Talking About Sustainability Can Drive Sales: Lessons From a Casino Giant

MIT Sloan Management Review
Wed, 06 Feb 2019 15:52:26 +0000

It’s long been an open, burning question for sustainability advocates: Do consumers care about a company’s environmental and social practices — and do they care enough to give that company more business? The question is easier to answer in some sectors than others: People vote for organic food, for example, with their dollars. But in the service sector, it’s particularly hard.

So I was very interested to see an unexpected company, Caesars Entertainment, attempt to concretely measure consumer interest in its sustainability efforts. As background, Caesars is a large casino and hospitality company, with $5 billion in sales, 55 million square feet of air-conditioned space across dozens of large properties, 63,000 employees, and 115 million visitors each year. (Full disclosure: I advise Caesars executives as a member of its external citizenship and sustainability council.)

Even through some tough financial times recently, the company has done solid work to improve its environmental and social performance. Its absolute greenhouse gas emissions are down 23% since 2011 and water use is down 11% over the last decade. The company has set science-based targets for emissions reductions, including for its suppliers (which is still rare). On the social side, the company has done extensive work on diversity, equity, and inclusion in supply chains and operations, with 42% of its management roles filled by women. Caesars has also invested time and money in training employees to spot and stop human rights and trafficking abuses.

These are hard areas to quantitatively assess, but Caesars has a culture of financial focus and data collection. So more than most companies, it has measured the impact of its sustainability efforts on the productivity and happiness of its “team members” (that is, its employees). The data is clearly positive, and that alone has been valuable. But a couple of years ago, the company took aim at the thornier question of customers’ interest in sustainability. How much do they care about its environmental and social responsibility efforts?

A ‘Huge Deal’: The 1.5% Revenue Bump

Caesars designed an interesting test program to get at the question of how much its sustainability efforts were driving customer activity. The Caesars data team split members of the company’s “Total Rewards” loyalty program living near a single property (Harrah’s Resort Southern California) into two groups.

They sent the first group some information about the resort’s environmental program, called CodeGreen, including how Caesars built a 5.5-acre solar field, offered employees electric-vehicle charging stations, planted an onsite garden for produce, and recycled 42 tons of waste each month. (In 2013, MIT Sloan Management Review published a case study on the evolution of the CodeGreen program and its impact on internal operations.) In contrast, the control group got zero information about CodeGreen. Over the next six months, the customers who heard the CodeGreen pitch increased their spending, compared with the control group, by a statistically valid 1.5%.

But how good is a 1.5% bump in revenue? Gwen Migita, Caesars’s vice president of social impact and inclusion and Chief Sustainability Officer, recently declared it “a huge deal” at a conference on metrics. For context, plenty of marketing tests yield no result, so, as Migita described it, the internal reaction from marketing execs was skeptical at first. They checked the data and are expanding the test to other properties, which is a good sign that they’re convinced.

Pro-Green Efforts Can Affect Customer Word of Mouth

I’d point to two other reasons that the 1.5% bump in revenue is a real and positive result, both from Caesars’s own data and from my own broader view on consumers and sustainability.

First, from the company’s data: Caesars measured not just revenue increases, but the impact of the pro-green messages on an important marketing metric as well: Net Promoter Score (NPS). NPS measures word-of-mouth support or criticism of a brand, and a detailed, data-rich study by the London School of Economics clearly tied improved NPS to increased sales. It’s easy to see why: As the study put it, “People systematically rate word-of-mouth advice above all other forms of communication when deciding what to buy.”

Caesars surveyed the test guests, and among those who recalled seeing the messages around their sustainability efforts, there was a 7% increase in NPS — that is, 7% more customers checked 9s and 10s on the survey of how likely they were to recommend the brand, with 10 being the most likely. Thus, Caesars consumers who read the materials spent more money while also feeling more positive about the brand overall. This is a big deal.

The second reason I’m impressed with the result is because of the sector we’re talking about. People do spend more for sustainable products, but almost entirely in a few categories, like food and personal care. Some consumer packaged goods companies use the framework “in me, on me, around me” for predicting how consumers weigh healthier or greener products. Things going “in me” like food and beverages are where consumers prioritize buying healthier and more sustainable options, which we see clearly in large and growing markets for organic foods ($45 billion in sales in the U.S. alone) and meat substitutes. The “on me” category refers to personal care products like shampoo, soap, lotions, and perhaps apparel, which partly explains the success of some of the most sustainability-focused brands in the world such as Patagonia. Finally, “around me” includes cleaning products and other home goods.

But when you get farther from the things that touch us daily, there are fewer examples of true green success. The Toyota Prius was a big winner for many years, even when it was priced at a premium. For sectors even farther from our bodies — services like banking or, in this case, hotels — the story is less clear. These companies face less consumer pressure to green their operations but do face rising pressure from business-to-business buyers.

