Archive for the ‘small business’ category

Q: Is it me or is QuickBooks getting harder to use? A: Its you.

February 27th, 2016

Is it me or is QuickBooks getting harder to useAs a long time QuickBooks professional, I have to ask, “​Is anyone really saying that QB is getting harder to use?”

Everything you have learned over the years is pretty much the same. Sometimes the interface gets modified, but that’s an easy adjustment. You might not even need the newer features, and can almost certainly get by without them if nothing related has changed in your business. And unless to use payroll or other features that require an online interface, you might not ever need to buy the new version. I have clients still using QB 2010.

If you change to QB Online you will find the interface to be very different, but then of course, it’s a different program. None of my clients that made the switch had difficulty adjusting to it, maybe because I toured them through the features they need to use themselves. If you subscribe to one of the low end, less expensive versions, you might burn a lot of time looking for features and reporting that don’t exist. Frankly, it is my option that these limited low-end QBO versions are just a ploy to get you vested in the product. Intuit knows that you will upgrade before long, especially if you need common small business features such as being able to produce 1099s for your contractors.

The difference between finding QB easy or hard to use is all about learning the proper use of the program. Just like everything else you do. If you don’t learn how to use it, it will be hard for you to use properly.

The next issue is that even though you don’t need to be an accountant, it helps a lot to understand accounting/bookkeeping basics. If you don’t, then you will have some degree of difficulty using it, and even worse might be creating a mess out of your books. The best boost in business I ever received was back when Intuit ran advertisements (for many years) with the slogan, “With QuickBooks, you are only a click away from being your own accountant”. Thousands of small business owners believed that, bought QB, and proceeded to make a real mess out of their books.

Even to this day, I rarely take over the bookkeeping of a new client without having to start out by fixing a large amount of problems related to the miss-use of the program, and then proceed to edit their Chart of Accounts to make their QB a better reflection of the actual business and the kind of information the owner needs to make the best possible business decisions. That is the case even when they had a bookkeeper doing the work for them. So many bookkeepers have learned QB, but still don’t know basic accounting or how a business functions. There is a lot more benefit in the proper use of any accounting software than just keeping track of things so you can file tax returns. An awful lot.

 

Turning Dead Inventory into Cash

September 22nd, 2015

Dead InventoryMost small retailers struggle with dead inventory at some point. Slowly, gradually, almost imperceptively over time, the percentage of dead inventory grows. The problem is thought to be modest, because the rate of growth appears to be modest, so modest measures are taken to deal with it. An extra markdown here, a special promotion there, but still there seems to be more of it this month than there was last. Finally, when the sheer amount of inventory involved becomes inescapable, and the realization that the measures to deal with it aren’t close to being sufficient, the whole thing starts to feel overwhelming.

So if you’re looking at a buildup of dead inventory, here are a few ideas to help you get started turning it into cash.

1. Patience and persistence
You didn’t get into this situation overnight, and you’re not going to get out of it overnight (Unless, of course, getting 10 cents on the dollar from a jobber or liquidator makes sense to you, which it may in extreme cases). Build ups of dead inventory are frequently accompanied by a cash flow crunch, so the instinct to search for a quick fix can be strong. The solution, however, rests with a persistent, sustained effort designed to deliver consistent, incremental results. The first and most important step is establishing reasonable, attainable expectations for what can be accomplished in any given period of time.

2. Can you return it?
You never know until you ask. And if you ask firmly, and structure your request as a win/win proposition, most vendors will be reluctant to respond with a flat out “No.” What do you have that your vendor might find valuable in return for its help? Your next purchase order perhaps. A test order on that new item or program your vendor has been after you to try. Maybe an increased share of your business. Open the dialogue, show your vendor the inventory you’re sitting on, it might have outlets that it can sell it to. Make clear that your request is a one-time thing, not a new standard operating procedure. Maybe the best your vendor can do is offer markdown money, or an additional discount off your next purchase order. At a minimum, that would help with cash flow.

3. Segment your dead inventory

It is critical to recognize that dead inventory is made up of merchandise with dramatically different characteristics and market value. Break your dead inventory into three categories, which could be referred to as Still-Sellable, Not-Sellable, and everything else (or Who-Knows-If-It Might-Sell).

A. “Still-Sellable” is the most desirable inventory of the items you haven’t been able to move. It’s the most marketable, and appears to be the easiest to sell and turn into cash quickly. Start here. Break out a style or item, feature it, sign it, price it to move now, and get your cash. When that style sells through, break out the next style or item. If you’ve been struggling with tight cash flow, this will be your quick fix. Most importantly, if you can move this dead inventory you’ll feel like you’re finally making progress.

B. “Not-Sellable” is all the merchandise (aka, junk) you know no one is going to pay a cent for. When you see it mixed in with or merchandised near the “Still-Sellable” items, it makes that look like junk too. So get that junk off the sales floor, away from the rest of your dead inventory, and most importantly, away from your customers. The truth is that since these items have no market value, it doesn’t merit the time and effort necessary to try to sell it. Think about donating it to charity. The resulting tax deduction is one tangible benefit you will receive; another benefit is that the rest of your dead inventory won’t look quite so bad and will likely be more highly valued by your customers. In the end, if you can’t find a charitable organization that will take it, donate it to your dumpster.

C. “Who-Knows-If-It Might-Sell” is everything in between, and can be segmented yet again. After you sell through the “Still-Sellable” items, slice off the next most desirable layer of inventory from this category, feature it, sign it, and price it to move. Understand that each successive layer of inventory is likely to require a greater discount to stimulate customer response. As you go along, in fact, the least desirable inventory in this category will likely start to look and feel more and more like junk, which is a good sign that you’re near the end of the process.

4. Selling dead inventory is not like running a clearance sale

Dead inventory is different than clearance merchandise; it’s generally older and lacking in current demand. If you find a layer of dead merchandise that customers aren’t responding to, pull it back and bring something else forward, then bring the first layer back forward at a later time at a greater discount. If you attempt to move it merely by taking an additional markdown without remerchandising it, as you might with clearance merchandise, you only reinforce in the customer’s mind that it may not be desirable even at that new, lower price.

5. Develop merchandising and selling strategies to minimize the impact on your regular business

The last thing you want is for your store to look like it’s going out of business. You want to protect the brand integrity of your store. This is why a slow, steady approach works best, so that your dead inventory never represents more than a small piece of your overall offerings. For some retailers, it may be a small feature just off the front of the store, or perhaps a dedicated table or rack on a traffic aisle further back in the store.

6. Price it to be irresistible

Forget what you paid for it, or what you are carrying it on your books for. It’s not relevant. Let me repeat this, because it’s an easy point to get hung up on: Forget what you paid for it, it’s not relevant; that was then, this is now. What is relevant now is the price your customers will pay for it, now. And like most everything else in retail, your customers will tell you very quickly whether you have it priced right or not.

7. And then there’s eBay

EBay has emerged as a viable avenue for retailers to sell off dead inventory, but not everything necessarily lends itself to eBay. If you are sitting on highly identifiable, branded items with an established market position, even if those items appeal to a very specific customer, eBay may work for you. The typical eBay shopper is sophisticated and well informed. They are usually looking for something specific, down to a manufacturer’s stock number. They understand the value of what they are looking for so you have to be priced sharply. It’s an absolute must that you competitively shop similar items on eBay before you post your items there.

When you are confronted with a buildup of dead inventory, it’s critical to make a clear headed but realistic assessment of what it’s going to take to move it through. It’s losing market value every additional day it’s sitting there. It represents cash that is likely needed for other critical business purposes, such as paying vendors, reducing debt, and/or fleshing out assortments or stock levels of key items or categories. The time to get started is now.

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.

 

KISS

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.

Potential

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?

Responsibilities

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.

Money

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.

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.