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.
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.
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.
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.
If you or your business received funds from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the recently passed Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020 will help to dramatically cut your tax bill. Here’s what you need to know.
The PPP program was created by the CARES Act in March 2020 to help businesses which were adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Qualified businesses could apply for and receive loans of up to $10 million. Loan proceeds could be used to pay for certain expenses incurred by a business, including salaries and wages, other employee benefits, rent and utilities.
If the business used at least 60% of loan proceeds towards payroll expenses, the entire amount of the loan would be forgiven.
While the CARES Act spelled out that a business’s forgiven PPP loan would not be considered taxable income, the legislation was silent about how to treat expenses paid for using PPP loan proceeds if the loan was ultimately forgiven.
Congress intended for these expenses to be deductible for federal tax purposes. But since the legislation was silent on this issue, the IRS swooped in and deemed these expenses to be nondeductible.
There was considerable debate over the latter half of 2020, with Congressional politicians explaining that their intent was that the expenses be deductible and the IRS responding “Too bad, they’re nondeductible.”
Congress overruled the IRS’s position in the Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020. The legislation officially makes deductible for federal tax purposes all expenses paid for using proceeds from a forgiven PPP loan.
Stay tuned for updates as to how this new legislation affects your business.