Category Archives: Entrepreneur

How To Remove the Emotion from Decision-Making


Before you’re faced with a choice that will affect your company’s fortunes, it’s important to have a system of predetermined rules and outside opinions in place.

It is lonely at the top, especially when you have a big decision to make. But as a leader, making a decision by yourself only makes it harder. The pressure soon can soon turn into fear, and you’ll be beset by emotion, unable to make an unclouded decision based on facts.

Freek Vermeulen, author and associate professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School, says it’s common for smart leaders to make bad decisions–and most of the time, emotions are to blame.

“Whether it’s a personal choice or a strategic business decision, emotions often crowd out objectivity. After all, executives are only human, too,” Vermeulen writes in the Harvard Business Review. “Precisely because strategic choices are such important ones, loaded with anxiety and uncertainty … people start to ‘follow their heart,’ ‘rely on intuition’ and ‘gut feeling,’ overestimate their chances of success, and let their commitment escalate.”

Vermeulen stresses that great leaders cannot allow emotional bonds to obscure sound judgment. Below, read his three tips on how to make sure you never make an emotional decision when the clock is ticking.

The 6 D’s of Customer Service

This is a great article by Shep Hyken, published in LHPro.


Creating a customer-centric culture — that’s a lot of words beginning with C. Well, this article is about the letter D. When I was in school, a D wasn’t a very good grade. However, you and your company will want the following Ds, especially if customer service is important to you. And, I know it is!

The 6 Ds of a customer-centric culture:

  1. Define it. Customer service is part of your brand promise. It is what you want your employees to deliver. It is what you want the customer to experience. Make it clear and keep it simple. For example, Ace Hardware is known as the “Helpful Hardware Place.” They have defined customer service as being helpful, and in their hiring, training and customer interactions, they make it clear that helpful is what they are all about.
  2. Disseminate it. Don’t keep it a secret. You’ve defined your customer service experience, but now you must train your employees on how to deliver it. The Ritz Carlton hotel chain has laminated cards with their “credo” and several other important core values printed on it. Each employee carries the card with him and is urged to memorize it.
  3. Deploy it. It’s time to execute your plan. Now that your employees have been trained, it’s time to implement and act on your customer service initiative. Every employee must know it and be on board with it — even those who don’t have direct contact with your customers. Customer service is every employee’s job.
  4. Demonstrate it. Your employees have been trained in customer service and must demonstrate it. Leaders must, through their actions, show employees how it’s done. And, everyone else must do the same. Every employee ought to be a role model for how to deliver amazing customer service.
  5. Defend it. If you see an employee doing something contrary to your customer service plan, step in to help. This isn’t about reprimanding or calling someone out for doing something wrong. This is a teaching opportunity and, treated as such, creates a culture that comfortably empowers employees to deliver great customer service.
  6. Delight in it. Take pride and delight in the success you have with your customers. Celebrate the success of the company and individuals who have demonstrated amazing customer service.

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Shep Hyken is a professional speaker and best-selling author. For more information on Shep’s speaking presentations, call 314-692-2200, email or go to

Monthly Economic Update

Stocks finished 2013 with a flourish. The S&P 500 rose another 2.36% last month to return 29.60% on the year. As Wall Street celebrated, good news came to Main Street as well; the jobless rate fell and many signs of economic improvement emerged. Performance of Asian and European stock indices varied widely. Gold stumbled further and oil rebounded. Mortgages grew more expensive, and the pace of home buying reflected that reality. Midway through the month, the Federal Reserve announced it was tapering its economic stimulus – and investors applauded the move.1

In a late-November CNN poll, only 24% of Americans felt that an economic recovery was underway; 39% felt the U.S. was still in a downturn. Perception aside, economic indicators out in December showed an economy clearly on the way back.2

Unemployment? Thanks to 203,000 net new jobs, the jobless rate fell to a 59-month low of 7.0% in November. GDP? A final Q3 estimate of 4.1%, helped by a 2.0% gain in Q3 personal spending. Consumer spending was up 0.5% in November alone.3,4,5

According to the Institute for Supply Management, the service and manufacturing sectors expanded again in November – its factory PMI was at 57.3, its service sector PMI at 53.9. The service sector expanded for the 47th consecutive month. A Federal Reserve report showed industrial production up 1.1% in November and matching a pre-recession peak.4,6

