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volume six issue ten

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WAYS TO IMPROVE CUSTOMER

Interest

Country InspIred C O V E R

S T O R Y

HOLIDAY GIFTS AND ACCESSORIES WITH A NOSTALGIC TOUCH

Ede M. Votta

MINORITY

Owner | Bittersweet & Ivy

BUSINESS ISN’T SO MINOR Y E A R

E N D

TA X

S T R AT E G I E S

F O R

Ywww.risbj.com O U R | volume B UsixSissueI ten N E 1S S


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Gil Lantini Founder Ralph Coppolino Co-Founder Mike Casale Senior Designer Web/Graphic Design Team Amanda Bogardus Kristin Darcy Talia Fappiano Ben Laudicano Contributing Writers Carmella Beroth Michael Brito Ted Donnelly Bradley Fowler Brian C. Frenette Larry Girouard Travis Landry Susan Lataille Bryan B Mason William F. Miller Kristin MacRae David Podell Kathleen Repoli Dr. Ronald G. Shapiro Aaron Spacone Amelia Votta Kristen M. Whittle

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RISBJ | rhode island small business journal


contents

volume six issue ten

INSIDE THIS ISSUE

6

7 Expanding Health Law Practices 9 Avoid Problems When Growing Rapidly 10 RI Foundation News Update 11 Minority Business Isn’t So Minor 12 Not Everyone Is A Bully

10

14 Social Media Marketing 16 Bittersweet and Ivy: Cover Story

16

18 Everything Old Is New Again 20 Year-End Tax Planning Strategy 23 4 Ways Businesses Lose Customer Interest

15

ON THE COVER volume six issue ten

Featured

24 Personnel Practices: Equal Pay Laws 26 Are You Applying Critical Thinking

Country Inspired: Bittersweet & Ivy

4

WAYS TO IMPROVE CUSTOMER

Interest

Country InspIred C O V E R

S T O R Y

HOLIDAY GIFTS AND ACCESSORIES WITH A NOSTALGIC TOUCH

29 Rhode Island Business Plan Competition

Ede M. Votta

MINORITY

Owner | Bittersweet & Ivy

BUSINESS ISN’T SO MINOR

Year-End Tax Strategies

20

YEAR-END TAX

Y E A R

E N D

TA X

S T R AT E G I E S

F O R

YO U R

B U S I N E S S

www.risbj.com | volume six issue ten

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SMALL BUSINESS

NEWS

EXPANDING HEALTH LAW PRACTICES P a n n o n e L o p e s D e ve r e a u x & O ’ G a r a a n d R e a r d o n L a w O f f i c e F o r m S t r a t e g i c A l l i a n c e f o r N ew E n g l a n d New England – November 1, 2017 – Pannone Lopes Devereaux & O’Gara LLC (PLDO) Managing Principal Gary R. Pannone announced today that prominent Massachusetts health care lawyer and litigator, Frank E. Reardon, has joined the firm as Of Counsel and that PLDO and Reardon Law Office, LCC have formed a strategic alliance to better serve both organization’s expanding base of clients in the New England market. Attorney Reardon is a founding partner of Reardon Law Office, LLC and in his capacity as Of Counsel for PLDO, Mr. Reardon will join the firm’s leadership on the Health Care Team. “We are excited to have Frank join PLDO as Of Counsel and to form an affiliation of our law firms, which combines an extremely talented and highly respected team of health care lawyers with a platform structured to serve an expanding client base in the health care-related industry,” said Attorney Pannone. “As the legal industry continues to evolve, innovation is no longer a luxury and a strategic alliance of this nature will enhance the ability of both firms to better serve their clients without increasing infrastructure costs.” Attorney Reardon is a distinguished health care lawyer with extensive experience in all aspects of health care and employment law as an advisor, arbitrator and litigator representing individuals, providers and corporations in both civil and criminal matters. During his prestigious 30-year career, he has assisted clients in a wide range of legal issues including fraud and abuse, whistle blower claims, HIPPA, ethical compliance, malpractice, and discrimination and sexual harassment claims. In addition to representing health care clients, Attorney Reardon is known as a scholar in his areas of practice and has published extensively on health care legal issues in the New England Journal of Medicine and The Journal of the

American Medical Association. Throughout his career, Mr. Reardon has held leadership positions on professional and health care organizations’ committees and boards, including the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Health Section Council and as a member of the Institutional Ethics Committee of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Inc. He is a former Chairman of the Board of Directors of St. Monica’s Nursing Home in Roxbury, MA and the Medical Area Credit Union in Boston, MA and served as a trustee of Deaconess/Glover Hospital in Needham, MA. A native Rhode Islander from Pawtucket, Attorney Reardon received a J.D. from Suffolk University Law School, an MBA in health and hospital administration from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a BA in political science from the College of the Holy Cross. He is licensed to practice law in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and is admitted to the bar of the United States Supreme Court. To contact Attorney Reardon, email freardon@pldolaw.com or call 401-824-5100. For information about PLDO, visit www.pldolaw.com and follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

About Pannone Lopes Devereaux & O’Gara LLC

Pannone Lopes Devereaux & O’Gara (“PLDO”) attorneys are highly skilled with a proven track record of achievement representing clients in respect to complex matters. The founders of PLDO were formerly partners in an international law firm and they are all trained in multiple disciplines. The primary areas of practice for the firm include business law, special masterships, government relations and legislative strategies, civil litigation, real estate development, commercial lending, municipal law, nonprofit law, health care, white collar defense, estate planning, probate administration and trust litigation. The core values of respect, integrity, quality service and responsiveness are stressed each day at PLDO and the firm is committed to supporting the community in a meaningful way. The firm is headquartered at 1301 Atwood Avenue in Johnston, RI with offices in Massachusetts and Florida. For more information, visit www. pldolaw.com. www.risbj.com | volume six issue ten

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How To Avoid Problems When Growing Rapidly | SMALL BUSINESS

