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Small Business Development Center

As the holidays progress this season, some may be wondering how your business can give back to the community and to your employees.

While the holidays offer plenty of fun and cheery spirit, it can also create a lot of stress for everyone – both at work and at home. Getting involved in the community as a team can help keep your employees motivated and engaged during the holidays.

Here are a couple of ways your company can give back this holiday season:

1.  Partner with a local toy drive

Your company can get involved in a couple of different ways with a toy drive, either by hosting an event at your office space (possibly a holiday party theme!), becoming a toy drop off site, or by volunteering at a local toy donation warehouse.

2.  Senior Visits

Your company can partner with a local senior organization to bring your holiday cheer to people who may not get to celebrate with their loved ones. You could host an event with your employees for a site visit, where everyone brings their favorite holiday snack.

3.  Organize or Participate in a Food Drive

Your company can help with food donations by partnering with a local food bank, either via donating or volunteering. Another theme for an office party could be: “Bring Your Own Food Donation!” Every little bit counts, especially around the holiday season.

4.  Invite Customers to Donate

Choose a charity you love and advertise a discount on merchandise to customers who donate to the cause. This can be a great way to raise money for a local non-profit organization or another organization you care about. You can set a minimum donation limit or allow customers to choose how much they want to contribute to your cause.

5.  Help out your local animal shelter

Animal shelters are always in need of help, and the holiday season is no exception. Even just stopping by to spend time with the future-pets can relieve the stress of the animals and shelter workers. What better way to brighten your employees than with petting cute animals?

6.  Show Your Appreciation for Your Employees

Giving back this holiday season doesn’t have to mean adopting a community cause. You can also show appreciation for the people who make your business successful. Organize a unique holiday party (White Elephant Party or Secret Santa) for your staff or offer an extra day of paid time off.

Keepings your employees engaged isn’t just important during the holidays. Remember, your people are your best asset! Although giving back to your community may be easier during the holiday season, we at the SBDC challenge you to give back to your local community, even if it’s after the holiday season. You may be surprised at just how rewarding it can be. 

Post date: 201812

Another large business is in the headlines for having the data of over 500 million users hacked. This includes names, phone numbers, dates of birth, email addresses, passport numbers and credit card numbers. These are the keys to our digital lives. Having this information stolen means there’s a high likelihood it’s available for sale. That means essentially the keys to the front door of your personal identity* are available to the highest bidder. Great news, according to an article in PC Mag it will only set someone back from 10 cents (yes, 10 pennies) to on average $1 to $8 per person for a full name, date of birth and a social security number up to maybe $80 for a someone with a high credit score.  

identity theft imageImagine if someone could take everything in your house and bank account without ever leaving their house. Everything would just vaporize and disappear around you. While hackers couldn’t take your literal furniture, they can take everything in your digital house, and if they want, create a new life for them in your name on your dime, or take out a loan in your name and you won’t know until it’s too late to do anything about it. That’s the power of having access to those digital keys. That is why we keep hearing about data hacks over and over and over. It’s pretty safe to assume these days that if it's networked it's hackable.  

For small businesses, the question is, how do you protect your customer or client information and how do you keep your operations safe from a phishing scheme or Denial of Service attack since the information is so valuable?  Small businesses often don’t have the time, resources, or knowledge to take preventative measures to help strengthen cybersecurity.

Luckily, a few small steps can help keep your digital doors more secure. The folks at our Washington state lead SBDC office have put together a Small Business Cyber Security Tool Kit that answers the basics of what cyber security is and provides practical steps to create a cyber-security plan. The link to the tool kit provides links to other resources and helpful videos. Additionally, here’s a list of cyber-security tools and firms that provide them including for Website Protection, Cloud Storage, VPN’s, Data Loss Prevention, Firewalls, and Password managers.

Given the ever growing regularity of these hacks, it’s definitely worth a few minutes of your time to look  over this information! Especially since estimates in costs incurred from a cyber-attack for small business range from $32k to $600k and higher. Unfortunately, some businesses are never able to recover and have to close. With a minimal amount of time, you can help protect your business and make it a little harder for someone cruising by on the information super highway to open the digital door.

*For the individual, one of the best things you can do to protect your identity is freeze your credit. Nerdwallet has a good article about what it is, why you should consider it and how to freeze it. Even better, with a recent law, it’s now free of charge to freeze and un-freeze your credit. 

Post date: 201812

It's the first week of December. We’re in the last month of the final quarter of the year. For some small business owners this time of year can be a crazy, shopping-filled, party spree of a month. 

Why you ask?

Good question! Because...

If sales and profits are up, like they have been for many this year, you may be sitting on a fair amount of cash that shows up as Net Income on your P&L. 

This poses both a challenge and an opportunity (I feel like I'm in a B-school SWOT, or is it SCOT?, analysis discussion every time I use those words in the same sentence).

The challenge for some is figuring out how they can pay the least amount of tax to Uncle Sam. Fair enough, no judgment here. But let's be honest, at the end of your business life the measure of success is more about the wealth you've built not the amount of tax you've saved. Can I get an Amen?

The opportunity is finding the Holy Grail. Deducting money you spend in such a way that it is a legitimate small business tax deduction.

During this time of year, timing can make all the difference. Your window of opportunity closes quickly in these final days and weeks of December.

To use a basketball analogy, would you rather find yourself trying to pull off a buzzer-beating 3-point shot with seconds left in the game or calmly and slowly bleeding the clock with a comfortable cushion?

Now, if you're thinking about rushing out and buying a shiny new Tesla with Ludicrous Mode just to get a business tax deduction, and a Federal Tax Credit for buying an electric vehicle, be sure to invite your SBDC advisor along for the test drive:-) then talk to your CPA before signing the purchase and sale agreement.

In all seriousness, if your business has generated significant Net Income and you're looking at ways to both save taxes and invest for your business success next year...now is the time to be talking to your CPA about what options you have.

For a quick primer: here are some legit, and not so legit, options with some CPA humor thrown in

My suggestion here is to take a timeout, and be more mindful about closing out the year and getting ready for the coming year.

What should this process look like? Here are some suggestions:

Review: 
Spend the first part of December reviewing your Year-to-Date P&L compared to the same time last year, noting your accomplishments, taking notes on what you’ve learned and what you’ve struggled with, seeing where you’ve dropped the ball and where you could have grown more as a leader.

Let Go: 
Reflect on what you’d like to let go of moving forward, what you’ve been holding onto that’s not serving you. This is a releasing of baggage and struggles. Spend some time letting go, so that you can get clear for the new year.

Set Intentionional Goals for the Next Year: 
What purposeful intentions would you like to set in motion heading into the new year? What would you like to create? Who would you like to be? How do you want to perform your craft? This is taking a Big Picture look at the coming year, and setting some general goals.

Create a Plan: 
Goals without a plan are just dreams. Depending on how you're wired, you may need to create a monthly, weekly or daily plan. It doesn’t have to be incredibly detailed — just create structure so that you can flexibly and nimbly move into your intentions, so that you can keep checking back in with them. So that you can bring focus, as if this might be the last year of your business life.

Why This Is Important:
So many of us neglect the act of looking back, that we just continually get caught up in the minutia of our daily lives, in the busyness of projects and events, in the drama of unfolding business and family affairs. We don’t take stock, think about where we’ve been, what we've accomplished and use that experience to continue to grow.

Post date: 201812