Category Archives: Finance

The Best Blogs to Help Entrepreneurs Boost Their Personal and Business Finances

The more information you have, the better the decisions you’re likely to make. That goes for everything in life and business, but it’s especially important when it comes to money. Your financial IQhelps determine the best approach to spending, saving and investing your money. This knowledge canmake a massive difference to both your bank account balance and your overall success.

Here’s where blogs come in, as a great source of information for growing your financial IQ. They offer information on trends, issues, solutions and tips that can change your perspective — and the strategies you apply to your business and personal finances. Topics span from credit scores, credit cards and loans to savings, retirement accounts and budgets.

The followinge free financial resources are regularly updated, so you’ll always have something new to read or new insights to apply.

Small Business Administration

While this government agency is known mostly for providing forms and legal information, its blog is a must-read for small business owners.

The Small Business Administration’s financing blog covers a wide range of finance-related topics, including taxes, retirement accounts and business and personal expenses, just to name a few.

TaxBuzz

The TaxBuzz blog is beneficial for small business owners who need the advice of tax professionals. Taxes can become quite complicated when you’re operating a business; you don’t want to pay too much or get hit with penalties.

The blog has a wide range of blog posts produced by practicing CPAs to guide your tax decisions.

CreditSoup

This blog comes from an expert source on personal finance, and it aims to help consumers navigate the credit world while making better and more educated decisions about purchases. Some of CreditSoup’s great advice addresses topics like the credit basics, such as selecting credit cards and using them, spending and saving money, insurance, loans and taxes.

Many of the blog posts can also be applied to the financial decisions you need to make for your business.

The Financial Revolutionist

The Financial Revolutionist invites seasoned Wall Street leaders to share their insights so business owners can understand the ongoing changes in the financial services environment.

This includes fintech and regtech, which impact financial decisions in today’s businesses.

Payments News and PYMNTS

PYMNTS and Payments News both contain a wealth of financial information about money and payments. The posts feature insights about new technology, compliance and regulations, fraud and other issues that impact a business owner’s financial position.

Money Under 30

Money Under 30 may offer advice from millennials and Gen-Zers, but the information applies to people of all ages. Topics run the gamut from home and car-purchase advice to how to reduce your debt load and use credit cards intelligently.

The content offered also includes content relevant to consumers and business owners alike.

Due

This online invoicing and payments company shares tips and recommendations from a team of money experts who share advice on how to budget, save, create a retirement fund and make decisions regarding health care and other expenses.

The Due blog’s small business content extends to business financial issues, including payments, client invoicing, pricing and cash flow.

Squawkfox

This blog comes from consumer expert Kerry Taylor. She uses Squawkfox as a platform for sharing advice on creating a lifestyle that’s free of financial stress. The focal point is personal finance topics, but much of the information crosses over to small business owners, whose work and personal lives intersect.

The blog includes multimedia content, including videos.

The Penny Hoarder

Increasing your financial IQ can be particularly effective in finding you ways to be smarter about spending money. There’s no reason to give away what you earn, and The Penny Hoarder shows you how to spend less without compromising on what you get in return.

Topics include money hacks, where to find coupons and free stuff and how to save money on things like utilities, groceries and other common expenses.

Debt Roundup

Blogger Grayson Bell created his blog, Debt Roundup, after figuring out how to pay off an incredible amount of credit card and auto loan debt. It’s more compelling to read advice from someone who’s experienced debt, and his tips show you how to make and save more money than you thought possible.

The blog also offers free money management tools.

Oblivious Investor

Oblivious Investor is brought to you by Mike Piper. Many consumers and business owners are wary of investing, and this blog helps alleviate those fears. Its financial intelligence includes advice for beginning investors, as well as those who are more experienced.

Piper shares insights about different types of investments, changes in the regulatory environment and tools to build the best portfolio.

Afford Anything

Paula Pant’s Afford Anything delivers advice from the female perspective on money management, but in the process attracts both female and male entrepreneurs and business owners for tips on increasing their earnings.

The site’s content covers real estate and income properties, creating businesses around investments and productivity strategies that help you make more money.

Man vs. Debt

This blog is really about man’s (and woman’s) struggle against debt. Adam and Courtney Baker created the blog after figuring out the best strategy for paying off their debt and creating the lifestyle they wanted.

To help others do the same with their own lives, Man Vs. Debt shows people how to not be slaves to material items (and the debt that typically comes with them).

Start reading!

Visit these blogs to determine which ones work for achieving your personal or business goals. Then, you can bookmark the ones you like best, add them to your social media circle to stay updated and subscribe to their feeds.

