Go Green Small Business Plan

Green Guide to Increase Energy Efficiency and Cost Reduction

Focusing on greening a small business is not just for the environmentally conscious. Reducing internal energy consumption by employing active energy conservation measures is just sound financial management. Increasing energy efficiency saves on operating costs and adds profits to the bottom line. There are some simple steps on a number of fronts that small businesses can take to save on energy costs by increasing internal energy efficiency.

Green Business Vehicle Considerations

Small business owners should consider replacing retiring company vehicles with electric-hybrid powered vehicles to lower operating costs. Hybrid vehicles have two types of engines working together to power them, a gasoline powered engine and a rechargeable battery pack. As a result, depending on driving conditions, Cars.com notes that “from 15% to over 70% in gasoline consumption depending on the hybrid technology” can be expected in city driving.

Go Green With Small Business Technology Updates

Another area ripe for boosting energy efficiency and achieving real energy conservation is available by updating small business technology. Replacement of outdated computer equipment with Energy Star-rated computers is one means of increasing energy efficiency for small businesses.

Computers have become common place in all businesses because using computers boosts productivity. Desktop, laptop and associated computer equipment are eligible to earn the EPA’s Energy Star rating if the equipment meets energy savings requirements. Power management features installed on Energy Star-rated computers help conserve energy and lowers energy costs.

When contemplating the purchase of new computers, business owners should consider procuring Energy Star-rated computer equipment before making a final decision on what equipment to purchase. The EPA stated recently that “the savings in energy costs will grow to more than $2 billion if all computers sold in the United States meet Energy Star requirements.” Saving energy saves money and lowers operating costs.

A related topic for increasing energy efficiency through technology updates is energy conservation through installing motion sensor lighting throughout office spaces and warehouses. Rather than lights being turned on and off manually, lighting comes on automatically when motion sensors pick up movement in an area, activating power. After a period of time when no motion is detected, the lighting is automatically turned off conserving energy by reducing the waste that occurs when lights are left on the entire workday even when spaces are not being used.

Green Guide to Internal Recycling Programs

Establishing a recycling program for printer cartridges, paper products, aluminum cans, glass and scrap metal where applicable is another effective means of achieving energy conservation. In a global sense availability of recycled materials lowers energy consumption since recycled products are cheaper to produce than new products manufactured from raw materials. This helps everyone but recycling can also help on the micro level by producing real savings for small business owners.

Recycled printer cartridges cost substantially less than new cartridges and perform the same function. In addition by collecting and recycling things like aluminum cans and scrap metal, an additional stream of income can be created. The amounts realized might be small on a weekly basis but can add up over time. Also shredding documents usually consigned to trash receptacles and utilizing the material for packing is an effective, environmentally-friendly free source of packing material that will lower packaging costs.

Simple energy conservation steps are available to all small business owners that can produce real savings that cut expenses and fatten profit margins.

Enforcing Ethical Standards at the Workplace

A Seven Step Approach for Solving On the Job Policy Violations

Once an organization has written out an ethics policy, what is the best way to enforce it? Larry Ruddell, an Associate Professor in Business at Houston Baptist University, is the author of Business Ethics – Faith That Works. In the book, Ruddell outlines a seven step approach for solving ethical problems at the workplace.

Realize That an Ethical Standard Has Been Violated

According to Ruddell, the first step in solving an ethical problem at the workplace is to realize that an ethical standard has been violated. This means that executives and managers must be constantly aware of what is going on within the organization and cannot ignore a violation in company policy regardless of who committed it.

Identify All the People Affected by the Ethical Violation

The second step in Ruddell’s model is to identify all of those who have been affected by the ethical violation. It is important to name each one involved in the policy infringement regardless of their status in the organization. When everyone has been located, the ethics enforcement team can proceed to the third step.

Gather All Pertinent Information Concerning the Ethical Problem

The third step in Ruddell’s scheme is to interview each participant to gather relevant information regarding the ethical violation. Obtaining all the related information is only possible when everyone cooperates. Getting each member to cooperate with the investigation can be a daunting task because violators may not want to admit the truth and their friends may not want to blow the whistle. Still, the incident cannot be resolved properly without all the pertinent data.

Analyze All the Information Fairly According to the Company’s Ethical Standards

Once the pertinent information has been listed out, the fourth step is to analyze the data. This is to be carried out in a manner that is consistent with the company’s ethics program and fair to all employees involved in the situation.

Make a Decision That is Consistent with the Organization’s Ethics Policies

The fifth step outlined by Ruddell is to make a decision that goes along with the preset ethic standards and policies. Ruddell points out that many organizations go through the motions to write out rules and regulations based on supposed core values, but that few follow through with them. When organizations do not follow through when violations occur, employees do not take those standards seriously and further problems occur.

Implement the Decision to Solve the Ethical Problem

Once a decision has been made it must be implemented. This is the sixth step in Ruddell’s plan. Implementation is where the rubber meets the road. Ruddell points out that carrying a plan to solve ethical problems must be done in an ethical way.

Discuss the Lessons Learned in Order to Improve the Ethics Program

The seventh and final step in solving an ethical problem is to discuss the lessons learned from the ordeal. The most profitable result of a policy violation is to use it to improve the ethics program and make the organization stronger.

By these seven steps, executives and managers can effectively enforce an ethics program.

Self Employed? Advertise It!

Use Marketing to Find Jobs

Advertise self employed services or products, and don’t just wait around to see what happens with the job listings. It’s a great idea to use Web sites and classified ads to find potential gigs and make a little money. Consider also using marketing to find jobs, which is an excellent way to build up reputation and perhaps even a stronger clientele.

Self Employed? Advertise It!

If employers looking for self employed professionals and services can post ads, why can’t the job-seekers? Advertise self employed products and services by posting ads as well and making availability known to one and all. Be sure to include a link to a Web site (if one exists) and relevant contact information such as e-mail addresses. There are some sites out there which allow individuals to post ads for free, so make sure to use them. It’s also a good idea to put information in forums and discussion groups, but be sure to target the right audience. For instance, say services include clerical and data entry work from home. In this case, it would make sense to post contact information on sites designed for writers, business professionals and others who might need such skills.

Use Marketing to Find Jobs

Always create a Web site that will showcase work and offer contact info. This way, job information comes without having to be sought out and found. This saves time and also provides a reference point. It’s always quick and easy to include a link in an email or ad, and it adds a certain amount of prestige and professionalism. Remember, being self employed means being a bit of a sales person. Use marketing to find jobs by placing ads and creating a Web site, and it will make finding work at least a little bit easier.

Self Promotion

Successful self employment means successful self promotion. Every self employed professional is actually a product, so don’t be afraid to market services with this thought in mind. It’s important to sell clients and employers on services, to present a trustworthy and reliable persona to put them at ease. They are, after all, going to be offering money. Show them this trust is not at all misplaced, and deliver on everything that’s promised. Don’t miss deadlines, come through with the expected materials and services, and it’ll be hard to go wrong with self employment.

Creating Marketing Materials

Tools for the Work at Home Professional

Creating marketing materials for self employment is not unlike the self-promotion conducted by any other business-minded individual. Take advantage of tools for the work at home professional, because self-marketing is essential.

Creating Marketing Materials

Even those who don’t belong to a company or answer to a certain boss can create professional marketing materials to promote themselves. In fact, they should. Work at home is competitive, self employment rife with would-be professionals trying to get in. Self-promotion is necessary when it comes to self employment.

Creating marketing materials can be costly, but these tools can also be extremely beneficial in promoting the professional. Through self-marketing, professionals can create business contacts and potentially find new work and opportunities.

Tools for the Work at Home Professional

Some marketing materials can be created and used at absolutely no cost. However, if the budget allows, spending a little money on marketing materials can help work at home professionals reap rewards.

Business Cards

This ubiquitous marking tool has been popular since the 15th century (when they were known as calling cards), and there’s no reason work at home professionals shouldn’t make use of them. Professional printing companies often offer business cards as a matter of course. The business card should contain the name and contact information of the professional, as well as a job title. This could be anything like “self employed professional,” “work at home professional,” “freelance writer,” etc.

