So my editor at Ecommerce-Guide.com asks me to write a piece on ecommerce stuff you can get for just a few bucks, things like ring tones. While other writers may have jumped at the idea of cyber bargain shopping, I declined. Ring tones just don’t ring my bell, I guess. I asked if she had anything else and she responded that that was the most exciting story she had (in her opinion) — unless I wanted to do a piece on Internet sales tax.

Now I am not an accountant nor am I a finance geek, but I do find taxation to be an interesting (and highly confusing) subject, and the thought of shedding some light on this complex issue excited me. So I accepted the assignment.

You can read the finished article, “Navigating Sales Tax Laws,” by clicking on the article title, by visiting Ecommerce-Guide.com, or going to the Clips page on my website, www.schiffandschiff.com.

For those of you too busy to read the whole article just now, here are five must-know pieces of advice from the article:

1. The primary determinant of whether or not you need to collect and pay sales tax is if you have a physical presence in the customer’s state. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. Determining whether you have a physical presence, or a level of activity that would require you to collect — and remit — sales tax, what taxing bodies refer to as “nexus,” can vary from state to state. It may be owning or renting property in that state, having a warehouse or a fulfillment house that maintains inventory for you in that state, having employees in that state or promoting your business in that state through something like a trade show.

2. To learn more about nexus and what your state’s guidelines are for determining it, do an online search with the name of your state and the words sales tax and you should be directed to your state’s Department of Revenue Services. You can also visit the Helpful Information page on the Sales Tax Institute’s Web site. Under “Sales Tax News and Tips” you can click on the topic called “Nexus.”

3. Once you determine nexus, you need to figure out which items in your inventory are subject to sales tax in those states you have nexus in, explains Richard Stim, a Nolo editor, small business attorney and entrepreneur who writes about Internet sales tax. Again, your state’s revenue services/tax-related Web site or the Sales Tax Institute should be able to provide you with this information.

4. You cannot legally collect sales tax without being authorized to do so, which means being registered in those states in which you have a physical presence. “Collecting tax without having a valid license is considered criminal fraud, and you could go to jail,” says Diane L. Yetter, the founder of the Sales Tax Institute and the president of Yetter Consulting Services, Inc. So it definitely pays to register.

5. What’s the worst thing that could happen if you don’t register or file a sales tax return? “If you have never filed a sales tax return and have never been registered for sales tax, the state could audit you,” says Yetter. “The average sales tax across the country is eight percent. So let’s say you did $100,000 of sales a year in a state where you had nexus, where there was sales tax. And you didn’t collect the sales tax. The state could come and get eight percent of that $100,000 plus interest plus penalties for every year you didn’t collect and pay sales tax. That could put you out of business.”

Want to learn more? Read my article. You can also check out the following sales tax-related sites:

» Sales Tax in the United States (Wikipedia)

» The Sales Tax Institute

» The Sales Tax Clearinghouse

» The New Rules Project’s Internet Sales Tax Fairness page

» E-fairness

» The Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement

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Posted on January 18, 2007
Filed Under (Advice) by jennifer

I am writing to all of you today about the importance of having a good elevator pitch in your “mental” pocket because of an experience I had this Tuesday. 

Btw, for those of you unfamiliar with the term or concept “elevator pitch,” here is a good explanation provided by Wikipedia:

An elevator pitch (or elevator speech) is a brief overview of an idea for a product, service, or project. The pitch is so called because it can be delivered in the time span of an elevator ride (say, thirty seconds or 100-150 words).

The term is typically used in the context of an entrepreneur pitching an idea to a venture capitalist to receive funding. Venture capitalists often judge the quality of an idea and team on the basis of the quality of its elevator pitch, and will ask entrepreneurs for the elevator pitch so to quickly weed out bad ideas.

I may have first heard the term when I was freelancing at GE Capital. It was rumored — or perhaps fact — that Jack Welch, GE’s former (and infamous) CEO would often corner employees in an elevator and give them just a few seconds to explain how or what they contributed to GE. If Welch felt you didn’t adequately acquit yourself, that elevator ride could be your last at GE. 

So getting back to my cautionary tale on the importance of a solid elevator pitch…

On a lark, I recently entered an online “contest” (for lack of a better word) to be one of the lucky few to present an under three-minute pitch to the editor-in-chief of BestLife magazine (the “big brother” of Men’s Health, both published by Rodale), which would be videotaped for posterity. The contest was held by Mediabistro.com, an organization serving freelance creatives (writers, editors, designers, web developers, etc.). I have been wanting to get published in a national trade magazine, so I thought this could be a big break. As luck (or skill) would have it, the editorial director of Mediabistro.com liked my pitch, and I was in.

I did my research, or as much as I could without having access to back issues of the magazine, and perfected my one-minute pitch (had to leave time for Q & A). Then I discovered that the magazine had recently run a similar article and had to change course. I racked my brains, did more research, and asked some successful fortysomething men (BestLife‘s target demographic) I knew for their opinions. But none of my alternative pitches really grabbed me — or them — the same way as the original, and I was out of time.

Mediabistro.com still wanted me to go, so I picked a pitch, crossed my fingers, and went.

BIG MISTAKE. Before I had even finished my pitch, the EIC began to rapid fire ask me questions and pick apart my pitch. Under the pressure of the EIC, the time clock, and the video camera less than four feet away, I floundered (or foundered, depending on your point of view), though I retained my poise and equilibrium (barely).

The problem: I simply wasn’t passionate about my subject and hadn’t prepared my elevator pitch enough and, as a result, did not get the gig. Worse, I let myself down and felt humiliated. I knew, my customers knew, and even the editorial director of Mediabistro.com knew, that I was a good writer. But in those three minutes that didn’t mean anything.

If you want to get the gig, you have to have to have a persuasive elevator pitch and really nail it.

So, as a service to all of you, here are some short but excellent “how-to” articles on how you can perfect your elevator pitch, so you DO get the gig.

From Business Know-How:  The Art of the Elevator Pitch

From StartupNation: Learn how to deliver a masterful Elevator Pitch

From NFIB: Elevator Pitches: Making Them Work for You

From Fast CompanyPerfecting Your Pitch

Looking for more help?  Google “elevator pitch.”

Good luck!

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Posted on January 11, 2007
Filed Under (Advice) by jennifer

Many small business owners (and larger business owners, too) feel that lawyers are a necessary evil: can’t do business with ’em, can’t do business without ’em — but boy would I love to not have to pay those hefty attorney fees.

Now, however, thanks to a handful of websites offering legal assistance, small business owners can get basic legal help in areas such as business formation, employment agreements and contracts, and protecting intellectual property and inventions at a fraction of the cost of hiring an attorney.

As the Small Business Administration explains in its online Small Business Planner, “Not all legal matters require a lawyer, but they do require understanding. Sometimes the best way to protect yourself and your business is to know where to go for assistance.”

To learn more about where to find good, reliable legal assistance online, check out my article, “Get Basic Legal Help without a Lawyer,” on SmallBusinessComputing.com. There you can read about sites like Nolo and LegalZoom and FindLaw, all backed by attorneys, that are doing for legal matters what sites like WebMD have done for medical issues.

NOTE: While these sites offer legal advice and services, they are no substitute for hiring an attorney. So before you decide to go the do-it-yourself route, ask yourself: Can I really do this myself? By the way, if you are being sued, the answer is NO.

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Posted on January 1, 2007
Filed Under (Web Design) by jennifer

After months of hard work (and some hair pulling), the new Schiff & Schiff Communications website is live!  You can check it out at http://www.schiffandschiff.com.

The whole process took about 2.5 months — a bit longer than I had thought (or hoped) it would take. To be fair, though, when I set out to upgrade the website, I had only planned on re-designing the site, not getting a new logo, new letterhead, and a new attitude.

I wound up hiring Logoworks, an online design shop I had come across while researching an article. They do beautiful design work and their Start Up Package, which included a logo, letterhead design, a home page and sub-page design, and programming three web pages was (I thought) very reasonably priced at $1499. (I wound up spending another $250 for a separate design for my Clips page and another $469 for printing and shipping 500 pieces of letterhead, envelopes, and business cards. But still a good deal.)

While Logoworks did an excellent job on the design, their programming left a lot to be desired. Thank goodness I know HTML and a bit about Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and had a wonderful spouse who went through ALL of the pages fixing and replacing bad code.  (NOTE: Logoworks only programmed three pages, I created or re-created the other pages and then Kenny cleaned up the code.)

But I learned a valuable lesson: Good design is nice, but it means nothing unless you back it up with good code.

Another tip:  Shop around for help with your website.  Of the three designers I checked out, Logoworks offered me the best deal. However, Mediabistro.com (which I had forgotten about) is a great resource for anyone looking for web and print designers, writers, and anyone creative. Kenny, my spouse and sometime business partner, found a great designer for his new website on there, and I know other people who have found great talent on the site.

Lastly:  Ask lots of questions — and get everything in writing, or print out all proposals, purchase orders, invoices, and/or receipts for your records and tax purposes. 

All that said, I am very pleased with the end result and the initial positive comments I have received. The website is now a much more accurate reflection of my business and my goals and a wonderful showcase for my work.

Kenny is now in the process of updating this blog, to match the new website design. Stay tuned…

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