Guest Blog: Professional Development Series Recap: “Guide to Perfect Your Networking”

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By Sebastian Matta, Dale Carnegie Training Tampa Bay

Have you ever been to a networking event and did not know how to start up a conversation? Nor did you know what to talk about after the initial introduction? Thanks to Dale Carnegie Training Tampa Bay, Emerge members who attended our last Professional Development Speaker Series event of the year on a “Guide to Perfect Your Networking” now have the tools necessary to make a stronger first impression when building their professional network.

The speaker did a great job and taught us the proper way to:

  • Start a conversation
  • Build a relationship by focusing on the other person
  • Capture their information by being sincerely interested
  • Setting an appointment to follow up
  • Gaining a referral or giving a referral

Everyone that attended was highly engaged and found great value in more than one, if not all, of these objectives. It is safe to say that after this networking workshop everyone is a stronger networker than before!

If you are interested in getting involved with the Professional Development Committee and being a voice in determining our topics for next year’s Speaker Series events contact Sebastian Matta at 813-385-4250.

Guest Blog: Now Is a Good Time to Start Planning and Organizing Your Taxes

Courtesy of Marsocci, Appleby & Company, PA

You may be tempted to forget all about your taxes once you’ve filed your tax return, but that’s not a good idea. If you start your tax planning now, you may avoid a tax surprise when you file next year. Also, now is a good time to set up a system so you can keep your tax records safe and easy to find. Here are some tips to give you a leg up on next year’s taxes:

marsocciTake action when life changes occur. Some life events (such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child) can change the amount of tax you pay. When they happen, you may need to change the amount of tax withheld from your pay. To do that, file a new Form W-4 (“Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate”) with your employer. If you make estimated payments, those may need to be changed as well.

Keep records safe. Put your 2014 tax return and supporting records in a safe place. If you ever need your tax return or records, it will be easy for you to get them. You’ll need your supporting documents if you are ever audited by the IRS. You may need a copy of your tax return if you apply for a home loan or financial aid.

Stay organized. Make tax time easier. Have your family put tax records in the same place during the year. That way you won’t have to search for misplaced records when you file next year.

If you are self-employed, here are a couple of additional tax tips to consider:

Employ your child. Doing so shifts income (which is not subject to the “kiddie tax”) from you to your child, who normally is in a lower tax bracket or may avoid tax entirely due to the standard deduction. There can also be payroll tax savings; plus, the earnings can enable the child to contribute to an IRA. However, the wages paid must be reasonable given the child’s age and work skills. Also, if the child is in college, or is entering soon, having too much earned income can have a detrimental impact on the student’s need-based financial aid eligibility.

Avoid the hobby loss rules. A lot of businesses that are just starting out or have hit a bump in the road may wind up showing a loss for the year. The last thing the business owner wants in this situation is for the IRS to come knocking on the door arguing the business’s losses aren’t deductible because the activity is just a hobby for the owner. If your business is expecting a loss this year, we should talk as soon as possible to make sure you do everything possible to maximize the tax benefit of the loss and minimize its economic impact.

Avoid Gift Treatment by Paying Expenses Directly. The annual exclusion for gifts remains at $14,000 for 2015. (Married couples can gift up to $28,000 combined.) This limit applies to the total of all gifts, including birthday and holiday gifts, made to the same individual during the year. However, any payment made directly to the medical care provider (for example, doctor, hospital, etc.) or educational organization for tuition is not subject to the gift tax and, therefore, is not included in the $14,000 limit.

So, when paying tuition or large medical bills for parents, grandchildren, or any other person who is not your dependent minor child, be sure to make the payment directly to the organization or service provider. Don’t give the funds to the parent or other individual first and have them pay the school, doctor, or hospital. By doing so, you have made a gift to that person, subject to the $14,000 limit. In summary, make direct payments to schools or medical providers and avoid taxable gifts that could be subject to the gift tax or reduce the payer’s unified credit.

Caution: Direct payments of tuition reduce the student’s eligibility for financial aid on a dollar-for-dollar basis. However, if the gift were made directly to the student, only 20% of the gifted assets would be counted as assets of the student for financial aid purposes. Accordingly, careful analysis of the trade-offs between the gift tax exclusion and impairment of financial aid eligibility should be considered.

On our website, WWW.MACCPAWEB.COM  you will find information about Marsocci, Appleby & Company, PA, including our list of services. We also provide you with online resources to assist in your tax and financial decision-making. Please contact Gerald Appleby or Mike Demas at (813) 932-2116 for all your tax and accounting needs.

