5 Business Organizational Tips for Startups


Correct me if I am wrong here, but every year when you prepare to file your taxes, personal and business, you probably notice things you could have done better. You probably say, okay next year I will make this easier for myself. I will organize this better, keep better receipts, update my spreadsheet more often, separate your personal and professional finances, whatever it is, right?

Well having just completed my first full year as an LLC and preparing for taxes myself, while also now walking another start-up through the process, my hindsight is 2020. Here are my 5 organizational tips for start ups or small businesses that I recommend you put into practice right now, before the year runs away with you. That way you can work more efficiently this year and be better prepared when tax time rolls around next year.

1. Register your business and trade name locally and nationally. This is really a 3 fold tip.

  • Decide and research your preferred business name locally, national and on the web.  It is critical that your business name and website clearly reflect your services. So if you find it is not being used, purchase the domain, for the company and register the name. If you are unsure of exactly what services you will provide, then it is valuable to form your company with a more general name now and specify a trade name when you arr ready. For example you could form XYZ Enterprises LLC doing business as (trade name) Xciting Parties and Events and have the room to expand your services to rentals, catering, etc. later. A more obvious example is forming Smith Services LLC for Joe Smith the business coach. Or you may create the Carolina Association of Tabbycats d/b/a C.A.T.S. There are many options, but it is good to have a plan of where your business is headed and how you want to present yourself now.
  • Depending on your circumstance, you may need an FEIN (federal tax ID number). However I suggest asking an accountant, business consultant or reaching out to local small business resources, such as the Maryland Women’s Business Center, for their recommendation before going through this process. It won't hurt or cost you anything to acquire a number, but is time wasted if you do not use it.
  • Research your state laws. In Maryland there is a personal property tax assessment for businesses. If you start your business at the end of a year and don’t actually do any business, you still owe the tax assessment (I speak from experience). In sum, register when you are ready to hit the ground running. Additionally in Maryland and Virginia, you can be your own Registered Agent (to receive legal information and documents) for your business. If you use Legal Zoom or another digital company to assist you in forming your business Articles, you do not need to pay for their Registered Agent services. An attorney can also assist in starting your business, drafting and filing the documents, and even acting as your Agent, if you so choose. So consider your options and research your state laws.

2. Pay estimated taxes – This is really a tip just for LLCs or self employed individuals and please consult your accountant to discuss your potential annual earning and tax filing plans. But in general, as an LLC or a sole proprietor you will owe quarterly estimated taxes on any income earned. I did not start earning income until halfway through my first year, at that point I had missed two quarterly payments and could have been penalized at filing time. So even if it is hard, I suggest paying something to federal government throughout the year to avoid fees. If you still have another source of income, such as a part or full time job, pay some additional withholding from your paycheck, based on projections of your gross annual income or historical income. Again, please consult with an accountant or tax specialist for details instructions.

3. Get your spreadsheets in order now – For many small start ups, finances are kept on spreadsheets due to the ease of use and access to Microsoft Excel, Google sheets, etc. This is a great way for you to keep track and share your finances with others when the time comes, however there are a few things I would suggest so that you are not the only one who understands the information.

  • Try not to over complicate. Use columns for incomes and expenses, payee and dates. If you want to note the category for the income and expense in notes or next to the amounts, do. However breaking down the sheet into many columns and rows may just make your life and finances more complicated than simple.
  • Use the “Accounting” format all dollar amount boxes and be sure to enter any expenses as a negative number. This will allow you to get a quick understanding of your finances at a glance will skimming through.
  • Review your spreadsheet monthly with your bank statement to reconcile the transactions and be sure you didn’t miss anything. Taking an hour every month will be much more efficient that 10 hours at the end of the year.

4. Open up a business bank account and if you need it, credit card – While single member LLCs often file taxes as part of their personal filing, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to separate your finances. A separate bank account will almost eliminate the “co-mingling” of personal and business finances as long as you use the account properly (e.g. dinner with the family on personal credit card and lunch with your client on the business card). Not only will you be able to view your financial situation in real time, but most importantly preparing for taxes will be exponentially more efficient. You will not need to track down the purchases within your personal bank account to pay yourself back or calculate how much you earned or lost. You may not even need the spreadsheet! Plus, your tax accountant will thank you. Bear in mind in order to open this business account, you will need your Articles of Organization or Incorporation from forming your business, your state registered filing, your company FEIN (if applicable), your proof of ownership, and your proof of identity. If you registered a trade name, that documentation as well.

