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First impressions matter – how to win over investors immediately

(BUSINESS FINANCE) Impressing investors is nerve-wracking, but these tips can help you to nail your first impression.

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Going in for your first pitch meeting with investors can be nerve wracking—especially if you haven’t yet met these investors in person. Fortunately, if you land a solid first impression, you can set the right tone for the meeting, and make the rest of the presentation a little easier on yourself.

But why are first impressions so important, and how can you ensure you make one?

Let’s start with a recap of the benefits of a strong first impression:

  • A reputation framework. Our brains are wired to make quick judgments about our surroundings. Accordingly, we tend to judge people based on our first interactions with them, with little opportunity to change those initial judgments later on. If you strike investors as a smart, likeable, and capable person early on, they’ll see your pitch deck in a whole new light.
  • Memorability. First impressions stick with people. If yours stands out from the other entrepreneurs pitching these investors, they’ll be more likely to remember you, specifically, and therefore may be more likely to eventually fund your project.
  • Personal confidence. If you know you’ve nailed the first impression, you’ll feel more confident, and as you already likely know, confidence makes you a better public speaker. You’ll speak more deliberately, more passionately, and with fewer mistakes.

So how can you make sure you land this impression?

  • Arrive in a nice vehicle. Show up in a luxury vehicle, or at least one that’s been recently detailed, sends a message that you’re already successful. This isn’t a strict necessity, but it can speak volumes about what you’ve already achieved, and how you might look when you drive to meet your future clients.
  • Dress for the occasion. Along similar lines, you’ll want to dress nicely. You don’t need to have ridiculously expensive clothes, but you should wear standard business attire that fits you properly and has no signs of wear. It’s also a good idea to get a haircut, shave, wear tasteful makeup, and make other small touches that improve your overall appearance.
  • Smile. Smiling is contagious, and it instantly makes you more likable. Don’t force a grin (or else you’ll look like a robot), but do flash a genuine smile as often as appropriate during the first few minutes you meet your prospective investors.
  • Use your investors’ names. When you speak to your investors, try to address them by name as often as possible. People love to hear the sound of their own names, so it might help you win their favor. As an added bonus, it will help you reinforce your association with their name and face, so you eliminate your risk of calling someone by the wrong name later on.
  • Warm up with something personal. It’s tempting to get down to business right away, especially because your investors’ time is limited, but in most cases, it’s better to warm up with something personal—even if it’s only a few lines of a conversation. Tell a funny joke you heard earlier in the day, or share an anecdote about how your morning has been going. It makes you seem more personable and charismatic.
  • Find a common link. If you can, try to find something in common with each of your prospective investors. You might comment that you got your tie at the same place they did, or that you use the same type of pen. Look for subtle clues about their personalities, lifestyles, and hobbies, and forge a connection through those channels. People disproportionately like other people like them, so the more commonalities you can find with your prospective investors, the better.
  • Watch your posture. Your posture says more about you than you might think. Keep your back straight with your shoulders back, and walk confidently with your hands out of your pockets. This is crucial for projecting confidence (and feeling it internally as well).

If you can land a great first impression, you’ll set the stage for a killer presentation—but don’t think you’re out of the woods yet. You still need to make sure you have a fantastic pitch deck in place, and enough knowledge on your startup idea to handle the toughest investor questions. If this is your first pitch, don’t worry – it does get easier – but the fundamentals are always going to be important.

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. When he's not consulting, glued to a headset, he's working on one of his many business projects. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Business Finance

The forgivable PPP loan may now not be as forgivable as before

(BUSINESS FINANCE) The SBA were handing out forgivable loans like flyers for your friends band, but after a few months it seems many are not quite as forgivable as before.

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The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a federal forgivable loan program established by the CARES Act, was designed to alleviate the burden of companies who experience business disruptions during the coronavirus pandemic. But of course, with every government loan there are stipulations and guidelines for its use and its forgiveness. The main people that are going to have difficulty here are the small businesses however, which one might have thought that this program was for.

The program has guidelines that stipulate how much of it is forgivable. One of the main criteria is how the money is spent, openly requiring that 75% of the loan must be used to cover payroll for it to be forgivable, RED FLAG. What about small businesses that don’t have employees? Well some people may have thought that for a single person business, retirement and health-care would count towards that payroll total. Therefore, keeping costs down and keeping businesses alive. That’s not the case. Those expenses aren’t counted toward forgivable payroll costs, only salaries are.

Now others may have asked why that matters because someone can see that this type of loan wouldn’t be helpful for someone in those conditions. The problem comes in when the calculation for how much a business is able to borrow is done. The amount that can be borrowed through the PPP is based on payroll but it also includes health-care and retirement plan payments.

This is, as a matter of course, different for independent contractors and self-employed people that run their business income through a checking account. They were given a maximum amount that couldn’t exceed according to an April 20th interim final ruling. That amount is the lesser of eight weeks of their 2019 net profit or no more than ~$15K. As it stands currently neither retirement nor health-care premiums are eligible for forgiveness here either.

Something else that doesn’t seem to have been taken into account is rent and mortgage for these one person companies. The 25% that is stipulated in the program is no where near what is necessary for rent or mortgages in some places. The Small Business Administration (SBA) openly stated that they assumed that “many such individuals operate out of either their homes, vehicles or sheds and thus do not incur qualifying mortgage interests, rent or utility payments.” Personally, that small oversight is enough to make me wonder if these people have ever worked in the real world before.

What this means however is that people who have taken out the full amount that they are allowed and cannot stick to the requirement must pay the loan back in full on a two year deadline with an interest rate of 1%. As lawyers gather to attempt to filter through these murky waters and to hopefully make things better for those that need this relief we can only sit back and wait. Anyone looking to take out a loan from this program I highly recommend caution before jumping in.

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Business Finance

A closer look at the HEROES act, and who stands to benefit the most

(BUSINESS FINANCE) The HEROES act helps specifically unemployed, and those just returning to work, with assistance to get them back on their feet.

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Back in May, House Democrats proposed an economic relief bill to address the widespread consequences of COVID-19. The bill, entitled the “Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions” Act (HEROES for short), did not pass as quickly as the Democrats had initially hoped–indeed, it is still being examined as of today–but the likelihood that it does pass in some form seems high, according to White House officials. Here’s what you need to know about the HEROES Act and how it may affect you.

Spoiler alert: It’s mostly positive, but you may need to wait awhile.

We discussed recently the proposition to incentivize employees to return to work via a $450 weekly bonus upon reopening of the economy. This is a byproduct of the HEROES Act, which–according to its original conditions–posited that the unemployment bonus of $600 per week be extended past its initial July 2020 expiration. That idea was criticized by many as incentivizing unemployment, thus culminating in the $450 return-to-work bonus revision.

However, the HEROES Act addresses so much more than a weekly bonus that it’s somewhat overwhelming. The 1815-page bill covers a wide array of topics including state and local support, health care, worker protections, business support, and “other government support”, a category which addresses the United States Postal Service and the Census Bureau.

Primarily, Americans will be enthused to hear that the HEROES Act addresses a second round of stimulus checks totaling up to $6000 per household; while some sources (e.g., Forbes) speculated that the delivered amount per individual might be as high as $2000 per month, the HEROES Act in its original form does not appear to corroborate this claim. Additionally, this bill would provide billions in relief funds to the Department of Labor, housing assistance, and SNAP.

To any college students, the bill proposes “up to” $10,000 in student loan forgiveness.
The bill would also see at least $1 trillion in “state, local, territorial and tribal government” relief, with billions more allocated to utilities, highways, transit, and CDC resources. If that weren’t enough, the country would see a sweeping increase in funds to national health care services such as the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, HRSA-funded Health Centers, and–not negligibly–funding to fight back against “COVID-19 fraud”.

As you probably know, first responders and frontline workers have shouldered the brunt of the COVID-19. The HEROES Act looks to establish a $200 billion “Heroes’ Fund” for hazard pay to “workers deemed essential during the pandemic”–a list that would feasibly include emergency workers, maintenance staff, and anyone else who was put at risk by way of their occupation.

Finally, the HEROES Act provides small businesses with some additional relief via expansion of the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program; under this expansion, the PPP would include nonprofits, a move that warrants another $659 billion in aid.

As Forbes’ Jeff Rose reports, the current status of the HEROES Act is relatively healthy, if not entirely true to its original form. For example, House Republicans have proposed financial relief in the form of a tax cut instead of sending out checks, and some are suggesting cutting the unemployment bonus of $600 per week to $300 per week (or less) until 2021 instead of the aforementioned $450 weekly return bonus.

It’s also worth noting that the HEROES Act, a bill valued at around $3 trillion, is a bit on the pricey side where Republicans are concerned–which is why their counter-offer runs closer to $1 trillion. President Trump has, in the past, postulated that a $2 trillion price tag is actually feasible, so it appears that there is some wiggle room in how this bill proceeds.

If you’re waiting for another stimulus check, it’s best not to hold your breath–conservative estimates place the next round, if acted upon, no sooner than late July. Waiting to see how the economy responds to the invariable spike in COVID-19 cases is something for which Republicans have demonstrated a propensity, so don’t count your chickens just yet.

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Business Finance

How business owners should handle the trend of COVID-19 surcharges

(BUSINESS FINANCE) COVID-19 has caused a lot of money problems, but some places have decided to counter this with new surcharges, and hopefully they told customers about them.

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COVID-19 surcharges

Hidden surcharges have long been a subject of discussion among consumers. Banks, car dealers, hotels, and credit card companies are much more transparent than they once were. According to a 2019 survey by Consumer Reports, 85% percent of adult consumers were hit by an unexpected fee when paying for a service, so the practice is not completely gone. With COVID-19, some businesses are turning to surcharges to balance out their profit margins.

Can businesses add a COVID surcharge legally?

The impact of COVID-19 is continuing to unravel. FOX8 reports that a Missouri steakhouse and sushi restaurant included a surcharge related to the rising costs of food under the pandemic. A CBS affiliate in Midland, TX reminds consumers to check their bills, because restaurants and salons are adding surcharges. Some businesses are saying that state restrictions are increasing operational costs, while others relate it to the cost of goods. Even UPS has added surcharges to peak delivery slots. According to a librarian at the State Law Library, a private business in Texas has a lot of leeway in deciding what to charge.

A surcharge isn’t necessarily price gouging

In Texas, price gouging following a natural disaster is illegal. The surcharges that we’re discussing aren’t price gouging, just a way for businesses to temporarily raise prices without changing their menu or listing new prices. The Houston BBB recommends that if your business does add a surcharge, it should notify consumers about the charge before the bill arrives. Consumers who believe that they’ve been a victim of price gouging should file a complaint with the Texas Attorney General.

Transparency is part of good customer service

According to Consumer Reports, 96% of the consumers surveyed were annoyed with a hidden fee. I want to talk to the 4%, and find out why they weren’t. A surcharge under COVID-19 conditions can make sense. Cleaning and sanitizing takes time and money. Prices have increased. What’s bad business is trying to hide those surcharges until after the customer checks out. That’s not fair. Be transparent.

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