Why The Gun Industry’s “Trump Slump” Is Not A Good Thing For Many Small Businesses


(This post originally appeared on Inc)

You would think with the election of Donald Trump and a wave of Republican, pro-firearm representatives taking over state legislatures and Congress in 2016 that the subsequent years would be great for a small business in the firearms industry.  Not so.

“Our business was off about 15 percent in 2018,” said Anthony Filippello, who owns Delaware Valley Sports Center in Northeast Philadelphia which offers shooting ranges, a pro shop and educational and certification programs. “But based on what I’ve heard from other gun store owners I know around the nation some were off by about 30 percent. I guess it depends on where you are located.”

Read More…


How did Netflix get away with not paying income tax in 2018?

(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)

Netflix has made a lot of news this past week, and it’s not because of the Ted Bundy documentary or all those fools doing the Bird Boxchallenge. No, it’s something that is even more galling, particularly to those who oppose corporate greed and income inequality: the company paid virtually no US taxes in 2018.

According to a blogpost from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the company posted its largest ever profit in 2018 – $845m – but paid no federal (or state) income tax.

“After a year of speculation and spin, the public is getting its first hard look at how corporate tax law changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act affected the tax-paying habits of corporations,” senior fellow Mathew Gardner wrote. “The law sharply reduced the federal corporate rate, expanded some tax breaks and curtailed others. The new tax law took effect at the beginning of 2018, which means that companies are just now closing the books on their first full year under the new rules.” Read More…

Slack Goes Public, FreshBooks Expands…And Other Small Business Tech News This Week


(This post originally appeared on Forbes)

Here are five things in technology that happened this past week and how they affect your business. Did you miss them?

1— Workplace messaging app Slack to go public.

Early this week, California-based workplace messaging startup Slack said it had filed a confidential registration for an IPO. The company claims to have 10 million users in 150 countries and has raised more than $1 billion from investors, meaning it is now valued at $7.1 billion and is one of the most richly valued ‘unicorns’ in the country. (Source: France 24)

Why this is important for your business: Read More…

Small-business owners hurt by shutdown must blame themselves

This post originally appeared on The Hill

About 10 years ago, my small business almost went out of business.

At the time, my firm was involved in a very profitable project with a very large client. Things were good then. We were incurring hundreds of hours on the job and charging our maximum rate. The client promised a long relationship.

I thought about that experience as I listened to the testimony of a few of my fellow small-business owners this week at the House Committee on Small Business. They were complaining about how the recent federal shutdown affected their companies.

“The shutdown affected Port City by furloughing SBA staff who were working on a loan application for a new bottling line,” Bill Butcher, the founder of Port City Brewing Company grumbled. “Because of the closure we were unable to lock in an interest rate, which could increase the cost of our loan by thousands of dollars.

Butcher’s problems were understandable. And he certainly wasn’t alone. Heidi Gerding, CEO of HeiTech Services, Inc., a woman- and service veteran-owned small contracting business, complained that the shutdown had a “measurable impact” on her business and employees.

Other stories were reported around the country about craft breweries that were unable to get the permits to ship beer, business travelers held up on the issuance of passports and delicatessen owners who saw their lunchtime business fall away because of the lack of customers from a nearby federal building.

“Unfortunately, the stories we heard today of the lasting pain inflicted by the shutdown mirror countless others on Main Streets in every corner of America,” Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) lamented.

I certainly sympathize with these people. I really do. But funny thing, though: I just didn’t see this in my own little world. During the entire month of January, I met and spoke with many of the hundreds of small-business clients my firm serves and asked them about the effects of the shutdown.

Across the board, the response was muted. Even in my own business, like my clients, the shutdown had no impact. We continued to work on projects, send out invoices, quote new jobs and deal with the same headaches.

I don’t think my experience — or my clients’ — was the exception. In fact, I believe that the grand majority of the 30 million or so small businesses in the country were largely unaffected by January’s shutdown.

Don’t believe me? Then why were so many jobs added, particularly by small businesses? Why is confidence still so high? Why was January’s economic growth in the Midwest (of all places!) so strong? Why is the service sector up, and why are purchasing managers planning on increased buys in the months to come?

Of course, not all the economic data is so positive because that’s just the nature of economic data. But aside from the small number of businesses that were impacted by the shutdown, why did so many others seem to emerge unaffected?

Maybe it’s because they learned something that I learned a decade ago when I lost that big client. I managed my business poorly. I made errors in judgment. The largest error was putting all of my eggs in one basket.

I disobeyed the cardinal rule that so many other small-business owners I know who have been in business for many years have learned: Spread the risk. My bad management almost ruined my business.

So to Bill Butcher and Heidi Gerding and all the other business owners who were impacted by the shutdown, I can only say this: Don’t complain. Like I learned from that experience, you should learn from this experience.

Ask yourself about your business model. Think about the dangers you incur when your entire business:

  • is built around one customer;
  • is located in a risky place;
  • involves selling to an industry that’s exposed to a significant downturn; or
  • involves shipping products that are reliant on government approval.

Maya Angelou once said “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” I sympathize with the predicament and the challenges faced by the many small-business owners affected by the shutdown, but they shouldn’t complain. Like me, their difficulties are not the government’s fault. They belong to them.

Gene Marks is founder of The Marks Group, a small-business consulting firm. He has written on economic and financial issues for The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Guardian. He also frequently appears on CNBC, Fox Business and MSNBC.

Washington hair stylists proved independent contractors can’t be cut

(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)

One thing is obvious to anyone who’s ever visited a hair stylist: this is an industry that relies on independent contractors, many of whom rent out space from existing salons to work their craft.

Which is why, according to the News Tribune, more than 77,000 Washington state residents signed a petition and 1,000 local hair stylists descended upon Olympia last week to protest against a proposed state senate bill which – if passed – would have significantly affected their livelihoods.

In Washington state, salon owners who use independent contractors instead of employees in their shops enjoy an exemption (up to a certain amount) from paying certain business and occupancy taxes, as well as worker’s compensation and unemployment insurance. That means lost revenues to the state. Which is what prompted the creation of three bills – two in the state senate and one in the house – all with the objective of “leveling the playing field”. Read More…

On CRM: Infusionsoft Rebrands As Keap Because That’s What Small Businesses Want


(This post originally appeared on Forbes)

Infusionsoft is now called Keap. But the re-branding is not the only big change that happened.

The Arizona-based company, known for its powerful CRM and marketing automation applications, is also changing its focus. Sure, its core products will continue to be developed and sold as Infusionsoft. But the company’s leaders have decided to pivot from just offering a CRM application to offering a more comprehensive set of business tools specifically for small businesses that work in and around the CRM model.

“We’ll continue to lead the CRM and marketing automation industry with exciting updates coming this year with what we are now calling Infusionsoft by Keap,” the company’s COO Keith Reed said in a press release. “With the introduction of our new Keap product, we are able to serve an even larger market of small service providers who have been shut out of the benefits of automation because software providers have made it too hard and expensive.” Read More…

This CEO Has A 2,000-Year-Old Trick to Improve Your Cash Flow


(This post originally appeared on Inc.)

Thousands of years ago, when Rome was at the zenith of its power, small businesses had the opportunity to sell their goods — organic beef, craft beer, hand-stitched clothing — to the affluent and growing middle class populations in faraway places.

Today not much has changed. Well, except for the fact that craft beer has definitely got to be much better. But new generations of small business owners still sell their goods — organic beef, craft beer, hand-stitched clothing — to customers far away and they face similar challenges.

Whether you were doing this stuff in Augustan Rome or Trumpian America the business still involves a good deal of capital invested and risk. Today, as then, some entrepreneurs elect to take that risk on themselves. Others choose to hire outside firms to help shoulder that risk.

Enter the middleman. That’s the firm that says “Look, I’ll take the risk. I’ll buy and collect the receivable that’s owed to you. You’ll get your money now and I’ll take a fee for my services.” Some call this factoring. I call it financing. And in many cases it’s just good business. You do what you do best, and you let the financial people do what they do best. Everyone shares and everyone wins.

Eyal Lifshitz agrees. He’s the CEO of BlueVine, a company he started about six years ago after a stint in a venture capital firm in Israel. BlueVine, according to its website, has delivered more than $1 billion in financing to over 10,000 small businesses.

The role of the factoring firm hasn’t changed much over the past few thousand years. But their value has. The reason: changing attitudes and, most importantly, technology. I asked Lifshitz about this — and other things — in the below interview, which has been edited for length.

Q: Factoring is not the world’s oldest profession. But it’s pretty old. Why the interest?

My father and grandfather were both small business owners. I grew up watching my father, who owned a small physical therapy clinic in New York, struggle with cash flow issues due to long payment cycles. In factoring I saw a significant opportunity for disruption through technological innovation such as the availability of online and new machine learning methods. That gave me the idea to launch BlueVine, and to make the switch from being a venture capital investor to entrepreneur.

Q: Can you explain BlueVine’s value prop and what it’s doing differently from all the other factoring firms today?

We actually offer two products (factoring and a credit line). For invoice factoring, which was our first offering, we provide a truly digital experience which historically was offline, paper-based and known to be slow and clunky. With our platform, you don’t need to fax invoices or send any paper documents. All you need to do is take 5 minutes to apply online and upload your invoices or connect your accounting software. You can get funds in as fast as 24 hours. Additionally, a business owner can decide which invoice to submit for funding with a click of a button, unlike with many traditional factoring companies that require you to fund all of your invoices. We also offer invoice factoring credit lines of up to $5 million, which is ideal for businesses that are growing rapidly.

Q: Factoring has literally been around for thousands of years. How has it changed? What role has technology served?

At BlueVine, we use advanced technology to improve the onboarding and funding experience for small business customers. Instead of waiting weeks to get approved for financing like with traditional factoring companies, business owners who use BlueVine can get approved for funds in a matter of days. We’re using technology to process hundreds of data points in a matter of minutes to allow customers to finance invoices in almost real time, and have invested in AI to streamline our back office processes. Additionally, we have built an intuitive online dashboard which makes it easy for small business owners to pick and choose which invoice to submit for funding. 

Q:  What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about your business and how are you addressing it?

More and more small business owners are discovering online business lending. In fact, roughly a third of non-employer firms turned to online lenders for financing, according to a 2018 Federal Reserve report. Most people don’t know online lending has gotten to be so common. Despite this, many small business owners still think that the only option they have for financing is their bank. At BlueVine, we’re on a mission to educate business owners and the market about the benefits of online lending and how this relatively new industry not only addresses important business financing needs that traditional banks have not been able to address but also dramatically improves how customers get financing.

Q: One big issue that I would have using a factoring service like BlueVine is trust. How can I trust you with my customers?

We make sure to treat your customers with the utmost care and respect, and it shows in our numbers. We have also built relationships with the accounts payable departments of hundreds of our clients’ customers including Fortune 1000 companies like Walgreens, Verizon, Best Buy who are now very familiar with BlueVine’s process.

Q: Is it just firms with cash flow challenges that can benefit from BlueVine’s services? My company — a 10 person tech firm — doesn’t have these issues. We have about 50-60 open invoices at a time and collection problems do not happen very often. Is there a role that BlueVine could play?

First off, I need to clarify that factoring is not about collections. It’s about allowing you to access capital through your unpaid invoices. It’s a smart option for businesses that sell products or services to other businesses and that typically wrestle with cash flow gaps due to unpaid invoices and long payment cycles. it can also help businesses get convenient access to funds for short-term or emergency needs, from covering payroll to fixing a broken piece of equipment. Many of our clients use factoring to grow their business. Clients often use BlueVine to fund marketing expenses or hire more staff.