No, I didn’t take yesterday off, I just oops’d! I thought I had a post ready to go for yesterday, and well, the day got away from me!
But! Back with it today. Today’s post is both a story and a lesson! Here at the Chamber, we talk to and work with businesses of all sizes and types; many are start-ups and others are businesses that go through challenges. While our primary organization role is to foster community & economic development, we do everything we can to give advice, support and resource lists and almost naturally become somewhat invested in their success. It can be emotional on all of us when things don’t go according to the original plan! Today’s guest article is written by one such member, David Rovinski. If you are a regular reader of Chamber Notes, you may recognize David’s name from his former company, Fluidity Business Planning Group. He has recently ended Fluidity and begun a new venture … no. Wait. I’ll let David tell you his story in his words with a postscript from me!
Over the past 3 years, I have taken up the challenge of starting my own business and have realized many things.
First off, when you start a business you are excited for the challenge and opportunity to make it a successful business. You create a business plan with products and services that you feel are marketable and profitable leading to success.
Over time, you realize that your assumptions on: the market opportunity, target customers, and ability to realize sales quickly, can all be in question. The struggles of a new business, low operating capital, and a small marketing budget can make “hanging in there” challenging.
I believe it is critical to provide a service that is marketable. It is necessary to look honestly and clearly at your services and make adjustments along the way.
I have recently started a new business called Business Growth Resources, LLC, that is focused on business development services that provide solutions to business growth problems. Prior to this venture, I was focused primarily at writing business plans for new businesses seeking financing, or existing businesses looking to expand.
What I found out over time was that the need for a business plan for financing was secondary to what banks look at. Personal financial statements, cash on hand, personal investment, and collateral are a major part of getting a loan.
Thus recognizing the demand for a business plan was limited, the need for strategic planning, new product development, and growth strategies was in greater demand for businesses looking to grow. This is what Business Growth Resources, LLC is now offering businesses in the area.
Looking at your new business honestly, recognizing shortfalls, identifying market opportunities, and having the courage to make changes for long-term growth is scary but can be rewarding and on the path to future business success.
Hope you enjoy some insight on starting and growing a small business.
I “like” David’s story, not because of his challenges, but because it is so REAL. Many, many entrepreneurs end up on the same path as David but a good percentage either don’t recognize where the path leads in time to make a course correction or recognize it but are just unable to adjust.
We’ll check in with David from time-to-time, both as interest and in thought that others can learn from his experiences. I’d love to know what you think and what your experiences have been with business growth and patterns.
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.
I personally have hit a new low yesterday in my health journey with a new weight low since I’ve been an adult. (No, I won’t repeat it each time I now weigh in and that number creeps down; only when I hit goal!) So, today’s guest post from Karin Jennings, co-owner of xo fitness struck home for me. The post talks about literally watching what you are eating. Being completely mindful of what goes in your mouth — and why. Even if you aren’t trying to lose weight, gain weight, or even maintain your weight, knowing what you are eating, why you are eating it and paying careful attention to how you are fueling your body is very important for the overall quality of your health.
And with that intro:
If you’re trying to lose weight and not succeeding, part of the problem might be that you are eating mindlessly. Mindless eating means that what, when and how much we eat runs counter to both the body’s true needs and our own health goals.
Learn below how you can switch from mindless to mindful eating to support weight loss. Kelly McGonigal, PhD, health psychologist and yoga teacher at Stanford University, shares her insights.
From Mindless to Mindful Eating
Mindless eating is a major saboteur of weight loss. “In many cases, it’s not the meals we eat that cause weight gain,” says Susan Albers, PsyD, author of Eat, Drink and Be Mindful (New Harbinger 2009). “It’s the snacking, the mindless eating while watching television, when we’re on autopilot and not really aware of what we’re eating. Plus, the majority of food decisions have nothing to do with hunger. They have to do with stress, anxiety, sadness or frustration.”
Mindfulness can help. Mindfulness means paying attention, both to inner cues (thoughts, emotions and sensations) and to your environment. When applied to eating, this can mean the difference between one more failed diet and lasting weight loss.
Three Components of Mindful Eating
How can you eat mindfully? Albers breaks mindful eating into three areas.
- 1. Mindful Eating in the Moment. Get rid of distractions like reading, watching television or eating on the go and really taste, smell and enjoy your food. Practice knowing what it feels like to be hungry or full, and learn to honor those signals.
- 2. Nonjudgmental Awareness of Eating Habits and Beliefs. Keep a food journal to get a clear sense of your eating habits, including where you keep food and how you go about food shopping. Also, notice how you talk to yourself about food. Common self-defeating beliefs include not wanting to waste food and putting foods into “good” and “bad” categories.
