Parisa Perkins and Lance Kosmal, both National Account Managers at Aventis Systems, share the benefits of server virtualization for businesses.
For more information on Aventis Systems, visit www.aventissystems.com or call (866) 528-9313.
If you have heard any of the buzz on the street lately, you are aware that social media is here to stay, and the businesses that leverage this channel and participate strategically can reap rewards. “While it is true of social media marketing today that, ‘if you’re not in, you’re out’,” says Kevin Hourigan, President and CEO of Web design, Web development and online marketing agency, Bayshore Solutions, “A very valid question is; how ’in’ do I need to be?”
Smart Business spoke with Hourigan about how to get the most out of social media, and what the right social moves are to achieve it.
What business results should I expect from social media?
The key to realizing a specific business’s ‘reward’ from social media, is defining and understanding your realistic expectations, finding your strategic fit, implementing the tactics that align, and taking a disciplined approach to daily social media activity.
Businesses need to understand that only in specific situations will social media tactics deliver straight-line results of leads and sales. It is possible, but the circumstances required are not a viable reality for many businesses. Indirect influence on leads and sales is where social media can be a key contributor to business growth.
Business results that social media is best poised to deliver include:
- Brand reputation management – you can listen and act to guard your businesses.
- Target market intelligence – trends in needs, uses and attitudes about your brand and can be learned by simply listening. Participating in response can earn you customers.
- SEO performance improvements for your website – Search engine algorithms now include social media engagement. Linking, keyword and search results benefits are also outcomes of properly optimized social media.
- Brand and expertise positioning – through many avenues to present your brand and offer expertise that feeds top of mind awareness and brand preference.
- Influencer marketing – social media allows you to identify and align with key people online whose word of mouth (or word of keyboard) can exponentially motivate your target customers.
- Crisis Management – An opportunity to quickly and broadly distribute messaging.
- Public Relations – Social Media can be considered the Public Relations of the 21st Century.
- Encouraging visits to your website – and eventual conversions.
The right social media strategy will be unique to every business. Developing this strategy involves the Marketing 101 exercise of knowing your target customers, discovering where they are online as well as who and what motivates them. Once you have defined this, the right expectations, tactics, metrics, measurement tools, and workflows triggered from those metrics can be determined and selected for your social media strategic plan.
What are the must-do tactics in Social Media?
A 2011 Marketing Sherpa study cited the top three ‘most effective’ social media tactics as:
- Optimizing social media sites to improve search engine rankings
- Building one to one relationships with bloggers, and other social influencers
- Moderating company branded social networks
Content marketing through social media (distribution, sharing, and commenting) were the other most effective tactics cited. The lowest ranking ‘most effective’ tactic was outright advertising on social networks.
The best place to start is by establishing business profiles in the social networks relevant to your audience and strategy. These will most often include, Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, and content distribution and bookmarking sites like YouTube, StumbleUpon, SlideShare and Google Plus.
This is just the start. You must commit to keeping these profiles updated, fresh and relevant. The right timing of updates varies among businesses and social media, but not updating guarantees failure. Relevant participation includes offering advice, insights, tips, expertise, response to comments and questions, special promotions, and exclusive values related to your business and your target customer. Relevant, successful participation is rarely a continual barrage of outright or veiled sales pitches.
How much do I really need to put in to social media?
Just a few years ago, a big selling point for social media was, 'It’s essentially free!' This is a dangerous and false statement. Social media is a marketing channel with unique but real 'costs' of participation. You may not be paying for your profile or message space, but to be effective, social media requires resources of time and talent in developing, delivering, tracking, monitoring, responding appropriately and adjusting campaigns.
eMarketer’s 2011 study of forecasted investment in social media in the next three years showed: 87 percent of businesses plan to spend more than 5 percent of their digital marketing budget on social tactics, 55 percent of businesses plan to spend over 10 percent of their budget, and 28 percent will spend over 20 percent of their budget on social media tactics. This reflects the investments in resources that are a reality of effective involvement in today’s social media arena.
Because the nature of social media is an open two way communication, just ‘broadcasting’ messages cannot be your entire strategy. The ability to offer competent, prompt response and engagement is critical to social media success. It can also affect the bottom-line success of a business, so you can’t entrust this to an intern.
A recent statistic by Conversocial illustrates this point by revealing that 88 percent of social media users interpreted a business’s action or inaction in responding to social media comments and inquiries as a reflection of their ‘true colors’ in customer service. They further said that inaction would make them ‘somewhat less’ or ‘far less‘ likely to do business with that company.
Effective social media marketing requires strategy, expertise and dedication. Enlisting expert assistance to help develop and even implement your social media marketing strategy (either in-house or partnering for this expertise) can streamline the process and place you competently into the right social circles to help grow your business.
<< For a snapshot of Bayshore Solutions Web marketing methodology, visit: http://www.bayshoresolutions.com/about-bayshore-solutions/methodology.aspx
Kevin Hourigan is the president and CEO of Bayshore Solutions. Reach him at (877) 535-4578 or www.BayshoreSolutions.com.
If you serve on the board of a non-profit organization, you may be familiar with this scenario: revenue is down, donations are smaller and more tightly restricted, government assistance has become all but non-existent, and costs have continued to rise. While the near panic of 2008 and early 2009 is in the rear view mirror, the economy is far from fully recovered, and non-profit organizations are no better off than their for-profit brethren.
Shawn Riley and Sean Malloy of McDonald Hopkins’ Business Restructuring Services Department sat down with Smart Business to talk about what a troubled non-profit organization can do to help face the challenges posed in these troubled times.
Why are so many non-profit organizations struggling?
Riley: A number of reasons. Non-profits face many of the same business challenges as for-profit companies. Money is tight everywhere, so growing top line revenue or even keeping it steady can be difficult. Many non-profits also rely on charitable donations for a large portion of their revenue. While there are different estimates about the overall level of charitable giving, most data show that it dropped in 2008 and 2009, and recovery in that sector, like the economy generally, has been slow.
What should the board of a distressed non-profit be doing to face challenges?
Malloy: The minute a board starts to see financial trouble on the horizon, it has to take active steps toward solving the problem. It is easy for non-profit boards to let inertia take over instead of actively managing. The leaders of a nonprofit are usually on the board out of a desire to give back to a community or a goal, but it is important to think about it as a business, especially when signs of trouble begin to appear. The board needs to make sure there is solid financial reporting and metrics by which to measure success. Most importantly, the board’s members need to admit they have a problem and not put off dealing with financial distress until the next quarterly meeting or when it turns into a true crisis.
Riley: It is also critically important for a board to understand where its duties lie. In a for-profit company, fiduciary duties are owed to shareholders. This is not the case for a non-profit. The board of a non-profit owes its primary duty to the entity’s mission. So the first thing the board should do is make sure that it is aware of the mission — it can then evaluate the ‘going forward’ strategy in that context. Sometimes a real focus on the mission has been lost as the entity has struggled. Looking deeply at the mission and how best to continue to accomplish it can help a board reorder priorities and make key decisions.
Once these priorities are evaluated, how should the non-profit execute on its goals?
Malloy: Our best and first advice is usually to get experienced help from a financial professional. Non-profit boards are made up of smart, accomplished and caring people. But the reality is that they were probably chosen for the board based on connections in the community, experience or interest in the industry and fundraising ability. While that is great in good times, it does not provide the expertise necessary to deal with a financial crisis.
Riley: In many ways, once the priorities and goals are set, restructuring a non-profit is similar to doing the same thing for a for-profit company. We often recommend hiring a financial adviser with turnaround experience. They can usually suggest ways to cut costs and grow revenue in ways that are not obvious to the current management and board.
What if things get really bad? Is bankruptcy an option for non-profits?
Riley: Yes, it is. Having said that, bankruptcy is an expensive process and we try to help our clients restructure their finances without filing a bankruptcy case. Banks and other creditor groups have become more and more sophisticated and can be willing to work with companies to provide relief and avoid bankruptcy. The good news for non-profits is that there is a section of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code which provides that creditors cannot force a non-profit into involuntary bankruptcy. So a bankruptcy case is usually only filed when the board makes an informed decision that the protection of the Bankruptcy Code is the best structure under which to restructure the organization.
Malloy: There are some situations when bankruptcy is the best option for a non-profit. One example might be a non-profit hospital where revenue is not matching operating costs and pre-bankruptcy attempts to turn around operations have not been able to close the gap. In a case like that, filing a bankruptcy can stop creditor collection efforts and give the hospital the cash flow needed to ensure that patient care is maintained at a high level while negotiations with creditors occur. Every factual situation is different.
Are there other unique aspects of non-profit restructuring?
Malloy: One unique issue is donated funds. The board and management should be careful to continue to manage donated funds appropriately, even in an insolvency situation. Donations that are made for a restricted, specific purpose cannot be used for general operating expenses or turned over to the non-profit’s creditors.
Riley: Despite the unique issues for troubled non-profit organizations, the board needs to remember that creditors who are owed money will assert their rights. They will not just go away because the organization has a non-profit mission rather than an economic goal. As a result, the board should make sure there is current and sufficient directors and officers insurance in place. And as we said before, the most important thing is to be active — and not wait too long when trouble starts to brew.
Shawn Riley and Sean Malloy are members of the Business Restructuring Services Department of McDonald Hopkins LLC. Reach
Riley at (216) 348-5773 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Reach Malloy at (216) 348-5436 or email@example.com.
The so-called “fitness” industry has become awash in a sea of backward thinking, untested and unproven premises and, worst of all, dangerous practices.
“It may sound extreme to suggest it, but if ever there was a Dark Age for exercise we are in it,” says Joshua Trentine, president of Overload Fitness.
Smart Business learned more from Trentine about how to leave the dark ages behind.
Why do you say we are living in the dark ages of exercise?
Most of our collective consciousness concerning exercise is based on aerobics philosophy. In 1968, Kenneth H. Cooper coined the term aerobics to denote his fascination with running. He later expanded this to include a host of activities, thus crossing over to millions of people and their pet interests and pastimes. Over the past few decades, the term aerobics has been replaced by the term ‘cardio’ under the assumption that ‘steady-state’ activities serve to stimulate and improve the functioning of the cardiovascular system. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, aerobics undermines the necessary process to stimulate strengthening. It promotes injuries and thwarts the body’s ability to adapt to the stimulation were it to occur. In this regard, aerobics philosophy, i.e., steady-state notions, represent the Dark Age of Exercise.
Why are aerobics activities not as useful as many believe?
It is important to realize several facts. First, the center of metabolism in the body is the skeletal musculature. It possesses the greatest vascularity, the greatest concentration of mitochondria, and the greatest peripheral nerve supply. It is also the site of a majority of chemical reactions and heat production.
Second, although the heart is a muscle, it is involuntary. It is optimally accessed with exercise only by meaningful muscular (skeletal/volitional) loading. The very nature of steady state (aerobics) is to avoid meaningful muscular loading by burdening the bones, so that the muscles are spared to permit endurance and thus avoid exercise.
Third, cardio makes about as much sense as cutting your heart out of your chest and putting it on an exercise machine.
Aerobics is poor science. It is unhealthy. It is antithetical to exercise. It is backwards and uneducated. It is empty exercise. It subverts the loading required for exercise. It will not burn significant calories or meaningfully improve one’s appearance. It severely compromises what can be accomplished for the heart. Aerobics will incur injuries that lead to inactivity, depression, overeating and greater fatness.
Worse, in recent years, a literal wave of bastardized exercise trends have stemmed from the ‘cardio’ religion and have, in fact, transcended it in the fitness ranks:
n high volume training
n westernized yoga and its hybrid equivalents
n functional training
n explosive and ‘speed-strength’ training
n dance aerobics
n boxing aerobics and hybrids
n vibration devices
n stretching programs
n cross training and recent cross-fit programs
n boot camps
n home exercise programs such as P90X
Despite the apparent differentiation in the activities listed above, they are all built on an achievement-oriented premise that focuses on the process of the activities and not the results. If you’ve been engaged in a program of fitness that focuses on aerobic activity such as walking or running, using elliptical machines, jogging, or any of the practices listed above, you’ve been wasting much of your time.
This may seem shocking and outrageous but I suspect most readers will have their sense of shock immediately followed by a sobering moment of quiet agreement. If engaging in the above activities did lead to any good (as promised in every infomercial and health club banner), our society would be populated with the fittest people the world has ever seen because the majority of people are doing these things. But this is not the case. In fact, there are fewer and fewer lean and fit people today than ever before. And it’s getting worse.
So how can people stop wasting their time?
There is a solution to not only the challenge of physical conditioning but also the time commitment necessary to affect the kinds of improvements we all seek so dearly.
The key to all of this is proper exercise. And proper exercise is strength training. Strength training is the only practice that can lead to total fitness; that which directly and efficiently encompasses all of the suspected and unsuspected benefits that a person can experience from exercise. Strength training is the only exercise activity that asks not ‘how much can you tolerate?’ but more appropriately ‘how little do you require?’ In strength training, only the results matter; the process is secondary.
True exercise stimulates skeletal muscular strengthening. All reasonable expectations from exercise are accessed through the skeletal muscles — the only window into the body — by strengthening or attempting to strengthen those muscles. These expectations include: improvements in bone density, vascular efficiency, metabolic efficiency, joint stability, muscular strength and cosmetics.
It’s time to replace all the backward thinking, the erroneous concepts and the absurd and dangerous practices with valid principles and a new understanding.
It’s time to truly level the playing field so that the most feeble, debilitated and elderly homebody can eventually perform with the same sense of vitality and purpose as the most truly gifted, advanced and youthful athlete.
It’s time to ensure that a program of progressive intensity is never compromised by equally progressive risk of injury.
It’s time to admit that exercise requires not only ample intensity but also the correct dosage of volume and frequency.
Joshua Trentine is president of Overload Fitness. Reach him at (216) 292-7569 and visit www.overloadfitness.com.
Smart Business spoke to Mark Strippy, Executive Director, Payroll Services at Heartland Payment Systems®, about how businesses can ensure they don’t miss out on savings from the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation.
If you need a break from political discourse, don’t be too hasty. One of this year’s trending topics for political debate among members of Congress and presidential candidates is something that you’ll want to tune in to.
In late December 2011, Washington announced an extension of the reduced payroll tax rate that went into effect in 2011. The topic became hot several months ago because of the then-impending extension deadline of Dec 31, 2011, and continues to pick up steam as a result of a proposed full-year extension.
Although it may be a point of contention among politicians in this, an election year, the extension works to your favor as a business owner, and to the favor of your employees.
The initial payroll tax rate reduction was proposed as a one-year “holiday” and provides employees with a 2 percent reduction in the Social Security tax withholding rate. That reduction dropped the tax rate from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent of wages. The Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 has added two more months to the reduced Social Security tax rate.
The cut has meant more money in the pockets of working Americans. And, as an employer, you pay in to the tax based on the rate paid by your employees, so you’ve enjoyed a savings as well.
The business of implementation
If you process payroll in-house, the payroll tax cut will require some adjustments in your bookkeeping. To avoid having to make adjustments after 2012 comes to a close, you should work with a tax specialist sooner, rather than later.
For businesses that process through a payroll service, make sure to find out if the company is processing on compliant software. If the payroll service is using outdated technology, it may face some challenges processing the change.
For payroll service bureaus that are up to date on the requirements for processing payroll for 2012, implementing the changes is virtually seamless for your business.
There are several key dates in 2012 to keep in mind in the implementation of the tax reduction extension:
- Jan 31: Employers should have begun implementation of the tax reduction. If you haven’t done so by Jan 31, it means you have over-withheld.
- Mar 31: Employers who over-withheld in January need to make an offsetting adjustment prior to this date.
- Apr 30: Quarterly employment tax returns for the first quarter are due by this date.
One thing to note is employees earning more than $18,350 in wages during the two-month period are subject to the “recapture” provision. This means these employees will pay an additional income tax of 2 percent on those wages they earn during the first two months of the year.
Why it’s a bright spot
Right now your business is experiencing a savings, which is a good thing for your bottom line. As it was intended to do, the temporary payroll tax cut frees up some of your funds to be reinvested in your business for things like new jobs, inventory and capital improvements.
Don’t miss out on these savings by not being compliant. Be sure you or your payroll specialist is following the tax calendar as it applies to your payroll taxes. Otherwise, the money you are saving from this payroll tax holiday could cost you in unnecessary fines.
Washington continues a dialogue about a possible full-year extension for the Payroll Tax Cut, so be sure to follow this hot topic.
About Heartland Payment Systems
Heartland Payment Systems, Inc. (NYSE: HPY), the fifth largest payments processor in the United States, delivers credit/debit/prepaid card processing, gift marketing and loyalty programs, payroll and related business solutions to more than 250,000 business locations nationwide. A Fortune 1000 company, Heartland is the founding supporter of The Merchant Bill of Rights, a public advocacy initiative that educates merchants about fair credit and debit card processing practices. The company is also a leader in the development of end-to-end encryption technology designed to protect cardholder data, rendering it useless to cybercriminals. For more detailed information, visit HeartlandPaymentSystems.com or follow the company on Twitter @HeartlandHPY and Facebook at facebook.com/HeartlandHPY.
February 29 is a date that usually occurs every four years, and is called leap day. So you have one more day available in 2012. How many times have you said, “If I had just had one more day in a week, month, I would do (blank)”? The opportunity is available to you during this month of February. So what could you do?
