The Small Business Administration has just added advanced manufacturing to a national priority list for SBA backed investment. It has also raised a $200 million annual limit on the amount of funding to support investment in these sectors. The SBA’s Impact Investment Fund was initially launched in 2011 to support the growth and development of America’s impact investment industry. In a release announcing the change, SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet (pictured above) explained: “As head of the SBA, my main goal is to increase access to capital for our nation’s entrepreneurs, especially to our underserved communities. This expansion of the Impact Investment Fund today puts more capital into the hands of entrepreneurs, while offering impact investors a tremendous platform to reach small business owners with innovative ideas.” Here’s what you need to know about the program. What Are Impact Investments? In case you aren’t familiar with impact investments, here’s a quick definition : “Impact investments are put into companies, organizations, or funds with the purpose of positively impacting social and environmental goals, as well as creating a financial return.” The SBA’s goal with its Impact Investment Fund is to help capitalize Impact Small Business Investment Companies (SBICs). These companies invest funds in businesses not only with the goal of maximizing financial returns. They are also generally attempting to generate a measurable social, environmental, or economic impact. The SBA initially launched the Impact Fund as a five-year, $1 billion pilot effort. With the recent amendments to the program, it’s clear that the SBA plans to carry it beyond 2016. The agency had already committed to providing roughly $200 million of its $4 billion annual budget to the Impact Investment Fund. What’s New with the Impact Investment Fund Prior to the announcement, Impact Investment Fund capital had to be aimed at businesses in underserved communities, the education sector or the clean energy sector. But with the recent addition of advanced manufacturing businesses to the list of eligible impact investments , the SBA is making this sector a priority too. The agency is encouraging fund managers with expertise in the field to consider applying for an Impact SBIC license. Additionally, the lifting of the $200 million restriction potentially puts Impact SBICs on a par with Standard SBICs for access to funds. Also, existing Standard SBICs may opt-in as Impact SBICs through December 1, 2014. What This Does The expansion of the Impact Investment Fund means access to more potential investment for businesses in the advanced manufacturing sector, of course. This could also include companies that have already received Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants. But it could also mean fiercer competition for existing SBA funding funneled through the SBICs. Get more information about the Impact Investment Fund here . Image: Wikipedia The post SBA Fund Adds Manufacturing, Lifts $200 Million Limit appeared first on Small Business Trends .

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Do women employees at your company feel like they’re at a disadvantage compared to men? Even if you believe you’re a very equal-opportunity employer, and even if you’re a woman yourself, your female employees may not feel the same. A new study by Palo Alto Software polled more than 1,000 employees and business owners, both men and women, and found that women are more than five times as likely as men to have experienced gender discrimination in a professional setting. Over half (52 percent) of women report having experienced hidden gender discrimination in a professional setting, compared to just 9 percent of men. For example, nearly twice as many women as men (40 percent vs. 22 percent) say they’ve been called “bossy” at work. Gender discrimination isn’t always so overt, of course. Hidden gender discrimination often takes the form of being left behind in terms of advancement, promotions and salary raises because of family issues. While the average nation globally offers 18 guaranteed weeks of paid maternity leave to workers, the U.S. offers – zero. This lack of support for the efforts involved in raising children has a direct effect on women in the workforce. More than four in 10 (43 percent) women in the survey say they’re taken substantial time off from their careers, quit their jobs, or reduced their roles as business owners to care for children. Just 15 percent of men have done the same. Taking even a short time off can have a big impact on a woman’s future career success. For example, the study found women with MBAs who took 18 months off earned 41 percent less, on average, than women with MBAs who didn’t take time off from their careers. No wonder 27 percent of women, compared to just 11 percent of men, agree with the statement “I believe I make less money than I would without children.” And while 38 percent of men say having children had no impact on their careers, only 19 percent of women said the same. When it comes to child-friendly policies, the survey was somewhat surprising: More than half of both male and female CEOs surveyed say they’d consider allowing parents to bring their children to the office once in a while—and more than one-third of both women and men say they’d take advantage of that opportunity. But why did the other two-thirds say they wouldn’t bring their children to work? Clearly, in the average workplace – being a parent is seen as a liability. Why should small business owners want to change that? Here are just a few reasons. Instituting parent-friendly policies enables both men and women to keep working during their most productive years—instead of forcing one parent to opt out of the workforce, even temporarily. Parent-friendly policies make your business a place both men and women want to work—helping you attract and retain qualified employees. With more women than men now earning college degrees and pursuing higher education, we can’t afford to keep forcing women to choose between career and children. If the best-educated individuals in the U.S. workforce get squeezed out, how will our businesses and our nation compete? Take a good look at your business and your attitudes – are you guilty of hidden gender discrimination? And what could it be costing your business? Equality Photo via Shutterstock The post Is Hidden Gender Discrimination Hurting Your Business? appeared first on Small Business Trends .

