Posts Tagged ‘Accounting’


What Is the Ice Bucket Challenge for Small Business Owners?

Doing_the_ALS_Ice_Bucket_Challenge_(14927191426)Have you taken the “Ice Bucket Challenge”? It challenges friends to put a bucket of ice over their head or donate $100 to the ALS Association. The rules state that within 24 hours of being challenged, participants need to video record themselves by accepting the challenge followed by pouring a bucket of ice over their head. The participant then challenges others on that video. As a result of this viral phenomenon, the ALS Association has received $31.5 million in donations during the past month. 

What would the small business version of the Ice Bucket Challenge? Consider these for yourself:

“The Cash Flow” Challenge: You only have $1000 in the bank on Monday to keep running your business until Friday. Help to beat this challenge: Learn how to read a cash flow statement every month so there are no surprises.  If cash is low, isolate the expenses that need to absolutely be paid or it will drive you out of business. Be direct to vendors and employees about when they can expect to be paid.

“The Customer Satisfaction” Challenge: Your top customer is dissatisfied and is threatening to leave your business. Help to beat this challenge: Listen fully to what the customer has to say. Ask them what the best solution to the problem is. Follow through to a resolution and report back to them on the results.

“The Key Employee Left” Challenge: A key employee just quit and now you have to replace them in 24 hours. Where do you look to replace them? Help to beat this challenge: Always ensure that your employees are cross trained so if one leaves, another can do that job for at least a short time.

“The New Version of Your Product Doesn’t Work” Challenge: You announced a new product, but the latest test show it does not work. You have thousands on backorder. Help to beat this challenge: Isolate what is wrong with the product and what can it be fixed in a reasonable amount of time. Take any other functionality out and notify backorder customers when a product can be shipped.

“The 16 Hours of Work Needs to Get Done in 24 Hours” Challenge: You have a huge pile of work to get done today that will take a lot longer than you have. Help to beat this challenge: First decide what not to do. How will it really affect the business if the work was done tomorrow instead of today? What two things must get done today that are critical to the company?

What would your small business challenge be?


How You Can Grow Your Small Business to 7 Figures

Stocksy_txp1c8dcf91CD8000_Small_201077So many entrepreneurs I meet think too small. They’re concerned about paying today’s bills, and give little thought to where they’d like to take their business down the road. That’s an obstacle to success, but one that can be overcome with a little planning and strategy. But the most important thing to making more money is to believe that you can. So let’s get started! It’s time to stop struggling and start thriving in your business.

First, Visualize What You Want to Achieve?

Don’t be afraid to unleash your imagination here. Think big! Would you like to run a $5 million company? Sell it in five years and then retire and travel the world? You can’t hope to grow to any level of success if you don’t first establish what your goals are.

Write these goals down and develop a vision board. No matter how pie-in-the-sky they seem at first, if you think it, it can happen. It’s not your job to judge your desires, just to record them. Seeing these goals on paper or a poster will help you get the right mindset to start believing in those goals.

Next, Figure Out How to Get There

You wouldn’t leave for a major road trip without a map. It’s the same as a business owner. You need a plan for how you’ll get to the destination (those goals you set). It may be overwhelming right now to consider becoming a $5 million company, but if you break that goal down into smaller ones, you’ll actually be able to achieve them.

Maybe the first step is to hire a salesperson or expand the area you service. These are small and simple tasks. Continue your list of action items that will help you reach your goal, and assign timeframes to them. You could even list tasks to complete each quarter to lead you to your goal.

Find One Thing You Do Really Well

This might be a superior product. Or your insanely fast delivery time. Whatever that characteristic that makes you different (and better) than the competition, own it. And use it in your marketing material. You want people to know what makes your company unique from the second they discover you.

Hire the Right People

Few solopreneurs are able to reach that 7-figure goal without a little help. And there’s no shame in hiring people who are smarter than you! Find professionals who can complement your skill set with other qualities, and hire help to fill in the gaps with those tasks you simply don’t have the bandwidth to do yourself.

Another note on hiring: it’s important that you create a company culture that makes all your staff — whether they’re full-time or freelance — feel like part of something bigger than themselves. They’re going to be key in helping you hit those 7-figures, so make sure your company is inviting and that they want to work hard for you for years to come.

Refine Your Sales Process

The smoother your sales process is — and any other process in your company, for that matter — the more sales you can make. Automate what you can, from letting people easily make purchases online or sending an email after a purchase, and put personal attention where needed. This is where having sales staff can make a huge difference. You want every single customer to feel like he has the support and access he needs should he have questions or want help.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Success doesn’t happen when you keep doing the same thing over and over. It happens when you pay attention to what’s working and do more of it, and cull what’s not working. Be constantly diligent to ensure that you’re firing on all cylinders and moving closer to that 7-figure goal.


Desperate for Cash? Beware of These Lenders

One of the main results of the banking crisis that brought the Great Recession was a new law created to protect the consumer through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Unfortunately, this has only moved the focus for predatory lenders to small businesses.

Desperately seeking cash, these owners are now at risk of borrowing money for their companies and not fully understanding the terms of their loans. The subprime lending industry has exploded to $3 billion. These loans are still unregulated and are not protected by the same laws that cover individual borrowers. Mark Pinsky of Opportunity Finance Network says “[For subprime business lenders] the sweet spot is someone who can limp along well enough for six months but probably isn't going to be around much longer…They’re in the business of helping these businesses fail.”

Stocksy_txpbb9bc609CY7000_Small_159204According to Bloomberg Businessweek, one of the companies specializing in subprime lending – also referred to alternative lending – is World Business Lenders. The firm’s representatives pitch their high-rate loans to small business owners who have trouble borrowing elsewhere. World Business Lenders seizes collateral such as vehicles and other assets when borrowers can’t pay, and press legal action where World Business sues companies for missed payments, often sending companies into bankruptcy. In fact, 20 percent of World Business’s borrowers were forced to close down last year, according to former executives.

This capital comes from well-known sources. One subprime business lender, OnDeck, has credit commitments from financial lenders like Goldman Sachs. Interest rates on loans from OnDeck range from 29 percent to 134 percent.

Sales representatives of these types of lenders can use confusing terminology such as “short-term capital” and discuss “money factors” instead of interest rates when talking to potential borrowers. Here are steps you need to take before signing any loan agreement:

  1. How much are you borrowing? Know the exact amount you will receive after any application, up front or prepaid fees.
  2. What is the actual annual interest rate?  Make sure you understand in writing the nominal and effective annual percentage rate.
  3. What is the borrowing term? How often do on time payments need to be made? What are the penalties for late payments?
  4. Are there other fees for paying off the loan early? Some agreements apply all the term interest even if the loan is paid ahead of schedule.
  5. Is there a personal guarantee? Are just the officers of the company signing the documents or do you need to personally guarantee it as well?  Stay away from these types of guarantees that can put your personal savings and home at risk.
  6. Don’t rush it. Don’t be in a hurry to sign any document. Think about it for a day. Show it to a professional advisor (or a banker) to get their opinion on this source of capital.

Always look at all other available sources of capital before agreeing to this type of loan. Check for help from friends, family, customers and additional business cash flow management.


How Spreadsheets Can Turn You into a Business Super Power

Posted on by Carol Roth

supermanphoneboothWhen Clark Kent runs to a phone booth and emerges as Superman, a competent, mild-mannered news man begins using an entirely different set of skills to save the world.  These days, phone booths are a rare sight, but you don’t need one to develop business super powers.  By embracing the capabilities of spreadsheets, you gain skills that help you wear the many hats (or capes) that you need to run a successful business.

You are already well versed in providing your goods or services to happy customers, but any business requires you to be equally adept at planning, organizing, analyzing, reporting and countless other activities.  So, update your superhero wardrobe and toolkit by replacing your many hats with a single spreadsheet cape that helps you super-charge your capacity to handle any type of business task (although I don’t recommend going with the superhero look of wearing your underwear over your pants). 

Here are a few great ways that you can use spreadsheets to “save the day” in your business.

Handling Administrative Tasks Faster than a Speeding Bullet

Like me, you probably view administrative activities as the evil villain in your business day.  How many of your filing cabinets contain nothing but time sheets, expense reports, travel advance requests and other forms that your employees use to keep track of administrative issues?  And how many employees spend countless hours checking the math and making sure that these forms are complete? 

Spreadsheets to the rescue!  When you switch from paper to spreadsheets for your business paperwork, you can release floor space for better uses than paper filing, while freeing employee time (or your time) for more valuable tasks.  Since my college days, Microsoft Excel has been my spreadsheet of choice (which may explain why the company is now one of my clients), so that’s what I recommend.  Microsoft Excel provides an amazing array of helpful templates when you create a new spreadsheet.  Heck, they provide over a dozen templates just for employee time sheets.  But on the off chance that you cannot find the template you need, you can probably find it online on Microsoft’s Templates page.  Browse these templates to get inspired on how you can streamline your administrative duties.

Planning and Reporting with X-Ray Focus

Spreadsheets make planning and reporting easier, more accurate and more collaborative.  By building in assumptions and using formulas for calculations, you can easily test different scenarios, such as what happens if you were able to generate a cost reduction for a key client or what happens if you doubled your revenue.  By copying the current year’s formulas, you can also project future years without having to recreate the wheel each time, which saves you time.  And your customers, lenders and accountants won’t need X-ray vision to find or understand the information that they need.

And, of course, templates are available to help you create everything from startup business plans to just about any type of financial report that you can imagine, so you don’t even need to create them from scratch. 

Use the Power of Charts and Graphs

Analyzing data can be valuable for companies to see trends and deficiencies.  Whether you have one client that is accounting for too much of your business and creating additional risk, or a continual increase in your expenditures of professional services, sometimes it is easier to see with the visual presentation of charts and graphs.  Using spreadsheets, you are just a few clicks away from converting that dry data into colorful charts and graphs that instantly make data evaluation a snap. 

Not only do charts and graphs make it easier for you to analyze data, they are great for transforming presentations as well.  

Whether you do it all in your small business or even if you have the luxury of delegating number crunching to an employee or two, your business needs consistent, accurate and professional-looking information to grow and prosper.  I hope that you will use these suggestions to replace drudgery with productivity.  Then, continue the adventure by finding many other ways to use spreadsheets to make the switch from mild-mannered business owner to business superhero.


6 Best Apps to Manage Your Business Finances

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????These days, the idea of spending 40 hours a week in the office is foreign for most small business owners. We’re more likely to be traveling to business meetings and conferences, or out in the field with clients. And with the technology we have currently available, it’s easier than ever to manage our businesses, no matter where we are, especially by leveraging mobile apps.

Keeping on top of your finances is imperative for your small business. Take advantage of apps provide to manage your money from any mobile device. Here are my suggestions of the 6 best apps to manage your business finances.

1. Freshbooks

If you’re a Freshbooks user, you’ll appreciate the features of its mobile app. In addition to providing access to your accounts, you can also snap photos of paper receipts and log them as expenses, send invoices on the go, and use the time tracking tool to account for hours spent on a given project.

The details: The Freshbooks app is free for users, and is available for both Apple and Android devices.

2. Expensify

If you keep track of your business expenses and hate paper receipts, you’ll love Expensify. This mobile app helps you take photos of receipts, categorize the expenses, and send expense reports right from your phone or tablet.

The details: The app is free and available for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows phones.

3. Square

For retailers and restaurants, credit and debit card payments usually make up a large part of their revenue. In fact, by 2017, it is predicted that only 23% of transactions will be cash-based.

But sometimes those bulky merchant card processing machines are overkill, and many charge more than you want to pay. And what if you want to sell products at a farmer’s market or community fair? Try the right tool for the job: Square is a card reader you can affix to your phone to swipe cards for payments. It’s handy on the go and in your physical location.

The details: The app and card reader are free, and credit card processing fees are either 2.75% per swipe (based on the transaction cost) or 3.5% + $.15 per transaction, depending on the plan you choose.

4. inDinero

If you’re looking for a mobile app that offers multiple financial functions, try inDinero. Both its website and mobile version offer services related to accounting, taxes, payroll, 1099s, bill payment, and compliance. Users even get access to accountants for difficult questions.

The details: The tool is “invite only.” The company looks for businesses with high-growth potential.

