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Is That Holiday Party Really Worth It?

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

Holiday parties are expensive and a waste of time. I know this because I have been to, and hosted, countless ones.

A hundred years ago I attended holiday parties thrown by the Big 4 (actually it was Big 6 at the time) accounting firm I worked for. The firm actually had three of these parties — one for the main office and smaller ones for their two satellite offices in the area — and my bosses “strongly encouraged” me  to go to all of them. I also attended holiday parties thrown by the firm’s clients. When I left the firm after almost nine years I attended multiple holiday parties at the publicly held biopharmaceutical company where I worked. Then when I left there to start my own business I continued to go to parties at clients and, reluctantly, began holding an annual holiday event (it was a lunch or dinner) for my people.

So looking back I’ve been to big gala parties, smaller affairs, in-office events, at-home soirees, lunches and dinners all related to some sort of corporate holiday festivity. And you know what? None of them were worth it. Why? Read More…

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The 3 Costliest Mistakes I’ve Made Launching A New Website (So Far)

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

Last month my company launched an entirely new website. Hooray! Well, not so fast…

The site — please excuse my self-promotion — is called Marks Group Live. It’s targeted at users of Zoho, one of the business applications my company sells. It’s a new type of offering, which is part of the problem.

Mostly small companies buy Zoho. The only ways for them to get help is support from Zoho, watch free videos on YouTube or hire partners like me ar rather high hourly fees. My site is aimed at financially conscious users. Sounds good, right?

Well, it’s been a slog. Growth has been slower than I expected. I realize now that users need more time to understand this relatively new way of getting services for a business application. I’ve made other mistakes. Stupid mistakes. Here are my biggest (so far). Read More…

The 5 Words You Don’t Want To Hear From Your Accountant

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

Did you know you could potentially save serious money or get help recruiting and motivating your employees just by leveraging a bunch of deductions and tax credits offered by the IRS?

For example, are you aware of the tax benefits available to both you and your employees for reimbursing them for educational, dependent care, adoption and commuting expenses? Did you know you can take huge deductions for capital equipment purchases and not even have to pay for these purchases upfront? Or that there are significant credits available for you to encourage the hiring of welfare recipients and veterans, disabled people, starting a 401(K) plan or just paying a portion of the salary for those employees taking time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act?

Do you have an ESOP? An HSA? A 529? Read More…

Looking at Very Old Photos Has Changed My Perspective on Business and Life in General

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

If you could name one website that’s truly the best for business what would it be? A big media site like CNN or Fox News? A business site like Entrepreneur.com? A financial advice site? A site that’s aimed at your industry? Maybe. But for me it’s none of these (sorry, Entrepreneur.com).

In my mind, there’s only one website that — for at least the past seven years — has provided me the most help running my business.

That site is Shorpy.com. Named after a 12-year-old coal miner whose photo and thousands of other old (mostly century-old) photos that have been restored and digitized, Shorpy let you look at the most particular details of people, places and things that have long ago disappeared. Go there now. Do you see what I see? Here’s what I see. Read More…

Your ‘Minimum Purchase’ Credit Card Policy Is Dumb

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

The other day I went into a convenience store to buy a bag of Blazin’ Buffalo and Ranch Doritos. The cost was $0.99. I didn’t have cash because…well…who carries cash anymore, right?

When I went to pay for the Blazin’ Buffalo and Ranch Doritos I was told there is a $10 minimum on credit card purchases. I told the cashier — who did not make this policy and was just doing her job — that I didn’t have any cash. She told me the minimum on credit card purchases is $10. Hoping the young lady was also a fan of Blazin’ Buffalo and Ranch Doritos, I asked if she could perhaps make an exception. She told me the minimum on credit card purchases is $10. Clearly, a Fritos fan.

So,I left.

The convenience store business is a tough business. There’s a ton of competition. The hours are brutal. Finding reliable people can be impossible. Net profit margins are shockingly low. According to industry data, a typical convenience store has revenues of around $650,000 and at the end of the day, after product costs and overheads, the owner pockets only about two percent or $66,000. It’s a living. But it ain’t great. Every penny counts.

Including the pennies the convenience store owner would’ve made from the purchase of my Blazin’ Buffalo and Ranch Doritos. Not to mention the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars the convenience store owner is ignoring every year by denying people purchases under $10 who want to use a credit card.

My failed Blazin’ Buffalo and Ranch Doritos purchase made me wonder. Does this policy really make sense? Are you also requiring a minimum purchase for customers to use their credit cards? If so, don’t you think you’re losing business because so many people are like me and don’t carry cash? I know you don’t like to pay the credit card fees. But, in an effort to avoid these fees on smaller purchases aren’t you also hurting your profits in the long run? Isn’t this dumb?

Maybe there’s a better way. Actually, there is.

Let’s do the math. The convenience store charges $0.99 for a bag of Blazin’ Buffalo and Ranch Doritos. The convenience store owner makes around a 20-30 percent gross margin on that bag. The credit card company’s fees on this transaction would have been three percent or $.03. Which means that, even in the worst coast scenario, the owner is giving up $0.17 gross profit on each bag of Blazin’ Buffalo and Ranch Doritos that go unpurchased.

But here’s a question: instead of denying me the purchase, if the owner simply had a policy that charged me three percent more for credit card purchases under $10 would I have still gone for it? Would I have paid the additional three cents? Yes, I would pay three freaking cents more for my Blazin’ Buffalo and Ranch Doritos if that’s what it would’ve freaking took to use my credit card!

Let’s say I lived in a state where recreational marijuana is legal. As such, I buy ten bags of Blazin’ Buffalo and Ranch Doritos. My total bill would be $9.90. Would I have paid the additional $0.30 to use my credit card? Uh…I’m going to say yes. And yes, I’m going to take a giant leap of faith and assume that the typical customer would also part with that whopping thirty cents for a ten-dollar order.

So, why does that convenience store — or any retailer for that matter — have a minimum credit card policy? Simple answer: they’re dumb and it’s costing them money. The fact is that people are using less cash and more credit cards. Customers do it for convenience. There is an added cost for this convenience. It is a tiny, tiny cost. Charge them if necessary. Don’t lose the sale.

Regardless of whether you’re earning $66,000 a year as a convenience store owner or $600,000 a year running a tech company you can never afford to pass up a customer who’s ready and willing to pay a small surcharge — especially for a bag of Blazin’ Buffalo and Ranch Doritos.

Why Middle-Aged-Men Are Such Lousy Sales Prospects

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

The other day I was responding to a prospective customer who inquired about our products online. The minute he answered the phone I knew I was in trouble: he is a middle aged man. Middle aged men tend to be lousy customers. I know this. I’m a middle-aged man.

Am I generalizing? Absolutely not.

Every man in business has a similar arc. In their 20’s and 30’s they’re eager, full of energy and willing to do whatever’s necessary to conquer the world of opportunities and riches which lays before them. By the time they hit their forties they’ve become either settled or unsettled with the professional life they have chosen. They know they have limited time left, and maybe no time at all, for making any drastic changes. By the time they get to their fifties — middle aged — it all comes to a head. Read More…

How To Tell If Your Small Business Will Be a Success – In 5 Minutes

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

This is going to sound a little harsh, but I can pretty much tell whether you’re going to succeed as a business person within five minutes of meeting you. I learned this from Little League baseball.

For years, I coached both of my two sons’ Little League baseball teams. I’m a good ballplayer and have been since I was a kid. Never, ever good enough to play at a college or pro level because I’m way too small. But, I’ve always been athletic and fortunate enough to have some innate hand-eye coordination skills that help me track a fly ball, pick-up a ground ball and hit a ball pretty well. My two sons, also cursed with my physical stature, were never going to play pro ball. But they were always pretty good too, and I loved coaching them. Read More…