Everything Old is New Again

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter, and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column, Published on 10/2/2018, a SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Tags: Business, Community, Economy, Entrepreneurship, Small Business, Environmental, Energy, Job Creation

Source: Everything has a life cycle: a career, a product, a technology, even a building or sports venue all have their heyday. When most items in our world become old, broken, outdated or past their prime, we are often very quick to dispose of them. Sadly, even individual lives are often devalued and disregarded in our throw-away society. How do we find new purpose and new life after the prime has been reached?

Broken toys, broken cars, broken homes, and unfortunately, broken people are often viewed today as disposable. Sadly enough, our modern day society has its way of treating people in the same way they treat disposable objects. What if that wasn’t the case? What if everything old had a new purpose? What if each person could find a new purpose that gave them a new breathe of fresh air, giving them a sense of value and importance again?

Our modern day world is so quick to condemn the broken, and will vilify a broken person’s faults and capitalize on the fallen. It is printed in news headlines every day; and while the masses can be quick to judge others, their own fears of mistakes or failure are simultaneously being fed. It is not uncommon for major media to splash the front pages with catchy headlines, purposefully created to trigger the emotional reactions of shock and awe so a reader continues to read on, while they inadvertently end up viewing advertisements within the printed or online media.

How many headlines have you seen recently where the news caster shares about the comeback story of the broken or fallen – how they utilized their adverse set of circumstances to turn their lives around, and as a result, helped to improve the lives of others around them? Today’s society often considers the broken unworthy of a new lease on life, and once the label has been placed on them, it can be very difficult to shake, no matter how much good they do or how much they turn their lives around.

There are individuals, groups and communities that believe everything old can be made new again with a little love, time, dedication, and old fashioned elbow grease. There are signs of this everywhere.

For instance, older homes are often purchased, remodeled and upgraded with modern amenities, while having some of the original features incorporated so the owners could hold onto the home’s original charm that they fell in love with when they first purchased it.  Some of the original doors, floor boards, fixtures, woodwork, etc. are often repurposed for other functions within the remodel.

Another example can be found at the famed Orange County Fair Speedway, located in Middletown, New York. The facility itself and venue has served the racing community for over 150 years between its combined history of harness and horse racing and almost a century of automobile racing.  This track recently got a new lease on life. While many speedways of its kind have fallen to modern day suburban sprawl, the OCFS racing community has supported their decaying “House of Power.” As of recent, the speedway has had a makeover. New grandstand seating and bleachers have replaced the rotting wood chairs. Buildings are being remodeled and painted. Even the race surface has seen a transformation.

It’s the love for the racing community and the love of the sport that helped this happen. The premise of value in this track that holds a great legacy (even though it might be past its prime) is a driving force for Chris Larson of Halmar Construction and the rest of the racing community in breathing new life into something that could have easily been bulldozed into another shopping plaza. The transformation has its cost – financial investment, time and vision, but also brings a refreshing buzz of excitement, renewal and enthusiasm.

Likewise, consider the car enthusiast that spots the rotting carcass of an old rusted automobile parked in a farmer’s field, and envisions a new day on the horizon for the vehicle (which may be thirty, forty or even fifty years old or more). He brings in a tow truck and pulls the relic from the dirt once he has negotiated terms of purchase with the farmer. Back in the shop, the mechanic then pulls apart every nut and bolt, door and fender. Once the car is down to the bare frame, the mechanic makes a parts list, then invests money and time to take the pile of junk and bring it back to life to become a beautiful piece of mechanical artwork.

So why is it that we don’t invest this kind of effort in rebuilding broken people?

In some cases, there are communities of people who believe in investing the same kind of passion and love for one another, realizing that in life, there are second chances. In faith, Christians believe in this concept. The idea of being “born again” is that of a new beginning for an individual who acknowledges his faulty nature and accepts the forgiveness and salvation that is a gift from God, and then commits to following the example of Christ to walk in faith and new habits in line with God’s word. Despite a man’s inability to be perfect, God continues to forgive and guide.

There are advocacy groups that work with former inmates who are now trying to rebuild their lives. These advocacy groups provide assistance and education to former inmates to equip them for successful re-entry into society and gainful employment, and then continue to support and provide guidance to them. In some cases, rehabilitated former inmates begin to mentor other former inmates on re-entry into society as a way to promote peer to peer support.

In sports, second chances don’t happen often, however they do happen. In baseball, a player might be drafted and get their once-in-a-lifetime chance to play in the major leagues. Sometimes, players have unsuccessful debuts or sustain injuries that can really set them back. Some players are even sent back to the minor leagues to work out the fundamentals and mechanics of their skill craft before they can be promoted back to the majors.

What about the players who never meet the mark, yet have extensive knowledge and passion for the sport?  Maybe those players could continue to be involved in the sport and transition their knowledge capital to other areas of the industry such as scouting or sports marketing. The players then have second chances with their career in sports, just put to work in different applications.

There is not any one specific recipe for renewing people who are rebuilding from a poor season in their lives. Everyone’s situation is different. The process starts with the fallen individual.  They must recognize their mistakes and/or weaknesses, learn from them, and be ready to change and apply the lessons learned to become better and stronger. Just the same, we should all be willing to recognize this step and support those who are willing to rebuild from nothing.

It has been said, “Failure is the first step toward success.” If we believe in that quote, then surely successes come from second chances.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently lends his expertise as a Consultant firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of “The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water,” and “Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses.”

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E-Commerce Platforms for Small Businesses

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column, Published on 9/22/2018, a www. SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Tags: Business, Community, Economy, Entrepreneurship, Small Business, Commerce, Technology, Innovation

Source: In today’s fast-paced society, where the world of commerce is not limited by borders, small businesses need to expand their ability to exchange their goods and services in return for payment. With more consumers shopping online from the comfort of their living rooms, small businesses need to consider alternatives to traditional payment systems.

