Prepare Your Online Business for Tax Time
Every year, tax season rolls around whether you’re prepared for it or not. It’s one of the most stressful times of the year, but one of the only times of the year we all come together and witness the same pain.
If you’re looking to finally have a stress-free, organized, and well-prepared tax season, we have the step-by-step guide for you! Follow along as we help you take control of your taxes this year.
1. Don’t Forget These Dates
The most important thing you need to know when tax season rolls around are the specific dates that act as deadlines for turning things into the IRS. While they can sneak up on you, adding them to your calendar and setting up multiple reminders will help you stay on top of everything.
Here are the most important dates to keep in mind:
- February 1 - make sure you’ve sent your 1099-MISC to any contractor and W2 to any employee if you paid them more than $600 for the year. This also needs to be reported to the IRS.
- March 15 - make sure you’ve filed your individual and partnership tax returns by this date, that way you can receive the Schedule K-1 in time to do your personal tax return.
- April 15 - make sure you’ve filed your personal tax returns by this date, otherwise you’ll be subject to a penalty or fee.
There are plenty more dates that you’ll need to know, but they’ll differ depending on the type of business you own and how big it is. Always make sure you consult with an accountant so you can feel confident when tax season rolls around.
2. Do You Have Your Receipts?
One of the most time-consuming tasks when tax season comes knocking is finding all the receipts you’ve accumulated throughout the year. These are going to prove to the IRS that you did, in fact, pay for all those expenses you mentioned in the tax return.
While most people still maintain paper receipts year after year, it’s not a sustainable or efficient way of getting things done during tax season. Instead, use one these platforms to simplify this process:
- Evernote - a free platform that allows you to access scanned receipts or photographs taken of receipts. They also have a personal scanner that does everything for you.
- ShoeBoxed - a service that costs up to $100 per month and allows you to ship an envelope full of receipts to the company and they’ll enter all the data for you.
- Expensify - as low as $5 per month and allows you to link a bank account to track expenses and transactions in real-time. There’s also an app that allows you to scan or take photos of receipts.
Getting your receipts organized before tax season rolls around is one of the most beneficial things you can do. It saves you a lot of time and allows you to focus on what’s really important.
3. Where Are Your Bookkeeping Records?
Before you enter tax season, it’s important you have a clear idea of what your books look like, where all your records are kept, and make sure they’re up-to-date. Doing so will protect you against an audit and better prepare you for what lies ahead.
There are two major ways of bookkeeping for business owners -- doing it yourself or having a professional do it for you. With the amount of accounting software available today, it’s extremely easy for owners to do it themselves.
At the end of the day, it comes down to preference. You should pick method and right software that works best for you, your business, and your day-to-day operations. As long as they’re accurate, up-to-date, and accessible, then you’ll be fine when/if the IRS shows up at your door.
4. Taking Care of Independent Contractors
Independent contractors make it easy when paying them throughout the year because they don’t require you to pay taxes. They do, however, need you to send them their 1099-MISC by February 1 and the same needs to be sent to the IRS by March 31.
There is a $600 minimum, however, meaning you don’t have to do this for any independent contractor you paid less than $600 the previous year.
5. Do You Understand Sales Taxes?
While sales tax can be a tricky and complicated subject, we’re going to touch base on the basics so you have a better idea of what to expect. Since these laws and guidelines generally vary by state, it’s important to do your own research. Of course, speaking with a professional makes this easy for you.
In order to have the right to charge sales tax in a certain state, you need to have a physical connection to that state -- which is called having ‘nexus.’ Once nexus is achieved, you can charge whatever that state allows.
You might be asking yourself, “What’s considered having a physical connection to a state?”
Living in that state is certainly the most popular way to gain nexus, but you can also achieve it by owning an office in that state, having employees that live there, a warehouse, hosting a pop-up shop in that state, or simply storing inventory in that state.
Since it’s a requirement that this sales tax is collected from the consumer and paid to the IRS every year is essential to limiting penalties and fees when tax season rolls around.
6. Do You Need a Tax Extension?
Many business owners get confused every year by the meaning of a tax extension. On the surface, you would think it means business owners get an extension to pay their taxes. In reality, you still have to pay the IRS by the original date.
So, what is a tax extension, then?
A tax extension gives you more time to do all the hard things -- the number-crunching, receipt-finding, and filing -- that some business owners save until the last-minute. In order to file a tax extension, you just need to fill out a form that requests it, along with the estimated tax payment and payment.
If there are any issues with the extension, the IRS will reach out to you. If not, then nothing happens and you’re expected to then file your taxes before the new date. The date will depend on the type of business you own, which breaks down as follows:
- Partnerships - file before March 15th for a 7-month extension by the IRS.
- Corporations - file before April 17th for a 6-month extension by the IRS.
- Sole Proprietors - file before April 17th for a 6-month extension by the IRS.
If you don’t have the money to pay for the taxes, you don’t have to send the payment right away. Instead, you’ll receive a fine for each month they don’t receive a payment. While you don’t have to send the payment, it’s best if you want to avoid a fee.
7. Deductions Save You a Lot of Money
One of the bright spots of tax season is the ability to list tax deductions, which are expenses that fall under the ‘business’ category. Since these expenses are meant to start-up, maintain, and grow your company, they effectively lower your expected taxable income.
Knowing what these deductions are is crucial to ensuring you receive the most benefits come tax season. If you’re an online seller, here are some of the most important deductions to consider:
- Home Office - in order to use your home office as a deduction, it needs to be used regularly and exclusively for work purposes. If so, you can deduct $5 per square foot of office space, but no larger than 300 square feet.
- Education - classes and courses that contribute to your business can also be deducted on your tax return.
- Utilities - if you pay monthly internet and phone bills for your business, those can be deducted on your tax return. You’ll need to account for personal use, so be careful if you use the phone or internet for other reasons other than just work purposes.
- Website - the cost of maintaining your company website is also viewed as a deduction. This can include the cost of themes, hosting, domain registrations, and any work you have done on it.
- Contractor - if the process of hiring an independent contractor costs your company money, you can deduct that cost on your tax return.
- Shipping - you can also deduct the cost of shipping goods to your customers, which includes both postage costs and packaging costs.
- Vehicles - by using a mileage tracker, you can track how many miles you travel for business or work. At the end of the year, the amount of money you spent on gas for those trips can be deducted from your return.
- Services - if you pay for any online services that contribute to your business, such as Spotify for store music, Amazon Prime for deliveries, or Microsoft Office, then those expenses can be deducted.
- Equipment - any equipment you purchase that contributes to you or your employee’s ability to do their jobs can be deducted. The process for this is a bit complicated and should be done by a professional.
In addition to those, your business could be eligible to list some expenses as ‘start-up costs’ if you’re new to the game. This is crucial, since there are often a lot of expenses that could count as a deduction when first opening your business that wouldn’t normally be counted for other businesses.
8. Do You Need Help?
Navigating through the many demands of tax season can be difficult for a business owner that already has a growing to-do list each and every day. That’s why most business owners elect to have a professional manage their taxes and financials throughout the year.
There are also a wide range of software programs, applications, and services designed to make it easier for business owners to manage themselves. You just have to find the one that works best for you and your business.
If you need help at all during this process, feel free to contact Consultants In-A-Box. We can help you find the right solutions that are catered to meet your needs year-in and year-out. We can’t wait to help you and your business continue to grow!
Paying Workers Without Paper Checks
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a widespread of challenges for businesses of all sizes. Not only has it changed the way businesses think and act, but it has changed the demands of employees and consumers alike.
One of the things the pandemic has changed forever is the way employees are paid and how they receive their money. It’s clear your employees and their families are in a tough position right now and they need as much help as they can get.
Unfortunately, many employers are still utilizing paper checks on payday -- opposed to the wide range of options available today. In fact, paper checks are one of the least-preferred methods when getting paid and it’s time for businesses to take notice of it.
So, why shouldn’t you use paper checks?
When business owners choose to pay their employees with paper checks, a majority of them don’t understand the process involved when printing the checks, placing them in envelopes, and sending them out. Not only does that require physical labor, but it requires time when dealing with shipping and handling.
As we’ve seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, physical labor is still difficult to manage and there isn’t even a guarantee that it’s available. In addition to that, employees need their money sooner than ever because a majority of them are living with their backs up against the wall.
When your business uses paper checks, it does more harm than good to the employee -- and even your business. It costs you money, it takes time, and employees are stuck waiting an unnecessary amount of time just to get paid for the work they’ve already completed. Some of them might have to pay a small fee just to access that money, especially if they don’t have a bank account.
If that’s not enough to persuade you to consider paying employees electronically, think about all the different hands -- as well as germs and potential viruses -- that touch the paper check before reaching your employees. With how important public health and safety is today, paper checks present far-greater risks than we once imagined.
There’s a Better Option When Paying Workers
For the business owners out there that think paying their employees via paper checks or even cash is the only option when paying workers, we want you to think again. Paying them electronically is a much-more feasible option in today’s economy, putting you and your employees in a position to succeed short-term and long-term.
It shows your employees that you’re thinking about them and that their needs matter to your company. In an age where many employees feel like they’re not being heard or appreciated, this can go a long way -- not just for you, but for the rest of your employees and customers.
With so many different options out there, including direct deposit, individual pay cards exclusive to your payroll, mobile wallets, and even services like Zelle and PayPal. Desperate times cause for desperate measures and your employees would do anything to rid themselves of dealing with paper checks.
If you need assistance or guidance when switching from paper checks to electronic payments, Consultants In-A-Box is here to help. We’re experts when it comes to payroll, human resources, and accounting services for businesses of all sizes.
Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you and your business find the success you were imagining when you first opened up. One of our trained professionals will assist you immediately.
The Most Effective Way to Use Live Chat
Most business owners today know what it takes to provide a unique, personal, and positive customer experience when physically interacting with the customer. Unfortunately, many business owners can’t mimic that same success when dealing with customers online.
If you’ve been struggling to find success in this area of your business, offering live chat options can certainly help. Some studies suggest that customers who use live chat during the sales cycle are three times more likely to purchase something from your business.
As effective as it is, many online stores and online business owners don’t feel they have the time, money, or energy to keep their customer service lines open 24/7. The good news is you don’t have to offer live chat 24/7 and you don’t even have to offer it more than a few hours every week.
Of course, you’ll have to be careful about what times you pick, but that’s easy to figure out when you have the right strategies to implement. Don’t worry, we’re going to discuss three of the most beneficial ways your business can start offering live chat without spending too much time or money.
Let’s get started!
1. Utilize Live Chat During Peak Hours
The first way you can make live chat work for you and your staff is by only offering it during peak hours. Since most customers are going to have questions during certain times of the day, those are the times you should target when launching live chat services.
You can already gauge this by looking at the amount of questions you currently receive and when you receive them. Google Analytics is another great tool you can use when learning your customer's traffic patterns on your website.
You also want to account for all the customers you receive when running certain promotions, newsletters, or marketing campaigns. Since these are sure to bring traffic to your website, it’s best to have your live chat open for any questions you might receive.
Once you can find those peak hours to launch your live chat, experiment with 1-2 hour shifts and record your observations so you can reassess how everything is operating after a week or two. In due time, you’ll learn what works best for your customers and they’ll get the service they need -- when they need it.
2. Take Customer Feedback Seriously
When offering live chat to your customers, you’re going to want to make sure your chat queue doesn’t get crowded with questions, comments, and concerns. It adds stress to the situation, results in customers having to wait (which defeats the purpose of live chat), and makes your business look bad on all ends.
So, what does this have to do with customer feedback?
Believe it or not, those negative comments and bad reviews you get mean more to your business than you think. They are your opportunity to improve your business and offer an even greater service than you did before -- to everyone and anyone.
When you listen to your customer’s feedback and implement the changes they want to see, you effectively limit the amount of similar inquiries that are sure to flood your inbox.
Let’s take a glitch on your website for example. When one customer sees it, another one is bound to eventually. And when one customer reaches out to you about it, that means another one will unless you take care of that glitch.
