It’s no secret small businesses are essential to the economy. The latest U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners reported women owned 7.8 million businesses and accounted for 28.7 percent of all businesses nationwide. These small business firms generated $1.2 trillion in receipts. Given the challenges facing small businesses, now more than ever women are navigating work-life demands, business management and talent retention issues.

In fact, women are more concerned about virtually every economic factor than men, including the effectiveness of government leaders (76 percent vs. 73 percent), commodities prices (76 percent vs. 70 percent) and healthcare costs (75 percent vs. 66 percent), says the recent Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, a semi-annual study exploring the concerns, aspirations and perspectives of small business owners nationwide.
The report also revealed that running a small business causes owners – both men and women – three times as much stress as raising children and twice as much stress as maintaining a healthy relationship with a spouse or partner. However, women do not give themselves the free time that men do – 62 percent compared to 53 percent.
“Small business owners are constantly making sacrifices and prioritizing the success of their business over other personal priorities in their lives, but there are some simple ways to maintain a better work-life balance,” says Steve Strauss, small business expert and USA TODAY columnist.  
Strauss offers the following tips to managing the daily juggling act of owning a small business: 
* Build a diverse support system: While a vast majority of small business owners need some level of financial guidance, often in the form of occasional or ongoing expert advice, the report finds more women than men engage an accountant/bookkeeper (79 percent vs. 70 percent), a financial advisor (73 percent vs. 65 percent) or banker (52 percent vs. 47 percent) to help them run their businesses. Resources such as these can expand your network, provide essential professional support and keep you current on relevant trends.
* Use tech tools and resources available to you: According to the Bank of America Small Business Owner Report women are actually more likely than men to view technology as a useful cash management tool. For example, female small business owners are more likely to view online banking (78 percent vs. 67 percent of their male counterparts) or direct payments (46 percent vs. 35 percent of males) as helpful in managing their small business.  Electronic invoicing, online payroll services and mobile banking are other resources that can help. If you’re not already using these types of tools, be sure to speak with your financial institution about how to better manage your finances and improve efficiency. 
* Boost your competitive edge in the war for talent: The financial benefits you offer current and potential employees can be a deal maker … or deal breaker. The good news is that small businesses now have access to 401(k) and IRA products designed specifically for their needs and budgets. For example, Merrill Edge Small Business 401(k) is designed for small businesses’ unique needs and offers a simplified, easy-to-manage retirement plan with lower costs than many traditional 401(k) plans, enabling owners to provide an important benefit to their employees. Offering these benefits is more important for women particularly when coupled with the cultural and work-life balance perks that often make small businesses attractive to employees, and they can boost your competitive edge.  
With the right expertise and tools, small business owners can be equipped to improve their work-life balance. 
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Use these smartphone apps to help you get prepared, remain connected and stay safe during bad weather:

StopDisaster – This iPhone app walks you through preparedness checklists for hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards and other disasters.

Dropbox – Install the program on your PC or Mac, upload files to your folder, and they are instantly available on all your other computers.

MotionX GPS Drive – MotionX GPS Drive is the cheapest and most popular way to guide you out of town on an unfamiliar route.

Flashlight by Rik for iPhone and Brightest Flashlight – These apps turn your phones into flashlights.

Hurricane Tracker – This hurricane-tracking app is for serious weather junkies and people who want to be better-informed.

Life360 – The family GPS tracking system can help you find your loved ones anywhere.

5-0 Radio Police Scanner Lite – Pick up police band radio.

USAA – Report or view the status of an auto or property claim, submit photos, schedule an appraisal through one of USAA’s approved repair shops, or reserve a rental vehicle.

GasBuddy – Uses your GPS to display up-to-the-minute gas prices near you, so you can avoid price gouging.

Hands-Only CPR – App walks you through the two-step checklist: call 911, start chest compressions.

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(NC)-It’s rare to come across a business whose biggest problem is finding enough talented people to hire because sales keep doubling every year.

But this has been the case for Kevin Richer ever since 2007, when, at the age of 27 he first launched his Wooky Entertainment toy company. Now, with the release of new product lines like Mathable – a numerical variation of the board game Scrabble- this is shaping up to be the biggest year yet for this creative Montrealer.

