Start Up Your Future: Teaching for Today's Entrepreneurial Business Culture

Brandpoint  |  2016-04-14

(BPT) - Every year Christine Rainwater asks her Washington, D.C.-based undergraduate business students the same question on their first day of class: are any of you interested in starting a business?

“Ten years ago, I would only get two or three students to raise their hands,” said Rainwater, a DeVry University professor and president of the Small Business Advisory Firm. “Now, the majority of my students do - and some share ideas even before class begins. It really represents a new mindset as students take a more entrepreneurial approach to learning. I think they’re surrounded by fast-growing startups like Uber and GrubHub, and they feel inspired to quickly bring their own business ideas to life.”

Business enterprise shows like Shark Tank, Beyond the Tank, and How I Made My Millions are indicative of a bigger business trend: renewed growth in small business and startup ventures. According to the 2015 Kauffman Index of Startup Activity and National Trends, the Startup Activity Index rose in 2015 - reversing a downward trend that began in 2010 - allowing the largest year-over-year increase in the past twenty years.

“Students see new, successful companies run by young creatives whose passion propelled them to success faster than climbing the traditional corporate ladder,” said Rainwater. “Not only is this inspiring more people to do the same, but it’s encouraging a whole new type of student to head back to school looking for resume-building experience that can jump-start job prospects right out of the program.”

Shaping a New Culture of Entrepreneurs
Today’s college student is different than past generations. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 75 percent of undergraduate students today could be considered “non-traditional.” They are often busy, working adults that have to balance the demands of school, work and family life.

Several non-traditional students need colleges that can fit into their busy schedules of work and family responsibilities. Moreover, many are coming back to school because they want to advance their current career or move to a new field quickly. Non-traditional students want their degree to speak for itself, demonstrating their capabilities and value.

That’s why Rainwater puts hands-on learning at the center of her curriculum.

“In my Senior Projects course, I challenge my students to explore their own neighborhoods, develop business plans for local companies and even kick-start businesses of their own,” she said. “It’s always rewarding to see their eyes light up when they first come up with a viable idea, or see the impact they’ve made in their communities.”

The approach has given students real-life experience and has encouraged collaboration with local organizations. Online grocery store Relay Foods enlisted the help of Rainwater’s students to revamp their salsa canning and distribution plan. As a result, the students were able to help the grocer increase brand awareness and customer appeal for their signature salsa. Another student turned her passion for making premium homemade soap into a business, eventually turning the side job into an online boutique.

The Benefits of Breakthrough for Rising Innovators
Outside the classroom, Rainwater is the president of the Small Business Advisory Firm, a network focused on meeting the educational, networking and program-specific requirements to compete in the federal and private-sector contracting environment.

“In the past, people had to go through an extensive process to start their own businesses,” said Rainwater. “Today, technology has removed many of the barriers that used to stand between big thinkers and entrepreneurship.”

Rainwater considers immersive learning an imperative tool for business students’ professional development. She believes that it not only fosters creative thinking and entrepreneurial spirit, but also creates a safe environment for students to build tangible skills that can be immediately implemented in the workplace - across a variety of roles and practices.

To help today’s students learn more about starting a new business, DeVry University offers a small business management and entrepreneurship degree specialization within its College of Business & Management. At the graduate level, its Keller Graduate School of Management offers an entrepreneurship concentration within its MBA program.

“Right now, U.S. startup activity is rising for the first time in five years, showing entrepreneurs are the most hopeful they have been in several years,” said Rainwater. “And the beauty of these entrepreneurship programs is they not only teach students how to grow businesses, but they arm them with skills to succeed when they hit obstacles along the way - setting them up for long-term success.”

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5 Tips for Mastering Your First Phone Interview

Brandpoint  |  2016-03-29

(BPT) - The path to professional success often begins with a phone interview. Ninety-two percent of HR managers rely on phone interviews to narrow down the pool of job applicants, and 88 percent say that a first impression on a phone interview is a key indicator of whether or not a candidate is right for the job, according to research from TracFone. For those looking to secure their first professional job, rejoin the workforce or climb the professional ladder, the importance of phone etiquette cannot be understated.

To master the phone interview, follow these five tips:

  • Speak clearly. Speaking in a clear, confident voice eliminates potential for miscommunication and provides a positive tone to the call. Be sure to sound upbeat and enthusiastic during the interview - you can even smile to help with this and use your voice to convey your excitement about the position.

