Cool Tech Tools: Google Drive

April 16, 2015 · Posted in Business Tips, Management Tips · Comment 

Google Drive, which used to be called Google Docs, is a great way to collaborate with team members and stakeholders that are in a different location than you are. Here’s a quick introduction (or refresher) on how to use this powerful collaboration tool.

Google Drive is a browser-based application that allows you to create documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and other documents that reside in the cloud. They can easily be shared with others, and both of you can see and edit the document at the same time.

Using Google Drive

To get started, you’ll need to have (or set up) a Google account. If you have a gmail account, you can use it. Log in to your gmail or Google account, and at the top right corner of your screen, you will see a square made up of nine small squares. You can click on it and select Google Drive.   Alternately, you can go to drive.google.com.

Time to Create

Once you’re on the Google Drive main page, you’ll see a large red CREATE button on the top left. Click it to create your first Google document. Select among the choices of spreadsheet, document, presentation, and more. Give the document a title, and start editing. The commands are very similar to Microsoft Office®, so there’s no learning curve.

Time to Share

When you are viewing a document, you’ll see a blue SHARE button on the top right side of your screen. Click it to enter the email address of a person you’d like to have see and/or edit the document.

You can tell who else is viewing the document at the same time you are because you’ll see a colored box and perhaps their picture on the top right side. You can also tell where their cursor is in the document; it will show up in another color.

As you create documents, you will see your list growing under My Drive. If someone else created the document and shared it with you, you’ll see it under Shared With Me.

So Many Uses

Here are a couple of ideas on how you can use Google Drive.

  • As a bulletin board for your employees or customers
  • For status reports on projects
  • As a to-do list when multiple team members are involved – they can check off the items as they go
  • As a collaborative note-taker when you’re brainstorming with another person
  • With a client when you need to explain part of a document – you can copy and paste from Word or Excel to Google Drive (but check to make sure everything came over)

Google Drive is great for productivity and makes communications easier. Try it and let us know how you use it.


How Understanding Assets vs. Expenses Can Make You Rich

Assets and expenses both have a “debit” balance on the financial statements, but that’s where their similarities end. Spending on one can make you rich and spending too much on the other can leave you broke.

An expense is money you may need to spend, but after a year, there is nothing lasting to show for it. An asset is a tangible resource that is still worth something after a year or more and that belongs to you or your business. The best assets grow in value over time, but some lose their value too. Real estate typically goes up in value, while a car loses value, or depreciates heavily, in its first few years.

The best example of an asset versus an expense is spending on a mortgage versus rent. When you pay a mortgage, you own more of the property than you did last month. One day, you can sell your ownership in the property and get cash or another asset in trade. When you pay rent, there’s nothing left at the end of the month. There’s no accumulated value.

Generally speaking, spending on an asset builds or at least better preserves your wealth. Spending on an expense drains your worth because you don’t own anything at the end.

The path to building your wealth is to spend on assets when you have a choice and minimize expenses when you can.

In the book “The Millionaire Next Door,” one of the top examples to build wealth is to avoid replacing your car as long as you dare. It used to be a habit for some families to replace their car every two years. With today’s reliable models, you can go between five to ten years without having to replace your car. Although a car lasts more than a year and is considered an asset, it still loses value every year.

Investing in assets and reducing expenses will build your business’s net worth and increase profits. Look for ways you can apply this to your business and watch your money grow. As always, reach out if you’d like to know more.

What’s Your Hourly Worth?

October 16, 2014 · Posted in Business Tips, Management Tips, Time Management Tips · Comment 

Time is the most precious resource on the planet, but sometimes we don’t treat it that way. In our businesses, it’s important to get everything done, but we can also get overwhelmed with all the little things that need to be done to take care of customers. One of the big differences between highly successful entrepreneurs and less successful ones is how they manage their time: the more successful simply value it more and treat it as the scarce commodity it is.

A great exercise to bring this home is to track what you do in one day. You can write a diary as you go through the day or simply recall what you did at the end of the day. List the tasks you did; then write the hourly market rate of each task you did next to the task.

Did you spend time on low-level tasks such as email cleanup, filing, order-taking, order filling, or handling routine customer questions? Or did you spend time calling up power partners, dreaming up new products or services, or restyling your marketing message so that it’s more impactful and reaches more customers?

What was the average hourly rate of the tasks you did today? Multiply that by 2,000 hours and compare it your gross revenues. If your gross revenues were higher than the value of the tasks you did today, then your revenue might be stagnant. If your annualized day was worth more than your gross revenues, then congratulations; you’re moving up and giving yourself a raise. Your business is likely growing.

If you’d like a raise, then the first thing to do is to start delegating the lower level tasks that are eating up all your time. They might be a comfortable way for you to pass the time, but they could also be keeping you stuck, overwhelmed, and moving toward burnout.

We all have the same amount of time each day. If we can free up our time to focus on more powerful action items that move our business forward instead of the chores that clog our progress, then our success will accelerate.

Six Common Payroll Mistakes to Avoid

August 7, 2014 · Posted in Business Development, Management Tips · Comment 

Getting payroll done has gotten so much easier than it used to be for small business owners.  But there are still some minefields when it comes to state and federal compliance.  We’ll take a look at six of them in today’s article.

1.     Business or Personal?

A great admin might want to help you in any way they can, including personal errands.  But time spent having your admin fetch your dry cleaning and drug store prescriptions is not deductible as a business expense, even if it makes you more productive at work.

Be sure you separate your business payroll from personal payroll to avoid tangling with the IRS on this issue.

2.     New Hire Report

It’s not every day that a small business needs to hire additional help, and the New Hire Report is easy to overlook.  It’s due to your state within a certain number of days of your new employee’s hire date.  Some payroll companies will file it for you, and some won’t, so it’s best to check so that you don’t make the common mistake of forgetting to file this report.

3.     Worker’s Compensation

When you have employees, you need worker’s compensation.  When you bring on your first employee, you’ll need to overcome this learning curve of figuring out what you need.

Even if you’re a veteran employer, you may have coverage holes in your worker’s compensation coverage.   Do you have employees who work at home?  Are you sure they are covered?    In some states, employees have to be specifically named in the policy before they are covered to work at home.

Be sure you ask the right questions so there’s not a risky gap in this essential protection for employers.

4.     Posters

There are both state and federal notices that must be posted for employees to be able to read.  California is especially zealous and liberal about issuing fines (up to $17,000 per location) for employers that do not have their posters, well, posted on workplace walls.

5.     Employee versus Contractor

The proper classification of a worker as a W-2 employee or a 1099 contractor has long been an area of scrutiny for the IRS.  The IRS has rules as well as court cases that have established the guidelines that exist in this area.

If you classify a worker incorrectly as a contractor when they should be an employee, then you can be held liable for paying employment taxes on that contractor.

6.     Bonuses

Bonuses can often be a spur of the moment thing or something that’s done at the very end of the year when we’re occupied with the busy holiday bustle.  It can be easy to forget that the bonuses need to be run through payroll like all other wages so that the proper deductions and taxes can be calculated.

Use these six items as a checklist to avoid these common mistakes as well as reduce your business risk in the payroll compliance area.

Seven Profit-Boosting Entrepreneurial Habits

June 12, 2014 · Posted in Business Tips, Management Tips · Comment 

As an entrepreneur, you are responsible for shaping your business success.  Any habits that sabotage your success in your personal life can often carry over to your business.  Becoming aware of these is the first step to success.

Here are seven success-boosting habits to double-check against your own.
<ol>
<li><strong>Being able to say “No.”  </strong>

Do you say “yes” to too many things that don’t serve your life purpose, help your family, or move your business forward?  If so, you’re not alone.  Saying “yes” in a weak moment when you feel like you can do it all can be a downfall for many entrepreneurs.  It can also distract you from success if you are not working on the right things for you.

You may need to re-evaluate the value of your time and your priorities.  Practice making smart decisions by having a structure and a higher purpose that helps you decide what you should and shouldn’t do with your time, money, and life.   And if you tend to be one of those who says “yes” to everything, you may need to practice saying “no” in front of the mirror to break your habit.</li>

<li><strong>Hiring fast and early. </strong>

The best time to hire is just before you need your new team member.  It can be easy to put off hiring if you fill with dread when you think about large stacks of resumes and endless phone calls.  Not hiring soon enough can cost your business in reduced service and sales.  The smartest entrepreneurs stay ahead of the game in this area.</li>

<li><strong>Strategizing proactively.</strong>

How much time do you spend in reactive mode versus proactive mode in your business?  Reactive mode includes answering emails, fighting fires, serving clients, and managing employees.  Proactive mode includes developing new products and services, creating and implementing your revenue plan, and training employees.

Sometimes we have to really push ourselves to look beyond the daily fires.  One way to do that is to plan time every day for proactive activities and be ruthless about keeping that time slot on the calendar.</li>

<li><strong>Setting tight scope and polite boundaries with customers.</strong>

Successful entrepreneurs set clear boundaries when it comes to delivering their products and services to customers.  Especially in service companies, it’s not always clear to the client what’s included in a fixed fee contract unless it’s clearly spelled out.

If you are asked to do something that’s not included in the contract, you now have a choice.  Do you give it away for free, or do you have a change order process where you can easily provide an estimate for that extra work? </li>

<li><strong>Measuring results.   </strong>

Only what can be measured can be improved, and smart entrepreneurs know this.  Track — in real time, not a year later — what’s important to you.  New customers, new leads, closed sales, revenue per day, sales per day, monthly net income, certain costs, profit margins, profit per customer, profit per job, and profit per location are just a few of the many metrics you can choose to track for your business.

Once you measure it, you can now set goals to improve it.</li>

<li><strong>Curbing irrational spending.   </strong>

Invest in things that will last, such as your own education, great systems, team training, and assets that you really need.  Avoid spending on items that are used up quickly, such as elaborate entertainment expenses that don’t generate significant revenue, excessive utilities, and stopgap equipment.

This area can be a tough one to evaluate objectively because there can be emotion and attachment involved in the spending.  Let us know if you need help in this area; we can help you look at your spending with fresh eyes and provide a new perspective.</li>

<li><strong>Maintaining focus.</strong>

Great entrepreneurs have clear focus.  If you have too many projects going on at once, you end up delaying all of your project completion dates, and nothing gets finished.   Ask yourself, what’s the most important thing I can do today?  And work on that until it’s done.  Then ask yourself the same question again, and wash, rinse, repeat your way to success.</li>
</ol>

<strong>Seven Habits</strong>

Which of the seven habits are you best at?   Celebrate your natural gifts while keeping an eye on the habits you need to work on.  That will move you to the success you deserve.

Is It Time for Spring Cleaning Your Business Files?

May 15, 2014 · Posted in Bookkeeping Tips, Management Tips · Comment 

How much time do you spend each day looking for information about orders, customers, vendors, or employees?  If it’s a lot, a little spring cleaning might pay off.  Here are five quick tips to assess and improve your information access.

<strong>Your Librarian</strong>

Large companies often have a librarian on staff that is in charge of stored documents, both physical and virtual.  It’s not a bad idea to have this function in your small business, although you certainly don’t want to devote an entire headcount to it.

Today, a company librarian might be in charge of the company’s document portal, which is a very secure area where company documents can be stored.  It might be on the company server or in a secure area of the cloud.  There are companies that offer secure file storage, accessible through document portals.

The librarian will also be in charge of creating recordkeeping policies and procedures.

<strong>What’s in a Name</strong>

One such procedure that brings order to chaos is setting naming conventions for client files and folders.  Set consistency by using a naming standard such as having a client file name always start with the last name of the client followed by a birth date, or something else unique.

It will save time each time you look up a file because you’ll always know where to look.  Even if it’s only seconds saved per lookup, that time will add up to minutes and hours saved over a year.  That will save you labor costs.  A naming standard will also look professional in front of the client.

<strong>Permanent vs. Transactional</strong>

Get uber-organized by separating your important long-term legal papers from your transactional documents.  Long-term papers such as your corporate by-laws and tax returns should have a special place away from your day-to-day invoices and receipts.  Also keep major purchases such as settlement documents from real estate transactions in a special file that you’ll keep for many years.

Your daily transactional files should be batched up by month or year and stored accordingly.  You’ll be able to delete these files after their retention period is up, while you’ll want to keep your long-term legal papers almost forever.  You still won’t be able to throw away your annual documents too soon – some agencies require you to keep transactional documents for as long as 11 years.

<strong>Paper or Paperless</strong>

What percentage of your business documents is scanned and stored online?  If you’d like to increase this percentage, then make a plan to convert your paper into scanned documents you can access online.  So that it’s not such an overwhelming task, break it down into smaller chunks:   start with one area of your business at a time or one vendor at a time.

Purchase a scanner for everyone in your office, and you’ll soon find your office getting more and more paperless by the week.  You can also have fun taking pictures of receipts on your cell phone and uploading the documents to your document portal.

<strong>A Backup Plan</strong>

So that you don’t lose your documents to a catastrophe, theft or any other disaster, make sure you have a backup of all of your documents so you are able to recover them.

This is where paperless shines over paper, because there is always risk of fire with the latter.  It’s also where a secure document portal beats your company server anytime because of the elaborate layers of security that are required for secure commercial data centers.

After you implement these five tips, you may not even need to do a spring cleaning.  You’ll be organized and efficient, and that’s good for business.

Do You Know Your Weakest Business Link?