H O W

T O

AV O I D

P R O B L E M S

W H E N

Growing Rapidly by Bryan B Mason

You think everything is going well. Why not, when your company is acquiring new customers and sales are growing rapidly. However, you are just beginning to pick up on the fact that the number of customer complaints is also growing and you are not sure why. As a business consultant, I have worked with a number of companies that grew from a handful of people to a company with two to three million dollars of sales and then stuff just happened and sales fell forty percent. The result was the company was losing money due to the increased overhead to support the expansion. They laid off some people but it did not help much. What happened? Typically in smaller companies, many activities are not automated or are processed on software that only supports a low volume of transactions or only a single location. Manual process can be overwhelmed by rapid growth causing orders to be processed incorrectly or services to be inconsistently delivered. This can cause a loss of customers as well as complaints circulating around social media helping to keep new customers away. Many small business owners find the transition difficult from directly managing all activities to a larger enterprise where responsibility and supervision is delegated. They are used to being responsible for the quality and timeliness of the work. On a bigger scale, this is not possible. As the number of employees involved in the production of goods or delivery of services increases, it becomes critical to have a good flow of information to maintain the quality of products and services. Ideally, the owner can look into a system and see who is doing what, the flow of orders, the order turnaround time, the queue of service requests/ complaints, the time it takes to resolve them, etc. Reviewing these and other metrics become the order of the day to identify problems and rectify them before they harm your business.

Ask yourself, will your existing processes work as well as your business grows? Many companies, especially smaller companies, that are beginning to grow rapidly or are planning to grow rapidly do not have the processes, procedures and technology to support rapid growth. Often, processes and procedures need to be reevaluated and streamlined to support greater volume. As volume increases, you don’t want to just hire more and more people. In fact, this may not even get the result you want – highly satisfied customers in greater numbers. As your company grows, it is very important that overhead does not grow in proportion to the increase in sales volume if you want to achieve high levels of profitability. In situations where a company is opening additional locations, the geographic separation of these locations creates new challenges. How will you know if the remote location has opened on time? How will you know that all company procedures are being followed? So, to avoid these kinds of problems, take a critical look at how you do everything as well as what your technology does and does not do for you. If you are not sure how to optimize your workflows or what technology will best support your business goals, get some independent help. Mr. Mason founded the Apollo Consulting Group in 2008 to help small and mid-sized companies in solving their challenges. Mr. Mason brings over thirty years of corporate, consulting and entrepreneurial experience in a variety of industries. He possess skills in general business management, analysis, strategy development, marketing, finance/budgeting, operations, pricing optimization, workflow optimization, process reengineering, project management, and information technology. Mr. Mason has two degrees in Economics and was a Volunteer Mentor for the Rhode Island Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (RI-CIE). He writes a weekly blog on his company website at www.apollogr.com/blog.

Bryan B Mason

Principal The Apollo Consulting Group LLC

www.risbj.com | volume six issue ten

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SMALL BUSINESS | RI Foundation Announces First Winner Of A New $50,000 Prize

RI Foundation announces 1st winner of a new $50,000 prize The inaugural Murray Family Prize for Community Enrichment at the Rhode Island Foundation has been awarded to Rob DeBlois, principal of the Urban Collaborative Accelerated Program (UCAP) in Providence. With the award, DeBlois received a $50,000 prize in recognition of his decades-long commitment to educating Rhode Island’s most challenged, low-income, urban and mostly immigrant, students who have a history of school failure. “Rob has demonstrated incredible drive to work with students in need – and their families – to get and stay on track both inside and outside of the classroom,” said Paula McNamara, daughter of Terrence and Suzanne Murray, who along with her family established the Murray Family Prize for Community Enrichment at the Rhode Island Foundation this past year. “Rob says that he was ‘born on third base,’ the odds squarely in his favor from a young age, and he uses that platform of privilege to give back,” continued McNamara. “His work, and life, offer an example for others to follow. Our family is proud to recognize Rob for this commitment and vision.” DeBlois founded UCAP in 1989. It is an independent, public middle school that partners with other school districts to identify students who are at-risk of dropping out and helps them “catch up” with their grade level and return to high school. Rather than focusing on time-in-seat, UCAP awards credit based on demonstrated knowledge and skills. The faculty helps students learn at an accelerated pace while building self-esteem and character. Over the years, UCAP has served more than 1,600 students.

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RISBJ | rhode island small business journal

“I am humbled by this recognition, and I thank the Murray family for this honor,” said DeBlois. “The work continues, and while an award like this one provides great personal validation, I am also hopeful that it will encourage more people of influence to think of the kids we serve as their own. To treat them as their own, invest in them as they do their own children. ” The Murray Family Prize for Community Enrichment at the Rhode Island Foundation will be awarded occasionally for “above and beyond achievement” by individuals or organizations that have proven themselves to be innovative and resourceful, implemented new ideas, or performed heroic deeds. “We sometimes forget to celebrate the uniquely Rhode Island examples like the one Rob sets for us,” said Neil D. Steinberg, the Foundation’s president and CEO. “We are grateful to the Murray family for trusting us with this gift to the community, and for working with us to acknowledge some of the many Rhode Islanders who are working to make lives better.” The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. In 2016, the Foundation awarded a record $45 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities. Through leadership, fundraising, and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.

For more information please visit... www.rifoundation.org.


MINORITY BUSINESS

ISN’T SO MINOR!

When we think of a minority business we tend to think of a small, family owned shop that’s been handed down from Grand-Pa to Mom to Son and so on… by Michael Brito

This may be true for some but not all. We have researched many local MBE’s and found a trend that has sparked some interest. 75% of the small shops we talked with are first generation start-ups; most involve two or more members of the same family leaving the more successful ventures surviving not more than one decade! Why this is noteworthy; even though some of the companies span more than ten years (in only 15% of the participants) there’s no guarantee that it will survive into the next generation! This means that what the first or “start-up” generation finds as the passionate pursuit or entrepreneurial expression of life, won’t always transplant to the next! So when Dad or Mom are ready to slow down or retire all-together the son, daughter, cousin, niece or nephew very often will find other interests regarding employment. This isn’t our only issue and should not be the single focus as we investigate the real and damaging consequences of this trend. We will look into not just the problem regarding the future of our MBE’s longevity, also why and why not they thrive and not just survive! Our research concludes that it’s not simply lack of interest that extinguishes the entrepreneurial flame it sometimes can be that the second leg of the relay team hasn’t received what is needed to carry the baton to the finish line. During the run of this topical series we will find out interesting facts, trends and solutions to starting, running and passing on an MBE/DBE business in Rhode Island. We will tackle key issues that are specific to this community, take on ideas that allow the smaller MBE/DBE companies to survive economic dips as well as how to grow without jeopardizing quality! The point is that while the larger R.I. based organizations can have access to personalized focused mentoring, consulting and business guidance: we too have the same help (if not more)! The MBE/DBE community just needs to know where to look and how to access it. That’s why this topical series exists and will be here to answer questions, issue thought provoking ideas as well as offer avenues to pursue for the entrepreneur that not only wants to succeed but

thrive in his or her arena! So start now to think about how we can help you grow your business. Any and all areas are fair game. We have experts ready to answer and respond to what is standing in your way of the dream that started your journey in the beginning! Each week we will reply to one, two or three separate issues submitted to us and have a member of our supportive services staff on hand for you (if you are in need) to respond personally! How much personal one-on-one service you require is up to you. We are here to guide the MBE/DBE through the estimating process, accounting, customer relationship management, government bidding, staff recruiting/retention, marketing, funding as well as any other small business issue that you can imagine! This series will also help with the family pressures that ultimately arise as you pursue the image of success. Through this effort we want to find the solution together that allows your business to traverse more than one generation, grow along the way and provide your community with the products and services they deserve. This is the only place to which the MBE/DBE business community can turn to for their type of personal and focused support that is sponsored by someone with an intense knowledge and experience in the minority business world. Having been raised in, worked in and run a minority and disadvantaged business we know (first hand) exactly the specific and unique challenges that can be faced by this very special work force. The very work force that is and always will be responsible for the economic foundation of our future! So be a part of this unique discussion that promises to run along side of the entrepreneur with all the help, advice and support you need to build an enterprise worthy of passing on to the next generation. Contact us today with your most challenging issue of the day and look to us for the reply in the next issue! Michael Brito Managing The Road Ahead www.managetheroadahead.com (401) 952.5892

www.risbj.com | volume six issue ten

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SMALL BUSINESS | Not Everyone Is A Bully

D BEYOND

OOLS AN H C S IN S T G CONFLIC

RESOLVIN

BULLYING VS. CONFLICT by Jon Anderson, Esq and Ben Scungio, Esq One of the watchwords in schools these days is “bullying.” It can undermine the safe learning environment that students need to achieve their full potential. However the concept of “bullying” may have expanded to the point where it is applied to situations when a child may merely not get along with a peer, not get invited to a birthday party, or, in the extreme, not pass a spelling test because he/she could not study because of being bullied. Rhode Island law provides for a set of robust protections for a bullied child in our school systems. Once bullying behavior is identified, it’s time to roll out the crisis team and a school social worker or psychologist must be consulted. It is unquestioned that victims must be protected from bullying in order to preserve a safe and respectful school environment and society; however, trends in schools across the country are toward over-identifying conflict as bullying. Over-identification of bullying incidents can lead to situations where students don’t learn to deal with their actions and stressors and, ultimately, how to work with adults to resolve conflict with mechanisms such as conflict resolution and de-escalation. Most importantly, we may be creating perpetual victims who bring their lack of conflict resolution to the workplace of the future.

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RISBJ | rhode island small business journal

It is all too easy to mistake conflict for bullying.The NYC Department of Education, for example, defines conflict as a struggle between two or more people who perceive they have incompatible goals or desires. Conflict occurs naturally as we interact with one another in our daily lives. Whether in schools, the workplace or personal circumstances, human beings do not always agree about the things we want, what we think, or what we want to do. Most conflicts arise in the moment because people of the same relative amount of power see the same situation from two different points of view. For instance:

Two siblings share a bedroom and do not agree on what color to paint the walls.

Two strangers clash over a place in a movie line.

Neighbors disagree about who should clean up debris after a storm.

Two friends want to wear the same outfit to a party.

Children quarrel over who gets to go first.

Adults can’t agree on how to spend a weekend.

Teenagers dispute who should babysit on a Saturday night.

Co-workers argue over how a job should be done.

People in conflict may get frustrated and angry because both are vying for what they want. In the heat of the moment, emotions can escalate a conflict. All of us have known of conflicts where people have said things to hurt one another and later experience regret.


Not Everyone Is A Bully | SMALL BUSINESS

When one or both parties people have (or are taught) the skills to resolve the dispute, so that both sets of needs are met, the same conflict between the same two people most likely will not be repeated. A bullying relationship is a based on a disparity of power (physical or social), and that disparity is abused. For example, two children arguing over who gets to use the slide is not bullying until the bigger child threatens to hit the smaller child. Absent a power relationship, these two children on the slide have a conflict, and they are best served by learning to resolve their issues between themselves. Likewise, it’s not necessarily bullying for the principal to give a teacher a poor performance evaluation; principals are expected to evaluate teachers, albeit fairly based on professional standards.

DISTINGUISHING BULLYING FROM CONFLICT There is no question that school administrators and teachers cannot disregard bullying. The intentional use of power to deter a child from coming to school by creating a hostile environment, for example, is a wrong that must be addressed. That said, a one-sizefits-all approach to conflict resolution leads to an onslaught of allegations and counter allegations. Over-identification of students or adults as bullies diffracts the term and the solutions to a point where both may become meaningless. While educators know that recognizing, modeling, and teaching the difference between bullying and conflict is paramount, it is often difficult to distinguish bullying and conflict. A good rule of thumb may come from tort law: What would a reasonable person objectively think about a situation?

Bullying is often recognizable by objective indicators such as:

Repetition - Does a student pick on his/her target day after day?

Power Imbalance - Does a student win because his/ her target is smaller, younger or less socially able to cope?

Intent to Harm - Does the bully enjoy seeing his/her target afraid and upset?

By applying an objective standard, whether the problem arises between students, teachers and their supervisors, or between employees and employers, the ambiguity often melts away.

THE DANGER IN OVER-IDENTIFICATION OF BULLYING The challenge of separating serious bullying from everyday conflict touches everyone in society. Children in kindergarten today will be flooding into the workforce twenty years from now; forty years from now, they will be leading the workforce. Our children must be encouraged to resolve conflicts, when possible. And our educators must act as role models in resolving their own disagreements and be trained in conflict resolution techniques. The alternative is that we risk ending up with a more litigious society and a culture in which nearly everyone claims to be a victim.

