Archive for the 'Government' Category

Making tax reform fair for small businesses

General Motors Corp and Georgia’s Motors, Inc. are alike in many ways. Both go to market representing themselves to the world as corporations, legally formed entities standing on their own, capable of entering into contracts and being responsible for themselves and their activity. But while both corporations are required to report business activity for the previous year on a tax return to the IRS, only one actually pays taxes.

In addition to filing a return, General Motors Corp, structured as a “C Corp,” the apex legal business entity, is the one that pays federal taxes at the business rate, currently one of the highest in the world. Georgia’s Motors, Inc. was formed as a Subchapter S corporation, aka “S Corp,” one of the pass-through entities established by law to make being incorporated easier for small firms. Any taxable income reported on its return passes through pro rata to the shareholders, to be added to their personal return and taxed at each one’s individual rate. In our story, Georgia Smith is the founder and sole shareholder of Georgia’s Motors, Inc., one of millions of American small businesses.

Lately, the term “pass through entity” has been used more frequently in news reports about the tax reform proposed by the Trump administration. The increased frequency is because a significant reduction in the business tax rate is being proposed which could put GM’s corporate rate below Georgia’s personal rate, unfairly causing her to pay more per dollar of business income than GM.

The good news is the Trump tax reform drafters recognized this inequity to pass-through entities like Georgia’s. As currently proposed, shareholders of Sub S Corps and other pass-throughs, like a Limited Liability Company (LLC), would still accrue the income of their businesses. But what’s new is that business income would be taxed separately, at the newly reduced, single rate paid on all business income, rather than at the personal rate of the shareholders.

These proposed tax reforms are very important for small businesses because of how their taxable income manifests. Let’s say Georgia’s Motors, Inc., produces $100,000 in business income, which passes through and is applied to Georgia’s personal return. Because of how that income is accounted for, it can create a taxable event typically associated with investments, called “phantom income.” This is when the loss of an investment results in taxable income, but produces no cash to pay the associated tax.

When you hear a small business owner tell you they had a very profitable year, but had to borrow money to pay their taxes, they just described what is tantamount to phantom income. But unlike true phantom income, that $100,000 hasn’t been lost. It actually exists, but in the form of inventory, accounts receivable, equity, etc., but maybe not in enough cash to pay the tax bill when due. And it could get worse: That business income added to Georgia’s personal income could push her into the next higher rate bracket.

By allowing small business owners of pass-through entities to pay a lower business tax rate, in a separate calculation from their personal income, they will have more working capital to invest, and be less likely to experience phantom income.

The small business sector is very excited about the prospects of tax reform, both at the personal and business level, as long as pass-through entities are treated the same as big corporations.

Write this on a rock … Unleash the animal spirits of America’s small businesses with tax reform that includes lower rates applied to all business income.

How to connect with global prospects – and get paid

In case you haven’t heard, the seven billionth Earthling was born recently.

For the global marketplace, seven billion prospects is exciting. But 96% of those folks live outside the U.S.

Once, small business growth meant expanding across town or the next county over. But new technologies and demographic shifts have made expanding outside America’s four walls increasingly compelling. It’s also produced three elemental global business questions: Who are my prospects, how do I connect with them, and how do I get paid? Let’s focus on the “Who” first, with these global stats from National Geographic, plus my editorializing.

  • Nineteen percent of Earthlings are Chinese, 17% are Indian and 4% are American. By 2030, the first two will invert.
  • In a historical shift, just over half of Earthlings are now urbanites. Remember, city folk use different stuff than their country cousins.
  • Globally 40% of us work in services, 38% in agriculture and 22% in industry. This means different things to different industries, but it means something to all businesses.
  • English is the international language of business, but is the first language of only 5% of global prospects. When doing business outside the U.S., be culturally sensitive and patient with the translation process.
  • Breaking news: 82% of your global prospects are literate. If you can read and write you can improve your life, which explains the growth of the middle class in emerging markets. A growing global middle class means millions of new, affluent consumers each year.
  • Computers are luxuries for most Earthlings, but mobile networks are exploding across the globe. Soon billions who never owned a computer or used the Internet will do both with a smart phone. What does your mobile strategy look like?
  • For American small businesses, export opportunities abound in our own hemisphere without crossing an ocean, especially Canada, Mexico, Panama, Columbia and Chile, where trade agreements are in place. But keep an eye on the Trump trade tactics, part of which may manifest in tax reform.

