you your software asset list. From that list, you will have a sense of what you have and an information security person will be able to see which walls of the castle are weakest (and which to fix first). Remember, no one will know which of your many castle walls (software assets) will be the one to provide an entry point to a bad guy.
But wait . . . it might be worse. What about your web presence? Does your website have web-based applications? It might be as simple as a sales-based app that helps a buyer determine which product to purchase. It might be a service-based app that helps a product owner determine which replacement part to buy.
Okay, you get the picture. Your software assets are a blind spot. Like the vast majority of companies, you really don’t know what you have. And, what you do have includes far more that you imagined. And, you now might have a sense that you’re vulnerable. Plugging your vulnerabilities is a process and not an event . . . an ongoing process.
So, what are you going to do about it? First, you need to create that list of what you have. Second, you need to assess their vulnerabilities. Third, you need identify a process to close those vulnerabilities. Fourth, you need to prioritize those vulnerabilities. Fifth, you need to close them. Bo says just do it.
I help business owners gain control over their firm’s finances, enhance their firm’s cash flow, and reduce the tax on the sale of their firm. See the Two-Minute Exit Coach at www.IntegratedWealth.com