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"Not a day goes by where I don’t read a headline talking about ‘the cloud,’” says Zack Schuler, founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. “The current, overused definition of the cloud is ‘anything that happens on the Web,’ but in the business world, the more accurate definition of cloud computing is leveraging someone else’s hardware/software and services to complete a business task.”

Smart Business spoke with Schuler about the role that cloud computing has played for businesses during the past two decades, and in what ways it can benefit their operations today and in the future.

How are companies using cloud computing?

When I started Cal Net Technology Group 15 years ago, we didn’t host our own email server. We used an outside company (Earthlink) to host our email, which, in essence, meant that Earthlink was providing ‘cloud services’ for us.

We also have been using an online payroll service for eight years now, whereby we enter our payroll data into a website, and our employee paychecks are processed. Many other businesses might be doing the same. This is truly a ‘cloud service’ that has been around for close to a decade.

Some companies use an Internet-based product called Postini, which has been around since 1999, to scrub their email for spam. I bring this up to point out that all of us have been leveraging the cloud for quite some time, and we probably didn’t even think about it; in actuality, it really isn’t a very new phenomenon.

What are some examples of how businesses can move functions to the cloud?

There is a definite shift in moving some computing resources into another company’s data center in order to save you some headaches and, in some cases, time and money. I use the word some with emphasis here, because if you think that your entire business is moving to the cloud anytime soon, you are probably mistaken — unless your business consists of only a handful of computer users.

The most prominent shift to cloud computing is the migration of email back into the hands of hosted providers, similar to how it was 15 years ago. Microsoft is now in the hosting business with its Office 365 product. It consists of Microsoft Exchange (email server), SharePoint (an intranet product), and Microsoft Lync (instant messaging) in the cloud, with the ability to ‘rent’ Microsoft Office on a per-user, per-month basis, with Office still being installed locally on your desktop.

In moving from an on-premise email solution, such as Microsoft’s Exchange Server, over to Exchange Online, the migration has been very time-consuming, and thus very costly. These migrations have proven to be more costly than moving from one on-premise solution to another. That being said, there can be some significant savings in hardware and software costs, reducing capital expenditure spending for many companies. Additionally, after the solution is running, the ongoing maintenance of on-premise solutions will be gone, which should equate to a cost savings in the long run.

Google has made a significant impact in cloud computing with Google Apps software. From what I’ve seen of the software, it is a good solution for individual use, and for the use of ‘micro-businesses,’ but it reminds me of Office 95 from a functionality standpoint. So, I couldn’t recommend this to any business that relies heavily on word processing.

Perhaps the most successful case study, and a company that has truly made its mark by delivering software over the Internet, is Salesforce.com. It has a very robust feature set within its application, and it was remarkable what it was able to do early on in the cloud-based customer relationship management space.

There are some other line-of-business applications that are cloud-based, as well, and truly deliver a rich user experience, but these are few and far between today, but will be the norm in the next five years.

How can businesses determine what to take to the cloud?

The wise approach is to hire an IT firm with expertise in this area to evaluate your systems, determine the applications that may be ready for the cloud and take a hard look at the overall ROI in moving them.

Zack Schuler is founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. Reach him at zschuler@calnettech.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Cal Net Technology Group

 

 

California passed more than 800 new laws in 2012, and Shane P. Criqui, litigation attorney at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth, says, “It’s virtually impossible for any business person to keep track.”

He says among those of interest to businesses are new laws that govern social media in the context of an employee and employer relationship, and broad legislative changes regarding California LLCs.

“That’s why it’s important to have a discussion with your counsel and make sure you understand how these laws may affect your business,” Criqui says.

Smart Business spoke with Criqui to better understand two of California’s law changes.

What is changing regarding social media? 

California has added protections for employees using social media to the state’s labor code, which establishes privacy protections for individuals and limits what employers can lawfully demand of employees. It helps avoid situations where employers demand private social media passwords and take adverse actions against an employee based on the content of his or her account. The law also applies to job applicants.

