Tips and advice for small business owners on Talking Points with TPG’s Richard Kerr

Jan 22, 2020

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Talking Points hosts Richard Kerr, TPG’s loyalty and engagement editor, for his third appearance on the podcast. In the episode, he gives the lowdown on everything there is to know about small businesses in relation to the the points and miles game. He shares what conversations and advice you can find in the recently launched TPG Small Biz Facebook lounge, talks about the pros and cons of small business credit cards, and offers valuable tips any small business owner can put to use.

3 Key Takeaways:

  • You could be earning free nights and hundreds of thousands of points every time you hold a conference
  • Make sure your business is participating in loyalty programs specifically meant for small businesses (ex. Delta Skybonus)
  • It’s time to take note on “stacking.” Unfamiliar with that term? Listen to the episode and join the Small Biz lounge for more.

Kerr refers to the Small Biz lounge as a tight-knit community more than anything. While points and miles education is one of the main reasons to join the group, Kerr says members learn from and are motivated by one another through shared experiences.

“It’s a peer-support network. It’s a resource. [There are questions] about payroll, healthcare and it’s like-minded people that want to maximize travel on their points and miles, but also a free resource to go and make sure, ‘I’m not alone’,” he says.

Kerr shares information on who can qualify for a small business credit card — you may be eligible without even realizing it — as well as the nuances that come along with owning any of these cards compared to personal ones. Plus, find out what makes The Business Platinum® Card from American Express, which TPG Awards’ voters named the Best Business card, much more lucrative than the personal Platinum.

If you’d like to hear more from Richard Kerr on “Talking Points,” check out our archives. On Episode 3, he reveals the best use of Flying Club Miles and on Episode 27, Kerr details ways to maximize Delta Miles and getting around those notorious resort fees.

For more under the radar small business tips, make sure to join TPG’s Small Biz Facebook lounge, play this episode above or on your favorite podcast app.

 

(Photo by Hero Images / Getty Images)

Transcript:

Brian Kelly: Welcome to this episode of Talking Points. I’m your host, Brian Kelly, The Points Guy, and you know how they say third time’s a charm? Well, that is true because we’ve got Richard Kerr for the third time ever on Talking Points. Richard, why do you keep coming back?

Richard Kerr: I didn’t know that I was the first guest to appear three times. I’m honored.

Brian Kelly: We actually were looking at our 2019 numbers and some of our best performing episodes and Talking Points listeners love what you have to say, probably because you are one of the foremost experts in points and miles out there. Not to boost your ego too much, but you’re loved, man.

Richard Kerr: There’s a lot of smart people out there. I also think it’s that sweet Georgia baritone.

Brian Kelly: I always say I have a face for podcasting, but you definitely have a voice for podcasting. Let’s get into it Richard. I have to say, I have to pick a bone with you because your title at The Points Guy is loyalty and engagement editor and considering I just got engaged, I think I should be the engagement editor, shouldn’t I?

Richard Kerr: Ooh, you should. Good point. Hey, I did not write that title. I don’t know which one of you all wrote that.

Brian Kelly: I think every time we talk about it I’m like, what exactly does that mean again? Richard’s role at TPG is huge. He’s going to be launching a ton of new initiatives this year from Points Con, our first ever conference for all things travel points, credit cards and more, as well as a college tour, which should be a lot of fun and what we’re here to talk about today, he actually already launched our TPG small-business Facebook group, which you should follow right now if you’re a small business. Just go on Facebook type in TPG, small biz, biz with a “z.” Richard, what is TPG Small Biz?

Richard Kerr: TPG Small Biz is a place where all of the ladies and gentlemen that own or operate small, medium businesses or independent contractors can go and learn from their peers about how to maximize their expenses on a monthly basis to earn as many points or miles as possible and also being a small-business owner’s hard. Before I worked for you, I did about a year and a half on my own kind of gig and you need a peer-support group. You need a place to go and bounce ideas off of, which is why the mass majority of our conversation in the group is points and miles. There is also a lot of conversation about just what it’s like being a small-business owner. It’s a peer-support network. It’s a resource. I have a question about payroll, healthcare and it’s like-minded people that want to maximize travel on their points and miles, but also a free resource to go and make sure, I’m not alone. There’s other people facing the struggle on a daily basis and that’s kind of what it’s grown into.

Brian Kelly: Who is eligible to join? I know it’s a private group and you have to apply. What is a small business exactly by the group’s definition?

Richard Kerr: Yeah, the group’s definition, if you want to get technical, we go by the U.S. Small Business Administration size-standards tool. That’s a really scary thing, but basically if you just go to sba.gov, you can find this tool that says, based on the industry you’re in and how many employees you have, we define you as a government as a small business. Now we’re not that technical for TPG Small Biz. We basically asked you to list your business name, your website and if you’re an owner, operator, leader. We do a quick Google of that or if it’s just an independent contractor, we take you at your word or we’ll follow up with questions. Say, hey, tell me about being an independent contractor because we really want to make sure that it’s actual small business here. Also, there’s a lot of spam on Facebook and we need to do our due diligence to take that out of there, but so far we keep a list of every membership, every company, really awesome companies, but we do vet the membership and we are turning down about 30% of requests right now because we can’t either get the information or just looks like a fake-spam account.

Brian Kelly: For the sense of community, you really want true small businesses.

Richard Kerr: Right. You can’t relate to each other unless you’ve actually face these challenges on a daily basis.

Brian Kelly: Since launching the group, what are some of the most popular conversations that have gone in the TPG Small Biz.

Richard Kerr: Yeah, surprisingly, besides what credit card should I get next, which is a great question and a lot of conversations should go about it. It’s all about kind of motivation, both personally and employees and whether it’s travel, whether it’s other ways to do cash back, just as conversations and as a small-business owner for a year and a half, that motivation aspect is key and it’s on your mind every day. While it’s liberating to know that I am my own boss, it’s also hard some days to wake up and go, I have to work today or my family doesn’t eat. How do I make myself get out of bed today because there’s just too much to do.

Brian Kelly: Yeah, and before I sold The Points Guy in 2012, I was a, from 2010 to 2012, a small business. Hustling and obviously points were important to me and points can add to your bottom line. Points are currency. There were a lot of low- margin businesses when it comes to cash, but they’re spending a ton in miles and points. If there’s a small-business owner listening who maybe just has their 1% cash-back card or, God forbid, is using a debit card for purchases-

Richard Kerr: Cutting checks-

Brian Kelly: How do you explain to someone like you’ve got to get into the points game because it’s not just the credit cards too, there’s a whole other-?

Richard Kerr: Yeah. There’s travel strategy. I mean, what are you doing to make your life easier? Are you taking advantage of loyalty programs just for small-business owners that the airlines and hotels have? If you’re brand new to the game and the folks who joined the group brand new or when we’re out and about and we’re talking to small-business owners, the easiest way to equate it is simple cash back. All small-business owners talk cash. There are a plethora of 2% cash-back cards out there. What if I told you right now doing nothing different than what you already do, I’m going to give you 2% of your expenditures back. You know, light bulb, it goes off. That’s the easiest way. I said, OK, instead of earning cash, let’s take these points, this other currency that I can make worth more than 2 cents, more than 2% and these are the ways that you can do other valuable things through travel, hotel stay, flights and usually that quick analogy. Because we’ve had people join the group, the community and say, this looks interesting, but it’s overwhelming. Why should I do this? Do you want 2% back in cash? OK, let’s talk. It gets people motivated to join the conversation.

Brian Kelly: Let’s talk small-business credit cards. What is the threshold for someone to be able to qualify?

Richard Kerr: I really wish the issuers would define this for us, but they don’t, so what we found is that essentially if you have a full-time or side business that is backed up by earnings and loss statements and tax returns, whether you make no money or any money, you’re eligible for a small-business credit card. Do you have separate expenses that go towards the goal of making revenue, whether that’s selling on eBay or whether you have an LLC, an official small business, anywhere in between, you can have a small-business credit card. Yes, you really do have to have a small business or an independent contractor or a sole proprietorship that you can back up with paper because the issuers are asking to see proof, then you can be eligible for a small-business credit card. That means-

Richard Kerr: Are you an Uber or Lyft driver? You gotta go buy gas, right? That’s your side business. What are you putting all that gas on? There’s small-business cards that give you bonus points for gas. Do you have a freelance writer like I did? Yeah, then I definitely have expenses as a freelancer. Online sales we talked about, all the way down to what are you doing right out of college to make some money on the side hustle. That side hustle has expenses and if you document that then you’re eligible for small-business card.

Brian Kelly: When you apply for a small-business card, there’s a lot of different other benefits just besides points, right? It’s the fact that there is a business credit report. Can you explain a little bit how when you apply, all of these credit cards are still guaranteed by you personally, but the difference between a personal credit report and the business and why that’s important that those accounts sit on the business?

Richard Kerr: Yeah, I really wish this was easy to explain and view as well because it can be quite opaque. When you apply for a business card, they’re going to ask for an Employee Identification Number. If you have one, an EIN, if you’re a sole proprietorship, you won’t have one of these filed with the IRS, but you will also be asked for your Social Security Number. Where a business can build credit, but if it defaults, it’s still going to default on to you. Is it really easy to go look at your business credit report? No. Is it really easy to talk to issuers and to the credit bureaus to find out what your credit report is? It’s really not. What you need to be aware of is you can’t just say, “Oh, my business defaulted on this,” and you think your personal assets are going to be OK. You’re still responsible for that line of credit and those expenses, mate.

Richard Kerr: We’re trying to have a lot more conversation to get clairvoyance on this in the group, because the question a lot of us, myself included, have, is how do we differentiate between the credit and personal report? How do we find out what our business credit is? I’ve seen denials based on either not enough credit or poor credit and people are confused about that. So far we don’t have a good resource that goes and explains this to our readers and followers. I would love that and if anybody listening has tips on this, talk to Brian. Shoot him a link. Hey, this is what a found because we would love to know.

Brian Kelly: Clairvoyance or it should be clarity? I don’t even want you to rerecord it. We’re going to keep clairvoyance for you because-

Richard Kerr: Oh uh, Georgia boy’s trying to use big words. That’s not good.

Brian Kelly: I love it though. I’m going to probably use that tonight. One of the big things that people should know is once you have the business credit card open and it sits on your business credit report, is that those balances do not impact your personal score. Even if you pay your bills off every month in full, credit card companies can report balances mid-month and it can really drop your score. I think the good part is, stuff on a business credit card, not only earning probably a lot of points, but that balance does not impact your debt to credit ratio, which is one of the biggest features of a FICO score.

Richard Kerr: Yeah, and most business credit cards will not show up on your personal report. However, there are a couple exceptions so you just need to be aware that there are few exceptions out there.

Brian Kelly: Now, I think what people should understand is while there are benefits to business credit cards in general, the protections are much lower. The Card Act does not apply to business credit cards, for consumer protections, increasing fees, et cetera. In general, I have found that business credit cards have much higher fees and penalties. I think it’s important to know that there’s benefits and negatives. If you’re not going to be able to pay a bill off in full, you may want to analyze which card that you use.

Richard Kerr: Yeah, it really goes back to do your research. If you think, oh, this podcast sounds cool, I’m just going to go and apply for this because I have sole proprietorship, you should at least do a few hours of research to make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into. There’s just like a standardized format now where if you’re going to apply for a credit card, they have the fees and everything written in pretty much the same disclosure. Actually do read that and make sure you know what you’re signing up for.

Brian Kelly: We’ll be right back with Richard with all things on small business, right after this.

Brian Kelly: Onto the fun stuff. There’s actually my first ever vlog post was how many points does The Points Guy have? You can look it up on YouTube at Brian Kelly. I still earn most of my points on small-business credit cards by internet advertising and taking advantage of lucrative sign-up bonuses. Now there’s one bonus that’s coming to an end this month. Probably the largest business credit card bonus in history. We saw it last year. Tell us a little bit about the Capital One Spark Miles and Cash cards.

Richard Kerr: Yeah. Going through January 27th you can get up to 200,000 Spark Miles, which are now transferrable to different travel partners or you can get $2,000 cash. The way it works is if you spend $5,000 in the first three months, you’re going to get 50,000 bonus miles and then you do have to do $50,000 in spend on the card total in the first six months to get that extra 150,000 miles or $1,500 in cash. That is a total of $50,000 in spend. Again, if you’re looking at this from a sole proprietorship, you need to evaluate whether you really do that and if you’re doing that kind of spend, you probably don’t need to be a sole proprietorship, so make sure your business can accomplish that.

Brian Kelly: Real quick, we don’t have time to go deep into Capital One miles, but it’s been over a year since you can transfer those miles. What are your favorite partners? For people who have a ton of these Capital One miles, how do you recommend people use them?

Richard Kerr: Yeah, the go-to is still, really for me, Flying Blue and the quarterly promos they have. A round-trip to Europe, literally, depending on what city, it could be nothing. It’s just absolutely amazing, some of the things that you can do with Flying Blue miles. I know Flying Blue went through some significant program changes and a lot of people have stopped looking at that. One tip, don’t do that. Look at the quarterly promos, which we write every single quarter. Look at the rates, look at the calendar of availability. There’s a great one, Emirates. If you want to go to the U.S. Open tennis, if you want to go see Los Angeles Dodgers in a suite, if you want to go the Australian Open, which was just going on or is going on right now when we’re recording this, it’s like 11,000 Skywards [Miles] to go sit in a suite-

Brian Kelly: I was at that Emirates suite over the U.S. Open. It’s insane.

Richard Kerr: It’s nothing. I’ve written about it. The article had like 400 views. People aren’t listening to what I’m saying, but if you want to go to these awesome sporting events, in awesome suites with food and beverage, it’s almost nothing. Look at that Emirates.

Brian Kelly: Let’s talk about this year at the TPG awards our best business credit card of the year as voted on by TPG readers was the Business Platinum credit card. Why is the Business Platinum so good compared to the personal Platinum?

Richard Kerr: Yeah, let’s talk about it. Earnings. If you do over $5,000, 1.5x, so when I have small-business owner, I pay my taxes on that because that made it worse paying the 1.87% fee. If you’re like a Delta flyer like me in Atlanta, Sky Club access is a necessity being out of there. Then we now have travel protections on the Amex Platinum cards. If you want to book and you have a significant trip delay, you can be covered there as well. Also, to Pay With Points rebate — 35% makes your points worth 1.54 cents each towards paid airline travel of your selected airline in economy or any airline in business. That’s a free flight that you earn miles on and there’s no availability limitations. I do it all the time.

Brian Kelly: I’ve had the business Centurion card for several years now and that’s what we put almost all of our TPG staff travel because it’s actually a 50% rebate, meaning 2 cents per point in value for every Amex point, which is how we book most TPG travel. We save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by earning Amex points via Business Gold, earning the 3x on internet spend and then we go ahead and then get 2 cents per point in value with that Pay With Points rebate. Our employees love it because you earn elite miles on those flights, so it’s a win-win for everyone. I would say that the Business Centurion card is way better than the personal. There’s the 50% bonus. The personal Centurion doesn’t even get 5x on airfare, which is so insane. There’s so many other random things that … But anyway, if you have … The best way to get the Business Centurion card is by getting the Business Platinum. I spent on it for years and then I called and they put me on a list and one day it showed up at my door. There no set amount that you can spend on it these days, but that’s a good way to get in with Amex.

Richard Kerr: It’s things that I’d never have to worry about.

Brian Kelly: You never know, Richard, You never know. Any other of the airline or hotel business cards that you think are particularly attractive?

Richard Kerr: If you’re a Delta flyer, the Delta Reserve Business card, it can be really awesome. It does everything from putting you higher on the upgrade lists compared to other people that have the same status as you, to Sky Club access and bonus MQMs, Medallion Qualifying Miles. If you’re going to be flying Delta and spending a lot of money on their-. Fly less miles, earn bonus MQMs. The card can do a lot you if you’re a Delta flyer.

Brian Kelly: All right, let’s get into other ways, non-credit card ways for small businesses to rake in miles and points. What are some of the key things small-business owners are overlooking right now?

Richard Kerr: I’ll tell you, this is the best tip I’ve learned from TPG Small Biz. I really wish I had known this. You have to pay health insurance and if you’re going to pay health insurance, typically they either do not accept a credit card or if they do, there’s a fee that makes it not worthwhile — 3% – 4%, something that’s just too hard. On the very first week of this TPG Small Biz, a gentleman wrote in, we were talking about healthcare for small business, always a pain point and he said, I pay my health insurance bill at Walgreens. I went, you do what? If you go to Walgreens, there’s a photo booth that is also a bill-pay kiosk. In his particular case, Blue Cross-Blue Shield is a payee on the photo kiosk at Walgreens. You click it, you put in your account number, it gives you a little ticket to take to the cash register. It rings it up and you pay it for no fee. People are paying their health insurance for no fee at a Walgreens photo kiosk [laughter]. He said this and I’ve been bumming around for a while, I’ve heard some stories and some wild tales and seen some things and sometimes we get a little bit of big head and we think we know everything.

Richard Kerr: When he did that and I went to the Walgreens and saw Blue Cross Blue Shield on the Walgreens photo kiosk that you could pay for no fee with your credit card. It’s amazing. If you’re going to pay insurance bill, OK, join TPG Small Biz so you won’t miss out on these things first.

Brian Kelly: Other ways. I know airlines have small-business frequent flyer accounts. So many people don’t-

Richard Kerr: They don’t do it. American Airlines Business Extra, Delta SkyBonus and you earn your personal miles as well as your business earns these other miles and points that are a completely separate program. All any of your employees have to do is put your program’s number on their reservation, there’s a little box you’ve probably overlooked if you don’t know what I’m talking about, but you can do that and then your business will earn points itself and it costs nothing extra. It’s another free program that incentivizes small-, medium-business owners to go and fly these and earn additional points.

Richard Kerr: The same thing is for actually car rental companies have this and I did not know that until recently, again, through the lounge. If you’re any kind of meeting planner or any kind of meeting host, you need to send me a message and I’m going to unlock this world of meeting-planner points of every … If you’re a meeting planner, if your small business has meetings and you’re not earning free nights and hundreds of thousands of points every time you do these conferences, meetings or whatever, you’re missing out. That’s the biggest tip. Every small business goes to conferences. Everybody hosts these. If you do this, holy smokes. I’ve hosted a few meetings and like the number of points are just crazy.

Brian Kelly: Do you believe in like Open Table rewards or I guess for office supplies, if you’ve got a small office, how to maximize shopping portals for small business, what are any other-

Richard Kerr: Office-supply stores are, number one, always on the shopping portals. They have their own loyalty programs and then a lot of small-business credit cards offer bonus points for office-supply companies. That’s three ways that what we call the triple stack. You go through a portal, you get the own stores loyalty program points and then you get credit card points on top of that. Stacking is something that business companies need to know. If that’s the first time you’ve heard that word again, join this TPG Small Biz community. We’ll teach you how to stack on everyday purchases that we all make to get points and miles. Really what Brian just said is everybody has a loyalty program these days. Everybody from Chipotle, on down to Staples, on down to probably where you buy clothes. It’s free to sign up every time and you just need to maximize every single purchase.