!?

Focusing only on what the alleged victim, adult or child, subjectively feels could easily lead to virtually every behavior labeled as bulling. It is vital to objectively consider whether an imbalance of power exists, coupled with an abuse of that power, not only whether the alleged victim subjectively “feels bad.”

“ Whether in schools, the workplace or personal

circumstances, human beings do not always agree about the things we want, what we think, or what we want to do.” www.risbj.com | volume six issue ten

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JUST HOW BIG IS SOCIAL MEDIA? Take a look at these stats reported by Wordstream:

79%

of American Internet users are on Facebook

76%

of those users checked the site at least once a day in 2016

81%

of Millennials check Twitter daily

59%

of Americans with social media accounts think that customer service through social media has made it easier to get questions answered and issues resolved

93%

of Pinterest users use the platform to plan or make purchases

25%

Pinterest drives 25% of all retail website referral traffic

Tips for any platform Use your logo as a profile picture for immediate brand recognition, and professional photography where needed for additional photos in your profile. Your social media visual look is setting the tone for your brand.

SOCIAL

MEDIA marketing which platform is right for your small business? Largely absent from our lives just 10 years ago, social media is now ubiquitous. And for small businesses, social media marketing offers opportunities unheard of merely a decade ago.

Tips for getting started: You can create a basic Facebook page with information about your business that will funnel potential customers to your website before you are ready to create and post regular content.

Where previous marketing efforts involved one-way communication of your brand’s message to a broad audience, social media marketing leverages the power of sharing and “virality” to interact with current and future customers, to reach target customers far beyond your sphere of influence, and to deliver exponential ROI for your time and energy.

Instagram

If you’re new to social media marketing, it can be hard to know where to start. You don’t need to be on all platforms, says Megan Kurose, RISBDC Small Business Development Intern and junior at the University of Rhode Island College of Business Administration. But you probably do need to be on one or two at a minimum. Which ones you choose will depend on your business model, the services or products you provide, and your target audience. Here’s an overview of the 5 major platforms, which types of businesses thrive there, & brief tips to get started. Facebook 101: Facebook is easily the largest social media channel today. It’s also fairly flexible, hosting a wide variety of content — from photos, to original blog posts, video, to short updates about business details, to shared content from other businesses and users.

Identify & require adherence to best practices for anyone who is posting content for your business. Every post (even if deleted later) speaks for your brand when it comes from the business account.

It’s great because: A small ad budget ($50-200/month spent on “boosting” posts and your page to users who are not currently following you) can still reap big ROI. Also, Facebook offers a large amount of data about your followers and interaction with your posts, which will help you fine-tune your strategy.

Research when to post, particularly for Facebook & Instagram. This will involve some research into the best times to post content on popular social media sites, as well as knowing when your primary audience is likely to be online.

Take note: Because of its size, Facebook is becoming saturated with content. The platform has constantly changing algorithms that determine which content is provided to users in their newsfeed, so not all of your posts will even be seen by all of the people who “like” your page.

Businesses it’s best for: With the right content strategy, As you grow into social media marketing, Facebook can be a successful medium for B2B and B2C consider using tools for automating and businesses offering either products or services. Facebook managing content (services like Hubspot, is also a strong choice for businesses whose customers Hootsuite, or Sprout Social). Most cost skew older, as it has the largest share of internet users money, but if social media becomes a over 30 of the major social media sites (79% of 30-49 major part of your marketing strategy year olds, 63% of 50-64 year olds, and 56% of internet then they are worth the investment for users age 65+), per the Pew Research Center. scheduling & managing content all in 14 RISBJ | rhode island small business journal one place.

101: Instagram is a primarily visual medium, showcasing a single photograph for every single post. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Instagram doesn’t allow sharing posts (of content either within the platform or links outside of it), so your content must be original – and visually very strong. It’s great because: Hashtags (the # symbol followed by a keyword, such as #yummy or #photooftheday) promote your content/brand far and wide beyond your followers, because your images will come up when any user searches for a specific hashtag. Take note: You must have a smartphone to publish content to Instagram. Businesses it’s best for: Due to the visual focus, It is by far the best way to promote a brand with a visual component. B2C product-based businesses, or service-based businesses with a strong visual element (think wedding planners, stylists, or landscape designers, rather than IT professionals or tutors) will find a happy home here. Tips for getting started: Research relevant hashtags for your industry and popular generic hashtags. Narrow down to a list of 10-20 hashtags, and choose 5-8 to post in the caption section of each posted image. Also, you have the opportunity to include one outside link in your profile bio, so make sure to link to your website or any other site that is the first place you would direct a prospective customer to go.


Twitter 101: Twitter features short and sweet (140-character) posts (“tweets”) that are easily digestible and offer your brand a way to cement and showcase its persona. Once you master the format, Twitter is also one of the preferred ways to interact with customer service for users under about 35 years old. It’s great because: Not only can Twitter share original and other people’s content in support of your brand, but once you get the hang of it you can also engage in public conversations with customers and other brands. This makes it feel more personal and build connections. Take note: Content on Twitter has a very short “shelf life.” You may need to tweet frequently, and retweet strong content several times, in order to make sure your tweets have a chance to be seen. Businesses it’s best for: B2B or B2C businesses offering products or services. Particularly any business who wants to engage with their clients in a natural way, and who wants to offer a simple and user-friendly avenue for customer service. Perhaps more than other platforms, Twitter requires human resources — an employee or team devoted to checking and responding to engagement. Tips for getting started: Twitter’s has a slightly steeper learning curve for getting the hang of how to respond to a tweet or tag another user publicly vs. privately. It’s best to practice on the platform for a few days with a small personal account before “going public.” Pinterest 101: Pinterest (think of a “virtual pinboard,” or collection of related ideas in one place) has the visual appeal of Instagram, but with additional capability for linking and sharing broader content (created by your company or by others) collected in one place. Like other platforms, Pinterest also offers opportunities for customer engagement through liking, commenting, and repinning, as well as directing customer traffic to your website or blog posts.

