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Looking Back to Look Ahead: 2018 Market Wrap Up and What to Expect in 2019

Consumers should expect home sales to flatten and home prices to continue to increase, though at a slower pace, according to a residential housing and economic forecast session at the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) 2018 REALTORS® Conference & Expo in November. As Lawrence Yun, chief economist for NAR, presented his 2019 housing and economic […]

Consumers should expect home sales to flatten and home prices to continue to increase, though at a slower pace, according to a residential housing and economic forecast session at the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) 2018 REALTORS® Conference & Expo in November.

As Lawrence Yun, chief economist for NAR, presented his 2019 housing and economic forecast, he was joined onstage by Lisa Sturtevant, President of Lisa Sturtevant & Associates, LLC, who discussed the importance of affordable housing in the U.S.

Much of Yun’s presentation focused on recent declines in home sales, but in the context of long-term trends to illustrate the housing market’s actual performance.

“Ninety percent of markets are experiencing price gains while very few are experiencing consistent price declines,” said Yun. “2017 was the best year for home sales in ten years, and 2018 is only down 1.5 percent year to date. Statistically, it is a mild twinge in the data and a very mild adjustment compared to the long-term growth we’ve been experiencing over the past few years.”

In Lehigh and Northampton counties, year to date, home sales are up 0.1 percent, according to the Greater Lehigh Valley REALTORS® most recent market report released for October. The Median Sales Price is up 8.1 percent. The Lehigh Valley is known, as seen here, for following national housing trends. Carbon County, which is its own unique market, has been experiencing a stellar year, partly due to homebuyers looking for inventory not currently available in the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton area. In Carbon, home sales and home prices, year to date, are up 13.4 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

As to the possibility that we are currently experiencing a small bubble, Yun was quick to shut down any speculation. “The current market conditions are fundamentally different than what we were experiencing before the recession ten years ago,” said Yun. “Most states are reporting stable or strong market conditions, housing starts are under-producing instead of over-producing, and we are seeing historically low foreclosure levels, indicating that people are living within their means and not purchasing homes they cannot afford. This is a stronger, more stable market compared to the loosely regulated market leading up to the bust.”

Yun’s words on foreclosure levels hold true for the Greater Lehigh Valley. According to October market statistics for Lehigh and Northampton counties, only 1.1 percent of the available market (23 properties) were labeled as lender-mediated. In Carbon County, lender-mediated properties came in at 0.6 percent (two properties). Lender-mediated properties are those marked as foreclosed, REO, bank owned, pre-foreclosure or short sale.

Both panelists also discussed housing affordability. While the U.S. is experiencing historically normal levels of affordability, potential buyers may be staying out of the market because of perceived problems with affordability. “NAR research shows that a lower percentage of consumers think that now is a good time to buy, while more are indicating that it is a good time to sell,” said Yun. “Problems could arise if the market is flooded with too many sellers and not enough buyers. Fortunately, that does not appear to be the case, as indicated by months’ supply of inventory at below five months.”

Again following the national trend but marching a tad lower, the Months Supply of Inventory for Lehigh and Northampton counties in October came in at 3.0 months. In Carbon County, the Months Supply of Inventory was 6.1 months. Carbon has been a more balanced market between buyers and sellers throughout the year, while Lehigh and Northampton counties have seen more buyers than there are sellers.

Sturtevant discussed the importance of homeownership on a social level – how homeowners tend to be in better physical and mental health and have greater opportunity for economic self-sufficiency. Additionally, communities with more homeowners tend to be more economically prosperous and better able to attract and retain workers.

“I am a researcher, not an advocate; but the results of my research have compelled me to see the importance of affordable, stable housing, and the positive economic impact to local communities,” said Sturtevant.

Looking to next year, Yun shared his forecast for home sales and median home prices. “The forecast for home sales will be very boring – meaning stable,” said Yun.

With a few months of data remaining in 2018, Yun estimates that existing-home sales will finish at a pace of 5.345 million—a decrease from 2017 (5.51 million). In 2019, sales are forecasted to increase to 5.4 million, a 1 percent increase.

The national median existing-home price is expected to rise to around $266,800 in 2019 (up 3.1 percent from 2018 this year and $274,000 in 2020. “Home price appreciation will slow down – the days of easy price gains are coming to an end – but prices will continue to rise.”

All of these forecasts, however, are dependent on higher levels of home production. “All indications are that we have a housing shortage. If you look at population growth and job growth, it is clear that we are not producing enough houses.”

Commenting on the overall health of the U.S. economy, Yun noted that the economy is “good.” He noted that we have low unemployment, record high job openings, historically low jobless claims, job additions for eight straight years and wages beginning to increase. “This type of activity in the economy should support the housing market, even as interest rates rise,” said Yun.

* National data provided by the National Association of Realtors® and Lawrence Yun, NAR’s Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of Research

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Peer Services, the Future of Mental Health

To be successful in business, it is imperative to evolve and adapt to meet the changing needs of your customers over time.  The mental health field is no exception.  I have seen many changes in the mental health field over my 15-year career.  One of the most exciting changes in Pennsylvania was the addition of […]

To be successful in business, it is imperative to evolve and adapt to meet the changing needs of your customers over time.  The mental health field is no exception.  I have seen many changes in the mental health field over my 15-year career.  One of the most exciting changes in Pennsylvania was the addition of Peer Support Services for adults.  Peer Support Services is an individualized, recovery-focused service that allows individuals the opportunity to manage their own recovery and advocacy process.  Peer Support staff serve to enhance the natural supports in the client’s life and improve their coping and self-management skills.  Peer Support Services began in the Lehigh Valley back in 2008 with few providers.  Peer Support Services are a radical departure from a traditional mental health service.  In a traditional mental health service, you have a professional often with advanced education and credentialing or licensure providing a clinical service to a person struggling with a mental health diagnosis.  Often times this professional is perceived by the client as an authority figure, with formal educational training, and can create an imbalance in the client/provider relationship.  The client does not and will not perceive the clinician as equals.   The fault in this dynamic is that clinicians often have no or limited personal experience with mental health struggles.  This is where the need for a new service was identified.

Peer Support Services are provided by Certified Peer Support (CPS) staff.  To be eligible to become a CPS staff you must have at least a high school diploma and a documented mental health diagnosis yourself.  You must be progressing well in your own mental health recovery.  This is quantified by having at least 12 months of employment or volunteer experience in the last three years.  If a CPS candidate does not meet the vocational requirements, they may also have 24 credit hours of post-secondary education in the previous three years.  If a candidate meets these requirements, they are eligible to register for the two-week Peer Support Certification course.  Upon successful completion of the course, they are eligible to be hired by a Peer Support provider and begin providing Peer Support Services to clients.

The Peer Support/client relationship is much different than the traditional provider/client dynamic seen in other mental health service lines.  Due to having their own mental health diagnosis, peer staff can say “I’ve been there,” or “I’m doing well, so can you” and are living proof that recovery is possible.  They can serve as a role model, mentor, and support to assist a client in managing their mental health symptoms.  This is much different than the traditional provider/client dynamic.  Clients often perceive their CPS worker as an equal through shared experience.  This creates a stronger bond and often better results than a traditional mental health service.

Peer support services are also much more cost effective than a traditional mental health service.  Due to the reduced educational requirements of the staff versus a service like outpatient therapy, the state can offer the provider a lower reimbursement rate for services rendered.  Therefore, this service is cheaper to operate from the state government’s perspective and often more effective than other mental health services geared toward serving adults.  Many agencies have decided to invest in Peer Support Services and also in their Peer Support Staff over the past few years.  The state has followed suit and done the same.  In December 2017, Pennsylvania began allowing providers to offer Peer Support Services to transitional-aged youth (ages 14-21).  We are now also seeing specialized Peer Support Services such as forensic Peer Support that works with clients involved in the criminal justice system, or Drug & Alcohol Peer Support which works with dually-diagnosed individuals who have a mental health diagnosis and co-occurring substance abuse problem.  Peer Support Services are growing exponentially. It is exciting to see where this service can go in the future and the positive changes these staff can help make in the lives of those they serve.

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a CPS staff or would benefit from receiving Peer Support Services, please contact Pennsylvania MENTOR at (610) 867-3173, or visit our website at www.pa-mentor.com.

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My Insurance Doesn’t Cover Hearing Aids. Now What?

The purpose of this article is to inform the consumer of questions to ask when deciding whether to purchase a plan to cover hearing aids and when it may be beneficial to pay out of pocket.  If you find yourself in an audiology office and are ready to purchase hearing aids, you may want to […]

The purpose of this article is to inform the consumer of questions to ask when deciding whether to purchase a plan to cover hearing aids and when it may be beneficial to pay out of pocket.  If you find yourself in an audiology office and are ready to purchase hearing aids, you may want to ask some of the questions explored below as well.

When you are over the age of 18, Pennsylvania Medicaid doesn’t cover the cost of hearing aids. However, several Medicare/Medicaid supplement plans do cover hearing aids. Most customers don’t know that many of the extra benefits these insurance plans offer are also offered when you pay out of pocket for the hearing aids. If you are in a reputable office that is bundling their prices it’s common to have an extended and complimentary trial period, free batteries, at least five years of in-office service, and an extended warranty of 2-3 years on the hearing aid.  Often these plans list extra benefits as something you are getting because you have their plan. When reading these “extras,” it seems as though they are giving you something beyond what you would normally receive if you purchased the hearing aids out of pocket. As a consumer who has never purchased hearing aids, this may seem like a great deal. There are some things to consider when signing up or paying extra for this benefit if you are doing so because you plan to purchase hearing aids. Some of the things to think about is:  Where are you able to use your benefit?  Will you have access to an audiologist who can adjust your hearing aids?  Is your insurance going to cover additional visits to your audiologist?

