How to Protect Your Business Name, by Jane Haskins, Esq.

 

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Your business’s name means a lot. It identifies your brand. It signifies your reputation. And it’s how your loyal customers know you.

But when a competitor sets up a business with a name that’s similar or identical to yours, your customers can become confused, you can lose business, and your reputation may suffer.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take now that will help ensure that your good name will stay that way.

Protecting Your Name in Your Home State

One of the best ways to protect your business name in your home state is to form a business entity such as a corporation or a limited liability company.

Your state’s business filing agency won’t let two business entities have the same name. In some states, business entities also can’t have names that are deceptively similar to one another. Because of this rule, incorporating or forming an LLC allows you to “claim” your name in your home state and prevent other business entities from using it.

You can check business name availability in your state by contacting the state agency that handles business filings. Many states allow you to search business names online.

If you plan to form a formal business entity but aren’t ready to do it right away, nearly all states allow you to reserve a business name. Different states allow reservations for different amounts of time.

The protection you receive when you form a business entity does have limits: your name won’t be protected outside your home state and an individual or business can still use your business name without setting up a formal business entity.

Filing a DBA or Registering a Business Name

Can you protect your business name without forming a corporation or an LLC?

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10 Key Tax Deductions for Your Small Business, by Kylie Ora Lobell

Tax Day is coming up fast, which means that you have to get your finances in order as soon as possible. If you don’t, you may forget to take some key small business tax deductions. These tax write-offs could end up saving you a lot of money if you utilize them correctly.

Although some items are clearly tax deductible, including office rent, utilities, and employee costs, others may not be so obvious when filing taxes. Aside from hiring an accountant to assist you, it pays to do research on your own as well.

Are you unsure about which small business expenses and tax write-offs you can make? Look no further. The following is a list of tax deductions that you may want to claim when doing your tax preparation this year.

1. Furniture

Did you buy furniture for your office this year? If so, it’s tax deductible, and you can claim your chairs, desks, and couches as small business expenses. You’re able to either write off the full amount, or use the seven-year depreciation method. While you have the option of deducting the entire cost in the year in which you put the items in service, depreciation may be more favorable if you expect your tax bracket to rise in the future.

2. Home Office

If your home office is your primary place of business, or it is where you meet with clients and customers, you can deduct certain home office expenses. To figure out how much your tax deduction will be, measure your home office and divide by the total square footage of your home. This percentage determines the amount of your mortgage or rent, utilities, and expenses related to your home office that you can claim.

3. Travel Costs

If you’re traveling for work, chances are, you can take deductions for taxes on all of your costs. This includes airplane and train tickets, baggage fees, hotels, Wi-Fi access, business use of your car, etc. If you eat out while traveling, only 50 percent is deductible.

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10 Simple Ways to Surprise Your Clients, by Paul Strikwerda

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“Clients don’t like surprises,” said one of my business mentors.

“In an unpredictable world, they need to know that they can depend on you. If you can live up to their expectations, you’re building a long-term relationship.”

Wise words from a wise man, and yet I only partially agree with him.

In order to live up to your client’s expectations, you first need to know what they are.

Many clients forget to tell you, and many freelancers don’t bother to ask. They just assume they know, and get burned in the end.

Thanks to the marvels of the internet, there’s often little or no direct contact between a client and a freelancer. You know how it goes. We respond to vague job postings with a vague budget, and simply hope for the best.

If we happen to land the job, we get straight to work so we can meet the deadline. But what to do when we’re not sure what to do?

Some freelancers will turn to their colleagues, and ask them for an uninformed opinion:

“Please help. Should I pronounce this strange name in this way or that way?”

“Do I read all the footnotes or shall I leave them out?”

“What kind of tone or accent would be best for this book?”

Sorry people, but you’re barking up the wrong tree! It doesn’t matter what your Facebook friends think you should do. Your client doesn’t care what you think either.

Go to the source and ask!

The only way to consistently satisfy your customers, is to meet and exceed their expectations. You’ve got to offer exceptional value that justifies your rate. That’s how you build your business.

Now to the first part of my mentor’s advice. The part about surprises.

I happen to think that clients are human, and humans like surprises. That is, as long as they are pleasant.

The first way to surprise your client has everything to do with what we just talked about:

1. Communicate

Unless it’s cut-and-dried, don’t just accept the job and get to work. Get in touch, and stay connected. Show some interest in the project you’re hired to do. Ask questions. Get details. Give updates. You’re not some speech-imitating computer program. You’re a real person, so show your client you care.

You’d be surprised how much goodwill you create when you communicate. Time spent getting to know your client’s preferences will save you time in the end.

So, let me ask you this. If you could work with someone who is open, flexible, and communicative, or with someone who isn’t, who would you choose?

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How to Avoid a Small Business Audit By The IRS, by Brendon Pack

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During tax season and throughout the year, IRS agents carefully review every tax return that comes across their desks. However, agents take a second glance if they catch something on a return that seems abnormal. This may result in an IRS auditduring which the IRS contacts a taxpayer to clarify certain information.

The IRS audit process varies based on the extent of the information needed, and an audit can be for an individual taxpayer or a business. Taxpayers typically receive an audit notice in the mail to begin the process. Or, an auditor may visit your business in person to examine certain financial records. It can take several months – or even a few years – to fully resolve an audit.

If you’re wondering how to avoid an IRS business audit, use these tips:

1. Adopt a formal entity structure for your business.

If you work as a sole proprietor, the IRS will likely give your tax return some extra attention automatically. So, why not set up a formal LLC or corporate entity? Doing so can give your enterprise more credibility, allowing you to claim deductions and other tax-saving measures without fear that your activities will be examined more closely. Simply registering a formal entity for your venture can help reduce your risk of a small business tax audit.

2. Always file a completed business income tax return.

There are many taxes for small business owners to be aware of and ultimately cover on their IRS returns. After your income tax return has been completely filled out from top to bottom, review it with a keen eye. Be sure that every line that is applicable to your business tax situation is filled out completely and correctly. If you send an incomplete tax return to Uncle Sam, the IRS may question why you failed to disclose certain information on your return. This could trigger an audit.

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How To Secure Return Business, by Paul Strikwerda

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It must be hard to be Balloons the Clown.

For years, Balloons has been a fixture in my Borough.

He drives around in a silly red VW Beetle with a slogan prominently printed on the back:

“Honk if you like clowns.”

I’ll be honest: in all the years that our paths have crossed, I’ve never heard a single honk. That must be pretty depressing, if you’re a professional clown. But as one of my old teachers used to say:

“The meaning of our communication is the response we get.”

Here’s my question: Why would someone like Balloons even ask us to make some noise? My guess is that it has to do with the theme of last week’s blog postreassurance. Perhaps this family entertainer is hoping for honks to confirm his presumed popularity.

Even though you probably don’t make a living walking around in huge shoes wearing a red nose, you and I, and Balloons, have something in common: we like to be reassured.

Our need for reassurance has to do with a deep human desire: the wish to be accepted. It’s this universal, comforting feeling that we matter, that we are safe, and that everything is going to be alright. It’s what lovers love, preachers preach, and what politicians promise. The person able to reassure us the most, gains our trust and gets our vote.

Clients are no different. They want to know that they are in good hands, and that their money is well spent. It is your job to convince them of that fact. As I suggested last week:

Selling is about reassuring. Before the sale, during the sale, and after the sale.

THE DO’S AND DON’TS

As the client is making up his mind, here are a few things that will make him feel confident that you’re the right person for the job. This is what you have to do:

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