Music Instrument Drive Helps Students Hit a High Note

The WQXR Instrument Drive debuted last year with the modest goal of collecting 1,000 gently used instruments to distribute to New York City public school music programs. New York’s only classical music station exceeded its aim spectacularly—collecting 3,000 instruments—triple its initial goal.

[Related: Young Gifted and Black: 4 Ways to Support Your Gifted Child]

Now WQXR is at it again, only this time the instrument drive has been expanded both geographically and in the number of instruments to be collected. People throughout the radio station’s listening area—the New York metropolitan area, northern New Jersey, Westchester, and Long Island—can donate their gently used instruments to the drive. This year’s goal? 6,000 instruments, which will be distributed to public school music programs in New York City and Newark.

I spoke with music teacher Jerel Witsell about the instrument drive and what it’s meant to him as a teacher who’s new to Van Siclen Community Middle School in the East New York section of Brooklyn.

“My goal is to have an arts center at the school and to have students who could apply to Frank Sinatra or the other arts high schools,” says Witsell. “I want to bring music to East New York.”

That’s an ambitious goal, but Witsell is supported by the WQXR Instrument Drive which may be helping to fuel some of that ambition. The three-year-old school has always offered a music program, but it was previously after school, says Ladayah Josiah, a 14-year-old eighth grader who is an avid budding musician.

Now that Mr. Witsell is at Van Siclen, music class is offered during the day. Through the WQXR Instrument Drive, the school received several instruments.

“I’m pushing for a symphonic band,” Witsell says. A symphonic band plays symphonies (of course), other classical music, and pop music. It is not a marching band. “I’d like my students to play in Brooklyn Borough-Wide,” which provides students the chance to play more demanding pieces than they would be assigned in school. They practice together on Saturdays from October to June and then perform at Carnegie Hall.

Ladayah loves the violin and hopes to begin lessons soon. “Mr. Witsell is teaching us how to read music,” she says, adding that she can already read music “a little.” She plans to audition for one of the city’s music high schools and says music will be part of her life when she is an adult. “I would like to play professionally,” she says.

If you live in the WQXR listening area, here’s information on how you can donate your gently used instrument to this important drive benefiting music programs in New York City and Newark public schools. Go to https://GiveInstruments.org/drop-locations.

How to Operate Small While Supplying Big in Business

Aspiring business owners are often on a constant quest for the big leagues. Their hope is to start by making small moves that will lead to big movers with even bigger players. What keeps these aspiring business owners going is the fact that this hope of theirs is attainable. There is most certainly a way to get in the game operating small, while supplying big.

Corporate America spends more than $100 billion on goods and services provided by small suppliers, like yourself. Big buyers enjoy spending money like they grow it, so they’re always looking for new links in their supply chains. This to say, there is a place for you.

Though navigating the supply chain can be challenging, and in some cases, costly, if you have the will, you can certainly find the way. Top procurement officer Franzt Tiffeau, director of supplier diversity and development for Nationwide, will be joining entrepreneur and FedEx supplier Phillip Ashley Rix, founder & designer chocolatier of Phillip Ashley Chocolates, at the 2016 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit where they will be offering insider strategies and advice on how to win that supplier contract you desire.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Think like a buyer. Ask yourself why the buyer would want or even need what you have to offer. Why should they do business with you? What’s your upside? Know that. Deliver that. Buyers, too, like money; make them some, and, in turn, make you some.
  2. Invest in relationships. Sometimes the best way to get your foot in the door is by already knowing who’s behind it. Companies want to know that you know their organization and how you would bring value to it. Not only would they like for you to know them, but they’d like to get to know you too.
  3. Be honest. Don’t over-promise. We know you’re dreaming big, but let that big dream reflect reality. If you don’t have what it takes to supply what an organization needs, fall back and wait until you do.
  4. Partner. Partnerships can take you a long way in the supplier game. Collaborating with a tier one firm may be the best way to learn the ropes and build necessary relationships.

We’ll stop here, for now, though there is much more to learn. Register now for the 2016 BE Entrepreneurs Summit, May 4-7, Loews Hotel Miami, Miami, Florida, for more on landing mega corporate contracts.

Be sure to follow Black Enterprise on social media @BlackEnterprise for Entrepreneur Summit news, highlights, and updates. Use hashtag #BESummit to stay in the loop. Please be on the lookout at BlackEnterprise.com as speakers, activities, and sessions are announced

3 Surprising Lessons This Finance Entrepreneur Learned When Starting His Own Business

finance entrepreneur

In 2003, JD Weisbrot and his brother, Michael, opened a small, surety bond agency in a modest 600 square-foot office — just enough space to fit two people! A year later, their business, JW Bond Consultants, Inc., became the first agency to approve bonds online, directly on their website.

By 2009, they were the largest volume producer of surety bonds nationwide thanks to instant, online approval, and the rest, as they say, is history. Along the way, JD learned some valuable lessons in what to do — and what not to do — as an e-Bond pioneer.

