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(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)

In 2017, and in the midst of Seattle’s efforts to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour, a University of Washington study was released that proved damaging to supporters of a higher hourly rate.

The study looked at the effects of the city raising its minimum wage from $10.50 to $13 an hour in 2016 and concluded that, although the increase was successful in boosting pay, it had the unfortunate consequence of reducing jobs by about 9%. The report’s authors said there were about 5,000 fewer low-wage jobs in the city because of the minimum wage increase. Opponents of the hike felt vindicated.

But now it’s time for supporters of the minimum wage to cheer. A new study published this week by the University of California at Berkeley found that minimum wage increases in six US cities increased pay and did not harm job growth. The study’s authors did this by looking at wage and employment data in Washington DC, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose – all cities that raised their minimum wages above $10 an hour. Pay went up. No significant job losses were measured.

“Policies are working as the policymakers intended,” paper co-author Sylvia Allegretto, a labor economist and co-chair of the center, said in a Bloomberg article. “The sky is not falling.”

Maybe. Maybe not. The Berkeley report is just one of a number of academic studies conducted over the past few decades that have either confirmed or questioned the positive impacts of minimum wage hikes. “Raising the minimum wage is a ‘feel good’ policy that actually harms more low-income folks than it helps,” Robert Topel, an economics professor at the University of Chicago told the Chicago Tribune. “There are better ways to help low-income individuals and households.”

With many cities either considering or enacting similar minimum wage increases over the next few years the question of whether this is ultimately good or bad for the economy remains a hot topic, particularly for small businesses.

Higher wages will obviously increase costs, and not just for the lowest-paid workers. If the minimum wage floor is increased it also puts pressure on all wages in a business because what worker who was once making twice the minimum wants to be making only a few dollars more than the minimum now? Businesses – particularly small businesses – in low-margin trades like restaurants and retail will face big decisions: raise prices or accept lower profits? This why so many associations, chambers of commerce and other groups representing businesses argue against a minimum wage and there is much logic to this position.

But on the other hand, if everyone in a city is forced to raise their prices, then it may be easier to pass through price increases while still remaining competitive. Higher wages may not only keep more people out of poverty, but can also turn into more consumer spending which may result in even more business. And besides, aren’t most small businesses having trouble finding employees in this low unemployment, competitive environment? Aren’t their bigger competitors already paying more?

It’s a shame that the government has to require a “minimum” wage at all. From what I see, it’s one of those laws needed to protect workers from a minority of abusive businesses. Across the board, the owners of good, profitable and growing companies that I know don’t need the government to tell them how much to spend on what is for many their most important asset: people. They already pay a fair wage because they know that, in business, you always get what you pay for.

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(This post originally appeared on Forbes)

Here are five things in technology that happened this past week and how they affect your business. Did you miss them?

1 — Apple kicks off a product blitz.

Apple introduced several new products this week, including iOS 12, three new iPhones, revamped iPad Pros, Apple Watches with larger screens, a new entry-level laptop with a sharper screen, a pro-focused Mac mini desktop computer, and new accessories like the AirPower wireless charger. Unfortunately, Apple also said that the new tariffs recently imposed will force it to raise prices for some of its popular offerings like the Watch and AirPods. (Source: Bloomberg)

Why this is important for your business:

If your business uses Apple technology, you’ll be excited by the faster speed and battery life of the new iPhones and iPads (contractors and construction people: check out the ability to take accurate measurements from your iPhone too). What interests me the most is the added health related features in the Apple Watch, like the electrical heart rate sensor that can take an electrocardiogram. How will this affect your wellness programs and even your healthcare insurance benefits in the future? As for the higher prices, maybe all that extra productivity will make up the difference, right?

2 — Verizon claims its ‘Ultra Wideband 5G’ will be better than the rest.

Verizon and the other major wireless carriers in the country are competing to see which one deploys 5G first—the service that promises to be much faster and more responsive than today’s networks. Verizon says its ‘5G Ultra Wideband’ service, which uses a super high-frequency wireless spectrum, makes it better than its competitors. The company also says three other assets set it apart as superior: millimeter wave spectrum, an end-to-end fiber network, and small cells. Verizon says its 5G broadband replacement will debut in October in Houston and Indianapolis and in California in L.A. and Sacramento. (Source: CNET)

Why this is important for your business:

As mentioned above, all of the carriers are moving to 5G. That means faster speeds for our business purposes. Is Verizon that much better? Maybe, maybe not. But let’s at least hope these faster networks come with improved security too.

