Business group helps fund some small businesses

Many small businesses are started to help solve a problem or innovate upon existing solutions, and the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) exists to provide funding to those that qualify, according to Entrepreneur Magazine.

This group was formed in 1982 to help identify the feasibility, commercial potential, and technical merits of young projects and gives more money over time to successful teams.

Currently, the division has around $2.5 billion across a variety of federal agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Services, that are looking across America for projects aligned with their goals. Joining the program is possible through one of their local events or conferences that serve to educate potential participants on how the program works as well as highlighting important calendar dates and deadlines. Once accepted, Phase 1 businesses can receive up to $150,000 and up to $1 million over time based on their criteria for success. Because each federal agency will be looking for different types of projects, it is crucial to sort through everything to find the place with the best fit. There are also opportunities during the early application stages to speak with agency contacts about questions and details.

Small operators should remember that their local Small Business Development Center will provide them access to an advisor that can help them navigate the hurdles involved with getting SBIR funding. In addition, they also offer free general business counseling as well as inexpensive training options.

Entrepreneurs that startup in the same field as their family do well

While not typical, sons that decide to start a business in the same field as their fathers tend to fare much better than those striking out in their own direction, according to a study published by Germany’s Institute of Labor Economics. In it, they analyzed the data from Norwegian firms between 1999 and 2007 to discover that while only four percent of new entrepreneurs decided to start their own business this way, they were found to perform much better than their peers in a variety of metrics. Results were the same whether the father had started a business himself or had just worked as an employee in the field.

Survival during a business’ first four years is often a very telling sign of its future success and the sons in the study were able to achieve a six percent increase over similar firms that did not have a family influence. Most remarkable, however, is that sales, total assets, and the number of employees in these companies was around double their peers which landed them in the top five percent of their industry for those respective categories.

Although there is no direct, measurable cause for the advantage, the study identifies the edge as ‘dinner table human capital’ as many interviewed participants said that they learned much of what they knew from simply listening to their fathers around the dinner table at night. They would recount stories of success and failure as well as discuss problems that they were facing within their walls and as an industry as a whole. The children were also likely to have a head start on building relationships in the marketplace and were able to use their father’s name to establish trust.

What expenses to expect when you sell your house

Selling a house has hidden costs, but planning ahead can eliminate last minute worries.

According to a new study by real estate research firm Zillow and Thumbtack, an online site matching local professionals to customers, the average cost of covering basic projects – painting, staging your home, carpet cleaning, lawn care and gardening, and local moving costs – was $4,985 for sellers who hire professional help.

The analysis showed a range of an average high of $6,580 in San Jose and a low of $3,720 in Dallas, according to USA Today.

Before you spend money on updating the look of a home, review the foundational elements that make or break a house to see how much you really need to spend.

First look at smaller things. The faucets shouldn’t drip, and all fixtures should be in working order. Windows should not be broken or cracked. Fans should not wobble or make noise.

Next, look at higher price items. The heating and air conditioning should work. Walls and ceilings should be presentable. Appliances should all work. If you can, gather information about the age and repair history of these items.

Then there is the roof. In some hot markets, real estate agents say properties can sell sight unseen. Yet, the roof condition is crucial to getting the best price. Problem is that a new roof is expensive.

If it costs $10,000 to put on a new roof, it could be money well spent. If a buyer has options for similar houses at a similar price with a good roof, it’s unlikely they’ll choose a house they have to re-roof. Even if the house sells with three layers of shingles, chances are the selling price could take a hit for more than the cost of the roof. To your list of repairs, add the cost of decluttering.

Plan yard sales and eBay sales for items of value. These sales might add some cash to your sales budget, but as for bulk clutter removal, they often won’t do much good.

For serious bulk removal, call a trash hauling company. You can usually hire a man and a truck who will take every last item out of a storage area.

Naturally, you will need to pick out the items that you genuinely want to move. You could repair those three old string trimmers. You could use those 2x4s somewhere, but the question is do you really want to move them?

A decluttered property and outbuildings are crucial to a good sales price.

Experts usually recommend neutral paint throughout the inside, although many homeowners ignore this expense.

Carpet cleaning can often suffice, in lieu of replacement, but be sure to add the cost to your estimate.

Don’t overlook yard work and house cleaners, both of which put your house in a good light.

Home renovations that offer the best resale value

Homeowners can use renovations to improve their quality of living, but not all improvements will provide the same return on investment at sale, according to USA Today.