  • Stay connected with the right device. All of the interview preparation in the world won't save you if your phone fails, so make sure you're available with a secure line when the call comes through. Consider TracFone, which offers affordable, quality smartphones such as the Alcatel 460 - the perfect tool for accessing TracFone's nationwide coverage on America's largest and most dependable 4G LTE networks. Plus, with no activation or cancelation fees and unlimited carryover to keep any unused minutes, text and data, you can change your no-contract plan as often as your needs change without penalties, perfect for the on-the-go professional.

  • Keep your resume on hand. Often, hiring managers will reference your resume during the phone interview process. Having a copy handy will help you answer those questions with confidence and ease. You can even make a list of "talking points" that provide more detail about your background to reference during the call.

  • Ask questions. The interview is meant to be a conversation and two-way process, so it's important to have a few questions of your own about the company and position for which you're applying. This will show the interviewer that you don't just want any job, but a long-term career at that company. It's also a good opportunity to determine if the job and the company really are the right fit for you.

  • Send a follow-up thank you note. The phone interview doesn't end when you hang up. One of the most important steps to career success is the follow-up. Carefully record who you spoke with and send them a thank you note for taking the time to speak with you. If you have their email address already, use that, or research their contact information on sites like LinkedIn. Reiterate your interest in the position and emphasize why you are a perfect fit. It's an important, lasting impression that may help you secure the job and, ultimately, career success.

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3 Tips to Land a Job After College

Brandpoint  |  2016-03-08

(BPT) - America’s unemployment rate recently hit its lowest level in seven years. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, that’s just in time for 2.8 million graduates with bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees to enter the workforce.

However, a college degree does not always lead to gainful employment. Millennials make up 40 percent of the unemployed in the United States, according to Anthony Carnavale, a director and research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce.

Now, more than ever, it is imperative that students select a college or university with the resources to land them a job. While it is important to consider proximity, cost, accreditation and atmosphere, you also want to keep the end goal in mind - a career.

So what else should you look at when researching a school?

1. Make meaningful industry connections.

It’s all about connections in today’s job hunts, and it’s likely the same will be true for the class of 2020 and beyond. In fact, 80 percent of jobs aren’t advertised according to Steven Rothberg, founder of CollegeRecruiter.com.

A search on a university’s LinkedIn page will reveal the cities, companies and industries in which alumni work. Access to a strong alumni network will help prepare students for a career by opening doors to internships and jobs.

A network of trusted and connected professors is equally as important as a network of successful alumni. During the campus visit, students should ask about the faculty’s experience and reputation and make introductions early.

2. Gain real world experience.

Today’s employers are on the lookout for students who have found their niche and demonstrated leadership skills in real-world scenarios.

For example, students thinking about a career in engineering should look for schools with programs like EcoCAR 3, a premier collegiate competition grooming the next generation of advanced engineers trained across disciplines - from engineering to marketing. Public relations majors can participate in the Bateman Case Study Competition, where college teams create and implement a full public relations campaign to raise awareness on a selected topic. The National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition offers students interested in information assurance or computer security the opportunity to defend a commercial network against common outside threats.

“More and more we’re seeing today’s top companies request students from our program because they’ve gained the hands-on experience that the classroom doesn’t offer,” says Kristen De La Rosa, EcoCAR 3 program director at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory. “We give students the opportunity gain access to millions of dollars of cutting-edge technology and top industry experts to solve complex engineering and marketing challenges. For this reason, almost 100 percent of our participants land a job immediately after graduation.”

3. Position yourself close to the action.

While a beautiful campus is nice to look at, that alone isn’t enough to justify years of time and money. It helps to be close to an industry hot-spot where internship and volunteer opportunities are plentiful and easy to access.

Studying near industry hubs will help students gain access to mentors, networking events and international conferences, furthering their competitive advantage and adding value to their degree.

Tech-savvy students who dream of launching the next big start-up should position themselves near the action in Silicon Valley, Boston or Austin. For those looking to create the next head-turning design it is best to study fashion and design in New York City or Los Angeles.

Physical proximity to an industry, participation in extracurricular activities and third-party recommendations can help make a student’s dream career a reality. Parents and high schoolers should keep these tips in mind throughout the college application process to make the most of college and hopefully land that first job.

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There’s No Free Lunch and Most Workers Don’t Want One Anyway

Brandpoint  |  2016-03-08

(BPT) - You’ve probably heard the popular adage that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” underscoring the idea that it is impossible to get something for nothing. Yet most Americans wouldn’t want a free lunch anyway, recent research shows.

Only one in five (18 percent) American workers prefer free lunches as one of their top three employee benefits of choice, according to the 2015 MassMutual Generations@Work Study. Instead, 47 percent of workers age 18 and older prefer more vacation time, 44 percent opt for better 401(k) matches, and 40 percent like free health care coverage, according to the study.

What benefits workers prefer largely depends upon their gender and generation, the study finds, complicating benefit decisions for employers.

“Given the varied preferences for employee benefits, the takeaway for employers is to offer as broad a menu of benefits as possible. They should also consider offering new or expanded benefits on a voluntary or employee-paid basis,” says Elaine Sarsynski, executive vice president of MassMutual Retirement Services and Worksite Insurance.

Half of all baby boomers surveyed and 48 percent of millennials say their benefit of choice is more vacation days, according to the study. Nearly half of Gen Xers (47 percent) prefer better 401(k) matches, the survey found, with more vacation days coming in a close second (44 percent).

After more time off, boomers express preferences for financial benefits. Forty-three percent of boomers want better 401(k) matches, 38 percent appreciate free health care coverage, and 24 percent want more investment choices for their retirement savings, according to the study. Four in 10 (43 percent) prefer expanded health care benefits.

Breaking with boomers, millennials like flexible work schedules (43 percent) and reimbursements for education and tuition (30 percent). But many Xers join their boomer colleagues in wanting better 401(k) matches, most likely a reflection that few Xers have access to pensions and that many boomers have not saved enough for retirement, according to Sarsynski.

Men’s benefits of choice are more vacation time (50 percent), better 401(k) matches (43 percent) and flexible work schedules (39 percent), MassMutual’s study finds. Women’s preferences are spread between more vacation (44 percent), better 401(k) matches and flexible work schedules (40 percent), expanded health care choices (37 percent) and free gym memberships (31 percent).

Workers should make the most of the benefits their employer currently provides and suggest other benefits that companies might make available on a voluntary basis, Sarsynski said. She recommends workers take inventory of their benefits and prioritize their importance based on personal financial needs:

  • Make sure you have health care coverage unless you are already protected by a spouse’s medical plan.

  • Protection benefits such as life insurance and disability insurance rank next in importance, especially if you are married, have children or other people depend upon your ability to earn a living.

  • Defer as much of your income as you can afford for retirement as early as possible. The sooner you start saving, the longer the power of compound earnings will have to work and boost your savings power. Make sure you contribute enough to your employer’s 401(k) or other retirement plan to qualify for any matching contributions.

  • Use your vacation time as it’s important to get a meaningful break from your job.

The research was conducted on MassMutual’s behalf by KRC Research as part of an employee benefits education initiative. The study focused on 1,517 working Americans who were at least age 18 in a wide variety of jobs and industries.

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The ABCs of ACA -- Advice for Business Owners in 2016

NewsUSA  |  2016-02-18

(NewsUSA) - Sponsored News - Health care reform is continuing to change how businesses offer health insurance coverage, and there are several regulations to remember throughout the year. As of Jan. 1, 2016, a new phase of regulations is now in effect as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Business owners have to be sure they are using the necessary tools to remain compliant and meet ACA reporting requirements, which include the administrative work that comes along with health care reform. Below are a few tips from Aflac, the leading provider of voluntary insurance at the worksite in the United States, for business owners and human resources representatives to keep in mind to stay on track all year:

  1. Remember that the Employer Shared Responsibility requirement is now in effect. This means employers with at least 50 full-time equivalent employees are required to offer affordable health coverage that pays at least 60 percent of the cost of covered benefits for employees and their dependents. If employers do not comply, they may be penalized if one or more of its full-time employees receive a premium tax credit for purchasing individual coverage on one of the public health insurance exchanges.

  2. Learn who needs coverage. Applicable large employers with 50 or more employees, including equivalents, are required to provide coverage to full-time employees who work at least 30 hours a week, as well as dependents under the age of 26. However, businesses are not required to offer coverage to part-time employees or the spouses of part-time or full-time employees.

  3. Adhere to IRS reporting requirements for employers. Applicable large employers and businesses with self-funded health plans are required to report information regarding the health coverage of employees to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

It's important for business owners to keep track of any changes in employment status for each employee, provide ppropriate health coverage and report necessary information to the IRS. There are many resources to help businesses stay on track with requirements. A good place to start is with your local broker and insurance agent or by visiting aflac.com/health-care-reform.

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5 Tax Tips for Small Business Owners

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-17

(BPT) - Starting a business can be intimidating, but with a solid business plan and guidance from the small business community of experts, it can also be incredibly rewarding. Whether you own a local restaurant or an online Etsy shop, one of the biggest things to get used to as a new small business owner is filing taxes for the first time. If you're filing a business return, hiring an experienced professional tax preparer can help you avoid making common mistakes that can impact the success of your small business.

To get the most from your deductions, here are five tips for small business owners to keep in mind this tax season:

  1. What tax deductions can I claim? Even if the expenses were incurred during the previous calendar year, the IRS allows businesses to deduct up to $5,000 worth of certain start-up expenses in the year the business began (subject to limitations). In addition to these costs, corporations and partnerships are allowed to deduct up to $5,000 of their organizational costs in their first year of operation.

  2. Is my car mileage deductible? If you use your home as a place of business and consider it your principal place of business, car owners are typically allowed to deduct mileage costs from their home to business-related stops.

  3. Can I deduct business travel expenses? When you are traveling away from your usual business location, you may be able to deduct ordinary and necessary expenses related to your work. These expenses include transportation costs, lodging, dry cleaning or laundry, tips, baggage charges and business equipment usage expenses such as fax machines or phones. Meals can be deducted if the trip is overnight but there is a 50 percent limitation on these deductions.

  4. Are personal care and clothing expenses deductible? No, the IRS has a very strict rule against personal clothing being deducted even if they are bought for business use and only worn at work.

  5. How does the Affordable Care Act (ACA) affect my taxes and deductions? The Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Marketplace allows for small business to purchase health insurance for their employees. If you pay at least half of your employee's premiums and have less than 25 full-time and equivalent employees with an average annual wage of less than $50,000 ($51,600 for 2016), you may be eligible for the small business health care tax credit. See the calculator at healthcare.gov.

Tax preparation is not one-size-fits all, and navigating credits and deductions makes them even trickier - especially for small business owners and individuals with more complicated tax situations. Filing a business return for the first time can be a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be. A new offering is launching this year called Block Advisors that specializes in personalized tax preparation, tax planning, small business taxes and year-round support. For small business owners, Block Advisors also provides back-end needs like payroll and bookkeeping. Visit blockadvisors.com for more information or to find your nearest location.

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Entrepreneurs Find Opportunity After the Military in Key Cities

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-10

(BPT) - John Lentini carefully considered his career options after leaving the Navy. He decided to leverage the leadership skills fostered in the military by starting a business in Asheville, North Carolina, specializing in search-engine optimization.

“I had the infrastructure to do it, and there wasn’t a lot of competition,” says Lentini, owner of AshevilleSEO.org. “In Asheville, people like to support local things.”

Lentini’s example supports the findings in a recent list that named Asheville as the best place in the United States for veteran entrepreneurs.

Military transition experts with USAA and an initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation called Hiring Our Heroes commissioned the list. They worked with researchers from Sperling’s BestPlaces and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University to come up with a list of 10 metro areas with a strong veteran-owned and small business environment.

They analyzed more than 400 metropolitan areas by criteria such as veteran-owned businesses per capita, small businesses per capita and overall economic stability. Cities in Florida and North Carolina dominated the list.

“This list identifies the top places for those veterans who want to use their discipline and determination to start and grow a small business,” says Eric Eversole, vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and president of Hiring Our Heroes.

Geographic location choices are very important for service members entering the civilian workforce, especially those wanting to start their own business, Eversole says.

That’s certainly the case for Brian McCarthy, CEO of Always Home, a real estate company specializing in concierge services for landlords and absentee homeowners. Always Home is based in Sarasota, Florida, which ranks No. 2 on the list of Best Places for Veteran Entrepreneurs.

“We have about 70,000 veterans in Sarasota County and surrounding areas, including 14,000 military officers,” says McCarthy, who served in the Navy. “It’s very veteran friendly with lots of activities for veterans. When you have that type of support, it makes it easy.”

This list provides a snapshot of places where starting a small business could make sense. For instance, it excludes areas with a median cost of living of more than 20 percent above the national average.

It also aligns with the post-separation help service members learn about through the military transition assistance program from the U.S. Department of Defense. USAA also offers the military separation assessment tool to help give veterans a starting point from which to plan their next steps.

Lentini, the Asheville business owner, gives simple advice whenever he meets with others transitioning away from military life.

“Use whatever resources you can get your hands on,” Lentini says. “And don’t be shy about telling customers you’re a veteran. It helps.”

The full entrepreneurship list includes:

  1. Asheville, North Carolina
  2. Sarasota, Florida
  3. West Palm Beach, Florida
  4. Staunton, Virginia
  5. Prescott, Arizona
  6. Wilmington, North Carolina
  7. Missoula, Montana
  8. Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
  9. Oklahoma City
  10. Fort Walton Beach, Florida
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