3 — British Airways breach caused by credit card skimming malware, researchers say.

A threat researcher at security service RiskIQ says that credit card skimming malware installed by hackers on British Airways’ website a few months ago was what caused a data breach of more than 380,000 credit cards. The airline lost payments through its website and mobile app over a three-week period, but travel information wasn’t affected. RiskIQ suspects it might be the same group that was behind the Ticketmaster breach, in which hackers targeted a third party that loaded code on Ticketmaster’s websites and then siphoned off thousands of transactions. (Source: Tech Crunch)

Why this is important for your business:

Are you accepting credit cards on your ecommerce site? If so, then the risk of this happening to you is just as great – maybe even greater. Talk to your payments and ecommerce providers about what they’re doing to make sure that your customers’ credit information isn’t being skimmed because if there’s a problem you’re going to be held accountable.

4 — HP’s new 3D printers build items not of plastic but of steel.

This week, HP announced the Metal Jet printer, an industrial-scale 3-D printer that builds items out of steel rather than plastic and would enable the company to get into large manufacturing sectors such as automobiles and medical devices. Currently, many of the products printed by the Metal Jet may be cosmetic, such as key fobs with custom engravings. HP says it will likely be years before consumers can buy a car with 3-D-printed metal parts under the hood. (Source: WIRED)

Why this is important for your business:

3-D printing has gotten a bad rap of late because of the people who want to use these devices to print firearms. But the reality of this technology is catching up to the hype. Printing metal will enable machine shops, distributors and service facilities to significantly increase their turnaround times while decreasing their inventory levels.

5 — PayPal now gives instant access to money from online sales.

PayPal – who currently serves 19.5 million businesses announced this week the launch of a new service called Funds Now that will give select online businesses access to their completed sales within seconds by eliminating holds, delays, and reserves so they can spend their funds immediately. Funds Now has already been extended to more than one million businesses using PayPal at no extra cost. (Source: PayPal)

Disclosure:  PayPal is a client of my company, The Marks Group PC, but I have received no compensation for this item.

Why this is important for your business:

For all those business owners – like myself – who scratch their heads wondering why their cash isn’t “available” for days after a payment was received, PayPal is finally resolving that issue. Could this be the beginning of the end of the annoying bank “float” that delays our access to our cash? Let’s hope so.

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(This post originally appeared on Inc.)

A lot of people were upset last year when the tax reform bill was passed by Congress.

Sure, there were significant reductions in income tax rates for certain taxpayers, corporations and pass-through businesses as well as a host of other tax incentives. But one big tax benefit was taken away for many: the state and local tax deduction. The bill limited this deduction to $10,000 and that was a big deal for residents in states like California, New York and New Jersey that have a high local burden.

For regular corporations, there remained no cap on state and local deductions. But for some business owners, particularly the owners of pass through businesses like S-Corporations and partnerships, the cap seemed to apply.  That’s because this deduction is ultimately reported on their personal returns.

But wait…that rule was just clarified – and it’s good news for many small business owners.

“There’s potentially the opportunity for partnerships or some other pass-through businesses to claim deductions above what they’d be able to do with the capped state and local tax deduction,” Jared Walczak, a senior policy analyst at the Tax Foundation told the LA Times last week.  How?

According to a clarification released by the IRS, pass-through businesses will be allowed to claim a full federal tax deduction for contributions to charities or government programs -; particularly those offering private scholarships -; that offer state tax credits.

“The business expense deduction is available to any business taxpayer, regardless of whether it is doing business as a sole proprietor, partnership or corporation, as long as the payment qualifies as an ordinary and necessary business expense,” the IRS said. “Therefore, businesses generally can still deduct business-related payments in full as a business expense on their federal income tax return.”

For example, I have a pass-through client near Philadelphia that donates money to a local private school for scholarships. Under Pennsylvania law, 90 percent of that contribution is eligible for a state tax credit under two state programs.  As an individual she would have to reduce the federal charitable tax deduction she claims by the amount of any credit she received on her state taxes. But as the owner of a pass-through business she won’t have to do that and can take the full charitable deduction.

“The IRS clarification makes clear that the long-standing rule allowing businesses to deduct payments to charities as business expenses remains unchanged under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said. “The recent proposed rule concerning the cap on state and local tax deductions has no impact on federal tax benefits for business-related donations to school choice programs,”

The state and local tax cap was a hotly contested part of the tax reform bill because Democrats felt that it was politically motivated (many of the high tax states are blue). The clarification is now stoking even more controversy because some are accusing the government of changing the rules after it became apparent that taxpayers in many red states would also be affected.

But that’s not relevant to you. What’s relevant is understanding the rules and working with them in order to minimize expenses – particularly large expenses like taxes – so that you can maximize the value of your company. Saving on taxes shouldn’t be your primary for donating to a good cause. But if you are a fan of school choice or other charitable programs supported by your state then you should make your accountant aware.

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

Is a recession coming? Absolutely, positively yes. When? Who the heck knows?

Even with the economy as strong as it is, some economists warn that it could be sometime in the next year. Others are not so pessimistic. The media reports that unemployment is low and that Gross Domestic Product is on the rise. But then “They” say that housing starts have stalled and that wages are stagnant. But then “they” say that small and consumer confidence is at an historical high. Is all this conflicting data really helpful?

I’ve learned, as a result of the Great Recession of 2009, to keep an eye on three little known metrics that helped me to gauge whether or not an economic slowdown is coming. Of course, they’re not completely foolproof. But they each have a reliable history of predicting downturns.

The Baltic Dry Index

No, this not a measurement of the price of spices in the Baltic. It’s a freight index. It measures the cost of freight for products being shipped across the Baltic Sea, which is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. The idea is that when global shipping begins to decline there is less of a demand for freight and therefore the price of transportation falls. This decline often precedes an actual turndown in the global economy, so a trend downward may give you a strong indication that slower times are coming. The good news is, as of today, the index has been holding steady around the same level as four years ago and is even trending up a little. But keep an eye out — a decline over a few months period of time means that demand is weakening.

ISM Report on Business

According to its website, the Institute for Supply Management is “the first and largest not-for-profit professional supply management organization worldwide” and has more than 50,000 members located in 100 countries. It’s basically an organization of people in the supply management chain. You know: purchasing managers. You know: the guy from the big company who beats you up on pricing and delivery and drives you crazy with his demands because that’s what he does all day, every day, every week of the year. So who better to ask about the state of the economy?

Every month the ISM polls their membership about their current and future orders, production, inventory, employees, purchasing plans and business conditions to come up with their Report on Business for both manufacturers and non-manufacturers. You won’t find these results mentioned on the evening news, but you’ll notice economists talking about this data. More good news: last month’s manufacturing index grew for the 112th straight month. A slowdown should raise your antenna.

Chemical Activity Barometer

Let’s face it — one of the facts about modern society is that all of the products that we use (and eat) contain some form of chemicals. Ugh.

But they’re not all that bad, and it’s natural to contend that the more chemicals that are being produced and purchased, the more products are being sold. Of course, the opposite is true, too. The American Chemistry Council, an industry group for the chemical industry, likes to track that in their monthly Chemical Activity Barometer. This leading metric is a composite index that takes into account different sectors from chlorine to plastic resins and measures sales, prices, production, hours worked, orders and even building permits. The result is a two-to-14 month leading indicator that gives a pretty good idea where the economy is heading. Last month’s index was flat, which may be a concern. The next barometer will be released on September 25th.

Yes, I’m leaving out a bunch of other interesting metrics. But these are the ones I personally use and c’mon…let’s not get too complicated here. The important thing to remember is that you, as a business leader, must decide on a few good macro-metrics to make sure you’re getting some idea of the future so that you can navigate your business through any upcoming downturn. That’s your job and mine. Too many people — our customers, suppliers, partners, employees…and their families — are relying on us to be doing this. So please, have a few good metrics. People’s livelihood may depend on it.

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(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)

There’s a lot of attention being paid to how artificial intelligence technology will potentially replace many low-paid, low-level, unskilled jobs like retail clerks, customer service agents and factory workers. But now a startup is taking aim at a different kind of industry – one with highly skilled, highly paid professionals: law firms.

San Francisco-based Atrium has just raised $65m from a few very well-known venture capital firms such as Andreessen Horowitz, Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures, General Catalyst and Greylock Partners, and recently welcomed Marc Andreessen as a board observer.

So why all the fuss about a company that just opened its doors only 14 months ago? It’s because Atrium is doing something that hasn’t yet been done: use artificial intelligence to completely disrupt the legal industry, a disruption that could potentially replace many high-priced lawyers with inexpensive machines.

