Monday, December 23, 2013

Recent Business Writing Topics

Many individuals and small business owners rely heavily on the internet as a source of information. However, some search engines (especially Google) have made this more difficult during the past several years. It should not come as a surprise to learn that Google and others have done this under the guise of “improving the internet.” But is it really an improvement from the perspective of someone looking for help about a topic as important as restructuring their business to be led by the search engines to paid advertisers, newspapers and university research?

How Objective Are Search Engines Funded by Advertisers?

Google has unilaterally decided what content is worthwhile and has effectively assigned everything else to an internet trash pile. So it is now much more difficult for interested readers to find many special reports published by me and other business experts. This is primarily because an increasing number of online publications have failed some mysterious test in the secret Google search engine algorithm that determines what you will find. So now, when you are looking for help or information about “legal due diligence for investing in businesses” or “building a home with a silent partner,” you should lower your expectations about how helpful a search engine like Google will really be.

Here are some of the topics I have written about recently (all of which are published somewhere on the internet even if Google pretends that they don’t exist):

  • Impact of Working Capital in Manufacturing Companies
  • Why Are So Many Condominiums Sold for Cash Only?
  • Corporate Debt Restructuring Guidelines
  • More Questions Than Answers?
  • How to Cut Your Cable Bill
  • Legal Due Diligence for Investment in Companies
  • What Is a Roku?
  • Making Smart Career Transitions
  • How Can Businesses Invest in Foreclosures?
  • Effects of Inflation on Self-Storage Investments
  • How Do Franchises Divide Territories?
  • Practical Business Writing Help
  • Does Medicare Pay for Prescription Medications in Nursing Homes?
  • How to Build a Home With a Silent Investor
  • What Is Needed for a Business Restructuring Plan?

Authority Value According to Google

One of the criteria now relied on by Google to determine “authority value” for a website is whether the publisher is a newspaper, university or “none of the above.” While some of my special reports are in fact published by universities and newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, the majority are published by other highly-respected sources such as Zacks Investment Research. But good luck in finding them in a normal search unless you happen to enter the exact title. Google has its own agenda in deciding what to show you in search results. Their agenda is not necessarily resulting in the “best” or “most complete” search engine results for internet users. However, based on Google’s profits, it is clear that their search engine agenda is very popular with their advertising clients and other paying customers.

Two Questions About Search Results

Should we depend on Google to determine what internet information is highly-respected?
When you have a question to research on the internet, do you want Google to emphasize the organizations and advertisers that write the biggest checks to Google?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Plan B Strategies and Solutions

The need for practical business solutions is not new. What has changed during the past decade is the growing importance of having a “Plan B” because an initial strategy has fallen flat on its face. Failure is the best possible reminder of the following wisdom:

Always Have a Plan B.

Individuals and companies might have different illustrations that make a similar point: new solutions and strategies will be increasingly necessary. How many times does a strategy or solution have to fail before it is appropriate to try something new?

Many years ago Albert Einstein offered his own wisdom about the cycle of repeating the same thing over and over again. I have included his memorable quote below.

business strategy and solutions

Plan B for Banking Services, Cable Companies, College Education, and Internet Publishing

I believe that Albert Einstein's definition of “Insanity” is illustrated by a number of areas in which businesses and individuals keep pursuing a similar solution and strategy despite the apparent lack of success:

  • Banks
  • Overpriced and ineffective services from cable companies and universities
  • Internet publishing of articles and websites

For those that haven't noticed, banks have changed dramatically during the past 15 years. In part this is due to the elimination of many legal requirements since the Glass-Steagall Act was taken off the books in 1999. These changes were sought by the banks for several decades. There have been numerous financial problems as a result. Many of the biggest banks have begun “payday lending programs” which charge individual borrowers annualized rates of interest that generally exceed 300%. Meanwhile many small businesses have been unable to get normal levels of commercial financing. Tell me again why we bailed out the banks in 2008?

Universities and cable companies are both now providing services that most observers view as overpriced and ineffective. Many people are already using a “Plan B” approach to replace both, but traditions take a long time to disappear even when they have stopped working. In the case of colleges, costs keep increasing while employment prospects for college graduates are decreasing. For cable companies (which are rapidly becoming phone companies as well), there is a growing question about whether they will even exist in ten years given how inept they have proven to be at dealing with consumers while continuing to charge more and more. How many people want to fire their cable company? (We have pulled the plug on cable television and phone services at our house.)

In the world of internet publishing, Google keeps on changing and forcing internet publishers to guess about the next shoe to drop. This might represent the most challenging place of all to formulate an effective Plan B strategy. But the verdict is already in about several old publishing strategies and solutions that are not working anymore. These include article marketing and article spinning. There are also publishing websites that have gone from best to worst as a result of the evolving standards on the internet. What is working and what is not working?

New Solutions and Strategies

When the old approaches stop working, it is a prudent time to seek new ideas. While some might refer to this as having a Plan B, you should call it whatever makes it more actionable for you. “Moving forward” and “It’s time to face the facts” are just two common-sense alternatives if “Plan B” doesn't seem catchy enough for you.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Best and Worst Writing Sites

Things have changed so much on the major internet publishing sites during the last three years that many writers are dizzy and stressed-out from the changes that have been forced upon them by the shifting landscape for writing of all kinds. Some of the internet publishers pay writers to place content on their sites and some do not.

Even if you do not care about making money (or it is not a high priority) with your writing, it is highly recommended that you choose a site based on how they handle revenues for their writers anyway. If you are on a site such as InfoBarrel that was using AdSense to pay their writers and then Google pulls the plug on their advertising program for that website, you have just received the best possible signal that something is going on with a site that merits your serious concern and attention. When Bukisa lost their AdSense partnership, that was also a sign of troubles to come as that site recently announced that they were no longer paying their members anything at all.

For those that have missed all the warning signs, Google is on a serious mission to clean up a diverse collection of internet messes. While there are those that think what AdSense does is not related to this, I strongly disagree and use what they do as a very important data point in decisions about what constitutes the best writing sites and the worst internet publishing websites.

best and worst websites for writing and publishing

While they have had a good run, non-paying article directories such as EzineArticles are now nothing more than a waste of time for most writers at all levels. These sites unfortunately provide almost unlimited raw material for unscrupulous internet publishers to steal material from on a daily basis. Because they have been the largest article directory, EzineArticles has regularly been a favorite source for internet publishing thieves. Over the years I have published about 100 articles at EzineArticles, but I stopped submitting new articles earlier this year when it became obvious that duplicate content is published based on their articles almost as soon as they are live on the internet. Google has rightfully included the elimination of duplicate content when they are indexing articles based on their current search engine algorithm. This problem cannot be ignored any longer for those writers who either want to have their content rank highly in search engine results or produce maximum revenues (or both in many cases).

Some article directories have already disappeared entirely, and ArticleBlast is just one example. In this case, it was possibly due to a combination of inadequate revenues to keep the lights on as well as having spammy articles de-indexed by Google. While Bukisa has stopped paying their members a share of any revenues, it is not yet clear whether they will keep their doors open for free publishing for very long. After all, who would really want to publish anything at all there after the recent inept treatment by Bukisa of their loyal writers?

Squidoo is among the publishing websites that have gone from best to worst in a period of two years or less. While some of their quirks were tolerated by many writers because of revenues, the recent travails have made a number of weaknesses more obvious. A secretive approach to how advertising revenues are shared (or not shared as the case may be) is still in place at Squidoo, and this total lack of transparency is all that most prospective writers should need to know when scratching Squidoo off their list for the final time. (Update: Squidoo finally threw in the towel during the summer of 2014 and sold their content to HubPages. During June 2015, Zujava also stopped publishing articles and disappeared entirely.)

HubPages is treading water currently, and it is too early to tell which end of the best-or-worst spectrum they will be at over the next year or two. InfoBarrel is also at a make-or-break point, but their recent loss of AdSense advertising places them closer to worst than best at this time.

When it comes to the best publishing websites, it is a very short list. I have been actively involved in the internet publishing world during the past eight to ten years and it has been an area that has been characterized by one train wreck after another. The winning strategy for serious internet writers at this point is primarily to focus on websites that provide a proper balance of personal control, flexibility, visibility and smart choices.

In terms of revenue possibilities, writers should insist on choices that include Google AdSense and Amazon as well as Plan B advertising programs such as Chitika for those individuals who are unable to qualify for AdSense. The most viable alternatives that include the smartest choices are your own websites.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Good News and Bad News About Business Finance Planning

The past decade has provided an array of changes and problems for business finance planning. Because of the growing need for flexibility and contingency plans, a recurring piece of wisdom has emerged from some of the business and finance chaos: 

Always Have a Plan B.

Plan B is the good news.

So that I do not bury the lead, I want to make it crystal clear that the expanded appreciation of how important Plan B can prove to be for any individual or business is at the top of my list for the good news portion of this business finance planning discussion. Of course, I have never hidden how I feel about the critical value of having a Plan B. As you can see from the mosaic image which I produced above, I rarely miss an opportunity to feature Plan B in a front-and-center kind of way.

Another purpose for the business finance planning mosaic was to demonstrate in a visual way that everything can fit together quite nicely with a little (or a lot) of planning energy. Key concepts like strategy, solutions, experts, and help also deserve a seat at the table when formulating your own Plan B.

How important is Plan B?

To say it as succinctly as possible, always having a Plan B is a winning strategy. Having a solid Plan B mentality during the past five years has more often than not proven to be a critical difference between business survival and failure. What is your Plan B?

business finance planning
Always Have a Plan B

The bad news:
You can tell there is an oversupply of bad news when the primary good news is the increased appreciation about the importance of having a Plan B.

I am sorry to say that there is more bad news than there should be. This is due in large part to a political climate that is increasingly governed by the largest corporations, big banks, and of course their lobbyists. When the incomes for average individuals decline during what is hailed as a "recovery" by some biased politicians, you have the first clue as to the underlying problem that small businesses and individuals are currently facing.

During the last three years, the average income for individuals has shrunk from $51,000 to $45,000. Meanwhile corporate profits and the stock market have done very well. As they say, the rich get richer and the rest are still searching for Plan B.

Banks are still hoarding their riches and not lending normally to either small businesses or most individuals. In their own little good news bubble, the banking industry has launched an aggressive campaign to move into what they see as the next front. The world of payday lending programs is beckoning to the bankers. How could any respectable banker not pay attention to payday loans when they offer the easy opportunity to charge annualized interest rates of 300% to 600%? Never mind that they are illegal in some States (as they should be). This is why banks pay the big bucks to their lobbyists, isn't it?

The bad news lesson to be learned from what banks are now doing with the money used to save them just five years ago is to realize what they are not doing with it at the same time. Commercial mortgages and working capital financing are just two of the things that most banks are not presently doing with their money in any significant way. By the way, many banks have also resumed their investment activities involving financial derivatives. For those who are not aware, the use of risky real estate derivatives by the banking wizards brought the economic world to its knees several years ago. I can only suppose that the bankers have figured out what they did wrong and are going to test their new theories with more taxpayer money.

Unsurprisingly, my small business finance planning solution for addressing the abundance of bad news is as follows:

Always Have a Plan B.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Are There Tax Deduction Limits for a Limited Liability Company (LLC)?

tax deduction

There are many small businesses established as a single-member LLC (Limited Liability Company). In most cases there was a primary reason for a business owner to use this form of legal organization, and except in a few circumstances special tax treatment was not one of them.

Equally important, for the many individuals contemplating a business start-up or buying a business, the limited liability company structure is probably at least under serious consideration. For those of you who are still making up their mind about a legal form of ownership, detailed discussions with your tax and legal advisors should be a top priority. Although an LLC can have more than one owner (member), my discussion here will focus on the single-member version which is permitted in most States.

It is worth noting that LLC members can be individuals, other LLCs, corporations, or a foreign entity. Two examples of businesses that cannot legally operate as limited liability companies are insurance companies and banks. When there are two or more LLC members, the Internal Revenue Service will treat the LLC as a partnership unless Form 8832 (Entity Classification Election) is filed in order to declare the desire to be treated as a corporation.

Whether or not tax considerations were a secondary issue in your decision to operate as a single-member Limited Liability Company, filing our annual tax returns often raises some new issues and questions. If you have questions about some LLC aspects that you think are unique for your situation, you should have another visit with your tax expert.

As for an answer about the tax deduction limits for an LLC, there are no limits in the strictest sense. The IRS does have tax rules about what assets are actually at risk from losses, and based on the at-risk rules deductions cannot be greater than the assets actually at risk.

With the Internal Revenue Service, there can always be the risk of an IRS audit if reported tax losses appear unusually high. It is somewhat more realistic for a company in its initial year to justify losses in general. Once an LLC has existed for several years, the Internal Revenue Service is likely to review any patterns in losses versus profits. A general IRS expectation is that a business should be profitable for three of every five years.

If an LLC reports losses for three or more years out of a five-year period, it is at risk of being treated as a hobby. The primary tax consequence if this happens is that there will be some additional restrictions imposed on tax losses.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Get It in Writing

Get It in Writing

“Get it in writing” is a common piece of legal wisdom often shared by attorneys and business experts. It is true that many verbal agreements become disagreements under a wide variety of circumstances. But getting it in writing does not always prove to be a magical solution.

There are frequent examples of litigation and legal proceedings when a written document is the subject of argument and lawsuits. Is that contract clause enforceable? Did the officers and directors of the corporation really mean what they said in the corporate by-laws?

But the Uniform Commercial Code does in fact require that certain agreements be put into writing. Whenever personal property is being leased or a security interest (collateral) is part of a financial transaction, “Get it in writing” is mandatory. If the parties believe that anything in a contract cannot be completed within a year, “Get it in writing.” Another case where a written agreement is not optional is based on the monetary amount of goods to be sold ($5000 or more).

There are also many important and valuable forms of business writing which have little or nothing to do with legal conditions and contracts but nevertheless serve as excellent examples of another useful “Get it in writing” perspective. As a primary illustration of this, business proposals provide cost-effective solutions for several common small business problems.

Companies of all sizes are interested in increasing their sales and operating revenues. Small business owners are constantly in search of business development strategies which will consistently deliver effective marketing results. While some small businesses are still actively looking for the best solution to this common problem, many companies are relying on a dependable and trusted sales communication strategy that they discovered many years ago:

Business Proposal Writing

It is not totally clear when some businesses lost interest in the business writing activities that surround the proposal process. One tentative conclusion is that expansion of the internet and related technologies caused some executives and marketing managers to go in new directions for developing business and proposals were simply left behind. Another theory is that corporate downsizing targeted specialized employees such as those whose primary mission was responding to Requests for Proposals (RFP).

Whatever the explanation, quality business writing has been in a steady decline for several decades. Without talented business writers, most attempts at preparing proposals are doomed to failure. This self-fulfilling prophecy is yet another reason to explain why business proposals have become virtually extinct in some quarters.

There are several different kinds of business proposals, and some companies will benefit by using every possible variation. For businesses wanting to stick their toe in the water to see whether they should jump in or not, the use of an unsolicited business proposal strategy is both prudent and cost-effective. This approach is diametrically-opposed to the RFP process mentioned earlier and will involve a delicate balance of high-quality business writing and business development skills. It is an ideal solution for small business owners who are willing to be aggressive, proactive, and creative.

Writing is the key to it all.

Many businesses have individuals who possess average to above-average sales skills but somehow the sales results keep slipping. In an explanation using some logic terminology, selling is what is referred to as a "necessary but not sufficient" condition for business success. In other words, sales abilities only go so far but often fall short of the mark. Could it be possible that effective and high-quality business writing is the key missing ingredient?

While everyone should indeed have a Plan B, writing effective business proposals should probably qualify as a Plan A in the great majority of everyday business life. Get it in writing.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Do We Need Three Credit Reporting Companies?

Consumers dealing with credit report problems have to deal with three credit reporting companies (Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax). This frequently leads to problems such as one or two of the consumer companies fixing the error, and the mistake is still "out there" for a prospective lender or employer to see. A recent example of how bad this can be was publicized this week when a court in Portland, Oregon awarded a woman over $18 million in damages from Equifax because of the financial problems created by credit report errors. In this case it should be pointed out that the victim tried to fix her credit report for two years unsuccessfully before taking legal action.

I continue to wonder why there are still three credit bureaus for consumers to deal with. For those who are not aware, the origins of three consumer report companies has its origins in the days before personal computers and the internet. Experian was originally TRW and was based in the western United States and focused on consumer debt information in the western U.S. Meanwhile Trans Union was based in Chicago and primarily worked with financial clients in the Midwest and central United States. Equifax was based in Atlanta and adopted an emphasis on the east and southeast regions of the country.

The regional specialization disappeared with the advent of high-speed computers and the internet. Now when a banking institution, mortgage company, utility, employer, or insurance company wants to check the credit history for someone, they routinely "pull credit" from all three credit reporting companies. This is usually in the form of a credit score which assigns a number to rate how good or bad someone's credit payment history is based on data received from lenders, businesses, and lenders all over the country.

The unending problem with this picture is that when there are credit report problems, consumers have to deal with each credit bureau separately. This story almost never ends well.

Of course the individual companies have their own profitable reasons to stay in business even as doing so causes one financial nightmare after another. Where are corporate mergers when we really need one?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Estate Tax Audits by the IRS

Income Tax Audits and Estate Taxes

There is something special about an income tax audit by the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) that causes more stress and anxiety than many other financial events. The possibility of tax returns being audited is actually quite rare so in most cases the stress levels are relatively unwarranted. 

The one tax return area that seems fully-deserving of a taxing level of anxiety is estate taxes. I could not help but sit up and take notice when I saw the most recent tax return examination data reported by the IRS. Just keep these two numbers in mind: 30% and over 100%. (How can you have over 100%, you might ask?)

It is normal for tax return audits to be based on a small representative sampling of all available returns. For higher incomes, this is usually between 2% and 3%. However, for estate tax returns this number becomes 30%. As representative samples go, this is a very big number. But because audits of estate taxes also frequently result in reviewing tax returns for previous years as well, the total audit percentage for larger estates (over $10 million) is closer to 110%.

Perhaps that IRS tax audit anxiety is closer to fact than fiction after all is said and done.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Are We All Economists?

If we are not already economists, it is time to consider doing a makeover. There are too many things going on in the world involving finance, economics, money, costs, business expenses, and taxes to avoid learning about what is driving (and wrecking) the economy.

In the past many of us have probably relied on financial experts such as bankers to tell us what we needed to know about mortgage loans, working capital, and banking services. This strategy lost most of its credibility when the big banks almost destroyed the financial system by over-leveraging themselves with real estate derivatives and sub-prime mortgages. If banks do not understand risks any better than this, do we really want them advising us what to do with our investments and assets?

Small business owners in particular owe it to themselves and their families to learn more about what they can do to protect and improve the financial health of their company.

Answer: Yes, we are all economists. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Which Company Is the Best Employer?


Both common sense and employment statistics are telling us that unemployment and underemployment continue to be problems for the economy and society. Many individuals are searching for meaningful and productive jobs. Looking into the future, which is the best employer to consider for a long-term and positive working environment?

One answer to this question: Self-employment.

However you ask the question, the answer is similar.

  • Which is the best company to work for? (Me, Myself and I)
  • What business is the best employer? (Owning Your Own Business)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Where Are the Answers to My Questions?

Questions and Answers
In an information environment characterized by rapid changes and confusing data, it is important to have specific individuals to talk to as well as internet resources to review when new questions arise. In either case it is likely to be more productive when an experienced business expert is involved directly or indirectly. For small businesses in particular, changing economic conditions have resulted in a commercial bank lending process that is difficult to comprehend because of conflicting answers and reports about what is possible. Banks are still saying "No" more often and "Zombie Banks" are part of the financial problem when a small business owner is searching for help with commercial financing. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Small Businesses Negotiating With Banks

business negotiating with banks
Business Negotiating With Banks

The process of negotiating with banks is often avoided by small business owners. The failure to implement effective business negotiations with bankers can lead to a variety of problems. By developing business skills in this critical area, several other financial benefits are likely to be realized. The importance of learning how to negotiate more effectively with banking institutions has increased due to the recent bank crisis which has severely impacted the ability of small business owners to obtain commercial financing.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Military Career Transitions

military career transitions to business
Military Transitions
One of the most stressful and unpredictable career transitions occurs when individuals serving in the military move to a new career at the end of their military service. The accompanying video provides an overview of some key questions and issues which should be considered by anyone making a military transition to a business career.

Among the most critical areas to be examined during a career transition is the availability of specialized and individualized career training. For those considering small business careers, there are several practical and realistic possibilities which should be evaluated.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Cost Effective Business Proposals

The Most Effective Business Development Strategy
When small businesses are looking for more effective business development strategies, writing business proposals should be at or near the top of the list. This strategy should always include the use of unsolicited business proposals in addition to more formal submission processes. When used strategically, proposal writing is the most cost effective business development solution.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Real Estate Training Solutions

Real estate training solutions can involve several different paths. The first possibility involves real estate career training programs, and this alternative should definitely include more than an exploration of traditional real estate sales.

A second direction encompasses business training that can help small business owners deal more effectively with real estate challenges such as commercial mortgages. This variation can and should also address any other related issues such as business negotiations with lenders.

In both cases, cost effectiveness can play a major role.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Always Have a Plan B

A Plan B Reminder

The ongoing value of having a "Plan B" continues to be demonstrated on a daily business when talking to small business owners throughout the United States and Canada. There are different contingency planning strategies for coping with an uncertain and volatile business climate such as seen currently and during most of the past few years. One effective business strategy involves business training, and the following video provides a concise overview.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Is My Bank a Zombie?

Should I Fire My Zombie Bank?
Asking if their bank is a "Zombie Bank" is one of the unfortunate new realities facing small business owners (and perhaps everyone else as well). There are many risks, problems and questions to evaluate. The following video is an excellent place to start, but be prepared to dig deeper regarding the following questions:

  • What if my bank says no?
  • When should I fire my bank?
  • Do I have a Plan B?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Career Training Video

Career Training
Finding a New Career

 The need for more effective career training choices is at least partially supported by a disappointing employment market for recent college graduates and many others with an advanced education. It is an appropriate time to review what is working and what is not. New career opportunities such as referral specialist and small business finance consulting deserve a serious look from those who want a Plan B for their career. The career training video shown here will provide some helpful food for thought.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Business Negotiating and Proposal Writing Video

Business proposal writing and business negotiating are both important strategies for all companies but are perhaps even more valuable to small businesses. There are times when negotiating and writing are used together. One example of this is at the end of a Request for Proposal process when the top bidders are usually asked to submit a cost proposal and then proceed to negotiate a final price for the project. But more often than not, proposal writing and business negotiating are separate processes. Here is a short (three minutes long) video presentation: