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Small businesses must go digital to survive (and thrive)

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) A study at Cisco reveals how digitizing small businesses is no longer optional, but critical to success, thanks to the pandemic.

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Black woman working on a laptop on a couch, running her small businesses' needs digitally.

As digital transformation efforts ramp up due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study released by Cisco has highlighted some key insights into how small businesses will need to adapt in order to survive in the “new normal.”

The study, conducted by International Data Corporation (IDC), analyzed more than 2,000 small businesses across eight different markets, including the United States, Canada, Germany, Mexico, United Kingdom, Brazil, Chile, and France. Using a four-section index to assess a small business’s digitalization efforts, the research found that 16% of companies said they were “thriving and feel their businesses are agile and resilient.” While 36% stated they were in “survival mode.” Regardless of where they were ranked in the index, the study concluded that 70% of firms were in the process of ramping up digital transformation within their company due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the digital divide that was already present in the small business market, and it is forcing companies to accelerate their digitalization,” said Daniel-Zoe Jimenez, AVP, head digital transformation & SMB research at IDC. “Small businesses are realizing that digitalization is no longer an option, but a matter of survival.”

The study also highlighted several challenges associated with digital transformation. The three biggest obstacles that businesses seem to face during the process were digital skills and talent, budgetary issues (lack of funds or previous commitment of funds), and cultural resistance to change. Despite these roadblocks, 45% of companies surveyed stated that they expect over 30% of their business to be digital by 2021. And 32% responded that they are planning on developing a digital strategy. This included investing in talent with the right set of digital skills moving forward.

Those decisions fall in line with Cisco and IDC’s recommendations. These include creating a three-year technology road map and building a workforce with the right skills to succeed in a digital world. Other suggestions include finding the right technology partner, and keeping up with industry trends. Leveraging financing and remanufactured equipment can aid with cash flow and budget requirements.

As small businesses continue to adapt to consumer behavior and the whirlwind of ever-changing rules that have come with the coronavirus, digital transformation will continue to play a major role in the post-COVID world. According to the report, if half of the small businesses surveyed can reach the second-highest tier of the index by 2024, those companies could end up adding an additional $2.3 trillion to the eight markets’ gross domestic product (GDP), contributing to the global economic recovery.

As we approach the six-month mark of the pandemic, just when and how the “new normal” will emerge is still uncertain. But there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel for small businesses — even if it’s faint green and contains zeroes and ones.

Patrick Auger is a management consultant and entrepreneur who resides in Austin, Texas. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Business Management from Western Illinois University, and is the Founder and Principal Consultant at Auger Consulting Group, LLC. When he's not writing for The American Genius, he's writing about the business of Mixed Martial Arts for The Body Lock or learning how to cook, one burnt recipe at a time.

Business Entrepreneur

What freelancers need to know about new tax form 1099-NEC

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) There’s a new tax form for freelancers, but don’t hyperventilate. It’s not as bad as it sounds.

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Freelancers checking their numbers and writing in notebook to keep track of expenses.

Dear freelancers and workers of the gig economy: You can stop banging your head on your desk. Or your table at a café. Or any hard surface near your couch.

The words “new tax form” are terrible, horrible, no good words for anyone, let alone independent workers. In this case, the “new” form is really a resurrected old one that replaces the 1009-MISC you’ve been getting from clients who’ve paid you more than $600.

And that’s the most important thing you need to know. Make sure your clients have sent you the right form – 1099-NEC – by Feb. 1, 2021. NEC stands for nonemployee compensation.

Of course, there could be all sorts of exceptions and blah-di-blah that might apply to you. Look to Forbes.com for the gritty accounting details, including why this came about.

TL;DR: The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act) aims to fight tax fraud by closing the time between when independent contractors can file their returns (Jan. 31) and some employers’ deadlines for submitting their own tax forms to the government (sometimes as late as the end of March). That meant fraudsters could file tax returns and claim a refund before the IRS had time to match up the numbers.

Speaking of matching up numbers: Make sure the number in Box 1 on the 1099-NEC is the same number you have in your records. Paying taxes on money you didn’t earn is what experts call “not good.”

So… you are keeping those records as you collect payment, right? Just a tip: If you’ve been keeping track of invoices, payments, and business expenses on a spreadsheet, you might want to check out the free accounting software Wave.

The IRS is going to release more info about filing requirements later in the year, but it’s always a good idea (for freelancers especially) to get a head start on collecting and adding up the receipts.

You may even minimize your banging-head-on-the-table headaches in 2021.