“I’m pretty stoked about that,” Justin Kan, one of the 110-person company’s founders told TechCrunch (he was referring to the raising of capital). Kan is not new to this game. He was also a founder of the highly successful live-streaming video platform Twitch.

Atrium aims to be a full-service corporate law firm (almost half of its employees are attorneys) that leverages AI technology to do much of the legal work required by growing startups who need help dealing with raising equity, hiring employees or writing up commercial contacts. The company’s software uses machine learning code to understand legal documents and automate repeatable processes.

The value-add for its clients is a reduction in the high hourly fees paid to legal associates who are doing most of this work now and a reallocation of legal expenditure towards more valuable legal advice and insights from a company’s counsel. Because the work is done by software bots, it can be performed in a very fast, and price-predictable (translation: fixed) way. Already, the company says it has “hundreds” of startup clients using its services.

So how is this done?

One of Kan’s first-use cases was a startup that needed to put together capitalization tables for a round of funding. To do this, a highly paid lawyer would need to read through all the documentation and create a complicated spreadsheet.

“It is tedious work and often subject to human error – this isn’t a skill they teach in law school,” Kan said in an interview with Above The Law. “But from a programmer’s perspective, these are documents with similar structure, over and over. So we built a model that takes in these convertible securities, then make a schema for the data expected in these docs.”

Does this mean the end of attorneys? Not at all. AI will never fully replace people, particularly highly skilled people. But it can be used to automate routine tasks. Technology firms like Atrium are using AI-based software to complement and enhance a service that’s already being provided by humans, which can be easily duplicated by a machine.

“We’re always, always about humans + software,” Kans said.

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(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)

One thing’s for sure: small businesses are definitely feeling optimistic.

Ever since Donald Trump took office in early 2017 there have been dozens of surveys reporting increased confidence among small business owners in the economy. Just last month the National Federation of Independent Businesses said that the confidence level of the small businesses it surveyed were at its second highest level in the 45-year history of their monthly index. A recent CNBC/SurveyMonkey survey also reported “record high” levels of small business confidence in July.

Now, the US Chamber of Commerce is weighing in. The chamber, which represents about 3 million businesses nationwide, publishes a quarterly Small Business Index with insurance firm MetLife. Its latest report, released last week, showed that almost 70% of small business owners have a positive outlook about their companies and the small business environment in the US. It’s the sixth consecutive quarter in a row that the report showed an increase and a jump of more than seven percentage points since the beginning of the year. (The US chamber is a client of my firm, The Marks Group, but I have received no compensation from them for this report.)

“Small business owners continue to tell us that they are confident in the national small business environment, and, just as encouraging, most have confidence in their local environments as well,” Jessica Moser, a senior vice-president at MetLife, said in their joint report. “This bodes well for the US economy, as small businesses are consistently an engine for growth all across the country: purchasing equipment and inventory, paying taxes, and employing ever-increasing numbers of individuals.”

Yes, this is good news for the economy. Small businesses employ about half of the workers in the country and their continued success means more growth and of course more jobs. But although the surveys say things are just fine, there are still significant challenges that concern many of us.

For example, finding and keeping good people tops the list of our biggest problems this year. A strong economy has unfortunately revealed a gap in positions filled versus people available and that’s mostly due to two big factors: a significant amount of workers who lack skills and need training and a precipitous decline in immigrant workers who usually filled low-level jobs thanks to the tightening of immigration policies. The lack of a skilled workforce – or just available workers – has created an enormous headache for most of the clients I work with.

Healthcare costs, which are usually one of our biggest expenses, continue to rise at a double-digit pace throughout the country and many business owners are finding it difficult to control these costs while remaining competitive with their larger corporate counterparts. Changing workplace rules – and pressure from the still-active Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – as well as courts that are sympathetic to cases of employee discrimination are putting regulatory pressure on smaller companies. Besides a shortage of worker supply, the rising minimum wage in many states and the looming changes to federal overtime rules will also put more pressure on wages and margins over the next few years.

Access to capital also remains a big challenge for many. According to the Chamber/MetLife study, 71% of small business owners who reported that their operations are in good health indicated it was easy to obtain financing or credit. But only 40 percent of those in not good health indicate the same. In fact, those businesses that were in not good health were more likely to receive only a partial amount of the capital they needed (41%) or be rejected altogether (25%), than those in good health (10% percent and 8% percent, respectively). “We are moving in the right direction, but more policies that ease small businesses’ access to financing need to occur to ensure this vital sector of our economy continues to grow, create jobs, and positively impact communities across the country,” the chamber’s Tom Sullivan said.

Finally, both markets and the current trade environment are creating difficulties. Interest rates are rising and markets continue to be volatile, driven by unexpected comments from the White House and events overseas. Tariffs, duties and other fees related to recent disputes with China, Mexico, Canada and some of our other largest trading partners are adding new costs, generating uncertainty and making it harder for many small companies to sell their products overseas. Rising deficits in Washington are worrying many in the business community who fear that tax decreases won’t spur enough growth to offset increased spending and an unsustainable level of national debt.

So yes, business owners are confident and they should be. Considering the previous years of very stagnant growth along with an increased level of regulations and taxes, the pro-business direction of the new administration has been a relief. But given some of the significant and growing challenges facing both small and large businesses right now, it wouldn’t surprise me to see this confidence dampening in the quarters to come.

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(This post originally appeared on Forbes)

Here are five things in technology that happened this past week and how they affect your business. Did you miss them?

1 — Xero expands machine learning features for small businesses.

At Xerocon Brisbane 2018 this week, cloud accounting firm Xero announced new machine learning features for small businesses. Examples of the new offerings are a ‘files required’ feature, which allows advisers to identify and collect client documents in one place; a ‘more intuitive invoicing experience’ that uses machine learning to make it easier to invoice customers and speed up time to pay; and Xero email-to-bills, which expands on an existing machine learning feature for Xero bills, to extract and automatically populate details from any email PDF bill into Xero. (Source: ZDNet)

Why this is important for your business:

Here comes artificial intelligence for small businesses.  No, you don’t have to worry about custom programming or coming up with applications.  Just wait for your accounting, customer relationship management and collaboration software providers – like Xero – to do it for you.  Then use these new features to automate and increase profits.

2 — The highest-paid truck drivers may be replaced by autonomous vehicles.

A new University of Pennsylvania study concludes that driver-less trucks could eliminate nearly 300,000 industry jobs over the next 25 years, including more than 80,000 of the highest-paying positions. As technology progresses, autonomous vehicles may replace about 51,000 drivers who earn nearly $70,000 a year carrying small freight for multiple customers, as well as 32,000 parcel drivers. Another 211,000 truckload jobs—where the driver’s entire vehicle is contracted out to a single customer—might also be eliminated. These positions currently pay between $47,000 and $54,000. (Source: Fox Business)

Why this is important for your business:

We keep hearing about driver-less cars from Uber, Google, Apple and others. But really…the money’s in the transport. As driver-less trucks become smarter and popular, look for highways lanes dedicated to them…and an entire industry transformed. This is good and bad news for many workers and small businesses who either rely on the trucking industry for business (bad news) or are currently paying a lot for freight (good news).

3 — Instagram is building a standalone app for shopping.

Instagram is working on a new standalone app dedicated to shopping. The app, which may be called IG Shopping, will let users browse collections of goods from merchants that they follow and purchase them directly within the app. The app’s development is still ongoing, and it could be canceled before it is released. But sources familiar with its development say Instagram believes it is well positioned to make a major expansion into e-commerce. More than 25 million businesses already have Instagram accounts, and 2 million of them are advertisers. (Source: The Verge)

Why this is important for your business:

I’m a heavy Instagram user. I don’t post. But I follow many inappropriate (and hysterical) accounts generally recommended by my kids. And…I buy stuff there too. Instagram ads can be very persuasive and an IG buying platform may be a huge benefit to those businesses – who are relying more on the platform to sell their products.

4 — Goodbye Facebook? Why some small businesses are quitting the social network.

When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced changes to the platform’s news feed product with content from ‘more posts from friends and family’ and ‘less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses,’ some publishers ranging from big businesses to solopreneur bloggers have been forced to post more content that they create personally, rather than sharing products or affiliate links—and they say this is hurting their businesses. For example, one Texas entrepreneur who owns two Facebook pages says the branded content policy ‘decreased my income from Facebook by 60 percent, overnight’. (Source: NBC News)

Why this is important for your business:

I’m not buying into this trend…yet.  There are 50+ million small business Facebook pages and too many of my clients use the platform to sell to and engage with their customers. Facebook is a giant audience and, unless I see a similar-sized competitor appear, I’m still telling my clients that if they want to sell B2C they need to be on Facebook.

5 — Samsung teases foldable smartphone launch for later this year.  

Samsung has said it plans to launch a foldable smartphone later this year. Samsung CEO DJ Koh hinted the device could be unveiled at Samsung’s developer conference in November, and he admitted that the mystery device had been ‘complicated’ to develop. Some have suggested that the company will launch a phone with a bendable display under the its Galaxy Note line. (Source: The Verge)

Why this is important for your business:

I wouldn’t buy this little device until version three or four. But once Samsung (and their inevitable copycat competitors) get foldable phones working and reliable our mobile experience will be forever changed.

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(This post originally appeared on Inc.)

Is it discrimination? Or just a savvy business move?

A restaurant owner decided recently to ban children under the age of 14 from his establishment after 5PM – and his decision appears to be a profitable one.

“Guests complained that they wanted to have a nice evening, with dinner and a bottle of wine, and time and time again children ruined that,” Rudolf Markl, the owner of Oma’s Küche, which is located on the island of Rügen on Germany’s Baltic Sea coast, told Quartz. “They throw food around, play tag, shout loudly around the place, climb under the tables–and other guests have no patience with it anymore.”

The restaurant owner had been putting up with these childish antics – like pulling tablecloths and “throwing around wine glasses” (good Lord!) for almost eleven years, according to a report from the news service DW.com. He eventually hit a breaking point when a few unruly children damaged inventory and items that included a few antique photo stands.

Does any of this surprise a parent? Of course not. In fact, it sounds kind of tame compared to a typical family dinner in my house. But I get it. Sometimes you just want a quiet meal without kids – and there are no grandparents, handcuffs or cattle prods handy to help.

Which is why the backlash against children in restaurants is not a new one. Food and Wine reports that two restaurants – a Tampa Bay craft beer bar and pizzeria and an upscale Mooresville, N.C. eatery both instituted a “no kids” policy last year and over the past few years other bars and restaurants around the world have also banned children, sometimes just around dinner time and sometimes permanently. In societies like ours where we have bent over backwards to accommodate and coddle our children, it appears that an anti-kid movement is taking hold, at least around meal time. So is this such a bad thing?

The reaction among customers has been mixed. Some have gone so far as to boycott restaurants that implement a “no kids” policy while others have taken out their frustrations on social media review sites like Yelp and Facebook. Others, however, are more sympathetic. Markl says he has received more than 1,200 emails of support in the past few weeks with some telling him his actions are “long overdue” and that business has been “booming” since the decision.

“It has nothing at all to do with discrimination,” Markl told DW.com. “It is a restaurant and not a playground.”

In the end, and as the parent of three, I get it. Going out to eat with young children can not only be stressful for the other diners, but sometimes taxing on parents as well. It’s hard to enjoy a steak while also keep an eye out for flying wine glasses. And besides, I always preferred to go to family-oriented restaurants where both the staff and my fellow customers were more understanding because they also have their own misbehaving kids and we could all just sigh and eat together in shared misery. For some parents, going out to dinner is all about getting away from the kids – all kids – and trying to relax and be just a little grown-up for a few hours.

There’s plenty of room in the food industry for restaurants that ban children and eateries like Markl’s just add more eating out options. If you’re a customer and so upset that a restaurant bans children then go somewhere else. It’s not like there isn’t competition. If you’re a restaurant owner and want to follow in Markl’s footsteps, just know that there will be some who disagree and brace yourself for a little backlash. But in the end, like Markl, you might also see an uptick in your business. In any case, there’s no reason for everyone to act so…well…childish.

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(This post originally appeared on Forbes)

Allen Finn, a writer at online advertising service Wordstream, has compiled a bunch of excellent email statistics that every marketer should read.

Among the most eye opening: Email is the third most influential source of information for B2B audiences behind recommendations from colleagues and thought leaders. In fact, 86 percent of business professionals prefer to use email when communicating for business purposes. But it’s not just B2C where email dominates. 80 percent of retail professionals indicate that email marketing is their greatest driver of customer retention – almost twice the effectiveness of social media.

The takeaway: even in these days of social media and online advertising, email is not only not dead, but thriving and it remains one of the most powerful marketing tools available. But there’s a big problem with email that has continuously challenged marketers: how do get your message in front of the eyes of the right recipient and at the right time so that it will be read? Adobe thinks it may have a solution to that challenge.

