A Mission Bigger Than You Are For The New Year

By Lindsey Tolino

Blake Mycoskie’s TOMS is an amazing business feat, no?

It’s a business set up with enough profit margin that a pair of shoes can be given away for each pair purchased. Even more notably, it’s a business that sells itself because customers have an immediate role in the mission through a simple purchase.

It’s amazing how much time and money people donate to organizations they want to support. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 62.2 million people volunteered through or for an organization from Sept 2012 to Sept 2013. Additionally, Americans gave away $335.17 billion in 2013, according to the National Philanthropic Trust.

Why would people give away this much time and money?

It may be as simple as this – for a chance to make a difference.

blue sky

Maybe people do it to feel better about themselves, maybe to become who they want to be, maybe they want to spend time with others who are volunteering, or maybe it’s guilt-motivated. But all of that pales in comparison with the motivation of feeling like you’re making a difference. We all have lofty thoughts and ideas of how we’d like to change the world, but we have limited resources and time. Consequently, we are happy to give to organizations that are changing the world in a way that we’d like to do.

We want to have a role in a mission that is greater than ourselves, that has an impact bigger than ourselves and that benefits more people than just ourselves.

What does this have to do with your business?

When you have a mission statement that your business can accomplish on its own and that benefits only your business, you create no space for customers to play a role in a greater mission. You limit their role to only profiting your business, rather than to being able to change the world with their dollars.

Selling great products with quality service is admirable. But if that is your mission, then it limits your business, your impact and your customers’ buy-in. An internal-profiting, able-to-accomplish-on-your-own-effort-mission is not really a mission, it’s a business goal.

However, if your grand mission is to change the ethical standards of developing world suppliers by the way you do business — how much more motivated are customers to support you?

A mission that is seemingly unattainable and requires support and action from multiple parties creates a clear role for customers to play. When it is clear that you need customers to accomplish your mission (like TOMS’ one for one – no shoes could be given unless they were purchased), customers can see their role and assume it. Where there is no obvious need for customers to get involved, they won’t.

I’m not telling you to create a manipulative business model with a mission that cons customers into buying in. It should be genuine. People can, and are often looking to, sniff out fake promises.

Yet, at the end of the day, do you really want your business to have been all about your own profit? Or do you want it to have made some bigger impact in the world? If it’s the latter, simply say that. Make it your mission. You can’t do it alone. When you create room for others to help, those who want the same world impact will buy in. They’ll support the business and market it with more credibility than you can. You’ll be in it together. Only then will you make a difference in the world beyond your own profit.

The upcoming new year is reminder that the future is a chance to make a change. If your business’s main mission is self-profit, 2015 holds the hope to make it about a bigger purpose.

Author’s Bio: Lindsey Tolino is a young creative who helps make businesses better. She serves business owners with her words at ToBusinessOwners.com. Follow her on Twitter @LindseyTolino or connect with her on Google+.

Image info: Royalty-free image by Ryan McGuire from http://www.gratisography.com/

How To Over-Deliver by Setting Expectations

When I was about 13, my family went on a camping trip. Canoeing, roasting marshmallows, and hiking were on the agenda.

Allegany State Park

“Hiking” as a concept is not generally something a teenager will be keen on.

In my case, I was definitely more of a “find a shady tree to read under” type of teenager.

The rest of the family wanted to do this hike, so they told me it was “just a short walk, no big deal.”

By mile 5, I was aware I had been bamboozled. (Turns out it’s about a 6 mile hike.)

You really don’t want to hike several miles with an irate teenager. I proceeded to make the rest of the day miserable for everyone, because my expectations had been thwarted.

Whenever you’re dealing with your customers, vendors, business partners, and employees, it’s all about setting expectations up front.

  • Is your service going to lift my revenue by 10% in one year?
  • Is the meeting going to last 15 minutes?
  • Are you going to send me 2 customers a month in referrals?

Whatever stake you put in the ground at the outset is going to determine whether the other party feels the relationship was successful.

The people who bungle this rule the most are sales people.

“No, termites aren’t a problem around here.”
“Sure, the software has that feature!”
“My workshop will change your life.”

Over-promising and under-delivering are a two-headed monster.

So how does a successful entrepreneur stop himself/herself from getting carried away?

  • Be specific in your claims
  • Back it up with real customer stories
  • Have a documented process
  • Connect the sales team with the development and customer service teams
  • If you’re talking with a prospect, paint a realistic picture of how your relationship will work
  • When you’re talking numbers, be aggressive but not dishonest. Don’t promise that you’ll get them the top slot on Page 1 of Google search results.
  • Ask your customer what their expectations are, right at the outset.

And don’t ever take your teenagers camping.

Author’s Bio: Rosemary O’Neill is an insightful spirit who works for social strata — a top ten company to work for on the Internet . Check out the Social Strata blog. You can find Rosemary on Google+ and on Twitter as @rhogroupee

June 2014 Gathering in Chicago with Liz Strauss

Dear Friends & Community,

Thank you for your interest in being part of the gathering in Chicago that is being held June 27 -29, 2014 with Liz Strauss. Paul O’’Mahony, Eric T. Strauss and I have been working behind the scenes to develop a weekend that will be full of amazing connections, wonderful learnings and inspiring personal & business opportunities!

We have been collaborating closely with Liz Strauss to plan what’’s next. We have also received feedback from many folks about what they want to happen when we all meet in Chicago in June. People have told us how much they truly value working together; both as a large group and through smaller group interactions as well. They appreciate being able to share the challenges and opportunities that are before their businesses. They love being part of a community that has common values & strong bonds.

We are very excited about what’s coming together!

What You Need To Know

1. Dates, Times & Venues

The gathering will be held on June 27 & 28, 2014  from 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM at the Inspire Business Center (in the West Loop)  which is located at 1016 W Jackson Blvd Chicago. On June 29, 2014 – 9:00 AM – 11:30 AM we will meet at Next Door (Lincoln Park neighborhood) which is located at 659 W Diversey Pkwy, Chicago.

2. Working Agenda for the Event

We have been working closely with Liz Strauss to develop an agenda for the event.  Here is an overview of how things are shaping up. Note – this is still a “working agenda”; so things will continue to be updated as we get closer to the event.

On June 27 & 28, 2014 the days will consist of facilitated discussions, small group interactions and moments of insight with the room on a range of topics.  Each topic will be explored in three ways:

  • Facilitated discussion of the topic

  • Interactive quest (a 2-person, 3-person or small group interaction) in which we work together to identify best path and best practices for each of us.

  • Moments of insight shared with the room.

We will also be incorporating some Hot Seat opportunities into each of the days.

Day One – June 27, 2014

8:30 AM – 4:30 PM

Location: Inspire Business Center

Finding Your Genius

Opens with a whole room conversation about goals for the gathering.

Topic 1 – How to tap into the genius that is your key contribution.

Topic 2 – How to identify the genius you need on your team.

Topic 3 – How to claim, convince, and deeply connect with your ideal community.

Ends with small group discussion to list the connections and information we each need to achieve our goals.

Evening Plans – TBA

Day Two – June 28, 2014

8:30 AM – 4:30 PM

Location: Inspire Business Center

Putting Day 1 to Work

Opens with whole room discussion to aggregate the lists of connections and information we need.

​Topic 4 – Multiple how-to sessions pulled from the group list of needs.

Topic 5 – How to share content to attract ideal customers.

Topic 6 – How to get the right people sharing what you do.

Evening Plans – TBA

Day Three – June 29, 2013

9:00 AM – 11:30 AM

Location: Next Door

Several Possibilities

We are currently exploring a number of options for the morning of Day Three. We have several possibilities available to us and are in the process of developing them out. Whatever we finalize, we know it will be truly worthwhile – so we hope you will plan to join us. If you have thoughts about Day Three please feel free to reach out to me via email or direct message.

Lunch Plans – TBA

Important Note: We are still sorting out the logistics related to food/meals for this event.  Unless we otherwise advise you will be responsible for all costs related to coffee/meals etc.  We are exploring options related to this and are hoping to secure some local sponsors.

3. How To Register

There are a limited number of spaces available for this event due to the size of the venues we have secured. As such, we request that you complete the registration process as quickly as possible.

  • Step One: Follow this Paypal link to make a payment of $275.00 to confirm your registration for this event. (Please note: Any funds that you paid for participation in the previous June event have been fully refunded several weeks ago.)
  • Step Two: Complete the Registration Form so that we have your personal information on file for our registration records.

4. Hotel Accommodations

We have not secured a block of hotel rooms for this event so you are responsible to make and pay for your own hotel accommodation if this is necessary. One of the closest hotels to the event venue is the Crowne Plaza Metro. Out of town attendees may wish to register at this hotel. It’s about a 15 minute walk from the Inspire Business Center.

 5. How You Can Help

We expect that we will need some help with a few specific tasks prior to June as well as during the event. If you are interested in assisting with any of this please Jane Boyd. We will reach out to the community as tasks are identified.

Thank you for your ongoing interest and support related to this gathering with Liz Strauss.  We can’t wait to see you in June!


Reclaiming Her Voice: Liz Strauss on Overcoming Cancer and the Future of SOBCon

By Angel Djambazov

A year ago, I had the privilege of speaking with Liz Strauss as she began her cancer treatment journey.

We wanted to update you on the challenges, triumphs, and surprises she’s encountered over the last year and to let you know how much she appreciates all the support she’s received.

Liz told me she felt like she had been through a crucible with the treatment. Unexpected health and personal complications made the journey even tougher than she imagined. But with the help of family, friends, and the SOBCon community, Liz has emerged cancer free, energized, and literally giddy with enthusiasm for SOBCon 2014. Here’s our interview.

On behalf of the SOBCon community, welcome back Liz. How are you feeling?

I’m at 95%. I expect to be at 100% very soon. The cancer is gone, I’m feeling more like my pre-cancer self, and I’m excited about the things I’m working on.

Where are you in your recovery?

Every four months, I get a PET scan and a CT scan, and they continue to show no signs of cancer. Luckily for me, the doctors at the University of Chicago have an eighty-five percent success rate with larynx cancer. Funny enough the doctors at Cedars Sinai, where the movie stars go, told me I’d have to lose my larynx completely and start with some mechanical way of talking. Thankfully we didn’t opt to go the route of surgery.

You’ve described the treatment to me, and the subsequent events that followed, as a crucible, why do you use that word?

It was way more difficult than I expected.

Beyond the issues normally associated with cancer treatment, I also suffered a fall that broke both my shoulder and my hip. My recovery from both the breaks and the cancer took longer because one exacerbated the other.

After six weeks of chemotherapy, I lost my hair in January then I broke my shoulder and my hip during the second week of radiation treatments. Radiation lasted every other week, ten times for a week, then a break week. Because of my injuries, I couldn’t come home, both because I physically couldn’t care for myself and because my husband also ended up in the hospital at the same time.

For several months during the radiation treatments, I couldn’t even talk on the phone because my voice wasn’t strong enough. My best friend came and took my phone calls for me.

Even after I completed radiation, a severe infection developed and lasted from March to November. I didn’t really feel my energy come back until the first week of December.

After all that, I now have the pleasure of talking to people on the phone or in person they tell me, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard your voice this strong,” or “Gosh, it’s so nice I don’t have to lean forward to hear what you’re saying.”

What impact did the treatment have on you emotionally?

Emotionally, it was rough. I’m great if people manage my expectations but I had no point of reference for this experience. There are things the doctors couldn’t cure. When my mouth was covered with sores inside it from the therapy, I expected them to fix it, because that’s what doctors do, but there wasn’t a fix.

I was naïve enough to think that on the day that radiation was done I would start getting better. I didn’t realize that radiation is a lot like a microwave; it keeps cooking you for another month after the treatment. Even though it was awesome to attend SOBCon last May, I was embarrassed by how weak I felt and sounded.

I never really expected or thought I’d die from this. I find it curious now, but it never crossed my mind that I might die. I did experience extreme fear. At one point, I’d spent so many days in the hospital, I cried and begged when I had to go back in. I suppose that was because I had to give up so much of my freedom.

I also found out some things about myself. I know a lot of people who think I’m really, really kind but under that pressure, I found out what a bitch I can be. I worked to my own detriment. I don’t ever want to live that again. I’m nicer now, let’s put it that way.

It’s hard to give up your independence. How did you handle going from being so independent to being dependent on others?

I have an inherent personality trait, no matter how unrealistic it is, that I somehow believe when I get up tomorrow I can fix a problem. Giving up that independence to others was part of the process. Just say, “Hey, I can’t do this.” Terry, Carol, Britt, Eric, so many people worked to put together last year’s SOBCon so I could focus on recovery.

Of course, I felt that all I was doing was sitting and being miserable. But if I had to try to take care of all the business and life that needed to be managed, it wouldn’t have been possible. Thankfully, there were a lot of people around me who wouldn’t let me fail.

My lifelong friend, Nancy, was amazing. She lives about 100 miles away, but she drove in to take me to every appointment. She would argue for the hospital when I felt so bad that I was fiercely angry at about what I’d lost. And at those times, I was deeply worried that I’d harm our relationship, but she hung there and kept telling me not to give it a thought. Nancy even moved in with my son and me for several months because it was easier than driving back and forth from her home. She pushed me around in a wheelchair just as much as anybody in that hospital. She was a godsend.

My stylist, J-D, was the best too. He’s one of the top stylist in Chicago. He’d only cut my hair once before I got sick. We knew each other online but not in person. But as soon as he found out about the cancer, he just sort of adopted me. First he made sure I had more wigs than I needed. He cut and styled the wigs so expertly that they looked natural hair; taking care so they looked good on me. He was a master at checking in once every week or two to see if I felt like going to a movie or to lunch just so I’d get aired out. You can’t pay for friendships like that.

In what ways did handing over your independence to others impact your outlook?

It was an amazing experience to have to hand things over to others and realize how unimportant I was to the bigger scheme of things. It’s redefined my sense of what quality is. It has gotten me out of my head and more into the heads and hearts of the people that I do all this for.

As a result, I’m listening more to that core community, [who’re like] the fans who would drive fifty miles to see your rock band play, because they are the ones who will always be with you. It was that core SOBCon family that challenged me after the treatment. Asking the hard questions and holding my feet to the fire. People like Becky McCray to Mark Carter to Jane Boyd, all asking questions like, “Are you well enough to even do the event in 2014?” Then, when I insisted I was, saying, “You’re going to have to prove it to us that this is the smartest thing for you to be doing right now, after what you’ve just been through physically, psychologically, emotionally, and economically that a SOBCon event is the right thing for you to do.” Of course, I just told them all just to be quiet (laughs). But those questions were worth their weight in gold.

I’m having more fun now. I’m back to where every day is a good day in my mind and I’m enjoying the creative part of things. I think there has been an attitude shift. It’ll probably take me a year to figure out what it is. I am certainly more focused on tasks than I’ve ever been in the past, and decidedly so. For me, it’s back to where it was in the days of the early event, you know the, “Get out of my way because this is going to be happening whatever it takes.”

As you started to get stronger how did it feel to step back into the swing of things?

Oddly, I was sort of afraid to get back in the swing of things again, which is an unfamiliar experience. If I could describe the best vacation ever, I would go sit on a beach and watch the ocean until I got bored and then I’d be ready to go back to work. I don’t think it would take very long. But by going back to work you are giving up the luxury of time. It has been my experience in the past that once you decide to step back into this there was nothing to be afraid of or worried about.

The fundraiser the community put together helped so much because it was something to hold onto. It meant I didn’t have to worry about the complete loss of income. For a few short months, I could just focus on getting better. I also didn’t want to worry about my son having to take care of us.

As nice as it was to have Eric there, it’s not nice to think about the interruption this is in his life. At his age, I was doing a lot of the same things for my mother so I was kind of reliving it from both points of view, except he had it more complicated because there was only one week that my dad was in the hospital while my mom was sick.

Now that I am back everyone is saying, “Hey, it’s great to see you!” so that doesn’t hurt either. It is affirming, especially online where I don’t have to get self-conscious about it.

What are you looking forward to most in 2014?

Wow, I have high expectations for 2014 because it has to be good enough to cover two years! I am actually looking forward to putting on my high heel shoes again, once my physical therapist says my hip is fixed. I’m looking forward to spring. I’m looking forward to watching and taking pictures of the sunrise every morning again; it’s a most wonderful way to start the day. I’m looking forward to going out to eat and enjoy what I’m eating and to be hungry again.

What direction is SOBCon heading?

For a conference to survive, it must evolve. With every evolution of SOBCon, we’ve tried to distill our message. When we held the first event, it was because 125 people who knew each other very well online decided that they wanted to meet in person, and you can’t replicate that. We called that first event the “Relationship Bloggers Conferencing Network Event.” A bit wordy, but pretty clear who it was for and what you’d get out of it.

For our next evolution, we decided to take a more business focus because there were so many people building up blogs and then saying, “I want to make money,” which was kind of backwards. As a result, the idea came that we should link all the content to an actionable plan to build a revenue stream, except for the financials, because you couldn’t fit those into a day and a half, and so we called it “BizSchool for Bloggers.”

When I think our focus got murky was when we decided to take the word “blogger” out of our tagline, to keep the online to offline relationship, so we called it, “Where the Virtual Meets the Concrete.” But I think looking back it wasn’t easy to define and I don’t think that anybody actually got the message we were intending to deliver with a tag line. So as a result of our history as a “Blogger conference” the event got named a social media event when in fact it’s always been a business event that is meant to serve the people who were from the blogging and social media communities.

While planning for this year, I was caught saying it was an event for online businesses. It was pointed out to me that so many who attend run face-to-face businesses. Carol Roth runs a face-to-face business. Les McKeown runs a face-to-face business. Tim Sanders, Steve Farber, and all of these people who are part of the SOBCon community are all in a face-to-face business. It made me pause and, with the help of my friends, rethink what we are trying to do, what our focus is. For me that process was truly reinvigorating!

It’s why I’m excited to introduce you to the SOBCon Leverage. Why leverage? Because you need two things to be successful in business: 1) Strong and deep connective relationships, and 2) actionable plans and ideas. That is what SOBCon provides for anyone who attends. Leverage to build your business or brand. Leverage to help keep your business or brand growing towards its goals. Because you need leverage to succeed whether you’re in a corporation or on a team of one.

There are dozens of folks who will testify, myself included, to what a transcending experience SOBCon can be. Will focusing on Leverage change SOBCon?

Well, no, that part of SOBCon is not going to change. We’ve got that right. During our process of selecting presenters, I’m always focused on being sure they understand the ethic of the event. The SOBCon rule about presenters is, somebody has to present the content, and certainly that person should be someone that people want to see, but just because you present the content doesn’t mean that you’re smarter than anyone else in the room. SOBCon is not the kind of event where your ego can enter the room before you do. Those egos are not welcome.

I love how Lisa Horner describes it. “You immediately walk into a room and you feel this sense of community. It’s a good feeling that you belong to. But then they put on these brilliant speakers with brilliant ideas and, because you’ve been opened up to this sense of trust, you experience learning in a whole new way.”

Or as Mark Carter said the other day, “After you reach a certain point in your industry you don’t go to events to go to the sessions. You go to the event to network with people. But when there’s thousands of people at a show, you have to negotiate through them to even find that one influencer/that one person you want to meet.” My response to that is, why not just go to the room with 144 people you want to meet? At SOBcon we bring them to you.

It’s that high-trust environment that makes the magic in the room happen. It’s something that I guard, protect, and work very hard to cultivate at the very beginning of every event to insure that all the right pieces are in place so that the magic happens again. After 10 events, I’ve become a pretty good magician.

Hearing you talk about SOBCon you sound vibrant and giddy. It is good to hear you that way.

I’m just looking forward to putting SOBCon together this year that I can’t get over it! When I say it’s the best year, I’m sure of it! You know the chemo-brain thing has gone away, and the fog from the treatment has lifted. I’m beginning to take my brain out and play. For me SOBCon is the ultimate expression of that. Both because of what I get to do to build it, but because of what everybody gets to experience it when they come. Few things are more powerful then when 144 people take out their brains to play and to actually get work done.


You can find your own SOBCon Leverage by purchasing tickets here: SOBCon Leverage, Chicago 2014 takes place June 27-29, 2014 at the Summit Executive Center. Will you be in the room?

Author’s Bio:Born in Bulgaria, Angel Djambazov has spent his professional career in the fields of journalism and online marketing. His career path led to online marketing where while working at OnlineShoes he earned the Affiliate Manager of the Year (2006) award at the Affiliate Summit, and In-house Manager of the Year (2006) award by ABestWeb.In 2007 Angel started Custom Tailored Marketing and became the OPM for Jones Soda for which he won his second Affiliate Manger of the Year (2009) award at Affiliate Summit. Angel also was the lead evanglist for PopShops.com which was awarded Best Affiliate Tool (2007 & 2008) award by ABestWeb. In 2010 he won his third Pinnacle Award from Affiliate Summit for Affiliate Marketing Advocate of the Year.

Tax tips for freelancers: is it a business or a hobby?

By Sharita Hutton

For Chicago based Aubre Andrus, writing is her life. The author of seven children’s books, a blogger, and website copywriter, Andrus calls herself a triple threat when it comes to her work. “I mix marketing savviness with journalistic integrity and creative writing thanks to various positions I’ve held in the past,” Andrus said.

But instead of waking up every morning, and heading into the office, Andrus is finding her roles in media through freelance work and it turns out she is not alone.

It is estimated that there are 42 million people in work operations based on “freelance” principles and the number continues to grow. That is, these workers have a great deal of freedom in how much and when they work, who they work for and what they get paid. The freedom comes to a halt when it comes to taxes because even if just a little extra income is being earned, that money is reportable income. Plus, special reporting rules apply to some freelancers.

“My least favorite part about being a freelancer is dealing with tax-related issues. I dread tax season and I had no idea what to do at first,” Andrus said.

Freelancers need to track what they earn because even if they don’t get a 1099 or W-2, reporting this income is required by law – even when the payment is made in cash. When freelance work becomes the main source of income or a full-time job, income and expenses need to be reported on Schedule C. Also, when freelancing becomes a business, self-employment tax may be owed, along with quarterly, estimated tax payments. An advantage of operating a business is that expenses can directly offset income, which means a freelancer can show a loss.

“I pay quarterly taxes,” Andrus said. “There a lot of decisions freelancers need to make when it comes to finances, and these are decisions that shouldn’t be made on your own.”

H&R Block Tax Professional Riley Holmes has advice for freelancers. “As a small business owner, you are most likely to report your business income in the year you receive it and deduct your expenses in the year in which you pay them. Sometimes it may be advantageous for you to defer some of your billing until the next year, but once you have access to the income you must report it.”

When freelance activities are at the “hobby” level, all related expenses can be deducted as miscellaneous itemized deductions. But, the deduction is limited to the total revenue from that hobby and it is only for the expenses in excess of 2 percent of adjusted income.

The more you operate your business in a professional manner, the more likely the IRS will treat it as a profession rather than a hobby, making it important to

  • Track all income (it is reportable and taxable)
  • Save receipts (you could be able to deduct some expenses)
  • Secure digital and paper records (be sure to back them up, too)
  • Separate bank accounts (makes it easier to keep good records and file accurate tax returns)
  • Know tax rules for business model (it makes a difference if you have a business or a hobby)
Author’s Bio: Sharita Hutton helps bloggers and other entrepreneurs navigate tax issues. For more information about the difference between having a freelance business and a hobby and other tax topics, contact an H&R Block tax professional. To find the nearest H&R Block office, visit www.hrblock.com or call 800-HRBLOCK.

How to Avoid Taking Out Large Loans to Fund Your Business

By Bill Fay

Family, friends and even his college professors told Aidan Augustin he had a business idea worth pursuing, even if meant dropping out of college.

Augustin and his roommate, Neal Ormsbe, designed a smartphone application that would allow anyone attending a business conference to get connected to and stay connected with the speakers and other attendees at the conference.

The two were juniors majoring in engineering at the University of Florida, but everyone said the idea couldn’t wait, so they dropped out of school, gave the business a name, Feathr, and opened shop.

There was just one little obstacle left to overcome.

“Money,” Augustin said, citing the one little obstacle nearly every small business owner must overcome.

Augustin and Ormsbe figured they needed $50,000 to get started. That’s not big money, unless you happen to be 20-year-old college dropouts with meager savings and no assets.

“We knew banks wouldn’t want anything to do with us,” Augustin said.

Getting Started

Fortunately, family, friends and their college professors got them started. Their parents agreed to send the same money they would have sent if the two had stayed in school. Friends agreed to work for what amounted to minimum-wage salaries. Professors put some of their own money in the pot, and a small business was born.

It didn’t take Augustin long to learn why more than half of start-up businesses fail the first year.

“We needed a lot more money than we thought we would,” Augustin said. “We didn’t understand the realities of what it takes to run a business. We underestimated costs on everything.”

That includes the relationship costs when you take loans from people you know, with no guarantee you can pay them back.

“The conversations with our parents and friends got a little awkward because we couldn’t really show clear signs of progress,” Augustin said. “Professional investors know the risks involved so it’s a little easier to deal with them when you’re starting out.”

Making Gains

Augustin let Ormsbe and a couple of part-time employees do the development work the next year and devoted more of his time to fundraising. He started with the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, where he found $21,000 worth of backing.

Then he won a lottery that provided free tickets to a conference in Silicon Valley for software startups called the “Largest Hack-A-Thon In History.” It was sponsored by Barracuda Networks, which offered winners $25,000 and a seemingly endless supply of business contacts.

Augustin’s group beat 130 teams from all over the country and claimed the top prize. That led to a front-page article in his hometown paper, the Orlando Sentinel, and suddenly Feathr had some status.

“That article created a buzz about our company,” Augustin said.

Feathr picked up a $150,000 award from TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) and contacts from the Barracuda Networks conference resulted in the first product sales. The 2014 budget is up to $450,000, most of which will go to pay salaries for the 12 full-time employees now working at Feathr’s offices in Gainesville, Fla.

“We don’t having the living expenses they have in Silicon Valley or New York City or places like that, which is a huge advantage for us,” Augustin said. “We can use our money more efficiently to hire more people and pay them actual salaries they can live on.”

The best news is that Feathr, now in its third year of operation, still hasn’t needed a bank loan to stay in business.

“We sort of hopped and skipped from one funding source to another, but we’ve made it so far,” Augustin said. “We’re working to keep it going that way.”

In addition to the crowdfunding, and loans from friends and families that helped jumpstart Augustin’s small business, another option to consider is tapping an annuity. Entrepreneurs who have annuities could use those investments to finance their budding enterprises instead of taking out loans.

The great thing about an annuity is that it’s your money. It’s already there, and you are not borrowing from a lender; however, since the annuity operates as retirement income, there are penalties to taking cash out before retirement.

When you take funds out of your annuity early you can expect the following:

  • A 10 percent penalty on the taxable portion of the annuity is forfeited if you are under the age of 59 ½.
  • The tax deferral benefits are in place to encourage long-term retirement savings, so the fee is similar to what you would pay on an early withdrawal from an IRA.
  • In most cases, if you cash out early, you will have to pay surrender charges. If your annuity carries a surrender fee, you should try to wait until the fee no longer applies. Surrender charges generally start at 7 percent and decrease incrementally, usually by 1 or 2 percentage points each year, until they reach zero.
  • Earnings on annuities are considered ordinary income, so you must pay taxes on any earnings when you cash out your annuity. This is in addition to the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty.
Author’s Bio: Bill Fay is a writer for Annuity.org, focused mainly on news stories about the spending habits of families and government. He spent 21 years in the newspaper business and eight more in television and radio, dealing with college and professional sports, then seven forgettable years writing speeches and marketing materials for a government agency.

Save on Taxes by Making Wise Choices During Open Enrollment at Work

By Sharita Hutton

When it comes to tax-deferred accounts for health expenses, most taxpayers get it all wrong. A recent Fidelity survey shows that nearly 3 in 4 incorrectly think employer-provided health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts are virtually the same thing. H&R Block (NYSE: HRB) knows this misunderstanding causes many to miss out on a chance to pay less in taxes because contributions to these accounts are not taxed. Before checking off the same boxes they do every year during open enrollment for health benefits at work, taxpayers who have access should consider these accounts.

How much money? A $2,000 annual ($166 monthly) contribution to health savings account or a flexible spending account could save a taxpayer in the 25-percent tax bracket $500 in taxes (contribution × marginal tax rate = tax savings).

The money contributed to either type of account must be spent on qualified medical expenses, which include eyeglasses, contact lenses and prescribed medication. Also, appointments with doctors – for general preventative checkups, appointments with specialists and visits when not feeling well – are among the eligible expenses. All these routine expenses can add up quickly; out-of-pocket costs for a family of four were expected to average $3,600 in 2013, according to the 2013 Milliman Medical Index.

Not going to the doctor when sick could save money, just like wearing outdated prescription glasses and only taking half as much medication as prescribed, but none of these are advisable ways to save on health care expenses. Here is some information taxpayers can use to determine if a health savings account or a flexible spending account could help them save money.

Health savings account gives opportunity for long-term saving

As with other savings accounts, the money in a health savings account can stay in the account indefinitely, allowing the account holder to save for future medical needs. Funds used for qualified expenses can be withdrawn tax-free, and interest earned on the account is tax-exempt. Here are some of the participation rules:

The taxpayer must participate in a high-deductible health plan

  • High-deductible is defined as at least $1,250 deductible for self-only coverage and $2,500 for a family
  • Plan must not pay benefits until deductible is reached

(There are exceptions for preventive care and certain permitted benefits, such as dental expenses)

The maximum contribution for 2014 is $3,300 for self-only coverage and $6,550 for a family

  • An additional $1,000 may be contributed for taxpayers who are at least 55 years old.

Flexible spending account money must be used by deadline or it will be lost.

Unlike with health savings accounts, the money contributed to a flexible spending account must be used by the end of the plan year or grace period, or it will be lost. Up to $2,500 may be withheld from gross income for contributions to flexible spending accounts.

Just like other elections made during open enrollment for benefits, decisions about these accounts cannot be changed before the next annual enrollment period, unless an employee has a qualifying event. Among qualifying events are birth, divorce, marriage, death and loss of benefits from another source (e.g., a spouse losing a job).

Some retirement options selected during open enrollment also have pre-tax benefits

Another option for pre-tax savings that happens as part of open enrollment in the workplace is selecting retirement savings plans. The average retirement span is 18 years and 80 percent of people ages 30-54 don’t think they will have enough money put away for their retirement. A good first step in saving for retirement is to make pre-tax contributions to a 401(k). Because these contributions are made with money that has not been taxed, the amount contributed reduces taxable income and that can potentially reduce the overall tax bill. Also, retirement savings grow tax-free.

For more information about health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts, saving for retirement or advice on other ways to reduce tax liability, contact an H&R Block tax professional. To find the nearest H&R Block office, visit www.hrblock.com or call 800-HRBLOCK.

Promote Your Events with Compelling Copy

By Jessica Davis

You may have heard the popular phrase “if you build it, they will come.”

This is quite untrue in case of organizing events and meetings. It doesn’t matter how well you have organized an event if you are unable to effectively market it. Lots of organizations and groups fall short in this regard only because they send out simple announcements listing the time, date, speaker, and location of an event.

You, as an event organizer, have to realize there is a lot of competition out there, and you need to convince prospective attendees that you are worth their money and time.

Importance of a compelling headline

A compelling headline holds the key to catching the eye of prospective attendees. A simple headline, such as “2013 Annual Conference” fails to grab the attention of any reader. It may describe what your event is about, but cannot really be called a headline. A compelling headline is one that incites the reader to learn more about the event. In terms of marketing, it should typically promise some benefits. For instance – ‘Master the art of social media in three hours;’ or ‘Touch new horizons with your business.’

If the event has only a single speaker, then their program title can be used as the headline, if it satisfies the criteria given above. Multi-speaker events will require you to present the overall benefits for the reader in the headline.

Event details

Location, time, and date

Be sure to make this information easy to locate. In fact, mention it twice at least on the web page or brochure. A map with parking information and driving directions is a nice addition too. If applicable, you should also mention the transportation and hotel information. Other than these, mentioning savings such as discounted rates on group bookings can also help your cause.

Program outline

Give a general idea of the things taking place in the event. You should include the schedule, such as networking time, meals, or other important details for multi-day or all day long meetings.

Attending benefits

This is the essence of the marketing message. This topic explains to the prospective attendees why they should invest their valuable resources in coming to your event. You have to be specific while promising results.

Presenter bios

The biographical information about speakers at the event establishes their credibility. Potential attendees probably won’t care about the bio of the speaker anyway, but not including this section may lead them to doubt the event’s credibility.

Registration information

Be sure to make the registration process painless. If the registration form is too confusing or very exhaustive, chances are potential attendees will simply reject the event due to the formalities involved in filling the registration alone. The registration instructions should be easy to follow, clear, and simple.

Highlight special features and incentives

Apart from the speakers, include other highlights of the event. This can include local tours, autograph session, trade show, banquet, concert or show, live demo, organized activities, and so forth.

Testimonials are other powerful marketing elements that are generally overlooked by event organizers. You should use two different testimonial types: one from speakers, and other from past attendees. These should preferably be result oriented, and the more, the merrier.

Finally, a call to action should conclude the whole sales presentation. Without it, prospective attendees probably won’t take any action apart from reading the whole presentation that you so painstakingly produced. Be clear at the end with lines such as “Register from this link”; “Fill form given below”; “Now!” Today”; or “Fax to this number”.

Author’s Bio: Jessica Davis is a Content Strategy Specialist with Godot Media – a leading content marketing firm. She has years of experience working closely with online businesses, helping them refine their marketing strategy through optimum use of content. Her other interests besides online content strategy, internet marketing and search engine optimization are, technology, sports and fashion.

If You’re Skipping the Smaller Conferences, You’re Missing Out

Walking the exhibit hall at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is an awe-inspiring experience.

Look! There’s CNN’s camera crew. Look over here, there’s a drawing to win a new car! Come over here, there are hovercrafts you can pilot yourself. And Debbie Gibson is performing in this booth…

smaller conferences are better

The exhibits are huge, the keynotes are standing room only, and conference sessions are elbow to elbow. From what I’ve heard, SXSW is heading in the same direction…possibly too big for its own good.

That’s why I like to focus on the smaller, more intimate conferences, like SOBCon (back in 2014), Social Slam, or the upstart ConvergeSouth. There’s still plenty of room for learning new stuff, meeting new people, and forming quality relationships. There’s less swag, and more value for your money.

Why Smaller Conferences are a Better Investment

  • You can focus on a conference that dives deeply into your niche. Rather than a huge, generic marketing conference, try one that focuses on content marketing.
  • Have better conversations. When you can actually hear yourself talk, you can have those great hallway discussions that often turn into long-term relationships. With fewer people milling around, you have a better chance of having more than a quick chat.
  • Get access. Some of the smaller conferences pull in heavy hitter speakers, and you can have much easier access to meet them. Especially if you spend the little bit extra for a VIP pass.
  • Enjoy the adventure factor. Sometimes things are just more loose at a smaller conference. You might find yourself in a dive bar at the after-after-after party building memories with people you only knew online. Not that that ever happened. I’m not allowed to say.
  • Anticipate the “let’s put on a show” factor. Smaller conferences often have a hardy band of local volunteers who are shouldering the burden of hosting. It’s a fantastic opportunity to offer your help with the little things. If a speaker flakes out, you could be there when you’re needed to jump in (I’ve seen that happen). If the audio-visual hookups are wonky, you can jump up and troubleshoot. Earn the eternal gratitude of the conference team, and make some friends.
  • Spend less money. The newer, smaller conferences are cheaper, and sometimes even the peripheral expenses are lower since they are held in smaller cities. A hotel room in Greensboro, NC is much more affordable than one in New York City. And do I need to mention food costs? At a small conference in Portland, I had the most amazing grilled cheese sandwich for lunch from a food truck. Cheap and mind-blowingly delicious.

Are you ready to pack your bags? What are your favorite smaller conferences?

Author’s Bio: Rosemary O’Neill is an insightful spirit who works for social strata — a top ten company to work for on the Internet . Check out the Social Strata blog. You can find Rosemary on Google+ and on Twitter as @rhogroupee

5 Tips for Over The Top Customer Service

By Deb Bixler

In any home business or direct sales business, just providing good customer service is not enough in a very competitive economy.

Customer Service

You need to encourage your team members to take their customer service from bland and average to spectacular.

How do they do that?

5 Tips For Over The Top Customer Service

Here are five things to do that will make your customer service stand out from the pack by turning indifferent customers into raving fans who will return again and again.

1. Create a positive experience from start to finish. Take a look at all aspects of your company to see how customers perceive their experience dealing with your business.

Did their phone calls get answered courteously and promptly?

Were they greeted with a smile and an enthusiastic hello every time you met with them?

Did you or a team member do everything possible to find answers to their questions?

Was every point of contact enthusiastic, energetic and incredible?

It is important to view your business from the other side and then improve any area that appears lacking.

2. Engage your customers and step into their shoes.

Listen to their wants and needs. Learn to empathize with their problems. They want to believe that you care about their desires. The direct sales business is all about customer relationships and sales consultants who can truly make connections will have the inside track on making the sale.

3. Think outside the box.

Doing the same thing over and over again is boring. It is also bad for business. Though customers are sometimes resistant to change, they do enjoy surprises from time to time.

Without making wholesale changes to your way of doing business, you can still offer little surprises that delight both repeat and new customers. Creativity, imagination and ingenuity are essential ingredients for successful entrepreneurs.

4. The customer is always right.

It can be difficult at times to acquiesce to the customer’s demands and requests. However, good customer service demands that you work with your team members to get them to truly understand that the customer is always right. If you offer more service, more empathy and more understanding than your competitor, your customers will notice.

5. A little enthusiasm goes a long way.

If you are not enthused about your business, how can you expect the customer to be enthused about your products or services? Deliver your customer service with enthusiasm and excitement. Make sure that your team members also provide customer service with the same levels of enthusiasm and excitement.

Customer service should impress and inspire.

It should be grounded in the fundamental belief that you have something wonderful to offer your customers and that they are intelligent and well-informed consumers. If customers are impressed and inspired, they will pull out their checkbooks, cash and credit cards to purchase your products and services.

If they feel that your service is bland and boring, you won’t be in the direct sales business for very long.

Author’s Bio:
Deb Bixler retired from the corporate world using the proven business systems that made her a success working for others by incorporating them into her home business. In only 9 months Deb replaced her full time income with the sales and commissions from her home party plan business. Find her on Twitter: @debbixler.