Wednesday, 28 December 2011
The state of Michigan offered special tax credits to donations made to certified organizations providing overnight accommodations, food or meals to indigents. This Michigan tax credit, which will be eliminated in 2012, is 50 percent of the contribution — or up to $100 on a single return and up to $200 on a joint return.
These credits also can be combined with any federal tax deduction.
Food banks are at www.gcfb.org or www.forgottenharvest.org.
2. Donations of unwanted furniture and clothing, should be made to the Salvation Army or other thrift stores by Dec. 31.
3. Homeowners should pay property taxes and mortgage payments so that the funds are received by Friday, Dec. 30.
4. Homeowners in need of a new appliance such as a refrigerator, dishwasher, washer or dryer should purchase it by Dec. 31, before the tax breaks expire.
5. Self-employed and small-business owners should make business equipment purchases that are needed, by Dec. 31. Small businesses can deduct the costs of qualifying business equipment and software as an expense rather than depreciating that cost over many years.
For more information, visit www.irs.gov.
Friday, 23 December 2011
1. Adventure is just bad planning. Have you had enough of the rollercoaster, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants method? Try planning instead, there is a simple three-step process. First, you have to set written goals. What do you want to achieve in 2012? It seems like such a simple question, but many business people go year after year without ever deciding exactly what they want to achieve. Amazingly, these business owners are often surprised when results are disappointing. What are your revenue goals? What profit percentages do you want and need to make? Do you want to expand operations or launch a new product line? Commit your specific goals to writing.
Second, develop a plan to achieve your business objectives. What do you need to do differently in 2012 to meet these goals? Map out a step-by-step process that will result in achieving the goals you set. The plan should consist of a clear set of action items, completion dates and the name of the one person responsible for each action step. When more than one person is responsible, no one is accountable. Resist the temptation to assign more than one person to any single action step.
Finally, execute your plan and review progress periodically. These reviews must be scheduled and they must be a priority. Executing your plan and holding people accountable for results is very important, but it may not be considered urgent. Without discipline, the urgent will always overtake the important. Don t fall into this trap.
2. Start with good people. It has become a cliche to say that our people are our greatest asset. While perhaps cliche, it is also true. You need good people with great skills to serve your customers and/or make your products. One hurdle we see small business people struggle with is acting on difficult employee issues. These can include underperformance, poor attitudes and mismatched skills. It is especially difficult when a loyal employee can no longer perform well because the job has outgrown his or her abilities. We have seen entrepreneurs reluctant to remove or layer a long-term employee, or worse, a family member or friend who is struggling to perform in a job to which they are not well suited. The situation is bad for all concerned. The employer, the employee and customers suffer.
In 2012, first review your goals and action steps. Next, imagine the roles, skills sets, behaviors and cognitive capabilities you will need to achieve your goals successfully. Finally, take a hard look at the individuals on your team. Be brutally honest when you consider whether they have or could reasonably acquire the skills and other attributes necessary to help you complete your plan. If not, you will need to make some difficult decisions.
Don't delay. We have never heard anyone say, I think I fired Mary too soon. I should have given her several more chances. On the other hand, we have often heard small business people lament, I wasted so much time giving Mary chance after chance. Why did I wait so long to make that change? You need good people to execute your plan. You must help your folks develop the skills they need or get folks that already have them.
3. Don't fall into the insanity trap. You have probably heard the quote that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. The truth is that poor processes breed poor results and the results won't change until the processes are improved. If you want to do things faster, at a lower cost, and with better quality in 2012 you will need to develop better processes.
The first step is to document your existing processes. Write them down. It's not sexy and no one is going to pay you an extra nickel because you have documented processes, but this is the only way to ensure consistency across the organization and it's the only way to launch a process improvement initiative. You can't improve a process until there is agreement on how things are currently done.
Once processes are documented, look for ways to streamline the operation. Can waiting time be removed? Generally, this is where most of the opportunity lies. Can steps currently performed in series be done in parallel? Can steps be eliminated altogether because they are simply unnecessary? Is it possible to automate pieces of the operation? Answering these questions will help you identify ways to do things more quickly and at a lower cost.
Finally, when a problem arises, first fix the immediate situation. Make it right for the customer. This has to be the priority. But, your work isn't done when the customer is satisfied. Don't miss the opportunity to fix the underlying cause. Ask the question, what do we have to do to ensure that this problem never happens again? Fixing the root cause of the problem will improve quality in the future.
4. Measure more than once. When we begin working with an entrepreneur one of the first things we do is review their financials and other metrics. Frequently, we notice two opportunities for improvement: the financial statements can be enhanced to enable more effective management decision making and metrics other than financial statements can be developed.
First, for management decision making, financial statements should generally be prepared on an accrual basis rather than on a cash basis (small businesses may well choose the cash method for taxes). The reason is that accrual accounting does a better job of matching expenses with the revenue they generated. Second, P&Ls that simply have revenue, a number of cost categories and a bottom line profit are generally less useful for management decision making than they could be. It is often useful to separate the cost of delivering a product or service from overhead. Third, if the company has managers that are responsible for expenses and/or revenue, the specific areas of responsibility for each manager should be broken out separately. This allows clear accountability. Finally, to be useful for management decision making, financial statements must be completed in a timely manner. Many small businesses go months without producing financials. This is a huge mistake because problems can go unnoticed. At most, the books should be closed within two weeks of the end of the month.
When a business reaches the size that the owner can no longer be involved in every transaction, additional metrics, beyond financial statements, will be required. When the owner isn't involved in every transaction, he or she can't possibly know everything that is going on in the business. By the time problems turn up in the financial statements, it can be too late. Consider a business that ships products to customers. If shipments start to go out late, this will eventually show up in the financials in the form of lower revenue because customers have become frustrated and taken their business elsewhere. Unfortunately, the damage is done. The customers are gone. What's needed is a metric that alerts the owner to late shipments while there is still time to correct the problem.
Doug and Polly White are Principals at Whitestone Partners; a management-consulting firm that helps small businesses build the infrastructure they need to grow profitably. They are also coauthors of the groundbreaking new book, Let Go to GROW; why some businesses thrive and others fail to reach their potential (Palari Publishing 2011). The book explains how entrepreneurs can avoid the most common pitfalls as their businesses grow and is available at www.WhitestonePartnersInc.com.
Thursday, 22 December 2011
Happy holidays from the team at Azox. We would like thank all of our partners and customers for your business in 2011 and wish you a terrific holiday season and a prosperous 2012. We look forward to exciting new announcements and updates in 2012, as our e-commerce solution, eSource, will be updated early next year.
Your Friends at Azox
Wednesday, 21 December 2011
Check out all the best tools for your kitchen at www.savoirfare.com. Whether it's cutlery, glassware, bakeware or cookware you can find the products that can help create legendary fine dining experience for your home at Savoir Fare. While you're there read some of their special recipes for chilli, pumpkin soup, chocolate heathbar cookies, cajun shrimp and more.
Monday, 19 December 2011
Cash flows pose an unending challenge to business owners and managers because they have to be carefully managed. Here are 11 things to do to for good cash flow:
1. Respect and understand financial statements. According to some surveys, 25 percent of businesses don’t even maintain accounting records (let alone produce financial statements).
“The bottom line for small business owners is simple,” says Tracy. “If you don’t make an effort to prepare, review, and completely understand your financial statements, then you need to ask yourself why you’re in business in the first place. And this especially holds true for the statement of cash flows, because an abundance of invaluable information is available from this most commonly overlooked and mismanaged financial statement.”
2. Plan, do projections, and plan some more. Proper planning is essential to the launch, growth, management, and ultimate success of your business as measured by the ability to generate profits and, just as important, to avoid running out of cash. According to Tracy, “Having access to sound financial plans structured for different operating scenarios is an absolute must.”
3. Focus on capital and cash—the lifeblood of your business. One of the most common reasons small businesses fail is that they lack adequate cash or capital, not only to survive difficult times, but also to prosper during growth opportunities.
“Remember, one of the greatest losses a small business can realize is that of lost opportunity, which has its roots in not being prepared to properly capitalize on market opportunities,” explains Tracy. “The harsh reality is that this great loss is never accounted for or presented in any way, shape, or form on the business’s financial statements. Rather, missed market and business opportunities lurk in the torturous thought, Imagine what I could have achieved!”
4. Understand your selling cycle. The length of the complete selling cycle is often much longer than the aspiring entrepreneur projects and/or wants to believe.
“The selling cycle in its entirety spans the time from the very start of the process when a product or service is first visualized and developed to supporting customers after the sale and developing additional products or services that may be in demand,” says Tracy. “And if not properly managed, the selling cycle generally becomes one of the largest consumers of cash in a business. Without fail, almost every aspiring business owner, at one point or another, will experience delays in the selling cycle.”
5. Manage your disbursements cycle. To counteract the selling cycle cash consumption machine, businesses need to understand that the disbursement cycle (managing expenditures and cash payments to vendors, employees, and other creditors) can be leveraged and managed to be a primary source of cash for your business.
“Invoke what’s called the matching principle,” advises Tracy. “That is, similar to properly matching revenue and expenses to ensure that an accurate measurement of a business’s profit or loss is obtained, you should be able to match cash inflows and outflows.”
6. Be creative to generate cash. The following three areas offer significant opportunities for creativity when looking to improve cash flows:
Turn your assets over more quickly. The more quickly you can turn over assets, the more quickly they turn into cash. It’s as simple as that.
7. Leverage your vendors, suppliers, and financing sources. They don’t want to lose your business, so placing just the right amount of leverage on these groups can result in enhanced cash flows because liabilities offer a source of cash.
8. Manage external sources of cash proactively. Proactively manage your relationships with banks, leasing companies, and even the federal government to ensure that cash is made available when needed.
9. Balance the balance sheet. Many businesses overlook the concept of properly managing the financial structure of their balance sheet, which has gotten more than a few businesses in trouble.
“Your business needs to strike a proper balance between making sure that current assets are financed or supported with current liabilities,” notes Tracy, “and making sure that long-term assets are financed or supported with long-term sources of capital such as a five-year note payable or equity. Every business should strive to achieve a financial condition that ensures constant maintenance of adequate levels of both solvency—the ability to pay all just debts—and liquidity—the ability to quickly access cash to support business operations.”
10. Understand external capital markets. When it comes to external capital markets, think well ahead. In today’s economic climate, it takes a long time to identify external sources of capital and to secure them. So plan well ahead to make sure that you’ll have cash available when needed, because it’s not a process you can rush.
11. Protect cash at all times. Cash has a unique characteristic unlike other assets that makes it highly susceptible to additional risk of loss: Cash is an extremely liquid and marketable asset.
Always think of CART. CART equals complete, accurate, reliable, and timely. Your company’s financial and accounting information system needs to produce complete, accurate, reliable, and timely financial information, reports, data, and so on, which management can use to make informed business decisions.
“When you have the proper systems in place and know what to look for, you can keep cash flowing, helping you to grow a successful business,” says Tracy. “Let 2012 be the year you place a renewed focus on properly managing your cash flows.”
About the Authors:
Tage C. Tracy is principal owner of TMK & Associates, an accounting, financial, and strategic business planning consulting firm. John A. Tracy is professor of accounting at the University of Colorado in Boulder and the author of Accounting For Dummies.
About the Book:
Cash Flow For Dummies (Wiley, 2011, ISBN: 978-1-1180-1850-7, $26.99) is available at bookstores nationwide, major online booksellers, or directly from the publisher by calling 877-762-2974.
Friday, 16 December 2011
Six Reasons It’s Not Just About Talking Behind the Wheel AnymoreWhen the BlackBerry was introduced in 2002, people began conducting business from anywhere. That led to an increase of lawsuits in which employers incurred significant liability for accidents caused by employees talking on a cell phone while driving. To avoid that liability, employers began implementing and enforcing policies defining when and how employees may use a cell phone for work while they are driving.
Pepper Hamilton LLP labor and employment attorney Robert C. Ludolph notes, “If an employee had a car accident while talking on a cell phone, those policies helped employers establish that they were not vicariously liable, because the employee was not carrying out their job duties by talking on the phone, and/or that the employer wasn’t negligent by permitting their employees to use a cell phone while driving.”
But “smartphones” now dominate the market, and their functions encompass text messaging, e-mail, Internet access, media players, cameras and gaming. Ludolph says, “Smartphones have infiltrated almost every aspect of our lives, including our work lives. So implementing a workplace smartphone policy that goes above and beyond any original policies that covered just phone conversations, is more important now than ever.”
Ludolph recommends the following considerations for employers revising their phone policies or drafting one for the first time:
1. Accident Prevention/Risk Avoidance - If a policy was necessary to minimize employer risks associated with talking on a cell phone while driving, consider that using text messaging and other smartphone functions today is even more dangerous. A recent study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute revealed that a driver texting while operating a heavy vehicle increases the chance of an accident by 23 times! If your company doesn’t already address this risk, implement a policy prohibiting the use of smartphones and other hand-held devices while driving.
2. Smartphone Etiquette - How many meetings have you attended in which someone is constantly looking at or reaching for a smartphone? It may be acceptable in an internal firm meeting to monitor smartphone activity for important messages that require prompt attention. “But, if an employee is preoccupied with a smartphone while meeting with a client, the client could be offended – and could decide to become a former client,” Ludolph says. So employers should consider a policy that addresses when an employee can and cannot use a smartphone in any work setting, not just when driving.
