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Going from corporate beige box to comfy coffee shop workin’

(ENTREPRENEUR) A look at what it takes to pivot your career from your couch at home to a cubicle in an office.

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That corporate life!

Rat race, gridlock, cube farm, always be closing. From the outside, and real talk, from the inside too, it sounds like kind of a nightmare.

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It can surely seem that way to a fluffy freelancer like your humble narrator, who has already waxed lyrical about the magic of open schedules and the confluence of pajamas, tea and productive employ.

Less lyrical?

No benefits, no pension, no paid leave, and brutal limitations on your ability to network and train. I love freelancing.

I’m also a single adult with portable expertise.

If I had kids or a house or bigger debts to service than my current collegiate horrors, I’d strongly consider going back to the corporate beige box. More importantly, the only reason I have the expertise to freelance was because I did that very thing a few years ago: I was in a new town, I needed a new skill set and I wished to acquire same without also acquiring scurvy. I’ve returned to freelance work since, but plenty of folks are looking to make the same trade I did for very good reasons. Here’s how I swung it.

Know what you want

First rule of… well, everything, come to think of it: goals. Have them, and not vague “in ten years I want to be” stuff.

What do you need for the new gig to be worth rush hour and team-building exercises?

Debt to cover? Who’ll match your payments? Kid on the way? Don’t even dust off your resume until you know in hard numbers who has the best parental leave, health insurance, day care. We’re freelancers. We know the Internet is omniscient. Inquire. Especially because…

You may not be looking for a job

Remember that new skill set, the one I got without acquiring scurvy? It was grantwriting. People more talented than me have shelled out for a Master’s to learn that. I got paid. Specifically, I was an AmeriCorps VISTA, a “paid volunteer” in a federally funded program that provided a (very, very low) set stipend and benefits for a yearlong commitment to work in the public sphere.

AmeriCorps and programs like it are all over the public and private sphere. They’re a natural outgrowth of the post-career economy, socioeconomic kudzu – which is absolutely the name of my new prog band – twining up the old ivory and concrete towers.

Words like “internship,” “volunteer” and “trainee” aren’t code for “teenagers bearing lattes” anymore.

They’re part of professional life, with improvements to match. That’s good news. Paid training has been a classic component of traditionally blue-collar skilled labor – which is great for millennials, entrepreneurs and the forward-thinking generally – for years, but one good Google search turned up paid trainee and internship programs in everything from coding to lobbying to remote employee management. It’s likely less money in the short term, but most come with at least bargain basement benefits, and as long as you put in the work, corporate jobs come with the vital intangibles of office life: experience, reputation, network, all things a freelancer resume may be short of. On that subject…

Relearn the rules

You found something! Rad! Now let’s keep it for more than a month! It can be trickier than it sounds.

Just adjusting to office culture can be hard enough.

Freelancers get used to autonomy, to responsibility, to – let’s use the word – freedom, and that’s not how offices roll.

The trick is to reconnect with the other thing offices have and freelancing does not: people. You have a team, not just customers, clients and competition, the categories where most folks you meet freelancing tend to fall. There are all kinds of benefits to rolling with a crew.

Unlike going solo responsibility is distributed, so not every event is a crisis and not every setback is your fault.

You’re networking, so whether this is a bridge job and you plan to be done in ten weeks or you’re in it to win it and you’ll be here ten years, every day builds your professional profile. Plus you can get a sense of how to thrive and how not to, just by hanging out. But the best part?

They’re people.

People are the best part of office work.

Talk. Joke. Share lunch. Find the folks into Snapchat or klezmer or whatever your thing is. Be a part of what’s happening around you, and not only will you score a boost up the ladder and (probably) not get fired for coming to work in bunny slippers, you might just be happier, period.

I’m not sold that’s enough to cancel out rush hour and beige walls and, gah, business casual. But it’s a start.

#FreelanceToCubeView

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Business Entrepreneur

‘Small’ business was once a stigma, but is now a growing point of pride

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Small businesses make up the majority of companies, employers, and money makers of the American economy, that’s something to be proud of.

