Friday, February 26, 2010

Eating Right

How well I remember trying to get dinner on the table when my children were young. There was something about 6 p.m. that made it "the witching hour" in our household.

Kids were cranky, I was tired and dad was arriving home from a long day at work, stressed-out and hungry.

If I managed to get something pulled together before we all fell apart, it was a minor miracle. Like Jean Shepherd's* mom from "A Christmas Story," I swear I went years without tasting hot food. And if we all managed to bolt down the calories before someone (possibly me) spilled their milk, threw a tantrum or starting racing around the dining room, it was a good night.

So I really feel for the mom who tried a noble experiment: One month of flash-frozen, takeout dinners versus then one month of "slow food" food.

Her conclusion: If eating real food is to become the goal, everyone needs to share in the task. Working women already do the vast majority of the housework. Making them feel more guilty because they don't also bake bread and make cheese is ridiculous.

Of course, now that my kids are out of the house, I have a lot more time to do things like bake, cook and garden. I've got some broccoli ready to harvest, in fact. Anybody know how to make broccoli soup that doesn't involve cream/milk, so my lactose-intolerant husband can enjoy it too?

(h/t to Paula for the link)

*If you haven't read Shepherd's books, they are fun, light and quintessentially American without being sappy. I'm a big fan.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Good Time to Sell?

If you're thinking about selling your business this year, your timing might be fortuitous.

My Smart Answers column this week talks about the prospects for mergers and acquisitions in 2010.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tax Day

I'm working on my taxes today in advance of meeting my CPA tomorrow and filling out the dreaded FAFSA college financial aid forms this weekend.

As I begin calculating what I owe to keep our country and state running, I'm horrified to learn that Dodgers' owners Frank and Jamie McCourt paid absolutely no taxes (state or federal) on $108 million in income over five years.

In fact, I'm not sure what's worse: Their tax avoidance or the news that they did not separate their business from their personal financial accounts.

Keeping separate books is Entrepreneurship 101. Even tiny, self-employed startups are strongly advised to keep their business accounts separate from their personal accounts.

These people owned The Los Angeles Dodgers, for godssakes!

We'd never know about any of it except for the fact that they are divorcing and a lot of their messy financials are coming out in L.A. Superior Court. The tricks and traps they used to avoid paying their share of taxes are laid out in Michael Hiltzik's column, which I linked above. It's worth reading, just to get an idea of how tax avoidance is possible - and even legal. (Though Massachusetts is auditing their 2006 tax return, apparently neither California nor the IRS is after them.)

What did all that tax-free money buy? Eight houses, country club memberships, flowers from the finest florists, meals in the best restaurants, travel on the Dodgers plane and $386 a month for Jamie's makeup.

Excuse me, I've got to get back to my receipts now. My deductions are clearly not up to par.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Self-Employed Success

Are you self-employed, or hope to be shortly?

If so, you need to read the tips my expert source gives in this week's Smart Answers column.

These are common-sense, practical things you can do to increase your odds of success, but many (if not most) self-employed people probably don't do them. The tax account thing, in particular, is a bummer.

After 20 years as a freelancer, however, I can certainly appreciate these ideas. And when I think about the failed entrepreneurs I know whose homes are now in foreclosure and life savings destroyed, I'm even more enthusiastic.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

They Like Us!

Good news greeted me this morning: The Bloomberg BusinessWeek Small Business Channel (yes, that's what we're calling it these days) has been named a finalist for a Neal Award in the "best website" category. My Smart Answers columns (and formerly my weekly podcast) run twice a week on the site.

What's a Neal? Let's ask American Business Media, which sponsors the awards:

Called “the Pulitzer Prize of the business press,” the Neal Awards are the industry’s most prestigious and sought-after editorial honors. Established in 1955, the Neal Awards recognize and reward editorial excellence in business-to-business publications. They are named after American Business Media's first
managing director, who remained active in promoting the business press throughout his life.


My editors will find out at a NYC luncheon on March 11 if we won. I hope they are working on their acceptance speeches.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

That's Awesome

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have been studying the list of New York Times "most emailed articles" for the past six months.

The surprising result: Science articles did much better than expected; among the top most-popularly-shared items.

What researchers have concluded is that writing that sparks a sense of awe is more likely to be passed along.

Awe-inspiring stories tended to be large in scale and to require the reader to view the world in a new way. Once the reader changes her outlook in response to new information, the researchers theorized, she's more likely to send it to other people to talk about it with them or enlighten them.

I doubt that small business advice regularly inspires awe. But any writer who's looking for a popular response probably would do well to keep the awe-effect in mind.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Business Inside

Looking for the business section in today's Los Angeles Times?

It has been moved inside the A section and appears on page A14 and A15. My In Box advice column survives - yes! - on page A14. Today's column discusses women-owned businesses, establishing credit and cutting overhead.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Foraging

This weekend I took three bags of Meyer lemons to the Produce Exchange in Monrovia.

After getting up early Saturday and picking said lemons in the rain (waterproof poncho and rubber galoshes do come in handy, even in SoCal!), I was glad to take home a bag of tangerines, tangelos, oranges and sage. A local coffee shop contributed grounds for compost, so I took a bag of those also.

I'm sure the bounty will expand beyond citrus this spring and summer, so I look forward to sharing the fruits and veggies of my garden with this group again in March. They meet on the first Saturday of the month, in the basement of the Monrovia United Methodist church.

Heather, the woman who organized this group, told me about Meyer lemon shaker pie so I'm trying out the recipe right now. Not sure how it will taste, but it smells heavenly in the oven.

Speaking of using your garden bounty in the kitchen, check out Forage, a new restaurant in Silver Lake.

Home gardeners bring in their produce and the chefs design a dish around it! You even get a shout-out if they use your foodstuffs on their ever-changing menu. Wow. Talk about the ultimate fun for a proud home-tiller!

I would love to try it sometime, maybe when my summer gardens starts to churn out goodies.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Estate Tax Woes

Today's Smart Answers column discusses a problem most of us will never have: The estate tax.

Turns out that a distracted and ineffectual Congress last year failed to pass a "fix" to a quirky, one-year suspension of the estate tax in 2010. Neither side wants to be the one to bring back the "death tax."

Big surprise, right?

The result of this neglect is a pretty outrageous inequality. If your rich uncle died on Dec. 31, 2009, any money he left in his estate over $3.5 million would have been taxed. The highest rate is 45%.

If, however, Uncle Moneybags hung on until Jan. 1, 2010, you and his other heirs get all that money - sans imposition of an estate tax.

To take the outrage even farther, if dear uncle languishes all this year and finally departs on Jan. 1, 2011, any money he leaves you over $1 million will again be taxed.

This crazy situation has spawned dozens of macabre "don't pull the plug on granny" and "watch your back this December" jokes, according to the financial planner I interviewed for the column. His withering criticism of Congress was unusual, but I think the gridlock frustration has frayed the last nerve of even the most magnanimous professionals.

For an interesting way to alleviate gridlock, check out Question Time, a movement to encourage regular give-and-take sessions between Congress and the White House.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ethical Innovation

I mentioned here the ground-breaking Innovation and Humanity summit that I attended last month in Orange County.

Today's Smart Answers column is an outgrowth of that summit.

I interview Glenn Llopis, the entrepreneur who founded the Center for Innovation & Humanity less than a year ago. He's pushing a paradigm shift for business leaders, in which contributing to social good becomes as important as making piles of money. It might even become more important.

There is a real cut-throat attitude that pervades the American business model. Incorporating humanistic goals into business definitely goes counter to that sentiment.

I'll be watching closely to see whether it catches on.