Davinci Virtual Blog



Need Help? Hire an Unpaid Summer Intern

I recently came across an article in Fox Business’ Small Business Center called “3 Reasons Why an Unpaid Intern Wants to Work for You.”

The gist of it is this: summer is upon us and summer interns are rip for the picking. So if you want to get in on some free help from June through August, Fox suggested three incentives you can offer college kids: a learning experience, the prospect of a job offer and a job to be proud of.

OK, but how do you go about finding an intern? That might be a bigger challenging than actually convincing them to hook up with your small business.

Well, other than calling your local colleges, which I would recommend, you can also put out some feelers on Web sites that specialize in connecting companies with interns.

Springwise scans the globe for the most promising business ventures, ideas and concepts that are ready for regional or international adaptation, expansion, partnering, investments or cooperation. Springwise bills itself as brain food for entrepreneurial minds.

There’s also a site called Enternships. Enternships promises ambitious and dynamic students and graduates with an opportunity to learn about business and enterprise through work placements in entrepreneurial and innovative environments, from start-ups to global venture funds around the world.

You might also want to check out Urban Interns. Urban Interns is an online marketplace that connects high-growth companies with talented candidates looking for internships, part-time jobs, freelance work and contract positions.

And remember, once you find potential candidates be sure to set your small business up as a learning experience, with the prospect of a job offer and a job to be proud of.

Here's another take: Get your small business approved for college internships at a local college. Check out this video:


Earth Day Office Tips for Your Small Businesses

Are you looking for ways to reduce your environmental footprint? Virtual offices are one way, but there are lots of others. Even if you work from a home office, you can take measured, eco-friendly steps.

Grand & Toy, a company that offers sustainable business solutions for all office needs of small and medium-sized businesses, is offering 10 Earth Day tips that can help you get greener than ever before.

"Today, most business leaders would agree that sustainability is an imperative for organizations of all sizes," says Natasha Renaud, director of Communications and Social Responsibility at Grand & Toy. "It is important for small businesses to know they can take simple steps that are cost-efficient and effective to becoming more earth-friendly."

So without further ado, here are excerpts from Grand & Toy’s tips (with a few comments of my own mixed in for good measure):

  1. If it's not essential for your business to operate from a traditional "office," get rid of it. Working remotely, from your home, from your client's office or from an unassigned workstation in a local business center reduces not only the number of cars on the road and greenhouse gas emissions, but also office overhead and gasoline expenses. (A virtual office comes to mind here.)

  2. Take advantage of natural light during daytime work hours. With this tip, you not only go greener, you also save green by reducing your energy expenses. When you do need artificial light, use fluorescent and compact fluorescent light bulbs. They last longer, use less energy and cost less in the long term.

  3. Choose sustainable interiors. Ensure the furniture you buy is certified by at least one of the credible environmental certification programs. Choose earth-friendly materials. For example, furniture partially made from soy-based foam consumes less energy and emits fewer greenhouse gas emissions during manufacturing than furniture that is petroleum-based.

  4. Consolidate your ordering practices to once a month. This is a winning idea from several angles. First, order consolidation helps reduce the number of trucks on the road, greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution associated with transportation. Less packaging required to ship product also means less potential waste. What’s more, consolidation leads to fewer invoices to be reconciled and easier payments, freeing up more time to focus on your business.

  5. Request electronic catalogues and electronic invoicing from your suppliers. Holding your suppliers environmentally accountable will decrease the amount of paper they are using and encourage them to start thinking about their own environmental practices. Similarly, arrange for electronic payment of all your purchases through a credit or debit card, PayPal or other electronic system.

  6. Use sustainable cleaning products. Quality microfiber cloths, for example, not only pick up dust, surface residues, microscopic particles, grease and oil, but can also significantly reduce and, in some cases, completely eliminate the cleaning chemicals required for certain jobs. They may cost a bit more, but they are healthier for you.

  7. Equip your office washroom with touch-less towel dispensers or air dryers. This will help you further reduce your business' paper consumption. This won’t help if you work from a home office. In that case, you can use hand towels instead of paper towels.

  8. Implement a full-scale recycling and compost program. By composting leftover food and recycling paper, cardboard, glass and aluminum cans, using specially marked bins, you'll make sure your office waste is diverted from landfills and used to produce new products, such as white printer paper, paper towels, aluminum cans and glass bottles. This is something that’s especially convenient to do from a home office.

  9. Recycle your used ink and toner cartridges, too. Instead of throwing them away, send them to the companies collecting empty ink and toner cartridges for recycling.  This will help conserve energy and virgin materials. Depending on the program, you can get money back for every returned cartridge.

  10. Print double-sided and use environmentally certified paper. Switching to a 50 percent post-consumer recycled content paper will save 120 trees for every 10 skids of paper, according to the Environmental Defense Organization, and the energy saved is enough to power a house for a year. In addition, double-sided printing, on average, leads to a 30 per cent reduction of paper usage that will increase if a secure pass code printing system is implemented as well.

Check out this YouTube video for some more tips:


Online Bartering Could be a Small Business Boon

Let’s make a deal. No, not a loan deal—haven't you read the headlines about how hard it is for small businesses to get a loan?—a good old fashioned barter in a new fashioned way.

I just came across a new social network that small business owners might find interesting. It’s called FavorPals and it lets small business owners operate in a world without money.

FavorPals is not the first site I’ve seen over the years that focuses on bartering, but this one asks you to use your imagination to pretend money doesn’t exist as you seek to swap services and save your bottom line—and it’s also a way to promote your business.

Erin Hersey, director of Strategy at Favorpals, explains it this way: “This can be a self-promoting tool. When you are a small business, you want as much exposure with little use of capital as possible. But imagine a free website built for you in exchange for your skills. There are limitless possibilities, but our site is aimed at advocating the ancient practice of bartering. With this online platform you can reach a new mass of people who can help your business or everyday needs in unique ways.”

Sure, you could try using Craigslist or Facebook for bartering, but that’s not the distinct purpose of those platforms. Favorpals lets you browse bartering opportunities in dozens of categories such as cell phones, gift certificates, real estate and stamps.

I suppose the idea is somewhat similar to Groupon, except instead of promoting your services with a major discount and giving Groupon a cut you are promoting your services in exchange for other services.

One thing FavorPals does have in common with sites like Craigslist and Facebook is that it’s free. FavorPals is brand new, so the pickings are slim right now. But check out the site when you get a chance. You may not find anything there that suits you, but at the least you’ve opened your mind to the concept of bartering—and that could be a strong benefit for your small business.

Check out this video for small business bartering advice from the BBB:


Small Businesses Consider Impacts of Rising Gas Prices

Gas prices are rising, and some analysts are predicting the price for premium fuel will hit $5 this summer. What kind of impact is that having on your small business? If you are like most small businesses, it really hurts. But there is good news from Washington and from the auto industry.

First, the bad news. More than 64 percent of small business owners in a DollarDays International survey blame rising gas prices for driving down revenue. And it gets worse—more than 25 percent of small business owners expect to have to lay off employees because of the impact.

Meanwhile, 58 percent say customers are driving less. That equals fewer shopping trips. Small business owners also expect that trend to worsen in the summer months.

Mom and pop retailers are especially feeling the pinch. According to a recent report from real estate research company Reis Inc., strip malls and neighborhood shopping centers have a higher vacancy rate compared to malls. Reis predicts the vacancy to rise 11.1 percent this year, up from 10.9 percent in 2011. That’s the highest vacancy rate since 1990.

That was the bad news. Are you ready for some good news?

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is optimistic, even in the face of rising gas prices, Bloomberg reports. Geithner told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the economy can withstand the impact of higher gas prices because the economy is gaining strength. He said the increasing gas prices would only “modestly” impact an economic recovery.

What about electric cars? A Fast Company article suggests that the acceptance tipping point hovers around $5 a gallon. At least that’s what a survey from Deloitte discovered. The main conclusion of the survey is that the higher gas prices go, Fast Company reports, the more consumers favor the notion of electric vehicles.

“When gas hits $5 per gallon, 78 percent of Americans surveyed said they'd consider purchasing an electric vehicle,” the article reads. “But U.S. consumers actually expect to have their cake and eat it: Over 50 percent aren't willing to pay any premium at all for an electric vehicle over a gas-powered one, and over 77 percent expect to pay less than $30,000.”

So don't panic. This is all part of the ups and downs of the economy.

Prepare Your Small Business for Obama’s Tax Hikes

President Obama wants to end the Bush-era tax cuts for families making more than $250,000 a year. But small business advocates see it as a direct attack. It’s a debate that’s likely to heat up in the months ahead, especially with the 2012 election campaigns gearing up soon.

In the meantime, what can small business owners do to maximize their after-tax income? Strategic tax planning could benefit small business owners next year, when new tax laws are likely to pinch the pennies in your pocket.

"Tax laws for businesses are more complicated than for individuals,” says Erin Hollis, a director at Tax Services for Strategic Tax Advisors (STA). “And, many small business owners are unaware of how they too can benefit from the same tax planning strategies which large corporations have employed to legitimately minimize their future tax obligations."

With that in mind, Hollis is offering 10 questions every small business owner should ask themselves to determine how strategic tax planning could benefit them. I’ve listed them here. Go ahead and invest 10 minutes in this self-test. It could save you thousands of dollars.

  1. Do you pay yourself as an employee, a business owner, or both? Do you know the difference? And, what tax implications were considered in making this decision?

  2. Has your tax preparer and/or attorney ever discussed the business and personal financial benefits available to you from creating a strategic tax plan?

  3. Why did you choose the present legal structure of the company and what tax benefits do you gain from this legal structure compared to other alternatives?

  4. Do you have a tax-advantaged plan for your future exit from your business?

  5. What is your contingency plan for the business, if you are forced to exit involuntarily (e.g., death or disability)?

  6. How much money do you need to retire comfortably and what part will your business play in funding that future retirement?

  7. When was the last time your estate plan was updated?

  8. What changes in assets, intentions, or tax laws have occurred since you last reviewed your retirement plan and estate plan?

  9. How will the value of your business affect the estate taxes due upon your death?

  10. Has your tax advisor discussed with you current tax incentives applicable to your business, as well as those proposed in the new budget bill?

"If business owners can't answer all ten questions with absolute certainty, then it would be wise to seek an independent review of their tax-related circumstances,” Hollis says. “This is the only way to be certain that the present needs of the business, and the future benefits to the family, are fully taken into account."

Check out this video on strategic tax planning if you want to learn more about the concept: