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5 Ways to Improve Employee Communication During the COVID-19 Crisis

Woman having video chatDuring times of crisis, taking care of your employees should be your No. 1 priority. We offer tips on what business leaders can do to ease staff stress and stay connected in these difficult times.

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By Andy Bailey

During these extraordinary times, as the world’s foremost health experts work to quell the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s critical that leaders step up, make the right decisions swiftly, and be ready to pivot on a moment’s notice.

Taking care of company team members should be a top priority. Leaders need to take the helm and steer the ship during these unpredictable tides—and ensure their actions are in the best interests of their employees.

COVID-19 is affecting nearly everyone’s life in the United States and nations around the world, and for now there’s no clear line of sight as to when some semblance of normality will return. Decisive action needs to be taken now, not later, to ease the stress this pandemic is causing and preserve the company culture you’ve worked so hard to build. Here’s how you do it:

1. Put together an enterprise communications team

Bring together leaders from across your company to identify and prioritize issues. The team should include a manager from each major department and region (if applicable), as well as human resources, legal, operations/facilities, finance/accounting, sales and customer service, and marketing/communications.

In larger companies, the senior communications leader should usually head up this effort; in smaller companies, the CEO should lead. The task force should establish strategic imperatives, communication protocols, and a meeting rhythm.

Leaders can’t make effective operational changes without the buy-in of team members. Now is not the time to roll out a bunch of new rules and policies without consulting anyone. Bring your ideas to the table first so the task force knows what you are thinking. Then get their feedback and collaboratively determine how to proceed, ensuring any new initiatives are communicated effectively.

2. Educate your people

Your team members are searching for ways to cope with the growing anxiety around the coronavirus. You, as the leader, need to be the voice of reason and hope.

Provide employees with the latest healthcare advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on how they can protect themselves and loved ones. Share updates from federal, local, and state governments on school closings and rules that affect how businesses can operate. Explain what your company is doing to help them, as well as clients and the community.

Communicating nearly every day—at least three times a week—is essential. Send email updates to your employees and make sure information is shared during regularly scheduled meetings. Be open and frequent with communications, even if you have no news to share.

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3. Loosen company policies

Don’t let a company manual stand in the way of making the necessary changes to help your team. Most day-care facilities and schools are closed, and it’s disrupting the daily lives of employees who have families. Leaders must be empathetic to the changes affecting their team members, which may mean allowing more flexible work schedules.

Yes, that means allowing employees to work from home, but it also may mean working at odd hours. Instead of focusing on specific times, use key performance indicators (KPIs) to track the work and ensure everything is being handled.

4. Safeguard team members

There are many different ways you can take care of the health of your employees. Follow CDC and any federal or local policies and procedures, and limit employee travel. Scale back in-person meetings, both in the office and off-site. Allow team members to work remotely. Have your cleaning crew do more regular deep cleans of your office. Stock up on hand sanitizers and Clorox Wipes. All of these steps will show your team members that you are looking out for their health.

5. Lead by example

I know this should be obvious, but as the leader you need to be front and center on this. You need to engage with team members and show your passion, motivation, and commitment to do everything in your power to help the company. When the team sees your dedication—by participating in strategy sessions, talking/videoconferencing with team members, and publicly recognizing employee achievements—they’ll be much more likely to be energized and get on board.

Act now

Nothing—I repeat—nothing will affect your business more than the mental and physical health of your people. As a leader, you can’t let this complex and rapidly changing crisis affect your team. You have to act—and do it now so your team is stronger when the pandemic is over.

RELATED: 10 Tips for Conducting Productive Virtual Meetings

Andy Bailey is the founder and CEO of business coaching firm Petra Coach as well as the author of the Amazon bestseller “No Try Only Do: Building a Business on Purpose, Alignment, and Accountability” and a new book “Vitamin B (For Business).” He serves in an advisory role on the Gazelles Council, the leaders of the Scale Up movement. Visit his blog at www.petracoach.com for more business and leadership insight.

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Financial Help for Freelancers and Independent Contractors Affected by the Coronavirus Crisis

worried young womanCurrent events are having a devastating effect on workers, especially freelancers, independent contractors, and gig workers. We present a list of resources that could provide some financial relief.

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The financial crisis resulting from the rapidly worsening COVID-19 crisis is having a devastating effect on workers, especially freelancers, independent contractors, and gig workers. Many of these people have seen their income greatly reduced or eliminated entirely. And a number of these individuals operated with little or no savings.

What financial assistance may be available to help freelancers and independent contractors? In this article I list some possibilities, mainly as a result of the March 27, 2020 passage of the CARES Act by the federal government, which injected $2.2 trillion of assistance to companies, state governments, freelancers, small businesses, and employees.

1. Unemployment Compensation Benefits Are Now Available to Freelancers and Independent Contractors

Unemployment compensation benefits were usually reserved only for employees who were laid off from their job. Under the CARES Act, independent contractors and freelancers are now eligible to receive unemployment benefits as well. The CARES Act even increases the amount of benefits by $600 a week.

To claim the unemployment benefits, freelancers and contractors should log on to their state’s unemployment websites and apply as soon as possible for benefits. For example, the California site is at www.edd.ca.gov/Unemployment/Filing_a_Claim.htm.

Unfortunately, the unemployment compensation websites are still being updated to take the new law into account, and the instructions will be confusing for independent contractors. In addition, the sites are being inundated with applications. Phone calls are being unanswered due to sheer volume. The best thing to do at the moment is to file online as best you can and hope that the state follows up with any questions.

The amount of unemployment benefits will depend on what state you are in and what your income has been as an independent contractor. The benefits typically are 20% to 50% of what you previously earned, together with the extra $600 per week provided by the CARES Act.

Many states provide for 26 weeks of benefits. The CARES Act provided eligible employees and freelancers with an additional 13 weeks.

2. $1,200 Payment from the IRS

Independent workers and freelancers are entitled to receive a $1,200 payment ($2,400 for married couples) from the IRS, plus an additional $500 per dependent 16 years or younger. In order to qualify for the full amount, you have to have earned $75,000 or less in the prior year ($150,000 or less if married). Above those income thresholds, the stimulus payment decreases until it stops altogether for single people earning $99,000 or married couples who have no children and earn $198,000. If you haven’t prepared your 2019 tax return, you can use your 2018 return to see if the income threshold is met.

In order to make sure you receive this amount in a timely manner, your 2018 or 2019 tax return should have been filed with the IRS. If you haven’t filed your tax return, there are some free services that allow you to file your return electronically. See those recommended by the IRS at www.irs.gov/filing/free-file-do-your-federal-taxes-for-free.

On April 1, 2020, the Treasury announced that Social Security recipients who are not typically required to file a tax return will automatically receive their payment directly to their bank account, without having to file a tax return.

You will ideally want to receive this amount by direct deposit into your bank/checking account, so make sure the IRS has this information. You can do this by filing IRS Form 8888. The IRS has also said that it would build an online portal soon where people can update this information.

You will not have to pay income tax on the amount of payment received.

$10,000 Grant to Freelancers and Independent Contractors

Under the CARES Act, independent contractors and freelancers are eligible to receive a government grant of up to $10,000. You are not required to repay this money to the government. The application process involves filling out an SBA form, requesting an Economic Injury Disaster Recovery Loan, which provides for a quick advance of up to $10,000 even if the loan is not granted.

Here are the particular steps to take, with advice on how to fill out the application:

  • Go to covid19relief.sba.gov/#/.
  • On the first question, check the second box as you are applying as an independent contractor or sole proprietorship.
  • You must add your social security number if you are applying as an individual independent contractor.
  • The form will ask you for the gross revenues for the last 12 months for your independent contractor business and the “cost of goods sold.” You can estimate this based on what happened in 2019. Cost of goods sold means the expenses of operating as a freelancer or independent contractor.
  • Where it asks for “Owner” put your name and “100” percent owner.
  • It will ask for the date the business was established. This is the date you started doing freelance or independent contractor work. Just estimate if you don’t have the exact date.
  • The form will ask for the bank account you want the grant money wired to. You need the name of your bank, the account number (the middle number at the bottom of your checks), and the routing number (the number at the bottom left of your checks).
  • For your business phone number, it’s ok to give your cell number.
  • On the question “Is your business owned by a business entity”—the answer is no since you are an individual owner.
  • When the form asks for your business name, just enter your individual name if you don’t have a business name.
  • You can ignore the question “If anyone assisted you in completing this application …” unless you have actually gotten help.

The form should take about 15 minutes to fill out. The SBA supposedly will act quickly in making the grants. It’s not clear how the SBA will determine the exact amount to be granted.

Rent Deferral

A number of independent contractors and freelancers are having difficulty paying their rent. Some jurisdictions have enacted legislation prohibiting evictions during the crisis.

The CARES Act also put a temporary eviction moratorium for any tenants whose landlords have mortgages backed by federal entities (such as Fannie Mae). This lasts for 120 days after March 27, 2020.

