Get Ahead on Year-End Tasks

Year-end is just around the corner, and that means a couple of administrative tasks are necessary to take care of bookkeeping and tax chores. Here are a couple of tips to make year-end go smoother.

Cleaning up

Things will go a lot smoother if you reach out to your vendors and employees and get their help to update your records.

  • Send a notice to all employees, asking them to verify their address so they will get their W-2s without delay.
  • Make sure you have the right information for vendors that you need to produce a 1099 for. Before you pay your vendors more than $600 in one year, ask them for a W-9 so that you have a current address and taxpayer ID number on file.
  • Check to make sure you have any sales tax exemption certificates from vendors that you are not charging sales tax to.

It’s also time to clean up any account balances that need to be reclassified or corrected.

  • Any clearing accounts, such as undeposited funds, should be zero.
  • Bank reconciliations should be caught up and book balances should match the bank or be explained.
  • Inventory should be adjusted to reflect accurate quantities.
  • Loan balances should be adjusted to correctly reflect interest and principal allocations.
  • Depreciation entries should be made.

Maximizing deductions

Here are a just a few ways to maximize deductions:

  • Any bad debts that aren’t expected to be collected can be written off.
  • Any inventory that is not saleable or worth less than you paid for it can be adjusted on your books.
  • For cash basis taxpayers, pay any large bills before year-end if you have excess profits.
  • Pay employee bonuses prior to year-end.

Getting organized

Create a place in your home or office or a special file on your computer to store tax-related documents, such as W-2s, brokerage statements, and tax returns. Convert them to PDF format if they are not already, and upload them to your accountant’s secure client portal as you get them.

With all this great preparation, you’ll find tax season easier than ever and a chore that you can mark off your to-do list early.

 

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Spice Up Your Marketing with Storytelling

One of the ways to impact your marketing is by adding stories. Everyone loves a story, and stories are more memorable compared to almost any marketing copy. Here are a couple of tips on how to use and place stories to share with prospects and customers.

What a Story Is

All stories need to be personal and evoke an emotional response. They can be about the company, the employees, the founder, the customers, or each individual product. Many stories revolve around why the company was started. Others focus on what you can achieve with the product.

Here are some ideas for stories for yourself:

  • Is there a story about why you started the company?
  • Have you seen a transformation in customers you work with that you can craft a story around?
  • Do your employees have a great story about why they love working for you?
  • Is there a story about how your products are created?
  • Is there anything you overcame to start or grow your company?

To be most impactful, a story should be far more than a history lesson or a mission statement. The best stories describe an inspirational transformation.

Stories can be told in a video or in text and graphics. Two things make a story powerful. First, use details rather than general descriptions. This means going through your story and making sure you have a lot of descriptive adjectives. Second, use all five senses. The reader or video watcher should be able to feel like they are right with you in the scene, knowing what you felt, saw, heard, smelled, and even tasted.

Here are some examples to get you inspired:

Nike’s The Chance: https://vimeo.com/40035962

Warby Parker’s Why: https://www.warbyparker.com/history

SoulCycle Who We Are: https://www.soul-cycle.com/our-story/

Every Product Has a Story – Jewelry: http://www.ephas.com.au/our-products/jewellery/necklaces

Think about your story, and share it with the world.

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The Perfect Chart of Accounts for Your Business

Your “Chart of Accounts” is the list of accounts in your accounting software.  The accounts are listed in your reports, and the totals allow you to determine how much you’ve spent, made, own, or owe depending on the type of account.

It’s essential to create a list of accounts that you need in order to make better business decisions.  Your chart of accounts needs to be designed intentionally.  If it hasn’t been, it’s never too late.

Two Types of Accounts

There are two major types of accounts:

  1. Balance sheet accounts that tell what you own and owe.  These are determined by your checking accounts, inventory, and credit cards.
  2. Income statement accounts that tell you about current period operating results.  These, in turn, have two major categories, income and expenses.  For companies with inventory, expenses are further broken out into cost of goods sold and other expenses.

Three Purposes

A chart of accounts should meet three needs:

  • Make it really fast for you to do your taxes
  • Give you all sorts of “Aha’s”
  • Allow you to spend far more time on revenue analysis than expense analysis because that’s where success lies for small businesses

Taxes

Your accounts should be the same as (or be able to be grouped into) the lines on your tax return.  You can find a copy of the tax form you fill out. For example, a sole proprietor will use a Schedule C of the 1040, and a corporation will complete an 1120.

There are a few special needs, such as meals and entertainment which are only partially deductible, that you need to pay special attention to. We can help you with that.

Aha

As small business owners, we work with a gut feel, but when you see what you’ve made or spent in black and white, it takes on a whole new level of meaning.  Your income statement and other reports should do that for you.  If they don’t you may not have your accounts set up right.

Revenue

Think about how you want to see your revenue:

  • By product line
  • By major supplier
  • By category of solution to the customer
  • By customer type
  • By service type
  • By location (you can also use Class for this)
  • By job
  • By distribution method

We can help you brainstorm based on your industry and type of business.

Actionable Intelligence

If you’ve been putting all your revenue into one revenue account, it will be exciting the first time you see your new Profit and Loss statement.

If you’ve been breaking out your revenue but it hasn’t led to any actionable change in your business, then there may be a better way to break it out.

If you’re happy with the way your revenue is broken out, then think about how you can take it to the next level.

Once you see your new chart of accounts, you will likely have even more questions.  The chart of accounts can be an evolving entity, designed to serve your business needs.

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How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

The security breach at Equifax a few months ago left many people thinking once again about identity theft. The best thing is to do everything you can to prevent it from happening to you. Here are a few tips to help you reduce your risk of being a victim of identity theft as well as how to reduce the damage from security breaches of your personal data from sources you can’t control.

Discontinue paper statements that are mailed. 

Paper bank, brokerage, and credit card statements that are mailed can be misboxed, intercepted, lost, or stolen, and the information can fall into dishonest hands. Instead, discontinue paper statements, and access them via your online account where you can review, print, or save them each month for your records.

Rent a private mail box.

If you have trouble with mail theft in your area and can’t check your mailbox as soon as the mail is delivered, consider renting a post office box or a private mail box. These are especially handy if you travel a lot or have many packages delivered and no one is home to sign for them. They cost up to $300 per year, and you can find them at places like The UPS Store, Mailboxes Etc., Postal Annex, or your local post office.

Shred your trash.

If you throw out junk mail offers for new credit cards or bank accounts, be sure to shred that paper and anything else that might contain private information.

Don’t email secure data. 

Credit card numbers, social security numbers, and passwords should not be sent via email unless the email is encrypted or secure. The odds of something happening are low, but could happen.

Use different passwords for different account groups. 

Even the most secure-minded person uses the same password for many different accounts. You can too, but be smart about it. Use a unique password for your bank that you don’t use anywhere else. You might use the same password for all of your social media accounts because it’s just easier. Or another one for all of your free accounts; just don’t use those for any banking or credit card activity. Be smart about your password use, and make your password difficult based on the level of information that is at risk.

Choose hard passwords.

It’s painful, but choosing long, hard passwords can help throw off thieves. Include at least one capital letter, one special character, and one number in your password.  Make it nice and long. And don’t use common words, your birthday, parts of your social security, or your phone number in your password.  When it’s provided, use a random password generator.  And don’t let your browser automatically save your banking passwords for you.

Close inactive accounts.

If you no longer use an account you signed up for, close it rather than let it linger. It will reduce your risk. Be mindful, though; if you close some credit card accounts, your credit score could be adversely affected even if there has been no activity for a while.

Consider freezing your credit.

If you don’t need a new credit card or loan or are not planning a large purchase soon, consider freezing your credit. When you credit is frozen or secure, no one can run checks against it. Any identity thieves would not be able to take a loan out in your name.

Avoid unsecure wifi.

Although the ambience is nice at a Starbucks, the wifi is not secure, and connecting and doing your work all day long there is a big security risk.

Monitor all account activity.

Check your bank and credit card accounts frequently, and turn on all alerts and fraud notifications. You can turn on alerts for when transactions exceed a dollar amount and when your bank balance goes below a certain amount. Getting emails or text messages on your activity can help you stay on top of things.

Consider identity theft insurance.

Identity theft insurance is now common, and you can get it and fraud protection for your business as well as for individuals. If you are a victim, it reimburses you for the cost of restoring your credit. Check with your local insurance agent for more information.

We hope it never happens to you. Try these tips to reduce your risk of identity theft.

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Browser Productivity Tips You May Not Know

If you spend a lot of time online using a web browser to view web sites or to work in online applications, then you may benefit from knowing these wonderful features about your browser software.

Bookmarks

All browsers support bookmarks, and hopefully you are already using this powerful feature. Which web pages do you need to visit on a daily basis? Those should be ones that have a place on your browser’s bookmark bar. Look for your browser menu to find the bookmark commands you can use to set them up.

Avoid bookmarking your bank, brokerage, and credit card web pages for security reasons, but most everything else is fair game and will save you a lot of time.

Browse Incognito

Need to browse privately?  Many browsers offer incognito browsing which disables browsing history and the web cache. Find this command in your browser menu.

