Jan 6

Tax Time 2011!Tax time isn’t much fun until you see that strangely beautiful check made out in your name from the federal and/or state treasuries—if you’re even that lucky. Contrary to what we’d like to think, the goal for most people shouldn’t be to get the largest refund check possible but to get very little and pay nothing. A large refund check means that for the past year, Uncle Sam has been hanging onto your money, interest-free. You have to pay interest when you borrow from your bank or from the government, but the government doesn’t owe you any extra for the privilege of using your money over the past year.

To avoid this sinking feeling next year, pay really close attention to your financial statements and tax filings, for your company and for yourself. In keeping with my logical yet attention deficit-like mind, I’ve gone back to TopTenReviews.com for their straight-forward charting of the top—eh hem—nine tax filing software programs for 2011. There is a wide range in price, but the first three softwares (TurboTax, H&R Block and TaxACT) all come with maxed out ratings.  During this time of year, tax softwares are on sale almost everywhere.  Check out places like Office Depot and Costco for some solid savings.  Virtually all tax programs have some kind of “home & business” edition, as well as e-filing features to make submitting your forms quick and easy.

Tax deduction finders are fairly common and certainly recommended (TurboTax, H&R Block and TaxACT all find tax deductions), but don’t forget to do some of your own research! The U.S. Small Business Administration has a page chock full of information about tax deductions for small businesses. Among seven examples of the “top tax deductions for your small business,” provided by Nolo, is bad debt; if a customer doesn’t pay for a product you ‘sold’ them, the cost can be deducted, but if a client hasn’t paid for a service, the work isn’t deductible. Ouch.

Government-run websites are going to be your best sources of information, so you’ll probably want to check out the Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center from the IRS. It covers virtually ev-er-y-thing you need to complete your business tax filing. Want some more information and not sure how to find it? Post your question in the comments section and we’ll surely find an answer!

Sep 30

Although it isn’t new, I wanted to stress that this “commemorative month” is, in fact, recognized by the U.S. government; it isn’t just made up by activist groups. National Disability Employment Awareness Month was established by Congress in 1988 in an effort “to increase the public’s awareness of the contributions and skills of American workers with disabilities.”  The Department of Labor’s website says that “various programs carried out throughout the month also highlight the specific employment barriers that still need to be addressed and removed.”

Before you walk away—because I know this doesn’t apply to everyone right now—I want to point out some things I’d come across within recent months that may surprise you.  There are major advantages to employing people with disabilities, as I’ve found, and a clip by ABC delves into the deep-rooted issues with stigmatization and speaking up that still exist.

Employing disabled people has hidden benefits.

  1. Creativity – thinking ‘outside the box’

Creativity and innovation—the ability to think “outside the box”—are principle forces for businesses of all sizes. The business that can overcome obstacles and build upon its foundation in new ways is the one that sees the greatest and fastest gains. A hidden benefit of employing people with disabilities, their ability to think outside the box is seen but not understood. Books and company profiles that illustrate the astounding benefits of creative people are published by the week, so employees who utilize their creativity on a daily basis can be extra valuable to your business and your bottom line.

  1. Possible tax deductions

Given that I’m not a tax expert, I can’t say much on this, but since I’m a pro at finding information, I can provide you with this handy link from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  It details the Disabled Access Tax Credit, which may be of great interest to any small business owner, as well as two other tax credits.

  1. More loyalty – lower turnover, absenteeism and tardiness

Many case studies have been quoted, and I see this as something that makes sense but is easy to overlook.  People with disabilities tend to be more genuinely appreciative of the opportunity to work, whereas sixteen-year-olds will balk at parents’ demands for getting a job and plenty of people complain about their jobs everyday.  Not only do disabled people show more company loyalty, but that dedication flows through their fellow employees before long. One of my favorite case studies (Carolina Fine Snacks) shows a 75% drop in turnover, a 15% drop in absenteeism, and a 30% drop in tardiness (from 30% to zero, if you can imagine).  The company also saw a rise in productivity of about 35%.

  1. More productivity and possibly fewer sick days

Along with less financial burden of issues like turnover, absenteeism and tardiness, businesses employing people with disabilities see increased productivity.  Even more, a major consulting firm that works with disabled people reports that some of their staff—85% of whom are disabled—haven’t taken any sick days in five years.

