Archive | Business

Small Business Pulse

By Tom Irmen

If you’re wondering about the state of today’s small business community, feast your eyes on the most recent small business optimism survey from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).

“There is no question that small business is booming,” said Bill Dunkelberg, NFIB Chief Economist. “Consumer spending, the new tax law, and lower regulatory barriers are all supporting the surge in optimism across all small business industry sectors.”

The NFIB survey for the month ending April 2018 came in at 104.8, the highest in the survey’s 45-year history.

I’ve often spoken to other small business owners about the challenges resulting from the “sitting on the fence” trend that began to emerge during the most recent recession. Surprised by the depth and breadth of this nearly decade long recession, most entrepreneurs eliminated all but essential expenditures, reduced staff, eliminated or significantly curtailed capital expenditures, closed satellite locations, and shelved future expansion plans.

Despite all of the positive financial news of late, many small business owners remain cautious, fearing that the other shoe might drop. Perhaps current financial and political volatility playing out on our national and international stages are the cause of much of this apprehension, but it is important to recognize that the promise of real sustainable growth is being driven by sound financial fundamentals such as those cited in this NFIB survey.

This April survey is the 17th consecutive month of historically high readings. The survey points to gains in productivity, stronger sales, and increased spending on new equipment. And a host of other surveys and statistics support these survey results.

NFIB President and CEO, Juanita Duggan, said, “Never in the history of this survey have we seen such profit trends so high.”

The future for small business hasn’t looked this promising in a long time. Perhaps the biggest challenge confronting today’s small business owner is the reluctance to accept today’s positive financial trends as reality.

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Add Value to Your Small Business by Serving Others

By Tom Irmen

If you have ever wondered where small business owners derive their entrepreneurial drive, oftentimes you do not have to look any further than the parents that raised these individuals.

One of eight children, my father’s life was centered around his family, so it was not surprising that he left school at an early age to help support his family after his father lost his job during the Great Depression. In fact, until my father married, he endorsed his paycheck over to his parents every payday. He never regarded his choices as sacrifices but merely something that family members did for family. When the second world war broke out, he volunteered for service in the United States Navy. I remember to this day his first-hand account of sailing into Pearl Harbor and his description of the devastation that still remained from the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack.

Like most veterans of that time, he returned from the war without fanfare and immediately returned to work. He married our mom soon after, and they went on to raise six children. But little had changed for Dad. His life remained one of hard work, with often more than one job, and a dedication to his friends and family. Regardless of what he was doing on his few days off, if any family member or friend was in need of his help, he would drop whatever he was doing to lend a hand.

When our mother unexpectedly passed away at an early age, Dad was left to care for my four brothers and sisters who remained at home. Balancing work and parenting proved to be difficult for him, and he often struggled, but he did the best he could.

His life’s journey, although marked with some disappointments, was nonetheless one of service to others. He had a true love for his family and friends that he seldom expressed in words but rather by his actions.

I appreciate my dad’s sense of duty and loyalty to others, and my hope is that I demonstrate these same qualities I learned from him, both in my everyday life and in my interaction with others. I am proud of my dad and know that he did his very best for his family, friends, and nation. He truly was part of this country’s greatest generation. Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

My dad passed away on October 4, 2016, at age 90, less than a month before his beloved Chicago Cubs won their first world series in 108 years.

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Become Your Own Marketplace Disrupter

By Tom Irmen

Many small business owners live in fear of the potential for “disruptive technology” to enter their marketplace, putting them out of business.  The fear of an Amazon-like disrupter displacing established marketplace leaders with innovative new ideas is enough to cause even the most ardent entrepreneur to lose sleep.

But take a step back for a moment.  Amazon, which was first launched as an online bookseller in 1994 by Jeff Bezos, generated only $511,000 in sales in 1995, posting a net operating loss of $303,000.  What you may not know is that Amazon was founded in the garage of Bezos’ home in Bellevue, Washington.

On April 1, 1976, Apple Computers, Inc. was founded by college dropouts Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.  Once again, launched from a garage, Jobs and Wozniak started building the Apple 1 and selling it without a monitor, keyboard, or casing, which weren’t added until 1977.

And childhood friends Paul Allen and Bill Gates set out to succeed in business utilizing their shared skills in computer programming, launching their first company, Traf-O-Data, in 1972 before establishing Microsoft in 1975.

Without question, the new technologies I have cited have had a profound impact on the world of business and our own personal lives, leaving many lamenting the fact that these disrupters have been the root cause of tens of thousands of companies closing their doors and millions of employees losing their jobs.  But the fact is that these innovators simply set out to satisfy existing or future perceived consumer needs or marketplace changes that they identified and responded to with their own unique marketplace innovations. And they accomplished their objectives with the meager resources they possessed at that time.

While few of us will rise to the level of Bezos, Gates, or Jobs, each of us has the potential of becoming a disrupter within our own marketplace by identifying changing consumer needs and then satisfying them with our own unique marketplace innovations.  Sound daunting?  Perhaps, but try to imagine the task ahead of you if your competition acts first.

Perhaps what is most remarkable about these early marketplace disrupters is just how unremarkable they likely appeared to others at the time. Marketplace disruption is the domain of risk taking, forward thinking, and innovative entrepreneurs and not just a handful of billionaires.

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Entrepreneur

Avoid New Tax Law Complacency

By Tom Irmen

The Tax Cuts and Job Acts of 2017 gripped headlines right up to its enactment, but much less is heard today of its far reaching impacts on individual and business taxpayers. Many of us are understandably focused on reporting our 2017 tax liabilities and the day-to-day management of our businesses. One word of caution, however: Don’t allow complacency to creep into your tax planning for 2018 and beyond. It could end up costing you plenty. In fact, I would encourage every small business owner to schedule time with their accountant to discuss all of the applicable provisions of this new tax law that will likely impact them.

I asked Yvonne Marsh, Certified Financial Planner™ and CPA of Marsh Wealth Management, to elaborate on several of the key provisions of the new tax. Here is her response:

The new tax laws generally benefit both individuals and small business owners in the form of higher standard deductions and lower marginal tax rates. The biggest change for small business owners is the introduction of the Qualified Business Income (“QBI”) deduction. QBI is generally the earnings from a trade or business. If the business is a pass-through entity (i.e. not a C corporation) and the total taxable income is less than $207,500 for an individual or $415,000 for a married couple, then the owners can take a deduction for 20% of their qualified business income. If those income limits are exceeded, there are additional rules relating to the type of business you own and the deduction begins to phase-out. Notably, this QBI deduction does not reduce your self-employment tax.

Other changes for small business owners include the elimination of the 50% entertainment expense deduction (the 50% meals deduction remains), increased deprecation for business cars, an employer tax credit for paid leave provided under the Family and Medical Leave Act, increased deductions for bonus depreciation, and the limit to expense purchases under Section 179 was raised from $520,000 to $1 million annually.

Entering into this new tax year without a thorough understanding of the potential impact of the new tax law on our businesses could cost you thousands of dollars and missed opportunities that perhaps your competition may take full advantage of. If you’ve already prepared your taxes for 2017, schedule a follow-up appointment with your accountant. If you haven’t already completed your 2017 taxes, schedule an appointment with your accountant to discuss the new tax law. If your accountant doesn’t understand the new tax law changes, schedule an appointment with your new accountant.

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Entrepreneur

Make Some Waves

By Tom Irmen

You’ll discover that the theme of this month’s entrepreneur article is very much the same as last month’s. It is because I feel so strongly about this subject that I felt it deserved repeating.


As a youth growing up in the ’50s, I was surrounded by a group of loving, encouraging, and supporting parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles who all felt invested in the future success of not only their own children, but the success of their nieces and nephews as well. However, they all shared one common experience that shaped the advice they afforded to each of us, and that was that they had all lived through one of the most devastating economic catastrophes in U.S. history: The Great Depression.

The Great Depression saw my mother’s father, my grandfather, after the death of his wife, placing his five children with relatives on family farms while he traveled to Alaska to seek work as a tree cutter. My late father once shared with me that he and his brother used to go into the family basement to turn on the gas, which had been shut off for non-payment, so that their mother could warm a meal for her eight children. And my wife Judy’s grandmother, and my friend, once saved all of the aluminum foil that our restaurant served baked potatoes in, rather than see it disposed of – a lesson she had learned 50 years earlier. Waste not, want not.

Each of us is comprised of lifetime experiences – ours and those who were responsible for raising us. And despite the economic boom and the prosperity that occurred after World War II, a great many people avoided taking risks, fearing the future as seen through the prism of their past.

Almost to a person, the advice I received was to get a good education, go to work for a Fortune 500 company, and not to make waves. Basically, choose security over the uncertainty of making waves.

I won’t risk predicting what the future holds for you. And it’s ok to learn from the past unless it defines your future. Many people sense a resurgence of the American dream. I guess I share their optimism. Maybe it’s time for you to make some waves and to reignite your hope for the future.

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Missed Opportunities

By Tom Irmen

In the fall of 1930, during the Great Depression, which started in mid 1929, the first bank panics occurred, starting first in Nashville and then spreading throughout the Southeast. Referred to as a “bank run,” hundreds and sometimes thousands of depositors who lost confidence in the security of their financial institutions would converge of their local bank, withdrawing all of their hard earned money. As a consequence, more than 1,300 banks failed in 1930, and it continued on through 1931 and 1932.

As a child born in 1950, I often recall the conversations of adults reliving their experiences of both the Great Depression and that period of bank failures that followed, which saw American depositors lose an estimated $140 billion in deposits. Because these bank failures occurred prior to the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which today insures your deposits held in participating banks, this money was lost for good. It was no wonder that many Americans continued to mistrust financial institutions for decades after, electing to keep their money elsewhere, just not in a bank despite the protection offered by the FDIC. People often referred to their mattress as their bank.

The experiences of the Great Depression, while far more dire than our most recent Great Recession, have nonetheless upended the economic confidence many of us hold for the future. And while our lack of optimism may be driving our desire to keep our heads down and our powder dry, the renewed confidence in our economy experienced during the last year is undeniable. So just what should you do?

Our history is filled with multiple examples of both economic hardship and periods of economic boom. I encourage you to closely examine today’s economic indicators, including the small business confidence index, which is at a new all-time high. Be careful not to allow previous economic challenges to limit your future for economic growth. Don’t throw caution to the wind, but don’t put yourself in a position where you will have missed what might become one of the biggest economic opportunities in recent times. The best place for your money may not be the mattress.

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Acts of Kindness

By Tom Irmen

Recently, while fueling up at Costco, I witnessed the Costco fuel attendant coming to the assistance of an elderly couple having difficulty navigating the self-serve features of the fuel pump. Their experience was made even more difficult because their automobile’s fuel cap was on the opposite side of the fuel pump. This attendant went well above and beyond by not only helping them relocate their vehicle, but also by offering his arm as support for the husband, who was having difficulty walking. And this same attendant remained with them until their transaction was completed.

Today we seem to witness fewer displays of kindness, likely the result of our increasingly societal polarization. But hopefully this single random act of kindness witnessed by multiple Costco customers will encourage others, regardless of what might separate us, to extend a helping hand to a person in need. In our society, these displays of kindness are not demonstrated as often as they should or could be.

Regardless of the size company you own, whether you employ hundreds, dozens, or just yourself, I would encourage you to add one more resolution to your list of resolutions for 2018, and that would be to commit to performing random acts of kindness within your community. Perhaps you can come to the assistance of an elderly individual having difficulty loading their car outside of a store. Maybe you can help an unemployed veteran find a job. Or perhaps you could donate food store gift cards to your church, who in turn can gift them to a needy families within your community. Commit yourself to performing these random acts of kindness – not for the purpose of self-edification, but because what we do when no one is looking defines who we are as a person.


As small business owners, we often come into contact with numerous people throughout our day. Why not use this opportunity to display random acts of kindness and perhaps inspire your associates to do the same – not just during the holiday season, but every day of the year? Consider adding just one more item to the growing list of products and services your small business already offers, and add random acts of kindness. Their impact might amaze you.

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Rebalance and De-Stress

By Tom Irmen

Entrepreneurs understand that owning and operating a small business is anything but a stress-free experience. Stress is an inevitable part of our lives and can often be accelerated when we find ourselves out of balance. Oftentimes we believe that we can achieve greater productivity simply by working longer hours, although often at the expense of family, friends, and other healthier pursuits. But, in fact, we often discover that when we neglect these other important facets in our lives, stress will often worsen, negatively impacting not only our business and important relationships with our customers and co-workers, but our family and friends as well.
Most small business owners find that there isn’t always a direct correlation between the hours you invest in your small business and the productivity that results. Just the opposite can result, where longer workdays can often diminish your productivity and increase the stress that you experience.
Stress should not be taken lightly, as it can have a very serious impact on not only your health, but just about every other aspect of your life. While true stress-free living is unachievable, you can strive towards a balanced life that will allow you to truly appreciate and enjoy your relationships with your family, friends, co-workers, and customers and the success in business you are working to achieve. The secret is balance.
Commit to making time for those special people in your life. Don’t risk sacrificing your relationships with these very special people in your life in pursuit of your dream. After all, it’s that same dream whose rewards you hope to share with those closest to you in the future.
Date night and quality time with your kids are not negotiable. Cherish them as rewards for the many hours of effort you have invested in your journey to achieve success in your small business endeavor. Sacrificing relationships for the sake of success is a recipe for disaster and a fool’s errand.

Also, if you’re truly sincere in your desire to minimize the stress associated with building your small business and in achieving balance in your life and in your personal relationships, go one step further. Tell a trusted friend about your commitment to de-stress and rebalance, and then ask them to periodically review your efforts and to hold you personally accountable. An unwillingness to become personally accountable may signal your true lack of commitment.

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Entrepreneur

Mar • ket • ing

“The technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service”

By Tom Irmen

While most entrepreneurs can offer you a superficial definition of marketing, and while perhaps believing that their respective companies are efficiently implementing a well-thought out marketing strategy, the fact is that very few small businesses effectively market the goods and service they sell.


Many small business owners continue to view marketing and advertising as one in the same. Also, the strategies they employ are oftentimes fragmented and lack the comprehensive approach required to transform mediocre results into superior results, usually with the investment of far fewer resources.

The most successful small business owners I have observed during more than three decades share many common characteristics:

» They have a clear understanding of what “marketing” constitutes
» They have a long-term perspective
» They clearly differentiate themselves from their competitors
» And, most importantly, they are “tenacious” in implementing their strategies

Successful entrepreneurs avoid the “new idea of the moment club,” where marketing strategies are changed or adjusted with every new day. They also understand that advertising is just one vehicle for implementing their successful marketing strategies.


In order for your marketing strategies to succeed, they must be bold, comprehensive, and clearly communicated to your associates and your existing and prospective customers. You must articulate not only how you differ from the competition, but, more importantly, how your customers will benefit personally from your unique, differentiating characteristics.

Successful entrepreneurs also carefully evaluate existing advertising platforms, selecting those that most efficiently and cost-effectively communicate their messages to their target audience. These different platforms support each other, rather than act independently, and are designed to achieve both your short- and long-term marketing strategies.

Procrastinators will suggest that they lack both the time and expertise necessary to implement a successful marketing strategy, but the truth is that they usually end up investing far more time and money in their piecemeal approaches to marketing, which often fails to deliver the desired results.

These successful small business owners I speak of belong to a unique 5% club, which enjoys 95% of the success achieved. There are no obstacles preventing you from joining this elite club except a genuine commitment from you to win.

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Entrepreneur

Self-Employment – Beyond Virtual Reality

By Tom Irmen

Several years ago I attended a luncheon that featured a retired Air Force General who shared with us his decades-long military career. What I remember most about his experience was how he invested years of personal effort positioning himself for a much coveted career within the Pentagon. He went on to discuss his disillusionment with his newfound Pentagon position, where he had once hoped to be able to make a genuine and lasting contribution. He suggested that if a totally dedicated individual invested their entire career at the Pentagon, working 24/7, their contribution would likely go unnoticed.

I think this general’s observations may also accurately describe how many professionals who have worked in the nation’s largest corporations must feel about their careers, a feeling that despite devoting one’s entire energy to a cause, that very few substantive changes resulted. I believe this common sense of frustration frequently serves as a catalyst for those individuals departing the corporate world and instead pursuing careers in the world of small business.

One advantage resulting from a self-employment career, although it can also be frustrating at times, is that our responsibilities range from those of a CEO to those of building maintenance. Regardless, self-employeds are treated to a front row seat for most every decision they make, unlike their large corporate counterparts. 

Leading a small business is an incredible learning experience that includes a great many moving parts, requiring that you wear a multitude of hats, including management, marketing, finance, legal, production, and a host of others. The experience can be exhilarating for most and perhaps a bit overwhelming for others. You are afforded an opportunity to see the “big picture” rather than the limited view offered in a larger corporate environment.


Small business owners typically make important decisions in far less time then would have been possible in the corporate world, allowing them to take greater advantage of opportunities in a more timely manner when the greatest upside potential for success exists. True, we don’t have many of the other perks offered by the major corporations, but self-employment offers you a front row seat to where the real action is and places you squarely on the competitive playing field – an experience that those in the corporate world can only fantasize about. Self-employment offers you a level of reality that simply doesn’t exist in today’s corporate realm.

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