Creating an Effective Anti-Harassment Policy

Creating an Effective Anti-Harassment PolicyReports of workplace harassment have dominated the news recently but despite that high-profile publicity, many employers may still be short on specifics of what constitutes harassment or how to create an effective policy to keep workplace harassment from happening in their business.

“Workplace harassment” is defined as any unwelcome verbal or physical conduct based on protected bases, which include race, religion, gender, national origin, age (40 and over), disability and sexual orientation.

“Unwelcome conduct” is conduct the employee did not solicit or invite, and which they regarded as undesirable. Examples include, but are not limited to, sexual advances, pressures for dates, slurs, comments, jokes, innuendos, threats, inappropriate gestures, pictures, graffiti, slang expressions and physical actions such as inappropriate touching or beatings.

Harassment can be conduct that culminates in a tangible employment action such as hiring or firing, promoting or failing to promote, reassignment and other actions. It can also be conduct that is sufficiently severe or pervasive that it results in a hostile work environment.

It is important for employers to understand that they may be liable for inappropriate conduct whether that originates with supervisors, co-workers or non-employees. It is also important that employees who are affected by the harassing conduct know they must explicitly or implicitly communicate that the conduct is unwelcome. Further, they cannot be an active participant in the behavior.

While employers cannot, in practical terms, control every word spoken or action taken at every moment, they do have a “Duty of Reasonable Care” with regard to harassment, and that is satisfied by establishing, disseminating and enforcing an anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure. They must also take other reasonable steps to prevent and promptly correct harassment that occurs.

An effective anti-harassment policy has several important elements.

It should start with a policy statement that is clear and precise, such as, “XYZ Company does not permit harassing conduct by anyone in the workplace. It is the policy of XYZ Company to maintain a work environment free from the harassing conduct described above.”

It should also state how the company will limit harassment, such as treating it as misconduct, even if it does not rise to the level of harassment as defined by law. It could also state that the company will act before the conduct is so pervasive and offensive as to create a hostile work environment.

The next point is the company’s statement that retaliation will not be tolerated against any employee making a good faith report of harassing conduct.

The company’s policy should define the roles and responsibilities of management members, supervisors, employees, the Human Resources department and other interested parties.

Its policy should identify the protected bases, define what constitutes harassing conduct and identify impartial plans to complain about harassment. It should also explain what should be done once harassment is reported, who should be notified, how promptly, and who will perform the subsequent inquiry into the claim.

It should explicitly cover harassment by anyone in the workplace, including supervisors, co-workers and non-employees. It should encourage employees to report harassment before it becomes severe or pervasive. Finally, an effective anti-harassment policy needs to be committed to in writing and be well disseminated.

In cases of alleged harassment, a company can be liable if it knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take immediate action and respond appropriately. A company can be assumed to have known if the victim complained about the harassment, the conduct occurred in the presence of a supervisor or the conduct is widespread.

A company can be held liable unless both elements of an affirmative defense are met. Specifically, the company must have exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct the harassment, and the complainant employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventative or corrective opportunities offered by the agency or to avoid harm otherwise.

For help creating your company’s anti-harassment policy, contact the Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County. Conveniently located in Camarillo, California, we’re here to help!

What is Blockchain Technology?

What is Blockchain Technology?

It seems that new terminology finds its way into our lexicons almost constantly. One of the terms to make a recent appearance is “block chain technology.” Since its introduction, the name has morphed into a single word: Blockchain.

Blockchain is a digital/decentralized/distributed ledger technology, referred to as DLT, which records transactions in an encrypted fashion to protect the records from cybercriminals. Those records are stored on servers and hard drives literally all over the world, making it difficult for cybercriminals to obtain records by hacking a single site.

Blockchain was developed to facilitate transactions in cryptocurrencies, and records and processes transactions without a third-party provider, which in the case of monetary transactions is usually a bank. This “always-on” access enables those who use cryptocurrencies to process transactions more quickly than banks, which operate during traditional hours, including being closed on the weekend. Those limits can delay approval of transactions, sometimes by several days. Validation of transactions on a blockchain occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Blockchain technology has actually been around for almost a decade, as it was developed around bitcoin. However, it has recently begun to garner significant attention, in part due to its applicability to industries beyond cryptocurrencies.