Marsocci, Appleby & Company, PA
3815 W Humphrey St, Suite 101
Tampa, FL 33614
Telephone: (813) 932-2116
Fax: (813) 930-0489
Email: gappleby@maccpaweb.com or
Email: mdemas@maccpaweb.com

Guest Blog: Every Contractor’s Nightmare: An Unenforceable Indemnity Provision

By Joseph Etter

Joe-Etter-WP-Bio-PageWe hear the same story from contractors when they are sued, “I have indemnity, so I am protected.” Unfortunately, contractors who believe they are protected are shocked when their indemnity clauses do not hold up in court. Contractors must be wary when drafting their construction contracts so they can avoid the nightmare of defending a lengthy lawsuit that could have easily been avoided by careful drafting.

Why Is Indemnity Important?

Indemnity occurs when one party agrees to undertake a duty or be contractually obligated to pay for a loss suffered by another party. Essentially, indemnity shifts the risk of loss from one party who would otherwise be responsible to a separate party. Let’s face it, like all businesses, profits drive construction companies. One way to keep the lights on is being insulated from any liability and avoiding costly litigation. Each time a claim against a contractor is made, the insurance premiums rise, often times minimizing profits and making it too difficult to continue to operate one’s business. Contractors want their subcontractors or suppliers to indemnify them for their work or for a particular scope of a project out of necessity and because it makes great business sense. Thus, indemnity solves this dilemma for many contractors.

What Does Florida Law Require For a Valid Indemnity Provision?

Florida Statute § 725.06 contains two important restrictions for an indemnitee (e.g. general contractor) against an indemnitor (e.g. subcontractor): (1) any indemnity provision must be expressed in bid documents or project specifications; and (2) a monetary limitation must bear a “reasonable commercial relationship” to the contract.

Where Do Most Indemnity Provisions Fall Short?

More often than not, Florida courts strictly construe this statute and find indemnity clauses to be invalid and unenforceable. In most instances, contractors fail to comply with the statute by not including a monetary limitation. Other times, the monetary limitation does not bear a “reasonable commercial relationship” to the contract; i.e. a $10 million monetary limitation for a $1 million project.

How to Avoid the Nightmare?

It makes sense to protect your business at the outset with valid and enforceable contracts. Consulting an attorney prior to finalizing a construction contract is essential to ensure you limit your potential exposure. Should you have any further questions regarding indemnification provisions or any other area of construction law, please contact Englander Fischer at 727-898-7210 to see how one of our attorneys can assist you.

Guest Column: Congresswoman Kathy Castor

112_castor_fl11The United States and Cuba will officially reestablish diplomatic relations and reopen embassies on July 20. In doing so, we have turned the page on 50 years of acrimony between our two countries. The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce has been an important part of making progress. Thank you. The Obama Administration’s change in policy is intended to empower the Cuban people and support the emergence of a democratic, prosperous and stable Cuba. An embassy in Havana will enable America to effectively promote our interests, protect and assist American citizens traveling to Cuba, and increase engagement with the Cuban people. An embassy is not a gift to a foreign country, but represents a sign that two countries are committed to deepening bilateral relations.

Formal diplomatic ties are especially important to families in Tampa Bay and throughout Florida. Our state policymakers should follow suit to boost student, cultural, religious and business exchanges. I have discussed opening a consulate in Tampa with U.S. State Department and Cuban officials. I am hopeful such discussions will bear fruit, especially with the support of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and so many leaders in our community who understand the historic ties between Tampa and Havana and the economic opportunities that come with becoming a Gateway to Cuba.

A couple of months ago, I was reminded of our deep, historic roots with Cuba when I DSC_0451smallmet with the former Tampa Cuban Consul, Raul Villamia, 90, to review the history of the Tampa-based consulate, coincidentally at the exact same time that Cuba was officially removed from the U.S. State Sponsor of Terrorism list, which has been cited as a stumbling block for more meaningful engagement between the United States and Cuba. I pledged to him that Tampa Bay would work to return the consulate to Tampa. With the Chamber’s help, we can make it a reality.

Thank you Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce for seizing the opportunity to lead on engagement and encourage human rights and economic reforms in Cuba.

Guest Blog: Can a Tenant Withhold Rent if the Landlord Hasn’t Made Repairs?

David-Delrahim

By: David Delrahim

If you’re a landlord, it is almost inevitable that at some point a tenant will attempt to withhold rent and claim that you failed to maintain the premises. Although Florida law does permit tenants to withhold rent, it is only justified under certain circumstances and certain procedural steps must be taken.

What Duty Does a Landlord Have to Maintain the Premises?

Both landlords and tenants have a duty to maintain the premises, however, the landlord’s duty starts with turning over the premises to the tenant free from dangerous conditions. After the tenant moves in, the landlord has a continuing duty to (i) exercise reasonable care and (ii) repair dangerous and certain defective conditions once the tenant notifies the landlord of their existence.

When Can a Tenant Withhold Rent?

Withholding rent is only permitted if the tenant has followed all of the statutory procedural mechanisms and the landlord has materially breached the duty to maintain.  A material breach usually refers to the habitability of the premises. If the tenant remains in possession of the premises or refuses to allow the landlord to make repairs, the court will likely find the premises was in whole or at least in part habitable or that the tenant waived the defective condition. If the tenant’s withholding of rent was not warranted under Florida law and the landlord prevails in the lawsuit, the landlord may be entitled to recover attorneys’ fees and costs.

While it may not make business sense to retain an attorney over minor tenant issues, once a tenant notifies you of issues with habitability, a major repair or personal injury, you should contact an attorney at the outset. Should you have any questions related to landlord/tenant issues, please contact Englander Fischer office at 727-898-7210 to see how one of our attorneys can assist you.

Graduate from Local Startup to High-Growth Business

By: Walker Peek, CEO, Residential Acoustics

WalkerPeek_picIt’s challenging to get your business idea off the ground from an initial concept to putting money in the bank. Even tougher, but rarely discussed, is “crossing the chasm” to that larger market where you’ve scaled to bring a product or service to the economy-at-large. Ask local entrepreneurs and they’ll tell you the mental and emotional strains result in a turbulent swing, from the highs (new contracts, great hires) to lows (disgruntled employees, unhappy customers, and late deliveries). We saw great potential with Residential Acoustics after early sales and customer feedback. Here’s the roadmap we’ve followed to take our small startup from the kitchen to international distribution.

Most small businesses, around 95%, will remain small for the length of their lives, due primarily to their nature (laundromats, restaurants, retail) or being service-oriented, and thus largely-dependent on skilled knowledge workers (legal, accounting, and engineering firms). Each firm will define “success” differently, depending on its mission, profitability and strategic goals. However, there are some major milestones that are applicable to businesses across nearly all industries – if you can maneuver through each of these, you’ll be well on your way to strong growth and independence.

  1. Product Development – Bring Your Idea to Life!

This is the step most people consider “inventing,” where your creativity helps bring a concept into reality. I’ve always adhered to the sentiment, “Documentation is the difference between an idea and an invention.” How many times have you heard someone say they’ve got the next great idea? But without any meat on the bones (product and market research, defining its functions and requirements, sketching some concepts) it rarely goes anywhere. Keep as much documentation as you can, including your product requirements, functionality, photos of prototypes and testing data. Not only does this help better define what your product (or service) can provide, but it also makes future design iterations more manageable.

Our current AcoustiCurtainTM has come a long way from our initial prototypes

Our current AcoustiCurtainTM has come a long way from our initial prototypes

It’s amazing how far our AcoustiCurtainTM product line has come from the initial, conceptual design. After realizing the problem (keeping my fiancée up at night), I found the right material and form for a product – a soundproofing curtain that can roll up and down, while still blocking about 90% of the sound passing through.

However, after years of experimenting with various fabrics, adhesive Velcro and reinforcing materials, the current product hardly reflects its humble beginnings. Speed to market is key, so be ambitious about getting your first product out quickly, but don’t forget to constantly incorporate customer feedback so that you can achieve continuous improvement. We schedule a quarterly meeting to review customer recommendations and incorporate whichever changes truly add value to our products.

  1. Customer Testing and Validation – Know your Market

Now getting it to market – it’s scary to think you’ve got a product, and selling it on the Web, you’re forcing it on unsuspecting customers. We followed the Lean Startup Model, where we sold the prototype early on to get customer feedback and make any revisions once hearing their thoughts. For instance, we realized that customers did not really care what fabric options they had (other than color), since they really purchased the soundproof curtains for their function more than aesthetics. However, they were cost-conscious customers that did not want to pay the expense of those plusher materials or more intricately designed patterns. We removed the premium fabrics and went back to our basic product offering, which in turn drove sales to new highs.

Our first sales channel was a WordPress site that I designed myself with no programming background and only YouTube as a tutor (and a great one at that!). We received sales within weeks, after taking some photos in the spare bedroom, and were cash-flow positive with only a $3,000 bootstrapping fund.

We continued to iterate the product design, but once we received consistent, positive feedback from a variety of customers (B2C consumers and B2B enterprise customers), we locked down our design studies and trade-offs and began to scale production.

  1. Scale Production

Once your product has really been tested and you’ve received customer validation, you can begin scaling. If you haven’t needed external funding yet, you very well may need it now! Capital equipment and inventory needs, regardless of your industry, can often take financing outside your means. Since it has a useful life over years, you’ll receive its benefits long after it’s been paid off.

You can take a loan (scary) or angel investment from friends and family (trust me – just as scary), but be sure to carefully document your assumptions and have reasonable expectations for your business’s growth.

