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5 Tips to Prepare Your Small Business for Tax Season

Tax written on a wooden cube

Even if you’re staying on track with your New Year’s resolutions, every small-business owner has to prepare for tax season. The major deadline may be a month or two away, but it will approach faster than you think. Here are a few tips to think about as you begin.

1. Try bookkeeping online

For all the times a cashier asked you, “Do you need a receipt?” hopefully you said yes when it was for business. Now is the time to organize all of your receipts and records from last year, whether in paper or online, and keep them all together in case of an audit. If you find paper receipts cluttering your workspace, consider storing them online using nifty apps like Shoeboxed and Neat.

When it comes to taxes and the Internal Revenue Service, it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially if your business is in its early stages.

2. Separate personal and business deductions

For small-business owners especially, make sure that your personal and business expenses stay separate. As you follow the Section 179 guidelines and divide up costs, check your personal bank accounts for any business expenses or employee reimbursements.

Remember to check for any changes in the rules for deductions. For example, business rates for standard mileage deductions went up last tax year to 57.5 cents per mile, an increase of 1.5 cents from 2014. Another thing to note is the relatively new simplified option for home office deductions, in which home use for business can be calculated by square foot, not just percentage. Just be sure to know the limits of these deductions as they apply for your business.

3. Apply for an EIN

If this is the first tax season that you have employees or you recently restructured your business, you will need to get a new EIN. This is an employer identification number, a nine-digit number given by the IRS so your business can be identified consistently on taxes from you and your employees. Applying online will be the fastest way to receive your EIN.

4. Keep taxes for your employees and contractors straight

Distinguishing your employees from your independent contractors is crucial. Simply put, an employee’s work can be monitored for what and how things are done, whereas a contractor’s work can be controlled only when it’s complete. For taxes, this freedom of action makes the contractor a self-employed worker who files a Schedule SE (Form 1090), or the self-employment tax.

For employees, payroll taxes include income, Social Security, Medicare and unemployment taxes. Employers withhold the first, withhold and pay the next two, and pay the last. Then employees can file their W-2s.

Since contractors don’t have payroll taxes, mislabeling an employee as a contractor can look like tax evasion in the eyes of the IRS and result in serious repercussions. Employers can be charged with penalty fees and interest on the employee’s payroll taxes.

5. Know the important dates

Your deadlines will depend on your business structure. For a sole proprietorship, the deadline to fill out a Form 1040 with a Schedule C is usually April 15 (but April 18 in 2016). For an S corporation, the deadline is a bit earlier. You have to complete the Form 1120S for income taxes and pay by March 15. For any shareholders, provide them with a Schedule K-1 (Form 1120S) so they can calculate share of income, deductions and credits.

If you miss the deadline, the IRS imposes a penalty fee of 5% monthly for late filing, up to a maximum of 25%. The total penalty is calculated from your deadline to the date you filed the tax return, so it’s in your best interest to file your taxes.

Make sure to prepare your business for the inevitable, and you will glide through tax season with minimal stress.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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Business StrategiesLeadership

Quick Tips for Getting Back on Track in the New Year

2017

It’s the New Year–a time for new beginnings. Are you feeling excited, optimistic and energized?

If you’re like many people I know, you might be feeling tired, sluggish and overwhelmed already. And it’s okay to admit it. It’s easy for pressure to build quickly after you’ve had a change to let go of work during the holidays. If you’re having trouble getting back on track, you’re not alone.

Here are some quick times for easing back into the New Year:

1. Take your time. You may not feel like you have a choice about the pace in which you operate, but you have more control than you realize. Set realistic expectations. Set boundaries where needed. Get clear about your priorities. It’s okay to walk before you run. What pace feels right for you?

2. Notice your resistance. When you’re too tired or you’re avoiding some activities, this might actually be a good sign. Pay attention. Maybe you don’t want to step back into the same environment or activities that don’t serve you well. Think about something new you can try–a change you can make that would give you more of what you really want. What are you resisting?

3. Don’t judge yourself. Too many people say, “I should be accomplishing more,” or “I should be more active,” or “I should lose more weight.” They think they are not good enough, capable enough, etc. Replace those thoughts with “I am…” positive statements like: “I am figuring things out,” or “I am taking one step at a time,” or “I am moving in the right direction.” What do you really need to hear right now?

4. Start small. Choose one area of your life or work that you would like to improve. Set a short-term goal. If you want to run a marathon, you don’t go out and run the entire distance. Maybe you’ll run a mile this week as a start. What’s something small you can do that will still give you a sense of accomplishment?

Pay attention to how you feel, not just what you do as a leader. When you feel strong, healthy and vibrant, you are more likely to enjoy life and work. Make your own well-being a top priority this year.

Author: Gayle Lantz is a leadership consultant, author, speaker and founder of WorkMatters, Inc., (www.WorkMatters.com) a consulting firm dedicated to helping leaders think and work smarter. Learn more at our Contributors tab.

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Business StrategiesOrganization

Collaborative Overload? How to Stop the Madness.

Business People Meeting Growth Success Target Economic Concept

Is your week filled with meetings, huddles, stand-ups and project group get-togethers? Staff meetings, feedback meetings, customer meetings? For many of us, we spend so much of our work week speaking and listening and working toward consensus, that we have little or no time to do the work that needs to be done by ourselves, in deep thought. Planning, thinking, analyzing, writing . . . all short-changed or absent due to the proliferation of collaboration. That feels like collaborative overload.

Most of us are looking to integrate collaboration into their cultures in one way or another – higher performing teams, better external collaboration with customers and vendors, and better collaboration among diverse teams for innovation and alignment. If you want to improve your creativity, leverage your resources for better results and get more engagement from every member of your company, collaboration is a powerful tool, when used correctly. However, “collaboration” has become a buzzword that simply means “more meetings” in many organizations.

Apart from regular, shorter meetings, only having the right people present, and keeping your agenda agile and focused, there are three key tools for keeping collaboration healthy and efficient:

Don’t aim for consensus. Too many times we assume that the best way of making decisions in a collaborative way is to have everyone agree to everything. This uses enormous amounts of time, and is often impossible to achieve. Instead, get a majority to agree, and the rest of the group to be able to live with and support that decision. The assumption becomes agreement unless you raise a red flag that you think a decision is a deal-breaker for some reason. (Raise the red flag? You need to propose an alternative.)

Stop having status update meetings. Many of the meetings we do have end up being a process of going around the table and hearing what everyone has done. Most of this information could be better captured in a dashboard, project document or even the dreaded email update. Sending a short summary of progress made and any issues or challenges ahead of a meeting. This allows you to focus on what really requires discussion instead of spending collaborative time passively listening to status updates. Now your meeting will be short and focused.

Schedule appointments for thinking work. If you really want to make sure you have thinking time, find a time in your week when you are least likely to get meetings scheduled. Set up a meeting with yourself on your calendar to block that time for thinking, planning, reading, writing or other work you do best by yourself. Give yourself over a solid hour or more. Most of us just use “white space” in the calendar for that work, but white space can by taken up by other meetings as quickly as sending a calendar invite. Purposely blocking some white space into thinking meetings helps you and others keep that time sacred. You get time to step back and think deeply about the big picture, planning next steps and simply being creative about the work at hand.

Healthy collaborative environments require a balance between conversation and time to think, and no one will schedule your thinking time for you. If you are feeling collaborative overwhelm, notice how your time is being used today, and apply these three ideas to carve out time to think. Spend less time in meetings listening or pursuing perfect consensus. You might even find you are better at collaboration when you have had time to digest new ideas and come up with new solutions to contribute.

Laura JenningsAuthor: Laura Huckabee-Jennings is the Founder of Transcend, which has been serving senior leaders and their teams since 2002. Transcend’s objective is to bring world-class tools and the latest scientific thinking about business and human development into a business to achieve ambitious goals. (www.LeadFearlessly.com)

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Business Strategies

Five Ways to Build Unshakable Customer Loyalty

Customer Loyalty Service Support Care Trust Business Concept

You work hard to attract your customers, so it only makes sense to have strategies in place for keeping them. Here are five ways that many businesses have found effective for building customer loyalty.

  1. Provide an exceptional customer experience.While this might seem kind of obvious, it is rarely easy or simple. Your customer’s experience is ultimately your brand identity. If their actual experience is not living up to how you wish to be perceived, then change the areas that do not measure up. When asked about their competitive differential, most businesses are quick to claim that they provide better service. But do you really? How do you know how your service compares to your competitors? Bottom line: Good or even excellent customer service is not enough. Surprise your customers by far exceeding their expectations and they will return again and again.
  2. Be real, genuine and transparent.One thing that builds distrust with your customers is when they sense you do not really mean what you say. If you market yourself as one thing but the customer experience is something different, they will wonder what else does not line up.Be honest with your customers even when things do not go as planned. Tell the truth, keep them updated and address the problem as soon as possible. Most of your customers will appreciate your candor. Bottom line: Don’t be defensive when there is a problem. Take responsibility and focus on solving it. Building trust in your relationship will go a long way in winning customer loyalty.
  3. Build a sense of affinity.Most people like being a part of a community, so give them ways to feel like they are part of something special. Social media channels provide a great way to talk with your customers and invite them to participate by posting photos with your product and sharing your information with their friends.Another great way to build affinity is through customer appreciation events, reward programs and incentives. Bottom line: Expand your customer interaction to a relationship instead of just a transaction.
  4. Ask for a review.In today’s online culture, studies show that as many as 88% of customers will read a review to determine the quality of a company. Furthermore, they report trusting that review as much as a personal referral.Bottom line: Make it easy for your satisfied customers to leave you a review. Be sure to thank them when they do.
  5. Have processes that are smart but flexible.Automation can be a good thing if they contribute to an exceptional customer experience. For example, including reminders and notifications is a process to potentially head off problems before they happen. However, be sure that you are not selling out the opportunity to build a personal relationship with your customer in favor of technology.In this age of computers and easy access to information, it can be easy to rely on FAQ’s or other online information to answer customer questions. However, a real point of differential can be making it easy to communicate with a real person. Make sure your contact information is readily available on your social media, advertising pieces and website.It’s also important to be flexible in your processes. There are always exceptions to the rule and remember, “The customer is always right.” Empower your employees to make decisions on the spot that bend or break the usual process in order to retain a customer. Nothing frustrates a customer more than to hear “No,” especially in a situation where it lacks common sense.Bottom line: Be efficient but balance it with the goal of providing the best experience for every individual customer.

*Published in the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of Tools for Success magazine.

Author: Bethany Meadows is the owner of Vertical Solutions Media Inc, a full service marketing agencies that specializes in helping small businesses build strong brands and increase revenues.

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Business Strategies

How do you develop your business strategy?

iStock_000000912841_Large

If you’re like many business owners, you want to think and plan strategically, but you’re immersed in day-to-day activities. Strategic thinking takes a back seat.

As one business owner said, “I need to get away from the office just to think!” His market has changed over time. He knows he needs to rethink his vision and business model.

It’s time for him to stop generating tactical ideas that don’t work.

If you want to put strategy back on your radar, here are a few things you can do:

1.   Put “STRATEGIC THINKING TIME” on your calendar.Set aside an hour or two — at least once a month — to think about the direction and vision for your business. Don’t allow yourself to focus on how you will achieve it — just consider new possibilities without ruling them out. No judgment allowed.

2.   Increase your brainpower. Schedule an informal “strategy meeting” with a few stakeholders or peers to generate ideas and feedback. This is not a formal planning session. Instead it’s an opportunity to generate fresh ideas, some of which you may not have considered. Or you can float some ideas of your own. Do this over coffee or lunch. The experience will likely benefit those who attend as well by triggering ideas for their own business. Business owners and executives who feel isolated in their role benefit tremendously from this exercise.

3.   Cut back on some commitments.Reassess what you really need to be involved in. If you’re not able to focus on strategy as a top priority in your role, where are you spending your time and energy? Purge projects or activities that don’t align with your highest priorities. Let them go or delegate responsibilities to other people. Get serious about sharpening your focus!

Author: Gayle Lantz is a leadership consultant, author, speaker and founder of WorkMatters, Inc., (www.WorkMatters.com) a consulting firm dedicated to helping leaders think and work smarter. Learn more at our Contributors tab.

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Time to catch your second wind?

2013 Concept New Year Clock

As you head toward the end of the year, you’re likely thinking about what you most want to accomplish over the next couple of months — trying to squeeze in that last bit of business activity before the holidays arrive.

You might feel like you’re pushing toward the end of a marathon — running out of steam, losing energy, allowing your body to move on autopilot just to cross the finish line.

That’s one strategy.

But there are a couple of better ways to gain momentum — to get a second wind to carry you across the finish line. (It’s really not a finish line. It’s the starting line for next year.)

Catch your breath to review your progress.

That’s right. Stop what you’re doing for a minute. Think about the progress you’ve made in whatever areas of your business or life are most important to you. Simply list anything that represents progress of any kind: small steps to major breakthroughs. Seeing your progress is motivating.

Imagine your best future — or at least the best picture of the year ahead.

It’s too easy to dwell on problems. If I asked you to describe what you are most looking forward to in the year ahead, what would you say? What would be most exciting to accomplish? Where are your best opportunities?

Think about:

•             The impact you can and want to make next year.

•             The role you want to play.

•             The partnerships you want to create.

Your optimism about your future will help you gain more momentum heading into the New Year.

You’ll give yourself a running start.

So…

The secret to a strong finish is preparing for a strong start — taking a little time to reflect on your progress and to imagine compelling new possibilities.

Choose carefully the lens through which you want to view your past progress and your future success. It can propel you and your business.

Catch your second wind!

Author: Gayle Lantz is a leadership consultant, author, speaker and founder of WorkMatters, Inc., (www.WorkMatters.com) a consulting firm dedicated to helping leaders think and work smarter. 

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Business StrategiesLeadership

Three ways to overcome a stalled strategy

Guy Pushing Car

What’s next? It’s tough to think about it when you’re focused on what’s needed now.

Customers call. You’re there.
Discover a problem. You fix it.
Deadline. You meet it.
New business opportunity. You chase it.

Often business owners talk about how busy they are, yet they’re frustrated because they’re not accomplishing what they really want. They feel stalled. Their engine is running in high gear, but they’re not moving forward. This happens when they’ve lost sight of their business strategy — the bigger picture that should be guiding their actions.

Effective business owners know that to be most successful they must constantly strike a balance between strategic and tactical thinking. Tactical action might get you through the day, but strategic action will position your company to thrive well into the future.

Here are three important keys, along with specific actions you can take, to help your thinking pendulum swing over to the strategic side more frequently.

1)      Discipline – Set a date on your calendar to “force” yourself to focus on strategy by setting aside time during the year to set new goals and refresh their vision. Do this periodically throughout the year. As a start, determine what you really want out of the business. Write it down.

2)     Clarity – The more clear you are on what you want to accomplish and why, the easier it becomes to prioritize. You will act with greater intention, instead of reacting to whatever lands in your lap. Can you express your top three strategic objectives? When you can, help your team gain the same level of clarity.

3)      Execution – Do what needs to be done. It’s not enough to set aside time to focus on strategy if you can’t act on it. Identify just one way you can execute more effectively (e.g., chart progress; increase leadership capability; remove impediments; gain commitment). If you can’t execute, something needs to change.

While the thought of spending time on strategy may sound laborious, rethinking your strategy can actually be an ideal way to gain new energy for yourself, your team and your company.

 

Author: Gayle Lantz is a leadership consultant, author, speaker and founder of WorkMatters, Inc., (www.WorkMatters.com) a consulting firm dedicated to helping leaders think and work smarter. Learn more at our Contributors tab.

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