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Take Virtual Team Collaboration to the Next Level with These Digital Workspaces

June 21, 2022

By: Steph Davidson

Digital transformation is a term many of us are familiar with these days, and the reason ‌is clear. As remote and hybrid workforces continue to hold a grip on the corporate world, integrative digital systems have become crucial for efficient communication and collaboration between multiple parties.

Technology options have expanded hugely since 2020, increasing our reliance on digital workspaces.

These powerful virtual work environments allow people to organize, store, edit, share, automate and optimize data, amplifying productivity and promoting better time management. No matter what kind of business you’re in, digital workspaces have become a modern zeitgeist for virtual team collaboration.

In fact, 72% of US companies report having a well-established digital workplace strategy as of 2022.

There are a wealth of great reasons to invest in a high-quality digital workspace in 2022, and this article will highlight how they work, why you need them, and where you can find the best ones.

How Do Digital Workspaces Benefit Employees?

Digital workspaces provide remote, hybrid, and regular teams of employees with a myriad of advantageous tools and features. Whether your business is in project management or graphic design, having an overarching virtual collaboration platform comes with extensive benefits. Including:

    • Communication – easily talk back and forth with other team members in one centralized location, promoting more cohesive work conversations.
    • Content collaboration – team members can individually access, edit, and manage content without needing to cross-communicate via multiple channels.
    • Data security – digital workplaces are highly secure, preventing hackers from accessing sensitive company data and ensuring only people with authority have access to files.
    • Accessibility – access the digital platform (and all the files, content, or data it contains) from anywhere as long as you have a Wi-Fi connection.
    • Advanced analytics tools – track, analyze, and store data on productivity, patterns, and other job-relevant metrics.
    • Endpoint management – unified endpoint management (UEM) is a crucial aspect of any teamwork project. Use digital workspaces to measure progress and reach goals with precision.

All in all, these virtual systems are designed to assist teams in the pursuit of productivity and equip them with the tools and features necessary to hit their respective targets.

As the global workforce continues to become diversified in its approach to work/home life balance, digital workplaces will continue to add immeasurable value to any professional team of employees.

Which Digital Workspaces Are Best?

Understanding the value of digital workspaces and virtual tools is one thing. But knowing which one to invest in is another. The demand for high-functioning virtual collaborative spaces is growing, and these five offer some of the best features on the market.

1. Asana

Asana has been crushing the online collaboration platform market since 2008. However, recent years have bumped it up to one of the most used digital workspaces in the world.

With a focus on facilitating content-based businesses, Asana is perfect for teams wanting to centralize their communication methods and bring all team members onto the same (web) page. Their services include extensive data analytics and reporting, calendars, goal-tracking, project management tools, admin controls, automation devices, and integration for external platforms.

They are also surprisingly affordable for their range of features, totaling between $0 – $24.99 a month, depending on which package you buy. Asana is a great all-rounder for both big and small teams who want to improve their communication methods and find a more harmonious workflow together.

2. Interact

Interact is a popular intranet software platform designed to improve internal communications between professional teams, and specifically, between employers and employees.

They have a powerful analytics department and boast a wide-reaching range of tools and features for teams to utilize. Some of their other services include centralized management tools, personalization features, integrative software, and interaction designs that allow users to engage via mobile as well as desktop management. They also offer onboarding and enrollment features for new team members.

What makes Interact so popular is its extremely user-friendly interface. This makes it ideal for teams with older employees or employees with less experience using platforms such as these.

3. WorkGrid

WorkGrid is one of the more accessible digital workspaces in 2022. It serves to help organizations streamline their productivity methods and improve connections between employees, clients, and cross-platform team members.

WorkGrid aims to help manage and deliver contextualized information in a simple, straightforward way. They offer automated notification tools, chatbots, and task-based workflow recommendations. Another special feature of WorkGrid is that they also provide micro apps that enable users to manage personal data, such as time off of work, payroll, and more.

