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Is There an App for That?

The technology side of the accounting industry is rapidly changing and expanding.  Literally hundreds, if not thousands of new companies and new software applications have sprung up to help small businesses automate their processes and save time and money.

The best way to profit from all of this innovation is to first identify where you can best use the technology in your business.  Here are three places to look:

1.     Paper Chase

What business tasks are you still using pen and paper for?   Look what’s on your desk or in your filing cabinet in the form of paper, and that will be your next opportunity for automation.  For example, are you still hand-writing checks?   There’s an app (or two) for that.

Sticky notes and to do lists have been replaced with Evernote.  Business cards you collect can go in a CRM (customer relationship manager).  All of your accounting invoices and bills can be digitized and stored online.

Make a list of all the manual and paper processes you do every day and look for an app that can make the task faster for you.

2.     Fill the Gap

Take stock of what systems you already have in place.  The opportunity to fill the gap is where you might have systems that should talk to each other but don’t.  If you need to enter data into two different places, there may be a chance to automate and/or integrate the systems or data.  For example, your point of sale or billing system should integrate well with your accounting system.  A few other examples include accounting and payroll, CRM and accounting, inventory and accounting, project management and time tracking, and time tracking and payroll.

The more your systems integrate and work as a suite, the better.

3.     Mismatched

It could be you have your systems automated, but the systems are not the best choice for your business requirements.  If your systems don’t meet many of your business requirements, it may be time to look for an upgrade or a replacement.

If you are performing a lot of data manipulation in Excel or Access, this might also signal that your systems are falling short of your current needs.  Look where that’s happening, and you will have identified an opportunity for improvement.

Look in these three areas in your business, and I bet you’ll not only find an app for that, you’ll also find some freed up time and money once you automate.

Shortcut Your Management Time with Exception Reporting

Do you spend a lot of time reviewing stacks of reports each month so you can get the information you need to make decisions?  Do you find out after the fact that something went wrong in your business and that if you had known about it sooner, you would have made different decisions?

If so, you might benefit from a special type of reporting called exception reporting.  Exception reporting highlights red flag areas that you need to take action on.  It contrasts with regular reporting, which lists lots of data that you may or may not need to take action on.

Here’s an example:  How often do you check your bank balance?  You probably check daily or even more, right?  Do you really need to?

Ask yourself when do you really need to know about your bank balance?  You need to know when it falls below a certain amount, or when you don’t have enough to cover imminent bills, right?  Why not stop checking your balance all the time and replace it with an alert that will send you an email under the conditions and criteria you set?  This will save you time.

Some exception reports are already built into some accounting systems.  A couple of good examples are the A/R aging report which shows past due invoices that have not been collected and the inventory re-order report that lists inventory items that reached their re-order points and need to be re-ordered.

There are many ideas to generate exception reports:

  • Missed and upcoming deadline tracking such as project due dates, tax forms due, and payroll due
  • Employees on vacation
  • Bills overdue
  • Expiration date tracking like end of lease and insurance policy renewal dates
  • Large variances in budget to actual reports

To take advantage of exception reporting, here are a few steps:

  1. Identify the reports you currently receive that you review but take no action no matter what.  Do you really need them?  If not, throw them out.  If so, ask yourself what trigger would have you taking action and change the regular report into an exception report that reports on that trigger.
  2. Think about what data you access all day that is not in a report or easy to use format.  Can you create an exception report or alert out of it and save yourself time?
  3. What information would you like to start receiving that you don’t have now?  It should be something that you would take action on if you knew about it.  Can you create an exception report for these new information needs?

Try exception reporting, or take it to the next level of implementation in your business, and watch your time free up and your management decisions sharpen.

Six Common Payroll Mistakes to Avoid

Getting payroll done has gotten so much easier than it used to be for small business owners.  But there are still some minefields when it comes to state and federal compliance.  We’ll take a look at six of them in today’s article.

