We have beer! (Marketing Tip)

beer  I saw this sign outside the Jacksonville, North Carolina regional airport.  For those of you who don’t know, Jacksonville is home to Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corp base.  Many of the passengers are coming from or going to the base.

Think a Marine on R&R might like a brewskie or two?  Probably so.  Thus the sign Yes We have Beer.

Like it or not, we’re all in the marketing business.  Yes, you are a design professional, and went to school for years to be a licensed architect or a registered engineer.  But, you also need to keep the clients coming in, and cash flow flowing.  So today’s marketing tip:  remember your audience!

It’s a simple thing, but something that many folks forget.  Write the proposal or your brochure copy with the client in mind, not to impress the client with your erudite vocabulary  (Yes, I’m using the word erudite — I saw the movie Divergent this weekend, so it can’t be helped!)

Your turn.  What marketing tips have you learned along the way?  What have you learned *not* to do?  Share in the comments section, below.
And, if you haven’t already signed up for the white paper and newsletter, go do that now, while you are thinking about it.  The form is on the top right of the homepage.

 

Creative Commons License
Photo: “We Have Beer” by Melissa Brumback

 

Preparing for the Tax Man: Tips for Architects, Engineers, and other small business owners (guest post)

Miss me yet?  No, I’m “not dead yet” (for you Monty Python fans).  Nor have I fled to Hong Kong (a la Edward Snowden).  And no, contrary to rumors, I am not working on a Middle Eastern documentary with Jon Stewart.  Ahem.  My MIA status was simply due to too much work.  Good problem to have, right? 

Regular posting will resume next week.  In the meantime, since it is, once again, tax time for quarterly filers, I thought this guest post on tax issues particularly appropriate.  Even if you don’t file quarterlies, pay attention now to save heart ache at the end of the year!

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If you own your own architectural or engineering firm, tax time provides a unique advantage for you. Small businesses have ample opportunities to take advantage of deductions and tax-saving steps that maximize refunds and business profit.
money

Looking for a few small-business tax tips? Consider this shortlist to help streamline your process:

1. Proper record-keeping: Year-round record keeping ensures that come tax time, your paperwork will be in order. Make sure that you save all documents relating to deductions in case your business is audited. Because tax credits and deductions change from year-to-year, keeping excellent records allows you to adapt while being able to reference previous years simply by checking your filing.

2. Keep two Acts in mind: Both the Small Business Jobs Act and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) help you manage your tax burden. The first has over 17 tax provisions that decrease taxes for small businesses, all of which can win your business great savings. The Affordable Care Act allows small businesses to cover 35 percent of the health care premiums that they pay to provide health insurance to employees. In 2014, the amount will increase to 50 percent.

3. Avoid an audit: Audit traps are indicators to the IRS that they need to investigate your business dealings further. Avoid this scenario by keeping the following details straight:

  • Home Office Deduction rules: Know what qualifies a home office and make sure yours abides by the IRS definition before claiming one. Not all home-based businesses qualify for this deduction.

  • Properly classify your employees: Independent contractors and employees are not one and the same from an IRS perspective and should not be treated as such. Non-compliance with proper classification is a red flag to the IRS that your business may be attempting to avoid payroll taxes and can result in back taxes and penalties.

  • Miscellaneous deductions: Be cautious with your deductions, as a large amount of itemized deductions can raise suspicion. Be sure that you have all of your paperwork to support any deductions and claim them in a clear and specific manner.

  • Business and personal expenses do not mix: While Turbotax encourages freelancers to combine business with pleasure and write off the expenses, the IRS does not welcome this blended method and will scrutinize individuals who combine their business and personal expenses too often. Maintain separate bank accounts for your personal life and business and maintain meticulous records to ensure that your actions do not require further attention.

Whether you have an accountant or do your business taxes yourself, knowing the proper way to file is an excellent policy for a small and growing business. By maintaining clean records and staying aware of IRS policies, you can make the most of business deductions and enjoy a penalty-free tax season.

Chelsea Terris provides online content for Meticulous Plumbing, a family owned company located in Portland, OR. Chelsea is passionate about helping small businesses thrive. 

Thanks Chelsea for the tax tips!

 

Got a Job Offer? Now What? Engineers and Architects: Think Before You Sign ! (guest post)

Today, we have a guest post by Hayley Spencer, a freelance writer and attorney, on behalf of Martindale.com. She enjoys writing articles on contract law, law careers, and employment agreements.

Got a Job Offer? Now What?  Engineers and Architects: Think Before You Sign!

Architects & Engineers are not immune from employment agreements.  Those who go to work for a larger companies, especially, may be required to sign a contract of employment.  This form may be standard and identical for each employee, or each employee may have a contract with the employer that applies solely to him or her. Alternatively, there may simply be an oral contract about the type of work the employee will perform, benefits to be provided, and bonuses which are applicable.  If there is no oral or written form of agreement, the behavior of the professional parties involved can be identified as an implied employment contract. Some relationships may be that of a traditional employer and employee, while others may be set up as some type of an independent contract. Regardless of the specific details, it is always wise to have a qualified attorney review all such agreements before you sign them.

shaking hands on employment agreement
Why Do Engineers and Architects Need Employment Agreements?
Barring terms and policies that are actually illegal, anything and everything can be integrated into these types of agreement. Nonetheless, for engineers and architects, the law provides several safeguards regarding what can and cannot be negotiated upon as terms of employment. Furthermore, due to the gradual decrease in unemployment rates, employers have had to propose contracts for transitory workers loaded with language to safeguard them as much as possible. The sheer volume of potential variation, therefore, makes written contracts wise.

What Should You Consider Before Signing an Employment Agreement?
There are several particularly important regulations and policies of which you should be aware before signing any type of employment agreement.

First, is there a probationary period? Professionals do not just utilize probationary periods to analyze their new recruit’s fit. Setting a probationary time frame enables them to dismiss for purposes that would otherwise be inconsistent or inadequate.

Second, are oral offerings included in the contract? As with any relationship, optimistic forecasts of the future are common at the beginning of a work relationship. Nonetheless, your attorney can guide you through a list of solutions for engineers, architects and other specialists if employers’ pre-employment expressions were created negligently or if promises did not materialize.

What Common Aspects of an Employment Agreement are Generally Acceptable?
A professional confidentiality agreement is a part of a contract wherein the engineer or architect promises never to share any data regarding the details of how the employer’s enterprise is carried out, or of the employer’s confidential procedures, plans, solutions, information or equipment.

Similarly, a non-competition clause generally states that for a specified amount of time following the date the engineer or architect stops working as a part of the company, that person will not become employed by a competing firm or a firm focusing on an identical form of business.

An ownership of inventions clause applies to specialists who create or invent something as part of their work. By agreeing to this type of clause, the worker agrees that anything he or she creates while employed, or during a specified period of time following the contract termination, is treated as the creation or invention of the company and not that of the engineer or architect.

A no extra compensation clause specifies that if the worker becomes some type of executive or manager for the firm, he or she will not be subjected to extra compensation for accomplishing these duties.

Conclusion

 Of course, this brief guide will be insufficient to help you navigate all the potential issues involved with these types of employment contracts. Their details can vary widely, so seek out a professional for assistance.

Thank you, Hayley, for your post.   North Carolina employees should be aware that unless there is a specific employment contract, you are generally an “at will” employee.  That means that you can be fired for any reason or no reason whatsoever, so long as it is not due to your being a member of a protected class (race, religion, sex, etc.).  Also, covenants not to compete must be deemed reasonable to be enforceable.

 Any questions for Hayley?  Please post, below.  And, if you haven’t already, please sign up to get email delivery of all posts directly to your mailbox, by going to the sign up form.  At the same time, you’ll get the download link to my free white paper on the 7 Critical Mistakes that Design Professionals Make during Contract Negotiation and Execution that Sabotage their Projects & Invite Litigation.

Photo: (c) Aidan Jones via Creative Commons license.

An Upward Trend in Commercial Construction? (News Note)

Year-end economic indicators demonstrate that private commercial construction may be increasing in 2012, primarily as demand grows for new projects built in the United States.

According to an article in Businessweek, the Architecture Billings Index held at 52 in December, indicating a modest expansion in the market. The American Institute of Architects said that the commercial and industrial component of the number climbed to 54.1 in December, the highest in 10 months.

The monthly survey of U.S.-based architecture firms is one of the main indicators of nonresidential construction, and these numbers suggest that modest improvement may be on the horizon.

The information is confirmed by data from the Census Bureau that shows that spending on lodging, office, commercial and manufacturing buildings grew 8.2 percent in November to $9.2 billion from a year ago. These types of commercial and industrial projects are historically canaries in the mine and are usually the first part of the industry to improve as the economy expands.

Other indicators, including vacancy rates, are also pointing towards recovery. U.S. office vacancies fell in the fourth quarter to 17.3 percent, the lowest since 2009, from 17.4 percent in the prior period and 17.6 percent a year earlier.

The architecture association’s billing index historically has been ahead of improvements in building activity by about nine to 12 months; because this recovery has been so weak, a construction rebound is coming later in the economic cycle, according to leading economists.

What about you– do you think construction is on the upswing?  Are clients still shy to pull the trigger on ambitious projects?  Share your thoughts on what these numbers mean to you in the comments section, below. 

And if you haven’t already, sign up to get your free copy of the white paper, “7 Critical Mistakes that Engineers & Architects Make During Contract Negotiation and Execution that Sabotage their Projects & Invite Litigation”.  You can download your copy by going to the form on the right hand side of the blog.

Photo (c) freefoto.com

A helpful compilation of Construction Search Sites (Tue Tip)

A fellow blogger sent me this link, which contains a few nuggets of good information.  The post title is “Top 30 job sites for commercial construction” and it is a compilation of sites that list construction projects up for bid, construction jobs, and related construction information. 

Close-up of large rusty chain links

Some of the links are better than others, but you might just find a great go-to database that meets your needs.  Check it out!

Photo:  (c) Horia Varlan via CC

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