The more you read, the more you know and the better your financial position will become.

Original Article:www.entrepreneur.com

Don’t Let Money Be an Obstacle to Starting a Business — 5 Reasons Why

I’ve found that a surprising number of professionals — the majority, in fact — have dreamed about, or at least considered, the possibility of becoming an entrepreneur. So why aren’t there more self-started businesses out there?

One reason is that people are apprehensive — and understandably so. Starting a business is usually a massive undertaking, requiring significant time and money that people don’t believe they can spare. They might be preoccupied with their current careers, or might prioritize spending time with their family over anything else.

But, more commonly, I observe, people are reluctant to start a business because of the money; they either believe they don’t have enough to start a business successfully, or are scared of the risks involved with putting the money down.

If the financial aspect is your own greatest concern about becoming an entrepreneur, keep these points in mind.

1. Money can usually be saved, if you put in the time.

Most things you’ll buy in a business can be created, for free, with enough investment of time. For example, you could pay a firm or an in-house professional to build your brand through marketing and advertising, or you could spend a few dozen hours learning how to do it yourself. Similarly, you don’t really “need” to hire someone new. You can take on those responsibilities yourself and double your working hours.

Of course, it may not be the wisest or most efficient move to do everything yourself: Not only will your lack of expertise make it harder for you to be effective, but you could put yourself at greater risk of burnout. Still, it’s worth remembering that you can trade money for time in most instances and still succeed.

2. Most things online are free.

Next, don’t forget the enormous number of resources and opportunities that are available online, for free. You can build a website for free (or nearly free) using website builders like Wix or WordPress; and the final product will be reasonably professional-looking. You can create accounts and connect with audiences for free, at any time, on pretty much any social media platform or forum.

You can even post classifieds and upcoming events, using free sites like Craigslist. The internet is full of information and free resources, so if money is an issue, consider taking advantage of them.

3. There are many sources of initial capital.

Let’s say that you’re not willing to invest time instead of money (and for good reason), and that the free resources you’ve found can’t give you everything your business needs. You still need capital, and chances are, you don’t have enough to fund the business yourself.

In that case, it’s important to remember the many potential sources of initial capital. If you’re willing to part with a percentage of your ownership in the company, you can work with angel investors or venture capitalists for an early cash injection. If you’re making something tangible, you could use Kickstarter, or another crowdfunding platform to raise initial funds.

If you have friends and family members who believe in your idea, you could even ask them to contribute. There are multiple possibilities here, so chances are, at least one will pay off for you.

4. Early revenue should provide everything you need.

You might also note that once your business starts generating revenue, you should have everything you need to keep the business running. Assuming you’re able to forgo drawing a salary from the business for the first few months of operation (thereby allocating your time to the business for free), you can redirect all the inbound cash flow you receive to other internal company developments.

Your business doesn’t need to be fully fleshed out to get you your first customer; in fact, you may not even need a website or a brand in place. Go with a minimum viable product, and prioritize the establishment of an early line of revenue. The rest will fall into place.

5. Loans can close the gap.

If you’re still struggling with money, or you start off successfully but run into an obstacle, don’t rule out the possibility of getting a loan. Opening a line of credit is relatively easy and can provide you with all the cash you need to get through rough patches; and if your business doesn’t have enough credit or history to get a loan, you can apply for a secured loan, or a personal loan instead.

I’m not arguing that money isn’t an obstacle, or that money shouldn’t be a concern. In fact, it’s a good thing that you’re fiscally responsible enough to assess the financial straits of entrepreneurship. However, money isn’t the solution to every problem, and starting a business could take less money than you think.

Original Article:www.entrepreneur.com

It’s Time We Declared Our Financial Independence

What does financial independence mean to you? For retired Navy Commander Bob Chambers, it means “spending time with family and friends and having a predictable, life-long income that provides a comfortable lifestyle.”

Commander Chambers retired before he turned 50, putting him among a small, but growing, group of super-savers achieving what’s called “FIRE” (financial independence and retire early). Early on, Chambers knew he wanted to attain financial independence, enjoy a comfortable lifestyle and leave a legacy for future generations. (Learn how he did it in his booklet “Financial Independence Made Easy,” available as a free download.)

Financial independence can be defined as being able to handle whatever challenges life throws at you. Yet how many of us have this kind of true financial independence? Only 52 percent of those asked in a recent Bankrate Financial Security Index survey have more money in emergency savings than in credit card debt, and 24 percent have more credit card debt than emergency savings. A recent report by the World Economic Forum calls retirement savings a “global retirement time bomb,” with Americans facing the largest gap between what they’ll need and what they’ve saved. The collective shortfall hit $28 trillion in 2015 and is expected to rise to $137 trillion in 2050. It’s clear to me that Americans need a financial revolution in 2017 as surely as we needed a political revolution in 1776.