5. Migrate over to accounting software – If you are opening a bank, have grown out of the simple spreadsheet functionality, or are just not great with them, the next step is to incorporate accounting software. To many people, it sounds complicated, but these days it can be very simply. I am partial to Quickbooks. For bookkeeping clients I use Desktop version for all of it’s versatility. But for myself I use the basic Quickbooks online. It costs me $25.00 a month. If you don’t want Quickbooks or are interested in other platforms, there are many that offer basic to intricate functionalities. Freshbooks is a common alternative. For most small businesses you will at least want: direct connection to bank accounts, reporting on finances, reconciling, email invoices, and ability to provide access to your accountant. However if you provide goods, you may need to ensure you have the ability to track and manage your inventory. So you will want to research and ask industry peers for recommendations. If you start now, you can back fill the information from the beginning of the year quite easily and go from there. Then preparing for your tax filing next year will be clean from Jan 1 to Dec 31. You can just send a copy to your accountant with your 1099s, W2s, or other tax documents and wait for additional questions.

Now I am not a tax accounting, an attorney, or an expert in any of these areas, but this past year has definitely shined some light on the process of starting, running, and keeping finances for my own business. I thought that after 10 years of keeping other business’s finances and operations in order, I would breeze through the process, but there was more to it than I imagined and quite a few bumbs along my road. So if you need help, reach out to your local resources, don't be afraid to ask a friend or peer ask for an attorney or accountant referrals, and request a consultation. You may have to pay a fee and put some effort into the process now, but it will be worth your time and energy further down the road. However, don’t let any of these things stop you from following you heart and starting your own business either. They are all navigable with the right resources and team behind you! I am happy to help connect you with resources and assist where I can in this process.

On the Winds of Change

In the last few months, the winds of change have blown and I got a carried away. But don't worry, they blew me in a wonderful direction! Many business meetings, networking events, coffees, and contracts later the demand for business operations and organization skills has grown exponentially.  That being said, I thought it right to shift the business in a way that reflects the direction the wind is blowing.

After much debate, I am proud to announce that we are now myForte Consulting, dedicated to assisting home and small business owners achieve streamlined operations and organization.  From your bookkeeping to your bookshelf helping you find balance and peace of mind isn't just my specialty, it's my forte!

A Few Quick Holiday Decorating Tips

Holiday decorating and spirit, for me, doesn’t start until December. It isn’t December 1st or anything specific like that, I just like to take some times to decompress from the Thanksgiving craziness, then start focusing on Christmas and the New Year.

This year I decorated on December 7th, because it was the first weekend following Thanksgiving holiday. I had already heard a number of Christmas songs on the radio, saw the decor in stores and commercials on television and felt the holiday spirit bubbling inside. Now I don’t go all out, but I do like to bring holiday joy inside and outside the house. So here are a few of my tips for creating the perfect holiday decorating experience in your home.

1. Pick a style and color combination to carry throughout your decorating. There are a number of styles you can choose from and they usually coincide with your home style or family traditions.

a. Classic– red and white

b. White Christmas – just as it sounds

c. Traditional – red and green, heavy ornamental and décor emphasis (I think of my Grandma’s Christmas tree)

d. Rustic – pine cones, mason jars, burlaps and plaid, natural elements

e. Glam – metallics, sequins, mirrored glass, with a few bright colors

f. Modern – unconventional colors and items: think white faux tree, hot pinks, and turquoise décor.

g. Vintage – antique items, Saint Nick décor, muted colors, heirloom items.

h. Coastal – blues and whites and seaside decor

i. Bohemian - lots of bells, tassels and beads

j. A combination of these or your own personal style

I would call my style a whimsical classic theme. It starts with my use of Santa Claus and nutcrackers figurines, there's an air of playfulness in my loves of snowglobes, but also includes romantic elements with multiple flameless candles and glass votives. I gravitate towards classic reds and metallic golds with a little green and white splashed in there. I prefer white lights outside my house with a mix of muted colored lights inside.

2. You can’t go too big or too small – maybe you’re a Griswald and want the brightest house in the neighborhood and your house to look like Santa's workshop. Go for it.  New York City interior stylist Erin Swift, featured in Better Homes and Garden Magazine this month, uses the rule of 100 light per 1.5 feet of tree and 10 ornaments per foot. Her tree is overflowing with pezzaz. On the other hand, maybe you just like simple understated tree and a quaint wreath on the door. Or maybe you are somewhere in between. The holidays are about family, traditions, being thankful for what we have, giving back to others. Do what feels best for you, your family, and your fur family. And if that is sitting on the couch watching some football and ignoring decorating and music, well that is fine too.

3. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get in the holiday spirit – Sure if you want to get the mercury glass set of ornaments at Pier 1 or West Elm, do it! But you can also get steals at your local thrift stores and the dollar store. You can take the dog and kids for a nature walk and pick up evergreen pieces and pine cones to decorate the entry table, dining table or breakfast bar.

4. Play your favorite Holiday music! I was excited to decorate, but not exactly overjoyed to climb up on the roof and string my icicle lights myself. But you know what? I put on my favorite Michael Buble Pandora station, ate my breakfast and drank my latte, sang along to Santa Baby, rocked out to Trans Siberian Orchestra and was ready to roll. Music always makes everything better in my mind!

5. Last but not least - don’t take yourself too seriously. Here's is one of my two cats sitting under what he believes is his own safe space. I have come to terms with this annual tradition of his!

Have fun and Happy Holidays!

xoxo​

A Resolution to Look Up

Building upon my blog from two weeks ago, I want to speak about resolutions. But not in the way you think. As I talked about last week, Be x Do = Have. We need to be certain ways, in order to do the things that we must to have what we want in life. So I want to speak more to self-reflection and resolving to be different.

I enjoy my seasonal issues of Magnolia Journal from Joanna and Chip Gaines. To be frank they are my idols. They are creative and humble and family oriented and funny and stylish and basically everything I want to be as a home and business organizer, but also as a person. Their magazine, Magnolia Journal “inspiration for life and home” is my favorite thing to read because it is not just about how to decorate your mantel or which shade of paint to choose. It is also not a self-help journal, it is a beautiful mix of articles, stories, how-to, recipes, and ideas. Enough with the advertising. This winter issue’s theme is Resolve. We often speak of resolutions this time of year but not the root of the word, RESOLVE, which is a synonym of determination. Determination is what we need to be and accomplish the things we want.

The issue speaks of resolving to be a better person, more positive, more festive, seeing the beauty in the rough, appreciating moment, etc.

One thing that most caught my eye and mind was Jo’s note it’s about time in which she says she challenged herself to live 2019 in the moment and developed the mantra “look up” to say to herself when she felt herself passing it by.

I believe that I am a person that has wonder and awe. I like to travel, see and experience things, and appreciate other people, cultures, architecture and lives.

Yet conversly, I also find that I do not live in the moment. I have a lot of worry and concern about what if. I have been told I am cautious and hesitant is all facets of my life. And only after having been injured and taken out of marathon running, have I realized that I did not fully appreciate the events and experiences I had. I barely remember what I saw while running through New York City with 40,000 other people, across the bridges and streets closed to traffic. I can tell you how I felt at certain junctures, that they played New York New York at the start, that I ran with an NYP squad who kept me on pace, and the feeling in my legs as I entered Central Park. But I don’t remember how the sun rose over the Verrazano bridge as we started, or seeing the skyline undisturbed from that bridge, or the character of each burrow we passed through. I remember even less about the Boston Marathon. I remember the start, Heartbreak Hill, and that beacon of light called the Citgo sign that meant I was almost done. I remember shaking and shivering at the end because it was freezing rain and having to hold a cup of coffee from a food truck while waiting for my sister to cross the finish. But I don’t remember the people braving the cold outside their homes to cheer us on or the fact that I ran downhill most of the way. I don’t remember who I ran next to or even if I met anyone new other than the people I traveled to the race with.

What I am saying is, sometimes I go through life looking forward to the end goal and worrying about the obstacles along with way, so much so that I don’t see what is in front of me. I have done that with my personal and professional life. If I self-reflect for a minute, I formally established my business a year ago, I really went out on a limb and left my place of employment 9 months ago, and I started getting business 4 months ago. The average new small business takes 2 years to become established. And my personal life is in a very different place, arguably more positive place, because of some of the professional and independent decisions I made this year. So I would say I am doing pretty darn good. My goals for 2020 will be higher and more defined than they were at the end of 2018 when I first started on this journey. And most importantly I have appreciation for the path I have taken and the obstacles and achievements that have come my way this year.

Therefore while I continue to consider my goals and resolutions in my personal and professional life, the one thing I want to be is someone who looks up. In the words of Joanna Gaines, “These are the days. These are the moments. This season, let’s look up and behold the beauty of the here and now.”

Be Do Have

This time of year is often a time of preparation. Whether you are a homemaker, business owner, employee, or combination of both you are probably beginning your preparation for the holidays, family visiting, winterizing, end of the year finances, last minute projects, deadlines, etc. With preparation, also comes reflection. Reflection of your accomplishments for the year, the goals you had, those that you achieved, those you surpassed, those your missed and then considering why.

In my monthly Business Owners Mastermind meeting this week, we started the conversation on end of the year preparations and reflection and came upon what I thought to be a very interesting topic that can be applied to personal or professional life. Jeff Miller, our faithful leader, business coach and owner of Jeff Miller Consulting, posed to us an exercise to consider this equation:

In order to solve this equation, we have to consider it from the answer backwards, just like Jeopardy. First we considered what we want to have, i.e. what are goals are as business owners. We mentioned things like:

  • Take 2 weeks vacation
  • Have time with family
  • Have time for ourselves (exercise, reading, learning, etc)
  • Own a second home (or in my case a 1st!)

Then we had to determine what we need to do in order to get there, most of which are obvious:

  • Make and schedule time (Time management)
  • Make more money
  • Have trusted employees
  • Set boundaries for clients/customers

Lastly, we were asked to think about what type of person we need to be in order to accomplish these tasks? This was the hardest part of the exercise because you can reflect on your goals all you want, but without seeing the true nature of how to achieve them, you will not get very far. So in order to do those things listed, to achieve the goals, we need to be:

  • Disciplined
  • Dedicated
  • Honest
  • Trustworthy
  • Determined

Because if you want to make time to exercise for example, you may need to get up earlier, before work, before the kids get on the bus, or after they go to sleep. If you want to take a two week vacation as a business owner, you need to train your employees to the best of your abilities, give them responsibility and confidence that they can take care of the company and your clients while you are gone, and trust them to do so. If you don’t think that is possible, then unfortunately you either 1) haven’t provided them with the tools or training to succeed 2) need to started delegating and trusting more or 3) you don’t have the right employees.

In the end however, it is about how you are a person and what you do that will bring you the things you want to have.

Looking Forwards not Backwards

My last post talked about prioritizing and getting your to do list done when you are feeling overworked, overwhelmed, drained, etc.  Well, I have felt all of those in the last two months. Having a combination of personal and family situations, as well as coming down with a cold that seemed to never go away and finally manifested as pneumonia, was a kick in the stomach.

While I tried to tackle my list and follow my own directions of at least accomplishing one thing at a time, things still fell to the wayside. I had to cancel work events I planned on going to, skip out of a few engagements with friends, take 5 weeks off of my physical training and scratch myself from two running races. I barely posted anything on my company social media pages and didn't write the blog last week I had planned to. I had to say goodbye to a family member I had not been as close to recently as I could have been. All of these missed opportunities for business and personal experiences had me feeling that I was squandering the things I had worked hard for. 

Then I picked up a Dove chocolate bite that said "Keep life moving forward, looking backward is only for time travelers." And it made sense. There wasn't anything I could do about the missed events or downtime from working out.  All I could do was appreciate knowing my body and mind has limits. Know that I gave as much of myself to my family when they needed me as I could, and know that I can continue do those things going forward. 

So that's my message for you. Don't harp on the things that you may not have done yesterday, the to-do tasks you didn't check off, the emails you didn't answer, the conversation you should or could have had with that friend or family member. For me personally, doing anything more would have dragged out my sickness and made me even less valuable to family, clients and myself as time went on.  Just do what you can, be proud of it, and do better tomorrow.  And if you need help with your home or business tasks, give me a call, I am feeling much better these days!

Tackling Your Overwhelming To Do List

Sometimes the universe is funny, I believe. I thought about writing this blog on the topics feeling overwhelmed with an ever-growing to-do list a few weeks ago after a conversation with a friend. Then I read a Thrive article with a great quote last week, while personally struggling with and recovering from three weeks of sickness that turned into walking pneumonia. And finally, a colleague reached out to me recently to ask if I could assist her in time and priority management, just as I had finished writing my thoughts down. So here are my Tuesday tips for tackling these feelings and your to-do list effectively to regain your balance.


We as humans all get overwhelmed in lives. Whether it’s due to returning from a vacation or time off, entering a particularly busy quarter at work, or personal and family issues, everyone gets to their threshold at some point. However, you can’t just curl into a ball and hide in your pillow fort, you still need to get your work done, care for your family and attend to your own mental and physical health. I have found that the key to getting through that feeling of being overwhelmed is not to focus on the list or tasks as a whole, but to address each one on its own.

Each day, chose one thing to focus on. Do that to the best of your ability. When that is completed, feel proud and productive in your success on that task. Then, chose another task and continue as you check off the items on your list. At some point, you will begin tackling two or even three tasks in a day and get back your mojo back again. Whether that is two days, a week, a few months, or a year depends on your situation. But you can do it, if you set yourself up for success, not failure. There is nothing that will stress you out and overwhelm you more than putting things off and continuing to have that growing list staring at you.

