Contracting Business Seminar in Durham next week- get a free ticket

Want a free ticket to a seminar on business development?  Just across my desk is a seminar Success by Design Day – which is coming to Durham, North Carolina NEXT WEEK- that is aimed at anyone involved in construction.  The seminar is designed “to help contracting business owners grow their companies with better marketing, leadership, management and recruiting practices.”

Event subjects include:

  • Success by Design | Service Nation COO & HVAC Industry Top 10 Influencers – David Heimer
  • Cracking the Success Code | International Speaker & Business Coach – Mark Matteson
  • Social Style Success | Service Roundtable VP of Strategic Alliances – Liz Patrick
  • Q&A Segment with Serial Entrepreneur – Ben Stark

There is also free brealecturing mankfast, lunch, and a cash prize drawing.

Date:               Wednesday, Nov 4th 2015  8:30AM-4:00PM

Location:        Marriott at Research Triangle Park 4700 Guardian Drive, Durham, NC 27703


I have not vetted this seminar, but thought it might be of interest to some of my readers.  And hey, free is free, right?  Shoot me an email if you want to grab one of my (limited) free tickets.

3 Unusual Signs that You Will *NOT* be Sued (tip)

good sign

So often, lawyers are the bearers of bad news.  What will get you sued.  Signs a lawsuit is coming.  What you can’t say (even though you’d really like to say it!).  What “wouldn’t be prudent”.  (h/t SNL).

Today, we’re turning that on its head, with 3 signs that you will NOT be facing the business end of a lawsuit in the near future.

Some good signs are obvious.  Such as when a client sends you more work, refers you another customer, or says “Hey, swell job!”  But here are 3 unusual things that are good signs, if only you understand what they are really saying:

1.  The Complaining Client.

When your client complains to you about something you’ve done, not done, or promised but failed to do, that is a good sign.  Yes, you heard right.  Complaining is caring.  It is when you don’t hear anything that you could be in the most trouble.  If a client is complaining, they are telling you that you need to fix something.  That something may or may not be fixable, but at least you know that they value you enough to *want* you to fix it, so they can continue to do business with you.  So the next time a client complains to you, remember, it’s much better to have a complaining client, which you can fix, than a completely mad one that will disappear, without a word, to the architect or engineer down the street.  Or worse still, to their lawyer’s office.  To sue you.

2.  The Always-Calling Client.

If your client calls you to talk about the project a lot, that can be a good sign?  Yes, even if they interrupt your train of thought and your design process.  If your client is not afraid to pick up the phone and call you, then you are keeping the communication lines open.  It is when you don’t hear from clients regularly that expectations are missed, misunderstandings accrue, or unpaid invoices result.  A happy client is an engaged client.  An engaged client will be in touch- often.  This is not to say you can’t set parameters, such as what times of day you return client phone calls.  But calling is good, regardless of the subject (short of a Trump-like “You’re Fired”).

3.  The No-Boundaries Client.

When your client asks your opinion on non-design issues, that is a great sign.  She wants referrals to your accountant.  He wants to know where you think he should take an important investor to dinner.  Any time you find yourself having conversations about things that are not, strictly speaking, work-related, that is a very good sign indeed.  People do business with those they know, trust, and like.  They also tend not to sue those that they know, trust, and like.

Your thoughts?  Do any of these ring true to you?   Share in the comments below.


Photo: Good Sign (c) Melissa Brumback.  Creative Commons License

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!


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.

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 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.


 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.

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