Most insurance plans require you to go to a specific office for your hearing aids.  This takes the freedom of choice away from the consumer and may put limits on your satisfaction of the care you receive.  For example, this office may not be near your hometown. You may need to travel to get to one of these offices, and you may also not be happy with the provider you are assigned to in that office. As I talked about in previous articles, you can either buy a hearing aid from a dispenser or an audiologist. Regardless of whom it is the insurance is sending you to, it’s important that you have a positive experience and you trust they have your best interest at heart. The average person will have their new hearing aid for five years before replacing them. You want to make sure you buy them from someone who you want to go back and see for follow up appointments during that time frame.  Follow up appointments are usually a few times a year for cleaning, reprogramming based on changes in your hearing needs, cleaning wax out of your ears, and minor in-house repairs of the hearing aids.

Your insurance plan may also offer a hearing aid that you purchase over the internet.  If they offer that as an option, you may want to ask some details about the follow-up appointments.  Some examples are: will you have access to a local audiologist to help you if you need the hearing aid reprogrammed, cleaned, or if you have questions regarding use and wear of the hearing aid?

Lastly, you will want to consider whether or not the insurance is going to cover the cost of visits to the audiologist after your trial period.  It is a state law in Pennsylvania that you have at least a 30-day trial period with hearing aids. The law states that if you return the hearing aids within that 30 days, you are required to get your money back. The office you purchase them from is allowed to keep 10% of the cost up to $150.00.  Your insurance plan may state that they allow you an extended trial period, sometimes 45 days, with the option for a full refund. To be honest, often times you would receive that regardless of having an insurance benefit. It is an advantage to have this option. However, you want to make sure the insurance is going to pay for visits beyond that 45-day trial period. As I discussed above, it is common to go back for follow up visits in the years after purchasing the hearing aids.  As an audiologist, I want consumers to be informed as possible when making these important decisions about their hearing and quality of life.  If you or someone you care about is ready to try hearing aids, please consider the information and questions listed above to make as informed a decision as possible.

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Trademarks: Identifiers of Source

A trademark is any distinctive symbol that is used to identify and distinguish a good or service of one seller or provider from the goods and services of others.  In short, trademarks are identifiers of source.  Although the primary legal justification for trademark rights is to protect consumers from source confusion, the recognition of trademark […]

A trademark is any distinctive symbol that is used to identify and distinguish a good or service of one seller or provider from the goods and services of others.  In short, trademarks are identifiers of source.  Although the primary legal justification for trademark rights is to protect consumers from source confusion, the recognition of trademark rights also serves the secondary economic benefit of permitting providers of goods and services to develop value in their brands.

Trademark rights and registration

In the United States, trademark rights are developed through appropriate use, even in the absence of a trademark registration issued by an individual state or the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”).  These unregistered, “common law” rights are generally enforceable against “junior” third-party marks with which there is a likelihood of consumer confusion as to source, at a minimum within those geographic regions of the country in which the trademark owner has appropriately used the mark.

However, there are many benefits associated with obtaining a registration of a trademark from the USPTO, including but not limited to: nationwide rights and recognition of the mark; shifting of the burden of proof to a potential infringer on such issues as ownership, distinctiveness, and first use dates; having a record of the registration appear in the USPTO’s publicly-searchable database, making it more likely that a later-comer will discover the prior rights and refrain from adopting a mark that would be confusingly similar with the registered mark; and the right to use the registered trademark symbol ®, which often discourages others from adopting a too-similar mark.

Subject to some caveats, so long as a mark is used continuously, legal protection for that mark will not expire.  In fact, there are marks registered with the USPTO in the 19th Century that remain in force today.  Conversely, failure to properly use a mark for a period of time—typically three years—can lead to loss of rights in that mark and leave any trademark registration vulnerable to a cancellation proceeding.  A mark owner must also take reasonable steps to “police” confusingly-similar mark usage by a third party, or else the mark owner’s legal rights may be jeopardized.

Trademark searching and selection

Every consumer is aware of the ability of a word, logo, or slogan to serve as a source identifier, but trademark rights can also result—under appropriate circumstances—from distinctive and non-functional uses of sounds, colors, packaging, product configurations, and/or a good or service’s overall “look and feel.”  In theory, any perceptible symbol that is distinctive and non-functional with respect to an associated good or service can develop trademark rights as a source identifier if properly used.

Mark selection is a critical element of any brand development strategy.  To be registrable, a mark must first be distinctive, in that it is capable of distinguishing the good or service of one party from those of other parties.  Said another way, a mark is distinctive if the “likelihood of consumer confusion” question can be answered in the negative.  A registrable mark must also be devoid of any terms that might deceive consumers with respect to the geographic origin or other qualities of the associated good or service.  Last, but certainly not least, to be registrable a mark must not be “merely descriptive” or generic of the associated good or service or any characteristic thereof.  For example, the word “Apple” may not be able to function as a mark for apple juice or an apple orchard, but is capable of functioning as a strong mark for computers and smartphones.

Although there is no legal requirement to search the availability of a mark prior to its adoption in connection with a good or service, it is invariably sound business strategy to do so.  Trademark searches typically focus on two inquiries: (1) clearance, i.e., whether a mark can be adopted in connection with a particular good or service without subjecting a business to an accusation of infringement; and (2) registrability, i.e., the likelihood that a party will be able to obtain a registration for a mark in connection with a particular good or service, taking into consideration not only third-party trademark properties but also the distinctive nature of the selected mark.  A qualified professional may be necessary to help you confidently interpret the findings of any trademark search.

 


 

James J. Aquilina is an attorney and business counselor with extensive experience in all aspects of U.S. intellectual property law, including utility and design patent, trademark, and copyright law, with emphases on rights procurement, IP portfolio development and management, rights enforcement, and licensing.  He is a graduate of Rutgers University School of Engineering and the University of Pennsylvania Law School.  He can be reached by e-mail at jamesaquilina@designip.com.

The contents of this article are solely for educational purposes and do not constitute legal advice.  Any opinion provided in this article is solely that of the author and not that of his employer or any client thereof.

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Effective Estate Planning: A New Era

Truth be told, effective estate planning for individuals is not all about the Will, and in current times, rarely has been. The variety of personal and business assets owned by individuals, advancements in medical science resulting in longer lives, the ease of global travel and ownership of multiple homes, and noteworthy changes in tax law, […]

Truth be told, effective estate planning for individuals is not all about the Will, and in current times, rarely has been.

The variety of personal and business assets owned by individuals, advancements in medical science resulting in longer lives, the ease of global travel and ownership of multiple homes, and noteworthy changes in tax law, require greater attention to detail and more careful planning by the attorney and the client in the estate planning process.

An attentive and experienced estate planning attorney will rely on financial and other information provided by you in drafting appropriate estate planning documents for the client.  At a minimum, these documents should include a Will, Financial Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney, and Advance Directive/Living Will.  They might also include one or more desired trusts or other strategic tax planning or wealth transfer documents.  Everyone who seeks an estate plan that carries out his or her wishes and minimizes tax should focus on the following considerations.

  1. Income Tax Planning is the new Estate Planning.  The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCAJA) effective this year includes not only a historic increase of the Federal Estate and Gift Tax exemption to $11.18 million per person in 2018 but also notable changes to the income treatment of certain business and personal income and limitations on the availability of longstanding deductions.  These changes warrant careful consideration of current and projected income tax planning opportunities in the course of planning for one’s estate.
  2. Complete and accurate financial and other information provided by you is the basis for your Estate Planning Attorney’s advice and documents.  An experienced Estate Planning Attorney will typically ask you to complete a comprehensive financial and personal questionnaire prior to your meeting and will carefully review your completed document with you.  Your information is both critical to the tax and legal advice rendered and forms the basis for the advice and estate planning and other documents that follow.
  3. View your Estate Planning Attorney, Accountant, and Financial Advisor as a team.  Certain issues arising in the estate planning process warrant communication and analysis among your trusted advisors.
  4. Pay careful attention to the beneficiary designations you have in place for your Qualified Retirement Plans, IRAs, and Annuities.  A common misconception in estate planning is that qualified retirement plans, IRAs, and annuities are governed by one’s Will, rather than by one’s signed beneficiary designation form filed with the account custodian.  There is no substitute for your scrupulous recordkeeping and careful tax and legal analysis with your Attorney when planning for tax-qualified retirement plans and IRAs.
  5. Similarly, pay careful attention to understanding and updating the ownership and beneficiary designations of your Life Insurance policies.   Understand the tax and other consequences of such planning.  Careful planning can prevent unintended tax or other consequences. 
  6. Consider your current and future gifting objectives as to your family and charitable organizations when planning your estate.  Your estate planning attorney can provide strategic and tax recommendations as to the timing of certain gifts during your lifetime as opposed to after your death.  Careful planning in light of the TCAJA is critical.
  7. Plan for the proper treatment of Digital Assets in your Estate Plan.  A good estate plan should clearly address your wishes as to your intended beneficiaries of assets such as the files of the hard drive on your computer, photographs stored in the cloud or posted to social media sites, cryptocurrencies, popular digital storefronts such as eBay™ pages, and valuable web domains, for example.
  8.  Devote appropriate attention to your and your beneficiaries’ citizenship and residency status and planning for your out-of-state and international assets.  These assets might include interests in real estate or other non-liquid investments and bank accounts.  Review these with your attorney to understand not only the tax implications and residency issues that might accompany these assets, but also the planning and any tax saving opportunities available to you.
  9. Plan for and communicate your wishes as to your funeral or other disposition of your remains, and other special arrangements that might include religious or other specific services, memorials, or celebrations.  Your estate planning attorney will advise you as to applicable law in this area and how to ensure that your wishes will be honored.
  10. Understand the best practices of recordkeeping for you, your family, and your business.  An adept estate planning attorney will guide you and your family with practical and useful information to maintain that information necessary to support your estate and tax planning objectives.

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An Ounce of Prevention: A Plaintiff Employment Lawyer’s Sincere Advice to HR

For over 25 years Attorney Kounoupis has represented employees and sued most of the Fortune 500 corporations, insurance companies, as well as federal, state and county governments. If your top managers and executives have not yet secretly consulted with him, they probably will in the future. Human resources issues are highly prevalent in the business […]

For over 25 years Attorney Kounoupis has represented employees and sued most of the Fortune 500 corporations, insurance companies, as well as federal, state and county governments. If your top managers and executives have not yet secretly consulted with him, they probably will in the future.

Human resources issues are highly prevalent in the business environment, and thus there is a steady barrage of HR seminars and conferences. Knowledge of the laws and regulations is easier than ever with such consultants and online resources. However longer, wisdom in the area of HR is harder to acquire.

In this vein, therefore, allow me some general observations gained from a valuable perspective: that of a 30-year plaintiff employment lawyer-for practical purposes the “adversary” (although we should all be interested solely in obtaining fairness and justice in the workplace).

We can begin with the question of who comes to see me? Employees, of all ranks, come to see me, “chiefs, cooks, and bottle washers” and in all protected categories: age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual preference, whistleblowers, etc.… As varied as they may be, they all mainly have one unifying characteristic: They feel disrespected. You can spot the employee who will cause “a problem” by seeing who feels profoundly disrespected.

When do employees come to see me? It is useful to note that they often come when they are threatened, disciplined, fearful, angry- long before they are fired. Accordingly, in such cases, HR managers should be mindful that there is a high chance of a retaliation or hostile work environment case being filed since behind the employee’s interactions there is the watchful eye of counsel and counsel’s guidance.

he best advice in my experience is holistic. It comes from understanding that for most employees a job is not just a paycheck but also a source of dignity and self-esteem. They must be able to go home and look their family in the eye. Most long-time, employees feel they have provided loyalty and claim a deep sense of betrayal when disrespected, treated unfairly or bullied. (“I missed my kids’ birthdays for this!”). In my view, the best and most effective HR manager does not focus only on what is legal but humanizes the workplace. This type of HR professional is very valuable and a formidable opponent to the Plaintiffs lawyer in litigation and in front of the jury. Such an HR professional has avoided the pitfalls of threats, bullying, and abuse of power and has acted with sensitivity and respect for the human element. Rather than using organizational power to beat down and intimidate employees, there is a use of such power sparingly to raise consciousness and bring out the better natures of employees.

A sensitivity to the human element also picks up problems early. In most cases, potential victims signal their dissatisfaction early, and harassment will frequently test their boundaries before committing a violative act.

On a more practical level, of course, HR managers cannot get by solely by humanizing the workplace- they must also know the law. They must know how to communicate their knowledge of the workplace law as it applies to real life situations. They must know how to conduct a timely and reasonable investigation. For example, some concepts, such as when is “offensive to a reasonable woman” can most effectively be taught by skits and real-life vignettes and examples of such situations.

In terms of HR, most commonly observed pitfalls I would mention: lying, covering up, bullying, exaggerating discipline and not understanding what retaliation is, improperly applied “PIP’s.” Common legal errors and misconceptions include: not realizing how to jointly apply ADA/FMLA; not understanding ADA’s interactive process or “regarded as” ADA violations; not understanding gender discrimination vs. sexual harassment; thinking severe and persuasive for hostile work environment rather than or; not understanding the “reasonable woman” standard; not understanding the scope of circumstantial evidence of causation in such cases; not understanding stereotype evidence; not understanding how sexual preference cases can be brought- and other numerous areas of confusion.

Ultimately, if things degenerate to the worst conclusion potentially for all, what resonates with juries are three themes in employment cases: respect, responsibility, and use or abuse of power. In conclusion, human beings do not evolve at the same rate as technology, and so there will be continuing conflicts in the workplace caused by emotions and human weaknesses, ego, desires, prejudices, and lusts. Complex HR issues and conflicts will persist in the workplace where adults spend a great part of their life, and as a result, great care sensitivity and training is required.

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Bring It Back to the Brand

In early 2018, the digital advertising world shook. It started with the announcement that Proctor and Gamble was cutting their digital advertising spending by nearly $200 million and reinvesting the funds into areas with “media reach” including television, audio, and e-commerce. And, they weren’t alone. Soon after, Unilever followed suit. This decision signaled two things. […]

In early 2018, the digital advertising world shook.

It started with the announcement that Proctor and Gamble was cutting their digital advertising spending by nearly $200 million and reinvesting the funds into areas with “media reach” including television, audio, and e-commerce.

And, they weren’t alone. Soon after, Unilever followed suit.

This decision signaled two things. First, putting all of your money into digital and casting a wide net isn’t effective. You need to approach your search engine marketing with strategic, focused, and calculated efforts. And, second, getting back to traditional marketing creates the balance you need to be successful.

I would never completely eliminate your digital advertising strategy.  I doubt that is what either of these retail giants were saying. What I am encouraging is a real come-to-Jesus-moment for brands to renew their focus on a more comprehensive marketing strategy.

Think Locally

It takes a lot of money to compete on a national level, and that shouldn’t be the focus of every brand.

A local furniture store that offers products similar to some of the largest national retailers is not going to be able to target online traffic on a local business’ budget. Nor, should they.

Instead, this hypothetical local business should focus on a TV ad and a billboard, ways that will grab the attention of people in their community, and usher them through the door. That’s when your unique customer experience starts, which is something that customers still crave, even with everything we could ever desire at our fingertips.

Brand-First

The sooner you start thinking brand-first, the better. It’s how some of the biggest brands became so well known.

A good brand will do a lot of the work for you. It can market, and it can advertise. More importantly, it will get people in the door, and have them telling all their friends about you.

If you focus on creating a strong brand, your customers will become your brand evangelists. Although word-of-mouth marketing can’t be your only strategy, it should be something to strive for, because it really does work.

Even after reading an article about a great local restaurant, we will ask our friends,“ have you eaten there?”. After seeing an ad for a mechanic, you will still call on a family member to say, “have you heard of these guys, or do you have a recommendation?”.

This strategy is useful for all brands, but it is crucial for brands with a local client base.

Stay Consistent

Recently, I stumbled upon a Simon Sinek lecture about intensity vs. consistency. I brought this up at our Monday morning meeting because I thought it was a valuable point that we all need to keep in the forefront of our actions and work.

The point that Sinek made was that great culture is about consistency, rather than intensity.

It’s a challenge because when you focus on consistency over intensity, you don’t always see immediate results. In fact, you may not even know how long you need to repeat an action until you see results. But, the effects will be longer lasting and will come to define you, as a person and a business.

 

The same is true for brands.

Once you create a strong brand identity and implement a strategy that works for your business/industry, do it again. And, then again and again.

 

This is how you will see real results that get people’s attention, and have them coming back for more.

 

And that’s more important than any page click or a paid ad.

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How Smart Leaders Unlock Hidden Value

Leaders who fail to unlock hidden value in their business are ceding opportunity to others. If you’re a leader who’s been anesthetized by the routine you have a huge problem – you are not leading. Leadership is a game for the mentally agile, not the brain dead. Sound harsh? It’s meant to. While most of the world has […]

Leaders who fail to unlock hidden value in their business are ceding opportunity to others. If you’re a leader who’s been anesthetized by the routine you have a huge problem – you are not leading. Leadership is a game for the mentally agile, not the brain dead. Sound harsh? It’s meant to. While most of the world has succumbed to a static life imprisoned by the limitations of their own mind, real leaders are always looking beyond what is, thinking about the possibilities of what if, and acting to ensure what’s next.

What if? What if you could reinvent your business? What if you could change the perception of your brand? What if you could break from the status quo? What if you could attract better talent? What if you could reenergize your corporate culture? What if you could make the changes you know you need to make? What if? To the one, great leaders aggressively pursue what if – do you?

I’ve always said status quo is mediocrity’s best friend. While static thinking is the best short cut to obsolescence you’ll ever find, why would you want to travel that path? The sad thing is, I observe many more people willing to travel a path of ruin than I do people willing to change their thinking. While companies destined to fail reward average thinking, successful companies reward the bold thinking revealed through the microscope of what if?

Much has been written about the power of creative thinking, ideation, disruptive innovation, etc., but little has been written on how to successfully implement these processes. If you’ve ever wondered how to find those “ah-ha” moments, they all begin through observations inspired by asking what if? Just because what I’m espousing today is simple doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. While many so-called business gurus sell profit through complexity, the reality is leaders rarely profit from complexity – real profit is found in the pure elegance of simplicity.

Change doesn’t need to be complex. In fact, what’s more simple than using the filter of what if? It doesn’t require any special skills or ability, just the willingness to look beyond what presently exists. Let me be as clear as I can – there is simply no reason to continue to do things that make no sense. Ask yourself this question, when was the last time you did something for the first time? Leadership and herd mentality should have nothing to do with one another. If you want to become a better leader stop doing things the way they’ve always been done – don’t copy create.

What if Larry Page and Sergey Brin didn’t ask what if search could be more simple and relevant? What if Steve Jobs failed to ask what if you combined technology and design to create the ultimate customer experience? What if Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos didn’t ask what if about almost everything? Real leaders are open to the possibility that most things not only can, but should be improved upon. They understand it’s the ability to innovate and change which creates competitive advantage, adds value, and ensures sustainability.

The process of unleashing what if begins with not painting yourself into corners. Perhaps the single greatest barrier impeding the transition from what is to what if is allowing yourself to fall into the trap of either/or thinking. The best leaders realize there’s rarely a good reason to juxtapose one option against another. This is simply a false paradigm created by intellectually dishonest rationalizations. The sole use of A/B frameworks as a decision-making model unnecessarily limit opportunity by impeding creative thought and innovation. The job of a leader is to create, expand and preserve options – not limit them.

Utilizing what if thinking allows you to maximize the present while securing the future. The best leaders know how to attain desired outcomes while remaining discovery driven. It’s clearly important to achieve short-term hurdles, but not at the expense of long-term sustainability. Smart leaders understand the present is simply a springboard to the future. Absent an aggressive forward leaning bias, short-term wins will represent little more than pyrrhic victories as the innovators, the what if thinkers, pass you by.

My recommendation is a simple one – not only do I suggest you put everything you do through a “what if audit,” but ask your team to do the same thing. Question: What if you challenged everything, slaughtered a few sacred cows, and stopped holding false truths as real? Answer: creativity would be inspired, innovation would occur, and things would change for the better. Remember, conventional wisdom usually isn’t.


 

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Mike Myatt is a leadership advisor to Fortune 500 CEOs and their Board of Directors.  Widely regarded as America’s Top CEO Coach, he is recognized by Thinkers50 as a global authority on leadership.  He is the bestselling author of Hacking Leadership and Leadership Matters, and a Forbes leadership columnist.

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healthcare

Medicare as your employer plan?

Are your employer health insurance costs getting out of control?  Medicare may be an answer you’re not thinking about. Medicare is a federal health insurance program that is offered to American citizens turning 65 and other eligible individuals.  The two parts of original Medicare are parts A & B.  You can choose to add on […]

Are your employer health insurance costs getting out of control?  Medicare may be an answer you’re not thinking about.

Medicare is a federal health insurance program that is offered to American citizens turning 65 and other eligible individuals.  The two parts of original Medicare are parts A & B.  You can choose to add on a Supplement (options A – N; sometimes called Medigap) with a drug plan (Part D) or a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan to cover additional costs not covered by original Medicare.

Medicare does work with employer coverages, and you should enroll in Part A when you turn 65 as it’s free for most people.  Part A helps cover the hospital portion of the benefit, and Part B is the medical portion.  Part B does have a cost and is determined by your income.  The option to waive Part B is available if you have employer coverage on your own or through a spouse.  If you don’t have other health coverage deciding to waive Part B will cause a penalty if you don’t sign up when you’re first eligible.  Part A is primary if you work for an employer with less than 20 employees participating in the health plan and you must enroll when you turn 65 to avoid a penalty and delays in acquiring Part A.  If your employer has more than 20 employees on their health plan than you could also decide to waive Part A.

Some employers may make you take full Medicare benefits when you turn 65.  Why do they do this?  The Affordable Care Act that was established in 2010 and took effect in 2014 with many changes happening before that.  It created a different group and individual health plan coverages costing the employer and employee more money to cover older employees.  Moving employees age 65 and older to Medicare helps to control the out of pocket costs the employers and employees pay including deductible costs and costs when visiting the doctors, hospitals, surgeries, treatment, etc.  Many times, the Medicare benefits offer better coverage with low or no deductibles and low or no out of pocket costs making this a great alternative to traditional employer plans.

A review of current employer plans versus Medicare Benefits is established before deciding to move off of your work benefits.  We look at health, how often you go to the doctors, and what medications do you take regularly.  Second, we take a look at your budget and determine what the costs would be for each choice.  Finally, we look at your health network preferences like doctors, hospitals and pharmacies.  How important is it to have coverage when you travel?  Medicare supplements and advantage plans do have domestic travel coverage options that vary based on plan choice.  Medicare plans can also offer ancillary benefits and can include things like dental, vision and even gym memberships to an approved facility.

Employers can typically save money on employee benefits by moving their 65 and older employees off the group coverages.  The costs associated with older employees tend to be more per month than for younger employees.  The savings can be hundreds to thousands of dollars per month if the employee workforce is older.  Employers can reimburse employees for their Part B, Part D, and Medicare Supplement policies but IRS rules apply.  The Medicare benefit plan arrangements must be integrated with other group benefit plans.

*Medicare reimbursement arrangements will be considered to be “integrated” with another group health plan if:

  • The employer offers a group health plan other than the employer payment plan that does not consist solely of excepted benefits and offers minimum value coverage;
  • The employee participating in the employer payment plan is actually enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B;
  • The employer payment plan is available only to employees who are enrolled in Medicare Part A and B, or Part D; and

The employer payment plan is limited to reimbursement of Medicare Part B or D premiums and excepted benefits, including Medigap premiums.*

When age 65 is looming, it’s best to meet with a Medicare Planning Specialist who can take the anxiety off employers as well as employees and help decide and determine the best course of action for their health insurance coverages.  Good health coverage and saving money can be accomplished.

*Excerpt taken from IRS Notice 2015-17—Employer Payment Plans and the ACA’s Market Reforms 03.30.15*

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Year-End Tax Planning for Small Business

As year-end approaches, each business should consider the many opportunities that might be lost if year-end tax planning is not explored. A business may want to consider several general strategies, such as the use of traditional timing techniques for delaying income recognition and accelerating deductions. A business should also consider customized strategies tailored to its […]

As year-end approaches, each business should consider the many opportunities that might be lost if year-end tax planning is not explored. A business may want to consider several general strategies, such as the use of traditional timing techniques for delaying income recognition and accelerating deductions. A business should also consider customized strategies tailored to its particular situations.

For the 2018 tax year, taxpayers have relative clarity with respect to available credits and deductions. With the exception of a handful of industry-specific tax credits and deductions that expired at the end of 2017, most temporary credits and deductions were permanently extended several years ago. A few others were extended for 5-years through 2019.

Clarity is a new concept for federal taxes, as several years’ worth of promises of impending tax reform finally resulted in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). The Act made several high profile changes to the tax code, notably reducing tax rates for businesses and individuals, but also created new tax benefits and made several other business-friendly tax benefits even friendlier.

The last few months of the year provide an important “last chance” to change the final course of your business’s tax year before it closes for good. Among the reasons why year-end tax planning toward the end of 2018 may be particularly fruitful are the following:

Business credits and deductions. Many business-related tax credits and deductions that were periodically scheduled to expire were permanently extended in 2015. Others were twice extended one year for both 2016 and 2017, and are not available for the 2018 filing season unless extender legislation is enacted. A few were extended for a five-year period. Some others were modified and extended by TCJA. Taking inventory of what deductions and credits your business has been using and whether they remain available or will be removed in the near future can significantly impact your bottom line. Many of the provisions now periodically extended relate to energy-related activities or specific industries, but it is important to make sure that any credits are considered in light of their availability.

Depreciation and expensing. TCJA made some significant changes to encourage business to expand and invest in new property. First-year depreciation allowances on certain business property, or bonus depreciation, has fluctuated over the last few years, but TCJA provides for 100 percent bonus depreciation for property placed in service before 2023. Additionally, the limitation on expensing certain depreciable assets has been increased to $1 million, with a $2.5 million investment limitation. While 2018 is not necessarily the last time these benefits will be available, there has been no better time than 2018 to take advantage of them

Qualified business income deduction. Beginning in 2018, business owners to deduct up to 20 percent of their qualified business income (QBI) from sole proprietorships, partnerships, trusts and S corporations. This is one of the centerpieces of TCJA and broadly applies to many taxpayers. The IRS has released comprehensive guidance on the deduction, which provides a great deal of clarification on the requirements of the deduction. This is an entirely new deduction, with new documentation requirements, which may require a year-end review of records.

Cash method of accounting. Another provision arising from TCJA was a more permissive adoption of the cash method of accounting. Beginning in 2018, corporations with gross receipts up to $25 million can use the method, which is up from $1 million in prior years. Many of the traditional end-of-year planning techniques relating to timing, such as income deferral or income acceleration, are made easier where the cash method of accounting is used.

Employee benefits. TCJA made a large number of changes on the individual side relating to benefits that could impact employers. Employees can no longer claim miscellaneous itemized deductions, cannot generally exclude moving expense reimbursements, and the deduction for business meals and entertainment was also impacted. Employers should review their internal policies to determine if they need to be changed to reflect the changes.

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