Our system of earning, saving and investing money is simply broken. It relies way too heavily on the tag team of government and mega-banks and financial institutions, and way too little on the self-reliance and individualism that made our nation great. Wall Street and other peddlers of financial snake oil have spent fortunes in the effort to convince ordinary, hard-working Americans to place our trust and our financial futures in their hands. Will we never learn?

Market crash after market crash, investment bubble followed by investment burst, our money enjoys no rest from the seesaw, stomach-wrenching ups and downs that result from following the advice of these so-called experts. Not only do tens of millions of us frequently get jarred from our trance-like state to discover we’ve lost a huge chunk of our nest eggs just when we need our money most, but if we look carefully, we also realize that our advisors and money managers have walked off with a sizeable portion of our assets, masked behind the fine print of fees and expenses. The crumbs our advisors leave for us — if they leave any at all — are then subject to additional taxes from our good friends in the U.S. government.

Taken together, the abuses of government and private financial institutions may not rise to the level of misdeeds that our forefathers suffered at the hands of their British overlords. But they do suggest the need for all right-thinking Americans to free themselves — as much as humanly possible– from the tyrannies of today’s financial despots.

Declaring our financial independence.

So, in the spirit of Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin and other revolutionary thinkers, I’d like to propose this “Declaration of Financial Independence:”

“We are free and independent citizens who love our country and honor our duty to live in a lawful and responsible manner. However in the course of events it has become necessary for us to dissolve the financial bonds which have therefore led us to rely upon the goodwill and good offices of government and private financial custodians to provide for our financial security, growth and wellbeing.

“We mutually pledge to each other our commitment to remain true to these self-evident principles of financial independence:

“That we will be the stewards of our own financial affairs, including the establishment of accounts and our own systems to safely serve us throughout our lives, including times of ill-health and in retirement.

“That we will resist and rebuff those who preach that risk and volatility are necessary to create wealth and achieve financial growth.

“That we will not be taken in by Wall Street promoters and other button-down hucksters who profit regardless of their performance and often impose well-disguised fees and expenses to lard their pockets.

“That we will make financial literacy a lifelong priority, confident in the belief that no worthwhile financial topic is too complex or too difficult for average citizens to understand, despite the frequent assertions of those who would have us believe otherwise. To be financially independent requires us to become and stay informed.

“That we will work within our communities and at the polls to encourage others to embrace their own financial independence and to live under laws and regulations that allow all Americans to stand squarely on their own two feet in all financial matters.”

Declaring our financial independence is an act of patriotism and very much in keeping with the spirit and intent of our forefathers, who gave their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to secure our liberties — including the freedom to direct our own finances and embrace the principles of self-reliance.

Original Article:www.entrepreneur.com

5 Quick Bootstrapping Tips for Entrepreneurs

Bootstrapping your business can be a smart and effective way to go. It gives you an added level of control and independence, as you can follow your own vision (within your financial limits) and not be bound to the opinions of investors.

It will likely require a great deal of patience. Here are a few tips to get the ball rolling.

1. Get acquainted with the term “burn rate.”

Know your budget better than the back of your hand. Many burgeoning entrepreneurs are too optimistic about expenses, often underestimating how much they’re actually spending and finding themselves dealing with severe budget issues.

As you engage in the budget-building process, err on the side of caution, increasing your burn rate estimate by 15 to 20 percent of your initial number. From this point forward, you can monitor your monthly spending until you can gain a clearer picture of your actual burn rate.

Additionally, you can look to cut expenses to line up with your projections. Do this in all aspects of your life, not just in business — as a business owner, your outside financial decisions still impact your overall success.

For example, if you’re paying off a car, look into refinancing your car loan. According to Auto.Loan, there’s a good chance you can lower your monthly payments and interest rates as long as you’ve been on time with previous payments.

2. Become a C corporation.

While becoming a C corporation won’t give you the sexy LLC label, it minimizes the personal risk involved in bootstrapping a startup. As a C corp, you won’t be taxed in conjunction with your business, or rather, you and your business are separate entities.

This way, you aren’t held responsible to pay taxes on everything your startup makes, which, if business is good, can end up being quite a bit. Operating as a C corp gives you a bit more safety and motivates you to keep good track of both individual and business finances.

3. Stay away from credit card debt.

This is where patience really becomes a virtue. Many business owners form an unhealthy reliance on credit card debt as they try to grow. Do whatever you can to avoid this. This debt will stack up, and eventually you’ll have to reckon with it.