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The state of California has passed a law that appears to prevent businesses from trying to punish customers financially for a poor review online. The law is apparently a response to several high profile cases in which businesses, upset by the new weight placed on customer feedback online, tried to fight back. Earlier this year, a hipster guest house in the Catskills made headlines over such an issue. A supposed policy charged guests $500 for leaving negative online reviews about their experiences at the establishment. The Union Street Guest House near Hudson, N.Y. allegedly went so far as to try to fine wedding parties if anyone in their group posted a negative review while they were staying at the guest house. The policy in question later mysteriously vanished from the guest house’s website. The removal seemed to coincide with negative coverage of the policy peaking in August. The guest house’s management eventually insisted the whole thing had been a bad joke. They also claimed no fine had ever been levied against anyone. But few customers were laughing. In a potentially weirder case, an eCommerce site called KlearGear allegedly tried to bill a Utah couple $3,500 . The reason was a negative comment they had posted about the company’s customer service. The couple claimed the company then tried to ruin their credit as well.  KlearGear allegedly claimed the couple was in violation of a “non-disparagement” clause in the terms of service of its website. However, a federal judge disagreed. Hopefully, most small business owners these days know better than to try to solve customer service problems this way. For those who don’t, the new California law makes things pretty clear. California Assembly Bill 2365 updates the state’s rules on unlawful contracts explaining : “This bill would prohibit a contract or proposed contract for the sale or lease of consumer goods or services from including a provision waiving the consumer’s right to make any statement regarding the seller or lessor or its employees or agents, or concerning the goods or services.” Once in place, the new law would authorize the state Attorney General, a district attorney or city attorney to bring suit against any business that attempted to violate the law. A business could be found in violation for either attempting to place language limiting a customer’s speech into a contract or for threatening customers over a negative review. A business owner would be fined $2,500 for a first offense and $5,000 for each follow-up. A $10,000 fine would be possible if it is determined the violation is “intentional.” Some might argue the new law and those that will doubtless follow open small businesses to fraudulent claims as well. But the real lesson might be simply to make sure your business is handling feedback correctly. The new law is expected to go into effect in California by 2015. Complaint Photo via Shutterstock The post Law Will Prevent Punishment for Bad Reviews appeared first on Small Business Trends .

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A series of personal innovation stories from a new book by Luis Solis, “Innovation Alchemists: what every CEO needs to know to hire the right Chief Innovation Officer”. Today’s essay on METHODS comes from Donna Sturgess who is Executive in Residence Carnegie Mellon University, and Co-founder & President at Buyology Inc. Continue reading →

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Want to think what nobody has ever thought? Easy,question assumptions. There comes a moment in time where everyone agrees with everybody about pretty much everything. For any sized organization that are focused on creating a culture of relentless innovation, hardened dogma is an innovation obstacle they must overcome. Continue reading →