1.     Business or Personal?

A great admin might want to help you in any way they can, including personal errands.  But time spent having your admin fetch your dry cleaning and drug store prescriptions is not deductible as a business expense, even if it makes you more productive at work.

Be sure you separate your business payroll from personal payroll to avoid tangling with the IRS on this issue.

2.     New Hire Report

It’s not every day that a small business needs to hire additional help, and the New Hire Report is easy to overlook.  It’s due to your state within a certain number of days of your new employee’s hire date.  Some payroll companies will file it for you, and some won’t, so it’s best to check so that you don’t make the common mistake of forgetting to file this report.

3.     Worker’s Compensation

When you have employees, you need worker’s compensation.  When you bring on your first employee, you’ll need to overcome this learning curve of figuring out what you need.

Even if you’re a veteran employer, you may have coverage holes in your worker’s compensation coverage.   Do you have employees who work at home?  Are you sure they are covered?    In some states, employees have to be specifically named in the policy before they are covered to work at home.

Be sure you ask the right questions so there’s not a risky gap in this essential protection for employers.

4.     Posters

There are both state and federal notices that must be posted for employees to be able to read.  California is especially zealous and liberal about issuing fines (up to $17,000 per location) for employers that do not have their posters, well, posted on workplace walls.

5.     Employee versus Contractor

The proper classification of a worker as a W-2 employee or a 1099 contractor has long been an area of scrutiny for the IRS.  The IRS has rules as well as court cases that have established the guidelines that exist in this area.

If you classify a worker incorrectly as a contractor when they should be an employee, then you can be held liable for paying employment taxes on that contractor.

6.     Bonuses

Bonuses can often be a spur of the moment thing or something that’s done at the very end of the year when we’re occupied with the busy holiday bustle.  It can be easy to forget that the bonuses need to be run through payroll like all other wages so that the proper deductions and taxes can be calculated.

Use these six items as a checklist to avoid these common mistakes as well as reduce your business risk in the payroll compliance area.

Summertime Strategies for Your Business

Summer is a great time of year for most businesses to pause for just a little while to take stock, congratulate yourself on what you’ve accomplished so far this year, and make big plans for your future.  Here are five summertime strategies to help you regroup, reassess, and rejuvenate your business.

1.     Mid-Year Review

If your business runs by the calendar year, 2014 is already more than half over.  This is a perfect time to stop and reflect where you’ve been, what you’ve accomplished, and where you want to go next.  You can make this process as informal or formal as you want.  Some firms hold complex retreats; you may simply need some quiet time on a weekend where all your family is busy doing something else.

If you’ve never done any planning and feel like you need a guide, consider the book, The One-Page Business Plan written by Jim Horan.

2.     Take a Vacation

There’s nothing better to rekindle your creative juices than to get away from the business for a while.  Summertime is when most people take vacation, so if your business is not having its busy season, this might be a good time to go away for a while.

If you’re anxious about being away from your business, you’re not alone.  In your annual planning process, plan for and block out your vacation time way ahead of time.  Book the reservations with no refunds several months in advance so that you won’t chicken out at the last minute.  There is life beyond your business, and you will be a better business owner when you take regular breaks away.

3.     Celebrate

Take time to pat yourself on the back and congratulate the people around you for the goals you’ve reached and the efforts your team has made on your behalf.  We all could use more praise and more celebrations in our lives.  Perhaps you can organize a party, or if you are not the partying type, a quiet word individually with your team can go a long way, maybe more than you know.

4.     Prune Your Projects    

Is your plate too full?  Most of us would say “yes” to that question, so the next step is to ask yourself what you can afford to stop doing that doesn’t make sense.  Is there a project or two that can wait?  If so, decide to stop stressing about not getting it done and give yourself permission to put it on the back burner for now.

5.     Focus

Ask yourself what one thing you could do today that will make all the difference in your profits, revenues, goals, or simply peace of mind.  And get that thing done.

Try these five summertime tips to rejuvenate your business.

Does Your Small Business Need a CRM?

