Sunday, December 6, 2009

What is Copyright? How can we help

I wanted to take a moment to break down some of the basic concerns we often hear as it would pertain to United States Copyright Laws. Take a second to review some of what we have found to be the most frequently asked questions.

What is copyright?
Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.

What does copyright protect?
Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. A Corporations Bureau associate can assist you further if needed.

How is a copyright different from a patent or a trademark?
Copyright protects original works of authorship, while a patent protects inventions or discoveries. Ideas and discoveries are not protected by the copyright law, although the way in which they are expressed may be. A trademark protects words, phrases, symbols, or designs identifying the source of the goods or services of one party and distinguishing them from those of others.

When is my work protected?
Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

Do I have to register with your office to be protected?No. The Corporations Bureau,LLC does not require registration with our organization to meet applicable filing criteria. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work.

Why should I register my work if copyright protection is automatic?
Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law.

I’ve heard about a “poor man’s copyright.” What is it?
The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a “poor man’s copyright.” There is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration.

Is my copyright good in other countries?
The United States has copyright relations with most countries throughout the world, and as a result of these agreements, we honor each other's citizens' copyrights. However, the United States does not have such copyright relationships with every country. For a listing of countries and the nature of their copyright relations with the United States, speak to a Corpoations Bureau associate.

What is Trademarking & How can it work for you?

A trademark is the one of the most important business assets you'll ever own. It's your name, your logo, or any other symbol that distinguishes your company or products in the marketplace.

Registering your trademark prevents others from using your business identity to market their own products, which can confuse your customers and damage your brand. We have begun to add new products to our cadre to further assist our clients in building their corporate brand and recognition.

We pride ourselves on bringing clarity and transparency to the documentation process for our clients and business expediency. Trademark your business, logo, identity and products with The Corporations Bureau for only $89.00* (US Govt Filing Fee $325)

- Preliminary search of pending and registered trademarks
- Digitizing of your logo and specimen to meet U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) standards
- Electronic filing of your trademark application with the USPTO
- Infringement Monitoring (One year)
- Cease and desist letter forms.
- Form of Transfer Agreement

**Priority Processing:

- For an additional fee of $50.00, expedite your Trademark processing documents.

Contact us at 404-604-4040 for further assistance with your Trademarking needs.

($89.00 service fee is added to U.S. Govt Filing Fee at the time of filing)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Washington-Wall Street Two Step!

As Congress nears votes on legislation that would overhaul the health care system, many small businesses say they are facing the steepest rise in insurance premiums they have seen in recent years.

Lets truly get to the bottom of the higher premiums debate. This is a setup that will crush small businesses and owners. At a time when we need to be lightening the heavy load that is currently being carried by small business, it appears we are making that load even heavier to bare.

Insurance brokers and benefits consultants say their small business clients are seeing premiums go up an average of about 15 percent for the coming year — double the rate of last year’s increases. That would mean an annual premium that was $4,500 per employee in 2008 and $4,800 this year would rise to $5,500 in 2010.

The higher premiums at least partly reflect the inexorable rise of medical costs, which is forcing Medicare to raise premiums, too. Health insurance bills are also rising for big employers, but because they have more negotiating clout, their increases are generally not as steep.

Higher medical costs aside, some experts say they think the insurance industry, under pressure from Wall Street, is raising premiums to get ahead of any legislative changes that might reduce their profits.

The increases come at a politically fraught time for the insurers, as they try to fight off the creation of a government-run competitor and as they push their case that they have a central role to play in controlling the nation’s health care costs.

What does that mean actually? It means, the insurance industry has been given a sneak-peak look at the forthcoming quiz;they got all the answers now. With this additional information they have decided to increased their premiums based on advice from the same Wall Street who we bailed out 11 months ago. What they understand is that Congress will pass legislation, Obama will sign it, forcing the insurance industry to lower premiums by 30% over the next 5-10 years starting in 18-24 months.

They will pad their pockets and then be forced to lower the premiums to the same pre-premium increase amounts thereby not actually reducing premiums for small businesses and entrepreneurs at all. Congress looks good, Obama passes out pens at The White House for signing sweeping legislation that will in essence change nothing. Small business takes another one on the chin.

President Obama, in his Saturday radio address, said the Democrats’ health insurance overhaul would help small businesses and stimulate the economy by providing relief from “the crushing costs of health care — costs that have forced too many small businesses to cut benefits, shed jobs, or shut their doors for good.”

The insurance industry has already been under sharp attack by Democratic lawmakers who favor creating a government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurers. Without that competition, proponents say, insurers will continue to price coverage beyond the reach of many Americans.

Insurers say there is no need for a government-run insurance plan and argue that their health plans are already responsible for many of the initiatives, like programs to coordinate care for chronic conditions, that ultimately lower costs.

Insurers’ “profits are not responsible for increased health care costs,” said Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for the industry’s trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans.

Like the insurers, Republican lawmakers, who portray themselves as champions of small business, argue that the proposed legislation would raise premiums across the board because sick people would be more likely to enroll than healthy people.

They also say the taxes and other ways of paying for the program would be passed on to employers in higher premiums, only making matters worse for small businesses.

The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said in a response to the president’s radio address, “We can’t support a bill that will raise premiums.” The big insurance companies declined to comment.

With negotiations over next year’s premiums still under way, data on rate increases are mostly anecdotal. Formal surveys have not yet been completed by the health benefits consultants who track the figures. And in some parts of the country, experts say rates are not overly high.

But benefits consultants say there is no doubt that premiums are soaring for many small businesses. Edward Kaplan, a consultant with the Segal Company, said his clients were seeing renewals for coverage at prices 15 to 23 percent higher this year. Last year, he said, they typically faced increases of 7 to 12 percent.

The brokers and consultants say the price jumps seem hard to justify. “Frankly, I’m mystified by the size of the increases,” said one broker, Charles J. Newman, who works with small employers in the New York area.

There is no question that insurers are under pressure from Wall Street. In recent years, insurers were often not quick enough to raise their premiums well above the rising cost of medical care.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ask The Right Questions? Challenge All The Answers!

Think of a target with “Why” as the bull’s-eye, “How” as the middle ring and “What” as the outer. Now describe “What” your company does — it should be easy. Then describe “How” it does its “What” — this should be a bit harder. Now for the difficult part — describe the “Why” behind its “How” and “What.” Money/profit is not the answer.

We put the world in your hands with all the right tools. These resources will prove vital to fulfilling your business goals. “When an organization defines itself by what it does, that’s all it will ever be able to do.”

Example: Apple Inc. started with a “Why” — to improve lifestyle by making innovative, technology-based products. While its first product was a computer, look at Apple now — music, phone, touch screens, podcasts, e-books, etc. In contrast, Dell started with a product — a “What.” Dell remains a computer company.

Another message: Every few pages, Sinek states “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” This reminds readers that consumer decisions based upon a firm’s “Why” are literally no-brainers. With a why-based focus, consumers create an emotional (i.e. heart) affinity for a firm’s products. The buying rationale (i.e. mind) of price, features, quality, specs and service are used to determine which of the firm’s products to buy. Heart-driven purchasers are brand loyal and the company can hold its gross margins and up-sell. Mind-driven buyers switch brands frequently as their decisions focus primarily on price. When a company has to compete on price, its gross margins erode.

A takeaway: Executives stating they are “refocusing on their core business” run “What-based” companies. Refocusing on “What” rarely results in product innovation.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Brand Your Own Product, Competing w/WalMart not Smart!

Specialty stores in downtown Grand Junction have the right idea when it comes to providing a niche that big-box stores can’t, according to one presenter Friday at the 2009 Entrepreneurship Marketplace at Two Rivers Convention Center.

Future and current business owners attended 45-minute sessions throughout the day, learning how to market and develop their products and finance their business operations so they can improve theirs odds of success during rough economic times.

One way to set a small business apart from Wal-Mart or Target is to avoid competing against them and embrace the opportunities big-box stores offer, said presenter Christine Hamilton-Pennell of Growing Local Economies. Those big stores will free up some parking spaces downtown and help people spend less on necessities so that they have more money to spend more on specialized items in downtown Grand Junction.

“You have to sell something Wal-Mart doesn’t have,” she said. “People want to have a unique experience.”

Hamilton-Pennell used the example of a small West Virginia town that turned a women’s clothing store into a restaurant and converted a record store into an ice cream parlor, so that those stores would stop competing with department stores and iTunes and focus instead on offering a unique experience for shoppers and diners.

When a store moves in and sells lots of basic items at low prices, Hamilton-Pennell said, small business owners should consider selling less for more if they offer something that takes talent and expertise, such as offering unique furniture and gifts, specialized bicycles, coffee and treat shops, and any items seen as environmentally friendly.

Once small-business owners find products people will buy, keeping connected to customers, marketing on Web sites and operating fiscally responsible businesss will help keep them going, Hamilton-Pennell said.

Later in the day, a financial panel focused on that last detail: money. The banking world has changed dramatically, said Dean DiMario, a representative with the Mesa County Business Loan Fund. But that does not mean people cannot get loans.

“There are alternative sources out there. Don’t get discouraged,” DiMario said.

Alternatives to the traditional bank loan include: funding for an existing business or a startup through the Mesa County Business Loan Fund; getting full loans or loans in addition to what a bank offers through the higher-risk lender Colorado Enterprise Fund; or getting a 90 percent guarantee on a loan without fees by essentially co-signing on a loan with the Small Business Administration.

Greg Lopez of the Small Business Administration warned that the time to take advantage of a 90 percent guarantee will be short-lived and that not every business in fiscal trouble should seek the SBA’s help.

“Now is the time to do it, but you need to do it for the right reasons, not just to have debt on top of debt,” Lopez said.

Waiting until the last second to avoid massive debt isn’t a good idea either, he said.

“Call us when you’re doing good. Call us when you’re doing bad. I’ve had times when a person is in crisis mode, and I have to tell them I could’ve done more if they’d called six months earlier,” Lopez said.

Unfortunately, the Small Business Administration’s ability to guarantee more money has coincided with fewer loans to clients. From Oct. 1, 2008, to Sept. 30, 2009, the SBA’s Colorado District office approved 1,138 loans compared to 2,256 loans the year before, according to the Denver Post.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Small Business Recovery on the horizon?

Retail sales are improving, but numbers overall are still very weak says today. U.S. home mortgages are on a four month high says Reuters and Oil is back above $71 a barrel which is a strong sign of a recovery says the Associated Press. With all that said, and that's just in todays news, how can small business owners know when "change" is coming their direction?

Signs of a bullish recovery are abound just about everywhere, but is small business feeling the excitement yet? With the holidays approaching, will retail sales bounce back in time, its almost laughable because the answer is a loud and boisterous "ABSOLUTELY NOT".

The Denver Business Journal says "the economy is improving, but second recession is not likely". Family Dollar Stores show a significant rise in profits says the Wall Street Journal and Business Weekly says "Costco profits fall, but still above expected". The signs that small businesses need to be looking for are just under their own noses.

Unfortunately our economy is a "trickle-down" system and recovery will be seen and felt in your suppliers, wholesalers, and bargain shoppers. Surely we are still in a buyer's market and it will remain so for at least another 12-18 months. Although that may be great for those not necessarily affected by the recession, others will not meet this market with the same optimism.

If you own your own business, look around and you design your customer based structure on what it is your suppliers are able to do. As they are able, design your pricing to permit you to overstock in bulk items and drive that customer base. As those inventories change, review and accommodate accordingly. Move what you can.

Finally, if your business is a service related business, you are in the best shape of all. Services usually don't require much equipment to be purchased by you each month. For example, your lawn business already owns the lawnmower so no need to keep pre-recession prices, you will also need to adjust down to build that relationship with your customer. They will remember you and your efforts later on. They may not be able to afford you right now, but they also cannot afford to purchase a new lawn mower for the garage either.

Protecting Yourself with an LLC.

Forming an LLC (limited liability company) or corporate entity does not mean that your company cannot be sued. But it makes it possible for you to obtain some protection from personal liability if it is.

"The protection -- particularly for one-person businesses -- is not absolute but is better than no protection at all, which is what you will have if you conduct your business as a sole proprietorship," said Richard M. Leisner, an attorney with Trenam Kemker in Tampa, Fla.

To maximize the protection of a corporation or LLC, make sure you keep formal business records, file your withholding and other taxes on time and separate your personal funds from your business bank accounts. Put all the company accounts and financial transactions under the corporate name -- not under your own name.

"Often, business owners think these formalities are not important, but the details are important in order to avoid the risk of a court disregarding the corporation or LLC," Leisner said.

"If that happens, it's just about the same thing as operating as a sole proprietorship."

Friday, October 2, 2009

Make The Slow Market Work For You!

Got a wonderful friend who has begun to turn a downturned economy into his dream of a lifetime. He's taken low cost real estate, the bargain basement priced luxury items and has begun to turn it, or "flip" it for a small profit.

Don't be afraid to make a small profit; its either a small profit or absolutely no profit. As we say, "a win is a win". By improving some networking techniques and some strategy assistance, one of our recent success stories has created "Turn Town Realty, LLC.". Turn Town has found a way to take the Seller's bottom number and brokers that into the top number of the buyer with precision.

A fall of more than 10 percent in the average apartment price in Manhattan in the third quarter from a year earlier attracted buyers who pushed up the number of sales by over 45 percent in just one quarter, industry reports showed Friday.

Since peaking in the first half of 2008, Manhattan apartment prices have fallen an average of 25 percent to 30 percent.

The Manhattan residential real estate market had been largely unscathed during 2008 as other U.S. housing markets were floundering, but it hit a wall in September 2008 when Lehman Brothers collapsed and the financial sector fell to its knees.

About 20 percentage points of the 25-to-30 percent drop can be sourced to the months after September, said Jonathan Miller, president and chief executive of Miller Samuel appraisers and the author of the Prudential Douglas Elliman Manhattan Market Overview quarterly report.

Other once-hot U.S. housing markets have seen prices fall by more than 50 percent.

"We're not done yet," Miller said.

New York City is still wrestling with a Wall Street that is trying to reinvent itself, a disproportionate number of layoffs of high-wage earners and new condominium construction.

"There's a lot of unwinding to go," Miller said. "We're moving toward stabilization but we have a ways to go."

The average sales price of a Manhattan apartment fell 10.6 percent to $1,323,462 in the third quarter from a year earlier, the Prudential Douglas Elliman Manhattan Market Overview showed. But it rose 0.8 percent from the prior quarter's $1,312,920.

Prices per square foot fell 16.5 percent to $996 year over a year earlier and were off 5.7 percent from the second quarter, the report said.

The third-quarter median sales price -- in which half the prices were higher and half were lower - dropped 8.4 percent to $850,000, but rose 1.7 percent from $835,700 in the second quarter, the Prudential report said.

While the number of sales fell 16 percent from a year earlier to 2,230 sales, it soared 45.6 percent from the second quarter. Brokers attributed the rise to unleashed pent-up demand from the prior two quarters.

Still, deals are taking longer to complete. Buyers are cautious and mortgage lending is tighter than some brokers and experts have seen during their careers.
A for-sale apartment spent 167 days on the market, up from 134 days a year earlier.

An $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time home buyers helped fuel sales of studio and one-bedroom apartments, where prices fell 30 percent and 24 percent respectively from a year earlier, Corcoran Group's quarterly report said. The credit is scheduled to expire at the end of November.

"The credit is still too tight. We need more jumbo financing for New York City," Pamela Liebman, Corcoran chief executive said, referring to mortgages over $417,000.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Keys to Small Business Funding

There are a few things that an entrepreneur should consider to increase odds of securing a loan:

Business financing comes in all shapes and sizes these days so we want to ensure you leave no stone unturned when you are looking to secure funding and researching financing streams for your small business entity.

Be prepared to meet your banker: Make sure that you are thoroughly prepared when you go to your banker’s office to request a loan. You need to show your bankers that a loan to you is a low-risk proposition. Come to the meeting equipped with a well-prepared business plan and finance package.

Identify how much capital you need: Have you determined how much capital you need? Why do you need this amount? Have you calculated your start-up costs? Is it to purchase new equipment, down payment on an existing business or do you need start up funds to cover operation? This will help you determine what type of lender you should approach.

Have a good relationship with your local banker: The old saying people do business with people they know and trust. Well, if you have built a relationship with your local banker over the years, they are more apt to support you in your new business venture. Do you have your main business account with them? You should!

Take time to review your personal credit report and finances: Your credit score is sure to play an important role in your personal finances. If you think that your personal credit won’t affect your ability to get a business loan, think again!

Make sure your house is in order: Your credit score not only determines your ability to get credit, but also affects the interest rate. This includes paying down your credit balances and taking time to take care of issues prior to your meeting with the bank. If you cannot handle your own personal finances, he’ll question whether you can run a business.

Check out resources such as Small Business Administration: The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is a federal agency, responsible for assisting and protecting the interests of American small business. The agency operates through a series of field offices around the country as well as in partnership with public and private organizations to offer technical assistance to small businesses. The Women’s Business Center is funded in part by an SBA grant., and we offer technical assistance to small businesses.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Bureau: Small Biz Collections Woes?

I have owned several small businesses in my time, some Not For Profit but most For Profit entities. The grand-daddy of all the problems experienced across the board were interjected when payment options for a service or product were permitted.

A lesson was learned very early that more than two payments would yield multiples more in potential collection concerns and follow through. What should a small business do to protect themselves while offering a service or product with multiple payments?

1. Keep the 40/60 fee split, but require the 40% up front and only provide an outline of the business plan. The client can then accept or sign-off on the outline and pay the remaining 60%, after which the full plan changes hands.

2. Bill 75% to 80% up front, write the plan and deliver it to the client, and then bill the remaining 20% to 25%.

The advantage here is that you get the majority of the payment up front, and the remaining fee is much less than the 60% you were originally invoicing on the back-end and having difficulty collecting.

But your business problems may run deeper than a pay and delivery schedule, according to Jeffrey Davis, founder of Mage LLC, a Mass.-based small-business consultancy. The source of trouble could lie either in your clients - or in you.

"If he's making the deliverable and [the client] isn't paying, he's not qualifying his clients properly," Davis says. "If he's qualified them properly on the deliverable and who they are, and they're not paying, it's because he's not delivering what he said he would. It's either one or the other."

Selecting the right clients and making sure they understand what they're getting can make a world of difference. Davis recommends that before starting a project you should know all of the following:

1. Is the potential customer a bona-fide client? (Can they and are they willing to pay? Do they have a legitimate need to commission a servicce order?)

2. Have you properly defined the deliverable, and has the client reviewed and agreed to the plan? Has the client seen and signed off on samples of your work? Are you sure they know what they are getting and have agreed to it?

3. Are you doing the work properly?

4. Do you have a tight enough contract with the client?

Look at your options to at least cover the cost of the service, leaving the profit portion to be paid at a later date or for that to make up the second or third payment.

Keep in mind, the advice of this bureau is to add automatic draft for multiple payments. More and more businesses are accepting automatic payments for balances due on products or services. Sweeten the deal and inform the client that there will be no additional processing charges for each remaining payment if funds are available as expected.

Make collecting payments work for you, easier on you and your staff.