In hospitality, consumer pressure to go green is really low. I’ve worked with clients in the hospitality sector for years, and what I’ve concluded is that when we consumers visit hotels on vacation or business, we are, to be blunt, slobs. We want to avoid thinking about the hard things in life, like hanging up our towels. Yes, the little cards in hotel rooms asking us to skip daily linen service to do our part for water conservation are nice, but guests are not nearly as engaged as they are when they’re shopping for food and other personal products.

Hotels are an escape. And let’s be frank: Casinos are another level entirely. “What Happens Here Stays Here,” as Las Vegas’s official marketing campaign once put it. That adage refers to a lot more than towels and energy use, but you get the point.

From my perspective, any increase in customer interest and revenue based on Caesars’s sustainability practices is surprising and important. The overall lesson here is simple: Most large companies now have real accomplishments to point to, including significant reductions in energy and water use, large purchases of renewable energy, supply chain efforts to improve worker conditions, and much more. Companies get that employees care, and now some big investors do as well. But perhaps consumers care more than we thought. Companies should gamble a little (sorry), brag about the work they’re doing, and reap the rewards.

HBR.org
2019-02-06T14:00:02Z

Pick a quick win to build internal support.

2019-02-06T15:00:36Z

The average wait time in the U.S. is around an hour and a half.

2019-02-06T16:00:41Z

Executives should consider four key ideas.

2019-02-06T17:35:29Z

Youngme, Felix, and Mihir debate U.S. fears about Huawei and implications for U.S.-China relations. They also offer their interpretation of Facebook’s latest earnings results, before sharing their After Hours picks for the week.

Business.com
3 Amazing Ideas for Valentine's Day Email Campaigns
Wed, 06 Feb 2019 02:00:00 -0800

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, which means it’s time to optimize your email campaigns for this fruitful holiday.

As stated by the National Retail Federation (NRF), U.S. consumers are expected to spend more than $19 billion total on Valentine’s Day this year. It’s a holiday businesses can depend on to rake in more sales, further their reach, and heighten engagement as people are willing to go the extra mile and splurge for their loved ones.

This is the time to boost your email marketing strategy and formulate ideas to reach subscribers in an effective, meaningful way. The goal is to show them that your brand offers them value, solves their problems and can give them what they want in a timely fashion, especially when they’re stressed out trying to shop.

Here are three amazing ideas for Valentine’s Day email campaigns you can use for your business this year.

Editor's note: Looking for the right email marketing service for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

 
1. Gift guides

Valentine’s Day is all about spending quality time with your loved one and showing them how much you care. This holiday is known for couples splurging on expensive, sentimental gifts for one another and going the extra mile. But a lot of people struggle to figure out what their partner wants or would appreciate.

Create gift guides for your email subscribers. Take the stress and questioning out of the picture and present them with viable options for gifts their partner would enjoy. Of course, the more you know about your audience, the more refined your suggestions can be so they match what visitors want.

2. Promotions and discounts

You can easily boost sales and engage subscribers by enticing them with promotions, deals, and discounts. Everyone likes to feel like they’ve gotten a good deal on an item they love, and giving your audience this feeling will encourage them to make a purchase.

Use unique offers as an opportunity to make sales. Think of ways you can make customer transactions easier and less stressful on them:

Offer free gift wrapping on items.

A small, free gift with purchase.

Take care of shipping costs which add a lot onto the total.

Let customers return items without additional costs included.

Insert a text box where customers can add a brief note or message for their loved one.

For the best results, run your promotions early. Don’t wait until the week of Valentine’s Day to start your email campaign and excite visitors. People need more time to make buying decisions, typically a few weeks notice.

3. Enforcing urgency

A great way to boost sales is by creating a sense of urgency in your emails. No one enjoys feeling like they’re missing out on something good or aren’t in on the amazing deals. People want to feel satisfied with what they own which is why creating urgency in your emails is so effective.

Evaluate which users click and then abandon your emails close to the date without making a purchase. Retarget your urgent emails to these users reminding them of your fastest shipping options, suggesting items they browsed previously, and showing them items they’ve abandoned in their cart.

There are several options for creating a sense of urgency in your email campaign:

Adding countdown timers

Using urgent language and punctuation

Emphasizing limited availability of items

Highlighting an expiring deal

Valentine’s Day is a great holiday to encourage increased sales and reach customers in a personalized way. Suggest items and products to them that they’d enjoy based on what they viewed previously. Use urgent language to demonstrate that visitors need to buy as fast as possible to catch great deals. Offer discounts and promotions to loyal email subscribers to show them your appreciation for their business. When you offer them relevant suggestions and make their lives easier, the only thing left for them to do is click to buy.

