E-commerce in Pennsylvania has been made easier, thanks to a law approved recently by Gov. Tom Ridge.
The Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, or EUTA, basically removes barriers to the use of electronic records, electronic signatures, electronic notarizations and acknowledgements and the use of electronic agents in the conduct of business, according to Raymond Pepe and Robert Wittie, attorneys with law firm Kirkpatrick & Lockhart.
The law, they say, accepts electronic forms of signatures, notarizations and records as legal when it comes to satisfying contract formation, agency relationships and the retention of records. If a law requires a signature, an electronic signature (defined as a “sound, record or process attached to or logically associated with a record or executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record)” is acceptable. Moreover, transferable records can include the execution and use of electronic notes, bills of lading and warehouse receipts.
Pennsylvania is the first state to accept in virtually its entirety the original act, created by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.
The law does offer protection from misuse of electronic signatures. According to Pepe and Wittie, you can use an electronic signature if you can demonstrate: (1) that you have in place a reasonable security procedure; (2) your good-faith reliance on the procedures in agreement with other parties involved; and (3) evidence that the security procedure indicates that a message was, in fact, from the person to which the electronic signature or record is attributed.
With the prevalence of depression and its costly effects on workplace morale and productivity, what is a company to do?
Plenty, if you’re willing to reach out and help your employees while still abiding by stringent Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, according to an article in law firm Buchanan Ingersoll’s Pennsylvania Employment Law Letter. If recent studies are correct, one depressed worker can cost an employer as much as $600 in treatment and lost productivity. The main thing you can do, the article outlines, is encourage employees to seek treatment.
Consider the following:
- Make sure your employee health plan includes mental health coverage.
- Implement an employee assistance program that provides free, confidential counseling to help employees deal with issues ranging from stress to clinical depression.
- Offer mental health screening as an employee benefit.
- Educate supervisors about the signs of depression and what’s available to help employees.
- Consider Web sites for more information about depression, including NFBR at www.treatdepression.com; National Institute of Mental Health at www.nimh.nih.gov; National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association at www.ndmda.org; National Alliance for the Mentally Ill at www.nami.org; National Mental Health Association at ww.nmha.org; and American Psychological Association at www.apa.org.
If your company uses temporary workers, you remain protected from workplace injury lawsuits by them, even if you’re not the one paying Workers’ Compensation premiums for them.
A federal court has joined the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in ruling that companies directing and controlling temporary workers on a steady basis should be viewed as the “real employer” and should be protected from liability under the exclusive remedy provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act even if the temporary agency is paying the premiums, according to Buchanan Ingersoll’s Pennsylvania Employment Law Letter.
The court ruled in favor of a warehouse facility that had hired a temporary employee from an agency. While the agency paid the insurance, as well as the wages, the warehouse determined the type of work to be performed and had control over the worker’s duties and responsibilities, including the right to fire him. That made him an “employee” of the warehouse, according to the court ruling.
The ruling, from Shaw v. Thrift Drug Inc., 1999, should help you succeed in asserting that your company is immune from a workplace injury lawsuit if a worker gets hurt on the job and tries to file a suit against you.
Clubbed in court
Winner International, maker of the world-famous automobile anti-theft device The Club, once again has defended patent claims in court.
At the end of January, the United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit, reaffirmed the 1998 opinion of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia that upheld all of Winner International Royalty Corp.’s patent claims on the device.
In question were the automatic self-locking ratcheting mechanism, as spelled out in U.S. Patent No. 4,935,047, and claims 9 through 11 of the related patent application. Winner also owns a patent covering the “commercial embodiment” of the original steering wheel anti-theft device known as The Club. And its shape is a registered trademark.
At issue was the obviousness of the design, but the courts all ruled that it was “nonobvious.”
Can you say ergonomics in 300 pages or less?
The Occupational Safety and health Administration sure knows how to get on the good side of business.
Not only did this regulatory agency issue more than 300 pages of new ergonomics rules for business, it allowed only a 70-day comment period. But thanks to U.S. Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond, who lashed out with a letter signed by 62 member of the House and Senate, OSHA has granted a 30-day extension beyond the Feb. 1 deadline.
Says Bond: “While there is some relief in the extension, it has come so late that it may not help many of the people who need it. This has been typical of the way OSHA has responded to the small business community on this issue.”
He adds that this rule is the most complicated and broadest rule the agency has ever attempted.
“OSHA still appears ready to try and jam this rule down the throats of small businesses who will not have had a chance to register their concerns.”
Compiled by Daniel Bates
Businesses with 100 employees or fewer can borrow up to $50,000 at an annual interest rate of 2 percent for up to seven years. The loans must finance improvements that reduce the use of or reuse raw materials, reduce the production of waste or make a significant reduction in energy consumption. The pay-back period for the improvements must be less than the term of the loan.
Examples of projects that may qualify include the purchase of energy-efficient equipment, reductions in chemical use, closed-loop cooling or process water systems.
The program is administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the state Department of Community and Educational Development. Up to $2 million is available annually.
How to Reach: Loan forms are available by calling the Department of Community and Educational Development at (800) 379-7448, at the DEP Web site at www.dep.state.pa.us or at the ENVIROHELP Web site at www.pa-envirohelp.org.
Local businesses looking for new markets might find them in China, says Ann Dugan, executive director of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence at the University of Pittsburgh.
Dugan traveled to China as a delegate to a conference for more than 300 Chinese economic development specialists interested in setting up programs similar to the small business development centers in the United States.
Their small business economy is beginning to swell, and they need the knowledge to guide and foster those entrepreneurs, says Dugan.
Some of the best opportunities in China for U.S. companies are for chemicals, telecommunications equipment, computer software, consumer-oriented franchises, plastic materials and resins, pharmaceuticals, pollution control equipment and certain agricultural goods.
With Chinas economy well on its way to becoming the second most powerful in the world, you may have good reason for getting into this huge market.
Building relationships with the Chinese people is time-consuming, Dugan says, but the payoff will be well worth it in a country of such enormous possibilities.
How to reach: Katz Graduate School of Business, (412) 648-1544 or at www.pitt.edu/-sbdc/
Soon after European settlers arrived at new locations, they began to chop down trees. This was very labor-intensive and wore out expensive axes at a terrible rate. The benefits from clearing the trees were instantaneous: The settlers could produce lumber for housing and prepare the land for planting crops.
When some Native American tribes moved into an area, they banded a section of forest cutting a piece of bark around the tree. Banding kills a tree without being labor-intensive and consumes knives at a slow rate. Then they patiently waited the requisite number of years until the forest fell down, which enriched the soil and made it more productive. In the interim, they planted crops in a previously banded, now felled, forest. They thought, scheduled and planned ahead.
The contrast is startling. More startling is that businesses today are just as different in their methodologies and efficiencies in dealing with their environments. One business, like the Europeans, will face an immediate problem, and in good Yankee style, solve it by throwing resources at it a reactionary approach.
Perhaps low-quality supplies are delivered to your firm, which undermines the quality of your product and the timeliness of your delivery. You solve the problem by paying a premium for another vendor to provide your supplies expeditiously, on their terms (read expensively).
Another business might take years to develop supplier certification programs or training programs a proactive approach. This firm would minimize the likelihood of the panic, expense and resulting negative effects experienced by the reactionary firm.
Think of your environment in three levels external, industry and operating environments moving from the remote parameters to those closer to your organization. In this column, I will address the remote environment, its importance and how you break it down and gather data about it.
Consider five facets: technological, social/demographic, economic, political and ecological. You must systematically understand these environments and their ramifications on suppliers, customers and internal operations.
Technological. Imagine that your firm finds a simple solution to a problem that haunts your industry. It might be invented in-house, acquired by license or brought to you by a possible joint-venture partner. You may now have access to the solution to an industry-wide problem. However, only by identifying the need and monitoring the availability of this technology can you be first to market. Firms more typically will find that their competitors already have moved ahead with such new technology.
Social/demographic. Consider two competing firms that introduce super-premium ice creams simultaneously. At first, the strengthening economy helps drive up demand and supports both of their marketing decisions. But later, the social and demographic trends of health consciousness diminish demand. If, say, Ben & Larry were to monitor these social trends while, say, Doug & Hoss did not, Ben & Larry would likely respond by decreasing capacity in the U.S. accordingly and expanding geographically into other high-income, high-demand areas.
Economic. Monitoring the economy is essential. When some U.S. firms entered Russia, they discovered the ruble was not convertible to the dollar. To extract profits, they purchased local quality goods, such as premium vodka or caviar, exported them to the U.S. and sold them at a profit. Those who monitored the economic situation were able to quickly respond. Others still have their profits tied up in the ruble.
Political. As political situations change, you must keep abreast so that you can prepare for any negative consequences, as well as grasp opportunities before your competition does. Monitoring zoning news can reveal future retail locations; keeping an eye on plans for new road locations can reveal future plant or warehouse locations; surveying federal trade negotiations can reveal export opportunities. Often, political situations are combined with economic and ecological opportunities.
Ecological. The U.S. government has negotiated with Brazil and China to reduce greenhouse emissions in exchange for preferential treatment by the U.S. on certain treaties. To help these governments reduce emissions, the U.S. has promised assistance, including access to U.S. technologies, subsidies for insurance and financing to exporters and trade missions. For one of my clients in Pittsburgh, the awareness of and planning for the confluence of environmental forces has resulted in a very low-risk, multimillion-dollar annual opportunity.
Lance Kurke, Ph.D., is president of Kurke & Associates, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based strategic planning firm. He is president of the CEO Club of Pittsburgh and serves on the faculty of the business school at Duquesne University, where he teaches strategic planning and leadership. He also is an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Reach him at (412) 281-2930 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the demands of your business grow, youll inevitably face important decisions about staffing and managing your accounting department.
And because accounting requires a broad range of skills, addressing all of them can prove tricky.
Many business owners make the mistake of giving one person two levels of responsibility, such as a controller/bookkeeper. The problem with this is that you can wind up with an overqualified and overpaid controller spending an inordinate amount on straightforward bookkeeping tasks. Expecting a bookkeeper to serve as a controller can result in more serious problems.
So how do you build an effective accounting function for your business? First, you must understand the accounting skills your business requires. Next, you need to evaluate the options for addressing these requirements on an ongoing basis whether by internal staff or outside vendors.
Understanding the skills
Here are four common accounting titles, with descriptions of their usual areas of responsibility:
Bookkeeper Performs routine accounting tasks, such as posting bills, writing checks, making deposits and preparing invoices.
Staff accountant Manages the reconciliation of accounts, posting of journal entries and production of monthly statements.
Controller Oversees the systems and procedures necessary to maintain the checks and balances on accounting processes. This professional typically manages staff and oversees information systems.
Chief financial officer Maintains a strategic understanding of the business and is responsible for financial planning and cash flow management.
Most business owners act as the controller or CFO during the early stages of growing their businesses. As revenue increases and time becomes more precious, they hire someone to take away the burden of managing the accounting, as well as other administrative responsibilities.
But a competent controller or CFO, who can command a salary of $60,000 to $100,000, may be beyond the budget of many growing businesses.
In evaluating solutions, many business owners and top executives look at whom they need instead of what they need. As a result, they tend to overlook several sensible and workable solutions that can eliminate or minimize the need to hire additional management staff.
Consider the following possibilities:
Get your accounting firm more involved. Your CPA may be able to take a more active role in budgeting, planning and complex accounting transactions. Since these may only need to be addressed a few times a year, it might be more cost effective to use your CPA than to hire a full-time controller or CFO.
Outsource. Services now specialize in a multitude of accounting functions, including payroll, bookkeeping, billing and collections. Outsourcing means fewer people and less technology to manage, which eliminates some of the duties of a controller or CFO.
Hire part-time controllers and CFOs. The number of professionals offering these services continues to grow. From the consultants perspective, working with a multitude of clients is the best way to leverage experience. This is also attractive to those who would prefer to pay a premium for a few days of consulting than to hire a full-time person who might prove to be overqualified, underutilized or unduly expensive.
Change your hiring strategy. If your strength isnt accounting and you need to hire a manager, consider adding a line manager with financial skills instead of a controller or CFO. Companies that outsource their accounting often can assign financial duties to a qualified operations or sales manager. Under this arrangement, the organization is better served by having a person who spends the majority of his or her time building revenue or servicing customers.
