Your firm survived 2020. Now you may be asking yourself when will the economy return to pre-pandemic levels? Will it be this fall? A year from now? Longer?
Until the economy fully emerges from the pandemic, small businesses can help one another stay afloat. By collaborating with other like-minded firms, your business can find creative ways to strengthen local markets and encourage consumer loyalty.
Consider the following ideas of how you can help each other:
Partner with industry peers. One Vietnamese restauranteur in New York City was eager to open his business for in-person dining. Then the pandemic hit. According to a Time Magazine article, two years of careful planning, hard work and sacrifice seemed fruitless. But sympathetic restaurant owners in nearby Chinatown reached out with an innovative idea: offer a punch card to encourage customers to support local businesses. By partnering with this newly-minted entrepreneur and introducing him to like-minded people, established firms kept the restaurant business alive in their locale and helped a fledgling owner pursue his dream.
Donate staff resources. During government-mandated quarantines, some industries enjoyed burgeoning revenues while others were trying to keep staff employed. Why not offer to help if you have excess labor? For example, businesses selling camping gear and recreational vehicles saw an uptick in consumer demand. A company supporting that industry might offer some of its staff on a temporary basis to help another firm meet customer needs. Such a partnership could provide the added benefit of boosting morale and avoiding layoffs.
Leverage locations. Say you’re a company that raises chickens. You might partner with a firm offering other meat products to share a tent at a farmer’s market. Or two dance studios might join forces to enable patrons to attend similar classes at across-town venues. You could team up with others to organize a business fair. Or you might donate space to help another business sell goods at a common location for centralized pickup and delivery.
Share your expertise. Perhaps you’ve experienced great success with your business website, but other firms are struggling to make inroads in the digital marketplace. You could teach these companies how to connect with customers via social media. Train them to build and market a website. If you have remote workers, share your experience about helping home-based employees stay productive.
Cross promotions. Look for businesses that you can help and that can help you. Then cross-promote each other’s services. Customers of dog groomers need veterinarians and vice versa. Accountants need their hair cut and customers of hair salons need accountants. Vacation rental property owners can offer restaurant deals for their renters and restaurants can offer the rental owners coupons for meals. The ideas are endless, you just need to think creatively.
Before making a commitment to help another business, be sure to weigh the pros and cons. Any potential relationship should benefit both parties. Don’t be afraid to consider companies outside your industry or local market, but look first to businesses with services and products complementing your own.
Paying bills is an inevitable part of everyday life, but that doesn’t mean it has to be stressful. Here are some ways to get control of your budget and perfect the art of stress-free bill paying.
Make a budget. Knowing what you are making and what you are spending is essential to proper bill paying. First, find out how much you are making every month and then subtract the static items such as rent or mortgage payments, credit card payments and cell phone expenses. Then, budget out how much you will need for other essentials (such as food and clothing). Once the essentials are accounted for, you can look at the money you have left and decide where to allocate the rest.
Find a budget tool that works. Create a tracking system that works for you. There are many to choose from, but your bank may have a free app to track your spending, so that is a good place to start. You can then choose which tools to use to make a budget and categorize the transactions to be allocated to a certain part of the budget (such as food, car, and housing).
Set up autopay. Put recurring bills such as utilities, internet, and your cell phone on autopay so they will be automatically deducted from your account on their due date. If you decide to use autopay, it is still a good idea to look at the amounts being deducted every month to make sure everything is correct.
Consider your non-regular payments. Don’t forget to account for bills that come due occasionally and plan for the cash outlay. Common examples of this are property tax payments, income taxes, and annual/semi-annual insurance payments. You will need to plan to have enough cash on hand for these expenses when they come due.
Adjust due dates. Paying bills isn’t as stressful when you know that you can afford to pay them, and what better time to pay bills than right after you get paid! The money will be there and you can pay those bills before that money has a chance to go anywhere else. Consider asking if you can change the due dates for some or all of your bills to correspond with when your paychecks are deposited into your bank account.
Don’t forget to pay yourself! One of the best ways to start developing a savings account is making yourself part of your budget! Take however much you think you can spare and set up an automatic transfer to a separate savings account. Use this money to establish an emergency fund of approximately six to nine months of expenses. This extra cushion will come in handy if something unexpected occurs.
Do you rent an apartment or condo? If so, do you have renters insurance to protect your belongings and to cover you against liability claims?
A surprising number of renters don’t bother with insurance. Some assume they’re covered by their landlord’s policy. Wrong! Usually that covers only damage to the building and liability claims against the landlord. Others say their belongings aren’t worth enough to justify the cost. But add up how much it would cost you to replace everything you might lose in a fire and you’ll be surprised. In most cases, the cost of insurance is a small price to pay for the protection you’ll receive.
Renters insurance, sometimes called a tenant policy, typically protects against three things:
Loss or damage to your personal belongings from fire, theft, etc.
Liability claims from someone injured in your apartment
The cost of temporary living expenses if your apartment is made uninhabitable by some catastrophe
When you buy renters insurance, you’ll have to decide the amount and type of coverage. Your agent can help you estimate the value of your belongings. You can either choose “actual cash value” coverage or “replacement value coverage.”
The first pays you the estimated value of items at the time of loss, based on their age and condition. The second pays the cost of replacing items with equivalent new items, up to the maximum value of coverage. The second method will pay you more, but obviously the premium will be higher. Try to identify anything of special value, such as expensive jewelry or electronic equipment. You may need a policy rider to cover the full amount of these items.
A few tips
Bundle for discounts. You may receive a discount if you buy your renters insurance and car insurance from the same company.
Save with roommates. If you have a long-term roommate, ask if you can take out a joint policy instead of two separate ones.
Know when and where kids are covered. If you have children living away at college, check whether they’re covered under your homeowners policy. Once they leave college, though, they’ll need their own insurance.
Take inventory. Create a thorough inventory of your belongings, recording the model and serial number of any equipment and take plenty of photos. This could be invaluable to support your claim if you ever have a loss.
Have you considered cross-training your employees to ensure more than one person knows all key functions? Cross-training can be a win-win situation for you and your employees. Large companies often use it to prepare managers for future promotions. But in small companies, it can be the difference between success and failure.
Why companies cross-train
Cross-training provides greater flexibility in scheduling, especially when dealing with unexpected workload and staffing issues. It also helps employees develop expertise in other areas and increases their awareness of the company’s roles and functions, helping them better understand where they fit into the big picture.
For employees, some of the biggest advantages of cross-training include:
Learning new skills
Working more efficiently and effectively with other departments
Feeling more invested in the company
Enjoying growth opportunities
Create your cross-training plan
How you implement cross-training will depend on the size and nature of your business. Consider prioritizing the departments that need and/or want cross-training the most. These departments may be understaffed or have many new employees. Look for important functions that are currently dependent on a single person’s knowledge. These areas should be a focus of your cross-training program.
If you’re considering cross-training your team, here are a few tips to help you prepare:
Document your key processes. You cannot cross-train if you don’t know the process. These written processes will turn into training documents as you implement your program.
Communicate to your team. It’s essential to get everyone involved before you start a cross-training program. Help your team understand why the company is cross-training employees. Reasons may be to prepare for organizational growth or new industry standards, to cover functions when someone is impacted by the pandemic, or to adjust to a changing structure around roles and responsibilities. Then continue to communicate with your team throughout the program with status updates and team meetings about progress and next steps.
Present cross-training as an opportunity. Your employees may be more resistant to cross-training if it feels like it’s an obligation or a threat to their roles. You can help them feel motivated by highlighting the benefits, like developing different skill sets and having a better understanding of how their contributions positively impact the business.
Start with a small pilot program. Test the waters with a select group of employees to get a better understanding of what works and what needs to be tweaked. You can then expand the program later as you gain insight and experience.
Determine cross-training hours. Figure out how much time can be dedicated to cross-training for each team to still run efficiently. This may include setting aside a few hours each day, or setting aside full days for a certain period of time to focus on cross-training. If your business is seasonal, ramp up cross-training during your low seasonal period.
Listen to feedback. You may learn that some employees have already started cross-training on their own. You can use this kind of valuable feedback to fine-tune your official cross-training program.
Keep in mind that some employees may resist having to train others, and productivity may suffer in the short-term. But remember the cost of not cross-training. If you lose a key employee and no one else knows how to do their tasks, your business may have trouble finding a replacement.
The recently-passed American Rescue Plan Act contains several tax breaks for you and your family. Here are the major provisions of the bill that could mean more money in your pocket during the 2021 tax year.
Child tax credit (CTC)
The CTC for 2021 increases from $2,000 to $3,000 for kids ages 6 to 17 and $3,600 for kids ages 5 and under.
To receive the full tax credit your adjusted gross income must be under $75,000 (Single); $150,000 (Joint); or $112,500 (Head of Household).
If your income is above the aforementioned thresholds, you can still receive $2,000 per child if your income is less than $200,000 (Single, Head of Household); or $400,000 (Joint).
You can receive up to 50% of your 2021 child tax credit in 6 monthly payments starting July 2021. The IRS is warning, however, that this July start date may be delayed because a computer system still has to be built to handle these monthly payments.
Child and dependent care credit (DCC)
If you and your spouse work and have children in daycare, or have an adult that you care for, you may be eligible for a larger tax credit in 2021.
You can now spend up to $8,000 in dependent care expenses for one qualifying dependent and get a 50% tax credit. This results in a maximum credit of $4,000 (up from $1,050).
If you have more than one qualifying dependent, you can spend up to $16,000 in dependent care expenses and get a 50% credit. This results in a maximum credit of $8,000 (up from $2,100).
To receive the full tax credit, your adjusted gross income must not exceed $125,000.
Dependents can include people of all ages, not just kids, as long as they meet the dependent qualifications.
Earned income tax credit
If you’re a household with no kids, the maximum earned income tax credit increases from $543 to $1,502.
More taxpayers qualify for the credit. The lower age limit for receiving the credit decreases from age 25 to age 19. The upper limit of 65 for receiving the credit is eliminated. There is no upper age limit for 2021.
Legislation provides other business relief provisions
Here’s what you need to know about the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and other business relief provisions of the recently-passed American Rescue Plan Act.
PPP loan application deadline extended. The deadline to apply for PPP loans is now May 31, 2021.
Sick leave extended. If your business provides sick leave for COVID-related reasons, you might get reimbursed for the sick pay through a tax credit.
Businesses which voluntarily provide sick leave through September 30, 2021 qualify for the credit. There are limits for each employee. However, for employees who took 10 days of sick leave in 2020 using this same provision, they can take another 10 days beginning April 1, 2021.
Refundable tax credits are available through September 30, 2021.
Covered reasons to get the tax credit now include sick leave taken to get COVID testing and vaccination, and to recover from the vaccination.
These benefits are also extended to self-employed workers.
Family Medical Leave Act Provisions extended.
Additional coverage is now available through September 30, 2021.
Qualified wages for this provision move to $12,000 (up from $10,000) however the credit was not increased.
The Family Medical Leave Act also applies to the self-employed.
Big increase in Employee Retention Credit.
Businesses can get up to a $28,000 tax credit per employee in 2021, up from a $5,000 maximum credit in 2020. This credit can be claimed through Dec. 31, 2021.
There are many more provisions in the close to $2 trillion dollar spending package, including money given to states. As everyone digests this new 500-plus page piece of legislation, more clarifications will be forthcoming from the IRS and other sources.
Many business owners hire their children, their spouse, or other family members to work in their business. Sometimes this works out well. Other times it causes problems. Let’s look at the pros and cons of putting family members on your payroll.
Hiring your children
Hiring your kids for a summer or part-time job usually has more tax advantages and fewer drawbacks than hiring other relatives. The financial advantage is that if you’re paying your child to do useful work, the business gets a tax deduction for the wages paid. Your child will probably pay little or no income tax, and the after-tax wages stays in the family.
Follow certain steps to make sure the wages are fully deductible. The child must be doing a real job that helps the business, and the wages must be reasonable for the work performed. Keep detailed records of hours worked and pay salary regularly, preferably on the same schedule as other employees. In other words, treat your child just like any regular employee.
In addition, depending on how your business is organized and the age of your child, you may be able to avoid paying Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment on their wages. To qualify, you must be a sole proprietor or a husband-wife eligible partnership and your child must be under the age of 18.
Hiring your spouse or other relatives
An advantage to hiring your spouse or other relatives is that you have an employee whom you know well, and who may be more motivated or more flexible than a non-family member. And in many family-owned businesses, it’s a powerful way to train the next generation who will take over leadership.
That same familiarity can bring disadvantages, however.
Few families are without some internal or intergenerational conflict, and that can be disastrous if it spills over into the workplace. You must also consider the effect on other employees. Any sign of favoritism or unequal treatment can cause resentment and ruin the motivation of other employees.
Be cautious moving forward
There are plenty of businesses where hiring family members has worked out just fine, but other businesses where it didn’t work out.
So think long and hard before you bring family members into the business. Talk to them and to your key employees beforehand so everyone understands and is comfortable with their roles in the company.
You hang up the phone with a huge smile on your face. You just learned that you’re getting a pretty sizeable tax refund this year. Now all you need to do is kick back and wait a week or two for the IRS to wire the money into your bank account.
This good news, however, is unfortunately short lived. The very next day you get another phone call.
“I’m sorry to tell you this, but someone else has already used your Social Security number to file a tax return.”
You’re told that you’ll still be able to eventually get your nice, big tax refund, but it may be several months before you see the money. You first need to work with the IRS to resolve your case of identity theft.
There’s a secret weapon you can now use to protect your tax return – an Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN).
Beginning this tax season, all taxpayers who can verify their identities are eligible to obtain an IP PIN. An IP PIN is a 6-digit PIN that offers additional protections when filing your tax return. This one-time-use number is sent to you by the IRS and must be entered on your tax return along with your Social Security number. Since the IP PIN is a one-time-use number, you will receive a new IP PIN number each year from the IRS.
If someone tries to fraudulently file a tax return using your Social Security number, they will be unable to do so without this IP PIN.
What You Need to Do
How to get an IP PIN. To obtain an IP PIN, click here to visit the IRS’s Get an IP PIN tool to opt into the IP PIN program.
If your identity has already been stolen. If someone uses your Social Security number to fraudulently file a tax return, ask for help to find out next steps for getting your identity fraud case resolved with the IRS.
Once in, tough to get out…for now. As this is the first year the IRS is making the IP PIN program available for anyone who wishes to use one, they are not ready to let you opt out once you agree to participate. They anticipate adding the opt-out feature in the near future.
How companies use your identity and what you can do to protect it.
One of the most valuable things you own is YOU. Your identity includes the basics – where you live, your age, and your gender. But it also includes your interests, who you know, and what you buy. So, do you know who has your identity? Here’s the life cycle of your identity and what to do to protect it.
It gets collected. Think about the organizations that legally collect information about your identity – your employer, government entities, insurance companies, banks, credit reporting agencies, and non-profit organizations. And then add those companies you give your identity to freely – like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and any other website or social media platform you visit.
It gets stored. Once your identity gets collected, it then needs to be stored somewhere. Storage is most often on servers or locally on a computer or mobile device. This is one of the core concerns with Tik-Tok, a Chinese-originated short video service. The concern is that a foreign entity will have stored U.S. citizen’s interests and behaviors that can help identify potential targets that can be manipulated.
It gets sold. Once information related to your identity and interests are collected, most organizations then sell it to other companies. Not only is information about your identity sometimes collected without your knowledge, this information is then monetized. Your viewing behavior can also be actively manipulated by the sites you view. So if you read articles about cats, you are going to get a lot more articles about cats and get ads that relate to cat-lover behavior. This is often so subtle, you do not realize it is happening.
It gets accessed. If your information is considered a public record, anybody can see it. Business licenses, property tax records and real estate ownership are just a few examples of personal information that anyone can access.
It gets stolen. Identity thieves are always looking for ways to access your information. Thieves either hack one of the organizations that collects your confidential information or find a way to trick you into giving them your information, with techniques such as phishing emails.
What you can do
Opt-out of providing personal information. The best place to start with protecting your identity is knowing who has access to it and asking if they really need it. Consider opting out of providing information if possible.
Be vigilant with the data you possess. While you can’t control how secure an insurance company’s servers are, you can control how secure you handle the information and documents you possess. Be on the lookout for phishing emails, verify requests for your information and don’t forget about getting rid of documents the old-fashioned way with a shredder.
Deliberately monetize your identity. Stop giving away your identity without a thought. Here’s an idea. Consider you are worth a million dollars. Then see what these services are paying you for your information and how they are using it. If this little exercise gets you to pause before signing up for a new service, then the exercise is worth it!
Here are some suggestions to help you master the art of documenting and organizing your business now and in the future.
Document policies and procedures. Write down daily responsibilities, skills needed to complete tasks related to these responsibilities, and the location of all paper and electronic files. Appoint and cross-train backup staff to ensure these daily tasks are done.
Document your succession plan. It may not be for another 10 or 20 years, but documenting your succession plan is critical for both you as the owner and for your employees. Consider how much longer you plan on owning the business and who you have in mind to take over after you leave. If you currently don’t have a successor in mind, document your plan to either train or find this person(s).
Document your tax planning strategy. Be aware of possible tax incentives, such as credits for hiring certain workers and accelerated depreciation available for acquiring business assets. For example, for asset purchases, retain receipts and record the purchase details. These details include the type of equipment, the acquisition date, the amount of the purchase, the date you began using the equipment, and a schedule of related set-up costs.
Organize your daily documents. Organize your desk by shredding documents with sensitive information and scanning older papers into computer files. The most efficient method is to scan, file, and shred as soon as you are finished with a document. If you don’t have time, consider assigning document organization to specific employees and making it a task to be completed on a daily basis.
You’re busy, and you may feel that organizing your records will take more time than you have available. But spend a minute and consider how using these organizational tips may save you not only time, but money as well.