5 Great Business Podcasts for Your Summer Vacation

Summer is here and after a long (looong) year, many of us are ready to get out and take a roadtrip, visit family, or plan a vacation that involves relaxing near some body of water. But while you’re driving, flying, or lounging by the pool, there’s nothing better than throwing on a great podcast to pass the time. 

So we decided to compile a list of shows perfect for those who want to continue learning and growing professionally, while still enjoying some summer R&R. Here’s a quick list of five popular options for your listening pleasure.

#1 WorkLife with Adam Grant

This TED original podcast is hosted by organizational psychologist Adam Grant, who explores the science of making work “not suck.” Each week, Adam sits down to interview an industry expert, health professional, or celebrity about their experiences at work. Adam brings his own expertise and observations to the conversations and reveals deep insights in a friendly, accessible way. His list of past guests includes Daily Show host Trevor Noah, billionaire Richard Branson, Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood, and even the talented team at Pixar. 

#2 Brown Ambition

For over five years running, the popular Brown Ambition podcast has been helping listeners unapologetically build wealth by saving, investing, and making smarter career choices. Co-hosted by personal finance expert and journalist Mandi Woodruff and Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche, a financial educator and author of the bestselling book, Get Good With Money, this insightful and relatable show addresses everything from diversity and inclusion issues to wealth-building to getting a promotion at work.

#3 Business Edge

This list wouldn’t be complete without what we consider the best business podcast out there — Alpha Kappa Psi’s own Business Edge podcast! Co-hosted by the brilliant duo of Desiree Williams and Chrissy Vasquez, this show is dedicated to young professionals everywhere who are seeking career development and advice. In each episode, Desiree and Chrissy interview a new guest who shares their own personal and professional experiences and stories. Check it out and join us every other Tuesday on this professional development journey. 

 

#4 HBR: Women at Work

Hosted by Amy Bernstein, editor of the Harvard Business Review, along with Amy Gallo, author of HBR’s Guide to Dealing with Conflict, and Emily Caulfield, a senior designer at Harvard Business Review, the Women at Work podcast is true to its name and focuses on the issues women face in the workplace. From dealing with difficult (interrupting) male colleagues to more serious topics like narrowing the wage gap and gender discrimination, the ladies discuss it all. They interview experts on gender, share their own experiences and personal stories, and provide practical career advice for women. Guys should listen in as well, to better understand the issues women face, and for tips on being an advocate and ally in your own workplace.

#5 Side Hustle School

Looking to start a side hustle? Then this is the perfect daily podcast for you. The show is geared toward anyone who works a regular job but also wants to start earning some additional income on the side. In each episode, you’ll hear a different story from someone who has started their own side hustle. They’ll share what went well, the challenges they had to overcome, and where they’re at now in their career. The show is written and hosted by bestselling author Chris Guillebeau, and each episode is just 10 minutes long, making it easy to get a daily dose of hustlin’ inspiration, or, to binge multiple episodes while you’re laying at the beach this summer.

 

What great business podcasts do you recommend? Share with the community and tag us on LinkedIn!

Protecting Your Intellectual Property

Just like you protect your physical property — locking your car doors, keeping a close eye on your wallet or purse, or maybe even installing a home alarm system — any intellectual property that belongs to you needs to be protected as well.

Intellectual property (IP) is any product of your human “intellect” that the law protects from unauthorized use by others. It could be an invention, a song, a book, a brand or slogan, a formula, or an algorithm. It’s essentially any original piece of work or idea that you create, and therefore, should be protected from others who may try to copy it or profit off of it in some way, without giving you proper credit or compensation. 

4 types of intellectual property rights

Depending on the type of IP you have, there are different categories of protection rights. The most common categories are trademarks, copyrights, patents, and trade secrets.

Copyrights

A copyright protects original works like books, articles, paintings, photographs, illustrations, musical compositions, computer programs, and movies. The creator of the work has immediate copyright as soon as they write, draw, film, compose, or design it. You can register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office and your registered copyright will typically last for your entire lifetime plus 70 years. And like any physical property you own, your copyrights are transferred to the heirs of your estate after you die. Even when you’re no longer around physically, your IP lives on (and can continue to make money) — Michael Jackson made $48 million last year and Dr. Seuss raked in $33 million.

Companies or organizations can also be copyright owners. Copyright law allows ownership through “works made for hire,” which means if you create something as an employee or contractor, the copyright will, in most cases, belong to the company that employed you.

Trademarks

A trademark protects a person or company’s brand name and/or logo. Companies take the protection of their trademarks very seriously, as the brand is often a company’s most valuable asset. Google’s trademark is the most valuable in the world, worth an estimated $44 billion, which is more than a quarter of the company’s overall value.

You can search for registered trademarks and file for your own with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). A trademark examiner will review your application to make sure no one else has already registered something like it, then it will be published in a public register to allow anyone to object. If it’s approved, the trademark will remain in effect for 10 years and need to be renewed every decade thereafter.

Patents

Patents protect new ideas, processes, and inventions. After a patent application is filed with the USPTO, an examiner reviews and makes sure the invention is not already patented by someone else.

If a patent is granted, it’s valid for 20 years from the application’s filing or 17 years from when the patent was issued (whichever is longer). One thing to note is that not just any random thing can be patented — patent law specifies that something must be “useful” and operate to perform its intended purpose (in other words, it needs to actually work) to be granted a patent. Also, if you invent something on behalf of your company, your employer is generally entitled to that IP — unless there’s a contract that states otherwise. 

Trade secrets

A trade secret is specific, private information that gives you an economic edge over your competitors and has value to others who cannot legitimately obtain it. It’s also subject to “reasonable efforts to maintain its secrecy” according to the USPTO. A couple of well-known examples of trade secrets are the recipe to Coca-Cola and KFC’s secret blend of 11 herbs and spices.

The Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (DTSA) established a private civil cause of action for the misappropriation of a trade secret. This provides a reliable, uniform way to protect trade secrets. (So Colonel Sanders can rest easy!)

Protect yourself and your business

Intellectual property laws were created to obtain, protect, and enforce your IP rights. They protect you and/or your company from others who may try to steal your IP for their own financial gain. In doing so, they also protect the very foundations of innovation and creativity. 

As Washington D.C. intellectual property lawyer Kevin Bell says, “IP laws encourage more people to come up with new ideas, inventions, works of art, literature, and music, which fosters to create new things and improve old things.”

If you have an idea or piece of work you want to protect, or if you’re considering starting a business that will have intellectual property, there are many things to consider. 

You might consider establishing your business legally, in order to better protect your assets. A Limited Liability Company (LLC), for example, combines the best parts of corporations, sole proprietorships, and partnerships into one business entity and will offer certain liability and personal asset protection. This helps protect you against lawsuits or creditors that may try and go after your personal assets. With an established LLC, creditors can only collect against your business assets, which can be handy if something like a lawsuit involving valuable intellectual property comes into play.

It’s helpful to consult an attorney when trying to best understand your options for protecting your IP. You can even search for attorneys and law firms in your area who specialize in intellectual property law, via the LegalMatch database.

 

*Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and not intended to provide specific advice or legal recommendations. It is only intended to provide general education about intellectual property protections. Any ideas or strategies discussed should not be undertaken by any individual without consultation with a qualified legal professional.

How to Raise Funds When Starting a Business

Entrepreneurship is an essential driver of our economy and impacts nearly every area of our lives. Think about the various products and services you use every day. Ever stop and wonder about their origin? Some visionary from the past invented that toothbrush you used this morning and that electric coffee maker that dripped out your cup of joe. Our country was founded by entrepreneurs — Ben Franklin invented everything from bifocals to the flexible urinary catheter. He’s even credited with establishing America’s first free library.

Maybe you have a business idea you’ve been ruminating on, or maybe the idea of entrepreneurship just feels like a great path for you. There are so many opportunities out there and different avenues for getting your business off the ground. 

Tracy York, co-founder and vice president of customer success for HG Insights, recently joined the AKPsi Business Edge Podcast to share his experiences as someone who has successfully founded multiple companies — one which went on to acquisition in 2010. “For those thinking about starting a company, there’s opportunity out there. All kinds of firms looking to build teams, to fund companies… it’s a pretty amazing environment in the ecosystem,” he said.

Securing seed money

Regardless of the size or scale of the business you hope to build, you’ll need some level of financial investment to get started. The first step is to calculate your costs and funding needs. The plan and vision you have for your business will shape what that need looks like. No financial option is one-size-fits-all, so once you figure out how much initial money you’ll need, you can start evaluating the various options for acquiring that funding.

Bootstrapping

If you already have a few bucks in the bank (or know someone who does), self-funding or “bootstrapping” might be a good option for getting your business off the ground. Self-funding can come from dipping into your savings, investment from family and friends, or even tapping into current investments like your 401k.

The benefit of self-funding is that you get to retain total control of your business. On the flip side, you also take on all the risk. It’s important not to bite off more than you can chew financially, so talk to a financial advisor about your best options.

Crowdfunding

If you’re on social media, you’ve no doubt seen crowdfunding campaigns for just about every product and idea imaginable. Platforms like Kickstarter and CircleUp have made crowdfunding a popular avenue for raising small amounts of money from a large number of people (the “crowd”). It’s low risk for entrepreneurs to raise money this way since the people who contribute aren’t considered investors and don’t get a financial stake in the business.

Crowdfunders usually contribute because they’re passionate about your idea and want you to see it through. They’re essentially giving your project money upfront in order to be a future customer or be involved in some way. Even though you won’t technically owe your crowdfunders anything financially (whether the business takes off or not), you can still offer extra incentives or perks to those who choose to invest. 

Small business grants & loans

Another way to retain control of your business aside from bootstrapping is with a grant or small business loan. With most lenders, you’ll need a business plan, expense sheet, and financial projections for the next five years in order to secure a loan (and just having those items doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to get it). 

If you have any trouble getting a loan (e.g., the bank thinks your business idea is too risky) you can look into SBA-guaranteed loans. With an SBA-guaranteed loan, if for some reason the borrower (you) can’t repay the loan, the lender can still recover 50 to 85 percent of the outstanding loan balance from the SBA (Small Business Administration). This reduces the lender’s risk, making them more likely to approve the loan. But as the borrower, you’re still on the hook to pay that money back.

Depending on what your business idea is, you might also qualify for a federal grant. Government agencies often give out grants to small business owners and entrepreneurs. Grants.gov has a database of grants administered by various federal agencies, from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Justice.

Venture capital

Whether you’re just starting out with an idea and a dream, or you’ve already gotten your seed money and are a few years into your business, venture capital firms can provide you with funding to grow your business. 

Venture capital is funding that’s provided by investment banks or well-off investors (aka rich people) to startups and small businesses that these investors believe have the potential to grow and give them a big return on their money. Venture capital investments are typically offered in exchange for ownership and an active role in the company.

The biggest question many entrepreneurs have is where to find venture capital funds and how to get these investors to share the wealth. One way the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recommends connecting with VCs is through a referral from a financial professional, like a lawyer or CPA. Networking is also important — try to make genuine connections with venture capitalists in your extended network and always be ready to pitch if you find yourself in the room with one.

What VCs care about most is getting a good return on their investment, so do some financial projections and know your balance sheets. The better you can sell the potential of your business, the more likely you are to secure funding. 

On the podcast, Tracy York described what it felt like when pitching his business: “It’s very nervewracking to be in that first pitch meeting and trying to do what’s going to bring the company the funding to keep going, but you learn from those experiences… you’re not going to nail every pitch. It can take months, and rejections, and not getting meetings. But if the idea is there, you’re going to find the right market and understand what didn’t go right before, what may need to change, and what’s that right story to put out there.”

Find a mentor 

Launching a startup is a ton of work and completely new territory for most people. Finding a mentor who has done it before is a great way to get advice that can help you navigate these uncharted waters. You can get introduced to potential mentors by way of family and friends, or through your professional networks like AKPsi. You can also check out The SBA’s Office of Small Business Development Center in your state. They can help you get hooked up with potential mentors, other resources, and even help you apply for federal grants. 

 

*Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and not intended to provide specific financial advice or business strategy recommendations to any individual. It is only intended to provide education about general information and available resources. Any ideas or strategies discussed should not be undertaken by any individual without consultation with a qualified financial professional.

