Archive for the ‘small business’ category

Strategies for Thriving in a Tough Economy

August 8th, 2022

Whether or not you believe we’re heading into a recession, or even if you have come to believe that what we have now is pretty much as good as it’s going to get, there’s no getting around the fact that we’re experiencing poor economic times. An enduring lack of consumer confidence and decreased sales threaten all businesses, but small businesses are particularly vulnerable as they often don’t have the reserves to help them survive difficult times.

Entrepreneurs who are survivors will look at this as an opportunity to improve their business practices so they can not only weather the tough times, but thrive during them. How, then, can you recession-proof your business? Thinking through the following practices and how you can make them your strategies will help ensure your business’s success in a tough economy.

1. Protect your cash flow

To keep your business healthy, cash needs to continue flowing through it. As long as your business exists, you will have expenses. But the harder times get, the harder it can be to keep the cash flowing into your business. Be more diligent in how you are spending money. It’s important to be frugal and aware of your income and expenses. By doing a line item cost for each expense, you will be able to identify areas that need greater attention. Efficient cash flow management is crucial. The sections below are all, for the most part, areas that will have impact on your cash flow, but take special note of the ones regarding evaluating your vendors, reviewing your inventory management, and keeping your personal credit in good shape.

2. Streamline your business practices

This is an opportune time to review your business procedures for effectiveness. Consider areas that can be combined into one. Consider areas that can be structured differently to reduce costs. Think about sharing resources, like administrative or payroll work, with other entrepreneurs to reduce overhead. The goal is to streamline operations so you can still provide a quality product or service, yet realize a greater profit by reducing the expenses to produce it.

3. Evaluate your vendors

If you use vendors for packaging, labeling, distribution, or in other areas of your business, this is a good time to do some price comparisons. There is a lot of competition among vendors to attract new business, so you could realize some serious savings in this area. Since no one wants to lose business during a bad economy, chances are good that your current vendors will meet the competitor’s price. If not, it’s time to move your business to the lowest bidder, just as long as you’re not sacrificing quality.

4. Review your inventory management practices

See what can be done to reduce inventory costs without sacrificing the quality of goods or inconveniencing customers. Are you ordering too many of particular items? Can an item be sourced somewhere else at a better price? Is there a drop-shipping alternative that will work for you, eliminating shipping and warehousing costs?

Just because you’ve always ordered something from a particular supplier or done things in a particular way doesn’t mean you have to keep doing them that way, especially when those other ways may save you money.

5. Focus on your core competencies

A diversification strategy is often recommended for small business success. But too often small business owners simplify the concept of “diversification” to “different”. Just adding other products or services to your offerings is not diversification. It’s potentially just a waste of time and money. Worse, it can damage your core business by taking your time and money away from what you do best. It may even damage your brand and reputation. If you have diversified out into different areas over the years to improve market reach, it might be time to regroup and focus on the core of your business and outsource the rest. Evaluate what is and isn’t working and put more effort into what started you out as a successful entrepreneur in the first place. It’s important to get in touch with your core business and make sure it continues to meet the changing needs of customers. So consider dropping the extras and focus on what you do best and which is most profitable to recession-proof your business.

6. Develop and implement strategies to get your competition’s customers

If your small business is going to prosper in tough times, you need to continue to expand your customer/client base. If you have competitors, then they have customers. So, there are already people out there buying what you sell, just not from you. What will it take to attract those customers? You’ll need to offer something more or something different. Research your competition and see what you can offer to entice their customers into becoming your customers. It’s not only lower prices or a better price/quality trade-off that gets the business. Providing better customer service is often identified as one of the easiest ways to outdistance the competition. But you need to do the research in your own market to find out what it takes to be the customer’s first choice.

7. Make the most of the customers/clients you have

They say that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. The bird in the hand is the customer or client you already have. These customers are an opportunity to make more sales without incurring the costs of finding a new customer.

Even better, he or she might be a loyal customer, giving you many more sales opportunities. If you want to recession-proof your business, you can’t afford to ignore the potential profits to be had from established customers. But remember that your customers are going through tough times too. In order to retain their business, implement measures to express your appreciation. This could be a one-time price reduction, a customer loyalty card, or a referral incentive. Whatever the strategy may be, it should be something of value to the customer and within your marketing budget.

8. Continue to market your business

In lean times, many small businesses make the mistake of cutting their marketing budget to the bone or even eliminating it entirely. But lean times are exactly the times your small business most needs marketing. Consumers are restless and looking to make changes in their buying decisions. You need to help them find your products and services and choose them rather than others by getting your name out there. So don’t stop marketing. In fact, if possible, step up your marketing efforts.

9. Keep your personal credit in good shape

Hard times make it harder to borrow and small business loans are often among the first to disappear. With good personal credit, you’ll stand a much better chance of being able to borrow the money needed to keep your business afloat if you need to. To recession-proof your business, keep tabs on your personal credit rating as well as your business one and do what’s necessary to keep your credit ratings in good shape.

There’s absolutely nothing that will make your small business one hundred percent recession-proof. But implementing the practices above will help ensure your small business survives tough times and might even be able to profit from them.

Sole Proprietor Start-Up Tips

August 4th, 2022

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.

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.