You may have heard that Google has rolled out a new search algorithm that ranks mobile-friendly websites higher than sites that are not mobile-friendly. You don’t need to worry too much about this unless you rely on website leads for new clients to build your business.

If you do rely on website leads for new business and your leads have dropped off over the summer, the reason could be that your site is not mobile-friendly and has been ranked lower because of it.  Here are three steps you can go through to determine the status of your site.

Take a Free Mobile-Friendly Test

Go to this link and enter your domain name.

https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/

It takes about a minute or two to find out whether your site is mobile-ready.

If your site passes, you’re done!  You don’t need to do anything.  If it doesn’t, then go to step 2.

Contact Your Webmaster

Ask your webmaster for an estimate to get your site mobile-ready.

Take Action

Google started making changes to the search algorithm the week of April 20, 2015 has now implemented it worldwide.  To benefit from mobile traffic and a higher search ranking, make plans to get your site mobile-friendly sooner rather than later.

There’s a visual side to every business, and Pinterest and Instagram, which are social media applications, can show your customers and prospects what your business looks like form day to day. Plus, you can have some real fun with it.

Pinterest allows people to post graphics to online bulletin boards and share them with others. In Pinterest, graphics of all kinds are allowed, including photographs, screen prints, logos, and more. In Instagram, photos are posted and shared among users. Here are some tips you can implement in your business to take advantage of Pinterest and Instagram.

1. Take pictures of your work.

Even if you’re a plumber, work can be interesting and artistic at times. Take a picture of the child’s toy that was clogging the toilet, and you could have an entire pinboard of “Things that we’ve pulled out of toilets.” If you’re in personal service, you can photograph your client’s new manicure or hairdo (with their permission of course). If you’re in landscaping you can snap the cleanup job you just did. If you’re a webmaster, take screen prints of your clients’ new webpages and post them to Pinterest.

2. Take pictures of the happy client.

Before leaving your happy client, grab a photo of them showing their new product. With their permission you can post these to both Pinterest and Instagram. As an added plus, use the client’s testimonials or review as your caption, and if they are a small business owner, include their URL to help them out a bit with their marketing and social media.

3. Grab before and after shots.

Before and after photos are great for your portfolio and work well in both Pinterest and Instagram. They can show a future customer what’s possible with your service.

4. Shoot daily scenes at your office or place of work.

Do all your employees hangout in the morning before going their separate ways? Do you ever have all-hands staff meetings? If so, you can add these photos to your growing collection at Instagram.

5. Create topical pinboards.

Even if your job isn’t very funny, you can make funny pinboards about it (exceptions possibly being hospitals and funeral homes). Accounting humor, attorney jokes, and engineering humor can make for a fun Pinterest board. Other ideas include:

  • A pinboard of people you look up to or who have mentored you,
  • Favorite books you’ve read or like,
  • Inspirational quotes,
  • Favorite places,
  • Your team of employees, and
  • Any of the categories mentioned above.

Go wild with photos and screen shots in your business, and your business will get noticed on social media.

Time is money as they say, and if you can save time, you’re also saving money. Since your time is limited to 24/7, both personal and business time saved is profitable. Here are eight ways to save time (and money) for your consideration. Go through all of them with an open mind, and see which one might work best for you.

1. The trip to the grocery store

If you’re making several trips to the grocery store throughout the week, this one is for you. Cut down on those trips by taking inventory of your kitchen and seeing what you’ll need for the week (or longer). Shopping once a week will save precious time throughout the week.

Better yet, have your groceries delivered. Some shops will also pick and bag your times so your selections are ready for pickup. Even better, hire an assistant to shop for you so that your refrigerator and pantry is stocked when you get home.

2. Appointment scheduling

Automate your appointment scheduling and you’ll free up weeks of admin time for either you or your staff. There are dozens of apps, many industry-specific that can help you save time making appointments. Once you’ve set it up, send the link to the people you’ll be meeting and voila, it will appear on your calendar.

Here are a few to check out:

For field service companies in the home repair or maintenance industries that serve commercial and residential customers, Google “field service scheduling” to get the right software for your business.

3. Office supplies

Order your supplies online and have them delivered.

4. Email interruptions

Turn off automatic send and receive in your email software to get rid of that nasty interruption. Mark your calendar to check and answer your email three to four times a day. You’ll go home happier and feeling more in control of your work with this one change.

5. The commute

If you can manage it, working from home one to two days a week can save you commute time. You may also be able to avoid rush hour by altering your work hours if you have some flexibility. After all, it’s your business.

6. Those errands

Batching your errands all into one day will save precious start and stop time on your other work days. Better yet, choose one day a week for outside errands and personal appointments so that you can get into the habit of this for the long term.

7. Takeout

Do you go out for lunch every day? You may need the break or you may need to have that power lunch with a new business partner or client. But on days you don’t, have takeout delivered so you don’t have to waste time ordering and standing in line.

8. The bank

Are you going to the bank constantly? If so, you can avoid it in a number of ways:

• Take credit cards, and have clients pay online.
• Ask your bank about remote or mobile check deposit options.
• Hire a company to transport your cash deposits – Google “Cash logistics” to find companies with armored car services. It won’t hurt to find out how much it costs and you might be surprised.

Did you get an idea on how to save time? If so, it’s your turn to implement and reap the benefits.

Small business owners have a lot on their plates, and time simply does not allow you to become an expert in all the areas required for running a business. Here are a couple of common mistakes that we see all the time. Correcting them will help you be more productive and profitable in your business.

1. Mismanaging receipts

Maintaining receipts are challenging for everyone, but the IRS requires that you have proof of business expenditures. Periodically, we come across people who feel that keeping the credit card statements are enough; unfortunately, they’re not. You’ll want to create a process to keep your receipts all in one place so they don’t get lost.

Receipts printed on thermal paper (think gas station receipts and many more) will fade within a year or two, and the bad news is the IRS could audit several years back if they come calling. Correct this by scanning them in or taking a clear picture of them using your smartphone.

Some accounting systems and/or document management applications allow you to upload the receipt and attach it to the transaction in your accounting system. This is a great solution, and if you’re interested in this, please ask us about it.

2. Ignoring the accounting reports

There are gold nuggets in your accounting reports, but some business owners don’t take the time to review them or are uncertain about how to interpret them. Your accountant can help you understand the reports and find the gold nuggets that can help you take action toward profitability.

Some of the things you can do with your reports include:

  • Identifying your highest selling services or products
  • Projecting cash flow so you’re not caught short at payroll time
  • Getting clear on your top customers or your demographic of top customers
  • Evaluating your marketing or business development spend
  • Pointing out trends compared to prior years, budget, or seasonality effects
  • Checking up on profit margins per product or service to make sure you are priced correctly
  • Managing aging receivables or speeding up collections
  • Measuring employee profitability, if relevant
  • And so much more
  • Being proactive with your accounting will help you spot opportunities in your business that you can act on, as well as spot and correct problems long before they manifest into trouble.

    3. Mixing business and pleasure

    In your bank accounts and on your credit cards, mixing business and pleasure is to be avoided when possible. All businesses should have a separate bank account, and all business transactions should go through there. It takes an accountant much longer to correctly book a business deposit that was deposited into a personal account.

    Taking out a separate credit card and putting all your business transactions on it will save your bookkeeper a ton of time. The credit card doesn’t even have to be a business credit card. It can just be a personal credit card that’s solely used for business. If you have employees making credit card charges, sometimes a separate card for them helps you control fraud.

    The hardest area in which to separate business from pleasure is cash transactions. Be sure your accountant knows about these. The accountant can either set up a petty cash account or a reimbursement process so that you can get credit for cash expenditures that are for the business.

    How did you rate on these three mistakes? Avoid these three and your accounting department as well as your business will run a lot smoother.

Holding your own event is a great way to meet new people and allow them to sample your business in a low-risk setting.  A face-to-face event allows you to build trust quicker than many other marketing methods, and trust is almost always required before a sale can be made.

Types of Events

Some of the more popular types of events you can hold include:

  • A seminar or class
  • An open house
  • A neighborhood sale
  • A networking meeting
  • A reception or party or celebration or festival
  • A conference

If you’re new to holding events, start small and/or join with another business so that you’ll have a larger number of people to invite.

Participants

Once you’ve decided on the type of event you want to hold, you’ll want to determine who you will invite.  Will it be clients only?  Will you join with other businesses and combine your lists?  You’ll want to invite a larger number of people than you might think.  If the event is free, there may be several no-shows, even if they have RSVP’d.   The more formal the event, the fewer the no-shows.

Topic or Purpose

For the best turnout, choose a topic that’s interesting to your clients as well as relevant to the services you offer.  Provide education that the customer needs, a new money-making strategy, a new product or service roll-out, or something that will affect your customers’ well-being, and you’ll experience the best turnout.

Spread the Word

Now that you’re ready to hold your event, it’s time to get the word out.  Plan on sending multiple emails (more than you might be comfortable with) to let people know about your event.  Email is a good way to notify people, but if you have the budget, mail invitations.  Call the most important people and let them know you want them at your event.

Have Fun and Make Money

Be sure to have a high ratio of staff to guests so that more than one of your staff can meet each person.  Enjoy your event, and hopefully, you’ll be able to get to know many future customers there as well.

Have you ever been in a situation where there’s no internet and you needed it?  Or perhaps you’re at a hotel and don’t want to pay the extra $15 per day for wireless internet.  If so, you’re not alone, and luckily, there’s a gadget for just about everything.  This time, it’s a gadget you probably already have:  all you need to do is whip out your cell phone.

iPhone

Your cell phone can act as your wireless modem.  Plug the iPhone into your PC using your USB connection.  Go to Settings on your iPhone and one of your settings will be labeled Personal Hotspot.  Tap it and toggle it to “on.”  Set a password.

On your PC, view your wireless internet connections, and the name you’ve given your phone will show up.  Click to connect and enter the password you set on your phone.

Voila, internet!

Android

If you have an Android, tap More… and select Wireless and Networks, then Tethering and Portable Hotspot. Check Portable Wi-Fi hotspot. Tap Portable Wi-Fi hotspot settings and you can edit the Wi-Fi network name, and choose a password.

On your PC, view your wireless internet connections, and the name you’ve given the Wi-Fi network will show up.  Click to connect and enter the password you set on your phone.

Fees

Ask your cell phone network provider if this hotspot feature is included in your package or is an extra charge.  You may also have to call then to enable this feature.

Once you’ve used this once, you’ll be hooked.  You now have a new internet access alternative anywhere you have cell phone coverage.

Sales tax laws are constantly changing, and sales tax audits have increased since states and local agencies have become creative about finding new ways to generate revenues.  If you haven’t made any changes in your sales tax procedures in a while, you are probably at risk.

Taxability

From state to state, the taxability of items varies.  For example, data processing services including web hosting and graphics are taxable in Texas but not California.  Because of these intricacies, it makes sense to consult an expert in this area.  Some states have been taxing certain services for many years now.

Nexus

The new buzzword in sales tax is “nexus,” which simply means presence.  If your business has a presence in a state, then certain items you sell could be taxable.  “Presence” is a little gray, but here are a few examples of some characteristics that the courts have decided prove nexus.

  • If you have employees or contractors working in a state, you are liable to collect and remit sales tax.  This can play havoc if you hire virtual or remote workers.  Even if they are part-time, you have nexus in that state.
  • If you outsource inventory fulfillment in any way (think Amazon sales), you have nexus in states where there is a physical warehouse that houses your products.
  • If you own business property in a state, you must file sales tax.
  • If you participate in trade shows or are a public speaker, you have nexus in states where the conferences are held.

The Risk

If you fail to collect taxes where you should, the risk is easy to calculate.  Take the potential taxable sales times the sales tax rate, and add any penalties.  The numbers get scary if you’ve been in business for several years.

Let’s say your annual revenues are $5 million.  You didn’t realize that your Texas sales were taxable, and this amounts to 10% or $500K.  Your tax liability is $41,250 per year.  If you have been doing it wrong for five years, well, you can add it up.  Add penalties on top, and it’s not a small amount.  It can wipe out your entire year’s profit.

Sales tax liability becomes more important if you plan to sell your business.  A traditional valuation will always include a sales tax risk analysis.  Even if you don’t plan to sell, the odds of you getting audited or a disgruntled employee blowing the whistle can be too much to risk.

If you want help calculating your risk or assessing nexus or taxability for your business, reach out and we can help.

Unfortunately, spam is an inevitable part of today’s digital world.  The bad news is if you have your spam settings set too tightly, you will lose good emails.  If you receive new prospects via email, you may miss out on good clients and revenue.  If you have your settings too loose, you have to take up extra time to wade through the spam emails.

Here are some tips and facts that can help you control it.

Anti-virus software

Desktop-based (not cloud-based) anti-virus software is a must anyway, and most have an anti-spam component that can be activated to mark spam and move it to a junk folder in your Outlook or email software.  You can then periodically review and delete the items in the junk folder.

Web hosting software

Many website hosting packages come with SpamAssassin which you can set up via your website’s control panel.  You can choose whether to delete the spam and you can set the level of deletion which is based on an email scoring system as to how spammy it is.   Your webmster can help you set this up.

Third-party email

About half of all businesses have gone to third-party email solutions such as Google mail, Rackspace, Office 365, and many others.  Many of these have built-in spam protection on their servers.

Gmail, which is free, is also very popular and filters the spam automatically.  You can set up your gmail account so that it sends from your business email.

Challenge and response software

Some business owners have gone to a challenge and response software such as SpamArrest.  All emails coming in require validation via a captcha (those boxes that have you prove you’re a person and not a robot by entering letters and numbers) on the sender’s part.

Old email addresses

Older email addresses are subject to more spam than newer ones.  Also, if you use common emails such as info@yourdomain.com, you probably get more spam than most.  Start over every 3-5 years with new emails.  It is worth the time.

Too many email addresses

Spam will come in to all the email addresses you use, so if you have two email addresses, you may get twice as much spam.  Keep the number of email addresses you use to an absolute minimum.

