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05/07/2010
IconMaking Sure You Get Paid On Time, Every Time By Cliff Ennico www.creators.com "I am a marketing consultant who gets a lot of business, mostly from small companies in far-flung locations around the country, through referrals. Lately it seems like every account has turned problematic for me - the clients pay late, or not at all, and still they expect me to perform my services on time. I realize these are smaller businesses and they have to be careful about cash flow, but still, I can't pay my bills if my clients don't pay theirs on time. How can I do a better job of getting their attention so that I don't have to stay on top of them all the time?" When you're in business for yourself, nothing - and I mean nothing - eats at your insides like clients who don't pay their bills on time. The best time to deal with delinquent accounts is before they happen, and you should never treat someone who owes you money with "kid gloves". By showing your customers you have zero tolerance for late or missed payments, and making sure you have your customers' respect (with a little fear thrown in), you will get paid a lot faster, and will spend a lot less time chasing down receivables. You never will get rid of problem accounts entirely, of course, but here are some tips for keeping deadbeats to an absolute minimum. Get a Retainer Agreement. It's amazing to me how many consultants fail to get written agreements with their customers before they begin work - especially in a situation like yours where there is no pre-existing relationship between you and your client. A simple one or two page agreement sends the client two very important signals: this is a business relationship - while you are a nice person, you are not their "friend" who will wait indefinitely to get paid while other, nastier people get their money on time; and this is a legal contract that you are prepared to sue over if the client tries playing games. The agreement should state clearly your hourly fee, how frequently you will invoice the client, when invoices are payable, and that interest "at 18% per annum or the highest rate allowed by law, if less" will be charged on any overdue invoice. Be sure to include a statement that you will stop work the minute there's a payment problem, and will retain ownership of all materials you have prepared for the client, with the right to sell them to other clients, including the client's competitors. An attorney should not charge more than one hour's time to prepare a "master form" retainer agreement you can revise slightly for each new client. Get an Advance. In consulting deals, the client always, always, always must pay you something up front as an advance against future invoices. Do not work with any client who refuses to prepay at least the first few hours of your consulting time. The sooner clients get into the habit of writing you checks, the better. Make the Advance "Evergreen". Your retainer agreement should contain language allowing you to require the client to continue paying in advance for services once the initial advance has been paid down. This is called an "evergreen" retainer, because you always have money in your checking account to apply against your future invoices, and is especially important when the client is out-of-state and your invoice amounts are relatively small. If the client objects, you can change the language to require payments in advance only in the event the client fails to pay one of your invoices on time. Do Some Diligence. A bank or employer would ask for referrals. Why shouldn't you? Insist on talking to at least one other consultant who's worked for them in the past couple of years. Avoid Crazy People. Be alert for signs of instability, eccentricity or just plain weirdness that signals the lack of a professional approach to business. For Example, Be Suspicious Of Any Person Who Sends You E-Mails In Which The First Letter of Every Word Is Capitalized (As In This Sentence). Get the Referral Source on the Hook. Before contacting a client that has been introduced to you via a referral, get the referral source to send you a letter or e-mail confirming that he or she is making the referral, and stating ("to the best of my knowledge") that he or she believes the referral is creditworthy and can live up to its obligations. That way if the relationship with the client sours, you have solid ammunition to remind the referral source that he is at least partially responsible for the mess you are in. While the referral source won't pay your outstanding bills, and isn't legally obligated to do so, playing on his guilt should motivate him to bring pressure to bear on the deadbeat client to "do the right thing" if the referral source has greater leverage over the client than you do. Cliff Ennico ( cennico@legalcareer.com ) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series 'Money Hunt'. His latest books are 'Small Business Survival Guide' (Adams Media, $12.95) and 'The eBay Seller's Tax and Legal Answer Book' (AMACOM, $19.95). 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 2007 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconMore Taxing Questions From Internet Retailers By Cliff Ennico www.creators.com The following questions came up during a Webinar I hosted last week for Avalara Inc., a Seattle, Washington based company that specializes in sales tax compliance solutions for Web-based merchants (www.avalara.com): "Does a business have to be a corporation or a limited liability company (LLC) to work with wholesalers? Will the supplier be more likely to give the seller an account than if they are a sole proprietor, or does the supplier care at all?" An online retailer does not have to be a corporation or LLC to buy from suppliers, but it does help. Some wholesalers are reluctant to deal with individual "sole proprietors" because of the risk they will be considered "employees" of the supplier for tax purposes, or of the possibility that the wholesaler will have to send 1099 forms out at the end of each year (more on that below). Also, forming a corporation or LLC makes you look a whole lot bigger than you actually are, and demonstrates to everyone you come into contact with your intention to treat your online selling as a "business" and not as a "hobby". "Does an online seller need to give Form 1099 to their vendors at the end of the year? What if the supplier is out of the country?" Online sellers do not have to send Form 1099 to wholesalers with whom they are dealing at arm's length. They do, however, have to send Form 1099s to consignors and drop shippers for whom they act as selling agent, unless (1) the consignor or drop shipper is a corporation, or (2) the total amount the online seller paid the consignor or drop shipper during the calendar year was less than $600. Generally, online sellers do not need to send Form 1099 to overseas vendors if they are not already subject to U.S. taxes (i.e. have no legal presence in the U.S.); if they do have a U.S. presence, then the above rules apply. "If an online seller wants to source products from a supplier that is based overseas, do they need to obtain a license to start importing products?" Generally, a federal "import license" is required only to import certain products - basically, the same ones you probably would need a state license to sell if you were selling them domestically (think alcohol, tobacco, motor vehicles and the like). Talk to a "customs broker" or international trade lawyer to find out if any license requirements apply to your business (to find a customs broker in your area, check out www.ncbfaa.org ). One exception concerns goods that are subject to trade "quotas" - when importing these you will need to get a license from the exporting country certifying that each shipment is within the annual U.S. quota. If it isn't, you will have to wait until next January when the new annual quota kicks in. "If an online seller is selling name brand products, how can they make sure that the supplier they are using isn't infringing anybody else's products? Is the process the same when the supplier is outside of the country?" Ask to see copies of documents authorizing the supplier to deal in brand name merchandise, or contact the manufacturer directly (eBay's "Verified Rights Owner" or VeRO program -- http://pages.ebay.com/help/tp/programs-vero-ov.html -- can put you in touch with many luxury-goods manufacturers). And use common sense - Gucci does not authorize manufacturers in rural China to license their products to eBay sellers in the U.S. When in doubt, assume that the supplier is dealing in illegal "knockoffs", and source your product elsewhere. Also, when dealing with factories in the developing world, make sure they are not using prisoners or "slave laborers" in their manufacturing operations. "What are some big mistakes online sellers make when trying to negotiate with suppliers?" First, failing to negotiate at all. Too many small businesses assume that their suppliers' prices are non-negotiable when they order in small quantities, and it's just not true. Many suppliers - especially overseas - will not take you seriously as a retailer if you do not attempt to negotiate their prices. Second, assuming that the price is the only negotiable item. Even if a supplier stands firm on its price for certain goods, you might be able to negotiate the shipping, delivery, warranty and other "noncash" terms and conditions. For a checklist of negotiable items in a typical wholesale purchase, see the contract forms at the end of my latest book, "The eBay Seller's Tax and Legal Answer Book". For a good basic negotiating guide, see the chapter on "Negotiating" in "Start Your Own Business", edited by Rieva Lesonsky. Cliff Ennico ( cennico@legalcareer.com ) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series 'Money Hunt'. His latest books are 'Small Business Survival Guide' (Adams Media, $12.95) and 'The eBay Seller's Tax and Legal Answer Book' (AMACOM, $19.95). 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 2007 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconWhen Buying From Wholesalers, Watch Your Taxes By Cliff Ennico www.creators.com The following questions came up as I was interviewed last week on Product Sourcing Radio ( www.wsradio.com ), an Internet radio program hosted by executives of Worldwide Brands, Inc. in Orlando, Florida ( www.worldwidebrands.com ): "We constantly tell online sellers that to buy from a genuine wholesaler, they need to have a state sales tax ID number. Why is this the case?" Generally, there is no sales tax on wholesale purchases of inventory. A wholesaler needs evidence that you are not buying stuff for your personal use, and are required to charge you sales tax unless you deliver a "resale certificate" to them - basically, an affidavit swearing on your Great-grandmother's grave that you are buying stiff with the intent to resell it. You can find a copy of your state's Resale Certificate form at your state tax authority's website (to find it, go to www.taxsites.com/state.html ), under the "Forms and Publications" link. The resale certificate form will require you to provide the wholesaler with your state tax ID number (also commonly known as a "sales tax number" or "resale number"). You will need to obtain this from your state tax authority before you can legitimately buy goods at wholesale. "What about states that don't have sales taxes? Maybe the retailer is in a state with no sales tax, but the wholesaler is. Or the retailer or wholesaler is in a state with no sales tax, but one of them has a presence in another state that has a sales tax. How can an e-tailer find out what they need for their own unique situation?" Generally, sales tax must be collected by the "vendor" - in this case, the wholesaler. If the wholesaler is in a state with no sales tax, then they will not need to charge sales tax when selling to retailers anywhere in the world. If the wholesaler is in a state with a sales tax but is selling to an out-of-state retailer, the transaction is an "interstate sale" and therefore exempt from tax (at least under current law). However, the wholesaler may still ask for a Resale Certificate as proof that the out-of-state retailer is a legitimate business. "If a wholesaler is in a state with no sales tax, what can a retailer do to verify that they are, in fact, dealing with a legitimate wholesaler?" If the wholesaler is a corporation or limited liability company (LLC) - most will be - ask for a copy of their Certificate of Incorporation or Articles of Organization, with proof that the document was filed with the Secretary of State's office in the wholesaler's state. In most states, you can get this information online by searching the wholesaler's company name on the state Secretary of State's website. Checking the wholesaler's local Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce website can't hurt, and you should always Google the company name to see what people on the Web are saying about them. "A lot of e-commerce businesses use fulfillment houses to warehouse and ship their products to their customers. If your fulfillment house is in another state, then does your business have a presence or 'nexus' in that state for tax purposes?" It depends on (1) who issues the invoice and (2) what address appears on the shipping labels. If you allow the fulfillment house to issue invoices under your name but with their shipping address for returned items, then you might well have a "nexus" in the state where the fulfillment house is located. Always, always, always use your own shipping labels and invoice forms when dealing with out-of-state fulfillment houses so this doesn't happen. "Let's say that a retailer and a wholesaler are both in states with no sales tax. The wholesaler obviously will not need a sales tax ID number, but they will want proof that the retailer is a legitimate business. What kind of proof does the retailer need to provide?" Most wholesalers will accept copies of any of the following: if you are an LLC or corporation, your Certificate of Incorporation or Articles of Organization, with the confirmation of filing with your state Secretary of State's office; the letter you received from the IRS awarding you your federal tax ID number; or a DBA ("doing business as") certificate, with the confirmation of filing with your county or town clerk's office. "What is a business license, and when does an online retailer need one?" I'm not aware of any state that requires you to obtain a "license" just for the privilege of running a business (although you may need a license to sell certain goods or engage in certain professions). In many states, the term "business license" can refer to any of the following: the DBA certificate you file with the county clerk's office; the state "sales and use tax permit" that entitles you to collect sales taxes; or in states with no sales tax, the document by which the state issues your state tax ID number. Whether or not your state has a sales tax, you are required to register any new business with your state tax authority. The document you get back from the tax authority when you register is probably your "business license". Cliff Ennico ( cennico@legalcareer.com ) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series 'Money Hunt'. His latest books are 'Small Business Survival Guide' (Adams Media, $12.95) and 'The eBay Seller's Tax and Legal Answer Book' (AMACOM, $19.95). 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 2007 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconGrowing A Business Beyond The Initial Startup Stage By Cliff Ennico www.creators.com I had the privilege of participating in an all-star panel discussion on "Getting a Grip on Rapid Expansion" at last week's New York Times Small Business Summit in New York City. Joining me on the podium were Select Wines LLC founder John D'Aquila, Garage Tek founder Marc Shuman, and Paula McCoy-Pinderhughes, author and former small business editor of Black Enterprise magazine. Here are some insights I and the other panelists offered to the more than 500 attendees. "When You're Growing a Business, It's All About Growing Revenue." It sounds pretty trite, but a lot of entrepreneurs forget that "growing a business" is all about growing the "top line" of the income statement - gross sales or gross revenue. You can boost your operating efficiency and profitability (the "bottom line") by cutting costs, but if you're not taking steps to grow your revenue, you are not growing your business in any meaningful sense. So how do you grow revenue? Simple. There are only two ways. Either you increase the prices you charge for the goods and services you are already offering, or you sell more goods and services. Let's look at each strategy. Raise Your Prices. A lot of entrepreneurs believe they can't do this, because they're in a tightly competitive market. But if you can persuade your market that they're getting extra "value added" for their money - something more than your competitors are offering - you can charge more with a perfectly straight face and the market will gladly pay more. For example, you can hire a local interior designer to redo your bathroom for about $100 to $150 an hour in most places, but if you ask Martha Stewart to redesign your bathroom she's going to charge a whole lot more than that. Why? Because you are now not just buying a new bathroom; you are buying the bragging rights of telling the world that your bathroom is a Martha Stewart original design. Frankly, you should pay a lot more for that. Sell More Stuff. Find new domestic and (especially) international markets for your products and services - there are huge markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America for things you would have trouble giving away in the United States. Also, find new uses for your products and services. Arm Hammer Baking Soda was originally used to bake cakes (and can still be used that way), but its most popular use today is as a refrigerator and appliance deodorant. Look to see what your customers are actually doing with your stuff once they buy it - and brace yourself for some interesting surprises. "Understand the Three Commandments of Growing a Business". I call these the three "ates" because each word ends in the letters "ate". Here they are: Automate. At some point it becomes impossible for your management team to run your business day to day. You will have to create systems to run the business, and train your management team to run the systems. Use technology wherever possible to operate the systems so as to free your management team's time up for creative and strategic thinking. Delegate. Hire employees, train them well, and learn how to supervise their activities without doing their work for them. It's not easy, but you can't grow a successful mail-order business if you're packing boxes six hours a day. Anyone who's ever read Michael Gerber's classic book "The E-Myth Revisited" knows what I am talking about here. Concentrate. Startup businesses tend to do too many things for too many different customers. Find out what it is you do best, or what your customers are paying the most for, extend those lines of business to create an identifiable brand, and be ruthless enough to cut out product and service lines that are dragging down your performance. A business can be so well-rounded that there's no point to it - if one or two product or service lines are accounting for more than 75% of your total business, spend all your time building on those and delete the rest. Finally, beware of Murphy's Law: "anything that can go wrong will go wrong". Whenever you are offering multiple products and services, the ones your customers seem to want the most (and generate the most profit for your business) are usually the ones you are least excited about providing. Don't become emotionally attached to any product or service you offer. This is a business, not a baby, and if something isn't making you money you shouldn't be wasting your precious time doing, making or servicing it, even if it's enjoyable or self-fulfilling. Let it die (or do it as a hobby, if you have time), and build your business on what works. Cliff Ennico ( cennico@legalcareer.com ) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series 'Money Hunt'. His latest books are 'Small Business Survival Guide' (Adams Media, $12.95) and 'The eBay Seller's Tax and Legal Answer Book' (AMACOM, $19.95). 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 2007 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconGetting Started In An Import/Export Business By Cliff Ennico www.creators.com "I'm 27 years old, Mexican-American, born and raised in Mexico City and have lived in the U.S. for the past 10 years. I've always worked for a company and have never been self-employed. I recently lost my job and I am looking; however, in the meantime, I want to sell some things on eBay to pay off some of my expenses and also find a way to sell gourmet foods for people I became friends with from my former job and make commissions. This would mean I would be working as a broker. However, I do not have experience working on my own. I met a person at a trade show back in July that is president of a small company in New York that imports gourmet foods and high-end nonedible items from Mexico. He said he can't offer me a full-time position until perhaps the beginning of next year. For now, he said he can offer me $500 a month to pay my travel expenses and a 5% sales commission on the 2 gourmet food items he wants me to sell, but these items were recently introduced to the U.S. food industry and I think it would take at least six months to be able to sell them legally here. He already wants me to work on some things for him, but I don't want to do anything and spend time and money until I have something in writing (contract, agreement, etc). What do you suggest?" I'm assuming, first of all, that you are either a U.S. citizen or "green card" holder. If you are neither, you should talk to a good immigration attorney before getting involved in any U.S.-based business. You should enter into a sales representative agreement with the New York company with the following important provisions: you should be entitled to commissions whenever the New York company accepts an order from a customer you have introduced to them; commissions should continue to be payable on all sales to customers you have introduced to the New York company, whether or not you generated those specific sales, as long as the agreement is in effect and for a period of one year thereafter; and a statement that the New York company is solely responsible for ensuring that all food products "comply with applicable U.S. laws and regulations", including U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Food, Drug and Cosmetic Administration (FDA) rules. If you are sued because one of their products violates U.S. laws and regulations, they should "indemnify" you (pay your defenses and protect you against loss) for that. "An acquaintance of mine has a restaurant and started a couple of years ago with an import/distribution business with gourmet foods from Argentina. He said he wants me to be his partner so he can focus more on the restaurant business. I've never been offered a partnership before. He wants my sales/distribution knowledge in return and assures me that I wouldn't spend any money to own part of his business, because he knows I don't have money. I told him to write me a proposal and he said he had no idea what to write in it. I'd like to know what to expect in a contract/proposal, so that I make sure he's not going to cheat on me." First of all, I wouldn't enter into an informal partnership with this person. Instead, I would insist on forming a limited liability company (LLC). That way, if he does something bad, your personal assets are protected from liability, and vice versa. You should have a lawyer draft a formal Operating Agreement for the LLC with the following important provisions: that the LLC will engage only in the import and distribution business; that the restaurant owner "assigns" to the LLC all contacts, information, data, knowledge and know-how relating to the Argentine food import business; that the restaurant owner will not engage in any import or distribution business other than through the LLC; that you will not engage in any import or distribution business that "directly competes" with the LLC's business, but are otherwise free to engage in import and distribution activities (for example, as an employee of a large company); that the two of you will share all profits and losses 50/50 (or however else you agree); that the two of you will take monthly distributions after paying all LLC operating expenses; and that the LLC will dissolve upon one of you "withdrawing" from the LLC (for example, to take a full-time job). For more information on getting started in an import/export business, check out international trade consultant Laurel Delaney's free e-newsletter at www.globetrade.com . Cliff Ennico ( cennico@legalcareer.com ) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series 'Money Hunt'. His latest books are 'Small Business Survival Guide' (Adams Media, $12.95) and 'The eBay Seller's Tax and Legal Answer Book' (AMACOM, $19.95). 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 2007 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconWhy Can't A Woman Be More Like An Entrepreneur? By Cliff Ennico www.creators.com "I'm a big fan of your column, but you don't say much about the special problems women face when they start their own businesses. Do you have any suggestions or tips on how a woman can succeed in what has traditionally been a 'man's game'?" I'll do a lot better than that. It's no secret that women are launching businesses at twice the rate of men. In fact, women-owned businesses are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. economy. But here's the rub: fewer than three percent (3%) of the country's women-owned businesses gross a million dollars or more in revenue. To address this imbalance, I can do no better than to refer you to my good friend Susan Wilson Solovic, the CEO and Chairman of SBTV.com, the first video news and information destination site for America's small businesses, and the author of a new book, "The Girls' Guide to Building a Million Dollar Business" (AMACOM, $21.95). [Full disclosure: I am not an impartial observer when it comes to Susan's work. I am currently the Legal Editor of SBTV.com, as well as the co-host with Susan of an Internet radio show on VoiceAmerica.com. But just because someone's my friend doesn't mean I can't applaud when she does something really, really good. Besides, I can give you my personal assurance she has "walked the walk" more than the vast majority of business book authors ever have.] Susan's book is an essential read for anyone -- male or female - who wants to grow their business beyond the "Mom and Pop" stage. And it's unique. Most people writing "women in business" books have a "Scylla and Charybdis" problem (for those who have forgotten their Greek mythology, go to ( www.2020site.org/ulysses/scylla.html for a quick refresher before you read further) - steer your boat too far one way, and you fall into the trap of saying that "women must act more like men to succeed in the business world"; steer too far in the other direction, and you find yourself falling into the opposite trap by saying that "women can find success by embracing their femininity and rejecting a male paradigm for their businesses." Building on the success of her previous book, "The Girls' Guide to Power and Success," Susan avoids both "traps" by highlighting those things that all entrepreneurs - male or female - must do to grow their businesses, in a way that doesn't make those things seem particularly "masculine". Some of Susan's key points: Developing the right team - Susan rightly points out that "an owner of a small company can be one of the gang; as you grow your business, however, you need to act, look, think like and BE the CEO - the leader, the boss." Creating a unique market strategy through "branding" - don't try to do everything for everybody, but focus on what it is you really do best and build a name for doing it better than anyone else. Securing the essential funding - in Susan's words, an entrepreneur must "take full advantage of commercial loans and lines of credit. Get comfortable using other people's money. Dare to venture into venture capital." You don't need testosterone or a Y-chromosome to do any of this, folks. In her book Susan gives some amazing examples of successful female entrepreneurs like Gayle Martz, CEO of Sherpa, innovator in pet travel bags; Dany Levy, founder of DailyCandy.com; Maggie Laughlin, who started her own specialty advertising services firm at age 23; and Rebecca Boenigk and Jaye Congleton, the mother-daughter team behind a booming ergonomic chair manufacturer. "There's nothing wrong with being ambitious and making money," Solovic stresses, urging every woman to believe in one powerful statement: I DESERVE TO BE SUCCESSFUL. "It's your time and your turn," she assures her readers. "Be among the ranks of women who are living the lives they so justly deserve. This book will give you the tools, the insight and the resources you need. The rest is up to you." Amen. And guys, don't be afraid to pick this book up. You might learn something. Cliff Ennico ( cennico@legalcareer.com ) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series 'Money Hunt'. His latest books are 'Small Business Survival Guide' (Adams Media, $12.95) and 'The eBay Seller's Tax and Legal Answer Book' (AMACOM, $19.95). 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 2007 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconCan I Sell This Stuff On eBay? Part II By Cliff Ennico www.creators.com Q:"Last week I went to a local garage sale, and there was one family that was selling about 75 carousels of photographic slides some of their relatives took when they traveled around the world in the 1960s and 1970s. I made an offer of $20.00, and they accepted it. When I got home I realized I had bought over 10,000 slides of cities, landscapes and countrysides. I have seen people on the Internet hawking the idea that you can make good money weekly taking photos and uploading your photos to various Websites. You are paid a commission when someone buys a copy of your photo. I guess this would be the same as selling clip art. My question is: are there legitimate companies doing this or is this just another Internet scam? Can I get into trouble doing this?" A:Technically (and legally), the person who takes a photo owns the copyright to it - literally, the "right to make copies" and profit from licensing the image to others. Unless the photographer assigns his copyright to someone else, he or she retains it for the appropriate copyright period (currently very generous, basically the life of the photographer plus 50 years, but you would have to look at the copyright law in effect at the time the photos were taken). Technically, while the family probably had the legal right to sell you the actual physical slides (which were given to them as gifts, or inherited when the original photographer died), they had no legal right to assign the photographer's "copyright" unless they were the actual photographer and intended to do so. If you want to resell the actual slides on eBay, that probably won't be a problem. You will have to make clear, however, that you are not the photographer and cannot assign the "copyright" to them - a simple statement such as "reproduction of these photos without the photographer's permission is strictly prohibited" should be enough. You should also consult eBay's listing policy regarding selling copyrighted material, which can be found at http://pages.ebay.com/help/tp/copyrights.html . So what about setting up a "photo bureau" (that's the technical name of the Internet operation you describe) and licensing these images for a few pennies apiece? Here's the law: unless these photos are very, very old (anything pre-1910 is probably okay), they are probably not in the "public domain" as yet - someone owns the copyright to them, and will probably complain, by having their lawyers send a nasty "cease and desist letter", or using eBay's Verified Rights Owner (VeRO) program, if they discover unauthorized sales on eBay or elsewhere; if the photos contain images of persons, they cannot be sold or licensed without the persons' permission - any photos depicting family or tour group members should be returned to the family that sold you the slides; if the photographer is known, he or she should be given credit each time a photo is reproduced - so, for example, "photo by Cliff Ennico"; and if the photographer is not known, then the person who sold these photos to you should be given credit - for example, "photo courtesy of the family of Cliff Ennico" or "reprinted with permission of the Ennico family". The likelihood of anyone complaining is pretty remote in this case, but any reputable publisher or author will not download a photo from a "bureau" unless it has a photo credit and a copyright notice. I would never do this for any of my books, because then the publisher would make me prove that I had the right to reproduce the photo. Anyone downloading photos without proper credits and copyright information is looking to rip off the copyright owner, and any service providing such photos (on the Web or anywhere else) is a "scam". Go back to the family who sold you the photos, explain what you're planning to do with them, and get them to sign a one-page agreement assigning their copyright to you in exchange for a penny or two each time one of the photos is downloaded online. That way you can put credits and copyright notices on these photos and "legitimize" them. If the original photographer finds out and complains that the deal wasn't authorized by him, you will have some legal recourse against the family members who sold you the photos, you can offer the photographer the same deal in exchange for a copyright assignment, or you can simply remove the photos from the Web and go on with your life. After all, you're only out twenty bucks. Cliff Ennico ( cennico@legalcareer.com ) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series 'Money Hunt'. His latest books are 'Small Business Survival Guide' (Adams Media, $12.95) and 'The eBay Seller's Tax and Legal Answer Book' (AMACOM, $19.95). 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 2007 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconGetting Along in the Office: How to Leave Messages, and Meet and Greet By Ruth Haag www.RuthHaag.com Our modern messaging technology is so nice and quick that we have fallen into a too-casual usage of it, which often makes it difficult for the message recipient. This casualness has spread to meeting people face-to-face, where an assumption is made that everyone recognizes and remembers the name of everyone else. Some Bad Message Examples An E-mail read: "Just fax the invoice to me and I'll take care of it." What was the fax number, I wondered? I E-mailed back with the question. The next E-mail read: "The fax number is on the bottom of the E-mail." But it wasn't. I E-mailed this back. The last E-mail read: "It was on the bottom of the E-mail that I sent you last month." Sigh. Why couldn't she have just sent the fax number to me with the first E-mail? A voicemail message said: "Give me a call back at my office." But I was out of town with my cell phone, and did not know their office number. A voice mail said: "Hi, it's Jen." But I couldn't remember who Jen was. A person sees me coming in the door and calls out: "Hi, Ruth." Who could that possibly be? I wonder. I meet many new people each week. Did I meet this person, or did they see my name and picture somewhere? Polite Modern Communication Rules There are a few simple rules that will take you from being the annoyance with your voice mails, E-mails, and face-to-face meetings, to being a helpful and polite person. For Voice Mail Messages: Always give your complete name, and the name of your company If it is someone who might not know you, reiterate where you met Leave your telephone number twice, once at the start and once at the end Make the message brief but to the point For E-mail messages: Always lead off by reiterating the topic that is being discussed Always attach all of your contact information at the end Use complete sentences, and punctuate properly. For Face-to-Face Meetings: Stick out your hand for a handshake, stating your name, your company name and why the person might know you Don't use someone's name unless you are sure of it About the author: Ruth Haag ( www.RuthHaag.com ) helps managers and employees understand the dynamics of the work environment, and how to function smoothly within it. She is the President/CEO of Haag Environmental Company. She has written a four-book business series: "Taming Your Inner Supervisor", "Day-to-Day Supervising", "Hiring and Firing", and "Why Projects Fail." Her enjoyable, easy-to-read books provide a look at life the way it is, rather than the way that you might think it should be. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconBuilding Credibility As A new Seller On eBay By Cliff Ennico www.creators.com Q:"I have just started selling on eBay but no one will buy from me because my feedback score is zero. How can I get my feedback score up to 20 so that people will begin buying from me?" A:This is probably one of the biggest challenges for "newbie" eBay sellers. Most buyers will be hesitant to buy from a seller with a low or "zero" feedback score. To sell fixed-price items using eBay's popular "Buy It Now!" feature, a seller has to have a feedback score of at least 20. So how can an eBay seller reach that number? Here are some tips from leading eBay experts: begin by selling inexpensive items on eBay, on the theory that buyers are more likely to take a risk on a "newbie" seller if it's only a $5 item, whereas people will not take the risk of buying a $100 item from a "newbie" seller; if that doesn't work, buy 10 or 15 low-priced items on eBay and pay for them promptly so you generate positive feedback - eBay's feedback system distinguishes between a user's selling and buying activity, but many buyers (regrettably) will look only at the overall feedback score without digging into the details - once the desired feedback score has been reached, stop buying and use the User ID exclusively for selling so the "buying" feedback fades into the background; do everything possible to give buyers "warm fuzzies" that you're okay to deal with, such as qualifying for PayPal's "buyer's protection plan", "ID Verifying" your eBay User ID, creating a detailed "About Me" page, posting a "blog" describing the merchandise you are selling, and using only a "verified" address and a "confirmed" account on PayPal; and get involved in the eBay community - create an "About Me" page that tells people all about your business, and get involved in eBay's community chat rooms, discussion groups and "social networking" areas so other eBay sellers will vouch that you are "for real" - the "fraudsters" on eBay don't take the time to do that. Last but not least, do everything you can to avoid negative or neutral feedback on eBay. People generally won't buy from people with a feedback score less than 50 unless their "positive" eBay rating is 100%. Bend over backwards to give your buyers the best service you can, and prepare yourself for the possibility you may have to let a bad buyer "win" every once in a while to preserve your precious "100% positive" rating. Q:"How can I quickly establish credibility as an eBay seller?" A:Building up your feedback score as an eBay buyer and seller is the most obvious way to quickly establish credibility on eBay. Here are several other tips, courtesy of eBay Certified Education Specialist and "PowerSeller" Jack Waddick of Chicago, Illinois ( www.oakviewtraining.com ): Create a Free eBay "About Me" Page. Tell a little about who you are, what you sell, your level of interest in the products you sell, maybe even a little about why you are selling the things you are selling. ("Grandma just passed away at 98 after 73 wonderful years of collecting Hummels . . . ") Write eBay Reviews and Guides. If you have experience (good or bad) with a particular product (that you are selling or not) write an eBay Review and share that experience with others. If you have expertise in a certain area (coins, golf equipment, computers,) write an eBay Guide and share that particular expertise with other eBayers. Review and Guides help you establish credibility and build trust with the eBay community, which could help convince some people that you are the best person to be buying these items from. Use a Short Video. Including a short video in your eBay "About Me" page can be a great ice breaker and a nice way to warm up the online experience by adding a smiling face to that eBay User ID. For items that typically lend themselves to a demonstration, including a short video in your eBay listing (for free) is like stepping right in to that buyer's home with your product. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, what is a one-minute demonstration video worth? For a useful guide to creating videos for eBay, get the one-hour DVD "Add Video to eBay Auctions" by Cindy Shebley ($29.99, Ghost Leg Productions, www.ghostleg.com ). Cliff Ennico ( cennico@legalcareer.com ) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series 'Money Hunt'. His latest books are 'Small Business Survival Guide' (Adams Media, $12.95) and 'The eBay Seller's Tax and Legal Answer Book' (AMACOM, $19.95). 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 2007 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconCan I Sell This Stuff On Ebay? By Cliff Ennico www.creators.com Q:"What are the rules when it comes to selling trademarked or branded items, such as Gucci handbags or Tiffany jewelry, on eBay?" A:eBay's rules about trademarked items are simple to state, but difficult as the Dickens to apply in practice. Even experienced eBay sellers make mistakes in this area. The rules are basically these: you cannot sell knockoff or counterfeit items on eBay - never, ever, ever, world without end, Amen; it's up to you to determine if an item is genuine or not; eBay won't help you determine if an item is genuine or not; if the manufacturer or owner of the brand or trademark wants your listing terminated because they think you are not selling genuine merchandise, even if you are, eBay will shut down your listing and, for repeated violations, kick you off of eBay; you cannot hold yourself out as an authorized reseller of a manufacturer unless you truly are one; and if you have questions about whether an item is genuine or not, eBay wants you to talk directly to the "rights owner" or manufacturer about it, and has set up a program called VeRo (for "Verified Rights Owner") to help you do just that. Details of eBay's VeRo program can be found at http://pages.ebay.com/help/tp/programs-vero-ov.html . Many leading manufacturers participate in eBay's VeRo program, but offer little guidance to eBay sellers in determining whether an item is genuine or not. When you click on a manufacturer's "About Me" page in the VeRo section of eBay's website, many just repeat eBay's rules about not selling counterfeit or knockoff items with their brand names and trademarks on them, and warn you of the perils of doing so. eBay does require participants in the VeRo program to give you an e-mail address where you can ask questions about their merchandise, but don't hold your breath waiting for your e-mail messages to be answered. There are some very good business reasons why manufacturers and brand owners won't go out of their way to help you sell their merchandise on eBay, among them the following: many luxury-goods makers view eBay as a liquidation or "flea market" venue, and do not want their brands sold there under any circumstances for fear of tainting their brands' marketing image; many manufacturers want to protect their distribution channels from low-cost competition from eBay sellers; many manufacturers, especially of luxury goods, do not want to see an aftermarket in used (but genuine) merchandise competing with their new high-margin offerings; and many manufacturers want to avoid lawsuits and negative publicity from buyers who are angry with their eBay purchases (because of irresponsible or inexperienced sellers) and claim that the manufacturers have "aided and abetted" the eBay seller's actions.by encouraging sales on eBay. There are also some very good business reasons why eBay won't do more to help you sell branded merchandise on the site: eBay views itself as a "marketplace" or "platform" on which transactions take place, and is legitimately concerned about jeopardizing its "neutral" status by taking sides between sellers and trademark owners; and eBay is petrified (and rightly so) by the prospect of being sued by powerful Fortune 500 corporations (such as the parent corporations of Gucci's and Tiffany's) with deep pockets and big-name law firms behind them, and will bend over backwards to avoid offending these companies. To begin your education on eBay's brand-name merchandise policies, begin with eBay's "Guidelines for Creating Legally Compliant Listings" ( http://pages.ebay.com/help/tp/compliant-listings.html ). Then take eBay's "tutorial on Intellectual Property Policies and VeRO" (there's a link to that on the above page, but you will have to sign in using your eBay User ID and password to take the tutorial). Finally, review eBay's VeRO page and read the "frequently asked questions" that are posted there: http://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/questions/vero-ended-item.html . You now know as much as anyone does about selling brand-name merchandise on eBay. The bottom line is that when you sell brand-name merchandise on eBay without the manufacturer's permission or authorization, you are taking a risk, and will have to expect that occasionally eBay will terminate one of your listings even if you are convinced that the item is genuine. If you bought the item yourself, post a photo of your purchase receipt on your eBay listing (blacking out any personal information, of course). And remember . . . if a deal seems "too good to be true", it probably is. That "genuine Gucci handbag" you bought from a store in a back alley of Rome for 50 Euros (about $69) is almost certainly not genuine - don't even think about selling it on eBay! Cliff Ennico ( cennico@legalcareer.com ) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series 'Money Hunt'. His latest books are 'Small Business Survival Guide' (Adams Media, $12.95) and 'The eBay Seller's Tax and Legal Answer Book' (AMACOM, $19.95). 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 2007 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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