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10 Points

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1. Know what you want to learn from the conference. Most conferences have multiple tracks; try to focus on your most important goals.
2. Before the conference, identify other attendees in your breakout sessions. Learn about them and their companies via the Web and LinkedIn.
3. Set appointments in advance. Contact a few individuals who you have identified as having common interests and try to arrange to meet over coffee during the conference.
4. At the conference, focus on meeting attendees rather than the featured speakers. Attendees are likely the people who walk in your shoes and can provide you with practical ideas and support moving forward.
5. Be the first to engage other attendees at your table. Spend time asking open-ended and feel-good questions to first get to know them personally. People ultimately do business with people they know, like, and trust.
6. Always have your business card ready to exchange, and make notes about your conversations, right away, on their business cards. This will give you a frame of reference for contacting them after the conference is over.
7. Send follow-up notes and/or e-mails after the conference to continue the positive connection. Ask if they would like to continue the connection with you via LinkedIn.
8. Try to help your new colleagues. Listen for their concerns and challenges in their jobs and send them resources that you may have that can help them. Be the go-giver.
9. Be a connector. Actively listen, and try to introduce people who could provide benefit to each other. When you are a conduit who connects people in a helpful way, you are increasing your own value, and people will want to help you even more!
10. Ask your new contacts for resources and advice. People you meet at conferences can be a very valuable resource for the challenges that you face in your job. They are usually more than happy to offer best practices they have found in their work.

Brenda Olesuk

Brenda Olesuk

Brenda Olesuk is the marketing director at Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C. in Holyoke; (413) 536-8510.

10 Points Departments

You generally must include taxable fringe benefits in an employee’s gross income. Most are subject to income-tax withholding and employment taxes. Here are some of these taxable items to include:
1. Personal use of auto. The value of an employee’s personal use of a company-provided auto should be included as income. There are IRS guidelines to determine the amount of this calculation.
2. Value of life insurance if over $50,000. To the extent that the benefit of the life insurance exceeds $50,000, an amount as determined by IRS tables is a taxable fringe benefit.
3. Memberships in country club dues or other social clubs. If these payments are strictly for personal use by the employee, they are a taxable fringe.
4. Tickets to entertainment or sporting events. The value of the tickets for personal use should be included as taxable to the employee.
5. Discounts on property or services. The taxable portion is the extent to which the discount exceeds the cost of the product (or more than 20% of the price for services charged to customers.)
However, some fringe benefits are not taxable (or are minimally taxable) if certain conditions are met. Some of these items are as follows:
6. Services provided to your employees at no additional cost to you.
7. Certain minimal fringes, including an occasional cab ride if an employee must work overtime, or meals that you provide at eating places that you run for your employees if the meals are not furnished at below cost.
8. Qualified transportation fringes. These are subject to special conditions and dollar limitations, including transportation in a commuter highway vehicle.
9. Qualified moving-expense reimbursements. Reimbursed and employer-paid qualified moving expenses paid under an accountable plan are not includible in an employee’s W-2.
10. Use of on-premisis athletic facilities. If substantially all of the use is by employees, their spouses, or their dependents, this is not a taxable fringe benefit.
You should contact your tax advisor to determine the value of the taxable items to include, or to determine whether or not certain items are taxable.

Cheryl Fitzgerald

Cheryl Fitzgerald

Cheryl Fitzgerald is a senior tax manager with the certified public accounting firm of Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C., in Holyoke; (413) 536-8510.

10 Points Departments

In this economy, companies are trying harder to protect what they own, at minimal costs. Manufacturers do not want their confidential business information, their trade secrets, taken by desperate competitors or sold by disgruntled employees. Here are 10 physical steps businesses can take within their plants to protect trade secrets:

1. Identify potential trade-secret ‘leak points.’ Minimize exposure of trade secrets to them

2. Password-protect confidential computer files and establish secure storage files for hard copies of confidential documents.
3. Establish general and restricted zones within the plant. Confine all trade-secrecy development and utilization, where possible, to the restricted zones.
4. Utilize warning signs on all entrances to the physical plant to advise non-employees to utilize only a secure, monitored ‘main entrance.’

5. Utilize color-coded identification badges for external use by all employees during work hours. Have specific colors of badges correlate with permission to be within restricted and general zones of the plant.

6. Post ‘Authorized Employees Only’ signs at the entry to all restricted zones.
7. Use locked doors for all restricted zones. Make them open only by scanning correctly colored ID badges or ID cards. Some companies scan fingerprints or eyeballs.
8. Utilize painted, directional floor lines for visitors and tours to ensure they do not stray into restricted zones.
9. Screen all visitors by having them sign a log book. Some companies make visitors produce a passport or birth certificate.

10. Prohibit any photograph taking or recording by visitors.

Donald S. Holland, Esq. is the senior partner at Holland & Bonzagni, P.C., an intellectual property law firm based in Longmeadow; www.hblaw.org.

10 Points Departments

By TERESA A. JUDYCKI, CPA

1. In addition to being ‘ordinary and necessary,’ entertainment expenses must pass another test to be deductible: they must be either directly related to or associated with your business.

2. A ‘directly related’ meal or entertainment either takes place in a clear business setting, or the main purpose is business and there is an expectation of specific benefit, not just goodwill. Business must actually be conducted — meeting, discussion, etc.
3. An expense is ‘associated with’ the conduct of business if the meal or entertainment precedes or follows a substantial business discussion and there is a clear business purpose which may be either to generate new business or to encourage continuation of a business relationship.
4. Lavish or extravagant entertainment is not deductible. The expense must be reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances.

5. The deduction for a skybox or a private luxury box rented for more than one event in the same sports arena is limited to the price of a non-luxury box seat for each seat in the skybox.

6. You cannot deduct more than the face value of a ticket to an entertainment event. This limitation applies equally to amounts paid to scalpers and service fees paid to ticket agencies.
7. Reciprocal meals or entertainment are not deductible (i.e. a group of business associates takes turns picking up the tab).
8. Once the expenditure qualifies, it is only 50% deductible. There are exceptions that include employee summer outings or holiday parties.
9. What about charity golf tournaments? If they qualify as entertainment expenses, charity sports events are not subject to the 50% disallowance as long as the primary purpose is to benefit a charity, the entire net proceeds go to the charity, and the event uses volunteers to perform substantially all the event’s work.

10. Strict substantiation rules must be met. The evidence must support the amount, time and place, business purpose (including the nature and duration of business discussions), and your business relationship to the person entertained.

Terri Judycki is a senior tax manager with the Holyoke-based public accounting firm

10 Points Departments

1The International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) was created in 2001 to develop an international set of accounting standards known as the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).
2In May 2008, the American Institute of CPAs Council approved the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) as a recognized standard-setter for financial reporting. More than 100 other countries have adopted IFRS as the global standard.
3In July 2009, the IASB issued IFRS designed for use by small and medium-sized entities (SMEs). IFRS for SMEs are not intended to be used by not-for-profit organizations or governmental agencies.
4Small and medium-sized entities (SMEs) in the scope of the standard include entities that publish general-purpose financial statements for external users and do not have public accountability.
5One projected timeline estimates that IFRS could be mandatory in the U.S. with a staggered adoption period of 2015-18.
6Once fully adopted, International Financial Reporting Standards will replace U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principals (GAAP) as the basis for financial reporting.
7U.S. GAAP, IFRS, and IFRS for SMEs are similar, with basic accounting concepts such as comparability, going concern, and materiality.
8U.S. GAAP, IFRS, and IFRS for SMEs are different, with certain accounting and reporting treatments. A few of these differences are the treatment of LIFO inventory costing, goodwill carrying value, impairments and write-downs, research and development costs, and borrowing costs for self-constructed assets.
9IFRS reporting is considered simpler and more ‘principles-based’ than the ‘rules-based’ GAAP financial reporting, which may better meet the needs of financial-statement users. The change in reporting may have implications on an entity’s accounting, taxes, financing, as well as processes and controls.
10While full convergence from GAAP to IFRS reporting standards is years away, companies should speak with their accounting advisors to determine their requirements for adopting the new standards.
Tony Gabinetti, CPA is a senior audit manager at Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C. in Holyoke; (413) 536-8510.