As difficult as it can be, you’ll have to learn to operate within the bounds of the money you actually have. This is what makes bootstrapped startups rare, but it is also what makes them special.

4. Focus on becoming well-rounded.

Bootstrapping a business is not for the faint of heart nor is it for the one-dimensional businessperson. In order to successfully bootstrap your startup, you’ll have to wear many hats.

Get ready to become a financial wiz. Be prepared to earn your keep by coming up with a marketing strategy for your product. At least for the first while, it’s going to be your responsibility to fill in wherever there’s a gap.

5. Make connections.

Making a connection doesn’t necessarily mean financially getting involved with an outside party. In this case, making connections can help you find new customers and, more importantly, facilitate the learning process as you associate with established successes.

Remember: Just because you’re funding yourself doesn’t mean you can’t look for help. As you connect with experienced entrepreneurs, pick up as much knowledge from them as possible. Learn what works and what doesn’t. Take their advice on how to apply these lessons to your business. These connections will often prove just as valuable as a financial investment.

Ultimately, you’re responsible for your own success. Bootstrapping your business makes this doubly true. But, if you can patiently navigate the waters of building a startup, it will be worth all the time and effort you put into it.

Original Article:www.entrepreneur.com

4 Reasons Online Lenders Are Innovating With Purchasing Cards

Having worked with or for online lenders for the better part of a decade, I know firsthand how difficult it is to remain competitive in an ever-growing marketplace. Cost of funds remains high from upmarket lenders and margins are thinning by the day. Yet consumers and small business borrowers are demanding faster underwriting and quicker speed to funding, and investors continue to demand record-breaking quarterly loan volume.

How are online lenders keeping their heads above water? They are getting creative.

In recent years, Kabbage and others have stepped up to introduce a purchasing card product to their borrowers, and with their early success, many lenders are now following suit for the following four reasons:

1. Staying on top of the customer’s mind

Point-of-sale lenders (lenders who offer a loan at the checkout aisle of the store) are starting to look for new ways to reach the consumer directly and at more than one location. It follows naturally that several lenders are working to roll out a card product for this very reason.

In the small business lending space, Kabbage decided to offer an actual card product to their borrowers to receive loan disbursements, not just putting the company on a customer’s mind, but literally in their wallet as well. As borrowers began to think of Kabbage as their lending source for making purchases, they turned to the brand more often for financing needs. In fact, utilization has increased markedly with those borrowers who have chosen to receive a card.

2. Speaking the language of large corporate partner targets

For point-of-sale lenders, the key is to secure and maintain as many retailers as possible to serve as salespeople for the lender. While many lenders begin with the local retailers in their backyard, most aspire to land a big-box retail account like GreenSky secured Home Depot and Affirm secured Experian. This changes the game for an online lender in terms of revenue but carries with it complicated requirements from the retailer.

Large retailers are not accustomed to receiving funds from a lender via Automated Clearing House (ACH), the leading method for moving money between lenders, borrowers and merchants. These retailers demand that all partners have the ability to pay them in real time and via the same credit card “rails,” or payment method, as they receive all other funds.

“Lenders are looking for ways to improve their bottom line while at the same time improving their borrower’s experience,” explains Omri Dahan, Chief Revenue Officer at Marqeta, a processor of cards for online lenders who announced a partnership with Visa last week. “Whether a small business or point of sale lender, a Marqeta payment card meets both objectives. We continue to focus on online lending to offer our customers the tools they need to stay ahead of the market.”

Introducing a card product — whether plastic, virtual or via digital wallets — allows the lender to send loan funds in real time for goods or services, just as if the purchase was with any other card and without the labor of integrating completely with the retailer’s Point-of-Sale infrastructure.

3. Underwriting use of funds

When lenders make a loan, they are often highly limited in seeing how those loan proceeds are spent. Even with technology integrations with the borrower’s bank account, the lender can only see in-flow and outflow of cash from that bank account, but even this data cannot be tied directly to the loan funds that were distributed. This makes it difficult to ensure that loan funds are being used for their intended purpose.

For small business lenders, use of funds is a very important data point in the underwriting process. Offering a loan for inventory, for instance, is much lower risk than offering financing for marketing, as the inventory can be sold, if necessary, and redeemed for value to the lender. Therefore, many lenders are not willing to offer financing for certain uses. Unfortunately, many borrowers have learned this, through applying for multiple loans, and are even sometimes coached by brokers to lie about use of funds, knowing that the lender is none the wiser.

“Kabbage as a company couldn’t have existed ten years ago because we didn’t have access to the data in real time that we use to help our customers get access to capital,” explained COO Kathryn Petralia. “Using APIs our customers share with us to run their business, from processing data to checking account data, we can make rapid decisions to offer our line of credit product.”

Small business lenders have now begun to use card products to understand the exact spend that is tied to their loan. This helps the lender determine whether the borrower is an accurate risk profile for future loans, and does so in a way that the borrower cannot “fudge the numbers.”

4. Revenue sharing

Ultimately, online lenders are looking for the most attractive way to smooth out their revenue growth curve but cannot do so at the cost of their borrower. This limits the lender from gaining meaningful ground without either finding lower cost of funds or finding more customers (either through new products or new customer acquisition methods).

Cards are quickly entering business plans of lenders because of the new revenue stream they produce for the lender. By offering a card to borrowers, lenders are now able to share in interchange. This can generate incremental revenue for the lender, and in a game where every basis point counts, they are paying attention.

With the crowded and murky competitive landscape in online lending, coupled with the need for lenders to grow quickly, innovations in delivery methods are gaining meaningful ground. Payment cards are now part of the solution.

Original Article:www.entrepreneur.com

The Accounting Industry’s Death is Great News for Your Business

Change isn’t comfortable — especially when it comes to industries steeped in tradition, such as accounting. Whether they welcome the innovation or loathe the disruption, accounting firms are forced to adjust as their previously static sector grapples with major change.

Asian brokerage firm CLSA recently released a report detailing the future of technology in the accounting world. While the shockwaves of cloud storage technology still reverberate, the report indicates accountants won’t have much time to rest. Machine learning, the gig economy and AI are poised to disrupt the industry even further.

We’re living during a watershed moment for accounting, which creates repercussions throughout the business world. It’s the end of accounting as we know it, but entrepreneurs should feel fine. A new normal will rise from the ashes of the archaic industry, and this revival will lower costs and increase transparency for businesses in every sector.

Why accounting needs a reboot.

As an industry, accounting has been broken for decades. It holds onto the old ways of doing things, even in the face of inevitable change.

The rise of personal computers in the 1980s turned the profession on its head, with software empowering business owners to handle their own bookkeeping and finances. Accounting became a more commoditized profession because of technology, forever altering the dynamics between accountants and business owners. Unfortunately, accounting firms didn’t get the message.

People running accounting firms tend to be older, less comfortable with technology and unfamiliar with new tools. As a result, there is little incentive for junior team members to innovate. Their clients end up missing out on opportunities for increased efficiencies or other areas of improvement.

For example, I have met countless business owners who were in the dark about their company financials because of outdated technology. If your accountant is still working on the desktop version of QuickBooks — or keeping records in shoeboxes — he or she is the only one who has access to your financials. Unless you can convince your accountant to embrace QuickBooks Online or similar cloud software, you’re basically unable to track your company’s performance.

Beyond glaring technical issues, many accountants stubbornly adhere to antiquated traditions. Firms stifle rising talent by enforcing lengthy wait times for partnership — sometimes up to 10 or more years. This sort of inflexibility pushes ambitious young workers and creates a stagnant culture. An established accounting firm feels reliable, but entrepreneurs who work with these companies receive obsolete service instead of innovation.

Despite these incredible inefficiencies, accounting firms still manage to sustain bloated profit margins. As one of the most lucrative trades in the nation, the accounting industry enjoys net profits averaging 18.3 percent of sales — the highest of any sector, according to Sageworks. If their net profit margins are nearly 20 percent, their gross profit margins must be closer to 60 percent.

Accounting firms certainly don’t mind those hefty profits, but their clients will begin to question bloated bills for second-rate service. Entrepreneurs could easily receive better treatment for less money, but these fossilized firms have had no reason to change their ways. This excessive wiggle room also creates space for newcomers to disrupt the industry. As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos eloquently stated, “Your margin is my opportunity.” Ready or not, change is coming to accounting.

The dinosaurs of the accounting industry are dying, but new entrants are ready to embrace technology, provide better customer service and offer increased transparency. Amid this accounting renaissance, it’s still important to consider a few basics:

1. Understand the differences between various titles.

Bookkeepers, accountants, analysts and CFOs all do different things, but that isn’t always clear to outsiders. We’ve had many clients ask for a CFO, for example, when they actually needed a bookkeeper. Considering the average CFO could earn nearly eight times the salary of a bookkeeper, it’s important to pick the right person for your needs. Don’t let big accounting firms strong-arm you; educate yourself on the role you need to fill, and learn to ask for what you want.

2. Ask potential partners probing questions.

How will this firm support your businesses through different growth stages? What resources do they have? How have they adopted new technologies? If they have served others in your industry, request references. Ask which tools they recommend clients use — including examples such as Recurly, Xero and Kabbage — and see whether they offer blank stares or useful insight.

Finally, ask about their system of checks and balances. How will they assure you their work is correct? How are they billing you? Which deliverables will you receive regularly? Don’t be afraid to ask difficult questions; you’re trying to find the perfect partner for your business.

3. Consider every available option.

While a local mid-market firm might be ideal for your company, don’t feel like you’re limited by traditional arrangements. Bench, for example, uses artificial intelligence to deliver bookkeeping services to small businesses and independent contractors.

If your company is beyond that initial growth stage, you could embrace the gig economy and use freelancers to handle your accounting. Marketplaces are infinitely more efficient than antiquated accounting firms, creating potential cost savings for business owners. Considering that a Randstad study found that 68 percent of employers believe half the workforce will be part of the gig economy by 2025, it doesn’t hurt to familiarize your business with this growing trend.

4. Seek like-minded partners.

According to CultureIQ, 73 percent of employers believe a better corporate culture provides a competitive edge. Go through a values exercise to solidify what your company stands for, and associate yourself with companies that share those ideals. If you trust your employees while encouraging openness and flexibility, seek modern accountants that buck the old trends and mesh with your approach.

5. Stay on top of trends.

Most trends don’t manifest overnight. Read books and articles, listen to podcasts and talk with others in your industry to see which way the wind is blowing. If you haven’t already — IDG Enterprise reports about 70 percent of companies have at least one application in the cloud — use cloud computing to make it easier to share your financial information internally and with external partners.

Are you still clinging to paper receipts? Get with the times by embracing digital platforms to track and organize expenses. Apps such as Expensify and Wave can do a lot of the work for you, but you can also just snap photos and keep them in a designated receipts folder. Stop sending snail mail invoices, and start emailing those documents to clients. These steps might be painful, but they’ll make it much easier for your bookkeeper or accountant to see exactly what’s going on with your finances.

The accounting industry might be broken, but that doesn’t mean entrepreneurs can throw their arms up in disgust and neglect their finances. As upstarts break into the field and offer accounting solutions that match the modern marketplace, the landscape will undergo tremendous change. Regardless of your solution to this accounting problem — a midmarket firm, an in-house accountant or a team of freelancers — it’s necessary to know what you’re getting yourself into. Your company’s livelihood literally depends on it.

Original Article:www.entrepreneur.com

5 Ways the Best Board Members Will Add Value to Your Startup

When most entrepreneurs raise venture capital funding, they’re focused on getting the best valuation and deal terms for their company. And that makes sense: Reducing the cost of capital is urgently important for growing a business efficiently and preserving as much founder equity as possible.

This need is particularly acute if the investment is tied to the creation of an outside board seat, which typically occurs in institutional funding rounds.

According to a variety of studies including one by MSCI/GMI Ratings, a well-constructed board, over time, leads to increased shareholder value. And this positive effect undoubtedly spills over into private companies, since these boards arguably have even more influence given their smaller average size.

So, in setting up your own board of directors, think what expectations you, the entrepreneur, should have. Below are five meaningful ways in which the “right” board directors can positively impact your business’s value.

Discipline

There are many operating goals that startups pursue at any given point: These may be related to product development, marketing and sales, operations or finance. The result is that management gets distracted with the day-to-day vagaries of running the business. This is where a productive board can help: It not only helps the executive team prioritize goals but also serves a role in ensuring that there is follow-through.

Also for a productive board: Agendas flagging the most important topics are established and tracked during, and in the time between, board meetings.

In this context, it would be reasonable to assume that the agenda for, say, Uber, focused on different priorities at different times of the company’s growth: These might have included geographic expansion, inside and outside the United States; regulatory strategies; and, more recently, company culture and how best to deal with change in its executive ranks.

Access to capital

Established investors, whether they’re funds or individuals, tend to have existing relationships with counterparts they have previously invested with. This network allows them to access relationships that represent additional funds and facilitate “syndicating” a deal.

For an entrepreneur, this can not only help accelerate the closing of a current round, but also make it easier to tap into dollars in future rounds. It is common for angels and seed funds to work with a short list of trusted co-investors. When I was a board director at SeatGeek, the company relied heavily on its network investors, including Founder Collective, to set itself up for subsequent round of financings, attracting such investors as Accel Partners and Technology Crossover Ventures.

Strategy

While startups have certain things under their control, external market forces can impact the initial assumptions being made about these startups’ industry or business. New technologies, changes in customer behavior, regulatory changes and competitive pressures are among the meteors that can strike at any time.

