About the Hoover Area Chamber

The Hoover Alabama Chamber of Commerce, its staff, members, officers and board members extend a warm welcome to you. We pride ourselves on being one of the South's fastest growing communities, offering new and progressive opportunities every day. Hoover spans almost 50 square miles of territory, involving much of Jefferson County and Shelby County. We promote a healthy business environment, and feature great restaurants, lodging facilities, sporting events, and vacation areas. Click here to read more.

Articles

Interesting and informative articles are welcome! We intend to display them on this page as they become available. All articles are subject to editing and will be published at the discretion of the Hoover Chamber.

Please submit article in "Microsoft Word" or plain text to: articles@hooverchamber.org

 How Much Is My Business Worth?


Would You Like Better Business Results? 
How to Reduce Your Attorney's Bill 
ADD an Extra Work-Week to Your Busy Schedule 
Marketing In a Digital World
How to Be a Good Boss
Business Startup and Choice of Entity
So what if you can't write? 
The Importance of Employee Handbooks
Concerned About Identity Theft? You should be!
Internet Scam
What Is An Employee Assistance Program 
So You Think Tax Cuts Are For the Rich? 
10 tips to prevent identity theft
Gone wireless? Got WEP? 
Solution-Results Packaging 
The Total Service Experience 
Computer Viruses: You Make The Call
Do You Delegate? 
How Secure Is Your Business? 
Travel Agency vs. "Going Solo" on the Internet
Is Your Customer List Safe? 
A Value-Add for Your Patients/Clients-Part II 
Seven ways to prevent computer hacking 
Business Loan Basics
A Value-Add for Your Patients/Clients-Part I

Office Depot - This is a discount program which allows Chamber members to receive special discounts on all their office supply needs.  Up to 10% off web pricing for select items. FREE Next-Day deliver of in stock items. In - store discounts.  196 Key Items on your "Hot Buy List" including paper and an extensive toner list. Ability to create your own custom core or "Hot Buy List", up to 30 items.  Office Supplies, furniture, business machines, copy, print and promotional items, coffee and break room supplies.  Access to a private website for order placement (https://bsd.officedepot.com/).  Your choice of an account billing (invoice) account or a credit card account, or both!!! 

No contract / No sign - on fees.  Additional Order Size Discounts: 1% off for Orders > $150; 1.5% off for Orders > $200; 2% off for Orders > $300. The greatest part of this partnership is that your employees can take part in the program as well.  Below is a secure website link that you can go to get started taking advantage of these great discounts. This is also the link that your employees can use to link their personal credit/debit cards to receive the discounts as well. http://odams.officedepot.com/registrations/portal.php?a=50879023
Please let me know if you have any questions or if I can help you in any way. I look forward to working with you and hearing back from you.
Mickie Manning, Territory Development Manager, Office Depot / Birmingham, AL, phone: 205-945-2650 x: 210; fax: 205-945-2649; email: mickie.manning@officedepot.com

How Much is My Business Worth?

We often hear the question, "How much is my business worth?" Today business owners, bankers, attorneys, and judges are realizing that businesses have value in excess of their tangible assets.  The application for business valuations are numerous including mergers, acquisitions, initial public offerings, litigation, buy-sell agreements, and estate and gift tax.
 
For all-too-many business owners who aren't looking to sell or raise new equity, valuation questions tend to come in three instances: 1) A partner leaves or demands a fair-market buy-out or invokes a buy-sell clause. 2) A principal is going through a divorce. 3) Death or estate planning. 
 
Proactive knowledge can prevent headaches. And when it's time to sell, it yields money. Each business has its own blueprint for success, but one key to a high valuation is minimizing risk. To an outside buyer, more risk carries expectations of a higher return - and thus a lower price. 
 
Concentrate on the underlying aspects of value. The actual number is less important than employing it to improve your business. It is vital to work with someone certified when determining the value of your business.  At Barfield, Murphy, Shank & Smith, we are blessed to have three Certified Valuation Analysts. They have the expertise and training to serve clients in business valuation consultation and in performing business valuations. 