Brian Kelly: A lot of small-business cards have an office supply bonus. Can you talk about how to maximize … They sell Delta gift cards at Office Max or Staples, whatever one’s not out of business anymore. I haven’t been to one in awhile. Is that legit? What should people worry about and I know a lot of people are nervous about putting personal expense. Can you put personal expense on a small-business card? What will the credit card companies frown on in terms of maximizing the spend categories?

Richard Kerr: There’s a lot of attention on this these days, is the best way that I can say it for everybody listening. You need to be 100% confident that if you had to sit down with an underwriter at the credit card issuer, that you could justify every expense that you put on that card for a legitimate reason. Now there’s no reason that anybody needs to go to Staples and Office Max every single day and buy $10,000 in gift cards. That’s probably just going to end up with a one-way street to being shut down and the loss of your points and perhaps what we’re seeing now, permanent blacklisting from an issuer. If it’s a legitimate purchase like that, I think it’s OK. There are some issuers like American Express who are a little bit more cautious about the kinds of expenses that are put on there. Again, if it’s a legitimate purchase, if it’s Christmas time, if it’s a bonus time, if it’s holiday season and you’re going to give your employees bonuses, then you should go and try and maximize those kinds of purchases.

Richard Kerr: As far as personal expenses on a business card. You know what I would tell you if I was a CPA, how easy can you make it for me to look and do your taxes and do your returns that everything is organized appropriately and there’s not all of these kinds of personal expenses on your business card, but there is no set rule against this that anybody’s enforcing.

Brian Kelly: I think that’s a great point. I think my accountant paid you off to say that because I still run quite a bit of a bills through TPG so we can maximize points and then I realize I’m paying a CPA to go through expenses and I’m like, was it really worth it to get 3x on this category if I had to pay an assistant and an accountant to take it out? You should be mindful of the time. It is, best practice, to keep business and personal completely separate. Time is money too.

Richard Kerr: Cards exist in an organization and my wife is going to be really mad at me for saying that because I also am not very good at that.

Brian Kelly: I know because we are points people. We can put a personal expense to maximize. The TPG Small Biz has taken off on Facebook. What’s next?

Richard Kerr: Hopefully a lot, but very much hustling here as a small-business community manager to make this really reach to the next level. What I’m most excited about, small-business seminars. TPB small-business seminars. We will be coming to a city near you to do a three-to-four-hour event all around networking with your fellow small-business owners in your city, listening to a small-business expert in your arena who might be … If you go through small-business resource for accounting, to go to small-business resource for healthcare and then a TPB staffer saying, look, if you’re not doing these steps right now, these actionable steps, to maximize your expenses for maximum points and miles, then we’re going to give you a 20-30-minute presentation on this is what you need to be doing right now.

Richard Kerr: Then of course a social function and in true TPB style, a little surprise and delight at every single one. Really spread the word about this community. There are also a lot of people that have heard about our community. Had an hour meeting yesterday with a wonderful organization called Silver Lining Small Business that has 30,000 small-business owners in their network that went in on the action. They’re excited about what we’re doing and the partnerships that TPG has available because of our reach now is just really exciting, but for now one podcast at a time. Join TPG Small Biz. Sign up for the TPB small-business seminars, which will be free to attend and come and share your expertise and knowledge because while I know points and miles, I’m not a small-business expert. I’m just a hustler, I guess is what you could say.

Brian Kelly: As you said, you’re just a hustler. I just thought of you as like Jennifer Lopez in that movie. Richard Kerr, thank you so much for dropping all of the knowledge about small business. Hopefully if you’re listening or if you know someone that has a small business, they need to be points people. It is huge amounts of value back. Join on Facebook, TPG Small Biz and stay tuned for our tour of small-business summits across the U.S. and beyond. That’s it for this episode. I’m your host, Brian Kelly. A huge thanks to Richard Kerr from TPG and to the best podcast team in the biz, Margaret Kelley and Caroline Schagrin and to my amazing assistant Christie Matsui. Safe travels everyone.

 

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