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Updated: 36 min 6 sec ago

Research study uncovers small business predictions for 2015

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Small business owners can easily get caught up in the December rush. But once the holiday sparkle fades, business owners and entrepreneurs will need to refocus and make decisions likely to impact their business in 2015.

Before coming to any conclusions, entrepreneurs should be aware of some business revelations uncovered by the Q3 Spark Business Barometer while they feverishly plan during the last few weeks of the year.

Women and millennials’ optimism will drive sales: Do you know an entrepreneur who is skyrocketing to the top? Surveys show that there is a good chance that person is a millennial or a woman. The Q3 Spark Business Barometer indicates that millennial and women business owners are seeing improved sales, and tend to be more optimistic about financial conditions and business prospects, as well as the economy, compared to other generations and male counterparts. Entrepreneurs should seek out diverse points of view from their millennial and female counterparts; a new perspective may help tackle a long-standing challenge or identify a new opportunity.

Employees will be better compensated: The cost of doing business – and doing it well – will continue to rise in 2015. The good news for workers at local businesses is that employers have a renewed focus on rewarding and growing talented workers. Employees can expect to see higher salaries and better training in 2015. Nearly half (46 percent) of small business owners plan to increase funding for employee salaries, while a third (33 percent) plan to spend more on employee training. Employers that have struggled to win and retain top talent should consider investing more in their training and compensation policies. A relatively small investment can pay dividends in worker productivity.

Retirement plans will help business owners attract and retain employees: Where are business owners not investing? Retirement plans. Growth of retirement planning adoption has remained static, as only 24 percent of business owners offered this benefit in 2013 and 2014. However, businesses should realize that replacing an employee can often cost more than investing in current talent. Those looking to attract the best employees should consider offering retirement plans to compete with other employers – you can even save some extra money during tax time by implementing a plan before the year ends!

Main Street will adapt to Silicon Valley: Entrepreneurs recognize that technology can help them streamline their operations, grow their businesses and even cut costs – and they are investing accordingly. According to the survey, nearly a third (29 percent) of small business owners plan to increase spending on hardware and software next year, while 16 percent will invest more in mobile payment technology. Entrepreneurs should consult a technology expert who can advise on the best hardware, software and solution investments that will help grow their business.

As the business landscape shifts constantly, business owners should seek out advice from peers and industry experts. Resources are available to provide businesses with valuable insight on the opportunities and challenges affecting the business community.

Categories: Lifestyle

Continuing education provides competitive edge for job-hunters

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - More Americans than ever are going back to school, continuing their education to add skills and credentials to their work portfolio. For many, keeping their expertise current with continuing education gives them the edge in a competitive job market.

Continuing education is not the same as going back to school to complete an unfinished degree, notes Dr. Marianne Greenfield, program chair at Argosy University, Atlanta.

“Continuing education generally refers to any type of post-secondary education for the purpose of keeping current with changes in a particular field of study or for preparation to obtain a certification,” she says. “Some professions require that you earn continuing-education credits in order to maintain a license. The goal of continuing education is to offer adults who already possess a college or university degree further opportunity for learning without having to enroll in a degree program.”

“Now more than ever, it’s important for employees and professionals to keep up with all the latest skills and relevant knowledge necessary to compete in today’s workforce,” says Dr. George Spagnola, chair of the College of Education at Argosy University, Sarasota. “While a traditional education is necessary in today’s workforce, it is also a cornerstone upon which one can build a better future through continuing education.”

Greenfield agrees.

“As more people obtain academic degrees, candidates whose skills and knowledge are current and relevant in the workplace will have the greater advantage,” she says. “Continuing education is especially important in areas such as human resources, engineering, technology, finance and health care, where rapid advances occur, leading to constantly evolving practices.”

Many professions require candidates to have certifications and licenses to qualify for employment opportunities, so continuing education is important for job-seekers and professionals in those fields.

Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to continue your education.

“Advances in technology have made continuing education more accessible,” says Spagnola. “You can pursue continuing education online, at a physical location or in a combination of both. Technology can help you continue your education and advance your professional knowledge while working and raising a family.”

Given the number of people raising families and working, that flexibility of education can be key to achieving success. Look for an institution or provider that can meet your educational needs while still allowing you to meet your personal and professional obligations.

“Seek out a student-centered institution that meets your needs both academically and non-academically,” says Spagnola.

“Although many course providers cater to those seeking continuing education, it is important to find an accredited institution to ensure your efforts yield results,” says Greenfield. “Look for programs that offer you access to and learning from quality instructors with real-life experience in the specific field of study. Make sure that the program you are considering is compatible with any requirements you will face for licensure.”

And while educational costs are always a concern, many people can find financial assistance in the form of tuition-assistance programs offered through their employers.

“Tuition-assistance programs are of huge benefit to employees and the company,” says Spagnola. “As an employee, you receive financial assistance for your education. Your employer, in turn, gets an employee who is advancing their knowledge and skills and applying them to the organization.”