A number of freelancers and independent contractors are requesting their landlords defer the rent due for a few months until they can start earning money again. Here is a sample email that you can consider sending to your landlord:

Dear Mr/Ms. _____

I hope you are staying safe and healthy during this difficult time. It has really affected a number of my friends and family.

Unfortunately, the crisis has also badly affected me financially. As a freelancer, my sources of income immediately plummeted when the crisis hit, and it has not gotten better.

I hate to ask you this, but I don’t have much of a choice. Would you kindly consider letting me defer rent for the next two months? I am hoping by then that I will be able to earn income again and pay the rent.

I am a very responsible person, and absent these extraordinary circumstances, I would not be asking this of you.

Please help me out. I would be tremendously grateful.

Thank you so much for your consideration.

All the best,

[Name]

If that doesn’t work, consider asking that your security deposit be used to cover the rent due for the next month or consider requesting the opportunity to pay half of the rent for a few months. 

Other Potential Sources of Financial Assistance for Freelancers and Independent Contractors

Here are some other resources that may be helpful to freelancers, independent contractors, and small businesses:

  • The Small Business Administration is offering Economic Injury Disaster Loans for up to $2 million.
  • Facebook launched a $100 million grant for small businesses affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Freelancers Union created a fund that will offer financial assistance of up to $1,000 per freelancer.
  • Google has pledged to donate $800 million to help small businesses gain access to capital. 

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Copyright © by Richard D. Harroch. All Rights Reserved

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Team Engagement Is 1% Strategy and 99% Alignment

organization structureIf your company is having difficulty engaging employees to meet your business goals, perhaps you’re spending too much time strategizing and not enough time executing.

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By Jennifer Faught

Your team is not engaged because your people are not aligned.

Most organizations are made up of different departments that operate on different timelines, agendas, and strategies. When departments or teams work in isolation, it is commonly known as silo mentality. That environment, unfortunately, can restrict efficiency and innovation in an organization, reduce morale, and contribute to the demise of a productive company culture.

One study from The Economist Intelligence Unit shows that 46% of employees say they receive unclear information from their boss or manager up to three times a day. Think about the exponential effect that has on an organization. The misalignment can cause team members to spend extra time on tasks and possibly not perform them to the company’s expectations, which can ultimately lead to missing larger company goals.

What most people don’t understand is that the main breakdown should be 1% strategy and 99% execution.

How do you get your team aligned?

It’s usually easier said than done. But the good news is, it’s completely doable.

Teams will often put a lot of time and effort into creating a beautiful 50-page strategy report. Despite the amount of energy they will spend outlining a strategy, the plan ends up collecting dust and is never looked at again.

In this case, the strategy never gets executed because it’s too detailed for anyone to wrap their heads
around and put into action. To make the strategy attainable, align your team around one goal your organization needs to accomplish this quarter to move the business forward—or identify a choke point or bottleneck, and address it first.

Your No. 1 goal should be the “lead domino”—the one initiative, priority, or critical number that, when pursued, makes it easier for your company to accomplish everything else. This becomes your center point for the quarter. Also, you can only pick one goal or things will get diluted.

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How do you choose the most critical thing to do?

It’s simple: Look at your BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal), something you want your organization to accomplish in the next 10, 15, 20 years. It’s not a one-year goal—it’s something large and bold. It becomes the anchor for your ongoing company strategy.

Then, determine the measurable next step of your goal that can be accomplished in 90 days and drive its execution using strategies you’ve already determined with your team. The focus should be on execution and accomplishing the goal together as a team.

It takes discipline to outline your top company priority and to align your team to rally around this critical issue. But it is worth the effort. When everyone understands why a goal is important, they will work together to move the business forward.

Engage your employees

Most of your time should go into aligning staff on the front lines—people who actually do the work, interact with customers, and make things happen—and getting them to buy into the plan. That way, they can move together as a unit, rather than being dragged along by company executives.

Many of the companies I work with use a quarterly theme as a fun motif to rally everyone around the No. 1 goal. For example, a company that wants to up their revenue by $100,000 might come up with a “$100,000 Pyramid” theme, in which they work their way up the pyramid toward their goal by completing smaller tasks.

You can build a lot of momentum by setting up a reward system for different levels of achievement and awarding points for activities that move the business toward hitting the goal.

However, a theme will not work because you “made it fun” or call it a cool name. It works because it adds discipline, rigor, and excitement into reaching your overall goal. Everyone sees the progress and feels like they are winning. The benefit extends beyond the theme time frame because the true value is in the alignment and achievement that the organization builds together over time.

Employee engagement starts with a great strategy and requires discipline and phenomenal execution. Once your people are engaged, you will see your business grow.

RELATED: 15 Ways to Effectively Communicate Company Goals With Your Employees

Jennifer Faught is a Petra Coach and entrepreneur who brings a quiet intensity to helping people align intentional action with beliefs. She spent the past five years coaching creative business owners on how to scale their companies while simultaneously building a nationwide online learning platform for business owners. Jennifer has served on the leadership team for a family-owned SaaS and IT business as well as a venture-backed healthcare company. As an entrepreneur, she launched a graphic design business and sold her learning platform, which grew over 450% in four years.

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Small Business Relief: COVID-19 Resources for Startups

100 dollar banknote with a face mask. World crisisThe COVID-19 pandemic has impacted 30 million small businesses. If your company is one of them, this ever-growing list of resources may benefit your business.

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Small businesses are struggling to find relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Forbes, about 30 million small businesses across the United States are in trouble, with half that number blaming the pandemic for revenue decline. As states work to approve emergency funding measures for business owners, many companies are closing their doors and laying off staff. For many, the hope is that this will be a temporary situation rather than permanent.

Meanwhile, we’re in the present. Where can small businesses find relief right now? If you’re in need of help, this ever-growing list of resources may benefit your business.

SBA disaster assistance

Has your business or nonprofit been severely impacted by COVID-19? The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is working directly with state governors to provide disaster assistance loans to help those companies recover. These loans have low interest rates: the interest rate for small businesses is 3.75%; the interest rate for nonprofits is 2.75%.

These business disaster loans are provided through the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, which will offer up to $2 million to small businesses in assistance. Additionally, loans provided to qualifying businesses may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable, and other small business bills. You may apply for a disaster assistance loan through the SBA website.

GoFundMe Small Business Relief Initiative

What happens when you partner GoFundMe, the world’s largest social fundraising platform, with Yelp, the company that connects people with great local businesses? You get a partnership that introduces small business owners to the Small Business Relief Initiative, a program to provide microgrants and fundraising tools to qualifying small businesses that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19.

As part of the Small Business Relief Initiative, GoFund, Yelp, and accounting software provider Intuit Quickbooks are all pledging to donate up to $1.5 million in donations to the Small Business Relief Fund. Once that fund has been depleted, GoFundMe will continue to issue $500 in matching grants to qualifying businesses. This will allow small businesses to keep raising funds and inspire members of the community to assist with contributions and make donations.

Amazon’s Neighborhood Small Business Relief Fund

Is your small business struggling in the Seattle area? You may be able to find relief in Amazon’s $5 million Neighborhood Small Business Relief Fund. This fund was created to provide cash grants for businesses impacted by COVID-19 in and around the Seattle area.

As specified on the fund’s home page, eligible businesses include those with fewer than 50 employees or less than $7 million in annual revenue. Other eligible businesses include those with a physical presence  a few blocks away from Amazon’s office buildings, that are open to the general public, and are reliant on foot traffic for customers.

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Facebook Small Business Grants Program

You know what’s better than 100 million followers? $100 million in cash grants for small businesses. Facebook’s Small Business Grants Program is offering $100 million in cash grants and ad credits for businesses impacted by COVID-19.

At press time, the social media giant was still working out details about the eligibility and application status. However, we do know a few key steps that the program provides businesses:

  • The fund is available in the 30 countries where Facebook operates. The $100 million in cash grants and ad credits will be available for 30,000 eligible small businesses.
  • The program, in addition to helping with rent costs and covering operational expenses, will allow small businesses to connect with even more customers and maintain a strong workforce.
  • Facebook has launched a Business Resource Hub for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Here you’ll be able to find even more tools and resources to manage through a crisis like COVID-19.

Federal tax filing deadline extension

Taxes are typically due on April 15th, but not this year. If you’re worried that you won’t be able to make the cutoff time with your small business, the deadline for federal tax return filing has been extended to July 15, 2020. This is the same extension date for individual and business tax filing for tax payments of up to $10 million.

State emergency relief

In addition to existing disaster and relief programs available in each state, new programs are also being launched.

In California, for example, the city of Sacramento has started a fundraising campaign called Donate4Sacramento. Donors may give to small businesses impacted by COVID-19, or they may direct their donations to the homeless, nonprofits, or families in need.

Check in with your local state to see which programs may be applicable to your small business. I would also recommend keeping an eye peeled to the news as well. New fundraisers and initiatives are being announced on a near-daily basis to provide small business owners with relief during COVID-19.

It may be darkest before the dawn, but daylight will break—and we are coming together as one for our small businesses and communities worldwide.

