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Finding the Best Tax Professional for You and More Questions for February

Getting a head start on what could be a volatile year, and more advice for February.

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2019 seems like it’s going to be a volatile year. What should we do to get ready?

Eight years of economic growth and cheap credit allowed many business owners to gaze far into the future and craft successful, long-term strategies, but it does seem those times are coming to an end as trade wars, rising interest rates, political turmoil, spooked financial markets and ongoing technological change cast a shadow over what otherwise is still a strong economy. In such a shifting, unstable environment where visibility is low, Donald Sull, a London Business School professor, recommends “active waiting.” Contemplate alternative techniques, explore likely scenarios and focus on general readiness. This is a time of threat but also opportunity. “Keep your vision fuzzy and your priorities clear,” Sull says. “Maintain a war chest and battle-ready troops. Know when to wait — and when to strike. When you grab an opportunity or move to crush a threat, amass all your resources behind the effort.” At the same time, continue making routine operational improvements such as cutting costs, strengthening distribution, and improving products and services. “Though mundane, these initiatives foster efficiency, which can position you to snatch a golden opportunity from rivals’ jaws,” Sull says. It all sounds rather dramatic, but then high drama surely awaits.

Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries

Podcast: What the Heck is Marketing? And What Should ECPs Focus on to Attract New Clients?
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: What the Heck is Marketing? And What Should ECPs Focus on to Attract New Clients?

Podcast: More Ways to Motivate Your Own Eyecare Business Team
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: More Ways to Motivate Your Own Eyecare Business Team

The sales experts you quote often recommend role-playing exercises. But my sales staff always slinks away when I suggest them. How can I get them to play along?

That may be because the focus is negative, says sales trainer Dave Richardson. Make the role-playing positive and fun. First, play the role of the salesperson and let your salespeople critique you. Then, when it’s your turn to play the customer, instead of saying, “Here’s what you did wrong,” start off by telling the person what you felt they did well and what you would change if you had the opportunity. Always finish on a positive, encouraging note, Richardson says.

Our marketing team’s images were recently lifted and used by the vendor for their advertising without crediting us. When I contacted them, they said, “We’re sorry; it was the intern’s fault.” How should I handle this?

If it was “the intern’s fault,” who approved the final vendor layouts? But regardless of whose fault it is, you should get some compensation for the use of your images, says business management consultant Kate Peterson. The vendor would have paid for the images had they used any other marketing professional to create them, so they should have no issue with paying your in-house team. “I would suggest that the retailer assign a fair price (what she typically pays her team per image) and send an invoice directly to the head of the company with pics of their ads and an explanation. If applicable, tell them you will apply the amount of the invoice against an outstanding balance,” says Peterson. “The key here is to remain positive and confident, as opposed to challenging. Assume they are expecting to compensate, and communicate in a tone that expresses confidence in their interest in doing the right thing.”

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My business is only four years old and up until now I’ve done my own taxes but now I’d like to find a tax pro. Where do I find a good one?

Online directories such as CPAdirectory.com, Accountant-Finder.com and AccountantsWorld.com are a good place to start. Most will allow you to search by name, location and industry focus. The National Association of Tax Professionals also offers an online database of tax preparers, and the American Institute of CPAs has one for CPA firms. If you do contemplate hiring a tax preparer you found online, request referrals to past clients so you can ask about the quality of the service they received. A possibly better strategy is to ask people in the industry. This is because your ideal target should have some experience doing returns for vision-related businesses as every industry has its own rules and deduction options.

Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 23 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at editor@invisionmag.com.

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Ask INVISION

The Art of Closing the Sale and More Questions for July and August

Don’t miss: How to set attainable goals and offload older merchandise.

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I keep hearing contradictory advice: Set goals or don’t set them. What’s your take?

There are three main arguments against setting goals: One, they lead people to focus on the wrong things or cut ethical corners; two, they demotivate when it appears they can’t be reached; and three, they emphasize the future at the expense of the present. The secret is to set goals in a way that addresses these problem areas. That means:

1. Set challenging goals but don’t make a big deal of it if you fall short.
2. Set goals that focus on behaviors, so your people are learning and improving rather than wildly chasing a financial goal.
3. Be specific. Setting vague goals can produce higher rates of success with motivated staff, but if your employees are normal human beings, being specific will prevent procrastination.
4. Make the first couple of milestones easy so that people can build momentum toward the major goal.
5. It’s not a death march; make it fun.

Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries

Podcast: What the Heck is Marketing? And What Should ECPs Focus on to Attract New Clients?
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: What the Heck is Marketing? And What Should ECPs Focus on to Attract New Clients?

Podcast: More Ways to Motivate Your Own Eyecare Business Team
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: More Ways to Motivate Your Own Eyecare Business Team

How can I get my salespeople to sell the older merchandise in the store?

Start by appealing to their belief in the possible, something all good salespeople should possess. And remind them there’s no accounting for taste. “Remember that somebody at the manufacturer was inspired enough by the idea of the product to create it. And somebody else in your company liked it enough to buy it,” says sales trainer Harry Friedman. That makes at least two professionals who believe in this particular product, he says. It also means that even though this piece may make them shake their heads, there’s a reasonable chance there’s a customer out there who will like it too. If that doesn’t do the trick, opt for an aggressive commission, says David Geller. “The commission many stores pay usually isn’t enough to get people excited,” he says. “If you normally pay a salary plus 3 percent, pay 9 percent on old items. It won’t cost that much, relatively speaking!”

What’s the best way to tell a customer you’d rather not take their AMEX?

There are reasons to wish they just would leave home without it. AMEX’s extra charges and reputation for slow payment are annoying but once you make it clear through store signage that you accept all major cards you don’t have much choice. “Don’t ever, ever, ever, ask ‘Oh, do you have another card?’ In terms of customer service, that’s just plain lame,” says Rick Segel, author of Customer Service For Dummies. Remember, your customer might be saving up points for a reward, or be close to their limit on their other card, and your hesitancy to take their AMEX puts them in an awkward position, he says. Try to take comfort in the fact that American Express targets a wealthier clientele.

What’s an appropriate policy for funeral leave?

A funeral leave policy should cover which employees are entitled to it, which family relationships qualify, how much time is permitted, and what provisions exist for extending time, with or without pay, says Suzanne DeVries, president of Diamond Staffing Solutions Inc. She suggests these guidelines: full-time employees should be entitled to at least three days’ absence with pay in the event of death in the immediate family (spouse, children, parents and siblings). For part-time employees, leave should be based on scheduled workdays, while funeral leave pay should not be granted to employees attending a funeral during periods when they are not at work for other reasons, such as vacation or illness. According to Devries, leaves to attend funerals of other relatives or friends should be granted at the discretion of the employee’s supervisor, and this condition should be stated in the handbook. You can also state that supervisors may ask for proof of a death, i.e., a funeral card or a death notice. This is rarely necessary, but including it will keep your policy from being abused. “Be sure to send a card and flowers, and express condolences,” says Devries. “These gestures assure employees of the good will your policy has put in place, and their loyalty is worth your effort.”

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Ask INVISION

How Much Community Work is Too Much Community Work and and More Questions for June

Also how to deal with (or with being) a helicopter manager.

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I appreciate giving back is a smart way to run a business, and it feels good personally, but community work can also be a distraction. Are there guidelines for ensuring we get the balance right?

In terms of the personal benefits, different studies done in the U.S. and Australia over the last two decades have concluded that about 100 hours of volunteering a year, or two hours a week, yields the optimum return in terms of happiness, satisfaction and self-esteem. The studies found there were no benefits — for the volunteer at least — of doing more than that. As for your business, coming up with a similarly strict “cut-off point” is prudent. The Internet software provider Salesforce.com, for example, uses what it calls its “one percent” formula: one percent of company profits, one percent of company equity, and one percent of employee hours all go to the communities it serves. The clarity of such a cap not only provides a guideline for this expenditure of energy, but makes it easier for you to deal with requests from your community for your time or money: “We wish we could help but for now we are concentrating all our community efforts through …XYZ.” When it comes to helping others, a soft heart and a hard head are often the best combination.

I’ll admit I’m a helicopter manager, but if I didn’t keep a close eye on everything and intervene constantly nothing would get done properly. How can I get my staff to show more initiative and responsibility?

It sounds as if you’ve micromanaged your staff into drones. Basically, you’ve got two options: Go big picture, where you give them ownership of their responsibilities on a day-to-day basis, or go small, where every procedure and system is mapped out in detail. The first requires employees with the right personality and experience who will know what do when you say, “OK, our goal is to wow every person who comes in the store. Go to it!” The second requires a lot of work from you in putting systems in place and providing the necessary training. In such cases, one approach is to imagine that you’re planning to open another business 3,000 miles away and putting in writing everything you’d want the remote employees to know about managing the practice, from how to run the point-of-sale system to how to make deposits to who to call if there’s a problem with the building. With such a reference, you’d be able to step aside and in theory, be confident your staff would be equipped to tackle most situations. Keep in mind though that these situations often reflect as much about the manager as the staff. Taking action is how micromanagers deal with anxiety – just as surrendering control is how under-functioning staff deal with challenges. Breaking the pattern is tough, because the manager needs to step back and do less, which means potentially letting bad things happen and tolerating the resulting anxiety. Can you handle that?