Tracking Employee Attendance: What Equipment Do You Need?
Wed, 06 Feb 2019 03:15:00 -0800

Tracking employee attendance is important for more than just payroll. With the proper time and attendance equipment, business owners can acquire valuable insight about employee trends and company health.

Warren Steinberg, senior human resources consultant for Sikich, said that due to the number of laws and regulations, most employers should be tracking attendance for compliance reasons.

"There are also many systems that offer reporting to help companies cut costs as an added benefit," Steinberg told Business.com.

How is employee time and attendance equipment valuable to your business?

Time and attendance systems serve a number of purposes. First and foremost, they track the amount of time employees are working each day. In addition, time and attendance solutions accurately obtain important payroll information and ensure employees are accountable for their work. They can also reduce time fraud, increase security, maintain transparency and minimize administrative work.

 

Editor's note: Looking for a time and attendance system for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you with free information.

 

 

Josh Mazza, product manager at Paychex, said the data collected by these systems is extremely valuable to business leaders because, among other things, it allows them to measure employee engagement and separate high and low performers.  

"Employee attendance provides business owners and HR leaders with valuable insight that measures the overall 'health' of the organization," Mazza said. "Comparing actual hours worked to scheduled hours allows an employer to view data that impacts the business, such as the number of absences, tardiness, and sick days taken in the last week, month or year."

Understanding the many use cases for employee attendance tracking solutions is essential before you dive into what equipment and features you will need for your business. 

Employee time and attendance equipment features

There is a wide variety of valuable time and attendance system features that can benefit your business. Here are some of the top features to look for when considering what you will need.

Time tracking

The most basic use of a time and attendance system is the ability to track employee time. There are various timeclock options that can integrate with attendance systems, such as RFID card readers, PIN entry, IVR (interactive voice responses), mobile and online applications, and biometric clocks (fingerprint scanners and facial or iris recognition).

Payroll integration

These systems can automatically merge your data into a payroll service, such as Paychex or Gusto. The automatic transfer of data reduces the possibility of human error.

Scheduling and attendance tracking

Another important feature is the option for scheduling and attendance tracking. This allows you to use one fully integrated platform to create employee schedules, record requests, manage sick days and paid time off (PTO), and track vacation days.

Labor distribution and job costing

Many time and attendance systems allow you to view how much time employees spend on specific projects or jobs, or at certain locations. This feature is primarily used to estimate the cost and labor for future projects. It can also provide insight as to your most productive workers and employees who might need a little more guidance. 

Remote clocking

This feature provides employees the opportunity to clock in and out remotely. If employees are working offsite, they can still accurately record their hours in real time. This is primarily used in accordance with online and mobile device applications, since they afford the most flexibility. 

Employee self-service

A time and attendance system feature that employers might overlook is the option for employee self-service. This is extremely helpful to employees, as it enables them to control time-tracking tasks. Employees can manage their scheduling, review their hours worked and track their PTO accruals. 

Geolocation and geofencing

Geolocation capabilities give employers an accurate way to track employees, as it shows the location of the employee's mobile device. Geofencing is a bit more advanced, as it enables the use of GPS or RFID technology to trigger an alert when a mobile device enters or leaves the location of the virtual work boundary. This automates the process and gives employers peace of mind, knowing when their employees are onsite or offsite.

Necessary equipment based on company size

For many businesses, it is not necessary or realistic to buy a time and attendance system with every feature available. The size of your company plays a part in the type of time and attendance software you will need. 

Small businesses

Small businesses usually have simple timekeeping needs. Although some small businesses require additional equipment features, they primarily need a time and attendance system that will keep accurate attendance records and ensure legal compliance.

"[Small companies] have less employees than a larger organization and, therefore, have less of a need to implement a solution with capabilities to support multiple locations, different employee types and layers of management," said Mazza. "Smaller companies typically need a solution that is not disruptive and extremely simple for someone to record their worked hours."

Large companies

Large enterprises require many additional features to meet a variety of business needs. Tasks such as timeclocking, payroll and scheduling are too time-consuming for large companies to track manually. For extremely large organizations, PTO, sick days and job costing would be difficult to accurately track by hand. 

"Larger companies require more complex system functionality to automate manual processes and security elements to ensure their employees are accurately reporting their time worked," said Mazza. "The solution must balance meeting these needs while still being easy for employees to use."

Necessary equipment based on industry

Another important factor in your attendance tracking needs is your industry. For example, the type of time collection method you use will depend on whether the employees in your industry are onsite or remote. Here are some common industries and their basic attendance-tracking equipment needs.