Specifically, an employer can’t require an employee to disclose username or password information for personal social media accounts; require an employee to access his or her social media accounts in the presence of the employer; or otherwise divulge personal social media information. Further, employers can’t discharge, discipline or retaliate against employees for not complying with such requests.

There are, however, exceptions. An employer can go after information on a social media account that’s reasonably believed to be relevant to investigations of employee misconduct or a violation of law. Employers also may require employee disclosure of passwords necessary for accessing an employer-issued electronic device.

What constitutes social media?

The definition of social media as it applies to this law is very broad and can include any electronic service, account or content such as videos, photos, blogs, podcasts, text and instant messages, and websites.

Further, while the law applies to accessing ‘personal social media,’ the term ‘personal’ is not further defined, which may create ambiguity. For example, an employee’s LinkedIn account could be used to promote his or her employer’s business but is also ‘personal’ to the employee.

What changes are coming for limited liability companies?

A 2012 bill that becomes effective Jan. 1, 2014, repeals California’s Beverly-Killea Limited Liability Company Act and replaces it with the California Revised Uniform Limited Liability Company Act. It will apply to all California LLCs existing on Jan. 1, 2014, and no LLC can opt out.

The new law presumes an LLC is member managed, unless the company’s articles of incorporation and operating agreement specifically provide otherwise. In  member-managed agreements, all members can act as agents of the LLC, where in manager managed arrangements, it’s only the managers.

Other provisions are specific to fiduciary duties. Expressly, the law says managers can’t eliminate the duty of loyalty, which a manager typically owes to the LLC along with the duty of care. However, duties of care and loyalty can be modified ‘in a written operating agreement with the informed written consent of the members.’ For instance, the duty of care can be lowered, although not ‘unreasonably reduced.’

The new act also states that while an operating agreement may ‘eliminate or limit’ a member or manager’s liability for monetary damages with respect to a breach of the duty of care, it cannot do so with respect to a breach of the duty of loyalty.

What should affected companies do?

While prior operating agreements will remain in effect after Jan. 1, 2014, the new act will apply to ‘acts,’ ‘transactions’ and ‘contracts’ entered into on or after that date. Accordingly, it makes sense for LLCs to talk with counsel to make sure the new default rules don’t change an LLC’s understanding of its existing rights and obligations.

Shane P. Criqui is a litigation attorney at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth. Reach him at (949) 725-4226 or scriqui@sycr.com.

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth

 

Engaged employees know your company’s expectations and work hard to meet and exceed them. They use their talents to excel, drive innovation and move their companies forward.

To learn more about transforming employee engagement levels in the workplace, Smart Business spoke with Barry Arbuckle, Ph.D., president and CEO of MemorialCare Health System, recognized as one of only 32 companies worldwide to receive the 2013 Gallup Great Workplace award.

What do engaged employees do to improve the workplace?

Imagine a candy wrapper lying on the floor of your business’s lobby. An engaged employee picks it up and puts it in the trash. They are 100 percent invested in helping your organization succeed. A disengaged employee ignores it and walks by. An actively disengaged employee was the one who threw it there to begin with.

According to Gallup, the average ratio of engaged to disengaged employees in their database of health care organizations is 4-to-1. Engaged employees are more productive, customer-centric, safe and successful. They are 3.5 times more likely to be thriving in their lives, experience better days and have fewer unhealthy days. We see a direct correlation between high employee engagement and the service satisfaction scores we receive from our patients and their families.

How do you improve employee engagement?

Creating a work environment that values people and aims to ensure each employee has an emotional connection to the company’s growth or mission is at the heart of sustaining employee engagement.

Become an active partner with your employees to maintain or improve their health and wellness. Create an environment that makes being healthy easier, with nutritious on-site food options, walking challenges, weight reduction programs, gyms, smoke-free campuses, activity days, health information and more. Encourage teams to take walking rather than sitting meetings, take activity breaks and make walking workstations available. In MemorialCare’s case, implementing these core aspects of a wellness program resulted in 77 percent of our employees reporting that their organization makes an effort to help them improve their health.

How do you become a partner in your employees’ wellness?

Once you’ve got the basics of a wellness program in place, help provide your employees with the knowledge they need to impact their risk factors for chronic disease. Understanding the key biometric numbers of blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and body mass index, and their connection to heart disease and diabetes can help individuals to lower their risk. Chronic diseases like hypertension, high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma and depression are responsible for two-thirds of the total increase in health care spending. Reducing these can help lower health care expenses.

Actively partner with employees who need the most help managing chronic conditions. The latest evidence shows that the support of a team including a wellness coach, nurse, dietician and physician can give individuals with chronic conditions what they need to make important changes. MemorialCare partners with our employees with chronic conditions to make long-lasting lifestyle changes, lessen complications, improve outcomes, and lower medical and pharmaceutical costs through our program, The Good Life – In Balance. With 93 percent participant retention, the program has led to significant improvements in their blood glucose and blood pressure.

How can employers improve the workplace?

Participate in a survey, like those initiated by Gallup, to help identify key factors in moving the dial on your employees’ engagement. These surveys compare your results with other companies, so you can learn where you excel or need improvement.

There is a direct connection between investing in employees’ wellness and achieving internationally recognized employee engagement levels. By creating a culture where well-being is valued, you can improve health, morale and productivity, while reducing absenteeism, and the costs of health benefits and workers’ compensation.

Barry Arbuckle, Ph.D., is president and CEO of MemorialCare Health System. Reach him at barbuckle@memorialcare.org.

Website: See more health and wellness information, podcasts and videos.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by MemorialCare Health System

 

 

California small business owners rely on banks for traditional financial services, of course, but also for valuable knowledge and advice on navigating today’s challenging economy.

That’s why California Bank & Trust periodically conducts surveys of small business owners as part of the bank’s commitment to understanding small business owners’ challenges and needs.

“Knowledgeable banking professionals who take the time to understand your business objectives and your industry will often provide valuable suggestions on how to significantly improve your finances,” says Tory Nixon, Executive vice president at California Bank & Trust.

In support of Small Business Month, Smart Business spoke with Nixon about the most recent survey the bank conducted and what it revealed about the challenges small business owners face as the state’s economy continues to recover.

What challenges do California small business owners face?

Laws and regulations seem to be the biggest hurdle for business owners, with nearly 38 percent of survey responders citing that as a major issue. There’s also concern over cash flow and money management, access to capital and finding top quality employees.

Nearly half of those who responded describe California’s economic climate as worsening. While that might appear bleak, about half of all respondents also cited a need for additional capital in 2013 to expand or increase staffing.

What tools can owners use to overcome these challenges and succeed?

As noted, access to capital continues to be a challenge for smaller businesses, but small businesses can and do get financing — especially when maintaining a good working relationship with their business banker, who can help in arranging loans and lines of credit.

One key advantage that small business owners have over their larger counterparts is access to Small Business Administration financing. Look for a bank that’s a preferred SBA lender. That’s a sign that there are knowledgeable bankers who can help you navigate the complexities of both SBA 504 and SBA 7(a) loans, or provide you with traditional small business financing options.

Small business owners also should stay focused on their cash flow. Your business banker can provide expertise in cash management and access to accounts and technologies that can keep idle cash working as hard as possible.

How do business owners feel about their banking relationship?

Again, small business owners seem to be extremely concerned with cash flow management and access to capital, but a significant number are also looking for more expert knowledge and advice from bankers.

The bank’s survey found that about 80 percent of business owners feel their bank doesn’t do enough to inform them of state, federal or local programs that could help their business. That’s why many local and community banks are extending services to provide access to highly informative resource centers, digital magazines and newsletters, which provide exactly that kind of information and are easily accessible online. Banks also are providing valuable information through social media channels and via email marketing programs.

How can you improve your banking relationship and increase business growth?

In most cases, all you have to do is ask for help — and your business banker will follow up as often as necessary. Knowledgeable banking professionals who take the time to understand your business objectives and industry will often provide valuable suggestions for improving your finances.

Getting the most from your banking relationship means keeping the lines of communication open and scheduling regular meetings. Don’t be shy about sharing your business vision; it will inspire your banker to suggest the best solutions, technologies and financing to help your business grow in the months and years ahead.

Tory Nixon is executive vice president at California Bank & Trust.

Website: May is Small Business Month in California. Learn more.

Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by California Bank & Trust

 

Ronald Reagan was well known for not only his confidence but also his positive outlook and sense of humor. He had a way of never taking himself seriously and always found a way to find humor even during the direst times.

In fact, following the assassination attempt, he told his wife, “Honey, I forgot to duck.”

His constant positive outlook made him appealing to voters and is one of the reasons he continues to score high in polls ranking presidents.

Do we approach life and leadership the same way that Reagan did? Do we always take a positive outlook into the start of each day?

Some CEOs act as if being in charge makes them a victim and complain of the burden. Leadership is a privilege that all of us should learn to enjoy. We have to train ourselves to enjoy the process, not just the end result.

Let’s take some time to reflect on the victories, no matter how small, and celebrate them. Learn to reflect on the great clients we have and the great people who work for us instead of focusing on the one unhappy customer or an employee with a bad attitude. But most importantly, we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.

Each day that passes is a day that we do not get back. We have to look at each day as a series of moments and find the happy things that put joy in our life.

These can be simple things — a funny comment from your child, something silly you heard on the radio or a bright, sunny day. When we start focusing on these small joys in life and start stringing them together, we’ll find that an entire day has become joyous. Enjoy the time you are in now and don’t spend so much time fretting about tomorrow. Be intentional: Start by writing down four little things a day at work that bring you joy on a daily basis and build from there. This can even be a conversation around the watercooler that makes you laugh. String together a few days like this, and we are well on our way to a more joyous life.

By developing this habit, we will be more inclined to treat people better, and they, in turn, will treat others better, which will increase the overall positive culture of our workforce. The work environment is a bigger factor in why employees leave than money is, so focusing on providing a more joyful environment will also help your business in the end.

Whether in business or in life, it all comes down to being joyful. Happiness is fleeting based on circumstances, but joy becomes permanent once we have cultivated it. Start by focusing on the little joys and build from there. Remember, people won’t remember what you said, but they will remember how you treated them.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or fkoury@sbnonline.com.

The more there is available of something, the less it costs. Conversely, when there’s a limited quantity of that same something, the more it’s coveted and the more expensive it is. This is a rudimentary concept, but few companies know how to effectively manage the process to ensure they balance supply with demand in order to maintain or improve the profitability of a product or service. Of course, before you can maximize profitability, you must have something customers want, sometimes even before they know they need it.

Think about precious metals, fine diamonds and even stocks. The beauty and a portion of the intrinsic value of these things are effectively in the eyes of the beholder. In reality, much of their value or price is determined by the ease or difficulty of obtaining them.

As for equities, as soon as everyone who can own a given stock has bought it, then, in many cases, the only direction that stock can take is down because there are simply more sellers than buyers. On the flip side, when few people own a stock but everybody decides they want it, for whatever the reason, that stock may take a precipitous upward trajectory.

A case in point is Apple. At one time, when its per-share price was more than $400, $500 and even $600, everyone thought the sky was the limit and the majority of institutional funds and many home gamers, aka small individual investors, jumped on the bandwagon. The stock reached $705 a share in the fall of 2012, and just when all of the market prognosticators were screaming, “Buy, buy, buy,” there were too few buyers left (because everyone already owned it) and the stock fell out of bed. In many respects, Apple was still the same great company with world-class products, but there were simply more sellers than buyers and — poof — the share price evaporated, sending this once high-flying growth stock to the woodshed for a real thrashing.

The question for your business is how can you manage the availability of your goods or services to maximize profit margins? The oversimplified answer is once you have something of value, make sure that you create the appropriate amount of tension, be it requiring a waiting list to obtain the product or service or underproducing the item to create a backlog. However, this is a delicate balancing act, because if it’s too hard to get, then customers will quickly find an alternative, and your product will become yesterday’s news.

Some very high-end fashion houses, such as Chanel, have it down to a science. It can be very difficult to walk into a marquis retailer today and obtain one of its satchels without being made to jump through waiting-game hoops, just for the privilege of giving the store your money in exchange for the fancy schmancy bag. That stimulates demand and keeps the price up because customers tend to want something they can’t seem to get.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

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Every company has its baby photos. Monoprice Inc. is no exception.

A decade ago, the Internet electronics retailer was a small start-up. The company’s owners wore many hats, dictating almost every aspect of the company’s culture, strategy, systems and processes.

That was then. The “now” for Monoprice is the company that CEO Ajay Kumar has fronted for the last two years. It’s a $121 million player in its space, growing at a rate of 25 to 30 percent every year. With rapid growth and a workforce of 250, Kumar can’t possibly dictate every angle and nuance of the company’s day-to-day operations.

“When you start a small company and grow it, you can manage every aspect of it,” Kumar says. “You can be hands-on, making every decision, involving yourself in every detail.

“But now, we have to have all the appropriate controls in place to manage the company. We have to have the right organization, accountability, reports, metrics, all that stuff, so that it’s not just the top person running the whole thing. You need the structure and controls in place to make it all work.”

By the time Kumar took over, the CEO’s role had evolved into a global-view position. Instead of laboring in the trenches, Monoprice needed its CEO to define a vision, work with his leadership team to put goals and processes in place to achieve the vision, create metrics to measure progress against the goals, and build a team that could achieve and exceed the goals.

“My leadership style is that I am hands-on but not a micromanager,” Kumar says. “I want people who are capable of executing what I need done in each functional area. In addition to the goals and metrics, we need the right people in the right places throughout the organization.”

At its heart, Kumar’s biggest challenge has been to harness the ability to look ahead and anticipate what his company will need in the coming years.

Create a vision

Vision equals direction. Without a well-defined vision, a company is operating without a compass or a rudder. That’s a recipe for turning growth into stagnation and eventually into mere survival.

That’s why Kumar’s first job upon taking the CEO’s role was to define a vision and ensure that the vision and the reasoning behind it could be adequately explained to the Monoprice team.

“I was able to have a vision for the company coming in, since I had a lot of experience in this industry,” Kumar says. “I had a lot of experience in terms of sourcing products from Asia, getting products made rapidly. The consumer electronics business is something I’ve been in for a long time, so I had a good idea of what the vision needed to be for the type of company we are.”

Kumar’s vision was to produce products equal to or better than big-name brands in terms of quality and compete on price.

“We didn’t want to get into selling any product line if we didn’t feel we could generate at least a 30 to 70 percent advantage over the retail selling price,” he says. “That creates a certain amount of discipline as far as launching products. We don’t want to be randomly launching products.

“We want to launch products where we have a price advantage. The way we do that is we don’t sell other brands. A lot of Internet retailers are selling other brands. We don’t do that, so we are eliminating a whole layer of markup.”

By not carrying outside brands, Kumar and his team also attempted to make a statement about their belief in the quality of their products — a move made, in part, to bolster consumer confidence in the product lines.

“If we sell other brands, we’re, in effect, saying their brands are as good as ours, but they are much pricier, so why are we selling them?” Kumar says. “It’s like saying their products are a step up from ours. That is a key part of our vision: The products we make need to be as good as the famous brands. If the quality is the same but the price is lower, people aren’t going to go anywhere else.”

Related to that, Kumar incorporated a sense of focus into the vision. Monoprice would compete on price and quality but would also compete by becoming an expert retailer in a focused space, as opposed to carrying a broad spectrum of seemingly unrelated offerings.

“A lot of Internet retailers carry tons and tons of products that all seem kind of random,” he says. “It doesn’t feel like a portfolio.

“Our goal is to pick product lines that we want to be in. If we want to be in the Apple accessory area, we need to come up with the right mix of products in the portfolio. Not too many, not too few, because our goal is to become a destination for each product line that we want to be in.”

With the vision focused on those three factors, Kumar then had to roll it out to the company at large — complete with a compelling set of processes and incentives aimed at motivating people throughout the company.

Make them follow

To drive the entire company toward realization of the vision, Kumar had to give all 250 people a reason to get on board. He had to show everyone in the company how their performance related to the company’s ability to achieve its overarching goals and turn the vision into something concrete.

Kumar and his leadership team started by rolling out the vision with a companywide presentation, with an opportunity for dialogue and feedback. That planted the seed, but Kumar says the seed sprouted thanks, in large part, to the company’s bonus plan.

With a bonus plan anchored in corporate-level metrics, Kumar steered every person in the organization, regardless of department, toward the goals that would help Monoprice realize his vision.

“I think a bonus program is always tricky,” Kumar says. “Do you measure people based on department results or overall company results? Some companies go down one path and some go down the other.

“Early on, I decided our path should be aligned along one set of metrics at the corporate level. We decided to focus everyone on three metrics that drive our bonus program: sales, profit and cash flow. Some people in some functions might not be able to directly impact all three of those, but we wanted everyone thinking about all three.

“The thing I like about having the metrics at the corporate level is that everyone in the company is focused on the same thing. It’s the same bonus program whether you are a warehouse worker, customer service person, IT or even myself. It keeps everyone working in the same direction.”

The disadvantage to developing a bonus plan driven by corporate-level metrics is that some people in certain areas of the company might not feel a high level of urgency to meet the company’s goals.

To avoid coasting, Kumar and his team have devised department-level metrics. Since those metrics don’t directly impact the bonus program, Kumar relies on a culture of accountability to enforce them.

“They’re producing against those department-level metrics, they’re showing plan versus actual against those metrics, so there is a little bit of accountability and professionalism at stake when you’re executing on that plan in front of your peers,” Kumar says. “That, in and of itself, will drive a certain level of motivation.”

Find the talent

You can have a well-defined vision, and you can develop metrics and incentives that ensure people are working toward realizing that vision. But your people provide the momentum that will really power your company toward the goals you have set. Without competent employees, nothing gets done.

Kumar believes in attracting top-notch talent but not without first understanding the roles that he needs to fill. He wants talent, but he doesn’t want to simply stockpile talent for talent’s sake, without a plan for utilizing it.

“One of the key things before you go recruit people is making sure you have an understanding of what, exactly, you want from a particular role,” Kumar says. “Some folks may go out there and hire a generic person for a generic role. What I try to do is figure out exactly what I want to get from a particular role.”

Then, when you bring a candidate to the office for an interview, make sure your line of questioning aims to ascertain whether the candidate is a match for the criteria you have established.

“One of the things I like to do is get into the details of what they did at their past job and how they did it,” Kumar says. “When you look at resumes, sometimes it will say a person saved 30 percent or grew sales by $50 million, but you start digging, and they didn’t do it all themselves. They didn’t drive it. I’m looking for people who generated benefits at their previous jobs, and I want to know if they can do the same thing at this company.”

How to reach: Monoprice Inc., (877) 271-2592 or www.monoprice.com

 

The Kumar file

Name: Ajay Kumar

Title: CEO

Company: Monoprice Inc.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

I am a big believer that what you don’t work on is as important as what you do work on. It’s important to know when you should pass on an opportunity. In most companies, it is too easy to get bogged down on doing too many things. It is the nature of a high-performance person. You want to get things done, but you can’t do everything.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

Having a vision that makes sense, creating a sense of buy-in, recruiting the right people, drive, performance, being a good two-way communicator, facilitating teamwork, and providing a coaching and mentoring approach to growth. One of the primary things people want to get out of a job is what they learn from their boss.

What is your definition of success?

For me, it is setting goals and then achieving them. That might seem very metrics-oriented, but if you don’t achieve goals, it won’t be a fun place to work. People won’t feel like the company is successful. If you set goals and don’t make them happen, you don’t get that sense of accomplishment. People start to feel like you’re wishy-washy.

Takeaways

Develop a strong vision.

Create buy-in on the vision.

Hire the right people.

One of the biggest differences between running a business on the side and quitting your job to run it full time is that you lose the security of a steady paycheck. That loss of income and the uncertainty as to whether it will ever come back is enough to make anyone pause and reconsider quitting their day job.

But what if your part-time venture is beginning to pick up steam, and you earnestly believe that it needs your full, undivided attention? While it can be scary, there are steps you can take to make such a leap less daunting.

Get organized

When you begin your business in earnest, take time to reduce your clutter. Working out of a messy office will eat much more time than it takes to get everything organized.

Speaking of time, making the transition to full-time business owner means also becoming much more self-motivated and coordinated. There is no one to remind you to clock in or to hound you about being late.

It’s great to go about the day without being micromanaged, but be careful. It’s just as easy to slip into a state of complacency. Organize your space, set a schedule and stay disciplined.

Protect yourself

There is always going to be some element of risk involved in whatever you decide to do next. But there are also actions that a new full-time business owner can take to reduce some of that risk.

As a part-time owner, chances are high that your business is a sole proprietorship — sort of the default business structure. Unfortunately, that means that you are responsible for your business’s debts, and if things go south, debt collectors may start trying to take your personal assets to pay for those business debts.

When you jump to full-time, consider forming an LLC or S corporation. There are different advantages and disadvantages to these structures, but they will help protect your personal property by separating you and your business’s debts.

Make saving a priority

Take full advantage of that steady paycheck for as long as you have it and save. Anyone looking to branch out and start a business has to use every cost-cutting measure out there so they have breathing room when trying to get their new business to turn a profit. Advisers typically recommend having enough saved up to pay for four to six months of living expenses. Luckily, if a business is being run part-time, it may be pulling in money already.

There is no magic number for saving — it just needs to be enough so that you don’t have to dig for change to pay your electric bill. Meet with an accountant, crunch the numbers and make sure you’re comfortable with the recommendations they give on budgeting and working with your financial situation.

Part-time owners know their company can draw customers, sell a product or service and bring in money since it has already been doing just that. This insight makes it very tempting to throw caution to the wind and jump into full-time ownership without making the necessary preparations.

But don’t take a huge leap without ensuring your fall is cushioned. Take your time, get everything in order, protect your assets and meet with an accountant to solidify a plan. Next, take a deep breath and put in your two weeks’ notice — you’re now a full-time business owner.

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation. Find her online at mycorporation.com and on Twitter @deborahsweeney and @mycorporation.

If your business isn’t completely dependent on technology, then you are in the minority these days. Given this dependence, protecting your business from an IT failure should top your priority list.

“Having been in the IT business now for 16 years, I’ve seen my fair share of close calls and, unfortunately, my fair share of outright disasters when it comes to IT,” says Zack Schuler, founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. “There are three particular disasters that stick out in my mind. In each of these three cases the companies were taking nightly backups of their data, and they thought this was enough.”

Smart Business spoke to Schuler about how businesses can avoid these kinds of mistakes.

What are some of the worst disasters you’ve encountered?

The first case was a company that had a sprinkler break right above its servers. While it was taking a daily backup, the company left the tapes on top of its servers. The tapes were drenched and basically unusable after the downpour. The server hard drives were sent to data recovery, and after several days the company was up and running again. Had the tapes been taken off site, the downtime would have been significantly less.

The second case was a company that had its building burn down. Its current tapes were stored on site; however, the company had an older set that was taken off site. After a painful data reconstruction process, and several months later, the company was able to get back on its feet.

The last case was a company that experienced an Internet outage for a week when a major telephone company had its T1 down. This was the company’s only connection to the Internet, and its business was highly dependent on email, so this outage had a significant impact on its business. The company lost a percentage of its revenue as a result of the outage.

Needless to say, none of the above companies were prepared for the type of disaster that they suffered, yet all of them were backing up their data.

How can businesses avoid costly downtime?

Here are three important questions that you can pose to whoever manages your IT, and some tips that will get you one step closer to being truly prepared in case of emergency.

1. What is your plan in case of a lengthy Internet failure? The smart thing to do is to make sure that you have multiple connections to the Internet, over different mediums. Having a connection via a T1 and a DSL line is not a smart move, as they both traverse over the strands of wire. An Internet connection through a telephone company and another through a cable provider is the way to go.

2. What is your plan in case of a physical site failure, such as a fire, earthquake, etc.? Something as simple as a long-term power outage in your building can be a lot more common than one would think. On more than one occasion we’ve seen a building lose power for several days, and companies basically send their employees home. We had a client that was prepared in this scenario. It sent its employees to work from home, as it had a hot-site set up that employees were able to connect to from home.

3. What is your plan in the event of a major hardware failure? Even if your equipment is under warranty, if a particular part fails on a server, and the vendor is out of stock on that part, you could see some downtime. In this scenario, you should have a transition plan documented whereby you can easily move the data from one server’s backup over to another server, perhaps in a virtualized environment, to keep running.

What is the most common issue you’ve encountered with companies’ backup plans?

Perhaps the biggest overall error that I’ve seen companies make is that they don’t have any documented plan in place to recover from any of the above scenarios. Most companies simply don’t test their backups by going through a simulated failure. They assume that the backup is running as they’ve been told. The smartest action that you can take is to go through a simulated failure. Pretend that any of the above scenarios has happened, and try to recover from them. We assist IT departments with this type of work frequently, and we’ve never walked into a disaster recovery test whereby we didn’t make a tweak of some sort to make the plan better, thus more recoverable.

Zack Schuler is founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. Reach him at zschuler@calnettech.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Cal Net Technology Group

 

Securing trademark protection provides a company with legal rights to market and sell its services or products, and offers this same company an opportunity to stop other companies from marketing or selling services or products that are, or could be, infringing upon its protected marks.

However, each country has different criteria guiding the trademark process, which introduces varied time and cost elements that can be difficult to navigate. Ignoring these laws could mean forever losing legal protection and the opportunity to market and sell goods or services under a valued brand name in key markets.

“There is no such thing as an international trademark, but U.S. copyrights can be enforced internationally,” says Tom Speiss, a shareholder at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth, who works as a business adviser and brand manager.

Smart Business spoke with Speiss about managing domestic and global brand portfolios for companies operating at home and abroad.

How can companies protect their brands domestically?

Companies can protect their brands domestically through both trademark and copyright law. For trademark, the U.S. is a common-law country, which means trademark rights begin to be established as soon as a company starts using a mark in commerce. But it’s important to conduct a trademark availability search and, if the mark doesn’t infringe upon another’s mark and appears to be available as a federal trademark, then file an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to acquire federal trademark protection.

In addition, companies also can file for federal copyright protection through the Copyright Office. To start this process, product packaging, website material or other advertising material can be used as part of a copyright application. Once a copyright registration issues, the registration potentially can protect a company’s product packaging, Web content and advertising content, as well as the design elements of a trademark. The U.S. copyright registrations then may be enforced internationally, through a treaty known as the Berne Convention Treaty.

If a company has plans to expand in foreign markets, when should management consult an intellectual property (IP) attorney?

A company should bring in an IP attorney as soon as it starts thinking about foreign market expansion, even if the plan’s realization is years away. Companies must be advised concerning all trademark rules for the countries in consideration, including possible infringement issues; whether the brand name is even available; the timelines and costs for applications; how use and non-use might affect the rights being granted; and when a company is required to exercise any rights it has been granted before a mark is vulnerable to cancelation. Each of these steps can be measured in years and have a lot of moving pieces, so — as ideas are generated — counsel needs to be involved.

What are the criteria for foreign market selection?

Companies can point to home successes with their products, including sales and brand equity, as they venture out. However, the mark used in their home country may be unavailable in a foreign market, which means the company won’t be able to transfer that equity even though it’s a proven brand.

The recourse is to develop a new name. But that brings risk because then its history at home won’t translate to the new market. This is another reason to bring in an IP attorney at the onset of brand expansion to assist in successful brand development or expansion.

What should you ask your attorney regarding brand management in other countries?

The most important first step is determining whether the target country’s trademark laws are governed by the principle of first-to-use or first-to-file. IP attorneys also can help companies establish timelines, such as when a company needs to start using or selling a product in the target country. Good counsel will thoroughly search to discover if the mark to be used in the foreign market is already in use for the same or similar goods or services. Along the way, counsel can help clients understand what other regulations might be advantageous or impede selling in foreign markets.

Tom Speiss is a shareholder at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth. Reach him at (424) 214-7042 or tspeiss@sycr.com.

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth