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Attention employers - UI Tax reform underway

On Dec. 19, 2011, the State Legislature approved a comprehensive solution to Michigan’s defunct Unemployment Trust Fund. Prior to the reform action, the system, which is wholly financed through taxes on employers, was indebted to the federal government by nearly $3.4 billion and was structurally unstable. Without legislative intervention Michigan employers would have been subject to substantial and steadily increasing federal penalties to repay the debt and interest, without building solvency in the Trust Fund.

Specifically, the reform package issues bonds to repay the $3.4 billion debt. Employers are legally obligated to repay the balance. By issuing bonds and assessing employers for repayment, business owners will experience a significant savings relative to the heighted federal interest and penalties due in 2012. 

To insure that the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund remains stable and solvent going forward, the business community and the legislature agreed that the taxable wage would have to be raised from $9,000 to $9,500. However, the taxable wage base will automatically decrease to $9,000 once the Trust Fund returns to a balance of $2.5 billion. 

Fiscal reforms were not enough, however, to guarantee future solvency. Changes tightening qualifying standards, imposing more severe penalties for defrauding the system and loosening rules for seasonal employers will help make the reforms a complete solution. After years of decline, Michigan’s UI system is again stable.

Beginning this week, business owners will receive a detailed explanation of these reforms directly from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. Members who have questions are encouraged to utilize the Department’s new Office of Employer Ombudsman through its toll-free phone number at 1-855-484-2636 (4-UIAOEO) or via e-mail at OEO@michigan.gov. The Office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. SBAM members may also contact David Jessup, SBAM’s Director of Government Relations, via email at dave.jessup@sbam.org

Questions about UI reform? You can also leave a comment below!

Steven Strauss Column: Top 5 Trends for 2012

Last week I started looking at the top 10 trends, factors, and events that will shape your business in 2012. This week we are down to the Top 5.

No. 5. Internet video takes center stage. Consider these statistics:
•    According to Cisco, online video now makes up 50% of all consumer Internet traffic
•    Last year, almost 200 million Americans watched online videos every month, and on any given day, 100 million people will watch videos online

What does this mean for your business? Plenty. People love video, and it turns out that video increases sales. Onlineshoes.com says that its conversion rate is up to 45% higher with video and Zappos.com says it sells up to 30% more when videos are used to display a shoe.

The upshot is that you need to strongly consider adding video to the mix, be it an online video brochure, a tour of your store, video newsletters, or just some instructional videos.

No. 4. Social media is becoming the land of the have and have nots: There seems to be two distinct camps when it comes to social media vis-à-vis small business: Those who get it and use it effectively and those that don’t give a whit about it (oh, and camp three – those that get it but dabble ineffectively in it.)

According to the 2011 Impact of Social Business in Small and Medium Business Study, about 50% of small businesses use social media. Those that do, do so for the following reasons:
•    80% of online visitors use social media daily
•    More than 50% of all social media users follow a brand
•    Social media is growing exponentially – Facebook added over 200 million users in 2011

So for the small business that has figured out that social media must be a key element to their business model going forward, I say way to go. To the other 50% I say – what are you waiting for?

No. 3: The death of 9 to 5: Does anyone really work at a desk five days a week from 9 to 5 anymore? Of course I am being facetious . . . or am I? A myriad of things have combined to make it so that we can work anywhere, anytime ( whether we want to or not): The Internet, laptops, tablets, smartphones, apps, and software are the main culprits.
I say culprits because some of this work anywhere, anytime stuff is great (checking emails while waiting at the airport) and some of it stinks (checking emails while on the beach in Hawaii.)

As my sweet grandfather used to say: Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

No. 2. Are happy days here again?

First a caveat: I am not an economic prognosticator and no one here is saying that the economy is peachy because it is not. But that said, there are signs that the economic doldrums we have been in for too long may be lifting a bit:
•    Consumer confidence continues to rise
•    Unemployment claims continue to fall
•    4th quarter GDP growth is looking to be in the 3% to 4% range

And while lowered expectations seem to be the new normal, it is nice to be able to report something other than dour economic news for a change. If this trend continues, it will surely shape your business significantly in 2012, and happily for the better.
And the Top Trend for 2012 is

No. 1: Mobile mania! With iPads flying off the shelf and laptops outselling desktops, with smartphones all the rage and more than a million apps in the App store, with more than 20% of all searches being done on a mobile devise now, it is clear that the era of mobile work is at hand.

For the small business, this sea-change will have all sorts of ripples:
•    Employees will increasingly expect to work when and where they want (see No. 3, above)
•   &nbs

Balancing Life and Social Media Usage

By Nipa Shah, president of Online Marketing Simplified. From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine.

As if it wasn’t difficult enough to balance work-life and family, now we have to balance work-life, family, and social networking. We are constantly “twitching” to share where we are, what we are doing, what we plan to do, etc. to our network.

But all this sharing is creating havoc in many lives. People are getting fired for posting inappropriate information. We hear of robberies stemming from status updates announcing vacation plans. And although reports about Facebook causing divorces and death announcements made online through Twitter may be laughable to some of us, the reality is that this is the world we live in today.

As business owners, we find ourselves in even more of a quandary. Do we focus on growing the business or do we spend time online, building larger networks to grow our visibility and branding?

Well, ideally, businesses should rely on marketing professionals to manage their social properties so that it can be done right and done in a comprehensive manner to generate the desired results. However, as a business owner, if you are in a chicken or an egg situation of whether to invest the money or the time doing it yourself, here are some baby steps to help you get started:

  • Create your personalized profile on no more than two or three social networks. I recommend two. You can choose from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Youtube.
  • Download Twitter and Facebook on your smart-phone (I assume you have a smart-phone. If not, get one pronto).
  • Until you get into the habit of it, put down a recurring event on your calendar to post at least once or twice a day on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Make your posts count. It’s okay to announce, “I’m at Starbucks” of course. But what’s the value of it? Why not post “Going to Starbucks to meet a prospective client” or “Getting coffee to wake me up before I get to work, anyone else feel like I do” is so much more interactive and enables engagement from others.
  • Create Google alerts for news items that are interesting and relevant to your business. Post those with a comment and you benefit by sharing ready-to-use content with others.
  • If sharing photos and videos, use the many tools that are available to do this sharing across multiple platforms through one single post.
  • Stay connected regularly through smartphones to maintain the momentum.
Out of sight is out of mind when it comes to online marketing. Social networking is here to stay. Sooner or later, you’ll have to get familiar and engaged online. But it doesn’t have to be at the expense of family and business. Leverage smart-phones, apps, and other tools to remain connected without sacrificing too much of your family or business time.

Interested in Selling Your Company? Tips for a Successful Transaction

By Jeffrey Van Winkle and James Waggoner

Businesses enter into financial and strategic combinations for a wide variety of reasons. Many are in need of additional growth capability, which can be supplied by new products, an infusion of capital or acquisition of new management; others are interested in a business combination to maximize shareholder value or to provide an exit for the ownership for retirement or business continuity reasons.

Whatever the reasons for considering a business combination, the needs and goals of the parties should be examined by the ownership of the business, its internal management and by experienced financial and legal advisors to establish a viable action plan. This article will address two important topics related to business combinations:
  • The current climate of merger and acquisitions in the United States
  • The various value-maximizing items firms interested in selling their business should consider prior to approaching potential buyers

M&A Market Trends


From the peak of 2007 and continuing through the first two quarters of this year, M&A transactions have dropped considerably. Though 2010 has seen a bit of up-tick in activity compared to 2009, it is apparent that the business climate here in the United States and the financial uncertainty abroad continues to negatively impact the M&A market. Potential buyers are still looking to avoid taking the big risk, while those interested in selling are having difficulty establishing a purchase price consistent with current market conditions. Nevertheless, many inside the industry continue to remain optimistic that conditions will continue to improve during the course of this year and into 2011. A cursory overview of information about completed transactions over the past 12 months shows that larger sized transactions, particularly among the publicly held businesses, have increased. That trend has not been observed in the smaller M&A transactions typical for small and mid-sized businesses.

Advisors report that many businesses and funds are very actively seeking candidate businesses to purchase, but often do not have the right connections to discover businesses interested in selling. One reason for increased optimism for completed transactions centers around financing availability, which has continued to improve. In addition, financial advisors and business brokers representing sellers say they are expecting firms interested in selling to better understand the value of their businesses.

Preparing Your Business for Sale


Ideally, selling a business is part of a long term strategy relating to existing owners reaching the end of a work career or planned management transition. However, it is often hard to know the right time to consider a sale. If the business has strong management, ownership interested in the next 10 years, sufficient capital to move to the next step and a business model or strategy that will generate growth and profits, there should be no reason to sell. On the other hand, the absence of any one or more of those four requirements may prompt consideration of a sale, especially if capital or a management team is missing.

When considering whether or not to sell, the best prepared businesses have focused on the following items in order to maximize the value of the business, especially in a struggling M&A market.

Maximizing Business Value


Financial Performance: The financial performance of a firm is often the prime factor in determining the ultimate value of the business. Certainly, potential buyers will want to see how the business has fared especially during the economic downturn. Perhaps as important, however, are the future financial prospects of the business. If the selling firm is able to provide evide

Uncertainty about Tax Law for 2011 Means Use Common Sense Approach to Planning

By Paul Hense, CPA

This may be the most difficult year-end planning tax advisors have ever experienced. It is fall and we still don’t know what the tax law will look like in 2011. The political parties are in a struggle over a fundamental concept of who best knows how to spend your money – you or them. It is fairly certain that taxes will rise for those making over $250,000 per year.

Predicting a political outcome is risky; Here are a two examples where last minute tax law decisions may affect your actions:

Due to the uncertainty of the tax rates for 2011, we may do a reversal of the normal process of delaying income and accelerating expenses. In a normal year, in order to defer taxes, it often makes sense to delay income and move expenses to an earlier year. If in the next few months it becomes apparent that taxes will be higher in 2011, you may want to reverse that process. There is nothing in the tax law that requires you maximize your taxes. The use of accelerated depreciation is an example of an option that moves expenses from one year to the next or vice versa. It is generally considered prudent to use expensing equipment to reduce current year tax liability. If small business loses the political battle and tax rates increase, it may be wise to take normal depreciation and use the remainder depreciation in future years offsetting the higher tax rate. Keep in touch with your accountant for developing strategies.

We have enjoyed a favorable treatment for capital gains over the past several years. We may continue to have a favorable treatment; but possibly not quite as favorable. Again we have to wait until politicians hash out their differences to see what the end result will yield. The most likely scenario is that the capital gains rate will increase – by how much, we do not know. You and your accountant need to be on top of the situation because you may want to accelerate the sale of a capital asset or a business to take advantage of the lower 2010 capital gains rate. This is not a sure thing. We cannot say for sure that capital gains rates will increase. However, if they do, you need to be prepared to make the proper moves to take advantage of the situation.

Even though this is an unusual year due to tax uncertainties in 2011 you still must do some basic year-end tax planning.

If you have a pension plan, you should review your documents and make sure that everyone who is eligible is included and make sure you do not include ineligible people. The tax benefits of a pension plan are obvious, but the cash flow issues can be a problem. You must remember when committing funds to pay a pension plan that those funds must be deposited by the mandated date. Different plans have different funding arrangements, but in all cases remember to have the funds available at the time they are due.

Consider your equipment needs for the coming year. Don’t buy assets you don’t need in order to take advantage of a tax deduction. If you’re going to need new equipment in the near future, sit down with your accountant and decide the best time to buy the equipment considering cash flow and section 179 write offs – also referred to as expensing. If cash and credit are tight, you may decide to lease as opposed to buy equipment. The tax advantages are not as good, but cash flow dictates decision-making as opposed to taxes. Make good business decisions, be profitable, and then figure out the tax consequences. Do remember however, that a reduction in your taxes can be part of providing the cash flow for the purchase of equipment. Do the math with your accountant.

We are in a difficult economy with an unstable tax system. With these two issues in mind, cash flow and tax planning can be in conflict. I have only touched on a couple issues as examples. It is advised that every small business owner do a complete checklist of year-end is
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