RELATED: The Best Ways to Finance Cash Flow Emergencies

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An Insider’s Guide to Grants and Fundraising: Interview With Entrepreneur Valerie Grant

Valerie GrantValerie Grant has helped organizations with grant funding since 1998. She shares how she turned her writing talent into a successful business, and explains the process of fundraising through grants.

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By Felena Hanson

Valerie Grant has worked with nonprofit organizations and for-profit organizations to help obtain grant funding since 1998. Her company, Grant Consulting Services, assists organizations through project development, comprehensive funding searches, expert grant management, and professional grant proposal writing services. Valerie is also a published author and an accomplished freelance writer.

Read on to learn more about her career path and how the grants process works.

What led you to become a grant writer?

I became a grant writer quite by accident. I was working at a nonprofit organization when I lived in Virginia and, like many nonprofit organizations, we wear multiple hats in order to meet the needs of the people we serve. I was the volunteer and transportation coordinator as well as a database administrator. A colleague was also doing multiple jobs and did not have time to work on a small grant application. I wanted to help the team and had an interest in learning more about grants. I worked on the application, submitted it, and it was awarded.

It was a small grant of about $1,200, but it meant a lot to me that I was able to help secure those funds. I started helping more with other grant applications. I found that I really enjoy the grant development process, and found it to be very rewarding, especially because we started to be awarded more and more critical funding for the organization.

Fast-forward 20 years and hundreds of grant applications where I have a full grant service company. My team is able to help organizations across the globe conduct a grant assessment to determine if they are ready to try to obtain grants. If not, we can help them to become grant-ready so that they can show that there’s a need in the community that they’re meeting. They can prove that they are doing the same thing internally that they’re doing externally. So grant readiness, especially for newer organizations, is important.

Our next service is to identify potential funders through a funding search. Next, we write the grant proposal tailored to the potential funder’s specific guidelines. When the grant is awarded, we assist with the grant management and follow-up reporting. Grant compliance and reporting are essential to continue to build relationships with funders so that organizations and funders can continue their good work together in the community.

What are primary sources of funding?

The majority of fundraising dollars for nonprofits actually comes from individual donors and not grants. Grants being a primary source of revenue is one of the misconceptions that we try to help organizations to understand.

In other words, don’t expect grant funds to be more than about 20% of the budget; the statistics show that about 80% of funding comes from individual donors. Fees for services are also a good way to raise money for nonprofit organizations.

What are the different types of grants?

In general, there are three different types of grant funds: there’s government funding (federal, state, and regional), corporate funding, and foundation funding. There are no fees associated with submitting a grant application. If an organization is charging an application fee, it is a contest—not a grant application. There are very few grants for for-profit organizations or individuals. Grants for businesses are primarily for R&D and green initiatives. Grant for individuals are restricted to higher education.

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How do grant funders track how organizations use their funds?

Follow-up reporting is important in order to report how the program performed. Organizations typically track data about how many people they are helping and how they are changing their participants’ lives (outcomes).

For example, let’s presume 500 students were assisted in an after-school mentoring program by this program. Next, the program would demonstrate how they made a difference in the students’ lives. Maybe their grades improved by two points or they feel more comfortable being in a classroom setting; those could be outcomes.

The number of people to be served and expected outcomes are detailed in the original grant request. Organizations want to let funders know specifically what they’re going to do and then make sure to do it within the grant period. If you missed the goals and outcomes by a little bit, that’s okay—just be honest and say we fell short on this one outcome. We only help 450 students instead of 500. And here’s what we’re going to do to improve that in the future. Generally, funders are very understanding and want to continue to help and assist.

A couple of important things to note about grants is that most organizations want general operating support. They want money to pay salaries, lights, and rent. Unfortunately, only about 15% of foundations or corporations actually give general operating support. So use program revenue or individual donations for general operations. Funders may offer seed money to start a new program, or to scale up or expand an existing program.

On average, what is the award rate of grants?

The footwork prior to submitting the application is really important. Always conduct in-depth research about a potential funder to make sure that the mission of the organization is aligned with the funder’s focus area and is within their guidelines. Doing the research prior to submitting a proposal can help to ensure you have a good, solid foundation. Also, try to establish a connection with the foundation or the funding organization prior to submitting the application if possible.

Most funders receive far more applications than they can fund. There’s a limited pool of money and they just can’t help every organization they would like to. Approximately 35% to 40% of grant applications are actually funded.

How important is it for nonprofit organizations to collaborate with each other?

Collaboration is not just a buzzword—it’s definitely important in the nonprofit world. It’s an interesting scenario because nonprofit organizations compete for funds with each other, yet they also need to collaborate and work together in order to help people in their community.

Collaborative efforts are especially important when trying to obtain government funding. Government agencies like to see collaborative efforts. Organizations need to work together and can make a greater impact because those government funding dollars tend to be higher and more competitive.

What do you think about the rise of “social impact organizations”?

I think it’s wonderful. It allows more opportunities to help people. There are greater needs in the world and globally we’re able to do more through organizations like Toms Shoes and others, especially women-owned businesses in countries that don’t have a lot of opportunities or resources.

For example, I know of one organization that was helping in the sub-Saharan region of Africa to provide microloans so that program participants could create jewelry that is exported to Western countries. That’s an example of how the economy is globalized and how social enterprises work locally and can impact multiple regions and more diverse people and groups.

RELATED: How to Win a Small Business Grant: Entrepreneurs Share Strategies for Success

Photo credit: Valerie Grant

About the Author

Post by: Felena Hanson

Felena Hanson is a long-time entrepreneur and marketing maven. Her latest venture, Hera Hub, is a spa-inspired shared workspace and business accelerator for female entrepreneurs. She has two company-owned locations in San Diego, and licensed locations in Carlsbad, Calif., Orange County, Calif., Phoenix, Washington, D.C., and Sweden, with more cities launching soon. She’s on a mission to support over 20,000 women in the launch and growth of their businesses by the end of 2020.

Company: Hera Hub
Website: www.HeraHub.com
Connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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The State of Minority-Owned Businesses: Women Entrepreneurs

Smiling entrepreneurs working together, close-up.How are women business owners faring these days? Better, according to several new reports on the state of women entrepreneurs in the United States.

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How are women business owners faring these days? Better, even though the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2018-2019 Women’s Report, coauthored by researchers from Babson College and Smith College, says the number of startups by women worldwide still lags that of men.

Total Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA) represents the percentage of the adult working-age population, ages 18 to 64, who are new entrepreneurs. The global TEA rate for women in the GEM Report was 10.2%, about three-quarters of that for men.

GEM studies the economies in 59 countries, and the report shows approximately 231 million women are starting or running new businesses in those regions. There’s been progress in the number of established businesses owned by women. (GEM defines a business as “established” if it has been operating for more than 42 months.) Worldwide, 6.2% of women-owned established businesses, compared to 9.5% of men.

Globally, younger women (ages 25-44) had the highest entrepreneurial participation rates.

DON’T MISS: The State of Minority-Owned Businesses: African American Entrepreneurs

Reasons for startup

The intention to start a business within the next three years is approaching parity between male- and female-owned businesses. The global average for women with that intent is 17.6%, about four points less than men. The lower the average income in the country, the more women planned to become entrepreneurs. For example, in low-income countries, 37.8% of women intended to start within three years, while in high-income countries, only 12.6% planned to do so.

More women (27%) around the globe started their businesses “out of necessity,” compared to men (21.8%). Conversely, fewer women (68.4%) started their companies “to pursue an opportunity” than men (74%), resulting in what GEM calls a “7% gender gap.”

GEM notes that there are vast differences by region in the necessity and opportunity motives. In North America, just 9% of women started their businesses out of necessity, compared to 79% who started to pursue an opportunity. But there are differences in North America as well. In Canada, entrepreneurial women are 10% more likely than men to say opportunity is their motive for starting a business, while in the United States, women business owners are about 10% less likely than men entrepreneurs to cite opportunity as a startup motivator.

American women

The picture is brighter when focusing just on the United States, according to the annual State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, commissioned by American Express. In 2019, American women started an average of 1,817 new businesses per day between 2018 and 2019, down only slightly from the record-setting 2018 number of 1,821.

These businesses represent 42% of all American businesses—nearly 13 million—employing 9.4 million workers and generating revenues of $1.9 trillion. The report, which is based on U.S. Census Bureau data, found that over the past five years:

  • The number of women-owned businesses increased 21%, while all businesses increased only 9%.
  • Total employment by women-owned businesses rose 8%, while for all businesses the increase was far lower at 1.8%.
  • Total revenue for women-owned businesses also rose slightly above all businesses: 21% compared to 20% respectively.

Also, over that five-year time period, there’s been a lot of growth in the number of women who are operating side gigs or hustles. The Amex reports calls these women “sidepreneurs” and says they’ve grown at a rate that is nearly twice as fast as the overall growth in female entrepreneurship: 39% compared to 21%, respectively.