 

Taking Care of Business as a Freelancer

You’ve probably heard the term “gig work” or the phrase “gig economy” in the news quite a bit over the last few years. A lot of that conversation has focused on the new category of gig jobs created by app companies like Uber and Instacart. 

But for years — long before you could order up a ride to the airport or a tofu breakfast burrito from your phone — there’s been a workforce of independent contractors or “freelancers,” doing professional, often high-paying jobs for clients and businesses. And the prevalence of freelance work has only increased since the COVID-19 pandemic.

A study by Upwork found that 36% of American workers freelanced in 2020, and three in five say they’re making the same or more money freelancing than they would be working for a traditional employer. The study also found that as much as half of the total Gen Z workforce has freelanced at some point in the last year, and nine out of 10 plan to continue.

Freelancing has been a way for some people to get by after losing their job or needing to scale back during the pandemic. But for many, freelancing is a career choice. They enjoy the freedom that comes with working for themselves, choosing the projects they take on, and working remotely on their own time. Both small businesses and large corporations (and everything in between) hire freelancers to help with various projects, from copywriting to graphic design to data science.

There are plenty of benefits to freelance work that you might find enticing — setting your own hours, avoiding office politics, or even a “pants optional” dress code. But being a freelancer also means you are your own employer — there’s no sales or accounting team to take care of things for you. Finding clients and managing the business is up to you. There’s a lot to consider and plan for, especially when you’re just getting started. So let’s dig into some basics.

 

Establishing your business 

Obviously, the first step to becoming a wildly successful freelancer is to buy one of those placards for your desk that says “Every Day I’m Hustlin” or “Girl Boss.” But after that, it’s probably important to make sure your business is legally established.  

 

DBA vs. sole proprietorship

The most common ways freelancers set up shop is with a sole proprietorship (i.e., an unincorporated business under your name) or a DBA (“doing business as”) if you want to establish a business name other than your own. As a sole proprietor, you don’t have to register or file any paperwork with the government; however, there is a bit of risk. You’re personally liable if the business (you) gets sued or incurs any debts. For a DBA, you’ll have to file an application, and each state has different laws and requires different permits or business licenses. LegalZoom has some good resources to help you decide which route to take and how to get started.

 

Finding clients

As a freelancer, you are your own salesperson when it comes to securing clients. You can tap into your existing network, make new connections, market your services online, or ideally, all of the above. 

If you don’t already maintain a portfolio or personal website, that’s a great place to start. Having an online presence gives you a place to send potential clients who want to take a look at your work to see if your skills might be a good fit for their project. You don’t need anything fancy, and there are plenty of sites where you can build a basic website — like Squarespace and Wix — that require little to no coding or design abilities. There are also free portfolio sites where you can host your work, like Contently and Behance.

Networking online via LinkedIn and at in-person events (when it’s safe to do so) is a great way to put yourself out there, whether it’s to learn from others in your field or solely to drum up business. And reaching out to acquaintances and friends in your professional networks (like your Alpha Kappa Psi brothers!) is a great way to get referrals or intros to potential clients.

 

Contracts

No matter the size or scale of a project, it’s essential to have clear, detailed parameters in place with written agreements on both sides. Having formal documentation to sign shows your clients that you’re a professional and protects you legally should any problems arise with important things like, you know, getting paid for your work.

A “freelance contract” or “letter of agreement” is a document you should have in place with each client and project you take on that explains the terms you’ve agreed on — what work will be performed, at what rate, for what length of time, etc. It’s a legally binding document that sets expectations and ensures both parties are on the same page.

Sites like LegalTemplates and even Microsoft Office provide free, downloadable templates for freelance contracts as well as other documents you’ll need, such as invoices and statements of work.

 

Pricing

One of the most challenging things for many freelancers is deciding how to structure their fees. There’s no formula or algorithm that can tell you precisely what you should charge, as there are so many factors that come into play. The tricky thing is finding that sweet spot in which you’re not selling yourself short by charging too little (know your worth!) but not setting your fees way too high and pricing yourself out of the running with potential clients.

Hourly pricing is pretty typical for freelancers as it keeps things relatively simple. You set a fixed rate and bill by the hour. The only thing to be mindful of when charging by the hour is making sure expectations are clear, and the lines of communication are open between you and your client. For example, it can be helpful to estimate upfront how many hours you think a project will take and let your client know if you feel something may require more time.

