“Ask for Help.” How Coffee and Conversation Can Transform Your Business

No matter where you are in your entrepreneurial journey, you’re going to get stuck.

And that’s not a bad thing!

What’s important is how you deal with the challenge. The solution seems simple enough, but it’s not always easy to do.

“You ask for help,” said Danny O’Neill, founder of The Roasterie and a Kauffman FastTrac alum. “You ask those who’ve done it. Those who know just seek.”

Why not start those conversations over coffee? National Coffee Day is coming up on September 29, and to celebrate, we decided to showcase the connection between two important entrepreneurial tools: coffee and conversation.

Whether you’re building your network or sitting down with a fellow entrepreneur to bounce ideas off each other or discuss an obstacle you’re facing, you can’t underestimate the power of staying connected to your entrepreneurial peers. To help give you some ideas about how you can tap into the benefits of coffee and conversation, we’ve compiled a list of caffeine-fueled gatherings that we think should be on your radar.

1 Million Cups: The Kauffman Foundation launched 1 Million Cups in 2012 based on the notion that “entrepreneurs discover solutions and engage with their communities over a million cups of coffee.” 1 Million Cups has since grown to 180 communities, which means there’s probably a 1MC meet-up near you!

The foundation of 1MC — besides coffee, of course! — is weekly meet-ups that feature presentations by local entrepreneurs. This is a prime opportunity to share more about your business with an active, engaged audience to build your brand recognition.

“It’s not a sales pitch, and it’s not an investor pitch,” according to 1MC. “The goal is to have people understand what you do and some of the challenges you have had in building your business.”

Check out what 1MC events are coming up in your community and consider applying to be a 1MC presenter. Think of it this way: 1MC meet-ups are also an effective way to polish your elevator pitch. Just don’t forget your business cards and, of course, coffee!

Creative Mornings: Each month, people interested in creativity and connecting with others gather for this breakfast lecture series that launched in 2008 in New York. Now, Creative Mornings has local chapters in more than 180 cities around the world, including Kansas City.

Don’t let the name fool you: you don’t need to run a creative business to attend Creative Mornings. These monthly meet-ups are more about inspiration; about showing you what’s possible; and about helping you tap into the incredible creative and entrepreneurial energy that’s buzzing around your own community. In addition to networking time, you’ll hear from a speaker who structures his or her talk around a one-word theme (i.e. community, chaos, craft) that’s followed by all Creative Mornings chapters.

Oh, and did we mention free (usually local) coffee? We bet you’ll be buzzing when you leave a Creative Mornings breakfast — and it won’t just be the caffeine! Find an event near you.

Your neighborhood coffee shop: When’s the last time you invited a fellow entrepreneur out for a cup of coffee? There’s no doubt that being an entrepreneur can sometimes make you feel isolated. That’s why meeting up with other entrepreneurs isn’t just helpful — it can be downright invigorating!

A casual conversation over a cup of coffee can also be an effective way to follow up with a new connection. Instead of throwing those business cards you’ve collected in a pile and forgetting about them, why not schedule a follow-up chat? Networking events are wonderful, but they’re not always the best place to get into an in-depth conversation, especially if you want to meet multiple people. By scheduling follow up chats, you’ll learn more about fellow entrepreneurs, have an opportunity to share more about your business and see if there are ways you can help each other succeed.

If your business allows, you might also consider working in a coffee shop a few hours a week. Your brain will appreciate the change of scenery, and you never know who you’ll bump into or meet! Bonus points if you bring your own mug to cut down on environmental waste.

BYOC with Kauffman FastTrac: If you find yourself stuck on a particular business problem or simply need a push in the right direction, try this. Brew your favorite coffee, grab a mug and register for Kauffman FastTrac, a free online course that gives you all of the information you need to know to start a business.

“FastTrac had a huge impact on me and a lot of my colleagues,” said O’Neill, who completed Kauffman FastTrac in 1994. “First and foremost, validation and, just as important, confidence. Not everybody’s honest about it but most of us are scared to death when we’re starting.”

Be Smart About Non-Competes, Non-Solicitations And Non-Disclosure Agreements

Successful entrepreneurs understand how to use restrictive covenants (non-competes, non-solicitations, and non-disclosure agreements) to protect their businesses. In this post we’ll cover the differences and some practical tips for each.

NON-COMPETES

A non-compete is just that–an obligation not to compete with another party. These are most often found in some form of employment agreement and often prohibit the employee from competing with the employer while employed and for a period of years after the employment ends.

While most states will enforce reasonably drafted non-compete provisions, you should use them with extreme caution (if you use them at all). You may experience a direct benefit when using them with senior-level employees, but your business (along with other businesses in your community) will likely experience negative side effects if your community uses non-competes broadly. That’s because they restrict works, reduce innovation, and can cause long-term negative effects to local economies.

