Government Grants are Worth Exploring When Considering the Expansion of Your Business
Applying for government grant funds is probably not the first course of action small business owners consider when looking for capital to upgrade equipment or expand their business. However, there are a variety of programs in New York State intended for just that purpose. These programs exist at the federal, state and municipal levels.
While grants do not require repayment, they come with strings attached; these requirements are often aligned with national, state, or local interests. Grant applications can be quite complex. In some cases grant applications are rejected simply for a failure to follow instructions or provide all of the necessary information. Businesses should consider seeking help from a professional grant writing service in these instances.
If you are looking for grant programs to help you expand your business, purchase new equipment or hire and train new employees, consider the following resources:
Beware of Cyber Squatters, Preserve Your Right to a Domain Name for Business Web Site and Online Presence
Small business owners should keep in mind that intellectual property rights extend beyond patents. Securing intellectual property rights to trademarks, copyrights, or web addresses is a relatively inexpensive process. Unfortunately, some entities scan recent trademark registrations and then, in bad faith, purchase and hold the internet domain that the trademark holder likely intends to use with their registered mark. These bad actors are known as cyber squatters. Cyber squatters claim the domain name with the intent of selling it to the trademark holder at an inflated price when the mark holder realizes the domain name they would like is already taken.
The Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP) is one forum that can be utilized to resolve this type of dispute. For more information on the UDRP visit https://www.icann.org. Attempting to resolve a domain name dispute via the UDRP is generally less expensive than seeking a legal remedy in a US court. However, US Courts can and have overruled UDRP decisions. The result of UDRP arbitration is not binding and does not prevent a party from filing for relief in a US court regarding the same domain name dispute. Domain name disputes are brought in US courts under the Lanham (Trademark) Act, more specifically, a 1999 addition to the statute known as the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA).
A trademark registrant should keep in mind that a separate process is required to secure any desired domain name. By securing both the mark and the domain name simultaneously a business can hopefully prevent itself from falling prey to cyber squatters.
401(K) Plans Have Become Increasingly Viable for Small Businesses
In 2008, just ten percent of small businesses offered 401(k) plans to their employees. In 2014, one in four small businesses (with less than 50 employees) offer a 401 (k) benefit. While it has increased in popularity, a minority of small businesses offer this type of benefit.
Offering a 401(k) benefit can boost recruiting and retention of employees over the long term. Moreover, a 401(k) provides a more effective way for small business owners to save for retirement. A business owner is limited to a $5,500 annual contribution to an individual retirement fund or Roth IRA ($6,500 if over 50 years old). This is just one third of the maximum contribution permitted by a 401(k) plan.
The cost of setting up and administering a 401(k) plan has decreased considerably. Some basic plans start at $1000 per year. Additionally, there are tax incentives to assist with starting a new plan. Many 401(k) providers offer a variety of levels of customization and hands on assistance or financial planning advice for employees enrolled in the plan.
There is often a misconception that small businesses seeking to start a 401(k) plan will be required to provide a dollar for dollar match. For a traditional 401(k) plan this is not true. The confusion stems from a provision of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act which prohibits companies from allowing the highest-paid employees to contribute disproportionately more than the rest of the work force. Specifically, the average contribution of the highly paid group cannot be more than 2 percentage points higher than the average for rank-and-file employees. If the average employee contributes 5 percent of salary to the plan, for example, the average for the highest-paid employees cannot exceed 7 percent. Some businesses, in order to avoid the inconvenience of addressing this rule, opt for safe harbor plans which require an employer contribution.
If a business owner is uncertain whether they can sustain the contributions required in a safe harbor plan they can always start with a traditional plan and change over when revenue streams become more consistent.
Communicating Cyber Security Measures to Online Customers is Key to Boosting Confidence in Online Consumer Transactions
Online shoppers tend to view small businesses as more likely targets for hackers and data theft in the online market place. Recent history shows that it is also difficult for large corporations to reassure customers that their information is safe when completing online transactions.
There are several steps a small business can take to reassure their online customers. First, get a security badge or security credentials from a brand name in cyber security. This security badge indicates to consumers that your site is in compliance with a set of cyber security standards. For example, McAfee offers small business solutions in which McAfee will routinely scan your online store for vulnerabilities. Your business is in turn provided with a code that will show the security badge on your website and indicate to consumers that your site is trusted.
Second, appearances are quite important. A polished online presence conveys a sense of security to your customers. An online store should appear updated and professional. Major online retailers like Amazon or Zappos! provide a good example to follow.
Third, when reports of a new online security threat or an instance of data theft emerges, it is best to acknowledge the new threat and let your customers know how you are addressing or have already addressed this new security issue. Communicating that you are proactive on the issue of cyber security is key to maintaining and building customer confidence.
Prepared by Christopher S. Safulko