How to Save More in 2019

Many people in their retirement years have regrets about not saving more during their earning years, but you don’t have to be one of them. All you need to do is be realistic and proactive about saving. It’s all about paying your future self.    

Circumstances can arise that can erode savings you hoped would be there for retirement. Some of those events include not being able to work due to poor health or a bad job market, unanticipated hospital bills, a divorce, overestimating Social Security benefits, bad investments, procrastination, and simply not realizing how much you need to live on. 

The good news is you can prevent future regrets by making a strong savings plan now. As a small business owner, you may not have a retirement plan, so it’s essential that you create one for yourself. You earn an income today. Put some of that income toward paying your future self, and pay that “bill” first each month or each paycheck. 

To be proactive and build as much savings as possible, take these steps:

  1. Increase your financial skills by learning how to fund your retirement, including all that traveling you’d like to do.
  2. Take care to manage your investment risk and be realistic about investment returns. In good markets, purchase rather than rent or lease so you are building an asset.
  3. Put as much aside as you can, and try living just below your means.
  4. If you do have periods where you are out of work, try living frugally until your income is back to normal.
  5. Optimize your business profits and apply some of them to your savings plan.
  6. Minimize taxes where possible so you can keep more of what you make.
  7. Make everything work twice as hard for you:
    1. Get credit cards with loyalty programs.
    2. Sign up for frequent customer programs to earn points.
    3. Make sure your bank is giving you the best deal on interest.
  8. Sell unused belongings on eBay and put the money in savings.
  9. Cancel used subscriptions and memberships for both your personal and business needs and move the saved money to savings.
  10. Periodically reach out to vendors to get a better deal on the expenses you incur. This could be for phone plans, utilities, and any other routine expense. Put the difference saved in savings.
  11. Select cars and trucks with good gas mileage and also high resale value. Consider that using Lyft or Uber may be cheaper than maintaining a car, depending on how much you drive.  Put the difference in savings.

There are hundreds more ways to save more, and these will get you started in the right direction for 2019.

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What Is Reputation Management?

Reputation management is a relatively new area within marketing.  In a way, it’s similar to digital public relations; it’s the management of a company’s reputation online. There’s also a customer service component to reputation management.

Unlike public relations workers before the internet came along, today’s reputation managers must deal with what customers and other stakeholders publish publicly on social media, blogs, directories, and many other locations online.

A large part of the reputation management function is to monitor and reply to reviews. Company reviews are available on hundreds of sites. The most common places to look for reviews are Yelp, Google Business, Bing, Amazon, and shopping carts.

If a company receives a positive review, thanking the customer in a response is a nice gesture and recognizes their time spent writing the review. It also reassures others that the company is paying attention to customer feedback.

If the review is negative, swift action should be taken to respond, to apologize publicly, and to take the conversation to a private communications channel such as email or direct messaging. Customer service should get involved to resolve the issue quickly and satisfactorily. In some cases, posting a follow-up response to ask the client if the issue has been resolved is appropriate.

Companies should monitor more than just customer reviews. Sites like Glassdoor allow employees to post job satisfaction reviews for prospective workers.  Companies in industries with chronic talent shortages will want to allocate resources to monitor these sites effectively. 

Reputation management is not all about reviews; it’s also about mentions. Whenever your company name, CEO, or brand names are mentioned, a reputation manager should know about it.

There are now several apps that perform reputation management monitoring so that you’re alerted quickly to reviews or mentions. A very quick free option is to use Google Alerts to scour the web for company name mentions.  Many of these apps also help a business garner more reviews and optimize them to improve their reputation. 

Whether your business needs to worry about reputation management depends on many factors, but hopefully this overview will give you an idea of what’s possible in this space.

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Business Planning Made Easy for 2019

2019 is right around the corner, which makes today the perfect time to think about your business goals and where you want to be one year from now. As year-end wraps up, you’ll soon know your financial numbers for 2018. You’ll then be able to evaluate how you did and map out a new plan for 2019.

If you’re like many small business owners, you may have started your business without a business plan. Most businesses don’t need a long 20-page document that will just gather dust on a shelf. But you might want to consider putting together a short, 1- to 2-page concise document that includes the basic components of a typical business plan: mission, vision, strategies, and objectives.

A mission statement describes what the company is in business to do. And while you could simply state a mission similar to “Our mission is to sell our products and services,” you may want to think bigger than that in terms of how you want to be known or to impact more than your customers.

A vision statement describes your company’s future position.  It’s what you aspire to be.  It could again be, “Our vision is to sell more products and services than any other business.” Or it could be more inspiring and uplifting.

Your business strategies support how you’ll get from where you are to what is stated in your mission and vision statements. While there may be many ways to accomplish your mission and vision, strategies are the approaches you’ll take to get there./p>

Goals are measurable destinations with a timeline that are created from your strategies. Objectives finally get down to the nitty gritty and state the tactics and action plans you need to execute to put all of this work into play. 

Each of these items can be written out on a few lines, taking up all together no more than a few pages. The benefits of having a concise business plan are many: if you think of an idea you want to do, you can check the plan to make sure your idea falls under your vision, mission, and strategies that you’ve laid out for the year.  If it doesn’t, then you’ll know that your idea would take you off track from your plan, and you know how easy that can happen these days with all of the distractions and options available to us.

You may want to add additional sections to your plan depending on your strategies. If you plan to launch a new product or execute new marketing strategies, you might want to add a Market Summary section. If you seek new funding, you might want to have a section on funding options. With business planning, it makes sense to do what’s relevant, and nothing more or less.

We wish you the very best in 2019, and if we can help you with the financial portion of your business planning, please reach out.

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Marketing by the Numbers

Do you know if your marketing efforts are paying off? More importantly, do you know which marketing campaigns and channels are profitable and which are losing money? 

Marketing is one of the toughest areas to calculate return on investment, and one of the reasons is because customers may have had contact with your company in multiple ways before they make a purchase. Other reasons such as a lack of systems are more easily solved and can give you valuable information that you can make smart decisions with.

One main goal of marketing is to acquire leads that will hopefully turn into buying customers and even repeat customers. To start measuring your marketing efforts, we need to find out where those leads are coming from and measure which ones became your customers. That means we need to develop a system that tracks a customer from lead source to sale.

The hard part is that some of this needs to be done outside the accounting system.  The good news is that there are many tools and analytics available to help in this process.

One of the first things to do if you don’t already have it set up is to record the lead when they enter your sales process. Enter basic information about them in your CRM (customer relationship management system), and be sure to ask them how they found out about you.  This will help you track the lead back to the campaign or channel that they came in on. Once they’ve made a purchase, you can connect the lead to the customer record and track revenue by marketing source. 

If your leads come in digitally, there are many automated tags you can set up to track where they originated, whether it was from the web site, a particular web page, a social media account or a link from an email you sent out.

An important statistic for businesses is cost per lead, how much it costs to generate one lead for your business. The cost will vary by channel or marketing source. For example, someone coming from your website will cost less than someone coming from social media in most cases.

Once you know how many leads to generate to make a sale, you can start calculating what your marketing budget should look like.  More importantly, you’ll be able to forecast your revenue more accurately, too.

While numbers are probably the last thing you think about when you’re doing your marketing, they can be very effective for your bottom line.  There are many metrics beyond cost per lead that would be valuable to measure as well.  Here are just a few of them:

  • Number of leads (in total or per channel)
  • Number of press mentions
  • Number of direct mail pieces sent out
  • Number of email subscribers
  • Number of social media connections per platform
  • Number of posts sent, number of shares, number of comments
  • Total web visitors, new and returning
  • Google rankings for keywords
  • Number of customer reviews per site, ratio of positive to negative reviews

You might not think of accountants when you are doing your marketing, but we encourage you to think about the “numbers” part of marketing, the financial side. And as always, if you want help developing these processes and metrics, please reach out.