Rather than relying on non-competes, you might consider using non-solicitations and/or non-disclosure agreements to protect your company’s rights.

NON-SOLICITATIONS

Although related to non-competes, non-solicitations are different. These provisions restrict someone from soliciting your employees and/or your clients.

For example, an employment non-solicitation provision would prohibit a prior employee (or client) from inducing your employees to leave your company and to go work for them. And a client non-solicitation provision would prohibit a prior employee from asking your clients to fire you and to hire them.

In both cases, it is more likely to be enforced by a court if it is narrowly tailored to protect a legitimate business interest. Usually, this means limited to some degree to a number of years after the relationship between you and your employee (or client) ends.

It is almost always a good idea to include a non-solicitation (especially in the absence of a non-compete) to ensure your employment and client relationships are not harmed.

NON-DISCLOSURE AGREEMENTS

While you may or may not use non-competes and non-solicitations, you should almost always use a non-disclosure agreement whenever you are giving your confidential information to anyone–regardless if they are inside or outside of your company.

In short, a non-disclosure agreement will define what is and what is not “confidential” and then outline what the recipient can and cannot do with that information. Most often they will be required to protect it, not use it for an unauthorized purpose, and not disclose it to third parties. An NDA can be unilateral (in which case only one party has confidentiality obligations) or mutual (in which case both parties have confidentiality obligations).

You can create a stand-alone non-disclosure agreement, or you can just include a non-disclosure obligation in another agreement such as in an employment agreement.

BECOME A  SUCCESSFUL ENTREPRENEUR YOURSELF

As you can see, there are a lot of critical steps to starting a business and becoming a successful entrepreneur. To help, you can enroll in the Kauffman FastTrac program at www.fasttrac.org. With the program’s free classes and materials in hand, you can improve your odds of entrepreneurial success.

4 Reasons You Should Exhibit at Fairs and Festivals

If you’re an artist, crafter or maker and you haven’t yet exhibited at a fair or festival, you may want to make a plan to do just that.

Pulling together the materials for a booth can seem daunting, as can talking to attendees for hours at a time.

Yet fairs and festivals—especially those that are maker-themed—can positively affect your business in a variety of ways. Let’s take a closer look.

1. BUILD YOUR BRAND.

One of the biggest advantages to exhibiting at a fair or festival is brand-building. Not only can you brand your booth—you should also distribute business cards and collateral like a brochure or postcard to introduce yourself and what you make.

Of course, that means you need to have these branded materials on hand, so give yourself plenty of time before the event to prepare. It’s tempting to go all out on your booth: Lights! Displays! Faux (or real) plants! All the swag! But pace yourself.

Start with the basics: a table or two, a table covering, risers or shelves to display your wares. If your budget allows, you might consider making a small banner to hang above your table, or a pop-up banner to place beside your booth. Be sure to check with event organizers to see if they have any guidelines on booth size and what you can and can’t use.

Other important items to have: business cards, an informational handout and a way to make sales like a tablet or phone equipped with a Square or other plug-in card reader. If you have an email newsletter or are planning to start one, you might also want to put out a sign up sheet so that booth visitors can opt in to get more info from you.

2. FIND YOUR AUDIENCE.

There’s nothing like a fair or festival to give you the perfect opportunity for real-time customer research and development, which is especially helpful if your business is newly launched.

Take note of who visits your booth and how they react to your product. You’ll likely find yourself striking up conversation with attendees, too, which can give you valuable insight into prospective customers, including what they’re buying and how they prefer to communicate with businesses.

Keep this in mind: you may not necessarily find your target audience at the first fair or festival at which you exhibit. And that doesn’t mean your business is doomed.

Instead, look at these events like any other business research: it takes time to understand where your people are and how to best reach them. If your resources allow, take a look at upcoming fairs and festivals not just in your city, but throughout your state or region. Then, see if you can exhibit at a few of them throughout a one-year period. Use each event as a learning opportunity; then, when you have a few fairs or festivals under your belt, look at where you had the most success and, going forward, put more of your resources in that particular basket.

3. TEST YOUR PRODUCT.

Just as a fair or festival can give you valuable, real-time insight on prospective customers, it can also be a helpful product development resource.

One of the key questions to ask is, “What’s the response to what I make?” Are products flying off the shelves? Are people browsing but not buying? And if they’re not buying, are they taking cards or collateral or asking if products are available online?