Let’s look around to see if you’re ignoring any basic principles that can maximize your business value and your personal net worth. The objective in strategic wealth management is to integrate your business plan with your personal financial plan together to arrive at your life-plan goal. Too often, business executives and owners treat their personal goals separate from their business goals, operating each in a vacuum. Different sets of criteria are used to evaluate achievements in both business and personal arenas, and this further polarizes the strategies, causing a disconnect in achieving your ultimate financial and life-plan objectives. What risks are inherent in your personal and business portfolios? Do you take risk in business and therefore choose not to take personal risk in your portfolio?
Rather than obsess and concentrate on more ways to reduce taxes, are you “missing the mark” in utilizing key financial metrics to measure the financial success of your businesses?
Let me introduce the financial metric use of excess cash. When is too much cash a problem?
How a company's cash is managed is a critical job that most business owners do from an emotional perspective rather than a rational financial one. Poor cash management can harm the company's performance in subtle ways as well as more obvious serious ways. It is not having too little or no cash — it is also having too much cash as well. It lowers the return on assets and it increases the cost of capital (just like increasing the cost of goods without an offsetting increase in the customer pricing).
Holding excess cash lowers return on assets, increases the cost of capital, increases overall risk by destroying business value, and commonly produces overly confident management. When the cash balance exceeds the actual working capital cash balance need, you have excess cash. This cash is not necessary to the firm's financial operations. Increasing or decreasing excess cash balances is a leading indicator of future good or bad times for the company. When there is too much negative excess and decreasing cash generation, cash needs to be accumulated, but when there is excess cash balances and increasing cash generation, the excess cash needs to be invested or distributed. Let’s take the effects of excess cash one item at a time.
Let’s look first at the effect of excess cash on the return on assets (ROA). Assume a business has total assets of $1 million with cash making up 15 percent of the total assets or $150,000. Further, assume that the business has an annual after tax net income on an adjusted debt free basis of $100,000. That would result in the business having an overall ROA of 10 percent. If the business is only earning 2 percent annual interest on its portion of the total assets then the real effect of cash can be determined. In this example it is assumed that all of the cash is excess in order to illustrate without too much complication.
If the return on the cash is only 2 percent and the overall ROA is 10 percent then one would have to assume that the ROA would be higher if the cash could be eliminated from the total assets. When the cash is eliminated the total assets go from $1 million to $850,000. One more thing to look at: the interest income on the cash is now eliminated so the net after tax income needs to be removed. This would be around a net after tax interest income of $2,000. The total net income after tax now comes to $98,000 and that amount divided by $850,000 results in a new ROA of 11.53 percent, which is 15 percent higher than the original ROA.
Warren Buffet strives for a 15 percent return on his businesses — 15 percent on what? He is striving for a net 15 percent book value return on his equity. The remainder above the 15 percent, he distributes to shareholders. So if you had your financials analyzed, and you had excess cash flow, what would you do with the distribution? What about funding a pension/profit sharing plan, deferred comp for you, defined benefit plan, or other plans that now directly link to your retirement objective? Interestingly, the less excess cash retained in your business the greater the value you are building within your company. The greater the value you build, the closer your retirement goals come to being a reality.
Our Business Ferret report provides substantive numbers to lenders, shareholders, and the like to perpetuate the strategic growth. Bankers/lenders now will receive specific numbers assisting you in the process of properly using excess cash. Other stakeholders are now receiving distributions that incent them to drive value and company performance. For more information about the Business Ferret report please visit the business owners section on our website at www.ravfinancial.com.
Happy Leap Year.
Robert A. Valente, CFP®, AEP®, is CEO and Managing Member of RAV Financial Services LLC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re a manufacturer or supplier who does business in California, keep reading.
Effective January 1, 2012, the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act requires large manufacturers and suppliers who do business in California to add a link to their websites disclosing their efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from their supply chains for all tangible goods offered for sale.
According to the California legislature, the Act is intended to “educate consumers on how to purchase goods produced by companies that responsibly manufacture their supply chains, and, thereby, to improve the lives of victims of slavery and human trafficking.”
Who is subject to the Act?
The Act, signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger as Senate Bill 657 and enacted as Section 1714.43 of the California Civil Code and Section 19547.5 of the California Revenue and Taxation Code, applies to every retail seller or manufacturer that does business in California and has more than $100 million in worldwide gross annual receipts.
- A company will be considered a retail seller or manufacturer if it reports its primary business activity as retail trade or manufacturing on its California Franchise Tax Board returns.
- A company will be deemed to do business in California if it meets at least one of the following conditions from the California Revenue and Taxation Code:
- It is organized or commercially domiciled in California.
- Its sales in California for the applicable tax year exceed the lesser of $500,000 or 25 percent of the company’s total assets.
- The value of the company’s real and tangible personal property in California exceeds the lesser of $50,000 or 25 percent of the company’s total real and personal property.
- The amount paid by the company in California for compensation exceeds the lesser of $50,000 or 25 percent of the total compensation paid by the company.
- A company’s worldwide gross annual receipts, for purposes of the Act, will be determined by the worldwide gross annual receipts disclosed on the entity’s filings with the California Franchise Tax Board.
What does the Act require?
Every company subject to the Act must issue a disclosure statement detailing its efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from its supply chains for all tangible goods offered for sale. A “conspicuous and easily understood link” to the disclosure must appear on the home page of the company’s website. At a minimum, the disclosure statement must set forth the company’s efforts (if any) to do each of the following:
- Engage in the verification of product supply chains to evaluate and address the risks of human trafficking and slavery. The disclosure must specify if the verification was not conducted by a third party.
- Conduct audits of suppliers to evaluate supplier compliance with company standards for trafficking and slavery in supply chains. The disclosure must specify if the verification was not an independent, unannounced audit.
- Require direct suppliers to certify that materials incorporated into the product comply with the laws regarding slavery and human trafficking of the country or countries in which the suppliers are doing business.
- Maintain internal accountability standards and procedures for employees or contractors that fail to meet company standards regarding slavery or trafficking.
- Provide training on human trafficking and slavery, particularly with respect to mitigating risks within the supply chains of products, to company employees and management personnel who have direct responsibility for supply chain management.
If a company does not have a website, it must provide all of the above information within 30 days after receiving a written request from a consumer. The sole remedy for any violation of the Act’s disclosure requirement is an action for injunctive relief brought by the California Attorney General.
What are other companies doing to comply with the Act?
Disclosure statements vary widely. Some companies issue short, simple statements that contain only the required information. Other companies incorporate the disclosure statement into existing reports concerning corporate social responsibility or use the disclosure statement to promote their efforts to manage their supply chains in an ethical, legal and socially responsible manner.
Corinne Sprague practices corporate law at the Michigan law firm of Warner Norcross & Judd LLP. She can be reached at email@example.com or (616) 752-2756.
Medical Mutual 2012 Pillar Award
for Community Service — Cincinnati
Kent Clapp CEO Leadership Award
Timothy Johnson, founder, president and CEO of Johnson Investment Counsel Inc., whole-heartedly believes that being an active member in your community and giving back is what makes a company thrive. For the investment management and financial advisory services firm, community service has been instilled in the corporate culture.
Johnson founded his wealth management company in 1965. In 2001, the company became employee-owned and is now the largest independent employee-owned wealth management firm in Ohio, managing more than $6 billion in 45 states. Johnson has been sure to get his employees and his clients involved in community initiatives.
Community involvement comes in many different forms and Johnson has worked to make as many of those forms apart of his firms charitable philosophy. One way Johnson and his employees give back is by serving on the boards of various organizations. The giving of services and expertise is something that Johnson and his employees and the boards they serve on value very much.
Presently, Johnson Investment employees serve on 58 boards within the community. The employees hold another 40 leadership positions in various committees and advisory councils.
Johnson leads his company’s charitable efforts through demonstrating ways to give back. He is an individual who represents the true spirit of giving, enhancing the quality of life in the Cincinnati community. He has a commitment toward philanthropy and passes that quality on to his employees and clients who work with him every day.
That commitment has resulted in more than $350,000 being donated by Johnson Investments and the creation of the Johnson Charitable Gift Fund, a way for the company’s clients to manage endowments. Over the past four years more than $22 million has been given to nonprofit organizations through this fund.
HOW TO REACH: Johnson Investment Counsel Inc., (513) 661-3100 or www.johnsoninv.com
Smart Business spoke to Matt Yonchak of Hurricane Labs about protecting your personal information online.
One of the most common responses I get from your everyday user when I bring up the topic of securing your personal information is “Who cares about my e-mail address? It’s not like anybody is going to call me or stalk me or something.” I’ll ask them why the level of caring about their e-mail address is so low and again I’ll get a flippant response such as, “So what if I get spam? I just delete it anyway.”
We all understand that we need to keep our Social Security numbers and credit card numbers safe. We know not to give out the login credentials to our online banking site. These are common knowledge, but what about your e-mail address or the contact information that exists in your mobile phone? How closely do you guard that information? My guess is not as closely as you should.
The fact of the matter is that all aspects of your personally identifiable information (PII) are valuable to someone. Remember the Storm worm? Back in 2008, spam e-mail from Storm was analyzed and was found to be generating 3.5 million dollars of yearly revenue from pharmaceutical spam alone. Trust me, as throwaway as you feel your Gmail address is, someone wants it and is devising a way to get it. Like most illicit activity, it is money that is driving the theft of your information. You may not think about it but your personal information is valuable to someone out there.
How your information gets out
So how is your PII being gathered? Believe it or not you’re giving it away. Yup. You are willingly giving your information to spammers and sometimes worse. I’ve done it the same as you and didn’t think twice about it. Ever sign up for a perks card at your grocery store of choice and give them your e-mail address along with your name and address? I have. How about a loyalty card at your pharmacy? You get money off your prescriptions and save on everyday purchases, right? It makes sense because you’re affecting your personal bottom line positively, but let’s think for a second about how the pharmacy is offsetting that discount you’re receiving. Not only are they gaining a loyal customer who is less likely to shop around for better discounts, but they are also taking your information and correlating that with your shopping habits. Then they take that information and turn around and sell it to a marketing company so that they can construct more targeted marketing efforts for you. Buy a lot of protein bars? Check your e-mail more closely next time and you’ll probably notice that you have advertisements and spam for things like protein shakes and weight loss drugs. Your buying trends are valuable and how is it all correlated? Your e-mail address.
How’s your Facebook page these days? Ever get a friend request from someone you didn’t even know existed? That’s because they don’t; they’re a bot. A fake person created for the sole purpose of gathering the personal information from your profile. Pretty devious huh? Not really, you’ve probably seen that and chose to decline the request because a) you don’t know them and b) their name is Akdjrsk Smith (doesn’t seem like a real name to me either, you would think that they could be a little more clever with their name generator). While that attempt to steal your information is pretty overt there are more crafty ways that Facebook attempts to get a hold of your PII. Playing games on Facebook is a pretty good way to ensure that your e-mail address ends up on some spammers list. It has been well documented that games like Farmville, Mafia Wars, and that game where you have to keep your fish tank clean (never understood that one, seems like more of a chore than a way to have fun) are nothing more than information harvesting vehicles. This is just a reminder that while you may have friends on Facebook, Facebook is not your friend.
The other very common way to get a hold of your personal information is through your mobile phone. If you have a smart phone you’re vulnerable to attempts at gathering your PII. The easiest way to have this happen to you is for you not to pay attention to the permissions on the apps that you’re downloading. If you ever see a permission on an app that says “Read Contact Data” or “Read Calendar Data, Write Calendar Data”, I would suggest taking a good, hard look at what that app does and ask why it would need access to that information. Again we see games as an easy attack vector for the uninformed mobile user. Games often have so many permissions associated with them that people accept and install without adequately reviewing what the game is doing in the background. The easiest way to protect yourself is to make sure that you are smarter than your smart phone.
How your information is valuable
Now that we know how the information is being disseminated to those trying to profit from it, let’s examine how valuable it actually is. We’ve talked about how spammers are using your information, but how profitable is it? I did some research to see how I could acquire mass amounts of e-mail addresses and I found a site where I could purchase bulk e-mail addresses for marketing purposes. There I found that I can buy more than 50 million e-mail addresses for $3,499. I found other options as well. I can purchase business e-mails by state. For example, I can buy more than 2 million e-mail addresses for businesses located within the state of Ohio for only $499. For those of you within the state of Ohio, what do you want to bet that I will find e-mail addresses for people within your company? Five hundred dollars is a drop in the bucket compared with either a targeted marketing effort or, worse, an actual attempt to get sensitive information from within said company. Spam is big business. It wouldn’t exist if it didn’t work and, unfortunately, it does.
How about your identity as a whole? How much is your life worth to an identity thief? According to Symantec, the black market value of my life is $22.22. Personally I’m underwhelmed. I thought I would be worth more than that. What they’re taking into account is your age, sex and the amount of data you work with online (bank accounts, 401(k), credit cards, etc.). If that is all that I’m worth do you think it’s really that difficult to purchase that information? The higher the worth the more difficult it is to obtain the information. According to an article by ComputerWorld if I were a 60-year-old male who has more than $10,000 in my checking account, I would only be worth a whopping $32.29. Realizing that it is that cheap for someone to purchase your identity should make you think twice about how much and the method in which you access your financial information online.
OK, lets forget for one second my own personal net worth, how about my company? Can my PII be a liability to my place of employment? Your info can provide a useful attack vector into your business. If I’m a hacker and I want to get into a company, what is the most vulnerable attack vector? The employees, of course. If I know more about you I can construct a clever phishing attempt or I can just call you on the phone and say that I’m from HR and I need XYZ. If I can provide you with your SSN or employee ID, chances are that you are going to be more likely to talk to me and provide me with what I want — a way in. All it takes is one weak link and someone with malicious intent can exploit it to their advantage.
