Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy New Year

I give some hiring tips (hiring - remember that activity!?) from a couple of labor and employment attorneys in this week's Smart Answers.

This week and next are short work weeks, with just one column each. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday!

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Woman in Boxer Shorts?

It's hard to believe this kind of thing still happens.

Without anything more than his/her word to go on, we don't really know if it happened or not. But this blogger claims to have finally succeeded as a writer only after she took on a male byline and a persona as a guy.

Salon takes a look at the larger issues, including the cautionary tales of women who published/posted under their own names and got viciously attacked - worse, they say, than their male counterparts.

Have we really come so far only to be falling so short?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Medicare For All

I am not an expert, but I have tried to follow the ongoing health care debate through all its twists and turns this year. Reform is crucial for small business owners, who consistently say that providing health care benefits for their employees is the most costly problem they face.

So while I'm not sure exactly what's in this newest Senate compromise plan (no one is sure because the details haven't been released, pending a cost analysis), I am intrigued by the idea of extending Medicare coverage to individuals 55 and older.

For years, as a retirement columnist, I wrote about efforts aimed at keeping middle-aged and older people in the job market. They could semi-retire and continue on a part-time basis at their jobs. Or they could retire outright but work as consultants, perhaps training employees for their previous employers. Many were encouraged to freelance a few days or weeks a month as a way to supplement their income and retain their expertise.

Why the focus on stopping or slowing retirement? Believe it or not, just a few years ago the worry was about too many seasoned employees leaving the workforce early. It's hard to believe in our current jobs crisis, but back then (early to mid-2000s) the experts were panicked about a potential lack of U.S. workers.

Baby boomers, the first of whom are now in their early 60s, are such a huge demographic that economists worried when they retired there would not be enough younger workers to replace them. And the numbers bear that fear out - Gen. X and Y'ers can never match the 78 million Boomers for sheer size and clout.

Of course, life is strange and now we have the exact opposite problem. Boomers who saw their retirement funds evaporate last year have stayed on at their jobs longer than anticipated and canceled plans for early retirement. In fact, while we have record youth unemployment, Boomers are the only demographic actually seeing job growth in this recession.

So where, you ask, does expanding Medicare come into this equation? I think that Boomers may revisit their ideas about retirement over the next couple of years as they see the economy begin to right itself. Already, stock portfolios are recouping losses. If reasonable medical coverage were available through buying into Medicare before 62 or 65, some of those Boomers might feel comfortable at least exchanging full-time jobs for part-time, or consulting.

And as the behemoth generation begins to back away from the workforce, that will open up slots for the younger employees who right now are in holding patterns, either in grad school or living in mom and dad's basement.

A perfect solution? Probably not, because they simply don't exist. But it's an idea that may have found its time.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Driving Your Business

One of the most common questions I get from readers is about company cars. To lease or buy? How do I take a tax deduction for my company car? What about insurance?

I answer one of these kinds of questions in this week's Smart Answers column.

Last week, I did some in-depth research to find stats on startups. They're often requested, but not easy to find without some digging. This time, I picked up the shovel so you didn't have to!

Let's not forget the podcast, which features an interview with a government contracting expert. Inside info: We actually did this interview twice, after a glitch in the first taping. Turned out that the second time around returned a much better result, so it wasn't all bad.

Next week the final podcast of 2009 will be posted. Remember to let me know, or comment on iTunes, if you hope the podcast returns next year.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Future Thoughts

The BusinessWeek to Bloomberg transition is underway. Unfortunately, more than 100 editorial staffers were downsized last month as part of the integration of the two companies. I was very distressed to hear that many of my colleagues were laid off.

The good news is that my editor and the staff of the SmallBiz website, where Smart Answers appears, have been spared. Its counterpart, the SmallBiz magazine, does not look so fortunate. The new BusinessWeek editor-in-chief is likely to make content decisions over the next several months.

One immediate repercussion for me is that the award-winning Smart Answers podcast will go on hiatus after the middle of this month.

I've enjoyed doing the weekly podcast for the past several years and I hope it has been useful for my listeners. If you're one of those listeners and you want to see the podcast return, don't hesitate to let me know or leave a comment on the podcast at iTunes. Search "BusinessWeek Smart Answers" podcast; there's a space for listener comments near the bottom of the page.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Shopping At Work

Are you doing some of your holiday shopping from work this year? If so, you're certainly not alone.

Studies show that online shopping will run rampant this season, costing employers in lost productivity and exposing office computer networks to nasty viruses and malware. (My husband inadvertently downloaded a particularly virulent one last weekend while shopping for me, in fact, and his computer has been in the shop all week.)

My Smart Answers column this week discusses what small business owners can do to set a reasonable Internet use policy.

On the podcast, I talk to Rachel Kruse, founder of an organic foods company called Organicville. Starting a food company is high on the list of entrepreneurial pursuits and yet it is far more difficult and costly than most people imagine. Rachel really did it right and she offers some great tips.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Give It Away

Great story from a fiction writer about how he used Web 2.0 tools to get his book published*.

Where there's a will ... right!?

*Hat tip to the IWOSC newsletter, which reprinted the article from earlier this year.