With a project-based or “fixed” pricing model, you charge one fixed rate to complete a project. This is a good option if the project has clearly defined deliverables. But keep in mind, some projects tend to grow bigger than anticipated (creatives often call this “scope creep”), and the final deliverable can end up taking way more time than you bargained for — and you still only take home that same set amount of money. 

Doing a little research can help when setting your rates. Sites like Upwork and Glassdoor can give you an idea of average hourly rates for freelancers in different regions and industries. You can also ask around. Network with other freelancers (ideally, those you’re not competing with) and see what they charge and how it compares.

 

Financials & taxes

To keep your personal finances separate from your work finances, you might consider opening a business account to deposit your earnings and pay for any business expenses. Another important thing for someone self-employed is to have a safety net in savings, in case you were to lose a client. Intuit recommends having at least 4-6 months’ worth of earnings saved. 

Another consideration with freelancing is that you don’t get some of the same benefits you might have when working for a traditional employer, namely health insurance and retirement benefits. But there are options available for self-employed people; you just have to decide which ones are right for you. A qualified financial advisor can help you understand what your options are for retirement plans. As for health insurance, The Freelancers Union recommends researching your options and checking your eligibility for any free or subsidized plans. They also have an online tool for finding handpicked insurance plans for freelancers

 

Filing taxes

As if filing taxes every spring wasn’t painful enough, being a freelancer can make things a bit more complicated when settling up with Uncle Sam. As a freelancer, you’re considered self-employed by the IRS, meaning you have to file your taxes as a business owner. 

You’re probably familiar with working for a traditional employer and getting a W-2 that reports all the income you earned that year. As a freelancer, you’re responsible for gathering and reporting all your sources of income from all the projects you’ve done. (This is again why having written documentation with all your clients is important, as well as maintaining a separate business bank account.) You should also receive a 1099-NEC form from each of your clients if you did work for them exceeding $600.

When you’re self-employed, you also get stuck with the self-employment tax on top of your regular income tax (the current rate is 15.3%). This is in place of the Social Security and Medicare taxes deducted from your paycheck with a traditional employer.

It’s not all bad on the tax front, though; there are also some benefits. When you’re considered self-employed, the government allows you to take deductions for business-related expenses, like home office equipment, internet, business travel, etc. (Check out Investopedia’s list of 15 Tax Deductions and Benefits for the Self-Employed.)

If you’re considering a career (or even just a side hustle) as a freelancer, definitely talk to a qualified professional for advice on all the financial and tax-related implications. The Smartasset Advisor Match tool is an easy way to find financial advisors in your area.

 

*Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and not intended to provide specific advice or career recommendations. It is only intended to provide education about the financial considerations for freelance work. Any ideas or strategies discussed should not be undertaken by any individual without consultation with a qualified financial professional or career consultant.

Employee Stock 101: Get to Know Your Options

When you think about your benefits package as an employee, you might think about health insurance, 401k, or paid time off. But some employers offer an additional benefit to their employees in the form of equity in the company. 

Many companies — particularly startups or scale-ups — will offer stock options as part of your overall compensation package to recruit and retain top talent. The idea behind offering company equity is that you will essentially share in the company’s success, and will have the potential to sell your shares one day for a little (or a lot of) money. 

For public companies (i.e., those trading on the stock exchange), equity is typically offered to employees in the form of a discount on their stock. Private companies are owned by a group of individuals, like the company’s founders and/or private investors, and the stock can’t be traded publicly.

For this article, we’ll focus primarily on private companies and what to expect when you’re granted stock options as an employee.

 

The offer letter and option grant

When you get an offer of employment with a new company, you will typically get a document to sign that lists your compensation package, including your salary and any bonuses you’ll be eligible for. If the company is offering you stock options as part of that package, those details will be listed in your offer letter as well. 

While signing your offer letter means you’re accepting the job, there will be an additional step in the process if there are stock options included. You’ll need to sign the stock option agreement or “option grant” as well. It won’t cost you any money up front to accept the agreement, and signing it doesn’t mean you’re obligated to exercise your options in the future. It simply means you’ll have the opportunity to exercise if you choose. 

