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IconHow to Launch a Successful eCommerce Web Site From Home Jennifer Fallon jennifer@myweddingfavors.com In January 2004, my husband Brad and I launched our first online store using a $50 per month Yahoo Store. After we built the store and I entered our initial products, we sold over $10,000 our first month. But by April we had over $80,000 in monthly sales and had to find a warehouse to hold our inventory. By May, our sales had reached $132,000. By June, we were bringing in over $150,000 per month and had to upgrade our warehouse, and now we have a full-time staff of six #150; but I still work at home. Our gross sales have already reached $1 million. One thing I know for sure is that despite the setbacks of the 1990s, you can still open an eCommerce business and have it be a huge success. But there are some factors to consider when you are getting started. Step 1: Find a High Demand Niche MarketBrad and I were married in May of 2003. I wanted to be able to have children and stay at home, but without giving up my income. I had a corporate software sales job with a lot of travel. The initial idea for my new business came to me when I was planning my own wedding and was looking for place card holders for our reception. As I surfed the web looking for wedding favors and place card holders, I thought to myself . . . what a great internet business #150; wedding favors. People are looking to purchase large quantities for the entire guest list, and you can#146;t exactly walk into a store and buy 150 personalized candles. Plus there are so many items on your wedding planning checklist and it#146;s ideal to be able to go to the internet on a Sunday night in your pajamas and knock an item off the list. We decided to do more research on this online market and, using the free #147;Search Term Suggestion Tool#148; at www.overture.com , we found that over 100,000 people per month are searching for the term #147;wedding favors#148;. That#146;s high demand! Of course when I typed that in myself, I was a bit concerned about the amount of competition but I knew the concept was good; I knew it had potential. My husband has experience in helping web site owners get their web site to the top of the search engines. That#146;s called Search Engine Optimization, so it seemed that an online business selling wedding products was going to be a great fit. Having a great idea is a lot different from making that idea happen. I knew very little about retail and certainly had a lot to learn about the wedding favor market. Our first step was getting our retail tax ID and seeing if I could find products. The most challenging part of this was going to be product pricing. Since brides are purchasing for an entire guest list, the price point is extremely important; most people are not going to pay more than a few dollars per favor. So I headed off to the wholesale Atlanta Mart, looked around and took home over 40 catalogs from different gift wholesalers. That was the fun part! Every night after work I would go through the catalogs and mark which products I thought would work as a wedding favor. The next step was to build the website, which was a Yahoo store. Templates are provided, software is provided, and the shopping cart is provided. The majority of work was going to be taking pictures of the products and writing the website content and the descriptions. We wrote all the descriptions for the products and then had a sample of each product that we photographed on tablecloths just as they might appear on reception tables. So after a lot of long nights and weekends, we had a website! Now what? Step 2: When you have what people want...make sure they know about it.100,000 people a month may be searching for what we were selling but how were we going to be found. That is where my husband and I began to strategize with this new business. Brad had been experimenting with different techniques to get a web site a higher ranking in the search engines. Brad put into practice some theories he had developed as one of the leading experts in the search engine field. We started moving up in the search results almost immediately. We first noticed we were coming up on page 3 on Google, kept working at it and the next thing we knew, our web site, myweddingfavors.com, was coming up in the #1 slot on Yahoo! and #2 on Google when somebody was searching for #147;wedding favors#148;. Very shortly thereafter our profits started to soar. We went from 6-10 orders a day to 50-60 orders a day selling over $160,000 per month! Our little side business was now a million dollar business with 6 employees. It was quite comical #150; we went from having a few products in our basement with my retired father helping with shipping to a large warehouse with 6 employees. There were many growing pains, but I still work from home. I think that our success is mostly due to search engine marketing. Think about it#151;people perform a web search for a product when they are ready to buy it. It#146;s the best form of targeted marketing there is. In our case the word #147;wedding#148; is the fifth most commonly searched phrase on the Internet. It is searched for more than 3,000 times a month on Google alone. And out of more than 822,000 listed web sites that sell wedding favors, our site comes up well ahead of our competition. The power of advertising using search engine marketing has proven to be so powerful to us that it is now our primary form of marketing and advertising. And Brad has gone on to start his own company devoted to creating high search engine rankings for web sites, SEO Research. Step 3: Know when to outsource I originally started this business as a sideline endeavor. It quickly started to take over my life. One of the first lessons I had to learn was that if my business was to remain a success, I couldn#146;t do it all by myself. Orders were piling up (which was a good thing). But there was no way I could handle order processing, shipping, bookkeeping, and still maintain a high level of customer service. And I believe quality customer service makes the real difference in this kind of business. In an Internet environment, a customer will have a certain anxiety level dealing with a business they have never seen with their own eyes. This is why you must go the extra step when it comes to keeping your customers happy. I realized that in order to do this, I had to outsource the daily operational details of my business. I hired a full time staff of six people (including 2 of my relatives) to handle order processing, packing, shipping, customer service, etc. This freed my time to focus on searching for new and unique products. This also gave me the ability to keep a close watch on my manufacturing vendors to make sure product quality met my specifications. Even though this is an online company, certain basic components of good business practice still apply: quality products, attentive service and the ability to respond to customer requests with a personal touch. Now that I have a #147;staff#148; to handle the more labor-intensive details, this is quickly becoming the work-at-home opportunity I dreamed of. I have the freedom to do the things I want in life, and the satisfaction of owning my own business. While I would never say that running this type of company is easy (because it isn#146;t), I do know that it can be intensely rewarding and personally satisfying. If you#146;re looking for a home-based business with a high-yield potential, then I highly recommend eCommerce as the way to build your path to success. Jennifer Fallon runs her own home-based business, My Wedding Favors, www.myweddingfavors.com . Jennifer works from home 4 days a week using the internet and phone to manage her 6 employees. Brad Fallon founded SEO Research, the scientific search engine authority with proven strategies to deliver top rankings. Brad used his knowledge of search engine marketing to help Jennifer propel www.myweddingfavors.com into a million dollar a year enterprise #150; in the first nine months. More information about Brad and SEO Research can be found at www.seoresearch.com and Brad#146;s blog at www.bradfallon.com . To see the story of My Wedding Favors and learn how you can get your web site to the top of the search engines, visit www.instantseoexpert.com . Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

IconThe #147;Four Horsemen#148; of Corporate America By Cliff Ennico www.cliffennico.com Anyone who took Art History 101 in college remembers at some point seeing a slide of Albrecht Durer#146;s woodcut, #147;The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse#148;. This masterpiece depicts four ghostly riders on horseback, charging ahead in full stampede and waving their fearsome weapons over their heads, trampling over the bodies of the highborn and lowborn equally, while angels float overhead egging them on (you can see a terrific reproduction on the Web at www.apocalipsis.org/artwork/durer4horse.html ) These mythic figures, who made their first appearance in the biblical Book of Revelation, are symbols of the four plagues that have devastated mankind since the beginning, the evils that no human can prevent or avoid -- War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death. As the economy heats up, a lot of downsized executives and frustrated business owners are thinking about making a return to the #147;Fortune #147;1000#148; corporate world, where the living is easy, the money flows like wine, and you actually get benefits. Well, before you dust off your suits, polish up your resume, and google the Web to learn more about Six Sigma, be aware that corporate America is facing #147;Four Horsemen#148; of its own right now, and these plagues are likely to be hanging around for the next couple of decades at least. Now more than ever, it is important to hang on to your entrepreneurial dreams, for dear life, and resist the siren call of the corporate cubicle. Horseman # 1: The Computer Revolution . These days, if a big company can buy computers to do the work of people, it buys the computers and eliminates the people. With today#146;s information technology, it is entirely possible to run a $1 billion corporation with fewer than 100 employees, and large corporate staffs are a thing of the permanent past. Horseman # 2: The Rise of Asia . If a big company must hire people to do a job, because no computer is good enough, it is likely to hire the cheapest people it can in far-flung corners of the globe. Our global economy often forces corporations to hire people overseas who can work for a fraction of the salaries and benefits their American counterparts need. It is not an exaggeration to say that we are witnessing the dawn of an #147;Asian Century#148;, with China, India and some of the smaller Pacific Rim nations becoming the economic powerhouses of the future. American industry will have to struggle hard to survive, much less maintain its dominance. Horseman # 3: The Outsourcing of Nonessential Functions . If a big company really must hire Americans, because no foreigner is good enough, it will #147;outsource#148; them as independent contractors rather than employees, especially if the job is perceived by senior management to be a #147;staff function#148; that is not essential to the company#146;s success. That way the company doesn#146;t have to pay them benefits, health insurance or other employee #147;perks#148;. Horseman # 4: The Obsession with Productivity . If you perform such an essential function for a big company that they absolutely must hire you as an employee, not an independent contractor, be prepared to work harder than you ever have in your life. Big corporations these days are obsessed with #147;maximizing productivity#148;, which often translates into English as #147;getting the maximum amount of work out of your employees for the minimum amount of compensation#148;. For example, in an effort to cut employee health care costs, many big companies are modifying their health insurance plans so as to decrease their mandatory contributions and increase the deductibles, copays and other amounts employees must pay before coverage kicks in. While no doubt many corporate employers will take seriously their #147;social welfare#148; obligations to their employees, some will take advantage of the availability of cheap overseas labor and the weakness of American labor unions to create a sweatshop environment for their employees in which one #147;lives, breathes, eats, sleeps and excretes the Company#148; with little time for outside pursuits, and is expected to be grateful for it. And a Fifth Horseman: Our Increasingly Volatile Economy . And if due to some miracle of enlightened management a company resists the temptation to be run down by the #147;Four Horsemen#148; and is actually a great place to work, always remember that even the most #147;employee friendly#148; company can be taken over by a competitor, lose a key product due to obsolescence or loss of a key patent, or fail due to poor management. In some industries, all it will take is one successful terrorist attack on American soil, or one decline in an economic indicator, to drive every company into a tailspin. The marketplace these days is extremely unforgiving, and small mistakes frequently lead to big disasters, which are immediately broadcast to the entire world in real time by our 24/7 media. Even if you stay employed with a big company until age 65, you will still need to keep your entrepreneurial dream alive if you expect to survive your retirement years. Corporate retirement plans are a lot less generous than they used to be, and many corporations have cut back, or eliminated altogether, the medical insurance they provide to their retirees. The Government won#146;t be there to bail you out, either. Social Security, Medicare and other government programs that helped your parents and grandparents either won#146;t be there when you are ready for them, or they will be so scaled back that only the most poverty-stricken Americans will qualify for them. And you won#146;t be able to fall back upon blue-collar or service jobs, because there#146;s a massive wave of new immigrants from Asia, Africa and Latin America who are only too willing, for a lot less money, to take the jobs we educated Americans are too proud to do. To sum it all up, even if you do make a successful return to corporate America, you cannot count on your employer #150; or indeed, anyone other than yourself -- any longer to provide you with a generous living over the long term. Big companies, facing tough foreign competition, have learned that they have to keep their costs as low as possible to stay alive. Since people are a corporation#146;s biggest cost, they try to run their businesses with as few employees as possible, and try to get as much work out of those people as they legally can without overpaying for it. My prediction for all of you, dear readers #150; no, my guarantee #150; is that sooner or later (maybe next year, maybe when you turn 50, maybe when you retire) you will find yourself once again responsible for generating the income you need by running your own business. My advice to all of you is to begin preparing for that day now. If you are running a business and do get a corporate job, don#146;t shut down your business completely; keep it running on #147;life support#148;, perhaps with the help of stay-at-home relatives, so you won#146;t have to start it up again from scratch if the new job doesn#146;t work out. Develop new skills and other interests on the job that you can turn into profit making businesses or consulting practices someday. Make business contacts that can not only help you in your current job, but provide customers, financing or other support to your future entrepreneurial venture. Keep up to date about new techniques for running successful small businesses, and don#146;t cancel your subscription to HomeBusinessJournal under any circumstances. Look for opportunities to get back into the entrepreneurial life, and don#146;t wait until the #147;time is right#148; before you launch. The sooner you get started, the sooner you will be able to support yourself without having to rely on anyone else for your income. And then you can get on with the fun stuff you#146;ve always wanted to do in life #150; without fear, without anxiety, without ever having to wonder if things would have been better had you stayed on the corporate ladder. 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 >>

IconHow Not To Do A Trade Show Cliff Ennico cennico@legalcareer.com There have been entire books written on how to survive your first trade show. My current two favorites are by marketing expert Steve Miller: #147;How to Get the Most Out of Trade Shows#148; and #147;How to Design a #145;Wow!#146; Trade Show Booth Without Spending a Fortune#148;, both of which should cost you less than $25.00 at your favorite bookstore. Sometimes, though, you can sweat the details of your trade show booth so much that you lose sight of the more important stuff. At a recent trade show I attended, one particular booth was generating huge crowds. The sponsor, an e-commerce company, had obviously spent a good part of their investors#146; money in reserving one of the best and most visible locations on the trade show floor, with lots of foot traffic. The exhibit was a knockout #150; a full scale replica of a beachcomber#146;s hut, surrounded by what looked like about 10 yards of trucked-in sand and imitation palm trees (with coconuts, no less). The staff of about 10 were all dressed in Hawaiian shirts and shorts (for the guys) and hula outfits (for the ladies). Most of the staff were nubile young men and women with buff figures who, it seemed, had been recruited from a modeling agency. The theme of the booth screamed at you: #147;if you use our service we make life really easy for you, so easy you can retire to Tahiti and forget you even run a business.#148; The booth was a winner, don#146;t you think? It certainly impressed the people running the trade show, who gave the booth its #147;best design#148; and #147;best overall effect#148; awards. And yet . . .Like a lot of folks, I was very impressed by the booth, and wanted to learn more about this company. I had to stand in a line five people deep to even get close to one of the staff. When I did, she said, in her best Valley Girl accent, #147;dude, you wanna portable fan?#148; (they were giving out portable fans, again a tie-in to the Tahiti image). I asked this young lady about the company and what it did, expecting to hear an #147;elevator pitch#148; about the company, its products and services. Instead, the lady stared at me blankly, and said coldly #147;I#146;m sorry, sir, I#146;m just working the booth. You have to speak to one of our engineers#148;. She pointed to one of the young men in the Hawaiian shirts, and went back to handing out portable fans. Strike One. I approached the engineer, who was sitting at a laptop computer explaining something really technical to a few people. All I could hear was #147;implementation#148;, #147;e-commerce solution,#148; #147;asynchronous#148;, and a few other words. When I finally got through to this fellow, I told him I was writing a column for small business owners and asked him to explain, in simple English, what his company#146;s service was all about. He launched again into his technical spiel about #147;unidimensional focus#148;. Strike Two. Now, I#146;m a forgiving guy. I work with a lot of tech companies, and sometimes you just have to see their product in action to really understand what it does and how it adds value to people#146;s lives. So I interrupted his spiel, and asked him to show me on the PC what it does. He looked at me with a little blush, and said, #147;I can#146;t do that right now. Our T-1 lines here aren#146;t very good, and we can#146;t get through to our Website.#148; Strike Three. I walked away, portable fan in hand. Now, here was a company that did everything #147;by the book#148; when it came to setting up a #147;must see#148; trade booth. Yet they totally blew the follow-up. Here are some lessons this company should have learned: your booth should be eye-catching, but the focus should be 100% on explaining to people what your products and services are all about, and how they improve people#146;s lives; always use your own employees to run the booth; if you must use #147;mannequins#148; or hired actors, train them in your company#146;s message so that they can communicate it; your staff should always be accessible, no matter how big the crowd; always have marketing people on hand (rather than engineers) to explain your product or service; and if you are demonstrating your product or service at the booth, make 100% sure the bloody thing works. 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 >>

Icon5 Common Mistakes of Old School Persuaders Kurt W. Mortensen kurt@persuasioninstitute.com Have you ever had someone try to persuade you with those old, outdated, offensive tactics? You know the ones I am talking about. Before you are even close to purchasing a product I am sure that you have been asked: #147;Do you want it in green or black?#148; I am sure you have also heard: #147;If I could show you how to become financially independent, you#146;d be interested wouldn#146;t you?#148; This backs you into a corner and you don#146;t even want to answer the question. You wonder, does this person really think I#146;m that dumb? You don#146;t buy from these people. You don#146;t even like these people. You never go back to their store. Do these tactics still work? Sure they do. It is the law of averages. Eventually you can find someone who will bend to any persuasive technique. Great persuaders are not smarter; they just have the right tools. You have heard the adage, #147;If you are a hammer, everyone is a nail.#148; You can't treat everyone exactly the same. You have to customize the presentation to every customer. I want to give you a new set of tools because one tool will not fit all your prospects. You can#146;t use the old school tactics and force every prospect into the same mold. The more tools you have, the more successful you will become. Research shows that most persuaders use three to four persuasive techniques. High producers still only use seven to eight persuasive techniques. Did you know there are over 100 techniques? If you look at persuasion like it#146;s a piano, most are playing chopsticks when they could be playing Mozart. Why haven#146;t many persuaders caught up with the times? Why are so many still using the old tools that would best be put to rest? Are you one of them? First, you must understand persuasion and influence have changed in the past twenty years. Your consumer, prospect, and customer have changed. They are bombarded with over five thousand persuasive messages a day. Your prospect is more educated and more skeptical than ever before. Think about it. When you are approached by a sales rep or called by a telemarketer you automatically put up a huge wall. You are already resisting before anything has been communicated. If you try those old style tactics, you will lose prospects, which results in lost sales. What good is a sales tool that works only part of the time? Imagine if the brakes on your car only worked part of the time. Let me ask you a question. Have you ever had a prospect that you were working with and you knew they needed your product or service, they wanted your product or service, they could afford it, but they still didn#146;t buy from you? What happened? It was a perfect fit for both parties. We live in a fast-paced world. We don#146;t even have time to think. So your prospect comes in and everything is perfect but they don#146;t buy and they say, #147;I need to think about it.#148; We don#146;t have time but the knee-jerk reaction is to think about it. Do you want to know why your prospects aren#146;t buying from you? 1. My clients/customers trust me Wrong. We have done studies at the persuasion institute and found most people do not trust you. The persuader thinks and feels that he or she has developed trust, but when we talk to the customer/prospect, there is no trust. Here#146;s the deal: Forty years ago, people were more trusting. The attitude was, #147;I trust you. Give me a reason not to.#148; Now it#146;s, #147;I don#146;t trust you. Give me a reason to trust you.#148; So now you#146;re starting well below zero. On average, depending on your occupation, over 70 percent of the time you did not develop trust with your customer/prospect. Ouch. Even if they like you, if they don#146;t trust you there will be no deal. The ability to gain and keep trust is a vital factor in influencing others. Research has shown, time and time again, that trust is always a contributing factor in the ability to influence others. When a person trusts you, trust alone can cause them to accept your message. On the flip side, if people don#146;t trust you, all the evidence, reasoning, facts, or figures in the world won#146;t get them to budge. Trust can be an ambiguous concept, but certain things are quite clear: You can#146;t get others to trust you unless you trust yourself first. Your message will not be convincing to others unless it#146;s convincing to you. Whenever someone tries to influence us, we ask ourselves, #147;Can I trust this person? Do I believe him? Are they really concerned about me?#148; We are less likely to be influenced if we sense that the person is driven solely by self-interest. Never assume that people trust you. Always show the world you are someone to be trusted, no matter what the circumstances are. 2. I need more closing skills Sure it is nice to have a few closing skills in your persuasion tool box, but shouldn#146;t you spend more time opening up your prospect before you even think about closing? In fact, great persuaders don#146;t even have to use closing techniques. The consumer is ready to purchase before the end of the conversation. The only time you really need a closing skill is when you have blown it and you have not followed the proper persuasion process. You need to be able to connect, be sincere and empathic, and show you have their best interest in mind. You should spend more time on connecting, building rapport, finding needs and wants, positioning your product, and answering questions. Persuading a customer/prospect occurs throughout the whole process, not just at the end of the presentation. Studies show it is much more important how you open a sale rather than close it. Research shows that hard closes not only offend but have also lost their effectiveness. Hard closes work less than five percent of the time and over half of those prospects had buyer#146;s remorse and returned the product. It is said that the first and most lasting impression is made in about the first four minutes. Be sure you demonstrate confidence in those first four minutes, because the cement dries fast! Nothing can replace a bad first impression, even if you try to make it up later. Fixing a first impression is like fixing a wrecked car. Even after exhaustive time, effort, and expense, you still know it was wrecked, and you#146;re more apt to detect anything that might be wrong with it. We have all had the experience of meeting someone who, after just a few seconds of being in their presence, we have felt an instant connection or bond to. This is the Law of Connectivity. Conversely, we have probably all met someone who we instantly did not like and did not want to be around. This process is caused by a lack of connectivity and usually takes only a few seconds to become apparent. The Law of Connectivity states that the more we feel connected to, part of, liked by, or attracted to someone, the more persuasive they become. When you create an instant bond or connection, people feel comfortable around you; they will feel like they have known you for a long time and that they can easily relate to you. When we feel connected to someone, we feel comfortable and a sense of trust evolves. 3. Focusing on price rather than building value Many persuaders tend to focus on price rather than building value. When you are finished with your presentation your prospect should think, that#146;s it? That#146;s inexpensive! What a great value! Even if they can#146;t afford it, they can see the value of what you are offering. Discussing price creates fear in many persuaders. It#146;s often where the sale begins to sink. Three things happen. Prospects know it is a great way to get rid of you, they can postpone making a decision, and it is a knee-jerk reaction. You have not built the value of your product or service. We often feel like lost sales come down to price. It is not the price issue! It#146;s that they don#146;t see the value. Think about it. If price was always the issue, we would all be driving yugos, drinking kool aid, staying at Motel Six, and shopping at thrift stores. If you do hear the price objection too frequently, try asking, #147;Compared to what?#148; They will usually give you a blank stare because there is nothing to compare it to. It is your job to help them compare your product or service to a Rolls Royce, not a used economy car. It#146;s all about human perception. The human mind has to find a benchmark of comparison to make judgments, especially when we are talking about unfamiliar situations. People make comparisons based on knowledge and past experience. By showing your prospects contrast, you are creating comparisons for them. The mind can't process everything at once, so it develops shortcuts to help make decisions. Instead of making a completely internal judgment, we look for boundaries, patterns, and polar opposites. We want to know the difference between our options, so we naturally contrast the two items. We mentally place things in our mind from best to worst, first to last, or highest to lowest. Do you want your prospects to compare your product or service to the second-hand thrift store or a shop on Rodeo Drive? You get to decide where you want them to start their benchmark. When using this technique, keep in mind the powerful differences between positive and negative information. Psychologists have asserted for years that people automatically and subconsciously have extremely high expectations for the good over the bad. Because of this consistent tendency, negative information, when it comes, always seems to be given considerable weight because it is such a jarring contrast to what was expected. For example, have you ever had a salesperson get you all excited about some incredible product you were about to purchase? You're totally thrilled with all the things this product is going to do for you, and then BAM! The salesperson hits you with the ghastly price. Suddenly the hefty price tag #150; just one negative detail #150; outweighs all of the twenty other terrific features. Negative information has taken precedence over all the positive information. In fact, now this one negative detail totally consumes your thoughts. You drive home only able to think about how the precious item is going to cost you an arm and a leg. 4. Persistence is the key Persistence is an incredible quality to have. Persistence is the number one reason why people are successful in life. It's also the driving force that determines why certain people are wealthy. Their success is not due to financial backing or education. They owe their achievements to persistence. There's an old sales adage: "Some will; some won't. So what? Who's next?" I want to focus on smart persistence. If you get lots of no#146;s, you might be wasting your time and the prospect#146;s time. There is a fine line between smart persistence and being a pain in the butt. You need to be able to sense when and where the best time to contact is, how to make contact, and if you should continue contacting your prospect. When you are doing it the right way, your customer will let you know they appreciate your correspondence. You can be persistent trying to break down the brick wall with your head, but there is a time and place for good, smart persistence. Don#146;t make it a badge of honor counting up your rejections. Sure rejection is part of being a persuader. Let#146;s just keep it down to a manageable level. We know we can#146;t persuade all the people all the time. We should know when to walk away and find other prospects to spend time with. I could be in NYC handing out $100 bills to pedestrians and many would not take the bills. They would not have the time to think about it#133;there has to be a catch, etc. Working harder is useless if the prospect doesn#146;t see a need for your product or service. Find your ability to read what they need and the best way to be persistent. Are they a qualified buyer? Persuaders contact prospects almost everyday and wonder why they don#146;t return their calls. The persuader feels they have a great potential buyer and they are interested and it is just a matter of time. They know the sell is inevitable. Then we contact the prospect to get the truth. This is what we find out: They have not had intentions of buying, they are sick of all the messages; they did not have a need, want, interest, or even the money to buy. But our faithful persistent persuader did not take no for an answer. Again persistence is a great trait, but let#146;s add the smart aspect to it. Another important point is when you are contacting your prospect again, remember the emotion has left the building and you need to revisit why they were interested in the first place. Maybe they were going to think about it, but they probably have not had the time to think about it or to look at your beautiful literature. You have to recapture their interest and needs when you make the second contact. If they are no longer hot, you have to restart the fire. If you do leave a message, make sure you give them a great and legitimate reason to call you back. Do you have more info? Has there been a product enhancement, has the pricing changed? Get them involved as much as possible. 5. I#146;ll figure it out on my own This phrase has cost me millions of dollars. It was a great day when I realized that all the problems and obstacles I was having in life, or in persuasion, had already been solved or figured out by someone else. That means these people have answers! Poverty thinking is #147;I will figure it out on my own and take three years of time and countless money trying to reinvent the wheel.#148; The big challenge is that we cannot coach ourselves. We can#146;t see all our strengths and weakness, what we need to improve and work on. All great players have mentors and coaches. Look around you. Who can you talk to, who can you take to lunch, who can be your coach? We know getting the book is a great start and will teach you great things, but if it is true excellence that you#146;re going for, you need coaching. If you want to learn how to play basketball from reading a book, you would never achieve greatness on the court. You need to interact with the best. The best growth in my life has come from mentoring and coaching with the best. You don#146;t have the time or resources to wait to figure it out on your own. It amazes me how many persuaders go down this road. Persuasion is not rocket science, but you do need to learn how to master your craft. In the past we would be able to get along, slowly learning, but times have changed. The train is picking up speed. We used to be able to play and miss the train and run and catch up if we were late. But the speed the world is moving at and the competition you are facing will not allow you to figure it out on your own. You can invest in yourself right now and find the best to teach you the skills or be on the long road to little income, few skills, and the inability to persuade. If you wanted to rebuild the engine in your car, learn how to fly, or rewire your house, would you just try to figure it out on your own? Would you get the best book on learning how to fly and just hop in a plane and learn along the way? NO! Then don#146;t treat your career or your ability to persuade the same way. I remember going to a stock market seminar about learning how to trade. It cost over $10,000 to attend this training. I got burned when I decided I#146;d just figure it out on my own and lost three times that amount in the market. The students attending the class invested upfront and learned the skills and became great traders. I lost and did not learn the right skills. The answers are there, closer than you think. You would be surprised by how much people can help you succeed. Pay the price to become a professional in your field. Don't settle for mediocrity; become the best you can be at what you do. Who is the best in basketball? Right #150; Michael Jordan. He knew he could not become the best without daily practice of fundamental skills along with the addition of new skills. He also knew he could not excel without a team, and especially not without a coach. True excellence comes from knowledge, continuing education, and consistent practice. Conclusion Learning how to persuade and influence will make the difference between hoping for a better income and having a better income. It is the missing puzzle piece that will crack the code to dramatically increase your income, improve your relationships, and help you get what you want, when you want, and win friends for life. Ask yourself how much money and income you have lost because of your inability to persuade and influence. Think about it. Sure you#146;ve seen some success, but think of the times you couldn#146;t get it done. Has there ever been a time when you did not get your point across? Were you unable to convince someone to do something? Have you reached your full potential? Are you able to motivate yourself and others to achieve more and accomplish their goals? What about your relationships? For a free persuasion IQ analysis to help you see where you rank and what you need to improve visit www.persuasioniq.com . Kurt W. Mortensen ( kurt@persuasioninstitute.com ) is one of America#146;s leading authorities on persuasion, motivation and influence. He offers his speaking, training and consulting programs worldwide, helping thousands achieve unprecedented success in business and personal endeavors. Visit our website at www.maximuminfluence.com . Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

IconYou've Patented A New Product. Now What? Cliff Ennico cennico@legalcareer.com #147;I designed a purse a year ago that I got comments on everywhere I went #150; women on the bus, women walking up to me on the street, women at the coffee shop, and even a male bank teller at my local bank. I decided to apply for a patent on the purse, which I did. I have a filing certificate from the U.S. Patent Office, and I expect the patent to come through very soon now. I cannot afford to spend any more money on this project, and I do not have the energy to start my own business. I need an honest buyer who is willing to find a manufacturer and get the purse to market, without shutting me out completely from any profits. I know the purse will sell, and I can see it hanging on the hooks in WalMartreg; or Targetreg; stores. Can you help me?#148; First of all, just because you#146;ve received a filing certificate from the U.S. Patent Office does not mean your patent will be approved. It merely confirms that they received your filing, and you#146;ve got a looooooong way to go before a patent issues. It sounds to me like you made the patent filing yourself, without the assistance of a patent agent or attorney. That#146;s a big mistake. You will have to show the Patent Office that your purse design is not #147;obvious#148;, and normally only a patent agent or attorney will know what the Patent Office examiners will want to hear. Also, patents can be either #147;strong#148; or #147;weak#148;, and you want to get the strongest possible patent you can, since it#146;s a 100% certainty that if your purse design catches on, someone will try to #147;knock it off#148; and make unauthorized copies for the street vendors on Fifth Avenue to sell for two dollars. Since your budget is limited, get thee to a patent agent, pronto! Once you have a valid U.S. patent, you will want to license #150; not sell #150; the purse design to the company that will manufacture, market and sell it. In a license deal, you grant a company the right to make and sell your purse, and they pay you a royalty (usually 1 or 2 percent of the retail price) on each sale. So far, so good. But how do you go about getting a license deal, especially when you have limited resources? Is there anyone out there who can help you license your purse? According to Mark Nowotarski, a patent agent and founder of Markets, Patents Alliances LLC in Stamford, Connecticut ( www.marketsandpatents.com ), there are two types of people who help inventors land license deals #150; licensing agents and invention promotion firms #150; but you have to be careful. #147;Invention promotion firms are those companies you see advertising on television at 2 o#146;clock in the morning,#148; says Nowotarski, #147;and they have a very bad reputation for being misleading about what they will do for their clients.#148; That leaves licensing agents. Nowotarski says that for consumer products such as handbags, the best place to look for licensing agents is in the #147;classified ads#148; section of #147;Inventor#146;s Digest#148; magazine ( www.inventorsdigest.com ). According to Nowotarski, a typical licensing agent will work either for an hourly fee or an upfront payment of #147;a couple of thousand dollars #150; anything more than that I would be suspicious of their intentions#148;, and will want a percentage (up to 50%) of the royalty you receive from the manufacturer. Nowotarski also recommends attending your local chapter meeting of the Licensing Executives Society ( www.usa-canada.les.org ). While the Society#146;s members focus on high-tech products -- pharmaceuticals, electronics, and telecommunications -- rather than consumer goods, Nowotarski explains that #147;Society members usually know #146;who#146;s who in the zoo#146;, and can direct you to some local licensing agents with solid reputations.#148; Before approaching a licensing agent, though, you need to do some basic market research: just saying you envision your purse in WalMartreg; or Targetreg; stores isn#146;t enough. Here#146;s a suggestion from Nowotarski: go to a local university and ask the engineering department to make a prototype of your purse, as a student project, without charge to you. Then pay a local manufacturer to make a small #147;trial run#148; of purses #150; say, a couple of hundred units. Then, sell the purses on eBayreg; and see what happens. #147;You won#146;t make a lot of money,#148; says Nowotarski, #147;but you will find out what parts of the country are interested in your handbags, and what the retail price might be. That kind of market intelligence will make it a lot easier for your agent to narrow down the list of potential buyers and quickly help you land the right licensing deal.#148; Before hiring a licensing agent, Nowotarski insists you speak to inventors the agent has dealt with in the past, and trust your gut instincts: #147;there#146;s never a free lunch in the licensing business; if an agent promises you one, walk away.#148; 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 >>

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 >>

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 >>

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 >>

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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