The good news is there are two government agencies standing by to answer questions about your export strategy. Each one provides digital information, human assistance and global networks designed to help a small business maximize its opportunity to create and execute a successful export strategy.

U.S. Commercial Services

The, “How do I connect with global prospect?” question can be answered by this agency, and it should be your first stop for education on finding and converting global prospects into customers. It’s a virtual one-stop shop for developing and executing your export strategy: a great website (Export.gov); a toll-free number (800-872-8723) answered by a real person; over 100 offices around the U.S., plus dozens more around the globe you can walk right into and ask for help; and their book, “A Basic Guide to Exporting,” which includes an excellent tutorial and several case studies. It’s all free except for the book and any direct expenses they incur on your behalf.

Export-Import Bank

This is where you get the “How do I get paid?” answer. Part of the U.S. government, Ex-Im Bank (exim.gov) will assist with the financial elements of your export sale. They’ll coordinate with the banks on both sides of the transaction to transfer funds, provide loan guarantees, and even pre-delivery working capital for you and post-delivery financing for your customer.

For generations, big firms owned the franchise on global business. But shifts in technology and demographics are making the global marketplace more compelling and feasible for small businesses. And for all the government agencies that gets in our way, these two will actually help you.

Write this on a rock … The global marketplace – and 7 billion prospects – are waiting for you.

After a Lost Decade, the REAL Economy Is Ready for Expansion

There’s an old joke about a person paying last respects to an atheist friend. Looking into the casket, the friend lamented, “All dressed up, nowhere to go.”

Thinking about the U.S. economy makes that joke come to mind. Almost a decade since getting really sick, but not dying, America’s businesses – especially the small ones – spent the last nine years all dressed up, nowhere to go.

Since the 2008 financial crisis and associated Great Recession, which actually began Q4 2007 (a year before Barack Obama was elected), the economy has recovered at less than 2% GDP growth – never reaching expansion altitude. Because of the aggregate contribution of America’s small businesses, we know that at least half the missing growth, and millions of new jobs, didn’t come from Main Street. Here why:

One of the historic markers of the small business sector is an optimistic pathology that makes Pollyanna look like Negative Nellie. I never thought I’d see a political/economic environment so demoralizing as to effectively dim the American entrepreneurial floodlight into a glimmer. If you think this characterization is hyperbole, study the NFIB Index of Small Business Optimism – as I have. Alas, that proof in the Main Street pudd’n has been almost a decade of consistent and unprecedented pessimism.

Why so much dourness? Since 2009 the rhetoric and policies of the Obama administration made small businesses feel inconsequential at best, and the enemy at worst. Rhetoric like “You didn’t build that!” doesn’t make business owners feel froggy about capital investments or new hires. Nor do policies like tax increases, Obamacare, piercing the franchise industry’s employer/employee status, the Overtime Exemption rule, and an unprecedented regulatory assault, just to name a few. But wait! There’s more.

Whether through ignorance or ideology, too many talking heads perpetuated the fake news that the economy languished because banks wouldn’t make loans to America’s small firms. But anyone who cared to check heard small businesses calling out these false prophets by reporting, month after month, that they could borrow if they wanted – but didn’t (NFIB). In fact, they’ve spent a decade deleveraging. Which brings me to the single silver lining in all of this: By deleveraging and belt-tightening, small business balance sheets and cash accounts became stronger than ever. I’ll come back to this in a minute.

You’re no doubt wondering how I’ll reconcile my story with the record-setting stock market. First, for generations it was an article of faith that whether stocks were trending up or down, that trajectory was a leading indicator of the economy six months hence. But today, the stock market is merely a leading indicator of itself, and the real economy is on its own. Two prime reasons include:

1) the crossing of the moral hazard Rubicon by the government with bailouts of too-big-to-fail corporations and banks,

2) the Fed’s counterfeiting policies ($3.7 Trillion in QE). Both spawned empty-calorie financial capitalism at the expense of muscle-building market-based capitalism.

Help me reconcile how GDP went negative during Q1 in both 2014/15, and almost did again in 2016, but the Dow reached new record highs in all three quarters. Only in Bizarro World is that a sustainable reality.

And then we had an election. Out here on Main Street, you’d think the phone rang and the warden said it was the governor with good news. Most people don’t need me to catalog the good, bad and troublesome about President Trump. But, warts and all, small business owners are attracted to at least four of his credentials: 1) he knows how to make a payroll; 2) he knows what it’s like when the government gets in your grill; 3) he understands the incongruity of over-taxing and over-regulating a group sorely needed in America today – job creators; and 4) he hates Obamacare.

For the first time in a decade, there is simultaneous, almost giddy optimism on both Main Street and Wall Street. The NFIB Index just reported the highest one-month jump in small business optimism in the survey’s 43-year history. They know those squeaky balance sheets will deliver unprecedented profits in the hoped-for expansion. Meanwhile, incredibly, the Dow-Jones has added 2,000 points since election day, to push through the 20,000-point milestone/firewall.

With all of this pent-up energy, investors and job creators of all shapes and sizes are all dressed up, looking for a place to go. We’re thinking economic expansion, but unfortunately, what happens next is not up to us.

Write this on a rock … Note to President Trump & the Political Class: Don’t screw this up!

Top 10 Things That Keep Small Business Owners Up at Night

If you ask any small business owner “How’s business?” invariably they will respond: “Well, I can always use more customers.” So if someone asked you what’s the greatest concern of small businesses, you could be forgiven for being wrong if you said they need more sales, because that’s what most people think – especially politicians.

When it comes to buying and selling, small business owners are pretty good at that – every company is founded, and has been built to do those things. But operating a small business in the 21st century has become more complicated than ever before, which is why people who know small business know the best way to find out what’s really going on is to ask the owner what keeps them up at night.

One organization that knows how to ask small businesses the right questions is the National Federation of Independent Business. As you may know, the NFIB’s monthly Index of Small Business Optimism has been the gold standard for such research for 43 years. They also have a quadrennial report that speaks directly to the “what keeps you up at night” question. It’s the NFIB Small Business Problems and Priorities Survey, and in the 2016 report, you may be shocked to learn that “more sales” came in at #45 out of 75 options.

With an almost 15% response from 20,000 members they surveyed, 2,831 small business owners told the NFIB that their greatest challenges weren’t the competition (31), or social media (64), or online retailers (61). What about poor profits? Nope, that’s #16. Even the most initiated observers of small businesses would feel safe in presuming that cash flow would be #1, but this primordial Main Street challenge is actually #25.

If you listen to politicians, you’d think needing a loan is what wakes small business owners up at 2am. Surely you know better than to listen to politicians when it comes to small business or the marketplace, because needing a loan is almost last, at #70. That monthly NFIB Index I mentioned earlier has reported that since 2007, established small businesses have been adhering to what I call “The Great Deleveraging.” They don’t want no shtinkin’ loans.

So what is the numero uno greatest small business challenge? Drum roll, please: The cost of health care. Number 2 is oppressive government regulations. Number 3 is federal income tax on businesses. Number 4 is uncertain economic conditions. Number 5 is tax compliance complexity. And six through nine are also all government related. This next point is very instructive: The first operating challenge to break through the top ten is #10 – finding qualified employees. Let’s review: Nine of the top 10 greatest small business challenges are directly associated with government.

Some might say health care costs are not the government’s fault, but that would be Rip Van Duffus who just woke up from a seven-year nap and never heard of Obamacare. To be fair, let me hasten to add the cost of health care was a small business challenge prior to Obamacare. And this law did “bend the price curve,” as promised. Unfortunately, for the small business sector, Obamacare bent the cost curve up, not down.

Thanks to the NFIB Survey, President Trump and the 115th Congress can’t say they don’t know where to start helping small businesses. Indeed, they’re neck deep with the Obamacare “repeal and replace” debate right now. But here’s some “Breaking News”: We polled our online audience about that issue and 94% said “Yes” to repeal and replace, but half said, “Take the time to do it right this time.”

There’s no doubt that 26 million American small business owners – with health care costs on their minds – had a significant impact on the November election. So my advice to the political class of all three parties – Democrats, Republicans and Trumpicans– is to take the time to get healthcare right this time. And then quickly start reducing the other eight non-operating challenges government is imposing on the most important job creators in America: the heroes of the Main Street economy – small businesses.

Write this on a rock … What’s good for small business is good for the world.

When small business gets organized, the world will change for the better

The election is over and we have a new president-elect. When I polled my online audience in October about who they would vote for in the upcoming contest, two-thirds of our respondents said Trump, while 13% chose Clinton. After the election, when I went to the same online network to ask how they felt about the election results, six-of-ten were “thrilled,” 29% allowed they were “glad it didn’t go the other way,” with only 8% saying they were unhappy with how it turned out.
When you understand that there are approximately 100 million American voters directly impacted by a small business, responses to our polling, as well as others with which I’m familiar, make me believe small business voters contributed to Mr. Trump winning 30 states. Consequently, small business owners will be justified in watching Trump’s actions to see if he is as much of a payroll-making, job-creating kinsman as they apparently think he is.
But the small business sector has to do more than just hold someone else accountable - we have to hold ourselves accountable. We need to participate in the public policy debate and contribute to the results. Otherwise, we’ll be relegated to taking what we’re given by policy makers who can presume that we don’t care.
Engagement in public policy should be a small business priority for two reasons:  politicians and bureaucrats. These are the people with the power to levy taxes and impose regulations, both of which can negatively impact your business. The first element of this priority is to identify local, state and federal elected representatives, and make a plan to contact each one this year. Every year these individuals pass laws that spawn regulations and mandates that have an impact on your business. Unfortunately, too often that impact is negative.
It’s dangerously naïve to expect policy makers to intuitively act in the best interest of small business.  Not that they intend to hurt us, but there are at least two reasons why small businesses often draw the short straw:
  1. Too many politicians have never made a payroll, and consequently know little or nothing about the challenges small business owners face.
  2. Our message gets pushed aside by that of more organized and better-funded interest groups (read: unions and corporate America).

Small businesses have to find a way to get more involved, either through our own direct efforts, or indirectly through organizations that advocate for us. Excellent ways to do this is to first find out what’s being debated and weigh in based on your position with a letter, phone call, or even a visit. Next, learn about the voting record of your Congressional delegation on laws that affect small business. Then write a letter to them and/or attend local meetings they conduct, to congratulate them if they have a supportive voting record, or express your disappointment if they don’t, and encourage them to do better.

Yes, I know you probably don’t have time to get directly involved in public policy or politics. But here’s good news: There are a number of advocacy groups that track key small business policy issues and defend and advocate for Main Street businesses at all government levels. Here’s a short list I recommend:
  • Local and industry: You should always be a member of your local Chamber of Commerce and your industry’s trade group. Both have policy advocacy efforts.
  • National and state: Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, (sbecouncil.org); National Federation of Independent Business, (nfib.com); Competitive Enterprise Institute (cei.org); National Taxpayers Union (ntu.org). There are others, and you can’t go wrong supporting more than one. Your support, especially financial, contributes to their voice at the policy table.
Regardless of your party affiliation or how you voted, as the Trump administration works with a GOP majority Congress over the next two years, many issues will be debated that impact your business. Find a way - directly or indirectly - to make your voice heard.
The choice is yours: Participate in small business policy-making, or take what you’re given by those who can rightly assume that you don’t care.
Write this on a rock … At 100 million strong, if small business stakeholders were organized, the world would change - for the better.

Which presidential candidate is best for small business?