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American small business

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, all businesses were small businesses. Independent craftsmen served communities with vital services. Small merchants opened shops to provide the community with goods. Lawyers, doctors, and other professionals hung out a shingle to offer their services to neighbors. Small businesses were the norm. Some of the most beloved American companies started out local. John Deere, Harley Davidson, and King Arthur Flour, all got their start as small businesses.

Business changes led to a attitude change

It wasn’t until manufacturing allowed businesses to scale and produce more efficiently that the idea of big business became more important. Post-World War II, the idea of a small business became derogatory. It was the age of big government. Media was growing. Everyone wanted to be on top. Small businesses took a back seat as people moved from rural to urban communities. Small business growth plateaued for a number of years in the mid-20th century. Fortunately, the stigma of small business is fading.

Small businesses are the backbone of the economy

According to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, the “American business is overwhelmingly small business.” In 2016, 99.7% of firms in American had fewer than 500 workers. Firms with 20 workers or less accounted for 89.0% of the 5.6 million employer firms. The SBE also reports that “Small businesses accounted for 61.8% of net new jobs from the first quarter of 1993 until the third quarter of 2016.” Small businesses account for a huge portion of innovation and growth in today’s economy.

Modern consumers support small businesses

According to a Guidant Financial survey, the most common reason for opening a small business is to be your own boss. Small business owners are also dissatisfied with corporate America. Consumers also want to support small businesses. SCORE reports that 91% of Americans patronize a small business at least once a week. Almost half of Americans (47%) frequent small businesses 2 to 4 times a week.

Be proud of small business status

Small businesses are the innovators of tomorrow. Your neighbors want to support small businesses, knowing that their tax dollars stay in the community, and that they’re creating opportunities within their own city. Your small business status isn’t a slight. It’s a source of pride in today’s economy. Celebrate the fact that you’ve stepped out on your own in uncertain times. Celebrate the dirt under your fingernails, literally, or figuratively, that made you take a risk to do what mattered to you.

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Business Entrepreneur

Why and how to acquire a business – 4 tips for radical success

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Acquiring a business can be a key part of your business’s future growth, but there are some factors you should consider before signing the deal.

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A meeting room with people shaking hands over acquiring a business

Growing businesses have multiple levers that can be pulled separately or in unison to continue scaling and expanding. And while many companies choose to grow internally, there’s always the option of acquiring other businesses to supercharge results and instantly expand.

Why Acquire?

Acquiring a business is certainly a complicated path to expansion, but it’s also a highly attractive one for a variety of reasons. This includes:

  • Increased market share. If you’re acquiring a business that happens to be a competitor, you can instantly increase your market share. If you currently own 20 percent of the market share and the competition has 15 percent, you suddenly catapult to 35 percent. That might make you the industry leader overnight!
  • Expansion into new markets. Sometimes you acquire a business outside of your industry or niche. In this case, it allows you to expand vertically or horizontally. This can improve top-line revenue and/or reduce costs and benefit profit margins.
  • Advanced tech and IP. In some situations, an acquisition is about acquiring a specific piece of technology or intellectual property (IP). This may prove to be the final boost you need to accelerate growth and initiate further expansion.
  • Talent acquisition. One of the secondary benefits of an acquisition is the opportunity to welcome new talent into your team. Whether it’s a seasoned executive or a highly effective sales staff, this is one benefit you can’t ignore.

Mergers and acquisitions aren’t the correct solutions in every situation, but they often make sense. It’s ultimately up to your team to sit down and discuss the pros, cons, opportunities, drawbacks, and possibilities of pursuing this option.

Helpful Acquisition Tips

Should your business choose to move forward with the acquisition route, here are some essential tips to be aware of:

1. Assemble a Talented Team

Don’t do anything until you first develop an acquisition team. This is a very important step and should not be delayed. (Many businesses make the mistake of starting the search and then forming a team on the fly, but this results in missed opportunities and foundational errors that can compromise an otherwise smart acquisition.)

