Category Archives: Business

Six simple steps to always knowing where you spent your money!

-By Margo Ratafia

Many people procrastinate updating and analyzing their expenses for family budgets, preparing their tax returns or even balancing their checkbooks. People avoid this task because they don’t know how to simplify the process and they find this type of task to be boring and a complete drag. So they find themselves with an unbalanced checkbook, no idea where they spent their money and at a loss on how to organize themselves financially.

Fortunately, this process can be made easy with minimum cost and effort. If you follow these few simple steps you will have your finances organized quickly and efficiently.

1. Set up a checking account with a bank that has on-line banking.
2. Your bank should have the ability to download your information to a software program such as QuickBooks or Quicken.
3. QuickBooks or Quicken can be purchased and installed on your home desktop or laptop (even a Tablet PC) or you can use the online version of the same programs.
4. Once a month you can log on to your banks website and download all of your banking transactions for the month directly into the software program.
5. Once you download the banking information all you need to do is tell the program the type of expense it is such as telephone or utilities and you’re done.
6. Once you tell the program that Con Ed checks go to “utilities” the program will remember it so you do not have to do it again from scratch next month.

Voila, you will have a balanced checkbook, reports available for your financial advisors, accountants or a spouse who wants to know where all your money went.

So stop procrastinating, within an hour or two you can have a summary of your monthly expenses at your fingertips!

For more information about this and other financial questions, email Margo Ratafia CPA, PC

Why Have Personal Excess, aka Umbrella Liability?

-By Carollee Cabot

It’s disturbing to meet clients who have considerable assets to protect who don’t have Personal Excess/Umbrella Liability protection.  Just last week, I met with a family which has two homes, five cars, two boats and three youthful operators, and didn’t have an Umbrella policy. It was even more disturbing when I learned that they had never been told about it, as the cost is minimal for the protection provided!

Personal Excess/Umbrella Liability provides protection above and beyond your primary (underlying) limits contained in your homeowners and auto liability policies. Should you be sued and the limits in those policies be exhausted, the umbrella policy will pick up and provide additional funds for a judgment or settlement, as well as legal defense.

Another issue some families have is that their primary coverage does not meet the minimum limits required by the umbrella policy, and hence they have a gap in coverage.

Although we hope a bad claim never happens to us or someone we care about, here are some examples of recent liability settlements[1] from ACE Insurance:

Personal Excess Chart

 

 

 

This is pretty scary stuff, but it provides examples of what can happen and why it’s so important to have the proper liability protection for you and your family!  I highly recommend everyone reading this contact your insurance agent to ask about Umbrella Liability Protection!

For more information about this and other insurance questions, email Carollee Cabot, CIC

[1] The information provided regarding verdicts was drawn both from company loss experience as well as from a variety of third-party internet and other sources considered to be generally reliable, but ACE PRS has made no effort to independently verify any of the third-party data.  The verdict information should not be considered typical or predictive of outcomes in other cases or any indication regarding how ACE PRS would handle similar claims.

 

Brand Connection

By Kelley Briggs

In my DesignWorks NY blog post on January 18, 2012, I wrote about the elements of a brand – how a brand is not just a logo but ALL the ingredients that make up your company’s “secret recipe”. Once you have developed your brand, the next step is connection. Do all the pieces connect to tell a story? Do they relate? I can’t tell you how often I am called into a small- or mid-sized business for an assignment only to find their web site looks and sounds completely different than their brochure, than their Facebook page, and so on. That fragmentation confuses customers, because they aren’t quite sure WHO the real company is! More often than not this is because there is no brand strategy in place — everyone involved is doing what (s)he thinks the brand stands for.

The technical term for this is “brand disconnect”. But the more important thing to know is that it alienates customers. When a customer has an expectation of the experience (s)he will have with your company, and their actual experience doesn’t “match up,” it spells trouble.  What steps can you take to ensure a strong brand connection?

B    Be Brave. It takes confidence and courage to fully define a brand, and then to live, breathe and own it. Do it. Be brave, take a stand on who and what you are, and then maintain that “on-brand” message in everything you do. The customers that are right for you will reward you with loyalty.

R   Relevancy. Make sure that what you offer is what your customers want and need, right now, AND looking down the road. Continually reassess what you offer, and stack that up against what they are seeking. Remember: it’s not about what YOU provide, it’s about what THEY are looking for. Satisfy that need, and you’ll have one satisfied customer.

A   Adjust.  You can’t treat every customer the same. Learn the differences in each type of customer you have— for example, if they prefer to get communication via regular mail rather than email — and accommodate. They’ll feel good that you understand their needs, and will return to you next time they need to make a purchase because of it.

N   Nurture. A strong brand is an outcome of a nurtured relationship. Respond promptly, share and communicate with your customers, and it will reap big rewards.

D  Differentiate.  Make sure your brand stands for something different than your competition. Uncover and understand your uniqueness, and leverage those points. Finding and maintaining your points of differentiation is key in making a solid brand connection.

For more information about branding email Kelley Briggs. To keep up on all things marketing and creative, LIKE DesignWorks NY on Facebook, or read Kelley Briggs’ Blog.

Small Businesses Are Target of Cyber Attacks

by Pam Dwyer

According to the 2011 Data Breach Investigations Report from Verizon and the U.S. Secret Service, “small to medium-sized businesses represent prime attack targets for many hackers, who favor highly automated, repeatable attacks against these more vulnerable targets. They are engaging in small, opportunistic attacks rather than large-scale, difficult attacks and are using relatively unsophisticated methods to successfully penetrate organizations.”

Why are small businesses are increasingly targeted by hackers and cyber-criminals? Because they don’t have the protection many larger companies do. They have limited financial and IT resources, are too busy running their business to focus on data security, and are often unaware of the consequences. These criminals hone in these small businesses with the intent to steal valuable data such as bank account information and even customer, employee and vendor information.

Taking Action

To prepare your small business against hackers and cyber theft, create a layered prevention/protection program that will ensure your company’s long-term financial health and stability. First, educate employees about cyber safety. Then develop action plan, which includes five key professionals – attorney, accountant, insurance agent, banker and IT specialist. Since small businesses are likely to have relationships with all of these advisors, they may just need to add data breach and cyber theft to the conversation within each of these areas.

What Each Advisor Can Offer

  • An attorney can provide information about data breach laws and liability issues
  • An accountant can offer a fraud risk assessment to determine internal and external fraud controls, policies and procedures
  • An insurance agent can suggest risk management practices and data breach insurance coverage
  • A banker can help implement fraud prevention services such as Positive Pay if you issue checks and use dual control and a dedicated PC for online financial transactions
  • An IT professional will help locate vulnerabilities in your system and tell you how to guard against breaches

If you do not take action, your small businesses could be impacted by the lurking potential threat of cybercrime.

To learn more about fraud awareness, go to www.cybercrime.gov, ask your Webster Bank Representative about fraud awareness and risk or email Pam Dwyer.

Deciding Whether to Incorporate as an LLC or an S Corp

by Leslie Jones

Having made the decision to incorporate, it is essential that small business owners choose the correct form. Two of the most popular business entities for small business in the United States are Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) and  subchapter S Corps. There are advantages and disadvantages to each form, and this post will provide a broad overview of the major differences.

Both S Corp and LLCs are distinct legal entities.  Both forms furthermore protect the assets of the owners—shareholders of both LLCs and S Corps are typically not personally responsible for the debts and liabilities of the entity. Both LLCs and S Corps are also considered to be “pass-through” tax entities. Income or loss generated by the company is therefore reflected on the personal income tax returns of the owners, thus avoiding double taxation.

Properly speaking, the S Corp is not a distinct business entity as much as a tax status—“S Corp” refers to corporations that choose to be taxed under subchapter S of the tax code. Many of the advantages that come from obtaining S Corp status can be realized simply using the LLC form. However, there are some tax advantages to incorporating as an S Corp from which LLCs do not benefit.  The most important has to do with way in which business income is taxed.  Generally, owners of an LLC are subject to employment tax on the entire net income of the business. Owners of S Corps, on the other hand, are allowed to be paid a salary.  Under this form, therefore, only the wages of the owner are subject to taxation.  The remaining income is treated as a distribution, which is taxed at a lower rate.    The IRS does try to attempt to monitor and prevent fraud by requiring that owners of S Corps be paid a reasonable salary.  S Corp owners who pay themselves a token salary to avoid the higher tax rate may have their distributions reclassified as wages.

The more significant disadvantage to incorporating as an S Corp has to do with the ownership and operation restrictions placed on the form.  For instance, an S Corp can have no more than 100 shareholders.  It may also not have any shareholders who are non-US residents.  Unlike S Corporations are also not allowed to be owner by  other corporations, certain types of trusts, LLCS, or partnerships.

Also unlike LLCs, S Corps are subject to a series of formal requirements regarding their operation.  S Corps must adopt bylaws and have an appointed board of directors, who meet regularly and keep minutes.  As a consequence, ownership stakes in an S Corp are not as freely transferable as those in an LLC, as transfers require the consent of the board.

Of course, a general overview is never a substitute for detailed advice from a lawyer or accountant.  For many  small business owners, the regulations and restrictions associated with S Corp status will not be worth the hassle.  However, small business with fewer than 100  shareholders may want to consider the benefits of incorporating  as an S Corp.

For more information contact Leslie Jones at 914-725-4800 or email Leslie.

How to pitch a story to the media

By Nyna Giles

You’ve launched your great business concept, and have flung open the retail doors. Now, what is the best way to get the word out about your vision and value to the community to attract more customers?

Yes, there’s Facebook and Twitter. These “free” social media platforms are clearly taking on more and more importance, but they consume large amounts of time and commitment to make any real and measureable dent in awareness building for your business.

So your thinking turns back to traditional and online media platforms to tell your story and get more customers. Clearly, news organizations such as Main Street Connect are looking for community created content. But what exactly is the best way to pitch these news organizations to increase your odds of getting decent coverage?

The first thing to do is to take an objective view of your business. What is your true value proposition? What has happened at your place of business that constitutes real news, or will have a real impact on the community? Who is interested in knowing this, and why?

The next step is to create a one-page pitch letter that summarizes this information, to make it easy for the news organization to fully understand and appreciate your story. Don’t bury your purpose in writing. State your news proposition upfront, why it’s timely and worth consideration, and ultimately of interest to their audience.

If you have compelling photos or video that illustrates your story, include them in your pitch. A great picture can be the key to getting the story placed. Also, provide the news organization with the names of important people who are connected to your story, so that you can round out your pitch with third-party testimonial.

Finally, and perhaps most important: make it a habit to read past stories written by the specific reporter or editor you are trying to pitch. You stand a much better chance of being considered for publication if you pitch the type of stories they are inclined to write.

For more information about pitching a story to Main Street Connect, contact Nyna Giles at ngiles@mainstreetconnect.us or call 914-843-6599.

Suggestions for a Successful Photo Shoot

BY JAMIE KILGORE

Although I prefer one not use “SMILE” or “SAY CHEESE” when capturing a moment, I use SMILE as an acronym……

Schedule

Plan on a time of the day when everyone is rested and relaxed; not after a soccer match, a birthday party or an hour before mealtime.  And be sure to schedule any haircuts well in advance of the session.

Make it natural

When considering clothing, everyone should be in clothes they are comfortable wearing. No shopping for a new frilly dress if your daughter is the ultimate tomboy. She will not be happy and neither will you!

In sync

When having a group photo everyone should look coordinated, wearing solids is best. Being in similar tones works well to keep faces as the main event.  Keep it simple!

Lead

Let the photographer work his/her magic and take the lead. Remember they are the professionals, and that’s why you hired them.

Enjoy

Relax….it’s all about having FUN.  You will be enjoying your portraits for years to come.

for more information visist  www.jamiekilgorephotography.com