Sunday, March 13, 2016

We have a new home!

This is another step in my process of becoming a freelance writer - my own domain name. 

These last few weeks have been hard - especially for a non-technical kind of person like me! Setting up the domain was easy enough. Trying to get a blog up and working just the way I wanted it to was much harder. 

It is now done! The next few weeks may come with a few more tweeks, but for the most part it meets my approval. 

The name is the same - Brave Change Today - the address is different

Make sure you come on over and help me celebrate my brave step to success!

Hope to see you there!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Lompoc, CA - a quiet town in the Santa Ynez Mountains

Each Friday my posts have been taking you on our adventure across the country from Wisconsin to California. If you have missed the last couple of weeks, you can find the start of our journey here and last weeks post telling the story of landing in sunny CA.

After spending a few weeks in Oxnard, CA. We decided to go north. With no employment prospects in the picture, we knew that it would be more affordable in smaller cities located inland and off the coast a bit. We set our sites on Lompoc, CA.

Field of flowers, Lompoc, CA
Lompoc was much more my style. With just over 42,000 people, Lompoc is quiet; almost reminding me of home. It is best known for being the seed and flower capital of the world. Because of its cool Mediterranean type climate, Lompoc was the perfect place to grow flowers and extract their seeds. Almost any type of exotic flower could be grown in its hilly countryside. Pictures of that time show a very beautiful city nestled into the valley between the surrounding mountains. Today, with the drought that started about four years ago, flower fields have been replaced by crops of cabbage, strawberries, broccoli, and other vegetables.

Vandenberg Air Force Base
In addition to the flowers, Lompoc also sits on the outskirts of Vandenburg Air Force Base. The base has a large space launch complex and is the main site of rocket launches for satellites on the California coast.

White Oaks Inn, Lompoc, CA
We found ourselves at an extended stay hotel in Vandenburg Village, a part of Lompoc named for its proximity to the base. When I say that this hotel was affordable, that is exactly what I mean. In its heyday, it may have been a beautiful location. Today, it leaves a bit to be desired. It was clean, so that's all that really matters, right?

Ocean mist coming into Lompoc
The first thing we noticed about the hotel is that there is no air conditioning. In fact, that could be said of almost any hotel in Lompoc and most of the houses. Having the evening mist come up over the mountains and settle on the Lompoc Valley cooled off the temperatures enough that just a fan was needed. At first I had my doubts, but after a short time I grew accustomed to opening the doors at night to bring in the cool air and then closing the curtains early afternoon so the hot air stayed outside.

Looking down over Lompoc Valley
Hiking in the Lompoc Valley was beautiful! La Purisma State Park has some awesome trails. Many of them go up into the hillside so that one can see the Lompoc Valley below. Hiking became a great stress reliever which I definitely needed mainly because I still didn't have a job.

Bridge on the San Marcos Pass
It was at this hotel that I finally got my first job - working for a temporary placement agency at a realty office in Santa Barbara. The pay was less than desired and it included an hour commute, but it would at least bring in some money. I learned very quickly, commutes on California's Central Coast can add up quickly! There is usually no road that goes straight from point A to point B; rather, the road goes up into the Santa Ynez mountain ranges and through the San Marcos Pass. Trips that should only take 30-40 minutes end up taking 65. But, again, I was blessed with a job after eight weeks of praying, worrying, and wondering if we had made the right decision about coming to California. Don't get me wrong, the drive was beautiful. It was also very time consuming and not a road I wanted to drive on when tired.
Tunnel on San Marcos Pass Road
 We had a roof over our heads, we had food, I now had a job, and things started to feel a little less strained. We both knew that in order to actually rent a house, I would need a permanent job; one with a temporary placement agency would not work. We had resigned ourselves to be living in the hotel for at least six months or until the company I was working for would hire me on permanently. All the while continuing to pray that a permanent position would come along.

Thankfully, God showed that blessings happen in his own timing. While out hiking, I received a phone call from another temporary agency.  They had a position in my field and the company wanted to interview me. Although this position paid more, it was still as a contract only position. I agreed to the terms. Then at the very last moment, the agency called  back and said the company had changed their mind -- they wanted to hire me directly! This was the opportunity we needed!

Within a week, I was working for my present employer and we were looking for a house to rent in Santa Maria, CA - 10 minutes from my new place of employment.

It had been a very frustrating time, but maybe this brave adventure was finally turning the corner.

Monday, March 7, 2016

It's March - Are you still working on behavior changes?

Today is the 1st Monday of the 3rd month of 2016.

By now, you should have your 1st goal on your New Year's resolution soundly planted in your life. If you have been working on the behaviors leading up to achieving that first goal then you have had 9 weeks to accomplish those tasks. Now you should be ready for that second goal.

