Pros and Cons of Working at Home

Imagine that your employer gives you the choice between either working from home or commuting to the office throughout your work week. You might think the obvious choice is to work from the comfort of your own home; after all, staying in your pajamas all day and avoiding stressful commutes sound appealing. But there are some considerations to think about before you decide that telecommuting is right for you.

Advantages
file0001992856476Working from home could end up saving you a considerable amount of money. It eliminates the cost of commuting by cutting down what you spend on gas, public transportation and parking fees, and car maintenance. And depending on your company’s dress code, you could save what you might spend on expensive work-related clothes.

Besides reducing some of your daily expenses, working from home could provide you with more opportunities and increased productivity. Telecommuting might mean you are no longer tied to a single location, which could allow you to explore more flexible work opportunities within the company. Working from home may also motivate you to use your time more effectively and accomplish more for your company because you’ll save time commuting.

Balancing work and family life could be easier when you work from home, as well. Time that you might spend traveling to work, appointments, and family obligations will be saved when you no longer have to schedule around a daily drive to and from the office.

Depending on your company’s flexibility and the demands of your job, working from home may even eliminate or reduce child-care needs for your children, giving you more time to spend with your loved ones in addition to saving you money.

It’s possible that you could be healthier by working from home. Your exposure to co-workers who come to work with a cold or the flu is reduced, which prevents you from having to take a sick day to visit your doctor. You may also wind up feeling less stressed when you don’t have to worry about commuting or potential work-life issues.

Disadvantages
Before you get too excited about the appeals of working from home, consider the drawbacks. For instance, telecommuting could affect your work performance. Isolation from the office may result in your professional achievements being overlooked, which could potentially delay a promotion or raise.

Less opportunity to interact regularly with co-workers might mean missing out on important information, as well as feeling lonely. Plus, distractions around your home can interfere with your daily responsibilities and could result in a negative response from your employer.

Another financial downside of working from home is the prospect of providing your own office materials. Does your company provide you with supplies such as a computer, printer, and fax machine? Will you need to pay for office setup, postage services, or scanners, among other items?

file00032137357You might think that a home office tax deduction could alleviate the cost of home office expenses, but you’ll need to be careful with your home office use in order to qualify. The space you claim a deduction for must be used for business-only purposes. Any use of this space not related to your work may prevent you from taking this tax break. For more information, review IRS Publication 587, Business Use of Your Home.

You’ll also need to think about how your increased presence at home may result in an increase in your home utility usage. Specifically, you’ll probably spend much of your time using energy-consuming technology to perform your job. In turn, this could cause your electric bill to spike. Practicing energy efficiency may help reduce the bill, but you still might have to pay more than you’d like each month as the cost of working from home.

What works for you?
If your employer allows you to work from home, think about a few other things besides how it would affect your wallet:

1) Consider whether your home has appropriate space to accommodate a home office.
2) Understand that you may need to seek remote tech support on occasion to perform your job.
3) Think about whether you’re self-directed and able to work well independently in a home setting.
4) Set expectations for yourself.
5) Be familiar with any company policies that may apply to remote employees.

It’s possible that you can strike a balance and choose to work from home one or two days a week, thereby reaping more of the telecommuting positives than negatives. You could also ask to undergo a trial period to make sure that working from home is truly what works best for both you and your employer.

Five Steps to Tame Financial Stress

Do you sometimes lie awake at night thinking about bills that need to be paid? Does it feel as though you’re drowning in debt? If this describes you, you might take solace in the fact that you’re not alone. A recent report released by the American Psychological Association (APA) showed that 72% of adults feel stressed about money at least some of the time, and 22% said the amount of stress they experienced was extreme.

IMG_0691The bad news is that stress can be responsible for multiple health problems, including fatigue, headaches, and depression. And, over time, stress can contribute to more significant health issues, including high blood pressure and heart disease. The good news is that there are some simple steps you can take to reduce or eliminate some of the financial stress in your life.

1. Stop and assess

The first step in reducing financial stress is to look at your situation objectively, creating a snapshot of your current financial condition. Sit down and list all of your financial obligations. Start with the items that are causing you the most stress. For debts, include the principal due, the applicable interest rate, and the minimum payment amount. If you’re not already doing so, review your bank account and credit-card statements to track where your money is going. The goal here is not to solve the problem; it’s to determine and document the scope of the problem. You might find that this step alone significantly helps alleviate your stress level (think of it as facing your fears).