That’s why a healthy board contributes by providing a channel for entrepreneurs to brainstorm strategic issues, such as a discussion on business lines, business models, pricing and funding strategies. Of course, the expectation should be that the board provides a conversational framework rather than outright makes company decisions. An extreme example of this is the proverbial “pivot.”

Many folks do not know that YouTube started out as a video dating site or that Twitter early on was a podcasting network. In most cases, these 90-degree turns are done with investor input.

Business development

A company can never have enough relevant customers or commercial partners, especially in the early days as it’s getting its sea legs. Funds in particular can open doors to prospects that help drive revenue. Many times, these contacts are at the highest levels of an organization, which helps draw immediate attention and establishes credibility to begin a serious dialogue.

The more investments an investor has made, and the bigger his or her portfolio is around a particular industry, the wider this person’s commercial Rolodex is likely to be. A particular benefit here can be a corporate venture fund that supplements the investment with access, for the startup, to its customer base or internal organization.

It’s not unusual, in fact, for funds like Comcast Ventures or Time Warner Investments to become customers of, or partners to, startups in which they invest.

Access to talent

In the end, startup success is a direct function of the people inside a company who execute an ambitious vision. Not surprisingly, finding and retaining high-performing personnel across all functional departments is difficult and can be a limiting factor. Board members understand this and can be valuable sources of leads to help fill particular roles, especially at the executive level.

Being able to recruit a qualified candidate endorsed by an investor can reduce your interview cycles and snag talent that might otherwise be unattainable. In fact, VC funds like FirstRound Capital and FF Ventures have recruiters on staff to help their portfolio companies identify candidates, to fill their open slots across multiple departments, including sales, marketing, technology and operations.

The message here? When scouting for lead investors, consider more than just the economics of that deal . Take into account the potential board impact to come after the transaction. That’s when the real fun begins.

Original Article:www.entrepreneur.com

3 Things Anyone Can Learn From Millennials’ Financial Habits

To all of the writers of articles out there labeling millennials as lazy, entitled navel-gazers, here’s a rebuttal: They’re the most proactive age group of all when it comes to saving money.

This isn’t a coincidence, given their priorities and skills (generally, of course). Sylvie Feist, director of financial guidance services at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, spoke with Entrepreneur about the factors that encourage millennials to save more, as well as how employers can play to the millennial mindset and foster good habits.

Millennials get how to use tech tools — and expect them.
Millennials grew up with today’s technologies, so they’re well-versed in using them for everything from day-to-day tasks to planning their financial futures.

“It’s easy for them to interact with their plans, get information as well as take action,” Feist says, noting that both web and mobile plan management is on the rise — and mobile more so. “Every year, we see more and more people using digital tools and simplified access. I think it’s becoming more commonplace and more accepted.”

Millennials use online tools largely for the sake of simplicity. In the context of financial planning, this might mean auto-enrollment or an auto-increase of their 401(k) plan contributions. One could view this behavior as lazy — or they might consider it savvy and a way to save time to be productive in other ways.

Takeaway: Employers should be aware of the growing expectation of tech that streamlines tasks.

‘Millennials are achievers.’
Despite the trope of the lazy millennial who wants to live on their parents’ dime, “millennials set goals for themselves,” Feist explains. They want to take advantage of workplace benefit programs, take advantage of any match options their plan offers and consider all of their options.

“It’s embedded in their culture,” Feist says. “It’s who they are.”

Call it resourcefulness, or even trying to game the system. Whatever the case, millennials are more likely to be aware of all of the options that exist for them — or seek out information to maximize their savings.

Takeaway: Give employees the tools to discover information they need, and educate those who may lack the know-how to use them.

But millennials also expect human interaction.
Feist notes that part of the increase in plan contributions that Bank of America Merrill Lynch has observed across generations is a rise in education initiatives by employers. Education that happens more often, and is available offline, will more likely have a greater impact toward fostering culture of saving.

“You can’t just do one thing and expect that that’s going to resonate with everybody,” Feist says. “Everybody has their own preferences about how they like to learn. Some people might want to go digitally exclusively, while others might want to look at information online but then still want to talk to someone.”

This could apply to more than just information sessions about savings plans, of course.

Takeaway: Any time you need to get a message across to employees or train them, consider the payoff of being mindful of different learning styles — or learning schedules. Some people might not want to spend their lunch hour at seminar, for instance. Consider a webinar that employees can access outside of work hours, Feist suggests, but make someone available to answer questions, too.

Original Article:www.entrepreneur.com

How to Raise Your First Round of Funding

It’s tough running a startup on little capital. One of the biggest reasons why companies fail is that they run out of money. As an entrepreneur, raising capital is a skill that you must have. If you are unable to successfully raise capital, your company will have little to no chance succeeding to the heights that you want it to go. I chatted with Kobie Fuller from Upfront Ventures and David Siemer from Wavemaker VC to find out their top advice for raising money.

1. Do research on who you’re talking to.

When I asked Fuller and Siemer what most entrepreneurs get wrong, both of them told me the exact same thing — a lot of entrepreneurs do not do research on the firm or investors that they are meeting with. This is an indicator to investors that lets them know how prepared an entrepreneur is. If you don’t know your investors’ history or specialties, it’s a red flag. You probably won’t get funded if you pitch your photo sharing app to a firm that specializes in making enterprise software investments. Make sure you do heavy research on the investors that you are meeting, as well as the firm that they are a part of. If you go into meetings well prepared, you will leave a much better impression on the investors.

2. Get warm intros, and if you don’t know how to get one, figure out a way.

Most venture capital firms won’t even take a meeting with you unless you have a warm introduction, but how do you get one if you don’t know anybody? According to Siemer, there’s a shortcut if you have some capital — pay up and get a lawyer. Most lawyers know all the venture capital firms in town, so they could immediately introduce you. Other ways can include contacting angels, who can then refer you to a firm, and if you still have no luck, it’s up to you as an entrepreneur to figure out a way and get it done. If you can’t even figure out how to get a warm intro, you are probably not fit to be an entrepreneur.

3. Don’t “pitch” — be human and connect.

Too many entrepreneurs get caught in the trap of trying to “pitch” too hard and shove their companies down investors’ throats. At the end of the day, investors are human, and they have to sit through long meetings with many different entrepreneurs that just view them as dollar signs. It’s important that you understand this so that you can be a breath of fresh air to them. Usually it takes many meetings to get to know investors well enough to partner with them. Fuller says, “It’s like dating, you don’t want to go on your first date then ask them to get married.” Be patient and foster long-term relationships with people. It will pay off.

4. Articulate your vision and have a competitive edge.

Even if you have the greatest product in the world and the most talented team, nobody will know unless you articulate it. It is your responsibility as the founder to effectively communicate why your team will succeed in its field. Work on your ability to articulate your vision so that others can buy into it.

Fuller and Siemer both also suggest that the most attractive companies to invest in have some sort of competitive advantage in their industry, whether it be having a proprietary technology, having more connections and better relationships with supply chains, or simply being the first to market. If you don’t have some sort of competitive advantage, your business is probably easily replicable and susceptible to threats. Develop an edge and hone it.

5. Tell a compelling story.

One of the most important points of being able to raise funding is to build a narrative around why you are creating the product. The investors have to understand on a deep level why you are building what you are building, and what motivates and drives you. If you think about great companies such as Airbnb, Facebook or Twitter, there is always a compelling story behind the product. Without a story, it is difficult for investors to really understand and connect with you on a deeper level. You want the investors to be cheering for you so much that they want to join you and be part of the story.

Original Article:www.entrepreneur.com

It’s Shocking How Many Entrepreneurs Aren’t Saving for Retirement

Most entrepreneurs don’t think their businesses are big enough for 401(k)s. Others think it’d be too expensive to implement retirement plans. More than one-third just plan to cash in by selling their company at a later date.

On top of that, a whopping 47 percent of small-business owners report that they are saving less than 10 percent of their income. These alarming stats emerged from the Spark 401k Small Business Retirement Planning Index, released today by Capital One Advisors 401k Services.

Not only is the amount entrepreneurs are saving low, it’s getting lower. This year, 47 percent of entrepreneurs have a nest egg of more than $100,000, compared to 59 percent in 2013.

Still, the majority of small-business owners who feel secure in their level of saving tracks with the general population: The 2017 Retirement Confidence Survey found that 60 percent of American workers feel confident that they will be able to retire comfortably. Yet that’s down from 64 percent last year. Meanwhile, three in 10 workers say they find preparing for retirement mentally or emotionally stressful.

Those who have retirement plans unsurprisingly report feeling more financially secure for the future. Eighty-six percent of small-business owners who have a 401(k) say they feel confident they’re saving enough, compared with 62 percent overall, according to Spark 401k. And when it comes to workers, two-thirds of those who do not have a retirement plan of any kind report having less than $1,000 in savings and investments, compared with just 9 percent of those with a retirement plan, this year’s Retirement Confidence Survey found.

Original Article:www.entrepreneur.com