In the tight labor market, your business cant afford staffing mistakes in accounting. The best hiring decision you make may be the one you avoid.
By closely evaluating all of your of your options, you can arrive at the right accounting solution for your business.
Thomas S. Joseph is president and CEO of Bookminders Inc., which provides specialized bookkeeping and other computer-driven accounting services. Reach him at (412) 323-2665.
Want to stretch your marketing communications dollar for all its worth? Make room in the budget for feature articles for publications that reach your customers.
In the mind of the reader, an article is more credible than an ad. Its what the publication says about your product or service. And you can order reprints of the published article and send it to prospective customers.
You may have the initial draft of an article already prepared. A technical paper, for example, often can be published without making many changes, if you send it to a magazine that publishes such papers in your industry. Take the technical jargon out and send it to not-so-technical magazines that reach your customers.
Do the same thing with a presentation youve developed for a trade show ... or a customer group ... or even for employees, if the subject is appropriate for a wider audience. If you record the presentation, you can develop a transcript, edit it into an article and send it to a magazine without doing a lot of additional work.
Youve already put the work into creating the presentation, so why not get more mileage from it? You may be surprised to discover how quickly you can prepare such an article.
A white paper can be converted into a feature article in much the same way. Since it may not contain the jargon sometimes found in technical papers, it may be even easier to develop. The white paper may include more detail and may be longer than the specifications called for by the magazine, but that simply means youve got a little editing to do.
Another document that can be developed into an article is a news release. The format may need to be changed, and youll probably want to expand on the details. But that provides you an opportunity to further explain some points you didnt have room for in the news release, and you can add more narrative.
A popular article with many editors is the case history. You create it based on a customers or several customers good experiences with your product or service. The article describes that experience in their words and from their points of view.
Keep in mind that commercial messages in any of these articles tend to lessen its value in the eyes of the editor. The standard line for knowing how much commercialism you can get away with is, If you want to put an ad in the magazine, buy the space.
Your name as the author of the article, or a mention of your business in the article, or even a mention of your company in a photo caption, all serve to identify you to the reader. Consider any other mentions a bonus. Go light on them as you draft the article, and youll improve the odds of having it accepted for publication.
Increase your chances of success even more by checking editorial calendars for the magazines you want to reach. Look for an issue that seems to fit the subject you have in mind, and aim for that issue. Most magazines post their editorial schedule for the year on their Web sites. If you cant find it, call the magazine and ask it to send you one.
Just be careful not to send articles to competing magazines at the same time.
Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications and public relations agency. Reach him at (412) 434-7718 or email@example.com.
What is the secret to giving an effective presentation? My presentation skills are unmatched, but I have colleagues who close more business than I do. I dont understand it.
Most people are very comfortable talking about their products and services because that is what they know the most about and because of childhood conditioning.
As a result, most salespeople are anxious to do demonstrations or give proposals. Its the adult version of show and tell.
As children, we were always rewarded for making a good presentation, whether it was to our teachers or our parents. It makes us feel good to do a presentation that is well received, and in this way, we get our emotional needs met.
However, selling is not about making presentations or getting our emotional needs met. Selling is about gaining commitments and winning business. Too often, we walk away from a presentation with nothing more than applause.
Business is not won or lost at the presentation. It is won or lost based on how well you have diagnosed the prospects needs and problems and how you set up the presentation.
Before you submit proposals, always gain the prospects commitment to make a decision at the time you conduct your presentations or review your proposals with them. Done right, the proposal itself should be nothing more than the fulfillment of what has already been agreed to.
If you arent able to obtain this commitment from a prospect in advance of the proposal, consider it a red flag the prospect is either looking for a free education or simply looking to validate a decision that has already been made in your competitions favor. Another red flag is a prospect who wont let you present your proposal in person.
Unless you are in construction, you should never submit a proposal in any fashion other than face to face. Sending a proposal via fax or mail is usually a waste of time.
Dont rush into a proposal. Spend the bulk of your time uncovering the essential needs and concerns of your prospects and discussing the investments that they will have to make and the obstacles they will have to overcome before you do a demonstration or proposal.
The sale is usually won or lost in the diagnosis, not in the presentation.
Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm specializing in sales development and training. Send comments and questions via fax to (724) 933-9224 or e-mail at LTLewis@totaldevelopment.com. Reach him by phone at (724) 933-9110.
When the Occupational Safety and Health Administration introduced new rules regarding ergonomic conditions in the workplace, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business wasnt about to take the lengthy regulations, well, lying down.
U.S. Sen. Christopher Kit Bond described the proposal as a devastatingly broad and intrusive regulation which lacks sufficient science to make it useful to employers of all sizes.
In comments submitted for the record on the proposal, Bond says, This regulation is so fundamentally flawed that OSHA must withdraw this proposal ... Despite extensive input from small businesses throughout the panel convened under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act, OSHA is pursuing a regulation that will create confusion, extreme burdens, disruptions, distortions and liability without any predictable success.
Unfortunately, the agency has chosen an adversarial approach to the most complicated and difficult regulation ever pursued in the name of worker safety.
To fight the regulation, Sen. Bond recently introduced Senate Bill 1070 (called the SENSE Act), which would halt the regulations until a study could be completed by the National Academy of Sciences to determine whether enough scientific evidence exists to support the new standards.
If the new regulations arent stopped, Sen. Bond contends, they will cost plenty as businesses across the country attempt to comply. While OSHA estimates a total cost to all businesses at roughly $4.2 billion, the American Health Care Association estimates the cost of compliance for nursing home facilities alone could be at least $5.6 billion. And the Employment Policy Foundation, Sen. Bond says, estimates that costs could reach as high as $80 billion for the entire economy.
Says Bond of the proposed rules: Instead of providing employers with useful, scientifically sound and practical guidance, OSHA has chosen to impose a vague, open-ended regulatory trap that will only increase the amount of revenue and legal actions generated by citations and penalties.
Help for the oil price-impaired
President Bill Clinton has offered some relief to small businesses feeling the crunch of skyrocketing oil prices.
Such businesses now have access through the U.S. Small Business Administration to government-backed loans to relieve the price pressure. President Clinton says his directive targets, for instance, heating oil dealers, who could use the funds to extend flexible payment terms to customers, or trucking companies.
The president has asked Congress to appropriate $1 million for the relief fund, which would provide enough backing for $86 million in loans, which would be made under existing 7(a) programs.
SBAs existing mix of loan products under the business loan guaranty program is flexible enough to deal with this situation, says SBA Administrator Aida Alvarez in a prepared statement. In fact, we have several short-term revolving loan programs, such as SBA Express and CAPLines, which are especially suitable for helping these small businesses get through this temporary crisis. How to reach: SBA Answer Desk, (800) U-ASK-SBA, or visit www.sba.gov. for loan information.
Help on the North Shore
If youre just starting or trying to grow a business, the Small Business Administration, in partnership with the North Side Civic Development Council, has opened a Business Information Center to help you.
The center, established to serve businesses in Western Pennsylvanias 27 counties, is designed to provide one-stop assistance and advice for business owners, including a wide range of computer hardware and software, as well as a library of resources. And its all free.
Says Al Jones, district director of the SBAs Pittsburgh district office: We are proud to partner with the North Side Civic Development Council to bring this valuable resource to our region.
How to reach: For information on the new center, contact Donald Nemchick at the SBA at (412) 395-6560, ext. 117.
Compiled by Daniel Bates.
The study, Global Online Retailing, predicts that U.S. online sales will reach $45 billion to $50 billion this year, nearly double 1999s total. By 2002, consumers will spend about 36 percent of their shopping money on purchases over the Internet, up from the current 15 percent.
In the United States, the clear world leader in online consumer shopping, 39 million people shopped online in 1999, more than double the 17 million who did so in 1998. The report also says that in 1999, U.S. consumers made an average of 13 purchases online, more than double the number they made in 1998.
They spent an average $1,205 online, up from $230 in 1997.
Five other countries surveyed Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Italy and France posted large gains in online shopping as well.
Retailers must take a holistic approach to their business by examining every channel of distribution and have aggressive growth strategies in places, says Stephanie Shern, global director of retail and consumer products for Ernst & Young. Companies must also be willing to evaluate and evolve those strategies as well.
Full survey findings are available at Ernst & Youngs Web site, www.ey.com.