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Being Grateful

With holidays approaching, this is the perfect time of year to take a moment and reflect on all of the things we are grateful for.  Being grateful may sound a bit trite, but it’s also the number one, hands down, fastest way to bring more positivity and less negativity into your work and life.

Acts of gratitude are selfless and done unconditionally. You can use gratitude as a private exercise of reflection or you can express your gratefulness to show people that they are appreciated.

You don’t have to wait to feel gratitude; you can invoke it proactively. 

If you don’t have a gratitude practice, consider starting one. Science has gotten involved in studying gratitude, especially in the field of positive psychology, and the benefits to health and well-being are enormous. It can benefit your business, too, when you show appreciation for business partners, employees, customers, and vendors. 

Here are five easy ways to bring more gratitude into your work and life:

  1. Think of five clients you can send thank you notes to. You can write them by hand or send a greeting card with a thank you message. 
  1. On your customer service email templates, add a line before the closing that says, “We appreciate your business.” It does make a difference. 
  1. Quick, right now, think of five things you are grateful for and list them off the top of your head. After you’re done, you should feel a little bit happier than you did a few minutes ago.  Use this tool after you feel a negative emotion to move you back into positivity faster. 
  1. ________________
  2. ________________
  3. ________________
  4. ________________
  5. ________________
  1. Find part of your day that you don’t love, such as your commute to work. Change it to your gratitude commute, finding things along the way to be grateful for. You might be surprised how great you feel when you arrive at work. 
  1. Let one of your employees know that you’re grateful for the work they do for you. You can do this verbally, with a note, or with a gift.    

When you practice gratitude, you can’t help but feel happy for the things you have in your life.  Try these five things on a regular basis to bring more gratitude and positivity into your work and life. 

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Defining Blockchain

Blockchain is a term that has been bantered about quite a bit when referring to the future of accounting technology. While its impacts are primarily long term in nature, let’s take a brief look to see what everyone is talking about.

Blockchain is a technology that can store transactions. Some people have referred to it as a digital ledger. Unlike your current accounting books, transactions recorded using blockchain technology are public. This digital spreadsheet of transactions or records is copied across thousands of servers so that there is no single point of failure. It’s a decentralized, distributed, and public digital ledger.

The blockchain ledgers are updated constantly as new records are added. They are also reconciled constantly. Once added, the records cannot be altered retroactively.  This feature has many implications for auditing in that many records won’t need to be validated the old-fashioned way because blockchain is self-auditing.  Auditors will still need to validate the non-digital components of a transaction such as physical inventory counts.

Prior to 2016, blockchain was originally referred to as block chain, where the blocks are the list of records or transactions.  While the records are public, they are protected through cryptography.  Each block includes cryptographic code from the previous block that keeps the entire chain of data safe and verified.

Blockchain is then a way for two parties to safely record their transaction permanently and with verification.  While bitcoin is the most common current use of blockchain technology, many developers are working on new applications. Development started heavily in 2017, so it remains to be seen which applications will take off and which will die.

Blockchain’s uses in the future will be many:

  • Banking is the most obvious application, and right now the focus is on international transfers.
  • Stock trading.
  • Smart contracts. This concept is a huge part of what blockchain could be used for. Smart contracts are economic actions using blockchain that can be recorded without human interaction. They could initiate bill payments after goods have been received and after checking that there are funds available.
  • Elections.
  • Legal transactions, such as land titles.
  • Medical records, so that there is no more filling out of forms in each doctor’s office.

Blockchain in the future may eliminate the double-entry bookkeeping system that we have now.  Instead of each person keeping their own set of records, companies will write their transactions into a public blockchain ledger. This will reduce the cost of bookkeeping in the long term. But for this to happen, much development must be done to standardize and optimize the financial system. Many accounting professionals are working today toward that goal, which is many years away.  

For now, the biggest implication to realize for a blockchain future is that personal reputation will become incredibly important.  Blockchain systems eliminate the intermediary so that you are doing business with other people in a peer-to-peer environment. Identity protection as well as reputation will become essential.  Blockchain is also likely to take off first in countries where there is a lot of corruption and/or corporations are not trusted.

Blockchain may not impact your life today, but it’s definitely something to watch on the horizon.

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Your Perfect Work Day

How well do you love the way you spend your typical workday?  What would a typical workday look like if you had absolutely no constraints?  Here’s a fun exercise to get you thinking about your future and how you can make small changes in your current day to move it toward your ideal day. 

Get comfortable and begin jotting out what your ideal day looks like.  Start with what you do before you get to work.  How do you start your day?  With a workout or breakfast or something else?  What does breakfast consist of?  Where are you eating?  What do your surroundings look like?

How do you get to work? What is your commute like? List the sights, sounds, smells.  Once you get to work, what do you do first? Will you spend time on the phone?  With whom?  At the computer?  Do you go somewhere?

Do you get a nice break for lunch? Write it all down in detail, and continue until your post-workday routine.  Who are you with?  Where are you?  What do you do?

Here’s a partial sample:

“Lunch with my two friends at our favorite Mexican restaurant on the beach. We laugh a lot, share stories, and part with hugs and handshakes. After lunch, I work on my favorite work project, which challenges me to think about how to help my employees gain new skills. While I work, I listen to my favorite music CD.  In a few hours, I am ready for a stretch break and walk outside to water the plants. After break, I return calls, talking with my clients and catching up on how to best serve them.   …”

OK, now it’s your turn.  Here are some questions to consider while you do this exercise:

  • What’s important to you to spend time on?
  • What’s enjoyable that you would really like to have as part of your daily routine?
  • What activities will give you a nice balance of accomplishment, relaxation, and socialization, even during work?
  • What do you need to include in your ideal day to get your needs met?

Change One Thing

Getting to your ideal day can take time.  Don’t try to change your whole routine all at once.  What one or two things can you pull out of your ideal work day description that you could bring into your current work day to brighten it with happiness?  In the description above, this person might block out time to find employee training, go out for lunch instead of eating at her desk, make a new playlist, delegate tasks that are not part of her ideal day, or take more time when returning client calls.

Make gradual changes in your current day to improve it.  With each change, you’ll be moving toward the realization of your ideal day. And if your ideal day doesn’t include bookkeeping but your current day still does, we’re here for you.

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Training Fido to Fetch More than a Bone

While “fetching” might be what some trained dogs can do, accounting systems are getting into the act too. This relatively new feature is called “receipt fetching,” and it’s when an app can retrieve documents directly from the vendors that you do business with so you don’t have to spend so much time on paperwork retrieval. 

Apps that can perform receipt fetching can integrate with your accounts and pull invoices into their system.  For example, if your business has an account with a utility or telecom company, the receipt fetching app can pull the electricity, water, or telephone bills into your receipt fetching app account and consolidate them. 

The benefits are simple. You save time, certainly. But the bigger benefit is you no longer have a monthly deadline to get your documents to your accountant  —  at least for all the documents that can be automated in this way.  This reduces stress and eliminates minutiae from your day.

Accountants benefit too.  No accountant likes to spend their time asking clients for documents over and over again.  We know you have better things to do with your time, and we know you probably hate doing the paperwork.  Receipt fetching is an easy way to get the job done.

To take advantage of receipt fetching, the first step is to select a receipt-fetching app. A few of the apps to select from include LedgerDocs, ReceiptBank, HubDoc, and Greenback. Some of these apps do receipt fetching only, and others have many more functions.

The second step is to determine which vendor accounts are supported, and to connect with them. Generally speaking, the connection is based on your account credentials, so if those change, the connection will need to be updated. When many of your documents can be pulled into one place, you don’t have to spend time logging into each vendor portal to pull receipts. 

If you’re curious about how to benefit from receipt fetching in your business, please feel free to reach out.

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The Concept of Internal Control

Internal control is a very special phrase in the accounting profession. Tactically, it’s the set of processes that help a company produce accurate data throughout the organization, follow reporting requirements and laws, and maintain consistency and accuracy in its operations. Strategically, it’s an entirely new way of thinking and doing business.

Internal control helps to reduce organizational risk. A blunt way of putting it is internal control is what you put in place to avoid mistakes, intentional or accidental, and to control accuracy and quality. It impacts every aspect of an organization.

As a small business, you’ll want to be familiar with the concept because it can help you reduce risks you might not realize you have. Here are some practical examples of good ideas that support internal control:

  • When data is private and secure, provide access only to employees who need to know the data and restrict access of others. 
  • Have someone check that your bank balance matches the reconciled amount in your books, and that someone should be different from the person who does the reconciliation.  This is an example of what’s called segregation of duties. 
  • Lock up paper checks and use the missing check number report to make sure none of the stock could be used for nefarious purposes.
  • Have employees sign in and out equipment that they take home.  This is part of asset management.
  • Write and enforce a hardware and software use policy that includes items like employees should make sure their anti-virus software is active at all times, they should not bring in disks or CDs, and they should not download games or other unauthorized programs.  This protects from computer viruses and helps to avoid catastrophic network failures.

There are literally hundreds of internal control procedures that should be implemented in small businesses as they grow into larger businesses. 

Internal control is typically a big part of an audit or an attest function in accounting; it determines how many additional procedures an auditor needs to do in order to provide assurances about the reliability of the financial reports.  But it’s also just good plain common business sense to implement as many internal control processes as are cost-effective for your business to protect it at the level of risk you’re comfortable with. 

If you’d like to discuss the idea of internal control further, please feel free to reach out any time. 

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5 Ways to Make Your Business More Efficient

A great entrepreneur will always be on the lookout for ways to improve their business. Efficiency is a goal everyone wants to achieve when it comes to business because it can translate into less work and more profits. Here are five ways you and/or your staff can become more efficient in your business.

1-     Get software-savvy.

Do you use the same software apps day in and day out? If you do, ask yourself how well you really know them? Are you able to just get by or are you a whiz with deep knowledge? If you’re just getting by and spending a lot of time wandering around or undoing things, you may want to take a course in that software. 

The deeper our knowledge is in the apps we use every day, the more proficient we can be.  This is true of all of your staff as well.

2-     Reward new suggestions.

Your staff will be the first to know where there are bottlenecks and hiccups in your processes. Encourage them to speak up when they find something that could be improved. Listen to their ideas and reward the good ones. Implementing ideas from your business’s “front line” will increase its overall efficiency. 

3-     Watch your time.

How do you spend the bulk of your day? Working on new strategic projects, fighting fires, or a little of both? An honest evaluation of how you spend your time can yield many ideas about what’s going right and what needs work in your business. 

Allocate at least an hour a day to work “on” your business instead of in it.  That time is the only way your can move your business to the next level. If you’re the CEO, the focus should be more external than internal, more proactive than reactive, and more strategic rather than operational.  

4-     Avoid “bright shiny object syndrome.”

Are you easily distracted by an email (that you didn’t realize waylaid you into an hour of unproductivity), a web link, or a conversation?  It’s crazy-easy to get sidetracked right in the middle of a task these days. It’s also easy to purchase something that looks great without doing your homework.

One way to avoid unnecessary purchases is to get three bids from potential vendors on all major purchases for your business.  Make it a procedure so that you’re not lured into fancy marketing and items you might not ever use once you see the fine print. 

5-     One person’s trash is another’s treasure.

When you start to look around your office, you might be surprised at all the things you haven’t used in a while. Laptops that have been replaced, office supplies that were accidentally double-ordered, those folders you were going to use two years ago for a marketing campaign, even extra desks and chairs that are now empty: all of these items could be recycled to not only free up space but also get you some cash. 

Which idea do you like best?  Try it next week to improve your business efficiency. 

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