You know that there's no shortage of risks your business faces. While it may be hard to predict what your business may have to deal with, whether it's a natural disaster or a financial dilemma, there are steps you can take to ensure you're better prepared to deal with a crisis if and when it strikes.
Here are six potential challenges that could rock your business and how to prepare for each one.
1. A natural disaster
Much of the U.S. is at risk of harmful events such as earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes or floods. You can't do much to prevent one from occurring, but you can reduce the impact it has on your business. If your office is flooded, your computer systems fried by a freak storm or your whole community is turned upside down by an earthquake, you'll need to get your business back on its feet as soon as possible.
How to prepare
The most important step to prepare for a natural disaster is to follow local advice for maintaining a safe work environment. That includes keeping key emergency safety equipment, like a fire escape ladder, and creating an emergency response plan for potential disasters. You'll need up-to-date records of all your employees' contact information to communicate news. It's also important to back up all vital business data, in case your IT systems or local servers are damaged for any reason.
2. A slow month (or more)
The most common risk of being self-employed is that you don't have the reassurance of a regular monthly paycheck. If you have a slow month because, for instance, all your regular clients are on vacation, you could miss out on significant income that you were relying on to pay your rent and cover your bills.
How to prepare
Every business should have a savings cushion, equal to at least six months of operating costs so that you can wait until your clients return from vacation and business picks up again. You should also figure out when your slow season might be – is it August? December? There are no universal rules for this, as it can vary per business type, but by planning ahead, you can at least have some financial wiggle room.
3. A disastrous lawsuit
Depending on your business, you could face the possibility of being sued by a disgruntled client. For example, a personal trainer could be accused of inappropriately touching a client, or a photographer might face claims of having invaded someone's privacy by sharing photos without permission. Dealing with a lawsuit could cost you thousands of dollars. You may even lose your entire business if your reputation is destroyed.
How to prepare
Even if you have good professional liability insurance, you may still need to ask your clients to sign a waiver of liability form, or even a waiver specific to your particular field, such as a personal trainer waiver. This is a form that declares that the client won't hold you liable for any incidents that could occur during your work so as to protect you from surprise lawsuits.
4. Equipment failure or theft
Most businesses rely on their tools, machinery and equipment to keep operations going. If an electrical fire destroyed your computers, or your expensive tools were stolen from the back of your van, could your business handle the loss?
How to prepare
Invest in reliable security systems for your vehicles and premises to help prevent theft.
Make sure to keep your safety provisions up to date, such as fire and smoke alarms and automatic sprinkler systems.
Buy good equipment insurance, and consider cyber insurance. If someone does make off with your thousand-dollar camera, or a new employee accidentally fuses your entire IT system, you need to be able to replace it as soon as possible.
5. Loss of a key employee
In small businesses, each employee is important. Can your business survive if one of them has an accident or disappears suddenly? Is your office manager the only one who knows the passwords to your client information, or remembers where the insurance certificate is kept? Consider what will happen to your business if you're unable to come to work for a few days, or even a few weeks.
How to prepare
Don't create a situation where only one person carries vital business information. Make sure that at least two people know every password or use a password manager. Make sure that every key business process is fully documented so that someone else can step in if necessary.
6. Clients who don't pay
You could be working around the clock, run a super-responsible workplace and have all your insurance in place but still face income issues. You might find that your biggest client suddenly goes bankrupt and can't afford to pay their bill. Or you could have to deal with slippery clients who keep promising to pay next week. Clients who can't pay and clients who won't pay can both wreak havoc on your cash flow.
How to prepare
Ideally, you'll have a savings cushion to fall back on. But sometimes even the best-prepared business plan can face a major challenge in the face of unpaid bills. That's where working capital loans come in. Short-term business loans, invoice factoring and working capital loans are all ways for small businesses to stay afloat until clients pay up.
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The news about women in the workplace these days seems, at best, bleak. Sexual harassment abounds, male-run companies get venture capital at 16 times the rate of female run companies, wage inequality still exists, and only 6 percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women.
It’s easy to think, then, that there has been little or no progress for working women over the past 50 years. But that’s definitely inaccurate, and an oversimplification. Many of the legal barriers to working, and receiving equal pay and treatment, are now part of history. What we are left with are the more subtle (insidious, even) troubles rooted deep in corporate culture.
What are some of the problems women no longer face?
On July 2, 1964, the U.S. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. Title VII of the act prohibits “employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” That meant women could no longer be turned down for a job simply because they were women. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 had already made it illegal to pay men and women substantially different wages for the same work.
The legal framework allowed women to hold companies accountable for discriminatory practices. This set the stage for sweeping changes.
For instance, the national flight attendant union, ALSSA (which had split from the pilot’s union in 1962), urged the New York State Commission on Human Rights (NYSCHR) to launch an informal investigation into age discrimination in airline policies. At the time it was common for flight attendants to be terminated at the age of 32 or 35. In 1966, NYSCHR issued a blanket ruling against age requirements for flight attendants, stating that age was not a “bona fide occupation qualification.”