As a leading voice for the small business sector, one of the factors I track and report on is public policy. In my advocacy role, I vociferously support those issues that benefit small business and pugnaciously oppose those that don’t, regardless of political party origin.

Before every presidential race since 2000, I’ve reconciled the policies of the two major party candidates with the top concerns that keep small business owners up at night. Here are those comparisons for the five small business issues that currently find their way to the top of every survey.

“We need more business”
Admittedly, this is the default lament of almost every small business. But in the past seven years, business leaders have reported that the greatest factor in their investment/risk-taking/hiring calculus has been an unprecedented high level of uncertainty. When asked about the source, the answer is invariably anti-business policies and rhetoric from Washington. Uncertainty manufacturing examples include, but are not limited to: direct expensing limits under Section 179 of the tax code; the Obamacare roll-out roller coaster; policies skewed in favor of unions; and now, the upcoming DOL overtime exemption rules.

Hillary Clinton 2008 might have been better for the economy than Barack Obama, but not Hillary 2016. She’s been pulled too far to the left - read: anti-business - to do anything that would promote business risk-taking.

In almost every way, Donald Trump will likely be more to the left than a true-blue fiscal conservative. But he does have an advantage regarding the economy in that he knows what it takes to create a job. Clinton doesn’t.

With their Big Lobbies, Big Business will do okay in the economy regardless of who is president, because crony capitalism will thrive under either Trump or Clinton. The problem for small businesses is we’re not organized and we’re no one’s crony.

On the economy, I’ve got to go with the one who’s made a payroll.

“Our taxes are too high”
Essentially by definition, the most troubling hit to the precious working capital of a profitable small business is taxes. Hillary Clinton’s vow to raise taxes will hurt small businesses. Donald Trump said he plans to reduce taxes. I don’t know if either one will be successful in their pledge, but I have to go with the one whose plan includes a downward arrow. Some say tax cuts will increase the deficit. But that belies the fact that the U.S. government does not have a revenue problem - it has a spending problem.

“Health care costs are prohibitive”
As I and many others predicted, Obamacare has become a nightmare for small businesses, and by extension, their employees. In a recent online poll I took of small business owners, two-thirds reported that under Obamacare their health care insurance expense has gone up significantly, if not prohibitively, as have the deductible level for employees. And the new enrollment period is bringing new pain.

Clinton thinks Obamacare didn’t go far enough, while Trump has pledged to “repeal and replace.” I don’t know if Donald can deliver a health care cost silver bullet, but we do know that Obamacare isn’t the answer, or what Hillary has in mind.

“Stop the regulatory assault”
According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, regulatory compliance - aka stealth tax - is beginning to take more off the bottom line of small businesses than their income tax bill. One perfect example is the new DOL overtime exemption rules, which in addition to increasing payroll without increasing productivity, will become a work schedule, record-keeping nightmare for millions of small businesses.

Again, I’m going to have to put my faith in correcting this with the person who knows what’s involved in making and administering a payroll.

“We need more qualified employees”
You may be surprised to learn that in many surveys, this is the number one concern of small businesses. In fact, economists have reported on my radio program that there are millions of good-paying jobs going unfilled due to a lack of qualified candidates. Sadly, in the past 20 years, I haven’t heard any president, or candidate, address this problem, including Trump and Clinton. It doesn’t say much about a government that won’t help small employers find qualified workers, while actively putting regulations between them and the employees they have. But I have to give a slight nod to Trump, because he has actually conducted business in the current human resources environment.

Finally
I know of no other election where both presidential candidates of the two major parties are as deficient in exemplifying the best America has to offer. One of the markers of a true leader is someone followers want to look up to. Who in either party can truly say they could look up to either candidate? Another leadership trait, especially in a president, is someone whom we believe we can trust. Essentially by definition, neither a pathological liar nor a pathological narcissist fits the profile of a trusted person.

In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville said of the American political system: “In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.” Whatever we did to deserve this, please join me in asking for forgiveness. Because I’m truly sorry. How about you?

#GODHELPUS

Write this on a rock … America has bigger problems than who will be the next president. But on balance, I think Donald Trump will be the best one for small businesses.




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