Five Tips to Get Ready for a Pain-Free Tax Time

Five Tips to Get Ready for a Pain-Free Tax Time

With the holiday season over, it’s a perfect time to get your financial records in order. Here are five quick tips for you to feel more prepared about your financial status as you come into the new year.

Avoid Penalties

This time of year is a bit late, but it’s still a good idea to double-check your tax payments to make sure enough has been paid in, and even more important, to avoid overpaying so your money is not tied up unnecessarily. If you’re not sure of your 2014 tax liability, check with your tax preparer.

Balanced Books

Rather than wait until the busiest time of year for accountants and bookkeepers, you can get a head start now on catching up your books. You’ll have more of their attention and you may even avoid a rate increase if you get your books done early. Completed bank reconciliations are a very important part of catching up.

Forms

It’s a little late to get your orders in for the forms you need now like your W-2s, W-3s, 1099s, and 1096s. So pick them up now (or hope your accountant or bookkeeper has some on hand), that way your forms will be onsite when you’re ready.

Records

Information that’s missing at the last minute can take up extra time and be costly. It’s a great idea to do an audit throughout the year of W-9s to grab missing addresses and tax ID numbers of your contractors. Also do a scrub of your employee payroll records so that your W-2s will be complete and accurate.

New Tax Changes

Be sure to check with your advisors on new laws affecting individuals and businesses for 2015. One of the biggest ones making news is avoiding the fine involved regarding the new health care requirements for individuals. And there are many more you’ll want to get up to speed on so that you’ll know how they affect your situation.

We know it’s a little late to be talking about taxes, but we’re also all about saving you money and time. The sooner you get the information into your tax preparer, the better. Try these five tips so you’ll have better peace of mind and be more prepared for tax time.

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Five Places to Find More Profits

It’s always a good idea to be on the lookout for ways to increase your profits, and luckily, there are many ways to do that. One way is to focus on cost-cutting, and here are five places that are good to periodically review for cost-cutting possibilities.

Telephone

Re-negotiating with the phone company every one to two years is a really good idea. Many telecommunications companies will often bargain with you or offer you a new deal just for checking in with them.

Has your business changed? Do you need all those extra features you are paying for? Could you do without those extra lines? Would another phone plan save you money on long distance or international calls?

The risk is low: one quick call will let you know if you can save money in this area. It’s worth it to give it a shot, and while you’re at it, you can call your smartphone provider too.

Travel

Travel is always a great area to look into for possible ways to save. Are all trips necessary and profitable? Are there any meetings that can be done virtually instead of face-to-face? Virtual tools such as GoToMeeting can make travel unnecessary.

What trips can be cut this year? Can the number of people sent per trip be cut? Can travel arrangements be made early to save money? Are booking dates flexible so you can compare and find the lowest rates? Is a taxi or rental car cheaper?

Dues and Subscriptions

Paying our annual dues for the club or association we’ve belonged to forever may be a habit, but is it beneficial for your business? We might enjoy seeing everyone once or twice a year at the meeting, but we may not necessarily have to have a membership to do that. Sometimes paying the guest rate is more affordable than the member rate if we are attending infrequently enough.

Review a list of organizations and publications you and your employees are part of, and choose which ones you are truly benefiting from. If being an officer in one of your organizations is not getting you any new business, then you may eliminate a time drain by bowing out and letting someone else volunteer.

Labor

As your business grows, it can be a challenge to decide who to hire next. The first place to look before you decide should be our existing employees. What tasks are they doing that you are paying them too much for? For example, do you have a manager doing clerical work? If so, you may be able to piece together an administrative job that frees your current staff from all the clerical work they are doing.

It’s worth a look to see where your current employees are being overpaid and find someone to do those parts of the job. You’ll save labor costs and come out ahead in the long run.

Fixed Assets and Equipment

Another place to save money that can be significant is purchases of large items such as furniture, automobiles, and production equipment. It’s a good idea to get three bids from reputable vendors so you have a choice. Going with the lowest bid is not always a good move; going for the highest quality is.

Look in these five places, and let us know how much you find to increase your profits. As always, if we can help, let us know.

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What Is Cloud Accounting?

One of the most exciting changes in the accounting industry is cloud accounting. The concept is easy to grasp: cloud accounting simply puts your accounting system in a private space online so that it is fully accessible to you via a browser or a secure remote connection.

Two Ways to Be in the Clouds

There are primarily two ways to have your accounting system in the cloud. First, it can be “hosted.” This means that the current software you are using on your desktop, such as QuickBooks or Sage, does not change. Neither does your company file.

The only thing you do differently once it’s set up is click a different icon to start the software. Once you log in, most everything else is the same. There are a couple of differences in printer access, Microsoft Excel® access, and some of the other interfaces, but it’s essentially the same experience.

So if it’s the same, why would you want to move to the cloud? Because it completely eliminates the passing back and forth of the file among you, your CPA, your bookkeeper, and anyone else that needs to update or access your accounting file. No more restores. No more DropBox or YouSendIt downloads.

Hosting saves a ton of time because the people you grant access to can login to your file from anywhere.

The second way to have your accounting system in the clouds is to switch to an online accounting system. In industry jargon, this is called SaaS, which stands for Software as a Service. Examples of online accounting systems include QuickBooks Online, Xero, Wave, and Kashoo. These systems have fewer features and will only be right for a client with a need for a simpler accounting system.

When you switch from desktop accounting software to SaaS, it will likely require conversion, setup, and training. It’s a major change.

Benefits

There are many benefits to moving to the cloud; here are just a few of the more common ones:

• Anywhere, anytime access to your accounting system. Companies with multiple locations will benefit significantly from a hosted solution.
• No more worrying about who has what version and whether the changes the accountant made were updated or applied. There is one central file, and multiple people can be accessing it at the same time as long as you have the right number of user licenses.
• No more software updates that you have to apply yourself or wait for. This is done by the hosting provider or the SaaS.
• Tighter security for your data. The data centers typically have multiple state-of-the-art data security controls and must pass a rigid audit, which is far more protection than any small business can afford to provide for their own data.
• Automatic offsite backup for disaster recovery purposes.

Concerns

Clients’ two major concerns include security, which is covered above, and costs. When it comes to costs, the most important thing to look at is return on investment. Will the time you save be of greater value to you than the costs of hosting or moving to a SaaS? That answer varies for each client.

Curious About the Cloud?

If we’ve piqued your curiosity about cloud accounting, please feel free to reach out so we can continue the conversation.

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Five Ways to Rev Up Your Referrals

In the vast majority of industries, referrals are the most cost-effective way to gain new clients and grow your business. When you attract new clients through referrals, your marketing costs are lower, your selling process is easier and more effective, and the referral usually makes for an excellent client. It’s just good business sense to look at how we can proactively increase our referrals. Here are five ideas.

1. Your Email Signature

We know it can be embarrassing or uncomfortable to ask your clients and friends directly for referrals. A great compromise is to add a line to your email signature that takes care of it for you. Here are a couple of wording options:

Your referral is our greatest compliment!

Referrals are the lifeblood of our business. We thank you for yours.

We appreciate your referrals.

Adding one of these lines to your email signature file is a subtle notice to everyone you email that you are open to taking referrals. It’s indirect enough to where no one feels put on the spot, and it takes all of five minutes to implement.

2. Acknowledge Your Referral Sources

When you find out someone has sent you a referral, be sure to acknowledge that person with a thank you note or a gift. (Be sure to check any licenses you hold so you know what restrictions you are under concerning gifts to clients; some industries disallow it.)

You might want to reward your top referral sources with more than a thank you note. If you are not sure who your top referral sources are, we can help you create a report in your accounting system so you can track that information on a regular basis.

3. Set Up a Referral Program

Creating a formal referral program generates several benefits:

• It formalizes the process of asking for referrals. This lets clients know you’re serious and interested in referrals.
• It gets the word out to everyone without anyone feeling pressured.
• It is cost-effective and still far lower cost than using other marketing channels.
• It is not too time-consuming and produces results.

To set up your referral program, decide how you want to reward your referral sources. It could be as fun as awarding prizes such as Kindles and tablets to clients who send the most referrals to you. The cost of the prize is a small price to pay for the lifetime revenue of several new high-quality clients. Send a letter or email out announcing the program, and then set up a process for tracking.