Another battle, one over marriage bans for flight attendants, went on for years as women got married, were fired, and sued airlines including Delta, American and Braniff for discrimination. It wasn’t until 1968, when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued three individual rulings that set permanent precedents on airline age and marriage policies, that age and marriage restrictions on stewardesses’ employment was definitively declared illegal sex discrimination under Title VII.
But, imagine trying to start a business, or even go about conducting business, without a credit card. In the '60s, banks could legally refuse to issue a credit card to an unmarried woman, and could require married women to have their husbands co-sign for the card. It took the 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act to change that.
One other hurdle that was knocked down in the '70s: Higher education. Many jobs, especially white-collar career track professions, require a college education. Yet, in the early seventies, many of the best colleges and universities only admitted men. True, there was a system of “sister schools,” such as Radcliffe (which was associated with Harvard) that provided solid educations. But the networking, and career cachet, of an Ivy League degree was out of reach.
That changed over the decades, with Dartmouth admitting women in 1971, Harvard in ‘77 and Columbia in ‘81. Women have now outnumbered men in American colleges for more than 35 years.
So, with access to the best education, laws and legal precedent in our back pockets and credit cards in our wallets, what is it that’s holding women back? How is it possible that there are not more female-owned businesses and women in the C-suite?
The answer, as any answer that deals with discrimination and corporate America, is, “it’s complicated.”
A culture of second-place
Women in the workplace face the same double standards and double edged swords that women face in most aspects of their lives. For instance, appearance. Showing up to work dressed casually or comfortably, such as the reporter who wore a sleeveless dress on Capitol Hill this past summer, leads to comments about “appropriate” clothing choices. In the case of the reporter, she was banned from the House chamber.
But, dressing up for work, especially for young women, can make women the target of inappropriate comments about their appearances. As the #metoo movement proves, sometimes the bad behavior of colleagues doesn’t stop with talk.
Even if it does, how can a woman trust colleagues who think it’s OK to discuss the length of her skirt or the height of her heels? In order to excel, women need to share ideas, progress and work triumphs openly. Sitting in a meeting with a smirking teammate is hardly conducive to that.
Speaking of talking, communication is another area where women can’t seem to win. To rise in the ranks, women need to be able to advocate for themselves and their ideas. But, in 2016, a Lean In/McKinsey & Companysurveyof 132 companies and 34,000 employees found that “women who negotiated for promotions were 30 percent more likely than men to be labeled intimidating, bossy or aggressive.” The New York Times article that cites the survey also has personal anecdotes from top-level women who have faced the “intimidating and aggressive” label.
In addition to being called out for direct, clear communication, women are still second guessed, no matter how well they express themselves, simply because they are women. A recent story about the horrible week a man had, when he switched to using his female co-worker’s email and signature, is one of thousands of anecdotal proofs of this problem.
Then, there’s home-life imbalances. This, as much as office dynamics, affects women’s ability to move up the corporate ladder. The Lean In survey found that on average, 54 percent of women do all or most of the household work, compared to 22 percent of men. This gap grows when couples have children. Women with a partner and children are 5.5 times more likely than their male counterparts to do all or most of the household work. Add to that the fact that women are still, disproportionately, the caregivers for kids, aging parents, ill grandparents and any other family member that needs help and the ability to ace Q4 goals is hampered further.
Continuing the fight for true workplace equality
So, how to get from where we are now to where we thought we’d be by now?
Learn from past lessons and duplicate what worked. Over the decades we’ve learned, again and again, that it’s essential for women to band together and support each other. Whether by simply serving as mentors to the next generation or in bigger, more formal ways like the newly launched networking program for women seeking venture capital, it’s women working together that will take us further up the corporate ladder.
We must push for legislation that supports equality, but also addresses the needs of women in all roles. Parental leave, family leave, access to daycare and long term care: Many companies do only what the government mandates, so we need to make sure the government is listening to women.
Speak out and don’t stop just because someone talks over you, interrupts or thinks you’re being aggressive. Sitting quietly at the table where we now have a seat is a poor use of that chair.
I remember the times when only men could be CEOs and have credit cards. I launched a career and a business, despite the obstacles. Achieving success in the corporate world is possible, even probable, for women if we continue to work together and face the challenges head-on.
As a business professional and as a teacher of business studies, it bothers me to hear people say that a business degree isn’t worth the piece of paper it was written on, and kids today need to explore non-formal educational options.
To set the record straight, we first need to understand how education became the costly, commoditized entity it is today.
The Commoditization of Education
Perhaps the earliest form of education was developed in Mesopotamia. It was reserved as a privilege for the elite and nobility to hone their skills both on the field of battle and in the field of politics and bureaucracy. We had massive intellectuals as teachers -- Confucius, Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, etc.
People would travel from far and wide in the pursuit of knowledge and learning. This was where education was, at that time, pure, scientific, thought provoking. But over the years as more and more people understood the economic benefits around education (how it could help a person do better at life) the field itself became muddled with aspirations of wealth through the pursuit of formal learning. Institutions started popping up in a quest to commoditize learning and churn out students, degrees became requirements rather than the demonstration of ones pursuit for knowledge and academic excellence.
