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2018 midterm elections are over – what small businesses can expect next

(BUSINESS NEWS) Small businesses are impacted by political uncertainty, and knowing what’s coming can help strengthen your 2019 plans.

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small businesses post-midterms

Now that the midterm elections are officially in the rearview mirror and the dust has settled, there’s a lot to unpack for small business. There were plenty of ups and downs this election cycle.

Write-in votes, runoffs, voter roll purges, and historic turnout on both sides. With California finally certifying their last ballots, we can now move onto the next chapter: what happens now?

The Democrats gained several seats in the House, retaking their majority status there, and picked up a few governorships, too. But a few Senate seats flipped red, as well. The landscape of America’s identity is changing, and there are many new facets to what it means to be a part of this country.

But, what do all of these changes in the social and economic fabric mean for small business? Well, that’s an interesting question. There’s a lot to like, but a few things to groan at, too. I’ll do my best to lay everything out for you to make your own assumptions on how it’ll affect your business.

What will this Congress’ policy look like (AKA The Big Picture Stuff)?

The Democratic side of Congress will be progressively minded. A younger, more diverse group has won seats, and they’re focused on changing the status quo. With the Democrats taking power in the House, this severs Republican control and will require a lot more conversations instead of pushing bills through with little pushback.

While there will be a lot of gridlock, there are bright spots, and many pieces of legislation have bipartisan support.

One possibility for legislation to pass is a bipartisan retirement package, which makes it easier for small business owners to offer retirement plans to their employees that won’t break the bank. Congress has already moved on this issue.

The biggest objective, one the Democrats have dreamt about since the early 2000s, is the infrastructure bill. Given the state of the country’s crumbling roads, bridges, and streets that need repair from coast to coast, the left really wants this. If both parties can find common ground on funding this issue, and work with the President to realize it, the bill could put a lot of Americans to work, but also energize many small businesses with long-term projects equalling up to $1 trillion dollars.

Tinkering with another healthcare bill is something the Republicans would like, and McConnell is quoted as saying he’d consider working with the Democrats to improve, not repeal the Affordable Care Act. This would bode well for small medical practices, along with mom and pop pharmacies, considering one of the central tenants of the revision would be a bipartisan plan to lower prescription drug prices. Realistically, though, the issue is probably a stalemate until the next big election swing.

So, what does this all mean for small business owners?

Well, it’s kind of hard to put an exact point on it. One of the biggest takeaways of the midterm results is that one-third of Congress was up for election, and that equates to significant consequences for federal, as well as local, policy.

County, city, and state legislators were all on the ballot, and for a lot of states, things have changed. Some of the rules will change for the better and the worse, but ultimately, small business owners want to know if zoning codes will change, if there will be sin taxes, or if there will be more attempts at taxing soft drinks to help pay for parks. Statewide, there are a few changes in the laws to pay attention to.

When it comes to small businesses, the focus is simple: What’s going on with the economy? What regulations are being put in place or rolled back? How can I generate cash flow?

As of right now, the economy is booming. Small businesses don’t want any kind of change. That doesn’t mean small business owners wouldn’t want any improvements or modifications; they want this party to keep going.

The Republican-held Congress passed a tax bill in 2017, and while some have benefitted from the cuts, some individuals and small businesses haven’t seen the results of those yet, and it’s uncertain if they will. When Democrats take control, the natural inclination is to wonder if taxes will rise to bolster social programs, but as of right now, all signs are pointing to no changes in policy on the federal level — maybe. (Read on for more about that.)

Will the minimum wage increase?

One of the topics that’s bound to come up between parties is the minimum wage. The newly elected members of the House have already scheduled a hearing entitled, “Mandating a $15 Minimum Wage: Consequences for Workers and Small Businesses.”

Because the issue is divided across party lines, the issue could get tied up in party politics, but there’s hope for low wage workers – both Arkansas and Missouri, two red states both voted to raise their minimum wages by 2021 in Arkansas and 2023 in Missouri, respectively. If you’re in a state that’s talked about raising minimum wage recently, you might want to start crunching numbers to plan and prepare down the line.

Let’s get back to the tax cut. Will there be any changes to the 2017 bill?

Before the midterms, President Trump promised a middle-class tax cut (not exactly what happened) but both sides could come together on it in the future. The President has said on more than one occasion that the cut is one of his top priorities, but getting the Democrats to work with him on that will be nothing short of a challenge.

The 2018 tax bill included large cuts for corporations, and now Democrats are poised to oppose any kind of cuts to the wealthy going forward. But, the President has said he’s open to working with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to cut middle-class taxes, even if it means raising the corporate tax rate, which is set at 21%.

“I would absolutely pursue something even if that means some adjustment to make it possible,” Trump said at a press conference. Although he didn’t say precisely what he’d be willing to bargain with, it’s a nice idea.

Democrats will adhere to a strict pay-as-you-go stance on new measures to avoid adding to any national debt. Trump could find small fixes that he could still claim as a tax cut, which might include raising tax-free contribution levels for retirement plans or supplementing health savings accounts, both moves that have bipartisan support.

What about tariffs and trade?

The US-China trade wars have been dominating the news cycle – when the cycle isn’t rolling with new stories like the customers served on a McDonald’s sign, has a lot of businesses, both big and small standing at attention.

Back in September, China announced $60B in retaliatory tariffs following declared U.S. intentions to attach tariffs to $200B of goods. On the US side, the list of targeted goods included vehicles, tech, medical, industrial machinery, aircraft, and textiles. China targeted U.S. products such as food, beverages, cars, and natural gas.

Small businesses have to keep in mind the ripple effect: while steel or cars might be impacted, consider the side businesses that are included alongside those vehicles, like interiors or paint, for example.

The average small business owner has a fundamental set of concerns, they’re not interested in the US and China battling over steel, but instead, they’re interested in how these conversations and sound clips will affect them in the long run.

Small business owners should be wary of rising costs thanks to these tariffs, possibly evaluating new sources or their pricing.

Think about it, a small business has a few critical concerns:
– Can I get access to capital?
– Will this impede my acquisition of new business?
– Can I get access to new contacts?
– Can I operate in the black?

While these matters seem uncertain right now, there’s hope that Congress will step in to work with the president on new import and export laws to help stabilize the situation. My prediction is that it happens, and we come to a mutually beneficial agreement.

What about small businesses’ relationships with big banks?

This split of power between the houses likely signifies that little will change for banks. The House will push for regulation, while the Senate won’t let anything close hit the ground.

One thing to keep in mind is that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) will likely ascend as the next chair of the House Financial Services Committee, come January. Rep. Waters is a vocal advocate for consumer protection and supports a crackdown on big banks.

Rep. Waters has sat on this committee since 1991 and is a ranking member on five of the panel’s subcommittees. When asked about her current position on regulations regarding small business, she said:

“I am committed to ensuring that hard working Americans and our nation’s small businesses have opportunities to thrive, expanding and supporting affordable housing opportunities for our nation’s families, making sure that the safeguards are in place to prevent another financial crisis, protecting consumers and investors from bad actors and conducting appropriate oversight of the Administration and the regulatory agencies under the Committee’s jurisdiction.”

She continued, “I have always maintained an open-door policy, to hear the priorities and concerns of all stakeholders, including representatives of the financial services industry, as well as advocates,” she added. “I look forward to continuing to work with Members on both sides of the aisle on sensible solutions to benefit hardworking Americans and strengthen our nation’s economy.”

While it sounds like Rep. Waters has a lot to aim for as the ranking member on the committee, it’s likely that no new legislation will pass unless both sides agree it’s a slam dunk for America.

There’s good news out of the House Committee on Small Business.

Reps. Doug Collins (R-GA) and Tom Marino (R-PA) introduced the bipartisan H.R. 7190, the Small Business Reorganization Act in the House to improve the bankruptcy system for small businesses. The bill, cosponsored by U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), would amend Chapter 11 bankruptcies. A similar bill was introduced by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) in the Senate.

“Small businesses are some of the best innovators in our local economies, and this bill would bring much-needed improvements to the bankruptcy code so that owner-operated businesses can recover from financial hardship and continue creating jobs,” said Rep. Collins.

Rep. Marino added, “By reducing unnecessary procedural burdens, enhancing oversight, and increasing the debtors’ ability to negotiate, we will ensure quick and successful reorganization and provide small business the ability to restructure in a way that meets their needs.”

Considering the original laws and codes were written for large companies, the reinvention of Chapter 11 would dramatically change how small businesses are affected by bankruptcy. This legislation would reduce the red tape around bankruptcy. Key provisions would increase small business debtors’ ability to negotiate reorganization while retaining business control and reducing procedural burdens and costs.

So, what’s my big prediction?

If there’s any significant takeaway in regards to small business, it’s that they’re resilient. There’s a significant wave of optimism right now. Small business confidence is high, and the markets are reflecting that.

Right now, there are fantastic things happening to both Wall Street and Main Street, alike. With the new Congress taking session in January, it’s likely that one of two scenarios will take place: the houses work with President Trump to push forward legislation that helps the country soar to new heights or (probably a little more predictable) a lame duck session that will remain gridlocked thanks to partisan politics.

If that’s the case, don’t sweat it. Buyer sentiment is high, and new businesses are opening up every day. Going into 2019 and a new Congress, I’d say a whole lot of no news is good news for small business.

Robert Dean is a writer at Adia and The American Genius. He is a writer, journalist, and cynic. His most recent novel, The Red Seven is in stores. Currently, he’s working on his newest novel, Tragedy Wish Me Luck. He also likes ice cream and panda bears. He currently lives in Austin. Stalk him on Twitter.

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Asking the wrong questions can ruin your job opportunity

(BUSINESS NEWS) An HR expert discusses the best (and worst) questions she’s experienced during candidate interviews. it’s best to learn from others mistakes.

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interview candidates answers

When talking to hiring managers outside of an interview setting, I always find myself asking about their horror stories as they’re usually good for a laugh (and a crash course in what not to do in an interview). A good friend of mine has worked in HR for the last decade and has sat in on her fair share of interviews, so naturally I asked her what some of her most notable experiences were with candidates – the good and the bad, in her own words…

“Let’s see, I think the worst questions I’ve ever had are typically related to benefits or vacation as it demonstrates that their priorities are not focused on the actual job they will be performing. I’ve had candidates ask how much vacation time they’ll receive during an initial phone screen (as their only question!). I’ve also had them ask about benefits and make comparisons to me over the phone about how our benefits compare to their current employer.

I once had a candidate ask me about the age demographics of our office, which was very uncomfortable and inappropriate! They were trying to determine if the attorneys at our law firm were older than the ones they were currently supporting. It was quite strange!

I also once had a candidate ask me about the work environment, which was fine, but they then launched into a story about how they are in a terrible environment and are planning on suing their company. While I understand that candidates may have faced challenges in their previous roles or worked for companies that had toxic working environments, it is important that you do not disparage them.

In all honesty, the worst is when they do not have any questions at all. In my opinion, it shows that they are not really invested in the position or have not put enough thought into their decision to change jobs. Moving to a new company is not a decision that should be made lightly and it’s important for me as an employer to make sure I am hiring employees who are genuinely interesting in the work they will be doing.

The best questions that I’ve been asked typically demonstrate that they’re interested in the position and have a strong understanding of the work they would be doing if they were hired. My personal favorite question that I’ve been asked is if there are any hesitations or concerns that I may have based on the information they’ve provided that they can address on the spot. To me, this demonstrates that they care about the impression that they’ve made. I’ve asked this question in interviews and been able to clarify information that I did not properly explain when answering a question. It was really important to me that I was able to correct the misinformation as it may have stopped me from moving forward in the process!

Also, questions that demonstrate their knowledge base about the role in which they’re applying for is always a good sign. I particularly like when candidates reference items that I’ve touched on and weave them into a question.

A few other good questions:
• Asking about what it takes to succeed in the position
• Asking about what areas or issues may need to be addressed when first joining the company
• Asking about challenges that may be faced if you were to be hired
• Asking the employer what they enjoy most about the company
• I am also self-centered, so I always like when candidates ask about my background and how my current company compares to previous employers that I’ve worked for. Bonus points if they’ve actually looked me up on LinkedIn and reference specifics :)”

Think about the best and worst experiences you’ve had during an interview – and talk to others about the same topic – and see how that can help you with future interviews.

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AdvoCare MLM was painted as a pyramid scheme! Well color me surprised

(BUSINESS NEWS) AdvoCare is the most recent case of an MLM being called out as a pyramid scheme by FTC, but there’s plenty more MLMs where that came from…

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AdvoCare business structure

It’s always a good day when an MLM (multi-level marketing business) actually suffers legal repercussions. Granted, these days don’t happen nearly as often as we’d like – MLM CEOs have historically had deep pockets and a far reach – which means it’s all the more reason to celebrate when one gets called out.

Today’s culprit is AdvoCare, a Texas-based “wellness” company. AdvoCare has been fined $150 million by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) for operating a pyramid scheme. The company, as well as a few of its top influencers, have been misleading people when it comes to how much money they could earn. This is pretty typical behavior for MLMs in general, though many are careful to couch your potential earnings in vague terms.

For the record, the majority of users lost money, and most who managed to turn a profit made a maximum of just $250. I say ‘just’ because it’s hard to know how long someone would have had to work to not only break even, but manage to turn a profit. MLMs make big claims about earning money, but when you have to pour a hefty sum of cash into the products, it can take a while just to break even.

That’s why many MLMs, including AdvoCare, push contributors to recruit, rather than sell the product. And if you’re thinking that sounds like a pyramid scheme, you’re totally right. This method of putting recruiting first is part of the reason AdvoCare has gotten in trouble with the FTC.

In response, AdvoCare is moving away from multi-level marketing sales and pivoting to selling products directly to retail stores, which in turn sell to customers.

Now, with AdvoCare’s downfall, don’t be surprised if other MLMs insist that they’re different because they haven’t gotten in trouble with the FTC. In fact, plenty of MLMs are quick to tell you that they’re totally legal and totally not a pyramid scheme. Sure, Jan.

First of all, if there’s a big focus on recruiting, that’s obviously a big red flag. There are plenty of pyramid scheme MLMs out there that just haven’t gotten caught yet. But there are other sneaky ways an MLM will try to rip you off. For instance, some companies will insist you buy tons of product to keep your place, and that product can be very hard to unload. Not to mention, many of the products MLMs tout are subpar at best.

AdvoCare getting called out by the FTC is a great start, but MLMs seem kind of like hydras. Cut down one and two more seem to spring up in its place. So be vigilant, y’all. Just because an MLM hasn’t gotten caught yet doesn’t guarantee it won’t still scam you out of your hard earned cash.

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Bose is closing their retail stores, but we haven’t heard the last of them

(BUSINESS NEWS) Over the last 30 years Bose has become so well understood by consumers that they don’t even need retail stores anymore. We hear them just fine.

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bose closing retail stores

Over the next few months, Bose plans to close all of their retail stores in North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia. The company made the announcement last week. With 119 stores closing, presumably hundreds of Bose employees will be laid off, but the company has not revealed exact numbers.

However, this shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the maker of audio equipment is struggling to stay afloat. Rather, the move marks a major change in how consumers purchase tech gear.

When the Framingham, Massachusetts-based company opened its first U.S. retail store in 1993, it was making home entertainment systems for watching DVDs and listening to CDs. According to Colette Burke, Bose’s vice president of global sales, these first brick-and-mortar locations “gave people a way to experience, test, and talk to us” about Bose products. “At the time, it was a radical idea,” she says, “but we focused on what our customers needed and where they needed it – and we’re doing the same thing now.”

When a lot of this equipment was new, consumers may have had more questions and a need to see the products in action before purchasing. Nowadays, we all know what noise-canceling headphones are; we all know what a Bluetooth speaker is. We’re happy to read about the details online before adding products to our virtual shopping cart. The ability for Bose to close its retail stores is probably also an indicator that Bose has earned strong brand recognition and a reputation as a reliable maker of audio equipment.

In other words, consumers are less and less inclined to need to check out equipment in person before they buy it. For those who do, Bose products can still be purchased at stores like Best Buy, Target, and Apple. But overall, Bose can’t ignore the fact that their products “are increasingly purchased through e-commerce,” such as on Amazon or directly from their website.

In a statement, Bose also said that it has become a “larger multi-national company, with a localized mix of channels tailored for the country or region.” While Bose is shutting down its retail stores in several continents, it will continue to operate stores in China, the United Arab Emirates, India, Southeast Asia, and South Korea.

Burke said the decision to close so many retail stores was “difficult” because it “impacts some of our amazing store teams who make us proud every day.” Bose is offering “outplacement assistance and severance to employees that are being laid off.”

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