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Amy’s Ice Cream – a front for spawning entrepreneurs?

(ENTREPRENEUR NEWS) Why would an ice cream shop bother with “30 hours of non-ice cream training” in personal finance and give teens and young adults access to a 401k program?

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amy's ice cream

Scooping ice cream is a classic summer job for the cash-strapped teenager, but for employees of Austin-area favorite Amy’s Ice Cream, it could lead to a lifetime of financial literacy, or even eventual entrepreneurship.

Founder Amy Simmons half-jokingly describes her namesake dessert franchise as “a front for educating primarily young people in business, and finance, and decision making, and problem solving so they can go out in the world and be really successful themselves.” Amy’s employees receive “30 hours of non-ice cream training” in personal finance, and even have access to a remarkably popular 401k program.

Simmons credits her business philosophy to a book by one Jack Stack of Missouri, entitled The Great Game of Business. Its tagline reads, “Teaching employees to think and act like owners,” and the ice cream entrepreneur is now extending the practice of “open book management” to companies across the country through Amy’s EDU, a consulting company cofounded by Simmons, Aaron Clay, and Mark Banks.

Open book management “empowers all employees to know, understand, and ultimately run the business.”Click To Tweet

“It’s a path and it’s a way of looking at your company so that you really engage your customers as partners… your stake holders as partners,” says Simmons.

Amy’s EDU also offers courses and seminars in customer service, leadership, public speaking, and company culture, but the primary objective of each track is the same: get employees and customers involved in the business, excited about what they’re doing, and educated enough to contribute something new.

Take note, CEOs and leaders: Amy’s Ice Cream is a highly successful company with impressive longevity – it was founded in 1984, and now boasts 14 locations, including 12 in Austin.

What Amy’s advocates for, others should imitate.Click To Tweet

And imitation does not necessarily mean adopting every single tenet of the Amy’s EDU syllabus, imitation means embracing the ethos of educating your employees on the company they’re devoting time and energy to.

It means giving your employees knowledge, and then giving them some freedom to use that knowledge for the benefit of your company.

It means recognizing that employee success and company success go together like hot fudge and vanilla ice cream, and that the teenager serving your sundae could, and maybe should, one day be founding an enterprise of their own.

This story was first published in February 2017.

Business Entrepreneur

3 types of clients to fire as a freelancer (without feeling guilty)

(ENTREPRENEUR) Being a freelancer, it can feel like a luxury to fire a client, but there’s a few clear signs they’re not worth your time.

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Freelancer woman with her head down on the laptop in front of her.

Freelancers often bend over backward to accommodate clients, many times to the detriment to the freelancer. Bad clients are toxic. It’s never easy to say “you’re fired” to anyone, but as a freelancer, sometimes, you need to weigh the cash value of a client against your time, mental health, and sleepless nights. Here are some reasons you can fire a client without feeling guilty.

Clients who aren’t paying on time

Clients who don’t pay or avoid you when there’s a problem need to go. You waste a lot of mental energy chasing down payments and juggling your bills. I know it can look like a bird in the hand kind of situation, but if your client isn’t paying your bill, the bird isn’t really in your hand. My best clients have been with me for over five years. Both consistently meet the payment schedule. Not to say there haven’t been glitches, but they’ve always taken the initiative to explain and got it fixed right away.

Clients who become more demanding without offering more payment

There are always jobs that need to be done right away or need more work. A client who puts demands on your time without compensation is hurting you. When you say yes to one thing, a short deadline, you’re putting other work off. You may be able to deliver to other clients within their deadline, but if you’re tired and grumpy, will it be your best work? High maintenance clients who want to micro-manage are another type of client you may want to kick to the curb. At the very least, raise your rates to account for the extra time it takes to mentally deal with them.

Clients who don’t act professionally

You need to set good boundaries with clients who may be your friends. It’s hard to find that line, but if you don’t set up good professional rules at the onset, you’re going to find yourself doing more for a client out of “friendship.” You’ll become resentful because you’re doing favors and not getting anything in return. Clients who violate contracts aren’t any better, regardless of any outside relationship.

It isn’t easy to fire a client. It’s your paycheck on the line. If you’ve got a bad client, think about the hours you waste worrying about them. Believe me, they are not spending the same energy. Use your energy to find better clients who appreciate you and your work.

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Business Entrepreneur

Twisted American Dream: Study shows microloans aid predatory MLMs

(ENTREPRENEUR) If microloans are being given to start new businesses, let’s give to those who are starting their own businesses rather than MLMs.

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MLMs twisting the American Dream with microloans. Image of the American dollar with collage background.

Microloans were touted as a way to help people in poverty to find a way out. Yes, the interest rates were higher, 15% – 18% for some micro-lenders, but not as high as payday loan businesses where loan interests can soar to upwards of 400%.

