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Free tools to help safeguard your private information

45116784_MDo you feel like you’re behind the curve on preventing hackers from gaining access to your private information? Here are some free tools that can help you learn more about possible threats to you and your business and help prevent becoming a victim of a cyber attack:

Avast Free Antivirus: This free antivirus software is highly rated by PC Magazine. (Avast also offers an inexpensive antivirus program for small businesses.) Here are some other highly-rated free antivirus products.

Two-step e-mail verification. Security experts recommend that everyone should consider two-step verification when logging into e-mail accounts. With two-step verification, after you type in your ID and password to gain access to your e-mail account, you’ll be sent a secret code via text to your mobile phone. For more information on two-step verification, check with your e-mail provider. Most e-mail providers, including Outlook, Gmail and Yahoo Mail, make it easy to switch over to this more secure method of accessing your account.

CyberSecure My Business. This national initiative is designed to help business owners prevent their enterprises from being the target of cyber attacks. Get practical information about identifying possible threats, protecting yourself and your business, detecting problems and responding to them.

Small Biz Cyber Planner: Use this tool to create a custom cyber security plan for your company, choosing from a menu of expert advice to address your specific business needs and concerns.

U.S. Small Business Administration cybersecurity resources: The SBA provides information at this link about emerging and growing threats, such as ransomware and cyber vandalism.

Want to learn more? Entrepreneur magazine has even more free resources at this link.

Using a third party trustee in your estate plan

72705186_MHave you spent hours debating who you should appoint as your trustee within your estate plan? Are you still at a standstill? Or are you second guessing the decision you made? You don’t have to appoint a friend or family member as a trustee. You have another option: a third-party designated trustee. This can come in the form of a bank or a trustee company.

Why is this an option?

Families can have drama – now or in the future. Implementing an estate plan is a stressful time, and your estate plan should alleviate stress, not add to it, especially if drama is already a part of your family dynamic.

You may also not fully trust the decisions by your own family members or close friends. Maybe you don’t have children or close friends you want to put in the position of being a trustee. Maybe your blended family complicates some of these decisions.

Even if you trust the person you would ask, being a trustee requires a large time commitment. It is also possible that as family members move, they may not be close enough to pop in for ongoing decisions and meetings related to the estate plan.

These are all reasons why a third-party trustee may be the best option for implementing your estate plan just as you intend. If you think this would be a good option for you, we’d love to talk to you about the next step to include a third-party trustee in your estate plan.

Have you claimed your Yelp business page?

58779259 - yelp website on a computer screen.Does your business have its own Yelp page? Yelp is a social review platform that has 83 million unique desktop visitors, 74 million unique mobile visitors and 28 million unique mobile app users each month. It’s growing in popularity by virtually any measure. Yet only about 1 million businesses nationwide have ‘claimed’ their Yelp business page. While a business may have a strong social media presence elsewhere, by disregarding Yelp, it could be missing out on a vital opportunity to demonstrate top-notch customer or client service and to address complaints.

Many business owners and executives think that Yelp doesn’t apply to their business. Yet the reality is that consumers are increasingly turning to Yelp not only for restaurant and retail reviews, but for information on a wide variety of other businesses, including those that provide professional services such as insurance, engineering and architecture. Yelp is for B2C and B2B companies.

Consider ‘claiming’ your business page on Yelp. A vast majority of business pages on Yelp are unclaimed, which unfortunately signals to Yelp users that customer/client satisfaction is not a top priority. While there’s no downside to happy customers or clients simply reporting a good experience with your business, unsatisfied customers publicly posting about their bad experiences can damage your brand’s reputation if you aren’t able to respond to them (which you can only do if you prove you own the business and claim it). Additionally, you could be missing out on a useful communication channel for inquiries about your businesses if Yelp users aren’t able to message you questions, comments, reservation requests, and other concerns.

Finally, don’t forget to have a sign somewhere in your business (and website) that encourages satisfied customers to leave reviews for your company on Yelp. Even this simple call-to-action could make a difference for your reviews count, and more Yelp reviews suggest greater popularity for a business, so you could score new customers through this valuable method as well.

The purposes and uses of a designated power of attorney

63663182_MPeople toss out the term ‘Power of Attorney’ freely these days, and it can be a simple document that lets someone else act on your behalf in all cases. But there are various uses for and kinds of POA documents.

Aging parents might want to give a medical power-of-attorney to a child. A wife might want to sign a temporary POA allowing her husband to sign for her on a real estate transaction because she’ll be out of the country. Young adults might give a roommate or friend POA for handling financial matters temporarily.

Simply put, a POA gives one person the power to act on another person’s behalf if he or she is unable to act for himself or herself. Two common types of POA documents are financial and medical POAs, and you don’t have to have to choose the same person for both. Maybe you have a family member with medical expertise who should be your medical POA. Maybe you have a friend who is better with finances than your own family members. The important thing is to choose a trustworthy person who would act on your behalf under these POAs.

Both financial and medical POAs can be as detailed or as general as you want them to be. A medical POA can include your preferences for life-sustaining treatments, as well as your wishes regarding facilities, medical staff, food and even personal care. The financial POA can allow your designated person to handle all your financial matters, or it can restrict his or her actions to bill-paying, access to accounts, doing your taxes, making investment decisions, managing your property or discussing public benefits with government agencies.

One common misunderstanding about POA documents is that they continue after death. At your death, the executor of your will takes over any financial decisions — and there are no more medical decisions to be made. Don’t forget that in order to sign a POA, you must be competent to make the decision. Don’t wait until your health declines to the point you are no longer competent.

Are you ready to talk further about establishing a POA for a specific or future need? We are easy to reach. Just call 248-613-0007.

When parents won’t share their estate plans

31993041 - happy 3 generation family in grandparents' backyardDo your parents have an estate plan in place? You hope so, but maybe they are hesitant to discuss their estate plans with you.

Finances can be a tricky topic for some families. However, it is an essential conversation to have for your understanding and overall family planning. Not knowing what to expect can be almost as bad as not planning at all. So how do you start this conversation?

Can you tie the conversation into a current need? If a parent, for example, is having health concerns, start the conversation with “Mom, what health directives are within your estate plan?” If you are concerned about not being able to fully help your parents as they age, consider asking if they have a power of attorney in place in case someone needs to speak on their behalf. Just be honest as you ask the question; you just want to ensure someone can help them handle difficult situations.

Can you tie the conversation into local or personal news? Maybe you know someone who has a tragic estate planning story. Maybe something in the news is bringing attention to estate planning. That conversation could even start with, “Dad, you know Fred made sure his children knew about his plans. What are your plans, Dad?”

Can you tie the conversation into your own estate plan? Hopefully you also have your estate plans in place. If so, use that as a way to start the discussion. You could start with “Mom and Dad, we decided to make some changes to our estate plan because of certain circumstances. When was the last time you reviewed your estate plan?”

Know that these aren’t one-time conversations. They should be ongoing. You also may be met with resistance at first. Continue the conversation in non-threatening ways so you all understand the estate plans that could affect generations.

Small business optimism skyrockets

31021187 - female owner of coffee shopSmall business owners are an increasingly upbeat group. In fact, U.S. small-business owners’ optimism has reached an 11-year high, just shy of the record confidence level recorded in 2006, according to Gallup research.

What’s behind all of that cheer? According to polling conducted at the start of the year, a majority of business owners (52 percent) report that their company’s revenues has increased over the past year. That’s a higher percentage than at any point since 2007. Additionally, 66 percent of business owners expect their revenues to increase in the next 12 months — the highest level in 15 years. Small business owners were even more optimistic about cash flow, with 77 percent expecting it to be very good or somewhat good in the next 12 months.

The National Federation of Independent Business also reports growing optimism so far in 2018, building on record-setting optimism in 2017. The NFIB’s Small Business Optimism Index reached an all-time high average monthly reading in 2017, beating the previous record set in 2004.

One of the biggest concerns of small businesses, however, remains the shortage of qualified workers, which is prompting many employers to increase pay and benefit offerings to better attract and retain qualified employees.

Millennials and entrepreneurship go hand in hand

66152853_SThey are called Millennials, but according to a new study, they may more aptly be called members of the ‘entrepreneurial generation.’ More than one-third of Millennials in a recent survey have worked for a startup company. And about 30 percent of these young adults have already started some kind of business (compared with 19 percent for Baby Boomers and 22 percent for members of Generation X).

According to the same survey, 61 percent of Millennials believe that the best job security comes from owning your own business rather than being employed by others, compared with 36 percent of Baby Boomers surveyed and 40 percent of members of Generation X. Furthermore, 59 percent of Millennials say with the right idea and resources, they would start a business in the next year.

The results are intriguing, especially given the fact that Millennials make up more than a third of the U.S. workforce and are projected to comprise half of the U.S. workforce by 2020. Not all Millennials who want to start their own businesses will do so, of course. But they certainly will be motivated to do so if their employers do not meet their needs.

More so than other generations, research shows that Millennials don’t necessarily need to start their own businesses, but they do want to work in an entrepreneurial atmosphere. They want to feel as if they are valued members of the companies they work for, that they have a voice in important business issues and that they have a degree of flexibility in how and where they do their work. Research shows that many Millennials are extremely loyal to employers who provide them with fulfilling and enjoyable work and pay attention to their personal needs. What does all this mean? Finding out what makes your company’s Millennial workers happy will be an increasingly important way in the coming years to keep your best and brightest.

Unequal distributions within estate planning

70380030 - unequal hand cut word split conceptAre you thinking of the best way to distribute your income to your heirs? You know you don’t have to distribute it equally, right? It’s OK to have unequal distributions in your estate planning.

Why would you use an unequal distribution?

You know your children or other heirs. Your estate planning should be based on your wishes for your heirs, which can take into consideration many factor, including their choices, their needs, the help you have given them, their future and your concerns.

Let’s look at some factors to consider:

  • What is their current financial situation?
  • How do they manage money?
  • Do they have any personal troubles that could be made worse through direct inheritance?
  • Should the funds be distributed in a way other than direct cash, such as a trust with certain stipulations related to age, employment, or any other specifics?
  • Are there medical needs or chronic health problems to take into consideration?
  • Is there a proven track record of bad decisions that can include failed marriages, finances or habits?
  • Does your estate plan need to stipulate any prenuptial agreements you would require?
  • Have you helped any of your heirs previously?
  • Are there any estrangements affecting your decisions?

Do any answers to these questions lead you to consider changing how you divide your estate? We would be happy to help you sort through the logistics of these decisions, as well as help you best explain to your heirs in person or through letters of your intent and reasoning.

Options for excluding someone from an estate plan

25872224_MEstate planning can be complicated when you want to exclude certain people from receiving a portion of your estate. Whatever your reason for wanting to exclude someone from your estate plan, you do need to be aware of the additional concerns exclusion can create and how you can work around that.

While excluding someone from your will is not a guarantee that the person won’t contest your will, it will make it more difficult.

While you can exclude someone by not naming them, one option is to directly acknowledge the exclusion within the estate plan. You don’t even need to list the reason why or you can have it documented that the reason is known between the parties involved. This makes it clear to all within the estate plan that it wasn’t an oversight, but a very intentional exclusion.

Another way to address this is to provide within your estate a small amount to the person you would rather exclude. While the person could still contest the amount, you can also specify that any failed contest would cost them that small amount as well. This may be enough to discourage any contest.

Do you know of someone you want to write into your estate plan this way? We are prepared to help you make sure your estate plan fully articulates your wishes, including preserving it for the those you want to benefit from your estate.

How well are you branding your business?

34577687_SBranding is one of the most important aspects of growing a successful business. It’s what sets you apart from the competition. It’s how people identify and connect with you. It’s what you stand for and what you strive to be.

That being said, there’s more to branding than flashy logos and catchy headlines. Here are a few things to keep in mind when creating a comprehensive branding plan for your company:

Define your company and its mission. What is your business all about? How do you want customers to perceive your company? Sure, you provide quality products and services and strive for 100% customer satisfaction. Dig a little deeper. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers and really think about the things that you want them to see in your business. Spend some time crafting a strong mission statement for your company and refer to it frequently to make sure you’re staying true to your vision.

Find your voice. Choosing an appropriate voice for your business (and sticking to it) will give your brand a strong identity. Do you want your company’s messages to be conversational, or do you want your brand to have a more professional tone? Do you want to sound formal or informal? Your voice should reflect your mission and purpose, and it needs to really resonate with your audience across all of your marketing channels, including social media.

Set brand standards. Does your business have a unified logo and color scheme? Everything from your company’s website to advertising to social channels and printed marketing materials needs to have the same look and feel. Even the photography needs to fit the brand’s identity, so make sure you have standards in place before moving forward with any marketing or advertising.

Consistency is key. The most important part of branding is staying consistent. Straying from your standards is the fastest way to lose your brand’s identity, as well as your audience. You can certainly make small changes every now and then, but you ultimately need to stay true to your brand.

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