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Friday, March 28, 2014

Some Florida Good News


The winter of 2014 has seen more snow in the US than most. A recent Sun Sentinel headline read:
 “ 49 states see snow; only 1 doesn’t (its us)”. 

At the same time the state of Florida reported 2013 tourism was up 3.5% from the previous year.

 
How is your business taking advantage of being in Florida?

 

Steve Koenig, SCORE Counselor


 

 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Bitcoin


Bitcoin is a digital currency, also called a cryptocurrency, that has been around for over five years. It is an online alternative form of money and is not created, controlled or regulated by a central body.

Without regulation, people anywhere in the world can transact business freely, with no fees and no bank account. The rules are set by the market. Freedom from politics and a limited supply makes Bitcoin more stable than currencies that are politically adjusted.

While not the first digital currency, in 2008, a paper was posted on the internet under the name Satoshi Nakamoto titled Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System, that gave rise to what we have today.

Demand spiked 5,000 per cent in 2013, driving the price of a bitcoin from about $13 U.S. in January to more than $1,000 U.S. in November, largely because of demand in China.

China forbids banks from dealing in the currency. The U.S. seized $25 million in bitcoins from an online exchange for criminals. Most of the current attention comes from its sharp price appreciation and the host of merchants and venture capitalists engaging.

Starting in the last quarter of 2013 a number of organizations announced plans for Bitcoins, among these are Overstock.com, Zynga, The D Las Vegas, Golden Gate Hotel & Casino as well as a number of restaurants.

Is there a place in your business for Bitcoin?

 
Steve Koenig, SCORE Counselor


 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Arrogance = No Customers


One way a small business can fail is to be arrogant with customers. Let me cite two examples I am aware of.

The first one is an Air Conditioning/Heating unit supplier and maintenance company. As a condominium was changing hands, this company replaced a defective AC compressor for the seller, with a 10 year warranty that ran to the next unit owner.  This company was paid to check the AC system every six months. They had a history of not cashing checks for months, even after calls to see if the check was lost and needed replacement. The owner of the firm was usually abrupt over the phone with comments like: “I will cash the check when I want to!” When called to schedule service there were comments like: “We know what we are doing, you don’t”, and “we will get there when we get there!” Before one year was up the AC air handler failed, the same firm was paid to replace and maintain it.  The arrogance of the owner picked up over time. About 5 years after the change in ownership the compressor “apparently” failed and this firm wanted to change both the compressor and the air handler stating that they needed to be a “matched set”, and refusing to honor the warranty on either element. They did not want to provide a quotation for the failed part of the system. They quoted the job but the condo owner went elsewhere to get the work done at a lower price and with a firm that has been very cooperative for many years. The arrogance of the owner of the first firm was so prevalent that a board member took it upon himself to lobby everyone in the in community to keep this business off the property.

Case two is a small Internet Service Provider (ISP), essentially a one person business. A condominium complex made an arrangement with this ISP to provide service to all the units in the community. The cost was built into the condo fees. A number of condo owners began objecting when the service was down often without response from the ISP. The ISP owner made it clear he did not want to receive any calls from the owners. The unhappy owners swamped the property management staff, who then contacted the ISP. Each time the ISP owner (who was the person fixing the problems) showed up on the property he was cursing the “dumb” owners who did not know how to use his service. He was abrupt and refused to communicate with interested owners. Eventually the property mangers had enough, and cancelled the master contract with an agreement by the ISP to continue service under individual agreements for those who wanted it at a specified fee. Most people in the community wanted the service and went along. Over time the service deteriorated, the ISP owner put on an answering machine and refused to respond to calls. One day he did answer the phone and proceeded to tell a condo owner that “he was fed up with all the calls”; “You rich people cannot get any more from me”; “I don’t care that you have been trying to reach me”; “tell the rich people in your place to go to another provider.” The exodus had begun as the word spread. You can draw your own conclusions, but mine are that this was a technical person that had an idea without any business, marketing or social skills.

How do you handle situations like these? Do you know when and how to get help and/or get out? Will your business survive?

 
Steve Koenig, SCORE Counselor


 

 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Is This Customer Service?


I am a long time customer of a large Internet Service Provider (ISP) which I use extensively for email. It is not a free service and I am on an automatic monthly billing payment plan, even though there are a number of no cost ISP’s available that can satisfy my needs. A short time ago I began looking at alternatives, when a friend suggested that the “benefits” from my provider were worth the cost. Except for the periodic emails portending to describe my “Benefits”, which I promptly deleted before reading, I had no idea what these were, until recently.

An examination of my “Benefits” has a list identified as “Active” that includes an Extended Computer Protection program. A few days earlier I had a laptop literally fall apart at the joint where the power plug connects. The plastic board on which the internal receptacle was mounted was in pieces and the plug could no longer be attached. This was the third laptop I have had that had issues at the power connection. In any event, the cost of repair made this one a throw away. I salvaged the hard drive, now an external hard drive, for use with other systems, and spent days bringing up a new laptop with the applications I use, now under a new OS, where some of the apps would not run, or later versions are needed. Was there some recovery available under this program?

The Extended Computer Protection description had a phone number to call. I called and before I could describe the situation was told I was “not eligible” for this coverage but should speak to a different representative about my billing (Remember I am on an automatic billing payment plan), and the agent forwarded my call. The new representative could not locate my account, even after having me spell my email address out three or four times. I finally asked the representative where they were and was given an “off shore” location. I specifically asked to be connected to a representative located in the US and was told this could not be done. I am under the impression that any US company providing “off shore” customer service is obligated to provide “on shore” capability when requested.  I gave up in frustration and hung up!

The effort of moving my email now stored on a remote drive is not a simple task and I have yet to tackle it. If I store something on my PC, it should be easy to move to other PC’s, just like moving “My Documents”

Why would I bother with any other service they say they provide? Perhaps I should return to my original thought and go with a free service.

How does your customer service compare to this?

 
Steve Koenig, SCORE Counselor

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Microsoft on the Cloud


In a recent interview Microsoft International President Jean-Philippe Courtois said things like cloud technology are helping small businesses around the world. He cited a study that showed small businesses using cloud technology "are growing 50 points faster than the others and creating more jobs."

What are you doing in the cloud?

 
Steve Koenig, SCORE Counselor


 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Employee Value


I recently read a newspaper article that brought back memories of a company I worked for. The article described a Weston, Florida company Ultimate Software, that was listed in Fortune Magazine as one of the 100 Best Companies to work for. The philosophy puts its people first with stock awards for all, full family medical and dental coverage, a company matched 401K, more stock and trips for high performers and time off to work for charities. WOW! The company I worked for was DEC, a Fortune 100 company, now part of HP. DEC even gave out Thanksgiving Turkeys to every employee.

Ultimate Software believes that company ownership makes a difference. I for one believe they are right on!

How do you value your employees?

 
Steve Koenig, SCORE Counselor

Monday, March 3, 2014

Social Media - Batch or Real Time


In the early days of the computer industry the only way to do computing was in “Batch Mode”. In this mode a “job” was submitted to a computer, often behind a glass wall, the Job was “run” and a result was giving back through the glass wall. If the programmer did not do the job within the parameters of the specific “language” (Cobol, Fortran, etc) the result was often an error message requiring correction and then a rerun of the job. If there was an issue with the operation of the computer, your job was delayed. So what?

As the industry progressed it moved into a “Real Time Mode” often associated with operating a process industry facility, where the process had to move along at a consistent speed. If the job was not sufficiently debugged offline before being placed in service, there were serious production issues to deal with. If there was in issue with the operation of the computer it could be a major hit on the business. Then came Disaster Tolerant computing designed to deal with keeping things up and running all the time.

We can apply this same analogy to Social Media today. One might look at email as a “Batch Mode”. Where the user selects the time to review and respond at his/her discretion. Mobile devices and web sites may be more like the “Real Time Mode” described above, in that they are on-line all the time, and presumed to be always available.

For some businesses “Batch” is fine. Consider a storefront where the store is has certain hours it is open for business. For other businesses “Real Time” is the only answer. Think about a web based business as an example. Some businesses may use both a storefront and web model. Here “Real Time” is the answer.

I offer this analogy as a method of helping you think through your business model and consider the needs for Disaster Tolerance in your planning.

How is your business doing in this area?

 
Steve Koenig, SCORE Counselor


 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Identity Theft and Tax Returns: Tips for Taxpayers



Refund fraud caused by identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes nationwide. Learn more about what the IRS is doing to protect your identity.

Stopping refund fraud related to identity theft is a top priority for the IRS. With more than 3,000 employees working on identity theft cases, the IRS is focused on preventing, detecting and resolving identity theft cases as soon as possible and has trained more than 35,000 employees to work with taxpayers to recognize and provide assistance when identity theft occurs.

Taxpayers might encounter identity theft involving their tax returns in several ways. One possible scenario is where identity thieves try filing fraudulent refund claims using another person's identifying information, which has been stolen.

Here are some tips to protect you from becoming a victim, and steps to take if you think someone may have filed a tax return using your name:

Tips to protect you from becoming a victim of identity theft


  • Don't carry your Social Security card or any documents that include your Social Security number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
  • Don't give a business your SSN or ITIN just because they ask. Give it only when required.
  • Protect your financial information.
  • Check your credit report every 12 months.
  • Secure personal information in your home.
  • Protect your personal computers by using firewalls and anti-spam/virus software, updating security patches and changing passwords for Internet accounts.
  • Don't give personal information over the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or you are sure you know who you are dealing with.

If your tax records are not currently affected by identity theft, but you believe you may be at risk due to a lost or stolen purse or wallet, questionable credit card activity or credit report, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490, extension 245 (Monday - Friday, 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. local time; Alaska and Hawaii follow Pacific time).

Be alert to possible identity theft if you receive a notice from the IRS, if you believe you're a victim of identity theft, or if you learn from your tax professional that:

  • More than one tax return for you was filed;
  • You have a balance due, refund offset or have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return;
  • IRS records indicate you received more wages than you actually earned or
  • Your state or federal benefits were reduced or cancelled because the agency received information reporting an income change.

If you receive a notice from the IRS and suspect your identity has been used fraudulently, respond immediately by calling the number on the notice. Please call us if you're not sure what to do or would like assistance with this.

If you did not receive an IRS notice but believe you've been the victim of identity theft, contact us or contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit directly at 800-908-4490, extension 245.

Also, you will need to fill out the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039. Please write legibly and follow the directions on the back of the form that relate to your specific circumstances. If you need help filling out this form, don't hesitate to give us a call.

We also recommend that you take additional steps with agencies outside the IRS such as:

  • Reporting incidents of identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission at www.consumer.ftc.gov or the FTC Identity Theft hotline at 877-438-4338 or TTY 866-653-4261.
  • Filing a report with the local police.
  • Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
  • Contacting the fraud departments of the three major credit bureaus:
    • Equifax - www.equifax.com, 800-525-6285
    • Experian - www.experian.com, 888-397-3742
    • TransUnion - www.transunion.com, 800-680-7289

If you have reported an identity theft case to the IRS and are waiting for your federal tax refund, be assured that the IRS is working to speed up and further streamline identity theft case resolution to help innocent taxpayers.

In many instances, these are extremely complex cases to resolve, frequently touching on multiple issues and multiple tax years and cases of resolving identity can be complicated by the thieves themselves contacting the IRS.

Due to the complexity of the situation, this is a time-consuming process. Taxpayers are likely to see their refunds delayed for an extended period of time while we take the necessary actions to resolve the matter. A typical case can take about 180 days to resolve, and the IRS is working to reduce that time period.

Also, please note that even if you have an open identity theft case that is being worked by the IRS, you need to continue to file your tax returns during this period.

For victims of identity theft who have previously been in contact with the IRS and have not achieved a resolution to their case, you may contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit, toll-free, at 800-908-4490. If you are unable to get your issue resolved and are experiencing financial difficulties, contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service toll-free at 877-777-4778.

Identity theft is an issue that we, as tax professionals, take very seriously.

http://mail.aol.com/IM/?sn=barrye003&locale=en-us&pd=0 

Barry Eisenberg, SCORE Counselor

Visit us at:www.scoresouthflorida.net