Web Sites

Anyone can obtain a free Web site through Web hosting, though it can be very inexpensive to purchase a domain which allows companies and individuals to create a site that’s not affiliated with a hosting service. The Web site should be highly professional, highlighting working (not personal) achievements.

Online Ads

Online advertising is getting more affordable all the time, making this a viable route even for individuals. Through programs like pay-per-click, entrepreneurs can drive more traffic to their sites and achieve great link placement on popular search engines. Online banner ads provide yet another option for spreading the word through the Internet.

Print Ads

Don’t underestimate the continuing value of print media – or at least, printed marketing materials. Professional printers can also help individuals create eye-catching postcards, flyers, bookmarks and many other mail-friendly promotional devices that help spread the word.

Direct Mail

Direct mail is a popular marketing device used by companies and corporations every single day – so why can’t the single work at home professional get in on the action? There’s no reason not to take advantage of direct mail marketing even in self employment. Mail out cover and query letters to request more information or very simply get the word out. Those who offer a service shouldn’t be afraid to mail potential clients with rate information and perhaps special coupons or promotional deals to create excitement.

Employing Yourself?

Basics for Self-Marketing

All self employed professionals need to know the basics for self-marketing. You may employing yourself but you still need others to provide the pay. No matter what kind of self employment, whether it is work from home jobs, a home-based business, a physical business, or product-selling, professionals have to market themselves and their services to others. Employers and customers need to be able to find self employed professionals, and to take advantage of what’s offered. Self-marketing is very important, and an ongoing project in self employment.

Basics for Self-Marketing

Start with a great Web site. The Web site is extremely important, no matter what sort of self employment is being pursued. To learn more about building a Web site, read Creating a Business Web Site. The site allows customers to find self employed professionals and seek out the services provided. Work will come to you, not the other way around.

In business, word of mouth is extremely important, and a great marketing tool. Make sure to have a few business references who will speak well on your behalf. Provide your best efforts to every single customer, even for the most low-paying jobs and projects. Low-paying jobs could lead to much higher-paying gigs in the future, so it’s important to treat every job and every customer as though it is the only job or customer.

Always keep up on what’s happening in the business world. Whatever field you are involved in, know what the competition is doing and know what jobs are out there. Even if you feel that you have enough work, look at potential work opportunities. You never know what you will find, but you will never find anything if you aren’t actively looking.

The Truth About Self Promotion

Marketing Begins with Believing

Here’s a secret about making money from home: self employment begins with self promotion…and marketing begins with believing. Those who work at home for themselves have to be their own greatest fans, and that’s just the beginning of the promotional efforts that will ensue.

All About Self Promotion

Self promotion is absolutely necessary in self employment, no matter the job. Whether the professional is running a home-based business or constantly looking for freelance work, it all begins (and lives on) solid marketing. What else is a resume if not a form of self promotion? There are lots of other things work at home professionals will have to use in order to push their careers to the next level of success:

  • Networking. Social and professional networking are valuable ways to self-promote, and should be taken advantage of. Create profiles on popular networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, as well as professional networking sites such as LinkedIn. It only takes a few moments to create this little bit of presence on the Internet, but it can be invaluable to self employed professionals who thrive on others to find work.
  • Web site. Many work at home professionals can benefit from creating a personal Web site, a self-marketing hub. It’s here that self employment portfolios and work samples should be displayed. Include a link to this site on cover letters which are sent to potential clients and employers. Having a singular place to display work can be a big help in promotional efforts.
  • Contacts. Don’t forget those who have provided assignments in the past. It’s a good idea to keep a list of contacts, clients and employers. Sometimes, re-contacting these individuals could lead to new money-making opportunities. It’s great to make new contacts through networking and other promotional efforts, but don’t forget about all those who have delivered in the past.

All About Self Belief

All the Web sites, great resumes and cover letters in the world won’t help some self employed professionals. The most essential ingredient to any self-promotional campaign is self-belief. Any kind of work at home, freelance job or independent profession is one career path where it’s more than okay to be just a little bit arrogant.

Confidence! It’s essential to success in almost any field, and that includes self employment. Sometimes, the strongest self promotion for any professional is simply believing in themselves. Know that the work is possible and the future is wide open for new opportunities.

Tips on Income Tax Preparation

Gathering the Documents Needed for Complete Returns

No matter what country or state returns need to be completed, having access to important records makes the filing easier and more accurate. United States returns require documentation on income and expense that substantiates items on the return.

Documenting Income for the Tax Return

Employees will be issued a W-2 form, the Wage and Tax Statement. This form contains the earned income, as well as taxes deducted. Other important pieces of information on the W-2 are retirement and dependent care deductions.

Other income items are reported on one of the various 1099 forms. This may include earned income in a non-employee situation, such payment on a contract. Interest is reported on 1099 INT.

Brokerages will provide a 1099 form listing interest and dividend income, as well as investment purchases and sales of stock, mutual funds and options. Proceeds and costs of these items are reported on Schedule D.

Refunds from state and local taxes are reported on a 1099, and this income must be reported in the current year if the taxpayer claimed the payment of these taxes as an itemized deduction in that prior year.

Documenting Deductions from Income

It is a legal requirement to report all income. It is not a requirement to report all deductions, but a taxpayer will want to reduce taxes by claiming all deductions to which they are entitled.

Therefore, it is important to find all the deductions allowable. Good record-keeping makes this possible. Keeping track of all checks written during the year, or at least maintaining copies of checks to be reviewed at tax time will assist with finding deductions.

It is also helpful to maintain copies of credit card statements, which document expenditures. Types of items that may be deducted in some circumstances:

  • Charitable contributions. Donations over a certain amount must be acknowledged by the receiver, but reviewing the checkbook or statement may help to prompt the memory.
  • Unreimbursed employee expenses which may be deducted, such as union dues and job travel.
  • Medical expenses are deductible over a percentage of income. Bills paid by credit card are deductible in the year charged, regardless of when the credit card is paid off.
  • Tax preparation fees. These are deductible in the year paid, not the year that the tax return covers.

Miscellaneous Tax Documents

If the taxpayer owns investment property, documents relating to taxes paid and depreciation will be required to complete the return. If there is rental property, all documentation of rental income and expenses are needed. It is advisable that separate records (checkbooks, ledgers) be maintained.

Whether the taxpayer completes the forms manually, on tax software or pulls the information for a tax preparer, having all the documents at hand will help to make preparing the return efficient and accurate.

Small Business Real Estate Safety

Consider Security Issues When Hunting for Office Space

Janelle Benjamin, a realtor for Red Real Estate, a boutique commercial real estate firm based in New York, specializes in office leasing for established small businesses, branch offices and start ups. She helps clients find commercial space that will meet all the special needs of their business, including safety concerns. Since office safety is such an important issue for small business owners to think about, she took some time to discuss some tips for finding space that won’t compromise business security.

Should Business Owners Focus Most on Safety and Security Issues, Location, or Cost?

“They all relate to each other. The focus depends on the business and its priorities. If a lot of clients are coming in, you’ll want an impressive building and you won’t want to have them walking down a back alley. For this type of business, location is most important. If it is just you, your spouse and a friend and you want to keep your overhead low, price is most important. A tech company will put security first.

Also, if you have staff, think about staff safety. You don’t want them to leave the office in a less secure location at 7 o’clock all alone. In areas where employees use public transportation heavily, some companies give employees taxi vouchers after hours or have security walk them out to the car.

If employees perceive danger, it can take them away from company even if there isn’t real danger. They may relocate to a company that makes them feel safer. A company with staff should make safety a priority.”

Is it Difficult to find Safe Office Space on a Typical Small Business Budget?

“It isn’t very difficult. Safety involves getting to know other people in a building or on a floor. Know who works there and you can spot someone who doesn’t belong there. If you can’t afford a building with 24/7 security and an attendant, the other business owners will look out for you.”

What Safety and Security Features Should a Small Business Owner Look For?

“In order of importance, I’d say a small business owner should look for:

  • A lobby attendant and the hours he or she works. (9-5, after hours, 24/7 etc.)
  • Overall safety features, like cameras and security personnel doing rounds.
  • The life of the building. You should think about how many businesses there are and the deliveries they get. Is there tons of traffic? Do employees come in at 9 and leave at 5:30?
  • The traffic patterns of people on your floor. If there are a lot of deliveries, erratic hours and a lot of staff turnover, security can be harder to handle.”

What Safety Concern Should Make a Business Owner Walk Away From a Low Rent, High Traffic Location?

“It goes back to your staff. It is one thing to put yourself on the line. It is another thing to put employees on the line. If you are considering a location you aren’t sure of, bring an employee by and see how he feels.”

Does Having an Unsafe Location Affect the Business’s Bottom Line?

“Absolutely. Employees will quit. Buyers won’t want to do business. Curb appeal matters for businesses as much as it does for noncommercial real estate.”

Once small business owners understand that the safety of a location can impact the company’s profits and can cause employee retention problems, they can make an educated decision about the actual savings they will realize if they choose a lower cost, but less secure, commercial real estate location.

3 Keys to a Successful Web Company Launch

Kick Off an Internet Startup Business with Instant Web Presence

Internet users are a massive market for a new business, or one making the transition from brick and mortar to online sales. The key to success in a web company launch is to avoid getting lost amongst the millions of other e-commerce entrepreneurs selling online.

Internet World Stats: Usage and Population Statistics estimates that as of June 30, 2009, the internet supported over 1.6 billion users worldwide. 73.9% of Americans use the internet, for a total of 251.7 million users. As internet service spreads across Asia, that market is growing exponentially; with only 18.5% of the population using the internet, over 700 million users are already logged on. The potential for online businesses to succeed in that emerging market is huge.

Why an Internet Startup Business Needs a Solid Web Presence

Marketing to an international audience is a feat in itself; however, a web company must also be aware of their competition and strive to increase online visibility. Potential customers often arrive at an online store after using a search engine to guide them to products or services they are interested in.

This creates a need for superior search engine optimization. However, that is only one component of building a successful web presence. Internet startup businesses must make themselves visible in news channels, on blogs, in social media, and on a professional company website.

1st Step in a Successful Web Company Launch- Website Optimization

A properly optimized website ranks higher in search engine listings and is therefore easier for potential customers to find. An internet startup business can save valuable marketing dollars by appearing in organic searches, rather than paid advertising.

Choose three or four keyword phrases that accurately describe the web company and its products or services. Be specific. For example, an internet startup selling discount printed clothing for babies might choose:

  • printed baby clothing
  • original discount baby clothing
  • buy discount baby clothing online

The terms, “baby clothing,” and “clothes for babies,” are far too general and competitive. Think of what the customer will type into a search engine to find those products, and make those the primary keywords.

Incorporate the keywords (once each) into a 70-80 character website title and a website description of 200 words or less. Add the keywords to the website’s meta tags and use each word two or three times in the main body of text on the front page. Do not overuse keywords; search engines penalize websites for keyword spamming.

2nd Step in Launching a Successful Internet Startup Business- Build a Unified Web Presence

Web companies can build credibility and attract new business by maintaining several different types of web presences. Use the same logo, language, and keywords on each of the following:

  • A company blog
  • A MySpace page to advertise products
  • A Facebook fan page to interact with potential customers
  • A Twitter account to broadcast sales and new releases

Each component of the web presence should be instantly recognizable as unique to the company. Build a content web by linking all accounts together. Participate in online forums and leave comments on other blogs, with a signature block linking back to the company website, to further increase visibility and generate interest.

3rd Step for a New Web Company Launch- A Formal Announcement

Internet startup businesses benefit from coverage in news media. However, press release writing is an art form; most releases are simply discarded, especially if they are blatantly promotional in nature.

Try to answer these two questions:

  • Why is this news?
  • How will readers benefit from hearing about this business launch?

The title and opening paragraph should immediately answer these two important questions to catch the interest of the news personnel reading it. Use company keywords sparingly throughout the press release and insert two or three hyperlinks to important company information or unique products. Use a company such as Business Wire to distribute the release to journalists and media companies.

Map Out the Launch Strategy in the Online Business Planning Stages

Don’t waste time and money in the difficult first days of an internet startup business launch. Plan to use these three strategies to quickly build a web presence and increase online visibility, giving the startup business the best chance of success.