I have good news and bad news for you.  The good news is this edition of the newsletter will not focus on taxes or accounting.  The bad news is also that it will not focus on taxes or accounting.  All joking aside, people often assume that accountants only get into accounting because they are good with numbers.  Although I have always been good with numbers and math, that is not why I started down the path to become an accountant.   I choose to do so because it is a great avenue for me to work with a variety of business owners in a variety of industries.  The things I see in my daily activities, whether related to numbers and financial statements or not, can typically be translated from one business to another.   The numbers and monthly profit and loss statements are the scorecard that let you and me know how you are doing.  Notice I did say monthly, because if you/we aren't looking at them at least that frequently then it is akin to a baseball manager waiting until the 9th inning to find out the score in a game.  In some sense, the score dictates how you will act. 

All preaching aside, I want to take some time to discuss customers and interactions in today's always connected society.  I am far from a social media or internet consultant- there are plenty of good ones out there to help business owners that need it.  That being said, I don't see how you can be a business owner without some understanding of the concepts and how to deal with your customers.  These things affect your reputation, which affects your leads, which affects your sales, which then comes back to be reflected in your numbers. 

At this point, you may be wondering how I have even started on the question "Are Your Customers Always Special?"  This is my new age spin on the old adage "Is the Customer Always Right?".  I don't necessarily agree that the customer is always right, but you better sure listen to them and make them feel important or someone else will.  By doing so, you can make them feel special.  You also have to consider more so than ever the fallout of a bad customer experience.  With the current status of the economy people want to feel like they are receiving value for their dollars.  Give them a bad customer experience and they do not experience that value and will go elsewhere.  In addition, instead of only telling friends in person about it they will post it on Facebook, tweet about it, and put a review up on the web.  Should you allow your customers to hold you hostage?  Certainly not, but just realize the big picture implications of any decisions you make rather than focusing on anger or frustrations that you may be feeling towards a given customer.

You may be wondering what caused me to write this article.  I am a client of a trash company in New Hanover County (outside the Wilmington, NC city limits).  I am not a trash company client because I want to be but because I have a need that has to be met.  However, there are many companies to choose from and they are all relatively close on price.  About a year ago we switched to a local company that offered 2 free months if you paid up front.  That was well enough and it made me happy to support a local company.  The company then proceeded to knock our socks off by rolling the emptied trash can back to the house and having friendly, energetic staff in what most would consider to be a not-so-fun industry.  I guess the little things that show that a company cares made me feel special.  I tweeted about them and also wrote about it on Facebook.  That was all good enough, too.  My wife then encouraged me to send an email to the company to let them know that I appreciated these small things.  Guess what I heard back from them?  Nada.  In one quick act of taking a customer for granted management undid all groundwork that their employees had laid.  Where am I now with this company?  Back to neutral.  What would happen if another trash company came out with a great offer right now?  I'd switch in a heartbeat.  That wouldn't have been the case if the company had taken one minute to respond with a quick thanks for your comments email.   The bottom line is that you have to work to make your customers special all the time and that you can't make them feel like they are taken for granted, even when they are offering you praise.

The North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State has been much more aggressively pursuing those companies that do not file their annual report.  They have been notifying companies that are behind this year and threatening termination.  Filing an annual report (and paying the associated fee) is generally required in order to maintain your status. 

Keep in mind that the status of your filings is one thing that good lawyers look at when deciding whether to pursue a lawsuit against yourself as an individual or as a business.  Late filings can make it easier for a lawsuit to be filed against yourself and your individual assets, therefore removing one of the legal protections of incorporating or forming an LLC.    I am not a  lawyer, but that was some information I picked up from one and would like to pass on.  As always, consult with your lawyer for legal advice.  If you need to be referred to one then just let me know and I can make some suggestions.

Small Business Health Care Tax Credit

As a business owner, you may or may not have already received a postcard from the IRS notifying you of this credit.  This tax credit is estimated to save small businesses $40 billion by 2019.  There are rumors that this is part of an additional tax incorporated into the health care bill.  However, this is not the case- this is a tax credit that can be used to a business' advantage.

There are several eligibility rules for the credit.  A qualifying employer must cover at least 50% of the cost of health care for some of its workers.  A qualifying firm must have less than 25 full-time equivalent employees and average annual wages must be below $50,000.  The credit is limited based upon the average cost of health insurance in your business' state.  The amount of the credit can not exceed the combination of the federal income tax it withholds and the medicare tax associated with the business and employees.

The credit is for up to 35% of the small business' health insurance premium costs in 2010.  In 2014, the credit increases to 50% of the the small business' health insurance premium costs.  Note that as always, there are phase-outs for the full credit.  These are initiated when average wages exceed $25,000 and for firms with the equivalent of 10 full-time workers.

As always, if you have any any specific tax, accounting, or consulting questions, please do not hesitate to call me

Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act

The HIRE Act was created to encourage job creation and employee retention at these jobs by providing tax breaks for businesses.  The HIRE Act was passed on March 18, 2010 and is effective for employees hired between February 3, 2010 and before January 1, 2011.  The HIRE Act encourages the hiring of individuals that were unemployed during the 60 days before beginning work or worked fewer than 40 hours total during the 60 days preceding hiring.  Employers should have new hire employees fill out IRS form W-11 to certify that they are qualified employees.

There are two separate components of the HIRE Act tax breaks that are relevant to employers for each qualified employee. They are:
1)   Exempting the employer from the 6.2% of the employer's share of social security taxes on wages paid after March 18, 2010.  This will not affect the employee's social security benefits and the employee's share of social security, medicare, and income taxes should still be withheld.  In addition, the employer's share of medicare taxes would still apply.  As long as the qualified employee is still employed, this exemption lasts through December 31, 2010.
2)  A new hire retention credit.  Qualified employees (as defined above) that are hired and retained for a consecutive 52 week period can potentially qualify the employer for up to a $1,000 general business tax credit on their 2011 tax return.  The credit is the lesser of $1,000 or 6.2% of the wages paid to the qualified employee during the 52 week period/