The federal government’s Consumer Price Index was flat for November, with annualized inflation at just 1.2%. Gasoline prices dropped 1.6% in November while retail sales jumped 0.7%.7

Durable goods orders were up 3.5% in November, rebounding from the 0.7% decline in October. Wholesale prices retreated for a third straight month in November – the headline Producer Price Index showed a 0.1% retreat, with the PPI rising just 0.7% in 12 months.5,8

How were households feeling? The Conference Board’s December consumer confidence index rose 6.1 points to 78.1; the University of Michigan’s final December consumer sentiment index came in at 82.5.5

The Federal Reserve’s December 18 decision to taper QE3 caught some investors by surprise – wasn’t the central bank going to wait until 2014? Wall Street didn’t panic; in fact, it was pleased. The Dow climbed 292 points on the day of the announcement. The Fed is now purchasing $75 billion of bonds monthly, as opposed to the $85 billion per month it bought in 2013.9

Enrollment finally surged at the Health Insurance Marketplace. The White House stated that by Christmas Eve, about 2 million people nationwide had signed up for health coverage, 1.1 million of them via the site serving 36 states. That still fell short of the Obama administration’s year-end goal of 3 million.10

As December ended, available data showed that the eurozone economy was growing, albeit weakly. Euro area GDP was but 0.1% in Q3, down from 0.3% in Q2. (For the record, euro area GDP has never exceeded 1.3% since Eurostat first measured it in 1995 and hit a nadir of -2.5% in 2009.) Euro area unemployment was running at 12.1% after the first monthly decline since February 2011; yearly consumer inflation was at 0.9%, up from the 45-month low of 0.7% recorded in October.11,12,13

The official PMI reading for China’s factory sector was 51.0 in December, down from the prior mark of 51.4. Political tension between China and Japan threatened to undo progress toward a new trilateral free-trade pact between China, Japan and South Korea. Territorial disputes in the South China Sea were one factor, and China took insult when Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe visited a shrine honoring WWII veterans including convicted war criminals from the Chinese occupation. Still, December ended with no injury to the trade ties between the two nations.14,15,16

December seemed to bring as many ascents as descents. The Global Dow rose 1.37%, the Asia Dow lost 0.53% and the Europe Dow advanced 1.95%; the MSCI Emerging Market Index lost 1.53%, yet the MSCI World rose 2.00%. Other benchmarks: Nikkei 225, +4.02%; Kospi, -1.64%; Hang Seng, -2.41%; Sensex, +1.82%; Jakarta Composite, +0.42%; Shanghai Composite, -4.71%; Bovespa, -1.86%; IPC All-Share, +0.54%; MERVAL, -5.73%; TSX Composite, +1.69%; FTSE 100, +1.48%; DAX, +1.56%; DJ STOXX 600, +0.95%; CAC 40, +0.02%. Among notable European, Asian  and multi-country indices, four yearly gains stand out: Nikkei 225, 56.72%; Ireland’s ISEQ, 33.64%; Pakistan’s KSE 100, 49.43%; MSCI World, 24.10%.1,17i COmposite : the TSX Composite (-2.30%), the  gan’


The twelfth month of 2013 saw gold futures fall again: a loss of 4.23% to $1,202.30 at year’s end. Silver dropped 5.16% in December, but copper rose 6.47%. NYMEX crude ended 2013 at $98.42, up 6.35% on the month. Natural gas futures soared 7.44%, heating oil rose 1.13% and unleaded gasoline jumped 4.79% in December. Among marquee crops, the best performer was cotton at +6.69%; the worst was wheat at -7.75%. Performances in between: cocoa, -2.90%; coffee, +4.57%; soybeans, -1.68%; sugar, -3.91%; corn, +1.75%. The U.S. Dollar Index posted a 0.64% December loss, concluding the year at 80.16.18,19

With mortgage rates on the way up, new and existing home sales declined in November. In fact, the National Association of Realtors said existing home sales were actually down 1.2% year-over-year. New home buying dipped just 2.1% for the month, but residential resales decreased 4.3%. (The NAR did report a 0.2% rise in pending home sales in November.) Home price gains had yet to moderate: the October S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index showed a 13.6% yearly gain in home values across 20 cities. While building permits fell 3.1% in November, housing starts rose 22.7% (the largest gain in any month since January 1990).4,5,20