“If you seek tranquility, do less. Or (more accurately) do what’s essential. Do less, better. Because most of what we do or say is not essential.” - Marcus Aurelius.

So start today, do the essential items -well - not half assed and quickly to check them off, and continue from there. Let me know how it goes and how your path back to equilibrium goes.

Extra Extra Read All About It

Local Rockville Maryland Realtor Mary Scroth included a brief Q&A with yours truly in her fall edition of  “Hungerford Real Estate & More” newsletter. We had a wonderful discussion the importance of organizing, quick tips, and my thoughts on Marie Kondo!  Check it out.

The Honest Truth

Can we be brutally honest with each other for a minute?

If you are a business owner, you should not be doing your own bookkeeping; hand writing or printing checks, paying the bills, downloading credit card transactions, reimbursing cash receipts and expenses, etc. In the last few months I have met and talked to a number of business owners in the same spot at you are in some variation of it. Owners of startups, growing business, even established ones too, who say that they do all or part of the finance management.

I don’t want to come off rude, that’s not my intent here, but this just shouldn’t be. I know it is hard to let go of the control of making sure that every cent is accounted for when the business is your baby; your idea that you created, cultivated, and put into motion. It’s like letting go of the handle bars on your child’s first bike ride. But you have to do it sooner or later, otherwise your baby will never grow and prosper.

In this world, time is money. And your time is worth a lot of money. I am willing to bet that your hourly wage is a lot more than paying a bookkeeper, so the argument that you don’t have enough money to pay a bookkeeper, that doesn’t really work here. For every working minute you are working on tasks that are not 1) part of your scope of work or 2) business development, you are wasting your time and money. What does that mean? Well, unfortunately that means that you are not only not making money, but you are also losing it.

Don’t believe me? Well without going into too much of a cost analysis, if you bill your services at $150 an hour and a bookkeeper charges anywhere from $55-$85 an hour, for every hour you personally spend on financial tasks, you are losing $65-$90 an hour that you could be making elsewhere. Just let that sink in for a minute.

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So why not find someone you can trust and have faith in, who can take care of your finances and report all of the details to you?  It doesn’t have to be me (although I would truly love to help you take these services off your plate and start putting more time into your business), but it should be someone capable and qualified, not uncle Bob or your neighbor.  How about making that a 3rd or 4th quarter goal you can feel good about and let me know how it goes.

8 Mid-Year Business Tips

As the summer winds down and kids are going back to school, it is a great time for home owners and businesses to start getting their heads back in the game and considering their end of the year preparations.  Here are 8 mid-year finance and operation tips I put together from my 11 years of experience managing businesses. Please keep in mind, some recommendations may not apply due to the the size, industry or fiscal year of your company, but it is important to be aware and discuss these topics with your bookkeeper, CFO and or accountant.

Finances

  • Complete a brief review of your books, checking for errors in the accounts expenses and incomes were attributed to.  Correcting an error now will help you avoid 1) repeating it and 2) having to correct (or pay your accountant) at the end of the tax year.  If you expect to be audited, as many government contractors do, get ahead of those preparations early!
  • Forecast the rest of your fiscal year. If you know you historically have slow or heavy business in the second half, you will want to start planning for your upcoming expenses, incomes, and even HR needs.
  • Depending on your previous review and forecast, start saving for taxes, employees raises, bonus, and any slow periods. If you know a heavy business load is coming, you can also plan out how to use funds for the rest of the year and pay off debt from earlier in the year.
  • Have your Tax Accountant of CPA take a brief look at your reports as well. Not a full analysis, but a review. If you can afford an early tax payment after a good half of the year, you won't have to worry as much come the end of the year.

Operations

  • Depending on your financial status, or your HR needs, you should consider any upcoming hiring early. You will need at least 2 but usually 3 months to put together an employment description, advertise, interview, hire and onboard.
  • Whether or not you are hiring now, any down time or before you have requirements, is a great time to review your employment descriptions, policies, procedures, and handbook. You should consider your current office, company culture, employees, and the direction you want your business to go in and then be sure that your documents all reflect that.
  • Organize and declutter! (I couldn't resist). Gather up old documents, records, files, receipts that are past 7 years and take them to be shredded.  Now 7 years is the general standard, but be sure to check with your industry specific standards and legal requirements.
  • Start considering your business goals and intentions for next year. It is never a bad time to start working toward those and some may need a little prep work before they can be achieved.

And of course, if you are feeling overwhelmed, confused or interesting in having assistance with any of these tasks, I am here to help!  Please do not hesitate to contact me.  Have a great rest of your summer!

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