Planning for a Fabulous 2015

December 24, 2014 · Posted in Business Development, Business Tips · Comments Off on Planning for a Fabulous 2015 

The holiday month of December brings celebration as well as reflection for all the events that occurred in 2014.  It also gives us great hope for a new fabulous start in 2015.  Here are three ideas to start 2015 with a bang.

  1. Find a focus for the year.

    Instead of getting into the rut of making and breaking resolutions, consider having a focus for the entire year.  Choose your focus from among things like:

    • Developing a department in your business, such as your sales, marketing, operations, HR, admin, or another.  The focus will be on building or expanding the department you’ve chosen to work on.
    • Changing your company culture to a trait or aspect you want to be known for.  Developing the trait will be your focus.
    • Building a relationship with an individual or a group of people related to your business.  The relationships are the focus.

  2. Live by a theme for 2015.

    Your theme could be an emotion or expression such as gratitude or compassion.  It could be a color – purple – just for fun.  You might adopt a favorite quote or religious verse or even song.  Your goal for the year will be to embody your theme and/or bring it into other’s lives as well.

  3. Do the one big thing.

    Are you holding back on a huge dream for yourself?  Then take steps in 2015 to move closer to it.  Make 2015 your year to do the one big thing that’s been weighing heavily on your mind.  Just think how you’d feel if you finally did it; your life would be forever altered.

Happy 2015Write your focus, your theme, or your one big thing on dozens of sticky notes, and plaster them everywhere.  Mark your calendar and to do list with reminders and milestone checks.  Make art out of your sticky notes, and post them on the refrigerator door and your office walls.  That way, the reminder will be physically with you all year.

We wish you a happy and healthy new year to you and yours.

It’s Bonus Time

December 11, 2014 · Posted in Business Tips, Payroll Tips · Comments Off on It’s Bonus Time 

Year-end is a great time to think about rewarding your staff for a job well done in 2014.  Here are a couple of quick tips to help you make the most of bonuses while protecting your business and cash flow.

  1. Timing.  Would you be better off timing bonuses in this year to reduce 2014-year taxes or to wait until next year so they impact the 2015 tax year?  It’s something to consider before you dish them out.  Do what’s best for your business.
  2. The pretty holiday envelope.  It might be tempting to hand out envelopes of cash but it’s oh-so illegal.  Making payroll in cash is illegal in most states, and bonuses are part of payroll.  Stick to the payroll system to generate your bonuses even if it’s boring, and you’ll stay out of trouble.
  3. Pesky deductions.  Bonuses are subject to payroll deductions just like any other payroll check, so please don’t forget that.  If you write a check for $1,000 to an employee, you will be liable for taxes on the gross-up, and this ranges between 20% to 30%.  So that $1,000 bonus just turned into $1,200 or $1,300, which is quite generous but might not be what you really meant!
  4. Sticking around.  Bonuses are a great motivator and can help keep employees from leaving, thereby reducing your turnover costs.  If possible, announce a bonus structure ahead of time so employees will have something to work toward and “earn.”
  5. Invisible costs of bonuses.  Bonuses will drive up your workers compensation, state and federal unemployment costs, and any other costs that are related to gross wages, so do take all of that into consideration when issuing bonuses.
  6. Beyond money.   Money is a great motivator, but you may want to provide non-cash bonuses to your employees for extra special memories.  If you do, your tax accountant can help you get the transaction recorded properly.         

Bonuses are fun for everyone, and we hope these tips will help you make the most out of them in your business.

Catching Up with Your Contractors Before 1099 Time

November 26, 2014 · Posted in Accounting, Business Tips · Comments Off on Catching Up with Your Contractors Before 1099 Time 

In a little over a month, it will be 2015 and time for year-end accounting chores.   One of those chores is getting your 1099s out, and now is a good time to tie up loose ends so the year-end process can go smoother.  Here are some tips to do just that:

  1. Go through your vendor list and make sure each contractor that you are paying is marked in your accounting system as a contractor eligible for a 1099.
  2. Obtain a W-9 form from each contractor if you haven’t already, and update the address and federal EIN for each contractor.  This will ensure that you have the most current information for each contractor and that they will receive their 1099 promptly.

    If you need to make any changes in the way you are paying them or withholding taxes, you’ll have a chance to update that information as well.
  3. Ask your contractors for a worker’s compensation certificate.  If you don’t have one, you might need to add their payment totals to your payroll amounts on your worker’s compensation audit worksheet.
  4. If your accounting system doesn’t break out payment type, you’ll need to do that on a separate spreadsheet before you input the 1099 amounts.  Contractors paid with a check will require 1099s.  Contractors paid via PayPal or credit card will not.   If you have paid them both ways, you will need to break it out.  You can do the bulk of the work now and post the remainder of the year after year-end.
  5. Consider re-evaluating each contractor as to whether they meet the employee versus contractor tests from the IRS.  If you are accidentally misclassifying a contractor who the IRS defines as an employee, you will be responsible for social security, withholding, and other payroll taxes, which can add up to huge numbers for small businesses.

    This is a “red flag” area for the IRS, meaning they are looking to “bust” employers.  However, they also have a Voluntary Classification Settlement Program for people who have been misclassifying workers in the past and want to come clean.

Following these five steps will put you in great shape for year-end.  And if you need help catching up with your contractors or with any related issues, please let us know.

What’s Your Hourly Worth?

October 16, 2014 · Posted in Business Tips, Management Tips, Time Management Tips · Comments Off on What’s Your Hourly Worth? 

Time is the most precious resource on the planet, but sometimes we don’t treat it that way. In our businesses, it’s important to get everything done, but we can also get overwhelmed with all the little things that need to be done to take care of customers. One of the big differences between highly successful entrepreneurs and less successful ones is how they manage their time: the more successful simply value it more and treat it as the scarce commodity it is.

A great exercise to bring this home is to track what you do in one day. You can write a diary as you go through the day or simply recall what you did at the end of the day. List the tasks you did; then write the hourly market rate of each task you did next to the task.

Did you spend time on low-level tasks such as email cleanup, filing, order-taking, order filling, or handling routine customer questions? Or did you spend time calling up power partners, dreaming up new products or services, or restyling your marketing message so that it’s more impactful and reaches more customers?

What was the average hourly rate of the tasks you did today? Multiply that by 2,000 hours and compare it your gross revenues. If your gross revenues were higher than the value of the tasks you did today, then your revenue might be stagnant. If your annualized day was worth more than your gross revenues, then congratulations; you’re moving up and giving yourself a raise. Your business is likely growing.

If you’d like a raise, then the first thing to do is to start delegating the lower level tasks that are eating up all your time. They might be a comfortable way for you to pass the time, but they could also be keeping you stuck, overwhelmed, and moving toward burnout.

We all have the same amount of time each day. If we can free up our time to focus on more powerful action items that move our business forward instead of the chores that clog our progress, then our success will accelerate.

Seven Profit-Boosting Entrepreneurial Habits

June 12, 2014 · Posted in Business Tips, Management Tips · Comments Off on Seven Profit-Boosting Entrepreneurial Habits 

As an entrepreneur, you are responsible for shaping your business success.  Any habits that sabotage your success in your personal life can often carry over to your business.  Becoming aware of these is the first step to success.

Here are seven success-boosting habits to double-check against your own.

  1. Being able to say “No.” 

    Do you say “yes” to too many things that don’t serve your life purpose, help your family, or move your business forward?  If so, you’re not alone.  Saying “yes” in a weak moment when you feel like you can do it all can be a downfall for many entrepreneurs.  It can also distract you from success if you are not working on the right things for you.

    You may need to re-evaluate the value of your time and your priorities.  Practice making smart decisions by having a structure and a higher purpose that helps you decide what you should and shouldn’t do with your time, money, and life.   And if you tend to be one of those who says “yes” to everything, you may need to practice saying “no” in front of the mirror to break your habit.

  2. Hiring fast and early.

    The best time to hire is just before you need your new team member.  It can be easy to put off hiring if you fill with dread when you think about large stacks of resumes and endless phone calls.  Not hiring soon enough can cost your business in reduced service and sales.  The smartest entrepreneurs stay ahead of the game in this area.

  3. Strategizing proactively.

    How much time do you spend in reactive mode versus proactive mode in your business?  Reactive mode includes answering emails, fighting fires, serving clients, and managing employees.  Proactive mode includes developing new products and services, creating and implementing your revenue plan, and training employees.

    Sometimes we have to really push ourselves to look beyond the daily fires.  One way to do that is to plan time every day for proactive activities and be ruthless about keeping that time slot on the calendar.

  4. Setting tight scope and polite boundaries with customers.

    Successful entrepreneurs set clear boundaries when it comes to delivering their products and services to customers.  Especially in service companies, it’s not always clear to the client what’s included in a fixed fee contract unless it’s clearly spelled out.

    If you are asked to do something that’s not included in the contract, you now have a choice.  Do you give it away for free, or do you have a change order process where you can easily provide an estimate for that extra work?

  5. Measuring results.   

    Only what can be measured can be improved, and smart entrepreneurs know this.  Track — in real time, not a year later — what’s important to you.  New customers, new leads, closed sales, revenue per day, sales per day, monthly net income, certain costs, profit margins, profit per customer, profit per job, and profit per location are just a few of the many metrics you can choose to track for your business.

    Once you measure it, you can now set goals to improve it.

  6. Curbing irrational spending.   

    Invest in things that will last, such as your own education, great systems, team training, and assets that you really need.  Avoid spending on items that are used up quickly, such as elaborate entertainment expenses that don’t generate significant revenue, excessive utilities, and stopgap equipment.

    This area can be a tough one to evaluate objectively because there can be emotion and attachment involved in the spending.  Let us know if you need help in this area; we can help you look at your spending with fresh eyes and provide a new perspective.

  7. Maintaining focus.

    Great entrepreneurs have clear focus.  If you have too many projects going on at once, you end up delaying all of your project completion dates, and nothing gets finished.   Ask yourself, what’s the most important thing I can do today?  And work on that until it’s done.  Then ask yourself the same question again, and wash, rinse, repeat your way to success.

Seven Habits

Which of the seven habits are you best at?   Celebrate your natural gifts while keeping an eye on the habits you need to work on.  That will move you to the success you deserve.

Five Essential Components of an Entrepreneur’s Compensation

May 29, 2014 · Posted in Business Development, Business Tips · Comments Off on Five Essential Components of an Entrepreneur’s Compensation 

The two major ways entrepreneurs can take money from their business is through draws or by receiving a paycheck.  The type of entity in which their business is set up will determine which method can be used. In either case, entrepreneurs need to be careful not to shortchange themselves.

Especially if you’re running a service business, it’s easy to initially think you can do well with a similar hourly rate that you earned as an employee.  Here’s a quick list of five elements that should be included in the compensation of every entrepreneur:

  1. Competitive pay 

    If you were doing the same work for a company that hired you, what would your pay be?  Are you making at least market equivalent or better?  A lot of times, as entrepreneurs, we tend to focus only on this piece of our compensation when we set our pricing, and that’s a big mistake. It’s only 75 percent of what our total pay needs to be.

  2. Profit.

    As an entrepreneur, you take extra risk when you own your own company, and you should be compensated accordingly.  Your capital is tied up in your business and should be earning a good return in addition to your reasonable compensation.

  3. Benefits

    Employees get vacations, health insurance, and bonuses; and you should too.  This should be part of your compensation package as an entrepreneur.

  4. Taxes.

    Although our individual taxes are not deductible as business expenses, we need to compensate for them so that we’ll have enough cash for our living expenses.  It’s a huge chunk too.  We work about three and a half months every year, just to pay for our taxes.

  5. Retirement plan

    When you work for yourself, no one is going to fund your retirement for you.  Although the Social Security program helps a lot of seniors, it’s up to you to set additional money aside for a comfortable future.

Complete Compensation

Your compensation should include all of these components.  If it doesn’t and you feel like you can’t afford to pay yourself that much, then your pricing might not be reflecting all of these items correctly, you might have a volume problem, or your business model may need some adjusting.

It’s normal to take a smaller paycheck the first few years as we’re building our businesses, but if you’re still doing it after several years or constantly having cash flow issues, then something may be wrong.

If you’d like our help in this area of your business, please reach out and let us know.

Make sure your future is bright and financially secure by including all five components in your entrepreneur compensation.

Nine Tips to Dazzle and Retain Your Top Customers

May 1, 2014 · Posted in Business Tips, Customer Service Tips · Comments Off on Nine Tips to Dazzle and Retain Your Top Customers 

Your top customers are your most important customers in your business, and it’s important that you hang onto them if at all possible.  It’s much more cost-effective in most business models to retain repeat customers than it is to find new ones.   Here are nine tips you can use to dazzle and delight your top customers:

  1. Know who they are by name. 
    Do you know which customers generated the highest sales for you last year?  If not, let us run a Sales by Customer Summary sorted by descending revenue for you to be sure.  Your top customers will be listed on the first lines of this report.  These are the customers you should be contacting at least once a month, having lunch with periodically, or doing a few extra things for.
  2. Know who sent the most business to you. 
    Do you track referrals?  If not, you may want to consider adding a field to your accounting system if there’s room.  At the least, you can use the report generated above and add a column to it labeled referral source.  Drop in the person’s name that referred the customer to you.  Once you’ve completed the field, you can re-sort it to total up the dollar value of each referral source.

    You should be in monthly contact with these folks, just as if they were your top customers and even if they’re not a customer at all.  Make a plan to lunch with these individuals and/or do something extra for them periodically to let them know you appreciate their referrals.

  3. Ask customers how they would like to be contacted. 

    Do your customers prefer to be contacted via email?  Phone? Text? In person?  If a customer hates being called on their cell phone, wouldn’t you want to know?

    Everyone is different, so find out by asking, and make a note in their file.  Also find out how often they’d like an update.  Some worriers might want to know daily, others prefer a short monthly email.  The best time to do this is during customer onboarding or at the time of the first sale.

  4. Find out what customers need from you.

    At the end of each project, ask your customer two things:

    a. How could we have served you better?
    b. What else can we do for you?

    Then empty your mind and really listen.  Take copious notes, don’t defend yourself, and thank your customer.   Think about what they said, and implement what makes sense.

  5. Provide a customer service contact and great support. 

    Does your customer know who to call when they need to talk with someone in your business?  If the customer has a follow up question on their purchase or service, let them know what to do ahead of time so they won’t feel lost.  This will make the customer feel at home and will have them coming back because of your great support experience.

  6. Practice “consumption marketing.” 

    Consumption marketing is helping the customer fully consume their purchase from you.  The more likely they are to get benefits from your product or service, the more likely they are to come back for more.

    Help clients use your products and services to their fullest by creating a consumption marketing program that includes tips sheets, educational aids, how-to videos, instructional blog posts, and the like.

  7. Develop multiple relationships.

    If your customers are from large companies, strengthen that business by meeting multiple buyers within the company.  If one employee leaves, it won’t be such a crisis to your account if you know multiple people in the company.

  8. Say thanks promptly. 

    Send a thank you note to a new customer or referral source within a week of their purchase or referral.  Acknowledge their action quickly and generously so that you make a great personal impression.

  9. Create and implement a client retention plan.

    Be proactive about customer retention by planning touch points throughout the year and systematizing the contact process with your top customers.  This can be as simple as taking your top 12 customers out to lunch, one each month, or as complex as planning some kind of touch point – a newsletter, email, or thank you note – once a month for each of your top clients and referral sources.

    Try any of these nine tips to dazzle your top customers and boost your customer retention for stronger sales.

Do You Know Your Weakest Business Link?

April 17, 2014 · Posted in Business Development, Business Tips, Management Tips · Comments Off on Do You Know Your Weakest Business Link? 

You’ve already built a solid business that you have great pride in.  Yet, if you’re like most entrepreneurs, you’re on a constant search for how to make your business better.   One way to focus your search is to look for the weakest link in your business.

From a return-on-investment standpoint, working on and fixing your weakest link is the highest payback thing you can do.  It lifts your entire company up and makes it stronger.   The key is to look as objectively as possible at what might be holding your business back from being even greater than it already is.

Here are four major areas where you can look for your weakest link:

  1. Client-facing interactions

    A great area to start looking is where you have interactions with clients.  These include things like phone greetings, email, websites, your storefront, your presence at networking meetings, client service interactions, your proposals, invoices, and thank you notes.

    What jumps out at you as the weakest link when you look through the above list?  Perhaps it’s as simple as recording a more friendly voice mail greeting or as complex as getting your website redone.  Don’t get overwhelmed if a lot of these items need attention; instead focus on the one weakest link.  That’s the place that needs your attention.

  2. Your team 

    The toughest area to have a weakest link is when it involves people.  If you have an underperforming employee or contractor that is undermining sales or service, you’ve got a tough decision ahead of you.  If it’s your weakest link, don’t bury your head in the sand like we all want to do.  You need to act so that the person does not drag down your entire business.

  3. Internal systems

    If you feel stymied at the lack of information in your business, you might be in need of better internal systems.  As your business grows, this is the area that changes the most over time.

    Businesses that are newer or smaller need a great accounting system as well as a good point of sale or billing system.  As the business grows, it might need better inventory systems, a good CRM or customer relationship management system, a project management system, or more specialized systems depending on the industry it’s in.

    As the business matures, the functionality of the accounting system should expand to meet the growing data demands.   Integrating the accounting system together with the company’s other systems can become important to control costs and improve margins.

    If you feel like your weakest link may be in your systems, we’re happy to help.  Please reach out and let’s have a conversation about your needs.

  4. Skill set

    No one was born an entrepreneur; it has to be learned.  What keeps it more exciting is that new skills are required at each level you master on the entrepreneurial ladder.  Some of the skills that you need at the entry level include client service, delivery of your service or product, and sales and marketing.  As your business grows, you’ll need to master financial skills, negotiation skills, hiring, and supervisory skills.  Leadership and strategy skills will serve you well when your business is mature.

    Which skill set do you consider your weakest link?  If it’s finance, you’re not alone.   Let us know how we can help.

  5. Focusing on the Payback

    The good news is when you’ve improved your weakest link, you end up improving your entire company and lifting it up to a new level.  Once you’ve fixed your weakest link, congratulate yourself.  Give yourself a reward, and wait a little while.

    Your old weakest link is no longer the weakest area in your business, but something else is.  Since you’re on a constant search for improvement in your business, you can repeat this formula over and over again to keep lifting your company up using this low risk, high payback approach.

    Five Browser Productivity Tips

    April 3, 2014 · Posted in Business Tips · Comments Off on Five Browser Productivity Tips 

    Most of us spend a lot of time browsing the Internet, and that means using browser software.  Google Chrome is the most popular browser with roughly 40 percent market share.  Internet Explorer follows with about a 30 percent share and Firefox is third with less than 20 percent.
     
    Since most people use Google Chrome, we’ll use that browser to describe our five productivity tips.  If you don’t use Chrome, you can still look for the features we list on your browser of choice.
     
    Better with Bookmarks 
     
    Do you have a half dozen or so sites that you like to visit every day?  If so, bookmark them on a toolbar so that you have one-click access.  In Chrome, click the icon with three horizontal lines that is located on the web address bar at the top of your browser.  We’ll call this the Chrome Commands button from now on.  Mouse over “Bookmarks,” and make sure “Show Bookmarks Bar” is checked.
     
    Type in your favorite site URL.  To add it as a bookmark on your bookmarks bar, click the star on the right side of the web address box.  It will turn gold, and then you can name your page as well as select whether you want it more prominently in the bar or simply in your list of bookmarks.  Repeat this for each of your most visited sites.
     
    Now that all of your sites are listed on your bookmarks bar, you can visit them in one click.
     
    Enlarge the Page
     
    If a page is too small and you want to enlarge the entire thing, you can do so with your mouse wheel.  On your keyboard, hold down the CTRL key and roll your mouse wheel away from you while you’re on a web page.  The page will get larger.  Roll your mouse wheel toward you to reverse the effect and make a page smaller.
     
    You can also customize your fonts by going into Chrome Commands, Settings, Advanced Setting, and Web Content.  You can find your font options there.
     
    Download Redux
     
    Do you need something you downloaded earlier today and forgot where you put it?  Access it again here by typing this into the web address box or selecting “Downloads” from the Chrome Commands.  Hey, even better, if you need this a lot, make it a bookmark.
     
    chrome://downloads/
     
    If you’re a history buff – that is, if you closed a browser screen and find you want to re-visit that page, then look for the History command under the Chrome Commands button.  It’s super-handy and will save lots of time when you need to backtrack.
     
    Autofill
     
    Tired of filling out forms?  Chrome will do it for you by remembering certain fields and matching them up with their form fieldnames.  You can have Chrome remember addresses and credit cards; however we can’t really recommend the latter for security reasons.  Manage this feature and its settings by clicking the Chrome Commands button and Settings.  Scroll to the end and look for Advanced Settings, then look for the Autofill area and Manage Autofill Settings.
     
    Instant Dictionary
     
    While browsing, have you ever come across a word or phrase you don’t know or want to know more about?  If so, highlight it right there on the web page and then right-click.  Select “Search Google for “the phrase you highlighted” to bring up the information you want.
     
    Most of us have never had a formal class on our browsers, but it’s not a bad idea.  Hopefully, until you can get to that class, these tips will help you discover a little more about the browser you use every day.

    How Painless Is Your New Customer Experience?

    March 20, 2014 · Posted in Business Tips, Customer Service Tips, Management Tips · Comments Off on How Painless Is Your New Customer Experience? 

    Is your business easy to do business with?  Or is it difficult?   The answer could impact your revenue as well as your reputation for service.  Here are a few tips to help you stand in your customer’s shoes for just a few minutes to answer those questions.
     
    First Impressions
     
    What is the first image of your business that your future customer sees?  Is it your website?  A sign in your office window?  An ad?   Whatever it is, take a look at it with fresh eyes, like you’ve never seen it before.  You may have several images to consider if clients approach your business in many different ways.
     
    What do you notice first?  Is the website simple or cluttered?  Is your sign rusty and crooked or new and cute?  Do you need to make any changes based on what you see?
     
    Voice Time
     
    If a customer calls, how many times does the phone ring before it’s picked up?  Does the voice sound inviting and excited that someone called, or is it as if you were just interrupted?  Or worse, did they get a recording?
     
    If they walk in face to face, how are they greeted?  What does your waiting room look like?
     
    Service
     
    What is the interaction like with you?  Are you able to answer the prospect’s questions?  Do they feel comfortable with you or are they intimidated?    What do you suspect it’s like for your clients?
     
    If the prospect becomes a client, what do they have to do?  Are there lots of forms to complete?  How organized are you in getting the client started and serviced for the first time?  Are you respectful of their time if they are in a hurry?
     
    Mystery Shoppers
     
    You’ve probably heard of mystery shoppers who are hired to give their opinions of what their client experience was like for them.  They go through a similar process, evaluating every client touch point and suggest ways to make it a smoother experience.
     
    Almost every business could benefit from periodically reviewing the client experience to discover where the weakest links are and how they can be fixed.  Ask yourself these questions to see where you can improve your client’s experience and make it easy to do business with you.

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