Jack Knight, CPA, CVA, Shareholder, Barfield, Murphy, Shank & Smith
(205) 982-5556 - jknight@bmss.com - http://www.bmss.com/ 

 

Do I Owe Use Tax?
Less money in the state budget might lead to closer glances at your company's purchases.
State and local taxing authorities are looking closely at use tax for potential revenue. A use tax is imposed when you purchase a taxable item but don't pay sales tax.  Items purchased from a catalog, over the internet or directly from out-of-state vendors are subject to use tax.  If the vendor does not have a physical presence in Alabama such as store or warehouse (called "nexus"), the tax reporting responsibility passes to the purchaser (your company) and would be responsible for self-assessing the use tax.
Non-profits and churches are not exempt from use tax. State and local laws may exclude purchase of certain items from use tax. Taxing authorities are comparing records of sales tax payers to see if they also pay use tax. If the state determines you don't have a use tax account, they may schedule an audit.
During the audit, the taxing jurisdiction reviews your company's purchase invoices and assesses use tax on taxable purchases upon which no sales tax was paid. They'll also determine how well you've been complying with normal sales tax laws. If you've never filed a use tax return, the taxing jurisdiction can audit your company all the way back to the date it started business.
The magnitude of unpaid use taxes, plus interest and penalties, could be enormous. Don't let a possible use tax audit sneak up on you. BMSS can help your business with situations regarding Sales & Use Tax. Contact us to learn about how we could help you establish and retain accurate tax operations.
Steve Smith, CPA
Shareholder at Barfield, Murphy, Shank & Smith, PC
205-982-5516
ssmith@bmss.com
bmss.com

How to Reduce Your Attorney's Bill

By J. Timothy Smith, Attorney-At-Law

An attorney's fees are determined in one of three ways:
1. On a per-hour basis, with each piece of work, each phone call, each letter, each hour of court time being billed separately.
2. On a fixed-fee basis, with the entire case being handled for one set fee.
3. On a contingency basis, with the attorney taking his or her fees out of any award won by the client.

In a contingency case, of course, the fees take care of themselves. In a fixed-fee situation, you will pay the same no matter what (assuming that the nature of the work does not change). However, there are ways in which you can greatly reduce the amount of your final bill when you are being charged on a per-hour basis.

 Be concise. When meeting with your attorney, or talking with him on the phone, try to stick to the point. When the conversation moves into irrelevant areas, you must remember you are still paying for that time.

 Consolidate. Try not to call your attorney every time you have a question or a concern, unless it is of overwhelming importance. Wait until you have several questions or comments and present them to him at the same time.

 Put it in writing. It is easier to stay on track and present your ideas effectively in a letter than it is over the phone. Plus you have the added advantage of having a permanent record of your concerns with less likelihood of a misunderstanding occurring.

 Be patient. In any legal case, there are long periods of waiting time, such as when you are awaiting a hearing date or a signed divorce decree from the judge. Constant calls to check on the status of that item will only increase your bill. You may be certain that the moment your attorney receives the information, the signed decree, or whatever else you are awaiting, you will be immediately notified. Of course, if the waiting period seems to be unusually long, it is certainly reasonable to make a quick call to see what is happening.

 Consider your options carefully. Many clients feel that an attorney is not doing his job unless a veritable blizzard of motions and petitions and notices are being filed. Before requesting any action, consider whether it is really necessary ñ ask yourself what you are likely to gain.

 Take on some of the work yourself. Each thing that you do on your own is one less thing that your attorney or a staff member will have to do and charge you for. For example, when you take in a pile of documents, have them well-organized, perhaps even indexed, to avoid the attorney charging you for organizing them himself. If you communicate in writing with him, type the document rather than handwriting it ñ trying to decipher a handwritten document can increase the amount of time he must spend on it. If documents or evidence must be picked up from a distant location, offer to pick the items up yourself if possible. For an attorney, (or your CPA for that matter) travel time is also billable time. If you are asked to respond to a discovery request by producing documents, you might want to deliver two copies to your attorney rather than just one. Otherwise, his assistant will have to spend billable time copying those documents to send to the opposing attorney (as he must keep one set for his own files).

 Be realistic. Some items are simply not worth fighting over, especially when it is "a matter of principle". You may find winning a point comes at a very high price.

 Avoid trial whenever possible. Taking a case to trial always involves great expense, both financially and emotionally. Always try to work things out without taking that final step. Remember, one way or another, an agreement WILL be reached in your case. If you don't come to a decision by yourselves, the judge will do it for you.

 Be on time. When appearing in court, at a deposition, or at any other event to which your attorney must also be present, be on time. Waiting time is also billable time.

 All in all, reducing your legal costs isn't especially difficult in fact, it's mostly just good old-fashioned common sense!

 Tim Smith is a long-time member of the Hoover Chamber, and provides valuable door prizes at chamber functions in the form of complimentary Last Wills and Testaments each month. He can be reached at 823-1650, or tsmith3225@charter.net. His Law Office is at 3225 Lorna Road, Hoover, AL 35216

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SO WHAT IF YOU CAN'T WRITE?

Imagine how 21-year-old Joseph Beahm felt after he paid $100 to have a tattoo scrawled across his upper arm that read, "Why Not, Everyone Elese Does." It was supposed to advise: "Why Not, Everyone Else Does."

Maybe typos, spelling mistakes, or grammatical errors don't worry you like they did Mr. Beahm, but they should. They bother other people a LOT!* The bothered reader could be your customer or client.

WHY WORRY? A recent survey of human resource directors showed employers spend billions just to correct writing deficiencies. Further, the survey revealed people who cannot write or communicate clearly tend not to be hired, and are unlikely to last long enough to be considered for promotion. 

Forget mastering singular/plural agreement and run-on sentences. Many college graduates aren't even familiar with spelling or basic grammar. 

Sure, it's not fair, but businesses are perceived by how they are marketed. If a company is marketed using a newsletter riddled with errors, or a flyer filled with misspellings, it doesn't matter if the product or service is the best out there. Competitors have an automatic leg up.

BUT I DON'T HAVE TO WRITE! Two-thirds of all salaried employees in large American companies have some writing responsibility. "Business letters, operating procedures, sales contracts, health issues, documentation - all have to be crystal clear," said one human resource director.

Almost everyone e-mails at work, and customer correspondence done well keeps many businesses thriving. Business reputations ride on how we present ourselves, and we present ourselves in writing every day.

SO WHAT'S THE SOLUTION? You're a businessperson; you're not an editor. How can your press releases, reports, memos and more, be flawless?

One solution is to instruct your employees how to write, or learn how to write yourself. Half-day or full-day sessions can remind you and your employees what everyone was supposed to have retained from high-school English. Depending on class size, prices can range from $100 up to $2,500 or more.

An easier answer may be for you and your staff to continue to do what you do best, and that's to do your jobs. Hire freelance proofreaders, editors, writers, and marketers to put your best foot forward. There are no benefits, vacations, or retirements to consider for these communicators. Just negotiate an hourly or project-long contract. Then, you're prepared to present yourself and your company using clear, cogent writing that's persuasive, logical, and orderly. 

 *ALOT is not a word. Remember, just as you wouldn't write "alittle," you shouldn't write "alot." And, while we're at it, alright isn't a real word, either - use "all right" instead. 

Lynda Cardwell is proud to be a longtime Hoover chamber member. She serves as president of Media Maven, Inc., specializing in print, radio, television, advertising, editing, and marketing. Reach her at MediaMavenInc@aol.com or (205) 601-4445.

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Concerned About Identity Theft? You should be! 

Read this and make a copy for your files in case you need to refer to it someday. Maybe we should all take some of his advice! A corporate attorney sent the following out to the employees in his company. 

1. The next time you order checks have only your initials (instead of first name) and last name put on them. If someone takes your checkbook, they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name, but your bank will know how you sign your checks. 

2. When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number on the "For" line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number, and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through all the check processing channels won't have access to it. 

3. Put your work phone # on your checks instead of your home phone. If you have a PO Box use that instead of your home address. If you do not have a PO Box, use your work address. NEVER have your SS# printed on your checks. (DUH!) You can add it if it is necessary. But if you have it printed, anyone who even sees your check can steal your identity! 

4. Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Copy both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place. Carry a photocopy of your passport when traveling. We've all heard horror stories about fraud that's committed on us in stealing a name, address, Social Security number, credit cards. Within a week of stealing a wallet, thieve(s) can order a cell phone package, apply for a credit cards, have a credit line approved to for other things, get a PIN number from DMV to change your driving record information online, and more. But here's some critical information to limit the damage in case this happens to you or someone you know: 

1. We have been told we should cancel our credit cards immediately. But the key is having the toll free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep those where you can find them. 

2. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your credit cards, etc. were stolen. This proves to credit providers you were diligent, and this is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one). 

But here's what is perhaps most important of all : 3.Call the 3 national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen, and they are required to contact you by phone to authorize new credit. 

Now, here are the numbers you always need to contact about your wallet, etc. has been stolen: 

Equifax: 1-800-525-6285. Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742. Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289 

4.) Social Security Administration (fraud line): 1-800-269-0271

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What Is An Employee Assistance Program & Why Should You Have One?

by Barry McCullough, Marketing Director, Employee Assistance Services

80% of all problems at work are NOT work related! They come from home!

An Employee Assistance program is a confidential service provided by trained and certified professional counselors, that assess, diagnose and address the individual problems of employees. This can be accomplished by voluntary access or formal referral by management. An important part of a successful EAP is training. Training that is designed to address potential problems in the workplace, and to assist management and supervision with the ìpersonal issuesî of their employees. it get management ìout of the middle.î

Marital conflicts, depression, stress, parenting issues, substance abuse and other personal problems of the employee create absenteeism, tardiness, poor productivity, high turnover and friction in the work place. Job related accidents cost American business approximately 100 billion dollars each year!

People with emotional disorders are 25% higher users of medical care services than those that are emotionally well. The U.S. Department of Public Health ranks mental and emotional disorders and alcoholism third and fourth, respectively, among major health problems.

The Hoover Area Chamber of Commerce is now offering this program as a value-added benefit of membership. 

Eight Good Reasons To Have An E.A.P.:

1. It provides training for managers in how to spot a troubled employee, and how to properly respond.

2. It helps protect your organization and mangers while getting employees the help they need.

3. It relieves supervisors of the frequent and unpleasant role of becoming involved in their employeeís personal problems.

4. It provides a confidential, non-threatening setting for a troubled employee to promptly, economically and conveniently receive the services that will aide in successfully resolving personal problems.

5. It frees supervisors to perform their primary function of overseeing job performance.

6. In cases of grievance or arbitration proceedings, an EAP may substantially strengthen the organizationís position.

7. It improves productivity, morale, retention and public image.

8. The organizationís image is enhanced, in the eyes of employees and their families, by a meaningful demonstration of concern for the individualís well being.

For information on how the Employee Assistance Service can help you, call Barry McCullough or Sara Gentle at 933-7442.

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Tax Cut: So You Think Tax Cuts Are For the Rich?

Sometimes politicians can exclaim; "It's just a tax cut for the rich!" and it is just accepted to be fact. But what does that really mean?
Just in case you are not completely clear on this issue, we hope the following will help. Let's put tax cuts in terms everyone can understand. 
Suppose that every day, ten men go out for dinner. The bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this: 
The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay $1.
The sixth would pay $3. 
The seventh $7.
The eighth $12.
The ninth $18.
The man (the richest) would pay $59.
So, that's what they decided to do.

The ten men ate dinner in the restaurant every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve. "Since you are all such good customers," he said, "I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily meal by $20." So, now dinner for the ten only cost $80. The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes. So, the first four men were unaffected. They would still eat for free. But what about the other six, the paying customers? How could they divvy up the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his 'fair share'? The six men realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being 'PAID' to eat their meal. So, the restaurant owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay. 

And so: 
The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings). 
The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33% savings). 
The seventh now paid $5 instead of $7 (28% savings). 
The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings). 
The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings). 
The now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).

Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to eat for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings. "I only got a dollar out of the $20," declared the sixth man. He pointed to the man "but he got $10!" "Yeah, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man. "I only saved a dollar, too. It's unfair that he got ten times more than me!" "That's true!!" shouted the seventh man. "Why should he get $10 back when I got only $2? The wealthy get all the breaks!" "Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison. "We didn't get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!" The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up. The next night the tenth man didn't show up for dinner, so the nine sat down and ate without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn't have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill! 

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college professors, is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up at the table anymore. There are lots of good restaurants in Europe and the Caribbean.

David R. Kamerschen, Ph.D Distinguished Professor of Economics 536 Brooks Hall University of Georgia 

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 Travel Agency vs. "Going Solo" on the Internet

By Maylena Burchfield, ADTRAV/Adventure Travel

Due to the proliferation of travel on the Internet, many companies are reviewing the way in which their employees book travel. Many are asking the question, "Do we still need a travel management company?" In fact, a recent study conducted by Topaz International showed that agents actually secured lower airfares than the Internet travel sites. Add to this the many benefits offered by travel agencies plus their ability to search the web on your behalf and any perceived savings of "going solo" evaporate. These benefits include:

• Ability to hold reservations without ticketing - All travel websites require that the traveler immediately purchase any confirmed reservations. Unfortunately, many times when the traveler is ready to purchase the tickets, the seats are no longer available at the prior airfare.

• Ability to "void" non-refundable tickets - Travel agencies have the ability to completely cancel tickets (even non-refundable tickets) within a 24- hour period. This flexibility is extremely important for corporate travelers whose plans often change. 

• 24/7 enroute service - A professional travel consultant familiar with your company's travel policies and procedures is always only a phone call away.

• Ability to find traveler in case of emergency - Travel agencies have all booking information including flights, hotels, and emergency contact information.

• Professional travel consultant - Airfare rules and restrictions are confusing and constantly changing. An agency offers professional advice allowing travelers to make informed decisions.

• Ability to quickly cancel, rebook, exchange or refund airline tickets -

All web bookings require the traveler to call large reservation centers to perform any of these tasks. An agency will navigate this complicated process for you.

• Corporate frequent flyer tracking - Company frequent flyer number is appended to every reservation made through an agency, resulting in FREE airline tickets for company use as well as free tickets earned by the traveler.

• Worldwide hotel discount program - Travel agencies offer discounts from 15% to 30% off the lowest corporate rates at hotels across the United States and internationally.

• Travel agencies provide a combination of substantial savings, policy enforcement and professional service that is uncharacteristic of the web.

Maylena Burchfield, Director of Corporate Sales

ADTRAV Travel Management/Adventure Travel 

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Risks at Your Fingertips - Seven ways to prevent computer hacking

By John Sandefur

There has been a 65% increase in security threats to information systems over the past two years, and the number of network intrusions has quadrupled. Any small business with a broadband Internet connection needs to guard against becoming a cyber-crime victim. 

Simple, effective steps that small business owners and network administrators can take to protect their systems include: 

1. Implement a firewall. Firewalls intercept network traffic and allow only authorized data to pass through; it is a barrier to hackers and viruses. 

2. Develop a corporate security policy. Establish a corporate security policy that details practices to secure the network. Employees should be directed to choose passwords that are a combination of letters and numbers and passwords should be changed every 90-days. When someone leaves company, immediately delete the user name and password. 

3. Install anti-virus software. All computers should run the most recent version of an anti-virus protection subscription. Employees should be educated about viruses and discouraged from opening email attachments or email from unknown senders. 

4. Keep operating systems up to date. Upgrade operating systems frequently and install the latest patches or versions of software, which are often free over the Web. For Microsoft Windows, check www.windowsupdate.com.

5. Don’t run unnecessary network services. When installing systems, any non-essential features should be disabled. A feature that is not actively used is less likely to be updated regularly, presenting a larger security threat. 

6. Conduct a vulnerability test. A vulnerability test is a cost-effective way to evaluate the current security program. It highlights flaws and limitations in the program, and experts can offer suggestions for improvement. To conduct a vulnerability test, contact a computer consulting company and provide access to your system for a day or two. This will provide ample time for network appraisal and follow-up discussion and planning.

7. Read current literature about network security. Numerous resources offer information about effective security tools and "lessons learned". The Web provides ample and very current information about security – type in the key words "network security."

Proper security programs offer peace of mind and real security to business owners. Preventive security measures, combined with a little bit of common sense and awareness, can help ensure that a business won’t be a hacker’s next victim.

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