Apps Are Changing The Way We Market

According to recent statistics, we are all obsessed with the applications on our phones, our apps.  A recent study makes it clear that smart phone users are starting to spend less time on their internet browsers, and more time on their favorite phone apps.

According to the study, half a smartphone user’s time is spent on their favorite application, which in most cases, is social media.  The most popular of which are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine.  As business owners, can we take advantage of this knowledge in the way that we market to prospective customers?

The world we live in today is social.  Customer interest is not generated by using the more traditional marketing strategies, but by utilizing people’s already established connections.  New studies show that a person will buy a phone if they see photos of their friends using it, people will stay at hotels if they see updates of their friends staying there and etc.

Will this affect the way your company markets to their customers?  What have you found is the most effective method is?  Leave your thoughts below!

How Safe is Your Information?

It seems like every time you turn on the news, there’s another article about some company’s customer database being hacked.  Whether it’s a company like Anthem Blue Cross, Ashley Madison, or ever the IRS, it seems like the hackers are winning the arms race when it comes to protecting personal information.

So how bad is the threat?  Does it apply to everyone or to some people more than others?  And what do you do?  Is it hopeless or are there things we can each do to minimize the chance of our personal information being breached? Continue reading “How Safe is Your Information?”

Personal Security in Today’s Mobile World

Just Google the title of this blog post and you’ll get an idea of how important 

Mobile World

the topic is.  Whether you’re a large, multi-national corporation trying to protect your digital assets or a sole proprietor paying your bills online, personal security in today’s internet based world is (or should be) on your mind.

And now that almost everyone carries around a mobile internet device (sometimes called a cell phone), a simple thing like a mobile password makes a huge difference. Continue reading “Personal Security in Today’s Mobile World”

20 Beats 60, Big Data, Paying More, Innovation

Obama did it in his inauguration address. Guy Kawasaki has been preaching it for years. Ever notice at the 15 minute mark during a presentation that the presenter is pretty interesting but by the 30 minute mark you are confused? That’s apparently because there is real science behind “a 20-minute presentation always beats a 60-minute one! Carmine Gallo reported for Forbes that Dr. Paul King of Texas Christian University, a noted communications scholar, saysthat cognitive processing—thinking, speaking, and listening—are physically demanding activities. If you pile on too much information, you create “anxiety”—cognitive backlog—and your audience will actually turn on you!”

If by chance you have made some career missteps, Jessica Kleiman writes it’s not too late to bounce back in her recent Forbes article. According to Jessica, the first step is to:

Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst.

  • Go with your gut. When you see a red flag, pay attention. How many times in life have you kicked yourself for not listening to that little voice in your head that says, “Something is wrong here”?
  • Have a plan and a back-up plan. In PR, we try to lay out a strategy and do our best to identify potential pitfalls and problems on the horizon. While we may not always be able to predict what’s coming our way, by doing the exercise and putting a solid plan on paper, you’ll be prepared to deal with it if the issue ever sees the light of the day.

Big Data

Have you been wondering what all the noise is about Big Data and whether you should even care? Well according to Techcrunch,  Big Data and SaaS will become relevant for small business in 2013.Why the change? According to the author, “ this year is going to be a year of dramatic changes for small businesses because startups are finally giving them access to previously inaccessible data, delivering actionable visualization of data, and driving loyalty automation. It’s going to be an amazing year!”

Paying More

Prices are going up on a number of staple items Americans enjoy reports CNN Money. In 2013, Americans will be shelling out more for steaks, hamburgers, bacon, satellite television, mail, public transit, and taxes; you will also be paying higher airline fees. Melanie Hicken reports for @CNNMoney, “Many airlines now charge a range of fees for redeeming miles. US Airways tacks a $25 award processing fee onto any ticket. Redeem your miles within 21 days of travel and you’ll be facing another $75 fee on top of that. US Airways said the processing fees help support its mileage program.

Innovation

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last 20 years, it should come as no big surprise that San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara lead the U.S. and the world in innovation as measured by the number of patents according to a new report by the Brookings Institution. But what may surprise you is how other cities fared. Burlington, Rochester, Corvallis, Boulder, and Poughkeepsie rounded out the top six innovative cities in the U.S. all beating San Francisco which ranked number 8. Curious how your city fared? You can see a full listing of the top 20 at Business Insider.

Are You Leaking Money?

With the half-way mark of the first quarter at hand, many of us are turning our attention to the looming April tax deadlines. It is also a good time to assess whether you are having any “money leaks” which are according to Money magazine, “small expenses that you hardly notice but that add up every time.” Here are four money leaks that caught our attention.

Flexible Spending Accounts. According to WageWorks, a third of all employees fail to use a third of their account totals each year, forfeiting an average of $120 of their balances back to their employers. First step to make sure you aren’t part of the statistic, check with your employer to find out what your 2012 ending balance was. Then check to see if you had to use the funds by Dec. 31, 2013 or if you have the later March 15, 2013 deadline.

Data Costs. Are you wasting money on your cell phone data plans? Chances are yes according to Billshrink.com. You can track your smart phone data usage through your cell phone carriers or download DroidStats  for the Android or DataMan for the iPhone. According to Money Magazine, the average money leak for data costs is $360 per year. You may be leaking even more if you are paying for data on your tablet. With so many locations offering free Wi-Fi now, consider if it makes sense to pay another $10-$15 a month to cover your tablet.

Cable. More and more people are cutting the cable cord with Yahoo! Finance declaring, “it’s official: cord cutting has gone mainstream.” But, if you are not ready to go cold turkey with your cable provider, there are steps you can take to save on your cable bill. First, do an audit on your bill and decide what you can live without. Are you spending too much for On Demand movies? Compare the costs of other online streaming entertainment services including Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. Or, simply plan ahead and pick up a movie for $1 through one of Red box’s 34,600 locations nationwide.

Next, call your provider and ask for a discount. If they refuse, make sure to shop around. If you decide to stay with them, check to see if you are paying a per month fee for a modem. If you are, purchase your own modem and start saving up to $84 per year.

Insurance. When was the last time you got a quote on your car and home owner’s insurance policies? Chances are it has been a while according to a study by J. D. Powers and Associates that found that “75% of policyholders renew without getting a new quote.” By bundling your auto and homeowner’s insurance policies together under the same insurer you can save up to 25% a year according to Kelly Blue Book which accounts for $300 per year for an average home and auto policy. If you have added a new alarm, upgraded your plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling systems, you might be eligible for even steeper discounts of 40% or more.

The Fiscal Cliff Deal Saves Bonus Depreciation

In addition to saving the Section 179 deduction, Congress also surprised many by extending the “Bonus Depreciation” allowance on qualified new equipment through 2013 for businesses. Under the Fiscal Cliff Deal, businesses can write off one half of the cost of qualifying new equipment in a single tax year.

Bonus Depreciation was extended back in 2010 to assist businesses recovering from the Recession. In 2011, businesses could depreciate up to 100% of qualifying new equipment which then dropped to 50% in 2012. The deduction was set to expire at the end of 2012.

Eric Savitz reported for Forbes in “How the Fiscal Cliff Deal Boosts the Tech Sector” that Bill Whyman, ISI Group technology analyst, wrote in a brief research note, “We believe the major impact will be improved business confidence, leading to greater willingness of business to invest their record cash hordes. Both these measures also improve cash flow, and on the margin have a positive impact on spending.”

The tech sector isn’t the only sector pleased with the extension of bonus depreciation. Speaking of the passage of bonus depreciation, Dave Thompson, president of TEC Equipment Inc, told Transport Topics, that “not everybody was prepared to buy and now they might. That depreciation will be a bonus; 100% is better, but 50% is pretty nice.”

According to the IRS publication, “Bonus Depreciation and Increased Section 179 Deduction under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act”

The bonus depreciation provision generally enables businesses to deduct half the cost of qualifying property in the year it is placed in service. You may be able to take an additional first year special depreciation allowance for certain qualifying property (defined below). The allowance is an additional deduction of 50 percent of the property’s depreciable basis (after any section 179 deduction and before figuring your regular depreciation deduction).

Property that qualifies for this special depreciation allowance includes the following.

  • Tangible property depreciated under the modified accelerated cost recovery system (MACRS) with a recovery period of 20 years or less
  • Water utility property
  • Off-the-shelf computer software
  • Qualified leasehold improvement property

Fiscal Cliff Deal Enhances Section 179 Aiding Small Businesses

Now that the dust has settled from the Fiscal Cliff Deal, small business owners may be the real winners from the months’ long hand wringing and stalled debt ceiling negotiations.

As part of the U.S. American Taxpayer Relief Act approved by Congress on January 2, 2013, the New York Times reported that businesses can continue to “fully expense many items in just one year, instead of over five years or more. The amount of investment eligible for immediate expensing grew to $500,000 in 2010 and 2011, but was to fall to $139,000 in 2012 and $25,000 in 2013. The new law extends the $500,000 limit through 2013, and pushes the $24,000 cap to 2014. Section 179 is available only to companies with total capital expenditures for the year under a certain threshold – $2 million through 2013 and $200,000 starting in 2014.”

Section 179 of the IRS Code was enacted to help small businesses take a depreciation deduction for capital expenditures in one year, rather than depreciating them over a longer period of time. By taking the full deduction for the cost of the asset immediately, rather than being required to spread out the deduction over the asset’s useful life, businesses can realize a substantial tax savings.

What Kind of Equipment Does Section 179 Apply To?

Small businesses may deduct the cost of certain new and used equipment including tangible personal property. According to the IRS  to qualify for the section 179 deduction, your property must be one of the following types of depreciable property:

1. Tangible personal property.
2. Other tangible property (except buildings and their structural components) used as:

  • An integral part of manufacturing, production, or extraction or of furnishing transportation, communications, electricity, gas, water, or sewage disposal services,
  • A research facility used in connection with any of the activities in (a) above, or
  • A facility used in connection with any of the activities in (a) for the bulk storage of fungible commodities

3. Single purpose agricultural (livestock) or horticultural structures. See chapter 7 of Publication 225 for definitions and information regarding the use requirements that apply to these structures.

4.Storage facilities (except buildings and their structural components) used in connection with distributing petroleum or any primary product of petroleum.

5. Off-the-shelf computer software.

Furthermore, the IRS publication “ Bonus Depreciation and Increased Section 179 Deduction under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” also states:

 To qualify for the section 179 deduction, your property must have been acquired for use in your trade or business. Property you acquire only for the production of income, such as investment property, rental property (if renting property is not your trade or business), and property that produces royalties, does not qualify.

8 Things to Know about the Fiscal Cliff Deal and Your Pocketbook

Amid great fanfare, the House of Representatives passed the Senate deal negotiated by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell late in the evening on New Year’s Day, thereby averting major tax hikes for most U.S. households. Here are eight things to know about the deal and how it will affect your pocketbook.

  1. Your taxes are going up. Although the approved deal raises tax rates only on individuals with income over $400,000 and families with income over $450,000 (their top tax rates will increase to 39.6%, up from 35% in 2012), the deal did not save the Payroll Tax Holiday. Therefore, the payroll tax immediately rises back to its 2010 level resulting in a rate that increases from 4.2% in 2012 to a new rate of 6.2%. The Tax Policy Center reports that the “average federal effective tax rate will be 21.7 percent and the average increase is $1,257.”
  2. Millions of taxpayers will be spared from the Alternative Minimum Tax. Time Magazine reports, “According to one GOP estimate, 28 million families would have had to pay an average of $3,400 in extra taxes this year without the AMT fix. About four million taxpayers owed the AMT in 2011, up from about 1.3 million in 2001, according to the Tax Policy Center.”
  3. Phase-out of personal and dependent exemption deductions for married taxpayers with an AGI of $300,000 or more and single taxpayers with an AGI of $250,000.
  4. Phase-out of itemized deductions if your AGI exceeds $250,000 for single taxpayers and $300,000 for married joint-filing taxpayers.
  5. The American Opportunity Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit all survived and will be on the books for the next five years.
  6. Section 179 has been increased retroactively for 2012 and 2013. With the new deal in place, Section 179 has been increased retroactively for 2012 from $139,000 back to $500,000. The new law extends the $500,000 limit through 2013, and pushes the $25,000 cap to 2014. Section 179 is available only to companies with total capital expenditures for the year under a certain threshold — $2 million through 2013 and $200,000 starting in 2014.
  7. 50 percent bonus depreciation for capital expenditures has been extended through 2013.
  8. The Research and Development Tax Credit has been renewed retroactively for 2012 and “prospectively for 2013.”

Tax Tips for the End of 2012

With just days left of 2012, there are still some tax strategies you and your business can put in place to make sure you don’t over pay your tax bill. Here are our favorite tips so you won’t become one of the statistics.

Section 179 Deduction. If you acquired assets for your business in 2012, you may be able to deduct up to $139,000 of the cost of qualifying new and used business equipment placed in service in 2012.The Section 179 deduction is scheduled to drop significantly to just $25,000 in 2013 unless Congress intervenes. In 2011, the deduction was $500,000 of qualifying new and used assets.  Keep in mind, your business must turn a profit in 2012 in order to take advantage of the deduction. You can read more about our Section 179 advice here.

Reinvested Dividends. Although this isn’t a deduction or tax credit, according to Kiplinger this is an “important subtraction that can save you a bundle.” If your mutual fund dividends are automatically used to buy extra shares, your tax basis in the fund is increased with each new reinvestment. Kiplinger advises that investors be careful not to forget including the reinvested dividends in your tax basis—failing to do so may result in double taxation of the dividends.

American Opportunity Credit. If you have a child in college then make sure you understand whether the American Opportunity Credit applies to you. Under the credit, taxpayers can get a reduction in their tax bill of up to $2500 per student provided the tax filers have an adjusted gross incomes of less than $80,000 a year (if single) or $160,000 (if they file jointly). An eligible family with two kids in college could get a tax credit of $5,000. Best part about the credit is that it covers all four years of college. In order to get the credit, you will need to fill out IRS form 8863.The tax credit is set to expire at the end of 2012.

Student Loan Interest.  If you are paying back your child’s student loan, and your child is no longer a dependent, your child is eligible to deduct up to $2500 of student loan interest you paid. However, parents can’t claim the interest deduction since they are not liable for the student loan debt.

Medicare Premiums for Self Employed. If you own your own business and are qualified for Medicare, you can deduct the premiums for Medicare Part B and Medicare Part D as well as supplemental Medicare (medigap) policies. According to Kiplinger, “you can’t claim this deduction if you are eligible to be covered under an employer-subsidized health plan offered by your employer.”

Retirement Accounts. Taxpayers have till April 15, 2013 to set up a new IRA or add to an existing IRA and have it count for your 2012 tax return.

Small Business Health Care Tax Credit. Small businesses that pay at least half of your employees’ health insurance premiums may be eligible for a tax credit of up to 35 percent of the premiums paid. You can find more information at the IRS web site.

Storm Damage Tax Breaks. If you sustained property damage this year from natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, blizzards, tornadoes and earthquakes, your losses may be deductible if they are not reimbursed by insurance reports Joy Taylor for Kiplinger. However, to claim the deduction, if your property is insured you must file a claim before taking the deduction. Kiplinger created a calculator to help figure out your storm damage deduction.

Baggage Fees. Did you travel on business in 2012? If you are self-employed you may be able to deduct these fees. Make sure to track these fees and add them to your deductible travel expenses.

Home Energy-Saving Credit. This credit is still available contrary to what many taxpayers may think. While it is true you can no longer get a credit for windows, doors, air conditioning, and insulation, you still can get a 30% refund of the cost of “installing qualified residential energy equipment, such as solar hot water heaters, geothermal heat pumps and wind turbines” reports Kevin McCormally for Kiplinger.

 

Best Months to Be Born, Giving It All Away, Identifying Your Social Influencers

Want to be the boss? Turns out that according to a new study the best chance of becoming the boss goes to those born in March, April, October, November and January. If you want your business to be more successful, then your business needs to be “likeable”. Rohit Bhargava, Georgetown University professor and author of Likeonomics (May 2012, Wiley), writes, “A study published by Harvard Business School found likability trumps competence.  You see this play out on the show (Shark Tank) almost every week when one entrepreneur gets money or valuable advice because they were likable and another walks out with nothing because the sharks didn’t want to work with them.” Furthermore, Bhargava explains that customers also want to support a “company that gives back.” Matthew Manos and his design consultancy, VeryNice, are doing just that. VeryNice donates half of its design work to non-profits living out its mission “to make volunteering and service the cornerstone” of the business.

Debbie Downer is bad for company morale, really; WordPress Risks

Nobody wants to sit next to Debbie or Don Downer at the office and now research shows what many of us know “negative attitudes at work stand to contaminate a company’s culture.” Fact is “roughly 5% of employees account for 90% of people’s work-related miser” reports Shelley DuBois for Fortune. Fortunately there are steps companies can take to turn the negative vibes around DuBois writes. Another threat to your company might be coming through your web site. With more and more small businesses turning to WordPress as their content management systems, there is an equally growing threat to your company’s online collateral and reputation if you aren’t taking safeguards reports AJ Kumar in “3 Hidden Security Risks for WordPress Users”. Kumar lists the threats and how you can prevent them.

With costs rising, many small companies are searching for alternatives to Google AdWords reports the New York Times. What many businesses are finding is they can dramatically reduce their AdWords budgets and focus on search engine optimization through blogging and social media instead.

Consumer Confidence Crushes Expectations

Consumer confidence surprised economists in October by posting an 83.1 reading on the monthly University of Michigan Consumer Confidence survey. Seemingly chiming in, Chris Farrell writes in his article “The Case for Economic Optimism” for Kiplinger, “Expectations have been lowered. The savings rate is up. Mortgage rates are at record lows. The stock market still has room to run. The next decade may turn out better than expected.”  In further positive economic news, the Silicon Beat reported that the Boston Consulting Group “has revised its projection of U.S. manufacturing job growth — upward.” According to the article, the Boston Consulting Group announced in a recent news release, “Combined with jobs created as a result of re-shoring, higher U.S. exports could add 2.5 million to 5 million jobs by the end of the decade, as manufacturers shift production from leading European countries and Japan to take advantage of substantially lower costs in the U.S.”

Identifying Your Social Influencers, FTC is Watching

One of the first rules for social media is to figure out who your social media influencers are for your business. Small Business Trends has compiled a list of tools to do just that in their new article. Citizen marketing is on the rise with consumers using their Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and other social networking sites to send out links in return for payment. However, the Federal Trade Commission says “says the practice blurs the line between a recommendation and a paid endorsement and needs to be flagged to readers.” Enjoy infographics and movies? Here’s the perfect one that summarizes the 2000 most important films of all time.