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05/07/2010
IconThe New Overtime Regulations, What They Mean For You Cliff Ennico cennico@legalcareer.com Last week (August 23, 2004 to be exact) the U.S. Department of Labor#146;s new overtime rules went into effect. The new rules have generated tons of publicity and comment in the press, but I suspect last week#146;s deadline still took a lot of business owners by surprise. If you have any employees and use a payroll service, chances are you#146;ve already been notified of the changes by the payroll service and have taken steps to comply with the new rules. If you don#146;t use a payroll service for your low-wage employees (shame on you), or if you use a payroll service and they haven#146;t notified you of your obligations under the new rules (shame on them), chances are you#146;ve already made a couple of mistakes and will have to fix them . . . pronto. #147;You can#146;t always rely on your payroll service to stay on top of these things,#148; warns Rob Wilson, president of the Employco Group ( www.employco.com ), a Chicago-based professional employer organization (PEO) that handles payroll and benefits for hundreds of small businesses nationwide. Wilson explains that #147;basically, a payroll service just crunches the numbers you give them. It#146;s always your responsibility to comply with federal and state labor laws when you have employees.#148; According to Wilson, here#146;s how the new rules work: if you have an employee who is #147;exempt#148; from the overtime rules (such as a part-time lawyer, staff accountant, or other professional), you probably don#146;t have to pay overtime if the person works more than 40 hours a week #150; keep in mind, though, that entire books have been written about when an employee is #147;exempt#148;, and any doubts in this area should be resolved in favor of paying overtime to the employee; for all other employees (called #147;nonexempts#148; in overtime lingo), if they are making at least $450 a week or $23,660 a year, you do not have to pay overtime if they work more than 40 hours a week #150; again, you or your employment attorney will need to review the employee#146;s job status to make sure they are truly #147;nonexempt#148;; for all #147;nonexempt#148; employees making less than $450 a week or $23,660 a year, you are required to pay overtime if they work more than 40 hours a week; special rules apply to computer professionals #150; if you hire computer technicians (not software developers or programmers, who are considered #147;exempt#148; under the rules), for example #147;rent-a-geeks#148; who run around fixing personal computers in people#146;s homes, they must make at least $455 a week or $27.63 an hour before you are no longer required to pay them overtime if they work more than 40 hours a week. Sounds simple, right? Then, why all the fuss? #147;With these new rules, the Department of Labor raised the overtime threshold from $8,060 a year to $23,660 year,#148; says Wilson, #147;which doesn#146;t sound like a big deal until you realize that about 6.7 million salaried workers in the United States earn more than $8,060 but less than $23,660, and will now be eligible for overtime if they work more than 40 hours a week.#148; In fact, there#146;s been some grumbling in Congress that the new rules don#146;t go nearly far enough . . . but then it#146;s an election year, isn#146;t it? Let#146;s say you have an employee making $20,000 a year, and you really don#146;t want to pay them overtime or do the paperwork involved. What are your options? #147;I think most employers, both large and small, will simply raise the employee#146;s salary to bring it over the $23,660 threshold so they don#146;t have to pay overtime,#148; says Wilson. If you are tempted to terminate the low-wage employee and put them back to work as an #147;independent contractor#148; to avoid having to comply with the new rules, Wilson strongly advises that you resist the temptation. #147;The Internal Revenue Service is really cracking down on that right now,#148; he warns, #147;and putting a former employee on 1099 status for essentially the same work they were doing previously will be a screaming red flag to the IRS that you are ripe for audit.#148; If you have questions about the new rules that your payroll service can#146;t answer, you need to talk to a lawyer specializing in labor and employment problems. To find one in your area, go to www.findlaw.com or www.law.com and click on the #147;search for lawyer by specialty#148; button. Cliff Ennico ( cennico@legalcareer.com ) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series 'Money Hunt'. This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com . COPYRIGHT 2004 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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05/07/2010
IconTop Ten Misconceptions About Running Your Own Home Referral Network Business By Debra Cohen www.homereferralbiz.com Contractors are too busy already and don#146;t want extra work. As one of my contractors once told me: #147;A good contractor won#146;t turn down a good, paying customer.#148; The client may have to wait for the job to be scheduled but most of my clients feel that good contractors are worth waiting for. The HRN business requires costly advertising. This is a word of mouth type of business and a lot of job requests are generated through networking in your community, PR and direct mail. It#146;s not expensive to promote the HRN business. In fact, many HRN owners generate their first jobs before they even launch a promotional campaign. You need to live in a heavily populated area to run a successful HRN business. Actually, this is a very local business. Most contractors won#146;t travel far for work therefore an HRN needs to operate locally to start. Once you#146;ve established a network in your immediate area, you can expand into new markets and create new networks of contractors to handle the business. A local HRN business won#146;t be able to compete with established, national contractor referral businesses. As CBS Marketwatch recently reported: #147;There's probably no project that homeowners won't first research online, but when it comes to inviting contractors to their remodeling project, they're less willing to depend on electronic means.#148; In fact, online referral services like Improvenet and ServiceMagic haven#146;t posed any competition to the hundreds of HRN#146;s operating nationally. You need contracting experience to run an HRN. The HRN owner is responsible for marketing and promotion and the contractors represented in the network are responsible for the technical aspects of the job therefore no contracting experience is required. The contracting business is male dominated and most contractors won#146;t take a woman seriously. Just the opposite#151;many of my contractors tell me that they enjoy talking to a woman after working with men all day. Besides, if you generate business for them--male or female--you#146;ll ultimately earn their respect. The HRN owner is liable in case of a mishap on a job. The contractor is ultimately responsible for his own work and there are numerous safeguards in place to protect the HRN owner including a signed liability clause, operating procedures and insurance provisions. Running an HRN business means that my phone will be ringing in the middle of the night with emergency calls. An HRN deals with home improvement #147;projects#148; not #147;emergencies#148;. Of course it#146;s your prerogative if you#146;d like to set up your business to provide emergency referrals. The HRN owner goes onsite to check out each job before referring it to a contractor in their network. The HRN owner never goes to a customer#146;s home to check out a job. In fact, I handle more than 90% of my business by telephone. If I launch an HRN, I have to use the name #147;Home Remedies#148;. Actually, the name HomeTM Remedies is trademarked and each HRN operates under it#146;s own name. Debra Cohen is owner and founder of the Homeowner Referral Network (HRN) business#151;a home based contractor referral service business-- and author of The Complete Guide To Owning And Operating A Successful Homeowner Referral Network . For more information about how to launch an HRN in your area, visit the HRN website at www.homereferralbiz.com . Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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05/07/2010
IconIf You Must Be Mediocre, Do It With Passion By Cliff Ennico Back in the 1970s, that silly decade, there was a syrupy pop song on the radio that had a title something like #147;You Don#146;t Have to Be a Star . . . To Be In My Show#148;. As a disk jockey for my college radio station, I remember introducing this song by saying something witty like #147;You Don#146;t Have to Be a Star . . . I Love You Because You#146;re Mediocre.#148; It got laughs, at least back then. Another musical recording, one I just bought a month or two ago, has started me thinking about mediocrity in a new way. Let me say by way of introduction that I am a lover of classical music, and opera in particular. But I#146;m not a stuffed shirt. I also love musical parodies that make fun of classical music#146;s pompous pretensions. I think that great musical humorists like Spike Jones, Victor Borge, Peter #147;P.D.Q. Bach#148; Schickele, and Anna Russell (a world-class opera soprano whose screeching takeoffs on Richard Wagner#146;s horns-and-helmets melodramas became cult classics back in the 1960s), have done more to introduce young people to great music than Bach, Beethoven and Brahms together ever did. It was therefore with great expectations that I recently bought a Compact Disk (CD) entitled Murder on the High C#146;s: Florence Foster Jenkins Friends, Original Recordings 1937-1951#148; (Naxos 8.120711, available from Naxos Nostalgia at www.naxos.com ). The liner notes to the Naxos recording promised #147;the COMPLETE recordings of the #145;Dire Diva#146; . . . not to mention several offerings by people who should have known better.#148; I couldn#146;t wait. You#146;ve never heard of Florence Foster Jenkins? I#146;m not surprised #150; many classical music aficionados have never heard of her, and many of those who have wish they didn#146;t. The truth is that nobody knows much about Florence Foster Jenkins, except that: she was a wealthy New York City socialite during the 1920s and 1930s, who died in 1944 at the age of approximately 75 (her exact date of birth is not known); she founded and guided the Verdi Club for thirty years; and she loved to sing. We know she loved singing because at her death she left behind about ten 78 r.p.m. records, made sometime during the early 1940s, on which she sings some of the most famous soprano arias from the great operas, accompanied by an excellent pianist named Cosme McMoon, about whom even less is known (frankly, it sounds like a phony name to me, meant to hide the identity of a well-known performer helping out an old friend). We also know that once a year she rented the ballroom of New York#146;s Ritz-Carlton Hotel to give a private concert for her friends and fellow Verdi Club members. These recordings were not made by RCA Victor or any of the great studios that preserved the sound of Arturo Toscanini and Enrico Caruso for posterity. Rather, they were private pressings (#147;self-published#148;, we would say today) made at the Melotone Recording Studio in New York City at Ms. Jenkins#146; own expense, and distributed to her friends and family members as holiday gifts (if you were a stranger, you paid $2.50 each, a pretty hefty sum at a time when the country was just recovering from the Great Depression and catching its breath before entering World War II). It is these ten recordings that have been collected on the Naxos CD. Having listened to the Naxos recording several times now, I can tell you one thing about Florence Foster Jenkins . . . the lady couldn#146;t sing to save her soul. These recordings are not the work of a great musician who is consciously having some fun with the classics to show how good she really is. On each song, Florence Foster Jenkins is truly, majestically awful. She sings at least two keys flat, misses almost all of the high notes by a country mile, is either way behind or far ahead of her piano accompanist, tires audibly about halfway through each song and finishes up by yapping like a Park Avenue poodle chasing a squirrel in Central Park. These recordings are guaranteed to make your dog howl; your cat will disappear under the sofa for weeks. If you have a teenager in the house who plays Eminem at top volume all day, I can think of little better revenge than to give him or her a dose of Florence Foster Jenkins. And yet . . . Listening to the first Jenkins song on the recording, I laughed, when I wasn#146;t wincing in pain. By the second song, I felt pity for the old gal, trying so hard to hit the notes with lots of heart but zero talent #150; even a novice singer gets half the notes right. I was also a little angry at her friends and Verdi Club pals who egged her on and led her to believe, despite the evidence, that she was on a par with the great opera sopranos of her time. By the third, fourth and fifth song, I realized something amazing #150; as horrible a singer as Florence Foster Jenkins was, I couldn#146;t stop listening to this recording. Something about it was keeping me glued to my CD player. What it was, I realized after a while, was Jenkins#146; sheer presence. She was not doing this for laughs. She clearly loved what she was doing (an #147;amateur#148; #150; one who loves #150; in the truest sense of that word), and couldn#146;t have cared less about what I, or anyone else, thought. By the fifth song I was rooting for her, hoping and praying for her to succeed this time, and when she did hit one of the high notes dead on target (which she does about 5% of the time), I almost wanted to pump my fist in the air and scream #147;#146;atta girl#148; like I was at a rock concert. Her mediocrity is majestic, almost noble. You gotta love her. Lest you think I#146;m the only one who#146;s had this reaction to Florence Foster Jenkins, the liner notes to the Naxos recording tell us that #147;after years of giving her own unique small-scale entertainments, she took the bold step of appearing in Carnegie Hall on 25 October 1944. Two thousand people were turned away from the sold-out auditorium and scalpers were getting $20 for their two-dollar tickets [the emphasis is mine]. Columnist Earl Wilson, Jr. suggested that she should try Madison Square Garden or the Polo Grounds next, but Florence Foster Jenkins died a month after her triumph.#148; Way to go, Flo. So what does all of this have to do with running your own home-based business? Those of us in the Baby Boomer generation have entered our 50#146;s. We have started getting junk mail from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and assisted-living facilities, and it has become painfully apparent to most of us that our youthful ambitions of changing the world will never be achieved. We have to face the fact that we are now #147;over the hill#148; and, for most of us, greatness is just as far away as it was when we were in our 20#146;s, back in the 1970s, that silly decade. I remember one of my professors in law school, then in his own 50s, telling us in 1977 about how we would feel when we reached this point: #147;You are all very bright young men and women, the cream of America#146;s top colleges. But let me tell you something. No matter how good you are, no matter how hard you work, the simple fact is that the Bell Curve applies to all aspects of life, and vast majority of you #150; 90% or more -- are destined to be stuck in the middle. You will not fail, but you will not achieve truly great things either. You will never argue a case before the Supreme Court, become a top judge, or occupy a high elective office. You will find yourself in a small to medium sized town, writing wills, buying and selling houses, representing small clients in court on small cases, and helping people start and shut down small businesses. Maybe you will sit on the local Board of Education, or run unsuccessfully for mayor. You will do a lot of good for your clients, but no one will ever erect a statue of you in the town square, or name a building after you. I don#146;t mean to burst your bubble, but that#146;s just how it is, statistically speaking.#148; Somehow I don#146;t think my old law professor and Florence Foster Jenkins would have gotten along at all. I don#146;t think he would have understood a 70 year old woman, with her life pretty much behind her and not much in the way of achievement to show for it, plunking down serious money to make some records and realize a childhood dream of becoming a great opera singer, with no hope of success, but like Don Quixote in the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha , just in order to #147;follow that star . . . no matter how hopeless, no matter how far.#148; Making some truly horrible recordings, to be sure, but having the time of her life doing it, and capping her efforts with a triumphant, sold-out Carnegie Hall performance before thousands of people who had come to cheer her on. A woman whose records are still selling more than 50 years after her death, probably more than any of the #147;real#148; opera stars of her time, and inspiring that 90% of us who will never cut a deal with RCA Victor, play a role at the Metropolitan Opera, or solo on American Idol . There are a few Enrico Carusos in the world of small business, but there are a lot more Florence Foster Jenkins#146;. If you are destined to be mediocre, do so with style, flamboyance, dignity and pride, and let the critics be damned. Flaunt your mediocrity, and let people see the passion that keeps you going at it every day, even though you know you will never be one of the greats. Keep straining to hit those high C#146;s, because every once in a blue moon you will indeed hit one, and posterity will take notice. CLIFF ENNICO, best known as the host of the PBS television series #147;MoneyHunt#148;, is the author of the nationally syndicated newspaper column #147;Succeeding in Your Business#148; and the legal correspondent for the Small Business Television Network at www.sbtv.com. You can find out more about him at www.cliffennico.com . Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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05/07/2010
IconHiring Employees For Your Home-Based Business By Cliff Ennico* One of the major #147;rites of passage#148; for any small business, whether home-based or not, is the hiring of the first employee. It#146;s a sign of growth, an indication that your venture is something more than a personal hobby, a chance to delegate some of the mind-numbing business chores that take you away from what you do best, a feeling that you are #147;managing#148; as opposed to #147;doing#148;, and . . . a major legal headache. Your legal risks multiply by a factor of 10 once you begin hiring employees, to the point that many attorneys will advise you not to hire employees at all #150; deal with all of your helpers as #147;independent contractors#148; or 1099s #150; until the business is generating substantial cash flow and it is absolutely necessary to hire employees. Of course, the Internal Revenue Service and others are likely to treat your #147;independent contractors#148; as your employees anyway if you don#146;t follow the rules. If your #147;independent contractor#148; is working for you 50 or more hours a week, doesn#146;t work for anyone else, lives in your home office and gets medical insurance and other benefits from you, you won#146;t get away with it. It#146;s time to hire them and put them on a payroll. Assuming you have reached this stage, and can no longer put off hiring employees, the legal issues for employers and employees are particularly acute for a home-based business. Here#146;s a quick overview. Trust. While it is important to any business to make sure you are hiring only honest, trustworthy individuals, it is critical to a home-based business that you do so. I would recommend spending at least twice the amount of time #147;getting to know#148; a prospective employee that you would if you were in a commercial setting. Why? Because your employees will have access to your home, either on a daily or periodic basis. They will see where you keep your belongings, they will know how foolproof your security system is, and how tiny your dog with the big bark really is. They will be in a position to steal you blind, or perhaps physically harm you in your home office, and no one will be the wiser for a long time. They will also be witness to the intimate details of your personal life, and will be tempted to tell everyone they know about your #147;dirty laundry#148;. If you are not completely sure that a prospective employee is trustworthy, DO NOT GIVE THEM ACCESS TO YOUR HOME AT ANY TIME. PERIOD. Meet them in their homes, or at a convenient local diner, until they have proven their worth over a substantial period of time. Just because they are employees does not mean that they actually have to work on your premises. Zoning. Most communities have strict zoning laws that prohibit you from operating a business in a residential area. Because there are no #147;zoning police#148; that enforce these laws, however, you can usually get away with running a home-based business as long as your business doesn#146;t get your neighbors so upset that they complain to the local authorities. The likelihood that your business will #147;change the character of your neighborhood#148; and make you visible to the local Zoning Board increases dramatically once you hire employees. They will have to park somewhere, after all #150; probably in your driveway or on the street outside your home. They will come and go at various hours of the day and night, for lunch breaks, cigarette breaks, and so forth. Your house will not be the peaceful, quiet place it once was. When operating a home-based business in a residential area that is not zoned for #147;mixed use#148; premises, it is essential to keep a low profile. Hiring employees makes it more difficult to keep your business under wraps. Taxes. Once you hire employees, you will have to withhold Social Security from their paychecks (FICA), pay federal unemployment taxes (FUTA), and make contributions to your state unemployment system, among other requirements. You will need a good accountant, and perhaps also a payroll service, to help you make sure you meet these requirements. The federal government, especially, will become positively insane when they do not receive their FICA and FUTA payments on time, and, in most states, you will be personally liable for unpaid employment taxes even if you use a corporation or limited liability company (LLC) for your business. An excellent payroll service for small businesses is PayMaxx Inc. at www.powerpayroll.com . Legal Requirements. Unfortunately for many employers, slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865. Employees today have legal rights, lots of them, and you have to educate yourself about the federal and state rules that will apply to your business. What is more, you will have to educate your employees about their rights. Even a home-based business with only one part-time employee must comply with several federal and state rules designed to protect employees against unfair treatment. If this sounds unfair and burdensome, think about it for a moment . . . some of the worst sweatshops on Earth are home-based businesses! So how do you find out which rules apply to your business? The easiest and cheapest way is through G. Neil Company at www.gneil.com . This company is the leading nationwide provider of #147;rules charts#148; #150; essentially, posters that describing the federal and state laws (of all 50 states) to which employees anywhere are subject, and which employers are required to post conspicuously in the workplace (such as on an employee bulletin board or lunchroom wall). For a price that is usually under $100, you can obtain a poster from G. Neil that is tailored to your location, industry, and number of workers. Make sure you read the poster before hanging it up on your office wall #150; it will teach you volumes about what you can and cannot do with your employees. Get a New Lawyer. A mere poster, however, will not help you deal with the many complex, subtle and emotional situations that having employees will cause. Many attorneys, even specialists in business law, are often unfamiliar with the complex federal and state rules governing employees. You will need to find a specialist in #147;labor and employment law#148; to help you deal with the tough ones, such as: I want to fire an employee who#146;s not competent, but she#146;s just informed me she#146;s pregnant #150; will I be sued for discrimination if I fire her? I think one of my employees is abusing drugs or alcohol #150; how can I confront them about it without getting sued? I#146;m really attracted to this new employee #150; how can I let my feelings be known without being guilty of #147;sexual harassment in the workplace?#148; They Are Only Employees. Finally, remember that employees are just that . . . employees. They are not members of your family or household. They merely work there. They can be fired at will. They can be downsized if your business suffers a downturn. If an employee is taking up too much of your valuable time with his or her problems, or if you are spending so much time managing the employee that your own work isn#146;t getting done, it#146;s time to sever the cord so you can both get on with your lives. Sometimes you are faced with a difficult choice #150; you can either be kind to a difficult employee (overlooking their faults in the hopes they will improve), or you can be kind to your business (firing the employee who is draining your time, assets and energy). While it is important to maintain a positive and healthy working environment for your employees, being too kind to the wrong people at the wrong times will take years off of your life, and ultimately destroy your business. CLIFF ENNICO, best known as the host of the PBS television series #147;MoneyHunt#148;, is the author of ten books on small business law and management. You can find out more about him at www.protectingyourbusiness.com . Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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05/07/2010
IconAs featured in Work From Home Magazine How to Start, Run, Promote Profit From Your Own Membership Website How to Sell Online content - The transition from free to "pay-for-content" is taking the Internet by storm By Janice Ayre www.MembershipSiteAdvisor.com Want to sell subscriptions for online content with your own membership site? Selling online content via a password protected website has become big business. Not only is it fast to set up (with the right tools), but the start-up and running costs are minimal. Work from home entrepreneurs and big businesses alike are lapping up this new found revenue source. People are willing to pay for online content. In fact, the "Online Publishers Association" revealed that pay-for content is emerging as a hot revenue model. Business content, personals/match making, and entertainment are the hottest niches. But even smaller niches, like DVD authoring, sports coaching, marketing services, and dieting are producing profits. Internet users spend $300 Million in 4 Months for Online Content U.S. consumer spending for online content in the first 4 months of 2002 was $300 million, a growth of 155% over the first quarter of 2001 (and that#146;s post-September 11th). It#146;s apparent that online users will pay for content on their passion or profession. Subscribers are paying anywhere from $9.95 a month to $19.95, and in some cases up to $200 a month #150; depending on the nature of the content. Annual subscription renewals hold a solid 72%, giving site owners an impressive recurring residual income. Renewals accounted for nearly half of paid content sales in 2001. A Rapidly Growing Market Less than 9% of online users currently pay for online content. This means the market is wide open for the savvy entrepreneur. Paying for content in 2002 was more than 5 times what it was in 2001. That#146;s a massive 500% growth! Those who capture the market first in their niche will have the obvious advantage. It#146;s an international market, so anyone can play. Starting your own Membership Site There are 4 key elements to starting a subscription based membership site, says Ansel Gough, Editor of MembershipSiteAdvisor.com #150; an Australian based membership site, teaching others how to start and run membership sites. Target the right market: Find a market that is passionate about a subject, and then build your membership site around it. There are so many topics to choose from. Doing a key word search will reveal what people are searching for online. You can know before you even launch a membership site if there#146;s a big enough market. Make it unique: Ideally potential subscribers shouldn#146;t be able to find the same information elsewhere for free online. Your job is to search online (and in some case offline) for content, and provide it in a convenient manner for your subscribers. Being unique could just mean having exclusive interviews with experts in your field. If you#146;ve done the interview, then that#146;s unique. Finding experts (and even famous people) to interview is not hard. In fact, as your site grows in popularity they are likely to contact you. This situation gives you a two-fold advantage. It gives you credibility or an endorsement, and it gives you exclusive content. Of course your exclusive content may be from your own specialized knowledge! Finding Subscribers: If you#146;ve started off targeting the right market, then finding traffic and subscribers aren#146;t as difficult as some people believe. The best methods for generating quality traffic to your website include: Search engine positioning (including pay-per-click), Internet Joint Venture Marketing, Ezines (online newsletters), affiliate programs, and viral marketing (accelerated word of mouth marketing). Add tools or services: To enhance your membership site try including simple software, tools, ebooks, resources, etc. as a give-away. These can usually be found for free or at a very low cost online. "Marrying services, resources or tools with content can dramatically boost your subscription rates," Gough says. "However it#146;s best to include something that doesn#146;t take up your time. Giving people a reason to return to your members only area is critical #150; tools, resources, discussion forums and quality content will do that! "The exciting thing is, you can take your hobby, specialized knowledge or profession and turn it into a profitable membership site. Your challenge will be finding exclusive content. You can start it part time #150; something I did myself, while working a full time job. As your subscriptions increase you can plan on full time involvement in your area of interest." Starting and running a membership site can be a lot of fun and very fulfilling, however you need to know what#146;s involved in setting one up, and then managing it effectively. Planning and allowing for auto-responders, automated sign-ups, credit card processing, automated cancellations, etc is all part of a successful membership website. As complex as this seems, many companies offer a low cost, easy-to-use software solution. A few companies, like MembershipSiteAdvisor.com offer a free software membership management tool to subscribers, allowing them to manage all of these routine tasks. This makes it possible for almost anyone to start and market a membership site for next to nothing. Gough is quick to challenge that "Paying for online content is inevitable . You can either be the one paying for it, or the one profiting from it. Ideally you#146;ll do both, and learn a great deal in the process." For more information, resources and tools for starting and running a membership site, visit www.MembershipSiteAdvisor.com . Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconFinding The Right Lawyer For Your Business By Cliff Ennico* www.protectingyourbusiness.com There are two professionals every business will need early on: an accountant and a lawyer. The reasons for hiring an accountant are pretty obvious #150; you need someone to help you set up your #147;chart of accounts#148;, review your numbers periodically, and prepare all of your necessary federal, state and local tax returns. The reason for hiring a business attorney may not, however, be so apparent. A good business attorney will provide vital assistance in almost every aspect of your business, from basic zoning compliance to copyright and trademark advice to formal business incorporation to lawsuits and liability.First, some general rules about dealing with lawyers: If You Are Being Sued, It#146;s Too Late . Most small businesses put off hiring a lawyer until the Sheriff is standing at the door serving them with a summons. Bad mistake. The time to hook up with a good business lawyer is BEFORE you are sued. Once you have been served with a summons and complaint, it#146;s too late #150; the problem has already occurred, and it#146;s just a question of how much you will have to pay (in court costs, attorneys#146; fees, settlements and other expenses) to get the problem resolved. America#146;s judicial system is a lot like a Roach MotelTM -- it#146;s easy to get into court, but very difficult to get out once you#146;ve been #147;trapped#148;. Most lawyers agree that while nobody likes to pay attorneys#146; fees for anything (heck, let#146;s let our hair down, nobody likes paying or dealing with lawyers, period), but the fee a lawyer will charge to keep you out of trouble is only a small fraction of the fee a lawyer will charge to get you out of trouble once it#146;s happened. Big Firm or Small Firm? Generally speaking, the larger the law firm, the greater the overhead, therefore the higher the hourly rates you will be expected to pay. Still, larger firms have a number of advantages over smaller ones. Over the past 20 years, lawyers have become incredibly specialized. If you use a solo practitioner or small firm as your lawyer(s), it#146;s likely that they will not have all the skills you may need to grow business. I don#146;t know of any solo practitioner, and very few small firms (under 10 lawyers) that could handle your lawsuits, negotiate your lease of office or retail space, file a patent or trademark, draft a software license agreement, advise you on terminating a disruptive employee, and oversee your corporate annual meeting. Sooner or later, these #147;generalists#148; will have to refer you out to specialists, and you will find yourself dealing with two or three (or even more) attorneys. While larger firms are more expensive to deal with, they have two significant advantages: (1) they usually have all the legal skills you need #147;under one roof#148;, and (2) they have a lot of clout in the local, regional and (perhaps) national legal community. A nasty letter from a #147;powerhouse#148; law firm with offices in 30 states is a lot more intimidating than a nasty letter from a solo practitioner who is not admitted to practice in the defendant#146;s state. Also, being connected with a large, well established law firm may have intangible benefits #150; they may be willing to introduce you to financing sources, or use their name as a reference when seeking partnership arrangements. Certainly if you run a fast growing entrepreneurial company that plans to go public (or sell out to a big company) some day, you would need to work with lawyers whose names are recognized in the investment banking and venture capital communities. What Kind of Lawyer? Like doctors, lawyers are becoming increasingly specialized. Someone who does mostly wills, house closings and other #147;non-business#148; matters is probably not a good fit for your business. At the very least, you will need the following sets of skills. The more skills reside in the same human being, the better! Contracts. You will need a lawyer who can understand your business quickly, prepare the standard form contracts you will need with customers, clients, and suppliers, and help you respond to contracts that other people will want you to sign. Business Organizations. You will need a lawyer who can help you decide whether a corporation or limited liability company (LLC) is the better way to organize your business, and prepare the necessary paperwork. Taxes and Licenses. Although your accountant will prepare and file your business tax returns each year, your lawyer should know how to register your business for federal and state tax identification numbers, and understand the tax consequences of the more basic business transactions in which your business will engage. Intellectual Property. If you are in a media, design or other #147;creative#148; type business, it is certainly a #147;plus#148; if your lawyer can help you register your products and services for federal trademark and copyright protection. Generally, though, these tasks are performed by specialists who do nothing but #147;intellectual property#148; legal work. If your lawyer says he or she #147;specializes in small businesses#148;, then he or she should have a close working relationship with one or more intellectual property specialists. Tough Questions to Ask When Interviewing Lawyers. Are You Experienced? Don#146;t be afraid to ask direct questions about a lawyer#146;s experience. If you know you want to incorporate your business, for example, ask if he or she has ever handled an incorporation. Are You Well Connected? Your business attorney should be something of a legal #147;internist#148; #150; one who can diagnose your problem, perform any #147;minor surgery#148; that may be needed, and refer you to local specialists for #147;major surgery#148; if needed. No lawyer can possibly know everything about every area of law. If you business has specialized legal needs (a graphic designer, for example, may need someone who is familiar with copyright laws), your attorney should either be familiar with that special area or have a working relationship with someone who is. You shouldn#146;t have to go scrounging for a new lawyer each time a different type of legal problem comes up. Do You Have Other Clients In My Industry? Your attorney should be somewhat familiar with your industry and its legal environment. If not, he or she should be willing to learn the ins and outs of it. Scan your candidate#146;s bookshelf or magazine rack for copies of the same journals and professional literature that you read. Be wary, however, of attorneys who represent one or more of your competitors. While the legal code of ethics (yes, there is one, believe it or not) requires that your lawyer keep everything you tell him or her strictly confidential, you do not want to risk an accidental leak of sensitive information to a competitor. Are You a Good Teacher? Your attorney should be willing to take the time to educate you and your staff about the legal environment of your business. He or she should tell you what the law says and explain how it affects the way you do business so that you can spot problems well in advance. The right lawyer will distribute such freebies as newsletters or memoranda that describe recent developments in the law affecting your business. Are You a Finder, a Minder, or a Grinder? Nearly every law firm has three types of lawyer. The #147;finder#148; scouts for business and brings in new clients; the #147;minder#148; takes on new clients and makes sure existing ones are happy; and the #147;grinder#148; does the clients#146; work. Your attorney should be a combination of a #147;minder#148; and a #147;grinder#148;. If you sense that the lawyer you are talking to is not the one who will actually be doing your work, ask to meet the #147;grinder#148;, and be sure you are comfortable with him or her. Will You Be Flexible in Your Billing? Because there is currently a #147;glut#148; of lawyers, with far too many practicing in most geographic locales, lawyers are in a position to have to negotiate their fees as never before, and it is definitely a #147;buyer#146;s market#148;. Still, there are limits #150; unlike the personal injury lawyers who advertise on television, business lawyers almost always will not work for a #147;contingency fee#148;, payable only if your legal work is completed to your satisfaction. Most lawyers will charge a flat one-time fee for routine matters, such as forming a corporation or LLC, but will not volunteer a flat fee unless you ask for it. Be sure to ask if the #147;flat fee#148; includes disbursements (the lawyer#146;s out of pocket expenses, such as filing fees and overnight courier charges), and when the #147;flat fee#148; is expected to be paid. Many attorneys require payment of a #147;flat fee#148; up front, so that they can cover their out of pocket expenses. You should always ask to #147;hold back#148; 10% to 20% of a flat fee, though, in the event the lawyer doesn#146;t do the job well. Lawyers will be reluctant to quote #147;flat fees#148; if the matter involves litigation or negotiations with third parties. The reason for this is bluntly stated by a lawyer friend of mine: #147;even though it#146;s a transaction I#146;ve done dozens of times, if the other side#146;s lawyer turns out to be a blithering idiot who wants to fight over every comma and semicolon in the contracts, then I can#146;t control the amount of time I will be putting into the matter, and will end up losing money if I quote a flat fee#148;. In such situations, you will have to pay the lawyer#146;s hourly rate. You should always ask for a written estimate of the amount of time involved, and advance notice if circumstances occur that will cause the lawyer to exceed his or her estimate. If a lawyer asks you for a retainer or deposit against future fees, make sure the money will be used and not held indefinitely in escrow, and that the lawyer commits to return any unused portion of the retainer if the deal fails to close for any reason. You should be suspicious of any lawyer who offers to take an ownership interest in your business in lieu of a fee. One last thing: don#146;t forget to follow your instincts and feelings. You should be able to communicate openly and freely with your attorney at all times. If you feel you cannot trust a particular lawyer or you believe the two of you have different perspectives, keep looking. Just remember that #147;Ally McBeal#148; is not reality: good looks and a dynamic personality are not as important in a lawyer as accuracy, thoroughness, intelligence, the willingness to work hard for you, and attention to detail. As a former client once told me, #147;My father always said #145;never trust a lawyer who has 20/20 vision and wears Armani.#146; I chose you as my lawyer because you look like you work for a living.#148; The right lawyer for your business will take that as a compliment. CLIFF ENNICO, best known as the host of the PBS television series #147;MoneyHunt#148;, is the author of the nationally syndicated newspaper column #147;Succeeding in Your Business#148; and the legal correspondent for the Small Business Television Network at www.sbtv.com . You can find out more about him at www.protectingyourbusiness.com . Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconLittle Adventures - "Adorable Dress Ups at an Affordable Price" By Jenny Farnsworth www.littleadventures.com As a mother of five, it is a challenge to make ends meet each month. I ran a day care business for two years so I could remain home with my children. As a day care provider, I discovered how much children love to dress up. I went out to purchase some dress ups but was very disappointed. There were no dress ups on the market that met the needs of an active child. I decided to design dress ups for children that were made of quality fabrics, were washable and comfortable. I tried them out on my own children as well as the day care kids. The children loved them so much that many mothers expressed an interest in purchasing them. I saw this as a great opportunity to create a way to get out of the daycare business once and for all. I approached my friend Heather, the mother of one of the children in my day care, with the idea of starting a dress up business. It has not been easy. Pregnant with my fifth child, I have memories of Heather and I sewing hundreds of costumes in the basement after the kids had gone to bed. Sometimes we were nearly in tears. The machines never seemed to cooperate when we were facing deadlines. Broken needles and jammed threads frustrated our efforts. To help us get through the struggles, our husbands tried to make us laugh and helped out a little more at home. There were times we wondered if our business was going to fail, which would have forced me to return to daycare or find employment elsewhere. I desperately wanted to stay at home with my kids and that motivated me to push my own limits. Heather and I decided to look into a local factory where we could turn the sewing over to someone else freeing us up to grow our business. In order to utilize a factory, we faced minimum requirements which meant large, expensive fabric purchases on our tight budget. I remember the big freight truck arriving and filling my driveway with fabrics in every color of the rainbow. I sat next to the pile wondering what I was going to do with all that fabric if our business did not succeed. Amazingly, that fabric was quickly sewn into hundreds of costumes that all sold. In fact, we outgrew the factory and were forced into other options. We currently have our dress ups sewn at a factory dedicated to our products in a small town in Idaho where the economy is depressed and many people are in need of jobs. We also employ five stay-at-home moms to make our accessories. Here we are two and a half years later. We are able to be full time moms to our seven kids. Although we are up late with the business (as most work begins after bedtime hugs) and up early with the kids, we wouldn#146;t have it any other way. We love what we do and are proud to say that We are our kids' moms! We believe that no matter the circumstances, all little girls are princesses and deserve to feel special. We have seen the joy of our own little girls as they dance and play as princesses. We would like to share that same experience with Dr. Laura#146;s kids and allow some to escape their circumstances, if only for a moment, and become princesses. We consider it an honor to donate to Dr. Laura#146;s "My Stuff Bags" program. We hope that as our at-home business continues to grow, our donations will be able to grow as well. Little Adventures Email: info@litteadventures.com Wholesale Website: www.littleadventures.com Retail eBay store: www.stores.ebay.com/mydressuptrunk?refid=stores Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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05/07/2010
IconSome Really Cool Things I Learned At Ebay Live! By Cliff Ennico cennico@legalcareer.com If you are selling stuff on eBay, and missed last weekend#146;s eBay Live! conference in New Orleans (co-sponsored by eBay and Entrepreneur magazine), shame on you! More than 12,000 of your competitors were there, and they came away with some great advice about how to build their eBay businesses from over 100 of America#146;s leading business experts (including myself, who spoke on how to avoid being sued by disgruntled buyers). When not speaking myself, I tried to attend as many of the classes, workshops and roundtable discussions as I could. Here are some of the best tips I picked up: To see some of the weirdest things being sold on eBay, go to the home page and type #147;one of a kind#148; or #147;OOAK#148; into the search engine (Jim #147;Griff#148; Griffith, author of #147;The Official eBay Bible#148;) #150; a warning, though, some of this stuff is not for the squeamish When choosing #147;keywords#148; to advertise your auction sites on the popular search engines (such as Google or Yahoo!), do not use somebody else#146;s registered trademark, as the trademark owner can sue you for infringement (Catherine Seda, author of #147;Search Engine Advertising#148;) Don#146;t rely on accountants to tell you about all the tax deductions you can take when running an eBay business; you will be able to deduct more than most accountants will allow if you learn the rules yourself (Barbara Weltman, author of #147;J.K. Lasser#146;s Small Business Taxes 6th edition#148;) More than 20 states have adopted legislation in support of the Streamlined Sales Tax Project (SSTP), which requires out-of-state vendors such as eBay sellers to charge sales tax when selling to in-state consumers; a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision forbids states from enforcing the SSTP, but legislation is pending in Congress to reverse this decision and allow states to pursue out-of-state vendors who don#146;t comply with the SSTP (Steve DelBianco, Executive Director of the NetChoice Coalition) When hiring employees, don#146;t look for #147;safe#148; people #150; people you know won#146;t sue you if things don#146;t work out; instead, hire the #147;right#148; people for your business and learn to manage them the right way so lawsuits won#146;t happen (Eric Winegardner, Director of Product Certification for monster.com) Don#146;t just list your auction on eBay#146;s site in the United States; for a small additional fee, you can list your auction on each of eBay#146;s overseas sites and reach millions of overseas buyers who don#146;t frequent the U.S. site (John and Kim Kincaid, CollectorBookstore.com) According to a recent survey, 83% of eBay buyers won#146;t even look at your auction site unless you have posted a digital photo of the item you are selling (#147;Beginning Digital Photography#148;, a free handout from the Hewlett-Packard Corporation) By listing your auction site with eBay Giving Works, you can donate a portion of each sale to your favorite charity (#147;eBay Giving Works#148;) Consider changing your eBay user name to your Website address #150; that way people interested in your auction listings can visit your Website and see what else you#146;ve got for sale that isn#146;t on eBay (Chris Murch, President of the eBay Radio Network) If you still don#146;t think eBay isn#146;t #147;big business#148; these days, more than 100 entrepreneurs rented booths on the trade show floor at eBay Live! to talk about the resources they provide for eBay sellers. Some of the more interesting exhibitors I talked to were: The Disabled Online Users Association (DOUA), a nonprofit organization formed to helped handicapped people start eBay businesses out of their homes iSold ItTM, a nationwide franchise of eBay consignment shops formed to help sellers who don#146;t have Internet access, can#146;t figure out how a digital camera works, or otherwise do not want to list their auctions themselves Diane Kennedy#146;s TaxLoopholesTM, which provides a three-day #147;tax strategy camp#148; to teach eBay sellers about all of the business tax deductions they can take TalkinAuction.com, which helps you add audio commentary to your eBay auction listings WhatsItWorthToYou.com, which will review digital photos of your merchandise and give you online appraisals of specific items for $9.95 each MyStoreCredit.com, which helps you offer #147;in-store credits#148; to successful bidders in your eBay auctions that they can use if they bid successfully in your future auctions FreightQuote.com, which calculates the shipping charges for your eBay merchandise and helps you post a #147;calculator#148; on each auction listing so your buyers can figure out the shipping, handling and insurance charges without your having to do it for them #150; really useful if you are running lots of auctions and don#146;t want to calculate shipping for each one separately. Cliff Ennico ( cennico@legalcareer.com ) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series 'Money Hunt'. This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com . COPYRIGHT 2004 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconCreative Ways to Raise Money To Start a Home Based Business Carrie Lauth is a work from home Mom of 3 If you're like many women who want to start a home based business, one of the things that may be stopping you is a lack of funds. While there are many new Network Marketing and Direct Sales businesses that are free to join, it will take at least some money to get things rolling...money for business cards, inexpensive marketing and advertising methods, postage, your own personal products to experiment with, samples, etc. Even if you are starting an online business that markets a service, or that has no physical product, you will need money for domain name registration, web site hosting, low cost advertising and the like. Here are some ideas for raising the needed capital. Get a loan Do you have a relative who would loan you the money to get started? What about that Great Aunt who always said you'd be great in your own business? How about Mom or Grandma? Perhaps they would accept barter (your new product, for instance...good rejection-proof way to get them hooked on it!) in lieu of repayment? Does Grandma have a shed full of stuff that she's been wanting to sell on eBay but doesn't have the energy? Would Mom like to have her house cleaned for the next few months? Ask your sponsor for help If you join a MLM (Multi Level Marketing company) ask your upline sponsor if they would consider buying the starter kit for you, and then taking the profits from your first parties or commission checks as repayment? Some sponsors do this already, but if not, she may be so impressed with your drive to succeed that she will say yes. Have a yard sale This is what I did to get started in my business. This one has twofold benefits...you're making some extra cash but also have a captive audience of people coming to you! If you're really energetic, go around to your neighbors and tell them that if they leave their castaways in a box on the curb, you will come pick them up. Do this before your sale. Slap a price tag on the merchandise and cha-ching! Be sure to make a sign advertising your new product or service and plenty of flyers or business cards to give to each shopper. Sell some stuff on eBay Sell things from your own home (name brand kid's clothes and popular book titles are easy and almost always pull a good price). Go to library book sales and buy books for .10 or .25 and list those. Use your my eBay page to advertise your new website! Release the clutter, sell a useless piece of furniture or item in your home For me, it was the dusty electric guitar. Kitchen appliances (you know what I'm talking about here!) that were going to make your life easier, exercise equipment that makes you feel guilty when you trip over it... Use the money you receive from your tax return Pre-sell the product I got this one from my beloved Kim Klaver. Go around to your tribe (the people who love you enough to do anything you say), your coworkers, neighbors, playgroup Mommies, and show them a "picture" of the product, tell them what it does, collect the checks, deposit them and order your product. You buy the product wholesale and they pay the retail price so you make a profit. Do a quick, temporary odd job A friend of mine just did this one. She put a sign up at a local health food market that said "Non-toxic cleaning services". (Notice that she created a niche). That day she got a call, did a job for an elderly women and made $150. Of course, she used her own nontoxic cleaning product and will probably end up getting a customer out of the deal too! Babysitting for a couple of weeks, dogsitting, housesitting...you get the picture. Talk to your husband Notice I'm leaving this one until last! Hopefully you have the kind of relationship where your husband will be overjoyed that you want to improve your financial standing. If you garner his support in the beginning he is much more likely to be helpful along your journey, with the inevitable ups and downs of business life. Carrie Lauth is a work from home Mom of 3. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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