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05/07/2010
IconNavigating the Web 2.0 Universe By Cliff Ennico www.creators.com "I am looking to market a consulting business, and am very interested in the various 'social networking' websites such as Facebook and MySpace as potential marketing vehicles. I confess, though, that I'm a bit confused by the sheer multiplicity of sites that are available now - there are at least 10 social networking sites that might be a marketing venue for my business. How do I choose between them, or do I simply sign up for all of them in an effort to reach the maximum number of people?" If you are serious about marketing your business on the Web, there are three New Year's resolutions you need to make right now: (1)set up a "profile" page on at least one of the major Web 2.0 social networking websites; (2)mention your "profile" page everywhere else you have a presence online (such as your Website and "blogs") and offline (such as your business card, office stationery and telephone answering message); and (3)resist the temptation to be "everywhere, all at once" by spreading yourself too thin. At first glance, resolution # 3 seems to contradict the first two resolutions, but it really doesn't. There are four things you need to know about social networking websites: (1)certain sites attract certain types of people - while many people have multiple "profile" pages, certain sites develop stronger followings with some people than others, and you want to focus your marketing efforts where the people you want to reach "hang out"; (2)social networking sites can be "time vampires" - you will be creating profiles, taking part in discussions and responding to messages virtually every day; and (3)social networking sites are interactive - you are not in control of your marketing message on any of them - people will comment on your products and services, and some people are more interested in expressing their own opinions than in helping you build your business. (4)social networking sites overlap a lot -- hardly a day goes by in my office without receiving an e-mail from a Facebook "friend" who wants me to join his profile page on LinkedIn, and vice versa. A lot of the people you are reaching on Website A are the same people you are already reaching on Website B. So how you do decide where to "plant your flag" in the Web 2.0 universe? I've looked at most of the major sites, and here is my totally unscientific, personal, opinionated view of the major ones: MySpace - this is where the kids are hanging out. Great for rock bands and others who are targeting the "tween and teen" markets, and for celebrities, authors, sports stars and others who are looking to build a mass fan base (good book: "MySpace Marketing" by Sean Percival). This is where I want to be if I want to build readership for this column. Facebook - great for personal networking with family and friends. If you have an extended family and want to keep them all up to date on your latest adventures, this is the place to be. Several friends of mine used their Facebook profiles to send out holiday messages this year (bad news for Hallmark) (good book: "Facebook Marketing" by Steven Holzner). LinkedIn.com - great for businesspeople and professionals who are interested in "serious" networking. This is where I want a profile tied to my law and business development consulting practice (a new e-book from marketing expert Jan Wallen, "LinkedIn in Seven Days or Less", available at janwallen.com/works.htm ). Plaxo.com - originally an online address book and calendar manager for people who use Microsoft Outlook (and still probably the strongest product in that area), Plaxo has developed a Web 2.0 site (called "Plaxo Pulse") with a look and feel very similar to Facebook but with a little stronger focus on business networking (no books yet on Plaxo, sorry). Squidoo.com - great for subject matter "experts" who want to create interactive wikis (called "lenses") on specific topics of interest to build "niche interest" communities (good e-book: "Do You Squidoo?" by Joel Comm). Twitter.com - a "microblogging" site where you can post short announcements (called "tweets") of things you are doing elsewhere on the Web (good book: "Twitter Means Business" by Julio Ojeda-Zapata). Specialty sites - "special interest" Web 2.0 sites are exploding right now - such as feng.com for financial services executives - and may help you build followings within tightly targeted niches. If you must - absolutely MUST - be on multiple social networking platforms, be sure to use a "social networking automation" product - such as friendfeed.com or secondbrain.com -- to automatically update all your profiles without having to log into each platform. Also, use "Google Alert" or a similar product to notify you of new postings on your profiles, so you can respond promptly to someone who's broadcasting to all your "friends" what an idiot he/she thinks you are. Cliff Ennico ( cennico@legalcareer.com )is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS televisionseries 'Money Hunt'. This column is no substitute for legal, tax orfinancial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualifiedprofessional licensed in your state. To find out more about CliffEnnico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit ourWeb page at www.creators.com .COPYRIGHT 2009 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE,INC. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconBuilding An Internet"Octopus" By Cliff Ennico www.creators.com #147;Your recent column on 'The Changing World of eBay' got me thinking alot about building an e-commerce presence for my small business. Do youhave any thoughts on the right way to do that in a rapidly changingonline environment?" Consider the octopus. The octopus basically has two parts: a combination head and digestivesystem, and a bunch of tentacles that spread out from the head into thesurrounding water, enabling the octopus to swim and catch prey (okay,okay, I've been watching too many nature documentaries on cable TV, butyou get the general idea . . . ). The tentacles of the octopus contain numerous "suckers", which catchprey in the open water and then "feed" the prey to the mouth of theoctopus, which then digests the prey. That system of operation is exactly what you should strive to buildwhen you create an e-commerce empire on the Internet. The "head" of your online octopus is . . . your business Website. Five years ago, I would have conceded that there are at least some verysmall, local businesses that don't need a Website to be successful. Notanymore. These days, every small business, whether it does businessprimarily online or offline, needs to have its own Website. Why? For two reasons. First, people these days expect that you have one if you are inbusiness. When someone hands me a business card at a speakingengagement or networking event, the first thing I look for is a Webaddress so that I can find out more about the person (assuming ofcourse that I want to). If I don't see a Web address, or if it's written by hand on the back ofthe business card (never do this, by the way - it sends the signal thatyou're too cheap to send the right marketing message to yourcustomers), the person instantly loses credibility in my eyes. Second, and more importantly, there is one place . . . and only one . .. on the entire Internet where you can sell merchandise and keep 100%of the proceeds of each sale. That place is your Website. Whenever you list merchandise for sale on a platform other than yourown Website (such as eBay, Yahoo! or Amazon), you have to pay fees forthe privilege - either a listing fee, a "success" fee (a percentage ofthe sale amount or winning bid), or some combination of the two. When you sell stuff from your Website, you don't have to pay nothing tonobody. So, here's a "pop quiz" question: when selling merchandiseonline, where do you want the bulk of your sales to come from? Why,your Website, of course! The "head" of the octopus is your Website, but you need "tentacles" aswell. Your merchandise listings on eBay, Yahoo!, Amazon, or Craigslist,your online "blogs" and your profile pages on the major Web 2.0networking sites (MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo and Squidoo) areall examples of the "tentacles" you will put out in the e-commerceocean once you've established your own Website. What exactly do tentacles do? Well, at least according to the naturedocumentaries I see on TV (my experience with real "octopi" doesn't gomuch further than fried calamari), the tentacles on an octopus servetwo basic functions: they use their sticky #147;suction cups#148; (or whatever they#146;re called)to trap and ensnare prey that may be swimming by; and once having caught prey, the tentacles use their #147;suckers#148; topass the prey backwards towards the mouth of the octopus, located inthe head, where the prey is consumed and digested. Your e-commerce "tentacles" serve much the same goal. Your presence oneBay, Yahoo!, Amazon and other high-traffic e-commerce sites serves toattract customers surfing the Web who would otherwise not find you in amillion years. People are searching for things on the Web every day,but only rarely will people be searching specifically for your Website,at least until you are so well established that your business is a"household word" (and I hope that happens someday). Once customers buy a few things from one of your "tentacles" and become"hooked" on your merchandise or services (or "sucked in," since we'retalking octopus), they will want more. That's when your "tentacles"should be feeding them to the "mouth" of your e-commerce empire: YourWebsite. Where you can sell lots of stuff to these customers and keep100% of what you make. Now, sometimes it won't be easy for you to build an Internet octopusfor your business. Some online platforms, particularly eBay, have rulesrestricting your ability to post your Website URL on your listings orotherwise drive traffic off of their site. But with a littlecreativity, some online research and professional advice, you can findeffective ways to assemble your Internet octopus so that the maximumWeb traffic occurs in the places where it really impacts your bottomline the most. Cliff Ennico ( cennico@legalcareer.com )is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS televisionseries 'Money Hunt'. This column is no substitute for legal, tax orfinancial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualifiedprofessional licensed in your state. To find out more about CliffEnnico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit ourWeb page at www.creators.com .COPYRIGHT 2008 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE,INC. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconReinventing Yourself For The Tough Times Ahead By Cliff Ennico www.creators.com "Having just read your recent columns on career management, I was wondering if you had a suggestion as to what courses I could take to make me more employable. I am a 65 year old woman who retired as a Registered Nurse due to health concerns, but must go back into the workplace due to financial constraints. I am computer literate, bright (Mensa member) and articulate My finances and time are limited. I have an Associate's degree in Nursing and a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Management." I'm getting a lot of e-mails like this one lately, which should come as no surprise to anyone. Technically this isn't a column about career management, but what this reader wants to do is reinvent herself in a new career, which is what this column ultimately is all about. First of all, unless you have surrendered your state license to practice nursing, there is no reason why you can't continue as a nurse part-time. While at the age of 65 you probably no longer want to work the grueling hours that a hospital or private clinic would demand of its nursing staff, there are plenty of other options for nurses that would give you some "flex time" to pursue other interests and perhaps "branch out" into other areas. For example, you could join a local "private duty" nursing agency, such as The Greenwich Nursing and Health Care Registry in Greenwich, Connecticut (www.bluebooks.com/pages/greenwichregistry). These folks provide nurses on an hourly or temporary basis to elderly people in the community. You provide the requested services in the customers' homes, the customers pay the agency for your services, and the agency pays you #150; just like any other temporary employment agency. Far from being a disadvantage, your age may well be a benefit in this field, as many older people prefer dealing with a private duty nurse they consider a "peer". To find private duty nursing agencies in your area, go to www.privatedutyhomecare.org or search "private duty nursing agency [your state]" on the Web. If joining an agency isn't practical, you can set up your own private duty nursing business out of your own home. "Private Duty Today" ( www.privatedutytoday.com ) is a free biweekly e-mail newsletter offering tips and resources for home health care entrepreneurs. Contact your state licensing department to make sure your license is broad enough to cover home health care services, and contact your professional liability insurer as you may need additional coverage to operate your own business. Another possibility is to reposition yourself as a "patient advocate" #150; someone who interfaces on behalf of the patient with doctors, hospital staff and administrators to ensure that medical treatments are being performed correctly and efficiently, costly and life-threatening mistakes are avoided, and bureaucratic "red tape" is kept to a minimum. Many patient advocates are former nurses and hospital staffers who know what really happens "behind the scenes" in our health care system. For more information, check out the Patient Advocate Foundation's website ( www.patientadvocate.org ). One warning #150; your clients often will be hiring you because they aren't strong enough or persistent enough to get the results they need, and many doctors and hospital staffers will not view your role kindly. You will need to be persuasive, thick-skinned, and sometimes abrasive to be successful in this field. If you want nothing more to do with nursing, then you will have to reinvent yourself. Generally, the easiest way to do this is to take what you know best (in this case, nursing) and "widen the lens" to a related but much broader field (for example, "health care administration"). Your degree in Organizational Management is especially helpful here, as it sends a signal to people that you understand the business of health care. With an aging population that will place increasing demands on existing health care services, and an incoming Administration in Washington that wants to expand health care coverage to all Americans while at the same time controlling health care costs, there will be plenty of career opportunities over the next several years for "health care administration professionals". Here are some ideas. Consider becoming: A management consultant specializing in hospitals, clinics and health care facilities #150; you help these folks figure out the most economical way for them to use their staff resources, and charge by the hour; A medical billing expert for local doctors and health care providers #150; you make sure these folks are billing the insurance companies properly, and mediate billing disputes with the insurers so the providers can focus on what they do best; A business/career coach for nurses and other health care professionals. One more thing: while it is certainly an achievement to be proud of, I would not mention your "Mensa" membership on your resume. When looking to reinvent yourself in a new career, your experience, people skills and "emotional intelligence" count for far more than your ability to solve Sudoku puzzles in five minutes. Cliff Ennico ( cennico@legalcareer.com )is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS televisionseries 'Money Hunt'. This column is no substitute for legal, tax orfinancial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualifiedprofessional licensed in your state. To find out more about CliffEnnico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit ourWeb page at www.creators.com .COPYRIGHT 2008 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE,INC. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconA Message From YourBrok . . . er . . . Financial Advisor By Cliff Ennico www.creators.com Hi, all.nbsp; I just returned from an investment conference where forfour days from 9 AM to 3PM (when I usually manage your accounts), Ilistened to numerous industry experts, economists, strategists, moneymanagers and analysts from our company, its affiliated investmentfunds, and a couple of "screamers" from CNN, who discussed the currenteconomic environment.nbsp; Even though these were the same people wholoaded us up with mortgage-backed securities and forced us to be soldoff to The First National Bank of Southern North Carolina earlier thisyear, we have every reason to believe these are the right people tohelp us through some challenging times, especially now that they're nolonger worried about their jobs and can focus 100% on the task ofrebuilding our company with your money. The consensus was the same:nbsp; no one had expected or experienced atime such as what we are now going through.nbsp; As for how long itwill last, the experts were also in agreement:nbsp; "sure beats theHeck out of us".nbsp; Having gotten that out of the way, the paneliststhen told us (and you) what you should do in these difficult times. In his opening address (titled "Oopsie!nbsp; Didn't See That OneComing"), our president O. Leo Leahy said:nbsp; "I know a lot ofpeople say that we're stockbrokers, and that the primary duty of astockbroker is to get their clients into the market when it's down, andget them out of the market when it's up.nbsp; Which means that you allshould have put your client's funds 100% in cash in the first quarterof 2008.nbsp; But we are NOT stockbrokers.nbsp; We leave thatbusiness to the 'day traders' and that's what you need to tell yourclients right now.nbsp; What we are . . . are . . . FINANCIALADVISORS, which means we are bound by the higher laws of finance tofocus on the longer term, no matter how much the World may be crashingaround our ears today!" Virtually all experts felt that the markets bottomed on October 10thand that we are going through a "retesting" of that bottom.nbsp;"You've seen bottoms before," said Leahy, "and you're looking at onenow.nbsp; We may see several more bottoms before we see the realbottom.nbsp; But let me assure you, ladies and gentlemen, that whenthe Dow Jones Industrial Average hits zero, we are absolutely certainthat will be the last bottom, and the market will have nowhere to gobut up!" The experts also were optimistic about the nation's politicalfuture.nbsp; "Now that the 2008 election is over, the 2012Presidential race is under way, and it becomes ever more likely we willbe a one party state within the next few years," said Leahy, "we willNEVER, EVER AGAIN be plagued by market-disrupting election yearuncertainties, and will be able to focus our full attention on growingassets for our Government to take over. That way, the Chinese will besure to buy our assets in 20 years and 'the World will be as one'." So what does an investor do now?nbsp; The experts were unanimous thatwhat you should do now is to "stay the course" and keep putting whatlittle money you have into the stock market.nbsp; They gave fourreasons for this: any roller coaster rider knows the ride down is a lot morethrilling than the ride up; you will make it easier for the "day traders" to get THEIR moneyout before the market tanks; the market is bound to go up again someday, and you will recoupyour losses (assuming, of course, you have some cash to buy stocks withand can handle a 50% capital gains tax); and hey, if you put everything in cash there won't be anything for usto do, and nothing for the experts to talk about. You should also remember if your account balance falls below ourinvestment "minimum" we will have to terminate our relationship and youwill be on your own. Look at it this way: if you put money into the stock market in October1930, the depths of the last big "R", and kept it invested untilOctober 2008, you would have DOUBLED your money and would be able toretire at the still young age of 112!nbsp; We have every confidenceyou will be able to do the same in this market. So have a good week and please try not to listen to the financialentertainment networks, your barber, your manicurist or yourdoorman!nbsp; Whom would you rather believe . . . them, orprofessionals like us? One more thing:nbsp; we are pleased to announce a new investmentproduct from The First National Bank of Southern North Carolina.nbsp;It's called a "Christmas Chanukah Kwanzaa Saturnalia Club".nbsp; Youopen an account on January 1, put in One Dollar every week, and whenthe holidays roll around you have . . . not Fifty-Two Dollars but . . .(wait for it) . . . FIFTY-THREE DOLLARS to spend on holiday cheer,thanks to the miracle of compound interest! Please make an appointment with me to discuss this exciting new productat your convenience.nbsp; I'll be at Teller Cage # 3. Cliff Ennico ( cennico@legalcareer.com )is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS televisionseries 'Money Hunt'. This column is no substitute for legal, tax orfinancial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualifiedprofessional licensed in your state. To find out more about CliffEnnico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit ourWeb page at www.creators.com .COPYRIGHT 2008 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE,INC. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconThe Changing World OfeBay By Cliff Ennico www.creators.com "I do a lot of public speaking to promote my small business. Most of myspeaking is for local organizations; I don't charge them a fee, andthere's no contract involved. But lately I've been contacted by someevent planners to speak at trade shows around the country, and theircontracts are several pages long! What are some of the things I shouldbe looking for in these contracts? Do I need an attorney to look ateach of these when I receive them?" It's no secret.nbsp; It's getting harder and harder to build asuccessful eBay selling business.nbsp; Not only is the competitiongreater than ever before (between 700,000 and 800,000 sellers in theUnited States alone), but eBay itself is making it tougher for sellersto succeed by "raising the bar" for people it will allow to sell on thesite. To understand the changes that have rocked the eBay community in recentyears, it helps to understand the fundamental difference between"amateur" and "professional" retailers. When eBay was first launched in the mid-1990s, it developed areputation (rightly or wrongly), as "the world's flea market".nbsp;Anyone with twenty-five cents to spend and a few spare hours to createan eBay auction listing could sell anything on eBay to anyone in theworld.nbsp; They did not have to be a "regular vendor": they did nothave to follow rules of business etiquette, they did not have to keepcareful books and records, they did not have to be disciplined abouthow they conducted their businesses or how they interacted withcustomers.nbsp; That was the great charm of eBay in the "good old days" of the late1990s.nbsp; It was more than just "online commerce".nbsp; It was acommunity of buyers and sellers interacting with each other on thesite, and you never knew what would happen when you bid on somethingfor sale there.nbsp; You might make a friend for life.nbsp; You mightmeet a world authority on a certain type of antique orcollectible.nbsp; You might even meet your future spouse or lifepartner on eBay. Often you were buying from people who knew less about their merchandisethan you did, and you picked up some amazing bargains that way because"these people on eBay don't know what they've got". But eBay's charm was also its greatest handicap.nbsp; Many times whenbidding on eBay you found yourself dealing with the seller from Hell -somebody who was trying to pass off fake antiques as genuine, somebodywho was ripping you off on shipping and handling fees, somebody whoshipped you an article different than the one you ordered (and wouldn'tgive you your money back), or somebody whose sole goal in life was tosteal your personal identity online. eBay, in short, developed a reputation as the "Wild West" of onlinecommerce - a place where anything could happen, and often did. In recent years, eBay has taken some dramatic steps to move away fromits "Wild West" image and become more respectable as an online commercevenue for serious sellers and buyers - steps that, in some cases, havealienated large sectors of their selling community.nbsp; Among some ofthe more recent changes: the development of DetailedSeller Ratings (or DSRs) that enable buyersto rate sellers on a variety of different aspects of the saleexperience (for example, shipping speed, quality of merchandise,communications) rather than an "overall" rating; eliminating sellers' ability to leave "negative feedback" onbuyers,while allowing buyers greater leverage to leave "negative feedback" onsellers; requiring eBay sellers to use an "online payment system" such asPayPalfor all transactions, and prohibiting them from accepting checks, moneyorders and other paper-based forms of payment; and eliminating certain benefits (such as eBay's coveted"PowerSeller"status) for sellers whose DSRs fall below certain percentage levels. Many sellers complain that, because of these changes, "eBay isn't asmuch fun as it used to be," and numerous newspaper and magazinearticles and online "blogs" have accused eBay of trying to eliminate"Mom and Pop" sellers from the site in favor of large corporateretailers. But the truth, as always, is a bit more complex than that.nbsp; eBayhas, and probably always will, welcome the small "Mom and Pop" retaileron the site, especially in the "antiques and collectibles" andused/secondhand merchandise categories where eBay still reigns supremein the e-commerce world.nbsp; Because the site is so easy to use, andbecause of the extensive support sellers receive on the site, eBay willprobably for some time continue to be the first place small businessesgo to "cut their teeth" when venturing into e-commerce. What will clearly no longer be tolerated on eBay, however, are"amateur" sellers - people who don't run their businesses in aprofessional, customer-friendly and, well, "businesslike" manner. You can be small and thrive on eBay, but from now on, you gotta be good. Cliff Ennico ( cennico@legalcareer.com )is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS televisionseries 'Money Hunt'. This column is no substitute for legal, tax orfinancial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualifiedprofessional licensed in your state. To find out more about CliffEnnico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit ourWeb page at www.creators.com .COPYRIGHT 2008 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE,INC. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconSome Legal and Tax Tips For Professional Speakers By Cliff Ennico www.creators.com "I do a lot of public speaking to promote my small business. Most of my speaking is for local organizations; I don't charge them a fee, and there's no contract involved. But lately I've been contacted by some event planners to speak at trade shows around the country, and their contracts are several pages long! What are some of the things I should be looking for in these contracts? Do I need an attorney to look at each of these when I receive them?" Generally, when I look at speaking contracts, I focus on three basic questions: "How and When Do I Get Paid?" Speaking contracts are usually clear about the amount you will be paid for speaking, but you would be amazed how many contracts are "fuzzy" about when payment is due. Most event planners will want you to submit an invoice for fees and expenses after you speak, which is fine, but if there are significant expenses involved - such as cross-country air travel - you might want to ask to have those expenses reimbursed before you board the plane. Watch out for language saying the event planner will pay you if they or their client are "satisfied with" or "have accepted" your work - that can be awfully subjective, and you don't want your payment held up on somebody's whim. "Who Owns My Presentation?" There should be only one answer to this question: YOU should own the copyright and all other rights to your PowerPoint slides, handouts and other materials you give to attendees, and any other content you create for the event. Many speakers' contracts require you to assign your copyright to the event planner, and you should resist these provisions as much as possible. Once someone owns your copyright, they can do whatever they want with your presentation, you get nothing for it, and you can't use that same presentation anywhere else. Consider instead giving the event planner a "nonexclusive, perpetual, royalty free" license to use your content only for certain specified purposes - such as posting the content for a limited time on the event's Website. "Am I Restricted From Speaking for Someone Else?" Never, ever sign a noncompete agreement for a speaking event. No event planner has the right to prohibit you from speaking for other organizations or clients. If they protest, tell them you won't agree to a noncompete unless the planner agrees to give you a minimum volume of speaking business each year while the noncompete clause is in effect. It's a good idea to have an attorney review your first couple of speaking contracts. I would recommend you meet with the attorney and have her "educate" you on the things you need to look for to avoid getting into legal trouble with the event planners. After that, you can probably review these yourself, keeping your attorney on "speed dial" if a particular contract has language you haven't seen before. "I am a corporate training professional who conducts programs at hotels and convention centers in my state two or three times a year. While I can limit myself to my home state, a future goal is to offer training in other locations across the country, and I understand I may be subject to income and sales taxes in other states if I conduct programs there. What's the best way to learn about the tax rules in each state where I may wish to conduct training?" When you conduct training classes in another state, especially if the classes last for more than one day each and/or you conduct several classes in the state each year, you may have "nexus" with that state for tax purposes. This means you are responsible for paying income or sales taxes to the tax authority in each state where you conduct training programs. To find out a state's "nexus" rules, find the state tax authority's Website - you can search online for "[name of state] revenue department", or go to www.taxsites.com/state.html for a nationwide directory of state tax Websites. Once you get to the state tax authority's Website, search for the "nexus information" page. There almost always will be one. Each year, the Bureau of National Affairs in Washington, D.C. conducts a survey of state tax departments about their "nexus" rules and publishes the survey in book form -- for a current copy of this survey, call BNA at (800) 372 1033 and ask for Item STSV01. But be forewarned: it will set you back $185. As a last resort, you can always call the state's tax department, ask to speak to a Revenue Examiner, and ask them flat out if your proposed activities within the state will subject you to income or sales taxes. The good news is that they're usually fairly friendly, and will tell you exactly what to do. The bad news is that they will almost always find you have "nexus" in the state and will have to pay taxes. Cliff Ennico ( cennico@legalcareer.com )is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS televisionseries 'Money Hunt'. This column is no substitute for legal, tax orfinancial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualifiedprofessional licensed in your state. To find out more about CliffEnnico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit ourWeb page at www.creators.com .COPYRIGHT 2008 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE,INC. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconGrowing Your Business In Challenging Times By Cliff Ennico www.creators.com "I have a small service business. I was doing okay until recently, but in the past several months a lot of my business has dried up and I#146;m struggling to stay afloat. Do you have any tips on how to run a service business in difficult times?" When you run your own business, there's never anything BUT difficult times. The rules of good management apply no matter what the economy's doing at a particular moment. Having said that, though, recent events in the financial world have shaken a lot of people#146;s confidence, so it's a good idea to review the basics. "Talk to Me, So You Can See, What's Going On . . . " With apologies to the late Marvin Gaye, a sudden drop in business usually means you have a marketing problem. Your customers have had a change of heart about you and what you're doing, and you've got to find out what's happening. Sitting around the office thinking about the problem won't solve it. You've got to get out into the marketplace and start talking to your customers. Ask them point blank why they're no longer calling. Is it something you're doing or not doing for them? Are their needs changing? Is there a new competitor in town who#146;s offering them better prices, better service, or a more convenient location? Frankly, you should be doing this ALL the time, but especially now you need to worship your customers. Offer them a little something for participating in a telephone survey and they'll probably give you an earful. Oh, and if they're telling you they want something new and different from your business, say "yes" and start offering it . . . whatever it may be. "Is There Anybody Alive Out There?" With apologies to Bruce Springsteen, changing times create new marketing opportunities as well as threats. For each customer who's drifting away from you, there are others who are being abandoned by other service providers. Take a good, long look at your community #150; what's NOT being done that people are willing to pay good money for? If two or more customers ask for Service X and you are offering only Services Y and Z, maybe Service X needs to be added to the mix. Chances are, a lot more people are looking for Service X, and it's good to be the only one in town (or in your industry) doing it. Maximize Revenue, Minimize Cost. These are the two cardinal rules of growing a business in tough times (or indeed, any other time). Here are the key questions you should be asking: Are your prices high enough? Since your customer base is declining, you will have to squeeze more cash out of fewer customers. Your gut instinct is to cut prices in difficult times, but if inflation is pushing everybody's costs higher, now may be an excellent time to actually RAISE your prices because people are more resigned to it. Are there other complementary products or services you can sell your regular customers? If you are a rare coin dealer, you should not be selling just the coins themselves but also the supplies that coin collectors need. Are there new markets or uses for your products and services? Consider selling internationally via the Web #150; there may be huge markets in Brazil for stuff you can't give away in the United States. Perhaps you can reach out to an ethnic group in town that's not being adequately served by your business (three little words that will dramatically expand your service business #150; "se habla espanol"). Perhaps there are new uses for your products that people aren't aware of. In good times, a bicycle is a fun way to exercise. In tough times, it might be a primary means of transportation. Are you spending too much money on anything? In tough times you have to be downright ruthless about cutting expenses and living on "a drop of water". Do you really need a second employee working on Saturdays? Can you get another year out of your old truck? Most of us don't spend wildly on high-priced items, but the little expenses -- $10 here, $20 there #150; really add up. Cut your spending by even $20 each day, and you will save $140 each week, and $7,280 each year. At all times, there are two steps to success in any service business: (1)Find a dirty job that has to get done but that no one likes to do; and (2)Charge a premium price for doing it. People will always pay good money to have work done if they are too nervous, time-starved or nauseated to do it themselves. In tough times people are more motivated to do mildly objectionable things themselves, but they will still outsource the really scary, distasteful jobs. Be prepared #150; and willing #150; to tackle some of the really nasty stuff people want done, especially if your competitors are too squeamish to do it. You won't love it, you might not smell too great, but you will survive. Cliff Ennico ( cennico@legalcareer.com ) is a syndicated columnist, author and former 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 2008 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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