April 17, 2014 · Posted in Business Development, Business Tips, Management Tips · Comment 

You’ve already built a solid business that you have great pride in.  Yet, if you’re like most entrepreneurs, you’re on a constant search for how to make your business better.   One way to focus your search is to look for the weakest link in your business.

From a return-on-investment standpoint, working on and fixing your weakest link is the highest payback thing you can do.  It lifts your entire company up and makes it stronger.   The key is to look as objectively as possible at what might be holding your business back from being even greater than it already is.

Here are four major areas where you can look for your weakest link:
<ol>
<li><strong>Client-facing interactions</strong>

A great area to start looking is where you have interactions with clients.  These include things like phone greetings, email, websites, your storefront, your presence at networking meetings, client service interactions, your proposals, invoices, and thank you notes.

What jumps out at you as the weakest link when you look through the above list?  Perhaps it’s as simple as recording a more friendly voice mail greeting or as complex as getting your website redone.  Don’t get overwhelmed if a lot of these items need attention; instead focus on the one weakest link.  That’s the place that needs your attention.</li>

<li><strong>Your team </strong>

The toughest area to have a weakest link is when it involves people.  If you have an underperforming employee or contractor that is undermining sales or service, you’ve got a tough decision ahead of you.  If it’s your weakest link, don’t bury your head in the sand like we all want to do.  You need to act so that the person does not drag down your entire business.</li>

<li><strong>Internal systems</strong>

If you feel stymied at the lack of information in your business, you might be in need of better internal systems.  As your business grows, this is the area that changes the most over time.

Businesses that are newer or smaller need a great accounting system as well as a good point of sale or billing system.  As the business grows, it might need better inventory systems, a good CRM or customer relationship management system, a project management system, or more specialized systems depending on the industry it’s in.

As the business matures, the functionality of the accounting system should expand to meet the growing data demands.   Integrating the accounting system together with the company’s other systems can become important to control costs and improve margins.

If you feel like your weakest link may be in your systems, we’re happy to help.  Please reach out and let’s have a conversation about your needs.
</li>
<li><strong>Skill set</strong>

No one was born an entrepreneur; it has to be learned.  What keeps it more exciting is that new skills are required at each level you master on the entrepreneurial ladder.  Some of the skills that you need at the entry level include client service, delivery of your service or product, and sales and marketing.  As your business grows, you’ll need to master financial skills, negotiation skills, hiring, and supervisory skills.  Leadership and strategy skills will serve you well when your business is mature.

Which skill set do you consider your weakest link?  If it’s finance, you’re not alone.   Let us know how we can help.</li>

<strong>Focusing on the Payback</strong>

The good news is when you’ve improved your weakest link, you end up improving your entire company and lifting it up to a new level.  Once you’ve fixed your weakest link, congratulate yourself.  Give yourself a reward, and wait a little while.

Your old weakest link is no longer the weakest area in your business, but something else is.  Since you’re on a constant search for improvement in your business, you can repeat this formula over and over again to keep lifting your company up using this low risk, high payback approach.

How Painless Is Your New Customer Experience?

March 20, 2014 · Posted in Business Tips, Customer Service Tips, Management Tips · Comment 

Is your business easy to do business with?  Or is it difficult?   The answer could impact your revenue as well as your reputation for service.  Here are a few tips to help you stand in your customer’s shoes for just a few minutes to answer those questions.

First Impressions

What is the first image of your business that your future customer sees?  Is it your website?  A sign in your office window?  An ad?   Whatever it is, take a look at it with fresh eyes, like you’ve never seen it before.  You may have several images to consider if clients approach your business in many different ways.

What do you notice first?  Is the website simple or cluttered?  Is your sign rusty and crooked or new and cute?  Do you need to make any changes based on what you see?

Voice Time

If a customer calls, how many times does the phone ring before it’s picked up?  Does the voice sound inviting and excited that someone called, or is it as if you were just interrupted?  Or worse, did they get a recording?

If they walk in face to face, how are they greeted?  What does your waiting room look like?

Service

What is the interaction like with you?  Are you able to answer the prospect’s questions?  Do they feel comfortable with you or are they intimidated?    What do you suspect it’s like for your clients?

If the prospect becomes a client, what do they have to do?  Are there lots of forms to complete?  How organized are you in getting the client started and serviced for the first time?  Are you respectful of their time if they are in a hurry?

Mystery Shoppers

You’ve probably heard of mystery shoppers who are hired to give their opinions of what their client experience was like for them.  They go through a similar process, evaluating every client touch point and suggest ways to make it a smoother experience.

