Posts Tagged ‘accountant’

A Successful Business is a Well-Oiled Machine

January 21st, 2013

 

Since you want more clients or customers, more income, and more time off, you’ll need to make your business run like a well-oiled machine. If you are like most entrepreneurs you’re handling almost everything yourself, and so your business is probably running YOU, instead of you running your business. That means a lot of things are being left undone, opportunities are being lost, and consequently fewer clients and are coming in.

Consistency is crucial and chaos is costly, both financially and time-wise. When things run like a well-oiled machine, when everything’s organized, chaos is reduced. Ideally, you want things run on their own, or by the efforts of someone else, so you can focus on growing your business, while having more time off to enjoy yourself. For this to happen, you’ll need to systemize the processes involved in operating your business.

If you haven’t identified the one best way to perform each repeatable task or process (such as answering the phone in a consistent manner, managing your sales process, etc.) then you’re in big trouble. You need to create some systems and procedures.

Even if you don’t have help from staff, you can still make your business run smoothly.

Begin by documenting everything you do:
Start by tracking your time. Take a note pad and document the time it takes you to do the tasks you do every day. In a week you will have a good picture of where you are spending your time. It also allows you to see what can be removed from your day, and what can be delegated to your team. By keeping an awareness of your time and where you spend it, you will be much more productive. You’ll see a pattern of where you are spending too much or too little time, and which things you are doing that aren’t essential to your business. By keeping track of this, it will help you realize how you can use your time better.

Next, you want to document the process associated with each task:
Write clear instructions on how to complete each task. This will eliminate, or at least improve, chaotic situations. Increased levels of organization will enable a better work ethic and will help keep you on task generating better production throughout the day. It can be eye opening to see what you need to put into place. Once you realize what needs to be done, and fix it, your business will run more smoothly. You may also detect areas of your business that are under, or over staffed. By recognizing this you are attacking an issue before it becomes a bigger problem. You are now also able to better delegate what you need to, so that you can focus on what is the most important use of your own time. Make certain that all task instructions include the locations of all support material so that if you are unavailable your staff can easily find what they need to keep things going smoothly.

The end result should be an instruction manual for your business:
An instruction manual, or operations manual, for your business is a huge asset. It will help you and your staff to keep on track and know where to go to find the information need. It will clearly define the rules and regulations, work ethics and processes clearly. This will help you keep your employees in line, and help employees know their proper role, and what they need to do to fulfill that role. Everyone’s job is easier when the processes and procedures are clearly stated. There won’t be any gray areas when everything is right there in black and white. As you add to your team over time, having your systems documented will allow new people to integrate better, faster and more efficiently with your current team.

Ideally you will want to define your systems and document your processes and procedures before your company grows to full capacity. Then, as you approach full capacity status, you will avoid the breakdowns that cause so many businesses to fail. At the same time, you’ll make more time for marketing and for the ability to service the resulting larger client list.

A prime reason that franchises are so successful is that the operations manual eliminates all the guesswork on how to do things. It tells you “one best way”, and documents everything in a step-by-step manner.

But remember, just because the process is documented, it does not necessarily mean it’s always going to be the “one best way” to perform that task. You should challenge your employees to improve on how things are done to increase productivity and the quality of the results. That said, your operations manual should be a living document.

There are many things in any business that can be systematized. For example, each of your different marketing methods that you use to attract new clients should be well defined and documented, as should your client management, your schedule, your calendar, your email, etc. While you’re at it, your personal life could also benefit from establishing specific procedures. You can systematize your food shopping, your doctor appointments, your personal email, your dry-cleaning, your errands, your banking. You name it, and it can probably be systematized to your benefit.

You’ll be amazed to see how much of a problem-free zone your business becomes. You will have a lot more time to focus on building the business, a lot more room for new clients, and more time to simply enjoy yourself. You’ll have more time for vacations, for self-care, and for spending quality time with friends and family. And that’s what being self-employed is really about.

5 Tips for Cash Flow Management

December 18th, 2012

Cash 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 software, and ideally graphing them to get a better visualization of their impact. If the chart of accounts in your program 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 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. Normally, it’s the cost of your expenses that sucks up your cash and put you in an uncomfortable position.

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 good 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.

Hiring Your First Employee

October 7th, 2012

Is your business ready to make its first hire? Finding and hiring the right employee is a critical step in the process. However, there are a few other steps you’ll need to take to ensure you meet the legal, regulatory and tax obligations of being a new employer.

In California many employment related tasks, including some of those listed below can be done from the Employment Development Department’s e-Services for Business page.

For California businesses about to become employers, here’s a checklist of the things you’ll need to do either before, or soon after you make that first hire:

1. Apply for an Employee Identification Number
Many businesses operate without an Employer Identification Number (or EIN), but if you hire employees, you’re going to need one. Think of it as the social security number equivalent for employers. An EIN is used to report the taxes you withhold on behalf of employees. You can apply for an EIN online from the IRS during their hours of operation Monday through Saturday. Apply for an EIN online.

2. Set-Up Withholding Taxes
Either on or before the date of employment, you’ll need to give your employee a copy of IRS Form W-4, to fill out and hand back to you so that you can withhold the correct federal income tax from their pay. To help you figure out what you should be withholding, refer to the IRS’ Employer’s Tax Guide(for use in 2012). Most California employees use the same number of Federal withholding allowances for their state income tax withholding. But under certain circumstances, especially if a person has income from multiple sources, they will want to use Employment Development Department Form DE-4 to determine if they should use a different number for their state withholding.

3. Verify That Your Employee is Eligible to Work in the U.S.
Employers are required to ensure their workforce is legal, and must verify each employee’s legal right to work in the United States within three days of the hire date. Go the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website if you need to learn more about this process. Mainly, you will need to examine acceptable forms of ID presented by the employee and complete the Employment Eligibility Verification Form (I-9), and then verify the data on the form with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ E-Verify online tool. You don’t need to file the form; just keep it on file for three years after the hire date, and one year after a termination date.

4. Register with the New Hire Reporting Program
Within 20 days of the hire date, you must report all new hires to the Employment Development Department’s New Employee Registry. The easiest way to satisfy this requirement is to fill out and submit a Report of New Employee(s) Form DE-34. Actually you can submit the necessary information in any format you like, as long as it’s all there. Some employers just add the employee’s start date and their California employer account number and the Federal employer ID number to the W-4 and send that.

5. Obtain Workers’ Compensation Insurance
In California, once you have employees you are required to carry worker’s compensation insurance. The insurance is available through commercial insurance carriers, on a self-insured basis, or through your state’s program and is considered a cost of doing business. If you need a referral to a commercial insurance agent who will help you minimize this cost, email me at doug@solidgrowth.com.

6. Unemployment Insurance Tax (UI), Employment Training Tax (ETT), and State Disability Insurance (SDI) for 2012
The UI program is part of a national program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor under the Social Security Act. The UI program provides temporary payments to individuals who are unemployed through no fault of their own.

UI is paid by the employer. Tax-rated employers pay a percentage on the first $7,000 in wages paid to each employee in a calendar year. The UI rate schedule and amount of taxable wages are determined annually. New employers pay 3.4 percent (.034) for a period of two to three years. EDD notifies employers of their new rate each December. The maximum tax is $434 per employee per year. (Calculated at the highest UI tax rate of 6.2 percent x $7,000.)

New employers are assigned a 3.4 percent UI tax rate for a period of two to three years. This will depend on when you meet the criteria under Section 982(b) of the California Unemployment Insurance Code (CUIC). If you purchased an established business, you have the option of acquiring the previous owner’s UI tax rate (see purchasing a Business with Employees).

The Employment Training Tax (ETT) rate for 2012 is 0.1 percent. The UI and ETT taxable wage limit remains at $7,000 per employee per calendar year.

The State Disability Insurance (SDI) withholding rate for 2012 is 1.0 percent. The taxable wage limit is $95,585 for each employee per calendar year. The maximum to withhold for each employee is $955.85.

The UI, ETT, and SDI tax rates are combined on a single rate notice, Notice of Contribution Rates and Statement of UI Reserve Account (DE 2088). The DE 2088 will be mailed to you in December, with a mailing date of December 30. Employers will have 60 days from the December 30 mailing date to protest any item on the DE 2088 except SDI and ETT, which are specifically set by law.

7. Display Workplace Posters
Check with the Department of Labor’s “Poster Advisor” online tool to see which posters you need to display that explain employee rights, etc. To determine what posters are requited of you in California check the Department of Industrial Relations Workplace Postings site.

8. Filing Taxes as an Employer
It’s a good idea to talk to your accountant or tax advisor about your new tax obligations. Typically, you’ll need to report income tax withholding, social security, and Medicare taxes each quarter on the IRS Form 941. If you paid wages of $1,500 or more in any quarter or had an employee on the payroll for any 20 weeks of the year, you’ll also need to file an Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) return.

To see what applies to you, read the IRS Employer’s Tax Guide.

9. Keep Good Records and Stay Informed on Employment Laws
Once your employee is on board, make sure you maintain good employee records, pay close attention to workplace health and safety laws, and understand what benefits you must establish by law. Each of the following links will provide useful guides and tools that can help you stay compliant.

Labor Recordkeeping Requirements

Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Employee Handbook information

If you will be providing benefits to your employees, you should become familiar with the uniform minimum standards required by federal law to ensure that employee benefit plans are established and maintained in a fair and financially sound manner. See the chapter on Employee Benefit Plans in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment Law Guide for more information.

6 Mistakes to Avoid as You Build a Profitable Business

September 18th, 2012

Where do small business owners go wrong when trying to build a profitable business? Many mistakes can be traced back to such things as not being consistent in preforming some of the most crucial tasks required for a business to function. But there are also mistakes made by not taking a task to completion, trying to take too many tasks to completion, spending time on the wrong tasks, not having procedures in place for the most crucial tasks, and hiring the wrong people for the tasks you expect them to accomplish.

Avoiding these 6 mistakes can save you time, money and a lot of frustration. So as you move your business toward your goals of profit and growth, here are some mistakes you may want to avoid or fix.

1. An Inconsistent Marketing Effort
Marketing may well be the most important task a business must perform. For many, marketing efforts are like a roller coaster ride, up and down based on how busy you are or how sales are doing. If your marketing is sporadic, it’s likely your results will be the same. The key to attracting and retaining customers is consistency. It is better to do 3 or 4 lead generation strategies well and consistently than doing a dozen of them periodically.

2. No Follow Up
Investing resources to generate leads for your company without a proven method to convert them to paying customers is costly. No matter how potential customers come to you, a system for consistent and timely follow up is a key to sales growth. Take the time to develop a procedure for turning prospects into customers. Take advantage of technology, templates and scripts for efficiency and effectiveness. If you are not consistently following up on your marketing, you are not completing the marketing task. Be consistent and watch your sales soar.

3. Doing it all Yourself
Most small business owners became entrepreneurs because they are experts or skilled at something and believed they could do it better than others. But building a successful business requires more than technical know-how. No one is an expert at every task, so supplement yourself with other experts to fill in the gaps. Whether you hire employees, sub-contract work, create joint ventures, work with coaches, consultants or develop strategic alliances, the support you need is available. Don’t try to do it all yourself.

4. Not Identifying Your Customer Profile
The best products or services will go unsold if you are talking to the wrong people, those who will likely never buy. If you invest your time and money promoting your products or services to people who don’t have the resources, authority or need, today or in the near future, you will have spent your time on costly frustration. Who are the ideal customers for YOUR products and services? Do your research, find out who and where they are, how to reach them, and then apply your resources to pull them in.

5. No Procedures
Documented procedures for all your company’s critical tasks and operations is a key to efficiency, consistency, continuous improvement and profitability. Defining the important tasks crucial to a business is often ignored. This mistake becomes obvious when you hire and train new people, only to start losing customers due to poor service or missed deadlines. Don’t expect your employees to have your clarity of vision. They will need to know exactly how to do their work if they are to do that work successfully. Take it one at a time, but make written procedures a priority in your business. The results will surprise you

6. Hiring on the Fly
Are you quick to hire and slow to fire? That phrase describes many small businesses. A strong team of people to support your operations is certainly important, but only if they are the right people. There are proven hiring systems and tools, including a job description and clear goals, to help small businesses attract and retain quality people. Always hire with a purpose, invest in training, commit to developing your team and be willing to let go of those who don’t fit.

Which of these mistakes are impacting your profit and growth? Make it a priority to fix them, one at a time if necessary. The sooner you do, the sooner your sales and profit will grow.

4 Reasons Why Small Businesses Fail

July 16th, 2012

It is no longer news that 99% of all new business ventures fail in the first ten years. Since the dream of every entrepreneur is to build a successful business, here are, tactfully highlighted, 4 major reasons why small businesses fail and how you can bulletproof your business against them. Join me as I expose these business killers:

1. Poor Attention to Generating Sales:
If a business cannot attract customers, then it will fail. Closing sales is the core mission of all for-profit businesses, and yet it is the most common reason for business failures. A company’s business plan must specify the sales process. Will customers be attracted by advertising and promotion alone, or will it require salespeople to obtain business? Is the nature of the business that it will need inside or outside salespeople, or both? Will the owner or partners be the salespeople? Will salespeople need to be hired, or will the sales function be contracted out to a marketing representative company? If this basic need is not addresses and implemented successfully, the business will not be successful and will most likely fail

2. Lack Of Managerial Skill:
When a small business owner lacks the managerial skills required to drive the business to greater heights, the business is bound to fail. An entrepreneur that wants to succeed must be able to effectively handle the employees, cash flow, production line and so on, or the business owner must be able to hire a good manager to run the business.

3. Wrong Business Decisions:
This is common to everyone irrespective of your field. There are many instances where, after carrying out critical analysis on a particular situation, the entrepreneur comes up with a decision considered favorable. But on implementing that decision it backfires, and at the end of the day it results in anything from unwanted tax audits, regulatory agency compliance issues, employee resistance, unexpected customer reactions or even lawsuits.

So whenever you decide on an action to be implemented on your business, consider asking friends, business partners and professionals for advice. It is going to save you the stress of cleaning up the mess resulting from wrong business decision taken.

4. Harsh Government Economic, Fiscal And Monetary Policy:
This is a problem for both large and small businesses. As an entrepreneur, you must be on guard to bulletproof your business against the ever-changing government fiscal and monetary policies.

Since you cannot influence or alter the government’s decisions, you must be prepared to swiftly adjust your small business to align with the government rules. This will help prevent it from being hit by the adverse effect of unfavorable government policies. Instances of such government policies and effects you must keep an eye on are tax reporting and compliance matters, double taxation, duties and levies, exchange rates, policies that effect inflation, and so on.