Monday, March 28, 2011

Preparing For Vendor Events

April is a busy month for me with vendor events this year.  While each event may need a tailored approach for leads, preparation is fairly consistent.  You will want to plan well and bring a variety of materials with you to present a professional image, represent your business well, and collect new leads. 

What you should know about the event.
  • Is a donation required?
  • Who is the target audience? (seniors, families, business professionals)
  • Is the location indoor or outdoor?
  • What is provided to the vendors? (tables, tents, electricity, food, security)
  • What is the expected attendance?
  • What kind of advertising are they using?
  • Am I expected to provide a give-a-way or goody bag item for guests?

Here are some things you should consider preparing and packing as they apply to your business.

  • tent- necessary if outdoors, can often be rented but easily purchased at most major retailers in the sporting goods department
  • table(s)- 6 foot folding tables will fit easily in most vehicles and are always handy.  They often go on sale around major holidays for about $35.
  • tablecloths
  • boxes to lift up your display or create height on your table
  • banner (Vistaprint- Get a small vinyl banner sign FREE. Plus save 50% off other sizes.)
  • product samples or inventory to sell
  • product specific display items
  • equipment needed to prepare product if serving food
  • dry erase marker boards
  • posters

Booth Decoration Ideas
  • balloons
  • flowers
  • rugs or mats
  • Christmas lights
  • seasonal decorations
  • wooden trellises

  • promotional pamphlets
  • marketing brochures
  • catalogs
  • customer or hostess special fliers
  • business cards

Collecting Leads
  • a drawing ticket or questionnaire
  • a drawing item
  • something small to give children such as candy or stickers
  • an interactive game or activity for children

Checkout Materials

  • bags or boxes for purchases

  • order forms

  • calculator

  • cash register

  • credit card machine (see post about The Square)

  • Miscellaneous
    • tape
    • scissors
    • sharpies
    • twine
    • pipe cleaners (or twisty ties)
    • large binder rings can be used to hang merchandise from the tops of your tents
    You never know when you may have to fix, hang, or tie something down.  Throw all these extras in a gallon size bag for "just in case" moments.  A friend of mine taught me about the pipe cleaners.  They are strong and colorful!  You can use them to attach or hang just about anything.


    Related Articles:
    Finding Vendor Opportunities

    Thursday, March 24, 2011

    Simple & Inexpensive Credit Card Processing

    Months ago I heard about a device that allows you to process credit cards through your cell phone on Good Morning America.  Recently, a friend was raving about it and I must say, I'm excited!  Meet Square!


    About Square
    Square is a revolutionary service that enables anyone to accept credit cards anywhere. Square offers an easy to use, free credit card reader that plugs into an  iPhone, iPad, or Android phone. It's simple to sign up. There is no extra equipment, complicated contracts, monthly fees or merchant account required.

    Processing fees:

    2.75% for swiped transactions
    3.5% + 15¢ for keyed-in transactions
    That's it! There are no activation, gateway, monthly, early termination, hidden fees or any additional costs to use Square. Every credit or debit card we accept (Visa, Mastercard, Amex and Discover) have the same flat rate. These fees are static and do not change depending on how much the transaction was for. As our fees are taken out of each transaction as they occur, there is no fee schedule. Square also does not require a contract upon sign up and since we only charge per transaction, it doesn't cost you anything if you don't use it!

    Additional Details
    Square automatically deposits the money in your bank account at the end of every business day.  There are no transaction limits or monthly processing limits.  You can click here to read more FAQ on their help page!

    Several people I know personally have been using this device and love it.  An entire group from my direct sales company have been using this out in the Midwest and love it too.  That is important to me- tried and true!  This might just be the gadget to push me into the current technology era.  My cell phone is archaic.  Time to upgrade!
    Click here to sign up!
    I hope this saves you time and money!  Enjoy!

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    Finding Vendor Opportunities

    There are a large number of events that invite vendors to come and promote their products and services year round.  These opportunities are a great way to introduce your business and grow your customer base. 

    Here are types of events to look for:
    • Children's Expos
    • Home and Garden Expos
    • Bridal Expos
    • Health and Wellness Expos
    • Church Bazaars or Fairs
    • School Carnivals
    • Craft Fairs
    • Art Festivals
    • Farmers Markets
    • State or County Fairs
    • Holiday Markets
    • Fashion Shows
    • Fundraisers

    Where can you find events?

    The vendor or booth fee can vary from nothing to thousands of dollars depending on the venue and advertising.  In addition to the fee, product or service donations may be requested.  If you need a table, tent, or electricity, you may incur additional costs.  Some fundraising events may ask for a percentage of all your sales.  It is important to remember that you need to spend money to make money.  Just be sure that you can reasonably recoup your costs in product sold or leads gained.

    Events should only accept one representative from each direct sales company but will take multiple companies within the same industry.  For example, they would take multiple jewelry vendors but only one representative each from Premier Designs, Cookie Lee, Lia Sophia, Silpada, etc... This would be an important question to ask when registering.

    Many events are held annually.  Keep the event information on file and plan to contact the coordinator prior to the event next year.  Some organizations will contact previous vendors and give them the initial opportunity but not all.

    My vendor opportunities page is a compilation of the events I find or those that readers send to me.  Please keep me up-to-date on events you are planning or participating in.  Sharing information will provide a variety of vendors at the event, increase advertisement, and support fellow businesses.  The success of all businesses helps the economy and we all know that small business plays a huge role!  You can email me new listings at or leave a comment on the vendor page.


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    Thursday, March 17, 2011

    Tax Professional vs. Tax Software

    Preparing your own taxes is definitely doable and many people use tax software for assistance.  In last week's post, Business Write-Offs, I cautioned business owners to be careful when using tax preparation software such as Turbo Tax.  You may want to reconsider filing your own taxes if you have a large number of write-offs and deductions, or collected significant commissions and earnings.

    TurboTax Deluxe Federal + e-File + State 2010

    These softwares are only accurate based on the information you provide.  An incorrect answer to one of the yes or no questions may inadvertently cause errors.  For example, I talked last week about the "home office" write-off being a red flag for audits.  The tax software will ask you if you use part of your home for business.  If you didn't know more about the requirements for a home office, you'd probably select yes when in fact your usage may not qualify.  I also talked about the fact that donations made only to qualifying organizations can be used as a deduction.  A tax professional could ask clarifying questions or see your records first hand and properly file the deduction, where the software only uses the information you provide.

    A tax professional can conduct a survey of you and your business and know immediately what you can and cannot deduct or write-off.  They may catch paperwork errors or find deductions you missed.  Most people who use a tax professional get higher returns or pay in less.  You also have a physical person who can work with you should you be audited.  Tax professionals can offer tips on how you should be filing or organizing your records and what you need to be keeping.  By working with a physical person, you'll be better educated about what you can and can't do. 

    Any expense you pay for tax preparation is a write-off.  You may find more piece of mind and a better return far outweighs the frustration of trying to file on your own.  If an audit is conducted and errors are found, not only will you have to pay back taxes but additional fees as well.

    Click here to find a certified professional in your area through the American Institute of CPAs website.  Or, ask a friend or another professional for referrals.


    Friday, March 11, 2011

    Business Write-Offs

    Taxes are often a big concern for many new business owners.  They are usually unsure of what they can or can't write-off for their business.  Here is what I know about acceptable write-offs and deductions over the years to the best of my knowledge.  Of course, you should always consult with your tax professional for the final word!

    • Office equipment necessary to run your business: phone, computer, laptop, printer, fax, etc...
    • Utilities that you use towards your business: phone and internet
    • Office supplies: paper, ink, pens, file folders, envelopes, post-its, etc...
    • Other supplies necessary to operate your business: give-a-way items for parties, order forms, tickets, clip boards, display items, rolling carts, organizational totes
    • Marketing materials: catalogs, pamphlets, advertising costs
    • Samples
    • Postage: stamps, and any postage paid to mail documents, product, catalogs, invitations, or fliers to customers, companies, or other business professionals
    • Mileage:  keep a mini calendar or log book in your car to record all mileage for business related appointments.
    • Other auto expenses: tolls and parking.
    • Meals: for business trips or for business meetings
    • Travel expenses: flights, hotels, taxis, buses, trains, etc...
    • Professional fees: start up fees, training or conference fees, credit card processing fees, vendor event fees, website fees, banking or credit card fees
    • Books (education expense)
    • Health Insurance and Medical expenses
    • Donations- items or money
    • Uniforms
    • Child Care expenses
    • Tax preparation fees including research publications and software costs

    Appropriate write-offs should always be for business use!  There is a fine line on some write-offs or deductions.  Here are some you should tread carefully with.

    • Child care "expenses" are only allowed if they qualify for the child care credit - which is a separate form (2441), not just a line item.  (See below for a link.)

    • No clothing deduction is allowed if the clothing is ordinary street wear - regardless of a requirement by your profession to look a certain way.  In other words, painters are not allowed to write-off painters pants, because they are ordinary street wear.  Only uniforms and safety equipment are deductible clothing items.

    • Looking professional is important but you cannot write-off any personal care items such as manicures, hair cuts, and pedicures.

    • Writing-off a percentage of your home as a "home office" will raise a red flag.  Many professionals recommend this for people who have separate entrances to the office, meet with clients in this office, and do not store any non-business effects in the room.  (Check out one of my earlier posts on Audit Risks.)

    • Business meals are also a red flag item.  You are required to keep the receipt along with a record of the business purpose of the meal.

    Small home businesses could easily file their own taxes by completing the Schedule C form and the self-employment tax form in addition to the normal 1040.  However, using a tax professional, especially one accustomed to working with home-based businesses, can save you time and money.  Most tax professionals would not recommend using a tax preparation software.  (Stay tuned for more on this soon!)

    Here are some tax document links:

    1040  form                                                               
    1040 instructions  

    Schedule A: Itemized Deductions form                         
    Schedule A instructions

    Schedule C: Profit or Loss from Business form              
    Schedule C instructions

    Schedule SE: Self Employment Tax form                      
    Schedule SE instructions

    Form 2441 Child and Dependent Care Expenses            
    Form 2441  instructions

    A special thanks to Dawn Pettiglio, CPA, for helping me clarify a few details.

    As always, if I've missed something you feel is important, or you have something to add, please leave a comment.


    Monday, March 7, 2011

    Amazon Mom

    This is the best money saving information I've received in a while!  A friend of mine was telling me about the Amazon Mom program which can save you tons!  You do not have to have young children to participate.  Check out the benefits!


    Amazon Mom is a free program for new and expecting parents featuring exclusive deals on a wide selection of brands and products to help solve all of your family's needs, plus:
    • Exclusively for Amazon Mom members, receive an additional 15% discount on top of the standard 15% discount on select diapers and wipes when you sign up for Subscribe & Save delivery. Subscribe & Save shipping is always free, and you can change your delivery schedule or cancel at any time.
    • Three months of FREE Two-Day shipping with Amazon Prime. For every $25 you spend within a single order in the Baby store, we'll grant you an additional month of Amazon Prime shipping benefits. You can earn up to one year of Amazon Prime shipping benefits from the date you joined Amazon Mom.
    It doesn't cost anything to participate in Amazon Mom.

    As it mentions, you can select subscribe and save to receive 30% or more off diapers, wipes, formula, and similar items.  Plus, you can stack other codes for additional savings.  I got a $42 box of Pampers diapers for $19, no sales tax, and free 2-day delivery to my door!  AWESOME!  I found a case of 6- 32oz Similac ready-feed formula bottles for $23.20 and the normal list price is $41.94!  The subscribe and save program allows you to direct ship at any interval you choose.  You are not locked in and can make changes or cancel at any time. 

    You can find additional Amazon Mom discount codes in these two magazines.  There is a card insert with a one-time use code inside the magazines fairly regularly.  Some codes are for a percentage off your order or others may be for $10 off.  Subscriptions are very inexpensive and well worth the long term savings.

    Parents (3-year)
    Click on the photo to get a 3 year subscription for $12

    Click here to get a 2 year subscription for just $4.97!

    The Amazon Prime perk is fantastic.  Free 2 day shipping without a minimum requirement on a large selection of products.  Everything I've purchased so far has qualified and some were not child related- books, moisturizer, a friend's gift!

    Click here: Amazon Mom to sign up and begin your savings!

    Pass this on to all the moms you know.  I wish I had known about this sooner!


    Thursday, March 3, 2011

    Quotes from Failing Forward

    I promised to share some of my favorite quotes from John Maxwell's  Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success. 

    "Failure is an inside job.  So is success.  If you want to achieve, you have to win the war in your thinking first.  You can't let the failure outside you get inside you." -John Maxwell

    "Ninety percent of all those who fail are not actually defeated.   They simply quit." -Paul J. Meyer

    "One of the greatest problems people have with failure is that they are too quick to judge isolated situations in their lives and label them as failures.  Instead, they need to keep the bigger picture in mind."

    "The better a man is, the more mistakes he will make, for the more new things he will try.  I would never promote to a top-level job a man who was not making mistakes... otherwise he is sure to be mediocre."  -Peter Drucker

    "The fight to take responsibility occurs within.  And rarely does talent, intelligence, or opportunity make the difference in whether a person wins that battle.  It calls for character." -John Maxwell

    "Our business in life is not to get ahead of others, but to get ahead of ourselves-to break our own records, to outstrip our yesterday by our today."  Stewart B. Johnson.

    "Sooner or later we get just what we expect."

    "It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of our responsibilities." -Sir Josiah Stamp

    "If you always do what you've always done, then you will always get what you've always gotten."

    That gives me a lot to think about and I hope the same for you.