Now to really throw you for a loop… stock options aren’t actually shares of stock. (Wait, what?!) The keyword here is “option” — the company is essentially giving you the option to buy a set number of shares in your company at a fixed price (i.e., the “strike price”). There are two types of employee stock options: incentive stock options (ISOs) and non-qualified stock options (NSOs). (The main difference between the two is how they’re taxed.) Your option grant will include details like: 

  • the type of stock 
  • number of shares
  • the strike price
  • your vesting schedule

It will also include an expiration date. (ISOs typically expire 10 years from the date they’re granted.)

 

Vesting schedules

If your new company offers you 1,000 shares as part of your compensation package, that doesn’t mean you have 1,000 shares on day one of employment. As I mentioned above, your option grant will include what’s called a vesting schedule. “Vesting” means you have to earn your stock options over time. Companies do this to encourage employees to stay on board for a more extended period. It helps with employee retention and makes employees feel more invested in the success of the company. 

Most companies follow a traditional vesting schedule which includes what is called a “cliff.” A one-year cliff is the most typical, with 25% of your options vesting after one year with the company. (So, to get any shares at all, you must be with your company for at least a year.) After you reach your cliff, your remaining options (the other 75%) will continue to vest at regular intervals each month for the total length of your vesting schedule, which is typically 3 or 4 years.

So, for example: Upon hiring, your employer grants you 1,000 shares of stock with a vesting schedule of 3 years. On your first anniversary with the company, 250 shares (25%) will vest. Then, over the next two years, the rest of your shares (the other 750) will vest — about 31 shares each month for the next 24 months. Then, by your 3rd anniversary with the company, your options will be fully vested.

If you decide to leave the company before then, your shares will stop vesting, and you can only exercise the amount that has vested to date. You’ll have a window of time after leaving your company (usually at least three months) to exercise those vested shares, called a post-termination exercise (PTE) period. If you leave after three years, you’ll be able to exercise all 1,000 shares, should you so choose.

 

Strike price and exercising (no sweatband required)

Whether or not you want to exercise your vested shares will probably depend on how well the company is doing (or how well you expect it to do in the future) because you will have to purchase your vested shares. How much you will pay depends on your strike price. 

The strike price is that fixed price listed on your option grant and is the price you’ll pay to exercise your vested shares. Companies set the strike price based on fair market value (FMV) on the day it’s granted. (So, depending on when you start at the company, your strike price may be different than someone else’s who started before or after you.) FMV is essentially what the price would be if the stock were publicly traded. 

The difference between the FMV and your strike price is called “the spread.” So when the stock value is up, and the spread is positive, your options are considered “in-the-money.” If your spread is negative, your options are considered “underwater.” (So, for example, if your strike price is $1 and the FMV is $5, you’re essentially up $4/share.)

Another thing to consider when it comes to when/if to exercise is stock dilution. This happens when a company issues additional shares of stock, and in doing so, reduces how much of the company shareholders own. It typically occurs when the company raises money. Those new shares that have been issued would now cause the percentage of your ownership in the company to decrease. 

 

So, when can I make money?

If you’re lucky enough to find yourself with stock options in a successful, growing company, there are a few main ways you may be able to cash in on your stock. Once you’ve exercised your vested options, you can choose to either hold onto them until there is an “exit event” or sell the stock to investors in a private transaction. The most common exit events are mergers, acquisitions, or an initial public offering (IPO).

Typically, in an acquisition and some mergers, your exercised shares are either paid out in cash or converted into common shares of the acquiring company. If your company goes onto an IPO, the private company is now public, and the company starts selling its stock on the market. There will be a “lock-up period” (of up to 180 days) in which employees aren’t allowed to sell their stock. After that period ends, you’re free to sell.

If you think your company has the potential for an exit event in the not-so-distant future, you’ll want to learn more about how your options might be affected. There are several complex factors to consider — including tax implications — when selling stock options. Talk to your human resources and/or legal team, and consider seeking out the advice of a qualified financial advisor to help you best understand your options.

 

*Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations to any individual on any specific investment product or strategy. It is only intended to provide education about investments and the financial industry. Any ideas or strategies discussed should not be undertaken by any individual without consultation with a qualified financial professional.