Can Your Business Weather a 12.5% Cut in Profits?

By: Sherri Daymon, Washington Small Business Development Center

Does your business employ minimum wage employees? If so, are you aware that effective January 1st, 2020, the minimum wage in Washington State is increasing 12.5% (from $12.00 to $13.50 an hour)? Holy schmoly, that’s a HUGE increase in costs (i.e. a GIANT dip in your company’s profits). Your business advisor at the SBDC is here to help you plan for your particular situation, but below are some general strategies to make this cost increase a little less painful.

Increase Prices

When deciding whether or not to increase prices, you need to ask yourself, “Will our customers pay a higher price? Is our product worth this much more? Will our sales volume drop with a price increase?”

Sell More!

Are you sitting on a lot of inventory? Are there frequently a lot of empty seats at your restaurant? Are your landscaping tools or machinery often idle? If so, these are sure signs that you could use some marketing and sales assistance to increase the attractiveness of your current product or service. The SBDC can help you identify your target audience and tailor your marketing message to better reach potential customers.

Reduce Fixed Costs

Fixed costs are your monthly expenses, regardless of sales volume (examples include things such as rent, insurance, and debt repayment). Whereas increasing your prices can be done rather quickly, reducing your fixed costs can take some time. You may need to find another location, negotiate with your landlord for reduced rent, or find a symbiotic business to share your space. You may need to shop around for a more cost effective insurance policy. You may need to refinance or restructure your debt. Essentially, now is the time to go through every lineon your Profit & Loss financial statement and ask yourself the hard question, “How can I reduce (or even eliminate) this ‘fixed’ expense?”

Reduce Variable Costs

Your variable costs are the expenses directly related to your sales and/or production volume and ideally appear on your Profit & Loss financial statement as COGS or Cost of Goods Sold. Variable costs include items purchased with the intent to resell (in the case of retail) or ingredients that go into your dishes (for a restaurant example). Finding suppliers with lower costs and reducing waste are just two ways to reduce variable costs.

Examine Hours of Operation

Hourly labor can be tricky. On one hand, if business is slow, you can send an employee (or several) home to reduce costs (suggesting that labor is a variable cost). On the other hand, if you have set hours of operation, a component of your labor is fixed. Thus, it’s worth a serious examination of your daily and hourly sales to identify if you can and should reduce hours (or even full days) of operation to save on hourly labor expenses.

I worked through this analysis with one of my clients, who realized that he was consistently spending more in labor than he was generating in revenue the first and last hour his shop was open. By shaving 14 hours off his weekly hours of operation, he increased his annual profitably by over $17,000 (since a minimum of two employees are required in his shop at all times).

Reduce Labor Hours

If you don’t have daily and hourly sales data available to make the strategic decision about reducing hours of operation, but you want/need your total minimum wage labor costs to remain at the current dollar level (despite the $1.50 increase in the hourly minimum wage), here’s the formula to help determine how many hours to reduce, come January 1, 2020: Current minimum wage labor hours x $1.50 / $13.50. For example, if you currently have one minimum wage employee working 40 hours per week, you’ll need to reduce the hours worked per week to 35.5 hours.

Consider Cutting your Losses

If your business is struggling now and you rely on minimum wage employees and the suggestions above seem unfathomable to help weather a 12.5% cost increase, you might consider closing your doors. Regrettably, it’s not uncommon for business owners to pour their heart and soul into an enterprise and exhaust their personal savings trying to keep a business going. If you are currently paying employees minimum wage and forfeiting paying yourself and exhausted trying to turn your business around, I encourage you to be honest and brave in knowing it’s only going to get more challenging in 2020. Treat yourself with kindness and consider cutting your losses.

Remember, your SBDC business advisor is here to help you grow (or at least maintain!) your level of profitability. Contact us today so we strategize a combination of tactics to weather the imminent spike in the minimum wage.

You can meet your local Washington SBDC advisor at the Resource Center at Biz Fair on Saturday, Sept. 21.

This article reposted with the permission of WWU and Washington SBDC, see the original post here.

Evaluating a Business: Big Rocks First

By: Kris Fuehr, Paulson Exchange

When you evaluate a business to buy, you don’t have to know everything about it at once. Richard Branson once said he mainly focuses on three measurements to monitor his business:

  1. Butts in seats – or whatever your equivalent for “sales/consumption of capacity”

  2. Customer loyalty and satisfaction

  3. Employee satisfaction

Everything else will just be details that can be ironed out.

As Steven Covey famously said, “The Big Rocks are your most important, so put them first. That way, you make the less important things (gravel) fight their way in.”

Apply this concept to your business evaluation. Your FIRST step is to understand DEAL-BREAKERS. What could KILL your business? What isn’t SUSTAINABLE? Then, determine the details of the expenses to ensure that overruns can be identified.

Below are some examples of LESS effective ways of evaluating a business. This comes from an exchange I had with one prospective buyer after I sent him the P&L for a business. Can you distinguish the big rocks from the pebbles?

“Thanks for the info. I have a few questions: How many estimators in the business? Do they also function as Project Managers? What is the role of the owner in the business? Was the large expense of entertainment the Christmas party? Costs of sales are high. Is there other ways to decrease this? Would they have a current Work in Progress report? What makes up the balance of the office staff? Do they have a breakdown of business by revenue – eg. government contracts vs industrial vs retail/commercial? “

There are some important questions in here, but the Christmas party probably wasn’t a huge priority in this early stage of evaluation.

One effect the All-at-Once approach has is that it discourages you from nearly every business you look at and the whole transaction becomes intimidating or you may walk away from a great opportunity.

Keep a realistic view of what’s important and what’s just sand and pebbles so you keep your eye on what really is going to lead to success or failure in your business.

Want to learn more about buying a business? Attend the “Buying a Business” seminar at Biz Fair on Saturday, Sept. 21, lead by the author, Kris Fuehr.

Basics of estimated taxes for individuals

By: The IRS News Room

The U.S. tax system operates on a pay-as-you-go basis. This means that taxpayers need to pay most of their tax during the year, as the income is earned or received. Taxpayers must generally pay at least 90 percent (however, see 2018 Penalty Relief, below) of their taxes throughout the year through withholding, estimated or additional tax payments or a combination of the two. If they don’t, they may owe an estimated tax penalty when they file.

The IRS has seen an increasing number of taxpayers subject to estimated tax penalties, which apply when someone underpays their taxes. The number of people who paid this penalty jumped from 7.2 million in 2010 to 10 million in 2017, an increase of nearly 40 percent. The penalty amount varies but can be several hundred dollars.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, enacted in December 2017, changed the way tax is calculated for most taxpayers, including those with substantial income not subject to withholding. As a result, many taxpayers may need to adjust the amount of tax they pay each quarter through the estimated tax system.

Here are some simple tips to help taxpayers:

Who may need to pay estimated taxes

Individuals, including sole proprietors, partners and S corporation shareholders, may need to make estimated tax payments if:

  • they expect to owe at least $1,000 when they file their tax return.
  • they owed tax in the prior year.

Taxpayers who may need to make estimated tax payments include someone who:

  • receives income that isn’t from an employer, such as interest, dividends, alimony, capital gains, prizes and awards.
  • has tax withheld from their salary or pension but it’s not enough.
  • has more than one job but doesn’t have each employer withhold taxes.
  • is self-employed.
  • is a representative of a direct-sales or in-home-sales company.
  • participates in sharing economy activities where they are not working as employees.

Wage-earners and salaried employees can avoid estimated tax payments by having their employer withhold tax from their wages. To determine the right amount to withhold, use the Withholding Calculator, available on IRS.gov.  Then, based on its recommendations, they can use Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, to tell their employer how much tax to withhold from their pay. Anyone can change their withholding any time during the year.

When to pay estimated taxes

For estimated tax purposes, a year has four payment periods. Taxpayers must make a payment each quarter. For most people, the due date for the first quarterly payment is April 15. The next payments are due June 15 and Sept. 15, with the last quarter’s payment due on Jan. 15 of the following year. If these dates fall on a weekend or holiday, the deadline is the next business day.

Farmers, fishermen and people whose income is uneven during the year may have different rules. See Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax, for more information.

If a taxpayer doesn’t pay enough or pays late, a penalty may apply.

How to figure estimated taxes

The IRS recommends that everyone do a paycheck checkup early in 2019, even if they did one in 2018, to determine if they need to adjust their tax withholding or make estimated tax payments throughout the year. Although especially important for anyone with a tax bill for 2018, it’s also important for anyone whose refund is larger or smaller than expected. By changing withholding now or making estimated tax payments, any taxpayer can better ensure they get the refund they want next year. For those who owe, making estimated tax payments in 2019 is the best way to head off another tax-time surprise a year from now.

Taxpayers should also make adjustments throughout the year if changes occur. When figuring their estimated taxes each year, taxpayers need to account for life events, like marriage or the birth of a child, that may affect their taxes. They should also adjust for recent changes in the tax law.

Individuals, sole proprietors, partners and S corporation shareholders generally use the worksheet in Form 1040-ES. They’ll need to know their expected adjusted gross income. They’ll also need to estimate their taxable income, taxes, deductions and credits. Some taxpayers find it helpful to use information from their prior year’s tax return when they complete the worksheet. Their estimates should be as accurate as possible to avoid penalties.

Some taxpayers earn income unevenly during the year. For example, a boat repair business might do more business in the summer. Taxpayers like this can annualize their income. Under this method, they’d make unequal tax payments, based on when they receive their income, rather than four even payments. Doing so could help them avoid or lower a penalty because their required payment for one or more periods may be higher with this method. See Worksheet 2-9 in Publication 505.

How to pay estimated taxes

Taxpayers can pay online, by phone or by mail. The Electronic Federal Tax Payment System and IRS Direct Pay are two easy ways to pay. Alternatively, taxpayers can schedule electronic funds withdrawal for up to four estimated tax payments at the time that they electronically file their Form 1040.

Taxpayers can make payments more often than quarterly. They just need to pay each period’s total by the end of the quarter. Visit IRS.gov/payments for payment information.

Penalties related to estimated taxes

If a taxpayer underpaid their taxes they may have to pay a penalty. This applies whether they paid through withholding or through estimated tax payments. A penalty may also apply for late estimated tax payments even if someone is due a refund when they file their tax return.

In general, taxpayers don’t have to pay a penalty if they meet any of these conditions:

  • They owe less than $1,000 in tax with their tax return.
  • Throughout the year, they paid the smaller of these two amounts:
    • at least 90 percent (however, see 2018 Penalty Relief, below) of the tax for the current year
    • 100 percent of the tax shown on their tax return for the prior year – this can increase to 110 percent based on adjusted gross income

To see if they owe a penalty, taxpayers should use Form 2210.

The IRS may waive the penalty if someone underpaid because of unusual circumstances and not willful neglect. Examples include:

  • casualty, disaster or another unusual situation.
  • an individual retired after reaching age 62 during a tax year when estimated tax payments applied.
  • an individual became disabled during a tax year when estimated tax payments applied.

There are special rules for underpayment for farmers and fishermen. Publication 505 has more information.

2018 penalty relief

The IRS is waiving the estimated tax penalty for many taxpayers whose 2018 federal income tax withholding and estimated tax payments fell short of their total tax liability for the year. The penalty will generally be waived for any taxpayer who paid at least 80 percent of their total tax liability during the year through federal income tax withholding, quarterly estimated tax payments or a combination of the two. The usual percentage threshold is 90 percent to avoid a penalty.

The waiver computation is normally reflected in commercially-available tax software and in the latest version of Form 2210, Underpayment of Estimated Tax by Individuals, Estates and Trusts, and its instructions.

This relief is designed to help taxpayers who were unable to properly adjust their withholding and estimated tax payments to reflect an array of changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

The updated federal tax withholding tables, released in early 2018, largely reflected the lower tax rates and the increased standard deduction brought about by the new law. This generally meant taxpayers had less tax withheld in 2018 and saw more in their paychecks. However, the withholding tables couldn’t fully factor in other changes, such as the suspension of dependency exemptions and reduced itemized deductions. As a result, some taxpayers could have paid too little tax during the year if they did not submit a properly-revised W-4 withholding form to their employer or increase their estimated tax payments.

The IRS and partner groups conducted an extensive outreach and education campaign throughout 2018 to encourage taxpayers to do a “Paycheck Checkup” to avoid a situation where they had too much or too little tax withheld when they file their tax returns.

Although most 2018 tax filers are still expected to get refunds, some taxpayers will unexpectedly owe additional tax when they file their tax returns.

More information:

 

Want in-person help with your small business taxes? Attend the “Taxes and the Small Business Owner” seminar at Biz Fair on Saturday, Sept. 21.

How will your LLC be Governed?

By: Stacey Romberg, Attorney

When limited liability company (LLC) members chose to work with an attorney to form their business entity, the attorney will draft an “Operating Agreement,” which is also sometimes referred to as a “Limited Liability Company Agreement.” RCW (Revised Code of Washington) 25.15.018(1) provides that an Operating Agreement governs “[r]elations among the members as members and between the members and the limited liability company” and, if applicable, “[t]he rights and duties . . . [of the LLC] manager.”  In other words, the Operating Agreement sets forth the procedures for how the LLC will be governed. An attorney drafts this governance document in consultation with the LLC members. An Operating Agreement is needed for LLCs that have one member, hundreds of members, and everything in between. Sometimes, in addition to the lawyer representing the business entity itself, the LLC members will retain their own individual attorneys to advise them confidentially concerning the Operating Agreement’s provisions and assist them in negotiating for beneficial terms.

What happens if the LLC members fail to hire counsel to draft the LLC’s Operating Agreement? What if instead the LLC’s members shake hands on a verbal agreement? Previously, the Revised Code of Washington required Operating Agreements to be in writing. But the Washington Limited Liability Company Act, which became effective in 2016, changed that – instead indicating that these agreements can be oral or implied.  While oral Operating Agreements are now allowed under Washington law, virtually all business attorneys would nonetheless highly recommend that the Operating Agreement be in writing. Suppose you have a dispute with another LLC member? Suppose you want to sell your interest and move on? Or suppose you pass away, and your spouse seeks to collect your share of the business’s value as an asset of your estate? Perhaps the business was only worth a few dollars when the handshake occurred, but after years of hard work it has significantly increased in value. Would you want to rely solely on a handshake under those circumstances? Or would you prefer that the rules of the road were clearly set forth in a well-crafted document prepared by the LLC’s attorney?

If the LLC does not have a written Operating Agreement, and if the courts are unable to find the existence of an oral or implied agreement, RCW 25.15.018(2) provides that Washington law, specifically Chapter 25.15 of the Revised Code of Washington, “governs the matter.” In other words, if you fail to proactively provide for governance of your LLC, the answer to the question of “How will your LLC be governed?” will be found in statutory law, even if the default statutory language runs contrary to your own wishes or presumptions as to how your business should function.

For example, suppose ABC, LLC has three members. The first LLC member, Jane, makes an initial capital contribution of $300,000 into the business – an inheritance received from her grandmother. The other two members, John and JoAnne, each provide $10,000 worth of capital. ABC has no Operating Agreement. Jane, through a tip from her brother-in-law, finds a perfect and affordable commercial space to lease located in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle. John and JoAnne oppose the move, arguing that the business should instead operate out of JoAnne’s mold-infested basement for free. Even though Jane invested, by far, the most capital, under the 2016 Washington Limited Liability Company Act, each LLC member gets one vote unless the Operating Agreement provides otherwise. Here, where ABC, LLC does not have an Operating Agreement, JoAnne and John outvote Jane, and into the basement they go. Does that result seem fair to you, given the disparity in what each member contributed? It may not be fair. And Jane may not have envisioned this result when she deposited her inheritance into the LLC’s bank account. But again, since the LLC members failed to develop an Operating Agreement, Chapter 25.15 of the Revised Code of Washington will govern the LLC’s decision-making process about where to locate the business.

Don’t be caught off guard by unexpected results in terms of how your business will be governed. Take charge, and proactively work with counsel to develop a comprehensive Operating Agreement so that you know, without hesitation, the answer to the question: “How will your LLC be governed?”

Stacey L. Romberg is the founder of a virtual law firm focusing on business law, estate planning and probate. More information can be found at www.staceyromberg.com.

Attend Stacey Romberg’s seminar “Business Law Essentials” at the 23rd annual free Biz Fair on Saturday, Sept 21.

The Cost of Customer Service

By: Debbie Page, Business Coach for Women

Customer service isn’t just a good idea. It’s the force that drives business. Loyalty isn’t a fad. It’s a relationship that needs be cultivated.

Think about the purchasing decisions you make. Which brands or companies have earned your loyalty, and therefore more of your dollars? Your own habits should be enough to indicate there is something to be said for customer loyalty. You know from personal experience that being the cheapest or fastest option isn’t enough to earn your business and a great customer service experience is more than getting a thank you email.

Your customers and clients know it too.

So, here’s the question: What does your documented client retention and loyalty program include? If you’ve made big investments in marketing and advertising to get ‘em – how are you going to keep ‘em?

I’m going to hit pause for just a second and draw your attention to the word documented. I am a huge fan of having documented systems and processes. After more than 20 years in business, I know documented systems and processes help you maintain consistency and deliver results. If your customer service touchpoints and action items aren’t documented you don’t have a plan, you have ideas.

You need to turn those ideas into items you can execute on consistently if you want to grow your customer base and your bottom line.

Just take a look at a few of the numbers I shared recently when talking about the importance of Customer Loyalty.

  • 20% of your customer base is made up by your loyal customers. Those customers will end up driving 80% of your business.
  • It will cost you five times more to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing customer.
  • 68% of customer defection happens when a customer feels like they were treated poorly
  • 95% of the people who have had a bad experience will never tell you.

Those numbers underscore the importance of customer loyalty. Give customers every opportunity to become loyal clients by including these five things in your client retention plan.

5 Ways to Increase Customer Loyalty.

  1. Provide regular updates. Stay in communication with customers through newsletters, e-zines or email updates. Share important information, exciting news or resources they might find valuable. Commit to regular updates and stay in touch.
  2. Under promise and over deliver. Manage expectations by clearly communicating what your customers or clients can expect from you every step of the way. Then surprise them by over-delivering on those promises. For example, if you say you’ll have a contract to them by Friday surprise them by sending it over Thursday.
  3. Show appreciation. Handwritten notes, small gifts, or phone call just to say thank you can go a long way in showing customers how much they are valued and appreciated.
  4. Acknowledge special occasions. Birthdays, work anniversaries and business milestones are all special occasions that can be acknowledge and celebrated in small ways throughout the year.
  5. Remember what’s important to them. Make notes in their client profile of personal interests. Are they a dog lover? Football fan? Quilter? Make a note and use it to surprise and delight them through the year.

Here’s one last thing to consider, you need to develop a process to create customer loyalty whether you have five customers or 5,000 customers. It doesn’t matter which stage of business you’re in, get started and let it grow and develop with you.

Growing your business is easier when you’re not trying to grow it alone.

Want more great insight from Debbie Page? Join her seminar “Marketing Tips and Advice” at Biz Fair at 2:45 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 29 at Renton Technical College.

Why Certify Your Business?

Businesses and OMWBE Certifications

By: Kathryn Akeah, Washington State Office of Minority & Women’s Business Enterprises

Small business owners ask us all the time. Should I get my business certified? What kind of certification is best? The quick answer is yes and all of them that you qualify for! Of course, the long answer has a few more details. First, let’s start with the foundation.

Why certify your business?

To verify certain aspects of the business. Certifications can be important to show who owns the business, where products come from, or how the business functions.

What does OMWBE certify?

OMWBE certifies that a business is owned and controlled by a person or persons who are minorities, women, or socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. A business can get state or federal certification through OMWBE. Most people call these certifications by their acronyms (MBE, WBE, MWBE, CBE, SEDBE, DBE, ACDBE and SBE). To learn more about OMWBE certifications, click here.

Should I apply for OMWBE certification for my business?

We think so and with that in mind, we recently released two new short videos interviewing business owners on how they were certified, what they have used certification for and what being an OMWBE certified business means to them. Don’t miss a chance to be inspired by these heartwarming stories.

Certification Serves a Community

Certification to Grow and Thrive

How would I use OMWBE certification?

There are three primary ways business owners use certifications.

  • To be eligible to participate as a DBE, ACDBE or SBE on federally funded projects. This helps increase visibility and prime contractors can count certified businesses towards their goals on projects.
  • For marketing and increased visibility to city, county and state government, colleges and private-sector companies that have supplier diversity goals. For example, the Governor’s Office has set aspirational goals and state agencies look for state certifications.
  • To qualify for other small business assistance programs such as the Linked Deposit Loan Program.

There are other reasons too. Business owners may get their businesses certified to show pride in their community or for local community recognition.

How do I start?

We just released a short video showing how to complete an OMWBE online application. After you view the video, click to learn more and start your application.

What is the difference between certification and self-identification?

OMWBE certification means that how a business is owned and controlled has been verified by our state agency. OMWBE is the sole agency that does state and federal certifications in Washington State.

Self-identification is when a business registers as a vendor in an online system and the owner checks a box to show that they are minority or woman owned. This may or may not be verified.

So which one is better? It all depends on what your business does and whom you do business with. Some government agencies and prime contractors don’t or can’t recognize self-identification.

 

Kathryn Akeah works in Communications for the Washington State Office of Minority & Women’s Business Enterprises. She is passionate about equity and excited that here she can combine her MBA with her experience in community health and community organizing to support diverse small businesses across the state. Stop by the OMWBE table to get more info on certifications during the resource fair from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Building I. 

Influenza and the health of your business

By: Dr. Yuan-Po Tu and Dr. Dianna Chamblin, The Everett Clinic 

Flu season is coming up and it’s time for business owners to think about your most effective defense against a workplace flu outbreak – the yearly flu vaccination.

How does the flu shot help protect your business?

Vaccinating your staff reduces absenteeism and health care expenses.  It’s estimated that the flu costs the U.S. over $87 billion annually and is responsible for the loss of close to 17 million workdays each flu season. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) tens of thousands of people are hospitalized and thousands die from flu-related illness each year in our country.

When should you consider a vaccination? 

Before the onset of flu season, which usually begins at the end of October.  If you vaccinate too early, the immunity may wear off or be too low. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the immune system to fully respond with antibodies that protect against flu virus infection.

If you or your employee is over 65, there are new flu vaccines available that are more effective than the standard dose flu vaccine for seniors in preventing hospitalizations   Be sure to ask your provider about these “senior” flu vaccines.

Nasal flu vaccine (FluMist) will be available for persons age 2 to 49 years of age.

How can you reduce your risks of getting the flu?  Some Center for Disease Control, CDC, tips:

  1. Avoid close contact with people who are sick and if you are sick, keep your distance from others.
  2. Stay home when sick (especially if you have fevers or chills) to avoid spreading your illness to others.
  3. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and promptly dispose of the tissue.  If a tissue isn’t available, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands.
  4. Clean your hands frequently with soap and water.  If you don’t have access to water, use an alcohol-based hand rub (at least 60% alcohol).
  5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth so you don’t contaminate yourself with flu germs.
  6. Clean/disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school.  Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food.

Don’t fall victim to bad information!

Unfortunately, we hear people say, “I’m not getting the flu shot because it will give me the flu!” It’s medically impossible for someone to get the flu from the flu shot because the flu shot is developed from a dead virus. A dead virus can’t give you the flu. So why does this belief persist? Because some people will experience flu or a flu-like episode after getting their shot, but it’s not due to the shot itself.

Here are four reasons why people might experience the flu or like symptoms after getting their shot:

1) A reaction to the flu shot. Less than 1% of people who get the flu vaccine experience flu-like symptoms such as mild fever and muscle aches. While these are side effects, people wrongly attribute these side effects to actually getting the flu.

2) You’re already infected. Once you get your flu shot, it takes about 1-2 weeks for proactive immunity to develop in your body. Unfortunately, some people will get their flu shot late in the flu season (December or later) and are already infected when they get their shot. When they get sick, they will blame their illness on the flu shot, and not realize that they were going to get sick anyway.

3) Your sick, but not with the flu. Many people will attribute any sickness to “the flu,” when in reality, they have another viral illness. The flu shot doesn’t protect against all viral illnesses, just certain influenza viruses.

4) The flu shot isn’t 100% effective. You can still get the flu, even if you get your flu shot because the flu vaccine isn’t effective 100% of the time. This is especially true in older persons.

Where can you get a flu shot?

Start with your health care provider. Or, you can use this handy tool to find your closest flu vaccine provider.

For more information on this topic, check out this handy reference from the CDC, Flu Vaccine Effectiveness: Questions and Answers for Health Professionals.

Here are some other useful resources:

CDC Business Pulse

Info Graphics for Business

We would like to express our gratitude to Drs. Dianna Chamblin and Yuan-Po Tu who took time out of their busy schedules to serve as guest authors. Dr. Chamblin practices occupational medicine at The Everett Clinic and serves as The Everett Clinic’s medical director for the Centers of Occupational Health & Education (COHE). Dr. Tu practices urgent care medicine at The Everett Clinic and also specializes in flu prevention.

Build More Convincing Business Plans with Free Market Research from Google

By: Robbin Block, SCORE Mentor & Creative Marketing Strategist at Blockbeta Marketing

“Proving” your business model to investors relies on being able to back up your assumptions about your market. Data about how people search or discover products brings you one step closer to making your case. Now imagine if you could get that information easily, quickly and at no cost — and create good looking charts and graphs to use in business plans, presentations and on social media.

Going straight to a search engine for market research is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Imagine you’re creating a new line of products for pets, a highly competitive industry. A search for “pet products” yielded 3.5 billion results (yes, that’s a “b”).

Google makes it so much easier with a range of tools designed to mine their own mega-pile of information to understand what people are doing online. What better way for you to learn about your potential customers, than to go right to the place so many people start their buyer journey?

Three Market Research Resources in One 

PEWInternet is one of my go-to’s for robust and free market research for learning about online behavior, with a section devoted to “Internet and Technology.” Combined with Google’s Consumer Barometer, you’ll get an even clearer picture about how people use the Internet to discover and purchase products and services.

Consumer Barometer includes Trended Data, Audience Stories, Curated Insights and Graph Builder — saving the best for last.

Trended Data

Trended Data compares Internet usage over time.

Let’s say you were wondering how many in your target audience used their smartphone to access the Internet, filtering by country and demographics. Here’s the result of a search for US aged 25-34 vs. US aged 45-54:

While there are differences as of 2017, it becomes pretty clear that everything is pointing in a mobile direction with smartphone and Internet usage becoming ubiquitous across age groups very soon, if it hasn’t already. This is useful, whether you’re creating a mobile app or wondering how important mobile access is to your marketing strategy.

Audience Stories

With Audience Stories, Google segments Internet usage, exploring audience clusters like Brand Advocates, Digital Moms and Millennials.

For example, Google tells us the “how-to” video category is trending strongly. “1 in 10 internet users watch DIY or How-to videos in a typical session.” They go on to explain that, “23% of online videos are viewed in order to learn something new.” This means that educating customers and demonstrating your expertise can help you gain exposure, ultimately being a way to drive more traffic to your website.

When you’re wondering about a good length for your video, Google provides the answer, “How-to Video Viewers are also open to longer videos (5-10 minutes). As many as 75% of How-to Video users watched online videos longer than 5 minutes in the prior week, compared to just 60% among other users.”

Of course Google is in a great position to know what works and what doesn’t, since they own YouTube.

Curated Insights

With Curated Insights, Google displays its own research in charts and graphs, going into depth about shopper buying and media behavior. It can be parsed by country, but there’s demographic data presented as well. Here are some particularly interesting insights:

 

Graph Builder

The tools we’ve looked at give you Google’s point of view, but with Graph Builder, you can create your own graphs and charts based on their data. There’s a simple 6-step walk through to show you how to use it, which starts with selecting questions like these:

  • The Online and Multiscreen World —“How do people watch TV?”
  • The Smart Shopper —“How did people first hear about the product/offer they bought?”
  • The Smart Viewer — “What motivated people to watch their most recent online video session?”

Once you figure out which questions are most relevant to your research, you can drill down further by:

  • Country
  • Demographic
  • Internet Usage
  • Device Usage
  • Product Purchased
  • Most Recent Video Context

From there, you can investigate by a particular product category. You’d want to, because not every business is the same, and you’ll want data specific to your industry. Granted, the categories are pretty general, but selecting something even close can provide direction.

Unfortunately, it’s not particularly useful for my “pet products” example, since there’s no category for it — weird, not to offer information about such a huge industry. Oh well, even Google isn’t perfect. Stay tuned — their tools are always changing.

Another drawback is that product filters vary by the question being answered. It would be nice if you could choose your product category first, then apply the questions to it.

Moving on, let’s say you wanted to know if you should spend time using social media to promote hair care products to US consumers. Go to: Smart Shopper>Research Behavior>Online Information Sources, and then use the “product filter” link to select hair care under “most recent product purchased.”

Now, let’s say you’re thinking of offering a discount to encourage people to make a purchase. Here’s a relative comparison of how a discount influences a purchase by category. Go to: Smart Shopper>Research Behavior>Motivation for Purchase. Filter by product, as described previously. Then, you’ll need to hide all the other motivations to create this graph.

Unfortunately, there’s no information about services or B2B “business to business.” However, the tool allows you can compare filtered segments in one chart by selecting more than one at a time.

Now Put Your Information to Good Use

This is just a taste of what you can do with Graph Builder. Once you’ve created the charts you want, you can export as a CSV or png, or share, by selecting the 3 vertical dots in the upper right corner of the graphic. That sharing option may be especially useful for creating a post to a social network.

No matter what product or service you plan to offer, the marketing of that product should be based on a good understanding of the industry and consumer behavior — and the Internet is a good place to start if you know where to look. These free market research tools are a good start, providing valuable insights you may not be able to find elsewhere. Plus, they can help you create and share some compelling graphics, whether that’s for a business plan, presentation or social media marketing.

Visit our website to learn more market research shortcuts.

Robbin’s unique perspective and extensive experience has been put to good use solving her client’s stickiest marketing problems. Not to be missed, she’s presenting Slay the Social Media Dragon and Do It Yourself Websites at this year’s BizFair.

 

The Brooklyn Bridge isn’t for sale, and the guy on the phone isn’t an IRS agent.

By: Aaron Hoffman

Hucksters, con men, and scammers have been part of the American landscape since the country’s founding. From Wild West “snake oil” salesmen to modern day Ponzi Schemers, America has certainly seen its fair share. So, who holds the dubious title of the best con man in U.S. history? That honor goes to none other than George C. Parker. During his life, Parker “sold” a number of U.S. landmarks such as Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grant’s Tomb, and even the Statue of Liberty. However, he’s most famous for “selling” the Brooklyn Bridge on a number of occasions to willing dupes. Eventually convicted of fraud, a judge sentenced Parker to serve a life term in prison. While he died in Sing Sing Prison in 1936, his legacy lives on. His antics gave rise to the phrase, “and if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.” (Thanks Wikipedia!)

While modern day scammers might not have a bridge to sell you, they certainly have other nefarious ways to part you from your money. Did you know that every year, people posing as IRS agents scam millions of dollars from Americans?

Fortunately, the IRS has some helpful tips that can keep you from falling prey to a scam.

Tip #1 – Watch the mail

Most IRS contact comes via regular mail through the U.S. Post Office. If it comes from another source, be suspicious! In addition, if the IRS has to take official action, they will first notify you via letter through the U.S. Postal Service.

Tip #2 – Listen for threats and intimidation

If you get a caller on the phone and they claim that they’re from the IRS, be aware that an IRS agent will never do any of the following:

  • Demand payment via gift card, wire transfer, or a pre-paid debit card
  • Demand that you pay taxes without the opportunity to appeal or question the amount that you owe
  • Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers, or other law enforcement officers and have you arrested for not paying.
  • Threaten to revoke your driver’s license, business license, or immigration status

Tip #3 – Look for credentials

If you get an “in-person” visit from an IRS agent, they will produce two forms of official identification; a pocket commission card and an HSPD-12 card. If they don’t have these or refuse to produce them, you can assume that they’re scammers!

Tip #4 – Who gets the money?

If your caller or visitor demands money and they want the payment to go some entity other than the U.S Treasury, don’t pay because it’s a scam.

Tip #5 – Report them!

Phone Scams

If you get a call from someone posing as an IRS Agent, contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. You can call 800-366-4484, or file an online complaint at IRS Impersonating Scam Reporting.

Also, you can report a phone scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Be sure to add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes section.

Email Scams

If you get an email from someone claiming to be from the IRS, or an IRS related component, report it to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov

For more info, please see the IRS publication How to know it’s really the IRS calling or knocking on your door.

Fun Fact!

One of the earliest recorded cases of insurance fraud comes from ancient Greece. In 300 B.C., a merchant named Hegestratos took out a large insurance policy on his ship. He reportedly planned on sinking his empty ship, selling its cargo, and pocketing the insurance money. Hegestratos’s passengers and crew caught him red-handed, and he drowned as he tried to escape (Investopedia.com).

Aaron Hoffman works for the Department of Labor and Industries. Along with his duties as Contract Manager for the COHE Program, he regularly contributes to L&I’s social media campaign. He earned his BA and MBA from Pacific Lutheran University.

Meet your local L&I representative and the entire Washington Small Business Liaison team at the “How Washington State Can Help Your Business” session at Biz Fair on Saturday, September 29 at Renton Technical College. More info at www.bizfair.org.

He Said v. She Said

By: Stacey L. Romberg, Attorney at Law

Sally recently left her 9-5 corporate job, and enthusiastically began a new event planning business. Sally’s friend, Larry, wanted to be one of her first clients. Larry wanted to hire Sally’s business to plan his wife Judy’s 50th birthday party. Sally found an event planning contract on the internet, and tweaked some of the language. The contract set forth that Judy’s birthday party would be held at the Gigantic Golf Club, with cocktails and dinner for 100 guests. Larry would pay Sally’s business $5,000 for event planning services, to be paid no later than ten days after the party concluded. Sally is thrilled to work with her friend, and to plan her first big event.

Larry and Sally signed the contract, and Sally then contacted Gigantic Golf Club to reserve the space. Gigantic Golf Club informed Sally that it required an advance deposit of $8,000.00 to lock in the reservation. Sally contacted Larry by email: “Hi Larry. I’ve reached out to Gigantic Golf Club, and they need an $8,000.00 deposit. Can you please send me a check for that amount, made out to Gigantic Golf Club? Then I can forward it over to them to secure the space. Thanks!” Larry responded: “Hi Sally. Our contract says I am supposed to pay for everything ten days after the party has concluded. I’d appreciate it if you could please pay the deposit, and then put it on my bill. Thanks.”

Sally is shocked when she receives Larry’s email. She reviewed the contract. The contract stated:  “Larry is responsible for all costs related to the Event.” It also stated: “Upon conclusion of the Event, Sally will submit an invoice to Larry which will be due no later than ten days after the date of the Event.” The contract is silent as to whether Larry’s responsibility for the event’s costs meant that the costs will be paid up front by Larry, or whether Sally was required to initially incur the costs and then invoice Larry for those amounts. Sally doesn’t recall that they ever discussed this issue. Since Sally knew Larry personally, Sally wasn’t worried about getting paid and didn’t pay a lot of attention to the specifics of the contract.

Sally tentatively responded to Larry’s email: “Hi Larry. I’m so sorry for the confusion. Our contract doesn’t seem to address the issue of whether the costs will be paid up front. I’m afraid I cannot afford to incur an $8,000 fee, since I just started my business. Could you please pay it? Thank you for understanding!” Larry responded to this email within five minutes: “You have got to be kidding me! Don’t you remember that we talked about this? I told you that my son Charlie’s private school tuition is due shortly, and I’m tapped out. I won’t be able to make any payments until after the party. You better pay that deposit right away, because it’s too late at this point for me to fire you and hire a new event planner. If you don’t do right by me here, I’m going to go on Yelp and write the most scathing review possible!”

These types of situations, unfortunately, occur much more often than most business owners realize. A well written contract is the key to avoiding these types of “he said versus she said” disputes. Business owners need to routinely use thorough, well-drafted contracts that are prepared by an attorney. Here are seven tips for working effectively with your business attorney to develop a great contract:

#1: Explain any pertinent background information regarding how your industry works, and also set forth your goals for the agreement.

#2: Communicate your main concerns to your attorney about the proposed transaction (getting paid, receiving poor work quality, handling disputes, etc.).

#3: Provide a written outline to your attorney identifying the parties and principal terms of the deal.

#4: Think through how you’d like the contract negotiation process to proceed. Do you want to work through counsel exclusively? Or do the parties want to negotiate directly, and then go back to their attorneys with questions and revisions?

#5: Discuss the timing of the work.

#6: Understand the attorneys’ fees, and how you will be billed for the work performed.

#7: Be mindful of attorneys’ fees while negotiating contract terms. Some issues may be so minor that it’s not worth the attorneys’ fees to argue about it.

If there is a disagreement about the terms of a contract, rather than continuing an email or telephone “war” with the other party, here are some recommended first steps:

#1: Review the Contract Requirements Related to the Issue in Controversy: What does the contract say about the issue being disputed?  Are you sure you are right and the other party is wrong?

#2: Review the Contract Requirements Related to Dispute Resolution:  The contract may tell you how you have to proceed in resolving the dispute. Mediation? Arbitration? Litigation?

#3: Make an Initial Attempt to Calculate your Damages: Litigation is very expensive. In order to decide whether it’s worth it to pursue litigation, you need to know the monetary value of your loss.

#4: Call Your Attorney: Let your lawyer know your preliminary thoughts based on your initial legwork, and then discuss the situation and your options.

Stacey L. Romberg, Attorney at Law, focuses her practice on business law, estate planning and probate. For more information, please visit the firm’s website at www.staceyromberg.com.

Attend Stacey Romberg’s Biz Fair class “Business Law Essentials” at the 22nd annual Biz Fair on Saturday, September 29 at Renton Technical College, RSVP today: bizfair2018.eventbrite.com