I recently talked with JD about his experience starting a business, how the business has grown and changed over the last 13 years, and what advice he’d give other finance entrepreneurs and small business owners. His insights into business management and marketing are valuable for all small business owners, whether your business is focused on finance or another B2B service.

Structure New Ideas for Finance Entrepreneur Success

As the first surety bond agency to approve bonds online, JD and his team have always been on the cutting edge of what’s next. But as any small business owner knows, simply having a good idea is not enough to guarantee its successful execution. JD follows a disciplined process for idea implementation.

“We believe any idea that’s worth doing is worth doing right,” says JD. “Whether we are introducing a new marketing strategy or internal process overhaul, we follow a clear process for implementation, measurement, feedback and improvement.

“For example, when we launched online tools like our online surety bond comparison chart, we had a few hiccups before we got it right. Failure happens, but without a strategy in place for understanding why it happened, you’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes.”

JD understands that idea execution is the real test for innovation success. Strategy, process, structure and capability are as important as the idea itself. Establish a clear feedback loop for measuring effectiveness and implementing iterative change. Failure is to be expected: if something fails, be ready to learn, adjust, adapt and pivot.

Invest in Software Automation

Most service businesses do not have adequate software automation, observes JD, who calls software automation the “biggest need of most small businesses.”

“Small businesses don’t have the capital or ability to create their own,” says JD. “Therefore, I believe the biggest opportunities are in filling these needs through application development and providing it to them in a SaaS environment. It’s not easy, but I believe that’s where the biggest opportunities are for those that are capable of tackling it.”

In the last decade, the productivity of mid to large-sized businesses has multiplied thanks to big data and SaaS applications. Only in the last few years have small businesses started getting on board with SaaS for data visualization, analytics, and automation. Small business owners take note: software automation is beneficial for everything from cultivating leads to up-selling existing customers.

Enjoy the Journey

As a small business owner myself, I know it’s hard not to focus on the “finish line”, be that landing a major client or rolling out a new product. Setting goals is important. It keeps us focused on the big picture and prevents us from getting too absorbed into the day-to-day minutia.But as JD and I both know, there’s always a new goal just over the horizon. If you don’t slow down and enjoy the journey, you’ll constantly be rushing from one milepost to the next, which is exhausting for both you and your staff.“When I first got started, I focused so much on the end goal, that I missed out on the journey,” says JD. “I became so attached to the end outcome that I could not celebrate the smaller ‘wins’ along the way. As our company expanded, I learned to slow down and appreciate the process. Celebrating smaller wins is important for overall morale. Endlessly driving to a final goal is exhausting for you and your team. There’s always a new task or goal on the horizon. If you can’t enjoy the dance, you’ll mistake it for a race.”

Bottom Line

It’s hard not to be inspired by JD’s journey. JW Bond Consultants, Inc. has grown from a small, two-man business to the largest volume producer of surety bonds nationwide. He’s spot on with his advice, too: have a clear plan to implement new ideas/manage failure, streamline business through software automation and most importantly, enjoy the journey!

Image: JWSuretyBonds.com

This article, “3 Surprising Lessons This Finance Entrepreneur Learned When Starting His Own Business” was first published on Small Business Trends

How Much Can You ‘Really’ Afford to Spend on a Home?

While a survey by Merrill Edge finds that 94% of Americans do not regret what they’ve spent on real estate in the past 5 years, and feel the debt they’ve taken on for homes and home improvement were worthwhile, it’s important to keep spending on housing at levels that don’t stress your overall financial life plan.

[Related: How Much Do You Need to Make to Buy a Home?]

Financial experts say we should spend around 30% of our after-tax income on housing, but for many of us that number is considerably more.

“There is not a “one size fits all” when it comes to buying a home,” says Glenda Gabriel, neighborhood lending executive at Bank of America.      

“Asking yourself, ‘how much should I borrow?’ instead of, ‘how much could I borrow?’ is an important distinction. Rather than focusing on the largest amount you could possibly spend using a mortgage or home equity line of credit, focus on the amount that comfortably fits your budget,” she adds.

Gabriel also points out that working out a monthly household budget, factoring in all of your expenses and debt commitments can be helpful when it comes to helping determine what’s the right amount to spend on real estate.  Merrill Edge has a tool called the Affordability Snapshot that can be helpful.

As for first-time homebuyers, Gabriel says they need to be prepared for the following unexpected costs.