I know I should focus on my business, but I get a warped glee out of competing with the unethical rival up the road. There’s nothing wrong with having such an enemy, is there?

Research testifies to the fact that humans partly enjoy having enemies; they clarify the world for us and bolster our sense of righteousness. So, sure, why not channel this sometimes less-than-admirable truth to good ends? And it’s certainly easier to keep an eye on what your rivals are up to in the Internet era. The only thing we’d say is that you don’t lose sight of who your real enemy is. Is it the guy so bad at business he’s cutting legal corners, or is it Amazon, or something else — like your own complacency, inertia, or fear of change that poses an existential threat to your business? Enjoy your day-to-day skirmishes with the schmuck around the corner, use it to motivate yourself, but channel your energies into evolving and growing your business.

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Ask INVISION

How to Get the Best Employees and More Questions for May

Plus, how to get that chatty, great employee to actually close the sale.

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What’s a good way to sell our company to prospective employees — particularly top salespeople?

Just about the most valuable skill a businessperson can have is the ability to recruit and retain good people and yes, it all starts with that job posting. “When the right people read your ad, their hearts will whisper, ‘These people are like me, and I am like them,’ says Roy H. Williams, author of the business bestseller The Wizard of Ads. Bullet point what the job entails, what kind of inventory they will be handling, and the benefits, but the core message should be about who you are as a company, your reputation and your goals. The best salespeople often don’t have a sales background so go easy on the requirements. Your message should be more about culture than qualifications.

Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries

Podcast: What the Heck is Marketing? And What Should ECPs Focus on to Attract New Clients?
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: What the Heck is Marketing? And What Should ECPs Focus on to Attract New Clients?

Podcast: More Ways to Motivate Your Own Eyecare Business Team
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: More Ways to Motivate Your Own Eyecare Business Team

Is it legal for retailers to say they are selling at wholesale prices?

In short, no — unless they really are. Many states including Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Texas, California, New York, and Michigan have strict laws prohibiting the use of the word “wholesale” in retail advertisements. In some states, this is a criminal offense, due to the word’s ability to mislead consumers. Basically, if you advertise you are selling at wholesale prices it must be “the real wholesale price.” Some states define this as the price paid for the item from the supplier. Other states and the federal government say the price must be lower than the average price retailers would pay in the area.

We have a small store that is growing quite nicely. In fact, juggling rosters to avoid paying overtime is increasingly becoming an issue. I understand it can be tricky, but can we just move several employees to salaried positions? No more messy rosters. No more overtime. Right?

Likely very wrong. This is a strategy that “has been used so often to avoid paying rightful overtime, that it is written into the law through the Fair Labor Standards Act,” says Scott Clark, a lawyer and founder of the HTC Group. Yes, there are salaried positions for which there are exemptions from overtime rules, but they tend to be “true” management roles and jobs that require a college degree or technical training. They must also pay more than a minimum of $455 per week, and the salary must be the same every week (so if your employee wants time off to see the doctor you still have to pay his full weekly salary — no more docking wages for hours not worked). If it seems that the government is uncharacteristically protective of lower-income workers in this instance, never fear, it really isn’t. On the contrary, the government is very particular about all the taxes and Social Security that get paid on overtime. We’d say a better approach is to view your employees as an asset who make you money, not as an expense. Invest in your employees to make them more efficient, and they’ll make you even more money. Or hire the staff you actually need.

Where can I get hold of a good employee evaluation form?

As you’ve no doubt discovered, there are scores you can download to use as a model or template. Some, like those from educational institutions, are really quite detailed and cover every possible aspect of a job, while others are very basic. Our only advice when it comes to employee evaluations is that you not spend too much time on the whole process. While you may want the paper trail to protect yourself against lawsuits from former employees, there’s a growing view that reviews don’t really achieve much. Mary Jenkins, a co-author of Abolishing Performance Appraisals: Why They Backfire and What to Do Instead, advocates designing a system in which employees can seek feedback from people they work with, then draw up a skills-development plan with their manager — or you.

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