Our first orders we sent to a sewing workroom in Lutz where they were able to handle a few curtains to several dozen at a time without us needing to worry about overhead and workforce. However, once we began selling hundreds per month, with the vast majority of them being custom-made, we realized it was time to open our own manufacturing capability. Starting with a few hundred square feet and an industrial Juki sewing machine, we’ve grown into a 3000-sq. ft. facility with a full-time team. We continue to streamline our process with new equipment and continued employee training, preparing for the large growth we project over the next several months.

  1. Grow Your Sales Team!

And finally, we arrive at the penultimate milestone of developing a sales process and hiring sales people. This is ultimately where the rubber meets the road. If the market demands your product, then you have a potential homerun and just need to reach the right customers and purchasers to achieve large-scale success.

As an engineer, it’s been easy over the years to look at our sales teams and assume that it was the high-quality product selling itself. Nothing could be further from the truth. Developing a successful sales process takes time and effort, outlining how you are feeding prospects into your pipeline, what information and sales techniques you use to promote them to leads, and finally, how you close these into actual sales.

Many startups take the shotgun approach, trying to reach out to everyone that may need their product, directly or otherwise. However, with limited resources, this can stretch the burn rate to its limit, and end up bankrupting a firm before a loyal customer base catches it.

Pay careful attention to your customer acquisition cost (CAC) and customer lifetime value (CLV), which is highly dependent on customer type and recurring sales. For our firm, the majority of B2C customers buy only once, outfitting soundproof curtains over their bedroom or office windows, or in some cases, on doors and hallways to limit sound in their home-space. We may get the occasional referral, but we need to be conscious of the customer’s buying nature. This means we must constantly reach new customers through targeted marketing and advertising campaigns.

At the same time, our B2B customers (property managers and construction firms) often buy large quantities, and in some cases use them at multiple locations and properties. Getting these customers into our sales funnel begins with cold calls and drop-ins, and matures to detailed discussions and ultimately price negotiations. While it may take several months to get your first true sale, realize that your next one may be right behind that, since all of the infrastructure (and sales process) has been built. Keeping your pipeline full, and flowing forward, makes a world of difference on the bottom line. To maximize the conversion of sales from each node (prospect, lead and sale) we focus on engaged sales team training, and allow them to tailor the sales process to their strengths.

Extended Success:

Every startup faces these critical challenges and oftentimes it takes an iterative approach to improve the product and reach the right market segment. By following a systematic approach, we’ve been able to overcome a number of obstacles and mistakes, and graduate from a local startup to a high-growth international business.

For more information on Residential Acoustics, visit https://residential-acoustics.com/

Emerge Tampa Bay to Host 2nd Speaker Series Event at MacDill AFB

Emerge Speaker Series

Kaila Barrington, Paycom, Emerge Professional Development Committee Member  

Once, I performed an exercise called the “triangle of success.” The instructor asked the audience what characteristics we thought made up a successful person. We all shared our thoughts:

  • knowledgeable/smart
  • open-minded
  • risk-taker
  • positive
  • driven
  • big thinker
  • determination
  • hard-working
  • open to feedback
  • perseverance
  • embraces change
  • inclusive
  • uses time wisely

Once the list was finalized, the instructor went one-by-one through the list and asked us which characteristics represented skill and which represented attitude, or both. What we found is that almost all were classified as attitude. The moral of the story: success is reached by having the right attitude. Yes, skills are important, but without the right attitude you will always fall short of success.

On July 15, Emerge Tampa Bay will hold its second professional development speaker series event. The topic of this event is leadership with guest speaker, Colonel Daniel Tulley. He is the current base commander of MacDill Air Force Base.

So, what type of leader is the event’s featured speaker, Colonel Daniel H. Tulley? Sure, we know by his title that the military has classified him as a leader, but how does he see himself?

Here’s what I found:

On his LinkedIn profile, he establishes himself as a leader that takes a strategy and sees it through to success by developing people and building teams to get results.

If you have not yet visited MacDill Air Force Base, this is your opportunity to see and learn about its impact on our region. Members of the military are invited to attend this event to learn about Emerge Tampa Bay and ways to get involved in our community. Growing up in a military town myself, I know the base brings diversity and many different leaders to the area. Through the Chamber’s Military efforts, the community is able to support our troops and maintain a positive, mutually beneficial relationship. Emerge Tampa Bay is excited to be on base to learn more ways to engage with our local military community.

To find out first-hand about Colonel Tulley’s leadership philosophy and the impact of MacDill Air Force Base on Tampa Bay, sign up to attend the event here: http://emerge.tampachamber.com/events/Emerge-Tampa-Bay-Professional-Development-Speaker-Series-Leadership-2891/details