3. Record Keeping - While texting for business purposes may be quick and efficient, one drawback is the inability to file or archive the texts. “Deleted texts are difficult, and sometimes impossible, to retrieve. A smartphone policy should address how a record of the text communications will be stored so that, if necessary, the communications can be retrieved,” Ludolph notes. “Such a policy will also assist in refuting a false claim that a text had been sent.”
4. Company Property/No Expectation of Privacy - A smartphone policy should also state that any communications sent on employer-distributed smartphones (or other electronic devices) are company property, that the employee should not expect that those communications are private, and that the communications are subject to review by the employer. The policy should also emphasize that the employer owns the smartphone’s telephone number. This will minimize invasion of privacy claims and prevent a departing employee from later using the number to unfairly solicit the employer’s customers, Ludolph adds.
5. “Textual” Harassment - The use of smartphones at work has already bred litigation in response to a new trend – “textual harassment.” For example, an intern filed a lawsuit in 2010 against her former supervisor claiming he sent texts that created a “raunchy, intimidating and sexualized work environment.” Because of this, a smartphone policy should emphasize that any activity on a smartphone is subject to the company’s anti-harassment policies, including the sexual harassment policy. The anti-harassment policies should also be revised to state that inappropriate text messages or other inappropriate uses of a smartphone may be considered a form of harassment and will not be tolerated.
6. Productivity - Surveys have shown that employees typically waste two hours per day at work, excluding their lunch break – and this does not include time spent on a smartphone. Smartphones now have most of the capabilities of a desktop computer, including the ability to access the Internet. “Thus, in addition to addressing how and when an employee is permitted to use a smartphone, a smartphone policy should also state that the use of smartphones is subject to the employer’s social media, Internet and other computer-related policies,” says Ludolph. “If an employer doesn’t have such policies, it should strongly consider adopting them.”
“Complete insulation from liability can never be guaranteed,” Ludolph says. “But a well-written and well-enforced smartphone policy will do much toward preventing liability in a number of different areas and improving employee performance and productivity that could be jeopardized if smartphones are abused.”
Ludolph concludes that it is essential, however, that employees be trained on the smartphone policy: “Indeed, a policy that employees don’t understand or, worse yet, are not aware of, is useless and perhaps unenforceable.”
Submitted by Megan Hanks, Buchanan Public Relations LLC, www.buchananpr.com
For information, visit www.pepperlaw.com.
Thursday, 15 December 2011
Wednesday, 14 December 2011
Tuesday, 13 December 2011
Southfield Area Chamber of Commerce will host its 1st Annual Holiday Brunch 9 to 11 a.m., Wednesday, Dec. 14, Regency Manor, 25228 West 12 Mile Road, Southfield. It will feature Colin McConnell, president of BizMatch Connect. The cost is $10 for chamber members and $15 for non members. Visit www.southfieldchamber.com/brunch or call 248-557-6661 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Social Media is a Party in Detroit on Thursday
Social Media is a Party is hosting a panel discussion, “How We Can Create a Thriving Future for Detroit.” It starts with registration at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 15 at The Red Grape Lounge in The Kresge Building, 1201 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Featured panelists include: Karen Dumas, Former Chief of Communications & External Affairs for the City of Detroit; Toby Barlow, Executive Creative Director at Team Detroit; Rabbi Jason Miller, Rabbi at Congregation T’chiyah and Phillip Cooley, Owner of Slows Bar BQ. The night includes an charity showcase, twitter games and giveaways, silent auction and mixer. The event is free to attend. Donations are requested of warm clothing, hygiene products and nonperishable food items to be distributed to Social Good Detroit which benefits Christ Child House, Crossroads of Michigan, Capuchin Soup Kitchen, Burners Without Borders Detroit or to the charity of donor’s choice. Visit www.SocialGoodDetroit.com for a list of acceptable donations. Register at www.wepay.com/tickets/SocialGoodDetroit.
Oakland County holds business planning workshop, Thursday
Fundamentals of Writing A Business Plan is 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15 at Oakland County Business Center, 2100 Pontiac Lake Road, Waterford Township. The cost is $40 per person. To register, contact Karen Deaver-Lear at 248-858-0783 or email@example.com.
Automation Alley Blood Drive is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Dec. 19 at Automation Alley Headquarters, 2675 Bellingham Drive, Troy. To schedule an appointment, visit www.redcrossblood.org and enter sponsor code: autoalley or call Anna at 313-549-7058. Walk-ins will also be accepted.
Monday, 12 December 2011
Beginning in 2012, Reuters will expand its nine-month London-based training program to include New York and Asia. University graduates, working journalists and other professionals wanting to move into journalism can apply for the highly competitive program that involves hands-on training in the classroom and on the newsroom floor. Trainees who meet Reuters rigorous standards will be placed in staff jobs and assigned mentors to guide their careers at the company.
”We are reinvesting in journalism through this highly competitive training program and, at the same time, strengthening our position as an industry leader,” said Stephen Adler, Reuters editor-in-chief. ”While other news organizations have discontinued similar efforts, Reuters has more than doubled the size of its program. This year, we are proud to offer 15 jobs for trainees who successfully complete the program.”
Active recruitment across universities and top journalism schools is underway to find exceptional talent committed to journalistic excellence. Applicants should exhibit a passion for news, a competitive instinct, and speak and write fluently in English. Advanced skills in other languages, financial and data expertise, and multimedia will be given special consideration.
Applicants can apply at www.thomsonreuters.com, and click on careers until December 31, 2011.
Friday, 9 December 2011
You don’t have to tell Barry Frangipane that the Internet has made the world a little smaller.
Frangipane, a software engineer, was used to telecommuting from his home in Tampa Bay, but he didn’t realize how far telecommuting could reach until he read Under the Tuscan Sun, a book about an American who chucked it all to live in Italy.
“The key about Under the Tuscan Sun was that they had a ton of money,” said Frangipane, author of The Venice Experiment (www.veniceexperiment.com), a memoir that chronicles their year living in Europe while he telecommuted to his software job in the states. “Shoot, anyone could move to a foreign country with a ton of money. We wanted to see if a typical middle-class couple could do it, with a job. We looked at the realities of it, and theorized it could work. On the downside, my wife Debbie wouldn’t be able to keep her job, as she did not telecommute. On the upside, we could sell both cars and eliminate the monthly tab for two car payments and the associated insurance. Further, we both prided ourselves on being great cooks, so we’d be able to experiment with European dishes in our own kitchen – in Europe!”
They settled on Venice, and lived 13 months, sending emails to their friends about their experiences. Those emails served as the inspiration for the book. Through their experience, they devised the following tips on how others could make an American living while living abroad.
• Telecommuting – The changes over the past 10 years for telecommuters have been subtle, but together they have produced a tipping point making the idea of extreme telecommuting a reality. Advances in the quality of videoconferencing make meetings as effective as they would be in person. Google and Facebook have both launched free high quality videoconferencing in the past year. I was gone for 13 months, and most of my clients never even knew I had left.
• Housing – Accept the fact the living quarters are a little smaller, and a little older. American housing, like just about everything else in America, is big compared to the rest of the civilized world. Having said that, you’ll wind up spending your non-work time seeing sights and exploring your new hometown.
• Cars – Choose a place in which travel by car is not necessary. In Venice, everything is connected by the small tributaries and waterways that thread through the city. Most everything you need – shopping, groceries, business services – was a brisk walk or gondola ride away.
• Cook – You could spend a small fortune eating in the tourist trap restaurants, or you could buy fresh groceries every day and live as the locals do, creating your own meals and stopping by the smaller, lesser known eateries and cafes frequented by the locals.
“For those of us who telecommute to work, we can now live out our dreams, and live most anywhere in the world,” Frangipane said. “And I have heard all the excuses, with people saying, ‘I can’t just up and move to another country.’ Well, ask yourself. Do you have any real concrete reasons you can’t go? Or is it just that you’re afraid you might like it too much?”
About Barry Frangipane
Barry Frangipane is an author and blogger from Florida. His first book, The Venice Experiment, was published in August, 2011. The son of middle-class Italian immigrants, Barry has lived in Venice, Italy, Paris, France, and Boulder, Colorado. Barry has been a software engineer for more than 30 years. He has two children, Stephanie and Amber, and currently lives in Tampa, Florida, pending his next adventure.
Submitted by Ginny Grimsley
National Print Campaign Manager
News and Experts
Thursday, 8 December 2011
Wednesday, 7 December 2011
|Exchange information with other investors, contractors and other professionals. Sponsored by Real Estate Investors Assoc. of Oakland, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday Dec.8 at Club Venetian, 29310 John R. Road, north of 12 Mile Rd on John R., Madison Heights. Seminar is free to members. $20 nonmembers. Visit www.REIAofOAKLAND.com or call 800-747-6742.|
Tuesday, 6 December 2011
For questions, email Murphyhouse28@gmail.com or call Pat at 248-318-9795.
Thursday, 1 December 2011
Directions to The Town Office in Flushing