A good acquisition team should include an experienced mergers and acquisitions advisor, a responsible executive, an attorney, an HR professional, and an IT expert. You’ll also want to bring on a public relations professional as soon as possible. This will ensure you control the messaging that customers, investors, and even employees hear.

2. Do Extensive Due Diligence

With the support of a talented dream team, you’re equipped to find the best acquisition opportunities. As you narrow your targets down, you’ll want to identify and implement a very detailed due diligence process for acquiring a business. This may include an extensive, objective analysis that consists of a letter of intent, confidentiality agreement, contracts and leases, financial statements, tax returns, and other important documents.

3. Make an Initial Offer

If the due diligence checks out, then it’s time to work on formulating an offer for acquiring a business. While the first offer almost certainly won’t be the offer that gets accepted, it’s the single most important offer you’ll make. It frames the transaction and sets the tone for the rest of the negotiations. It’s generally a good idea to offer no more than 75 to 90 percent of what you’re willing to pay. It should be low enough to leave room to inch up, but not so low that the other party could potentially see it as an insult.

4. Negotiate

Your first offer won’t get accepted. But unless you’ve totally insulted the other business, they should come back with a counter. Now is where things get really interesting. Negotiations ensue and it’s time to counter back and forth. The offer consists of a variety of elements – not just a price tag – so consider all of these variables in your subsequent counters.

Adding it All Up

As valuable as an acquisition can be, the process is often filled with friction. It’s up to your team to make the transition after closing as smooth as possible.

It’s very important that you respect the products, services, employees, and customers that the acquired business has. If you come into an acquisition and attempt to shake things up on day one, you’re going to get backlash. There’s nothing wrong with making changes – you now own the business – but be diplomatic and patient. Build trust, work together, and gradually introduce changes.

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Business Entrepreneur

Should you use use confidentiality clauses in your severance agreements?

(BUSINESS) Confidentiality clauses and NDAs have long been tied to severance agreements – but is that notion becoming outdated?

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Severance agreements and their ilk have long included confidentiality clauses, often comprising an exhaustive list of actions former employees may not take should they desire to keep the benefits listed in the agreement. Carey & Associates P.C.’s Mark Carey breaks down the knowledge you’ll need to successfully incorporate a severance agreement – including a stern warning about the future of confidentiality clauses.

There is a long list of things you’ll need when curating a severance agreement, but we’ll start with Carey’s honey-do-nots.

Carey’s primary recommendation is avoiding a non-compete clause where, previously, there wasn’t one.

“As employment lawyers, we see this tactic used every day, but you do not,” he says.

This is because most employment lawyers will advise that a non-compete agreement is largely unenforceable, which sets a poor precedent for an otherwise airtight document.

Carey even recommends against reviewing prior non-compete clauses for the same reason.

He also eschews what he calls the “21 days to sign – or else” philosophy, and he advises that employers should loop themselves into the non-disparagement clause so that employees cannot be blacklisted – something he refers to as “a very real phenomenon.”

What a severance agreement should include is a non-admission provision, a payment provision, a release of all claims to cover any feasible scenarios regarding employee disclosure, a challenge to agreement, a “no other amounts are due” section to release the employer from future responsibility, and a mandate to return any company property. This is a truckload of information, so you’ll want an employment lawyer to help you through the process.

But what Carey warns against is the future of confidentiality agreements, or NDAs. While these provisions have long accounted for employee silence in the face of abusive or corrupt employers, Carey posits that, one day, “confidentiality provisions in employee severance agreements will be banned as a matter of statute and public policy.”

This assertion comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the uncovering of the manner in which powerful people were using NDAs to buy silence from the people who suffered under their direction. Carey points out that it’s a non-partisan issue; corruption isn’t aligned with one specific political party, and the option to come forward with allegations of misconduct is a courtesy that should be afforded to all.

Whether or not confidentiality agreements are ethical is a moot point, and Carey does recommend continuing to use them when necessary – but, sooner or later, one can safely assume that the landscape of severance agreements will change, arguably for the better.

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