But it wasn’t all gloom and doom; certain institutes understood that they had a responsibility to the people, to first and foremost mold informed and educated citizens of tomorrow. That is why education as an institution still survives.
When I say formal education, I mean a systematic learning, unlearning and relearning regimen that colleges across the industry apply to help young minds grasp modern business concepts and enter the workforce.
Again, this is about demand and supply: Right now organizations across the globe need employees who come from a standardized background that helps them fit into their corporate structures. So as an aspiring student you really need to ask yourself is your pursuit for education just to level the playing field and enter the rat race, or, if in this time of economic uncertainty, you want to opt out of tailored, systematic education and focus on real-world learning.
Education and Entrepreneurship
A formal degree and college education has multiple benefits, but there is no prerequisite that states an entrepreneur has to earn a degree before launching a business. That being said, you have to ask yourself: should my drive to become an entrepreneur really ask me to sacrifice going to college and getting that degree? If the answer is yes, then sure, drop out. But if the answer is a maybe, then read on.
Education is first and foremost an experience -- a summation, a rite of passage earned through years of learning and networking. This rite of passage gives you a fraternity of colleagues who have shared similar experiences like you. In this time of disruption, you have to have a few cards in your hand that will make the difference. One of those cards is your education, a tried and tested method that has helped millions of people progress in life.
Evolving the System
A formal education is no guarantee to success in life, of course. Countries with a good amount of graduates still see unemployment. The point remains that a proper education -- one that is not just fluff but an essential nurturing of the human mind -- is the best bet to your future success.
To cater to this new generation of learners, we need to create an environment of learning that is open and borderless; that concentrates on educating the imagination to breed the next Hawking, Edison, Mandela etc. So to all those who are looking for change, don’t break the system -- break the mold.
Your website is the face of your company to the digital world. In this digital era, the importance of a company's website is amplified. Any firm, irrespective of its size and the nature of business, needs to have a website. When it comes to an e-commerce business, there can’t be anything more important than the website or online store. If you run an e-commerce business, make sure your website is developed with the utmost care and that you update and improve it regularly. After all, you website will decide how well you present your business to the world.
Why should you focus on developing a website for your e-commerce business?
E-commerce businesses are all about digital presence. The first step in building a solid digital presence is developing a fantastic website for your e-commerce brand. Here’s why a website is important for any business, especially an e-commerce company:
Your website is your first impression to the world
Websites share what your business does and what you have to offer your audience. A website is surely the digital face of your company. The website contains all the important information, starting from why and how you stepped into the business to where you are today. All the information on your website gives a clear idea of your strengths. Additionally, not every customer can visit your office or your physical store. Customers across the world can asses your business through your website.
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You convey your message through a website
Why are you running your e-commerce business? This is an important question to answer when creating your website because your website needs to contain elements that properly convey your business's message and purpose. Every business is started with a purpose and designed to solve a certain problem. For example, if we're discussing an e-commerce brand that sells used cars, that business likely started to simplify the process of selling or buying those cars. Your message should convey why you started the business, how you are different from competitors and what problem you are trying to solve. This step establishes a connection with the audience.
At its most basic level, e-commerce, means "doing business online." The first step to establishing an impactful online presence is developing a world-class website. Once you have a website that contains everything you offer to your audience, you can prepare more detailed online marketing strategies. Without a website, there is no point in planning online marketing. First, make sure you have a website, which is optimized properly. From there you can start preparing online marketing plans to acquire more customers. The next step is deciding where you should go once you decide to create a website.
What are the key elements of a successful e-commerce website?
Your website's appeal
The user experience you offer to the audience is extremely important. It is one of those key elements that determine the success or failure of your website. It is believed that websites who offer a seamless user experience are preferred by the visitors. Did you know that it takes just 0.05 seconds for visitors to decide whether they would like to explore your website or not. This signifies the importance of a charming design and a flawless user Interface. If your website is attractive and easy to navigate, visitors will explore your site further. For an e-commerce website, the time visitors spend on the site is an important metric to analyze website performance. You want the visitors to turn into customers and that will likely only happen if the visitors like your website.
The value of in-depth content is sometimes overlooked. In-depth content is very important for a business to deliver its messages through the website. You can use content to tell stories. For example, if you inherited a store from your family and have a background in a certain industry, you should include that information in your content and messaging. This information will surely add to the reliability factor of your business. Also, in-depth content helps you step up the SERP ladder. However, for content to benefit your SEO rankings, every piece of content on your website has to be optimized properly.
Now, here comes the optimization part. For any e-commerce website development, it is important to appear on top of the search result pages, as websites that appear on top of the search pages get more clicks. Apart from making sure you use keywords decently in the content, also consider using some of the latest SEO techniques to rank higher.
A website is the backbone of an e-commerce firm. Make sure you invest enough time to build an impactful website for your firm. It is very important to consider design, user experience and optimization, as your traffic depends on these factors.