Success, however, has been anything but pure luck. Richer was born into a long line of toy manufacturers and he`d been developing new products and managing his parents’ toy company for a full decade before starting up Wooky. ” I just couldn’t imagine my parents’ business, as it was then structured, being able to follow the vision I had for a company like Wooky,” Richer says today.

The all-Canadian company now produces top quality toys exclusively conceived by an in-house R&D team. Wooky employs more than 30 people and its innovative approach to marketing, drives the strikingly youthful company. With the bulk of employees young enough to have only stopped playing with toys themselves recently, it’s not surprising Wooky has been able to develop lines kids can relate to. Most notably is StyleMeUp, a fashion design series for young girls that’s taken off in more than 45 countries so far.

“It’s true,” says Richer, “to successfully develop new toys you need to go back to when you were the age of the consumers you’re selling to. And with our marketing we realized early on that toys are just one element of a much larger business-the entertainment industry.

“You see, it’s all about building entertainment brands now, creating products that have far wider horizons, be that through television, movies, or the internet. The toys getting those coveted places on the shelves of the big retailers all have strong brands rooted in entertainment. So before we develop a toy we first develop the brand. That’s one reason why almost all our products have their own dedicated interactive websites.”

Under Richer’s careful supervision, the Wooky R&D department has created over 200 toy products in the past three years alone. Whatever the case, with sales doubling every year, there’s no doubt that this enterprise is on to something big.

So if you’re a talented creative type, this success tells us that there may be smart businessmen bot there looking to hire someone like you. More information can be found online atwww.wookyentertainment.com.

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Not only does growing your own produce allow you to save on fresh, organic produce, but edible plants grow in a variety of shapes, colors and textures enabling you to cultivate a landscape that is as unique as you are. Lowe’s Seasonal Plants Expert Karey O’Halloran provides quick tips on selecting and growing the right edible plants for your garden.

• Most (but not all) vegetable and fruit plants require full sunlight- at least 4-6 hours/day

• Full sun vegetables and fruits that grow on the vine generally produce the most color. Consider and assortment of bell peppers, eggplant, Hot House Tomatoes, strawberries, and blueberries

• Cool-season plants such as cabbage, kale, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, and beans are versatile and can tolerate some shade

• Vegetables and fruits will not grow in full shade

• Salad greens make for great edging plants as they are lush in color and foliage.

• For small spaces- window boxes, hanging baskets, potted plants, and raised garden beds are versatile and can allow for great growing.

• Need shade? Consider planting a fruit tree in your yard. Keep in mind that falling fruit can be messy, and could attract pests such as flies and bees.

• To control pests, plant garlic bulbs sporadically throughout your garden. This will help ward off spiders, flies, and slugs.

• If you love flowers, consider growing edible varieties such as Pansy’s, Borage, or even Squash.

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Thanks to mobile technology, businesses of all sizes and industries – from your local brick and mortar shop to your favorite online retail site – have the opportunity to easily reach people on the go.

Take Accents Style for example. This clothing boutique in Arlington, Texas, creatively reaches mobile customers by hanging incentives in the dressing rooms, including a 10 percent discount on a purchase when customers “check-in,” and a free pair of gold or silver hoop earrings when they “like” Accents Style’s Facebook page. Lucy Huang, owner of the business, says that her mobile efforts are paying off.

“Our posts get great responses. The check-ins via mobile are big incentives for our customers to come into our boutique,” she says.

Mobile is a vital channel for you to reach your customers and will only continue to grow. While mobile is a great vehicle for businesses to market to their customers, many business owners don’t know where to start or think it’s too complicated to do well. Below are answers to some of the most-asked questions from local businesses on how to more effectively reach the right audiences on the go.

1. As a business owner, how do I market on mobile without using a ton of resources? I’m just one person and don’t have the time.

A business’ social presence is a free and easy way to connect with potential customers on mobile. That’s because what you do on your page instantly translates to mobile – and your customers are already there, waiting to hear from you. Of the 1.15 billion people on Facebook, more than 70 percent access the site from their mobile phone.