There is a lot of synchronized processing in WorkGrid, making it a great option for small teams looking to up their understanding of digital interfaces and improve their overall productivity rates.

4. Microsoft Teams

Yes, that’s right—Microsoft has developed its own version of a digital workspace that anyone with their operating system can utilize. As one of the most popular virtual collaborative platforms used by everyone from corporates to medical professionals for online consultations, Teams has an impressive lineup of optimized tools and features.

To start off with, their online video conferencing and chat options are extensive. They allow people and teams to collaborate on projects from anywhere in the world with ease. They also provide the right software setups for private and public webinars, meetings, and live virtual events. Far-reaching international teams? This platform was designed for you.

Some of the other features provided by Microsoft Teams include third-party integration systems, easy to use communication features, mobile and desktop compatibility, and a secure online SharePoint site for storing data in a centralized location.

The Takeaway

At the end of the day, there are thousands of viable virtual team collaboration tools. Just about all of them can help you reach your goal of optimized communication, collaboration, and increased productivity. These four platforms are highly recommended, but your team needn’t settle until they find one that suits their needs exactly.

The digital transformation era is here, and online spaces like these can help us unlock the tools we need to accomplish even the most challenging of tasks. 

Steph-Davidso
About the Author: Steph Davidson is a content manager with over ten years of experience in writing, editing, blog development, SEO, marketing, and media relations. Steph lives in Toronto and can be found drinking tea and watching horror movies when she’s not working with words.

4 Red Flags to Look Out For in a Lender

June 14, 2022

By: Matthew Gillman, SMB Compass Founder

When in need of financing, many small business owners would prefer to apply for loans from traditional lenders such as banks or credit unions. However, getting loan approvals from banks can be challenging, particularly for small companies. They are often not considered due to their lack of financial history or low credit scores.

If you need to access capital as soon as possible, your best option is to borrow from alternative lenders. But you have to remember that not all lenders have the same credentials, and not many of them are legitimate.

  1. Not doing a thorough credit check

    Compared with banks, alternative lenders won’t always do credit checks on you, depending on the type of financing you’re applying for. Short-term loans like payday loans or a business line of credit usually don’t require credit checks, which means that even when you have bad credit, you may get approved.

    However, this doesn’t discount lenders from looking at your credit report. As a standard, lenders will check your credit report to know your creditworthiness. It tells whether you’re paying your bills and debts on time or if you’ve been missing out on your payments.

    Your credit report is a record of your credit history, including any loans you have taken out and how well you have been able to repay them. A good credit score means that you are a low-risk borrower, and lenders will be more likely to give you the money you need. On the other hand, a bad credit score can be a red flag for lenders and may mean that you won’t be approved for a loan.

    However, if lenders push through with your application even before reviewing your credit report, something must be fishy. It demonstrates that lenders prioritize lending money to borrowers even without certainty that the borrower can repay it.


  2. The lender won’t disclose the amortization schedule

    When applying for a loan, you want to know if you can repay it. A loan’s terms and amortization schedule break down how interest accrues, how much you will be paying for interest, and whether there are any services fees or extra charges that come with the loan.

    Credible lenders would suffice this document to borrowers even before signing any agreements. The lender should also explain what your loan will cost you over time and describe why your monthly payments are as such. The lender should also disclose how much you will be charged if you cannot pay on time.

    If the lender ignores this document request, it’s always best to find a new lender. As a borrower, you want to know exactly how much you will be paying every month so you can prepare for it.


  3. Pushes you to borrow more than you need

    Some lenders will urge you to borrow more money than you originally requested. While it’s tempting to get more money, you have to stick to the purpose of getting the loan in the first place.

    Loans are still a type of debt, and you want to make sure that you’re not burdening your business too much with the monthly amortization. If the lender is pushing you to borrow more money than you need, it’s a clear sign to end the engagement. For lenders, larger deals mean larger commissions–and this wouldn’t work to your advantage.