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Business Entrepreneur

Here’s why you shouldn’t start a startup

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Building your own startup and being your own boss sounds tempting, but be sure you make these considerations before starting out.

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Man at a whiteboard outlining his startup plan.

2020, a year for our generation that will most likely be marked in infamy for decades to come. At least I hope that this is the bottom of the barrel, because if there’s even further to go… Those fallout shelters are starting to look homey.

A lot of people, myself included, are looking for different options for new careers. Maybe it’s time to place some faith in those back-burner dreams that no one ever really thought would come to fruition. But there are some things about starting up a new business that we should all really keep in mind.

While you can find any number of lists to help you to get things going, here’s a short list that makes beginning a new business venture a monumental effort:

  • You need to have a unique idea with an impeccable execution. Ideas are a dime a dozen. But even the goods ones need the right business-minded person behind it to get things going for them.
  • Time, time, and more time. To get a startup to a point where it is sustainable and giving you back something that is worthwhile, takes years. Each of those years will take many decisions that you can only hope will pan out. There is no quick cash except for a lottery and you have to be extra lucky for those to get you anything. This whole idea will take years of your life away and it may end in failure no matter what you do.
  • You have to have the stamina. Most data will show you that startups fail 90% of the time. The majority of those are because people gave up on the idea. You have to push and keep pushing or you’ll never get there yourself. Losing determination is the death of any business venture.
  • Risk is a lifestyle. To get anywhere in life you have to risk something. Starting a business is all about risking your time and maybe your money to get a new life set up. If you can’t take risks for the future then you can’t move up in the business world.
  • Bad timing and/or a bad market. If you don’t have a sense for the market around you, which takes time and experience (or a lot of luck), you won’t make it. A keen business sense is absolutely necessary for you to succeed in a startup. Take some time and truly analyze yourself and your idea before trying something.
  • Adaptability is also a necessity. The business world can be changed at the drop of a hat, with absolutely no warning. Rolling with the punches is something you have to do or every little change is going to emotionally take a toll on you.
  • Lastly, not all of this depends upon your actions. If you start something that relies on investors, you’re likely going to get told “no” so many times that you’ll feel like it’s on repeat. Not everything is dependent upon your beliefs and whims. You need to be able to adjust to this and get people to see things from your point of view as well. But ultimately, it’s not all about you, it’s also about them.

These are just a few ways that starting a startup could stress you out. So, while the future could be bright, stay cautious and think twice before making any life changing decisions.

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Business Entrepreneur

Restaurants: Going digital is simple with these tools

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) In 2020, restaurants going digital is critical. Luckily, it’s also easy, safe, and may even save you money.

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Restaurants prepares delivery or to-go food for safety

So, you own or manage a restaurant and you have yet to “digitize” your menu for COVID-era safe ordering? No problem! Transitioning your menu and service to the virtual realm has never been easier. There are a ton of options for restaurants to choose from to keep your customers feeling at-ease, your front-of-house staff happy, and the whole service experience streamlined for all parties involved.

A free app with over 500 restaurant partners and 5k+ active users, AAHI is a user-friendly platform that uses QR codes to share menus and NFC for contactless payments. AAHI boasts a 25% order increase for participating restaurants and who can say no to that, especially during these tough times. Additionally, you’ll be cutting down on operational costs by around 30% (better tech equals less need for servers!), and your laid-off staff will be able to collect unemployment if they need to.

Another free (up to 200 views a month) app with an emphasis on curbside pick-up is Orderlina. Customers scan a QR code, which takes them to the same menu they would see if they were going to eat in, making it an integrated experience. A bonus is that the app links your menu to your social channels. I always say, free marketing is never a bad thing! Plus, you’ll be more likely to gain followers and receive micro-content from satisfied customers. Win-win!

Especially with winter right around the corner and outdoor seating becoming an increasingly limited option (especially depending on where you live), everyone in the industry is eventually going to have to make the shift to digital – the question is when. Physical menus have become a thing of the past. Not only are they potential vessels for spreading COVID-19, but if you are using disposable paper ones, you’re undoubtedly creating unneeded waste. Same goes for the exchange of cash, or card payments that require contact. Good riddance!

The common goal across the entire industry right now is to stay open and bring in capital in whatever capacity possible, while also maintaining a healthy staff and a pleasurable, safe experience for patrons. That’s going to require some adjustment and creativity compared to service pre-COVID. By converting to digital, you are putting your best foot forward into the uncertain future for the restaurant industry.

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