Archive for the ‘entrepreneur’ category

Taking Action on Cash-Flow

December 28th, 2015

Cash Flow womanCash flow is the lifeblood of any business, and in any business there are cash flow dangers. There is a capacity for a business to accumulate costs. They gradually grow month-by-month and your cash flow gradually diminishes to a trickle and finally dries up. Your only defense is to watch, record, compare and trend your costs.

Understanding what the numbers mean is crucial to your cash flow. Are sales trending up or down? Are expenses rising faster than sales? Is one product more profitable or better selling than another? How much do I need to sell to meet expenses each month? The answers all lie in the numbers.

The best way to measure cost trends is by analyzing the expense categories in your accounting software, and ideally graphing them to get a better visualization of their impact. If your company’s chart of accounts is properly designed, you can produce the graphs for each cost item and quickly be able to see that your power bill, for example, is gradually rising. This new perspective can now lead to an informed change in behavior that will reduce those costs or at least reduce the increase in those costs.

Once you have established your costs, you should compare them against the industry average, or at least use your own common sense and business experience. If you keep your books accurate and up to date, you will be able to calculate the relationship between your gross sales and the expenditure in any category. For example, with the help of your historical accounting data, you may decide that your postage should be 2% or 3% of gross sales. When you look over your month-end reports, you may discover that it has risen to 5%. Catching it early, you can now take corrective action.

If you are able to control your expenses, you can develop a healthy constant cash flow. When your bills are greater than your sales/receivables, your first reaction is most likely that you need to increase sales and collections. Although that is always a good idea, even when there isn’t a cash flow problem, there is still very good reason to pay particularly close attention to your expenses. If when looking at your figures you see that it takes five dollars to put one dollar on your bottom line, it then takes $5,000 of sales to yield $1,000. This means that saving $1,000 in costs is exactly the same as generating $5,000 worth of sales.

You need to look at your cash flow from an informed perspective. Here are five areas to focus on:

1. Mismanaging Credit
There are two common ways to mismanage credit in small business; granting credit without specific credit policies, and using credit with no plan for how to pay for it.

Both have a huge impact on your cash flow and are often closely related. For example, you have an opportunity to work on a big project, for which you will need to order materials. Your supplier expects payment in 30 days, but you won’t receive cash for the project for 60 days. Right away you’ve put yourself into a cash flow crunch that could take months to recover from financially. In the meantime, you’ve passed on smaller jobs that would have provided quicker cash at less cost. And, if you’re unable to pay your supplier on time, you’ve endangered that relationship as well.

2. The relationship between Receivables and Payables
In a perfect world, what customers owe you would be paid just in time for you to pay what you owe your vendors. But, as any small business owner knows “stuff happens”. The customer you thought would pay this week, doesn’t. So the bills you thought you’d pay this week, don’t get paid. Are your payables in balance with you receivables? If what you owe to others is far more than what is owed to you, then you have a cash flow problem. And if your receivables are particularly old, chances are you’ll never see that cash at all.

3. Focusing on profit instead of cash flow
Is profit the ultimate goal of every business? Did you know that many businesses that fail are operating at a profit? How can that be? For the small business, cash flow is the ultimate goal. No cash flow. No business.

The difference is mostly in the decision making process. If you take on this big job, it will earn you a huge profit, but if you take on five smaller jobs, you’ll have cash to pay your bills. Yes, you want to be profitable, but every decision has to be measured against the effect it will have on cash flow.

4. Don’t forget your debt to the Tax Man
Some bills are easy to forget. Bills like sales tax, payroll taxes, estimated taxes. They just sit out there, almost off the radar. They don’t have to be paid right away. It’s easy to forget about them. But when they’re due, they’re due right now. And you better have the money to pay them or you’re in hot water with the Tax Man. That is not a place anyone wants to be. Pay them late or not at all and you end up with penalties and interest on top of what’s already due. Using the money that needs to go toward taxes to solve cash flow problems results in even more, and probably worse, cash flow problems when those taxes come due. It can take months or even years to recover.

5. Spending your company’s future on a sailboat
Haven’t you always wanted a boat, a fancy car, or a trip to Tahiti? It might be tempting to try to pass your personal purchases off as tax-deductible business expenses. But, it’s a bad idea for two reasons.

The people at the IRS are over-worked, but they weren’t born yesterday. The last thing you need is an audit that could reveal your transgressions and result in an unexpected tax bill plus penalties and interest. No company’s cash flow should have to suffer that indignity.

The other reason it’s a bad idea is that you are spending your company’s future on unnecessary expenses. Small businesses operate close to the edge. Unless you have a reserve to see you through the tough times, you’re always in danger of being on the wrong side of that edge. You must take care of the cash flow first. Then, you can pay yourself a properly taxed bonus and buy all the toys you want.

5 Ways to Avoid Tax Audits

March 19th, 2015

Tax Audit 1When you’re self-employed filing a Schedule C with your tax return, your chances of being audited are greater than if you were a wage earner.

This is because the IRS catches many such individuals that attempt to either hide income or write off personal expenses as business deductions. When all you are reporting on your tax return is income from a W2, what’s there to audit? Even if you enter the numbers wrong, the IRS will match it up with the copy it got from your employer and send you a correction letter along with the adjustment. So, with scrutiny of the self-employed on the rise, here are 5 things you can do to reduce the chances of an audit:

1. Use professional software such as QuickBooks

Track the income and expenses of your business with accounting software. Your credibility increases in the eyes of an IRS agent if your tax return is based on professionally-prepared financial statements, especially if maintained by an outside firm.

2. Document sources of all income

If you are audited, the first thing the IRS agent will do is add up all of the deposits from your personal and business bank accounts. If more money went into the bank than was declared on your tax return, the agent will want to know where the money came from and whether or not the income is taxable. If you use QuickBooks for your personal and business books, you will automatically tie out this income, but you still need proof. If the income you record is not taxable (e.g. gifts, inheritances, loans, transfers from personal funds) keep a copy of the check or document that accompanies the income to prove the source is not taxable.

3. Let a professional prepare your income tax return

Self-prepared returns are more likely to be audited because the IRS thinks a nonprofessional has limited knowledge. Tax law is complex. And if you are self-employed, no matter how small your business, your tax return is now a complex creature.

4. Rethink your legal form

Corporations, LLCs, and partnerships are less likely to be audited, but that should not be the sole reason to incorporate. Discuss this option with a tax professional and your attorney before making any changes.

5. Document the Red Flags

You are allowed to deduct all ordinary and necessary business expenses which means thinking in terms of “Would I make this purchase if I didn’t have this business?” If the answer is no, than you more than likely have a deductible business expense. But it’s important to know the rules and to have proper documentation to substantiate the deduction.

Some expenses receive considerably more scrutiny than others:

Automobile expenses

Taxpayers are required to keep a mileage log if they want to take these kinds of deductions, which can be a lot of work. The IRS loves to investigate these because very few business owners will bother with this. Fortunately there are other ways to substantiate the deduction to the satisfaction of the auditor.

  • If you use an appointment book or calendar, save it along with your copy of the tax return. A mileage log can be reconstructed from those pages.
  • Save vehicle repair receipts as the odometer reading is recorded on them and total mileage for the year can be extrapolated if there is more than one receipt.
  • Record your beginning and ending odometer reading in your appointment book on Jan. 1 and again on Dec. 31.
Travel, meals and entertainment expenses

These are also very common when it comes to tax audit scrutiny. Go to and read Publication 463 to determine what you can and can’t deduct.

  • Travel, especially to vacation destinations like Las Vegas or Hawaii should be documented with more than purchase receipts to prove the business intent. Save anything that can substantiate your claim that you were traveling primarily for business; such as flyers advertising the trade show, or the continuing education seminar, or letters from prospective clients at that location in your tax file.
  • Write the name of the person entertained and a brief note describing the business purpose on receipts for meals and entertainment.
Home office expenses

These are another red flag for the IRS to take a closer look at your expenses.

  • Take photographs of the house and the office area. The photos will serve two purposes: they will show the proportion of the business area compared to the personal living area to substantiate the amount of space claimed as well prove that there is in fact a business area.
  • Know the rules: The home office must be your principle place of business and must be used exclusively and on a regular basis for business purposes.


Sole Proprietor Start-Up Tips

February 26th, 2015

Sole Proprietor

When starting a new business, many aspiring entrepreneurs will launch it as a side venture to their current career employment, a.k.a. their day job. So there may not be a big rush to create a complex and expensive legal entity such as a Corporation. In many situations a simple sole proprietorship is the most appropriate way to go.



Keep it simple starting out. The simplest form of entity for running your new business is a sole proprietorship. This form of ownership requires no special communication or filings to the Internal Revenue Service until you start paying employees and/or taxes.

Sole Proprietor

As a sole proprietor you are the owner of a business that might only need a business license/permit if your county or city requires it. If you are the owner of a business that sells items that require sales tax, you will need a reseller permit, and are liable to remit all state and/or city taxes on retail, and maybe wholesale, sales your business collects. Service businesses and most cross state sales are exempt from state sales tax.

Liability Insurance

If you are concerned about personal liability, then the simplest thing to do is to buy a personal liability umbrella policy. Additionally, the best way to avoid liability is to learn your trade well and keep accurate accounting records.

No Company Taxes, Just Yours

Profit from a sole proprietorship is reported on your personal tax return. The IRS won’t even know your company exists until after you file your first personal income tax return. This will include a Schedule C which reports all of the revenue and expenses your business has incurred. In most states, including California, certain state minimum taxes are not require of sole proprietorships. You will, however, have to pay any sales tax you have collected from your customers. And since sole proprietorship losses will offset income from you day job, you might even receive a tax refund. So concentrate on building your business, not communicating with the IRS

Just a Personal Bank Account Will Do, But Don’t

Although advisable as a sound business practice, you are not required to have a separate bank account which is a necessary compliance for a LLC or Corporation. As you get your business set up you could pay your startup costs out of your personal bank account, but once you’re in business and making sales, file a Fictitious Business Name Statement and use the paperwork to open a business bank account. Keep complete and accurate records so you can be sure to get the best possible tax advantage from those early-stage costs, and not get them mixed up with your personal expenses.

Simple to Start, Simple to End

Over 85% of small businesses fail or change ownership within the first five years. Plan your business to thrive but if it fails as a sole proprietorship, you simply stop doing business. No communication or special forms with the IRS, no additional taxes to get your investment returned and no high accounting fees to close out your company. Just mark the Schedule C in your next personal tax return as “final”.

Getting Paid

In a sole proprietorship you just take the money out as a draw. No payroll taxes or quarterly forms needed. Many startups lose money for the first year, and maybe longer, so keep your day job to pay your living expenses.

Evolving Beyond the Sole Proprietorship

As your business becomes profitable talk with a CPA about another entity type that might save you taxes. Just a simple bookkeeping entry transfers all of the business assets from the sole proprietorship into the new entity without any tax penalties.

Growing Your Small Business: Consider This…

January 16th, 2015

Coffee Shop OwnerAs a small business owner, you may have plans to grow your company. Before you put your foot on the accelerator, take the time to decide whether (and how much) you should grow your company.

What do you really want?

You believe you have the entrepreneurial drive to build your business into a larger one? Do you want to scale a business? Have more employees to help carry the weight? Have the potential to make more money? Create something that is worth a great deal of money, or that changes the world?

Do you need to grow to appear competitive in your market? To have the budget to get the word out, make more sales, and become an industry leader?

Can you be successful as a “boutique” operation? Sometimes less is more.

Do you want a business that comfortably supports you and also leaves time for you to be with family, pursue other interests or take vacations? You may want to grow but to control the growth so that you can enjoy what some people call a lifestyle business. While this term has been used condescendingly in entrepreneurial circles, there is also an increasing recognition that a solid lifestyle business can indeed be a great business to run.


What potential does your business have to grow? Some businesses are like finely tuned sports cars. They aren’t working at full capability unless they are on the track, racing forward. They are built to move fast and make things happen. Other businesses are engineered for steady travel instead. How about your company? And are you happy with that Chevy or Lamborghini your company is today? Or do you want to reengineer your business for a different driving experience?


In a very small business, you do nearly everything yourself. As your business grows, you will delegate some tasks. As you grow even more, or scale the business, your responsibilities are likely to change from doing or a blend of doing-and-managing to higher level managing.

Before putting your dreams of growth into practical steps, consider whether you like doing or managing or some blend of the two, and also whether the satisfaction you get from business is from the rush of entrepreneurial growth or from the day-to-day running of the company you have today.


Depending on how you grow and what type of business you have, you have the potential to make more money as the company gets bigger. Generally, this is one major motivation for growing a company.

It should be recognized that there are times when the larger business is not more lucrative for its owner. As you take on more employees, more infrastructure and more risk, you also have more potential areas for poor performance and resulting reduced financial returns. Which brings us to risk.


Big leases, big loans, shared equity, a larger staff, and other potential demands of a growing business carry with them higher risk alongside higher prospective reward.

A fast-growing business typically brings some loss of control as well as challenges maintaining quality, assuring profitability, and managing your (potentially also large) competition.

Be aware not only of your best-case scenario but also your worst. Are you ready to deal with risk?

Saleability of company

What will you do with your company when you are ready to retire or move on? Will your children run it? Will key employees buy it or take it over? Will you sell it? Will it end when you stop working?

Size is one consideration in this matter. Many small business advisors recommend that you fund your retirement while you are working, in the event that “you are the company” and that the business “dies with you.”

A business that is not overly dependent on you, and that can continue to make money after you move on, is typically a more saleable enterprise.

Unless you have a novel technology in hand, cash is king when it comes to selling a business, so if making a lot of money from the eventual sale of your company is a key consideration in your planning, you may indeed want to grow the business aggressively.

Small businesses that can run without you can be salable, too, since people frequently prefer to buy an existing business rather than starting their own. However, the proceeds are likely to be lower.

As a business owner, you have a unique opportunity to make conscious decisions about growth, based on the market for your services or products, and on balancing pros and cons of large versus small, considering your own management style, and reviewing how you want to blend business and life goals.

Whatever you decide, you have the privilege and the pride that comes with running a business. So many people would like to do what you are doing every day.




Tips for Starting a Service Business

November 17th, 2014

Service Business 2Many entrepreneurs are people with specific marketable skills and know-how. Taking the step to self-employment by starting your own services business can take the value of those skills to an entirely new level. But starting and building a business requires an all together different set of skills and know-how. So, if you are thinking about being your own boss, here’s some advice to get off on the right foot.

Write down your business plan

Writing a business plan may seem like a pointless and onerous exercise, but don’t skip it. Putting your plan in writing will force you to think clearly about your new business, your opportunities and your challenges. It will help you set realistic goals and keep yourself accountable. A well-written business plan is also critical for securing financing for your service vehicles or other major expenses. One great resource to help you develop your business plan is the U.S. Small Business Administration. Your local chamber of commerce is another excellent place to ask for help.

Seek advice

Starting any business involves risk. You can minimize yours by taking advantage of the experiences of others. A good mentor, or two, can help you avoid the pitfalls, as well as show you best practices that will get your new service business on the right foot. Mentors can also introduce you to other influential people and help you establish your own business network.

Your business mentor can be a coach or consultant you hire, or a more seasoned businessperson who takes you under their wing. One excellent place to look for no-cost or low-cost expert business mentoring is SCORE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping small businesses.

If you are looking for advice specific to your type of service business, it pays to go online. Many professionals in your field will happily help you out on industry chat boards or LinkedIn groups. All you need to do is ask.

Track everything

Business is a numbers game, in more ways than one. Most new entrepreneurs know enough to track income and expenses at the very least. But the most successful ones don’t stop there. Tracking and analyzing everything in your business will allow you to make better decisions, avoid wasteful practices and realize greater profits.

One example of tracking used to advantage is your vehicle fleet. Instead of simply tracking expenses, take it a step further and track fuel economy per vehicle or per driver, time on the road and location of every vehicle. Knowing these parameters will allow you to manage your fleet for maximum efficiency and productivity.

Develop systems for your business

Imagine if your entire business ran at 100 percent efficiency. It would be so much easier to make a profit, wouldn’t it? No business is 100 percent efficient, but developing systems will get you as close as possible. Once you’ve figured out what works, write it down, and make sure every employee knows it’s standard procedure. If the procedure you’ve developed involves multiple steps, create a checklist for employees to follow. Even little things like making a habit of placing tools back in their proper spot when a task is finished can save countless hours of wasted time in your business.

Your business will probably have unique aspects that require you to develop some of your own systems. But look out for ready-made tools and systems that can help systematize your business. Accounting software is a good example. So is a GPS tracking system that can help you track and analyze your business fleet.

Don’t undervalue existing customers

As you acquire customers, take good care of them and keep in touch. Develop relationships and earn loyalty. It’s much easier to sell to existing customers than to someone who has never done business with you. Anything you can do in your service business to encourage customer loyalty will keep your repeat business flowing, and it will also bring in the best free advertising possible — word of mouth.

Expect to make mistakes

If you can’t acknowledge, learn from and apologize for your mistakes, then you’re doomed. Part of becoming successful is learning to handle and recover from mistakes. You will make them. If you think you won’t, you’d best keep your day job.

Starting your service business will require a lot of dedication and hard work. But by following business best practices you can avoid many of the pitfalls experienced by new entrepreneurs. Take these tips to heart, and you will improve your chances of developing a rewarding and profitable new enterprise.