Much of that growth comes from minority women, where sidepreneurship is two times higher than all businesses: 65% compared to 32%, respectively. In fact, while the number of women-owned businesses grew 21% from 2014 to 2019, firms owned by women of color grew 43% and African American women-owned firms grew even faster at 50%.

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Challenges for women entrepreneurs

That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges for women business owners. According to the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight, the fourth annual study exploring women entrepreneurs’ goals and challenges, women in the United States say their biggest concern is access to capital. While women entrepreneurs do believe their access to capital has improved in the past 10 years, 58% say they don’t have the same access to capital as men business owners. Only 34% of the women think women business owners will eventually gain equal access to capital (on average, they think that will happen in 2033). And sadly 24% of the women don’t think women will ever have equal access to capital.

But the report Beyond the Bucks: Growth Strategies of Successful Women Entrepreneurs from Babson’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (CWEL) and Bank of America’s Private Bank shows successful women entrepreneurs who faced challenges “created alternate paths to success for themselves.”

“The research found gender-based barriers, such as misperceptions regarding market opportunities and access to traditional networks, are challenging, but none of these setbacks stopped these women from achieving success,” says Karen Reynolds Sharkey, business owner executive, Bank of America Private Bank.

The three key challenges noted in the report were:

  • Market misperceptions: Women entrepreneurs’ competency and market knowledge is routinely disregarded, including market opportunities they identify.
  • Network exclusion: Women entrepreneurs often experience limited, gender-based access to established social and business networks, creating less access to knowledgeable mentors and capital expansion.
  • Managing expansion while underfunded: Barriers to startup and growth capital create new, ongoing challenges, including constraints on funding for recruitment, access to new markets, and overall expansion.

“Through this research, we identified several actionable strategies women entrepreneurs are using to turn the challenges they face into opportunities and grow their businesses,” says Lakshmi Balachandra, Ph.D., assistant professor, entrepreneurship at Babson College and the principal researcher on the project. “These include building on their skills and strengths and leveraging their personal insights for sustainable growth.”

Supporting women entrepreneurs

The GEM Women’s Report offers some recommendations to help support women entrepreneurs:

  • Address stereotypes about who entrepreneurs are and what entrepreneurship is. Report co-author and Babson College Vice Provost of Global Entrepreneurial Leadership Candida G. Brush says, “An inclusive approach is more beneficial and far reaching than a continued emphasis on past models.”
  • Learn from each other about the best ways to build successful businesses and vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems. “We should learn from the data to guide the development of an ecosystem that works well for all, informed by social, cultural, political, and economic contexts,” says co-author and Babson Professor Emeritus Patricia Greene.
  • Change the dialogue about entrepreneurship to match reality. Entrepreneurial ecosystems often focus on the access to capital, but lack of access may be a symptom rather than the root illness. Lack of profitability [not access to capital] was the number one reason cited by both men and women for business discontinuance. Other reasons for discontinuance were related to selling the business or retiring. Brush says, “This suggests that women could benefit from more training on how to capture value when exiting a business.

RELATED: 10 Reasons Why Women Kick Butt in Business

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Newly Available CARES Act Loans: 10 Things Small Businesses Need to Know

business rescueTo help U.S. small businesses weather the COVID-19 crisis, the government is working to get SBA loans into the hands of small business owners as quickly as possible. Learn more about the aid that is now available.

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The federal government has recently enacted two pieces of legislation to help small businesses weather the COVID-19 crisis, including the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act passed on March 25, which provides $349 billion in Small Business Administration (SBA) loans. The previous bill provided for $7 billion in additional loans.

It is important to note that the goal of the government is to get these loans into the hands of small business owners as quickly as possible, in order to keep them going and be able to continue paying their employees. The loans are meant to address the loss in sales and ability to operate along with the corresponding inability to pay employees, rent, and other costs of doing business due to the pandemic. To that end, the SBA is trying to ease previous requirements for securing loans and attempting to make the process as simple as possible.

There are currently two types of loans available: Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and Paycheck Protection Loans (PPP). You can apply for both loans, but you can’t use funds from each loan for the same expenses such as payroll, rent, insurance, etc.

Here are 10 things you need to know about the loan programs:

  1. If you are a business with under 500 employees, you are considered a small business (with some exceptions) and can qualify for the loans. Nonprofits and veterans’ organizations also qualify. All 50 states have been declared disaster areas and, therefore, no matter where your company is based, you may apply.
  2. The EIDL loans offer up to $2 million for working capital needs such as fixed debt and payroll. The interest rate is 3.75% for businesses and 2.75% for nonprofits with a 30-year term possible. There is an automatic one-year deferment on repayment so the first payment is not due for a full year, although interest begins to accrue at time of disbursement.
  3. If you apply for an EIDL loan, you can request a $10,000 grant for working capital. The SBA claims you will receive this grant within three days of the application filing, whether or not you ultimately qualify for a loan. Again, it is a grant that does not have to be repaid.
  4. The PPP loans provide up to $10 million over 10 years at 4% interest. You can calculate how much you are eligible for by multiplying your 2019 average payroll costs for all employees earning under $100,000 by 2.5. This includes salary, health insurance, and paid sick leave.
  5. Eight (8) weeks of the PPP loan amount will be considered a grant and forgiven.
  6. The SBA is waiving the previous requirement for having additional credit options, and the need to apply for additional credit and failing to secure it prior to applying for these loans—the “Credit Elsewhere Test.” They will also be lenient if you have a poor credit score and are looking more at future lost revenue than ability to repay.
  7. The SBA is waiving the requirement to secure the loan with real estate or a personal guaranty, and review of personal financial statements.
  8. Independent contractors, self-employed, and sole proprietors do qualify for these loans.
  9. The SBA is authorizing banks and other commercial lenders currently authorized to make SBA loans to originate and administer these new loans. They are actively seeking new institutions to do so in order to meet increased demand.
  10. Apply at www.sba.gov/funding-programs/disaster-assistance.

The regulations are still evolving with regard to these loans, so stay tuned for updated information. The key takeaway is that the SBA is trying to reduce the requirements as much as possible and provide more lenders to administer these loans. So, apply today.

RELATED: What Advice Are Venture Capitalists Giving to Startups in Light of the Coronavirus Crisis?

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10 Tips for Conducting Productive Virtual Meetings

Smart working and video conferenceAs a result of the COVID-19 pandemic shaking up our world right now, many businesses have switched to online meetings. We offer helpful tips on how to hold effective meetings through your computer.

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By Eva Jo Meyers

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic shaking up our world right now, business owners, employees, and stakeholders still need to have meetings, maybe now more than ever. Here are 10 tips on how to conduct effective meetings virtually when you are unable to have them in person:

1. Do some extra preparation

Just connecting over Skype or FaceTime and expecting meetings to run the same way they would if everyone was together in a room is a recipe for a lot of wasted time. This is a perfect opportunity to tap into the principles of the flipped classroom. Rather than spending time online going over information, send out any documents or information you want to cover a day or two in advance, then use the time together online to answer questions, make decisions, or discuss the material.

2. Post a “Do Now” to get participants warmed up before the meeting starts

As people join the call, ask them to complete a quick task, like adding any updates to a shared agenda document, typing their name and a brief bio in the chat window, or preparing a response to a focus question, like “What is one thing you hope to get out of this session?”

3. Set the ground rules

Establishing rules is especially important online because we cannot read each other’s body language or pick up on the fidgeting that might otherwise indicate something is going off the rails. Decide what your speaking order will be and stick to it. It’s very easy to start talking over each other online, so you might want to designate a word, like “over,” that people can say when they have finished their thought. You should also set a hard timeline for each agenda item and decide what critical decisions or goals need to be made.

Sometimes it’s easier for online meetings to fizzle out rather than end with a real result, so make sure to stick to your plan and rules.

4. Start with a check-in question

Set aside at least two minutes per person (set a timer) for participants to share something about themselves and their situation. For example, “What is something that has gone really well for you this week?” or “What is a traditional family remedy/prevention for illness that you’ve been thinking about recently?” You could also use the time to see how people are feeling, both physically and emotionally, during this turbulent time.

5. Give everyone a role

It’s way too easy to check out when you’re sitting in front of a screen. Try to include everyone by assigning different jobs: a notetaker (especially if you are working off of a shared document or screen), a timekeeper, a facilitator (to call on people based on assigned speaking order), and other tasks that need handling. If you are planning to have a lot of meetings or classes online, switch roles around so everyone has a chance to do each job.

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6. Slow down and make space

Meeting on a computer screen and experiencing any technology glitches or environmental distractions at home can make online engagements feel hectic and disjointed. One way to help participants focus is to ask everyone to turn off notifications (so email blips don’t keep popping up), put their phones away, and take a breath. Keep the pace of the meeting on the slower side, allowing more time than you might do during an in-person session to allow for discussions, questions, and transitions.

7. Split up the group

Online tools like Zoom allow you to create “breakout rooms,” but you can also do this by pausing the meeting and having people pair up to talk over the phone or via a message service for 10 minutes, and then having everyone return to the large group meeting for a brief share out. This will give everyone more “airtime” and provides more opportunity for participation.

8. Pause at intervals to give participants time to reflect

Things tend to “flash by” during virtual sessions, so pausing at transition points to give people a chance to collect their thoughts and write things down can be very helpful. You can either offer a prompt, such as “What information from the last discussion was most useful to you?” or “What questions do you still have?” You can also simply leave it open with “Take a minute to write down your thoughts.”

9. Close your meeting with another brief share out

This could be when each person shares their to-dos from the session, or it could take the form of a checkout question: “What is one ‘aha’ you had during this session?” or “How are you going to use what you learned/heard here today in your work?”

10. Follow up

During an in-person event, people often linger afterward to ask questions or bring up an issue they didn’t want to share with the whole group. Since that opportunity isn’t readily available with online meetings, create an intentional opportunity for further connection by sending a follow-up email with any supporting documents, notes, or action items. This is also a good opportunity to get participant feedback on the session through a brief survey (e.g., What worked for you about this session? What do you still want to know? What will you use from the session? What suggestions do you have for future meetings?).

Virtual meetings can be very effective

Virtual engagements are a must during this outbreak. Although it takes a little bit of extra effort (especially at first, if you are not accustomed to this format for meeting), rest assured that with a little practice these sessions can be just as powerful as in-person meetings if you put a few simple structural rules and practices in place.

If you are willing to embrace all that technology has to offer to help you remain connected, you will be able to both stay safe and healthy and get your work done with your colleagues. And, who knows? You may decide that this format works even better than you expected and continue your virtual gatherings even after the danger has passed.

RELATED: First Time Working Remotely? Here’s How to Ease Into It

About the Author

Post by: Eva Jo Meyers

Eva Jo Meyers is the author of Raise the Room: A Practical Guide to Participant-Centered Facilitation. She has held positions as a bilingual classroom teacher, as an administrator for after-school programs for the San Francisco Unified School District, and as a Fulbright Scholar in Thailand, studying the influences of culture on pedagogy. She and her family recently spent a year in Chongqing, China, where she was teaching English and American Culture at Yangtze Normal University. A seasoned consultant and professional facilitator, she provides a wide range of professional development support for school districts, city agencies, and nonprofits across the country.

Company: Spark Decks
Website: www.evajomeyers.com
Connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.

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Are You Micromanaging Your Company’s Financial Tasks?

business man working on project at modern loft officeYou didn’t start a business to be a bookkeeper. Instead, delegate accounting tasks so you can grow the business you’ve invested time and money building.

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There are aspects of running a business many entrepreneurs would prefer to avoid, but they have to be done by someone. For example, 86% of small business owners take on at least one financial activity for their small businesses, according to a recent survey from QuickBooks and Kelton Global. Most (80%) business owners do this because they believe “they’re the best people to manage their finances with the best level of accuracy.”

But the truth is, taking on these financial tasks themselves costs entrepreneurs time and money—and leaves them open to run-ins with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Not to mention the cost of missed opportunities.

Are you micromanaging payroll?

Take payroll, for example. As business owners, we know that processing employee payroll and calculating payroll taxes accurately is always time consuming and often frustrating. If you get it wrong, it can cost you a lot of money and possibly get you in legal trouble.

The time it takes to do payroll and fear of getting it wrong are two reasons why 65% of small business owners, on average, wish they could completely outsource their payroll process.

Small business owners are always short on time. Imagine what you could accomplish if you had an extra 21 days a year to work on the parts of your business that really matter. Well, according the QuickBooks/Kelton Global survey, that’s how much time business owners would save by outsourcing payroll: 4 hours and 52 minutes every pay period! And what’s more, 63% of small business owners admit they never realized how much time they were spending working on payroll.

Other insights from the survey

Not confident: 33% of small business owners aren’t “comfortable with the payroll process at all.” 

It’s hard to keep up: 79% of business owners say it’s hard to stay on top of payroll tax laws. Partly, say 70% of business owners, that’s due to the varying labor laws in different cities and states across the country, which makes doing payroll even harder.

IRS problems: 25% of the small businesses surveyed had problems with the IRS. Of those, 15% were audited and 17% were fined. The bigger small businesses had more problems: 40% of companies with more than 10 employees were audited or fined, compared to 14% of businesses with 10 or less employees.

Getting help: 81% of the small business owners who felt “confident” about the upcoming tax season use software to process employee payroll, and calculate and file payroll taxes.

Increasing cash flow: 72% of small business owners use automated payroll software, and of those, 73% say using the software has helped them “improve cash flow by maximizing deductions and keeping money in the business.”

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Business owners who do calculate their own payroll are not exactly happy with the task, describing it as frustrating (49%), complicated (47%), and confusing (44%). And instead of doing payroll they’d rather be spending time:

  • Hanging out with family and friends
  • Improving their product or service offerings
  • Spending time with customers
  • Networking
  • Training their employees

The survey also did a deep dive into what areas of their companies small business owners are most concerned about. The top 5 are (three concerns were tied for fifth place):

  • Customer satisfaction—50%
  • Cash flow—49%
  • Taxes—35%
  • Hiring and workforce management—29%
  • Day-to-day administrative tasks—27%
  • Government policies & regulations—27%
  • Social media & marketing—27%

What financial concerns keeps small business owners up at night? The top 5 are (two concerns were tied for fifth place):

  • Not having enough cash flow to fund my business—37%
  • Having to handle all the financial admin/operational tasks myself—31%
  • Being unprepared for tax season—25%
  • Having to pay extra taxes due to lack of knowledge about deductions—22%
  • Not being able to hire the right people for finance/accounting jobs—16%
  • Missing deadlines for payments—16%

A lucky 23% said there are no financial issues keeping them up at night!

Perhaps a lot of these concerns exist because the survey shows small business owners are shouldering most of these financial tasks by themselves.

  • 77% deal with their lease/rental agreement.
  • 77% manage their cash flow.
  • 70% manage accounts payable.
  • 63% process their own payroll.
  • 60% manage payroll taxes.

These are tasks that can easily and affordably be outsourced. However, 45% of those surveyed say the cost of outsourcing these tasks is too expensive. And 34% “don’t see the value of paying another company or advisor” to take on those tasks, while 34% don’t trust anyone to put their business interests first.

When it comes to . . .

  • Managing cash flow (73%)
  • Dealing with their lease/rental agreement (70%)
  • Managing accounts payable (61%)
  • Processing their own payroll (53%)
  • Managing payroll taxes (49%)

. . . of small business owners think they’re the ones who can complete these financial tasks “with the best level of accuracy.”

What’s the best use of your time?

I am astounded that so many small business owners don’t consider how much time and effort working on these tasks consumes, time which could be better spent on marketing, sales, strategy, R&D, and more. I can’t help but think that trying to do all the financial management themselves is the reason why their number-one challenge for 2020 is “growing my business” (attracting new customers, maintaining loyal customers, etc.). How can you expect to have time to work on attracting and retaining customers if you’re busy calculating payroll and payroll taxes?

It’s no wonder that business owners who do outsource these financial functions say they can spend more time focusing on their businesses (38%), and they can better prioritize other tasks that require their attention (35%). And 36% of small business owners who use automated payroll software say the same.

Micromanaging is all too common a trait among entrepreneurs. Too many think no one can do a task as well as they can. Simply put, that’s nonsense. You didn’t start a business to be an accountant or a bookkeeper. Instead take advantage of available software or outsource these tasks, so you can concentrate on actually working on the business you’ve invested so much time and money in building.

RELATED: Small Business Finances – Costs to Consider When Hiring a Bookkeeper

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Check Out These Podcasts to Keep Up With the Latest Business and Industry Trends

woman watches podcast on tabletIf you’re looking for something beyond traditional trade publications, there are a number of great business podcasts and other resources that can help you grow as an entrepreneur.

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Many entrepreneurs make a point of following the emerging trends within their industries. If you’re looking for something beyond traditional trade publications, there are a number of rich sources of information and discussions available, including industry-specific podcasts.

To help you learn about some of these resources, we asked a panel of Young Entrepreneur Council members the following question:

Q. What is one podcast or other resource you recommend entrepreneurs follow for industry insights? Why is this resource so valuable?

1. How I Built This

How I Built This with Guy Raz is one of the best podcasts for entrepreneurs. Each episode shares the story of a different entrepreneur and how they built their company. By listening to their stories, you can gain a lot of insight that can be helpful or inspiring in regards to your own business. Past guests on the show include the founders of companies like Shopify, Headspace, Yelp, and tons more. —Thomas Griffin, OptinMonster

2. Business Wars

One podcast I’ve been enjoying lately is Business Wars. It tells the stories of the biggest global brands from the perspective of the competition. I especially love that this show talks about both grand successes and massive failures. It’s a great source of knowledge and inspiration for entrepreneurs—totally recommended. —Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

3. Copyblogger FM

I listen to a weekly podcast called Copyblogger FM. The show is hosted by Tim Stoddart and Darrell Vesterfelt, and focuses on turning average freelancers into extraordinary writers. I find that this podcast helps me find inspiration for our content strategy. I have used some of these strategies when working on our quarterly content marketing plan. —Chris Christoff, MonsterInsights

4. Business Daily

Business Daily compiles a roundup of all the latest and greatest business news around the globe. It keeps me informed about the world’s current events, as I like to know what’s going on at all times in the industry and how I can apply new principles to my own company. —Jared Atchison, WPForms

 

5. The Joe Rogan Experience

Joe Rogan’s podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, is not industry-specific, but he brings on a ton of people from across multiple industries that are at the top of their game. The insights can be incredible. Many times your best ideas come from outside of the industry, so don’t be afraid to listen to and learn from people seemingly not connected with your industry, but who are also entrepreneurs. —Andy Karuza, FenSens

6. HBR IdeaCast

Harvard Business Review’s HBR IdeaCast is great for business owners and entrepreneurs seeking advice and anecdotes on the subject. If you’re looking for true insight into running or managing a business, this podcast is a great place to start as you’ll see various perspectives. —Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms

 

7. Marketing School

Marketing School is a podcast hosted by Eric Siu and Neil Patel. Both of these marketers are extremely talented and between them have enough knowledge to turn anyone into a successful marketer—providing you follow their advice. They have 10-minute chat sessions every day, and I feel like these small sessions help get me thinking and motivated for the day. —John Turner, SeedProd LLC

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8. The Smart Passive Income Blog

The Smart Passive Income Blog is a great podcast for entrepreneurs whose businesses are largely online. It’s a helpful resource for developing niches, building habits, and building a passive income. One of its most helpful features is that it helps you to connect with other people. You can also participate in webinars and workshops, making it an interactive and hands-on resource base. —Blair Williams, MemberPress

9. The Side Hustle Show

The focus of The Side Hustle Show is making money on the side, which is something many entrepreneurs need to do at first. It has great content for approaching side hustles in different industries. If you aren’t ready to set up a full-fledged business, then check out the other recommendations to do with freelancing and investing. —Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

10. Rise and Grind

I am a big fan of a number of the podcasts already mentioned on this list, but another one that I have been enjoying as of late is Rise and Grind. It’s hosted by Daymond John, who interviews successful people in the business world. The discussions focus on the keys to their own success, as well as how they’ve learned to be more efficient with their time. It’s a good listen. —Colbey Pfund, HUGS Wellness

11. The 10X Movement

Grant Cardone and the 10X Movement have really taken off in the self-discovery and entrepreneurship learning space. What he offers podcasts, seminars, retreats, books, and social media is beyond the competition. Cardone is so far ahead of his competition in terms of free content because the premise of “10X” is to do 10 times the work and hold yourself accountable for being 10 times better. —Matthew Capala, Alphametic

12. The Tropical MBA

The Tropical MBA has been around for almost a decade and is a podcast for location-independent entrepreneurs. Whether you’re location-dependent or not, there is a lot to learn from the hosts and guest; running a remote business can be difficult and often requires unconventional strategies and efficiency that traditional businesses can benefit massively from. —Karl Kangur, Above House

13. The No Excuses Show

John Danes created The No Excuses Show with the main objective of eliminating excuses and negativity in entrepreneurs. John interviews entrepreneurs and important business people who give advice and tips about their careers, which is very useful, by the way. —Kevin Leyes, Team Leyes

RELATED: 9 Must-Watch TED Talks That Will Make You a Better Entrepreneur

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What Advice Are Venture Capitalists Giving to Startups in Light of the Coronavirus Crisis?

businessman thinkingThe coronavirus pandemic is broadly affecting businesses globally, but it is affecting startups particularly hard. Read the expert advice that VCs have to offer in these uncertain times.

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The coronavirus pandemic is broadly affecting businesses globally, but it is affecting startups particularly hard. In this article, I have gathered some key advice to startups from leading venture capitalists and others connected to the venture industry.

1. Cash Runway Is Paramount

“We suggest you question every assumption about your business, including [cash runway]. Do you really have as much runway as you think? Could you withstand a few poor quarters if the economy sputters? Have you made contingency plans? Where could you trim expenses without fundamentally hurting the business?” Sequoia Capital

2. There Is a New Reality

“Startups hoping to get a round done imminently, praying this goes away soon and thinking the world will be the same need to realize there is a new reality. At Arbor Ventures, we are working closely with our companies to reduce their burn immediately, adjust customer expectations, and identify new opportunities that will emerge. This is a time to stop and think about what is next and what significant opportunities will exist. Founders who can escape the noise and capitalize on the needs of a new world order will build great companies.” —Melissa Guzy, Arbor Ventures

3. There Will Be Opportunities to Shine

“Your company may be uniquely positioned to step up during this challenging time. There is so much that is still unknown, so be vigilant about assessing the market as circumstances unfold. Run hard at opportunities that may emerge and be ready to adapt your product to meet evolving demands. Use these openings to not only drive incremental growth, but to reinforce your brand and reputation.” —Ellen Herlacher, LRVHealth

4. Keep Your Friends Close

“In an environment like this, it’s critical to maintain strong relationships with your key customers, partners, and employees. Have a thoughtful plan of engagement for each of these key stakeholder groups. It’s never more important than in times of crisis for your partners to feel like you have their back and are there to support them. Investing in this now creatively and with authentic engagement and energy will pay enormous dividends in the future.” —Phil Dur, PeakSpan Capital

5. Over-Communicate

“In times like this, people don’t like to be in the dark. Leaders must rise to the challenge and proper communications is the first lever. Keep your employees informed. Keep your customers in the know. Keep your vendors and your partners abreast of what your company is contemplating. If you can be counted on to deliver consistent, recurring information flow, others can act and respond accordingly. Show empathy, acknowledge you don’t have all the answers, and share what you individually will be doing. The mode of the communications, written or verbal, doesn’t matter.” —Michael Yang, OMERS Ventures

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6. Be Swift and Judicious

“We are doubling down on portfolio support, with the assumption of a recession as the base case. Be swift and judicious with any opportunity to extend burn at the moment. Hiring cuts should be considered very carefully; if they are needed, a proactive approach is ideal and will feel uncomfortable. Let’s validate and be realistic with our monetization strategies and business model with regard to 2Q expectations. Expect delays in fundraising and lower valuations. Be mindful of how the downturn may create silver linings. We remain clear-eyed, risk aware, yet optimistic.” —Kira Noodleman, Bee Partners

7. Freeze Fundraising for Now

“Hope for the best but plan for the worst. All new business activity and fundraising are probably in the process of freezing up. If you’re in the midst of a financing process, stop negotiating and close. If you’re embarking on a financing process, consider whether you can pull back and wait and/or be prepared to take a suboptimal deal. In the face of a large decision involving a new investment or major new initiative, every partnership meeting, every executive team meeting is going to ask themselves, ‘What’s the downside of waiting on this one?’ In the never-ending battle between fear and greed, fear is gaining the upper hand. Act accordingly.” Flybridge Capital Partners

8. Opportunities for M&A Will Dwindle

“This downturn will affect all of us, big and small. As a result, traditional acquirers will be less open to acquisitions and if they do they will look more carefully at the ‘cost’ you will represent to the acquirer. Of course, if you are profitable, you will be in better shape. Good companies will always get bought and smart acquirers will always be there. However, founders need to still build strong relationships with acquirers and be realistic about valuation expectations.” Pear Capital

9. Execute a Plan Now

“The thing that we’ve been saying to founders is a variant of an old George Patton quote: ‘A good plan violently executed right now is far better than a perfect plan executed next week.’ In other words, cut hard and do it now. Time is not a friend to any of us. For all of you small, early stage, venture capital-backed companies: There will be huge opportunities on the backside of the ongoing meltdown, but your company must still be alive at that point to be a beneficiary!” —Paul Martino and Eric Wiesen, Bullpen Capital

10. Identify What You Can Stop Doing

“Companies that create enduring value typically excel at discontinuing what no longer adds value. Be ready to make changes in cost structure that will least damage your strengths and will hone your value proposition down to what customers really value. Comb through your cost structure to create a contingency plan for what you would cut. Identify what’s inefficient; what’s nice to have but dispensable; what’s there because of history, inertia, or wishful thinking; what may have worked in the past but doesn’t anymore; and what isn’t creating value as it used to.” Michael Evans, Newport LLC

11. Investigate New Stimulus Programs

“I’m seeing VCs urge their portfolio companies to be vigilant in pouncing on new government stimulus programs, such as loan programs for early stage companies through the SBA or other larger programs that are still working their way through Congress. There will be hundreds of billions of dollars available to startups through these programs, and savvy companies will benefit significantly. Law firms can be a great partner in trying to digest the firehose of information that is coming out on an almost daily basis.” —Mike Sullivan, Orrick

RELATED: A Guide to Venture Capital Financings for Startups

The post What Advice Are Venture Capitalists Giving to Startups in Light of the Coronavirus Crisis? appeared first on AllBusiness.com. Click for more information about Richard Harroch. Copyright 2020 by AllBusiness.com. All rights reserved. The content and images contained in this RSS feed may only be used through an RSS reader and may not be reproduced on another website without the express written permission of the owner of AllBusiness.com.