Businesses it’s best for: B2C businesses who market products or services to women (though men are growing as a demographic, in 2017 81% of Pinterest users are female) under the age of 40. Tips for getting started: Create at least three boards before promoting your page, so that you have something for potential customers to see that describes an aspect of your brand. Boards shouldn’t be focused solely on promoting your product or service — think of each board as a way to educate and entertain your customers to build a relationship with your brand, while sprinkling in opportunities to drive revenue toward your bottom line. LinkedIn 101: Professional networking tool with less of a focus on sharing content with customers, and more on developing mutually beneficial relationships with other industry or related professionals. Think of it like a resume for your business. It’s great because: Through LinkedIn’s “Groups,” you can connect with other professionals in your industry. Take note: It can take a while to build your network on LinkedIn, because connections happen individually (rather than being able to invite your entire network to like or follow your page). Businesses it’s best for: B2B businesses, businesses that hire often, and niche businesses that may not have deep industry connections and networking opportunities locally. Tips for getting started: Consider popular keywords that users might search for, and include them throughout your profile title, summary, skills, and expertise sections. Also, spend time regularly “endorsing” your contacts for their skills (this involves just selecting a skill to endorse them for) — when they get an alert that you endorsed them, they will have an opportunity to endorse you back, which builds “street cred” for your profile.

Still wondering which one(s) should you choose? Kurose recommends a LinkedIn page for every business. While it may not be a primary way of connecting with customers, it’s a great resource and a growth tool for businesses to connect with other entrepreneurs, reach out for advice, and cement their professional status. We also recommend creating a Facebook page for your business. Whether or not you choose to update the page regularly with content, Facebook is now another place where users go simply to find basic information about a business or service (e.g. description, location, and contact info), and it can serve to funnel users to visit your website, email, or call. And food businesses should definitely start with Instagram, where a number of food-related hashtagsare already in strong rotation. To get your foot in the door, pick one platform and give it 100% effort for a few months. Get comfortable with the format, then identify what was successful (use analytic data if possible) and what you want to change. After you’ve refined your strategy at least once on your original platform, consider adding a second, using what you’ve learned. Kurose suggests that Instagram is a simple and user-friendly place to start if you can generate regular visual content.

The Rhode Island Small Business Development Center at URI is part of a national network of nearly 1,000 business assistance centers that provide counseling and training to small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. Partially funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, we help businesses to succeed from start-up to maturity.

It’s great because: It’s easy to discover trends, and follow your followers to find out what motivates and interests them. Take note: Like Instagram, you need a visual component in order to create a pin. Make sure you have a deep chest of visual content in order to maximize your effectiveness here.

Schastea co-owners Tony and Olga Lopez leverage their Face book page to drive brand awareness and foot traffic. Photo credit: Joe Giblin. www.risbj.com | volume six issue ten

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SMALL BUSINESS | Need To Raise Capital

Country Inspired H O L I D AY G I F T S A N D A C C E S S O R I E S W I T H A N O S T A L G I C T O U C H

Bittersweet & Ivy The story of

North Scituate, RI

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Bittersweet & Ivy | SMALL BUSINESS

Ede describes Bittersweet & Ivy as a vintage and country-style decor and gift shop. Everything that I carry has an old-fashioned or timeless feeling to it. by Amelia Votta

It’s October of 2005 and Ede Votta is driving home from a job interview in a determined effort to help her family’s financial situation when she sees it: a “For Rent” sign in the window of a retail building in the historic village of North Scituate. Armed with her extensive background in retail, she thinks, “Maybe I don’t have to work for somebody else… maybe I can do this all on my own.” As a mother of two, it seemed to make a lot of sense; she would be close to home and her children’s schools, and her work schedule could be flexible to her family needs. Twelve years later, you can find Bittersweet & Ivy across the street from its original location, sharing a parking lot with the North Scituate post office. The structure was originally built as a private residence in 1831 and can be identified to both locals and visitors by the large white pillars out front. Inside, Ede aims “to create an atmosphere that’s inviting and cozy,” and her efforts are overwhelmingly successful. The scent of fragrant candles entices you as soon as you walk in, and the store makes the most of soft lighting to enhance the warmth and ambiance. The name of the shop came out of a “meeting of the minds,” she describes, her family originally drawing inspiration from the Christmas carol The Holly and the Ivy. Not wanting to pigeonhole herself as being exclusively a Christmas store (she’s open year-round, decorating for every holiday and season), Ede and her family derived the final name from a plant that grows abundantly around the area: bittersweet. For those who haven’t yet visited, Ede describes Bittersweet & Ivy as “a vintage and country-style decor and gift shop. Everything that I carry has an old-fashioned or timeless feeling to it.” Her products range from candles and accent lighting to jewelry, seasonal decorations, and beyond. The shop is transformed for every holiday and season; Ede explains that the most common misconception is that new merchandise stops coming in during less popular decorating months, like spring or summer. “There are still plenty of things to see, whether it’s greeting cards, jewelry, a little pick-meup at the end of a tough day, a gift for a friend, a nod to the current season… just a little something special to brighten

your day.” She continues, “Mine is certainly not the biggest country store around, but I work really hard to deliver the best selection at the best price, and the best possible customer service.” If you need any further convincing to shop small this holiday season, Ede speaks from experience. “You’re dealing with a family to whom your business matters a tremendous amount… it really is a big deal to a small business owner when you shop at their establishment. Local economies depend on the work of small business owners because the dollars go right back into the community, such as providing for children, paying for their education and activities, supporting local charities…. It employs local people; it’s all interconnected.” Customers reap the benefits too, generally enjoying a better experience with “customer service, the unique offerings of merchandise, and unique gifts,” when compared to a big box store. She practices what she preaches, always making an effort to buy from as many small, family-owned companies as she can, both from Rhode Island and around the country. “I think it’s important to support each other in our communities,” she explains, citing that she offers several different lines of jewelry from local designers, and one of her candle lines is made by a Rhode Island candlemaker. When asked what differentiates her store from others, the answer is simple: “It’s always me you see when you walk in.” There are no other regular employees, and because of this, Ede has built a strong rapport with her customers; many have even become close friends. Her number one wish for customers is that they recognize her desire to make them happy and to offer a nice place to visit and shop; that running her store really is a labor of love and is about much more than just dollars and cents. “I truly enjoy being here and I have the nicest customers who I always look forward to seeing… some of these folks have become incredibly important to me. It’s like my second home, and I hope that’s how it feels when people come in.” During this holiday season, Bittersweet & Ivy is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 5:30pm, and Sundays from 12-5pm.

