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Three amazing small business innovators

Small business innovators that make the biggest impact are not usually revolutionaries or inventors, rather they evolve current ideas. Here are three admirable small business innovators and how they have achieved their growth.

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Changing the world

High visibility innovators have revolutionary ideas and are changing our world. Apple. Intel. Microsoft. Google. Amazon. These companies have ground breaking, big ideas that shake the status quo, turn their leaders into global icons and grow into hundred billion dollar valuations. These huge innovations are risky and expensive – and when they work they have enormous returns. But…

Often times, the most successful small business innovators aren’t revolutionary concepts or technologies – they are companies that evolve current ideas. It is easier to manage risk and cost in these environments. As an investor, I look for companies applying proven ideas in new ways, or opportunities where small improvements in service and efficiency can steal market share. Below are three of my current favorite high-growth innovators:

Have to Have

HaveToHave.com/

In-store retail has been around for millenniums and online retail is a significant and important part of our culture. Social media and sharing has been established as a game changer with huge momentum. Mobile has blurred the lines between online and offline. Have to Have is the first company to develop a platform that seamlessly blends all of the above to create a universal shopping experience whenever, wherever you are. Their online and mobile applications allow users to share, register save money and buy their favorite items without having to conform to conventional boundaries. Additionally, Have to Have provides a powerful platform for retailers and brands to reach their best customers (with information, discounts and more).

No need to reinvent shopping and sharing – just combine them and make them better!

Maine Mead Works

MaineMeadWorks.com

Mead (a delicious alcoholic beverage made from honey) is the world’s oldest fermented beverage. During medieval times honey became expensive, and consumption shifted from the masses to only the very elite. While mead remained “the drink of kings,” this trend halted innovation and relevance of the product for more than five hundred years. In the late twentieth century, mead made a resurgence and now has a growing following with a new batch of enthusiasts.

Maine Mead Works capitalized on this trend and launched its HoneyMaker brand of meads. Instead of working with old styles and technologies, MMW utilizes a totally new fermentation process along with creative aging and flavoring methodologies. Add in that they use 100% all natural and locally sourced honey (actually for all of their ingredients) and you have a socially conscious company making a great product for loyal fans. It simply tastes better than other meads – and holds it own against any of your favorites too.

No need to invent a new alcohol – just made the world’s oldest existing one much better!

myFootpath

myFootpath.com

Education is one of the most important social and economic issues of our time. It has also become a large and growing industry. MyFootpath capitalizes on both as they help people navigate life’s “footpath” from high school, maybe on to college, through a career, maybe graduate school, and from ordinary to life-changing experiences. Their goal is to provide thoughts, advice and experience on how best to find this footpath and to navigate all the twists and turns in one’s journey.

myFootpath’s innovation is bringing true consultation and exceptional service to the relatively new education industry, an industry where most competitors seem to just be treating people like numbers. MyFootpath advisors (yes real live people), along with leading edge technology, help students and people with careers develop a more satisfying and success life. They are making a real difference.

Additionally, the company works closely with colleges and schools to manage risk and enrollments, with specific focus on new federal legislation as well as career services, finances and more. This close relationship with traditional and non-traditional institutions of higher learning allows myFootpath to continually evolve their service and set the customer experience bar higher and higher.

No need to create a new pathway for people – just help them find their own in a better way.

Just do it.

If you believe you have a world-changing idea, go for it. Be prepared to take big risks, raise huge amounts of capital and bring on a very smart team to help you lead. If you want to attack an industry you love with evolutionary (verses revolutionary) improvements to the business model and customer experience, then you think like me. And who knows, perhaps Morgan Investments can help you with tactics and strategy, and even finance your venture too!

Hoyt David Morgan is an entrepreneur, angel investor and business strategy leader. He is an investor and/or adviser to a handful of exciting and high growth companies, and has been a part of several high-value exits. He is passionate about customer experience, smart business and helping innovative companies grow... and sailing.

Business Entrepreneur

Customize your Zoom calls with your brand using these tools

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Work-from-home types, Zoom appears to be here to stay, and here are the tools you need to add or update your Zoom background to a more professional – or even branded – background.

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Zoom call on computer, but there's more options to customize.

If you haven’t had to deal with Zoom in 2020, you may be an essential worker or retired all together. For the rest of us, Zoom became the go-to online chat platform around mid-March. For several reasons, and despite several security concerns, Zoom quickly pushed past all online video chat competitors in the early COVID-19 lockdown days.

Whether for boozy virtual happy hours, online classes for school or enrichment, business meetings, trivia nights, book clubs, or professional conferences, odds are if you are working or in school, you have been on a Zoom call recently. Many of us have been on weekly, if not daily, Zoom calls. If you are the techy type, you’ve likely set up a cool Zoom background of a local landmark or a popular spot, a library, or a tropical beach. Comic-con types and movie buffs created appropriate backgrounds to flex their awesome nerdiness and technical smarts.

Many people have held off creating such an individualized background for our virtual meetings for one of any number of reasons. Perhaps it never occurred to them, or maybe they aren’t super comfortable with all things techy. Many people have been holding out hope of returning to their offices, thus seeing no need to rock the boat. I’m here to tell you, though, it’s time. While I, too, hope that we get the pandemic under control, I am realistic enough to see that working or studying from home will continue to be a reality for many people for some time.

Two cool, free tools we’ve found that can help you make your personal Zoom screen look super professional and even branded for business or personal affairs are Canva and HiHello. While each platform has a paid component, creating a Zoom background screen for either application is fairly simple and free.

Here’s how:

Canva is the online design website that made would-be graphic designers out of so many people, especially social media types. It’s fairly user-friendly with lots of tutorials and templates, and the extremely useful capabilities of uploading your own logo and saving your brand colors.

Using Canva, first create your free account with your email. It functions better if you create an account, although you can play around with some of the tools without signing up. The fastest way from Point A to Point B here is to use the search box and search for “Zoom backgrounds.” You now can choose any one of their Zoom background templates, from galaxy to rainbows and unicorn to library books or conference rooms. Choose an inspirational quote if you’d like (but really, please don’t). Download the .jpg or .png, save it, and you can upload it to Zoom.

To create a branded Zoom background in Canva, it will take slightly more work. It was a pain in the butt for me, because I had this vision of a backdrop with my logo repeated, like you see as a backdrop at, you know, SXSW or the Grammys or something. Reach for the stars, right? OK, the issue with this was that I had to individually add, resize, and place each of the 9 logos I ended up with. I figured out the best way to size them uniformly (I resized one and copied/pasted, instead of adding the original size each time (maybe you’re thinking “Duh,” but it took me a few failed experiments to figure out that was the fastest way to do it).

Once you have your 9 loaded in the middle of the page, start moving them around to place them. I chose 9, because the guiding lines in Canva allow me to ensure I have placed them correctly, in the top left corner, middle left against the margin that pops up, and bottom left. Same scenario for the center row.

Magical guide lines pop up when you have the logo centered perfectly, so I did top, middle, and bottom like that, and repeated for the right hand margin. Then I flipped them, because they were
Showing up in my view on Zoom as backward. That may mean they are now backward to people on my call; I will need to test that out! Basically, Canva is easy to use, but perhaps my design aspirations made it tricky to figure out.

Good luck and God bless if you choose more than 9 logos to organize. Oh, and if you are REALLY smart, you will add one logo to a solid color or an austere, professionally appropriate photo background and call it a day, for the love of Mary. That would look cool and be easy.

HiHello is an app you can download to scan and keep business cards and create your own, free, handy dandy digital business card. It comes in the form of a scannable QR code you can share with anyone. Plus, you can make a Zoom background with it, which is super cool! It takes about five minutes to set up, truly! It works great!

The Zoom background has your name, the company name, and your position on one side and the QR code on the other. The QR code pulls up a photo, your name, title, phone number, and email address. It’s so nifty! And the process was super easy and intuitive. Now, If I took my logo page from Canva and made that the background for my HiHello virtual Zoom screen, I would be branded out the wazoo.

Remember there are technical requirements if you want to use HiHello on a Mac. For example, if you have a mac with a dual core processor, it requires a QUAD. However, on a PC, it was really simple.

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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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