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Thanks to hundreds of tools that now exist online, it’s easier than ever to create original images and visuals to share on your website and social sites like Facebook and Twitter. According to Wishpond, photo posts on Facebook generated 104% more comments on an average post than those without. In addition, because 83% of learning is visual ( according to j6 design), your readers will absorb more information from content with images than from those without. Below are some tips, tricks, and resources you can use to create original visuals for social media and written content. 1. Canva Canva is an easy-to-use free visual designer web app. Once you sign up for a free account, you can choose the format you’d like, from a Facebook cover photo to an image to accompany a Twitter post. Additionally, if you want to use Canva’s premium graphics, they are just $1 each. 2. Fiverr The Fiverr online marketplace has “gigs” starting at just $5 and surprisingly boasts some great designers that can make logos, infographics, and visuals for your online content. You can view actual samples and reviews of gigs that have been completed by the user and even order additional “extras”, like expedited turnaround or the Illustrator or Photoshop file. 3. PicMonkey PicMonkey is another freemium online image designer, and has a lot of great fonts, textures, and graphics to dress up your existing images. The paid subscription offers seasons clip art and illustrations that are modern and have a fresh look, which is helpful for seasonal campaigns. 4. Illustrative Screenshots If you want to illustrate your point in a blog post or debut a new feature, an illustrative screenshot may be all your need to get your point across. Use Microsoft Window’s Snipping Tool or a browser plugin like Awesome Screenshot to take shots of your desktop or browser. Awesome Screenshot also allows you to add arrows to your screenshots to highlight what you are trying to show your readers. Screenshots can also cut down on frequently asked questions if the directions could be confusing for some. 5. Put a Bird/Scroll/Frame on It Portlandia was right: Adding a decorative element to something visual really can make a difference. Use Canva or PicMonkey above to add flourishes to your images to make them standout, whether that be frames, starbursts, or a textured layer. 6. QuotesCover QuotesCover is a great site for creating quote images. Quote images are extremely popular on social media (especially Pinterest ) and are an easy way to include an image that isn’t a cheesy stock photo, but adds emphasis to the words of the text. QuotesCover instantly pairs colors and fonts together to create an image that you can customize to make it fit the style of your brand or content. 7. Pixlr If you don’t have Photoshop or Illustrator but want features that go beyond Paint, try the web app, Pixlr , which has many of the same functionalities of Photoshop, but in a lighter version. You can add layers, retouch photos, and add filters to make sure they are the best version possible. 8. Get a Unique Font As part of your branding, the marketing and design team should decide on a font or set of font that will be used on all company materials, both offline and online. Most web designers like using Google Fonts as they are accessible to a large number of people and are free to use. Having a specific font that you use on all your visual content will help users subconsciously begin to recognize your content, separating it from others. 9. Pull from Your Existing Collateral If you are running low on promotional images to use, check your own company’s files. There may be an inventive past campaign, newsletter, t-shirt design, or giveaway promotion that has great images that you can reuse for your current campaigns. While you shouldn’t use the same images every season, occasionally repeating images can cut down on creation time and design budgets. 10. Use Unique Event or Product Photos Actual photos that are taken of your company events or products will have a much larger impact on social media and blog posts, because they humanize your company and allow users to see your employees, products, or services in a more personal light. 11. Make Infographics With Piktochart and infogr.am If you don’t want to hire a designer to make your infographics, give Piktochart and infogr.am a try. Both of these infographic creation platforms are easy to use and offer free and paid accounts, with varying levels of templates, editing capabilities, and custom branding. 12. Stats Make an Impact Another way to use QuotesCover or another image editor is to create statistic graphs or points of interest. A graphic that pulls a statistic out of content makes more of an impact than just the content itself. Similarly, you can use free online graph-making tools like ChartGo to make basic graph images. 13. Ask For User Photos One thing clothing and decor retailer ModCloth does really well is managing and interacting with their online community, which actively submits actual photos of themselves modeling the items they’ve gotten from the site. This not only helps users see how a dress lays, for example, but it gives the product a chance to shine in a new light, beyond the model and studio background that is used for most eCommerce sites. Encourage your customers to share photos of themselves using your products and promote them on social media or in an article or round-up piece. 14. Make a Collage Using your user-submitted photos, or ones you have on hand of events, employees, or products, make a collage of the images to share. PicMonkey has a collage maker, and BeFunky allow you to add text and backgrounds to collages on their tool. These images can highlight customers, employees, products, or a specific season or promotion. Being creative with your social media and article images doesn’t have to be difficult, especially with the aforementioned free tools and resources. Incorporate original content creation to your regular schedule, and you’ll be increasing your engagement with visuals in no time. Images Photo via Shutterstock The post 14 Tips and Tools to Create Original Images and Visuals appeared first on Small Business Trends .