www.risbj.com | volume six issue ten

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Everything Old ... IS NEW AGAIN! by Travis Landry

W

hen it comes to decorating and furnishing a home or office, why not do it with a little class? In today’s world, everyone is worried about what label or brand name is associated with what they own in their home. But have you ever given those items a second thought? Maybe if people decided to use their imagination and learned more about quality items, they could fill their home with functional works of art for a fraction of the cost. Regardless of your taste, whether it be light wood, dark wood, European high style, sleek modern and chrome, or (dreadfully) simple white and gray, there is quality made and investment grade furniture so accessible to all budgets, it’s astounding. Now, I know people immediately will say, “it’s old”, or “why is it dusty when I’m buying it”, but the truth is that’s sad. That is lack of thought and creativity, and the unwillingness to learn and understand. Just because a piece of furniture is presented to you under pretty track lighting and has a “name” associated with it, that does not make up for the “Made in Taiwan” sticker underneath. If you want a “name” or “brand” associated with your décor and want a cool story to tell people, make it better than “what a beautiful hall table, we got it on sale for $1,300 with free delivery!” I bet mine might be cooler.

In our home my girlfriend and I look to decorate with a blend of antique and contemporary decorative arts. In our hall we have a circa 1800 Salem, Massachusetts Federal flame mahogany card table attributed to Samuel McIntire (1757-1811). Two hundred and seventeen years later that table still shines as if it were new with fully carved column legs with acanthus leaf capitals and book matched veneer. If that isn’t quality I don’t know what is, and why not add a little sophistication to boot beyond build-it-yourself and retail gallery furniture? If that sounds drab, I add a little color with a Japanese Meji period bowl flanked by two Takara Generation One Transformers and early 20th century Chinese Sancai glaze figures, all topped by an Arts and Crafts oil on canvas Impressionist landscape by Emile Stange (1863-1943).

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Everything Old Is New Again | SMALL BUSINESS

But back to the table. The table itself cost me $300 at auction; there is no retail furniture store on this planet that could sell you a solid mahogany carved table for $300. After I bought it, all it took was a can of furniture oil and Pledge and I had a brand-new table. Moving to the living room, as my center attraction I have a circa 1810 Federal flame mahogany New Hampshire made tambour desk with architectural inlays. On that desk sits a 1984 Transformers G1 Mirage next to a 19th century European Grand Tour bronze sculpture of the Capitoline wolf all topped by a 19th century English bucolic landscape by Charles Edward Johnson. The desk was a little pricier than the table, but for $800 you won’t find a nicer one at any retail establishment. Period American furniture just happens to be my style, but antique furniture from all periods and style are down. Obviously, there is the one percent which remains extremely valuable as it is rare. But for the most part beautiful things are acquirable relatively cheaply. Thirty years ago, it was common for people to seek out furniture and study it whether it be colonial, Victorian, or Mission, and gain an appreciation for it after understanding everything about it. Period American furniture experts can identify who made it, where it was made, what it is made of, and they know that piece of furniture better than a car knows a mechanic. I bet if you think about it, you’ll find it cool too. So, before you think about running to the big furniture retail chain, think about owning a piece of art history.

Travis Landry Bruneau and Co. Auctioneers BruneauandCo.com

“ Before you think about running to

the big furniture retail chain, think about owning a piece of art history. ”

www.risbj.com | volume six issue ten

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YEAR-END TAX

PLANNING STRATEGIES FOR BUSINESSES

by Brian C. Frenette

As the end of the year approaches, now is the time to think about actions you can take to help lower your income taxes for 2017, and possibly even 2018 given the potential impact of the proposed tax reform that is currently before Congress. Below are strategies to consider while you prepare for the 2017 tax season:

Businesses should consider making expenditures that qualify for the business property expensing option. For 2017, the expensing limit is $510,000 and the investment ceiling limit is $2,030,000. Expensing is generally available for most depreciable property (other than buildings), off-the-shelf computer software, air conditioning and heating units, and qualified real property-qualified leasehold improvement property, qualified restaurant property, and qualified retail improvement property. The generous dollar ceilings that apply this year mean that many small and medium sized businesses that make timely purchases will be able to currently deduct most if not all their outlays for machinery and equipment. What’s more, the expensing deduction is not prorated for the time that the asset is in service during the year. The fact that the expensing deduction may be claimed in full (if you are otherwise eligible to take it) regardless of how long the property is held during the year can be a potent tool for year-end tax planning. Thus, property acquired and placed in service in the last days of 2017, rather than at the beginning of 2018, can result in a full expensing deduction for 2017.

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Businesses also should consider buying property that qualifies for the 50% bonus first year depreciation if bought and placed in service this year (the bonus percentage declines to 40% next year). The bonus depreciation deduction is permitted without any proration based on the length of time that an asset is in service during the tax year. As a result, the 50% first-year bonus writeoff is available even if qualifying assets are in service for only a few days in 2017.

Businesses may be able to take advantage of the “de minimis safe harbor election” (also known as the book-tax conformity election) to expense the costs of lower-cost assets and materials and supplies, assuming the costs don’t have to be capitalized under the Code Sec. 263A uniform capitalization (UNICAP) rules. To qualify for the election, the cost of a unit of property can’t exceed $5,000 if the taxpayer has an applicable financial statement (AFS).If there’s no AFS, the cost of a unit of property can’t exceed $2,500.


Year End Tax Planning Strategies For Businesses | SMALL BUSINESS

Businesses contemplating large equipment purchases should keep a close eye on the tax reform plan. The current version contemplates immediate expensing with no set dollar limit - of all depreciable asset (other than building) investments made after Sept. 27, 2017, for a period of at least five years. This would be a major incentive for some businesses to make large purchases of equipment in late 2017.

A corporation should consider deferring income until 2018 if it will be in a higher bracket this year than next. This could certainly be the case if Congress succeeds in dramatically reducing the corporate tax rate, beginning next year.