One of the residual benefits of technology advancement for small businesses is that it brings small businesses and distant markets closer together. Fifty years ago, an independent retailer on Main Street USA would have never been able to communicate with a potential customer in a foreign country, let alone sell their goods or services from afar. Today, many small businesses can offer their value propositions outside of their zip code with the help of electronic commerce platforms and digital tools.

Small business owners have a two-fold win. Firstly, small business owners have a multitude of digital advertising options available to them to reach potential consumers in other geographic locations outside of the physical reach of their businesses. Secondly, by using ecommerce platforms, small businesses can collect payment for their products and services without the customer ever having to step foot into their physical business location.

There are two kinds of ecommerce platforms to consider: Self-Hosted and Hosted. There is a difference between the two types of platforms which a small business owner should consider before choosing the platform and service that works for them.

Self-Hosted platforms are designed to be coupled with web hosting. These systems work similarly to partnering a web blog roll to an existing website. However, instead of partnering content, you are partnering a payment system. These systems can be tailored to the specific needs of the business, such as the implementation of a shopping cart for an online store. When using a self-hosted ecommerce platform, businesses are afforded the flexibility to alter their system, website, or even transition from one service provider to another.

Hosted ecommerce platforms are ecommerce platforms that integrate all of the moving parts of an ecommerce system into one. Hosted ecommerce platforms include access to the master web servicer that services multiple end users, the online shopping cart, bill collection, transfer of funds, and technical and design support. Because hosted ecommerce platforms are designed to be universal platforms utilized by many ecommerce participants, these systems and functions are more uniform.

Some of the most recommended Self-Hosted ecommerce platforms include Magento, OpenCart, WooCommerce, Zen Cart, and Big Cartel. What these platforms have in common is that they are designed for use by both the home-based business and the small brick and mortar business. These self-hosted platforms allow users to customize their own tools without the help of outside tech support. They also allow for the business owner to take advantage of search engine optimization tools, and user-friendly systems for shoppers. Much like creating a website, these platforms offer multiple templates, built-in blogging tools, and individual control over design and tool integration changes.

Shopify, Big Commerce, PrestaShop, Volusion, and YoCart are highly recommended Hosted ecommerce platforms for the small business owner to the major corporate-run online store. Shopify is the most recognizable and popular ecommerce platform of the bunch; however they all offer an elevated service package. Many of these systems are mobile friendly, include full blogging capability, offer a number of payment gateways and options, support multiple languages, have app capability, and include automatically integrated back office security. These platforms have some flexibility for custom features to be added, and can be integrated into almost any digital marketing advertising tool.

Alternatively, Facebook now offers a purchase button on business pages, allowing for small businesses to share their products on one of the largest social media platforms in the world, and some of the most popular ecommerce websites where products can be offered include Alibaba, Amazon, Craigslist, E-bay and Etsy.

Several payment processing options are available with ecommerce platforms, such as Payline Data, Stripe, Dharma Merchant Services and PayPal. Choosing the best fit for your ecommerce platform may require a little research, since you will also want to consider which options are most secure and what the fees will be.

One of the most common ecommerce payment gateway options is PayPal, which can be used as either the primary payment gateway or as a secondary payment option, since many consumers have PayPal accounts. PayPal has served many small businesses and online marketers as a payment collection option. PayPal’s functionality is the reason it is preferred by so many small businesses and online shoppers. PayPal serves as an online e-bank account where consumers can hold money for use in making online transactions. Small business owners can put PayPal to work just the same as a cash register, where they can generate an invoice and bill clients, collect from clients, and then either hold their revenue in their PayPal account, or transfer their money to a traditional bank account.

Cost will vary between ecommerce platforms. Some require a monthly or yearly subscription flat fee while others will waive the flat fee in exchange for a percentage of the purchase-sale transaction – much like operating a merchant account tied to a credit-debit card terminal. Business owners should consider how many online transactions they project their online store will generate and compare the percentage rate against the flat fee rate. Shipping and handling costs, taxes, and import-export fees (when warranted) will also need to be factored in.

Before deciding on the platform for your small business, consider all of the options, costs, and how well your potential consumers will respond to the ecommerce tool. If the process is overly complicated, you may lose sales if potential customers are not comfortable with the transactional platform.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently lends his expertise as a Consultant firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of “The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water,” and “Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses.”

Every Small Business Owner is A Farmer

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column, Published on 9/8/2018, a http://www.SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Source: Some believe small business ownership leads to overnight success and immediate wealth, time freedom and social status, when, in fact, the fruits of small business ownership are most often experienced only after years of long hours of toiling and after taking a significant financial risk. We will show how being a small business owner is much like being a farmer.

Small business ownership and farm ownership share many of the same attributes, responsibilities and challenges. The process of growing a business and growing crops in the field are very similar in nature. Most farmers are, indeed, also small business owners, but how is it that small business owners are like farmers?

Much like a farmer, a small business owner must plant the seeds of their future harvest. This means investing into a location, equipment and tools, inventory, and many other aspects of their value proposition before they reap any financial benefit. The small business owner must cultivate the field of potential client prospects and nurture these relationships the same way farmers nurture and provide for their plants, so that in the near future they can benefit from the harvest. The small business owner’s harvest happens when the relationships built with potential clients begin to yield purchases, and the financial exchanges are made for products or services of equal or greater value.

Just like a field of corn or a crop of select vegetables does not grow into a cash crop overnight, the small business owner must also wait for their business to mature. The small business owner must have three qualities that the farmer also possesses – patience, perseverance and vision.  Just as it takes time to grow a quality crop, it also takes time to grow a fundamentally sound business model. During the time in which the crops and business continue to grow, new challenges can arise. The business owner and farmer must both have a plan to deal with these challenges and a willingness to work through the adversity.

Both the farmer and the business owner have an opportunity to sharpen the ax. For the business owner, the downtime in between serving existing and potential clients affords attention to be concentrated on other areas of their business that are critical moving parts of the bigger wheel of small business ownership. Small business owners and farmers must always be looking for ways to make their respective enterprises more efficient. Whether it be dedicating time to education or industry training, development of a marketing-advertising program, or taking some time out to service and maintain equipment and tools, both the farmer and business owner must use downtime to make improvements that will maximize their return on investment.

The business owner and the farmer each have time constraint issues to contend with. The farmer only has so much time to get their ripened produce harvested and to market before the crops spoil. The business owner must also serve his/her customers in a timely manner or put at risk their reputation with the customer. In both situations, the farmer and the business owner must be postured to serve the needs of the customer in the expected time frame that the consumer has set, or they both risk losing the sale. A harvest must be presented to market in a set period of time or the crop becomes unwanted by the market. The same can be said for products or services, as every product or service has a life cycle before it becomes obsolete. New technology is developed each day, and as a society of entrepreneurs, we are always looking to make things better and more efficient for less money.

The farmer and business owner must also be good managers of the tool known as money. A farmer has to know the cost of growing fields of their preferred crops, as well as all of the indirect cost of operating their farm. Farmers must be able to budget their money wisely so that they have enough resources to operate their enterprise until the next harvest provides additional cash flow. Small business owners also must also be good money managers. They must plan and gauge their inventory and/or services, as well as turnover time in between sales cycles and projects, so they too can have enough cash to run day to day operations until the next wave of sales happens. The farmer works on slim margins and knows that a bad year in the fields means a hard year of managing expenses until the next harvest is available. The small business owner must also be prepared for long sales cycles and poor performing seasons.

The business owner and farmer both must be able to see the field full of harvest before they even begin. This is called having vision. The small business owner must have a short term and long term plan for creating a return on their original investment while also pointing to the future of what will happen in a year, three years, and even five years down the road for their enterprise. A farmer stands in the field in early spring, before the first rows have been tilled, and must be able to see the crop that is to be harvested in the fall, even before the first seed is planted. The vision provides the ability to stake a plan of action that brings the series of events into focus that leads both the small business owner and the farmer to the day when they can be proud of the investment they made into their respective fields of practice.

Small business owners are farmers, regardless of whether they own a retail business or a service-oriented business. They must always plant new seeds of potential customers in growing their consumer base, cultivate and nurture business and community relationships, and invest themselves in the “behind the barn” work that is part of the machine of their value proposition to the market. If you want to become a great small business owner, aim to become a farmer first.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently lends his expertise as a Consultant firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of “The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water,” and “Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses.”

“Do’s and Don’ts of MLM”

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter, and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column, Published on 8/17/2018, a SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Tags: American Free Enterprise, Business, Direct Selling, Multi-Level Marketing, Network Marketing, Opportunity, Small Business, Relationship Marketing, Home Based Business

Source: So… you have decided to get involved in a multi-level marketing business opportunity. After spending hours of research on the right opportunity, you are ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work. How do you assure yourself greater odds of success? We provide a few tips.

Every multi-level marketing business opportunity has a recipe for “success” which is usually provided by the MLM parent company, and offered by way of training materials, tools, books, and audios. There are some basic key concepts to keep in mind when building your team and customer base. These key concepts may seem simple, however are often overlooked, leading many in the industry to disappointment and failure.

One of the very first things to keep in mind is to pay close attention to every detail related to the process of sales and recruitment, and to the fine print of company policy & procedure and compensation plan. Many network marketers fail to collect on every benchmark they achieve because they miss a step in the process of submitting paperwork or forget to fill in a required field on an online form. Within the independent contractor agreement and compensation plan, there are specific details related to how commissions are earned on product sales and on sales from a downline that may not have been presented during the initial opportunity introduction.

Network marketers must have an understanding that their new opportunity should be treated as if it is a business they personally own. Discipline, motivation and consistent daily action are crucial for success, for if positive results are not produced, no compensation is earned. The network marketer should have a thorough understanding of the products they represent, the market they serve (who will need them), and a willingness to handle objections and even deal with disgruntled customers.

The network marketer should be a product of the product. The best sales representative is a person that has a personal experience with the products they are selling, and can convey their personal story or connection with those products to others. A network marketer should sample each of the products they intend to promote, and focus primarily on those that have the greatest impact on them, rather than those they did not personally enjoy or find beneficial.

Research the ideal consumer market and start there. Many network marketers will begin pitching their product offerings to a list of family, friends, neighbors, and other associates from within their local community or network. What network marketers need to understand is once they have exhausted their list of contacts, they will have no choice but to engage with strangers. Sales representatives, in general, who focus on solving problems and filling a need, develop a customer following and are more successful than their peers who primarily rely on friends and family to buy their products.

Network marketers need to have a definitive plan of execution in reaching their target market. In discovering where your target market might be located, you will want to put yourself in the shoes of the potential customer. What are their likes, dislikes, consumer behaviors and habits? What influences their decision making? Your discovery process should include learning why your potential customers make the choices they do.  This will apply to building your team network as well.

Network marketers need to set realistic and obtainable daily, weekly, and monthly goals, and stay disciplined to achieve the set benchmarks. Network marketing is about making repetitive consistent efforts over a long period of time. Where many fail is by having the desire and intention of making a big splash of achievements in the beginning, so they could sit back and allow for their downline to do the rest. When they don’t achieve success in the short time line they hoped for, the disappointed network marketer often quits. Network marketing is a battle of time and milling through the field of potential prospects. The network marketer that is willing to spend less time per week, but willing to work years at the business, will have far greater returns than the network marketer that works feverishly in the first 30 days and does nothing thereafter.

