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Must-have tools for business owners on the go!

It’s one thing to focus this article on the mobile entrepreneur in the title of this article. However, the fact is that all entrepreneurs need to stay mobile these days if they wish to keep their business competitive and stay in the know.

It’s a fact that the majority of business owners are always on the go—meeting with clients, business partners, sourcing leads, attending conferences, and traveling for business. So staying connected to your business is a must when you’re not physically in the office conducting business from your computer.

As a mobile business owner myself, I highly recommend these five game-changing apps for entrepreneurs who want to remain connected to the day-to-day business operations, as well as organized and efficient on the go.

Introducing my must-have smart phone apps for the mobile entrepreneur:

1. Skype (Free – for Android, iPhone & BlackBerry)

I really could not do business—effectively and inexpensively—without the Skype app. Not only does this handy messaging and audio/video calling app let me communicate with clients, office staff, my freelancers and business partners absolutely free of cost; it lets me do so with those based all over the globe without extraordinary long distance phone calling charges. I’ve come to depend on Skype for my entire business calling. This app’s capabilities let me conduct free messaging, virtual meetings, video conferencing, a video calls right from my smart phone, tablet, or laptop from absolutely anywhere in the world where I can find a Wi-Fi hotspot!

2. Evernote (Free – for iPhone)

I like to think of the Evernote app as my genius wing-man. That’s right. What other tool can capture all of your ingenious ideas at the most inopportune times? For instance, mid- morning run when you have no pen or paper handy. That’s why Evernote is my mobile business life-saver. It lets me jot down reminders, appointments, to-dos, client meetings, and bit of inspiration when a thought of brilliance happens to strike! When I need its assistance, I simply launch the Evernote app and record what I need to via integrated voice records or a quick text. The app saves it for later in one central spot or syncs it across all of your mobile devices (i.e., iPhone, iPad, laptop, desktop, etc.) if I so choose.

3. LinkedIn (Free – for iPhone)

Let’s face it those paper business cards are a thing of the past. Today, everyone uses electronic business card readers to exchange information and an iphone credit card reader to take mobile payments on the go. We live in a world where paper bits are lost easily in the mix and electronic records are swapped via tools like the LinkedIn app. I use this app for everyday business connections—for things like connecting with client and partner prospects, swapping contact information with potential clients and industry colleagues, and also as a source for directing my professional connections to LinkedIn to read my businesses profile (it’s like a resume).

4. Google Synch (Free – for BlackBerry)

Without my Google Calendar I’d be a mess—and so would my business! I can honestly say that I depend on it hourly to keep me up-to-date on my day. As a mobile entrepreneur, I’ve come into the habit of putting all of my client appointments, meetings, work to dos, work events, social events, client notes, and business contacts into Google Synch (which includes my trusty calendar) so I just check it every morning and know what’s on the go for the entire day!

5. Dropbox (Free – for iPhone)

The Dropbox app offers a super convenient and secure way to share documents across your enterprise. Dropbox is a cloud-based tool that you can use to upload all of your business files—including e-brochures, corporate videos, presentations, documents, spreadsheets, ideas, meeting notes, and more. The tool saves them in one central spot so you can access them whenever you need them, and from any device. You can also share your Dropbox folders with coworkers, business partners, and clients and you’ll never be without your elevator pitch when you need it most!

Personally, I use Google Calendar and LinkedIn on my iPhone. I haven’t found the need yet to use Skype on my phone or Dropbox, although, I do have an account. I haven’t use Evernote. I use the Note Pad app on my iPhone to jot down any ideas I may have or things I need to do later. I use CardMunch app to scan and convert my business contact cards and will show the LinkedIn profile for that contact!

Do you use any of these apps? What other apps that are not mentioned on here that you personally enjoy using or find to be a time-saver?

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Today I was reading a well-intentioned article about moving from a Sole Proprietorship to a Limited Liability Company that touched on a pet peeve of mine — financial advisors who tell small businesses that liability insurance is a substitute for incorporating or forming an LLC.

Disclaimer: This article is for discussion only and is not legal advice. The laws about Limited Liability Companies vary by state and can change from time to time, so you should consult an attorney in your state and do not rely on this article as legal advice.

For many years it has been incredible to me that lots of CPAs tell small business clients “don’t incorporate or form an LLC, just use insurance”. This is some of the worst advice that you will get for several reasons.

Let’s be clear from the start: nothing you do will prevent you from being sued. In the United States, we have open access to the courts and anyone with a piece of paper and the court filing fee can sue anyone else. However, what a small business owner really is looking to do is to keep from being found by a court to be personally liable for damages that a court might eventually find that are owed to the person filing suit (the Plaintiff).

If handled properly, an LLC or a corporation may very well provide an extra layer of protection from having personal liability. We speak generally of the “corporate shield” or the “corporate veil”, in that the law treats corporations and LLCs as separate entities, and normally the liability stops at the entity level (meaning an individual’s personal assets would be protected).

This can be true even if it is a one-person LLC or corporation. That fact alone is not automatically enough for a court to “pierce the corporate veil” and hold an individual liable for the acts or omissions of the corporation/LLC. However, and I believe this is where some confusion comes in, a court can find an individual liable under a few circumstances, most commonly: (1) Where corporate formalities have been ignored; and (2) Where an individual has acted outside of the scope of the power their position with the corporation/LLC affords them.

Corporate formalities

o.k., so you’ve got an LLC or corporation, but you’re mixing LLC funds with your personal funds in the same account (or paying your home expenses from your LLC account), you are failing to keep any separate LLC/corporate legal documents, or you are otherwise acting as if the corporation/LLC is just your personal “alter ego”. Or perhaps you take every bit of cash out of the LLC/corporation so that it is a mere shell with no assets of its own. In a case like that, a court may find the LLC/corporation is a mere sham or dummy corporation and hold an owner personally liable.

Scope of Position

Whether you are a Fortune 500 company or a 1 person LLC, if you act outside of the scope of your normal powers/duties then you won’t necessarily be protected. So, if you’re an Enron exec or 1 man company who are INTENTIONALLY committing fraud on others, the corporate shield won’t keep you free from personal liability. However, if you run a series of calculations and NEGLIGENTLY make a mistake — making a negligent misrepresentation to a creditor or investor, having an LLC or corporation could protect you from personal liability in that type of case.

So, in summary, an LLC or corporation can sometimes protect you against accidents and mistakes (negligence), but likely won’t protect you from intentional and/or criminal misconduct. And there are many shades of gray in between.

One more big reason liability insurance is not enough: most insurance policies have so many exceptions to coverage that they are like Swiss cheese, and in many cases an insurance company will try to escape coverage. These usually include exceptions for intentional misconduct or crimes, and often include certain types of negligence — and many time exclude liability for punitive damages (where you can get the biggest liability). There could very well be some liabilities than an LLC/corporation would protect you from, though insurance would not.

Therefore, to protect yourself as fully as possible, it is best to take a “belt and suspenders” approach and both have insurance AND have an LLC or corporation in place, and follow the formalities that are required.

Salary MeetingThe recession may be over according to the experts, but many of us still feel the pinch of recession, and many companies are still acting as though there is a recession on. Getting a pay raise may be difficult at this time, but it is possible. You may have to get a little creative, you may have to be willing to work a little harder. But there are still raises to be had.

Here are 6 tips for getting a raise during a recession:

1. Separate Yourself from the Crowd

First of all, you need to be noticed. In a good way. Separate yourself from your coworkers by your professionalism, work ethic or good ideas. Work hard to build a reputation at your work, so that your boss — and your boss’s bosses — know who you are, and respect you. Before you ask for a raise, you need to lay the groundwork.

2. Research Your Position

Think about what you do for your company, and do some research on average salaries for your position. Know what others are being paid for similar work, and what others are being paid for work that includes a little more responsibility. That way, you can come to any sort of payment review meeting armed with information showing what you should be making, even if there is a recession on.

3. Work Smarter

Yes, you need to show that you are a hard worker. But you should also work smarter. Find out what sorts of goals management has, and tailor your work responsibilities to be in line with helping accomplish those goals. When you go above and beyond, make sure that what you do helps the company achieve its benchmarks. Look for and suggest ideas that can help the entire company work smarter.

4. Show How Your Raise is a Win-Win

You will need to demonstrate that you deserve a raise, and that a raise is a win-win situation. If you have laid proper groundwork, and gone above your job requirements in helping management reach its goals, you can point out that a higher salary will encourage you to take on even more responsibility, and perform at an even higher level. You can also ask your boss what you need to do in order to reach a level of performance that would justify a pay raise.

5. Consider Perks Instead of An Actual Raise

In some cases, it is easier for companies to offer perks, rather than outright cash in the form of a raise. Think about alternatives to a raise, such as additional paid vacation days, or tuition reimbursement for training that enhances your job performance. If your job is something you could do from home some of the time, you might ask if you can telecommute two or three days a week, instead of coming in to the office every day. You might have to be creative about what you want, and remember that sometimes perks can provide more quality of life than a higher salary.

6. Set Up a Formal Meeting

Instead of just walking in on your boss unannounced and dropping the raise thing, ask for a meeting. Schedule a specific meeting time, and ask for half an hour or so. Practice your presentation, and make sure to bring documentation for back-up. Make sure you are informed and confident. If, during the meeting, your boss tells you that s/he can’t give a raise at this time, ask if you can meet in another six months for a performance and salary review.

In the end, you need to show that a raise is justified. You can threaten to quit, but that might not help, especially in the current job market. You have to be prepared to quit if you make that threat, so make sure you have an emergency fund that can handle your job search.

Image source: sxc.hu

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