Scrapers

Avoid placing your email address on your website or in public forums where it can be “scraped” by robots that will place your email on lists without your permission.  Even so-called reputable companies employ scrapers; it’s more common than we’d like to think.

Also, some of the more aggressive websites will capture your domain and/or email address from cookies, so beware.  With Google Chrome, you can browse “incognito,” and we recommend you do that.

If you’re challenged with spam, try one or more of these ideas to save time.

Wow, can you believe that 2015 is half over already?  Now that we’ve crossed the halfway mark, it’s time to see if we’re on track for our 2015 goals.  To do that, we need to see if we’ve met our mid-year milestones.

Managing By Milestones

A milestone, in project management terms, is simply a point along a project timeline.  It’s marked so that project managers recognize when that portion of the project has been completed.  We can use milestones to see how we’re faring toward financial goals as well.

Assuming our business is not seasonal, we should have earned half of our target revenues for 2015 as of the June 30, 2015 income statement.  If we’re falling short, we can recognize that and perhaps add some promotions or sales to spike revenues so that we can correct the shortfall before the year has ended.  If we’re ahead of the game, we can see what is working so well and make sure to replicate it.

Either way, with milestones, we can be more proactive in reaching or surpassing our goals.

By the Numbers

Some of the numbers you may want to set milestones for include:

  • Revenue to date
  • Expenses
  • Profit to date
  • Debt paid down or debt taken on
  • Assets acquired or sold
  • Number of employees added or lost or both
  • Number of clients added or lost or both
  • Accounts receivable aging

Project Performance

Milestones don’t have to be numeric.  You can also use them to determine if you’re on track with internal projects.  Perhaps for 2015, your goal was to replace 5 PCs and convert your shopping cart software.   You can set milestones to monitor specific phases of these projects or just monitor when you start and complete them.

Mid-Year Milestone Report

Document your accomplishments in a mid-year milestones report.  It feels good to write them down, plus you’ll have a history of how much you accomplished as well as what worked.

The report can include the milestones as well as a narrative explaining the performance to date.  If you’d like our help creating this report, please feel free to contact us.

Accounting for milestones can help you become more proactive toward reaching your business goals.  Plus, it’s great to see how far you’ve come since the beginning of the year.

Cool Tech Tools:  Customer Portals

If you have a business where you have to send documents of any kind to your customers, then you may benefit from a portal.  You can save time on customer service and possibly postage and labor.  You will also look most professional while increasing service delivery.

What Is a Portal?

A portal is software in the cloud that allows users to upload and download files from a secure space that only they have access to.   For each client you have, you can set up a private virtual filing cabinet where only you and the client will have the key.  Your client will have their own user ID and password into their area of the portal.  There, they can upload and download documents.  Some portals also have secure signature capability to help you take the paperwork out of obtaining signatures.

How Can I Use a Portal?

Think of all the paperwork that occurs between you and your customer, and that will give you several ideas about how to use a portal.  If your business is data-intensive, you will definitely benefit from a portal; imagine moving all of those documents out of email and into a clean, private filing folder in the cloud.

Businesses that would benefit the most include:

  • Any small business with remote employees: a portal can be where they pick up and drop off work.
  • Mortgage companies where the loan officers are collecting a great deal of information for the underwriters.
  • Construction companies: each subcontractor could access the schedule, estimates, material details, invoices, and certificates of insurance.
  • Real estate agents to collect the details of home purchases and sales
  • Accountants, attorneys, consultants, coaches, and other professionals who deal with private customer information.
  • Web design, ad agency, and marketing companies

Types of documents and files you can upload and download from portals include:

  • Contracts, estimates, and legal documents
  • Invoices and credit card authorizations
  • Instructions and training materials and aids
  • Company policies and procedures
  • Brochures and marketing materials
  • Reports and spreadsheets
  • Forms and applications, blank and completed
  • Graphics, drawings, and photos

You don’t necessarily have to set up a portal for every client; perhaps it’s cost-effective to use a portal on your largest customers or vendors.

Where Can I Find a Portal?

One of the leading vendors in the portal space is Citrix Sharefile.  You can find them here:  http://www.sharefile.com/.  Your industry may have specific solutions for you as well, especially if you have regulations such as HIPAA that you need to follow.

You may also have heard of DropBox and Box.net.  These companies offer file transfer and don’t have a dedicated user area, so they are useful, but a bit different than a portal.

Look for software that provides each user with their own unique login, and that will distinguish the software as a true portal.

If you decide to implement portals for your business, you can private-label them with your logo and place a direct link to your portal login page for easy client access.

Using portals will keep your inbox cleaner, save time looking for lost emails and documents, and help you look professional in the eyes of your clients.