What Does Popeye Have to Do with Accounting?

You might have heard the terms “cash basis accounting” or “accrual accounting.”  Your net income number can change depending on which method your books are set up for.  Here’s a simple explanation of the difference, with a little help from one of the most famous cartoon characters in history.

 

Popeye and Wimpy

 

You might recognize Popeye the Sailor Man from the television cartoons or other media.  His sidekick, Wimpy, was the one who was always hungry and always out of cash.  One of his favorite sayings was, “I’ll gladly pay your Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

 

It’s All in the Timing

 

Let’s make today Thursday.  If Wimpy wants to pay us Tuesday for a hamburger today, here’s how it would be done for a restaurant on cash basis:

 

Cash basis recording Wimpy’s hamburger purchase

 

Both the sale and the receipt of cash would be recorded on Tuesday.  Companies on cash basis only record the transaction when the cash is received.

 

But, if the restaurant’s books were on the accrual basis, it would be a different story:

 

Accrual basis recording Wimpy’s hamburger purchase

 

Wimpy’s hamburger sale would be recorded on Thursday, the day he ate the hamburger.  The receipt would then be recorded on Tuesday, assuming Wimpy made good on his promise to pay.

 

You might be asking why a few days is such a big deal.  Outside of cartoon life, a couple of extra twists can happen.  It can be far more than a few days from the time you do the work to the time you get paid for it.  And often, these dates span different months and even years, affecting the amount you have to pay in taxes to various agencies.  Manipulating these dates (legally, of course) is one of many tax planning strategies that we can help you with.

 

Choosing for Your Business

 

In many cases, the government has chosen which method you must use when it comes to sales tax, payroll taxes, and income tax.  That’s part of the reason we make the required adjustments to your books at year end.

 

To help you run your business in a forward-thinking way, the accrual method is best.  You can record invoices for work you’ve done even though you haven’t received payment yet.  You can enter bills you need to pay before you pay them to forecast cash requirements.  Using accrual accounting, you can budget for cash flow needs as well as see more accurately what your revenue and income is looking like.

 

For clients who remain behind in their bookkeeping and just want to catch everything up once a year, the cash basis is adequate.  However they lose out on all the good information they could have had throughout the year to run their business better.

 

For other businesses, a hybrid approach between cash and accrual accounting can be the most cost effective.

 

A Little Help from Popeye the Sailor

 

What would Popeye say about all this accounting talk?

 

“That’s all I can stands, cuz I can’t stands n’more!”

 

Budgeting Breakthrough

When you hear the word “budget,” what do you think about?  Most people would say something similar to “Ugghh!” If you would rather do just about anything besides create a budget, you’re not alone.  The word “budget” brings up connotations of endless numbers, constraints, the opposite of freedom and creativity, and hard work, none of which are very desirable.

 

Yet, the benefits of a budget are huge.  Budgets can help you with cash flow improvements, keep you on track for higher profits, and alert you to items that need further action.

 

From “Budget” to “Profit Plan”

 

To be successful with budgeting, we need to get rid of all of the connotations that go with the word.  Perhaps it might work if we rename “budgeting” to “profit planning.” And then, rather than focus on how little we should spend, let’s start with how much revenue we’re going to make.

 

Revenue Clarity

 

It’s simple to create a revenue plan if you go backwards.  What revenue goal would you like to hit this year?  Just like we would never get in a car without a final destination, a revenue plan gives us a number to aim for in our businesses.

 

Once you know your number, then we can use averages to come up how many sales or clients we need to generate in order to meet our revenue goal.  Here’s a quick example:  Let’s say you want to reach $5 million in revenue this year.  If you average order is $10,000, then you need 500 sales.  If you have multiple products and services, then you’ll need to sum the product of the average sale times the needed number of sales for each line.

 

From there, you can make marketing and production plans based on the number of sales or clients you need.

 

Protecting Your Profit

 

Think of the expense side of your “profit plan” as protecting your profit margins so that you can ensure financial gain from all the hard work you do.  Setting budget limits on spending will allow you to control overhead and other items so you can keep more of what you make.

 

Exceptional Reporting

 

A great “profit plan” report will provide several things.  You can compare budget to actual, or better yet, just be alerted to the accounts showing exceptions.  You can also get an income statement that compares the current period with the prior year period so you can see how far you’ve come.  One last option is a benchmark report which provides industry averages so you can measure how you fare compared to other companies in your industry.

 

A “profit plan” is a great tool for your business.  If we can help you with the process or provide you with custom reporting, please give us a call.

Need an A/R Makeover? A Quick, 5-Item Best Practice Checklist

Technology has allowed businesses to make substantial improvements in their customer invoicing processes.  The good news is that when you implement these technologies, you will almost always get paid much faster.

If it’s been a few years since the last time you’ve changed your accounts receivable processes, it’s time for a new look.  Here are five tips you can use to rate your own invoicing process, step by step.

 

1. Invoice Creation

The best way to create all of your invoices is by the push of a button from one of about five types of systems that already have all of your data:

  •  Time and billing, if you bill hourly
  • Estimating and project management, if you use proposals
  • Customer relations management (CRM) systems that have invoicing as a feature
  • Point of sales systems that track open accounts
  • Accounting system that includes an A/R component

There are a couple of key best-practice concepts to follow at this step:

  • Eliminate any duplicate data entry you can.  You should only have to enter your invoicing data in one place, and it should flow to every other system that needs it.
  • Automate as much of the process as possible.  Never start in Word or Excel, because this always means duplicate data entry somewhere.
  • Have an easy approval process so someone else can do the data entry if needed.
  • Keep your invoice data real-time so you can benefit from the next step, which is….

 

2.  Invoice Delivery

How you create your invoice will vary by the type of business you have, but the main thing to make sure of is that the invoice is approved quickly and sent out to the client as soon as the work has been done.

The only way to do this is electronically.  If you’re still printing, stuffing, stamping, and mailing you invoices, you’re losing anywhere from two days to nearly a week before your customer even sees the bill.  Change that by using email or delivering the invoice electronically.

 

3.  Invoice Terms

When do you want to get paid?  Most people feel it’s realistic to aim for 30 days.  But if you set your payment terms to Net 30, you’re more likely to get paid in 45 days, not 30, according to recent research by Xero, where over 12 million small business invoices were reviewed.

Set your terms to 13 days or less, Xero suggests, because most small business debtors pay two weeks late.  Here is the infographic in case you want to check it out:  http://www.xero.com/guides/invoicing/

 

4. Payment Method

How does your business rate when it comes to payment options?  If all you take is checks, you can add another week’s delay to your payment.  Instead, we recommend creating lots of choices for customers, such as taking:

  •  Credit and debit cards through MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and Discover
    • You can set up links online (best) or receive a fax or scanned form where you can enter the card into your back office.
  • PayPal
  • ACH for recurring payments that the client agrees to draft from their bank account
  • Checks

Your industry may even have more options.  For example, in accounting, Intuit has their Intuit Payment Network (IPN) where small businesses can receive money electronically and send and receive requests for money.  IPN is far cheaper than PayPal fees, too.

 

5.  Receipt

When you get paid electronically, it’s in your bank (or your merchant account) within minutes.  If you bank online, you can see things immediately now (it’s really amazing!).  When you receive a check, you have the overhead of preparing the deposit and making the trip to the bank.  If you have hundreds of paper checks, you also have additional bank fees incurred from processing the checks.

If your accounting system interfaces with your bank, then you save a lot of time and money not having to post those transactions.

 

Invoice-Free Zone

Why not get out of the invoicing business altogether by offering a pay-in-advance option?  Your Accounts Receivable balance goes to nothing, to name one of many benefits.  Not every industry can adopt this practice, but if you think creatively, you might find some ways you can implement this in your business.

How did your A/R process rate on the 5-point checklist?  Got some ideas for improvement?  As always, please reach out if you have A/R questions or if we can help you implement your best practice invoicing system.

Five Cash Leaks to Avoid

Cash flow improvement is a hot issue for small businesses; in many businesses, it seems like there is never enough cash when you need it.  The last thing a business owner wants is to reduce their cash balance unnecessarily.  To help you preserve or increase your cash, here are five cash management leaks to avoid.

 

1. Bloated Bank Fees

 

Some banks are more business-friendly than others.  We recommend you assess the fees you are currently being charged to see if you can discontinue any unnecessary services.

 

  • Could you maintain a cash balance to avoid monthly fees?
  • Are you being charged online banking fees and bill pay fees, and are these still necessary?
  • Are you being charged for a high volume of transactions or cash drawer services, and are these competitive with other banks?

 

Banks, including national brands, that have not kept up with technology and have not automated a significant amount of their transactions are inefficient and must charge higher fees to cover their processing costs.  If your accounts are located at one of these costlier banks, you do have a choice.

 

2.   Overtaxed

 

Are you sure that you are paying the lowest amount of taxes you legally owe?  There are several places to look to make sure you have not overpaid taxes anywhere in your business or personally:

 

  • Payroll taxes
  • Sales and use tax
  • Franchise taxes
  • State and local income taxes
  • Property taxes
  • Federal income taxes
  • Taxes that are specific to your industry

 

In preparing income taxes, a few of the easiest items to overlook include carryovers from prior years and new deductions you become eligible for.  If you received a large refund this year, congratulations, but that means you gave Uncle Sam an interest-free loan on your money.  You can do better next year by estimating your tax payments and paying only what’s due.

 

3. The Check Is in the Mail

 

Customers who take too long to pay you are big cash drains in your business.  Consider changing your terms, asking for deposits, or becoming more aggressive with collections to bring your DSO (days sales outstanding) down.  When you do, you’ll get an instant, permanent cash flow improvement.

 

4.  Sweat the Small Stuff

 

You may have an eagle eye on your largest bank account, but what about your other cash stashes?  PayPal, petty cash, and business savings accounts are among the places that may not get daily scrutiny.  Make sure those accounts are properly reconciled and have the proper controls in place so funds don’t go missing.

 

5.  It’s in Your Interest

 

A nice problem to have is when your bank balances get too large and you don’t need the money immediately.  Make sure that money is still working hard for you by putting the excess in an interest-bearing account.  It’s not much these days, but every little bit helps.

 

Make a Dash to the Cash

 

If we can help you plug any of these cash leaks in your business, please don’t hesitate to reach out and let us know.

The Fine Art of Prioritization

Running a business usually means putting in over 40 hours a week.  In fact, if you’re the typical entrepreneur, you have more ideas you want to implement than you have time for!  That’s when proactive, strategically executed prioritization can make all the difference.

 

So Hard to Choose    

 

If you have lots of ideas in your head or on your “to do” list that are not getting done, you’re certainly not alone.  Here’s a process for helping you decide what to do first, next, and not at all.

 

Step 1:  Write down all your ideas, tasks, “to do’s,” projects, and even items you need to do on a daily basis.  Use a spreadsheet and list each item in a row by itself.  Later you’ll want to be able to sort the list, so we recommend using Excel or another spreadsheet software.

 

Once you have everything down on paper, you will be amazed at how much this unclutters your thinking.  You will also have all your great ideas captured so you don’t forget them.  You might also get very overwhelmed, but don’t stop now.  Relief is on the way.

 

Step 2: Add some information about each item, creating four additional columns:

 

  1. Is this item about working IN your business (client work, overhead, etc.) or ON your business (new products or new services, developing procedures, hiring more staff, marketing, creating new partnerships)?
  2. Is this item revenue-generating?  Or will you lose revenue if you don’t get it done?
  3. Can you delegate this task or does it have to be done by you?
  4. If you were to hire someone to do this task, how much would it be worth per hour?

