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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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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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Business News

How companies are embracing the gig economy to fight employee burnout

(BUSINESS NEWS) The gig economy has had plenty of ups and downs, but employers are using it to advantage their teams and the gig workers. It’s a pretty interesting model we’re watching evolve…

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If you’re an employer of a lot of people, it’s no secret that there are a lot of moving parts involved in the day-to-day processes of keeping the business going. You’ve got full-time employees, people earning both salary and hourly wages, part-time workers, and more than likely have used a staffing agency over the years to fill in the blanks.

Depending on your experience, some managers love working with temp agencies, while others aren’t the biggest fans. Like toppings on a hot dog, it all comes down to personal preference.

But, there’s one segment of the market that’s roaring – the gig economy.

While on the surface, it might seem simple (someone comes in and does a job and leaves), it’s a little deeper than that. Depending on the industry, there needs to be a more nuanced approach to solving how staffing issues are handled.

When you think of the gig economy, you’re probably thinking of Uber or GrubHub, but a whole world has opened up – you can get your car fixed in your driveway or hire movers to come and take boxes away. There are a lot of apps out there putting money in people’s pockets thanks to taking on tasks like food delivery but also working on a crew for a day or being hospitality staff for a corporate gig.

Many people love the gig economy because honestly, the Internet has democratized our lives so much that millions of workers would rather be their own bosses, which honestly works to the advantage of businesses as well.

First, there’s less demand for the business because if they need a specific job taken care of, they can bring in some ringers to bang out the job, collect their pay, and move on. For companies, this helps because they’re only paying a one-time fee versus keeping someone on staff and paying them annually.

The boom right now is applications connecting workers with businesses who need help.

Instead of the consumer being the end-user, the applications connect a worker with a temporary or sometimes long-term employer with a click.

And the process is simple – workers are in just as much control as the companies. The price point is established by the company and the hours and people they need, but the worker can set their skill level and availability. So, when there’s a match, everyone wins.

While some of the companies offering access into the space, provide workers with gigs for whatever length of time, some of them are even doubling down on retention, offering W-2s and full insurance for staying in the worker community so employers have a larger pool to choose from.

This model works because it incentives both parties: the worker gets to work on their terms and still receive benefits, and the company gets the staff they need for project work without the HR/taxes/risk.

Listen: That W-2 aspect is enormous. The reason being is if you’ve ever had to deal with a 1099, they’re the worst. Taking away the burden of taxes is a significant win for the worker, especially those of us who still have trouble figuring out, “should I claim one or zero?”

Because this model addresses a major staffing problem, concerning short-term help, it’s still very focused on the worker.

The aspect of flexibility is built into the fabric of the concept, considering the labor pool is what matters – you can have a bunch of open jobs, but you need qualified and motivated people to fill those roles. While this is a gig-working scenario, it’s also unique in that there’s less focus on the person performing an idealized task like delivering food, but rather jumping on a team to solve a problem or finish a job.

Basically, they’ve digitized the temporary staffing model but cut all of the ugly overhead and worker quality issues out.

They’re taking a labor market and connecting it with a consumer via an app on the iPhone. But, the consumer isn’t someone who needs a ride to the airport, it’s a company who needs help staffing a Pearl Jam concert in a stadium.

With the market evolving pretty much on the hour these days, there’s a clear through line at play – we’re seeing more and more businesses adopt gig workers, if even for the day.

It’s easier to bring someone in as a temp to help clear projects or just get things finished the regular staff is too busy to handle. One of the biggest pluses of the model is that it helps avoid employee burnout.

For a place like a hotel, if there are a bunch of small jobs that keep piling up, it’s easier to spend the cash for a day or two worth of work rather than add to an already overworked staff’s load.

It’s a new world that’s evolving every day, but with every swipe, tab, and click, we see the workforce develop in ways we could have never imagined just a few short years ago. If the future of work is now, imagining five years from now is mind-blowing.

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Business News

How to work with someone who’s a never-ending stress mess

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Working with, or around, people who seem to always be carrying stress can be detrimental to your health and theirs, here’s how to deal with them.

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My baseline level of anxiety is pretty high. I get stressed out if I forget to pack a fork in my lunch even though there are utensils at the office. If someone is mean to me, I get on edge. If I make a small mistake I’m probably going to carry it with me for a few hours.