Have you ever stayed at a hotel and then returned, finding that they have stocked your room with everything you asked for the last time you were here?  Your special allergenic pillow was already waiting for you, you were asked if you would like a dinner reservation made just like you always do the first night, and there were even extra hangars because you always need extra hangars.  None of this would be possible for the hotel if it didn’t have a CRM, customer relationship management, system in place.

Would your clients be impressed if you remembered all of the details about your last conversation, their last purchase, or their preferences?  If so, your business might benefit from a CRM system.

Businesses that have more than 30 or so clients may benefit from a system that allows you and your employees to enter detailed information about each client interaction that they have.  It can work for both current and future clients, i.e., prospects.  A CRM is basically a great big customer database at its core.  It contains master file information on a customer or client, such as name, company, address, contact info, and custom fields.  It is also transaction-driven in that you can log activity such as calls, meetings, proposal dates, and more.

A good CRM system is also integrated with your other internal systems, such as your accounting or POS system or both.  In some CRM systems, you can see invoice and payment history, so that when a client calls in, you can also peek to see whether they owe you money or what goods they ordered that they may be calling about.

There are literally hundreds of CRM systems to choose from.  The gold standard for large companies is SalesForce.com; however, some small businesses use it as well.  SugarCRM is the largest open source CRM, meaning its programming code is available to the public.  ZohoCRM is one of the largest small business CRMs and offers a suite of products for small businesses.  And Act! is also very popular and plays well with social media.

Before choosing a CRM, decide what you want it to do and how you will be using it.  One of the most important aspects of profiting from a CRM is to make sure it gets used, and that takes some habit-changing from you and your staff.  Once you have your requirements, you can evaluate the software options available, and choose the one that works best for you.

When your clients start talking about how great your service is and how much attention you pay to the details they care about, you’ll know your CRM is paying off for you.

Oops: Do You Owe Sales Tax and Not Realize You Do?

One of the side effects of our last economic slowdown was in state government budgets; states searched hard for new income, and many of them found a great source by cracking down on sales tax collections.  Their new hot buzzword:  nexus.

Nexus means a connection that a business has with a state, and it has to do with a form of presence.  In the sales tax world, you owe sales tax to a state if you have nexus in that state and you are selling taxable items.  The scary part for small businesses is what makes up nexus.

A Small World

Globalization and technology together have produced dramatic shifts in the way businesses can look today.  Not only can we access a pool of local talent to staff and grow our businesses, we can employ almost anyone around the world to work for us. Hiring employees or contractors located in other states can stretch our nexus to include that state.

As an example, if your company is located in Illinois and you hire an employee that works from her home in Nevada, you might have nexus in Nevada and Illinois, and you might owe sales tax in both places.  Sales tax nexus is not the same as state income tax nexus, but the presence of a worker in another state is a possible trigger for sales tax nexus.

Taxable in One State, Not in Another

The taxability of services has grown rapidly as states look to balance their budgets after Federal cuts and other shortfalls.  Not all services are taxed equally across states.  Web design services are taxable in Texas, but not California, as one example.

Some states have smaller jurisdictions such as counties and municipalities, making for a total of 10,000 jurisdictions in the U.S., not just 50.  Alabama, Colorado and Arizona, for example, have statewide rules as well as taxability rules for localities within the states.

Innocuous Survey Can Trigger Audit

You might receive a form that looks like a survey and asks innocent-looking questions such as how many employees do you have and what state do they work in.  The surveys don’t look like they are from a state government but they might be.  It’s their way of getting you to admit nexus.    Please do not let a worker fill these out; it could expose you to a huge liability.

Minimizing Sales Tax Audit Risk

Because of the high dollar impact on the profitability of your business, it’s best to get a sales tax professional involved in helping you determine the taxability of your items as well as interpreting nexus.  Many states are hiring auditors and aggressively pursuing businesses, so due diligence in this area is prudent.

If we can help in any way, please reach out and let us know.

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.

Our Accounting Services Can Help You Choose the Right Accounting Programs for Your Small Business

Running a small business probably requires more paperwork than you ever expected, but this kind of documentation of your wages, income, and transactions is essential to your business. Making sure your accounting is done properly is not only important to your success, it can help save you thousands of dollars in taxes, penalties, and fees later on. There are hundreds of software programs available to small business owners that promise to make accounting and record keeping a breeze, but how do you know which one is right for your business? Our accounting services can help you find the right software package for your business.

We start by getting to know you, your business, and your accounting needs. Our team looks for a software package that not only handles general accounting, but also reporting, payroll, and inventory so you aren’t jumping between multiple platforms to get the information you need. Our goal is to make your accounting process as efficient as possible so you can focus your energy on other areas of your business… because we bet you didn’t start your own business because you wanted to be working on accounting tasks all day long.

Tier One Services doesn’t stop at finding you the right software package. Our team will also install the software and give you ongoing support on its use. We’ll set it up, help you get records transferred over from old software and spreadsheets, and even train you on the use of the new software. We’re experienced with a variety of accounting software programs so we can get you and your team up-to-date on everything you need to know to make your accounting process a breeze. Want to learn more about what we can do to make your accounting process easier and more efficient for your small business? Get in touch with us today for your free consultation!

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.

Is It Time for Spring Cleaning Your Business Files?

How much time do you spend each day looking for information about orders, customers, vendors, or employees?  If it’s a lot, a little spring cleaning might pay off.  Here are five quick tips to assess and improve your information access.

Your Librarian

Large companies often have a librarian on staff that is in charge of stored documents, both physical and virtual.  It’s not a bad idea to have this function in your small business, although you certainly don’t want to devote an entire headcount to it.

Today, a company librarian might be in charge of the company’s document portal, which is a very secure area where company documents can be stored.  It might be on the company server or in a secure area of the cloud.  There are companies that offer secure file storage, accessible through document portals.

The librarian will also be in charge of creating recordkeeping policies and procedures.

What’s in a Name

One such procedure that brings order to chaos is setting naming conventions for client files and folders.  Set consistency by using a naming standard such as having a client file name always start with the last name of the client followed by a birth date, or something else unique.

It will save time each time you look up a file because you’ll always know where to look.  Even if it’s only seconds saved per lookup, that time will add up to minutes and hours saved over a year.  That will save you labor costs.  A naming standard will also look professional in front of the client.

Permanent vs. Transactional

Get uber-organized by separating your important long-term legal papers from your transactional documents.  Long-term papers such as your corporate by-laws and tax returns should have a special place away from your day-to-day invoices and receipts.  Also keep major purchases such as settlement documents from real estate transactions in a special file that you’ll keep for many years.

Your daily transactional files should be batched up by month or year and stored accordingly.  You’ll be able to delete these files after their retention period is up, while you’ll want to keep your long-term legal papers almost forever.  You still won’t be able to throw away your annual documents too soon – some agencies require you to keep transactional documents for as long as 11 years.

Paper or Paperless

What percentage of your business documents is scanned and stored online?  If you’d like to increase this percentage, then make a plan to convert your paper into scanned documents you can access online.  So that it’s not such an overwhelming task, break it down into smaller chunks:   start with one area of your business at a time or one vendor at a time.

Purchase a scanner for everyone in your office, and you’ll soon find your office getting more and more paperless by the week.  You can also have fun taking pictures of receipts on your cell phone and uploading the documents to your document portal.

A Backup Plan

So that you don’t lose your documents to a catastrophe, theft or any other disaster, make sure you have a backup of all of your documents so you are able to recover them.

This is where paperless shines over paper, because there is always risk of fire with the latter.  It’s also where a secure document portal beats your company server anytime because of the elaborate layers of security that are required for secure commercial data centers.

After you implement these five tips, you may not even need to do a spring cleaning.  You’ll be organized and efficient, and that’s good for business.

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