Business Banking E-Newsletter - August 2011

Rules of Responsible Financial Parenting

Today, many families are concerned about the potentially adverse effect of wealth on the financial values of their younger generations. The goals that many affluent parents and grandparents have set for their children or grandchildren reflect core values, an honest work ethic, and a desire to "give something back" to the greater community.

The skills and knowledge needed to help children adhere to these values should be developed early in life and continue well into adulthood. The following strategies can assist older family members in becoming positive financial role models.

Start early— According to recent research, parents can start talking to children about money by age three. Between four and five, you can explain the importance of good spending habits, and by age six or seven, you can help children open a bank savings account. By the time children reach their mid-teens, they should start seeking after-school and summer employment.

Support education — Personal finance education helps instill such pragmatic money management skills as setting a budget, balancing a checkbook, understanding the role of debt/credit, and developing strategies for funding college. Encourage your child's school to offer personal finance as an elective "life skills" course, send your teen to a community college/adult education class, or tap the many educational resources on the Internet.

Lead by example — Your children will learn their most valuable lessons about money from the examples you set. A few simple rules: Enjoy the fruits of your labor — but don't go overboard. Set a healthy example regarding credit/debt. Pay bills on time. Save and review your savings plan on a regular basis. Above all, be consistent. Grandparents can be especially effective role models by following these suggestions.

Practice incentive planning — To ensure that important life goals remain at the forefront of your children's/heirs' priorities throughout their lifetimes, incorporate the use of incentives in your estate plan. What exactly is an incentive trust? It is an estate planning tool that allows you to reward desired behavior or impose appropriate penalties for undesirable activities. It also provides a way to address the needs of beneficiaries who require special assistance. Common themes guiding incentive trusts are education, moral and family values, and business/vocational choices, as well as charitable and religious opportunities.

Encourage philanthropy — Wealthy families often use philanthropy to convey the message that their success has been the result of hard work and good fortune and that success comes with the responsibility to give something back. If you want to ensure future generations of volunteers and donors, you must teach children how to give of their time, their skills, and their money. Once children understand the scope of their contributions, philanthropy becomes a real and prominent part of their lives.

© 2010 Standard & Poor's Financial Communications. All rights reserved.

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6 Sins of Office Stress: How to Create a Better Work Environment

Are your employees excited to come to the office every day, or do they drag in late? Avoid these six sins of office stress and make your work environment a place that employees want to be.

1. Infrequent Feedback
Employees worry about performance when they don’t receive feedback from mangers. Eliminate this office stress by scheduling regular evaluations. Be sure to discuss positive areas of each employee’s work and areas for improvement. Establish an “Employee of the Month” or other reward system to showcase star performers and give employees a goal to aspire to.  

Also, make sure your employees feel comfortable giving feedback to managers. While some employees may be at ease sharing problems or concerns in a face-to-face meeting, other employees may prefer to provide feedback using an anonymous survey or though a suggestion box.  Regardless of how you approach it, be sure the process is simple and that suggestions are taken to heart.

2. Mundane Office Hours
Have you ever finished your work for the day at 3 p.m., but couldn’t leave until 6 p.m.? Or do you work best after 10 a.m.? Forget the traditional 9-5 office hours. If it works for your small business, allow employees to decide the set hours they are in the office. 

Or, reward employees on Fridays by letting your team come in to the office late or leave early. Switching up the norm will allow employees to relax for a few needed hours.

3. Uncomfortable Work Space
Simple things like glaring computer screens, limited sticky notes or painful desk chairs can cause stress. Allow employees to select desk furniture and keep a “grocery list” for needed office supplies. Don’t neglect unconventional options like standing desks or stability ball chairs as healthy alternatives to everyday office chairs. Some ideas might be to have employees perched on stability balls, and the sales team sports sound-cancelling headsets to keep office noise out of calls.

 4. Cubicle Confinement
Don’t trap your employees at their desks all day. Encouraging your team to interact on a personal level can foster better cohesion and a happier work environment. In addition to team lunches or friendly competitions, consider adding a ping pong table or pool table to a corner of the office. Supply the area with water and healthy snacks like fruit or nuts for a healthy, interactive work break. 

Team bonding shouldn’t end at clock-out. Treat your team to happy hour appetizers, join an intramural league, or start a running group to train for a local 5K. After all, teams who play together, stay together.

5. Unhealthy Habits
Poor eating habits and lack of sleep and exercise create stress before your employees even enter the office. Help offset unhealthy habits by promoting health while at work. Instead of the all-you-can-eat taco bar, cater deli sandwiches with fruits and vegetables for the company lunch. For casual Friday, let workers wear sweatpants and bring in a yoga instructor for a mid-afternoon workout. 

If your small business is home to a vending machine, encourage your provider to stock healthier options, like baked chips and granola bars, instead of your standard vending machine fare.

6. Missing Direction
A major cause of stress for employees is not knowing where the company is going and their role in to the overall strategy. Involve your team in making long-term and short-term goals. Post long-term goals around the office and give short-term goals to each employee at their desk. When goals are accomplished, celebrate. Employees who know the goals of their company (and know specifically what they can do to help) are more committed team members.