    On top of that, some lenders would even rush you into signing the paperwork even without reading it. Most often than not, these types of lenders have the lending agreement in their favor and not yours.

    So again, if you encounter a lender who pressures you into doing things you’re not comfortable with, it’s best to find a better creditor.


  4. Closing fees are unreasonably high

    Closing fees are generally paid at closing, which is when the loan is funded and you receive the money. Some lenders may require that you pay some or all of the closing costs upfront, while others may roll them into the loan itself. Either way, it’s important to know what you’re being charged so there are no surprises down the road.

    Closing fees can vary depending on the type of loan you’re taking out and the lender you’re working with. The thing is, some lenders would charge significantly high closing fees.

    For example, SBA loans typically have lower closing costs than traditional bank loans because the government backs them. However, closing fees on SBA loans can still range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. If you’re not aware of the costs, you might end up paying more than you should.

    Keep in mind that closing fees are just one part of the overall picture when you’re taking out a loan. Be sure also to compare interest rates, repayment terms, and any other fees associated with the loan before making a decision. With some research and negotiation, you can get the best deal possible on your business loan.

Final Thoughts

If you see any of these red flags, move on to another lender. You should never work with a lender who is not transparent or trustworthy. Be sure to do your research so that you can find the best possible lender for your needs. With so many options out there, there’s no need to settle for anything less than the best.

Matthew-Gillman
About the Author: Matthew Gillman is a business financing expert with more than a decade of experience in commercial lending. He is the founder and CEO of SMB Compass, a specialty finance company providing education and financing options for business owners.

Business Grants: 9 Places to Find and Get Free Money

May 18, 2022

By: Sharita M. Humphrey

A business grant is a certain amount of money you can obtain to help with your business, similar to a loan with the key difference being that you don’t have to pay anything back. Business grants are hard to obtain since they target specific business types and specific industries like technology and medical industries.

You also need to follow the rules on how to spend the money you obtain which you’ll know when you receive a grant from an organization.

But you shouldn’t get disheartened by these facts, as there are always ways to get a grant for your business. 

Here they are:

    1. Grants.gov

      Established in 2002, Grants.gov is an E-government initiative operated under the Office of Management and Budget providing a centralized location for those seeking a grant for their business. Having information on over 1000 grant programs, Grants.gov is definitely one of the first places you should check out, as they also provide you with most of the knowledge you need to know about how grants work, how you could be eligible for a grant, terminologies, and how grant frauds work. Easily accessible, beginner-friendly, and holding tons of information on grants, Grants.gov tops our list of places you could find grants for your business.

    2. seedfund.nsf.gov

      If your business is based on science, engineering, and technology, a seed fund is where you should be looking into. With up to $2M / 36+ months to be received from seed funds, your business should be headed to the path you envisioned since the beginning. And since they provide you with monthly reports of your progress and financials, all you have to focus on is creating your product or service. One big thing about them is that you don’t have to relocate anywhere to access their funds, since they support startups in all locations. Their website also has all the information you need on whether you are eligible to receive their rewards or not.

    3. sba.gov

      With multiple grant programs including Covid-19 relief grant programs, sba.gov is another place to look into when you’re looking to get a grant for your business.

      SBA also offers grants to community organizations that are promoting entrepreneurship, including veteran-owned, and service-disabled veteran-owned businesses. Although they do not provide grants for expanding your business or starting your business, you may find grants that provide everything you’ve needed.

    4. The SBIR and STTR Programs

      The SBIR and STTR programs are geared towards funding small businesses engaging in federal research and development. Both programs require research partnerships, with STTR requiring you to collaborate with a non-profit research institution while you are under the first 2 phases of their program.

    5. Corporate Grants Program – Patagonia

      The Patagonia grant program differs a lot from the others on our list, with their grant specializing in environmental programs and projects. They have a local grant program, and also an international grant program if you are not based in the United States or Canada. If your small business or organization fits their criteria, you should definitely check Patagonia out.

