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September 2013

Are you leaving your mark?

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Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

I'm working on a column about the importance of leveraging your charitable activity and recognizing that it's a marketing effort. So I thought I would pose a few questions for you to ponder this week.

Does your company give anything to charity (money, time, in kind donations)?

If I surveyed your customers -- do they know you're doing this charitable work?

If your customers and prospects knew you were involved in the charities you serve -- would it matter to them?

Do the charities your support align with both your customer and employee base? Is it something they care about?

Are you one of a bazillion who serve this charity or do you "own" some aspect of their event, services etc.? (Are you one of 20 logos on the back of a t-shirt or is your involvement prominent?)

How could you better connect your charitable efforts to your customers and employees?How could they participate? How could they share ownership with you?

Are you using marketing dollars/time to create even a bigger bang for both the charity and your business?

Being involved in our community is the responsibility of every citizen and company. But it's also a marketing opportunity. You don't have to be overly promotional or taint your efforts. But you can leverage your good works.

The question is -- are you?  Keep an eye out for my column in this week's Business Record for more on this topic.

~ Drew

Sustainable landscapes

Japanese cypress

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

Phase IV of remodeling my new house is reworking a forgotten landscape. I started to investigate my options with trees and bushes and came away with one thought: “Who invented all these bushes and grasses? I mean, I grew up with pampas and honeysuckle but Purple Fountain Grass and Japanese Cypress?” I want to plant sustainable plants that don’t require watering and a lot of maintenance.

While the house came with an irrigation system I don’t plan on using it. Maybe it’s those images in my head of an irrigation system going full blast in a rain storm.

Big box stores sell materials which might not be very sustainable in Iowa. The purple fountain grass sold at Lowes as a perennial is listed for zone 9, which can stand temperatures as low as 20-30 degrees.  Not Iowa’s typical winter!  While you bought a perennial, chances are, in Iowa it is an annual.

Bob Slipka of Genus Landscape Architects says “Once established, and that usually takes one year, native plants can survive about anything nature throws at them. Buyers need to beware to check the hardiness zone on any plant material. Just because it says perennial might mean it will grow year after year in Arkansas but not in Iowa.” Bob recommends larger local nurseries for sustainable landscaping. The plants are native, or at least acclimated to Iowa.

Well, I am off to buy plants that can survive on their own in my yard! No sense in filling the landfill with trees that never stood a chance in Iowa.

rsmith@smithmetzger.com

Dress for success, but don't look to the IRS for any fashion help.

Joe Kristan is a CPA at Roth & Company P.C.

It's standard career advice to dress for the job you want, not the one you have. But they never tell you how you pay for boss clothes on an underling budget. It's only natural to try to get some wardrobe help on your tax return. 

Sadly, it's easy to make a fashion mistake on your 1040.

20110225-1If anybody needs to look sharp, it's TV anchors and actresses. The camera is unforgiving in a Hi-Def world, so thrifty wardrobe choices can stand out like a cheap suit. But the IRS has no fashion sense.

Anietra Hamper was a personality on a Columbus, Ohio TV station. She had to buy her own work clothes, and she took a common-sense approach to her deductions, according to the Tax Court:

She would ask herself "would I be buying this if I didn't have to wear this" to work, "and if the answer is no, then I know that I am buying it specifically" for work, and therefore, it is a deductible business expense.

An actress who was a stand-in for the "Penelope Garcia" character on the show "Criminal Minds" took a similar approach, according to the Tax Court:


Petitioner also claimed as business expenses items including makeup and beauty expenses, wardrobe expenses, and laundry and cleaning expenses. She claims that these expenses were necessary because of the unique dress and makeup of the character Garcia.


Unfortunately, the tax law takes a different approach. IRS Publication 529 explains:

You can deduct the cost and upkeep of work clothes if the following two requirements are met.

  • You must wear them as a condition of your employment.

  • The clothes are not suitable for everyday wear.

It is not enough that you wear distinctive clothing. The clothing must be specifically required by your employer. Nor is it enough that you do not, in fact, wear your work clothes away from work. The clothing must not be suitable for taking the place of your regular clothing.

Examples of workers who may be able to deduct the cost and upkeep of work clothes are: delivery workers, firefighters, health care workers, law enforcement officers, letter carriers, professional athletes, and transportation workers (air, rail, bus, etc.).

Musicians and entertainers can deduct the cost of theatrical clothing and accessories that are not suitable for everyday wear.

In the case of our TV anchor, the court said that that studio wear didn't make the cut, even though she wouldn't have purchased the items if she were, say, a welder:

Although she is required to purchase conservative business attire, it is not of a fashion that is outrageous or otherwise unsuitable for everyday personal wear. Given the nature of her expenditures, it is evident that petitioner's clothing is in fact suitable for everyday wear, even if it is not so worn. Consequently, the Court upholds respondent's determination that petitioner is not entitled to deduct expenses related to clothing, shoes, and accessory costs, as these are inherently personal expenses. Additionally, because the costs associated with the purchase of clothing are a nondeductible personal expense, costs for the maintenance of the clothing such as dry cleaning costs are also nondeductible personal expenses.

20130920-1It might have been a closer call for our actress, but the Tax Court reviewer went thumbs-down:

Neither petitioner’s records nor her testimony tied specific items of expense to the type of clothing and related items that would not be suitable for everyday wear. To the extent that items cannot be tied to petitioner’s job with “Criminal Minds”, her arguments about the uniqueness of Garcia are not persuasive.

Not being much of a TV viewer, I can't say whether a normal person would go out in public dressed like Penelope Garcia, though at least one commentator suggests one would not. Our actress needed to convince the judge that her purchases met the standard for "theatrical clothing and accessories that are not suitable for everyday wear." Her performance in Tax Court failed to convince the relevant critic (my emphasis):

Neither petitioner’s records nor her testimony tied specific items of expense to the type of clothing and related items that would not be suitable for everyday wear. To the extent that items cannot be tied to petitioner’s job with “Criminal Minds”, her arguments about the uniqueness of Garcia are not persuasive.

So what does the tax law tell the fashion-conscious aspiring boss? First, that it's difficult to deduct work clothes, and probably impossible for us cubicle monkeys. Even for actors and others, you need to be able to show the connection between your clothing purchases and your roles, and you need to have receipts to prove what your expenses are.  Otherwise, your deductions might close early to a bad IRS review.

-Joe Kristan

Are you in the Orange?

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

On Monday, The Today Show unveiled their new look as well as their new concept. Carson Daly will be their new “Orange Room” show host of a brand new digital studio. So what exactly is a digital studio? On the Monday launch, the audience was told what was trending (it was the name Redskins – with all the recent controversy). 

Not only did he talk about what was trending, but he showed it. He was able to pull up a Google chart of searches last week vs. this week of the word Redskin – then the audience was able to see the huge growth.

Next, because the show was doing so much self-promoting of the new studio, they asked their viewers to send in “selfies” -- pictures taken of yourself -- to grow some interaction.

I believe this is the way of the future – mixing the old with the new. It’s what we spend everyday doing at Happy Medium. It’s not time to let go of the old, but it is time to mix in the new and engage your audience – or in most of your cases your buyers.

Rather than just making posts to your social media platforms, make sure you are engaging. That is obviously easier said than done, but follow The Today Show’s lead and realize you can no longer just give the news. You need to interact with the news. You have the best chance to be able to listen to your viewers and make personal connections. The Today Show also realizes the digital world can no longer be ignored – that is news in and of itself. Rather than hiding from it, they built an entire show around it – and now their audience feels engaged and paid attention to.

So how can you engage with your buyers? When was the last time you looked at your reviews online and actually acted on them or even better – responded to them? Have you taken time recently to ask questions to your buyers on social media of what they are looking for from you in upcoming months? You no longer have to guess – they are right there and probably very willing to tell you exactly what they want! You just have to be willing to act on it! Use your platforms to talk with them. There has never been a better opportunity to go back to the personal touches a lot of customers are missing. Take advantage!

Tweet me at: @interactivekate and tell me what you’re doing to bridge the gap and get in the Orange!

--Katie

Content marketing - is the greater good also great for business?

Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group.

Here are two givens in today's marketing world.  

  1. Content matters. Content marketing has been around for a long time -- and it's not going anywhere.
  2. Prospects want to know what your company stands for -- beyond making money.

Perhaps the question is -- can you blend the two givens to provide some direction for your marketing efforts. I think you can. This infographic outlines the value and initial steps of blending your marketing content with your bigger purpose.

What do you think? Could this attract new customers and reinforce the buying decision of your current ones?

 

Creating a Purpose Driven Content Engine

 

~ Drew McLellan

Infographic is from visual.ly

The sustainable dilemma

Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

I always wrestle with what I call the “sustainable dilemma.” Do I use a product that is made of recycled materials or can be easily recycled?  Or, on the other hand, do I use a product I think is less sustainable but lasts forever (isn’t that what sustainable is?). I faced the dilemma head on selecting interior doors for the Wellmark YMCA.

Wood doors are made from a renewable resource, although it takes a long time to grow a maple tree big enough to make veneer for doors. Fiberglass doors are made from glass fibers and resin and last forever. The door is inert to water and has a durable finish that may not require painting for years.  

Fiberglass sectionTeri of Edgewater Fiberglass Doors and Frames of Neenah, Wisconsin says, “Fiberglass doors have a lifetime corrosion guarantee and work excellent in wet environments. A growing market is farms…whether dairy or sod. We don’t see them used much in office buildings because the doors cost more than wood, but in tough environments they will last forever.”

So back to the dilemma… 

Fiberglass doors, like a garage or entry door, do the job especially well under wet conditions. So even though they are not made from recycled material and cannot be repurposed, I'm ready to try fiberglass doors as a long lasting product that won’t end up in the landfill. 

Let me know what you think.

rsmith@smithmetzger.com

How to find a buyer for your business

Steve Sink is the founder and managing partner of Phoenix Affiliates Ltd.

Disposing of your business is not as simple as planting a 'for sale' sign outside and waiting for potential buyers to line up. Just as with selling a house or any other major asset, a lot of work has to go into finding suitable buyers, and persuading them that your company is worth their time and attention.

Before you start to look for a buyer, you need to lay the groundwork for a possible sale. This means putting your financial and administrative records in order, ensuring that your cash-flow is healthy, and perhaps even spending a little money in order to improve your asset base and impress potential new owners.

If you don't spend the time to do this at the beginning of the sale process, you will undoubtedly waste a lot of energy trying to do it whilst buyers enquire, and may even lose a sale because you cannot answer basic questions. Don't short-change yourself in this foundational phase, because it will make <a href="http://us.businessesforsale.com/">finding a buyer</a> much easier.

Once your business is in good shape for a purchase, you will need to decide whether to use a broker in order to sell it. The advantages to a broker are obvious, in that they take on most of the time-consuming search for a buyer themselves, and have existing networks to do so.

 They are also able to act much more confidentially than an individual owner working on their own. After all, it might not be good for the short-term health of your business to broadcast the fact that you want to sell. If you are comfortable with being open about your decision to sell, however, acting on your own might make more sense. It will certainly save you money.

Whether you are searching for a buyer yourself, or using a broker, the obvious place to start is by considering your existing competitors. If you are a successful part of the marketplace, similar companies will always consider a takeover.

After all, not only will they gain another outlet for their product or service, but they will also remove a competitor and increase their market share. Of course, you should only put out feelers to your competition when you are absolutely sure that you want to sell, and should only approach those companies whose management style and overall strategy would fit well with the existing culture of your business.

If you are not comfortable with the idea of selling to an existing competitor, you will need to search out new entrants to the market. This is best done by using your existing contacts, particularly by asking regular suppliers and trusted customers to put out the word in their own networks.

If you are happy to sift through a number of purely speculative offers, you can also put out a traditional advertisement in the trade press for your particular sector. If you prepare a succinct and well presented information pack to send out to any serious enquirer, you are likely soon to find a number of potential buyers getting in touch.

Just make sure that you perform your own due diligence on them, and check out the state of their finances. Don't waste your time on a buyer who cannot afford to pay!

 This article was contributed by BusinessesForSale.com, the market-leading directory of business opportunities and Steve Sink, Business Intermediary with Phoenix Affiliates.  ss@phxaffiliates.com


Open book management

Victor Aspengren is a vice president at Prairie Capital Advisors Inc.

I just attended the 21st Annual Gathering of Games conference in St. Louis this week, and it was another incredible experience. The conference is conducted by the Great Game of Business, a division of SRC Holdings out of Springfield, MO, an ESOP company.

This entire conference is centered on open book management, and the attendees are practicing it or looking at starting the open book process. They come from all industries -- healthcare, manufacturing, engineering, health & fitness, food, agriculture, printing, etc...

When I discuss this topic with business owners and managers, many of them think the idea is crazy or that the employees will not understand the financial information shared. One can argue that it will not work, but after hearing the stories of success from this conference, the past 10 that I have attended, and the fact that I have lived the open book management implementation process, there is not an argument that holds water.

I encourage you to explore the open book management concept at www.greatgame.com  This is truly a game where everyone can win!

-Victor Aspengren

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