Recently, the company announced a series of updates to its marketing applications that not only aims to more tightly integrate its customers’ email marketing with other marketing channels, but also to better predict the best times to send emails so that both open and reading rates of its recipients can be maximized.

The company is doing this under the auspices of a new research project and service. It’s called Adobe Sensai and it leverages artificial and machine learning capabilities to analyze communications with the aim of determining the most effective time to deliver email to individual customers. Gone are the days of sending a one-time, immediate “blast” to hundreds or thousands of recipients. According to the company, a user only needs to define a start and end window for a campaign and the technology will use history and other factors to figure out the rest.

“We store that data, and so for those individuals we have a good sense of when they’re more likely to open an email,” Adobe product marketing manager Matt Rawding told VentureBeat. “And then based upon attributes of that individual as we capture new profiles, we try to find patterns for new profiles to try to identify commonalities and ultimately predict when the best time is for an individual.”

In addition to new tools that are being introduced to aid in the creation, tracking and translation of emails for foreign recipients, Adobe is also aiming to solve another vexing problem that has plagued my clients since…well…forever: frequency. Hitting the right user at the right time is important. But is an email having the intended impact? Are we sending too many emails?  Too few? Adobe Sensei aims to figure out that problem too, by measuring each recipient’s engagement with a company’s email based on the time it takes them to react to a message and the person’s response.

Although still in its infancy, today’s AI apps being used by CRM and marketing applications are getting better at giving driving directions, recommending restaurants nearby, filling prescriptions and answering basic customer service questions. But stay tuned. Tomorrow’s technologies – like the ones Adobe is developing – will not only give marketers and businesses a better and more effective way to reach out to their prospects and customers, but will also help end-users like me to (hopefully) lighten our inboxes and only see the messages that are relevant and at the time I care to see them.

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(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)

The US and Mexico have reached a trade deal and, though details are scant, that’s a good thing for small businesses.

The bill, which will be “fast-tracked”, cannot be signed by Donald Trump for at least 90 days once he notifies Congress of his intentions to do so, and that’s expected to be soon. It will also require congressional approval. But assuming things go as planned, small businesses in certain industries will benefit.

Mexico has agreed that 75% of its automotive content will be manufactured within the trade bloc (which for now just includes itself and the US but could include Canada if another deal is reached). That’s up from the current 62.5% and that potentially means more business for small- and medium-sized parts and equipment manufacturers in the US automotive industry. Mexico has also agreed that 40 to 45% of the automobile content produced will be done so by workers making at least $16 an hour. That’s also good news for small businesses in the US, particularly those that are already paying in excess of this minimum wage and that are losing business from cheaper producers south of the border.

The agreement also addresses digital data rules that will hopefully better protect intellectual property and requires a six-year mandated review period. Duty-free access to farm products is also part of the deal, which is welcome news for US farmers, particularly those reeling under tariffs from Europe, Canada and China.

So yes, this deal is good for small business. Except for one thing: what about the people?

All business – and particularly smaller firms – are struggling to find employees. Those running shops, restaurants, construction, technology, healthcare and personal service firms are at a particular disadvantage. Unemployment is low and at the same time immigration laws have been tightened to restrict access to both skilled and unskilled workers that provide much of the low-level work that underlies the economy.

Immigrant workers are “paramount to the success of agriculture and the ag industry”, Joyce Kelly, the executive director of the Colorado Pork Producers Council, told the Coloradoan. “Trying to find people who will work on a hog farm and are dependable and reliable is very, very difficult. It has to be addressed.” Colorado is facing a low unemployment rate (about 2.7%) and rising minimum wages, both factors which are squeezing small business owners in the state.

And the problem is predicted to get worse. As low-skilled workers in the US decline over the next few years due to an older population and better education, more unskilled labor from Mexico will be needed.

According to a New York Times report, eight of the 15 occupations that will probably grow the fastest through 2024 are the ones that need unskilled workers the most. These include personal care and home health aides, food preparation employees and cleaning service providers. “Ten years from now, there are going to be lots of older people with relatively few low-skilled workers to change their bedpans,” David Card, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley told the Times. “That is going to be a huge problem.”

Unfortunately, the issue is ignored in the latest trade deal, at least from the details presented so far. Some take the position that immigration reform and a trade bill with Mexico are two separate issues. For most small businesses – and particularly the ones who rely on low-skilled workers – the two issues are very much intertwined.

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