Freddie Mac’s December 26 Primary Mortgage Market Survey found mortgage rates averaging as follows: 30-year FRMs, 4.48%; 15-year FRMs, 3.52%; 5/1-year ARMs, 3.00%; 1-year ARMs, 2.56%. Compare the November 27 averages: 30-year FRMs, 4.29%; 15-year FRMs, 3.30%; 5/1-year ARMs, 2.94%; 1-year ARMs, 2.60%.21

Closing values from December 31: DJIA, 16,576.66; NASDAQ, 4,176.59; S&P 500, 1,848.36; Russell 2000, 1,163.64. Incidentally, the Dow Jones Internet Index soared 56.15% in 2013 and the NASDAQ Biotechnology Index rocketed 65.61%.1

DJIA +26.50 +3.05 +17.78 +5.86
NASDAQ +38.32 +2.87 +32.96 +10.85
S&P 500 +29.60 +2.36 +20.93 +6.62
10 YR TIPS 0.80% -0.67% 2.14% 2.00%

Sources:,, – 12/31/131,22,23,24,25

Indices are unmanaged, do not incur fees or expenses, and cannot be invested into directly.

These returns do not include dividends.

Could 2014 bring stock market gains anywhere near those of 2013? Even the most ardent bulls don’t see the market soaring so high. Bears see little or no upside to stocks this year, pointing to an aging bull, further tapering of QE3 and the potential for a long-overdue correction. Bulls counter with the argument that the Fed’s easy money policy hasn’t yet reached its endgame, and point to continual signs of solid economic improvement. Hopefully, January sets a nice tone for the quarter and the year, and double-digit gains will come to pass.26

UPCOMING ECONOMIC RELEASES: The new year unfolds with a full slate of economic reports: December auto sales (1/3), December factory orders and December’s ISM service sector PMI (1/6), the December Fed policy meeting minutes (1/8), the December Challenger job-cut report (1/9), the December jobs report and October wholesale inventories (1/10), December retail sales and November business inventories (1/14), the December PPI and a new Fed Beige Book (1/15), the December CPI and the January NAHB housing market index (1/16), the University of Michigan’s initial January consumer sentiment index, December housing starts and building permits and December industrial output (1/17), December existing home sales, the Conference Board’s December index of leading indicators and November’s FHFA housing price index (1/23), December new home sales (1/27), the Conference Board’s January consumer confidence index, November’s Case-Shiller home price index and December durable goods orders (1/28), a Fed policy statement (1/29), December pending home sales and the first estimate of Q4 GDP (1/30), and last but not least, December’s consumer spending report and the University of Michigan’s final January consumer sentiment index (1/31).


Reeve Conover Disclosure


This material was prepared by MarketingLibrary.Net Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. Marketing Library.Net Inc. is not affiliated with any broker or brokerage firm that may be providing this information to you. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is not a solicitation or recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a price-weighted index of 30 actively traded blue-chip stocks. The NASDAQ Composite Index is an unmanaged, market-weighted index of all over-the-counter common stocks traded on the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation System. The Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) is an unmanaged group of securities considered to be representative of the stock market in general. It is not possible to invest directly in an index. NYSE Group, Inc. (NYSE:NYX) operates two securities exchanges: the New York Stock Exchange (the “NYSE”) and NYSE Arca (formerly known as the Archipelago Exchange, or ArcaEx®, and the Pacific Exchange). NYSE Group is a leading provider of securities listing, trading and market data products and services. The New York Mercantile Exchange, Inc. (NYMEX) is the world’s largest physical commodity futures exchange and the preeminent trading forum for energy and precious metals, with trading conducted through two divisions – the NYMEX Division, home to the energy, platinum, and palladium markets, and the COMEX Division, on which all other metals trade. The Global Dow is a 150-stock index of corporations from around the world created by Dow Jones & Company. The Asia Dow measures the Asia equity markets by tracking 30 leading blue-chip companies in the region. The Europe Dow measures the European equity markets by tracking 30 leading blue-chip companies in the region. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index is a float-adjusted market capitalization index consisting of indices in more than 25 emerging economies. The MSCI World Index is a free-float weighted equity index that includes developed world markets, and does not include emerging markets. Nikkei 225 (Ticker: ^N225) is a stock market index for the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE). The Nikkei average is the most watched index of Asian stocks. The Korea Composite Stock Price Index or KOSPI is the major stock market index of South Korea, representing all common stocks traded on the Korea Exchange. The Hang Seng Index is a freefloat-adjusted market capitalization-weighted stock market index that is the main indicator of the overall market performance in Hong Kong. The BSE SENSEX (Bombay Stock Exchange Sensitive Index), also-called the BSE 30 (BOMBAY STOCK EXCHANGE) or simply the SENSEX, is a free-float market capitalization-weighted stock market index of 30 well-established and financially sound companies listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE). The IDX Composite or Jakarta Composite Index is an index of all stocks that are traded on the Indonesia Stock Exchange (IDX).  The SSE Composite Index is an index of all stocks (A shares and B shares) that are traded at the Shanghai Stock Exchange. The Bovespa Index is a gross total return index weighted by traded volume & is comprised of the most liquid stocks traded on the Sao Paulo Stock Exchange. The Mexican IPC index (Indice de Precios y Cotizaciones) is a major stock market index which tracks the performance of leading companies listed on the Mexican Stock Exchange. The MERVAL Index (MERcado de VALores, literally Stock Exchange) is the most important index of the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange. The S&P/TSX Composite Index is an index of the stock (equity) prices of the largest companies on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) as measured by market capitalization. The FTSE 100 Index is a share index of the 100 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange with the highest market capitalization. The DAX 30 is a Blue Chip stock market index consisting of the 30 major German companies trading on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. The STOXX Europe 600 Index is derived from the STOXX Europe Total Market Index (TMI) and is a subset of the STOXX Global 1800 Index. The CAC-40 Index is a narrow-based, modified capitalization-weighted index of 40 companies listed on the Paris Bourse. Karachi Stock Exchange 100 Index (KSE-100 Index) is a stock index acting as a benchmark to compare prices on the Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE) over a period. The ISEQ Overall Index is a capitalization-weighted index of all official list equities in the Irish Stock Exchange, excluding U.K.-registered companies. The US Dollar Index measures the performance of the U.S. dollar against a basket of six currencies. Additional risks are associated with international investing, such as currency fluctuations, political and economic instability and differences in accounting standards. This material represents an assessment of the market environment at a specific point in time and is not intended to be a forecast of future events, or a guarantee of future results. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.  Investments will fluctuate and when redeemed may be worth more or less than when originally invested. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. All economic and performance data is historical and not indicative of future results. Market indices discussed are unmanaged. Investors cannot invest in unmanaged indices. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional.



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New Year’s tax changes: what to expect


December 13, 2013

With the New Year will come a new set of tax rates and tax codes for your clients to deal with. Many of these will affect not only their estate planning in the coming year, but quite possibly the last-minute moves they wish to make from now through the end of 2013.

Many of the changes are indexed to inflation, and with the consumer price index running at a tepid 1.0 percent, the increases have been modest. Still the numbers present a bit of a moving target and are worth keeping an eye on. Here’s a rundown of some of the changes that are already in the books for 2014:

Estate taxes

The estate tax exemption is going up but just marginally, to $5.34 million in 2014 from $5.25 million in 2013. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 set the estate exemption to remain static, although it’s indexed to inflation, which is why it increased by 1.7 percent for next year. The estate tax rate itself remains unchanged at 40 percent.

Gift taxes

The annual gift tax exemption amount remains static at $14,000 per recipient, although the lifetime exclusion rises to $5.34 million. One rather esoteric change: The annual gift exemption amount for noncitizen spouses increases to $145,000 in 2014 from $143,000 in 2013.

Alternative minimum tax

The AMT is always a potential problem for even middle-class people who itemize deductions. The exemption is projected to rise to $82,100 for married couples filing jointly and surviving spouses, $52,800 for unmarried single filers and heads of household and $41,050 for married couples filing separately in 2014.

Clients who fear being subject to the AMT this year but might miss it next year could try to defer some of their deductions into 2014, when they would actually be able to use them.

Income taxes

While individual income tax rates will remain the same in 2014, some of the threshold amounts at which taxpayers become affected by those rates are rising. The threshold amount for the maximum tax rate of 39.6 percent is rising to $457,600 for married couples filing jointly, $228,800 for married couples filing separately, $432,200 for heads of households, and $406,750 for single filers.

Capital gains taxes

The thresholds at which people will become subject to the different levels of capital gains taxes has been ratcheted up a notch. The top capital gains rate of 20 percent now applies to incomes of $457,600 for married couples, up from $450,000 last year.

