• Tax deductions you shouldn’t try

    Tax accountants advise against trying to take a deduction for your dog's wardrobe

    Nobody knows better how to raise flags for an IRS audit than tax accountants. And boy do they have stories to tell. The online accounting software provider Xero surveyed its network of accounting partners to find out about the most ill-advised deductions small business owners have tried to take. They also asked accountants to point to deductions you might be missing out on.

    Out-of-pocket expenses and auto expenses, including gas, parking, and tolls, are the number one and two most overlooked small business deductions, according to Xero's online survey of 400 US accountants, conducted last month by Zogby Analytics. Also on the list of deductions business owners are prone to miss out on: depreciation, office improvements, and new hires.

    Among the strangest deductions accountants say they've seen small businesses try to take: family vacations, pets and pet food, deadbeat relatives, traffic tickets, spaghettios, a daughter's wedding, alcohol, clothes for the dog, and gambling losses.

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  • What your email says...

    If you're running a small business, especially one that relies on the Internet for at least some of its marketing, mastering the art of email is as essential as cranking up the coffee machine and hanging an Open For Business sign on the door.

    Your email can speak volumes. But if you're not careful, it will do it in a squeaky voice or an incomprehensible accent. There are four key components to every email: your address, subject line, message text, and signature. Screw any of them up and you could look foolish and unprofessional to the world at large. Here's how to avoid that fate.

    1. Your Email Address, Your Self

    To the 2.4 billion strangers who occupy the Internet, your email address is your identity. Yet you'd be surprised how many small business owners mess this up. For example:

    If your email address is...

    It tells the world
    CrankyBob1912@aol.com You were born in 1912. You are using a dial-up Internet account and probably still own a rotary phone.
    Reddy4Askshun@hotmail.com
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  • Surprising business choices: Brain surgeon or famous chef?

    poached sablefish with spicy dakon

    Hooni Kim made up his mind to become a doctor during college when he worked in the neurosurgery department at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. He graduated from medical school and was on his way to a grueling 6-year neurosurgery residency when he decided to first spend a year relaxing with his new bride in New York City.

    A 9-month course at the French Culinary Institute seemed a good way to unwind, he thought. Long story short: Kim ditched the medical career, and 10 years later he is the celebrity chef-owner of two of Manhattan’s hottest new restaurants.

    His mother didn’t forgive him for leaving medicine until he won a Michelin star—the first ever for a Korean restaurant. “I thought I’d be doing brain surgery, and here I am cutting pigs and calves’ heads,” Kim says. But he has no regrets.

    “I think I work the same amount of hours as my doctor friends,” Kim says, “but I can’t imagine working this hard and not having the satisfaction of pleasing so many people at the end of the night.”

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  • Business Loan: Approved

    Applying for a business loan can be intimidating and stressful, and it can be confusing to have an application rejected with little explanation. There are steps company executives can take to avoid some of the possible confusion and to develop a more positive experience while applying for a business loan. Two of these steps are described below, and should be completed prior to approaching a financial institution about a loan.

    1) Research Lender Options

    Like any business operator, financial institutions want to make money in their business. While they want to lend money, they don’t want to approve credit that will ultimately result in loss. Further, regulatory requirements often influence the types of loans that can be approved. As a result, a major concern of any institution considering approving a business loan is whether the owner and the business are good risks.

    “Good risks,” however, can mean different things to different lenders, which is why it is a good idea to do some basic

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  • Shaking the Bode Tree: How to get a bank loan for your small business

    Signed In Blood

    It’s no secret that every business, small or large, needs funding in order to operate. Unfortunately it’s getting tougher and tougher for the average small business owner to secure a bank loan. In fact, 43% of small business owners were denied funding at least once over the last four years. Worse yet, one in three businesses had their existing credit lines slashed and one in ten had loans called in early.

    Given the economic uncertainties faced by small businesses, it’s likely that bank financing will remain scarce. Nevertheless, it is still possible to get a bank loan...you might just need to work harder.

    Banks, credit unions, and investors are looking for the same thing – a return of capital and a return on capital. The only difference is that lending organizations have limited upside (only the return of capital plus pre-defined interest) whereas investors can participate in the upside (return on capital is theoretically unlimited). Both carry the downside risk of not being paid

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  • How working in a cafe can caffeinate your business

    From document scanning to teleconferencing to generating legal contracts, just about any business function can now be conducted via mobile app. No longer do you need to be in an office to make photocopies, send a fax, or share files with colleagues.

    But just because you can run your business from a coffee shop, should you?

    “Absolutely!” say Mike Pugh and Kyle Flowers of j2 Global, a company that provides cloud services to small business, including eFax and eVoice apps. They are cheerleaders for working from “the coffice.”

    “If you’re looking to work in an out-of-the-box environment, the coffee shop is a perfect one,” says Flowers. While the confines of a traditional office can squelch creativity, Flowers says that the sights, smells, and sounds of a coffee shop can spark it. What’s more, he suggests, “The rhythm of a busy atmosphere really helps people to stay in tune and operate at that energetic pace.”

    To be sure, not every job or every task is suited to the coffee shop, and not every

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  • Simpler Small Business Tax Code Is Under Discussion

    Only one in ten small business owners file their taxes on their own, according to the IRS.

    If you’re among the 10 percent of small business owners who do your own taxes, take heart as you pull your hair out getting your forms in order this month: A simpler tax code is another step closer, and provisions aimed at small business are included.

    House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) this week released a third “discussion draft” of the Tax Reform Act of 2013. This version includes language aimed at creating a simpler and fairer tax code for small businesses.

    “Every dollar spent on complying with an overly complex, burdensome and broken tax code is a dollar that cannot be used for investment, hiring, and higher wages for American workers,” according to Camp’s statement. Camp also issued a Fact Sheet offering several reasons the tax code needs to be simplified, including that “Today’s tax code contains almost four million words,” and, “On average, more than one new tax provision has been added to the tax code each day, with nearly 4,500 changes in the last

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  • Fishing Talent from a Million Online Pools

    Fishing for new employees

    Before the age of the internet, employers had it pretty easy when it came to recruiting talent. Little and big catches swam readily through print classifieds to get a chomp at those tasty starter and dream jobs. Today, with newspapers fighting extinction, that one enormous reliable sea of talent has exploded into millions of micro-pools spanning across the planet. Now, with a kaleidoscope of puddles that must be monitored for movement, what small business has the time to spend all their resources trolling them all for talent? Here are five strategies many employers deploy to gig fresh catches.

    Twitter for recruiting

    An ocean of tweets (live and archived) are search friendly for any employer armed with a neat list of keywords (i.e. C++, Ruby on Rails, developer, etc.). For those posting jobs on Twitter using such keywords, they are conveniently searchable via search engines.

    Internal recruiting

    Many small business employers have been successful at developing talent from within. Hire

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  • Networking, mistakes and great reads: Small Business Reading for March 8, 2013

    The Perennial State of the Business Owner - Worry

    Some of the best stories from the past week on Advisor - in no particular order.

    Networking is Dangerous: Never go alone. [Great article from TJ MCCue about how to really focus and succeed when networking to build your business relationships.

    Tax day advice; and 6 tips for next year. [At this point it is last minute for your taxes - but just in case - here is some last minute advice and some for next year...]

    Private companies' health heading into sequestration. [really worth reading this and especially the full report linked to in the article.]

    Small business rising. [a nice infographic about the strains small business is under]

    11 Common mistakes small businesses make. [great straightforward advice about what NOT to do.]

    Ten things really amazing employees do. [These traits should help you value the great employees you already have and help you look for the great employees of the future when you hire.]

    7 Brand Storytelling lessons you can learn from Ron Howard. [Don't let the

    Read More »from Networking, mistakes and great reads: Small Business Reading for March 8, 2013
  • How blogging can improve your online presence

    Marketing and social media consultant and author Mark Schaefer is a big believer in blogging. For one thing, as you'll learn shortly, it saved him from sitting through another cold chicken lunch at the chamber of commerce. Yesterday we posted part one of an interview with Schaefer explaining why blogging might be the best social media move your business could make. Here in part two he offers tips for blogging your way up the search engine ladder.

    Yahoo! SBA: Does blogging help businesses show up in search engines?

    Schaefer: Search engine optimization: that’s the number one benefit of blogging. It’s an evolving and complicated topic, but for many businesses today, customers are beginning their search for your business and your products on Google. It’s essential that you show up in the top three search terms.

    How do you do that?

    One way to begin to tip the Google search algorithms in your favor is to create very helpful, useful content that your customers will love. If your customers are

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