Avoiding the Family Feud

Portrait of the angry young coupleOne of the things many entrepreneurs hope to do one day is to go into business with their family.  Although this is a very noble goal, to go into business with the people you love the most on this earth, it can often turn into a disaster.  Therefore, if you are contemplating going into business with family, or if you have already gone into business with family, there are a few key tips that can help make your experience a rewarding one.

Borrowed Money Must Come with Terms

No matter which side of the coin you are on when it comes to borrowing money from family for a business there are a number of key principles you need to make sure you follow.

First, if the family member does not qualify for a bank loan, or a loan from a regular financial institution, be very careful lending them money.  Banks are in the business of borrowing money and getting it all paid back with interest.  If a bank is unwilling to give a loan to your family member there might be a reason for it that your family member isn’t telling you about.  For example maybe their credit score is to low because they have had a history of not paying back loans, or maybe it is just because the banker can see there is no true business model in the investment your family is pitching you on.

Second, you need to make sure you are charging interest in accordance with the risk you are taking.  For most of you, you are not in the business of lending money; therefore, if you decide to lend money to a family member it is going to be a much riskier proposition for you than for a bank.  You need to get paid for this through a higher interest rate.

Third, make sure you get security and you get the loan in writing.  All too many family members believe their family would never stiff them, yet it happens all of the time.  The best way to increase your chances of getting paid back are to make the borrowing party not only sign the loan, but also personally guarantee it.  If they are unwilling to do this to protect you, then there is no reason you should be going out on a limb to risk your assets for them.


Separate Family from Work

All too many family businesses struggle with this one concept.  They cannot separate their families from their office and it creates a few problems.

First, it can cause major problems with other employees.  It is very hard for your good employees to stay motivated if you are always making special allowances for family members.  For example if you have a policy that your employees must be on time or they will be subject to consequences, yet your family member comes in late every day and you do nothing about it.  This sends a horrible message to your other employees of how little you really think of them.

Second, if you are in business with a spouse or someone who lives in your home, you have to have down time.  As a result, you have got to be able to leave work at work some days or you will find your personal relationships will suffer.  We all deal with the stresses of owning a business differently, but if your safe haven has always been your home and now you are in business with your spouse and they are bringing home work problems every night, you are going to find this very frustrating and damaging to your relationship.


Hold Each other Accountable

You can’t let things slide just because someone is family.  If you have family members in your business you need to make sure they are pulling their weight.  If they are not, it is your job to set them down and let them know what is expected and the consequences that will occur if they don’t start pulling their weight.  As hard as it might be to fire a family member, I can tell you from the clients I have talked to it ultimately is much easier than losing your business because the family member pulled everyone else down in the organization.

So whether you are already in business with family, or just looking forward to the day you can, remember the above and always remember that the best way to resolve any problem is to communicate with all parties involved.

5 Things You Can do to Help Your Tax Preparer

tax preparerAs much as tax professionals want to make sure they do a good job in preparing your income tax returns not one of them can do it without your help.  There are some key things that you can do to help your tax professionals do the best job for you they possibly can.

  1. If you have moved make sure they have your new address.  This may seem like a small thing, but if you move and your tax professional does not get the right address on your return, you might miss critical correspondence from the IRS or state taxing authorities.  If this happens, many times what starts as a very small issue can grow into a crisis very fast.
  2. Take time to fill out an organizer.  Most all tax professionals have the ability of sending you a tax organizer to help you not only organize your documents, but to make sure their isn’t something you have missed.  Most organizers also include a number of questions that will help you make sure your tax professional is aware of everything they need to be in order to prepare a complete and accurate return.
  3. Send all of your information in at one time.  When you send tax professionals your tax information in bits and pieces you open yourself up for the chance of one of your documents getting lost or not being included in your tax return.  Often times, tax professionals are so busy during tax season that if they are getting a number of emails from you with various documents attached they will end up missing something.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Many times tax payers don’t want to question their tax professional, because they think the professional knows more about taxes than they do.  Although this is probably true in general, you often times will know as much, or more, about your individual tax situation as your tax preparer does.  Therefore, don’t be afraid to question what has been done on your return.  Ultimately, you are the main one responsible for the return so it is important you understand it.
  5. Let your tax preparer know of life changes.  Often times your tax preparer only sees you once a year.  As a result they are very unaware of what goes on in your life on a daily basis.  Therefore, if you have had a baby, a child go off to school, or maybe you just started contributing more to your retirement, please make sure you let your tax professional know so they can make the necessary changes to your return.

