By Cliff Ennico
New Year’s Resolutions are all about habits. Breaking some bad ones (smoking, drinking excessively, binging on fast food), and starting new ones (working out, eating more Brussels sprouts).
Businesses, like individuals, develop bad habits over time that need correction, while success in business over the long run usually means adopting good management habits and sticking with them year after year.
Here are my 2015 New Year’s Resolutions for business owners (one for each of the 12 Days of Christmas).
1. Do an Annual “Legal Review.” It isn’t enough to hire a good lawyer and pray you don’t get sued. Every business has laws and regulations you need to know about, and it’s your responsibility to learn about them so you can prevent lawsuits before they happen. Take your lawyer to lunch sometime in January, tell him or her everything your business did last year and is planning to do this year, and get some education on how to do things better.
2. “Know the O.” 2015 is a big year for the Affordable Care Act (a/k/a Obamacare). Beginning January 1, 2015, employers with more than 100 full-time or “full-time equivalent” employees must offer health insurance to 70 percent of them, or pay a penalty on their federal income tax return of at least $2,000 (after the first 80 employees). If your business has fewer than 50 total employees, you’re probably exempt from the mandate. But watch out if you have lots of part-time employees: the calculation of “full-time equivalent” status under Obamacare is very tricky.
Have your accountant do the calculation, and get it in writing.
Also in 2015:
- The small business health insurance tax rises to $11.3 billion;
- Every insured American pays a $44 “reinsurance fee”;
- The individual mandate tax penalty increases to $325 or 2 percent of income above the filing threshold, whichever is greater; and
- Open enrollment for coverage in individual health insurance exchanges for 2015 ends on February 15.
3. Sign ‘Em Up; Nail ‘Em Down. You’ve got a part-time salesperson or administrative assistant working in your business one or two days a week. While they’re there, you tell them what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. You believe this person is an “independent contractor”, so you don’t withhold money from their paycheck each week. Bad idea! The IRS is very likely to look at this person as a part-time employee, and they will come down on you like Thor’s hammer if they find out. Now’s the time to have this person sign a one-page employment agreement “effective January 1, 2015” (your attorney can draft this for a couple of hundred dollars), and add them to your payroll.
What should the agreement say? At the very least, it should clearly state that the employee serves “at will” and can be terminated at any time, with or without a reason.
4. Loosen Up Your Vocal Cords. One of the best ways to distinguish yourself from your competition, especially if you are a consultant, is to become the local expert in your field. Volunteer to speak at local business luncheon meetings. Teach a course at your local community college. If you run a butcher shop, call your local cable TV news show and volunteer to do a segment on “how to carve your holiday turkey” – people love that stuff, and news reporters love it when you make their life easier by suggesting story ideas. However you do it, get out in front of your marketplace and let them see you. Not only will you build your self-confidence as a public speaker, you will get tons of free publicity for your business.
Finally, record your presentation, break it down into segments by topic, and put them up on your Website as downloadable “Podcasts”.
5. Update Your Web Presence. Look at your business Website and social media pages, and make at least five (5) changes that will make them more attractive, fun and “cool” to prospective customers. Post some content-rich articles answering commonly-asked questions about what you do. Put up some videos (and post the videos on YouTube) demonstrating in an entertaining way how to do (or not to do) something. Start a “blog” where your customers can talk to each other about the stuff you do, with you as the all-knowing “moderator”. Hire a search engine optimization (SEO) consultant and learn what you can do to get your Web presence higher in the Google search rankings.
At the same time, delete things from your Website that are boring, difficult to access, or that do nothing to address your customers’ fears and passions. If you are a lawyer or accountant, nobody cares what you look like or where you went to school, so get rid of the Website photo and biography. Put up your fee schedule instead, because clients DO care about how much you are going to charge them for your services!
More next week . . .
Cliff Ennico (www.succeedinginyourbusiness.com), a leading expert on small business law and taxes, is the author of “Small Business Survival Guide,” “The eBay Seller’s Tax and Legal Answer Book” and 15 other books.