5. SurePayroll

If you have employees, use mobile app SurePayroll to pay your staff and contractors, manage employee information, and view payroll reports. This frees you up from having to physically be at your desktop to take care of employee needs.

The details: The app is available for iPhone and Android, and is free for SurePayroll users.

6. FreeAgent

For freelancers and independent contractors, it’s essential to stay on top of proposals, invoices, and time tracking. The FreeAgent app provides all these features, as well as expense tracking and reports.

The details: The services is $24 a month and available for iPhone, Android, and Windows phones.

There are many other financial mobile apps in the marketplace, so find the ones that fulfill the needs your small business has.


4 Mistakes that Will Get the Government Calling You

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????I can still remember the day the Department of Revenue shut my company down.  It seems that we had not done a timely job of remitting the sales tax that we had collected from our customers and this government agency wanted their money. My bookkeeper had apparently ignored all their warnings by mail. When they arrived, they put a big sticker on our door, telling all our customers and employees that we had to "pay up to open up". It was a similar story when the IRS was concerned that we were not remitting employees' collected payroll taxes in a timely period of time. This situations happened because as a new owner, I did not know all my tax responsibilities.

Here are four mistakes that can get the government calling on you and maybe even putting you out of business:

  1. Non payment of payroll taxes. Each pay period, a company deducts from the employees paycheck taxes that are due to the government. If a company is doing this themselves, this money needs to go into a separate account and get sent to the appropriate agency.  A better way to do this is to use a payroll service that will withdraw the taxes and pay the government automatically. With this service, there is no temptation by  a "cash strapped" small business owner to spend payroll tax money they collected, but belongs to the government.
  2. Non payment of sales tax. With each transaction, a company collects sales tax for  the government. It is then the companies responsibility to remit these funds to the appropriate agency. A company should ensure that theses taxes get posted to a separate account so the money is there to send at the end of the month.
  3. Non payment of use tax. This is a tax that a company assesses on themselves for product they purchased for their own use where they should have been charged state sales tax, but weren't. This needs to be send to the state typically every quarter.
  4. Health code violations. Run an office that is unhealthy for employees or a location unfit for customers? Inspectors will shut that company down on the spot and lock the doors. This gets much stricter when serving food and beverage or a hotel

In the days when a company's online reputation is critical, getting shut down like this will do nothing but hurt your Yelp and TripAdvisor ratings.


Creative Ways to Get Cash to Run Your Business

There is very little that you can count on in business.  But one thing is universally true — banks and investors are the most interested in giving capital to the businesses that need it the least. Given this universal truth, how can small businesses get the capital that they need to operate and grow?  It may be time to open your mind to creative cash flow methods that can infuse your business with the money that you need when you need it.

Leverage Your Customers

One way to achieve financial fitness is by practicing what I call “cash flow yoga.”  Simply put, you need to find ways to take cash in quickly, while letting it out slowly.  Rather than making your products or deliveries up-front and then chasing down payment, why not flip that traditional formula on its head?  Move to a system where you pre-sell and then, fulfill product orders.  Or, if you sell services, ask your customers to reserve your time with an upfront deposit.

Pre-selling definitely improves your cash flow, helps you save time chasing down payments and helps to filter out deadbeats.  Moreover, it also teaches you a great deal about the popularity of your products, so that you know what and how much to produce — and what products to abandon.

If you think that customers will not welcome this approach, the right marketing can transform this strategy into a selling point. For example, I advised a woman selling organic cosmetics that using a “made to order” messaging would keep her from having to retain inventory and allow her to take payments, make the products and then, deliver them. 

Just be sure to know the laws about deposits in your jurisdictions, so that you know how long you have to deliver while being compliant.

Embrace Gift Cards

??????????????????????????????????One major gift card vendor reports that consumers spend over $100 billion in gift cards each year.  And 72 percent of gift card holders spend more than the value on their cards.  But you do not have to be in the retail industry to benefit in this way.  Many businesses can boost their up-front cash by issuing gift cards or certificates.

Gift cards and certificates provide a win-win for you and your customers.  If you run a time-sensitive business like a tax accounting firm, pre-paid clients know that they lock in the knowledgeable support that they need during the busy tax season — and  if you combine the pre-pay strategy with a discount, even save money by paying upfront.  Not only does it provide a cash infusion into your business, you can better anticipate your future workload, so that you can plan resources effectively.

Before you start making these offers, however, you need to keep two important caveats in mind.  First, you need to review state and local laws to make sure that your strategy works for your business.  Additionally, pre-payments require different bookkeeping practices.  When you sell gift cards, they represent liabilities to your business.  Once you deliver the products or services, they become revenues.

“Kick Start” Some Cash

You may not know the term, “crowdfunding,” but you probably recognize the name Kickstarter, which is one of the most popular sites used by people looking for financial “backers” for their new projects and products.  Although there have been recent legislation changes around crowdfunding equity, there are many crowdsourcing platforms that allow you to seek contributions in exchange for providing perks and benefits to your sponsors.  For example, a $100 sponsor for your flying widget might receive a widget once they are produced.  $250 sponsors might also see their names on the packaging.

If you need additional cash to bring a product to market, crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo may be the right solution.  But, unless you get enough pledges, you will not obtain the funding you need, so you need to actively promote your listing.  Too many entrepreneurs think that if they build it or list it, that sponsors will just line up.  This isn’t the case- you need to take an active role to make sure that your project is fully funded. Get your friends and family involved in your project, and then make liberal use of Twitter, Facebook and other social media to let the world know where to go to learn more and sponsor your project.

Also, the more excitement you create, the more involved your sponsors become.  Consider fun and informative videos, creative perks and fun descriptions that create engagement.  If you do it right, you may get more than money- sponsors may even make suggestions on how to improve on your original concept or share new product benefits that will improve your marketing.  The advantage is that small business owners can gain financial and collaborative benefits from their sponsors without giving up ownership in their companies.

Banks aren’t always waiting in the wings to help fund small businesses, but that’s no reason to throw in the towel.  Your entrepreneurial spirit and some out-of-the-box thinking can go a long way to help supplement your cash.


Mondays with Mike: Sure-Fire Techniques For Cutting Costs

Every entrepreneur knows that minimizing expenses is essential to maximizing profit, but we don’t always know how to go about cutting costs – especially for big ticket items.  The longer I’m in business, the more I realize that paying full price for something is rarely necessary.  Here’s my list of tactics to avoid spending more than you have to:

  1. Buy generic.  Whether you’re talking about antibiotics or office equipment, insisting on a brand name will nearly always cost you more.  Shopping based on reviews, rather than name recognition will get you better quality for a better price.
  2. Borrow.  Look around your office, and I guarantee you’ll find a piece of equipment that you don’t use very often.  Whether it’s a box truck that you use twice a year, or whether it’s a fancy printer/scanner/copier that you only use to do your quarterly newsletters, examine your purchases and find someone to lend you the big-ticket items that you only need infrequently.
  3. Lease.  For seriously big-ticket expenses, especially those that you only plan to keep for a short while, or will incur significant maintenance charges, you should consider whether a lease is a good option.  If you must have a late model car, but you don’t need to put lots of miles on it, then a lease may be ideal.  Large office equipment can be cheaper to lease than purchase as well.
  4. ??????????????????????????????????????????Be patient.  We often don’t realize it, but a lot of purchases are made because of emotional, rather than practical reasons.  If you force yourself to sleep on a decision, you’re taking emotions out of the equation, and you’ll find that you frequently choose not to buy after all.  Make yourself wait, and you’ll inevitably save money.
  5. Barter.  Trading your unique skill set for talents you don’t possess is one of the best ways to save money – and strengthen community ties as well.  Trading your pizza shop’s delicious fare for business card printing services can benefit everyone involved with very little outlay of cash.  While you used to be limited to your immediate community to make bartering practical, there are now websites like TradeAway and BarterOnly that facilitate trading using sitewide credits so that you don’t have to find someone who needs exactly what you have to offer in order to get what you’re looking for.
  6. Buy used.  Products start depreciating as soon as you purchase them, and finding lightly used alternatives can save you a boatload.  If you’re savvy, you can often even find products that are still under warranty, and you may even find ones that are sold with an extended warranty that protects your investment. 
  7. Share.  Whether it’s infrequently used equipment or facilities like break rooms in your office space, if you look hard enough, you’ll find that you and other businesses are spending far more than you should on things you don’t use very often.  Working with folks in close proximity and finding the ways in which you’ve duplicated purchases can clue you in to options for making more efficient use of items you can share.  Think about negotiating a lease at a lower rate for shared restrooms on your floor, rather than several individual ones, or sharing a microwave or refrigerator with your neighbors in the office building.

I’ve always admired entrepreneurs who find innovative ways to spend less, and I constantly strive to be a better penny pincher when I can.  I don’t advocate cutting corners or sacrificing quality where it matters, but I do suggest taking a look at your business and identifying areas where you’re spending more than you have to.


How to Keep the Rule of 3 from Ruling your Business

Even with the best laid plans, it has become clear to me that every business project follows the “Rule of 3”: it takes three times longer, costs three times as much and is three times as difficult as it should be.  This is a universal truth, so if you can accept it and even embrace it, you can put yourself on a path toward a more successful future for your business.

Here are some ways to battle some of the Rule of 3 issues that have been frustrating business owners since the beginning of time.

Everything Takes Longer, but You Can Get There

Setting your expectations too high is often the cause of this phenomenon.  Once you align yourself with realistic goals, you can head for longer term success.  Consider the following situations:

  • Getting the big order from a new client:  New customers may want to test the waters by initially offering smaller jobs.  When you impress them by providing high-quality work on time or before deadlines, the large order will come.
  • Getting a new product to market:  Even with extensive planning, Murphy’s Law accurately predicts that something will inevitably go wrong.  Perhaps a vital part is not delivered, manufacturing becomes halted, or your entire software development team gets the flu a week prior to scheduled delivery.  One way to deal with this issue is to develop an accurate delivery date up front — and then, multiply it by three or at least add some padding to the date. The worst case scenario is that you end up delivering early.
  • Providing on-site support for clients:  The moment you lose control over the place where your work is performed or your product is installed, any number of things can go wrong.  If you need to rely on a client’s computer, you might get a defective one.  Or you may set out to install 220 volt equipment in a building with only 120 volt outlets. Make sure that your contract provides detailed requirement specs and estimates the resulting time delays if those requirements are not met.

Of course, time delays can also amount to income delays.  So, make sure that you have enough capital to ride out the extra time.

Creativity and Planning Helps Handle Extra Expense

Stocksy_txp31123075Gu3000_Small_81280Even the big business players want to bring projects in on budget, but additional expenses do not generally bring their operations to a screeching halt.  As a small business owner, you do not have the luxury of overspending, but there are some ways to help avoid — or at least deal with — financial surprises.

Just as you need to add a buffer when planning the timing for an undertaking, you have to do the same when it comes to budgeting.  After a careful analysis tells you that your new widget will cost $5,000 from design to final production, you need to plan for what you will do if the actual expenses turn out to be $15,000.  Even if you don’t have the cash on-hand to deal with the additional costs, create a Plan B so that you have a pre-approved bank loan in place or someone waiting in the wings to help.

You may also be able to manage the additional costs with some creative strategies.  For example, a vendor might be willing to barter its product in exchange for one of your products or services.  If you think bartering is not a viable way to conduct business, I recently heard of a web designer who conducts all business within a “gift economy.”  He designs and builds websites as gifts for his customers, trusting them to gift back based on what they believe is fair value for his work.  While he reports this business model has worked well for him, I’m not recommending — or even suggesting — that you take such an extreme approach to your cash flow.  But entering into a barter agreement can be valuable in a pinch.

It May be Difficult, but You Don’t Have to Go it Alone

There is nothing better than the power of people.  Every small business owner should find a support group of other business owners that they can use as sounding boards for business challenges.  The Web offers many ready-made groups that you can turn to, or you can form your own group.  Often, the experience of expressing your concerns out loud is enough to help you find solutions.  And the chances are that others in your group have worked through the same issues and have found successful solutions.   At a minimum, they can provide you with some comfort when things are inevitably more difficult than you expect them to be.

Dealing with the Rule of 3 can be one of the most frustrating aspects of running any business, but you can lessen its effects with creative thinking and a few good friends. And for those times when you feel overwhelmed by these issues, remember — there’s always ice cream.




 
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