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Sponsored Post Some high-flying Silicon Valley companies are famous for the perks they provide to their employees. One of those perks at the top of the list consists of free food and beverages. Not only do many of those companies provide coffee, soft drinks and snacks, but quite a few actually have full restaurants on site serving hot meals each day. At one point about six years ago it was estimated to cost Google over $70 million a year to provide free meals to its employees. Before you fall on the floor in a faint from hearing that number, keep in mind that no one is suggesting you go broke providing free food and drink. It is possible on a modest budget to get the positive impact that comes from providing a stocked break room. We have a few suggestions for cost effective ways to stock your break room. But first, let’s take a look at why it makes business sense to provide beverages and snacks to employees. Four Good Reasons to Offer A Well-Stocked Break Room 1. Employee Satisfaction Small businesses like ours may not always be able to match salaries at some larger companies, but studies show that people work in small businesses in part because they like the atmosphere. Anything you can do to make the workday more pleasant, helps your business compete in the employment market, and retain loyal employees. Remember to try to walk in your employee’s shoes. As a business owner you might prefer an upscale lunch out once a quarter or an offsite retreat, but employees may value the little niceties that make every day more enjoyable (such as free coffee or subsidized soft drinks). 2. Productivity Snacks and beverages keep people at the office longer and minimize trips outside the office. People whose bellies are grumbling or who need a boost of caffeine won’t be running out to pick up coffee or snacks as often, if there are options right on site. 3. Health By providing low-calorie and low-sugar snacks and drinks, you can give employees a healthy alternative to fast food and soft drinks. Nearby restaurants may be filled with fast food and high calorie choices. You can reaffirm your company’s commitment to staying healthy by the choice of snacks you provide, and potentially contribute to a healthier workforce. 4. Cost Yes, it costs more to provide snacks and beverages in a break room than not to. But compared to the costs of other perks, such as tuition reimbursement plans or expensive holiday bashes, it may be less expensive and appreciated more. The break room may be available to more employees, too, as more can take advantage of it but may not necessarily be able to attend a holiday party or take advantage of some benefits. Also, snacks in the break room tend to have low overhead and fewer complexities in terms of administration, compared with some other benefits — mainly just stocking and cleaning. And there are ways to save money. Stocking the Break Room Inexpensively Having a well-stocked break room doesn’t mean infinite choices or that everything needs to be free. Limit the items you provide for free. You’re not Google, after all! Most companies look at providing coffee and tea service, a bottled water cooler, and perhaps some inexpensive snacks such as pretzels and fruit. Provide vending machines for more choices. You can always subsidize the cost of items in a vending machine. For example, you pay half the cost of soft drinks and snacks, and employees pay the other half. Make one day of the week or month special, where you bring in food. For instance, Fridays could be the day you bring in bagels and fruit salad for everyone. Or once a month bring in pizza or a sandwich tray for lunch. And don’t forget the healthy and low-cost alternatives on those days, such as veggies and yogurt dip. Provide refrigerators and microwave ovens to encourage people to bring their own food. Just having a place to store and heat up the meal you bring to work with you, can be a positive thing. Buy in bulk. And shop around. You can save a lot of money just through intelligent buying. Finally, consider letting employees have a say in the choices. You may be surprised what they opt for if you indicate what the monthly budget is. You might even consider taking a company vote giving choices for break room items. Just giving a choice may build positive sentiment in its own right, because you are empowering employees by letting them decide. Break Room Photo via Shutterstock The post The Employee Benefit That Costs Little But Delivers Big appeared first on Small Business Trends .