  • Know how much cash you’ll need at closing. When you buy your home, you will need to pay a down payment and closing costs. The down payment typically varies from 5-20%. Putting less than 20% down will typically require you to pay for private mortgage insurance. Closing costs could be about 3% of the total loan amount, and will include charges such as loan origination fees, title insurance and appraisal fees.
  • Budget for private mortgage insurance. For a conventional mortgage, this is typically necessary if you don’t put down at least 20%. Make sure you know how much this cost will be and factor it into your monthly budget.
  •  Research utilities. If you’re upsizing, moving into a newer or older home than you’re used to or located in a climate that’s hotter or colder than you’re used to, ask your real estate professional to find out what the home’s energy bills have typically been. This can prevent being surprised by a higher utility bill than expected. If you’re moving into a new community, find out about water costs as well.
  • Don’t forget miscellaneous expenses. Be sure to budget for moving expenses, as well as additional maintenance costs. Newer homes tend to need less maintenance than older ones, but all homes require upkeep. If you’re considering a condo or a home with a homeowners association, also, remember to include monthly dues in your budget.

21 Percent of Small Business Owners Still Filing Taxes on Paper Forms, Manta Reports

filing taxes

Most small business owners dread the tax season. Yet to save money, many entrepreneurs attempt filing taxes on their own and end up making costly mistakes in the process.

Two recent polls by online small business service directory Manta have found 21 percent of small business owners file taxes on their own, without help from tax software or an accountant.

The surveys also found that 30 percent of small business owners are still tracking their expenses with paper receipts, a system that invariably increases the possibilities of making mistakes.

Key Highlights of the Manta Polls

Some of the main findings of the two polls include the following:

  • 47 percent of small business owners said they planned to file their taxes before March 15,
  • Software solutions like QuickBooks are the most preferred choices to keep track of expenses,
  • About 63 percent of businesses use an accountant and 11 percent use online tools like TurboTax to file taxes,
  • 74 percent of small business owners feel confident about their available deductions.

The Right ‘App’roach For Businesses to File Taxes

Small businesses have several things to worry about; filing taxes need not be one of them. Thanks to several new user-friendly apps, it is now easier for business owners to simplify the process of filing taxes.

“Apps like Expensify are useful because they’re free and can be accessed on the go. Rather than worrying about losing paper receipts, small business owners can simply take a photo of receipts that are then automatically synced with their credit cards,” says Manta CEO John Swanciger.

“Even when they’re properly stored and maintained, receipts can easily be lost and this tactic is more prone to human error. Tracking expenses with paper receipts is also a time-consuming process since logging and filing receipts is a tedious task,” he adds.

Most of these apps connect business owners to seasoned tax professionals who provide valuable input and answer all questions businesses might have with regards to the process of filing taxes. What’s more, these apps are based on advanced algorithms to ensure businesses make no mistakes when they prepare taxes.

As these new apps are more cost-effective and reliable than tax consultants, many small businesses are now using them to make their lives easier.

For its tax poll, Manta conducted two online surveys between February 29 and March 2 and March 2 and 3, 2016. About 924 and 600 small business owners participated in the two surveys, respectively.

Tax Forms Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “21 Percent of Small Business Owners Still Filing Taxes on Paper Forms, Manta Reports” was first published on Small Business Trends

When That Hologram Message from Star Wars Becomes Reality

“Help me, Obi-Wan…” Princess Leia pleads in a three-dimensional holographic message delivered by R2-D2 in Episode IV of Star Wars.

[Related: Virtual Reality Technology Is Changing How NFL Teams Practice]

You too may soon send a hologram message of yourself to someone.

Long the stuff of science fiction, Microsoft has created holographic capability with its HoloLens virtual reality technology.

Microsoft Research’s new software, called holoportation, is a 3-D capture technology that allows high-quality 3-D models of people to be reconstructed, compressed, and transmitted anywhere in the world in real time. When combined with mixed reality displays such as the Microsoft HoloLens, this technology allows users to see, hear, and interact with remote participants in 3-D as if they are actually present in the same physical space as you.

The HoloLens, Microsoft’s virtual reality headset, is slated to ship to developers this week.  Microsoft describes it as “the first fully untethered, holographic computer, enabling you to interact with high-definition holograms in your world.”

According to Microsoft, the HoloLens goes beyond other virtual reality headsets that have recently appeared on the market. It offers a “mixed reality” experience—a combination of enhanced virtual reality and augmented reality.

Hologram technology is being increasingly explored as VR headsets and technology continue to mature, and this year is expected to be a watershed for virtual reality headsets in terms of product launches and rollouts. Virtual reality headset shipments are expected to approach 30 million by 2020, driven by video and gaming.

Shahram Izadi, partner research manager, explains, “To make all this happen, we’ve had to create a new type of 3-D capture technology. I’m surrounded by these 3-D cameras that we’ve developed on our team. Each of them is capturing me from a separate viewpoint, and we’re fusing this data together to create a temporally consistent model.”

The camera filming him has a HoloLens tracking model attached, which allows taking these 3-D models and compositing them in real time into the real world.

Another user also wearing a HoloLens can interact with the 3-D image in their space.

“Imagine connecting with family members who are thousands of miles away,” says Izadi in the official video below.  At 2:04 he demonstrates his daughter holoporting. It’s amazing, take a look: