SMBs make hopeful New Year’s resolutions

– Lisa Barone is a contributor for Small Business Trends. This article originally appeared here. –

While it may have been an unfriendly economic climate over the past few years, small business owners are hopeful heading into 2011. Sixty percent of small business owners polled said they expect their business to swell over the next 12 months, signaling not only good spirits, but a 6-percent increase over December 2008. That’s according to a recent Intuit, Inc poll of 1,000 small business owners from across the United States. And what do SMB owners plan to do with the increased cash flow their businesses attract?

According to the survey:

    56 percent will focus on retaining and growing current customers 41 percent will look to expand marketing and attract new customers 30 percent will look to reduce costs and save money

It’s not surprising to see that many small business owners will be looking to use the surge of cash to try and attract new customers. One of the largest pain points for small business owners is often trying to keep a steady flow of customers. In fact, Intuit’s survey found that 54 percent of SMB owners experienced a declining customer base over the past year, with another 32 percent naming delayed payments as their sore spot.

Just because they’re having a hard time finding customers, though, doesn’t mean SMBs are necessarily being proactive about seeking them out. The survey gave some startling numbers about small business owners’ usage of social media–or should I say, their lack of usage.

While 71 percent of small business agreed that social media is an effective way to keep customers engaged, they don’t seem to actually be using it.

5 year-end tax planning tips for small businesses

–- Glen Wielandt is head of franchise business development at Fiesta Auto Insurance and a veteran in the income-tax services industry with more than 20 years of operational experience in the tax center franchise industry. The views expressed are his own. –-

It’s the end of the year, and you know what that means: tax season is right around the corner. Recognizing the positive impact that early tax-season planning can have on the small business community, below are five practical tips to better prepare yourself and your business for the 2011 tax season: Keep a calendar. Deadlines differ depending on the type of business and when your tax year ends. Meeting filing deadlines will minimize penalties and interest. Organize your records. Good organization may not cut your taxes, but there may be other financial rewards. Maintaining regular bookkeeping of your financial records year-round will make tax season a less daunting time of the year. Plus, your tax accountant will spend less time organizing your records, and you will pay less money for his/her time and services. Contribute to a retirement plan. The benefit to this can be two-fold – if your business is profitable and you have employees. You can shelter income in a qualified retirement plan that will provide you with a tax deduction for your contributions. This will defer tax on earnings on those contributions, which ultimately becomes paid for when you start taking money from the plan. In addition, providing employees with a retirement savings opportunity can gain employee loyalty. Defer income and accelerate deductions. There are several steps you can begin taking now to put off income into the next tax year and increase your deductions in the current tax year. Send your bills out a few days later, in the last month of the year. This means that you will get paid a few days later in January of the next year, and you will be able to defer the income, instead of having to declare that income immediately. Similarly, see what bills you have due in January and pay them before the end of December. This way, you can take that deduction during the current year. Business tax credits. Keep in mind that there are many tax credits that your small business may be eligible for, including: Alcohol Cellulosic Biofuel Fuels credit, Alternative Motor Vehicle credit, and Disabled Access credit, to name a few. You can view a complete list of available tax credits by visiting the IRS website.

As you begin wrapping up your year, take these tips into account now and you will be pleasantly surprised by how much easier you’ll get through the tax season and the savings you’ll find.

Grow revenues before seeking VC funding

– Russell Rothstein is the founder and CEO of business social networking site SalesSpider. The views expressed are his own. –

Small businesses owners want to grow their companies, but their ability to expand operations is limited by their own profitability or otherwise lack of capital.

Faced with this dilemma, many turn to venture capital firms (VCs), which embrace high-risk, high-growth startups and offer the money and management they desperately need to meet the growing demand for their product.

Pillows from a vending machine?

If you can get hot-cooked kosher food from a vending machine, why not a pillow? With no end to the creative ways people are using vending machines these days, a custom-made pillow is actually not such a strange concept.

And The Dream Machine does not operate the same way as the vending machines that dispense candy or pop. It’s really a mobile manned kiosk that lets consumers select the shape, density and embroidered message they want in and on their pillow. It takes about 10-15 minutes to make and costs anywhere from $130-150.

“It’s a bit of retail theater,” said Dave Young, the CEO of bedding-materials supplier VyMaC Corp that bought the master licensing rights from the machine’s creator Merrimac Dillon, the owner of The Pillow Bar retail chain. Young’s company rebranded the technology as The Dream Machine. “It’s a lot like the popcorn machine. It takes about the same footprint as those little red machines.”

Top 5 gifts for SMBs this holiday season

– Mitch Merrifield is senior director of managed computing solutions for Verio, a Web-hosting provider for small and medium-sized businesses worldwide. The views expressed are his own. –

Much of my time throughout the year as well as during the holiday season, is focused on the wishes (and needs) of small business customers. Through the countless discussions with small and medium-sized business leaders across the country, some common wishes paint the picture of the business initiatives critical to ensuring their success in 2011 and beyond.

Based on these discussions, the following is a wishlist for SMBs this holiday season:

Access trumps ownership in 2011

– Lisa Gansky is the author of “The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing” and the Mesh Directory live. The opinions expressed are her own. –

Disturbed by the sight of dead Christmas trees lying on the curb after the holiday, Los Angeles-based landscaper Scott Martin had an idea. Why not rent people living Christmas trees?

He set up a website and offered different types of live trees in a variety of sizes. Customers specified which tree, what size and on which day it would be delivered and where. Scott and his team also offered decorations for the trees they rented. After the holiday, each customer selected a day for the tree to be picked-up and Scott and his team even recycled the gift wrap and packaging. The trees were either returned to the nursery to be cared for and sold later or donated. An all around joyful holiday win for the customers, Scott and team, the community and the environment.

Now is the time to think about selling your small business

– Domenic Rinaldi is president and managing partner of Chicagoland Sunbelt, a business brokerage firm that focuses on helping people buy, grow and sell businesses in Chicago and the surrounding Midwest area. The views expressed are his own. –

There were many brokers, accountants and wealth mangers advising clients to sell their business last year in anticipation of the Bush-era tax laws expiring on Dec. 31, 2010. It appeared until very recently that both the capital gains and ordinary income tax cuts would expire on that date, leaving owners subject to at least a 20-percent tax increase on their assets.

Those who are planning to sell in 2011 may be breathing a sigh of relief now that the tax cuts have been extended for another two years. But while two years may seem like a long time, it’s important for owners to begin considering when the right time for them to sell might be. Eventually, these taxes will expire and after this two year extension, we may never see rates this low again.

Tax cuts for the rich bad for small business

– Lew Prince is managing partner of Vintage Vinyl, an independent music store in St. Louis. He is also a member of Business for Shared Prosperity, which has circulated a petition against extending the Bush-era tax cuts. The views expressed are his own. –

As a small business owner for more than 30 years, I have to be reality based.

I budget and make decisions that consider both short- and long-term realities. My company wouldn’t last a week if we kept repeating mistakes.

The Bush tax cuts for the richest Americans were a big mistake. We should let them expire, not repeat the mistake by extending them. It’s an illusion that it will be easier to end them after a two-year extension.

Extending tax cuts eliminates uncertainty

– Kelly Phillips Erb is a small business owner and practicing tax attorney at the Erb Law Firm in Philadelphia. She is also the author of the popular Tax Girl blog. The views expressed are her own. –

Let’s get a few things straight from the start. I don’t like the so-called Bush tax cuts. I don’t believe in trickle-down economics. And I don’t think it makes good fiscal sense to make the tax cuts permanent.

Yet, as the calendar creeps closer to December 31, I find myself in support of extending the tax cuts.

5 lessons businesses can learn from WikiLeaks

– Jeremy Reis is the founder and president of That Network, an interactive publishing firm. This article originally appeared here. The views expressed are his own. –

WikiLeaks is in the news due to their release of U.S. government files, but for many years the site has been releasing both government and corporate secrets – and with a pending release of files from a large U.S. bank, it provides an opportunity to think about the lessons this teaches business managers.

A business generates a lot of internal documents from the inane emails to complex, secret business processes that provide us a competitive advantage. Learn five lessons every manager should know from the WikiLeaks affair.

1. There are no completely secure systems