2. Talk to your spouse
If you’re married, talk to your spouse. It’s important to communicate with your spouse for several reasons. First, you and your spouse need to be on the same financial page; any steps you take to improve your situation are going to be most effective if pursued jointly.

Second, not being on the same page as your spouse is only going to lead to additional stress. In fact, the APA report showed that 31% of spouses and partners say that money is a major source of conflict or tension in their relationship.

Additionally, your spouse or partner can be a valuable source of emotional support, and this emotional support alone can lower stress levels.4 If you’re not married, family or friends might fill this role.

3. Take control
First, go back and take a look at where your money is going. Are there changes you can make that will free up funds you can save or apply elsewhere? Even small changes can make a difference. And exerting control over your situation to any degree can help reduce your overall stress level.

Start building a cash reserve, or emergency fund, by saving a little bit each paycheck. Think of the emergency fund as a safety net; just knowing it’s there will help reduce your ongoing level of stress. Work up to a full spending plan (yes, that’s another way of saying a budget) where you prioritize your expenses, set spending goals, and then stick to them going forward.

2014-04-13 12.56.094. Think longer term
Look for ways to reduce debt long term. You might pay more toward balances that have the highest interest rates. Or you might consider refinancing or consolidation options as well.

Beyond that, though, you really want to start thinking about your long-term financial goals, identifying and prioritizing your goals, calculating how much you might need to fund those goals, and implementing a plan that accounts for those goals. Having a plan in place can help you with your stress levels, both now and in the future.

5. Get help
Always remember that you don’t need to handle this alone. If the emotional support of a spouse, friends, or family isn’t enough, or the level of stress that you’re feeling is just too much, know that there is help available. Consider talking to your primary-care physician, a mental health professional, or an employee assistance resource, for example.

A financial professional can also be a valuable resource in helping you work through some of the steps discussed here, and can help direct you to other sources of assistance, like credit or debt counseling services, depending on your needs.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you have the ability to control the amount of financial stress in your life.

1,3,4 American Psychological Association, “Stress in Americaâ„¢: Paying with Our Health,” www.stressinamerica.org, February 4, 2015

2 Mayo Clinic Staff, “Stress Symptoms: Effects on Your Body and Behavior,” www.mayoclinic.org, July 19, 2013

Will Entrepreneurship Be Your Next Mid Life Career Move?

An exciting aspect of mid-life career change is the opportunity to seek new ways to tap one’s skills and experience developed over a lifetime. Having counseled scores of people in the midst of transition, I find it so inspiring to meet professionals who have creatively applied a lifetime of work skills to their new endeavors!

dreamstime_xs_39003948Increasingly, it appears that a larger number of baby boomers are choosing various forms of entrepreneurship as their preferred avenue to apply their knowledge and professional talent. According to the 2015 State of Entrepreneurship Report recently issued by the Kaufmann Foundation, entrepreneurship remains alive and well in the US and the birth cohort known as the “baby boomers” are actually the primary group driving this trend.

Their report cited data showing that Americans in their fifties and sixties have started businesses at a faster pace over the last decade, while that pace has continuously slowed among other age groups. The trend makes sense since entrepreneurship seems to be enjoying a renaissance for a variety of reasons, according to the Kaufmann Foundation.

Venture and angel investment levels in recent years mirror those of the late 1990s and very early 2000s. City and state governments increasingly build economic development strategies around entrepreneurship. And Baby Boomers appear well positioned to lead this trend. Professionals in their 50s and 60s have historically exhibited high levels of entrepreneurial activity, according to the Kaufmann Index of Entrepreneurial Activity cited in the report.

Who knows? With the US economy now appearing to be on more solid ground, this might be a good time for you to consider an alternative career path or entrepreneurial pursuit if you are attracted to the freedom and opportunity that comes with a non-traditional work model.

dreamstime_xs_18998686This could lead you to start a business, but it could also involve considering any number of professional paths that may entail less career or financial risk than starting your own venture. For example, you could think about consulting in your current field, or consider other types of engagements that reflect your professional passions and expertise.

Anecdotally, I meet many professionals who are seeking non-traditional work options that appeal to their professional interests and where they can think they might have greater freedom to make work choices based on their personal values. If these ideas resonate with you, then this might be an opportune moment to consider your career goals before you one day stop working!

