Posts Tagged ‘procedures’

7 Tips for Getting Paid

May 17th, 2013

Not getting paid by clients or customers is one of the most frustrating aspects of running a small business. But when not getting paid impacts your small business’s cash flow, it’s one of the most dangerous, too. What small business owner hasn’t worried about getting paid at some point? Whether it’s the number of customers that are running past due accounts, or the client who seems to be reluctant to pay for completed work, having proactive policies in place that anticipate these eventualities is your best defense.

Here are seven ways to make sure you get paid for the goods and services you sell.

1. Don’t extend credit automatically to new customers/clients.
Small businesses, just like large businesses, need to have credit policies in place that provide guidelines for determining which customers or clients will be extended credit and on what terms.

It may be your business’s policy, for instance, to never accept personal checks as payment, only company checks, debit cards, credit cards or cash.

If you are considering extending credit beyond that point to individual clients or customers, you should have a procedure set up where the customer or client has to fill out a credit application and/or do a customer credit check. The fee for a credit report can seem expensive depending upon how detailed the report is, but it’s definitely money well spent if it prevents you from not getting paid for that big sale.

2. Take partial payment in advance.
If it’s sensible in terms of the price of the goods or services, ask for a deposit or retainer up front. This is an increasingly common business practice for higher-ticket items and services; no reasonable customer should be offended by such a request.

For instance, if you provide services, you might charge a percentage of the projected bill or a set amount as a retainer before you start work on a project with the remainder due on completion of the task. Or break the bill into thirds, asking for a third before work starts, a third halfway through the project and a third upon completion.

The beauty of partial payment is that it ensures that you get paid something even if the customer or client defaults on the rest of the bill.

3. Invoice promptly.
This seems like a no-brainer but many businesses are slow to invoice their clients. And by establishing the degree of urgency with their own example, why should anyone be in any hurry to pay them?

Customer/client invoices should be prepared and presented immediately upon delivery of the goods or services, or as soon as reasonably possible. Not doing so can make your business look indifferent to getting paid and slow down your cash flow for no reason. Waiting to prepare your invoices at the end of the month, for example, you may be adding as many as thirty extra days to your cash flow conversion period. QuickBooks software and Point of Sale systems make quick invoicing easy.

4. State payment terms visibly and clearly.
If you want to get paid promptly, don’t leave it up to the customer or client to decide when your invoice should be paid. Rather than giving them invoices that say vague things such as “Payable upon receipt”, make sure your invoices state specific payment terms, such as “Payable within 30 days” or “Due Date: ____________”. Your invoices should encourage prompt action on the part of your customer.

5. Reward customers for paying promptly.
Offering customers a discount for paying their invoices early, can help you get paid more quickly. For instance, if the usual policy is to have payments due in 30 days, offer a small discount such as two percent to customers who pay within 10 days.

6. Establish a follow up procedure for customers who miss payments.
Even if you’ve never had a collection problem to date, you should still have a system in place for flagging late payments, and a procedure for contacting the customer or client when the payment is late. The more quickly you follow up on a missed payment, the better your chance of getting paid.

Typically, such a procedure starts with a letter that simply states the bill is overdue and requesting the customer’s immediate attention to the matter. Nowadays there are many channels that you can use to contact the customer. Some are more effective than others. If time allows, I recommend starting out with a phone call to “touch base” with the customer or client. You want to come across as friendly and polite, not threatening in any way. Sometimes the person has just forgotten or missed seeing a bill and a quick phone call is all it takes, meaning you get paid and you don’t have to go through any of the rest of the collections procedure.

Sending collection letters via email is nice because it automatically creates a copy of the collection letter for your files, and automatically date stamps your message. However, because of email filtering and email overload, it may not be a very effective way of getting your collection letters to customers and clients. You’ll want to send them in other ways, too, such as regular mail, fax or even courier, depending upon the size and importance of the debt.

7. Turn the overdue account over to a collection agency.
Collection agencies collect debts for a fee or percentage of the total amount owed. This fee is based on how old the debts are (the fresher the better) and how much business a creditor has to offer. Expect the rate for collecting consumer accounts to be higher than for business-to-business accounts. Collection agencies have experience with, and knowledge about debt collection that you, as an individual business owner, don’t have and hiring one can be well worth it, if the amount of outstanding accounts receivable warrants it.

Proactive Policies Are the Best Way to Get Paid

As you can see, the best ways to ensure you get paid for the products you sell and the services you provide is to have proactive policies and procedures in place to cut down on the number of delinquent accounts receivable your small business has to deal with.

Things such as having credit policies in place, performing credit checks, having a partial payment policy and being clear and upfront about your payment expectations, both in person and on your invoices will go a long ways towards ensuring that you get paid, and your small business doesn’t get stuck with a lot of bad debt.

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

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.

5 Ways to Improve Your Biz in 2012

December 7th, 2011

It’s a new year, a new cycle and a new beginning. And that means it’s a good time to put into place the strategies, techniques and tactics that will move your company’s position forward. You know you want to make it happen, so get ready to make some changes. Here are five good ways to make 2012 the best year ever.

1. Stop multitasking. The fact is that multitasking causes you to be less productive, not more. Your brain can only do one thing really well at a time, and being good at multitasking is really only just being good at switching back and forth quickly. Focus all your attention on the one task at hand and only switch to the next when it’s completed.  Try turning off everything that distracts you in your office for at least part of the day, and then don’t just get busy, get working.

2. Stop doing everything yourself. Change your organizational structure from a wheel to a hierarchy. Your business can’t grow if everyone works for you, and all decisions need to come through you.  Create an organizational chart with you at the top and your employees, contractors and consultants below you in a tree-structured hierarchy. Who are your “captains” and who are your “soldiers”? But remember, no matter what title you bestow, everyone is “hands-on”, because after all this is small-business.

3. Once your business has grown to the point of needing employees, you will want to continue to grow it by establishing a superior team. Only hire the best people, and pay them well. This is your best place for leverage so plan on paying more. If you want to get the best people, typically, you need to pay in the top 10%. And to keep them you’ll have to challenge them, motivate them and demonstrate your appreciation. Yes, you will be a manager.

Take your time hiring the best person for the job. If an employee is not working out, fire them in the first month. With proper training, few people’s general effectiveness changes after a month. Remember the old adage, “Be slow to hire and fast to fire”.

4. Stop trying to use social media to sell your products or services. Use social media for customer service and to build prospect relationships by answering questions in your company’s area of expertise. Use your social media properties to establish yourself as the go-to authority in your niche. The business will search you out. Then put on your salesperson-hat and close the deal. Don’t expect anything more.

5. Do not outsource the math. Commit to understanding every number in your three key financial reports; the profit and loss statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement. Insist that your accountant explain and review them with you every month. If you do not understand where your business has been, you can’t forecast where it is going. It’s better to make all your business decisions based on the hard facts of you company’s performance, not a hunch or your “feel” for where you are.