Furthermore, people on the go are actively looking for businesses in their area: according to a recent Google study, 95 percent of smartphone users search for local information and 59 percent of smartphone users visited in-person after searching for local information. To effectively reach the right customer at the right time, you can tap in to the mobile ad targeting features available across many social platforms. For example, you can target people broadly or narrow down to specifics such as gender and interests. BarkBox, a company that delivers a monthly box of dog goodies (treats, products, toys, etc.) to dog owners, targeted friends of their fans on Facebook who were females and had an interest in dogs. After seeing success, BarkBox deepened their targeting by adding in geographic areas and age ranges and saw even greater results.

2. What are the best ways to create mobile ads?

Given people on their phones usually have limited time and attention spans, it’s important to create compelling and concise content including photos and short videos. For example, North Carolina-based barbecue company Bone Suckin’ Sauce promoted its Facebook photo post on mobile with the hook: “Which is better on the grill? Fish, chicken, vegetables, or steaks?” – to encourage conversation among fans. The company saw an 83 percent increase in online store sales as a result of promoting posts like these.

3. How can I manage my mobile marketing when I’m on the go, too?

Tools like Facebook’s Pages Manager app or Hoot Suite’s Social Media Manager app allow you to manage your pages on the go, whether you post photos, respond to customers via comments, or create ad campaigns.

You need to think mobile to grow your business

Just looking at the growing number of times per day people access the Web on their phones, it’s no secret that mobile marketing needs to become an integral part of your consumer marketing strategy. So don’t wait any longer: Think mobile and you’ll be able to reach new customers and keep current customers returning.

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(NC) Millions of dollars are being invested in an attempt to reinvent the toilet. The dollars come from the Gates Foundation, and the challenge is to develop technology capable of disposing of human waste, hygienically, without lavish consumption of water, costly pipeline systems, and industrial-scale processing plants.

Driving this search is the need to save lives. Over 40 per cent of the world’s population lives without engineered waste disposal systems, causing a million and a half people to die each year from gastro-intestinal diseases due to primitive, disease-carrying toilets or none at all.

In American Standard, in partnership with the Gates Foundation, visited an impoverished area of Bangladesh where the use of unsanitary pit toilets had long been the root cause of widespread mortality, especially among young children.

This leading toilet manufacturer, sent a team of engineers and field workers to Rajshahi to study the situation. They found that the pit toilets lacked any kind of closure to prevent the spread of contamination from the accumulated waste. The engineering team developed an improved version of the existing pan that, in the words of Jim McHale, group leader “Would be more effective at separating people from the waste, and therefore more effective at stopping the transmission of disease.”

The new toilet, called SaTo, was welcomed by the community, who found it easier to use and keep clean, and relatively odour-free. A bonus was that it was designed for local manufacture, creating a viable business opportunity so the people of Rajshahi could build their own upgraded toilets.

Success in Bangladesh led to another grant from the foundation – sending their team to sub-Saharan Africa late this year. They will benefit from experience gained in Bangladesh, but as McHale explains, the challenge will not be the same, “In Bangladesh, we designed a solution that met local needs and expectations. For Rajshahi water supply was not a problem. Here, water is far less abundant, and that may well dictate a different approach.”

Simone Abele, of American Standard in Canada, announces that until the end of this December, a SaTo system will be donated to a third-world country each time an American Standard Champion toilet is sold in Canada. If you are not in the market for a new toilet you may leave a “like” on the company’s Flush for Good Facebook page. One SaTo will be donated for every100 likes.

You can learn more at www.flushforgood.com.

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(BPT) – Most Americans over 50 want to stay in their home as they age, but few are making the renovations they need to ensure easy and comfortable living for years to come.

In fact, 80 percent of people older than 50 say they would prefer to remain in their home indefinitely, according to an AARP survey. The Hartford and MIT Age Labs found that while 96 percent of baby boomers are aware of the changes they could make to their current home to make it more comfortable as they grow older, only 26 percent have made such modifications.

Consider some of the following functional, yet beautiful, touches that help make a home safer and more comfortable for residents of all ages.

* Hardwood floors

Replacing carpet with hardwood floors can help accommodate difficulties ranging from respiratory problems to decreased mobility. Unlike carpet, hardwood flooring doesn’t trap dust, pollen or other particles that cause problems for those with allergies and respiratory issues. Wheelchairs and other mobility equipment can glide more easily over a hard surface, and hardwood floors require far less maintenance. Homeowners can choose from a variety of hardwood flooring options that meet their needs and fit their budget at retailers such as Lumber Liquidators, North America’s largest specialty hardwood flooring retailer.

* New furniture

Changing out furniture can make a huge difference in the comfort and style of a home. Enhance maneuverability by allowing ample room between furnishings, and by picking accessible pieces such as counter-height dining tables and chairs. Likewise, it’s easier to sit in and stand from firmer sofas and chairs than deeper, softer options.

* Kitchen updates

Kitchen shelves that pull out make utensils, pots and pans, and ingredients much more accessible, and do not require a kitchen remodel. A wide range of products and kits enable homeowners to easily install sliding shelves themselves, or they can hire a contractor to do the job. Also, consider swapping out knobs for handles on cabinets and drawers to make them more accessible and easier to use.

* More lighting

Make sure all areas of your property – inside and outside – are well lit. Pendant lamps, inset ceiling lights and track lighting help illuminate a room from above, preventing glare that can cause temporary blindness. Opt for switches to turn lights on and off, and locate them at the entrances of each room. If a home’s wiring isn’t set up this way, the homeowner may need to contact an electrician.

As we age, we want to remain as independent as possible, which includes being able to stay in our own home for as long as possible. With a few functional changes, homeowners can create a beautiful space now that can enable them to live more comfortably later.

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If you regularly watch the evening news, you likely have seen stories about social activism and massive protests in support of issues like the environment. Not only are they trying to communicate directly with the public, they are also asking some corporations to change. These are noble causes that sometimes involve a level of personal risk. Another way of exacting change is by working with companies from the inside. In other words: investing in them.

 

According to Rosalie Vendette, senior advisor in socially responsible investment (SRI) with Desjardins Group, SRI is an emerging field that is still defining itself. “It’s really about engagement, not activism,” says Vendette. “An engaged investor seeks to persuade management to adopt more responsible environmental, social and governance practices. A common way to sway management is to draw attention to these concerns through direct dialogue. While consumers have the power to decide whether or not to buy a product, investors wield their power in a much more strategic manner. For example, companies that fail to address the environmental impact of their operations can do serious damage to both their public image and their pocketbook. Conversely, companies that reduce their environmental footprint see their stock rise in more ways than one.”

 

Interestingly, there remains a perception that SRIs yield lower returns because performance may be sacrificed in favour of principles. “In the medium to long term, SRI criteria have little impact on fund performance,” says Denis Dion, product manager with Desjardins Investment Fund Development Department. “A study of American funds published in the Journal of Investing found that over an 18 year-period, an index of 400 U.S. companies that met SRI criteria performed comparably to the S&P 500, which indexes 500 major U.S. corporations.”

 

“The point is that SRI is a paradigm shift and we’re eagerly working to spread the news,” says Vendette. “We know that this new approach will continue to transform how we have traditionally invested in companies. And ultimately, we hope that this will contribute to more sustainable corporate practices.”

 

To find out more about Socially Responsible Investing, speak to your financial advisor.

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With current home prices and interest rates, it’s a great time to be in the market for a fixer-upper.  By buying a house that needs some work, you can achieve your dream home for less than you would probably pay for a move-in-ready abode.

To ensure you’re making the most of your investment, however, it pays to take a look at your credit before you buy and begin your remodel. You’ll not only need credit to cover the purchase price of the house, but you’ll need it for renovation expenses as well.

The first step you should take in your bid to buy a fixer-upper is to check your credit report and score. Websites like www.creditreport.com can help you understand your credit. Understanding your credit will help you know whether or not you can afford to buy a house that needs work and if you’ll be able to pay for the needed renovations.

You should also carefully research what your options are for financing your remodel. Learn what your options are, from traditional fixed mortgages to home equity lines of credit, and decide before you buy which type of financing will be best for you. Getting a handle on your financing before you buy can help ensure you stay on budget when you’re in the middle of renovations.

When you’ve got a clear picture of your credit status and financing options, you can start looking at fixer-uppers. When you find a good prospect, have your remodeling contractor walk through the house with you so he can give you a rough estimate of what needs to be done and how much the work will cost.

If you’re buying a house that’s in basically good condition but just looks dated, you’ll have to make some decisions about where to invest your money. Focus on improvements that will not only look good, but will also enhance the value of your home. Resources like Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value report can give you a good idea of how much of your original investment you’ll recoup on different remodeling projects at the time of resale.

Once you’ve signed all the paperwork and the house is yours, it’s time to get to work. If you’re handy, you may be able to save money by doing some of the renovation work yourself. Projects like painting, adding crown molding and even putting down new flooring are well within the skills of most do-it-yourselfers. More complex projects like drywall, plumbing or electrical work may be best left to professionals.

Whether you do the work yourself, or hire contractors, you’ll need to carefully manage all aspects of the renovation to ensure your remodel stays on budget. The excitement of remodeling a house into your dream home can make it easy to get carried away on spending. Keep in mind that remodeling estimates are just that – an estimate. The final tab is rarely exactly what your contractor predicted it would be. Build in at least 10 percent extra to cover emergency overruns, and avoid making any unnecessary changes to the plans while the project is underway.

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Homeowners who want to express their own unique style can blend a mix of traditional and contemporary elements, says Erinn Valencich, L.A.-based designer and blogger for HGTV’s Design Happens. Whether it’s neutral colors with a bold chair or a formal fireplace with art deco accessories, homeowners can create a space that is both comfortable and dynamic.

“Attractive eclecticism can help make your home space a truly accurate reflection of your individuality,” says Valencich. “Combining shapes, styles and colors makes a very original statement.”

Set a good foundation
Eclectic style can include a variety of periods and styles and is connected through the use of color, texture, shape and finish. With such a bevy of decor options, an eclectic room can easily turn chaotic. That’s why Valencich recommends starting with a good foundation, the floors.

“I like to design a room from the ground up,” she says. “A new floor is a great place to start for a fresh look and feel; floors not only ground the room, but they provide the design foundation.”

“A good strategy when designing an eclectic room is to start with a neutral colored floor to help tie all the elements together,” says Valencich. “Grey toned floors are the latest design trend and they open up the possibilities for a wide range of decorating styles and color palettes.”  

A neutral color floor isn’t “blah” or unattractive, adds Valencich. A floor like Quick-Step’s new Reclaime flooring in Heathered Oak serves as a pleasing canvas to create your eclectic room design, while also adding an attractive level of style and artistry to a room. This floor gives the same visuals and charm of a hardwood floor constructed from reclaimed, vintage wood which adds depth and personality to the room.

Another advantage to a neutral color floor is that as your room decor changes through the years, your floor will transition nicely.

“The great thing about spaces decorated in an eclectic style is they can easily be changed depending on mood, inspiration and budget,” she says. “That’s why it’s important to have flooring that is versatile enough to adapt to your changing style.

Design principles
An eclectic room doesn’t have to be a hodgepodge or random assortment of items. “Have a planned and deliberate design,” says Valencich. “Eclectic rooms benefit from the same principles of design seen with other styles.”

* Balance. “Edit your collection to create harmony and focal points,” she says. “Practice moderation with your pieces.”

* Harmony and unity. “Group objects that work well together,” she adds. “For example, use different chairs around your dining table, but paint them the same color to unify the look.”

* Scale and proportion. “A mix of small, medium and large pieces helps balance out a room and keeps it from looking cluttered,” she says.

Valencich says to keep the design principles in mind while mixing unexpected pieces to create a gorgeous effect.

* Create a tidy grid of art to balance out weathered pieces and graphic patterns.
* Use nature to help create your eclectic look. Airy flower arrangements atop a dark, antique table give a balance of dark and light colors.
* Play with textures in your room. From an old frame with the paint peeling to nubby rugs to silky pillows, textures keep the room interesting and inviting.
* Let your personality shine through with what you love. Do you have a collection of seashells or other trinkets? Use those pieces in an everyday nook.

“As you create your own eclectic look, remember to be adventurous and a little daring,” says Valencich. “The most unexpected pairings can make the most refreshing looks.”

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