    6. Nav’s Small Business Grant

      Nav’s quarterly $10,000 small business grant is another unique one, as your company can be about anything since they support any business. You just have to apply for their quarterly contest, write a post on your business socials, and share your posts around encouraging all your friends to vote for your business. If you win, you get the $10,000 grant, but even second place gets to have a $5,000 grant! You got nothing to lose trying to win Nav’s quarterly business grant

    7. The Amber Grant

      Another unique grant as this applies only to businesses owned by women and supports any type of business. Applying for the grant is no sweat too, as they don’t require you to fill out forms, and all you have to do is talk about yourself, and how you want your business dreams to come to life.

    8. NASE Growth Grants

      Members of the National Association of the Self-Employed (NASE) can apply for the NASE grant program. Though not all the applicants can be accepted, it is definitely worth the shot if you are a member of the NASE.

    9. Fastbreak for Small Businesses

      For small businesses that are lacking some exposure and love, this is a good choice to try and get a business grant, as LegalZoom, the NBA, WNBA, and NBA G League have all teamed up to help small businesses owners in underserved and underrepresented communities. With up to $10,000 grants, and open twice a year, this is definitely something to check out if you are in one of the smaller and ignored business communities.

Conclusion

Business grants are everywhere from online, local networks, and the government. If you are struggling with your business, don’t forget that there is always a way to get some help. There are countless opportunities awaiting you, and we hope this list of business grants could help your business grow and become the dream you’ve always wanted.

sharita
About the Author: Sharita M. Humphrey is an award-winning finance expert, money mentor and Certified Financial Education Instructor. Once broke and homeless, Sharita completely transformed her life and is now a successful entrepreneur and one of the most in-demand money coaches for individuals and business owners of color. In 2020, Sharita was named National Financial Educator of the Year.

Five Tips to Keep Customers Happy This Summer

May 9, 2022

By: The Maine SBDC

Another busy summer is expected, providing both an opportunity and a challenge for small businesses across Maine. The ongoing labor shortage means that many businesses will again need to do more with less. Here you can find some basic customer service tips that can help businesses stand out. Click To Tweet

Start with Your Employees

Good customer service starts with you and your employees. Satisfied employees are more likely to provide better customer service, plus they are more likely to stick around. Retaining employees is not always an issue of pay; studies show that the workplace environment and culture can be just as important to employee morale.  Listening, responding, respecting, and supporting your employees is an excellent first step in delivering great customer service. Consider what perks you can offer to support your employees, whether it’s free coffee and bagels once a week or an end-of-summer bonus.
 

Get creative with your hiring.

Identify the most important traits you need employees to have and cast a wide net.  Often a cheery disposition and great attitude can outweigh experience; you can train a person how to clean a hotel room, but it’s really hard to change a personality.
 

Provide training on the key elements of customer service.

Maine’s Office of Tourism offers a free certification program called Welcome ME 2.0. In addition to training, establish guidelines that help regulate the conduct of your workers towards customers, management, and fellow workers. It is also important to identify behaviors that reflect your company’s culture and drive success.
 

Set Realistic Expectations

When working with fewer human resources, set realistic expectations. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver than to have customers and employees disappointed. Like last summer, you may need to make modifications to your business such as limiting hours or days open, simplifying product offerings, and/or cutting back on service offerings. With both staffing and product shortages, it is more important than ever to make sure you have alternative vendors and service providers lined up in case of emergencies.  If you can’t get products in from your usual suppliers, where else can you turn in a pinch?
 
As you are making these changes, communication is absolutely essential to ensuring your new and existing customers are satisfied. Communicate using the signage on your business, your website, your social media, and in-person conversations. Again, it’s better to under-promise and over-deliver than have unhappy customers.
 

Be Welcoming to All

Overcoming barriers to customer service and achieving a culture of inclusion begins with understanding the needs of the people you serve. Consider the perspective of your customer. Are your customers those with young families, aging couples, or disabilities? Does your business welcome them? Make sure you are able to provide accessible accommodations that make them feel comfortable. Removing these barriers will be a simple way to make the experience a good one.
 