People

Roughly two-thirds of the population use Google Chrome as their browser, and the People feature is unique to Chrome. If you have a situation where you have multiple accounts with one software provider, Chrome allows you to have an entirely separate browser session going on for each person.

Let’s say you’re a social media consultant and manage the Facebook accounts for ten clients. You can set up a “person” in Chrome, one for each client. You then can have ten browser sessions going for each of your clients without having to log out and log back in to each Facebook account.

Do you volunteer at a nonprofit where you manage accounts for them? Set them up as a new person, and you can log in to all of their accounts without impacting yours.

Pretend that different departments of your business are separate people. Set up Accounting as a person in Chrome and log in to all of your accounting apps. Or set up Marketing as a person and log in to all your marketing and social media apps using this person.

Set up a different bookmark bar for each person, pouring rocket fuel on your time savings and decluttering you bookmark bars at the same time.

Set up a new person using the Manage People section in Settings.  Toggle between People by using the button on the tab bar at the top right of your screen just to the left of the Minimize command.

Extensions

Many browsers have extensions or plug-ins which expand the functionality of the browser. Here are couple of favorites.

  • Gmail Offline – allows Gmail users to view their email when they don’t have an Internet connection.
  • AdBlock Plus – tired of ads popping up? Get this extension to thwart them.
  • Momentum – provides a customized, motivational dashboard with weather, time, and daily to-do items.
  • Pocket – allows you to save articles and other content to read later or on your other devices.

Many of the software apps you use every day also have Chrome extensions you can use. Pinterest, Evernote, your anti-virus software, Hootsuite, and others have extensions you can check out and install.

Try these tips to learn your browser software better and become more productive while navigating the web.

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How to Beat Procrastination

Would you call yourself a procrastinator?  If so, you’re not alone, and with our to-do-lists growing daily, the percentage of people who procrastinate chronically has increased over the last few decades.

There’s a difference between procrastinating and prioritizing.  Great entrepreneurs know how to put the most important tasks first. There’s also a difference between procrastinating and being overloaded with tasks; that’s another problem called delegation (or lack of it), and that’s a topic for a later article.

If you need a little motivation getting things done that you are procrastinating, here are five quick tips.  Even if you aren’t a procrastinator, these tips may boost your productivity.

  1. Check your willpower.

Think of your willpower like a tank of gas that you use up every day.  By the end of the day, it’s gone.  If you leave tasks that you procrastinate until the end of the day when you have no willpower left, chances are they won’t get done.  Instead, re-arrange your schedule so that the tasks you are procrastinating on get done on a full tank of willpower, usually in the morning.

  1. Set an internal deadline.

You might respond well to external deadlines when everyone is watching or there are consequences for missing them. If so, then make your internal deadlines external ones by announcing them to the world. Having friends ask you about the deadline will incent you to keep your promise.

  1. Treat your success.

If you completed the task you have been procrastinating, then stop and reward yourself.  Your reward should be personal, something you enjoy. Perhaps it’s a spa day, a movie during the week, a long lunch with friends, or just a leisurely walk.

Hopefully you will want more rewards, so you can set a new one for the next tasks you complete.

  1. Break it down.

Sometimes procrastination is the result of feeling like the project is just too big.  If you have a large project looming ahead, break it down into smaller pieces that you feel are more manageable.

  1. Find your power hour.

Everyone has a time of day where they perform the best.  For early risers, it’s the crack of dawn.  For late night owls, it’s past sunset.  Find the time of day where you have the most energy and motivation, and plan your difficult tasks accordingly.

Almost everyone procrastinates on their least favorite tasks. Let these tips help you boost your productivity and reduce your procrastination.

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Is It Profitable to Blog?

One of the many online marketing options available for businesses is blogging. A blog can act as a company’s daily newspaper, letting customers and followers know the latest news about what’s happening. It can also be a wonderful revenue-generator.

As long as the content of your blog is relevant to your readers, you can post on a wide variety of topics. You might want to let clients know about an upcoming sale, a new employee, or a tip related to a product or service of yours.

Some businesses make a separate revenue stream out of blogging. The most profitable blog today is the Huffington Post. Revenue from blogging can be earned in many ways:

  • By selling ad space to people who want to get their products in front of people who read your blog
  • From sponsors
  • By holding events your readers attend
  • From commissions from the sale of products on your site
  • By creating products and services such as membership sites which allow paid access to your resources

Making money from blogging through one of these revenue streams takes work. Not only do you have to find or create content, you’ll need to attract readers too.

You can also simply use your blog to generate a following for your products and services. The right content can improve customer service, educate customers on your products which leads to better client retention, or inform them of the benefits of your products during your sales cycle.