Others may not exhibit stress unless they’re up against a tight deadline or coming from a difficult meeting, but it seems like they’re always inclined towards stress regardless of their schedules. While many people exhibit stress in understandable, fleeting situations, for some stress is a default setting. It can be difficult to work with someone who’s always stressed out.

When someone is perpetually stressed, it takes a toll on everyone else too. That energy can be toxic and leave you wondering if you should be helping or if your colleague is intentionally being a Debbie Downer.

For starters, don’t make a judgement call about your coworker. Everyone handles stress at different levels, and for some people that means not really handling stress at all.

You may be able to breeze through your day with minor frustrations while others are thrown off by the smallest thing.

Holly Weeks, author of Failure to Communicate, notes “Don’t think what can I do to change this person?” Instead, she suggests considering how to neutralizes the situation and move forward.

If you want to offer the most basic form of help, acknowledge what’s going on and offer a compliment. Even if it doesn’t seem like much is going on, simply letting your stressed colleague feel heard and appreciated can make an impact.

Author of How to Have a Good Day, Caroline Webb, explains stressed people are “feeling out of control, incompetent, and disrespected. A compliment is your easy way to help them get back to their better self.” Make sure you’re not enabling them by dragging out the situation, though.

Acknowledge, offer some praise, and try to move with the conversation.

Although it’s not necessarily in your job description to fix your coworkers problems, you can still offer support. You may not actually be able to do anything, but offering assistance gives the other person a chance to think through solutions.

Webb also suggests brainstorming way to “reduce their cognitive load,” to ease what’s making your coworker feel overwhelmed.

Some simple solutions include splitting requests into smaller steps, shortening emails, or dividing work into parts.

Ultimately the job needs to get done, but you can provide your coworker with more manageable means of accomplishing tasks by breaking things into chunks.

You can also check in on your coworker to find out if you should be concerned, or if their stress limited to the work environment. If their stress is beyond what you can reasonably handle with these de-escalation tips, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone about further steps to take.

Check out our mental health series for some more insight if you’re concerned your coworker’s problem may be more than regular stress.

Just like some people are easily stressed, some easily pick up on the negative feelings of others. Be aware of how your coworker’s stress is affecting you. If someone is truly draining you, try to get some distance.

While that may be difficult in a small office, Weeks recommends keeping in mind that out of all the “office characters…the stress case’s temperament [is] less of a problem” than others.

Ultimately, it’s not your responsibility to destress your coworker, but you can certainly make your work life a little easier if you take these steps to make for healthier, happier collaboration.

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Business News

Company offers extra vacation days to nonsmoker employees

(BUSINESS NEWS) A Japanese marketing company offers extra vacation days for nonsmoker employees who don’t utilize smoke breaks – sound good to you?

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Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m a huge fan of “The Office” (I mean, who isn’t?) I spend a lot of time reflecting on the awesomeness of that show and the situations that characters go through at Dunder Mifflin.

One thing that always stuck with me was a scene where Kelly is talking about how she will take up smoking in order to get the 15 minute breaks throughout the day. This statement made me think about how odd it was that smokers got breaks throughout the day while nonsmokers stay inside, maybe taking a water cooler break.

Being from Chicago, I always thought the concept of smoke breaks was crazy, anyway. I remember visiting my dad at work as a kid and seeing people standing in the freezing cold, smoking outside of his building. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Chicago in the middle of January, but having to spend 15 extra minutes in that weather would be enough to make me stop smoking, cold turkey (pun intended).

All of these memories about the weirdness of smoke breaks came back today when I learned about Piala Inc., a Japanese marketing firm, and their new plan to give non-smokers six extra vacation days a year.

The policy was introduced in 2016 after employees complained about colleagues receiving multiple smoke breaks throughout the day. Since its implementation, 30 employees have taken advantage of the extra vacation days.

“One of our non-smoking staff put a message in the company suggestion box earlier in the year saying that smoking breaks were causing problems,” company spokesman, Hirotaka Matsushima, told The Telegraph. “Our CEO saw the comment and agreed, so we are giving non-smokers some extra time off to compensate.”

This is a great incentive for companies to offer employees. Not only in terms of equality, but would also be beneficial for a company’s health and wellness program.

While I’ve never fallen under the spell of nicotine, I would like to think that I’d prefer six extra days off compared to the habit of smoking. Apparently others are starting to feel this way as the company has reported that it has helped at least four people to stop smoking.

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