If this is the first blog post you have read on this subject, then you'll have to go back and re-read the series. You see, I'm a firm believer that to reach the goals of our New Years Resolutions we have to work on the behaviors that drive the goals. On January 4th, I wrote a post about not focusing on the goals, but changing the behaviors.  If you need to, go back and review that post and then come back here.

In February, I wrote a post about picking up the hitchhiking resolutions. Picking up those goals that you self-determined would cost too much, you didn't have time to meet, were too hard to manage, or that took you too far outside of your comfort zone. I gave you three suggestions on how to pick up those goals and start over so that you could enhance your life and be better able to reach the pinnacle you had set for yourself. If you still have those hitchhiking resolutions, you need to go pick them up, re-read that post, and then come back here.

And so here we are. March. For those who have been working on those behaviors, getting them aligned with your goals, then you are well on your way to achieving that list of New Years Resolutions. Today, you need to start working on Goal #2.

Remember, we aren't going to let Goal #1 sit on the sideline. We are going to continue to do whatever behavior you had determined to change or do in order to reach that goal and we are going to add new behavior changes. Yes, these are baby steps in goal achievement. That's OK. Research has shown over and over that those who change small behaviors related to larger goals are more successful than those who change many behaviors at once.

So, once again, here we go. Take your Goal #2 from your New Years Resolution list and ...

1. Review where you are on the trajectory to Goal #1. Do you have some behavior changes to still make? Do you have to tweak some of those changes? Are you well on your way to accomplishing that goal? Make sure you are being reasonable and don't be so willing to make huge changes that will throw you off your game. Small, easily adaptable changes are the best. Those that take you out of your comfort zone a little but without plopping you into another country will be the most successful.

2. Determine what behaviors need to change to accomplish goal #2. Make the behavior changes small and incremental - what can you do in the next 30 days to change some of your behaviors that will ultimately get you to that goal. If you've already started to change some of those behaviors with the advancement of Goal #1 - GREAT! Overlapping behavior changes reinforces that those changes stay in place.

The most important thing to remember in this process is that we are the turtle and not the hare in this race. We know that small incremental changes will ultimately bring us to the finish line in December. Focus on the behavior(s) that will bring the most change and work on those.

3. Do not allow your criticism of yourself to be the biggest roadblock to meeting your goals. We are our own worst critic. Give yourself the time that you need to make changes. Your changes aren't always in a linear path? You veer off the path here and there throughout the month? So what,  it doesn't matter. The overall focus needs to be on the big picture - have you changed your behavior in such a way that you are closer to your goal today than you were yesterday? If the answer is yes ---- give yourself a pat on the back, pick up the pieces that have strayed, and get back on the road. If the answer is no --- OK, do the same, pick up the pieces that you dropped along the way, make a conscious decision to commit to change, and get back on the road.

Above all, realize that you are the only one standing between you and your accomplishment. Focus on the behavior change you need to make. Make this the restart and get going.

Have a great Monday!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Oxnard, CA - So much fun and so much frustration!

We found ourselves at an extended stay hotel in Oxnard, CA in the county of Ventura. I knew very little about California, but I was enjoying the sun, the beauty, and the excitement of a new place.

We arrived on a Friday and that Monday, I made a call to my future employer. Conversations with the employer had started in Wisconsin and we agreed that once I got to California, around the 1st of the month, I should give them a call to do all the formal paperwork. My first call was not returned. Giving the employer the benefit of the doubt, I waited until Wednesday to call again. I left a message with no return phone call. Now, I was beginning to worry. The next three phone calls had the same result - voice mail from my end and silence from theirs. Finally, I gave up calling. Eventually, the employer called me back saying they had decided to go another direction with the position. I kind of figured that out on my own.

I was bound and determined to not let this set-back get me down. I did learn through this first leg of our journey that you must have someone along that is willing to go the distance. My husband was a real trouper - he didn't get upset about not having money come in. He didn't remind me that no employers were knocking down my door to gain my talent. Instead, he reminded me that we had saved up a few months of salary and four months worth of hotel costs just for this reason. When you decide to go across country you never know what awaits you.

Making the best out of a very frustrating situation, my husband and I explored.  After all, there wasn't much else we could do.  We visited friends in Santa Barbara. Decided to go the Navy base and see if it was what my Marine (once a Marine always a Marine) husband had remembered. We went to the beach a few times. We even made the long long trek up the coast to Santa Maria a couple of times to visit his daughter and her family.


I will have to admit that the food in Oxnard was superb! There wasn't a whole lot Midwestern food - unfortunately, no cheese curds and Friday night fish fries were unheard of. We had choices of Thai, Mexican, American, and everything in between - very different from what I was used to in Oshkosh.

During this time I continued to job search - sending out resumes, making phone calls, and continually hearing nothing in response. Not working was becoming a frustrating issue in my life quite quickly.

Adding to the frustration was the shear number of people. Coming from a city of just over 50,000, Oxnard's population of 203,000 people was overwhelming. Walking at night, which I had become accustomed to doing, was now out of the picture. This quickly added to the frustration I was feeling.

Oxnard lasted a whole six weeks.

We had no idea how long this was going to last, but we did know we needed to go someplace a bit more affordable. So, North we went.

Come back next Friday to hear about the next phase in our journey.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Are you a non-employer business owner?

Can a business owner have a business with no employees?

When looking at the organization of other people's businesses, I sometimes think that many think the answer to the question is, "no". The businesses we hear about on the news and in social media are those that have a few employees with the profit to sustain that kind of business structure. 

Do you realize that 23 million U.S. business owners have a business structure that includes no employees?  

The U.S. Census Bureau calls these types of businesses "non-employer businesses". I am a non-employer business and in some ways therm makes me think my  business isn't as important or needed as an "employer business". Maybe it is the use of the prefix "non" in the title. Whatever the reason, I need to remind myself, as you need to remind yourself, that this feeling or opinion is not accurate. A non-employer business is just as relevant and important as other businesses. 

About 24% of the non-employer businesses in the United States make $40,000 per year. That is also the median wage for most U.S. wage earners. I don't think that this is a coincidence. If you are one of those businesses, that makes enough money to sustain itself, then I would think that you are well on your way to being a great success. 

What does a business have to do to get to the next level; to get to be an employer business? Here are a few tips:

1. Have a plan.  You need to get your business organized. If you haven't carved out a plan for your business, then get started now. Develop a plan to structure your business in such a way that growth naturally comes from the work you do. Include marketing needs in the plan. 

The plan should also include how to deal with taxes. Don't allow your business to just exist. Let it work for you; take advantage of the tax breaks that a growing business can provide.

2. Take your business seriously.  In order to grow from a non-employer business to an employer business, you must take yourself and your business seriously. That means working the hours that need to be worked. Granted, it is nice to get up and walk to your office at the end of the hall without having to change clothes, but are you really taking yourself seriously when you do that? Do you take impromptu vacations or binge watch TV when you could  be working? 

Set up regular work hours. Get up, get showered, get dressed and walk into your home office just as you would a traditional office. When you take yourself seriously, everyone else around you will, too.

3. Call yourself what you are.  I've had some people actually say that I'm not really a freelance writer because I didn't make more than a $1,000 last month. Don't listen to the naysayers. Define yourself. If you are a business owner in a certain niche, then call yourself what you are. Be confident in your skills, tell those around you what you do, offer to help others get to their next level. 

4. Network. Who says you have to wait until you are making $50,000 a year before you choose to network with other people working the same business you are. Get out there and meet some other non-employer business owners!  The most efficient way to increase your knowledge is to learn from others; from both their mistakes and their successes. 

Whatever you do as your business, remember that you are only limited by your imagination. If you have a seed of imagination in your business idea, you are poised for success. 

Now get out there and be the best non-employer business you can be!

Friday, February 26, 2016

The ride we will never forget

The drive from Wisconsin to California took a total of 36 hours. It was exhausting. It was also a beautiful trek.

One of the things I so admire every time I make the drive between California and Wisconsin (yes, I've done it a few times) is the diversity of the landscape. The beauty of the cliffs and valleys of Wisconsin followed by the level land that stretches for miles upon miles in Nebraska, and the mountains of Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. Each of the areas is different. Even the mountains from one state to the next do not look the same. Yet, we are one country. It is an amazing concept if you think about it.

But, on this drive, there was something even more awe inspiring - the weather. The drive from Wisconsin through Nebraska was pretty much uneventful. Then we hit the Denver area. I've learned now that Denver and Colorado as a whole can make travel very exciting. The snow, rain, sleet - even in late-May - was a definite change from the Midwest.

 Yet, Mother Nature had more in mind for us. As we traveled into the area of Colorado, Arizona, and Utah we were met with dark clouds, tornado warnings, and water. More water than there should have been, more water than they could contain.  At one point, we got off the road to do a little shopping and take a break. Getting back to the highway was a little sketchy, towing a car didn't make it any easier.

We got through with stories to tell.

Eventually, we made our way to Ventura, CA one day before I was scheduled to meet with my new employer.

Little did we know that this would be the start of a few very frustrating weeks and uncertainty.

Would it be a brave change if we didn't experience some hurdles and obstacles. Probably not.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Tax Deductions that many small businesses don't think about

If you are like most people, you've just went through one of the most dreaded times of the year - tax filing. With that pain in mind, this is the best time to talk about what deductions you may or may not have missed.

Most people seem to think that a business isn't really a business until you have an employee. That those at-home party businesses like Pampered Chef or Mary Kay aren't businesses that need to be tracking expenses and creating deductions at tax time. That thought process couldn't be farther from the truth. From the day you decide to become a business owner - no matter the size of your business - you should be tracking expenses and keeping receipts.

Here are few examples of deductions that many sole proprietors do not realize they should be taking advantage of.

Not Paying Quarterly Taxes - Every business will need to pay taxes. The question becomes, do you pay the taxes on your own, in your tax filing, or do you them quarterly? The answer depends on how much profit your business is making and the requirements of your state.

For many small businesses, quarterly tax payments are a requirement. If not made on time the business will incur fines until the taxes are paid. The quickest way to find out if your business is required to file taxes, please visit the Self-Employed Individuals Tax Center. Your financial adviser can best advise you on the state requirements for tax filing.

So, if your business isn't one of those required to file quarterly tax payments no need to worry about the subject, right? Not so fast. You should at least look at your businesses quarterly profit and loss statement and decide if a portion of the sales should be set aside to help pay any tax payments needed at the end of the year based on your additional income.  Again, your financial adviser will be able to help you calculate how much you should set aside.

Under Reporting Your Business Income - Every client that you have that has paid you at least $600 in one calendar year is required to send your business a 1099-MISC stating your compensation. The IRS will be in receipt of a duplicate copy of that form. You guessed it, there is no way of getting out of reporting the income. Even if your client does not send you the 1099 form, you are still required to to add the income to your bottom line.

The IRS may not realize the mistake this year, but they will find it eventually and come a calling. Don't waste your time, or money in penalties, just report the actual income your business received.

Home Office  Deduction - Many business owners are scared of this deduction because it seems confusing and may increase the chance of an audit. The important fact to remember is that if you have a dedicated office in your home, you may use this deduction. Do you only use part of a room for an office? This deduction may still be for you. The important fact to remember is that the room or area must be exclusively used for your business.

In 2013, the IRS introduced a simplified method of figuring this deduction. Take the square footage of the room or area devoted to your business and multiply by $5. The deduction using the simplified method is capped at $1,500 per year.

For many business owners, it may be more advantageous to use the actual expense of the room. This is where your tax adviser may be the most helpful. Run the numbers past him or her and decide how best to proceed; just make sure to not leave the deduction on the table.

Over Deducting Your Gifts - For some business owners the heading should be - over gifting your clients is a waste of money. First, let's discuss what "gifts" mean. In this context they could be anything from holiday presents to small tokens of appreciation for their business. Remember, the gift must be relevant to the success of your business and the relative relationship with the client.

So, how extravagant should you be with those gifts? IRS allows a business to deduct only the first $25 of gift cost per recipient. So, whether you spend $100 on one gift or on multiple gifts, only $25 is deductible. I'm pretty sure you know how much I would spend on each client. Make sure you keep all receipts for the gifts that you purchase, because the IRS will ask for receipts. That also means you should never over-inflate the gift deduction; a $2,000 deduction means you spent $25 on 80 clients. If that isn't true, don't report it.

Difference Between Equipment and Supplies - The IRS treats equipment and supplies differently. Let's take care of the definitions first.
Supplies = Items that get used during the year. Examples are printer ink, paper, envelopes, etc.
Equipment = Typically higher value items that last longer than a year. Examples are computers, software, business furniture, etc.
The cost of supplies will be reported on Schedule C; whereas, equipment costs will be reported on Form 4562. It isn't a good idea to mix them up because there are limits for many items and the deduction may be denied if not applied correctly.. Additionally, equipment can be written off through a full deduction (depending on the cap) or depreciated each year. Your financial adviser will be able to steer you in the right direction.

Not Reporting All Your Expenses - When asked which business expenses constituted tax deductions, most people answered  correctly with  computer equipment, mobile phone plan, health insurance premiums, and travel. However, many business owners, especially the sole proprietor, didn't realize that books, online courses, mileage to meet with clients, Web hosting, and stamps can also be deducted as expenses.

The best idea is to track all expenses that your business incurs. Then at the end of the year, go over those expenses with your financial adviser to best determine which can or cannot be taken as deduction. Your organizational efforts will not go to waste. Whatever cannot be deducted, can certainly be entered into your annual budget for next year to better determine your business goals.

Choosing the Wrong Legal Identity - Unfortunately, many sole proprietors do not realize that the legal identity of their business can positively or negatively affect the amount of taxes due to Uncle Sam. Sometimes legally establishing a C Corporation, S Corporation, or LLC that's taxed like an S Corp may help lower the tax bill.

A discussion with your tax adviser may clear up any confusion and set you down a clear path for success. You can even do your own research be looking at the information available on IRS' Self-Employed Individual Tax Center website.

As you can see, there are many ways those who have a very small business can still take advantage of tax deductions. With a little organization, advice from your financial and tax advisers, and some persistence you can be better prepared when tax time comes around next year.