Archive for the ‘Small Business’ Category

Networking Farmers Build Healthy Businesses

Networking is critical to the success of every entrepreneur. Some hunt, others farm, with the farmers more often than not finding long-term success.

healthfair2I first learned of the networking concept of hunting vs farming when I joined BNI Prosper Alexandria soon after launching my entrepreneurial career. Dr. Ivan Misner, the founder of BNI (Business Networking International), describes hunters as those who sift “through crowds of people until they bag the ideal client, the big customer who can turn their business around.”

On the other hand, “Farmers take a different approach. They don’t waste time looking for the right person; instead, like those who plant seeds and patiently nurture their crops, they seek to form and build relationships wherever they can find them. If they get an immediate payoff, that’s fine, but it’s not their principal goal. They know that the effort expended upfront will pay off in a rich harvest later on—much richer then the hunter’s quick kill—and that truly profitable relationships can’t be rushed.”

I witnessed the benefits of farming firsthand Sunday at the Health & Wellness Fair at Cameron Station in Northern Virginia. Mara Benner of Four Directions Wellness, Mellenie Runion of Truly-Life, and Chuck Nally of had connected over cocktails at a West End Business Association (WEBA) happy hour and concocted the idea of the health fair.

They formulated a simple format. Four hours. Information tables for each presenter. Chairs for participants to listen to lectures. A collection of tuna for a local foodbank. Goodie bags for guests. Every half hour, one of the original three co-conspirators along with Erin Monico of The Nutrition Connection provided a presentation. Benner, an integrative healing provider, demonstrated stress reduction techniques. Runion, a creator and supplier of eco skin care products, oddly enough discussed natural skin care products. Nally and his team equipped guests with an opportunity to put on boxing gloves and kick and punch a punching bag. Monico, a dietician and health coach, promoted integrative nutrition.

Door prizes were raffled off between segments.

The format ensured a continuously lively atmosphere where newly arrived guests never experienced a lull.

Benner told me they were hoping for 50 guests, but had far surpassed that with an hour and a half left in the event.

It was by all measures a successful event. It began with farming and ended with farming, because the event itself was another example of farming. There were no hard sells (though I’m sure sales were made), only information provided in literature, lectures, and demonstrations.

The health fair provided an example of how healthy businesses grow through networking farmers. If you are a hunter, I suggest you drop your bow and begin to plant your seeds today.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at

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To Compete with Cats, Become an Author

funny-cat-watching-a-movie-on-television-in-3d-glassesAre you among the 81% of Americans the Internet says want to be an author?

If you want to successfully compete with your competitor cats, you should be.

Because, as print author and electronic communication aficionado Brian Solis noted at a recent PR Measurement Conference, “We all compete with cats.”

For the uninitiated, video-tracking company Reelseo (now Tubular) counted 2 million cat videos on YouTube in 2014, which had been viewed a staggering 24.6 billion times. Solis was making the case that online marketers compete with cat videos—and many other distractions—for attention from our potential consumers. Therefore, to distract people from watching cat videos long enough to watch your video or to take action on your message, you have to stand out.

What does that have to do with becoming an author? It’s that way in the non-virtual world too. As small business people, you also compete with cats. Your cats are the furry and smooth-skinned competitors who do the same thing you do. To stand out, to distract your potential clients from your competitors, you need to do something very different.

Being an author is a very good way to stand out. Even Solis, who lives in the virtual communications world, has published print books to stand out.

Authors are rare. I was at a networking event in April right after I published my first book. Friends Colleen and Tad attended to kick off their celebratory birthday weekend because our event host was a local craft beer brewery. Colleen’s daughter Erin had come up from Richmond to partake in the festivities. Erin made the comment, “I don’t believe I’ve ever known an author before.” To which I rather stupidly and flippantly replied: “Now you have.”

I said that because I was surprised by her statement. I live in a circle of fellow writers, several of whom are published authors. But that’s my circle. I hadn’t realized how small a circle it was. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports only 136,500 writers and authors were employed in 2014 out of a population of about 320 million. That’s not a lot—.0004%—and I would say most of them are writers but not authors.

I say that because even though I know many authors, most of the writers I know are not authors. In fact, when I published my book, several of my writer friends congratulated me with something to the effect of: “Congratulations. Many of us talk about writing a book, but few of us do.”

If you actually write one, those 81% who are thinking about writing a book are going to think you’re pretty cool because you’ve accomplished something they have only talked about.

Think about it. People talk about being part of the 1%. How about being part of the .0004%? Publishing a book puts you in very, very exclusive territory. It makes you stand out among the cat videos. And it makes you pretty cool in the eyes of just about everyone around you. Even after you say something dorky to Erin.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at

Book cover for Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They'll Applaud!In three chapters, Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! gives you the tools you need to produce a more effective, powerful, and memorable speech. Chapter 1 discusses the rules and good practices of all effective writing. With that foundation set, Chapter 2 sets out the ways in which speech writing differs from other forms of writing, and how spoken language allows you to make your words come alive. Chapter 3 provides you with techniques to write more powerful and memorable speeches through storytelling, timing, and rhetorical devices.
Tom Pfeifer has been a professional communicator for more than 30 years. In Write It, Speak It, he uses research and personal stories to show how you can write speeches they’ll applaud.

Solution elusive for tax small businesses love to hate

There is little more despised in the Virginia small business community than BPOL (Virginia’s business, professional, and occupational license tax). Everyone agrees it needs to be eliminated or modified. Getting there, however, has proven elusive.

tax keys Can Stock Photo Inc.  bradcalkinsThat contempt was evident during the first panel discussion at the 2015 Virginia Small Business Summit, conducted at The Hilton in Springfield on Nov. 20, where beating on BPOL was the sport of choice. Virginia Delegate Chris Head (R-Roanoke), chairman of the Virginia General Assembly Business Development Caucus, said the Springfield gathering was the nineteenth time the caucus had led a discussion on improving Virginia’s business climate and the nineteenth time BPOL took center ring.

BPOL was instituted to pay off Virginia’s share of War of 1812 debts, which one has to assume have been paid by now. It taxes Virginia businesses on gross receipts. Not profit, but gross receipts. The rate varies with type of industry, but for tight-margin businesses their tax can be more than their profit. BPOL taxes are administered by counties and cities. Not all counties and cities administer the tax and for those that do, the rates vary greatly.

For example, Fairfax County taxes businesses a flat rate BPOL tax until gross receipts hit $100,000, at which point the percentages kick in. Prince William County starts its BPOL taxation when gross receipts hit $250,000, and county supervisors voted in November to raise that threshold to $300,000 in 2016.

According to the Washington Post, Fairfax County collects about $147 million in BPOL taxes annually. That’s about 3.8% of the county’s annual operating budget. Arlington collects about $50 million annually, or about 3.5% of its annual budget. In contrast, PotomacLocal pegs Prince William County’s BPOL annual income at $26.5 million, or 0.1% of its operating budget.

That may not seem like a lot, but with many counties facing budget shortfalls, every little bit counts. Even BPOL-haters agree to knock out BPOL something must replace it. There is no easy fix, however.

Both Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli during their 2013 race for governor said they would study ways to eliminate BPOL as well as the Merchants Capital (MC) tax, and Machinery and Tool (M&T) tax—two other taxes loathed by the small business community. McAuliffe won in a near draw. He has two more years to make something happen.

McAuliffe recently asked his Secretary of Finance to take a look at Virginia’s tax structure with an eye toward recommending ways to make it more business friendly. The request was vague enough to engender blank stares in the business community.

The Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy entered the fray in 2012 with a report it said would eliminate BPOL, MC, and M&T taxes and yet be revenue neutral.

In September, the institute published an update that included 23 scenarios. In a letter to this year’s political candidates, the institute said each scenario has the same basic criteria behind them:

  • Tens of thousands of jobs are created
  • Income taxes are reduced or specific brackets eliminated and/or in some of the 23 scenarios the grocery tax is also eliminated
  • This overall plan is revenue neutral
  • The impact of BPOL, M&T, and MC taxes are eliminated
  • No new business-to-business taxes are applied
  • The localities that collect these three taxes are kept whole
  • The sales tax is broadened to services not now liable for collecting it except there is no sales tax on any health care services, just as is the case today

Although the institute’s first report was issued three years ago and the current rendition is backed by the Virginia Manufacturers Association, the Virginia NFIB, and the Virginia Retail Association, neither Delegate Head nor Delegate Vivian Watts (D-Annandale) reacted when the plan was raised at the summit. (Watts is not a member of the caucus but was at the summit because she represents the area.) Neither did either delegate respond by post time to requests made Wednesday afternoon for follow-up comments.

Other organizations, of course, have touted alternatives as well. For example, the Virginia Retail Federation commissioned its own study in 2009. It concluded:

“Improvements can be made to the current BPOL tax system to make it more consistent and uniformly applied across localities. Special treatment of BPOL taxes should be re-evaluated particularly regarding industry exemptions. Another alternative is to assess BPOL taxes based on profits rather than businesses’ gross receipts.

“With this approach, one rate is applied for all businesses. BPOL tax reform can also be framed under the re-evaluation of the overall tax structure of Virginia. Since sales taxes are also based on the gross receipts, it is possible to remove the BPOL tax, while broadening the current sales tax to construction, finance, real estate, and professional service industries.”

Watts noted at the summit that the issue is complicated by the fact that county tax structures were put in place in the 1700s and are real-estate-tax-based.

Despite it being the nineteenth time BPOL had been raised in a caucus panel discussion, only one BPOL-related measure was introduced by a caucus member in 2015. The bill would have eliminated double-taxation of contractors and subcontractors on gross receipts, allowing contractors to subtract subcontractor payments from its liabilities. That bill failed in committee.

While the War of 1812 ended in less than three years, this war has no end in sight. The brawl, however, will continue.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at

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