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You don’t have to wait for the holidays to send out business gifts. There are several different groups of people that might warrant gift giving. But if you’re wondering when to give business gifts and who to give them to, a general rule of thumb is to send gifts to the people who help make your company great. In general, this includes clients, employees, and certain service providers. Read on for some tips about when to give business gifts and who you should send them. Gifts for Clients You should send something small to all of your company’s clients at least once a year. Gifts keep you at the top of clients’ minds year round, writes Forbes contributor John Hall. And even as some company’s cut back in recent times due to the economic crunch, others continue to be convinced gift giving is important for maintaining relationships, reports the Saremento Business Journal. If your company has a small number of clients, or a small number of clients with particularly large accounts, you should try to customize their gifts as much as possible. Pay attention to each client’s habits or get some information from the sales people who have dealt with them. For instance, if a client orders wine during dinner meetings, wine is a safe choice. If you’ve met with the client over golf, then a small token from their favorite course could be more appropriate. These personalized gifts can make your clients feel like they’re special and really important to your business. But if your business has too many clients for you to manage individual purchases, smaller more general items will do. Just avoid cheap promotional items like pens or notepads with your business logo. Even a handwritten card seems more genuine than these purely promotional items. You should also cater the timing of the gift giving to particular clients. Some clients, for instance, might not celebrate Christmas. You can ask clients if they do, without any specific questions about their religion or beliefs. But try to cater your gift giving to your clients’ preferences rather than your own. Alternatively, you might consider sending a gift to clients during another time of year. You could send a gift after the completion of a large project, a new product launch, or another type of milestone. But be sure to avoid sending gifts during inappropriate times. For instance, if you’re currently trying to close an account with another company or are involved in a bidding war with a competitor, sending a gift could send the wrong message. Gifts for Employees Employees have come to expect at least a small token of appreciation from their employer at least once per year. This often takes place during the holiday season or at the end of the year, an annual holiday survey by CareerBuilder explains. Of course, most would prefer a simple cash bonus. So if that’s a possibility for your company, don’t forego it in favor of a token that only some employees might appreciate. If you can’t afford sizeable bonuses for every employee, a small token like a restaurant gift card can still make them feel appreciated, suggests Salary.com . For most employees, you should stick to the same type of gift or at least gifts of similar value. But if you have one or two employees or colleagues who you work with more closely, like an assistant or partner, larger gifts may be more appropriate. The most important aspect of giving employee gifts is to remember every single person. Co-workers are likely to exchange information and you don’t want anyone feeling under-appreciated or forgotten. Gifts for Service Providers Certain types of service providers for your business may also warrant holiday or end-of-year gifts. These can include virtual assistants, consultants, and even postal workers. You may choose to either send gifts to these service providers over the holidays (taking into account their preferences and habits, of course). Or you could send a gift after a big project or period of time where they went above and beyond to help your company. These service providers are also likely to prefer gifts like cash or gift cards. You can decide on an amount based on how closely you work with the person and what types of services they provide. But you can also personalize these gifts by adding a small token if appropriate. For instance, if you work closely with a virtual assistant and know his or her favorite type of candy or dessert, pair it with the cash or gift card. But you could be less likely to know the preferences of your postal worker, so cash inside a simple card may be a safer route. In addition, ask or find out if they have any restrictions on gifts. Postal workers, for example, are only supposed to receive gifts that are under $20 in value. So giving a larger tip or item could lead to an awkward situation for both parties. Gift Photo via Shutterstock The post When to Give Business Gifts and Who to Give Them to appeared first on Small Business Trends .

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Do you have a Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson working at your business? These are the incredibly talented employees whose behavior is destructive to the culture of your company. They may be the top salesperson that never comes to work on time. It may be the most senior employee that is always bad mouthing the customers. While you pretend that these standouts and your business can coexist, they are in fact destroying your company from the inside out. What makes it worse is that every other employee knows it and, in fact, it affects their own performance. Remember that you teach what you tolerate. By allowing their behavior, you are sending the message they are special and that the rules do not apply to them. Your short term thinking further encourages their harmful behavior. The sooner that the business owner realizes the overall effect, the faster the company can move forward. To be proactive, here are the steps to take today: Envision a Company Without Them Imagining your business without these star players is scary. But think of how all the performances of the other team members will improve without them. Counsel Them They will be surprised when you first approach them that their behavior is detrimental to the rest of the team since you have tolerated it for so long. They will think that their performance more than makes up for any other bad behavior. Instead, review exactly what you expect and how you will monitor their future behavior. Most likely, they will agree to try to change. Hold Them Accountable for Their Behavior Since change is difficult, the star employee needs to be monitored on an ongoing basis. Each time they exhibit the bad behavior again, review the change you expect. Repeat on an ongoing basis. Fire Them (If Necessary) In reality, few of these star employees will be able to change and in most cases, they will need to be fired. Be prepared to have to replace this person and have the timing fit when it is optimal for the company. Use documentation that you have monitored to complete the separation process. Share With the Team Tell the team why the star employee was let go and what the plan is to move forward without them. Most of them will applaud your decision and will work harder to help with the transition. Republished by permission. Originally published at Nextiva . Ray Rice Photo via Shutterstock The post How to Handle Talented Employees Who Exhibit Destructive Behavior appeared first on Small Business Trends .

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We live in an era of constant, accelerating change, and the only organizations that are equipped to keep pace are those that are capable of competing at cloud speed. Does trading out packaged software installed on your own servers for the cloud based versions offered by your vendor accelerate your organization to cloud speed? Continue reading →

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