When you live life on the edge of financial failure, microloans are supposed to offer a helping hand to those starting their own businesses.

Enter today’s flourishing MLM market, where participants are promised if they work hard and follow the plan, they can make their way to the top of MLM glory with its promises of riches, cars, cruise vacations, and more.

Microloan companies classify MLMs as small businesses and offer loans to those who can’t use cash as collateral with their own banks to secure loans. These microloans are used to buy MLM inventory and a dream.

Grameen America is one microloan company that allows MLM inventory purchases as part of their business loan program.

“Grameen America does not advise members about their business choice or refuse loans based on business type as long as borrowers can prove their funds are being used for business purposes and the business is legal,” Grameen America told Vox reporter Kelsey Piper in an interview for a May 18 story.

“It is our experience that our members know how best to put their business loans to use and the type of business they believe will be successful for them. Our data shows many members start off in one kind of business, e.g. direct sales, and then pivot into other types of businesses as they cycle through our program.”

According to a Grameen America study, women who took out these microloans saw a positive but modest increase in monthly net income, a small increase in savings and a Vantage-Score (a type of credit score).

Their study shows that 32.7% of their customers plan on starting or have started their direct sales or MLM investment.

The company does not differentiate the overall income success of entrepreneurs who start their own businesses from those who invest in MLMs so measuring the difference in success there is not possible. However, an AARP Foundation study found that 44% of participants dropped out after less than one year of working with an MLM.

With a loan interest rate of 15% – 18% for a microloan, failure could lead women in poverty to an even worse situation than where they started.

The microloan business is not new, and the results are not hidden. As investigative stories showed in 2016, microloans aren’t lifting women out of poverty.

Encouraging women in poverty to use the loans to buy inventory in an MLM is bad business for everyone. Financial experts and even some MLM companies make it clear going into debt to join an MLM is strongly discouraged. Microloans don’t change financial fundamentals.

The Grameen America study does show positives for the women who serve as their customer base. The study stated, “Overall, the study found it was not just increased income or just the loan that led to the program’s positive effects. The weight of the evidence suggests that women who experience life circumstances similar to those in the Grameen America program are likely to be more financially resilient in the face of unexpected challenges if they are offered more options to combine work and businesses, more ways to strengthen their peer networks, and more liquidity.”

That might be true, but with an over 40% failure rate for those investing in MLMs, the risk might not be worth it.

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Business Entrepreneur

The next Amazon delivery partners are your corner mom-and-pop shops

(ENTREPRENEUR) Amazon has been stepping up their game, and their newest strategy is to include small business owners, mom-and-pop shops, and entrepreneurs.

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Samsung photo with amazon app loading page.

The world is reeling from supply chain issues from missing menu items at your favorite restaurant to a nationwide baby formula crisis. Amazon is one of the largest retailers in the world and its adaptation strategy is a return to the basics: work with local, small-town retailers. Yes, you read that right. Amazon is taking a grassroots approach to getting the goods to outlying and underserved communities.

Amazon is aware that its shipping speed to rural areas sometimes leaves much to be desired. Shipping directly to a person’s home in rural areas without Amazon facilities nearby and fewer available drivers causes delays. Shipping to an Amazon locker in the nearest metro takes less shipping time, with the tradeoff being the consumer picking up the responsibility for the last leg of the process. This isn’t always a valid option for a lot of people. What if you don’t drive and you need that particular item immediately? Many members of these isolated communities may be elderly or have poverty barriers to traveling long distances. Low-wage workers often have trouble finding time to go out of their way. Sure, you could ask your neighbor or there are other services, but that isn’t providing equitable service to disadvantaged populations. That’s one of the reasons Amazon’s new strategy for rural delivery is so useful.

Not only do the packages get to their destinations fast, but small businesses working with Amazon add an income stream by playing a role in the package journey. For small businesses reeling from the pandemic and lagging rural economies, this work with Amazon offers an opportunity to pull in much-needed capital by doing something as simple as delivering packages in their hometown. They don’t have to drive all over creation, just in their hometown which will reduce carbon emissions. Right now, with the gas prices as they are, that’s a huge plus.

There are other pluses to this too. By working with small businesses, Amazon is bolstering rural economies and empowering isolated communities. They’ll have more purchasing power, which is a win for everyone. Amazon is actively helping small businesses and it’s a great reverse on the trend of forced obsolescence we usually see when big-box retailers are involved.

If you’re struggling with supply chain issues, consider taking a page out of Amazon’s book. Get in touch with local small businesses in your area and see if you can come to a mutually beneficial arrangement. If you are a small business, be open to partnerships and opportunities to diversify your income to help stabilize yourself in an uncertain market. It’ll help you both in the long run, increasing the resiliency of both businesses.

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