By following these five tips you will find that your experience with your tax professional will be a much more rewarding one, because you will have a better chance of having a complete and accurate return filed.  Remember that your tax professional is human and is definitely capable of making mistakes if they are not correctly informed.

The Tale of Two Families

father and sonAh…the image of the family owned business.  Your head is overflowing with sweet Americana images from the 1950s where three generations of family members ran the country store together.  Then someone shakes you violently to awake you from this nostalgic fantasy world!

Often a business owner wants to turn over his or her business to a relative for a variety of reasons, but ninety nine percent of the time this turns out to be a horrible mistake.  The reality of small business ownership nowadays is that most family members don’t voluntarily want to share in the responsibilities of running a family business.  Unlike previous generations, today’s young adults have no desire to work as hard as they watched their parent’s work nor do they want the family arguments.

That is why you need to understand the risks of insisting your business be turned over to an unwilling family member.  Usually when this happens, the proverbial brother or sister-in-laws will very likely run the business into the ground and occasionally steal from the cash flow.

Let me share a tale of two families!  The first father & son team didn’t fare so well in the business world.  The father purchased a deli/café for his son.  The son and girlfriend proceeded to run the business into the ground, losing the father’s $100,000 investment in the process.  This store is now closed.  The second father & son team are doing much better.  They own several Dairy Queen franchises located in major malls and casinos.  They work together as a team running the businesses in a very professional manner, much like a president and vice-president.  They have built an empire together that will one day be passed onto the son.

From my 45+ years of experience in business brokerage, the story of the first family is a far more common reality than that of the second team.  Families usually start out with the best of intentions, but tend to ignore some of the harsh realities that are visible to a stranger.  I strongly suggest that if you are considering selling, or worse, giving your business to one or more family members that you at least sit down with an experienced business broker to get a second opinion and assessment of the situation from an unbiased independent third party.  This may save you many thousands of dollars and plenty of headaches!

Don’t ask your friends, neighbors, or other business experts like your dentist, Realtor, or hair stylist. Generally these people don’t know anything about businesses and would be afraid to give you any positive opinions.  The same goes for your other relatives.  You are intelligent, you will figure it out, but it pays to consult with an expert.  Don’t put more research into your next cell phone purchase than you do for selling your business to your family member or anyone else.  Remember, business mistakes can be extremely expensive!

If you want to help a family member, then let that person purchase all or part of the business, even if seller carry financing is a part of the deal.  This is when the seller becomes the bank and agrees to hold a certain portion of the purchase price as a loan usually payable from 1 to 5 years, sometimes a little longer and at a variety of interest rates regardless of the cost of money or prime rate.  The repayment is usually principle and interest every month like a car loan.  Sometimes the seller will want extra collateral such as a lien on your home. This is especially true if there are no or few hard assets with the business as found in many service businesses. The seller is not wrong to ask for it.

It is important for the Buyer, even if they are related to you, to have some “skin in the game.”  If they have money or assets at stake, they will work harder to make the business a success.  Working a business is not a labor of love, its hard work!  If they are not willing to purchase the business, even for a nominal sum, then it’s time to look for other buyers who are not related to you.  This will keep Thanksgiving gatherings a lot more friendly!  Look at all the heart ache I just saved you!

Article contributed by Ed Smith aka Edward J. Smith, Ltd. is a professional licensed business broker in the states of Nevada and Utah with First Choice Business Brokers LV 101 office.  He has over 45 years of experience in helping business Buyers and Sellers.  Call Ed at:  702.274.7320 or email him at:  edsmith@fcbb.com

As a Business Owner What Income is Subject to FICA/Self-Employment Tax?

Self employmentWhen looking at what entity you should use to set up your new business there are a number of things you need to consider and one of these is how will your income be taxed for FICA/self-employment (FICA) tax purposes.  Because you are now the employer and employee this tax rate is a whopping 15.3%, which means the more of your income you can keep from being subject to the FICA tax, the more money you are going to be able to keep in your pocket to run your business.

The following will give you some guidance on what income is subject to the FICA tax and what income is not.

C Corporation – Wages paid to the shareholder-employee are subject to FICA tax.  Distributions paid from a C Corporation are not.

S Corporation – Wages paid to a shareholder-employee are subject to FICA tax.  (which you must pay yourself a wage in order to stay compliant), but pass-through income reported on your K-1 is excluded from the shareholder’s self-employment income.  S Corporations are many times a great entity to use to help limit your FICA tax.