For single filers, the threshold rises to $406,750 from $400,000. Remember, those figures are for taxable income, not just the amount of the capital gains themselves.

Standard Deductions and Exemptions The standard deduction increases to $12,400 for married couples filing jointly, up from $12,200 for 2013; and $6,200 for singles and married people filing separately, up from $6,100. The personal exemption amount jumps to $3,950 from $3,900 for 2013. But the amount begins to phase out between $305,500 and $427,550 for married couples, and between $254,200 and $376,700 for single filers.


Medicare surtaxAs part of the ObamaCare reform, many people are now paying a Medicare surtax: The income limits are not indexed to inflation, and remain the same for 2014 as they were for 2013: $200,000 for single filers, $250,000 for married filers filing jointly, $125,000 for married filers filing separately, and $11,950 for trusts and estates.

Also unchanged are the tax rates: a 3.8% Medicare surtax on investment income and 0.9% Medicare surtax on earned income.

Pease limitations

The minimum income threshold to claim itemized deductions in 2014 is $254,200 for single taxpayers ($305,050 for married couples filing jointly). This limit — known as the “Pease Limitation,” after the Ohio congressman who first introduced the idea back in 1990 — had been scaled back in previous years but returned with the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.

If your income is higher than $305,050 for married couples ($254,200 for single filers) the amount of itemized deductions that you can claim is reduced by 3% of the amount by which your adjusted gross income exceeds those limits.

It’s not likely to be a huge adjustment for most taxpayers, but the bottom line is that your clients can’t just assume they will be able to fully itemize their deductions. In making year-end adjustments to their estate plan, that’s an important consideration to keep in mind.

Learning to say “no” is part of success

Great blog post by Ed Batista:


“Success* is often built on a reflexive habit of saying “yes” to opportunities that come our way. We’re hungry for any chance to prove ourselves, and when we’re presented with one, we take it, even—or especially—if it seems daunting. (A lesson I learned years ago was to say yes to opportunities that made me feel nervous because the anxiety was a sign that I’d learn something useful.) We may also tend to say “yes” out of a fear that turning down an opportunity even once sends a message that we’re not interested, and we’ll stop getting additional chances in the future.

But success tends to attract bigger and better opportunities. As we succeed, a key challenge becomes prioritizing the many opportunities that present themselves. We often try to do this without saying “no” definitively—we still want to keep our options open. Inevitably, though, this results in a lack of clarity and overcommitment, and we wind up disappointing people, exhausting ourselves, or simply failing. To prevent this we need to learn to say “no” gracefully but firmly, maintaining the relationship while making it clear that this is one opportunity we’re choosing not to pursue. And success in this effort is founded on the ability to manage the emotions that come up when we close a door or extinguish an option.

These emotions can be subtle: a twinge of regret, a trace of anxiety, a faint voice that whispers, “Are you sure you want to turn this down?” We often respond reflexively to such emotions, driven to eliminate the discomfort they evoke. So we say “yes” and feel some relief—until later, when we realize the costs of the commitment we’ve now made. A critical step in managing these emotions is training ourselves to resist that initial reflexive response; I often describe this to clients and students as “becoming more comfortable with discomfort.” We notice the discomfort provoked by the possibility of saying “no,” and yet we can tolerate it. We’re not compelled to take action to eliminate it.

There’s no magic formula for saying “no” more effectively, but here are three steps that can help:

  1. Slow down. Feelings of anxiety generated by the possibility of saying “no” can escalate into a full-blown threat response, an emotional state in which we have diminished capacity to process information and consider options. Slowing down the pace of an interaction or a decision-making process can allow us to catch up and make the choice that’s right for us, not merely the choice that alleviates our anxiety in the moment.
  2. Recognize our emotional cues. We experience many emotions before we recognize them in conscious awareness, but feelings often have physiological markers that can help us identify and name the emotion sooner. Once we’re aware of an emotion, we can take action to influence how we respond. What do we feel—physically—when we consider saying “no”?
  3. Practice. Saying “no” is like any other interpersonal skill—it feels clumsy and awkward at first, and we improve only with repeated effort.

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Reeve Conover is a Registered Representative. Securities offered through Cambridge Investment Research, Inc., a Broker/dealer member FINRA/SPIC. Cambridge and Conover Consulting are not affiliated. Licensed in SC, NC, NY, CT, NJ, and CA. - SIPC - Brokercheck