 

Step 3:  Analyze your choices.  Once you have these additional items filled in, you can go wild with opportunities.  Here are some very cool eye-opening activities to try:

 

  • Separate tasks that are working ON vs. IN your business.  There is never enough time to work on your business, so force it by blocking out a few hours or a half-day a week and do it, no matter what.  It might be the best way to make progress in your business.
  • Sort the list by how much revenue the task could generate or how much potential it has, and decide how to prioritize from there.  If you need help calculating the ROI, return on investment of an idea, we can help you calculate that.
  • Take a look at what you marked “not able to delegate,” and ask “why not?”  Does a procedure need to be written?  Do you need more staff?  Does your staff need training?  Or do you need to learn to let go?  Whatever it is, and especially if there are a lot of these items, get these roadblocks tackled so you don’t become the bottleneck in your own business.
  • Sort the list by “column D” above, the market value you recorded for the task.  Then ask yourself what your hourly rate is.  How many tasks are you doing that are below your hourly rate?  Hiring someone to do your lowest level tasks could very well be another item you need to add to your new “to do” list!

 

This last one is really important, because it can so strongly affect the profitability of your business.  The last thing you want to do is go backwards and give yourself a demotion with a pay decrease, but that’s exactly what you’re doing each time you do a task yourself that’s at a low market rate.

 

Step 4:  Prioritize with confidence.   With all of this information in an organized spreadsheet, you will gain the clarity you need to make some powerful decisions about how to spend your time.

 

Time

 

There’s nothing more precious and scarce than our time.  Every day, we have a choice about how to spend it, but too often we get caught up in the urgent, but not important, daily fires.  This exercise helps us take a step back and look at what’s important instead of what’s urgent.

 

Have You Been Hacked? How to Minimize Your Risk

Just about every day, we read in the news that another company has been hacked.  You might have already been directly affected by the password thefts at LinkedIn last year or Evernote this year.  Or you might have had your own social media account, email, website, network, or computer hacked.  Worse, many of you have been hacked but don’t even know it.

 

So how can you minimize the damage and risk of hackers?  Here are several tips, some familiar, some not so familiar.  As you go through the list, check off the ones you’re already doing and make a list of new ideas to implement to protect your business and personal assets.

 

Signing Your Life Away

 

Your signature might look great in a graphic in your email signature line, your website, or your newsletter, but it’s a huge risk.  You’re giving away your handwriting, and forgers can easily replicate, master your handwriting, and impersonate you.  To reduce identity theft, don’t publish your real signature anywhere.

 

Money, Honey

 

Implement strong passwords on all of your financial accounts:  banks, credit unions, PayPal, credit cards, and your accounting system.  We know it’s painful, but do not use the same password for your financial accounts anywhere else, especially social media!  If possible, use a different password for each account to reduce risk further.

 

What’s Your Password?

 

Here are some quick password tips:

 

  • Do not use your name, your pet’s names or your kid’s names in your passwords.  There’s just too much information available publicly to do that safely anymore.
  • Mix up letters, numbers, capital letters, and special characters, if they are allowed.
  • The longer, the more secure; most apps require at least 8 digits.
  • Change passwords quarterly to be on the safe side.

 

Password Storage

 

Most apps that help you save time with passwords are NOT safe!  Here’s what we do and don’t recommend:

 

DO:

 

  • Password-protect your computer, even though you don’t have to.
  • Keep a separate file of your passwords on your computer, but DO password-protect that file and make sure it is not shared with anyone on a network.  Also name the file something totally unrelated like bio, letter, or goulash recipe; do not name it “passwords.doc!”
  • You can also keep a record of your passwords offline, but be sure to lock it up in a safe.
  • When you make file and disk backups, be sure those are locked up and password-protected too.  They will no longer have your PC password to protect them.

 

DON’T

 

  • Don’t give in to your browser or any website when it asks to remember your user ID and password, especially for your financial accounts or client information.  All of the major browsers have been hacked – Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and even Safari.

 

If you use password management applications, proceed with caution.  Be sure you have properly vetted their security claims.  Most of these are simply form fillers that are not safe.

 

Vulnerable Applications

Avoid leaving vulnerable PC ports open and unattended, including chat, messaging, FTP (file transfer protocol), Skype, webinars, Google hangouts, video sharing, and the like. It’s like having all the doors and windows unlocked in your house; an intruder has a lot of choices for easy entry.  When you are on these more vulnerable connections, shut the others down, and close the applications you don’t need.  Then logoff when you are done.

 

A Plug for Software

 

As soon as a hacker has found a new exploit, the software companies will learn about it and make an update available within days.  The hacker community is tight;  other hackers will look for software that is not updated and exploit the hack.  Avoid the copycat hackers by staying on top of your software updates, not just your anti-virus, but also your Microsoft and other software updates.  Doing this will eliminate a great deal of the risk out there.

 

New Users

 

If multiple team members need to access your software, consider setting up additional users rather than having one account.  If one person gets hacked, the others will likely still have access and can react quicker to the intrusion.

 

Stay Safe Out There

 

How many of these are you already doing?  Give yourself a reward, and then get busy implementing the rest so you can stay safe.

Seven Strategies to Put the Spring into Your Sales

Spring is here and that’s the perfect time to try something new in your business to make things fresh.  Here are seven ideas to try in your business; pick the one that’s most likely to put the spring in your sales.

1. BOGO

“Buy one, get one” or BOGO deals are always hot and never grow old.  Even if it’s not common in your industry, see if you can adapt and create a deal like this.  The best thing about a BOGO strategy is it spreads more of your product or service around to a wider customer base, which can spur referrals or word-of-mouth, the best kind of sale.

Here’s an example of a BOGO applied to a service: Purchase a seat at a training workshop and bring a co-worker at no extra charge (or charge the price of materials and lunch to cover costs).  You can also offer one month free (cheaper than offering 10 percent off on an annual basis) if you have a service that is performed over time.

 2.Weekend Sale

Sales can move a lot of people to action.  The key is to limit the time that they can get the discount to a very small window.  Hold a time-limited sale when it is slow for you (could be during this month when people are hit with tax bills) to boost your volume.

 3.Freshen Up Your Displays

If you have a storefront, when is the last time you’ve freshened up your look?  Retail businesses work hard at this, but even if you aren’t in retail, take a look at what the customer sees.  Is it inviting?  Fresh?  Pleasant?  If not, do some spring cleaning!

If you work from home or have a virtual office, your website is your storefront.  See if it needs some spring cleaning so that you look more attractive to your prospects and clients.

4.Introduce New Features

Make a slight change to your existing product by adding a new feature, offering it in a new color, or something similar.  It will feel a little fresher to your clients, which may cause an increase in perceived value.

 5. Start a New Niche

Once you’ve gotten a couple of clients from a new industry, you’re off and running.  You will be able to learn from working with this new industry, and then you will be more valuable to others in that space.

Take a look at your client list, and see where you have just a few clients in the same industry but would like more clients like them.  Then go for it!

6.Flavor of the Month Club

Baskin-Robbins used to have a “flavor of the month” so that customers would be enticed to come into their ice cream shops over and over again.  You may be able to have an “item of the month” or even a VIP club where your customers get something new each month.  Your VIP Club could also include priority treatment with specials or discounts.  VIP clubs done right are especially effective in restaurants and retail, but can work in other industries too.  The goal is to increase the frequency of visits to your business by enticing clients to become regulars.

7.The Biggest Opportunity of All

We often overlook the top opportunity that’s under our own noses:  our current and past clients.  They trust us the most, which is the highest hurdle to new business.  If you haven’t contacted your top clients in a while, make a point to reach out.  More sales could be just a phone call away.

Now it’s time to spring into action on the one idea that resonates most for your business.

Is Your Data Backed Up? Seven Often-Overlooked Places

March 21, 2013 · Posted in Business Development, Business Tips, Management Tips · Comment 

Hopefully, you’re already making backups of the data on your business server on a regular basis.  It’s simple to set up data backups automatically and then forget about them until you need them.  But have you ever looked around to see if there are any gaps in your backup strategy?   Here are seven places to look to make sure all your business data is backed up safely.

 1.Online Calendar

Do you use an online calendar?  If you use a calendar such as Google Calendar, then it’s a good idea to keep a backup in case something happens to it that’s out of your control.

In Google, go to Settings from the Settings menu, click the Calendars tab, and Export your calendar to get your backup.

2.Website 

It’s common for business owners to rely on their webmaster to have a backup of their website, but this is often not within the scope of the webmaster duties.  Check with your webmaster to get a backup of your website files so that you are protected against hackers, hosting problems, and more.

If your blog is in the same place, make sure you have a backup of it as well.  You may also want to preserve any online profiles you have in the same way.

3.Your Email

We are so dependent on our email these days that we should consider backing this file up daily, if not hourly.   The location of your email file varies, and some people have more than one.  It’s worth double-checking to see if this file is included in your regular backup routine.  You may also want to create a separate, more frequent backup routine for this critical file.

If you have an online email account, make sure you have a backup of all those emails in case something goes wrong.

4.Browser Data     

Browser-related data, such as your bookmarks, history, toolbar, and saved passwords are all stored in files, but they can be hard to find and recover.  If something happens to your browser data, it may or may not be a big deal.  If it is, include these files in your regular backup so you can recover what you need more easily.

5.Online Bank and Vendor Account Information

If you get audited by the IRS, it’s almost always for a year in the distant past.  Digging up invoices you might have had online access to but no longer do can be time-consuming and painful.  Most banks and vendors have made it super-easy to download PDF versions of your invoices and statements, so be sure you do that before your access to them expires or becomes an extra charge.

6.Local and Cloud Drives 

Every business’s technology setup is different.  If you have a server, chances are you’re getting it backed up regularly.  If you have employees, make sure each of their hard drives are backed up so they don’t lose any files that are not on the server.

If you have your files centralized in the cloud, make sure you have a backup of those files.

7.Desktop

One additional place that may not be backed up is your Desktop.  It depends on your operating system; sometimes desktop files are excluded if you have your backups set to copy only “My Documents” files and subfolders.

Bonus Tip

Periodically check the accuracy and effectiveness of your backups and see if you can recover a file or two.  If not, you’re back to the drawing board, and it’s better to find out in a non-emergency situation that you have some work to do on your backup and recovery strategy.

Reducing Risks 

Being a business owner is all about taking calculated risks.  Having all your important business data backed up helps you reduce your risks and protect what’s perhaps your most important business asset.

Five Ways to Protect your Cash

As entrepreneurs, we work hard for our money, and the last thing we need is to have it disappear due to fraud, hackers, or identity theft.  Some people have called 2013 the year of the hacker, which is worrisome.  But you’re far more likely to experience risks with disgruntled or financially desperate employees and contractors.  Mistakes happen, too, and when they do it can be costly to get them corrected.

Here are five ways to increase your financial controls so that you can lower your business risks when it comes to the handling of cash and cash equivalents.  As you read the list, check to see where you can tighten up controls in your business.

Checking for Checks

Do you have blank checks lying around?  If so, reduce the temptation and get them locked up.  You can also go a step further and have your accountant run a report each month (or week) of missing check numbers.  If any checks are unaccounted for, take action by processing Stop Payment orders at your bank.

Bank on It

If you are still getting your bank reconciliation on paper, where does it get mailed?  The business owner should always see the bank reconciliation before anyone else does.  Also, make sure the person that performs the reconciliation is not the same person that deposits the checks.  Segregation of duties is essential to improve cash controls.

Today, it’s a good idea to do all your banking online, if possible, so that nothing gets mailed.  In that way, you have some reduced risk over identity theft.

Some banks offer multiple-user access to your banking account, so that bookkeepers can get the information they need.  Lock that user ID down as much as possible, so that the user can only get to what they need to.  If they’re honest, they will appreciate the reduced level of responsibility and consider it a smart financial move.

PayPal Protection

If you have a PayPal account, keep the balance low by transferring funds frequently to your bank account.  You can also restrict access to reduce your risk.

Credit Card Control

If you use credit cards in your business, you’ll want to maintain tight control over them.  For each employee or contractor that needs to charge items on a credit card, here are a couple of points to consider:

  • If the credit limit on the current card is sky-high, then ask the bank to lower it or set up a new card with very low credit limits just for employee use.
  • Contact your credit card company and get a card in the employee’s name.
  • Make sure you can access the credit card transactions online.  They are immediate, and if necessary, you can closely monitor what’s going on.
  • Insist on a receipt brought to you for every purchase.
  • Create clear procedures, limits, and approvals before the spending occurs.
  • Don’t let the employee “keep” the credit card during off hours.  Keep it locked up on your premises instead.

Safeguarding Payroll

One of the biggest cash outflows for small businesses is payroll.  Here, segregation of duties comes into play again.  The person preparing the payroll should not be the one who approves it and actually runs it.

You can do this by having different user accounts and controls within your payroll system.

Hopefully, you already have a lot of these ideas in place.  If not, add the ideas you like to your to do list so that your business risks will be reduced.

Five Email Productivity Tips

Is email taking up too much time in your workday?    If you’re looking to spend less time on email in your Folsom-based business, here are five quick items to test your existing knowledge and fine-tune your organizational skills.  We’ll talk specifically about Outlook®, but if you use another package, you may be able to find the same features there.
 
1. Folders
 
We all start with several default folders in our email software, such as our inbox, drafts, sent, and deleted email, but if that’s all you use, then this tip might save you time.  Consider creating additional folders to file or organize your email.
 
For example, under your inbox, you could have “hot,” “warm,” and “cold” folders for tasks that need to be done right now, in a few hours, and later today.  You may also want to create folders by clients, employees, business functions, products, vendors, important documents, or some combination of the above.
 
It’s especially useful to group certain emails together so you can work on a string all at once and not as they come in.  That way, you can minimize interruptions which can improve your focus throughout the day.
 
In Outlook, you can find the Folders command as a menu item with many tasks to choose from.
 
2. Rules
 
Once you’ve gotten those folders setup, you can create rules to automatically “file” emails that come in.  One great example is all those social media emails we all get.  Create a folder called “Social Media,” then create several rules to file those emails directly into that folder.  For example, all emails from LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites you have profiles on can go straight into that folder to be read later.  It keeps your inbox much cleaner and lowers that feeling of overwhelm too.
 
Look for the task bar item, “Rules, Create Rule” to get started.
 
3. Signature Files
 
If you haven’t already, create a signature file that looks professional and does a little bit of marketing for you as well.   At a minimum, include your name, company name, phone and website address.  Consider a short description line about what your company offers, especially if it’s not clear from your company name.  Finally, include a very short description about the type of client you’re looking for, a complimentary offer you have, or a brief phrase to encourage referrals.
 
One more thing to consider:  include your full signature on both new emails and replies, just to make your phone number and contact information all that more accessible for prospects and clients.
 
To get started or to edit your existing signature, go to the File menu, choose Options, Mail, and then locate the Signatures button.
 
4. Multiple Email Addresses
 
A great way to cut down on overwhelm is to have at least two email addresses.  The second, extra email address can be for email you don’t need to read as often as your client and employee email.  Send that email to a completely separate box that you only open once or twice a week.  Assign those social media emails, list emails, meeting notice emails, and other subscription emails that just don’t need immediate attention.
 
You can also use multiple email addresses for special tasks such as hiring.  Direct applicants to send their resumes to the separate email account.  When you are ready to review the resumes, they will be all in one place with no other email clutter.
 
5. Categories
 
A further tool to sort and organize emails is the Categorize feature in Outlook located on the tool bar.  You can create categories to group emails that are all in one folder, such as your inbox. You can label folders Tax Preparation, Small Business Management, QuickBooks or Concierge Accounting.  Categories might include functions such as accounting or sales, clients or type of clients, urgency, employees, or another grouping that helps you keep related or similar emails together.
 
Bonus Tip:  That Distracting Bell
 
When new email comes in, does your computer interrupt you and make a sound?  Worse, do you stop what you are doing and read the new email?  If you do, you will get a huge productivity boost by simply turning off the automated send/receive email feature.  Instead, schedule the sending and receiving of your email manually two to three times a day.
 
In Outlook 2010, go to File, Options, Advanced, Send/Receive, and uncheck “Schedule an automatic Send/Receive every __ minutes.”  After you have changed this setting, no more email will come in until you manually click the Send/Receive toolbar button under the Send/Receive menu bar item, so you are now in total control of when you want to be interrupted by email.
 
You will be shocked how much more productive your day is by implementing this one bonus tip.
 
Try these tips to boost your productivity with email.

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