General Partner (General Partnership or LLC) – Pass-through income is included in the partner’s self-employment income and is subject to the FICA tax if the partnership engages in a trade or business.  Guaranteed payments to a general partner are also included in self-employment income and are subject to FICA tax.

Limited Partner (Limited Partnership or LLC) – Pass-through income is excluded from the limited partner’s self-employment income and is not subject to the FICA tax.  Guaranteed payments for services are included in self-employment income and are subject to the FICA tax.

Sole Proprietorship – All proprietor earnings are self-employment income and are subject to the FICA tax.  This is true whether the proprietor works in the business or hires others to do the work.


Are You Thinking of Quitting Your Job to Start a Business?

Are you one of the many Americans who are tired of the daily grind of working for an unappreciative boss who leaves you feeling overworked and underpaid and is quit your joblooking to start your own business?  If so, there are a number of things you should consider before you make the plunge of becoming self-employed.


Know the Rules for Rolling over Retirement Plan Funds

Upon leaving your job, you will generally be entitled to immediately receive vested amounts in your qualified retirement plan accounts.  You are probably aware that most distributions from qualified retirement programs 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.  (the distribution check cannot be made out to you)  Talk to your former employer’s benefits representative and to the financial institution or brokerage house where you will establish your IRA.  Tell them you want to make a direct rollover to avoid the withholding, and ask for the required forms and paperwork.  Failure to arrange a direct rollover means you will have to replace the 20% withheld to accomplish a totally tax-free rollover.


Expend Your Flexible Spending Accounts before You Quit

If you have a flexible spending account (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.  For example, go get new glasses or contacts if that’s what it takes to use up your account balance – otherwise, you will lose it when you quit.


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 (including your own draws) 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.  You do not want to have to explain that the $10,000 deposited into your one and only checking account was actually a gift rather than business income.


Start Keeping Tax Records – But Do Not Overdo It

In addition to maintaining a separate business bank account, you need to start keeping documentation of your business income and expenses.  At the beginning this generally does not need to be anything fancy (however, if your business involves inventory, employees, or a corporation you are going to need to be much more detailed).  For example, in most cases, you can simply use file folders or envelopes to keep your business expense receipts until tax return time.  You may not really need a bookkeeping software program, a tax preparation program, or more sophisticated recordkeeping techniques until later.  Also keep a list of billings or sales and the dates you get paid.


Keep Good Auto Records

Expenses of using your personal auto for business uses are deductible, but only if you keep good records documenting the date, the number of miles, the business purpose of each business use of the car.  Mileage not properly substantiated is considered personal use and 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.


Consider Setting up Your Own Retirement Plan

If you work for yourself, you are on your own when it comes to planning for your retirement.  A retirement plan set up for your benefit accomplishes two goals – it is a way to save money for your later years, and in most cases it saves taxes now.  Using a defined contribution Keogh plan, you can contribute and deduct up to 25% of your net self-employment income (maybe more if you set up a defined benefit Keogh plan), but remember Keogh plans must be in existence before the end of the year for you to take a deduction.  If this Keogh plan is also 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 of your return – and still get the current year tax return deduction.  SEP’s are simpler and cheaper to administer and you can contribute and deduct up to approximately 20% of your net self-employment income.  SIMPLE retirement plans are another option available to self-employed persons.  The biggest disadvantage of qualified retirement plans is that you may have to make contributions for any employees that you have.


Do Not Underestimate the Benefits of Tax Planning

Even after the above, tax planning can yield bigger benefits now that you are in business for yourself.  You may be able to employ your children part-time and save income taxes and SE tax.  If your spouse is an employee of your business, you may be able to set up a fully deductible accident and health plan that covers you and the family without the use of a corporation.  Certain expenses that your former employer did not reimburse (such as professional association fees and supplies for a home office) may now be deductible.  Year-end tax planning is critical – particularly if you can use the cash method for income and expenses.  As stated earlier, retirement plans other than SEP’s must be set up before year-end to get a current year tax deduction.


Do Not Automatically Incorporate

An often-repeated comment is that corporations are wonderful because they limit the shareholders’ business liability, which is true, but depending on the industry you are in this may not be an immediate concern for you.  You should know that using a corporation requires addition recordkeeping, tax preparation fees, legal expenses and state and local filing fees.  Significant effort must be expended to keep the affairs of the corporation and the owner separate.  Based on the above, depending on the size of your small business, incorporating may not be one of the first things on your list.


Expanding your Business Presence through Email Marketing

In today’s show Daniel Miller, Sales Manager for Benchmark, an email marketing company, shares with us how we can get more out of our email marketing Daniel Millercampaigns by using double opt in.  He also talks about why it is better to grow your email list organically than to purchase a list

For More information visit: www.benchmarkemail.com


Expanding your Business Presence through Email Marketing

Daniel Miller is the Sales Manager for Benchmark, an email marketing company.  In today’s interview Daniel answered a number of the key questions most small business owners have regarding email marketing.

What is a definition of email marketing and is it different than spam?  Email marketing is when you actually get permission from those you are sending emails to and spam is when you just send out random emails to people whether they want them or not.

How is the best way for someone to grow their email marketing list?  You can buy a list, but the best way is to do it organically through social media.   Social media allows you to connect with a large number of people in a short period of time.  The biggest thing to remember though when doing any type of marketing is to make sure your information looks good and that it includes a call to action.  We are beyond the days when you could just send out boring email.  Today people want to receive something that will benefit them.

How do you know what to give people you want to add to your list?  You first need to find out who your company is and who you want your customer to be.  Once you figure this out you can figure out what it is your target customer really wants.  Use this knowledge to provide them with something that will be of some benefit to them.

Can you buy an email list?  Yes, but it isn’t a good idea.  Let’s say you buy a list of a million emails and you immediately create an email and send it out.  Of this million people who you send your email too, there are only about 1% of these people who have any interest in hearing from you.  The other 99% you are just bothering and it is creating negative goodwill towards your business.

Does buying a list work for some businesses?  Yes, and if you decide to buy a list you want to find as much information about how the list was gathered as you can.  This is going to let you know how you can better approach each of these people.

Is there such a thing as buying an opt in contact list?  No, these are two pretty contradictory terms.  If someone buys a list there is no way they could have actually opted in, because opt in means you actually are wanting to receive information from me.  Now they may have opted in to receive information from businesses in your industry, but they didn’t opt in to receive information specifically from you.

Does blacklisting still occur?  Yes, there are still a number of nonprofit groups out there who are trying to limit the amount of spam that goes out the world.

What is double opt in?  Opt in is when you make a knowing decision to request information from a given business.   With double opt in you not only decide you want to receive information from a given source, you also confirm through a second email that you were serious.  This is what double opt in is.  Most marketing people think this is unnecessary, but with the spam traps this is great insurance.

How often they should send an email out?  For every single business it is going to be different.  For example, a retail store may get away with sending out a daily email.  An automotive dealership could never get away with this.  In fact, they may be lucky to send out something on a monthly basis.

The best question to ask yourself is how often do your customers need your product.  This will help determine how often you should be sending out emails.

What is the average open rate on email?  It is anywhere between 10 and 15%.  The way emails are tracked is when the images inside the email are opened.  If you do not ever open any of the images, it is as if the email was never opened.  Therefore, there is about another 10% who open the email but never load the images.

Are there things people can do to increase the open rate?  Reduce the size of your images and add more text to your email.  You can also make sure you are looking at the reporting results of who is actually opening up your emails.

How do companies like Benchmark help clients?  We make it easier to not only establish an email marketing campaign, but we also have a number of tracking tools you can use to track the effectiveness of your marketing.  We specialize in providing free education to help people realize the benefits of how email marketing can change their organization.

If you want to reach Daniel or learn more about how Benchmark can help your organization, please link to him through my website at www.davehallsba.com.

Listen to the full interview with Daniel miller on iTunes

or visit my website www.davehallsba.com/podcasts

Do you want to build your network?

Andy Lopata is a professional speaker, author, and master networker.  He has spent the last 14 years of his life helping people get connected.  In fact, he has andy lopatabecome so good at it that he is now referred to as Mr. Network in the UK.  Today he will share with us some key tips to help each of us become better connected.

For More information visit: www.lopata.co.uk


Do you want to build your network?

In today’s interview I had the opportunity of talking with Andy Lopata.  He has spent the last 14 years of his life helping people get connected.  In fact, he has become so good at it that he is now referred to as Mr. Network in the UK.  His got started in networking when his father started what became the largest networking group in the UK and has never looked back.  Even after his father sold the company, Andy retained his passion for networking and has continued to help thousands of people get connected.

In fact, Andy says he was actually glad when his father sold the company because it got him out of the day-to-day responsibilities of managing the company so he could focus 100% on what it is he loves, which is connecting other people.

This is something I can relate to very easily, because I had the same story in my own life.  When I left college my goal was to build the largest CPA firm in Vegas and my partners and I almost did that.  We actually grew from a small start up to being the second largest local firm within a 15 year period.  The only problem was once I reached my goal, it wasn’t what I thought it would be.  My days were filled with meetings and managing employees, rather than being out helping the clients like I always enjoyed doing.

As a result, in my own life, I sold my practice and started going back to meeting with clients on a daily basis, which I continue to do to this day.

As we talked about this, Andy reminded the listeners that for most of them they will start their business because they have a product or service they are passionate about.  To keep this passion, you need to make sure you surround yourself with other people who can do the things you don’t want to do, so you can spend your time on those things you really enjoy.  By doing this, you will find your business will have a lot better chance of long-term success.

As we transitioned into talking about the key things someone should consider in learning how to become a better networker, I asked Andy how you get started in picking a network to join.  He said the most important thing is to make sure you start with an objective of what you want to accomplish by joining a networking group.  He said to make sure you never just join a networking group because you have been invited.  You need to make sure you do some research on the group and make sure it will help you meet your goals.  A simple way to analyze most groups is to look at how long after the meeting people stay.  The longer they stay the better connected the members are becoming.

For most people Andy says they need to have three main objectives, but admits that based on individual circumstances you might have other objectives as well.  These three main objectives are to become better know, to become better equipped and to become better connected.

As you look at any group you are going to join, you need to look at how it is going to help you reach these objectives.  Once you have found a group that you believe will help you reach your objectives, you then need to ask yourself what you are going to do in the group to help you reach your goals.  Networking is as much about your involvement as anything.

Andy also recommends that before you join a networking group that you make sure you have already taken the time to get to know your current contacts and make sure they are aware you are trying to build your business.

I asked Andy where trust comes in when networking.  He said that trust comes right at the top of any relationship.  He said networking is about supporting and helping each other and we won’t do this if we don’t trust each other.  We build trust as we get to really know others.  The way you do this is by being patient.  You don’t go to a meeting and immediately ask how others can help you.  You have got to go to the meetings and let people get to know you and then they will be willing to help you.

Andy says that in order to be successful in any networking group you need to make sure you remember three things.  Visibility, Credibility, and Profitability.  First you need to be visible.  People need to see you, which means you need to get out and involved.  Then you need credibility.  This will come as others get to know who you really are, your goals and your passions.  Then the last thing you have is profitability.  This happens when you have truly accomplished the other two things.

To prove his point Andy shared an experience he had with an insurance salesman who on his first day at a networking event stood up and offered everyone at the meeting a free insurance quote if they would just give him their card.  He said nobody gave him their card.  As a result, this individual said this is a waste of time that networking groups don’t work.

Andy said his father then took him aside and explained to him the importance of visibility, credibility and profitability.  He told the gentlemen he needed to not only stay, but get involved in the group and then he could try it again in six months.  This individual stayed and in six months he once again offered a free quote if others would give him their business card.  By this time he had established credibility and as a result, he got cards from everyone in the room.

As I listed to this story it reminded me of a situation I had just had in my own life where I had been with a bunch of CPA’s and attorneys who offer financial planning services, but they were all very reluctant to make referrals to the financial planners they were working with.  I saw this as a prime example of what Andy had been talking about.  The reason these people were so reluctant to give the referral is because they did not yet trust the financial advisor enough to know he wouldn’t end up causing him problems latter on down the road.

If you have relationships where you are reluctant to send referrals to, you need to strengthen the relationship, because most times it goes both ways.  If you are reluctant to send a referral, the other person is also going to be reluctant to send a referral to you.

I asked any how much time someone should spend on networking.  He said it is different for everyone.  He said the best thing is to figure out how much time you have and then make sure you are committed to giving that amount of time each week to networking activities.

Andy went on to share a story of someone who he knew who was attending about 10 networking meetings a week.  He went to five breakfast meetings, three lunch meetings and a few dinners a week.  Andy said if you looked at this on the surface, you would assume this guy would be getting a lot of referrals, but he said this wasn’t the case at all.  He said because the guy was meeting so many people he was building a very wide network group, but it had no depth.  This guy had no time to follow up and therefore, he wasn’t building enough trust to get him referrals.

Andy recommends that instead of the above, you actually start with two or three people you know, but not as well as you would like and invite them to breakfast or lunch.  He says you will be able to accomplish far more than the above guy who was spending his day networking.

I asked Andy about the importance of listening when meeting with others.  He said it is critical part of building relationships.  In fact, he gave us some great advice.  He says when someone else begins to talk you need to ask yourself, why is this person saying what they are saying and why is it important to them?  Unfortunately, he says most of us don’t do this. Most of us spend the time we are listening trying to come up with our own response, which shows we don’t really care about what the other person is saying.

As we closed the podcast he gave us two other great tips for helping us build our networks.  The first is to take time to learn what our connections are interested in.  By doing this, it will give us the opportunity to build deeper relationships; because we can try to send them information or get them involved in activities they have a passion for.

Second he said it is critical you build a system for following up.  His recommendation is to follow the 24/7/30 rule.  This is that you follow up within 24 hours, again in a week and then again in 30 days.  If you will do this he says you will be able to build the trust needed to form a strong connection.

You can get a hold of Andy at www.lopata.co.uk to learn more about how you can improve your networking.  You can also follow him on twitter at andylopata.

Listen to the full interview with Andy Lopata on iTunes

or visit my website www.davehallsba.com/podcasts

Trust Based Marketing: The Key to a Successful Business

Jerry Fletcher is the founder and CEO of Z-Axis Marketing and is known in professional circles as the Network Ninja.  In this podcast he shares with us some Jerryfletchergreat tips that if used, Jerry guarantees will double each of our businesses.  

For More information visit: www.z-axismarketing.com


Trust Based Marketing:  The Key to a Successful Business

I had the opportunity of speaking with Jerry Fletcher who is the founder and CEO of Z-Axis Marketing, a national marketing company that specializes in using trust based marketing to build businesses.

I started the podcast by asking him how he got into the marketing industry.  He said it all started when he was going to the University of Cincinnati.  The school had a co-op program that allowed him to go to school for 6 weeks and then work for 6 weeks.  It was during this time he got his passion for marketing.  His first job out of college came after he wrote a paper under his wife’s name.  A marketing agency out of Minneapolis ended up calling his wife and interviewing her about Jerry.  After about a ½ hour she handed the phone to Jerry and it didn’t take him long to realize this was the opportunity he was looking for.

He says he stayed in Minneapolis until one winter when he was walking down the street and his sinuses froze.  It was at this time he realized he needed to move to a warmer climate.  He ended up in Oregon, which is where he still resides.

Knowing that name recognition is important in marketing, I asked Jerry how he came up with his business name, Z-Axis Marketing?  He said the Z axis is used to identify marketing in business, but he admits it was a mistake.  Jerry said not only is it hard to spell, it is also hard to remember.  As a result Jerry says it has limited his ability to be found on the internet.  Although he still uses the name for his main company, he has now changed the name he uses to promote his business to his own name, Jerry Fletcher.

I then asked Jerry about trust based marketing and what it is?  He said it is all about building a business on relationships, which he says is great for many small businesses, because it can usually be done without spending a lot of money.  He admits that trust based marketing is something that most people want to do, but they think they have to do something else.  Because we all want to be successful, we all want to do the newest thing and there is nothing new about building relationships.

I asked Jerry what our listeners could do to get started and he gave the following advice.  He said to start you need to identify what it is you really really really want to accomplish.  This is your mission.  Then you need to figure out where your business is at.  This is your position.  Once you know your mission and your position you need to align the two.  If you can do this, he guarantees you will be successful.

Jerry went on to talk about how important it is that we each have a 30 second pitch of what our business does.  Because this is where the relationship starts, he says this is critical that you spend time to get it right and have it be something compelling to spike the interest of those you are communicating with.  He shared a great story of how this worked for him in his own life.

He then shared with me the importance of using a CRM (customer relationship management) system to keep up with your relationships.  He says this is critical because most of our brains aren’t that good at keeping track of everything, and so we need a computer system to help us.

He then shared the two tips he guarantees will double our business.  First, after you meet with someone you need to write down the results of your meeting.  Second, you need to make a plan of how you are going to follow up with this individual and then do it.  Although these two steps seem so simple it is something very few people ever do.  They have their first meeting with someone and then they never follow-up and the relationship is lost.

Knowing that many of our listeners are on a tight budget, I asked if Jerry could share with us some inexpensive marketing ideas.  He ended up giving us seven great ones that each one of us can use in our own businesses.

  1. Make sure you are networking.  Make it a point to be known in your community and in those organizations that cater to your target customers.  This is where you perfect your 30 second speech.
  2. Use your email list to ask your contacts to pass along your information to others they might know who could benefit from your products or services.
  3. Make sure your products and services can help others.  You need to be able to show how your products or services can help your clients better their businesses.
  4. Get published.  When people see you have written something they believe you are an expert in that area.
  5. Find partners.  Partners are a great way to get you in front of the people you really need to get in front of.
  6. Use social media.  This can be a great tool, but you need to make sure you monitor your time spent.
  7. Try one of the social deal sites.  This might sound crazy, but for the right business it can work extremely well.

He closed by talking about the two things you must never do in marketing.  Jerry says you can’t be inconsistent and you can’t every do anything in your marketing that diminishes trust with your customers.

We ended up talking about a number of things that aren’t included in this article, so if you are looking to learn how trust based marketing can better your business, you will want to make sure you listen to the full podcast.

Listen to the full interview with Jerry Fletcher on iTunes

or visit my website www.davehallsba.com/podcasts

Email Marketing is a Must for Every Business

lisa smithLisa Smith, who is the founder and CEO of CustomerConnect shares with us why she believes every business, should be using email marketing, and what each of us can do to make sure the email marketing we do is effective.

For More information visit: www.customerconnectmktg.com


Email Marketing

Today I had the opportunity of talking with Lisa Smith, who is the founder and CEO of CustomerConnect, a company that specializes in email marketing.  Lisa has spent most of her career training entrepreneurs and continues to do so by helping them understand how to effectively use email marketing for their businesses.

Lisa says email marketing is so important because it helps you keep top of mind awareness with your customers, which ultimately will convert into sales.  She does admit though that most small business owner’s do not do a very good job with email marketing, because they do not have the resources to do it in house and therefore, they don’t make it a top priority.

She says that companies like hers are out there to help with this process, because it is their job to make sure you get an email out on a consistent basis to those people who are expecting it.   She says one of the biggest things email marketing does for you is helps you build a reputation, and so depending on how you manage this part of your business it can be either good or bad.

Lisa says effective email marketers make sure they are not only sending out emails on a consistent basis, but they are also making sure it includes relevant content and that it stays consistent with the other types of marketing they are doing.

I asked Lisa what someone should do to get started in putting an email marketing campaign together and she suggests the first thing they need to do is to enter into a contract with an email service provider.  There are a number of reasons to do this.  First, they will help simplify the process of putting together your content.  Second, they will provide you with accountability tools, so you can see how effective your email campaigns are.  Third, they help you get into the inbox’s of the people you are sending information too.

Once you have done this, Lisa says it is important that you start getting good content together.  Many people struggle with this, so she suggests you start with providing answers in article form to the FAQ’s your current customers have.  Once you have gone through these, you then need to look at what questions your customers should be asking, but are not.  Your newsletter can provide answers to these questions.  Then the last thing is to look at current information that is affecting your clients and provide information on these topics.

We talked about why email marketing is so important.  Lisa says it is because it is one of the few marketing mediums still out there that allows you to target market to people who are really interested in you and your business.  Very few other types of marketing allow you to do this.  As a result, statistically it provides a great return on your investment.  The average ROI on email marketing is $43 to every $1 spent.

She also says it is important to do email marketing because it helps you build your pipeline.  By keeping your business in the “top of mind awareness” area for your customers, they will be more likely to spend money with you during the slow seasons your business may have.

We talked about whether or not people should buy email lists.  Lisa said she personally doesn’t recommend it, for a number of reasons.  First, they are expensive.  Second, the information gets outdated very quickly.  Most people change their email on an average of once a year.  Third, you have a much less likely chance your email is ever going to get read, because SPAM filters catch most emails you send from purchased lists.

She says the way you need to build your email list is to do it through your current contacts, both those you now have and those you are building.  Every person should be asked if they want to be a part of your email marketing list, before you ever include them.  By doing this you are building a list of people who are very interested in your business and what you have to offer.  Therefore, the conversion rate into sales is going to be substantially higher.

We concluded by talking about the importance of offering those who you want to sign up for your email list something of value.  Lisa says it doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should be perceived as value to those who are signing up.  It may be an e-book or just a discount on their next purchase.

Just think about it, if you were able to send an email out to every person you have an email address for and only 3% of them did business with your company, how much more money you could bring in? Now times that number by 12, since you should be sending something out at least on a monthly basis.  Hopefully, you can now see how much you are missing if you are not currently doing email marketing.

Listen to the full interview with Lisa Smith on iTunes

or visit my website www.davehallsba.com/podcasts

To Incorporate or Not to Incorporate…that is the question

incorporateTo Incorporate or Not to Incorporate…that is the question

by Gina Bongiovi

I often meet with sole proprietors who wonder whether it’s in their best interest to incorporate.  99.9% of the time, my answer is a resounding “YES!”  Of course, my clients want to know why, so here goes:

To clarify, when I say “incorporate,” I don’t necessarily mean forming a corporation.  The term “incorporate” refers to the process of forming an entity so that you’re no longer operating as a sole proprietor.  You have several entity choices – corporation, limited liability company (LLC), professional limited liability company (PLLC), limited partnership, (LP), limited liability partnership (LLP), limited liability limited partnership (LLLP) and any other entities states can come up with that overuse the letter “L.”  I mostly deal with the corporation and the LLC, so for simplicity’s sake will address only those two in this article.

For any entity, you start the formation process by filling out and filing Articles with the state.  Most Secretary of State offices administer entity formations, but some states have separate corporations divisions that handle the filings.  For a corporation, you’ll usually file “Articles of Incorporation.”  For an LLC, the document is usually called “Articles of Organization.”  The second step is usually the Initial List of Officers (for a corporation) or Members (for an LLC).  This document lists the names and addresses of all the business owners.  You’ll also need a registered agent (some states call it a resident agent).  This is a physical address, not a PO box, at which a human being can accept service of a lawsuit during normal business hours.  You can act as your own, hire a commercial registered agent service, or have a law firm do it.  Many people prefer to have a law firm in this capacity so a lawsuit can be acted upon immediately.  Acting as your own registered agent doesn’t mean you have to stay at that address Monday through Friday, 9-5; it just means someone looking to sue you needs to be able to find you.  You’ll have to renew your entity every year to keep it in good standing, which involves filing an Annual List of Officers/Members and paying the associated filing fees.

If all this sounds like a giant pain in the neck, let me explain why you want to incorporate.  Operating your business through a separate entity places a “corporate veil” between your personal assets and your business, which is the likely target of a lawsuit.  In other words, if someone sues your business and wins, they get a judgment that’s usually some amount of money.  In order to get this judgment satisfied, they will look to your assets.  If you are operating your business as a separate entity, the lawsuit winner can only satisfy that judgment out of business assets; they can’t touch your personal assets.  This assumes you’re really operating the business as a separate entity and haven’t signed any personal guarantees.  In contrast, if you are operating as a sole proprietor and someone sues you, you have no entity to protect your personal assets and the lawsuit winner can satisfy the judgment out of your personal checking account, your home, your car, etc.

In only incredibly rare instances do I ever tell someone they are better off as a sole proprietor, and even then, I do so reluctantly.  In nearly all cases, it’s worth the few hundred dollars a year to maintain an entity and provide yourself protection and peace of mind.  If the few hundred dollars a year is cost prohibitive, then you probably aren’t making enough money for someone to sue you.  (Ouch, right?)  The saying goes, you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip.  So if you want to remain a turnip, then maybe sole proprietorship is okay.  But if you have aspirations to being more than a turnip, strongly consider forming an entity to give yourself that protection.  My analogies are quickly disintegrating so I’ll wrap up.

There is a misnomer out there that a corporation provides more liability protection than an LLC.  You’d have to check your own state statutes, but in most states, the individual owners of an entity are not personally liable for the debts or obligations of the business, provided the business is managed properly.  In deciding between a corporation or an LLC, you must consider the type of business you have, how you’ll fund it, how you’ll grow it, how you’ll manage it, and your exit strategy.  Yes, it’s counter-intuitive to consider your exit strategy when forming a business, but it plays a role in which entity you choose.  As an aside, these are questions that require some introspection, analysis, and a modicum of intelligence, none of which are provided by the robots over at LegalZoom.  Just sayin’.

To conclude, in 99.9% of instances, it’s best to incorporate.  The question then becomes what type of entity to form and then how to manage it so that you keep that corporate veil securely in place.

For more information on Bongiovi Law visit: www.bongiovilaw.com