  1. Better attitudes of employees and customers

You may be inspired by the disabled people you know because they’ve overcome a lot in life.  Many people are inspired to do more, if only because they’d feel guilty for taking life for granted.  On a Roll Sandwich Shop has seen mostly positive interaction between customers and employees since employing disabled people.

How would you respond?

Check out this video clip by ABC in which a rude customer is set up with a disabled bagger at a grocery store.  Both of them are actors, but the session was designed to look at how others would react.  As has been explained through the case study of On a Roll, customers won’t likely respond to your employees this way, but it’s disheartening to know that plenty of people still will not stand up for others.  The cashier risks losing her job if she speaks up, but the other customers can certainly bring attention to this kind of behavior.  And they’ll be heralded for it:  Watch the clip.

There is surely more that can be said on the topic, but keep these basic resources and heartwarming stories around to remind you that there really is no reason for inequality in your workplace.  For some light reading, be sure to check out the two revisions to the Americans with Disabilities Act that were just published earlier this month.  Of course it isn’t light reading, but that so much information is available and ignored is something to think about.

I’m sure I’ll have more comments to make on this topic as time goes on, but what are your thoughts? Do you have disabled people on your team, and if so, in what ways have you noticed them making a positive difference? Do these positives outweigh the potential barriers or costs involved in making your workplace accessible?

Jul 8

The laws surrounding unpaid internship may seem vague, but they’re actually so specific that it could almost feel intimidating. One part of this law to focus on is that “unpaid interns cannot do any work that contributes to a company’s operations,” according to business.gov. “This includes any tasks that help you run your business, like documenting inventory, filing papers, answering emails, etc.”

And the government doesn’t care if training is to the company’s detriment, either ;)

A bakery, as depicted in the example provided by business.gov, can have an unpaid intern decorate a sheet of cookies that will not be sold. Yep, the government is very specific on this one. Moreover, many states allow for any employee—not just the intern—to bring attention to authorities if the company fails to abide by this law.

There are six parts to the law covering unpaid internships (#4 emphasized by me, as it’s the tricky one):

  1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to that which would be given in a vocational school;
  2. The training is for the benefit of the trainee;
  3. The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under close observation;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the completion of the training period; and
  6. The employer and the trainee understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

This isn’t to say that unpaid interns are worthless, but it does mean that you’re better off paying them. It’s still cheap labor, and it’s also a chance to check out potential employees.

Read the article from Entrepreneur, “Summer Interns: Are Small Businesses Flirting with Disaster?” as well as business.gov’s bit on unpaid internship laws.

Have you brought in an unpaid intern?  What were your experiences?  Were you completely informed about the laws surrounding the internship?

May 9

Several weeks ago, I’d talked briefly about the importance of building value into your company from the start to prepare for a final sale.  But valuation is just for those who are preparing to sell, right?  As was pointed out in the previous post,  you should be working on building your company’s value no matter how young or old it is.  Business ValuationBusinessweek has posted a few articles explaining the why and the how of valuation for small, privately held businesses, and the most recent piece has at least a few interesting pointers.  Here’s a bit of what Neil J. Beaton, who does valuations of new, venture capital-backed startups, had to say.

  • “The reality is that people value their companies informally all the time.” In Beaton’s example, you’ve just sold a quarter of your company’s ownership to one or more investors, who have paid a total of $1 million for that piece.  Your company has more subtly been valued at $4 million.  Because transactions like this or even subtler can occur frequently, pay attention to how others are valuing your company to get a real-world estimate.
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Mar 23

GlennPeb

You’ve just found your calling.  Whether it’s your first entrepreneurial endeavor or you’ve lost count, you’re just barely getting started and are debating which business structure would suit your new company best.  And if you haven’t already, you should probably start thinking now about selling your business.  Seems counter-intuitive, but a Small Business Trends article explains why you should “think about selling your business – from the moment you open your doors.”

The point that author Peter Renton makes is that many small businesses aren’t as valuable on the market as they could be because they are too reliant on their owners (and of course, the owners are setting themselves up in the bad position here).  Renton articulates that branding your company with your face and name attached to it could put you on thin ice.  ”Your customers may be more attached to you than your product or service. Any savvy business buyer will be wary of that.”
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