Thursday, May 31, 2012

Are You Paying 30 Percent?

Recently, I wrote about how retirement investment plans will have to disclose their fees and expense ratios this summer. For the first time, both business owners and their employees will get a chart showing how much of the retirement savings is drained off to pay administrative and investment costs.

This week, we got a preview in the form of a disturbing study showing average 401(k) fees reduce total retirement savings by 30 percent. Industry disputes those findings, but everyone seems to agree that the costs are too high and there's too little transparency.

This summer, that's going to change as part of a trend toward better financial information getting out to Americans. Do you have an employer-sponsored retirement account? If so, do you know how much you pay now? If not, do you track expenses in your IRAs or mutual fund investments?

I was always told to look for overall expense ratios of 1% or less in my self-employed accounts. I'll be interested to see how our employer-sponsored plan shakes out.

Staying Small

Not every entrepreneurial venture follows the same trajectory. Take Lee Loree, inventor of the SleepTracker.

He has a $3 million company, selling an innovative tech product, yet he still works from home, has no employees and runs his entire company on an iPad.

Sure, he could scale up, hire employees and bring on private equity investors intent on securing a big payday down the line. But Loree's happy with his 10 to 20 percent annual growth, the challenges of selling internationally and the lifestyle he enjoys as a dad-entrepreneur.

Read more about him in my column this week.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Get It For Free

Ever looked over a website and wondered: Just how do they make money at this?

Of course you have! It's part of a paradigm shift called the Freemium model. Here's a little explainer I found helpful:

price of free
Price of Free

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

IPO Job Boost or Bust?

An oft-cited statistic that links job growth to initial public offerings is overblown, my colleague John Tozzi reports this week.

He took a look at new research that undermines one of the major lobbying points for the JOBS Act recently signed into law that legalizes equity crowdfunding for small biz and startups.

Monday, May 21, 2012

How Much Are You Paying?

If you have a 401(k) or another type of employer-sponsored retirement account, do you know how much you pay in expenses and fees, or how much your employees pay?

Starting this summer, the U.S. Department of Labor is requiring pension providers to lay out that information in a comparative chart for employers and employees. The rules, reportedly long fought by the financial industry, may bring a shock if you find that your administrative fees and fund management expenses are taking a big bite out of your retirement savings.

Yes, the information can probably be found in the fund prospectuses (prospecti?) for all the investments you own. But lots of people do not know that or do not take the time to dig it up. Yet it may mean a 40 percent difference in how much you have saved up when you retire.

Americans' confidence about their ability to retire comfortably is at a new low. So finding out how much you're paying - and getting a better deal if you're overpaying - is one step in the right direction. Look for your disclosure form no later than July 1 if you're a business owner; Aug. 30 if you're an employee.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Fatigued, Much?

Women and people of color are not yet at parity in business, yet when we should care about race and gender, diversity fatigue has set in.

Read why and what to do about it - and why you should care, in the first place - in my column this week.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Birds, Sweet and Not

Journalist Steve Scauzillo (aka my better half) weighs in on sweet - and bittersweet - encounters with nature.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Speaking Of ...

You truly gave a wonderful program. You were so engaging and had a great sense of humor.

I am surprised that this is something you have just started feeling comfortable doing,  you seem like a seasoned pro.

A couple years' ago, I would never have believed that this message described me and a recent speaking gig. In fact, I would never have gotten such a message, because although I am asked to speak to business groups occasionally, I dreaded doing it.

And I'm sure that reluctance showed.

Basically an introvert by nature, I had all the reservations of most people who hate/fear/dread public speaking. Worst of them was the idea that when I got up to give a talk, I sounded nervous, unprepared and amateurish, even when I had practiced and practiced.

Then my friend, Lilli Cloud of Cloud Communications, offered to help. "We'll set up the recorder and get you on video. That way we can see what you're doing and how I can help," she said.

Somehow, this idea filled me with horror. I was sure my worst fears would be realized, and in front of Lilli, no less. But she persisted, and finally I went through with it.

