Adults with Disabilities: the Pool of Potential Employees You Probably Know Nothing About 

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 by Ron Sharpe, Director of Communications & Development, St. Andrew Bay Center

America’s 25 million small businesses represent 99.7% of all employers, employ more than 50% of the private workforce, and generate over half the of our nation’s gross domestic product.  Did you realize that small businesses provides over 67% of all first jobs? Did you know that many of these jobs can be filled by adults with disabilities who are able and want to work?  Unfortunately, the unemployment rate of individuals with disabilities remains high with estimates showing up to 70% for individuals with severe disabilities not working even though many are willing and able to do so. According to the U.S. Labor Department/Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013, approximately 17.6% of people with disabilities were employed. In comparison, the employment-population ratio for people without disabilities was approximately 64%. 

Sadly, the employment rate for college graduates with disabilities is about 30% less than it is for college graduates without disabilities.  The US Dept of Labor’s Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities is a free, nationwide database of pre-screened, qualified post-secondary students and recent college graduates with disabilities who are available for permanent and temporary positions. Employers can search the database by state or job category and obtain specific information on candidates’ qualifications. You need not go far afield to find good help. Local agencies like the St Andrew Bay Center are eager to help you connect with our clients to meet your employment needs.

 We need Disability Employment Champions, private sector employers like you, to help change the economic landscape for people with disabilities. Local employers who have made this commitment, like Trane, Popeye’s, Po Folks and Bay District Schools, have come to appreciate the work ethic and reliability disabled workers bring to their workplace. What’s more, there are targeted tax credits, like the Work Opportunity Tax Credit for hiring disabled people and additional tax credits specifically targeting veterans.

If our nation is to prosper in the global economy, we need the American Dream to be accessible to all of those who are willing and able to work hard to achieve it. To learn more about the many advantages in hiring an adult with disabilities, there are many resources available online and here locally.  Please contact Maggie Wattenbarger, Associate Director at the St. Andrew Bay Center at (850) 265-2951 or mmarler@standrewbaycenter.org.


Ron Sharpe 
850-381-7804

DATA INSECURITY: How Secure Are Your Company Files?

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Last month, one of Sacred Heart Health Systems’ third-party vendors for billing operations was hacked. According to the News Herald article, “Hackers used a phishing attack to gain access to the email account of an employee of the billing vendor. They were able to access [some 14,000] patients’ names, dates of service, dates of birth, diagnoses and procedures, total charges, and physicians’ names. About 40 patients also had their Social Security numbers compromised.”

You’ve probably seen something “phishy” in your own inbox, emails that look legit from a trusted source – a bank or credit card processor, for example, or even a friend – asking for inappropriate data or enticing you to click on an interesting link. So what should you do to protect your data, your company, and your customers?

I. Backup Your Data Regularly

Do you have a solid, reliable backup plan in place?  Have you tested your ability to recover your data?  If you answered no to either question, then you are guilty of making the biggest and most common mistake when it comes to protecting your data.  There are many approaches and strategies to backing up your data, and even more tools that you can purchase.

The driving question is “How much downtime can my business survive if I suffer a loss of data or systems?”  Every situation and every business is different.  If you are an accountant and the date is April 14th, you might not be able to suffer even a half-day of downtime.  Consider the risks that you are facing:  fire, theft, hardware malfunction, user error, malicious hacks, disgruntled employees, and more – the list is long.  Each risk poses its own requirement on your backup system.  Your situation will determine your strategy and guide you in the processes you create and the tools that you purchase.  Oh, and by the way, if you don’t test your recovery processes while you still have your data intact, then you haven’t really backed up your data.  There will come a time when you will need to recover your data from a critical loss, and that is not the time to discover that your backup is faulty.

II. Make a Clean Start

The surest way to be assured that your computers are not infected is to start from scratch with a clean installation of a fresh operating system from a known good source.  This step may seem challenging when you consider all the software that has to be re-installed and all the configuration settings that have to be applied for a fresh computer, but it is well worth it. 

While there are techniques that cybersecurity professionals use to detect and analyze hacked computer systems, they take skills beyond the average computer user, and it can be expensive to hire a cybersecurity professional.  Instead, bite the bullet and backup your data and rebuild your systems from scratch.  If you operate several servers or workstations in your business, then you can create a single secure image that is installed on all your computers. The more workstations you operate, the more cost-effective this becomes.  If your system is hacked, you are going have to do this anyway.

III. Implement the Top 4 Cybersecurity Controls

Now that we have a clean system and our data is protected, how do we protect ourselves from all the hackers and malicious attacks that we all face?  The Council on Cybersecurity has found that 85% of cyberattack techniques can be prevented by implementing four basic security controls for your system:

  1. Application Whitelisting: Allow only approved software to run on your systems.  Establish the software that you authorize for your business, and  don’t let anything else be installed on your systems.

  2. Application Patching: Keep your application software up-to-date.  When new vulnerabilities are discovered, the bad guys are quick to take advantage.  Application vendors offer updates to protect against these vulnerabilities. Updating in a timely manner will prevent the vulnerability from being exploited on your system.

  3. Operating System Patching: Operating systems can and should be configured for automatic updating.  Check your systems to ensure that you are applying updates automatically.  For critical server systems, it is important to test updates before they are applied.