If you’re in an industry where prizes and programs are simply not done, then a simple letter requesting referrals will work too. Be sure to include a description of the specific type of client you are looking for; you are far more likely to get referrals when clients know who to look for.

4. Develop Referral Sources

One way to truly quantum-leap your business is to find new sources of referrals. Your clients are a great source, but they each know so many people. If your clients have been with you for a while, your referrals could stagnate because your clients have referred just about everybody they are going to.

Keep your referrals growing by tapping into power partners. These are small business owners that have the same type of client you do, but are not competitive at all. The best way to reach out to them is to send them a referral!

5. Set Up Referral Processes

There’s a lot your back office can automatically do when it comes to referral processes.

• You can remember to ask how a new lead heard about you when they first call. Then you can record and track that, so that you will know where your top referral sources are.
• You can systematize the thank you notes and gifts so they go out timely and automatically.
• You can regularly schedule times with power partner to keep them up to date on your business changes and opportunities.
• You can systematize a referral program or related communications to keep everyone informed.
Once you set up these processes and delegate the tasks, you will grow your referrals and subsequently your revenues.

Oh, and by the way, we appreciate your referrals!

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Mobile Accounting

If you are the type of person who loves mobile apps, texting, and getting your email on your phone, then you’re in for a treat: accounting has finally come around to your smartphone. Here are a couple of great developments you can try so you can stay on top of your numbers.

Accounting Apps

For users of QuickBooks desktop and QuickBooks Online, an app is available to help you stay on top of your accounts receivables. You can send invoices, view and update customer information, mark an invoice paid, and check up on customers’ balances.

If you are on the Xero cloud accounting system, the Xero Touch app is comprehensive, showing a dashboard of all of your major cash account balances and allowing you to perform numerous accounting functions on your phone. On the accounts receivable side, you can view and re-send invoices, check customer information, and view account balances.

In the Xero app, you can snap a picture of a receipt and upload it right on the spot. This helps avoid lost receipts and decreases paper handling, plus the cool factor is high!

These apps work on the iPhone, iPad, and Android. With QuickBooks, there is a small monthly charge after a free trial, and with Xero, the app is free with your Xero subscription.

Bank Apps

If you’re banking with a major bank, chances are “there’s an app for that.” Downloading your banking mobile app will allow you to stay on top of balances, receive alerts, and manage your cash flow more effectively.

Payment Apps

More and more businesses are collecting customer payments via their smartphones. You don’t even need a merchant account for some of these payment apps, like Square, PayPal, or Intuit Mobile GoPayment, but it is cheaper if you do. If you’re not already taking credit cards, it’s an effective way to get started; your customers can pay via Visa, American Express, MasterCard, and Discover.

With many of these payment apps, you download the app, receive a reader in the mail, and are then able to swipe or key in a client’s credit card information. You are charged by the transaction, or monthly, if you sign up for a merchant account. Plus, you can often customize the receipts the client receives with your logo to make them look professional.

Add-on Apps

There are many other mobile apps that can increase your accounting capabilities. Both ADP and Paychex have payroll apps for their clients. There are numerous apps to extend many of your accounting functions, such as expense management, document management, invoicing, time-tracking, bill payment, and even work order management.

Accounting to Go

Now you have a choice with your accounting: you can “eat here” or take it “to go.” If we can help get you equipped as an accounting road warrior, give us a shout.

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Create a Theme for a Prosperous and Meaningful New Year

It’s 2015, and at this time of year, it’s natural for us to pause and reflect on where we’ve been and where we want to go. For business owners, it’s especially important to raise our minds above the daily fires for a moment, take in some fresh air, and elevate our perspective. Creating an annual theme is an easy and fun vehicle to do just that.

Deciding on a theme for the year will give you a focus and a new perspective on your work and your routines. It can be highly rejuvenating to look at things through the lens of your new theme.

Ideas for themes are limited only by your imagination. Some possible themes include:

• Organizing, detoxing, or cleansing. Consider cleaning out your garage (or your office), upgrading your systems, re-designing your filing system, or going on a cleanse or a vacation or a retreat that will leave you feeling clutter- and worry-free.
• Growth. You might want to consider a growth-related theme, such as productivity or profitability. You might also want to develop a new skill such as learning a new language, developing your computer skills, or taking a philosophy class at your local junior college.
• Abstract themes, such as abundance, creativity, or diversity. At the risk of sounding a little fluffy, an esoteric theme might be just what you need in 2015. A theme with abundance will allow you to think big, be abundantly generous with others, and search for large contracts. A theme with diversity will challenge you to be more open-minded. You may also want to consider forgiveness, gratitude, humility, or service.
• Relationships. Your year might be dedicated to meeting new associates and building business relationships. Your action item might be to spend more time networking, participating in groups, or going to your industry conference.
• A new service. Perhaps you’re launching a new service and need to focus on developing this new line of business.
• Giving back. On a personal note, you might value volunteering and decide to organize your year around a couple of volunteer opportunities.
• Exploring. If you’ve retired or the business is starting to run smoothly without your day-to-day input, it might be time for that trip around the world.

As you choose you goals for 2015, make sure the majority of them support your theme for the year. Themes can bring an overarching focus to our practices and our lives.

What’s your theme? Let us know what your theme is and we’ll share ours!

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Five Best Practice Accounts Payable Tips for a Smoother Cash Flow

Watching the cash balance is one of the most frequent activities of a small business owner. Besides making sure you have enough cash for payroll and bills, there is another huge opportunity you can benefit from: lowering the cost of processing your bills. It can be expensive and time-consuming to process bills and handle the paperwork involved. We’ll take a look at a couple of the many ways you can streamline your accounts payable processing costs in this article.

Opportunity #1: Go Digital

The Intuit Payment Network (IPN) is a best-kept secret when it comes to sending and receiving money. It’s free to set up your account, and it’s also free for your receiver to set up an account. All you do is add your bank account, and you can easily transfer funds between the two accounts just by knowing the receiver’s email address.

The receiver of money only pays 50 cents per transaction, so when you have a large transfer of funds, it’s totally worth it. It saves you postage, check stock, envelopes and the related mailing labor. You could even increase your payment by 50 cents so that your receiver receives exactly what you owe them.

Another way to go digital is via PayPal. Fees vary, and are usually paid by the receiver.

Opportunity #2: Get Control

When it comes to finances, it’s never a good idea to mix business and personal, especially when it’s coming out of the same bank account. Keep separate accounts for business and personal, and your bookkeeping costs will go way down. Do the same thing for credit cards as well.

If you’re comfortable with credit cards and you can maintain control of your spending, it saves accounts-payable time when you can charge everything you spend on business to your credit card as long as you pay it off every month. Using your card is faster at checkout than writing a check these days, so you’ll save time on errands as well.

Opportunity #3: Automate

Put recurring expenses such as utilities, rent, accounting, and other monthly bills on bank draft or autopay if the vendor has that option. This will save you a huge amount of time, supplies, and postage. You can also be more accurate with the timing of the payment which will allow you to keep your money for as long as possible until the due date arrives.

Opportunity #4: Verify

We hope you never pay bills that aren’t yours, but it can happen. To avoid it as much as possible, implement a three-way matching process on all your payables, especially those related to inventory. The three-way part refers to the three documents involved in accounts payable:

• The purchase order
• The packing slip
• The invoice

Before any invoice is paid, these three documents should be matched line by line – for quantity, price, and description — to ensure you ordered and received what you paid for. Only then should your bill be approved. This will ensure that you don’t pay a fraudulent bill, you don’t pay for out-of-stock that didn’t ship and that you paid the correct price you agreed to in the first place.

Please feel free to reach out and ask us about this if you’d like to know more.

Opportunity #5: Tell Yourself a Little White Lie

There’s an old saying: “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” If you’re always moving money around form one checking account to another to cover bills and payroll, you’re not the only small business owner who juggles funds. It takes up valuable time to make all these transactions, and then it costs to record them and track them.

Reduce all that by telling yourself a little white lie about your bank balance. If your bank balance is $10,000, tell yourself it’s only $5,000 (or whatever amount makes sense for you). That way, you’ll always have a cushion in your account that will help you reduce transfers. There are several ways to set this “little white lie” up in your books.

More A/P Ideas

These are only five of many ways you can reduce your processing costs and save time on accounts payable processing. Give these five accounts payable ideas a try, and if you’d like to know more, please reach out and let us know.

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Is Your Data Backed Up? Seven Often-Overlooked Places

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.

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