How do I stop it?
As with most issues, knowledge is power. The power the hacker needs to penetrate your defense or the power a user needs to repel such an attack. By knowing what you should be wary of you’ve increased the level of difficulty exponentially that a criminal has to deal with. Chances are if it is too difficult for the criminal then they will move on to an easier target. People are targets of opportunity. Remove the opportunity and the threat will sometimes pass you by. Know what social media is after — YOU. How do these sites stay in business? Ads and your PII. You are fueling social media. This is not to say that you shouldn’t use Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Just use them wisely. The same applies for your mobile devices. Use them wisely. The biggest thing that you can do is to have a healthy level of paranoia about your personal information. Even the things that seem innocuous to you can be valuable to someone. What you really need isn’t software to protect your PII, what you really need is constant vigilance!
Matt Yonchak is a Sales Engineer at Hurricane Labs. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Smart Business spoke to Mark Strippy, Executive Director, Payroll Services at Heartland Payment Systems®, about how businesses can maintain compliance when filing payroll.
Last spring, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ruled that two owners of a trucking company and its subsidiary were personally liable for more than $2 million in payroll taxes that were not paid to the government, allegedly due to the misconduct of their businesses’ bookkeeper. The bookkeeper embezzled $10,000 from the companies, and had not paid payroll taxes for 13 consecutive quarters for one company and 17 quarters for the other.
The owners sold the assets of the trucking company several months later, and paid approximately $5 million to its employees and creditors. They did not, however, remit the outstanding payroll taxes to the government — and the IRS assessed more than $2.3 million in penalties against them.
This example underscores the significant consequences business owners may face when their businesses fail to pay the payroll taxes they withhold from their employees’ paychecks over to the government. As we approach filing deadlines for 2011, it is imperative you to file your payroll taxes on time, correctly and with the right agency in order to ensure you don’t get penalized or put your company’s existence in jeopardy.
To help ensure processing and filing compliance, there are many payroll tax solutions available that calculate your payroll-related taxes, manage monthly or quarterly employment tax reports and handle year-end paperwork. In addition, such professional services can answer essential questions and offer education about federal, state and local tax compliance. Having the appropriate system in place can make all the difference in growing your company, maintaining compliance and being more responsive to the needs of your employees.
To help you better navigate year-end payroll processing and prepare to process payroll in the next calendar year, follow these helpful guidelines:
- Verify employee demographic data. You can be penalized for inaccurate or missing W-2s that your organization produces or fails to file.
- Check employee wage and benefits data. Make sure you have correctly withheld taxes for the value of any taxable fringe benefits.
- Ensure employee contributions, such as those made to 401(k) plans, have not exceeded IRS limits.
- Check that all state, federal and local taxes were withheld correctly.
- Run month-end for December 2011. Payroll taxes for December 2011 are due on Jan. 17, 2012
- Run quarter-end reports for the 4th quarter. Be sure to file form 941 by Jan. 31, 2012.
Below is a list of key tax changes that went into effect in 2011 that may impact your business:
- Value of health care benefits must be included. A new requirement states that businesses need to include the value of the health care benefits they provide to employees on W-2s. Although this was originally required beginning with W-2s for 2011, a one-year delay was announced in October. Employers may voluntarily report the value of health care benefits they provide on 2011 W-2s, but this will not be mandatory until the 2012 filing. The amount reported is not considered taxable income.
- Penalty for nonqualified distributions doubles. Another health care requirement stipulates that the penalty for nonqualified distributions from health savings accounts will be doubled to 20 percent.
- Penalty for improper filing increases. W-2 and 1099 penalties for failure to file correct and timely returns have increased. Penalties range from $30 – $250 per incorrect return. Employers need to file on time and file correctly to avoid issues.
While there’s no way around your obligations related to payroll taxes, by partnering with a reputable provider you can run your year-end payroll processing efficiently — avoiding costly mistakes.
Mark Strippy is Executive Director, Payroll Services at Heartland Payment Systems, Inc. (NYSE: HPY), the fifth largest payments processor in the United States. A Fortune 1000 company, Heartland delivers credit/debit/prepaid card processing, gift marketing and loyalty programs, Web-based payroll, check management and related business solutions to more than 250,000 business locations nationwide. For more information, visit HeartlandPaymentSystems.com.