This Is the #1 Productivity Hack You’re Not Using

growth success processLearn about a productivity-enhancing technique that can help you accomplish more at work—and feel better doing it.

The post This Is the #1 Productivity Hack You’re Not Using appeared first on AllBusiness.com. Click for more information about Jayson DeMers. Copyright 2020 by AllBusiness.com. All rights reserved. The content and images contained in this RSS feed may only be used through an RSS reader and may not be reproduced on another website without the express written permission of the owner of AllBusiness.com.


These days everyone loves to talk about “productivity hacks,” the simple habit changes, behaviors, or actions that can help you work more efficiently and/or get more done in the span of a day. It makes sense why they’re popular, since we’re all incredibly busy and eager to achieve more.

But many articles strive to list as many productivity hacks as possible, telling you to do everything from drinking more water to putting more plants in your office.

To be fair, these hacks are all worth knowing, but in my experience, it’s better to focus on one big change than dozens of smaller changes; not only is it more manageable, it’s also more rewarding.

So in this article, I’m going to tell you about the one productivity hack you’re (probably) not using: flow optimization.

What is flow?

First, you need to know what “flow” is, and why it’s so important. In the field of psychology, a flow state is a mental state when a person is fully immersed in what they’re doing. Colloquially, you might hear it called being “in the zone.”

In any case, when you’re in a state of flow, you’re hyper-focused—which means you’re less susceptible to distraction, and you’re much more effective at accomplishing tasks that require concentration. Additionally, people in a flow state tend to lose track of time.

While this may seem like a bad thing (since so many productivity hacks focus on time management), it can actually improve your bottom-line results since you won’t be constantly checking the clock or agonizing over what you’re doing.

When working in a flow state, you’ll be not only more productive, but more satisfied with your work, leading to higher overall happiness—in fact, some experts (including positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) have suggested that flow is the “secret to happiness.”

Achieving flow

That sounds amazing, but how can you achieve flow? For most of us, flow isn’t something we create; it’s something that simply happens to us, without us even realizing until after we break the state.

There are a few competing theories for how flow develops, but the mechanism certainly depends on your attention. If you’re able to devote your attention fully to a given task, you can hypothetically enter a flow state.

For practical purposes, you can think of flow as existing in the nexus between two main variables in a work experience: interest and challenge.

  • Interest is your level of personal fascination or resonance with a given task. The more personally interested you are in something, the better. If a task is fun, captivating, or otherwise entertaining, it’s more likely to help you achieve flow.
  • Challenge represents the level of difficulty you face in this task. Here, you’ll be seeking a balance. If a task isn’t challenging enough, you won’t devote much attention to it. Conversely, if a task is too challenging, you won’t be able to enter a flow.

There are some other factors you’ll want to consider as well. For example, to achieve flow, it’s important that you feel a sense of control over the task; merely witnessing a meeting unfold is unlikely to help you produce a flow state.

Additionally, it’s important to get real-time feedback from your actions. Fortunately, most work tasks have the capacity to provide this.

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Flow optimization

Okay. We’ve established that flow is revolutionary in terms of productivity, but that it’s usually something that happens to us passively. The trick—and the actionable “hack” for higher productivity—is to make it something we can actively control. What actions can we take to enter a flow state more frequently and more reliably?

The goal is to find that perfect balance between interest and challenge in your daily work, which you can accomplish in the following ways:

  • Plot tasks in terms of interest and challenge. Your first goal is better understanding. Take a look at the types of tasks you achieve on a regular basis and chart them in terms of your level of personal interest and how challenging they are. Strive for high-interest, medium-intensity tasks.
  • Get rid of distractions. While achieving flow can help you block out all distractions naturally, getting started requires some measure of immediate focus. Block whatever distractions you can, like turning off notifications, isolating yourself, and putting away your mobile devices.
  • Delegate more frequently. Delegation allows you to assign tasks below your interest or ideal “challenge” level so they don’t bog you down. That way, you can devote more attention to the tasks most likely to help you achieve flow.
  • Seek new types of tasks. If you have a dearth of tasks capable of allowing flow, it’s important for you to seek new types of tasks. Consider taking on new responsibilities in place of your old ones, or venturing into different departments within your organization to experiment with new types of work.
  • Adjust your approach. If a task isn’t interesting to you, but it’s about the right level of difficulty, consider adjusting your approach. Is there a way you can gamify this task? Can you try to tackle it in a more engaging way?

Flow optimization takes work, especially because it’s hard to know when you’ve entered a flow state in the first place. But if you can get better at achieving flow on a regular basis, you’ll be able to accomplish more at work—and feel better doing it.

RELATED: 10 Productivity Tools That Entrepreneurs Can’t Live Without

Want 10 more suggestions for how to boost your productivity while working from home? Check out the infographic below:

productivity tips infographic
credit: Jayson DeMers

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Will Your Small Business Be Ready If a Recession Hits? 5 Ways to Prepare Now

Businessman standing on falling diagram and peering into the futureHeadlines are bleak right now, and it’s impacting small business. We share five things to focus on that can help your company weather this unprecedented period of economic instability.

The post Will Your Small Business Be Ready If a Recession Hits? 5 Ways to Prepare Now appeared first on AllBusiness.com. Click for more information about Susan Guillory. Copyright 2020 by AllBusiness.com. All rights reserved. The content and images contained in this RSS feed may only be used through an RSS reader and may not be reproduced on another website without the express written permission of the owner of AllBusiness.com.


Headlines are bleak right now. The spread of the coronavirus has people in panic mode, and that is impacting small businesses. It seems entirely possible that we will soon be in the middle of a recession—and yet 44% of small businesses are not prepared for one.

Being unprepared can have disastrous consequences, especially for a business that feels every choppy wave of economic rise and fall sharply.

I was unprepared as a business owner for our last recession. I remember feeling like I was drowning: in fear, in bills, in uncertainty. I had no clue how to remedy the situation, and often it’s hard to do when you’re in the middle of economic decline.

Fortunately, I learned some serious lessons that I plan to implement this time around to stay afloat in my small business boat, and I hope you do, too.

1. Increase your marketing efforts

It’s ironic, isn’t it? I run a marketing company, but I didn’t do enough marketing during the last recession. I’d been gliding along on referrals for the entirety of my business’s life, and suddenly, I found myself struggling to keep things going. Clients were dropping like flies because they couldn’t afford to invest in my services.

Yes, spending is down during a recession. Your sales may decline. But that is no reason to stop your marketing. In fact, you need to boost it in these times.

Why? You’re not necessarily marketing to get customers today. You’re marketing to stay top-of-mind with people so that down the road (hopefully not far down the road), they’ll come back and buy from you.

Whatever’s working for you, do more of. Content is going to be hugely successful, in my mind, because it provides value to the reader. It’s not about selling your product but answering questions or scratching an itch that your audience has.

The good news is, you can do pretty decent marketing without a big budget. If you can’t afford to outsource, handle things like social media management, blog writing, and email marketing in-house.

2. Get your financial ducks in a row

If your revenue gets severely cut, what’s your plan to pay bills and employees? Do you have enough in reserve to make it through potentially several months of hard times?

If not, think about applying for financing now before you’re in dire straits. Even if you don’t need money now (and loathe the idea of having to pay interest on a loan you don’t need), there may come a day when you’ll be glad that you got approved for a loan or line of credit.

If you don’t end up needing the money, great. But having a financial product can also help you build your business credit, so it’s really win-win.

3. Examine your expenses

The time may come that you need to tighten your company’s belt. Look at all your expenses and trim anything that’s not necessary. It’s only temporary. But this exercise may also uncover some things you didn’t realize you were wasting money on, so you’ll streamline your expenses to focus on the essentials.

If you subscribe to software packages, see if you really need the level of service you’re at. You might do just fine with a cheaper (or free) plan, at least for a while.

If you get to the point where you can’t afford to keep staff on, consider asking them if they’re willing to work part-time on a temporary basis. Hire freelancers or contractors for what you need, and you’ll cut down on employee benefits costs.

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4. Focus on existing customers

A recession typically isn’t a great time to attract new customers, so focus on the ones you’ve got. It’s those repeat customers who will see you through challenging times. They already know that the products or services you sell meet their needs. Now you just need to convince them that, even in a recession, they should buy from you.

Consider launching a loyalty program that rewards customers for buying more. Offer discounts and sales tailored to each customer’s interests and past purchases. Pay attention to the data you get from your marketing campaigns so you continually hit the mark.

5. See the big picture

I was at Costco the other day and was blown away with how many people were loading up on toilet paper. I almost bought some myself just because everyone else was, but then I remembered, I’m not a lemur. Right now, with the threat of coronavirus, people are freaking out. They’re thinking about the here and now (how will I manage in the bathroom if everything shuts down?!) but not the big picture.