“The benefits far outweigh the expense and many private sector employers will pay for or reimburse the expense if a compelling case is made for the added competitive advantage for the organization,” agrees Greenfield. “And if your employer isn’t able to assist you with the costs, the Internal Revenue Service allows you to deduct a portion of qualifying continuing-education expenses on your federal tax return. If you pay the expense on behalf of a spouse or a dependent child, you can also claim the deduction.”

For more information about Argosy University, visit argosy.edu.

Categories: Lifestyle

Business-boosting tips to help small businesses maximize holiday sales

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - It’s that time of year again.

Small business owners are preparing for a lucrative holiday season – with nearly three quarters (71 percent) expecting consistent or better sales this year compared to last year, according to Capital One’s Q3 Spark Business Barometer.

At the same time, research shows many shoppers will be buying gifts online and using credit cards. In fact, more than a third of Americans plan to do their holiday shopping online, and more than half plan to use credit cards to make purchases.

With the growth of online shopping and credit card spending, how can local businesses, like yours, and entrepreneurs capitalize on these trends to maximize sales and boost bottom lines? Enhancing your e-commerce strategy and leveraging the latest mobile sales tools are great places to start.

Capital One Spark Business offers tips and tools to help small businesses grow and save, including:

* Embrace mobile technology to maximize sales and save cash. New point-of-sale technologies make it easy and affordable to accept credit card payments and market your business more effectively. For example, Spark Pay offers a simple pricing plan with no contract necessary and enables businesses to send customized holiday offers and promotions to shoppers for free.

* Simplify your online shopping cart process and optimize your landing pages. Did you know that 68.06 percent of online shopping carts are abandoned? Give the customer plenty of choices by offering as many payment methods as possible. For smaller businesses competing with online giants, cart simplification technologies can be critical. You’ll also want to make sure your landing pages are fully optimized to meet all your customers’ needs. The last thing you want to do is increase your bounce rate and waste your marketing efforts.

* Make shipping and returns as painless for customers as possible. It’s important to customers: 70 percent of U.S. e-commerce shipments during the 2014 holiday shopping period could include free shipping – a 3 percent increase over 2013. 

* Invest in new marketing methods and focus on your online capabilities. Small business owners are already expressing a desire to do this. According to the Capital One Spark Business Barometer, 18 percent indicated that, besides attracting and retaining new customers, their most popular business goals are improving advertising and marketing tactics and streamlining expenses. E-commerce solutions can help them achieve both goals.

* When it comes to business expenses, use credit card programs that offer reporting and cash management tools, plus rewards to help increase margins. Capital One Spark Business Cards make earning and redeeming rewards easy, with no: rewards expiration; travel blackout dates; limit on the amount of cash you can earn; redemption tiers; and the list goes on.

Categories: Lifestyle

Learn why workplace benefits help provide financial security

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Every year, employees with company-sponsored health plans are asked by their employers to select benefits for the following year. This process is called “open enrollment,” and it is an important event that is happening across the nation. While many view this as a chance to merely review and update health care coverage, such as medical, dental and vision, it is actually about much more than that.

According to the 2014 Workplace Benefits Study conducted by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), 74 percent of middle-income employees derive the majority of their financial security from the benefits they receive at work. Guardian suggests that families review their voluntary benefit options, such as life or disability insurance, in order to fill any gaps in coverage that could cause financial trouble in the wake of a crisis or medical event.

Here are some important benefits that are often overlooked when making elections during the open enrollment period, along with a brief explanation of how they can help you protect your income and preserve your savings:

Disability insurance - Your most important asset is your ability to earn an income. If you and your family rely on your income, disability insurance can help provide you with a stream of income if you are unable to work due to an illness - such as cancer - as well as accidents.

Life insurance - Life insurance is a great foundation of a smart financial plan. It’s about protecting your family and the life you work hard to give them. Having the right amount of life insurance can give you peace of mind that your loved ones will be taken care of if the unexpected was to happen. It can help them stay in the same home, pay off debt, or pay for college and anything else they may need if you are not there to support them financially.

Critical illness – Critical Illness insurance lets you focus on recovery, not finances. A serious illness such as stroke or heart attack could strike at any time, with no warning. You can use your benefit to pay for daily expenses and outstanding bills. Protect your savings; payments go directly to you - not the hospital.

Accident Insurance - No one sees an accident coming - but if you are in one, it can be devastating for your finances. An accident can bring unexpected expenses such as deductibles, emergency room fees and transportation costs. Accident insurance can ease the burden by helping you pay these additional bills.

Cancer Insurance – If you get a diagnosis of cancer, the last thing you need to think about is paying for treatment. Cancer brings many out-of-pocket expenses that your insurance may not cover and can cost you and your family thousands of dollars. Cancer insurance can help you pay for unexpected costs such as travel to treatment centers, loss of income, deductibles, co-pays and more.

It’s important to be aware of all the benefits offered to you at your workplace. Review all available options to make certain you are fully covered for your current situation – and for life’s unknown events. Check out Guardian’s two-minute videos that reinforce that good financial health and security begins with the benefits offered at the workplace at www.guardiananytime.com.

Categories: Lifestyle
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