“It is recommended that you contact a qualified Certified Public Accountant to discuss your unique situation and develop a strategy that will maximize your tax savings in 2017 and beyond.” — Brian C. Frenette

A corporation should consider deferring income until next year if doing so will preserve the corporation’s qualification for the small corporation alternative minimum tax (AMT) exemption for 2017.

A corporation (other than a “large” corporation) that anticipates a small net operating loss (NOL) for 2017 (and substantial net income in 2018) may find it worthwhile to accelerate just enough of its 2018 income (or to defer just enough of its 2017 deductions) to create a small amount of net income for 2017. This will permit the corporation to base its 2018 estimated tax installments on the relatively small amount of income shown on its 2017 return, rather than having to pay estimated taxes based on 100% of its much larger 2018 taxable income.

These are just some of the year-end actions that you/ your business can take to save on taxes. While not all of these scenarios may be applicable, you or your business can likely benefit from many of them. It is recommended that you contact a qualified Certified Public Accountant to discuss your unique situation and develop a strategy that will maximize your tax savings in 2017 and beyond.

If your business qualifies for the domestic production activities deduction (DPAD) for its 2017 tax year, consider whether the 50%-of-W-2 wages limitation on that deduction applies. If it does, consider ways to increase 2017 W-2 income. Keep in mind that the DPAD wouldn’t be available next year under the tax reform plan currently before Congress.

To reduce 2017 taxable income, consider deferring a debt-cancellation event until 2018.

If your business was affected by Hurricane Harvey, Irma, or Maria, it may be entitled to an employee retention credit for eligible employees.

Brian C. Frenette is a Partner of Restivo Monacelli, an innovative tax, accounting and business advisory firm with offices in Providence, RI, Foxboro, MA and Boca Raton, FL. As a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with more than 25 years of experience, Brian leads the firm’s prominent tax practice and provides top-level consultation to individuals, trusts and business entities on U.S. tax matters and information reporting. For more information, visit www.rm-llp.com.

www.risbj.com | volume six issue ten

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4

4 Ways Small Businesses Lose Customer Interest | SMALL BUSINESS

Ways Small Businesses

Lose Their Customers’ Interest

SOME businesses talk to their target customers like that detective on the original ‘Dragnet’ TV show: “Just the facts, ma’am”. Facts are important, yes. But there’s no quicker way to turn off a potential customer than spewing facts and features about your product or service on your website or sales material. People want to be part of a conversation – Even if it’s one way (them reading your material). Here are 4 ways small businesses lose their customers’ interest:

1 They use business or technical jargon It’s perfectly fine to use technical terms when your company provides a technical product or service. But – the technical terms should be used to enhance your pitch, not be the primary focus of your pitch. Even for engineers or other technophobes, jargon is boring. Weave the tech terms into a story and you’ll keep your target customers’ interest.

3 They are robotic The way they speak or write is: Bland. Boring. Sterile.Talking about your products doesn’t mean you have to put your customers to sleep. Think about Super Bowl commercials. The most memorable resonate with us. And the products advertised that have made these lasting impressions? Soda, corn chips, web hosting. Not what you would think of as ‘sexy’ products. But Coca-Cola, Frito-Lay (Doritos), and Go-Daddy each made commercials that stood out. They told us a quick story and made us laugh. They resonate. They aren’t robotic.

2 They talk about features Yes, features are important. But, to effectively sell almost any product or service – we need to show or tell the customer the benefits. We need to talk to them on an emotional level which is what speaking to benefits is all about.

4 They profess ‘me too’ Do you price your products or services lower than your main competitor because you think that’s what matters to your customer? What if high quality matters and customers don’t care about price that much? Think about how else you can differentiate. Maybe your product is made exclusively in the US or your warranty is twice as long. The point is that the more you can differentiate – on things the customer cares about – you separate your product or service from your competitors. Breathe new life into your stale product or service copy. Don’t bore your customers with jargon, robotic language, ‘me too’ advertising or by ignoring benefits.

Steve Hague is the owner of Content Writing Tree, LLC, a Cranston, RI based small business that specializes in content writing for websites, blogs, emails and more. He’s helped businesses all over the world successfully tell the story of their products and services, increase sales, and retain and attract customers. Steve can be reached at contentwt@gmail.com and (401) 965-3822. www.risbj.com | volume six issue ten 23


LEGAL | Personnel Practices: Equal Pay Laws

Personnel Practices E Q U A L PAY L AW S by Kristen M. Whittle, Esq. and Aaron Spacone, Esq.

In the wake of controversies springing up across the country and world regarding the gender wage gap, it is important for Rhode Island small businesses to familiarize themselves with applicable equal pay laws—including state and federal statutes. The following is an overview of the existing statutory scheme as well as a look at how Rhode Island’s state equal pay laws may be changing in the year ahead.

Federal Equal Pay Act:

The Equal Pay Act of 1963, signed into law by President John F. Kennedy, abolished wage disparity between men and women working at the same establishment and performing jobs requiring equal skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions. Virtually all employers are subject to the Equal Pay Act. While employers may pay employees differently based on seniority, merit, quantity or quality of production, the Equal Pay Act prohibits employers from paying employees differently based on their gender. Employers violating the Equal Pay Act may be held civilly liable to affected employees, and may also face fines and imprisonment for willful violations.

Rhode Island’s equal pay law:

Enacted in 1946, Rhode Island’s equal pay law provides that no employer shall discriminate in the payment of wages as between the genders, as well as that no employer shall pay any female employee a salary or wage rate less than the rate paid to male employees for equal work. Rhode Island’s equal pay law applies to businesses of any size. It is important to make note that employers may still vary rates of pay based on seniority, skill, experience, training, or ability; duties and services performed; shift or time of day worked; availability for other operations or any reasonable differentiation except difference in gender. Violations of Rhode Island’s equal pay law may result in a fine of not more than $200 or imprisonment for up to six (6)

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months, or both. On February 10, 2015, Governor Gina M. Raimondo launched a tip line whereby women and men are encouraged to report employers violating Rhode Island’s equal pay law: 401-462-WAGE (9243).

Possible future legislation:

In the 2017 legislative session, both the house and senate of the Rhode Island General Assembly considered bills seeking to amend Rhode Island’s equal pay law. While it is unclear whether either of these bills will ultimately pass, it is important to recognize the trends in how lawmakers are approaching the gender wage gap. The state senate’s bill proposed a complete overhaul to the current statutory scheme, whereby wage differential will only be permitted based on a seniority system, a merit system, a system measuring earnings by quantity or quality of production, or a bona fide factor other than gender such as education, training or experience. Under that bill, employers differentiating based on a seniority system would be prohibited from factoring in time spent on leave due to pregnancy-related conditions or protected family and medical leave. The bill also proposed that violations of the equal pay law would be punishable by fine for up to three (3) times the amount of the total wages due. The house considered a more limited version of the bill, echoing only the proposal that time spent on leave due to pregnancyrelated condition or protected family and medical leave shall not reduce seniority. In light of these laws and possible future legislation, employers around the state should proceed with caution when implementing a seniority-or merit-based compensation system. Careful planning in advance, by consultation with a seasoned professional, could save a significant amount of time and money in the long run.

Kristen M. Whittle, Esq. Partner, Barton Gilman LLP

Aaron Spacone, Esq. Associate Barton Gilman LLP


Personnel Practices: Equal Pay Laws | LEGAL

Rhode Island’s equal pay law applies to businesses of any size. It is important to make note that employers may still vary rates of pay based on seniority, skill, experience, training, or ability; duties and services performed.

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SMALL BUSINESS | Are You Applying Critical Thinking?

If you have children or grandchildren in the K-12 education system, you have probable heard the term “Critical Thinking”. It is a way to teach our children to think beyond their comfort zones, and not to accept everything they hear at face value.

The Definition of Critical Thinking Critical thinking means making reasoned judgements that are logical and well thought out. It is a way of thinking in which you don’t simply accept all arguments and conclusions you are exposed to, but rather have an attitude involving questioning such arguments and conclusions. It requires wanting to see what evidence is involved to support a particular argument or conclusion. People who use critical thinking are the ones who say things such as, ‘How do you know that? Is this conclusion based on evidence or gut feeling?” and “Are there alternative possibilities when given new pieces of information?’ Additionally, critical thinking can be divided into the following three core skills: 1) Curiosity .. The desire to learn more information, and seek evidence as well as being open to new ideas. 2) Skepticism .. involving a healthy questioning attitude about new information that you are exposed to, and not blindly believing everything everyone tells you.

Are You Applyi

Critica Thi

Methodolo Running Yo

3) Humility ... the ability to admit that your opinions and ideas are wrong when faced with new convincing evidence that states otherwise.

The Million Dollar Question

Critical thinking means that are logical and well

So there is the million dollar question ... Are you using critical thinking in the running of your business? I often write about the difficulty of the change process in business because most companies are mired in the “we have always done it this way (WHADITTW)” syndrome. There is a comfort level in keeping things the way they are even in the face of some dysfunctional activities. 26

RISBJ | rhode island small business journal

Larry Gi

CEO of the Business A A Business Co


Are You Applying Critical Thinking? | SMALL BUSINESS

There is always a better way than WHADITTW as evidenced by the myriad of continuous improvement programs that are available. Unless you have such a unique product or service where you dominate a market, like AirBnB or UBER, you have many competitors. Differentiation is almost always elusive without stepping back and taking a hard look at your business relative to competition. It is safe to say that, if you are not penetrating the market, your WHADITTW is not working.

ing

al inking

ogies While our Business

?

By: Larry Girouard

s making reasoned judgements thought out.

irouard

Avionix Company, LLC onsulting Firm

As the business owner, or manager, you then face this reality and are responsible for addressing it. You have either created, or sustained, the WHADITTW culture. If growth in both the top and bottom lines are your charter, what are you going to do? What are you going to change? How will you lead your team in performing at a higher level? Humility, item #3 above, must be part of that equation. One of the cornerstones for critical thinking is the removal of all emotion from the process. Emotion only clouds clear thinking, and seriously dilutes the level of any quantifiable results. We use emotions in our daily decision making because we are, let’s face it, emotional creatures. Emotions rather than logic, statistics, process maps and reason dominate the WHADITTW culture. Critical thinking involves collecting data from multiple sources, not the least of which is getting input and feedback from all employees involved with the issue at hand. While a manager’s thought process might quickly default to thinking that employees do not have the time to deal with such things such as a critical thinking brainstorming discussion, that could not be further from the truth. Employees may be hesitant at first because it is new to them, but if it results in positive changes in part because of their input, they will eventually embrace these sessions with enthusiasm. Critical thinking does not have to be steeped in rigorous data collection, but data is the foundation. Inefficiencies present an epidemic in most small businesses. Dramatic improvement in the way things are done can be realized in the early stages by mapping out some of the basic information collected, and allowing that information to steer some of the initial changes. While it would be a lot faster for the president, or manager, to make quick knee-jerk decisions, this approach will sabotage the creation of the critical thinking culture. Also, there is one additional aspect that must be considered by today’s business owners and managers. The speed of business is such that you can never keep up with all the variables that a company faces both inside and outside the company. Better said, in today’s fast paced world, business owners and managers can’t hide from change. Change is now constant. If they do, the business will slowly fail. Developing a critical thinking culture within your company will free business owners up to apply this methodology to the forces that are impacting their business from the outside. www.risbj.com | volume six issue ten

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Will my idea fly? Learn how to gauge the business potential of your idea December 6, 2017 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. Tech Collective, 166-188 Valley St., Building 3, Providence This free workshop features a panel of business experts who will advise on how to evaluate potential business ideas. You’ll learn the difference between a project and a product or service, how to assess the market and determine financial feasibility, and how to get started.

Free and open to all Learn more and register at www.ri-bizplan.com

We’re building the next generation of companies in Rhode Island Since 2001, the Rhode Island Business Plan Competition has awarded prizes valued at more than $2.3 million to help entrepreneurs build growing businesses in Rhode Island and today is the largest community-supported business plan competition in the Northeast. Our sponsors include private companies, professional service providers, foundations, colleges and universities, public agencies, investors, banks – and previous participants. Full details at| www.ri-bizplan.com www.risbj.com volume six issue ten 29


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RISBJ | rhode island small business journal

RISBJ V6 No10  
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