It’s in the details

I subscribe to the Grammarly blog. I think words are fun and interesting and find these posts are always a good read. One that I recently read was titled “10 Biggest Leadership Mistakes You Really Should Avoid”,
( https://www.grammarly.com/blog/leadership-mistakes/) a 2017 GlassDoor post. It piqued my interest and upon reading it I couldn’t help but notice several of the items are applicable to my preferred client, the very small business owner. Folks who have less than 10 employees or just themselves.

The one that jumped out at me was number 2, “Forgetting about the details”.

It isn’t that most small business owners forget about the details, it’s that they just don’t have the time to get organized enough to identify those tasks that should be handed off, or hand off tasks but don’t schedule a time to sit down with the task owner to review the process or get an update.

Sometimes in an effort to build our business or maintain our business, we forget that it is our business. It is a temptation to put complete trust in the person who handles your week-to-week administrative responsibilities. You’ve worked hard to get to where you are, you’re ready to take the next step. You find the right person or company and even if they don’t understand the service or product you provide, they have a clear understanding of the administrative needs and the skills to get to get you where you want to go.

Now comes that big sigh of relief. There is someone else to help you share the burden of getting those tasks done: bill paying, invoicing, payroll, HR support, office supply or inventory stocking and all those other pesky tasks. You can get back to the computer or in the field or on the phone and do that thing that you do best and for which you are well compensated (or will be soon because you have taken that next step). Or even better, you can start having some personal time in your life again, (no worries – I’m not linking to my Joy blog post).

Here’s the thing; you need to make sure that you schedule the time to stay on top of the tasks you handed off. You don’t have to micro-manage, just remain aware of the status of things and be available for questions. It is your business and if you are a very small business it is likely that you have been doing it all. That makes you the greatest resource for information about your processes. It doesn’t necessarily need to be face-to-face; although I recommend a face-to-face meeting at least once a month or quarter depending on the type of work being done by your new administrative support staff, you should make sure there is a regular communication channel available.

It may not feel like it when you starting your workday with a 7 am meeting with your bookkeeper or office manager or spend part of your evening reviewing a report requesting answers to missing information or the Deeds and Needs email sent for your reading pleasure, but the time needed to stay in touch with your support staff goes a very long way towards the success of your business.

Just a thought.

Starting your business

I’ve recently began working with a young woman who is starting a practice. During our conversation she told me that her school taught her a few things about marketing but nothing about how to start a business.

I find that fascinating.

I had been thinking that a student attaining a degree in her profession would at least be be given a general course to help understand the processes needed to have a successful start to what will hopefully be the thing that will enrich and support her.

Silly me.

I’m not an expert so I am not going to list what you should do and how you should do it. I am going to share my recommendations based on what I have seen through the years. They are in no particular order.

Earn while you learn – If the opportunity presents itself and you are lucky enough to work for someone who will let you “pick their brains” go for it. It isn’t postponing you starting your business; it ‘s helping you train to run it better.

Write down your vision and reach for the sky – There is nothing wrong with making a big long-term plan. Why not set up a goal? Just don’t set yourself up for failure by making unattainable goals in your first 5 years. That will just bring you down and take your joy.

Make a business plan and ask for advice – Look for a mentor. Take advantage of classes and the assistance offered by the Small Business Association.

Plan on making adjustments to your plan – Things may happen that you have no control over. There will be pain. There will be errors. Try to “plan” them in. Be ready to be flexible.

Find a “Business Buddy” – If you have someone to talk to about your successes, trials & tribulations, it will help keep you sane.

Pay yourself – Even if it is a tiny bit each week. This will help remind you that you have made the decision to make this your job.

Set at least 20% aside for your tax payments – You will need to pay estimated quarterly taxes based on your earnings. If you start with your 1st receivable it will hurt a lot less on the 15th of April, June, September and January,

Outsource the parts you don’t enjoy as soon as you can – This will keep you focused and happy on the the tasks that empower you and that will be good for you and your company.

This process can be frustrating, unnerving and scary.
It can be exciting, exhilarating and fulfilling.

Through it all – Don’t lose your Joy.

Joy

I’ve been thinking a lot about Joy. Not really surprising I guess. ‘Tis the season after all. But what I have been thinking about is the joy I feel when I can help a business owner overcome that “thing” that is bringing them down or holding them back.

Sometimes it is a simple as handling the bookkeeping or acting as their office manager; allowing me to carry part of the burden of managing the business side of their business.

I often think of this as the back-end. Most of my clients have companies where they are the face of their business and this often means a lot of time away from the office. They are frequently in their company’s early stage which also means that a lot of the responsibility for the day-to-day administrative tasks falls on them.

And those tasks are more than sending invoices, phoning in payroll and paying bills. Even when we don’t want to, we generate paperwork. And tax audit support still requires receipts. Paper or electronic, those need to be filed and, hopefully, tagged with the purpose of the purchase. It’s a lot of stuff and when you are starting out it doesn’t always feel important but, as I often tell myself “Start as you will go” so even though it may not feel necessary now, having a system in place as your business grows can make that growth a bit less painful.

Creating these systems also helps you identify the tasks that should be given away as quickly as possible. Every task needed to successfully run a business is important but not every task needs to be performed by the owner (the most highly compensated employee – we hope) or manager. As I noted in my Happiness blog, there are tasks that can be handed off that not only relieve your stress but allow an enterprising somebody to learn and earn.

And now I circle back to Joy. But your joy as a business owner. Is the day-to-day administrative stuff taking that away? Are you beginning to forget why you started your business to begin with? Have you lost the time to do that thing that used to make your long days worth it?

Ask for help.

It’s not a reflection of an owner not being able to manage their business.

It is a reflection of an owner knowing how to manage their business growth.

Just a thought.

 

Balance Sheets – keeping track of the big picture

I’ve been thinking a lot about balance sheets lately. They have so much valuable information about your company’s financial health and I am often surprised by how many business owners don’t use them.

A balance sheet is often described as “a snapshot of a company’s financial condition” And how cool is that – having all that information in one place.

If you have set up your books correctly, you should always have a balance sheet. Almost every business has a checking account. credit card, or line of credit. All of those items show up as liabilities on the balance sheet. If your company owns vehicles, buildings, large equipment; those items show up as assets. It is the document that can give you a long=term view of your company and a possible buyer or investor its value. It’s where you track your cash contributions (owner investments) to make sure that you are reimbursed when you sell your company.

Setting it up shouldn’t be a slap-dash casual thing. You should have a conversation with your tax accountant about those items that will be depreciated or whether there are long-term liabilities and how you will record your owner’s draws and investments. These all have tax implications.

If you use sales receipts and write checks, there is a temptation to ignore your balance sheet and use your Profit and Loss (P&L) to track your business but I want you to think about at least entering your vendor bill then processing the payments. The advantage of doing this is that it allows you to keep track of – and an eye on – your payables. It is a lot easier to know who you owe when it is available in your bookkeeping software. And the bonus is that you can set up restrictions that won’t allow someone access to the sensitive areas of your bookkeeping software – like payroll – and still have them enter the bills and credit card charges, allowing you to have a running total of your expenses. So an admin can take over this data entry for you.

If you invoice your clients, there is often a delay between the client receiving it and you receiving your payment. This is when invoices come in handy. They show up on the balance sheet as receivables – a predictor of income to be received later. How cool could it be see in one place what is owed to you and what is due to your vendors.

You can set up your books to run accrual (tracking receivables and payables not yet received or paid) even when run your company on a cash-basis. Your tax accountant will know what to do so that you don’t pay taxes on income that has not yet made it into your bank account.

A P&L reflects the “now”. A Balance Sheet reflects the “future”.

Just a thought.

Notice the forest

Sometimes all we can see are the trees. We get so involved in the details we fail to notice the forest.

Spending all of your time running around taking care of the details –  although they’re necessary –  can oftentimes make you forget why you decided to start your business in the first place.

And your business may suffer because there is no one to see the big picture – the forest – and notice the slow-moving blight that could be causing so much harm.

When you have a good bookkeeper, you have someone else keeping an eye on for your business. They may be able to see patterns before you: price increases from vendors, unusual expense reporting, clients who regularly take forever to pay. Working with someone who keeps on top of your income and expenses and provides you the data you need to support your organization is one less thing on your plate.

This position is a big deal and trust is essential so don’t go lightly into the process of hiring a bookkeeper. Make sure they know your expectations and can follow through and make sure you are available to provide the support needed for them to do their job well.

Take a look at how much time and effort you are spending on your company’s bookkeeping. Now imagine that time being spent with your family & friends or increasing your sales or creating a new product or networking.

Just a little something to think about.

 

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Can bookkeeping software make your life easier? – Yes, it can.

I recently began working with a company that has been in business for several years. They reached the point where they could no longer “do it all” and found me through my CraigsList ad. Their accountant recommended they begin using QuickBooks to make things simpler – and it will, just not without a little help.

Before you move to QuickBooks or any accounting software, you should think about the process before you proceed.

Start by having a discussion or making a list of your company’s goals. And not just the short-term goal of getting your books in order; include the longer-term goal for your company – where you want to be in 3, 5, 10 years and how do you plan to get there.

Here are a few questions (in no particular order) to get you started:

– Do you want to increase your company’s income or are you happy where you are and just want to keep it steady?
– Can your position be replaced? If the answer is yes, are you getting regularly paid for the value of that position?
– Are you working with the client base that makes your happy?
– Does your existing client invoicing system work?
– Will you be adding to your labor force?
– Are you in a location that works or will be expanding/moving?
– Will you need to add/replace existing company vehicles or technology (computers, phones, etc.)
– Does your existing reporting structure work – timesheet reporting, receipt tracking, vendor bill reporting?
– Are you regularly lending the company funds? If you are not taking a regular paycheck, the answer is “yes”.
– Do you know how much a project earns?
– Should you hire administrative support?
– Should you change your marketing strategy?
– Do you want to keep doing what you are doing?

With a view of your goals, you can structure your books to make sure you get accurate snapshots of the health of your company. In many cases, using the Income/Cost of Goods & Services/Expense structure will let you stay on top of the profit of your services (Gross Profit) giving you a clear separation between the cost to provide the service you sell (labor, materials, subcontractor expenses), from what it cost to run your business (accounting, marketing, rent, office supplies, utilities).

With that structure in mind, you can create a budget to anticipate your needs. Knowing the Gross Profit of your company (above the line) will quickly show you if you have what you need in place to support the other expenses (below the line).

Using the budget as a template for your expected reporting needs it’s time to take a look at the software.

A good double-entry bookkeeping software does what it says it will. It can help organize your business and give you a great view of where things stand. If you subscribe to QuickBooks Online or use the current QuickBooks desktop versions you can download your bank and credit card information directly into the software instead of typing it in. And it works well – As long as you know what to do with the data.

“Out of the box” there are some great templates in place and that can get you started. But do you understand how the Chart of Accounts, Profit & Loss and Balance Sheet can help you run your company? Do you have to use the items that they specify? What if you need to add another item? How do you make sure your downloaded transactions go to the right account? What is the right account?

It can be frustrating but don’t let that stop you. If you don’t understand how it works, it’s not you. You just need to sit down with bookkeeper or accountant who can walk you through it.

But don’t settle. This is your business and oftentimes, the way you support yourself and your family and invest in your future. This is a big deal. Make sure the person you hire to help you understands what you need to be comfortable with the process and can work with you to meet your goals.

Be prepared to have someone seeing your “messy house” then let the cleanup begin.

It is so very worth it.

StickFigureKim-96x110

Rental properties

I inherited a 2-family rental property when my grandparents passed away. A lovely financial opportunity complicated by the fact it is in another state with a 14-hour drive.

I have been fortunate to have someone I trust keeping an eye on it so I just have to handle the financial side of things. On paper, when the rent is paid and there are no major repairs, the obvious answer is to keep it. But sometimes there are complications.

I am currently transitioning between tenants and these circumstances are affording me the opportunity to take a good hard look at whether or not it makes sense to keep it or sell it. For now, the repairs are “small” so I am taking the risk for another year.

Keeping track of those expenses has been an interesting task. Fortunately, none meet the IRS requirements as a capital improvement and making sure that the vendor invoices, incidentals and material costs for the repairs & cosmetic updates are clearly identified, allows me to accurately track the costs for each unit.

This is where a bookkeeper might be able to be of assistance. If you own rental properties, being able to know the return on investment for each unit can go a long way in helping you decide where additional investment in those properties makes sense. I’m not talking about whether to replace a roof or keeping the properties up to code, I am thinking about whether replacing an old carpet with laminate flooring, updating the bath or kitchen cabinets or replacing appliances might allow you to increase the rent and still stay within the going rental rates for your area. Being able to run a Profit and Loss or Income Statement per unit allows you a quick overview of each rental unit.

You don’t need to invest in QuickBooks or Quicken to do this although I feel it might make things easier when handing off the information to your accountant. (I am a bookkeeper.) A quick internet search for “Excel rental property” will come up with many predesigned worksheets and templates.

The important thing is to keep track of your income and expenses to avoid surprises at tax time. – ‘cuz there are some surprises that just aren’t fun.

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