Again, a lack of sales doesn’t necessarily spell doom for your product. It may be a case of identifying your target audience. That’s why fairs and festivals are so valuable: you can see and interact with people in real time so that you can spot opportunities for improvement, whether in the product itself or your marketing. And if you don’t have a brick and mortar store, exhibiting at events is even more helpful so that you can still benefit from face-to-face interactions.  

4. NETWORK.

Most of your attention will likely be focused on your prospective customers, but fairs and festivals can also be prime networking opportunities. Here’s one suggestion: get to the event a little earlier than you usually would, then stroll around and see who else is exhibiting. Have some business cards handy so you can exchange info.

This is also a great way to check out other booths and get ideas for future displays, especially if regularly exhibiting at events is part of your business plan.

Some fairs and festivals might also host mixers or other networking events, so take a look at the schedule and see what’s available. Sure, your feet will be aching at the end of the day and you’ll probably want to head straight home. Yet there’s nothing like commiserating with your fellow exhibitors and swapping stories from the day!

 Don’t forget to follow up! If you hit it off with another exhibitor, don’t hesitate to invite them out for coffee or lunch once the event concludes. And at the very least, be sure you connect on social media with people you meet. Few things beat building an in-person connection, but in this digital day and age, online interactions can prove both effective and inspirational.

ONE LAST THING …

If you find yourself preparing for an upcoming fair or festival and get stuck, especially on key business attributes like branding and marketing, help is a few clicks away. Register for Kauffman FastTrac, a free online course that guides you as you prepare to launch your business. And even if your business is already up and running, take a look at the FastTrac topics and see if you need a brief refresher. It’s never too late to learn!

Hiring Employees & Independent Contractors

One of the most exciting parts to starting and growing a business is hiring other people to work with you. But for many entrepreneurs, this is one of the most complicated tasks due to regulatory issues. But with the right planning, you can make the right decisions to help your new business grow.

The key thing to remember is that when you hire someone to work for your new business, you need to classify them as either an employee or an independent contractor. Generally speaking, you’ll have less regulatory work to do when you hire independent contractors, but you’ll lose some control over their work. Conversely, when you hire employees, you’ll gain a lot of control over their work, but you’ll also gain a lot of additional regulatory obligations.

Regardless how you classify them, the IRS will have the final say.

To help you make the right classification, here are five things to consider:

1. CONTROL

When you hire an employee, you’ll have a lot of control over their services. You can dictate when and where they work, and you can oversee their performance on a daily basis.

However, when you hire a contractor, it is generally understood that the contractor will set their own schedule, will decide where to work, etc. You can have a say over their final work product and some control over the timing of the work, but the finer details are left to the contractor.

2. EQUIPMENT

As you can guess, business owners usually have to provide their employees with equipment to get the job done. For example, you may need to buy them a phone, computer, desk, and office space.

Conversely, when you hire a contractor, you don’t have to provide any of those items unless your contractor agreement requires you to do so. And even then, it is uncommon for you to have to buy their equipment. What’s more common is for you to just reimburse them for some things they might purchase for you under the agreement.

3. TAXES

Perhaps the biggest difference between employees and contractors is how you pay them and how taxes are paid to the government.

When you hire an employee, you will have to withhold portions of their paycheck for their income and employment taxes and then you’ll have to remit that to the government throughout the year. Additionally, you’ll have to pay a portion of their employment taxes to the government yourself. The process can be quite a pain and most companies outsource that function in one way or another.

On the other hand, when you hire a contractor, it’s quite a bit easier. You pay them their service fee, but that’s it. You don’t have to do any withholdings for taxes and they are responsible for all of their employment taxes. The only catch is that if you pay a contractor more than $600 in a year, you’ll need to file a 1099 with the IRS to let them know about the payments (see this post for more on that).

4. INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

If your workers are creating anything which might be protectable under intellectual property law, then you need to pay special attention to the rules governing ownership of IP.

It’s kind of easy in employment relationships. In short, anything your employees create within their scope of employment will be owned by your business.

But for contractors, it’s not so easy. There are various rules at play, but what is important is to always get a written agreement with your contractor that makes it clear you own everything they create for you under the contractor agreement. If you don’t, they might be able to walk away with the intellectual property rights to the works you paid them to make.

5. TERMINATION RIGHTS

Most employee-employer relationships are “at will.” This means that either party can terminate the relationship at any time, for any (legal) reason.

Conversely, the termination rights of a business and its contractors is dependent on whatever your contractor agreement requires. Perhaps you can’t terminate at all; or perhaps either side can terminate with 30 days’ notice.

HAVE MORE QUESTIONS?

If you are at the stage where you are ready to start hiring people to work with you, you’ve probably got other questions about how to grow your business. That’s where the Kauffman Foundation’s FastTrac program can help you. You can enroll for free at www.fasttrac.org.