Broadly, the name “blockchain” refers to a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography to create a shared but immutable ledger for recording the history of transactions. The attribute of being unchangeable is a key benefit of blockchain and, although relatively new to the business and enterprise arena, it offers a number of benefits across a range of industries.

At a high level, blockchain platforms are designed to help business leaders accelerate the development, governance and operation of a multi-institution business network.

In financial services, direct connections to shared ledgers can help consolidate internal and external data in secure ledgers. Improving data quality helps improve compliance programs. In manufacturing, distributed ledgers can improve multiple data-intensive processes such as chain-of-custody record keeping and warranty compliance programs.

In retail supply chains, manufacturers and retailers are investing in DLT to improve their visibility in the flow of funds and chain of custody to help them fight fraud and reduce the flow of counterfeit goods.

Health care providers, regulators and agencies are looking at DLT as a way to help in the delivery, management and security of patient records and manage electronic health records.

Increasingly, enterprise customers are looking at blockchain, DLT and smart contracts (all of which are referred to as blockchain) to help improve their business processes, data management and data security, and boost financial performance.

Among the positive aspects of blockchain technology is that it is built on open-source code, giving a developer or business the ability to customize it to their applications. As a result, blockchain can be designed to be completely open to the public, or it can be totally private, with only certain parties granted access to the data or, in the case of cryptocurrencies, allowed to send and receive payments.

To learn more about blockchain and how it may be helpful to your business, contact the Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County. Conveniently located in Camarillo, California, we’re here to help!

Mentoring/Engaging Remote Employees

Mentoring/Engaging Remote EmployeesIn 2017, a Gallup poll found that four U.S. employees out of 10 do some work from home, and the number of employees who are full-time remote employees is growing.

Without constant contact, mentoring and engaging remote employees can prove even more challenging than mentoring and engaging those employees with whom you interact throughout every business day.

Or is it?

Some experts say that managing remote workers isn’t much different than managing other employees. By building relationships and mentoring workers, you can develop employees and keep them feeling very much a part of the team.

Overall, businesses with remote workers need to focus on four key areas.

Set the same expectations

Remote workers need to be on the same page as in-office workers in terms of expectations and policies. The rules should be the same for everyone, regardless of their location, on topics including employee spending, vacation time, business trips, etc. They also need to be stated clearly. To understand how well you’re developing your employee, you need to know that you’re starting with a basic level of knowledge about the company and its policies.

Similarly, understand what each person expects out of the mentoring side of the relationship. Stay in regular contact without micromanaging, and understand how the employee is feeling about issues like workload and deadlines. That will enable you to find areas where the individual needs help developing new skills or overcoming challenges.

Build a relationship first, ideally in real life

One of the biggest challenges of remote mentoring arrangements is being able to build enough rapport so that the employee is comfortable asking questions. Another is getting to know them well enough that you can spot strengths and weaknesses.

A mentoring relationship is a two-way street, so it’s crucial to build a connection with your “mentee” early on so they don’t feel intimidated by you. One expert flew a remote employee half way around the world so the two could work together, face-to-face, for a week. That turned out to be time and money well-spent, as it had a huge – and positive – impact on their communications.

Build in more structure

Mentoring relationships often fail because they can’t land in the sweet spot between overly casual and overly engineered,” one expert says, noting that remote mentoring relationships need more structure and communication than many business leaders think is necessary. Determine how often you’ll be in touch and through what formats. Maintaining that rhythm will help ensure that you’re communicating regularly enough to have an impact.

When connecting remotely, it is critical to have an initial agenda and a loose plan so that there is some structure coupled with the freedom to adapt. That structure may change over time, especially as the players get to know each other better.

Feedback and recognition

Creating systems for feedback and recognition can help strengthen both formal and informal mentoring relationships. One firm instituted “feedback Fridays” where employees and managers were encouraged to engage with each other and share feedback to improve their communication with each other and recognize both areas for improvements and jobs well done.

Overall, the role of the manager is getting harder. Managers face new challenges and need to be clearer than ever about the definition of success in the job and what it takes to get there. It also requires more effort to stay connected with people to get a true understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.

Finally, the company’s basic core values should include assuming positive intent and having a very high ethical culture. When a company has remote employees, managers cannot monitor everyone’s actions. Accordingly the company’s values, which should be shared by its employees, become especially important.

For more guidance on how to develop and manage remote employees for your business, contact the Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County. Conveniently located in Camarillo, California, we’re here to help!

How to Choose a Qualified Tax Advisor

How to Choose a Qualified Tax AdvisorChoosing a qualified tax advisor can be a challenge for businesses as well as the individuals who operate them.

It’s important to understand that not everyone who prepares taxes is qualified to offer advice. It may be tempting to simply stop into your local office of a big national tax preparation chain in your search for a tax advisor. However, because there are no national educational or professional requirements, nor is a license is required, it is important to find out about the training and experience of any individual you’re considering.

Fortunately, there is a wide range of tax professionals such as enrolled agents, accredited tax advisors, accredited tax preparers, certified public accountants and attorneys who specialize in tax matters. Most of these professionals are required to meet the educational standards of their profession, often including continuing education requirements to ensure their knowledge remains current.

Enrolled Agents (EA) An EA is a preparer approved by the Internal Revenue Service to represent taxpayers before the IRS. To obtain an EA credential, the individual must pass both a rigorous two-day exam on federal taxation and related matters as well as a background check, or must have been an IRS employee within certain qualifying categories. An EA must meet ongoing continuing education requirements in tax regulations and accounting methods.

Accredited Tax Advisor or Accredited Tax Preparer An Accredited Tax Advisor is one who is prepared to handle complex tax planning issues such as planning for owners of closely held businesses and highly compensated individuals; choosing retirement plans; performing estate planning; as well as preparing tax returns for businesses and individuals. The Advisor has taken a Master’s-level, six-course program administered by the National Endowment for Financial Education, and may also be an EA.

Certified Public Accountants A CPA has a college degree or equivalent work experience, has passed a state professional qualifying exam and meets other state licensing criteria. CPAs are highly skilled in accounting methods, but before engaging a CPA, be certain that the person you’re considering is also experienced in handling tax matters and is enrolled in a continuing education program to keep updated on the ever-changing tax laws.

Public Accountants Anyone in the public practice of accountancy can be considered a public accountant. In some states, accountants are regulated by a state agency. Accountants may also be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation and use the name Accredited Business Accountant. While many public accountants also are EAs, before hiring one, it is important to determine that the individual has a solid background in tax matters. Finally, be sure to verify their credentials.

Tax Attorneys Tax attorneys generally appeal to taxpayers who are interested in legally sheltering a portion of their income. Like CPAs and EAs, many tax attorneys are qualified to provide advice on related tax matters from municipal bonds to estate planning, and, if specialized, are well informed on tax laws and their applications. However, tax attorneys generally charge the highest fees of all categories of tax preparers.

Select your tax advisor based on your needs, then review your choice periodically to be sure you’re getting the best guidance for your situation.

For more guidance on managing taxes related to your business, contact the Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County. Conveniently located in Camarillo, California, we’re here to help!

Are You Fluent in AIDA?

Are you fluent in AIDA?

AIDA is a proven marketing concept that helps refine all advertising and messaging so that it hits your target market and motivates them to take action to buy your product. If you aren’t using AIDA, you are probably losing leads and not closing deals.

AIDA is based on 4 steps buyers need to take:

Attention—otherwise known as “Make me Care”
This can be a captivating picture; a slogan or claim that causes someone to look twice. It is meant to create a strong feeling of interest and usually is solving some “pain” that the person is experiencing. It should be targeted to something your target audience really cares strongly about.

Interest—usually amplifies a problem or pain point.
It keeps the person’s attention by giving a fact, a testimonial, or reason to look for more information.

Desire—why they really need this.
How it will improve the person’s life, or the consequences if they don’t get it.

Action—simple way that person can get it.
Sign up on website, get free demo, get white paper, call toll-free.

Look at your marketing materials to see if each one:

A: Grabs your target market’s attention and makes them care

I: Gives them more information that lures them in

D: Makes them emotionally WANT (desire) this

A: Shows them an easy way to get it.

You will know you are fluent in AIDA when you automatically look at all marketing materials to see how the advertiser is using these four elements to get people to take action and buy their product or service.

For more help on ways to reach your target audiences, contact the Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County. Conveniently located in Camarillo, California, we’re here to help.


Sales Lessons from the Trenches

Sales lessons from the trenches

When it comes to running a business, maintaining steady sales is key. But selling is harder than most people think, and sales often take longer than you expect. Here are some lessons from the trenches:

Know who you are talking to.

You can give a great sales presentation or demonstration, but if you aren’t in front of the decision-maker, you’re probably going to be making repeat appearances. Knowing whether your prospect is a gatekeeper (whose role is to weed out unwanted solicitors) or a decision-maker can save you time.

Maintain steady follow-up.

Always establish a day and time for your next contact with each prospect – and always follow through. Once you have figured out the typical sales cycle, make adjustments to the revenue and expenses in your business plan.

Calculate your prospect-to-sales ratio.

Figure out on average how many sales presentations/follow-ups it takes to get one sale (ask salespeople in your company/industry). Multiply your planned sales number by your ratio to get the total number of prospects that need to be in your pipeline.

It is OK for people to say no when you ask them to buy.

It’s part of the process and you need to move on. For example, if on average you can expect 19 people to say no for every 1 that says yes, you’ll know that once you make a sale, you’ll need approximately 20 more prospects to make the next sale.

Getting a new customer is time consuming and expensive.

Set up your business so that you have recurring sales from your customers OR increase the total purchase level for each customer by cross-selling other items. Cross selling and recurring business are necessary for ongoing profitability.

Keep your pipeline filled at all times.

Be consistent in prospecting. Make calls every day – regardless of what’s happening in your business.

Make it easy for others to buy from you.

Have a user-friendly website with information on what you sell and how they can purchase it. Get feedback from customers on their buying experience and look for ways to improve it.

The sale is only the beginning.

In order to get recurring business, you need to develop a relationship with your customer. Here are just some of the things you need to do:

  • Make sure your customer is happy
  • Always thank your customer
  • Communicate with your customer regularly so your business stays top-of-mind
  • Always ask for referrals from your customer

For more help on increasing sales for your business, contact the Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County. Conveniently located in Camarillo, California, we’re here to help.


10 Steps to Starting Your Own Business

10 Steps to Starting Your Own Business

You have an idea. You believe your idea is marketable and you’ve decided to expand your idea into a business. Great! Here are 10 steps to help guide you through the planning, key financial decisions and legal activities you’ll need to negotiate to get your new venture off the ground.

Conduct market research.

Market research will help confirm your belief there is an opportunity to turn your idea into a successful business. It’s a way to gather information about potential customers and businesses already operating in your area. Use that information to find a competitive advantage for your business. 

Write a business plan.

The foundation of your business, your business plan is a roadmap for how to structure, run and grow your new business. A good business plan will be a vital part of convincing people that working with you or investing in your company is a smart choice. Help in writing an effective business plan is available from the EDC-VC and other sources.

Funding your business.

Your business plan will help determine how much money you will need to start your business. If you don’t have that amount on hand, you will need to either raise or borrow the capital. The EDC-VC can guide you among the various sources of capital available.

Where to set up shop.

As the mantra goes, it’s, “Location, location, location.” Location is one of the most important decisions you’ll make, whether you’re setting up a brick-and-mortar business or launching an online store. Your choices could affect your taxes, legal requirements, and revenue.

Choose a business structure.

The legal structure you choose for your business will impact your business registration requirements, how much you pay in taxes, and your personal liability. Options include sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability corporation (LLC), C Corporation, S Corporation and nonprofit organization, among others. You’ll need to choose a business structure before you register your business with the state. Consulting with business counselors, attorneys, and accountants can aid you in choosing the best structure for your enterprise.

Choose your business name.

Picking the perfect name is not easy, nor is it a simple matter. Your name should reflect your brand and capture your spirit. You will also want to make sure your business name isn’t already being used by someone else. Once you settle on a name, you need to protect it. There are four different ways to register your business name. Entity name protects you at the state level while trademark protects at a federal level. “Doing Business As,” or DBA, does not provide legal protection but may be legally required. Finally, registering your Internet domain name protects your business website address.

Register your business.

Once you’ve picked the perfect business name, it’s time to make it legal and protect your brand. If you’re doing business under a name different than your own, you’ll need to register with the federal government, and maybe your state government, too. For most small businesses, registering your business is as simple as registering your business name with state and local governments. In some cases, you don’t need to register at all. If you conduct business as yourself using your legal name, you won’t need to register anywhere.

Obtain federal and state tax IDs.

Most businesses don’t need to register with the federal government to become a legal entity; however, filing to get a federal tax ID is vital. You will use your employer identification number (EIN) for important steps to start and grow your business, like opening a bank account and paying taxes. It’s like a social security number for your business. Some — but not all — states require you to get a tax ID as well.

Apply for licenses and permits.

Keep your business running smoothly by staying legally compliant. The licenses and permits you need for your business will vary by industry, state, location, and other factors.

Open a business bank account.

A small business checking account can help you handle legal, tax, and day-to-day issues. The good news is it’s easy to set one up if you have the right registrations and paperwork ready.

For more guidance on starting your own business, contact the Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County. Conveniently located in Camarillo, California, we’re here to help.


Protecting Your Business from Cyberthreats

Protecting Your Business from Cyberthreats

We’ve all heard about high-profile security breaches, from the Equifax data breach of 2017 to the Stuxnet virus. But small businesses are also at risk. Here are several security recommendations to protect yourself and your customers from cyberthreats.

Use antivirus and antispyware software.

Make sure each of your business’s computers is equipped with antivirus software and antispyware. Such software is readily available from a variety of vendors, and all software vendors regularly provide patches and updates to their products to correct security problems and improve functionality. Importantly, configure all software to install updates automatically. Ensure the software protects all pages on your public-facing websites, not just the checkout and sign-up pages.

Secure your networks.

Use a firewall and encrypt information to help safeguard your Internet connection. If you have a Wi-Fi network, make sure it is secure and hidden. To hide your Wi-Fi network, set up your wireless access point or router so it does not broadcast the network name, known as the Service Set Identifier (SSID). Password protect access to the router.

Establish security practices and policies to protect sensitive information.

Establish policies on how employees should handle and protect personally identifiable information, such as birth dates and social security numbers, and other sensitive data. Clearly outline the consequences of violating your business’s cybersecurity policies.

Educate employees about cyberthreats and hold them accountable.

Educate your employees about online threats and how to protect your business’s data, including safe use of social networking sites. Employees should be educated about how to post online in a way that does not reveal any trade secrets to the public or competing businesses. Hold employees accountable to the business’s Internet security policies and procedures.

Require employees to use strong passwords and to change them often.

Consider implementing multifactor authentication that requires additional information beyond a password to gain entry. Check with your vendors that handle sensitive data, especially financial institutions, to see if they offer multifactor authentication for your account. 

Use a Virtual Private Network, or VPN.

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a service that allows you to connect to the internet via a server run by a VPN provider. All data traveling between your computer, phone or tablet, and this “VPN server” is securely encrypted.

Employ best practices on payment cards.

Work with your bank or credit card processors to ensure it is using the most current, trusted and validated tools and anti-fraud services. You may also have additional security obligations related to agreements with your bank or processor. Isolate payment systems from other, less secure programs and do not use the same computer to process payments as employees use to surf the Internet.

Back up important business data and information.

Regularly backup the data on all computers. Critical data includes word processing documents, electronic spreadsheets, databases, financial files, human resources files, and accounts receivable/payable files. There are numerous services to which a business can subscribe as well as a wide range of back-up software that will handle the back-up functions automatically.

Control physical access to computers and network components.