10 Points Departments

By Susan Bellows

1. Job Design: The job description needs to include the skill set of the ‘ideal candidate.’ Someone who’s great at cold calling might not excel at paperwork, which may be a key requirement at your company.

2. Pre-qualifying Interview Questions: Thoroughly screen applicants before inviting them for an interview. Ask open-ended questions, such as “how would you rate your personal drive, and what specifics can you cite?”
3. Behavioral Interviewing: During the interview, ask questions that uncover what’s not on the résumé. For example, “tell me about a time when it was necessary to admit to others that you had made a mistake. How did you handle it?”
4. Motivators: Ask questions about what really motivates the individual. Your company may not provide the motivators that drive a particular candidate, such as the opportunity to continually learn or mentor others, which would not be a good fit for either of you.

5. Candidate Assessment: Résumés don’t tell the whole story. Invest in candidate testing to reveal the real person. Imagine if you knew ahead of time that a sales person couldn’t deliver on résumé claims.

6. References: Have the candidate line up phone appointments for you with their last five past managers. For details, read Avoid Costly Mis-Hires!, a free e-book at www.topgrading.com.
7. Onboarding: Even perfect candidates will flounder with the ‘just follow Joe around’ orientation method. Instead, develop or borrow a formal process for integrating new hires.
8. Expectations: Make your expectations of salespeople specific and explicit to them. Don’t assume their assumptions match yours.
9. Ongoing Coaching: Salespeople, in particular, need constant encouragement and to be challenged regularly. You will be trusted and respected for it.

10. Constant Feedback: Great sales leaders encourage ongoing and open communication. Make it safe for salespeople to tell you what is going on ‘out there’ and that there’s no limit to what you can achieve together.

Susan Bellows is a sales strategist who helps businesses select and retain high-performing salespeople as well as determine whether and how underperformers can be turned around; (413) 566-3934; www.susanbellows.com

10 Points Departments

By DENNIS G. EGAN Jr., Esq.

1. File annual reports. In Massachusetts, annual reports must be filed on or before the anniversary of formation and are required to attain good standing to secure financing, enter into purchase-and-sale transactions, and transact other business.

2. Keep business insurance current and complete. Unemployment insurance, Social Security, and workers’ compensation are all required by law. Make sure your insurance is up to date and your business is adequately covered.
3. Create a succession plan. Then memorialize it through a cross-purchase or redemption agreement. These may be funded through whole, term-life, and/or disability insurance.
4. Update your estate plan. As businesses succeed and property and assets are bought and/or sold, the composition of your estate may change. Make sure that your estate plan keeps pace.

5. File and pay taxes in a timely fashion. One thing is certain: not filing and paying taxes in a timely fashion will lead to penalties and interest that far exceed the underlying tax obligation.

6. Make sure your business is qualified to do business in every state in which you conduct business. Non-compliance can lead to significant penalties and interest on top of the filing fees.
7. Review your employment contracts. Recent case law has changed what constitutes an employee versus an independent contractor, and failure to properly categorize workers can lead to significant legal costs, administrative expense, and tax obligations.
8. Review or create a comprehensive employee handbook. This notifies employees of your business’ policies and procedures. It helps to prevent confusion, protects your business from possible litigation, and creates a better work environment.
9. Revisit your business health-insurance coverage. This will help you to balance the health needs of your employees with containing costs.

10. Service your company’s debt. Are you receiving the most favorable terms available? You may be able to refinance your company’s debt, resulting in a lower interest rate and more-favorable repayment terms.

Dennis G. Egan Jr. is an associate with the regional law firm Bacon Wilson, P.C, who specializes in business and corporate law; (413) 781-0560; [email protected] baconwilson.com