Often, the best returns will come from bringing a substandard home in line with other homes in the area rather than making further improvements to ones that are already the biggest and best.

Basic projects like attic insulation can recoup 116 percent of the cost and more expensive ones like installing a new HVAC, water heater, or windows could be strong choices as well. Importantly, current homeowners will also enjoy the benefits of lower heating and cooling bills before selling the house.

Refreshing the exterior of a home is one of the best ways to improve the curb appeal for a potential buyer. Inexpensive pressure washing and painting projects can remove the aging effects of dirt and mold and make focal areas like the front door shine.

Landscaping, meanwhile, carries over 100 percent return on its cost and can include planting seasonal flowers as well as trimming shrubs and mulching beds. Adding stone veneer or replacing the garage door will both demand over 90 percent return as well.

Inside the home, painting is one of the best bang-for-your-buck improvements that a home seller can make with an estimated 109 percent return. Choose neutral colors that will go with anything, such as gray, to appeal to a broader group of prospective buyers.

Minor updates to bathrooms can have a 102 percent return and can be as simple as regrouting tile, replacing toilets, updating sinks and fixtures, and recaulking the shower. These projects are often simple enough to do without professionals for an even more significant return.

Making a seasonal business work all year round

Nearly every business experiences some ups and downs throughout the year but truly seasonal businesses, such as those at ski resorts or beaches, often require a year-round strategy to ensure that they are running effectively, according to Entrepreneur Magazine. For these businesses, the bulk of their yearly income could come from only a handful of months, and it is necessary for them to budget well and spend their time wisely during the offseason to prepare for the next busy time.

Using the Winter Sports School in Harbor Springs, Michigan as an example of a business that actually closes their doors during the offseason, the family-owned business knows exactly how long they will be open during the year, and they understand that the money will stop coming in once they close their doors in April. Rather than taking a long break and scrambling to re-open in November, the family gets to work updating calendars, brochures, and the website so that potential customers will always have the most up-to-date information about booking. They also maintain a broad network of ski instructors during the summer to ensure that they remain well staffed.

Rather than closing up shop, some seasonal businesses find ways to either extend their season or pivot into a related field during downtime so that they can generate income all year. Delphinium Designs, a landscaping business, used this strategy to open a separate business during the winter months centered around holiday decorations. Their landscaping clients made natural prospects for the decorating, and it allowed the owner to split her year into different planning and execution phases around both businesses. Another concept, a Christmas store, began completely transforming their store for each major season to bring in new customers all year without losing sight of their original idea.

Amazon’s culture of high standards

Amazon’s meteoric growth over the past two decades can likely be attributed to its CEO Jeff Bezos and his culture of consistently high standards, according to Forbes.

In fact, his most recent annual letter to shareholders centered around his ideas about how he thinks companies should be run and how he lives his life. He believes that these standards are contagious and that bringing a lot of high performers together will create a self-sustaining effect that quickly spreads to new hires. Meanwhile, the opposite is true, and companies with cultures of low performance will have a difficult time changing.

Honesty with one’s self is a big part of his next two ideas: eliminating blind spots and recognizing how hard a project is likely to be. During the early years, he admitted that he was not good at finding problems in the process, eliminating defects, and keeping issues fixed for the long-term. Asking for help and learning from his colleagues allowed him to correct his deficiencies instead of pridefully ignoring them. Similarly, when a person underestimates the difficulty of an obstacle ahead, they are more likely to give up early than to succeed in the future. An accurate assessment of the task at hand means that the right assets will be used to tackle it and the timeframe will be realistic.

His last point brings his company’s performance around full circle by emphasizing his ‘Day 1’ mentality. He continually reminds himself why he initially started Amazon and uses that focus to stay disciplined every day. He firmly believes that it is easy to be satisfied, but greatness requires a person to handle risk and remain hungry for more.

Why do high performers quit their jobs?

High-performing employees are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs than low performers but one in five are still apt to leave within the next six months and more than half aren’t content with their position, according to recent research by the Harvard Business Review.

The study revealed that two criteria are essential to keeping high performers happy and many are not getting these from their current managers and companies.

The single biggest contributing factor for high-performing employees’ satisfaction is base pay and bonuses. It was important that yearly raises and bonuses be measured against the individual’s or team’s performance rather than tenure. The range of a typical annual raise of 2 to 6 percent, for instance, was not significant enough to keep people in place who had other options in the workforce. Adding more variation to the bonus structure, such as removing the cap on the best performers, was found to be an indicator of success for the overall company along with better retainment.

After compensation, the strongest employees want more feedback and options for company-led development and training. Respondents wanted at least one monthly conversation with their boss to discuss performance and goals, but only about half of the group were able to do so, and as a result, they showed symptoms of under-appreciation. Similarly, two-thirds said that they weren’t supported in formal training by their manager despite already being willing to learn and grow on their own.

There are likely many reasons for this lack of engagement around retaining high-value employees and sometimes they are merely a victim of their own success, according to Forbes. For example, managing superstars can be more stressful for a boss and can lead to resentment if employees are seen as a threat to their own job.

This house is for sale: beep beep

At the next open house you attend, Rex the Real Estate Robot might be the one answering your questions.

Robotics are just beginning to enter the real estate industry, but they are already showing homes to prospective buyers.

REX the Bot looks a bit like a rolling kiosk topped with an interactive touch screen. It is one example of robotics that can save agents time in showing homes, answering questions and collecting data. Instead of making multiple trips to homes they list, agents can talk to potential buyers through the robot’s screen. The robot can answer up to 70 questions about the property. Buyers even get access to the homes through a pin number texted to them when they arrive at the property.

It’s already in use in California, where busy agents with high-end listings are using it to save time on crowded freeways.

Another player in the real estate robot world is VirtualAPT. These robots do not greet customers and, in fact, customers never see them. Instead they are deployed inside homes before the listing at 50 cents per square foot. The robots take measurements, create floor plans and shoot 3-D video, according to The Wall Street Journal.

But will meet-and-greet robots play well in an industry in which the human touch means everything?

Time will tell, but REX robots don’t work for free. They charge a 2 percent commission on sales.

Identifying the ideal team player

The best team players have three virtues: humility, hunger, and smarts.

According to Patrick Lencioni of management consulting firm The Table Group, these traits are sometimes inherent in personality, but more commonly they show themselves through how a person reacts to life, work, and personal development over time.

Humility allows a person to drop their ego and put a team ahead of themselves. Humble people recognize the contributions of others and don’t step on others to get to the top. If a team member lacks this characteristic, they will not be able to build trust and work through conflict over time.

Hungry people are always trying to learn more, improve themselves, and achieve more responsibility and recognition. This drive will propel them to work with a high level of self-motivation and see that projects are completed quickly and correctly. Their ambition will keep them moving upward towards the next opportunity. A person that isn’t hungry will have a hard time getting the desired results and will likely only perform at the bare minimum required.

Smart team players understand how to talk to other people. Listening, asking the right questions, and engaging the team in conflict resolutions are all qualities that a smart person will bring to the table. People without this emotional intelligence will tend to create interpersonal problems that require constant mediation from others.

Lencioni suggests that these virtues should permeate interviews, performance reviews, and even personal introspection to help identify the best way to hire, retain, and coach employees. Deficiency in even one of these areas can cause problems for business, and it can take time to correct a culture problem caused by weak team players.

Avoiding high payment fees in a small business

Avoiding high payment fees in a small business
Only 11 percent of shoppers used cash during 2016, according to creditcards.com.

For small businesses, this means lots of credit card processing fees are coming out of each sale and that can be expensive.

According to small business financing blog Nav, there are three ways for a credit card processor to charge fees: flat, interchange plus, and tiered pricing. Flat fee providers, such as PayPal or Square, use one rate for every transaction no matter the price or volume. Interchange plus models use a flat percentage fee along with a small charge for each sale, such as 30 cents. Tiered pricing applies three different rates depending on what type of card is used; such as debit, credit, or rewards, and is more expensive when manually keyed in.

It is easy to see that a per-transaction charge of even 30 cents could be devastating to a business that sells a high volume of cheap items, such as a dollar store. In these situations, it is entirely acceptable to list a minimum purchase amount for credit processing to make the sting of a per-transaction charge less painful.

As such, The Simple Dollar recommends that small business owners do their research and shop around for the best rates that their business can command. Those currently using or considering a tiered pricing structure, for instance, have reduced the complexity of their accounting and found savings by switching to a flat rate service. While an online search can be helpful, reaching out to other local businesses can be a great resource to see what works for those in a similar situation.

When it comes to equipment, purchasing a credit card terminal can save money over the long run compared to renting it each month so don’t be lured by the promise of savings from the credit card company. Additionally, many of the newer options such as Square provide a free scanner that can be used with any smartphone or tablet to act as a digital register both in a store or on the go.