Keep your employees low on the stress meter and watch the returns in your company’s productivity.

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How to Manage Your Reputation on the Web

Every startup fears that one angry and unfair customer who can jeopardize the business by a screaming post on Ripoff Report, Yelp, or one of the hundreds of other consumer complaint and review sites on the Internet. Most entrepreneurs don’t even know how to keep track of what people are saying about them on the web, much less how to respond or remove it.

Web reputation management, both business and personal, has become a top priority requirement. These items can kill your career. Luckily, the basic principles for reputation management are the same for both business and personal environments:

Your reputation is your responsibility.

The first step is to recognize that you alone are responsible for managing the reputation of your business and your life. Doing nothing, or counting on more laws, is not an answer. Due to First Amendment rights, offensive content, once entered, is often untouchable, and the sources are immune from liability.

Actively monitor what people are saying about you.

You may assert that monitoring the entire Internet space is an impossible problem. Fortunately, there are already tools out there, like Google Alerts (free) and Reputation Defender, which can do the work for you, and send you a daily e-mail report of every link where your name or brand appears.

Proactively build a positive reputation.

Maintaining a good reputation means you have to build one early and maintain it. There is a big difference between no reputation with one negative comment, versus 1,000 indications of a positive reputation and one negative. Most people accept that no person or organization is perfect.

Quickly address every negative.

Many negative customer experiences can actually be turned into positives, if you quickly and unemotionally acknowledge the problem, resolve it, and spread the positive message before the negative one gets amplified.

Push negative content out of view.

In reality, most people will never find negative content, unless a link appears on the first page of search engine results. With the right focus on search engine optimization, or the help of companies like DefendMyName, you can usually push negative links out of sight into the swamp of the Internet.

Remove unwanted content, where possible.

Removing your content from the Web is not as easy as canceling your accounts, nor is it completely impossible. You can easily remove content you own (comments on your site or accounts). Experts, like Reputation Defender, have proprietary techniques to correct or completely remove other unwanted content. 

The upside to the difficulty of removing unwanted content is that it does justice to those who have come by their bad reputations legitimately. For curbing bad guys, the speed and visibility of the Internet can be a very useful thing. For all the rest of us, it’s nice to know that we can shout back quickly and broadly, when someone starts to whisper about us.

Social networking sites like facebook are now the most frequently used websites on the Internet. Unfortunately, they have also become some of the most abused websites on the Internet, due to the emotions of failed relationships and the immature whims of young users.

So the social networks are the early place to start, in learning the discipline of building and maintaining a positive reputation. If you get that right, the transition to your business will be easy. On the other hand, if you let your reputation slide early to be “cool,” it may take a lifetime to recover. It’s easier to make Google remember than to forget.

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Getting Maximum Use Out of Your Summer Slow Time

Seems like summer is the time when many businesses slow down a bit. People take holidays and family vacations. They focus in on anything except business. What should you do during the summer months to keep your business running smoothly? Here are 10 easy ways to get the maximum use out of your summer slow time.

Take a holiday and get away.

Small business owners traditionally find it hard to take a break. This is the one time of the year when it’s considered “okay” to take a vacation and your customers don’t stress if your business is closed for a short time (a few days). So plan accordingly and take a quick break to recharge your batteries.

Take care of your health.

Running a small business is always stressful.  Small business success often relies on the health of the owner. You certainly can’t grow your business if you are sick or in the hospital.  Take time out to care for your health.

Make a business planning day.

Take this time to map out your strategy in terms of business direction, marketing plans, and business goals for the remainder of the year. Use this time to reflect on what has worked, what needs to be improved, and what you are going to do next.

Make updates to your website.

With so much to do on a daily basis, most business sites tend to become outdated.  Take a close look at your pricing, product information as well as any content that no longer reflects the direction of your business.

Refresh your marketing material.

Look at your business cards, brochures, profiles, signage, and newsletters. Work out what needs to be updated for maximum impact.

Clear the clutter.

Unfortunately clutter does creep into every business over time and can zap energy. Archive material and files you no longer need, review your filing system, delete old emails, etc. Doing this now means you are more likely to be able to quickly find things when business picks up again saving you both time and stress.

Write articles.

Articles and posts are a terrific way to help boost your business credibility. Share your ideas with customers and potential clients. Develop a cache of articles you can match to your marketing calendar throughout the year.

Maintain your computers.

All computers need maintenance. Take time to check your computers, make full back-ups of everything and generally run a system tune up.

Update any emergency procedures.

No one likes to think of the “worst,” but it does happen. Make certain you have back-ups that work. Update your insurance and store key documents in a safe place. How would you be able to function and how long would it take to get up and running if the “worst” did happen?

Touch base with your best contacts.

Summer’s slow down is a great time to take stock of your business and tackle tasks that often get overlooked due to time constraints. Use your time wisely and these simple summer actions can help your business stay on track.

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