Saturday, November 8, 2008

How Entrepreneurs Can Profit with Obama

Regardless of your feelings about Obama—and I say this as a right-leaning small business owner—it's time to take notice of our smart counterparts out there who know his Presidency can translate into lots of profits. Remember, these savvy entrepreneurs know all about surviving and profiting from one political wind to the other. While the rest are watching football or Family Guy this Sunday, you can bet these folks will be plotting their strategy for later in 2009 when the Administration changes and the new Congress takes over. Here are a few shrewd moves and predictions we should all consider.

Think energy.

Sure, gas prices have dropped recently. But we're legitimately spooked. Spooked enough to motivate the next President to commit to doing something about our reliance on foreign oil. Obama plans to invest $150 billion in clean energy technology over the next 10 years. He also plans to create a federal Renewable Portfolio Standard that will require 25% of American electricity be derived from renewable sources by 2025.

Smart business owners will be following this money trail. And they won't even need to be in the energy sector to benefit. They'll just need to be selling and servicing those companies that are in the sector. They'll be changing their marketing, buying new lists, advertising in new places, and attending different conferences than before.

Don't forget about other markets.

It's not just the energy-related industries that will benefit from the next Administration. Obama plans to invest in child care by doubling support for after-school programs and expanding the Child & Dependent Care Tax Credit. He plans to invest $10 billion a year over the next five years to upgrade information technology systems used in the health-care industry. He plans to invest a bunch more money in improving the information and communications technology used to support public safety systems. He will be supporting investments in biomedical research, medical education, and training in health-related fields. He will be a proponent of stem-cell research and will allow more government funding in this area.

Smart business owners will be fathering more children from test tubes and getting them Microsoft (MSFT)-certified while they're still in diapers. Just kidding. Actually, they'll be asking themselves why they're wasting time selling into struggling industries when the next President is saying: Where the money's going to flow.

Let's play some games with our income.

I know that my taxes are going to go up next year. I've seen Obama's proposals. And the strong Democratic majority in Congress. People making more than $250,000 per year will face higher rates. Capital gains rates will go up, too. So will Social Security taxes. And business tax rates.
Smart business owners will recognize as much income as possible this year before potential new tax laws take effect. That means, depending whether you're on cash or accrual basis, getting as many invoices legally out the door and/or as much cash in the door as you can. These savvy business owners will also be finding ways to distribute income over the next few years. Think paying family members at lower rates, bartering, deferring income, and shifting profits overseas. Smart business owners will be lined up outside their accountant's door already, planning these strategies for 2009 and beyond.

Drive up expenses while investing for the future.

Our President-elect has already stated the need for investment in technologies. He's probably going to continue to support the IRS Section 179 Rule which allows qualifying small businesses to deduct certain equipment purchases. He also plans to eliminate all capital gains taxes on startup and small businesses to encourage innovation and job creation. And he plans to make the research and development tax credit permanent.

Smart business owners know that taxes will come down one day. But in the meantime, at least in the next few years, we know it's time to spend to invest, keep taxes low, and prepare our businesses for the next decade. I think we've all learned that investing in the stock market isn't the greatest idea any more. Maybe the guy's right, and we should plow our money back into something we can control.

Take a careful look at employees.

Obama's a big supporter of unions and a worker's freedom to unionize. He's going to change some of Bush's classification rules which will enable more people, formerly classified as supervisors, to become protected by federal labor laws. He's going to be on the side of striking workers. He's going to step up protection of employees who faceworkplace discrimination and encourage flexible work schedules. He's going to raise the minimum wage. And the Family & Medical Leave Act? He's going to expand that, too, to effect businesses from those now employ 50 or more to those that employ 25 or more. Oh…and something's going to happen with health care. I don't know what. But guess who's going to wind up paying? It's going to be good times for workers. Not such great times for employers.

Smart business owners will always need good people. Valuable, hard-working employees working at good small businesses will have job security. But if the costs of employment are going to increase, then we're going to do everything we can to minimize the number of people we employ. Look for a big push for outsourcing. Look for a new rise in subcontractors. Watch us use the remote technology available today and hire people around the country to do those tasks that we formerly had employees do. Watch us be very, very careful about hiring people over the next few years. The incentives for employing people have shrunk. Our motivation to find ways around these rules will be strong.

Have a few drinks with our estate attorney.

Estate taxes will be higher than ever. Where there was once a hope of lowering, or even eliminating estate taxes, an Obama Presidency means death for that idea (sorry, couldn't resist). Obama's estate tax will be 45% of assets over $3.5 million.

Smart business owners will immediately be seeking out their attorneys and learning the nuances of estate and trust laws. Christmas will start early. Gifts will need to be made, and fast. The transfer of assets to children, grandchildren, and significant others is going to be accelerated. The rest of us will just make sure not to die in the next few years.

So, let's face reality. Smart business owners, with a little forward thinking, will prosper during the Obama )residency. So bring it, baby…bring on the change!

Gene Marks, CPA, is the owner of the Marks Group, which sells customer relationship, service, and financial management tools to small and midsize businesses. Marks is the author of four best-selling small business books and writes the popular "Penny Pincher's Almanac" syndicated column. He frequently speaks to business groups on penny-pinching topics. More penny-pinching advice from Marks can be found at
Gene Marks

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