If you’re not a writer, there are plenty of freelance writers available that you can hire to create your blog posts.  You can also curate articles, meaning you can find existing articles and ask the author if you can re-publish theirs.

Creating a blog is easy with software like WordPress or apps like Blogger.com WordPress.com, and Wix.com, and all of these solutions are free.

Think about how a blog can impact your business for the better.

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Cool Apps: Amazon Echo

Did you ever want a secretary that could answer questions all day? While Amazon’s Echo product can’t fetch coffee, it can perform all sorts of digital tasks that come up in daily life at work and at home.

The Echo Dot looks like a small speaker that sits on your desk or table or in your car. It’s enabled with voice recognition and can be integrated with hundreds of apps. Its voice, named Alexa, can answer questions, spend money, play games, control components of your house, play music, and act as an alarm clock. And that’s just for starters.

Alexa listens to your voice and responds. A few of the questions that Alexa is capable of answering correctly include:

“Alexa, how old is Matt Damon?”

“Alexa, where is the closest sushi restaurant?”

“Alexa, could you order a stapler from Amazon?”

“Alexa, open Amex.”

“Alexa, set a timer for 20 minutes.”

“Alexa, order a pizza.”

“Alexa, play music by Lorde.”

“Alexa, what’s on my calendar?”

With additional integrations, Echo can control room temperature and turn on lights. Echo’s range is one room in the house, and the biggest Echo fans have more than one in their house and one for the car.

Echo can be used for business or personal needs. Where it comes in for business is to give you insight in how your business ranks in voice search results. Ask Echo about your business by asking it to find a business similar to yours. For example, if you run a hair salon, ask Echo to find a hair salon. Does it mention yours or your competitor?

Echo can save you time, amuse your employees, and help you gain marketing insights into your business.

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Could Your Business Survive a Disaster?

As business owners, we want to remain optimistic about our business’s future. But life can happen, and we need to be prepared.  A good business owner thinks about all the risks to their business and has a plan in place to reduce or eliminate them.  In 2017, we’ve already had floods in the Midwest and California, a healthy dose of tornadoes, and an ice storm earlier in the year.  And those are just the weather disasters. Are you ready?

In 2015, Nationwide ran a survey that revealed that three out of four small business do not have a disaster plan.  The same survey noted that 52 percent of small business owners thought it would take three months to recover from a disaster.

The most common solution is to create two plans:

  • A disaster recovery plan, which details the steps needed to recover the business from a catastrophic loss
  • A business continuity plan, which details the steps needed to keep the business running in case of a major loss, such as a loss of electricity, location, or key personnel

There’s a lot of help online to help you create your plan. A few of the major items that should be covered include:

  • Employee safety: you’ll need an evacuation plan in case of a disaster that is life- or health-threatening.
  • Communication plan: how will you reach employees in an emergency?
  • Electricity contingency: will you need to access a generator?
  • Internet contingency: can your business survive without the internet for long periods of time, or will you need to find a way to get connected?
  • Location contingency: if your worksite is inoperable, do employees have another place to report to?
  • Employee roles: who will carry out the plan?
  • Private data: how will you safeguard private company and customer data?
  • Systems: do you have an inventory of hardware and software, including vendor technical support contacts? How will you prioritize which system to get back up first? Do you have agreements with vendors who can come to your aid quickly?

Creating a disaster recovery plan can be the lowest priority item on your to-do list as a business owner – until it isn’t.  If you have a lot to lose, then consider spending some time on a plan to give you peace of mind.

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The Power of Influencer Marketing

One of the hottest buzzwords in marketing this year is influencer marketing. Influencer marketing uses key people in thought leadership positions to spread the word about your brand.  These people may be paid or unpaid spokespersons for your brands, products, and services.

The profitable thing about influencer marketing is the leverage.  Instead of marketing or selling to one person at a time, you are marketing to key leaders with followings who can influence many people at once.

Influencer marketing varies by industry; here are some common examples:

  • Locating photos of your product already on social media and reaching out to those people to do more
  • Hiring a social media expert with a large following to talk about your clothing line
  • Having a prominent lifestyle blogger post a photograph containing your juice product
  • Starting a referral program for a makeup company so “regular” women will spread the word

The common theme to all of the above examples is finding people who have a huge number of followers that just happen to be your ideal customers.

To take advantage of this marketing method, ask yourself who is influential in your industry that has the ear and respect of your customer base. How could you partner with them so it’s a win for you, them, and their following?  You may or may not need to compensate them, depending on their revenue model.

There are plenty of apps to help you locate influencers relevant to you. A favorite is Ninja Outreach at ninjaoutreach.com.

Try reaching out to influencers to leverage your existing marketing and make your marketing dollars go farther.

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