Dear Karen: I see lots of advertisements for small business motivational seminars. How effective are they?
Answer: Motivational speakers may give you the confidence to start your own business. But too often, splashy seminars are high-pressure sales pitches for questionable investments or business opportunities, said Sandy Botkin, a tax law specialist and former Internal Revenue Service tax attorney.
"Not all seminars are bad, but it's sometimes hard to determine which ones are legitimate," he said.
Before you sign up, research motivational speakers online and look for candid — not canned — comments from former attendees.
"People should not be paying $1,000 for a seminar that is one big sales pitch for a costly training program that encourages people to withdraw their retirement money for a start-up business," Botkin said.
Dear Karen: Are there tax breaks available for "greening" our office?
Answer: If you own or lease a commercial building and you retrofit it with new heating, cooling or other energy-efficient systems, investigate Internal Revenue Code section 179D, the Energy Efficient Commercial Building Tax Deduction.
The deduction expires at the end of 2012 and it must be certified by a licensed professional engineer. A California firm, Sustainable Energy Associates, offers a calculator and more information on its website, http://www.sustainableenergyassc.com.
Small-business questions? E-mail Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org.