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How to protect your small business from a tax scam in 2017

(FINANCE NEWS) Experts say that small businesses are more vulnerable to fraud, whether by employees or outside vendors. Here’s what you must know.

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It could happen to you

April is looming in just a few months, which means everyone is trying to understand and get their taxes filed. It also brings out the criminals who prey on vulnerable individuals. If you’re a small business owner, you might believe that your business won’t be targeted by tax scammers, but according to the data, that is not at all true.

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What are the scams?

The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners reports that the typical organization loses about 5 percent of revenues each year due to fraud. However, I could not find any statistics about how much of that is from tax scammers. The ACFE says that small businesses are more vulnerable to fraud, whether by employees or outside vendors.

Don’t get fooled by any tax scam

  1. Phone scams – The IRS will not call your business and make threats. The IRS will send you a letter if you owe them money or are being audited.
  2. Fake charities – Don’t give money to a non-profit without checking their status. Sometimes, the name will be quite similar. If you are trying to get a tax break through charity, do your homework.
  3. Phishing emails – The IRS does not send threatening emails. See phone scams.

Tax preparers can also scam your business
Your tax preparer should never charge you a percentage of your refund. You should never hide money in an offshore bank or falsify income. If your tax preparer suggests that you file false documents, run, don’t walk to a professional CPA.

If the tax shelter your advisor is suggesting sounds too good to be true, it probably is.Click To Tweet

You are responsible for everything on your tax return, even if someone else advised you to do it. Your tax preparer should be willing to explain every number on the tax form to you. Don’t try to cut costs with your tax preparation. It’s just not worth the fines and penalties, the headache and the stress, and the worry about whether you’ll get caught.

Know who is giving advice

Use a local CPA or tax preparer with the credentials to handle your business. Know what you’re sending in to the IRS. Use the small business resources from the SBA and IRS to understand your taxes and avoid being scammed. You can also report fraud to the IRS and work with the government to get your taxes in order.

#TaxScams

Dawn Brotherton is a staff writer at The American Genius, and has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Oklahoma. Before earning her degree, she spent over 20 years homeschooling her two daughters, who are now out changing the world. She lives in Oklahoma and loves to golf. She hopes to publish a novel in the future.

Business Finance

First impressions matter – how to win over investors immediately

(BUSINESS FINANCE) Impressing investors is nerve-wracking, but these tips can help you to nail your first impression.

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Going in for your first pitch meeting with investors can be nerve wracking—especially if you haven’t yet met these investors in person. Fortunately, if you land a solid first impression, you can set the right tone for the meeting, and make the rest of the presentation a little easier on yourself.

But why are first impressions so important, and how can you ensure you make one?

Let’s start with a recap of the benefits of a strong first impression:

  • A reputation framework. Our brains are wired to make quick judgments about our surroundings. Accordingly, we tend to judge people based on our first interactions with them, with little opportunity to change those initial judgments later on. If you strike investors as a smart, likeable, and capable person early on, they’ll see your pitch deck in a whole new light.
  • Memorability. First impressions stick with people. If yours stands out from the other entrepreneurs pitching these investors, they’ll be more likely to remember you, specifically, and therefore may be more likely to eventually fund your project.
  • Personal confidence. If you know you’ve nailed the first impression, you’ll feel more confident, and as you already likely know, confidence makes you a better public speaker. You’ll speak more deliberately, more passionately, and with fewer mistakes.

So how can you make sure you land this impression?

  • Arrive in a nice vehicle. Show up in a luxury vehicle, or at least one that’s been recently detailed, sends a message that you’re already successful. This isn’t a strict necessity, but it can speak volumes about what you’ve already achieved, and how you might look when you drive to meet your future clients.
  • Dress for the occasion. Along similar lines, you’ll want to dress nicely. You don’t need to have ridiculously expensive clothes, but you should wear standard business attire that fits you properly and has no signs of wear. It’s also a good idea to get a haircut, shave, wear tasteful makeup, and make other small touches that improve your overall appearance.
  • Smile. Smiling is contagious, and it instantly makes you more likable. Don’t force a grin (or else you’ll look like a robot), but do flash a genuine smile as often as appropriate during the first few minutes you meet your prospective investors.
  • Use your investors’ names. When you speak to your investors, try to address them by name as often as possible. People love to hear the sound of their own names, so it might help you win their favor. As an added bonus, it will help you reinforce your association with their name and face, so you eliminate your risk of calling someone by the wrong name later on.
  • Warm up with something personal. It’s tempting to get down to business right away, especially because your investors’ time is limited, but in most cases, it’s better to warm up with something personal—even if it’s only a few lines of a conversation. Tell a funny joke you heard earlier in the day, or share an anecdote about how your morning has been going. It makes you seem more personable and charismatic.
  • Find a common link. If you can, try to find something in common with each of your prospective investors. You might comment that you got your tie at the same place they did, or that you use the same type of pen. Look for subtle clues about their personalities, lifestyles, and hobbies, and forge a connection through those channels. People disproportionately like other people like them, so the more commonalities you can find with your prospective investors, the better.
  • Watch your posture. Your posture says more about you than you might think. Keep your back straight with your shoulders back, and walk confidently with your hands out of your pockets. This is crucial for projecting confidence (and feeling it internally as well).

If you can land a great first impression, you’ll set the stage for a killer presentation—but don’t think you’re out of the woods yet. You still need to make sure you have a fantastic pitch deck in place, and enough knowledge on your startup idea to handle the toughest investor questions. If this is your first pitch, don’t worry – it does get easier – but the fundamentals are always going to be important.

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Business Finance

Parody on capitalistic currency highlights cryptocurrency’s appeal

(FINANCE) This goofy parody showcases why traditional currencies are mocked while cryptocurrency solves some inherent problems with finance.

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In a video parody of capitalism by Hello Generic, actors poke fun at what makes capitalistic currency so principally ridiculous. While the parody itself is clearly geared toward traditional currency, it also inadvertently makes a strong case for cryptocurrency and why people are putting their faith into it.

In the video, the actors are stranded on an island on which they attempt to establish an economy. The first action that they consider is using coconuts as their form of currency—an idea that is quickly overshadowed by the notion of using seashells to represent the coconuts (clearly a jab at the idea of a federal reserve). The video then explores how easily concepts like inflation and debt can develop completely regardless of the wishes of the people; since the coconuts (read: gold) aren’t actually being used, it’s all too easy to grab a few more seashells than are backed.

It’s no secret that many people in America don’t trust the government not to screw up their money, which is why it’s also not surprising that so many people are turning to cryptocurrency as an investment vehicle.

Cryptocurrency certainly has its drawbacks – it’s volatile, unprecedented, whimsical, and subject to influence by completely unpredictable circumstances – but it’s also easy to see why some view it as safer than traditional money.

Since cryptocurrency is decentralized, one mustn’t worry about its value depreciating because of politicians or failing international relations, nor do people have to stress over its value becoming inflated or manipulated by governments.

Similarly, cryptocurrency has a definitive cap on how much can be sold. Since there is a limited number of cryptocurrency tokens available at any given time, borrowing more than is available isn’t even an option; instead of grabbing a seashell whenever you want to spend or buy more than you can, you’re rightfully stuck with your finite number of coconuts.

To make the claim that cryptocurrency is more stable than traditionally capitalistic currency would be absurd, but cryptocurrency is definitively less susceptible to the same problems that make our currency as unstable as it is. Given the government’s past usage of our currency (usage that has led to our country’s massive debt) it’s no wonder that more people are turning to a government-free form of finance.

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Business Finance

How small companies can compete with free shipping

(BUSINESS FINANCE) When running a smaller shop online, how can you compete with free shipping from giants like Amazon that can afford it?

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It’s hard enough for small businesses to compete with big retailers. But online shops also have to consider the additional cost of shipping. With stores like Amazon and Walmart.com offering very cheap or even free shipping, how is a smaller shop to compete?

Shopify, an e-commerce platform for online shops and point-of-sale-systems, posed this question to Thea Earl, product manager for Shopify Shipping. On the AskShopify blog, she offered some tips for managing shipping costs.

First, Earl points out that while “free shipping is an excellent marketing tool,” if you can’t afford to offer free shipping, it helps to offer a “really clear flat rate.”

Customers who think they’re getting a good deal may balk if they’re surprised by an exorbitant cost to ship. If you can consistently offer a flat rate, and let the customer know right off the bat, they’ll “know what to expect when they hit checkout” and won’t get sticker shock at the last minute, causing cart abandonment.

If you want to offer free or very cheap shipping, consider raising the prices of your products, even by a dollar or so, to help cover delivery costs. Note the ratio between the profit margin and the cost to ship.

Perhaps for highly profitable items, you can afford to absorb the shipping costs, while slightly raising the prices of less profitable products to offset the balance.

Lastly, Earl realizes that small business owners have no control over whether or not a carrier raises its prices to ship.

You do, however, have control over the packaging. Be smart about the types of packaging you use. Measure products and buy envelopes and boxes that are just the right size to save money on weight.

Paper and poly envelopes are lighter, and therefore usually cheaper than cardboard boxes. Also, Earl points out that most carriers have at least a few options for free packaging. Utilize these free options whenever you can.

And of course, you could always join a group like Shopify to take advantage of their bulk mailing partnerships with carriers like UPS, USPS, and DHL.

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