Personalize the Experience

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you do, but they will remember how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
 
True service excellence makes the customer feel important, heard, and special. For repeat customers, try to remember their preferences and offer helpful information. For new customers, ask good questions, listen, and respond to their needs.
 
In order to provide personalized service, businesses need to understand what drives customer satisfaction and how to meet their needs. Offering your customers a unique experience will help differentiate yourself from your competitors.
 

Invite Customer Feedback

Embrace an approach that encourages your customers to create positive word-of-mouth marketing, which in turn will allow your business to innovate and meet the needs of customers. Listen to their suggestions and attend to their complaints promptly. When customers are delighted with their experience, they are more likely to return to your business or spread the word about your brand. So, make every moment count. This builds trust and engagement.
About the Author: The Maine SBDC program helps build and strengthen small businesses through business advising, training and educational resources. Certified business advisors provide guidance on topics such as business feasibility, business plan development, capital acquisition, financial management, marketing and sales, e-commerce, customer service, personnel management, small business strategic planning and more.

What do we mean by “Underserved Communities”?

April 26, 2022
By: Tyler Demars.
 
While entrepreneurs can come from any demographic, life experience, or situational background, there are trends and common challenges related to identified population groups or communities that limit access to small business ownership. Folks from these communities are both underrepresented in entrepreneurship ranks in our state and underserved by the benefits of entrepreneurship which include wealth creation, job creation, community development, and increased community sovereignty. Wealth creation is the primary benefit of entrepreneurship for a community, other benefits flow primarily from this wealth creation. According to a report from our US Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency, business owners “represent roughly 10 percent of the workforce, but hold nearly 40 percent of the total U.S. wealth.” When we talk about underserved communities, we are talking about communities underserved by the benefits of entrepreneurship.
 

 
In North Dakota, Native Americans are our most significantly underserved community. New Americans, female entrepreneurs, and rural entrepreneurs face similar challenges related to being underserved. Find out what are some of the challenges faced by underserved communities. Click To Tweet
Common barriers to underserved entrepreneurs include:

Access to Capital

Businesses need capital to fuel growth. Poverty, lack of education, and low job experience in underserved communities affect an entrepreneur’s ability to use savings or other assets to self-finance, access private capital, and/or qualify for commercial or publicly backed loans  (such  as  SBA loans). Additionally, folks from underserved communities experience limited access to family or network-based investment.

Access to Professional Networking and Mentorship

According to research from the Kauffman Foundation, people who know entrepreneurs are more likely to become entrepreneurs. The value of professional networking and   mentorship is evident by the impact and momentum behind entrepreneurial ecosystem development happening in communities across the US. Entrepreneurial ecosystems are location-based networks of support systems for new and growing companies. Ecosystems are made up of entrepreneurs, resource support partners such as the ND SBDC and Chambers of Commerce, a talented workforce, and a healthy, inclusive culture that encourages access to the ecosystem. Underserved communities face unique challenges in connecting with their local ecosystems.

Systemic Discrimination & Oppression

Specific to Native Americans and New Americans, centuries of experienced discrimination and oppression have created doubts in the minds of Native American or New American entrepreneurs that they can succeed as business owners. We have made progress in facing our history and acknowledging the current state of cultural treatment of Native Americans, but still have work to do here.
 
 
It is the mission of Specialty Services at the ND SBDC to support underserved communities in improving access to entrepreneurship, leveraging their opportunities, and overcoming the unique challenges they face. Our Native American and New American clients bring innovative ideas, display a strong work ethic, and show up with a community-minded approach to business development. We are grateful and honored to be a partner in helping our neighbors from underserved communities in navigating the entrepreneurial journey. We believe all communities should be served by the benefits of entrepreneurship.
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About the Author: Tyler Demars, Specialty Services Director, North Dakota SBDC Network