Another practice of becoming a better network marketer is to develop your own personal brand that can help separate you from the field of thousands of other network marketing representatives. What makes you so different that a potential prospect should buy from you instead of your competitor? It will be the little things that matter – returning people’s calls, texts and emails, answering questions, helping people with their paperwork, being supportive of other members of your downline, and being a team player. These are just a few ways you can create your personal brand.

The career network marketer should have some of their own personal business tools, such as a business card, website, social media page, hotline, group newsletter, and blog post. These are places where you can tell your story and the stories of your personally connected satisfied customers and fellow network marketing colleagues.

Network marketing is just that, networking. Every network marketer should be engaged in a business organization where he/she can meet with other fellow business leaders and potential customers. Building relationships within this community will provide credibility that you are a professional and not some lone wolf trying to look out only for yourself. Within these business groups, look for opportunities to be of service to others.

Most importantly, the network marketer must have patience. Customers and members of your “team” will come and go. There are natural consumer life cycles to every product or service. You must continue to be diligent in developing strong customer and business relationships, and keep in mind that some of your recruits will not produce a thing and end up quitting the opportunity. Quitting over someone else quitting will yield zero results.

Not all network marketers will make enough money to quit or replace their day jobs. It takes time, monetary investment, and a keen ability to work with other people to achieve any level of financial gain in network marketing. Those who are not ready to assume all the risk should yield to caution and look for other career building opportunities.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently lends his expertise as a Consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of “The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water,” and “Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses.”

 

“It’s a Pyramid Scheme…”

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column, Published on 8/2/2018, a SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Tags: American Free Enterprise, Business, Direct Marketing, Multi-Level Marketing, Network Marketing, Opportunity, Small Business,

Source: Multi-level marketing has received a great deal of criticism throughout the years, being accused of scamming people out of their money while coaxing them with grand visions of financial independence and lavish lifestyles. Though the odds have not always been in favor of the average network marketer, we uncover the myths versus facts of network marketing business opportunities.

So why does multi-level marketing receive such negative press and opinion? Chances are, the majority of negative opinions were developed by individuals that tried to make a go at becoming successful in a multi-level marketing business venture, and failed to achieve the success that was originally advertised. The statistics are not pretty, however when you compare them to how many people start a traditional business and fail, or how many people try to become professional athletes and fall short of their desired success, the statistics are relative to other career aspirations that are not achieved.

According to a Report authored by Robert FitzPatrick in 2005, over ninety-nine percent of individuals that got involved with multi-level marketing business opportunities ended up losing all of their investment. Studies performed by third party consumer watchdog groups have proven that between 990 and 999 people out of 1000 that have signed up as network marketers have lost their entire financial investments; and for some, because they had dedicated so much time to their multi-level marketing businesses, were let go from their day jobs or lost out on other career opportunities. It will be interesting to see if these numbers change as the industry transforms.

It is difficult to decipher the true number of MLM profits, losses and sales revenue from retail customers versus the network marketer participant’s product purchases because most MLM companies historically have not disclosed the data that makes a clear distinction between sales revenue from their consumer-only audience versus sales revenue from their own network marketer participant audiences.  Because there has been little incentive to solely focus on consumer retail sales, and much of the focus in the industry’s business training has been directed to recruiting a “downline”, few network marketers have focused their sales efforts on establishing retail sales only.

The fact that most MLM parent companies’ total gross revenue is not in direct relationship to what each independent distributor earns creates a blur between the numbers, a truth often skewed when a MLM company is presenting an opportunity. If the math and the probability of success is not in favor of the network marketer, why do people still sign up to participate?

Some individuals join the networking side of the business because they enjoy the parent company’s products so much that they continue to purchase them, but desire to continue making their purchase commitments at a significant discount. In some cases, the consumer then becomes their own network marketer and tends to save enough on product discounts that their fee for joining is covered over time.

Some individuals are drawn to the social lifestyle and travel, the added value of education and training, and networking with other like-minded individuals; thus treating their distributorship more like education and/or a social club membership. In some cases, this training, networking and the connections made also benefit their other businesses or day jobs. Some individuals just enjoy the flexibility that the MLM opportunity provides, and want complete control over their own schedules. Sometimes these individuals might be involved with more than one MLM opportunity, where they may profit from cross pollination of their networks from one organization to the other (though most often frowned upon and against company policies).

Some individuals become network marketers because they believe that they (and their team) will defy the odds and strike it rich, hoping to find themselves at the top of the pyramid after the masses of other people quit. For some, the idea of “owning a business” or being “in the business” is attractive, and they will leverage that representation to recruit others into their organization.

In the legal sense, a network marketer does not own their own business (unless they have their own corporation or limited liability company that is in contract with the MLM parent); because the network marketer does not own any hard assets owned by the MLM parent organization. The Network marketer does not own the patents, intellectual property, physical property, inventory (in most cases), or other intangible business assets such as a website or domain name; nor can the distributor’s “business” be sold or acquired for a profit (in most cases).

Multi-level marketing companies have had their fair share of legal bouts. In the 1980’s, the Amway Company was met with much criticism and negative press. As of most recent, HerbaLife faced the wrath of the Federal Trade Commission. Yet network marketers that remain committed to multi-level marketing claim they have benefited from their involvement and have seen a return of investment after three to five years of dedicated efforts.

Skeptics, media, and government agencies focused on consumer protection argue that a multi-level marketing agency crosses over to a pyramid scheme when it pays more focus and monetary benefit for new network marketer recruitment than on product sales commissions, where the participant (the network marketer) can only make sales commissions on consumer retail sales if their downline is meeting mandated personal consumption inventory buys; and in order to earn either bonuses from recruitment or sales commissions, one is most often required to maintain an automatic shipment purchase of company products themselves that also may include a number of pre-requisite items such as tools, marketing materials, and training materials.

There are some multi-level marketing companies that do focus more on the products and services offered than on network marketing recruitment of new participants. Companies like Primerica and Pre-paid Legal focus on the sales of services, and encourage their network marketing representatives to be successful at selling these services before recruiting new people into their downline. These companies also have no required auto-ship.

Some companies have changed their business model to adapt business practices acceptable to watchdog groups and government agencies. Some have also eliminated the requirement for auto ship purchasing, and have increased compensation benefits to allow individuals who only desire to earn commissions on sales of products, to do so and see a return on investment within a reasonable time period.

The perspective of ‘being a product of the product” holds true in successful product promotion, and most people are drawn to specific MLM companies because they see the value and benefits of the products that the company offers. However, many folks who are introduced to these companies have limited financial resources and are already struggling to get by. Though they may like nothing more than to be able to personally enjoy the benefits of the company’s product lines every day, they may not initially have the means to purchase them monthly while doling out the expenses of building their business – such as tools, training and fuel. It is also important to keep in mind that it takes time and training to build the knowledge, skill sets and relationships necessary for success; and most often, little (if any) monetary earnings will be recognized for the first several months, especially for those who are new to the industry.

If you’re still intrigued and contemplating whether or not the MLM industry might be for you, your next step may be to research a few multi-level marketing companies, along with their products, culture, and compensation plans with a fine eye focused on detail and the fine print. Before joining a MLM organization, you have the right to research and ask for reports on the average payouts per year to new recruits, statistical and historical analysis on success/failure rates of network marketers within that organization, and for a review of consumer complaints related to the MLM parent company’s product offerings. Once you have found the MLM opportunity you are comfortable in working with, continue to move on with your new business opportunity with cautious optimism.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently lends his expertise as a Consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also the author of “The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource, Water;” and “Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses.” 

Tax Code Reform, So What Did We Get?

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter, and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column, Published on 8/2/2018, a SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Tags: Business, Community, Economy, Entrepreneurship, Finance, Small Business, Tax Policy

Source: With Tax Code Reform signed into law, there are a number of changes to be aware of. We review the biggest changes to the tax code that have been made since the last set of revisions that were made in 1986.

The largest reform to the current tax code since 1986 was enacted into law at the end of 2017. This reform has come with mixed reviews by skeptics, who sought more resolve to the existing tax code laws. Most of the adjustments to the tax code have been on the personal tax side of the books. Some of the most noticeable changes include:

  • The Child Tax Credit increasing from $1000 to $2000, so families can benefit from this adjustment, which leaves more of the wage earner’s money on the table at home.
  • A significant change to the Individual Tax Rate and Bracketing. Prior to the change, there were six specific brackets in which personal income tax was rated. The 2017 tax code reform has added additional brackets with adjustments to existing brackets. These changes were minimal, however for some wage earners, the changes can mean having a few extra dollars in their pockets for their families.
  • An increase in the standard deduction from $12,700 to $24k for married filing joint couples. The standard deduction has increased from $6350 to $12,000 for single filers. The head of household deduction has increased from $9350 to $18,000.
  • Good news for the small business owner. Small business owners that operate pass through income corporations (S Corps or LLC) were formally taxed at the individual tax brackets. These same pass through corporations now receive an added twenty percent deduction bonus. A benefit for C-Corporations has also been worked into the bill. C-Corporations will see a reduction from a thirty-five percent tax rate to twenty-one percent flat, giving corporations the largest adjustment to corporate tax in decades. In addition to a change in corporate tax rates, the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) for corporations has been repealed.
  • Changes to personal exemption allowances. Formerly, the personal exemption allowance was up to $4050 per person, however since the new tax code is in place, this exemption has been eliminated. To compensate for this, an increase in the standard deduction has been implemented.
  • A cap in SALT (state and local tax) deductions. Some property owners may not fare well in the new tax code deal. State and local income tax was formerly deductible prior to tax code reform; however, in accordance with the new tax code, this deduction is now capped at $10,000 in total between both property and income taxes. Some say this hurts property owners who relied on the former allowance to offset the pain they felt when paying heavy burdens on their state and local property taxes.
  • Adjustments to the mortgage interest deduction. In 2017 it was allowable to deduct the interest up to $1 million dollars on your main residence. The new code drops this deduction to $750,000 for new loans that are generated in 2018 and forward.
  • Added benefit for individuals that have 401ks. Such investors have plenty to be happy about. As the new tax code specifies, the cap on employer-sponsored 401k programs has been increased by $500. This also allows for anyone over the age of 50 to contribute up to $24,500 into their 401k. On the other side of the coin, deductions for IRA’s will be phased out. However, some exemptions on this plan will still be allowed. Other adjustments and phase outs include Roth IRA exemptions and deductions.
  • An increase in Earned Income Tax Credit maximums. This tax code rule was increased to assist families with multiple children. Though the increase is not a landmark, the modest increase was made to help struggling families.
  • An unexpected surprise in the area of gifting. An individual can now provide a gift up to $15,000 to any one other person without the receiver having to deal with a tax liability.
  • An increase in the maximum Social Security taxable earnings amount, which affects employees, employers and the self-employed.

So which states benefited and which states were most affected by the new tax code reform? For low income families, the states that receive the least amount of benefit include Alabama, Pennsylvania, Montana, Wyoming, and Vermont.  States that received the most benefit for low income families include District of Columbia, Arizona, Nebraska, Texas, and California.

As it relates to middle class family demographics, the states that received the most benefit include Alaska, Nevada, New Mexico, Delaware, and California. Middle class families on the other side of the spectrum in the states of Maine, Maryland, Connecticut, West Virginia, and Arizona lose out on this round of tax code reform.

For high income families, the states of Alabama, Tennessee, Wyoming, Arkansas, and Ohio gain the most from tax code reform. The wealthiest in the states of Mississippi, California, New Jersey, New York and Arizona stand to lose the most with the new tax code reform bill.

To find out how the tax code reform directly affects you, refer to your tax attorney or certified public accountant for additional information. This article was not intended to provide tax or financial advice, but to provide awareness by highlighting some of the most noticeable tax code changes.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently lends his expertise as a Consultant firm to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of “The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water,” and “Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses.”

“It must be a Triangle Scheme…”

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column, Published on 7/11/2018, a SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Tags: American Free Enterprise, Business, Direct Marketing, Multi-Level Marketing, Network Marketing, Opportunity, Small Business, Sales

Source: One of the most common at-home business opportunities is the direct sales network marketing of products and services offered by a parent organization. Many of these network marketing companies utilize a multi-level marketing and compensation structure as their business model. Multi-level marketing has received a bad rap, where advocates and adversaries share their pros and cons about this popular and controversial business model. So what are some of the controversies of the industry?

In a recent discussion with an individual starting out their entrepreneurial career, they expressed the options of their future career pathway. Expressing their options, they said, “I am open to many types of business and career opportunities, as long as its not one of those triangle schemes.” Sounds familiar?

Chances are, you’ve experienced (at least once)… a friend, family member, or neighbor who approached you with “The opportunity of a life-time”… to get in on a business that has unlimited growth. What happens when the commentary sounds so convincing (or you just want to appease your friend), and you agree to view a video or attend a meeting where a presentation related to the product and opportunity are explained? The video, full of luxury lifestyle perks and energized individuals sharing their rags to riches stories, piques your interest and entices your human nature. Before you know it, you agree to get involved and become one of the network marketers for the parent company.

Then reality sets in. Months goes by of attending meeting after meeting with potential prospect after prospect; and you become discouraged and doubtful that the lavish lifestyle advertised could never be yours. You decide not to write one more check for an auto-ship product, marketing materials, or to attend any future events. After investing a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars, and your time, you decide to call it quits after the latest prospect says “no” to the product line up or to the business opportunity. Because “it” did not work out in the time frame of your personal expectation, you think it’s one of those “pyramid schemes.”

After a self-evaluation, you come to your own perceived conclusion that the multi-level marketing opportunity was nothing more than hype. It was the people at the top that were making all the money, and all of the flash and excitement was nothing more than showmanship to steal your hard-earned money, free labor, and network connections. But is this really true about most multi-level marketing business opportunities?

According to Black’s Law Dictionary, the legal definition of a pyramid scheme is a scam which is usually carried out on the general public, by making promises of high returns in a short period of time; a system that is based upon paying off the early investors first and the long term liabilities later on. Similar to a Ponzi scheme, one person recruits another person to “invest” into the scheme, then that new recruit duplicates with new recruits, and so on. Usually, each person pays a fee to join, and the only people to make money are the very first people to get involved. These schemes involve no product ownership, no defined compensation plan, and usually crumble under their own weight.

Many people, when hearing of multi-level marketing opportunities, think of the triangle or pyramid scheme, because there is usually an up-front cost or investment for the new recruit. What makes the multi-level marketing business opportunity unlike the pyramid scheme is that the new recruit’s initial membership fee is pledged toward an initial commitment to purchase the parent’s company’s products. At the end of paying the fee, the new recruit has product or service in their hand in exchange for money.

The perception that all multi-level marketing opportunities are pyramid schemes derives from the fact that many multi-level marketing companies focus most of their attention on having new network marketing recruits build out a “downline”, and when you review the downline behavioral organizational chart, they do, in fact, look like a pyramid. What many people don’t know, however, is that a recruit is often not required to build a downline. A recruit can choose to solely focus on product or service sales. Unlike Ponzi or pyramid schemes, whose recruits’ only hope in making anything is based on the recruitment of new investors, multi-level marketing provides earnings within the compensation plan via product sales commissions.

Another common belief is that only people at the top of the triangle in multi-level marketing make all of the money, leaving those at the bottom nothing for their financial investment, time, or labor. There are two sides to every multi-level marketing company. The executive-administrative side to the company is the parent organization that either developed, manufacturers, and/or distributes the product; and the sales development side to the company, or the multi-level marketing side of the business, promotes both the product lines and the business opportunity. The corporate side can be owned by one founder or by a group of founders; however this same principle would apply to any large or small business or corporation. And yes, for their hard work and investment, they would gain a return on all of the businesses positive gains.

The compensation plan written for the multi-level marketing side of the business is usually developed so that every person who enters the business has the same opportunity and the exact same compensation plan afforded to them as everyone else. In most cases, network marketers that have large downlines make more money than those with smaller downline organizations. This has not always been the result of the direct efforts or successes of an individual, but of the efforts and successes made by members in their downline organization.  In order to dispel this issue, many multi-level marketing firms have begun to cap how much benefit a network marketer can receive from their downline and/or cap how many levels deep compensation will be paid on. Within some multi-level marketing organizations, some of the very first network marketers to sign up in the company are now making less money, while others in their downline are earning more.

Many individuals also perceive that the parent company offering the product(s) and business opportunity abuses and uses people without compensating them for their efforts. However, many network marketing companies do have decent compensation plans in place. Network marketers are compensated for product sales, similar to other sales positions in traditional companies, minus receiving a “base salary” while building a customer base. Ultimately, a network marketer is confined to a compensation plan that only pays when sales are made and new distributors are recruited and assisted in reaching sales goals.

The outlook that multi-level marketing businesses do not work is a belief that is not in line with the financial results that have proven themselves over time. In 2015 alone, network marketing business opportunities grossed $36.12 billion dollars in retail sales just in the United States alone.

Multi-level marketing organizations have been viewed as cultish or a form of religion. The industry of multi-level marketing is far from a cult or religion; but, as many small businesses or large corporations do, most of these organizations do possess a strong sense of company culture, which is a reflection of their core beliefs, values, code of ethics, goals, mission, and vision.

If you are still skeptical of multi-level marketing business opportunities, then I encourage you to continue to perform additional research or to stay tuned for my follow-up article, “It’s a Pyramid Scheme.”

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently lends his expertise as a Consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of “The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water,” and “Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses.”

As Seen on TV

Written by: Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column, Published on 7/2/2018, a SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Tags: Advertising, Business, Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Media, Sales

Source: Just when you thought the deal could not get any better, just wait, there’s more…call now and your order will be doubled… “As seen on TV,” we review some of the most successful infomercial campaigns and why they did so well.

We have all experienced at some point in our lives, while flipping through the television channels, that moment when we came across a presentation of the latest and greatest widget, gadget or contraption, with a deal we just could not pass up. From products like OxiClean and the George Forman Grill, to exercise equipment and other inventions that seemed like no one would ever buy, infomercials have catapulted sales and brand recognition for a number of inventors and marketers, resulting in millions of dollars in returns on their ideas and inventions.

Not all infomercials or products reach the success of the Thigh Master or the Snuggly, however each product that is pitched on television infomercials has a life cycle that assures the product continues to get exposure. As of recent, specialty retailer stores have sprung up to showcase product offerings once seen on television. Walmart and Target have even dedicated shelf space to offer products that were once pitched on infomercials a second chance to connect with consumer audiences.

Some of the most successful infomercial products include the exercise device called the Thigh Master. The Thigh Master was a simple contraption made up of two metal loops joined by a spring mechanism in the middle that was designed to assist consumers in toning legs, hips, and waist. The pitch was that a consumer could operate the Thigh Master while attending to other activities such as reading, watching television (other infomercials), or just about any other activity that did not require the use of one’s legs at the time of using the Thigh Master. Thigh Master achieved huge success in sales, grossing over $100 million. The Thigh Master incorporated the celebrity endorsement of television personality Suzanne Somers to help pitch the device to “would be” consumers.

Another well-known infomercial product that has transitioned to shelf space at your local retailer is OxiClean. OxiClean was pitched by former Billy Mays, who would claim, “I’m not yelling, I’m projecting,” as he would hook viewers to stay tuned because, “but wait, there’s more.” Billy May’s unique raspy voice and the multitude of scenarios presented on how OxiClean would solve every cleaning situation as the latest miracle for your household, grabbed consumers to gross over $500 million dollars in sales to date. Part of the success of OxiClean is its transition from infomercial to its placement on shelves at selected retailers.

“Set it and forget it,” was the tag line for the device that would promise steamed vegetables piping hot; meats cooked to be tender and succulent. The Ronco Rotisserie Oven also known as the Showtime Pro, steamed rolled its way to the top by having the inventor and marketer Ron Popeil invite celebrity guests to accompany him in infomercial sessions. The Showtime Rotisserie raked in over $1.2 billion dollars for Popeil, putting Ronco at the top of infomercial success. The oven is still available today, and continues to be sold on television, Amazon, and in selected retailer outlets.

Richard Simmons not only had you Sweatin’ to the Oldies and managing your meals; he had consumers dole out over $200 million dollars for his fitness programs, making Simmons one of the wealthiest fitness gurus ever. Sweatin’ to the Oldies was a series of exercise regimens coupled with music to entice baby boomers to want to engage into a heathier life. Over 20 million of these programs were sold. Simmons targeted the “regular” person as part of his campaign, which attracted tens of millions of out of shape people that might have never taken the time out to visit a gym or hire a personal trainer. The business plan worked, branding Simmon’s as a fitness expert and television personality for life.

Then there was the blanket you could wear called the Snuggie. If you doubt anyone would spend their money on this product, you are highly mistaken. Tens of millions of Snuggies have been sold. In essence, this body-length blanket with sleeves was advertised that it could be worn by anyone, anywhere, anytime, and even boasted that it would bring people closer together if they all had a Snuggie. Sadly, it did the opposite, as the Snuggie was designed for a single person to use at a time. The Snuggie would rake in over $400 million dollars can still be found in selected retailers, on the internet, and on the infomercial, which still airs from time to time.

The infomercial product industry is a multi-billion dollar per year industry, and since its inception, the infomercial product world has grossed over $250 billion dollars in sales to date. With the widespread use of additional digital media, television is not the only medium used in pitching a message to would-be consumers. Digital social media platforms allow for a plethora of video content to be made readily available and stream to almost any mobile device, bypassing the conventional television set.

It is estimated there are over 500 products that have been initially developed and marketed specifically for infomercials.

One of the largest companies in the infomercial product sector is Telebrands. Located in Fairfield, New Jersey. Telebrands is responsible for launching over a hundred products alone, and has been doing so since 1983.

Based on these metrics, you wonder why more products don’t go down the infomercial path. Not every product is a good fit. The more technical the product, and the higher the investment a consumer must make, the less advantageous it becomes for the product to be featured on an infomercial. Typically, products marketed on infomercials are similar to the impulse buy at the register of a retailer; where consumers feel comfortable with the risk they are taking. And besides, most infomercials offer a risk-free money back guarantee.

Infomercials have been rumored to get a bad rap. Complaints from consumers include inferior or poor quality in the manufacturing of the product itself, or products that claim they will last a lifetime, but don’t. Some products seem so far-fetched that some people don’t believe they can actually function as advertised. As a result, the Federal Trade Commission has taken aim at infomercial marketers, bringing an average of five cases to court each year.

Some infomercials can be outright comical; as they might pitch a product’s suggested use or durability in situations that a consumer might never intend to use the product. When was the last time you purchased Tupperware to have an elephant stand on it? The next time you mock an infomercial, just remember it’s the inventor and marketing company that is getting the last laugh.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently lends his expertise as a Consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of “The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water,” and “Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses.”

 

What is Network or Direct Selling?

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column, Published on 6/22/2018, a SamBurlum.com Exclusive

Tags: American Free Enterprise, Business, Direct Selling, Multi-Level Marketing, Network Marketing, Opportunity, Small Business, Sales Opportunities

Source: One of the most common at-home business opportunities is the direct sales network marketing of products offered by a parent organization. Direct sales or network marketing has received a bad rap in the past, where advocates and adversaries share their pros and cons about this business model. We take a look at what networking marketing and direct selling opportunities are.

Network marketing/direct selling companies offer their products and/or services by employing a business model that includes a number of independent representatives or marketers who promote the parent company and its product line. The first method in which network marketers earn an income is based on sales commissions for product sales of the affiliated parent company. This applies to both single-level and multi-level marketing business models. Network marketers can then earn additional income from building an “organization” or “downline,” which consists of a network of other individuals they recruit to also sell the parent company’s products, making this the “multi-level” business model.

Multi-level marketing organizations have been pitched under a number of monikers. Some of the most common other names for multi-level marketing are network marketing, direct selling, community marketing, referral marketing, pyramid selling, person-to-person marketing, and relationship marketing. Network marketing or direct selling have been the most common terms dubbed since multi-level marketing has been associated with negative perception of the industry as a whole.

Some of the most successful and longest standing direct selling businesses include Avon, Amway, Primerica, May Kay Cosmetics, Legal Shield, and Shaklee. Within the past forty years, the number of network marketing companies that offer products and services have exploded to an all-time high. There are well over fifty companies today that dominate the multi-level marketing landscape, and there are no signs of the industry slowing down.

Billions of dollars in product and service sales have been made for these companies as a result of this business model. In 2015, the industry posted $183.7 billion dollars in sales worldwide. Collectively, these companies claim that over $73.4 billion dollars (roughly 40%) of gross revenue was paid directly to “distributors,” who are the network marketers themselves. The majority of the industry’s sales were collected in the United States, with twenty to thirty percent of all sales having taken place stateside. The industry also did well in China, which is the industry’s second largest market, followed by South Korea, Germany and Japan.

So what makes the industry so attractive? Career marketers will tout there are multiple benefits to becoming involved in network marketing organizations. Network marketers claim the main reason for their decision to join network marketing is because of its unique business model and the flexibility the industry offers.

Network marketers can earn unlimited commissions with most multi-level marketing companies, as well as paid performance bonuses when sales goals are met; and are also paid a percentage on sales from their downline. A common claim of advantage in Network marketing is the sense of owning a business without the hassle of a brick and mortar location, so very little financial investment is required in comparison to the capital necessary to start up a traditional retail or service oriented business. Network marketers have the flexibility to create their own schedule, and are not limited to any one geographic location.

Other terms coined for the sales force of independent sales people that make up a direct selling organization include: distributors, marketing consultants, promoters, representatives, independent business owners, independent contractors, marketing directors, and relationship coordinators. Some of these terms have been viewed by former network marketers as misleading, because the network marketer does not directly own part of the parent company; and many of the network marketers do not operate their venture in an official business structure (such as a corporation or limited liability company). Instead, network marketers are encouraged to register a business name and obtain a tax identification number, so the parent multi-level marketing company can pay a business entity versus paying an individual. This is where the phrase “getting into the business” was developed.

Traditionally, network marketers would introduce the parent company’s products and/or services to potential consumers directly by word of mouth advertising. Some of the most popular forms of this word of mouth advertising would come in the form of “home parties,” where the network marketer would set an appointment to host a home party (or have a family member, friend or acquaintance host the party for product discounts or gifts), and invite guests to attend the party. At the home party, family and friends would gather to share in refreshments and would view the presentation made by the network marketer, who would also showcase the parent company’s product lines and take orders from the invited guests that attended. Once the product orders were available, the network marketer would deliver the products to their customers.

With the coming of the Information Age, the Digital Age, and the Age of Mobile Devices, network marketing has become far more complex, with a host of new direct marketing tools and techniques. Individuals can now sell products and recruit members for their downline from anywhere in the world that the parent company is set up to do business with. Social media has given rise to the growing number of network marketers, where one may expect to see the latest pitch in their news feed or receive a private message from someone who is trying to share the MLM product line or opportunity that they have chosen to partner with.

Just as the methods in reaching potential customers and recruits have advanced, so have the systems used by both single-level and multi-level marketing business models. Most of these companies now offer direct ship programs for their products, so the network marketer no longer has to hand deliver personal orders to customers. Multi-level marketing companies have also integrated back offices, online dashboards and apps, allowing for the network marketer to go paperless while managing their organization or downline. They have also made many of their tools available online to their network marketers, eliminating the need to purchase clunky marketing kits for personal use; and have become more transparent in recent years, providing financial reports, sales commission reports, and earnings in real time for network marketers to review.

Even with the advancements in technology, marketing tools, training, and the many success stories throughout the network marketing industry, the MLM industry and business model is still viewed negatively by many. Some claim that network marketing companies are nothing more than pyramid schemes that prey on people that are hopeful and looking for a remedy for their financial duress or other personal challenges. It is important to note, however, that some of the most successful MLM companies are also those that have come under the most criticism.

Samuel K. Burlum is an Investigative Reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Samuel K. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur, who currently lends his expertise as a Consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration.

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