In-office (e.g., finance, banking, marketing, management)

In-office employees are able to use a web browser or a stationary timeclock, such as an RFID badge or PIN code. IVR and biometric clocks can be useful when higher security is necessary, like in the finance or government industries. Features like payroll integration, scheduling and attendance tracking are necessary.  

Retail and hospitality

In these industries, onsite timeclocks are most desirable. Security levels are not as crucial here, so employers can opt for lower-level security options such as RFID badges or PIN numbers. Since hours are less consistent than in other industries, scheduling and time-off features are very important. Mazza said these industries need more in-depth scheduling tools to reference historical data, allowing them to budget workers and build schedules based on how busy they were in prior years. 

Manufacturing

In the manufacturing industry, biometric timeclocks are most reliable and minimize buddy-punching. Since employees in these industries typically report to the same location every day, a mounted timeclock or tablet kiosk is a viable option. Employee self-service and integrated payroll are useful, since payment may vary by job output.

Construction

A mobile clock option is necessary for employees in the construction industry, since work sites often change. Employees also need an added scheduling feature to allow them to see which work sites they must report to and what tasks are required at each site. Mazza said geofencing and geolocation capabilities are useful because they provide employers with the insight and peace of mind that their employees are working where they should be each day.

Trucking

Trucking employees require the flexibility of a mobile timeclock option. Since the industry consists of primarily remote workers, an employee self-service feature is essential for drivers to track their own routes, schedules and hours on the road. Features such as remote clocking and payroll integration enable trucking professionals to accurately report and receive payment for miles driven, gas, and tolls.

Bottom line

Tracking employee attendance has many benefits, and the necessary equipment depends on each business's needs.

"It really depends on the industry, the size of an organization, the employees and the benefits the employer is looking to get out of the system," said Steinberg. "There is no one-size-fits-all system."

Keep this in mind, making sure to analyze your individual business structure before purchasing time and attendance software.

Tech Trends for Small Businesses to Watch
Wed, 06 Feb 2019 04:35:00 -0800

Do you ever wonder if your business isn’t as successful as it could be because you’re not utilizing technology to your advantage? Maybe you’re losing out on sales and not reaching as many customers as you can or perhaps you’re not delivering the kind of service you aspire to provide. 

Regardless of your answer, technology is constantly evolving and it’s important to stay educated on new trends and offerings. While it can be daunting at times to keep up, with the right recipe, technology can help bring in accelerated sales, build repeat customers and ensure that your business is leading the way with innovation.

Some of the tech buzzwords that we heard in 2018 will continue into this year – 5G, cybersecurity and digital transformation will be at the top of the list. For a small business owner, applications for each of these trends will continue to grow and become even more strategic to every business.

Here are a few technological considerations for small businesses to keep in mind, and how to apply them, as we dive into the new year.

5G for business 

2019 is going to be unique in that connectivity is beginning to fundamentally change with new 5G standards. 

Some primary differences between 4G and 5G are much higher speeds and lower latency – latency is the time it takes to get a response to information sent. For example, latency is the brief delay between the moment you press play on a streaming video app and the moment the video shows up on your screen. 

Simply put, 5G will eventually be faster. In a recent AT&T 5G mmWave trial, we observed wireless speeds of approximately 1.2 Gbps. Imagine the possibility of being able to download a 1-2 Gigabyte file on your phone in 30 seconds. 

Higher speeds and lower latency will enable an abundance of use cases for small businesses. Have you ever started a video conference and seen the dreaded “loading” message?  Or, the picture quality is poor and video is lagging behind the audio? Have you ever found yourself waiting for what seemed like forever for your credit card payment to process? 

Future 5G will help reduce that lag time and make many bandwidth-related activities more seamless. It will eventually bring faster speeds for all aspects of a business. We will ultimately see drastic improvements for simple things like speedy Wi-Fi in waiting rooms and improved video at a dental office.  

Additionally, many small businesses like lawyers, photographers and small medical offices send large files over their network. 5G will eventually make sending and receiving these files faster for all parties involved. 

The low latency that will eventually be possible with 5G can create a network that makes a near-real time connection possible. It will ultimately help enable all technology aspects, including the massive Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality and augmented reality. 

Imagine training a new restaurant employee – flipping the virtual burger while feeling the tool in their hands, and hearing the food sizzle, while smelling the aromas. All without using your valuable inventory. Imagine Internet of Things (IoT) sensors doing everything from tracking food sources to ensuring you have the restaurant stocked with paper towels for when that post-soccer game rush hits.

So when will this become available? The pathway to 5G has already started. Carriers, including AT&T, are turning on various forms of 5G and advanced services in parts of several cities in 2019 and smartphone makers are set to announce 5G phones this year.  And, there’s a mobile hotspot on the market, which can be used by small business owners with connectivity needs on the go. 

2019 will be the start of a major transformation where small business owners can get their hands – and devices – on 5G, laying the foundation for future innovation and growth. 

Cybersecurity 

2018 was a big year for large-scale data breaches and ransomware threats affecting small businesses. In fact, a recent Ponemon Report found the number of attacks is rising with 58 percent of small to medium-sized businesses experiencing a data breach in the past 12 months.

Who are the culprits you ask, and what are these hackers after? It’s your data they want. Small businesses have moderate yet valuable data, but typically have minimal or non-existent cybersecurity postures in place. 

Many small business owners think that the nature of their businesses keeps them flying under the radar and that a hacker isn’t interested in what they have on their network. That couldn’t be farther from the truth – hackers don’t discriminate and malware looks for any open door to infect. Often, the small business becomes the conduit to additional vulnerabilities, whether it be through their customers or their partners. 

The risks will not stop in 2019, and in fact, it’s likely that we will see more of what we saw in 2018 affecting small business owners. Fortunately, there are simple steps that small businesses can take to help improve their cybersecurity position.  

It begins with educating employees – who in fact are the No. 1 root cause behind data breaches across North America and the UK, according to a Ponemon Study – and buying cybersecurity insurance. 

Many employees may not realize that email is one of the easiest ways hackers can gain access to a company’s data. It’s important for everyone on payroll to understand that when in doubt, don’t open emails from unknown addresses or click on a link if you’re unsure if it’s secure.

2019 is the year that small businesses can take advantage of cybersecurity insurance. Something that was once only attainable for big enterprise is now being made available more broadly and affordable for companies of all sizes. Make 2019 the year to protect yourself, your customers, and your invaluable data. 

Digital transformation 

For many small businesses, this term may seem intimidating and “too high tech” to be applicable, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Digital transformation can mean different things, depending on a business’s size or where they are on their digital journey. 

Simply put, digital transformation is about adapting your business to drive customer experiences and business outcomes in today’s digital world. For some, this can mean moving data and applications to the cloud. For others, it can mean applying Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to cut costs and boost revenues. This could be a farm adding sensors to their crops to improve yield and cut water use. A simple solution with great results. 

The reality is that small businesses can’t continue without a technology strategy and expect more impactful business outcomes. Customers expect the same excellent, seamless experiences enabled by technology in a waiting room as they do in their living room.

The simple keys to digital transformation are planning, patience and partnership. It’s critical to invest time in creating a plan to transform your business operations. 

It doesn’t matter if you are in the beginning stages or already well into your journey – it’s important to take the time to get it right. I’m a big advocate of using a consultant to assess your business and provide that your digital transformation meets the goals of your business objectives. 

I encourage all small business owners to look into the new year with optimistic eyes about what technology can help do for you – everything from boosting revenues, to protecting your business, to improving your customers experience. 

Resources for Business Owners with Disabilities
Wed, 06 Feb 2019 04:45:00 -0800

Fact: Self-employment is a more popular choice among people with disabilities than it is with the general population. The Small Business Administration reported that 12.2 percent of the general population chose self-employment, and 14.3 percent of people with disabilities started businesses.

Alice Doyel, author of No More Job Interviews: Self-Employment Strategies for People With Disabilities, suggests five clear advantages of self-employment for people with disabilities.

Work activities that fit personal interests and capabilities Control of the company Workplace supports and accommodations to meet needs and enhance success Connections with other community business members Long-term employment with the opportunity for personal growth

Any person with a disability who has worked in the labor force may be familiar with the concept of Customized Employment (CE). Customized Employment starts not with a job description, but by identifying the strengths, conditions and interests of a job candidate. After this process of discovery, an employer or job counselor can identify a position that matches the candidate's profile.

The same framework can be applied to identifying self-employment opportunities.

Joe Steffy is a young adult with Down syndrome and autistic spectrum disorder. When Joe was in his teens, teachers and school administrators didn't think he'd ever work – at best, he'd spend his days at a fully supervised workplace, also known as a sheltered workshop.

Then Joe worked with a Customized Employment expert, and together they discovered Joe's interest in popping kettle corn. Joe's family bought equipment, and he began popping and selling kettle corn at local businesses and farmers markets. He started when he was 15 years old, and in three years, teenage Joe’s sales grew to $50,000 with a staff of five part-time employees. Joe works five or six hours a day popping corn and delivering it to stores.

Joe is in his 30s now, and Poppin' Joe's Gourmet Kettle Korn is still going strong.

Going through the Customized Employment framework is a good first step for any person with a disability thinking about starting their own business.

Melony Hill, who has been diagnosed with PTSD, depression, anxiety disorder, dissociative identity disorder, and fibromyalgia, launched a successful speaking, writing, and coaching business called Stronger Than My Struggles.