It is vital to prevent access or use of business computers by unauthorized individuals. Laptops are particularly easy targets for theft (or can be lost), so they should be locked up when unattended. Cable locks are readily obtained at electronics stores or online. Create a separate user account for each employee, and require strong passwords. Grant administrative privileges only to trusted IT staff and key personnel.

Create a mobile device action plan.

Mobile devices can create significant security and management challenges, especially if they hold confidential information or can access the corporate network. Require users to password- protect their devices, encrypt their data, and install security apps to prevent the theft of information while the phone is on public networks. Be sure to set reporting procedures for lost or stolen equipment.

For more guidance on protecting your business online, contact the Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County. Conveniently located in Camarillo, California, we’re here to help.


How to Find Qualified Hires

The good news is unemployment is at near-record lows. But with that comes the challenge of finding and hiring qualified employees. Businesses of all sizes are facing the same challenge, but small businesses competing for workers need to be strategic in order to compete with larger businesses offering higher salaries and more lavish benefits. Here are three tips on how you can overcome these obstacles.

  1. Cast a wider net. Consider aptitude and attitude as well as experience, and consider a candidate who may have some, but not all of what you are looking for. If you’re willing to provide in-house training to get a worker up to speed, you can probably find a great candidate for less than the cost of a “dream candidate.” Consider job seekers in their 50s, candidates with disabilities or stay-at-home parents looking to reenter the workforce.
  2. Upgrade your offer. Review your budget and find a few ways to shift dollars to spend a little more on wages. Keep in mind that health insurance and retirement plans, such as a 401(k), are much-wanted perks for most job seekers.
  3. Involve your employees in the search. Motivate employees to tap into their social networks and spread the word that your company is hiring. Offer a bonus for any recommendations that result in a successful hire. Don’t hire someone just because you know them. A good policy is to have each candidate interviewed by at least three different people (including you). When others on your team buy-in to the selection of a particular candidate, there is a better chance that your staff will have a vested interest in helping the new person be successful.

For more guidance on finding and hiring the best candidates to help grow your business, contact the Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County. Conveniently located in Camarillo, California, we’re here to help.

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Small Business Tips for Tax Organizing

Small Business Tips for Tax Organizing

As the April 15 tax deadline looms closer, small business owners often resolve to improve the way they organize and manage their financial and tax records to make tax preparation less painful. Here are 8 tips you can implement to reduce tax-time stress.

  1. Ask your tax preparer. Your tax preparer may already have a system you can follow to reduce the amount of work they have to do, ultimately saving you money. If you are cloud-based, you can set-up an account for your tax preparer to access directly.
  2. Digitize your documents. Gone are the days of the receipt-filled shoebox. The IRS accepts digital copies of receipts, which enables you to use tools such as Zoho Expense and BizExpense to manage receipts; TripLog and MileIQ track mileage using GPS; and the BizXpense mobile app tracks both mileage and expenses.
  3. Minimize your paper. Even with cloud-based accounting and digital expense management, you will still need to manage some paper documents. Keep paper organized and to a minimum by using a portable file box that you can take with you to your accountant. Be sure to “back up” with copies in a second box kept safely at home.
  4. Have your W-2 and 1099 form information ready. Keep your employee and contractor information up-to-date, so that it’s ready to go in advance of the January 31 deadline for delivering W-2 and 1099 forms.
  5. Take your deductions. Tax laws change year to year. Before you start your preparation, ask your tax preparer which tax deductions and/or credits apply to your business. Visit the IRS website and check your state for tax credits that apply.
  6. Use a business credit card for expenses. Simplify your tax organization by using a business credit card for expenses. Most cards provide a year-end summary of expenses sorted by category. Be sure to pay your credit card balance in full each month.
  7. File on time. Be sure to calendar all tax filing deadlines with “due dates” for your to-dos to be ready in time, especially if you have to make estimated quarterly tax payments.
  8. Make “fiscal fitness” part of your on-going routine. You can’t expect to be ready at tax time if you only organize once a year. By blocking in weekly or monthly time on your calendar and keeping the appointment with yourself, you’ll be in great shape at tax time.

For more guidance on organizing and managing your financial and tax documents throughout the year, contact the Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County. Conveniently located in Camarillo, California, we’re here to help.


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