- 3. Nonjudgmental Awareness of Environmental and Emotional Triggers. A bakery case of pastries may trigger a craving that was not there a moment ago. That craving has nothing to do with the body’s true needs and everything to do with the eating environment. A mindful approach can help you become aware of the difference. When you are aware of your personal triggers, it is easier to avoid them or to pause and make a conscious choice. Also, mindfulness can help you recognize when you are eating for emotional reasons and can allow you to develop other strategies for self-soothing or celebrating.
SIDEBAR: Mindful Eating Exercises
Susan Albers, PsyD, suggests the following simple exercises:
1. As you eat, pay close attention to all your senses. Use your tongue to feel the texture of the food. Gauge its temperature. Take a whiff of the aroma. Ask yourself, “How does this really taste? Is this something I really want? Does it satisfy my taste buds?”
2. Change how you eat and slow down. For example, use chopsticks, eat in a new location or include new foods in your diet. Put down your fork intentionally at least three times during a meal to give yourself a moment to pause.
3. When you eat, just eat. Try turning off the television while you eat and avoiding other distractions to keep you focused on your food. Even if it is just for a few moments, put down whatever you’re doing and focus on your snack.
4. Pay attention to the cues your body is sending. How does it let you know you are hungry? Have a rumbling stomach? Or low energy? Before you take a bite, ask yourself, “How hungry am I on a scale of 1–10?”
5. When you have the urge to eat, ask yourself if you are physically or emotionally hungry. If you are emotionally hungry, set a timer for 2 minutes and find an activity to distract you, or another way to soothe yourself. At the end of the 2 minutes, ask yourself again. This will help you slow down the rush to eat in order to fix your feelings.
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?
… not working as much as they have in years past. Teen employment rates are the lowest this year than in 50 years. Here is a great article from Fluidity with some insight:
School is out for the summer. Young people are looking for temporary work. Unemployment still hovers around 9% despite rosy predictions. Despite claims the economy is improving, it remains sluggish at best. Many businesses are contracting. So what gives?
What is often overlooked in evaluating the American economy is the consumer perspective. As the country came through the depression over the past three-plus years, the average consumer has had to scale back in many areas. With gas prices playing with $4 per gallon, many families have cut back on travel plans and vacations. That has an impact on hotels, resorts, restaurants, attractions, gas stations, and any other business affiliated with the hospitality industry. As a result, those businesses have gone to discounts or special two-for-one offers to lure guests. They may have cut back on staff or reduced amenities to keep the lights on. That impacts everyone. Dollar stores and discount retailers have seen increased volume because of the economic downturn. Higher end retailers are struggling with inventory issues and over staffing concerns. Advertising has been cut back, which has an impact on media outlets, printers, photographers, graphic artists, and sales representatives. Grocery stores have had to raise prices because of higher transportation costs which, in turn, forces consumers to be more frugal in their buying habits. They use coupons or a generic brand instead of a name brand, which means heads roll higher up the corporate ladder. The picture may appear gloomy, but the reality is this is a great time for business owners to evaluate where they are, review their business plan, and make the adjustments that must be made to survive. The alternative is to begin shut down procedures, look for an acquisition or merger partner, or try to sell for the maximum value possible. That option will take time. If the business needs to put a plan together, now is the best time to start the process, even if there has never been a plan in place before. Positive changes in the American business environment must come through the planning process. It takes time and the willingness to be honest, plus the ability and professional help to think things through. The answers may not be pretty, but they can lead to profitability.
(Cheryl’s note, the 9% is national number, the Green Bay MSA Summer 2011 report, our numbers are lower
Executive Insight from Fluidity
A great article from Dave Rovinski at Fluidity!
One of the challenges facing business owners and corporate executives in this economic environment is making sure the team is clear on expectations and that people are held accountable. When the business plan clarifies the mission of the company and key success factors are identified, management has the tools to achieve both.
Workers perform most effectively when they know what is expected of them. That includes knowing what the level of performance is and what the deadlines are that need to be met. While the expectations should be realistic, it is acceptable to make them a stretch for an employee. They may need more training or require a few extra meetings with supervisors, but the expectations become the benchmarks for getting the work done. Where the accountability factor comes in is making sure that management holds itself accountable to provide the work force with the right tools and training to accomplish the objectives. The owner needs to constantly probe to make sure what needs to be achieved is clear to the people in the trenches getting the job done. It is unfair to put the responsibility for a project on an employee with no experience in that role. Running a business successfully requires a solid plan, clear expectations, and everyone being accountable for their actions. Nothing should be left to chance.
A “don’t let this happen to you” story from Frank Kenny
Small Business Social Media Case. Business Page versus Personal Profile.
Be careful that this doesn’t happen to you.
A business came to me with this issue. The employee they hired to do the business’ social media and Internet marketing created the business’ Facebook page as a personal profile, not as a business page. Then, when that personal profile had enough “friends”, he named the profile with the business’ name.
The employee has since left the business but refuses to delete the profile and release the URL.
What a hassle for the business. You can’t have duplicate URLs so the business has a problem.
This is what the business should have done from the start.
- Have a signed policy in place stating that social media accounts created for the business remain the businesses if and when the employee departs. Those friends, followers, and fans are valuable and belong to the business. The employees can build their own FFF but not take the business’.
- The company should have adhered to Facebook’s term of service. Never create a business page as a personal profile. I am seeing this all the time still. Don’t do it.
- Once the business page is created, add a second administrator so that the business can quickly transfer the control to another employee.
What do you think the business should do at this point? The ex-employee refuses to delete the profile or release the URL.
I love guest articles! Today’s is from Frank Kenny
How can you use social media to grow?
It begins by helping others. Help others to be successful and you will be successful.
Set a goal of helping 10 others each and everyday. Here are some ways to do this:
- Go to LinkedIn and write a recommendation for a deserving colleague.
- Share a friend’s post on Facebook with your friends.
- Retweet a post on Twitter to your followers.
- Wish someone a happy birthday on Facebook.
- Click the “like” button on Facebook on posts you enjoy. Do this several times.
- Read someone’s blog post and share it. AddThis works great.
- Comment on a picture or video someone uploaded to Facebook.
- Reach out to a friend through Facebook’s email and thank them for their help and support.
- Write an email to a colleague or fellow chamber member just to say hi.
- Checkin at a deli or restaurant. That is a gift of your endorsement. Social proofing.
I know these sound simple. They are.
And it doesn’t take much time once you make it a habit.
Guess what happens? You plant seeds with each and every one. Over time, the crops come in.
Give to get.
Once you have planted seeds and dozens or hundreds of folks know, like, and trust you, you will be amazed at how they go out of their way to help you.
The generous man will be prosperous, And he who waters will himself be watered. – Proverbs
What else should folks do as a way of giving gifts?
Second, welcome to the wild and wooly world of entrepreneurship. As someone who has been there, I know how exhilarating and, honestly, downright frightening. I hope you will read back through the archives here at Chamber Notes and continue to come back because small business is near and dear to my heart so I’m always on the hunt for good (or sometimes, just “interesting”) information to pass on to you.
Today is a guest article from our friends at Hawkins, Ash, Baptie & Co. on the critically important area of taxes and the self-employed.
Tax Aspects of Becoming Self-employed
Individual taxpayers are opting to start their own businesses for myriad reasons. Regardless of why you’re contemplating self-employment, you should consider several basic tax-related issues before and immediately after actually leaving your current job. Following are some tax issues to consider.
Know the Rules for Rolling over Retirement Plan Funds. Upon leaving your job, you generally will be entitled to immediately receive vested amounts in your qualified retirement plan accounts. Most distributions from qualified retirement programs [pension plan, 401(k) plan, etc.] can be rolled over tax-free into an IRA account. However, you must arrange for a “direct rollover,” or the plan administrator is required to withhold 20% of your distribution for federal income tax. Direct rollovers involve having the funds transferred directly from your former employer’s retirement plan into your designated IRA account. Failure to arrange a direct rollover means you will have to replace the 20% withheld to accomplish a totally tax-free rollover.
Use All Your Flexible Spending Account (FSA) Funds before You Quit. If you have an FSA (or cafeteria plan reimbursement account) for uninsured medical expenses and/or childcare expenses, make sure you incur sufficient qualifying expenses to use up the funds in your account before you leave your job. Otherwise, that money will be left behind.
Open a Separate Business Bank Account. Segregate your business and personal financial matters by keeping separate bank accounts. Deposit all business income into the business account and pay all business expenses out of that account. If you pay business expenses in cash or out of your personal account, reimburse yourself with checks drawn on your business account and document this with receipts. This will make your year-end recordkeeping easier. Keeping separate accounts shows you are serious about running things in a businesslike manner, and IRS examiners like to see that.
Keep Tax Records. In addition to maintaining a separate business bank account, you need to keep documentation of your business income and expenses.
Keep Good Auto Records. Personal auto expenses used for business are deductible, but only if you document the date, number of miles, and business purpose for each business use of the car. Mileage not properly substantiated is considered personal use, and the related expenses are not deductible. You should also record the car’s mileage at the beginning of the year or when you first start your business. Unless the standard mileage rate is used, receipts or invoices and cancelled checks should be retained documenting the car’s purchase price, fuel costs, repairs, taxes, insurance, and other out-of-pocket costs. Auto logbooks for recording mileage and expenses are available at local discount and office product stores.
Set up Your Own Retirement Plan. If you work for yourself, you are on your own when it comes to retirement planning. A retirement plan set up for your benefit accomplishes two goals: it is a way to save money for your later years, and it saves taxes now. Using a defined contribution Keogh plan, you can contribute and deduct up to 25% of your net self-employment (SE) income (maybe more if you set up a defined benefit Keogh plan), but Keogh plans must be in existence before the end of this year for you to take a deduction. If it is a 401(k) plan, you may also make elective deferrals. A simplified employee pension (SEP) plan can be set up in the following year-as late as the extended due date for your return-and still provide a current-year tax deduction. SEPs are simpler and cheaper to administer, and you can contribute and deduct up to approximately 20% of your net SE income. SIMPLE retirement plans are another option available to self-employed persons. A possible disadvantage of these qualified retirement plans is that you may have to make contributions for your employees.
We all know the truth. It ALL comes down to relationship: in business, in personal life, in community. Some relationships are good, some are bad, some are downright toxic! With your customers the relationship is called “customer service” and if this relationship between yourself, your staff and your customers isn’t healthy, vibrant and thriving, your business is either currently in, or will shortly be, in tough shape.
Before I get to today’s guest article and present Barbara’s 8 tips for healthy customer service, I’m going to give you a big one from me.
Right now, everyone wants *the reason* for business difficulty to be the default of “the economy” or “these economic times.” I won’t sugar coat it for you. B.S. Just B.S. It is up to each business to find a reason, make a reason and then keep enforcing it, for customers to come in and come back. Is your product or service valued as a “nice thing to have” or essential & valuable to your customer? Is your business warm and inviting? Are you and your staff friendly and positive?
The old adage still holds true for all business, when things are good they are “great!” And when they aren’t, they are “unbelievable!” (said with a big, genuine smile). If you or your staff are talking within earshot of any customer or potential customer about how “bad things are,” you should just close your doors TODAY and be done with it. If there was ever a self-fulfilling prophecy, it is “talk bad, get bad.” Let me ask you, will you buy something for a business that may or may not be open in a month unless you are shopping a going out of business sale? Your customers won’t either.
You may be thinking, “But, Cheryl! You are asking me to lie!” Well, in this case, I’m telling you to fake it ’til you make it. Just don’t talk about it! Talk about positive things. If you can’t find any, call me! I’ll give you a whole handful of them!!
Thus ends today’s tough love segment of our program! Now onto Barbara! I love Barbara Wold’s retail tips. They are smart, savvy and common sense. Exactly what most of us need.
Eight Top Tactics for Healthy Customer Service
1. Hire the Best People You Can Find
The life blood of any service operation is the front line staff, the ones who have more contact with customers than anyone else.
2. Develop a Success Culture
The culture of a customer service organization is critically important. One or two bad apples can, and will, if not removed, ruin the barrel.
3. Look for the Real Source of Initial Customer Contacts
Most customers don’t contact your organization because of a customer service issue — at least not initially anyway. Look for what has caused the contact.
4. Look After and Empower Your Front-line People
Make sure your front-line people have the systems, information and processes they need to satisfy their customers during the first contact.
5. Be Proactive
If you have an on-going customer issue, never wait for them to contact you to check what has happened about their problem.
6. Focus on First Contact Fix
Focus on tracking, analyzing and removing the drivers of repeat contacts. Never fall into the trap of driving down contact resolution times to the extent that it risks not satisfying all of the customers’ questions or concerns.
7. Treat Complaints as a Blessing
Complaints are a gift — cherish them. Every complaint is an opportunity to make things right, review and improve your processes, and impress your customer. It’s the customers who don’t complain that go to a competitor — so make it easy to complain and put your best people at your complaint desk.
8. Coach, Coach and Coach Again
Training and then frequent coaching and feedback are a key factor in supporting customer service advisors to quickly achieve competence, and to build upon that to become role models for other staff.
Copyright 2011. Reprinted with permission from Barbara Wold’s Retail & Consumer Tips, firstname.lastname@example.org.