Lo and behold, I wasn't half bad! All the glitches, pauses and stammers I felt were sabotaging my communications just looked like normal speaking. We tried it again, with me more relaxed and focused on telling stories, rather than reading my notes. Better still!

I never thought I'd say this, but I've become something of a ham. I enjoy speaking to groups and get up in front with confidence and even a glimmer of delight.

Why tell this story? It truly is about confronting your worst fears and realizing - they're not so bad. I'm still not bungee-jumping or getting on the next super-coaster, but speaking I can do. And I can recommend Lilli, whose talents are richly appreciated.

They say people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death. I can honestly say I'm not afraid of either, these days!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Real Deal

I often get asked about how entrepreneurs can get government grants. Short answer: They probably can't.

That's because grants to start for-profit enterprises are more pernicious myth than reality. Yes, there is government seed money available for technologies that further scientific research and homeland security - but very few startups would qualify.

There are, however, some foundations and private companies that give grants to small businesses; here's one: The Eileen Fisher Business Grant Program for Woman Entrepreneurs awards up to five grants of $12,500.

The grant program was launched in 2004 with a single grant of $20,000 to commemorate the apparel company’s 20th anniversary. Since then, up to five grants have been awarded each year to 100-percent women-owned businesses that combine the principles of social consciousness, sustainability and innovation to create new businesses or invigorate existing ones.

Deadline to apply is coming up next Tuesday, May 15. Only for-profit businesses or for-profit/ nonprofit hybrids are eligible for the grant. If your company fits the criteria, give it a try!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Women's Work

If you're not listening to Planet Money, and you care about the economy, you should be.

Heck, even if you don't care about the economy, Planet Money will make you care.

Check out this interesting graphic that shows how women's employment has changed in the past 40 years.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

RIP Rufus

I got the news this week that Rufus died, succumbing last weekend, as too many horses do, to the intestinal malady called equine colic. Rufus was the big, handsome chestnut in the photo above (credit Carol Reynolds, The Riding Coach).

I first met Rufus while taking riding lessons in the '00s. He was a proud, confident horse who always led our riding school group on the trails, stepping out smartly and swishing his tail impatiently when he had to wait for the slower horses to catch up.

He was also fearless; horse people call it "bomb-proof." Where a blowing leaf or skittering squirrel might make other horses freeze or bolt, Rufus never twitched. He would simply take a look at the trouble, toss his mane at all the fuss and keep walking. Riding Rufus, I always felt completely protected; I knew he would get me home safely.

But I didn't get to ride him right away. Because he was much more willing to move out than some of the other lesson horses, he was generally reserved for instructors and more advanced students of The Riding Coach. The first time I got up on Rufus, the sheer energy radiating off him was palpable - and a little scary!

As soon as I learned to relax and handle him calmly, even when he was dancing around with adrenaline, he was a sheer pleasure to ride. All it took was the slightest hint of a heel on his flank, and a subtle loosening of his reins, to ease him into a smooth, comfortable canter.

Rufus was not a cuddly horse, being more interested in playing with his stable mates than pleasing his humans. But he had good ground manners and was generally polite.

There was one special trick he had, though, and he invariably pulled it anytime a newbie was assigned to tack him up (i.e., groom, saddle and bridle him). As soon as the bridle came out, he would clench his teeth and refuse to take the bit until a horse cookie was produced. On his best days, he could manage to suck the cookie into his mouth and still escape the bit, something I am certain gave him great delight.

The day I was able to slip the bridle over his head with enough confidence to cause him to automatically open his mouth for the bit, was the day I knew I was becoming a good horsewoman. He never tried his trick with me again.

I'm sad that Rufus is gone, but happy that he had a wonderful life, regular exercise and meticulous care. He managed to make many people fall in love with him, including me, and he brought joy to us all.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Campfire Stories

Think you'd like to run a summer camp? Maybe you want to think again.

Not that it's not profitable - if you run things right, it certainly can be. But if you don't have legacy property in a scenic area and thousands of alums whose kids must go to summer camp like they did, it's a tough business to break into.

Read my round up of summer camp businesses in this week's column.