  4. Minimize Administrative Privileges: Don’t use your system’s administrator account. Create a standard, non-privileged user for your day-to-day use.  This single step is probably the most important measure that you can take to keep malware from being installed on your system.

    Don’t let your business become the next headline or the latest statistic.  It is your responsibility to protect your customers and your business.  Take control starting with these fundamental steps, then you can get a good night’s sleep and focus on what you do best – GROWING YOUR BUSINESS.


Russell Mace, CEO
MACETECH SECURITY SOLUTIONS, INC

Water Damage: An Ounce of Prevention

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If an ounce of prevention is worth the pound of cure, then understanding how to prevent water damage to your business is well worth a few minutes of your time. The chance of water damage happening in your business is probably small. But we are in Florida where weather-related damages are not uncommon. The odds of never having water damage and its favorite companions, mold and mildew, are not in your favor.

Since you cannot control the weather, start with the most likely and controllable culprits: your plumbing; water supply hoses to kitchen appliances and HVAC systems; exterior doors and windows; and, of course, the roof. Is someone in your company responsible for a periodic maintenance check of these areas? If this has never crossed your mind, it should. Make a simple checklist based on the likely sources of water leaks in your place of business, then assign someone to do a visual check at least quarterly. The tiniest leak in the break room fridge icemaker line can cause a surprising amount of damage over time, not to mention the real cost of  disruption and inconvenience to your business.

Don’t forget to locate the main water shut-off to your building too. When a pipe breaks, you can mitigate the damage by turning off the flow at the main source. Most water shut-offs can be found in utility or maintenance closets, the garage, in the crawl space or outside near or at the water meter. 

Aside from mopping up puddles, mold mitigation is the most time-critical. Drying out affected areas as quickly as possible and applying appropriate desiccates should be left to a water damage professional. Do it right the first time, and as we say here, it will be “Like it never even happened.” 
     
Cyndy Murphy, SERVPRO of Bay County


SERVPRO of Bay County: 785-1077


HOME-BASED BUSINESS DEDUCTIONS: The IRS is here to help

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Ben Franklin quipped, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Home-based small business owners have the same certainty, and many of the same reporting requirements as large brick-and-mortar firms. Now that April 15 is a fast 45 days away, it’s time to dig out your 2014 calendar/planner (You’re not using one? Make that a priority in 2015!) and that shoebox of receipts, and begin to get organized. The task is somewhat easier if you first categorize those receipts by “tax deduct-ability”.  How do you know what is or what’s not deductible? Rest assured that the IRS will tell you so. 

The IRS Tax Guide for Small Business (For Individuals Who Use Schedule C or CEZ) Publication 334 is a mandatory desktop, laptop, and bedside reading. Onerous as that sounds, this is the definitive tax reporting source for your home office and business operations. Even if you have another job and run a little operation on weekends, you can deduct a host of expenses against any income you earn.  Here’s the IRS Rule of Thumb:

A business expense must be both ordinary and necessary to be deductible. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your field of business. A necessary expense is one that is helpful and appropriate for your company. An expense does not have to be indispensable to be considered necessary.

 The key is to do your homework and keep good records. Use a separate bank account (those fees are deductible, if your bank charges). At least a particular credit card for your business versus your personal use. The statement makes it easier to remember and record the costs of doing business. Publication 334 and several do-it-yourself tax software programs offer guidance on home-based and self-employment business expenses.

Record keeping is especially important for vehicle deductions. This is tedious but manageable and worth the time if it will save you a dime in taxes. Working as a consultant, I use my car for both business (deductible expense) and personal use (non-deductible).  I use my cell phone calendar to track my activities. It helps me with billing clients (after all, that is why we are in business, right?) and to track related expenses like meals, supplies purchased for work, etc. Some people are diligent odometer recorders and gas trackers – kudos to you. The rest of us rely on Google Maps or Mapquest for mileage calculations. I add the mileage to my calendar as part of the appointment, along with other expenses. At tax time, I tally up those miles and take the standard deduction allowed for business miles driven. Allow me to stress that proper recording requires little more than simple notebook, pencil, and your attention. High-tech solutions are handy but not essential. Refer to IRS Publication 463, Travel, Entertainme
nt
, Gift, and Car Expenses to better understand the rules on car expenses and more.

For my business, I converted a spare bedroom into my home office. Not much to it: a working space with file cabinets and mountains of paper which I vow to tame this year with a scanner. The IRS is very specific on this matter, made clear to me decades ago when my dad was audited and received a home visit from a friendly agent – that turned out fine. According to Chapter 8,  “Business Use of Your Home” in Pub 334,

The business part of your home must be one of the following: (a.) Your principal place of business, (b.) A place where you meet or deal with patients, clients, or customers in the ordinary course of your company, or (c.) A separate structure (not attached to your home) you use in connection with your business.

Exclusive use. To qualify under the exclusive use test, you must use a particular area of your home only for your trade or business. The area used for business can be a room or other separately identifiable space. The area does not need to be marked off by a permanent partition. You do not meet the requirements of the exclusive use test if you use the area in question both for business and for personal purposes.

The detailed list of accepted business expenses and non-deductibles n IRS Publication 535 is aptly named “Business Expenses”.  I suggest you add this to your tax library as well. You’ll find it among my mountains of paper, along with a pledge to hire an accountant next year!


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Jamie Shepard
Consultant, Business Innovation Center

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