Thursday

How to distinguish between an employee and an independent contractor

For tax purposes classification matters

The Internal Revenue Service has laid down specific guidelines that explain how to distinguish between an employee and an independent contractor. At times, these guidelines still do cause some consternation, for both employers and for employees.
While some will tell you that the "terms" employee and employer do not necessarily govern the relationship, you should consider having your contracts reviewed by a tax accountant or lawyer before sending them to your freelance clients. Why run the risk?
The Internal Revenue Service website states the following ruling: "Independent Contractor: The general rule is that an individual is an independent contractor if (the person for whom the services are performed) has the right to control or direct only the result of the work, and not what will be done and how it will be done or method of accomplishing the result."
"People such as lawyers, contractors, subcontractors, public stenographers, and auctioneers who follow an independent trade, business, or profession in which they offer their services to the public, are generally not employees. However, whether such people are employees or independent contractors depends on the facts in each case."

Determining classification

Here are some steps you can take to distinguish whether you will be considered an employee or an independent contractor.
Who controls the work being done?
  • Employee: If the employer controls the work that is being done (e.g. how it is done and what is done) then you are considered an employee.
  • Independent contractor: If your client tells you what must the end result is but does not instruct you as to how to get to that end result, you may be considered an independent contractor.
Who supplies the equipment?
  • Employee: If the tools that you require to complete the job are supplied by a business, then chances are that you will be considered an employee.
  • Independent contractor: If you are responsible for having (or obtaining) the equipment or tools that you need to complete an assignment then you may be considered an independent contractor.
Written contracts
While your written contract may clarify the proper terms (e.g. employee or independent contractor) the Internal Revenue Service does not have to "honor" the contractual language. Generally speaking the IRS will make a determination based on the entire relationship between the two parties in deciding if the relationship is one of an employer/employee or business/independent contractor.
Nature of relationship issues
The nature of a relationship can also impact how the Internal Revenue Service believes that your work should be classified. Here are some "key" factors in making that determination:
  • Length of time of contract - if you are going to be working over an indefinite period of time with a single business your relationship may be classified as that of an employer/employee.
  • Business importance - if the work that you are doing for a business is critical to the long term standing of that business, you may be considered an employee rather than an independent contractor.
While these are only a couple of the factors that can influence how your relationship is classified, there may be others that will be taken into consideration.

Self protection in all cases

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a different set of rules that apply to independent contractors. For example, companies like H & R Block who hire temporary employees to get them through tax season may no longer consider these people independent contractors. Since these types of laws may exist in other states, it is imperative you verify your own state laws.
Contractor concerns
It is a good idea to have all contracts for independent work reviewed by a tax professional to ensure that you are not being misclassified. If you have been classified as an independent contractor and believe that you should be classified as an employee, you may be able to request a review of your status through the IRS.

How to prepare a 1099 for a contract worker

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires that those who hire freelance contractors are required to report all payments made to contractors on an annual basis. Each contractor's earnings must be reported if they exceed $400. The IRS has made filing simple for those who use electronic filing or they may be filed by mail.
1099 forms are due to the taxpayer (contractor) not later than the first day of February following the tax year ended December 31. They are due to the IRS not later than the last day of February if paper filing and not later than April 12 if electronic filing is used. The IRS uses this information to guarantee that contractors are filing proper earnings on their taxes as well as verifying employment eligibility. 1099 forms are required only for US contractors.

Simple preparation of 1099 forms

Step 1 Payer’s information
The first block to be filled out on a 1099 form is the information about the person (or company) making payments. This includes the name, street address, city, state and zip code. This information goes in the upper left hand block of the 1099 form.
Step 2 IRS form 1099 block 3
For contractor payments, the payee must include the amount paid to the contractor in box number three (Miscellaneous payments). The full amount paid must be put into this box including any deductions that were made.
Step 3 Taxpayer identification numbers
Underneath the payer's box, the payee's taxpayer identification number as well as the recipient's taxpayer identification number must be included.
Step 4 Recipient information
There are separate blocks that must be filled out to complete the recipient's information. The blocks are (a) Name (b) street address (c) city, state, zip code.
Step 5 Withholding information
If any amounts were withheld from payments they should be noted in the appropriate boxes. These include:
  • Box 4 - Federal tax withholding
  • Box 6 - Medical or health care payments
  • Box 16 - State tax withheld (if this box is populated 17 and 18 must be filled out)
Step 6 Mailing copies
Copies must be sent to the recipient as well as to the Internal Revenue Service office.

Friday

Social media: Reasons not to ignore this viable business tool

For small, medium and large sized business ventures, ignoring social media could make them irrelevant. Social networking has changed how people evaluate companies, get their news and communicate not only with friends and family, but also with businesses. Physicians, real estate professionals and service providers in many industries could lose out on business if they fail to have a strong social media presence. Here are some of the reasons why a business should not overlook social media as part of their advertising strategy.

Reach increases exponentially

In July of 2010, Mashable stated that Facebook had more than 500,000 users. While it may be true that not all of these users log in on a daily basis, the potential for missing customers is substantial for a business who does not have a Facebook presence. While many users of Facebook are students communicating with other students, the business community has embraced Facebook as a viable option for reaching customers. In January of 2009, Media Bistro reported more than one half a million retailers were using Facebook. Retailers who are not already competing on Facebook may find that they have missed out on this market.

Reports released by the Edison Research Group indicate that United States users of Twitters grew 1% from 2009 to 2010.  While this may be a modest increase, the actual number of US users stands at 20 million users. Another study by the same company indicated that "...frequent social networkers posting more status updates, they are also more likely to follow brands/companies than the average social media user - which makes identifying and appealing to those with the "social habit" crucial for brands..." making social networking something that most business owners cannot afford to ignore.
Inbound marketing versus outbound marketing

Hubspot reports that more business owners are beginning to feel that inbound marketing efforts are more effective than outbound marketing methods. In many cases, these business owners are actually taking proactive steps to ensure that they are involved in the social media craze that has swept the business world. This is even more prevalent for a small business than a large business.

All encompassing social media strategy

While some may feel that the be all and end all of social media is Facebook and Twitter, it is important to keep in mind that there should be a multi-faceted approach to online marketing. In order to effectively reach an audience on any social site, there must be information worth sharing. In general, this means that companies are going out of their way to provide updated information via blogs and websites. This focus on providing quality content is helping many companies become more relevant in search engine ratings.

In a business climate where having a strong online presence is growing in importance and companies are interested in managing their advertising budgets, ignoring social media could be a death blow. When competition for the consumer dollar is fiercer than ever, those who ignore this viable business tool could find themselves becoming increasingly irrelevant in a global and in local marketplaces.

Image credit: By GoogLiction (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday

How to Twitter for business

Social media marketing is quickly becoming one of the most effective and possibly the easiest methods for sharing a business brand and name with potential customers. Unlike more traditional media, business owners can reach out with simple information about their business and reach a broader market than could be reached via television, radio or newspapers.

In fact, social media such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn can mean that a business can reach world-wide if they feel the need to cast their net that wide. Twitter is perhaps the most active community of other business owners and where many may go searching for information.  While Facebook and LinkedIn both are social media sites, they tend to have a different focus (e.g. Facebook tends to be more social while LinkedIn is good for business to business). This leaves many marketing professionals wondering how to Twitter for business purposes.

Effective use of Twitter for business

The first challenge that business owners and marketing specialists will face is how to communicate a message in only 140 characters. This may not be as difficult as it sounds since links back to a business website may be used.  The message however, must still be clear enough to interest Twitter users to click on the link for additional information.  Catchy tweets may include "special sales", "special offer", "one time offer" or "limited time offer".  However, this alone will not generate interest unless the user knows what the product or service is.  Therefore any one of these with the name of the product may be more effective.

Using hashtags (#)

Twitter hashtags help provide an index that allows users to search for specific keywords.  These keywords should be included in each tweet to allow Twitter users to find a post more easily. For an example, a plumbing company who is tweeting a special offer on bathroom remodeling may use the tweet "special offer on bathroom remodeling at <link included here> #plumbing" to get the attention of other Twitter users. One of the best things about using hashtags effectively is that the search feature will find your tweets when this keyword is searched for, weeks and even months after it is used.

Words of warning

Business owners who are interested in using Twitter for business must make sure that they set up a professional profile. In order to be taken seriously, the Twitter account should include a real name, link to the business website and the company logo or other appropriate image. Those who are using Twitter for business should also use a program that alerts them to direct messages since each one may represent a client or potential client.

Business owners should constantly be on the lookout for potential ways to market their business in new and innovative ways. One of the methods that can be cost effective is Twitter. While there are some pitfalls to using any type of social media (such as spending too much time reviewing messages), those who learn how to Twitter for business may find that their business growth expands with their Twitter network.

Wednesday

Optimize your Twitter content for best results

When using Twitter to maximize page views, it is important that users understand the proper ways to optimize their content. Proper optimization allows content to be found easily by those who are interested in specific content, allows creators of Paper.Li documents to incorporate their work into their daily editions and may help with search engine ranking.

Effective titles

Due to the Twitter limits of 140 characters, titles are crucial to optimization techniques. Titles should contain keywords that are relevant to the content, be well thought out and be interesting enough to encourage users to click through the link. Writing a general article about weight loss can be effective, however writing a title that says “effective weight loss techniques” will more than likely gain more views than an article simply titled “weight loss”.

Proper use of hashtags

Twitter allows users to single out a keyword or keyword phrase and use them as hashtags. These hashtags can provide great results for users who are searching for specific search terms. Using “Effective weight loss techniques” hashtags could include “weight” or “weightloss” which would both be relevant. Hashtags are typically best placed after the link to the article or blog.

Shorten long links

The restrictions that Twitter places on users includes the limitation of 140 characters. This means that by the time a title and long URL is included, the bulk of the characters could be taken up.  Using popular link shortening services like Tiny URL can help reduce the amount of characters that are used.  Character counts of approximately 111 characters are more likely to be retweeted by other users. Limiting the size of the tweet can help provide other users opportunities for retweeting without having to modify the message.

Follow simple rules

There are some simple rules that can help optimize your Twitter content. In addition to shortening links, providing relevant keywords in titles and using hashtags, users should also work on creating lists of people who like specific content. Tweets can then be sent out to a list of users who are already interested in the work they are providing.

Twitter can be a powerful marketing tool for bloggers, website owners, business owners or anyone who depends on revenue share income. However, failure to optimize Twitter content for the best results could end in disappointment. Content should always be of high quality, keywords should be used properly and targeting users with hashtags can provide good results.

Twitter users should also ensure that they are interacting with their audience.  The best optimized content will not gain much attention if the user is simply spamming links that have no value to them. Review titles from time to time, change the URL and keep up with what Twitter users are talking about. All of these things in combination will help users gain popularity and create content that is better optimized for the target audience.

Tuesday

How to measure your social media personality

Prior to the eruption of social media, personalities were measured on messaging systems such as forums and bulletin boards. There were several "personalities" that were noticeable at that time, trolls (those who submitted comments for the sole purpose of stirring up trouble), those who actively participated and "lurkers" (those who watched but did not participate very often). Social media usage has exploded and has spawned a number of tools that help users measure their influence, measure interaction and measure activity level.

Social media has also brought about entirely different breeds of personality based on participation levels of a user and their followers. Measuring social media personality is not an accurate science since each system uses slightly different measurements to determine scores.  Some of the more popular measurements of social media include some of the following.

What is your Klout?

Klout in social media terms is measured in a number of ways, including how you interact with followers and friends. This measurement also takes into consideration how people view the information that you are sharing with them. Your klout "style" is often used to determine your individual social media personality.  Some of the factors that are taken into consideration are how often you send out information, how often that information is shared with others and the number of followers and friends that pay attention to your social media posts.

What is your influence?

Social media influence may also help determine your perceived social media personality. Using Twitter Grader, you can determine how strong your influence is among your social media peers. You may be considered an engaging personality, a fence sitter or you may be considered an activist. How influential you are could have a negative impact or a positive impact on the potential benefits that you receive from social media marketing.

Jeff Cryder of Social Blade says "There are Billions of people who use the Internet every single day. According to Adrian Chan these Billions of people can be categorized into 11 personality types based off of their online social habits. From Lurker to Creator, or Rebel to Harmonizer everyone contributes to the Internet in their own unique way." and lists how these 11 personalities interact on social media sites and what impact they may have on the marketplaces.

Fruitzoom compares social media personality to driving a car and explains a variety of social media personality types that impact how an audience may perceive your interaction on social media sites. Depending on how others perceive your actions, in-action and interactions on social media sites, there may be negative consequences.

Social media marketing is at its heart meant for socializing. While business owners of all sizes may use social media for a customer service tool or for promotion of products and services, perception matters. Similar to developing and maintaining a social media brand, users will have to take steps to develop their social media personality. A well developed and maintained social media personality could make the difference between higher sales and page views and no new traffic.