The threat of this illness will pass. A recession will pass. It’s important that you take care of your here-and-now needs, but stay strong, knowing that your business will survive this.

RELATED: 7 Smart Steps to Protect Your Small Business

The post Will Your Small Business Be Ready If a Recession Hits? 5 Ways to Prepare Now appeared first on AllBusiness.com. Click for more information about Susan Guillory. Copyright 2020 by AllBusiness.com. All rights reserved. The content and images contained in this RSS feed may only be used through an RSS reader and may not be reproduced on another website without the express written permission of the owner of AllBusiness.com.


The State of Minority-Owned Businesses: African American Entrepreneurs

Portrait Of Male Owner Of Gift Store With Digital TabletIt’s been a relatively good few years for African American small business owners, according to a new 2020 Small Business Trends survey.

The post The State of Minority-Owned Businesses: African American Entrepreneurs appeared first on AllBusiness.com. Click for more information about Rieva Lesonsky. Copyright 2020 by AllBusiness.com. All rights reserved. The content and images contained in this RSS feed may only be used through an RSS reader and may not be reproduced on another website without the express written permission of the owner of AllBusiness.com.


It’s been a relatively good few years for African American small business owners. According to a subset of data in the 2020 State of Small Business survey from Guidant Financial and the Small Business Trends Alliance (SBTA), African American small business owners are happy these days. In fact, 70% of them say they are either “somewhat happy” or “very happy” with their businesses. And 72% of African American small business owners say their businesses are “currently profitable.”

However, the study also shows African American business owners are “less confident than the average small business owner about the state of small business in this political climate, with 53% of African Americans saying they are either “somewhat confident” or “very confident” compared to 60% of average small business owners saying the same.

Startup motivations

Being “ready to be my own boss” was the primary reason African American survey respondents started their businesses (34%). This was followed by a “wanted to pursue my passion” (29%); “dissatisfaction with corporate America” (13%); and the “opportunity presented itself” (10%). These stats are a bit of a change since a previous Guidant survey showed 62% started a business to “pursue their passion.”

Diversity of African American business owners

Overall, African American small business owners are younger and include more women than the general small business population. The study reports 22% of African American small business owners are millennials, nearly twice as many than the 12% of millennial small business owners in the general population.

African American women entrepreneurs

According to the Guidant report, 27% of all small businesses are owned by women; among African American owned businesses, 35% are owned by women.

The American Express 2019 State of Women-Owned Businesses report has slightly different numbers for African American/black women-owned businesses:

  • Number of businesses: 2,681,200—that’s 21% of all women-owned businesses, making it the largest segment of women-owned businesses after non-minority women.
  • Growth rate: Businesses grew 12% between 2018 and 2019, compared to an 8% annual growth rate between 2014 and 2019.

The concerning stat is about earned average revenue. African American businesses owned by women in this report earned an average $24,000 per firm vs. $142,900 among all women-owned businesses. This gap, says the report, is “the greatest of any minority [group].”

According to digitalundivided’s ProjectDiane2018 report, “The State of Black Women Founders” (the report is issued every two years), the number of startups led by black women more than doubled from 2016 to 2017, but black women who represent 14% of the U.S. population of women run less than 4% of startups that received VC funding. Nearly half of all African American women-led startups were in California and New York.

In fact, according to BlackBusiness.com, New York state has the most (regardless of gender of owner) black-owned businesses—204,093—which is 10.6% of all businesses in the state; this is followed by Georgia, Florida, and Texas. Washington, D.C., however, has the highest percentage of black-owned businesses in the country at 28%.

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Challenges for African American business owners

Lack of capital and cash flow is the biggest challenge for African American small business owners, according to Guidant. That’s not really a surprise since those are the same problems most small business owners face.

But fewer African American small businesses are approved for financing (61%) compared to white-owned businesses (80%), and they tend to seek lower amounts of money and at higher interest rates, according to the 2016 Small Business Credit Survey by the Federal Reserve System.

Guidant reports that “wealth gap also contributes to financing challenges … making it harder to [get] financing.” In addition, “without the funds to invest in as many resources as other businesses, such as hiring talent or marketing and advertising, competing for contracts or attracting clients becomes exponentially more difficult.”

Getting funding

More African American small business owners (44%) use cash to fund their businesses than the average small business owner (37%), according to the Guidant report. Only 15% get help from friends and family, which was the second most popular source of capital for African American business owners.

Other funding sources for African American business owners include:

  • Lines of credit
  • Rollovers for Business Startups (ROBS), financing that allows small businesses owners to tap into eligible retirement accounts to fund their businesses without tax penalties. Guidant says this grew by 21% in popularity among African American small businesses year over year.
  • Unsecured loans
  • Peer-to-peer
  • Equipment leasing
  • SBA loans

And according to ProjectDiane, the picture for African American women is equally challenging: “Since 2009, black women–led startups have raised $289 million in venture/angel funding, with a significant portion of that raised in 2017″—a very small fraction of the nearly $424.7 billion in tech venture funding raised since 2009.

RELATED: Getting Certified as a Woman-Owned Business

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Working From Home in Uncertain Times: Tips to Stay Sane and Productive

work from homeThe sudden reality of working from home may be a shock for those who have never done it before. Here are some pointers on how to adjust to your new home office environment.

The post Working From Home in Uncertain Times: Tips to Stay Sane and Productive appeared first on AllBusiness.com. Click for more information about Maura Schreier-Fleming. Copyright 2020 by AllBusiness.com. All rights reserved. The content and images contained in this RSS feed may only be used through an RSS reader and may not be reproduced on another website without the express written permission of the owner of AllBusiness.com.


With companies sending workers home because of the coronavirus outbreak, some of you may find yourself working from home for the first time. For some of you this may be new and uncharted waters.

My very first job was one where I worked remotely and I never worked in an office until well into my career. I actually found that an office environment was far less productive than working from home.

As the new reality of working from home may be a shock for those who have never done it before, here are a few pointers on how to be a productive worker in your new home office environment.

Find one place that’s yours

A home office might sound like a contradiction in terms—your intent was to have a home, not an office, if you’re a first-timer working from home. But you can make it work. Find a space in the house that you can make your own. This is especially important if you don’t already have a specific room or area that you can turn into your own office area.

Think about an underutilized room to repurpose as your office space. One area could be your dining room if it hardly gets used. If you’re an apartment dweller, you may not have a space that’s underutilized; that’s where you’ll have to make the difficult decision to create office space in your bedroom or living area.

The bare minimum you’ll need in your office is a desk to work on and a place to file papers If you don’t have a desk, a table will work; a bookshelf will work for filing if you don’t have a file cabinet.

Desk placement in an office has become less of an issue with cell phones and wireless phones. However, as you set up your space, working near a window bringing in natural light is ideal; working in a windowless room is more challenging as your mood might suffer.

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What do you do if you have children?

People will be more forgiving In the age of coronavirus if they happen to hear children in the background while you’re talking with them on the phone. Just know that it’s not ideal to hear children screaming in the background. Consider the best time to make important phone calls where you need quiet, especially if you don’t have a door to close. Is there a certain time when your children are more quiet? Perhaps when they nap or eat? Is there a TV show that can serve as a babysitter? These are all considerations to make when you need to conduct business and want to sound somewhat professional.

Just know that keeping your child occupied doesn’t always work. When my daughter was young, she learned that the time to ask for something was when I was on the telephone. Kids are smart! I learned that the only childproof time to make important business phone calls was when she was napping or at preschool. Since the latter may not be an option now with so many schools closed, just know that in the age of coronavirus, people should be more understanding.

What about your ability to think while your children are noisy? Headphones are the answer. If your environment is noisy, make sure to get a pair.

Be able to shut it down

Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you have to be constantly working—in fact, you shouldn’t. Create a schedule of working hours, but understand it may not be a nine-to-five job when you work from home. Customers will call you. However, also remember that the phone doesn’t always have to get answered and you can stop checking emails at a certain time. Figure out a schedule based on your business and what works best for you.

You also can’t work seven days a week. Pick one or two days a week to be completely off—that means no checking email at all that day. I find it helpful to not check emails on Saturday because Saturday is my day off. What day will be yours?

Keeping a schedule is important for avoiding burnout. Burnout is a very real issue for people who work at home. There always will be something you can be doing, but just because there is, it doesn’t mean it has to be done right now. Learn to turn work off.

Whether your work-from-home situation is temporary or permanent, you can make smart choices that will allow you to be productive.

RELATED: 10 Procrastination Traps That Ensnare Home-Based Business Owners—Here’s How to Break Free

The post Working From Home in Uncertain Times: Tips to Stay Sane and Productive appeared first on AllBusiness.com. Click for more information about Maura Schreier-Fleming. Copyright 2020 by AllBusiness.com. All rights reserved. The content and images contained in this RSS feed may only be used through an RSS reader and may not be reproduced on another website without the express written permission of the owner of AllBusiness.com.


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