Almost every business could benefit from periodically reviewing the client experience to discover where the weakest links are and how they can be fixed.  Ask yourself these questions to see where you can improve your client’s experience and make it easy to do business with you.

How to Avoid Seasonal Bumps in Your Cash Flow

February 20, 2014 · Posted in Accounting, Business Tips, Management Tips · Comment 

Many businesses operate with seasonal peaks and valleys.  Retail stores just completed their busy holiday season.  Construction contractors are busy when the weather is good.   Accountants are very busy from January through April, but also experience a quarterly peak in July and October.

Your business many have its own calendar of busy and slow times.  If your business goes through slow times, then your cash flow may suffer at certain times of the year.  But having seasonal sales is only one of the reasons for a bumpy cash flow.

You might also have a business where annual payments are made for many items such as equipment purchases, software licenses, insurance renewals, and other large costs.  On the revenue side, it could be that your clients pay you annually, which can be hard to predict.

There are many solutions that can help to smooth out the seasonal bumps, and here are a few ideas for your consideration.

Plan for Prosperity

When income and expenses go up and down and up and down, it’s really hard to know if you have enough money for obligations coming up.  Creating a budget can help a great deal.  Consider creating two budgets:  one that shows the ups and downs and one that averages a year’s income and expenses into twelve equal parts.

With both budgets, you’ll be able to see which months will be deviating from average and by how much.  From there, it’s easy to create some forecasts so you can stay on top of your cash requirements.

Cash vs. Accrual Basis 

It might help your business decision-making to convert your books from cash basis to accrual basis.  This is a huge decision that should be made with an accounting and tax expert, as there are plenty of ramifications to discuss.

In some cases, the accrual basis of accounting will help keep those annual payments from sneaking up on you as 1/12 of the payment can be accrued on a monthly basis to a payables account.  This also keeps your net income figure steadier from month to month.

If your clients prepay their accounts on a yearly basis, you can book the income monthly and keep the difference in a Prepaid account.  This spreads your revenues out and recognizes them over time.

“Hiding” Money

If you feel accrual basis accounting is a little too much of a commitment, your accountant can still work with you to help you avoid the impulse of spending too much during the cash-rich busy season.  Perhaps the excess cash can be put into a savings account until it’s needed.  You can draw out 1/12 each month as you need it.  A little planning such as the above suggested forecasts will help you determine how much you can take out each month.   You can even name the Savings account “Do Not Spend!” or “Save for a Rainy Day.”

If it’s just too tempting to have all that excess cash building up in the good times of the year, try one of the ideas above to take back cash flow control and smooth out those bumps.

What to Do When Calling the Help Line Doesn’t Help

November 28, 2013 · Posted in Business Tips, Customer Service Tips, Management Tips · Comment 

Have you ever called a help line and at the end of the call had a bigger problem than before you called?  Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon.

Navigating the help line process can be a challenge for anyone’s patience.   Here are a couple of tips you can try to make the process a little less painful.

Repeat Business

If you get someone that does a good job of solving your problem, ask them if you can contact them directly.  You will begin to establish a rapport, and you’ll have an inside ally you can turn to.  They’ll also begin to know your issues, the product you’re calling about, and how you use it.

Fly First Class

Sometimes, it’s just worth it to pay for a higher level of access.  You can check that out yourself, or you may have expert vendors you can tap to access their higher-level resources.  By paying for a higher level of service, you can get priority service and access to more highly trained personnel.

Learn the Language

How you communicate your request to the help line personnel can make all the difference in the world when it comes to saving time.  To speed up the process, have the following things handy:

  • If an error message is involved, take a screen print or write down the exact wording or error code, if any.
  • If software is involved, be ready to let your technician know the operating system you’re on, what browser you’re using if the Internet is relevant, and other details that will isolate the problem.
  • If software is involved, they may ask you what version you have.  You can find that by choosing File, Help from the menu, or they can walk you through it.

Call Off-Peak

For shorter wait times, try to call when no one else in calling.  For hardware and software support, this may mean avoiding Mondays and rush hours.  For questions to the IRS, it may mean calling earlier in the season.

Hire an Expert

Some of your vendors (including us!) may have access to a higher level of support based on their connection with the company.  For example, certain QuickBooks ProAdvisors have access to an elite group of support technicians and get priority services as well.  Accountants have a special line in to the IRS.

You may be able to save money and especially time by delegating these help line calls to those privileged vendors.  (And if we can help save you time and frustration in this area, please let us know.)

Try these tips to improve both the speed and accuracy of your help line calls.

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