Today ends the first full week of blog posts I’ve done in a LONG time! So, to celebrate, indulge myself and to clean out my “Read Later Fast” and Bookmarks folders … today is LINKA-PALOOZA!
Let’s start with some business information links:
- On the State of Wisconsin site is a Business Wizard that covers licensing, permitting and regulatory requirements as well as some links to Federal sites.
- On October 28, 2011, the President issued a challenge to government agencies to think beyond their organizational boundaries in the best interest of serving America’s business community, and start thinking and acting more like the businesses they serve. He directed the creation of BusinessUSA, a centralized, one-stop platform to make it easier than ever for businesses to access services to help them grow and hire. It has TONS Of information on it!!
A few more related to safety – yes my theme for the week!
- Safety and Health Management Systems e-tool
- OSHA’s “$afety Pays” program can help employers assess the impact of occupational injuries and illnesses on their profitability
Two that were interesting:
The world population clock – check out us compared to China and India
And these two are because it is Friday and laughing will make the day go by faster!
First, I’m a HUGE Golden Retriever fan and I love this Golden trying to train his tiny human
And, finally, I am *such* a Sci-Fi Geek Girl. I adore this!!
I hope you had a great week and have a fabulous weekend. Don’t forget to tell your Mom or those who are like a Mom to you how much you appreciate her!
About a week ago, a reader commented on a blog entry and brought the Wounded Warrior Project to our attention. We were fascinated and Claire Westlie, our PR intern, has written today’s post about the project:
As the dog days of summer approach, people are inclined to relax, head to the great outdoors and spend time with their families. All this is great, but it’s important to remember the people who fight for us to be able to enjoy life as we do.
How can members of the De Pere and greater Green Bay area community remember and honor our United States Veterans?
One action people can take is to support The Wounded Warrior Project.
The Wounded Warrior Project began in 2003 after the first of the wounded service members began returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq and needed help to re-establishing into their communities.
Nine years later, WWP has become a complete rehabilitation effort to assist warriors through mind, body, engagement and economic engagement programs as they recover and transition back into civilian life. The program is available to all military who have suffered injury on or after September 11, 2001.
For more information please visit http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/ .
A local action people can take is to support the City Stadium Run for Veterans.
The City Stadium Run for Veterans is being organized as a fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team. The 5k Run and Walk fundraiser is set for September 8th. Organizers say the event will bring more awareness to Veterans and all proceeds will be donated to the traveling amputee softball team.
For more information please visit http://wtaq.com/news/articles/2012/apr/28/5k-fundraiser-announced-for-wounded-warrior-amputee-softball-team/ .
Finally, simply thank a veteran. Thank with them your whole heart and tell them you appreciate them.
Enjoy the dog days of summer and remember those who fight for you and your family.
Ed: Claire is continuing to research and we hope to bring future stories about local businesses created by this project. Please let us know if you know of any!
When you pay for business meals and entertainment, keep in mind that generally only half of otherwise allowable meal and entertainment expenses are deductible on your federal tax return. This includes 50% of all business meal and entertainment expenses, including those incurred while attending professional seminars and traveling away from home. If a hotel includes meals in its room charge, a reasonable allocation must be made to determine the portion of the expenditure subject to the 50% disallowance.
Taxes and tips related to meals or entertainment are included in the amount that is subject to the 50% limit. Also subject are expenses for cover charges to clubs, room rental for a dinner or cocktail party, and amounts paid for parking at an entertainment location. However, transportation costs incurred getting to and from the entertainment activity are not subject to the 50% disallowance. In addition, when a self-employed taxpayer uses a per diem method for travel expenses, the federal meal and incidental expense rate is treated as an expense for food and beverages and, thus, is subject to the 50% disallowance.
If an employee adequately accounts for these expenses and the employer properly reimburses the expenses under an accountable plan arrangement, the employer is also subject to the 50% limitation on its reimbursement. An ac-countable plan is a reimbursement or other expense allowance arrangement that requires employees to substantiate covered expenses and return unsubstantiated advances. The employee has nothing to report since the reimbursement offsets the expenses incurred.
Conversely, an employer gets a 100% deduction if meal expense reimbursements or allowances paid for or to an employee under a nonaccountable plan are treated as compensation to the employee. Of course, the employer must then pay FICA taxes and the income is subject to normal withholding, but this rule basically allows employers to shift the 50% disallowance to employees. Similarly, meal reimbursements and allowances that are included in the taxable income of independent contractors are also 100% deductible by the service recipient.
A guest article from Mary Guldan-Lindstrom with a thought-provoking message for this Monday!
THE SWEET SPOT
In golf there is something called a “sweet spot”. It is the spot on the face of the club, which provides the most effective results when hitting the ball. Every time a golfer hits, they are aiming for that sweet spot. I think of it as the place that will bring about the most desirable results.
We can apply this same principle to people. Have you ever felt like a square peg in a round hole? If so, you missed the sweet spot.
Being a mother, I worked hard to put my boys in a situation in which they could succeed. The ultimate challenge was forcing two strong willed, can’t sit still, boys in a school classroom for 4 hours straight. And then, we expect them to learn under those conditions.
Society expects us to conform to the rules. Thankfully, those rules are relaxing and we have more choices.
In business, every business has it’s sweet spot. The situation where the best solution is provided to meet the their best customer’s need. This spot can demand the maximum price for the business and provide the maximum value to the customer.
Have you found your “sweet spot” or are you still trying to force the square peg in the round hole?
When you think about the life cycle of a business, every one goes from the start-up phase to maturity. The longevity of a business depends on how long each cycle lasts, and that is often difficult to determine.
The business starts with the owner’s idea. Often it is an inventor who comes up with a product or service that they believe is missing from the marketplace. Unfortunately, that is as far as many new products or services go. The creator has a great product but lacks the knowledge to get the product to market. For fledgling businesses, a business and strategic marketing plan with accurate financial projections is essential.
It starts with a feasibility study. Is it a good idea? Is there a market for it? Will consumers buy it?
The strategies help secure investors or financing so the business can get going. If the product has a niche in the market and the plan is worked effectively, the business enters the growth phase. The product is manufactured, packaged, and moved through the distribution channels. Costs are controlled and profits start to roll in. The investors or banks are getting paid, which makes them happy. They may even invest more during the growth stage to reap additional profits. Sales are up and the inventor is working on another idea or has sold licensing rights to another company.
At some point, either through management running out of ideas to keep the strategies innovative or the market has reached a saturation point for the product or service, the business enters a maturity phase. Sales may plateau. Production may stabilize or start to lag. There are other signs, such as employee turnover, but often the people minding the store are too close to see the indicators. There is a fine line between knowing what the business needs to do and what the consumer wants.
From maturity, the business either closes or transitions to a fresh, innovative approach – usually under new management – and begins the cycle again.
At every phase of a business, it is wise to consider an independent, third party consultant to help the owner navigate the uncharted waters of business life cycles. Yes, it’s good to have internal marketing people, as long as you remember they are part of the forest and may not see the trees. The same holds true with internal bookkeeping or accounting personnel.
It’s a good idea to step outside once in a while and see what it looks like from a different perspective. It can help you stop and take the time to think things through. Decisions will be more clear.
Guest article from Fluidity Business Planning Group
Excellent Customer Service for 2012
1. Focus on the Customer: It may seem obvious that we must focus more on the customer in 2012, we all are sufficiently tempted by plenty of day-to-day distractions that divert your attention away from doing the things that engage and excite consumers about our product, service or brand.
Have a much greater focus on the customer experience and do everything you can to ensure that all of your systems, processes, programs, policies, initiatives and procedures have one end in mind: to strengthen your focus on the customer experience.
Everything you decide to do in the coming year, from a strategic, operational or budgeting perspective, must revolve around this one resolution: Putting Our Customers at the Very Top of Our Priority List … and Keeping Our Customers at the Top of the List.
2. Focus on the Customer Service Representative: The front-line employee who interacts directly with the customer is the single-most important ambassador a company has; they should be the standard-bearers of your Company’s Vision and Brand. The company’s very reputation and Brand Promise must be conveyed to your valued customer.
As Customer Service Leaders, resolve in 2012 to start recognizing your front-line customer service representatives. They are your customer service soldiers in their role. As leaders, start understanding your role is to shape the resources, systems and processes as tools the front-line customer service representatives can use to heighten and improve the customer experience. Make sure you are providing your customer service representatives with the competencies and skills to do their job well, and then reward them in tangible and meaningful ways when they are successful.
Invite them to be the face of the company in a meaningful way … then observe in wonder as they gain the ability and the motivation to knock the customer’s socks off.
3. Focus on Each Individual Customer Service Touchpoint: In 2012, focus on the critical value of the singular Customer Service Touchpoint with your customers; the one interaction – the next call, e-mail or chat – the single customer service interaction that might be your one chance to carry that customer to loyalty and maximum profitability.
The power of that one customer experience touchpoint is undeniable. You have to do everything you possibly can to transform that customer experience touchpoint into a customer loyalty experience that will have the customer buzzing about the way you answered his question, solved his problem or gave him direction.
You just never know what might come out of the singular customer service touchpoint with a customer. It could be that as soon as the customer disconnects from the call, email or chat or he walks out of your store that he will forget about you. However, it could also very well be that immediately after having had a great customer service experience or a horrible experience that he tweets a message, posts something on his Facebook page or shares his experience with a party of six at lunch.
Copyright 2012. Reprinted with permission from Barbara Wold’s Retail & Consumer Tips
Knowing it is always more expensive to get a new customer than to retain an existing one, today I bring you a guest column from Barbara Wold on how to succeed at customer retention.
Succeed at Customer Retention
The current economic climate is causing customers to be more selective. Most businesses can only guess at the reasons customers leave, mainly because they don’t gather that information or develop a formal strategy to retain customers until after they leave.
1. Find out what customers want and what causes them to stay or leave.
First, conduct a survey with existing customers. Ask customers what they want and need, as well as which specific aspects of your business, products, services they value most. In addition, conduct a separate survey with former customers to find out what specifically caused them to leave.
2. Proactively collect and promote customer feedback.
Don’t wait until there is a problem to contact or follow up with customers. Instead, set up communication channels to encourage sincere two-way communication with them, and then use those channels to actively solicit and collect their feedback.
3. Use technology to manage and analyze customer feedback, and ensure the right people see and hear it.
Companies can easily have as many as 35 or more tools in place to listen to the customer. These tools frequently duplicate efforts and constitute a tremendous amount of time and resources. By the time feedback is tabulated, analyzed and shared, the input is weeks or months old.
4. Analyze customer feedback to gain valuable insights.
Once you’ve gathered feedback from customers, analyze it to find out:
• The type of customer feedback and the percentage in each category (complaints, suggestions, comments, concerns)
• The channel most used by customers to provide feedback (Web, phone, in-person, etc.)
• The underlying drivers of customer loyalty and engagement (i.e. the main reasons that customers do business with you, how they are emotionally connected to your business)
• The current strength and depth of customer loyalty and engagement
• New revenue and growth opportunities for your business
5. Immediately address customers’ complaints and concerns.
To make the most of your customer feedback, put together an action plan that focuses on addressing and resolving any areas that are causing customers concern. In conjunction, establish standards of excellence and share best practices with others in your organization.
6. Take action and Measure the Results.
Use customer feedback to make improvements, and then measure the impact of the changes you made. Some of the areas that you may want to consider measuring include customer retention rate, revenue per customer, customer referrals, customers saved due to feedback, etc.
7. Actively measure and monitor your customers’ loyalty and engagement.
Customers today are bombarded with attractive offers all the time. If they see a better deal based on price, quality or service, they feel pressure to switch brands or stores. To combat this, regularly measure and monitor your customers’ loyalty, satisfaction and engagement. Then use that information to make adjustments.
8. Create and nurture a company culture that embraces and is committed to using customer feedback.
Embrace feedback by dedicating resources to acting on customer feedback. This involves training all your employees on what they can do to assist you in building a more loyal customer base.
9. Keep asking, listening, analyzing and improving.
Customer needs, wants and concerns are constantly changing. So, keep asking and listening to customers’ feedback, and analyzing that feedback on an ongoing basis. By doing so, your business will be able to not only retain more customers, but continually tap into fresh, new customer preferences and attitudes that you can use to create new products, services, and programs tailored to their needs.
Copyright 2012. Reprinted with permission from Barbara Wold’s Retail & Consumer Tips, mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Workplace violence is not something we generally talk about or want to think about. However, while we can’t completely insulate our worksites and our employees from it, there are things we can do. According to SACS Security in Akron, Ohio, here is a 6 step approach for preventing and responding to workplace violence:
- SMART HIRING. Know what kind of person you are bringing into your organization.
- SUBSTANCE ABUSE. Drugs and alcohol problems drastically increase your chances of all levels of workplace violence. Keep them out with policy, training and testing.
- MANAGEMENT TRAINING. Managers cannot stop what they do not see. Train them to recognize the signs and be proactive.
- POLICY. Have a dedicated workplace violence policy. It tells your employees management is serious about the subject and concerned for their security.
- PHYSICAL SECURITY. Identify your risks and mitigate them with proper physical security measures.
- DE-ESCALATING AGGRESSION. Managers and customer contact employees need to know how to properly deal with angry employees, clients or visitors.
An additional step to insulating your site & people: don’t insulate yourself or others in ownership/management from what is happening in your workplace and, to the extent advisable, your employees’ lives. Don’t snoop – just don’t close your eyes to what may be happening. Intervene in a positive, caring, proactive way. Not only may you help a valued member of your team, but you just might save lives.
Do you want to capitalize on and learn from the mistakes of others?
Experts say you should:
What the experts say
- Discuss with a CPA the expected monthly expenses before starting a business.
- Establish a five-year business plan and update it frequently and regularly.
- Create a cash reserve equal to at least six to nine months of operating expenses.
- Research several website developers before building a website. Be realistic on the time and money it will take.
- Check monthly reports of overdue bills.
- Know your business cycle, and plan bigger bills to come due in months with healthy cash flows.
- Take a couple of hours each week to learn details on one customer and their business.
- Focus time on running the business rather than working in it.
- Understand the different types of business entities and how that will affect taxation and possible liabilities.
- Learn the features of your financial software that could save time and money and help with planning.
From an article in The Record by Carol Lawrence
The Chamber often has interns “on staff” and they are often of great benefit to our mission. I’ve often encouraged members to work with the universities and colleges to give interns an opportunity to try their newly learned skills in the business world and encouraged students to use internships as a way to put those skills to use in the real world and also to build their resume.
It has come to our attention that there are rules for how interns must be handled relating to pay and college credit and we want to make sure businesses are aware of them. Apparently, these aren’t new rules, just rules that periodically come up for review and I wouldn’t want one of our members to get fined for something they were unaware they were in violation of!!
The bottom line, as it has been explained to us, is if you have interns in your company who aren’t being compensated and they are NOT receiving college credit for the internship – make sure you have a written agreement between you and the intern clearly delineating the arrangement and that all the tests below are met.
The “Fact Sheet” regarding internships:
Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act
This fact sheet provides general information to help determine whether interns must be paid the minimum wage and overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act for the services that they provide to “for-profit” private sector employers.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) defines the term “employ” very broadly as including to “suffer or permit to work.” Covered and non-exempt individuals who are “suffered or permitted” to work must be compensated under the law for the services they perform for an employer. Internships in the “for-profit” private sector will most often be viewed as employment, unless the test described below relating to trainees is met. Interns in the “for-profit” private sector who qualify as employees rather than trainees typically must be paid at least the minimum wage and overtime compensation for hours worked over forty in a workweek
The Test For Unpaid Interns
There are some circumstances under which individuals who participate in “for-profit” private sector internships or training programs may do so without compensation. The Supreme Court has held that the term “suffer or permit to work” cannot be interpreted so as to make a person whose work serves only his or her own interest an employee of another who provides aid or instruction. This may apply to interns who receive training for their own educational benefit if the training meets certain criteria. The determination of whether an internship or training program meets this exclusion depends upon all of the facts and circumstances of each such program.
The following six criteria must be applied when making this determination:
- The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
- The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
- The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
- The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
- The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
- The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
If all of the factors listed above are met, an employment relationship does not exist under the FLSA, and the Act’s minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the intern. This exclusion from the definition of employment is necessarily quite narrow because the FLSA’s definition of “employ” is very broad. Some of the most commonly discussed factors for “for-profit” private sector internship programs are considered below.
Similar To An Education Environment And The Primary Beneficiary Of The Activity
In general, the more an internship program is structured around a classroom or academic experience as opposed to the employer’s actual operations, the more likely the internship will be viewed as an extension of the individual’s educational experience (this often occurs where a college or university exercises oversight over the internship program and provides educational credit). The more the internship provides the individual with skills that can be used in multiple employment settings, as opposed to skills particular to one employer’s operation, the more likely the intern would be viewed as receiving training. Under these circumstances the intern does not perform the routine work of the business on a regular and recurring basis, and the business is not dependent upon the work of the intern. On the other hand, if the interns are engaged in the operations of the employer or are performing productive work (for example, filing, performing other clerical work, or assisting customers), then the fact that they may be receiving some benefits in the form of a new skill or improved work habits will not exclude them from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime requirements because the employer benefits from the interns’ work.
Displacement And Supervision Issues
If an employer uses interns as substitutes for regular workers or to augment its existing workforce during specific time periods, these interns should be paid at least the minimum wage and overtime compensation for hours worked over forty in a workweek. If the employer would have hired additional employees or required existing staff to work additional hours had the interns not performed the work, then the interns will be viewed as employees and entitled compensation under the FLSA. Conversely, if the employer is providing job shadowing opportunities that allow an intern to learn certain functions under the close and constant supervision of regular employees, but the intern performs no or minimal work, the activity is more likely to be viewed as a bona fide education experience. On the other hand, if the intern receives the same level of supervision as the employer’s regular workforce, this would suggest an employment relationship, rather than training.
The internship should be of a fixed duration, established prior to the outset of the internship. Further, unpaid internships generally should not be used by the employer as a trial period for individuals seeking employment at the conclusion of the internship period. If an intern is placed with the employer for a trial period with the expectation that he or she will then be hired on a permanent basis, that individual generally would be considered an employee under the FLSA.