A big part of her success came from identifying a profession that worked for her rather than one focused on money. "Instead, I sought to find ways I would feel I was living peacefully and doing things I enjoyed,” Melony says. Now she teaches others to do the same.

Once a potential business owner has identified their unique strengths and abilities, the fun begins – identifying a business that is a right for them.

Joe Steffy's Story as Told by His Parents to Start-Up/USA – The full story of Steffy's rise to successful business owner. Self-Employment Q & A: Discovery – A guide to the Discovery/Customized Employment process. Q & A on Customized Employment: Self-Employment as a Customized Employment Outcome – Clearing up doubts and misconceptions about self-employment, especially among people with disabilities. The PASS program

Usually, federal supplemental security income (SSI) payments are reduced or eliminated once the recipient finds a job. With the PASS (Plan to Achieve Self-Support) program, SSI recipients wanting to start a business can continue to accumulate SSI payments while they work and use the money to fund their startup.

PASS money can be saved up and set aside to pay for the following:

Transportation to and from work Tuition, books, fees and supplies needed for school or training Childcare Attendant care Supplies to start a business Equipment and tools to do the job, and Uniforms, special clothing and safety equipment

The Social Security Administration will not count money set aside under this plan when they decide on an SSI payment amount, so recipients may end up getting a higher payment. However, they won't get more than the maximum payment for the state in which they live.

To qualify for PASS, the intended recipient can't have a net worth exceeding $2,000 or $3,000 for couples. However, assets or equipment to be used for the business don't count toward this amount.

PASS participants must get their plan approved by the Social Security Administration. Examples of businesses that have been approved include a carpentry business, a music production business and a candy vending business.

To qualify, recipients must complete paperwork, including the creation of a business plan. Here's more about the PASS program:

Starting a Business Under PASS – A broad overview of the basic requirements for PASS acceptance. PASS Application – Initial paperwork required by the Social Security Administration. Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) – General information about the PASS program from the Social Security Administration. Writing a business plan

Creating a business plan is a requirement of applying for PASS. It's a vital step for any business owner.

A business plan outlines the goals of the business and details the steps needed to achieve them. The plan will include specifics like equipment needed, how the business will be promoted, and anticipated revenue.

For business owners with a disability, the plan may also include specifics for their unique situation, such as flexible work hours, assistive technology services and devices, bookkeeping services and transportation.

The Social Security Administration advises that a business plan should include, at a minimum, the following elements:

The type of business (for example, a restaurant, a print shop) Where the business will operate (for example, rent a store, share space) Hours of operation Who customers, suppliers and competitors will be How the product or service will be advertised/promoted Items and services are required to start the business What these items and services will cost, and how they'll be paid, and Expected earnings for the first four years of business

The goal of a business plan isn't to force a person to prove their idea will work. It's to start them on a path to success, and there are many supportive people and organizations who'll help.

Take the example of Bill Brent, who suffered a life-changing work injury while working for the Alaska State Ferry system. Bill had actually given up on his dream of entrepreneurship after being turned down for a business loan. He found a support team to help him after being referred to Start Up/AK and the Alaska Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Bill met monthly with representatives from a mix of local government and non-profit agencies, and a mentor in the Alaska tourism business. This team helped Bill develop a business plan for the Admiralty Westside Lodge. He was able to secure a grant for the startup costs.

In addition to PASS, potential business owners with disabilities are eligible for many other forms of funding from government loans to private investment. A business plan is required for all.

Self-Employment Q & A: Developing a Business Plan – Answers to the most basic questions people with disabilities have about writing a business plan, plus additional resources. How to Write a Business Plan – This is a free course from the U.S. Small Business Administration's Learning Center. Helpful Hints: How to Fill Out a Winning PASS Application – Uses the story of Danielle, an SSI recipient, to illustrate the key components of a successful PASS application. Finding funding

The PASS program is a terrific way to stockpile SSI payments for a business venture. But people with disabilities who want to pursue self-employment can also take advantage of additional forms of funding.

A local Small Business Development Center is the best place to start. Managed by the U.S. Small Business Administration, these centers employ folks with local expertise on successful business ventures and available loan programs.

There are thousands of loan programs for small businesses ranging from loans given out by the federal government to loans offered by counties and towns. There are also loans for specific groups: veterans, women, people with specific disabilities, and many others. That's why it's worth talking to the experts at a Small Business Development Center. They can save weeks of research by identifying the best loan resources for a particular person and their business.

State vocational development or vocational rehabilitation offices are also good resources for identifying little-known forms of business funding for people with disabilities.

Service-disabled veterans have additional options for getting a business off the ground. The U.S. government has set a target that 3 percent of all federal contracting dollars go to service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses, and all veterans and their spouses are eligible for low-interest Veterans Advantage loans sponsored by the Small Business Administration.

Self-Employment Q & A: Small Business Development Centers – A look at how Small Business Development centers can help people with disabilities. For Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses – The General Services Administration, which awards government contracts, explains how the program works and how to get certified. Networking and mentorships

Personal relationships play a part in everyone's career. Meeting the right mentor can open the door to self-employment success. Small Business Development Centers and state vocational development offices can often connect aspiring business people with experienced volunteer mentors.

Another tactic is simply seeking out a mentor. That's what happened to Marjorie Turner, who suffered extensive paralysis after an operation to remove a spinal tumor.

"I turned to writing as a way to help with the isolation I experienced with this drastic life change," she says. "A wonderful local newspaper editor, Pam Johnson, of the Bellingham Bulletin gave me the chance to write for her newspaper and has been a mentor to me these past 20 years."


Freelance writing satisfies Turner's creative side, and much of her work can be done over the phone or with email. She has since branched out into writing commissioned "life histories" for individuals and organizations, giving workshops in oral history interviewing, and publishing her own books. 

Turner's book series Easy Walks in Massachusetts highlights safe, accessible walks for people of all ages and abilities. In partnership with a local conservation group, she has received grants to fund her community writing projects. 

"I am blessed beyond measure," she says, "in ways I never could have imagined when this challenging road presented itself to me." 

Self-Employment Q & A: Community Resources for Small Business Development – Many people are ready and willing to help new business owners. Find a Mentor – The SCORE program provides free, confidential small business advice.   All Small Mentor-Protege program – A program that allows existing businesses to link up with emerging business owners with preferred status in seeking government contracts (including service-disabled veterans). Business training and education

The first step to starting a business may be additional training and education. This can take the form of anything from vocational training to support a business dream, or a traditional business education to acquire entrepreneurial skills that will last a lifetime.

State vocational development offices are the best resources for local skills training. The same skills training that attracts employers could give someone the skills to start a business.

Federal law requires that people with disabilities have equal educational opportunities. So nearly all colleges and universities have an office of disability services to ensure compliance.

Students seeking additional business education can get resources and support before and during their college career. 

College Scholarships and Financial Aid for Students with Disabilities – An exhaustive list of financial aid opportunities, including some that support vocational education. Emerging Leaders Internship Program for College Students with Disabilities – Places top college students with disabilities in fulfilling internships. Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities – Basic information about getting and maintaining disability accommodations at colleges. What's the best part of owning your own business?

Start-Up USA, a collaboration of The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Griffin-Hammis Associates LLC, asked people with disabilities who started businesses, "What's the best part of owning your own business?"

Responses included:

"Running my company gives me the confidence to try new things." "I have respect within my community and family." "I feel challenged and successful, even when I struggle to learn new things." "Owning my business gives me a sense of freedom and independence." "I get to work around horses and drive my four-wheeler: things I really love." "Owning my business allows me to meet new people, learn new things and travel to new places." "I don't have to be worried about being laid off!"

Starting a business is hard work but for many business owners with disabilities, the fulfillment they feel makes all the effort worthwhile.

Additional resources

Listed below are resources for people living with specific disabilities who are interested in self-employment.

Resources for people with visual impairments

With business marketing and communication increasingly taking place online, people with visual impairments face obstacles to business success that didn't exist a generation ago. Speech-accessible computers can help.

Prospective business owners who are visually impaired should also consider reviewing these resources:

Independent Visually Impaired Entrepreneurs, An Affiliate of the American Council of the Blind –  A national organization for people with visual impairments who are business owners or who are interested in entrepreneurship. Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired Business Directory – A full picture of the diverse range of businesses owned or operated by individuals with visual impairments. Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America – Support people with visual impairments who oversee vending machine operations, cafeterias, military troop dining contracts, snack bars, gift shops and other retail businesses. The Scent of Small Business Success for Owners Who Are Visually Impaired – The story of married business owners, Barry and Debra Carver, who run a successful fragrance products company. Resources for people with hearing impairments

Video relay services have revolutionized person-to-person communication for business owners with hearing impairments. The technology is improving and so is adoption in public areas like airports. Many how-to videos include easily accessible captions. Still, business owners with hearing impairments face unique challenges.

These resources provide support:

Gallaudet Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute – Support, motivation, and networking for future business leaders. DeafBusiness.org – Organizes workshops and conventions at major cities around the U.S. Communications Services for the Deaf Social Venture Fund – Makes major investments in businesses owned by people with hearing disabilities. Resources for people with developmental disabilities

Studies show that more than 80 percent of people with disabilities don't work, and of those who do, 80 percent work in sheltered workshops. Over the past 30 years, an increasing amount of nonprofit and government funding has been employed to improve these outcomes.

Many states have launched loan and special mentorship programs to support "self-directed employment." Self-directed employment supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in choosing a career path that fits their individual interests – often this process suggests that self-employment is the most viable path.

Successful Business > Successful Life: One Entrepreneur's Success Story – The story of Bernie Klundt, who was institutionalized for 31 years before finding comfort in his own apartment and small business. "Doing my own thing": Supported Self-Employment for Individuals with Cognitive Disabilities – A research paper with in-depth descriptions of small businesses started by people with cognitive disabilities. Self-Directed Employment for People with Developmental Disabilities: Issues, Characteristics, and Illustrations – An explanation of the characteristics of successful outcomes for people with developmental disabilities starting their own business. Resources for people with mobility issues

The rise of the internet has led to a golden age of home-based businesses. For people with mobility issues, eliminating the need for a daily commute is a powerful incentive to consider self-employment. Of course, working in the digital world can present obstacles to people with mobility issues as well.

Home-Based Business Resources from SCORE – A collection of articles about home-based businesses compiled by the nation's largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors. Shortcut – Human interface device designed for people wearing a prosthesis. VELA Tango Chairs – These chairs can be configured in endless combinations to satisfy multiple situations and requirements.
Business.com Survey Reflects Support for Trump Administration Policies
Wed, 06 Feb 2019 05:15:00 -0800

After two years of a Donald Trump presidency, how are small business owners responding? As it turns out, the majority are optimistic and expanding. A Business.com survey of more than 1,700 small business owners found that respondents are generally positive about the Trump administration's policies so far and believe the next two years will be equally favorable.

Small business owners heartened by Trump admin policies

Most small business owners surveyed reported that they were more optimistic with Trump in the White House. Respondents were largely unaffected by the government shutdown, and many said business has been strong enough that they are planning to expand their staff in the next year. The numbers were overwhelmingly positive on all fronts.

More than 73 percent of respondents are optimistic about their small businesses' trajectories over the course of the next two years, due to Trump administration policies. More than 64 percent of respondents strongly agree that they believe the Trump administration has their small businesses' best interests at heart. More than 62 percent of respondents said the government shutdown from December 2018 to January 2019 had no impact on their small business. 52 percent of respondents reported that they plan on expanding their staff in the next year.

These numbers suggest small business owners are generally optimistic enough about the near future under Trump to continue growing. But what about the impact of specific policies?

Key policy takeaways after two years of Trump

The Trump White House has overseen the implementation of major tax reform policy, as well as a shift in the way U.S. trade policy is conducted. The administration has also loosened rules to make the creation of Association Health Plans (AHPs) easier. Here's how small business owners said these Trump policy initiatives are impacting them:

Tax policy reform: One of the Trump administration's first policy moves was to enact a sweeping tax reform law in December 2017. The law, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, reduced both the individual income and corporate tax rates, and doubled the standard deduction. More than 34 percent of respondents said their tax liability decreased under the law, while more than 21 percent plan on increasing capital investments as a result. Association Health Plans: In lieu of "repealing and replacing" the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration moved to offer employers a choice of AHPs in June 2018. These plans essentially allow small businesses to buy into group health plans together and are intended to offer small businesses a cost-effective way to offer more competitive benefits. However, nearly 35 percent of respondents said they were not considering the creation of AHPs. Trade policy and tariffs: The Trump administration's approach to trade policy has included the levy of new tariffs on trading partners, including the European Union and China. For more than 20 percent of respondents, these tariffs have resulted in price hikes by their suppliers. For more than 30 percent, though, changes in trade policy have had no significant impact.

The survey respondents also offered insights into their top policy priorities in 2019. Immigration reform was the leading policy priority, with 30 percent of respondents identifying it as their most important issue. That was closely followed by healthcare policy and tax policy, each of which are the most important issue to 25 percent of respondents. Finally, 20 percent of respondents said trade policy was their top priority.

Support, muted concern in open-ended comments

As part of the survey, Business.com asked the small business community for general thoughts about the entrepreneurial experience under the Trump administration so far. Much like the survey responses, most of these comments were positive. Others, however, expressed some concern and said policy changes had a negative impact on their business. Here are some of the open-ended responses we received from small business owners:

"Reduction of regulations has opened new business and is freeing up resources for my company and clients to utilize my services. Continued smaller government will grow more small businesses." "Our customers have such a good outlook on future business [that] they are spending and we are busier than any time during the Obama years." "The trade laws must change. All businesses have been impacted and now prices for all merchandise has risen … This has had a negative impact on my business."

Among survey respondents, there is little discontent with the Trump administration's current course of action. While some expressed concern around the administration's policy moves in its first two years, many small business owners are eagerly awaiting the next two years of Trump and overwhelmingly believe they will bring positive developments for their companies.

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