It goes without saying that you would need to consider your personal finances, among other factors, before making a decision about a new path. Please feel to free to access our firm’s free Career Transition Workbook, which may help evaluate the financial and life planning aspects of moving in a new professional direction.

In addition to offering the Workbook, we will continue striving toward offering financial educational resources to help you make confident and informed financial decisions. Here is a sample of recent content added to our blog page, and which might help along your very own career and financial planning journeys:

Happy Belated Birthday Bull Market: After recently witnessing a sixth consecutive year of attractive stock market gains, many investors are wondering how much steam is left in the equity markets. But the possibility of continued modest stock market gains during 2015 is not as unlikely as it may seem. Read more…

Evaluating a Franchise for a Second Career: Buying a franchise might be an excellent way to break into starting a business. But how do you evaluate whether a franchise is right for you? Read more…

dreamstime_xs_15566306A Do It Yourself Approach to Retirement Planning: Worried about whether you will save enough money to one day be able to stop working? You can follow a step by step process to make your goal less overwhelming. Read more…

Starting a Business — Make Sure You Have a Plan: If the idea of starting your own venture holds some appeal, starting your own business or endeavor might be an appealing career alternative, especially if you enjoy the freedom and challenge of trying to fill an unmet market need. Here are some thoughts about preparing to make venture your fly. Read more…

I hope these thoughts and ideas help you move toward feeling more confident and settled about your financial and career goals! As always, if you have any questions, please email me at bill.pollak@lpl.com or call me at (925) 464-7057!

Evaluating a Franchise Purchase for a Second Career

Owning a franchise can be a great way to break into the world of entrepreneurship. However, franchising isn’t for everyone. It’s best to review the possible pros and cons of franchising before making any commitments.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPotential Advantages

    Mentorship: Most franchisors offer some managerial coaching to new franchisees.

    Trusted brand and/or product or service: Many franchises offer a brand and/or product or service that is typically recognized by your target market.

    Time-tested operating system: With the purchase of a franchise comes an operating system that ideally has been tried and proven through the years.

    Group purchasing power: Most franchisors have contracts with suppliers, providing the cost benefits of buying in bulk.

    Advertising and marketing: After paying a small percentage of gross profits, franchisees can usually take advantage of professionally created campaigns launched by the franchisor.
    Financial Help: Some franchisors will provide assistance to new franchisees in securing financing.

    Potential Disadvantages
    Fees: In addition to the upfront franchise fee, there may be ongoing royalties and, as mentioned above, advertising fees, which are typically required even if you don’t like or want to utilize the campaigns.

    Control: You will generally have to abide by the many restrictions set by the franchisor. These can affect operations, types of goods sold, vendor relationships, marketing strategies, geographic location, and even website content/presence, among other key management decisions.

    Renewal policies: Franchises are generally governed under a contract with an end date, and franchisors may choose not to renew at the time of expiration or may decide to raise fees or impose new restrictions upon renewal.

    For more information, visit the Bureau of Consumer Protection website and review “Buying a Franchise: A Consumer Guide.”

Job Hunting in the Digital Jungle

Gone are the days when job hunting meant simply opening a newspaper and browsing the classified ads. Today, the digital age has made job searching more complicated. Fortunately, the online jungle of job opportunities and professional advice is easier to navigate when you know a few key strategies.

jobsearchonlineHone your navigation skills
You won’t know what kinds of employment opportunities are available if you don’t understand where to look. Start with a simple search of the numerous online job sites in existence. You can pick and choose the sites that will be most helpful to you according to the employment opportunities that interest you.

If you’re interested in a government job, visit USAJobs.gov to find federal opportunities, as well as listings according to your state’s career service department. And if you’re struggling with creating your resume or sharpening your interview skills, there are sites providing guidance. Once you know where to look, the path to employment will be easier to navigate.

Use social media
The use of social media for employment is a hot topic these days for a reason. It helps employers find an exact fit for an open position by allowing them to browse through profiles to get a feel for a candidate’s personality and professionalism.

You can showcase your qualities by keeping your employment history up-to-date and thinking before posting or sharing questionable statuses on your personal page. Bear in mind that it’s easy for a potential employer to find you online, so you need to be careful about the information you choose to share about yourself.

