If you are like millions of taxpayers trying to make a living running a small business, you know it is tough out there. Here are six ideas to help your business survive and thrive.
- Understand your cash flow. One of the biggest causes of business failure is lack of positive cash flow. At the end of the day, you need enough cash to pay your vendors and your employees. If you run a seasonal business you understand this challenge. The high season sales harvest needs to be ample enough to support you during the slow non-seasonal periods.Recommendation: Create a 12-month rolling forecast of revenue and expenses to help understand your cash needs each month.
- Know your pressure points. When looking at your business, there are a few categories that drive your business success. Do you know the top four drivers of your financial success or failure? By focusing on the key financial drivers of your business, success will be easier to accomplish.Recommendation: Look at last year’s tax return and identify the key financial drivers of your business. Do the same thing with your day-to-day operations and staffing.
- Prioritize your inventory. If your business sells physical product, you need a good inventory management system. This system does not have to be complex, it just needs to help you keep control of your inventory. Cash turned into inventory that becomes stuck as inventory can create a cash flow problem.Recommendation: Develop an inventory system with periodic counts (cycle counting) to help identify when you need to take action to liquidate old inventory or research any discrepancies.
- Know your customers. Who are your current customers? Are there enough of them? Where can you get more of them? How loyal are they? Are they happy? A few large customers can drive a business or create tremendous risk should they go to a competitor.Recommendation: Know who your target audience is and then cater your business toward them and what they are looking for in your offerings.
- Learn your point of difference. Once you know who your customer is (your target audience), understand why they buy your product or service. What makes you different from others selling a similar item?Recommendation: If you don’t know what makes your business better than others, ask your key customers. They will tell you. Then take advantage of this information to generate new customers.
- Create a great support team. Successful small business owners know they cannot do it all themselves. Do you have a good group of support professionals helping you? You will need accounting, tax, legal, insurance, and employment help along with your traditional suppliers.Recommendation: Conduct an annual review of your resources, be prepared to review your suppliers and make improvements where necessary.
While libraries are filled with small business advisory books, sometimes focusing on a few basic ideas can help improve your business’ outlook. Please call if you wish to discuss your situation.
Like a bundle of sticks, good business partners support each other and are less likely to crack under strain together than on their own. In fact, companies with multiple owners have a stronger chance of surviving their first five years than sole proprietorships, according to U.S. Small Business Administration data.
Yet sole proprietorships are more common than partnerships, making up more than 70 percent of all businesses. That’s because while good partnerships are strong, they can be hard to make. Here are some elements that good business partnerships require:
- A shared vision
Business partnerships need a shared vision. If there are differences in vision, make an honest effort to find compromise. If you want to start a restaurant and your partner envisions a fine dining experience with French cuisine, while you want an American bistro, you are going to be disagreeing over everything from pricing and marketing to hiring and dÃ©cor.
- Compatible strengths
Different people bring different skills and personalities to a business. There is no stronger glue to hold a business partnership together than when partners need and rely on each other’s abilities. Suppose one person is great at accounting and inventory management, and another is a natural at sales and marketing. Each is free to focus on what they are good at and can appreciate that their partner will pick up the slack in the areas where they are weak.
- Defined roles and limitations
Before going into business, outline who will have what responsibilities. Agree which things need consensus and which do not. Having this understanding upfront will help resolve future disagreements. Outlining the limits of each person’s role not only avoids conflict, it also identifies where you need to hire outside expertise to fulfill a skill gap in your partnership.
- A conflict resolution strategy
Conflict is bound to arise even if the fundamentals of your partnership are strong. Set up a routine for resolving conflicts. Start with a schedule for frequent communication between partners. Allow each person to discuss issues without judgment. If compromise is still difficult after discussion, it helps to have someone who can be a neutral arbiter, such as a trusted employee or consultant.
- A goal-setting system
Create a system to set individual goals as well as business goals. Regularly meet together and set your goals, the steps needed to achieve them, who needs to take the next action, and the expected date of completion.
- An exit strategy
It’s often easier to get into business with a partner than to exit when it isn’t working out. Create a buy-sell agreement at the start of your business relationship. This should outline how you exit the business and create a fair valuation system to pay the exiting owner. Neither the selling partner nor the buying partner want to feel taken advantage of during an ownership transition.
Like it or not, you must learn how to delegate work to your employees. It’s easy to get in the mindset that if you want things done the right way you have to do them yourself. But that isn’t always the best approach at work, even if you firmly believe you’re the best person for the job. There simply isn’t enough time in the day, especially if you have a business to run.
Here are some helpful hints:
- Develop a game plan. Start by deciding which tasks to delegate and which employees will be assigned responsibilities. The workload doesn’t have to be etched in stone, but you need a basic plan to subdivide jobs.
- Find your most reliable, autonomous employees. You will need to rely on people who can think for themselves. Don’t rely on employees who you anticipate will be constantly seeking your guidance. If you have to show someone what to do every step of the way, it defeats the entire purpose.
- Don’t hinder your employees. Give them the authority to act independently and make decisions on the fly. Don’t hinder the process by requiring employees to obtain your approval on every decision. This will only turn into a variation of doing things the same old way.
- Keep track of work progress. This aspect must be handled with sensitivity. You’ll want to keep an eye on employees, but you can’t keep looking over their shoulders either. Find the proper balance.
- Analyze the results. Do this to determine if the work met your expectations. If it didn’t, offer constructive criticism for improvements. Make this a learning experience for both of you.
As you become more comfortable delegating work, you can continue to loosen the reins. When you spend less time on routine matters, you’ll have more time to devote to growing your business profits.
Starting your own business can be equal parts thrilling and intimidating. Complying with regulations and tax requirements definitely falls into the latter category. But, with some professional help, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can get started with this checklist of things you’ll need to consider.
- Are you a hobby or a business? This may seem basic to some people, but the first thing you’ll have to consider when starting out is whether you really are operating a business, or pursuing a hobby. A hobby can look like a business, but essentially it’s something you do for its own sake that may or may not turn a profit. A true business is generally run for the purpose of making money and has a reasonable expectation of turning a profit. The benefit of operating as a business is that you have more tax tools available to you, such as being able to deduct your losses.
- Pick your business structure. If you operate as a business, you’ll have to choose whether it will be taxed as a sole proprietorship, partnership, S corporation or C corporation. All entities except C corporations “pass through” their business income onto your personal tax return. The decision gets more complicated if you legally organize your business as a limited liability corporation (LLC). In this case you will need to choose your tax status as either a partnership or an S corporation. Each tax structure has its benefits and downsides – it’s best to discuss what is best for you.
- Apply for tax identification numbers. In most cases, your business will have to apply for an employer identification number (EIN) from both the federal and state governments.
- Select an accounting method. You’ll have to choose whether to use an accrual or cash accounting method. Generally speaking, the accrual method means your business revenue and expenses are recorded when they are billed. In the cash method, revenue and expenses are instead recorded when you are paid. There are federal rules regarding which option you may use. You will also have to choose whether to operate on a calendar year or fiscal year.
- Create a plan to track financials. Operating a business successfully requires continuous monitoring of your financial condition. This includes forecasting your financials and tracking actual performance against your projections. Too many businesses fail in the first couple of years because they fail to understand the importance of cash flow for startup operations. Don’t let this be you.
- Prepare for your tax requirements. Business owners generally will have to make quarterly estimated tax payments to the IRS. If you have employees, you’ll have to pay your share of their Social Security and Medicare taxes. You also have the obligation to withhold your employees’ share of taxes, Social Security and Medicare from their wages. Your personal income tax return can also get more complicated if you operate as one of the “pass-through” business structures.
This is just a short list of some of the things you should be ready to discuss as you start your business. Knowing your way around these rules can make the difference between success and failure, but don’t be intimidated. Help is available so don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions.
Few entrepreneurs launch their small business as an incorporated entity. That’s fine while you’re just getting started, but a year or two down the road it’s often wise to incorporate. Here are some reasons you may want to consider incorporating your growing business.
Protect your personal assets from creditors. When you operate your business within a corporation, creditors are often limited to corporate assets to satisfy a debt. Your home, savings, and retirement accounts are no longer fair game.
Provide a personal liability firewall. The corporate form can help protect you against claims made by others for injuries or losses arising from actions of your business.
Issue shares of stock. You can help build your business by issuing shares to new investors, or by offering stock options to key employees as a form of compensation.
Gain tax flexibility. A corporation can provide you with more tax flexibility. Deliberate planning can help optimize the taxable division between corporate income, dividends, and your personal wages.
Enhance your business presence. Being incorporated sends a signal that your business is a serious enterprise and it could open doors to opportunities not offered to sole proprietors. Consumers, vendors, and other businesses often prefer to do business with incorporated companies.
If you are still going over the pros and cons of incorporating your business, pick up the phone. Together, we can complete a thorough tax review that will help shed light on the impact such a move will have on your business situation.
Put these items on your to-do list:
Business plan. Outline who will own the business and what the legal form will be, your qualifications to run the business, the competitive market you face, the products or services you will sell and how you intend to advertise to prospective customers. How much cash will you need to start up and where will those funds come from?
Legal form. You can incorporate, or operate as an LLC, a partnership or a sole proprietorship. Consider both tax and non-tax reasons for selecting a given entity.
Location. If your business will consist only of online sales, your world headquarters can be wherever you are. However, if your business needs foot traffic to thrive, you’ll need to research rents and other costs such as utilities, as well as zoning and traffic restrictions.
Taxes. You’ll have to work with the IRS, state tax agencies and local governments to obtain permits and occupational licenses.
Advisors. Create a business financial team that includes a banker, an insurance agent, an attorney and an accountant. Involve your advisors early and frequently in order to gain the most value from their insights.
Need more suggestions for getting your business off to a good start? Contact us. We’re here to help.