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There’s an App for That!

June 22nd, 2017

A special thank you to guest blogger Ellen Marvin, Director of Core Services at Sobel & Co. for this important information:

Everyone knows that no matter what task comes to mind … there’s an app for that. With the proliferation of app technology it can be overwhelming for a business owner to identify the best of class in any given category. That being said, there are some apps that have proven themselves over time in critical categories. This article looks at some of the best expense reporting apps currently available

Expensify is the AICPA recommended solution for electronically tracking expenses and, it has a great tagline: Expense reports that don’t suck! It integrates receipt, mileage tracking, expense reporting and company credit card reconciliation with many small business accounting programs such as QuickBooks® , Intacct® and NetSuite®.  Pricing ranges between $5 – $9 a month depending on the level of approval process and expense classifications needed.

Receipt Bank eliminates the need for data entry by extracting pertinent information from your receipts which can be submitted via the mobile app (take a picture and send!), Dropbox, email, and other options. Receipt Bank has one of the best OCR technologies available, but it does not have a mileage tracking option. However, this can be done via integrated apps or other entry methods and the ability to auto-publish information to accounting programs such as QuickBooks Online® (QBO), Bill.com™, Xero ™, FreshBooks and Sage® One, as well as some others, make this app a top choice. Plans start at $15.00 – $25.00 for single/multi user plans.

Big businesses have used Concur® for years to help manage travel and expense reports and credit card charges. This app also syncs with many of the aforementioned accounting systems. What is nice about Concur is that each user receives a free TripIt® Pro account, thus making Concur a complete travel and expense management solution. Forward travel confirmation emails to your tripit.com address and TripIt® compiles all the details. Once the trip is finished, the user simply clicks to create an expense report from that trip plan. With electronic receipt capture and credit card integrations, this app is a powerful tool for any size business with a lot of travel expenses. Pricing is about $8/user per month.

Some worthy mentions also go to:

MileIQ® – Tracks business and personal mileage via GPS technology while you drive and provides IRS compliant reporting

QBO® Self Employed – Tracks business and personal expenses, has automatic mileage tracking, and can be used in conjunction with full QBO Accounting product.

Tallie – Incredibly strong QuickBooks®(both desktop and online) and Bill.com ™ integration allows for speed and accuracy in expense reporting.

Headlines Depict Drastic Job Loss for Retailers – John Mellage, CPA and Chris Martin, CPA

June 19th, 2017

A John Mellage and Chris Martin at Sobel & CO. note in this blog, the drastic drop off of available jobs in the retail sector is not late breaking news.

Yet, as the trend continues to grow unabated, supported by statistics that increasingly point to the challenges facing the retail industry, we cannot ignore the implications for retailer owners as well as their vendors, customers and the national economic landscape.  Although there is nothing ‘cutting edge’ about this discussion, retailers and their professional advisors like John and Chris at Sobel & Co. must face the challenges.  Similarly, significant changes have rocked manufacturing, publishing, mining and more over the decades and now it is the retailers who will be looking for new strategies and innovative business models. But quoting statistics that sound the alarm bells is probably not an adequate solution to such a complicated concern.

The background

Since 2007, the private sector added 2.4 million new jobs while at the same time retail lost 60,000 jobs, according to an article, “the Silent Crisis of Retail Employment” (authored by Derek Thompson and published two years ago in The Atlantic). Given the astounding impact of the retail world on the US economy over the years, it’s hard to imagine that this is even possible. In fact, the retail industry as a whole has the distinction of being the most important contributor to the economic landscape throughout the second half of the 20th century.  People love to buy ‘stuff’ and retailers have always been delighted to fuel that appetite, offering more and more items on overflowing shelves. But times are changing a bit.

What is driving the latest drop in retail employment?

Based on hundreds of articles written that address this complicated issue, it seems as if there are three main challenges that currently impact shoppers’ buying habits, which in turn, is impacting the curtailing of retail jobs.

The first is need. As we move from a consumer society that has always focused almost solely on the desire for tangible items to one that is trying to manage the costs of the intangible (college tuition, healthcare or insurance, for example!), spending patterns are slowly changing.  Even recognizing this new focus, people still need real “stuff.” But how, when and where are they shopping?

Purchasing patterns are evolving based on the skyrocketing impact of technology. Today’s consumers can shop from anywhere – as long as they have a ‘device’ and an internet connection.  While many people continue to enjoy the shopping experience, there is every expectation that these numbers will diminish going forward. And technology is not only influencing online versus in-store shopping. Technology is also affecting the in-store experience with the introduction of self-service kiosks, iPads and other automated efficiencies that make it difficult to justify having so many customer service employees.

And lastly, there is the issue of cost coupled with convenience to deal with. So while many retailers – large and small – are struggling to hold onto their brick and mortar audience, super retailers are slower to feel the squeeze.  This is the third component that supports the downward spiral of retail job losses.  Those consumers who value convenience and cost can purchase quite literally almost any item they need, from AAA batteries to pet food to toilet paper to shoes and apparel, from super online retailers like Amazon and other internet sellers.

Is there any good news?

Just one month ago, Fox Business featured an article by Anne D’Innocenzio entitled “Retail Store Job Cuts Deepen as More Buyers Migrate Online.”  And although the lead paragraph cites that retail stores are eliminating jobs at the sharpest pace in more than seven years, there remains a silver lining that should be considered.

Retail shopping is not ending as a way of life. It is, however, being conducted according to a new business model.

One change predicted is that some retail stores (especially grocery chains) may shrink as more staples are purchased on line. This shift will require knowledgeable employees who can add value in a boutique environment where shoppers are looking for limited, specialty items. They will be more demanding but may require fewer sales staff to address their needs.

As the retail world continues to evolve into an online platform, some economists suggest that e-commerce is fueling new opportunities just as older, in-store jobs are disappearing.  Michael Mandel, who has earned a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University and served as the  chief economist at BusinessWeek in 2004, estimates that the e-commerce sector has been responsible for 355,000 new jobs, as compared to the 50,000 in-store jobs that have been lost.  So the anticipation is that the jobs and the quality and depth of product knowledge may be altered, but the retail jobs will remain.

The impact of a digital, technology-based world cannot be overlooked. In fact, this computerized environment may present new alternatives – as long as we are able to adapt, be creative and innovative, and embrace change rather than fight it.  Those business leaders with a strategic vision for the future will likely be more successful that those who do not understand that you cannot stop progress.   In his famous white paper entitled, “Marketing Myopia”, Theodore Levitt addressed this very issue decades ago in 1960 in Harvard Business Review, admonishing those who refused to see change coming and who steadfastly held onto the world they were comfortable in. Like those buggy whip manufacturers who were blindsided by the popularity of the automobile, retailers need to do their best to be well positioned for whatever is around the corner!



Special thank you to some websites referred to in this article by John and Chris include:

  • Grocery Stores: The Best of America and the Worst of America by Laurel Dalrymple. May 15, 2017
  • Where Did All the Retail Jobs Go? By Derek Thompson. February 6, 2015
  • The Silent Crisis of Retail Employment. The Atlantic. Derek Thompson. April 18, 2017
  • Retail Store Job Cuts Deepen as More Buyers Migrate Online. By Anne D’Innocenzio. April 8, 2017
  • Bloomberg. The April Jobs Report. Patrick T. Fallon. May 3, 20

What My Dad Taught Me About Sales and Life – by guest blogger Caryn Kopp

June 16th, 2017

When Caryn sent me her latest blog, she began by quoting her father.  Since I had the privilege of working with my own dad for more than two decades, her blog resonated with me, as I too, learned so much from that experience.  Here is what Caryn’s father taught her:

“April marks the one year anniversary of my dad’s passing. I keep thinking about the ways he influenced me over the years. He owned his own business and was in sales for most of his entire career.

One of my favorite stories about him takes place early in his career when he was interviewing for an assistant buyer position at Macy’s—a highly coveted role. Other candidates were being interviewed as well. When he called the decision maker to check in, he was told it could be a few weeks before he heard back.

Instead of saying, “OK, I’ll check back,” or “OK, I’ll wait to hear from you,” he said, “How about if I start Monday at 9 a.m.?” After a short pause, the decision maker said, “OK. See you on Monday.” My Dad started his job at Macy’s the following week.

I’ve used that technique twice in my career when applying for jobs and it worked both times. I’ve used that technique to close sales in my business too.

I told this story at his memorial service a year ago because it characterizes so well the person he was and the influence he had on me. He was a creative problem solver who wasn’t afraid to put it out there and take a chance in the moment.

Lessons I learned from this story:

  1. Don’t give up. There is usually a way through—it just may require a little more creativity to find the answer which works. Too often people give up too soon, sometimes just before the finish line. This paves the way for the competition to come in and close deals.
  2. Assume Close. Using the “assume close” strategy can sometimes catch prospects off guard and yield the results you want. By assuming the next step is inevitable, it just may be inevitable. One well-chosen sentence is sometimes all it takes.
  3. Content + Delivery = Outcome. How a message is delivered—the tonality and the timing—is as important as the content. It’s what you say and how you say it that determines the result.

I encourage you to do something more with this article than simply read it and think fondly of my father. Use the technique for yourself or pass the article to someone you know who would benefit from reading it — job seekers, salespeople, business owners, sales leaders, etc. — so that my Dad’s influence can help others as well.”

I hope you enjoyed Caryn’s insights as much as I did-


Still Waiting for That Introduction?

June 5th, 2017

Caryn Kopp, Chief Door Opener has offered these critical insights:

One of the limitations of LinkedIn introductions is that you are at the mercy of the person doing the introducing. You have no control over how quickly your contact introduces you and you have no control over when you receive a response.

To avoid what can feel like endless waiting you may need to approach the situation differently. Here are a few tips you can use when asking for introductions to prevent the “stall” from happening.

  • Just because your contact is connected to the prospect you want to meet doesn’t mean that your contact knows this person well enough to introduce you effectively. Ask your contact how well he knows the prospect and how comfortable he would feel making the introduction.
  • When asking for an introduction, explain to your mutual contact why connecting will benefit the person you seek to reach. Provide language your contact can easily pass along so that the prospect will look forward to connecting with you.
  • Follow up with your contact if you don’t hear back in a few weeks. You can say, “Knowing how busy you are I thought I’d reach out to see if you have heard back from Bill as to whether direct contact would be OK with him.” This may prompt your contact to make the connection if he or she has not already done so. Remember, people are busy. Just because this is high on your priority list doesn’t mean it is high on your contact’s priority list.

If you’ve followed these tips and still haven’t been able to connect with your prospect, here are some steps you can take to regain control over the situation and meet this person anyway.

  • Make sure the prospect is exactly the right person, and the introduction will truly benefit him or her.
  • Use a LinkedIn InMail to reach the prospect and clearly explain why being connected with you will benefit him or her.
  • If the prospect doesn’t respond to your InMail, you can reach out directly. Research to find the person’s work phone number (you can often find free research tools at many public libraries). You will also need an email address as reaching out by phone and email in combination is very effective. If you can’t find your contact’s email address, find out the email address format for the company (a PR contact email is usually listed on the Press Release section of the prospect company’s website). From there you can guess at your contact’s email address. Confirm the email address by calling the business and asking them to verify that the email address you “have” is correct. Helpful assistants will often correct you if you are just one or two letters off. But, if you ask for the entire email address without saying you have one, they rarely give it to you.
  • Be ready to explain why being connected will benefit the prospect. Be clear on what you are asking him or her to do. If you want a meeting, ask for one.

While stalled introductions can be frustrating you have options to keep the process moving. And remember, when someone asks YOU for an introduction, treat the request with the same level of priority you want someone to treat yours.

Happy Hunting!

Reach Caryn Kopp, Chief Door Opener® at www.koppconsultingusa.com

How Do You Recognize Great Service?

June 2nd, 2017

I want to share an unusual experience I had today at lunch. I met a friend at the Grain House in Bernardsville, and since the weather was so lovely, we requested outside seating.  There were many inside seats as you might imagine, but the patio area was filled. It was right in the middle of the lunch hour and the staff could’ve seated us indoors or offered for us to wait until a table became available outdoors.

Instead, they decided to open up a side patio that they use later in the summer – just for us.  We were, literally,the only ones on the patio throughout that entire  hour!

As you can imagine, we were delighted to have a “private” lunch on a beautiful day, when we could so easily have ended up in the main dining room.  When the hostess seated us, she alerted the server, saying, “I am seating them on the side patio – because they want to be outside – and because we want them to be happy. I am putting them there because I can.”

It was a remarkable experience and one that stands out in an environment when all too often, the “service” part of customer service does not really exist.

And what’s the lesson for you? Ask yourself how you deliverable memorable experiences.

Leadership is the Secret Sauce to Success

May 31st, 2017

I have been contemplating the remarks made by Ashley Stewart  CEO James Rhee at a recent meeting for Association for Corporate Growth NJ.  I have commented on his unique leadership commitment, but it is really the company culture that is so extraordinary.  Social impact is a quickly growing trend that is gaining traction in every industry. Over the weekend I saw a sign for a local  realtor that said, “Do business with someone who gives back.”  Of course I applaud any form of philanthropy and community involvement, but it is one thing to make donations – of time or money – and quite another concept to change the corporate environment to build it around your customer.

Transparency and kindness are often the twin pillars of  leading organizations – and their presence makes all the difference in the world. Instead of doing what is best for you, most convenient for your company, easiest for you to implement – how about turning the tables and genuinely being interested in what the customer/client prefers?  As leaders, do you ask yourself and your  staff if your customers are really engaged with your company? If you are not sure the answer is YES, maybe its time to consider how to change that!

Be sure to read “How I Brought Ashley Stewart Back from Bankruptcy” by James Rhee, published by Harvard Business Review. It is brief and to the point – and worth the investment of your time.

The Importance of Contributing Early to Your Retirement Plan – Joe Zapf, CPA

May 25th, 2017

The Sobel & Co. Business Blog is proud to feature solutions, perspectives and ideas from across a wide variety of services and industries.  This blog, contributed by Sobel & Co. Employee Benefit Plan audit practice team member Joe Zapf, provides some stunning insights into the importance of the employee’s role in growing their retirement plan!

It is amazing to note when auditing retirement plans how frequently we see that many employees either do not contribute to their plans or contribute less than $50 dollars per month.

One of the most important things participants can do is contribute to their plans early! If you wonder why this is true, here is an example for you:

A contribution of $100 per month for any 40 year period will turn into more than $700,000 (at 11% average).  However, if the employee waits 10 years to start contributing, this amount would only be $265,000 – less than half of what could’ve been earned over a 40 year time frame!  Further – if the employee turns that same contribution over forty years into $500 instead of $100 each month, the account balance grows to over $3.5 million! These numbers can be staggering when you think about what you are leaving on the table by not participating in your own retirement plan.    Many employees are not aware of how crucial contributing early is to their plans or how much of a difference a 10 year start can make in their retirement future. 

If companies simply educated their employees on how important it is to begin contributing early, it could make a huge difference 30 or 40 years down the road.  In addition, once time is lost, it can never be completely recovered.  Even excess contributions in the future will not make up for years of lost interest on a participant’s account balance.

Companies that truly care about their employees want them to have a successful retirement. That means they should offer educational tools to the staff throughout the year as well as offering incentives to get them to enroll in the plan early and contribute as much as possible!

Special thank you to Joe Zapf, author of this blog!

Serving on a Board

May 23rd, 2017

At a recent round table hosted by Sobel & Co. specifically for NJ’s nonprofit board chairs, the attendees focused the discussion on how to attract and retain volunteers from the  X and Y generations.  All too many boards still lack generational diversity and, as a result, are not positioned for successfully engaging young supporters.  As baby boomers prepare to retire, many nonprofits are finding themselves without a strategic succession plan and with no clear road map for sustaining the organization through a generational transition. But the good news is that there are many valuable ideas for nonprofit leaders to consider as they go about developing a plan to attract the next generation. Here are some that came up at the round table:

  • Recruit volunteers from your local high school and colleges to get them interested in accomplishing your mission
  • Provide interesting and meaningful tasks for these younger volunteers so that they become aware of the impact they can have on the community you serve
  • Consider creating a ‘junior board’ to encourage the successor generation to develop the skills necessary to evolve into future leaders, giving them ownership of projects and processes, and training them to be your board members of tomorrow
  • Develop a mentoring program for young volunteers, matching them up with your organization’s board members, committee chairs and other volunteers for help
  •  Ask for their ideas, feedback and suggestions on every aspect of the organization – don’t just count on them for Facebook or Twitter advice!
  • Encourage your young volunteers and board members to meet and mingle with other young professionals across a range of industries; show them how to be the advocate and champion for the organization within their peer communities
  • Introduce them to Amanda Blount and her organization – Young Nonprofit Professionals of New Jersey

Let us know what you do to nurture and cultivate younger volunteers and members!

Are You Ready for the Future?

May 20th, 2017

At this year’s Association for Corporate Growth Conference and Awards program,  four CEOs were recognized for their success as innovative business leaders. What distinguished them and the ACG’s Corporate Lifetime Achievement Award winning company, ADP, was the fact that they did not turn to an innovative process to solve a problem or look for a new alternative to assist with a specifically challenging situation.

What these savvy business owners had in common was a consistent approach to innovation as a part of their daily routine. It became clear while listening to them that leading change is an integral part of their DNA.  In fact, as they shared their success stories, it was obvious that they are always ready – not to adjust or respond to new trends and changes – but instead to drive the changes in their industries. These CEOs represent the the kinds of people who are shaping the future across all sectors.

But they are not the only ones who  need to adopt  a visionary philosophy. Each of us needs to understand the critical role  that innovation plays in every industry. When the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) issued their most recent CPA Vision Project, one of the key conclusions was that “CPAs must rapidly develop new skills, gain new knowledge, and develop new competencies in broader areas of business practice so they are able to jump the experience curve.”   Like our own clients, CPAs and other advisors need to be ready to take a lead role in a constantly changing business environment.

It is not an easy assignment.  It is difficult, if not almost impossible, to see into the future, to determine what’s coming next, to stop doing what is familiar while instead attempting to imagine the next technological breakthrough – all while adjusting to ideas that are different, concepts that may not be familiar and strategies that force us beyond the boundaries of our comfort level.

No matter what your industry, whether you are a manufacturer, retailer, professional service provider or a nonprofit.  you are going to be expected to be a visionary, a leader who can navigate the unknown, and an inspiration to your employees, colleagues and clients who encourages risk taking and rewards creativity if you are going to maintain a competitive edge and remain as a leading company in the community.

How to Build a Terrific Company

May 17th, 2017

At the Association for Corporate Growth NJ (ACG NJ) CEO Forum on May 16th, Diversant’s CEO Gene Waddy shared his personal story along with the ‘secrets’ of his success with the CEOs in attendance.

For Gene, success (by his definition) begins with a powerful work ethic. In his case this was instilled by parents who were committed to providing a good life for their children.  Gene’s father worked at 3M  for over 35 years, saving for his children’s college tuition, so that he and his siblings were able to benefit from his dedication to their future.  After graduating from FDU, Gene tried out a few different ideas but quickly landed in the IT staffing space. Today this entrepreneur and visionary owns Diversant LLC, the nation’s largest African-American IT staffing and solutions firm.

While his parents provided solid role models, Gene brought his own common sense, compassion, and sensitivity to his leadership position. His “MBA” came through on-the-job experiences and a willingness to learn from every situation. His words of wisdom included these key points that you may want to focus on at your own organization:

-Culture is intentional.  Developing a powerful and nurturing culture is never an accident; you have to work at it.

-Those companies that can boast of really understanding their clients have an edge; customer intimacy sets them apart.

-Great people make great companies; always seek the most talented and committed employees you can find and provide a culture where they can thrive.

-Know the competitive landscape – recognize your competitors’ strengths; find a way to adapt the best of the best to your own company.

Gene’s last comment was a reminder to “be humble; ask for help.” He is not only an honest leader with a sincere and genuine approach to clients, colleagues and employees   – he is honest with himself.

What a terrific discussion we had thanks to Gene’s insights and willingness to share them!