Know your buzzwords
Employers sometimes receive hundreds of online applications for a single position. This can be overwhelming, and they don’t want to waste their time reading them individually. Instead, employers might create filters that are designed to eliminate resumes that don’t contain keywords.

file000370626123Often it’s useful to look at the description of the job you’re applying for while you create your resume. That way, you can figure out which buzzwords employers will look for when they read your resume. Nouns, verbs, and phrases that describe the kind of work you excel in can help you stand out from your competition. Make use of any resources available to you online if you have trouble figuring out what defines a buzzword.

Never underestimate the importance of a cover letter
A cover letter is your chance to make a personal connection with a potential employer. It might be tough to make a cover letter describing your employment history to sound both engaging and informative. Don’t waste precious space by including information that will be obvious from your resume. And as tempting as it might be, don’t rely on cover letter templates when drafting your own.

It may save time, but employers don’t want to read identical cover letters from prospective employees. Remember, a cover letter is your chance to express your writing skills and professional voice. Put the necessary time and effort into writing a good one, and you could reap the benefits.

Remember personal relationships in a digital job hunt
The traditional method of meeting face-to-face with a prospective boss is obsolete when applying for a job online. While it may seem impersonal to send your resume and cover letter via e-mail without ever seeing a face or hearing a voice, your application is being read by another human being.

Add touches of your personality to your social media profiles and whenever you reach out to potential employers so you can truly connect. If you bear this in mind, then personal connections won’t get lost in cyberspace.

Helpful Tips for Women Taking a Career Break

Caregiver-Senior-Couch1Balancing the commitments of both work and family can be a struggle for many women. As a result, you may have to take a break from your career to stay home and raise a family or care for an elderly parent or relative.

Whether you are taking a break for just a few months or many years, there are things you can do now to help make it a bit easier to jump back on the career track later.

Stay Connected
When taking a career break, it’s important to stay connected. Having relationships with former co-workers and colleagues allows you to maintain your networking connections and stay on top of developments in your former workplace or industry. The following are some simple ways to stay connected while on a career break:

1. Make sure that you have a presence on professional social media sites such as LinkedIn
2. Enroll or become a member of relevant professional associations
3. Attend industry events and trade shows that are open to the general public
4. Consider part-time/consultant work within your particular industry or field of expertise
Keep up-to-date on your job skills

If you plan on re-entering the workforce at some point in the future, you’ll need to keep up-to-date on skills that are necessary for your particular field or industry. You can avoid letting your skills fall by the wayside by:

1. Reading industry trade journals and publications
2. Taking continuing education classes or enrolling in relevant courses at your local college or university
3. Keeping abreast of the latest technology developments relevant to your field or industry

resume-sampleLook for alternative resume builders
While you’re out of the workforce and staying at home, it’s important to find alternative ways to build your resume. Nontraditional work environments that demonstrate your skills and draw upon your previous work experiences can be used to fill in any significant gaps in your resume. They can also provide you with a source of contacts when you want to re-enter the workforce.

Some examples of alternative resume builders include teaching a class at a local community college on a subject in your field of expertise; joining a nonprofit board (e.g., library or charitable foundation); and staying active in local volunteer organizations (e.g., parent/teacher groups and sport associations).

Consider easing back into the workforce with an internship
Today, employers recognize the value of hiring women who want to work after taking a career break. These women often have family obligations behind them, along with prior professional experience.

As a result, some companies are offering internship or “returnship” opportunities that provide women with an opportunity to ease back into the workforce. These internships allow employers to test the waters before determining whether someone would be a good fit for a permanent position.

If you are interested in an internship opportunity, many options are available, from informal arrangements with an employer to high-structured returning professional programs that are part of a company’s larger recruiting efforts.

Seek out others in your situation
If you are on a career break, it’s important to remember that you are not alone in choosing to stay at home to focus on family obligations. Consider seeking out support and guidance from other women who have chosen to veer off the traditional career path for family reasons.

Whether you have just made the decision to take a career break or are looking to reenter the workforce, there are numerous resources available to assist you, ranging from local stay-at-home mom networks to nationwide career relaunching services.

Starting a Business: Make Sure You Have a Plan!

A Business Plan Is Your Vision of Success

business-plan-writerWhat is your business’s key to success? Unique products, flawless customer service, nimble operations–or something entirely different? As a business owner, you may instinctively know what makes your organization succeed in today’s competitive marketplace. A business plan helps you share that knowledge with important stakeholders–including key employees and potential investors and lenders.

