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Monthly Archive for February, 2012

Small Business Advocate Poll: How will the economy influence your vote for president?

The Question:
How much will the condition of the econ
omy influence your vote for president in November?

15% - The condition of the economy will influence my vote for president.

12% - Regardless of how the economy is doing, I will vote for Obama.

73% - Regardless of how the economy is doing, I will vote for the Republican ticket.

My Comments:
During the 1992 presidential election, between incumbent George H. W. Bush and the challenger, Bill Clinton, a tiny little recession had occurred that was just big enough to be a factor in that contest.

One of Clinton’s advisors, James Carville, coined a phrase that arguably helped his candidate win that year, “It’s the economy, stupid.” And 20 years and five presidential election cycles later, the term endures as the maxim to introduce economic issues into any political debate.

Even though America is still dealing with vestiges of the The Great Recession, the U.S. economy does seem to be exhibiting recovery signs. Still, enough economic challenges remain in what I’ve termed the “Not-so-great Recovery,” for Republicans to be able to turn the tables on Democrats and co-opt “It’s the economy, stupid,” as their 2012 campaign slogan.

We wanted to see how much the economy was going to factor into the 2012 presidential election, so we asked our audience this question: “How much will the condition of the economy influence your vote for president in November?” Here’s what you said:

Those who said they have already made up their minds and will vote for one side or the other, regardless of the condition of the economy came in at 12% for Obama and 73% for whoever is running on the Republican side. While only 15% of the respondents to our unscientific online poll said, “The condition of the economy will influence my vote for president.”

The good news for President Obama is the economy does seem to be improving and may well be less of a complaint against him. The bad news for the President, at least if our audience is any kind of an indicator, is that many voters have already made up their minds, as if to say “Anyone else, stupid.”

In the past few days I’ve talked with two experts on my radio show about how much they think unemployment and the economy will impact the election in November:

Former Chief Economist of National City Bank, Richard DeKaser is President of Woodley Park Research, where he oversees macroeconomic forecasting, real time economic analysis, and housing valuation research.

Bill Brandt is President and Chief Executive Officer of Development Specialists, Inc., a firm specializing in the provision of management, consulting and turnaround assistance to troubled or reorganizing concerns.

Click on the links below and listen to what these smart men have to say. You may be surprised!

How much will employment impact the 2012 election? with Richard DeKaser

Will the economy be a major issue in the 2012 election? with Bill Brandt

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

Take this week’s poll HERE!

Your future success is tied to mobile

Something happened last year, is happening this year, and will happen again next year that has never happened before in the history of the world: People from virtually every walk of life are acquiring the same thing, at the same time, for the first time.

Features-rich, application-ready mobile platforms – aka, smartphones.

Millions of Earthlings are acquiring smartphones that use a local mobile network to connect to the Internet and gain access to other World Wide Web resources. And, of course, to make calls.

Business owners and managers around the world are trading in their older mobile models for ones that allow increasingly handy mobile business apps. In many cases, a person can now make an overnight business trip taking no more technology than their robust smartphones.

First world consumers are upgrading to smartphones because of all the cool personal apps. In America, where consumerism was born, smartphones are changing how we access information, buy things and connect with our communities.

And as millions of citizens of second and third world countries acquire a smartphone, it becomes their very first computer and will connect them to the Internet for the first time in their lives. Before owning a house, a microwave, or a car, they will join the 21st century marketplaces of stuff and ideas through the power of a device they can hold in the palm of their hand.

We wanted to know where small business owners are on this global, smartphone adoption continuum, so recently, in our unscientific online poll, we asked our audience, “Not counting calls, how much do you rely on a smartphone for texting, email, music, social media, books, or accessing online content like news, videos, etc.?” Here’s what we learned:

Just over one in 10 of our respondents said, “It’s my primary device, every day, all day;” 16% chose, “Increasingly for more tasks;” while over half said, “It supplements my PC when out of the office.” The last group, 16%, admitted that they don’t own a smartphone – yet.

From a Park Avenue penthouse to a village in Valdivia, the shift to mobile connecting and computing is turning steeply upward. For Main Street small businesses from Beijing to Bakersfield, Age of the Customer forces are causing competitiveness to be trumped by relevance. And increasingly, relevance to customers is defined by your mobile strategy.

The future success of your small business will be directly connected to global mobile.

Today on The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked more about these poll results and why it’s imperative for small businesses to have a mobile strategy. Take a few minutes to listen and let us know how you have included mobile in your marketing strategy.

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

Independent Contractor or Employee

If necessity is the mother of invention, a pink slip is the nagging parent of a great deal of entrepreneurialism. And even though there are many different paths to small business ownership, millions have been thrust into this independent state as a result of some form of cessation of employment.

The good news is many of those who find themselves unemployed decide to fend for themselves by starting a small business. The bad news is, some of them don’t know that.

“How could that happen?” you ask. Well, it’s because they hired themselves out as an independent contractor, possibly to their last employer.

Not to take anything away from all these entrepreneurial accomplishments, but for many who have been fired, sacked, canned, downsized, right-sized and consolidated, in the current state of our economy there often are only three choices: Either stay unemployed and ultimately become homeless; be underemployed; or start working for themselves.

A Personal Example
Having been one of the sacked back in the late ’80s, I decided that I didn’t need any help messing up my life, so I headed out on my own and started my own small business — a business consulting company.

For a few years I was my company’s only employee. My products were my time, advice, and personal service. My slogan was, “I’m a vice president you can rent.”

And even though I considered myself a business owner, technically speaking, until my company was incorporated, I was an independent contractor.

The Technical
So does anyone care whether you’re an employee, a business owner, or an independent contractor? Oh, yeah! You bet your sweet assets someone cares. The IRS cares - a lot!!

Every year there are millions of new reported contract relationships for the IRS to keep track of, plus millions of new unreported relationships to track down. Because there is often confusion about this issue, a whole new body of tax compliance by the IRS has been developed which includes a list of 20 ways to identify an employer/employee relationship. Sounds like a Paul Simon song, doesn’t it: “There must be 20 ways to find your employee!” Sorry.

If you’re selling your time and advice as a consultant, you may think of yourself as a contractor or a business owner, but you may actually be an employee, by the definition of the IRS. Do you know who is responsible for paying and remitting the payroll taxes on your income? Is that being done?

If your business is using the services of people you consider to be independent contractors, will the IRS agree with you? Do you know how many clients your “consultants” have? If you are their only — or most significant — client, and they are not reporting and remitting their payroll taxes, you may be in the queue for a visit from the IRS.

Here are those guidelines the IRS uses to determine if the relationship in question is employment or contract. Please note that paraphrasing is used for brevity, and to illustrate the concept. You and/or your financial/tax/payroll staff and advisors should use the actual IRS ruling and language.

20 rules that differentiate between an employee and a contractor

1. Instructions: If a worker must comply with when, where, and how to conduct the work, that is usually an employee.

2. Training: If the worker has to be trained by the company, that is usually seen as an employment relationship.

3. Integration: If the worker’s activity is integrated into the operation, this demonstrates direction and control, and is usually seen as employment rather than contract.

4. Services rendered personally: If the services must be personally rendered by the worker, then this is usually seen as an employment relationship.

5. Hiring, supervising, and paying assistants: If the hiring company or person also hires, fires, and pays assistants, that activity is seen as control by the hirer, and is usually seen as an employment relationship.

6. Continuing relationship: The continuity of the relationship between the hiring company or individual and the provider of services may indicate an employment relationship, rather than a contract relationship.

7. Set hours of work: This indicates an act of control. Control is typically seen as a function of an employer.

8. Full time required: When a worker must devote substantial full time to the business of the company or person receiving the services, this indicates an employment relationship.

9. Order or sequence set: Again, an issue of control over how work is performed. If the receiver of services sets the order or sequence, they are typically going to be seen as an employer of the service provider.

10. Oral or written reports: Requirement of reporting indicates employment control.

11. Payment by hour, week, month: How a worker is paid can indicate the nature of the relationship, whether employment or contract.

12. Work done on premises: Employees usually do all work on the premises of the receiver of services. This may be a tricky one in the case of teleworkers.

13. Payment of expenses: Employers usually pay the expenses of employees, while contractors typically pay their own, but may be reimbursed at the end of the assignment.

14. Tools and material: Employers typically provide tools and materials to employees, while contractors usually provide their own.

15. Significant investment: Employees typically do not invest in the facilities they work in.

16. Realization of profit or loss: A worker who has the potential to profit or lose from the delivery of a service is typically not seen as an employee.

17. Working for more than one firm: A worker who delivers significant services to more than one unrelated firm or person in the same period is typically not seen as an employee.

18. Right to discharge: The ability to fire a worker is seen as an employment relationship.

19. Making services available to general public: Availability of services to the general public is seen in independent contractors.

20. Right to terminate: The right to quit is seen as that of an employee.

Not that the IRS isn’t motivated to collect all taxes, but they are especially vigilant about collecting payroll taxes. When the IRS determines that a “consultant” is actually an employee, a surprise tax bill will be coming soon. And if that isn’t bad enough, there are also those two abiding companions of most delinquent tax bills: interest and penalties.

I’ve talked quite a bit with Barbara Weltman, small business tax attorney, radio host and author of many books, including her latest, J.K. Lasser’s Small Business Taxes 2012. To listen to or download our latest conversation, click here.

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

Small Business Advocate Poll: How much do you rely on a smartphone?

The Question:
Not counting calls, how much do you rely on a smartphone for texting, email, music, social media, books, or accessing online content like news, videos, etc?

12% - It’s my primary device, every day, all day

16% - Increasingly for more tasks

56% - It supplements my PC when out of the office

16% - Zero - don’t own a smartphone

My Comments:
The primary thing to take away from this survey response is that more than eight of 10 of our respondents use a smartphone. That should be a wake-up call for small businesses that don’t have a mobile strategy for attracting and serving customers. I’ll have more to say about this in an upcoming post. Stay tuned.

Chuck Martin, author of The Third Screen and CEO of The Mobile Future Institute, appears regularly on my radio program to discuss the future of mobile computing and why small businesses need a mobile strategy. Click on one of the links below to listen to our latest conversations. Also, leave a comment and tell us how you use your smartphone.

Mobile computing is the future of small business

Take advantage of mobile business opportunities

Business owners get closer to their mobile devices

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

Take this week’s poll HERE!

Belief and perseverance: Lessons from Washington and Lincoln

Last week Americans celebrated the birth of our 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. This week, in the U.S., we celebrate what used to be George Washington’s birthday, but now is called Presidents Day.

We know a lot about these two men, Lincoln and Washington. Both persevered through extreme hardship and the immense weight of doubts about their own abilities, while trying to lead a young nation through two extreme experiences.

But perhaps Lincoln is the most important for small business owners. We know a lot about how much he believed in himself by the following list of challenges he endured during his life, and yet, ultimately became one of our most revered presidents. Whenever you think you should give up, think about what happened to Abraham Lincoln in his life, before he found his place in history.

  • He failed in business in ‘31.
  • He was defeated for state legislator in ‘32.
  • He tried another business in ‘33. It failed.
  • His fiancee died in ‘35.
  • He had a nervous breakdown in ‘36.
  • In ‘43 he ran for congress and was defeated.
  • He tried again in ‘48 and was defeated again.
  • He tried running for the Senate in ‘54. He lost.
  • The next year he ran for Vice President and lost.
  • In ‘59 he ran for the Senate again and was defeated.
  • In 1860, he was elected 16th President of the United States.

The difference between great accomplishments and failures is often belief in yourself and the will to persevere in the face of great odds.

Thank you for your perseverance, President Washington. Thank you for believing in yourself, President Lincoln.

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

Differentiating between users and customers

Social media platforms have rocked the online world in just a few frenzied years by introducing new community building possibilities for people, and customer connection opportunities for business.

These are heady times for social media visionaries who have created a wave of viral excitement. This is the realm of entrepreneurs who worship at the throne of possibilities, where mistakes successfully identify what doesn’t work and fun is a best practice.

Now, like Gates and Jobs before them, social media entrepreneurs are following the path of past high-growth enterprises by hitching their wagons to Wall Street’s star through an initial public offering (IPO) of stock. But in doing so, companies like Facebook enter the world of very sharp pencils.

This is the realm of fish-eyed bankers and fickle fund managers who worship at the throne of results. They demand fealty, and an audience every 90 days to explain why actual operating numbers from the real marketplace missed – by one cent – what green-eye-shade analysts had divined with their theoretical financial models. And faster than you can “Like” a photo on Facebook, it becomes clear that mistakes in this realm come at a high cost, possibilities are not possible and fun isn’t in the budget.

Unlike Microsoft and Apple, which actually create products customers pay for, social media patrons aren’t paying customers, but users. And the only thing more fickle than a fund manager is an Internet user, which is why so many jaundiced eyes are being cast on social media IPOs.

We wanted to know what our small business audience thought about Facebook’s impending IPO, so we asked: “As Facebook makes plans to go public, do you think its stock will be a good investment?” Here’s what you told us.

On one end, less than one-in-ten of respondents said, “Facebook stock will do well short and long-term,” while at the other end, 16% believe, “Like other social media stocks, Facebook stock will be a loser.” The big group in the middle, 75%, allowed that “Facebook stock may do well for a year or so, but not long-term.”

Such skepticism isn’t about social media activity itself. Because what individuals and businesses are really doing on these platforms is creating communities, and online communities are here to stay.

But small business owners, like Wall Street, know there’s a difference in projecting the value of a customer and that of a user. One pays you money and the other pays you a visit.

Monetizing a user is not the same as monetizing a customer.

Recently on my radio show, The Small Business Advocate, I talked more about whether Facebook would be a good investment with Gary Moore, former SVP of Investments at Paine Webber and founder of The Financial Seminary. Take a few minutes to listen or download and let us know what you think.

Check out more great SBA content HERE!