5 Business Strategies to Boost Your 2018

The new year is right around the corner! January is the month of new beginnings. It’s a perfect time to strategize about projects that will boost your business prosperity. Here are five ideas to get you thinking about new beginnings for your business in 2018.

1. Learn new technology.

Every year, tens of thousands of new online software applications are invented that will save us time and money. Learning at least one new app will keep us sharp and can improve our business. There are many to choose from, and one way to narrow it down is to find one that will help you do your job better.

Look for an app that supports your administrative work – such as a new phone system, video conferencing, scheduling, cloud storage, shipping, document management, or data entry automation. Or you might have a need for apps in marketing and sales – such as social media, customer relationship managers, email list management, or web applications. If you’re not sure where to look, ask your friends what has saved them the most time.

2. Upgrade your accounting system.

If your accounting system is not updated to the current version, it may be time to perform the upgrade. Check with us for advice on the current version and any new features that your business can benefit from.

3. Develop your 2018 prosperity plan.

The word “budget” has somewhat of a negative connotation, but a prosperity plan sounds like fun. They are the same, of course, and the idea is to determine what goals you want to reach so that you have a clear path to making your desired prosperity a reality.

4. Create a theme or mantra.

Want to stay more focused in 2018? A theme or mantra can remind you to stay on track with a particular project or goal. Brainstorm a phrase that will guide you in 2018. Here are some examples:

  • Customer service excellence
  • More me-time
  • Enthusiastic, engaged employees
  • Expanding digital presence
  • Going green
  • A prosperous new product line

5. Delegate something that isn’t getting done.

One way to feel amazingly rejuvenated and re-energized about your business is to give someone an item that’s been on your to-do list for far too long. It magically gets done right before your eyes!

Implement some of these ideas and you’re on your way to a prosperous and happy new year!

Browser Productivity Tips You May Not Know

If you spend a lot of time online using a web browser to view web sites or to work in online applications, then you may benefit from knowing these cool features about your browser software.

Bookmarks

All browsers support bookmarks, and hopefully you are already using this powerful feature. Which web pages do you need to visit on a daily basis? Those should be ones that have a place on your browser’s bookmark toolbar. Look for your browser menu to find the bookmark commands you can use to set them up.

Avoid bookmarking your bank, brokerage, and credit card web pages for security reasons, but most everything else is fair game and will save you a lot of time.

Browse Incognito

Need to browse privately?  Many browsers offer incognito browsing which disables browsing history and the web cache. You can find this command in your browser menu.

People

Roughly two-thirds of the population use Google Chrome as their browser, and the People feature is unique to Chrome. If you have a situation where you have multiple accounts with one software provider, Chrome allows you to have an entirely separate browser session going on for each person.

Let’s say you’re a social media consultant and manage the Facebook accounts for ten clients. You can set up a “person” in Chrome, one for each client. You then can have ten browser sessions going for each of your clients without having to log out and log back in to each Facebook account. Do you volunteer at a nonprofit where you manage accounts for them? Set them up as a new person, and you can log in to all of their accounts without impacting yours.

Pretend that different departments of your business are separate people. Set up Accounting as a person in Chrome and log in to all of your accounting apps. Or set up Marketing as a person and log in to all your marketing and social media apps using this person.

Set up a different bookmark bar for each person, pouring rocket fuel on your time savings and decluttering you bookmark bars at the same time.

Set up a new person using the Manage People section in Settings.  Toggle between People by using the button on the tab bar at the top right of your screen just to the left of the Minimize command.

Extensions

Many browsers have extensions or plug-ins which expand the functionality of the browser. Here are couple of favorites.

  • Gmail Offline: Allows Gmail users to view their email when they don’t have an Internet connection.
  • AdBlock Plus: Tired of ads popping up? Get this extension to thwart them.
  • Momentum: Provides a customized, motivational dashboard with weather, time, and daily to-do items.
  • Pocket: Allows you to save articles and other content to read later or on your other devices.
    Many of the software apps you use every day also have Chrome extensions you can use. Pinterest, Evernote, anti-virus software, Hootsuite, and others have extensions you can check out and install.

Try these tips to learn your browser software better and become more productive while navigating the web.

Get Ahead on Year-End Tasks

Year-end is just around the corner, and that means a couple of administrative tasks are necessary to take care of bookkeeping and tax chores. Here are a couple of tips to make year-end go smoother.

Cleaning up

Things will go a lot smoother if you reach out to your vendors and employees and get their help to update your records.

  • Send a notice to all employees, asking them to verify their address so they will get their W-2s without delay.
  • Make sure you have the right information for vendors that you need to produce a 1099 for. Before you pay your vendors more than $600 in one year, ask them for a W-9 so that you have a current address and taxpayer ID number on file.
  • For businesses operating outside of New Hampshire, check to make sure you have any sales tax exemption certificates from vendors that you are not charging sales tax to.

It’s also time to clean up any account balances that need to be reclassified or corrected.

  • Any clearing accounts, such as undeposited funds, should be zero.
  • Bank reconciliations should be caught up and book balances should match the bank or be explained.
  • Inventory should be adjusted to reflect accurate quantities.
  • Loan balances should be adjusted to correctly reflect interest and principal allocations.
  • Depreciation entries should be made.

Maximizing deductions

Here are just a few ways to maximize deductions:

  • Any bad debts that aren’t expected to be collected can be written off.
  • Any inventory that is not sale-able or worth less than you paid for it can be adjusted on your books.
  • For cash basis taxpayers, pay any large bills before year-end if you have excess profits.
  • Pay employee bonuses prior to year-end.

Getting organized

Create a place in your home or office or a special file on your computer to store tax-related documents, such as W-2s, brokerage statements, and tax returns. Convert them to PDF format if they are not already. Then upload them to your accountant’s secure client portal as you get them.

With all this great preparation, you’ll find tax season easier than ever and a chore that you can mark off your to-do list early.

 

How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

The security breach at Equifax a few months ago left many people thinking once again about identity theft. You want to do everything you can to prevent it from happening to you. Here are a few tips to help you reduce your risk of being a victim of identity theft as well as how to reduce the damage from security breaches of your personal data from sources you can’t control.

Discontinue paper statements that are mailed.

Paper bank, brokerage, and credit card statements that are mailed can be intercepted, lost, or stolen, and the information can fall into dishonest hands. Instead, discontinue paper statements, and access them via your online account where you can review, print, or save them each month for your records.

Rent a private mail box.

If you have trouble with mail theft in your area and can’t check your mailbox as soon as the mail is delivered, consider renting a post office box or a private mail box. These are especially handy if you travel a lot or have many packages delivered and no one is home to sign for them. They cost up to $300 per year, and you can find them at places like The UPS Store, Mailboxes Etc., Postal Annex, or your local post office.

Shred your trash.

If you throw out junk mail offers for new credit cards or bank accounts, be sure to shred that paper and anything else that might contain private information.

Don’t email secure data.

Credit card numbers, social security numbers, and passwords should not be sent via email unless the email is encrypted or secure. The odds of something happening are low, but could happen.

Use different passwords for different account groups.

Even the most secure-minded person uses the same password for many different accounts. You can too, but be smart about it. Use a unique password for your bank that you don’t use anywhere else. You might use the same password for all of your social media accounts because it’s just easier. Or another one for all of your free accounts; just don’t use those for any banking or credit card activity. Be smart about your password use, and make your password difficult based on the level of information that is at risk.

Choose hard passwords.

It’s painful, but choosing long, hard passwords can help throw off thieves. Include at least one capital letter, one special character, and one number in your password. Make it nice and long. And don’t use common words, your birthday, parts of your social security, or your phone number in your password. When it’s provided, use a random password generator. And don’t let your browser automatically save your banking passwords for you.

If you hate trying to remember all of those long, unique passwords, try a password manager like Lastpass or 1Password. They are secure and remember all of your passwords for you. They also make it easy to share passwords without using email and have a random password generator built right in.

Close inactive accounts.

If you no longer use an account you signed up for, close it rather than let it linger. It will reduce your risk. Be mindful, though; if you close some credit card accounts, your credit score could be adversely affected even if there has been no activity for a while.

Consider freezing your credit.

If you don’t need a new credit card or loan or are not planning a large purchase soon, consider freezing your credit. When you credit is frozen or secure, no one can run checks against it. Any identity thieves would not be able to take a loan out in your name.

Avoid unsecure wifi.

Although the ambience is nice at a Starbucks, the wifi is not secure, and connecting and doing your work all day long there is a big security risk.

Monitor all account activity.

Check your bank and credit card accounts frequently, and turn on all alerts and fraud notifications. You can turn on alerts for when transactions exceed a dollar amount and when your bank balance goes below a certain amount. Getting emails or text messages on your activity can help you stay on top of things.

Consider identity theft insurance.

Identity theft insurance is now common, and you can get it and fraud protection for your business as well as for individuals. If you are a victim, it reimburses you for the cost of restoring your credit. Check with your local insurance agent for more information.

We hope identity theft never happens to you. Try these tips to reduce your risk.

Cool Tech Tools: Cloud Storage

Have you ever wished you didn’t have to buy yet another server? Do you have to delete old files on your hard drive to make room for new ones? If disk space is an issue in your company, the good news is there may be a better and cheaper way: cloud storage.

You might think cloud storage is only for large companies. It’s surprisingly easy to use whether you have a full technology department or you simply call your neighbor when your PC starts doing something strange.

One such vendor is Amazon with their S3 product in their Amazon Web Services (AWS) division. The three S’s stand for “Simple Storage Service”. It works just like your PC’s hard drive. Think of a filing cabinet where only you have the key to all your business’ private files. Instead of folders (or file drawers), Amazon calls them buckets, and instead of files (or Pendaflex®), Amazon calls them objects. Once you set up your account, you can create buckets and upload your files as objects in the cloud.

If you have large files like video files, old records you need to keep for tax purposes but don’t access any more, or just a need for more disk space, this service is perfect. Amazon charges three cents per GB monthly, which is much cheaper than an additional server, website hosting rates, or even external disk drives.

There are many options beyond basic storage, including who can access your files. You can also use it to store data used in programming. There are developer guides for companies that have that need. The S3 product is not designed to be used to share files like a DropBox-type product although you can make certain files publicly accessible. The S3 is also much cheaper than file-sharing products as well.

You can check out the S3 product here.

Get smart about storage options and you’ll save a lot of money down the road.

The Power of Influencer Marketing

One of the hottest buzzwords in marketing this year is “Influencer marketing”. Influencer marketing uses key people in thought leadership positions to spread the word about your brand. These people may be paid or unpaid spokespersons for your brands, products, and services.

The profitable thing about influencer marketing is the leverage. Instead of marketing or selling to one person at a time, you are marketing to key leaders with followings who can influence many people at once.

Examples of Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing varies by industry; here are some common examples:

  • Locating photos of your product already on social media and reaching out to those people to do more
  • Hiring a social media expert with a large following to talk about your clothing line
  • Having a prominent lifestyle blogger post a photograph containing your juice product
  • Starting a referral program for a makeup company so “regular” women will spread the word

The common theme to all of the above examples is finding people who have a huge number of followers that just happen to be your ideal customers.

To take advantage of this marketing method, ask yourself who is influential in your industry that has the ear and respect of your customer base. How could you partner with them so it’s a win for you, them, and their following?  You may or may not need to compensate them, depending on their revenue model.

There are plenty of apps to help you locate influencers relevant to you. A favorite is Ninja Outreach.

Try reaching out to influencers to leverage your existing marketing and make your marketing dollars go farther.

Could Your Business Survive a Disaster?

Is your business ready to survive a disaster?

As business owners, we want to remain optimistic about our business’s future. But life can happen, and we need to be prepared. A good business owner thinks about all the risks to their business and has a plan in place to reduce or eliminate them.

In 2017 alone, we’ve already had floods in the Midwest and California, a healthy dose of tornadoes, and an ice storm. That was all before the recent flooding in Texas and the hurricanes currently threatening the Caribbean and Florida. And those are just the weather disasters.

In 2015, Nationwide ran a survey that revealed that three out of four small business do not have a disaster plan. The same survey noted that 52 percent of small business owners thought it would take three months to recover from a disaster.

2 Plans Are Needed

  1. A disaster recovery plan: This details the steps needed to recover the business from a catastrophic loss.
  2. A business continuity plan: This details the steps needed to keep the business running in case of a major loss, such as a loss of electricity, location, or key personnel.

There’s a lot of information online to help you create your plan. A few of the major items that should be covered include:

  • Employee safety: You’ll need an evacuation plan in case of a disaster that is life or health threatening.
  • Communication plan: How will you reach employees in an emergency?
  • Electricity contingency: Will you need to access a generator?
  • Internet contingency: Can your business survive without the internet for long periods of time? Or will you need to find a way to get connected?
  • Location contingency: If your work site is inoperable, do employees have another place to report to?
  • Employee roles: Who will carry out the plan?
  • Private data: How will you safeguard private company and customer data?
  • Systems: Do you have an inventory of hardware and software, including vendor technical support contacts? How will you prioritize which system to get back up first? Do you have agreements with vendors who can come to your aid quickly?

Creating a disaster recovery plan can be the lowest priority item on your to-do list as a business owner – until it isn’t. If you have a lot to lose, consider spending some time on a plan to give you peace of mind.

What Is Reasonable Owner Compensation?

For small businesses formed as an S Corporation and with plenty of profits, reasonable compensation is a term you may want to be familiar with.

Many small businesses have organized as an S Corporation form of entity. In many cases, the S Corp election allows a business owner to save money on self-employment taxes, especially if they are operating as a sole proprietor. S Corp profits, or distributions, are not subject to payroll taxes.

Why not just take distributions?

If you are a business owner taking a salary and contributing substantially to the operations of the business, you may think that you should just take the distributions and forget the salary. After all, think how much you would save in payroll taxes. But this has already been tried and shot down by the IRS in the courts. And this is where the term reasonable compensation comes in.

The IRS requires that business owners that perform a substantial contribution to the business be paid a salary according to a number of factors. This is called reasonable compensation. You can’t pay yourself below market and take a large amount in distributions.

The IRS has issued a fact sheet that describes the guidelines that can be used to determine reasonable compensation. They include employee training, experience, duties, time spent, history of distributions, bonuses, and many other factors.

There are also reasonable compensation ramifications for C Corporations as well.

If reasonable compensation is a concern for your business, talk it over with your CPA. If you have any other questions with your ongoing bookkeeping, we’re here to help!

5 Ways to Streamline Your Payroll Process

For business owners with employers, payroll is a necessary task that can slow your day and tie you down if you let it.  If you’re looking for a way to make payroll less time-consuming, here are 5 strategies to streamline your payroll process.

Employee Onboarding

If you hire a lot, empower your new hires by letting them do their paperwork for you.  A good payroll system allows employees to “onboard” themselves, completing the I-9, W-4, and direct deposit authorizations electronically, even before they show up for their first day. You’ll still need to ask for ID on their first working day, but at least you won’t have to do their paperwork for them.

Integrate Employee Benefits

Rather than hire several separate companies to handle benefits, some payroll systems allow you to integrate benefits solutions right in their dashboard.  That way, you won’t have to re-enter employee data in multiple systems, which often gets out of sync.  Deductions and payments can also be integrated to save accounting time.

Delegate Time sheet Entry

Require non-exempt employees to enter their own time and all you should have to do is approve it.  The right time sheet application can take care of that. A great time sheet application will allow employees to enter time from multiple options, including time card, cell phone, and others.

Eliminate the Annual Worker’s Compensation Audit

Tie your worker’s compensation vendor to your accounting system, and you’ll be able to avoid that time-consuming annual reconciliation report required by your worker’s compensation insurance company.  You can also avoid the large annual payment because the insurance will be taken out each payroll cycle.

Reduce the Frequency of Payroll

If you can pay employees less frequently, you might be able to cut your payroll time in half.  Pay weekly employees every two weeks or pay bi-weekly employees monthly.  Reducing payroll frequency boosts cash flow as well. This may not be possible but it’s an option worth looking at.

Try one of these 5 ideas to streamline your payroll time and costs in your business.  As always, let us know if we can help!

Do You Have Past Due Accounts?

If you perform a service or ship a product before you get paid, then you likely have a balance in your Accounts Receivable account. If customers pay when their invoice is due, all is right with the world. If they don’t, then your cash flow slows down and your bank balance is not as high as it should be. Here are some tips, preventive and supportive, to help you keep your accounts receivable current.

Granting Credit

When you deliver your service or product before your client pays you, you are in effect their “bank,” granting them credit. Not everyone deserves to be granted credit. Consider running credit checks, especially if you are billing large amounts of money for your sized business.

You may also want to ask for a retainer or deposit prior to starting work or shipping your products. This will smooth your cash flow and reduce your credit risk.

Offer Multiple Payment Options

When a customer is ready to pay their bill, make it easy on them by offering multiple payment options. Perhaps they will pay faster if you take payment by credit cards. Many people have extra money sitting in their PayPal accounts, so that is another payment option. Apple Pay and Android Pay are relatively recent options to consider adding.

You may also want to revisit the credit cards you offer: MasterCard, Visa, and American Express are universal, but many places also take Discover and Diners Club. If you are doing international business, consider JCB (Japan), China UnionPay, and RuPay (India).

Collection Process

Once an unpaid invoice has reached its 90-day mark, the chances of collecting it are about 50 percent. This means that you will need to put some aggressive collection processes in place prior to the 90-day mark.

If the invoice is due in 30 days, start at the 35- to 40-day mark with a friendly reminder. At 60 days, your customer needs a strong reminder and perhaps a phone call. At 75 days, they need to know what consequences there will be for not paying. Will you report the customer debt to credit agencies? Will you turn the account over to a collection agency?

At 90 days, it’s probably a good idea to make one final collection effort and then turn it over to a collection agency. It might sound too soon, but the odds of collecting something much older go down significantly as time passes.

At any rate, create your own process, and automate it as much as possible. The main thing is to stay on top of it.

Past Due Accounts

From how you first engage with your clients to the last steps in the collection process, there are many cost-effective techniques to avoid past due accounts and the unpleasantness that goes with them for both parties. If this is an issue in your business, try these ideas above and reach out if you’d like our help.