A good business plan tells the story of your company, illustrating where you are now and where you hope to be in three to five years. It provides a detailed description of your organization’s current state and paints a picture of what it will look like in the future. Most important, it provides–in as few words as possible–the information others will need to make financial and strategic decisions, and is typically organized using the following sections.

Cover page and table of contents
The cover page is simply a title page for your business plan document. It should include the name of the company, address, phone number, owners’ names, and contact information. It should also include the date on which the document was finalized and published. The table of contents helps readers navigate through the document and identifies page numbers for each of the sections.

Executive summary
The executive summary is essentially your elevator pitch–an abridged version of the business plan that describes to readers why your business is worthy of their attention and possibly their investment. It should be no longer than one page, but should contain all pertinent details.

For this reason, it is often easier to write this section last. It should answer readers’ primary questions–i.e., are you looking for funding, is the document a roadmap for management, or both? As you draft your executive summary, keep in mind that many readers will decide whether the subsequent pages are worth reviewing based on this important section.

Business description
great-business-plan1This section should provide more detail on the nature of your business. What product or service do you provide, and how is it produced? Who are your key advisors and managers, and how does their experience benefit your organization?

What is your legal structure? Where are you located and why did you choose this location? You might also want to use this section to describe the genesis of your business–i.e., how and why you decided to launch the venture. Was there an industry gap you wanted to fill? A need you could meet? What makes your business idea worth pursuing?

Market analysis and marketing strategy
Perhaps the most influential section of your business plan, the market analysis is how you convince readers that your business will be successful. It should provide a specific and detailed analysis of your target market, including what you have done to maximize your opportunity within it. Who are your current and potential customers, and why?

Summarize any market research you have conducted to prove the viability of your business. How big is your potential market? Who are the major competitors, and what is your strategy for differentiating your company from them? If your business plan is intended for potential investors or lenders, this section will help convince them that you truly understand your market and are an expert in your industry.

If your plan is primarily designed to educate key employees, it will provide the basic information they need to strategize. This section should also summarize your marketing strategy, or how you will promote your products and services. Describe any planned advertising and communications tactics, as well as sales models.

Financials
This portion of the business plan is designed to help your readers understand where you are now, financially, and where you hope to be. You should include all current and projected (or “pro forma”) financial statements. These should include cash flow and income statements, as well as a balance sheet and break-even analysis. This section will likely be scrutinized the most, so be sure it is completed carefully. Its purpose is to educate readers about the use of resources–including any debt and equity financing you hope to get–proving to them that your company can and will manage money effectively.

Take time and care
Many business owners–particularly entrepreneurs just starting out–loathe spending time writing business plans, preferring instead to jump into the more exciting arenas of creating, selling, and managing their business. However, a business plan represents a critical opportunity to draw key stakeholders into your vision of a future filled with success. Be sure to devote the time needed to produce an effective and engaging document.

Second Careers: Resources for People Returning to College

You’ve decided to go back to school–congratulations! As it turns out, you’re not alone. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of full-time students age 65 and over in degree-granting schools increased 36% between 2007 and 2009, while the number of 50- to 64-year-old full-time students increased 42%.

OxfordceremonyHeading back to college later in life can be both fulfilling and fruitful; however, the many decisions involved–from choosing the right school and determining a course of study to budgeting for the various costs–can be overwhelming. Fortunately, a number of resources exist for older adults seeking information about higher education devoted to their needs.

A few years ago, the American Association for Community Colleges launched the Plus 50 Initiative, which encourages community colleges across the country to develop programs for those age 50 and older. The website provides links to college search tools and financial aid tips.

Encore.org is a nonprofit organization devoted to helping baby boomers seeking new careers that are dedicated to serving the greater good. Among the many programs the organization runs is the Encore College Initiative, which provides resources for individuals looking for specific college-level programs for older adults.

Elderhostel, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides educational and travel opportunities for retirees, helps support Lifelong Learning Institutes. Through these locally run membership organizations, participants select courses based on needs, interests, and the simple desire to learn. Most LLIs are sponsored by local colleges and universities, and offer a wide variety of programs.

Finally, many colleges and universities offer discounts–and, in some cases, even free tuition–for students over age 65. Consider starting your search by calling a local institute of higher learning and asking about special programs for seniors