Are You Prepared for That Cliff That Could Be Further Down the Road?

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

You’re on a long car drive. There’s no one around. You look off into the distance at the road ahead. The weather is fine and the next few miles are smooth and clear. Except, off on the horizon, it looks as if the road just ends. It looks like there’s a cliff at the very, very end and you’re going to drive off of it. Of course there’s not, you say to yourself. Everything will be just fine.

So you keep driving with the hope that you’re right. You figure that when you get there, the road will continue on. And you’re right. There’s no cliff. Even though it looks like you’re going off a cliff, it’s all good.

You’re back in the office. It’s approaching the middle of year. You look off into the distance at the road ahead — at 2016. The weather is fine and the road ahead for the next few miles is smooth and clear. Except, off on the horizon — about six months from now — it looks as if the road just ends. Of course not, you say to yourself. Everything will be just fine. Read More…

3 Reasons A Municipal Bank Is A Bad Idea

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(This post originally appeared on The Philly Post)

Mayoral candidate Anthony Williams has been floating an idea for a municipal bank. The proposed bank, which would be owned and run by the city would focus on helping small businesses in the city who are unable to get loans from mainstream banks.

I not only run a small business but I also write every day on small business topics for the Washington Post and every week for Forbes, Inc. and Entrepreneur magazines. My company has more than 600 small business clients and I speak to and interview thousands of small business owners around the country every year. If you’re familiar with the other things I write for Philly Mag you may agree that I don’t know much about a lot of things. But please allow that I’m more than a little familiar with the issues facing the country’s 30 million small businesses, let alone the tens of thousands in this city. So with that in mind I feel obligated to help Anthony Williams because he seems like a nice guy.

Mr. Williams…the municipal bank thing? Not a great idea. And here’s why.

• Getting capital is just not a significant issue for small businesses in today’s current economic climate. Sure, there are some that struggle with this and that will always be the case. But the great majority are not.

• The city can devote its resources in other, better ways to help the small business community. Providing a safe, clean environment to attract more residents and visitors will attract more start-ups, shops and companies so making our police force the very best in the country would be the a good start. Instead of a municipal bank, carving out a one-stop-shop in City Hall exclusively devoted to helping small businesses navigate the bureaucratic and intimidating maze of permits and regulations would be a huge help. Avoiding excessive regulations like the recent sick pay law would enable business people more flexibility to make their profits and employ more people. Figuring out a way to fund the city’s schools (and NOT the ways previously offered by the candidates that Mayor Nutter and city finance chief recently shot down as “bogus”) would attract more middle class families and companies to the city instead of driving them to the better schools in the suburbs. And if all of this could be done without raising taxes? Or even decreasing taxes for businesses? Be still, my heart!

• Finally – the city just can’t afford this, financially or politically. As Philly Mag’s own Patrick Kerkstra correctly puts it: “If the plan ever gets fleshed out enough to develop into a firm proposal, it would likely face a lot of hurdles—both legal and political. Municipal banks clash with the constitutions of a lot of states, though it’s not clear that would be the case in Pennsylvania. Then there’s the more basic political challenge of selling the public on the notion that City Hall ought to run a bank.”

A municipal bank is just not on the list of things that the next mayor of Philadelphia should be doing to help small businesses in the city. Let’s put that idea on the “nice try/good intentions” shelf and move on to something more substantive.

Don’t Have Enough Money to Pay Your Taxes? Blame These Two Words

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(This post originally appeared on Inc.)

You’re a smart person. You run a profitable business. You know how to make deals. You’ve navigated your company through good times and bad. You’ve been doing this for a while. But there’s something that still perplexes you. A basic accounting concept that you’re still trying to understand. It has to do with two words. And every year around this time, when you owe taxes, those two words come back to haunt you.

Your business has an accountant. He may file a C-Corporation return. Or a partnership return. Or an S-Corporation return which is the most common tax return filed for small companies. On a partnership or S-Corporation return the income from your business flows through to your personal returns. You might have filed this return already or maybe it was extended. But no matter. Tomorrow is April 15th which means your personal income tax returns are due, along with any payments for 2014. So you’ll have to pay that. And I’m betting you’ll have an estimated payment due for 2015 too. Which means that, if you haven’t already, you’ve got to scrape up some cash. You go through this exercise every year. Every year, without fail, you’ve got the same question.

And it goes something like this: “How is it that my tax return shows I made all this money (and owe taxes) and yet I still don’t have any cash?” Read More…

Boring Brands Can Crush Social Media…And 5 Other Things You Can Learn From 3M

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(This post originally appeared on Forbes)

What exactly is #lifewith3M? It’s more than you think.

Yes, #lifewith3M is a Twitter hashtag. And 3M – the company that makes Ace bandages, Scotchgard, and Post-it notes, as well as industrial products you’ve never heard of – is succeeding on Twitter. Take a look at its main Twitter account and you’ll see what I mean. The company has 121,000 followers! How is that even possible? This is not Beyonce or Lady Gaga.3M is not political. There are no professional NBA employees employed by the company. It’s just a huge yet kind of boring (sorry, 3M) consumer and industrial products company. And yet 121,000 people follow it. “We are leveraging Twitter to help our customers become more familiar with the science and technology behind our products,” said Amy Lamparske, 3M’s Global Social Media Leader. “We’ve noticed that the more a customer knows about 3M, the more brand loyalty and intent to purchase that creates.” 3M is educating its community about science, not just its products.

How many people are following your unexciting company on Twitter? Not as many as that, I’m sure. And certainly not as many as there could be. So what’s 3M’s secret? It’s more than one thing. Read More…

Why I Don’t Want To Have Coffee With You

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(This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post)

Please… I don’t want to have coffee with you.

I don’t mean to sound rude. And I really, really appreciate that you’d like to get together. But I’m a small business owner. My days are really busy. And I don’t have the time to just “have coffee.” I know you are a nice person and that a face to face meeting may very well help us in our relationship. There are some people I know who thrive on meeting others for coffee, lunch and dinner. But unfortunately I’m not one of those people. This is not something I really want to do. If I’m not dealing with problems in my office, I have so much other work to do and problems to handle that if I do have any available time I’d prefer to spend it with my family. So having coffee with you is really low on my priority list.

But I’ll tell you what: there are some circumstances where I will have coffee with you. And here’s what they are. Read More…

Pay Attention: You Need to Understand These 5 Women’s Issues

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(This post originally appeared on Inc.)

From the Ellen Pao discrimination case to Hillary Clinton’s presidential run, women are expressing some rightful outrage. In fact, they are stepping up and fighting for their rights–now more so than ever. And they should be. These are five issues that impact your female employees–issues that you (and me), as business owners, must also address.

That’s particularly true if we intend to grow and succeed in the years to come.

1. Equal pay

According to this recent report, “women earn approximately 77 percent of what men do, a figure that has improved by only 3 percentage points over the past two decades. (And the gap is even wider among high earners.)” The U.N. group who prepared that report warned that “the pay gap won’t close for more than 70 years if it continues to shrink at the current rate. Though substantial gains have been made over the past few decades, women in the U.S. still made about 82 percent of what men earned in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.” The good news is that, among Millennials, the pay gap between men and women is mostly at parity, per a Pew Research study. Take a look at your business. Are your female employees being paid equally with males that are doing similar jobs? This is not just a legal matter, it’s a competitive matter. How can you attract smart female workers if you’re paying less? Read More…

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