The same goes for those frequently asked questions you get asked every single day. By offering a FAQ page prior to reaching out to live chat, you can eliminate those basic questions from flooding your inbox.
All of this is designed to keep your live chat tailored for those custom inquiries and difficult questions that actually matter.
3. Focus On the Inquiries That Matter
The moment you start marketing or promoting the fact that you offer live chat, there are going to be a lot of people that have questions and suddenly want to know more about what your business does -- especially when you place it at the bottom of every page on your website.
The truth is, not all inquiries are going to be worth your time and some of them are going to come from people that aren’t really that interested in what you have to offer. At the same time, you have to accept their question and give them your time.
Instead, you should be strategic about how you display your live chat, where you showcase it on your website, and at what times you make it available. This will put your business in a position to succeed with live chat.
For example, only showing the live chat option when visitors land on your ‘contact me’ page or the ‘checkout’ page. You can also tailor it to only show on certain product or service pages, which comes in handy if you get a lot of questions about one product in particular.
While you want to help anyone that comes your way, it’s best to focus on the inquiries that matter most and are more time-sensitive than other questions. All the other questions can be answered via email or a support ticket.
If you need further assistance when introducing live chat to your customers for the first time, then Consultants In-A-Box is prepared to help! We know this is something many business owners are scared to offer due to how tedious it can be, but we can help make it easy for you and your staff members.
Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your business better interact with its customers -- after all, what’s more important than their satisfaction?
How to Bring New Customers to Your Online Business
One of the most challenging aspects of running an online business is finding a consistent and reliable flow of customers every single day. Every store is likely to see periods of growth, but they’re often met with a steep decline soon after.
For online business owners that want to defy the growing frustrations around customer acquisition, it’s important you change your mind set about what customer acquisition is. It’s not so much a goal or even an objective. Instead, it’s a process that must be respected and trusted.
It requires understanding more than just how many customers you have at any given time, but also how much money that customer is likely to spend when visiting your online store, how often they’re likely to return, and how much it’ll cost to maintain that relationship over time.
When it comes to customer acquisition, we have some tips that will help you find success -- whether you’re new to owning an online business or have been in the game for a while. Without further ado, let’s get started!
The Basics of Customer Acquisition
Before we get deeper into the depths of customer acquisition, let’s first make sure we’re all on the same page about what customer acquisition entails. In its essence, customer acquisition refers to the process of finding, developing, and nurturing customer relationships in a way that persuades them to support your business.
For the most part, business owners like to think of customer acquisition as if it’s a funnel. There are three parts of the funnel -- the top, the middle, and the bottom. Let’s take a closer look at each:
- The Top - this part of the funnel requires you to form leads from a wide target audience that consists of people that might be interested in your product or service, but that interest isn’t guaranteed. You’ll need to know your target audience, but it’s okay to not be too specific here.
- The Middle - once you garner interest from potential customers, they’ll fall into the middle of the funnel. This is typically when they’ve added something to their cart or signed up for a newsletter on your site. These are the leads you need to start persuading and nurturing a relationship with.
- The Bottom - this part of the funnel consists of potential customers that are ready to purchase a product or service with you. They’ve shown the interest, you’ve persuaded them, and all you have to do is close the deal.
Every business is going to have their own procedures and standards when dealing with each customer or lead throughout each process. For example, there are hundreds of different ways you can attract leads at the top of the funnel and they won’t all be feasible for your business. Instead, you’ll need to choose the one that works best for you.
How Much Does Customer Acquisition Cost?
Most business owners spend all day finding and interacting with potential customers, yet a majority of them have no idea how much it’s costing them to go through the customer acquisition funnel.
Enter the customer acquisition cost (CAC), a simple yet effective way to measure the cost of each new customer you bring on every month. In order to calculate this, divide your total cost of marketing for that month (or week, or year) by the total number of customers acquired during that month (or week, or year).
Once you determine the CAC, you can take it a step further and compare it to the average amount of money spent by each customer when they first visited. Ideally, this number will be greater than the CAC, which would mean you’re making a profit on that customer.
One of the few times it’s okay for the amount spent by the customer to fall below the CAC is if it’s highly likely for that customer to come back and spend more money at your business.
Don’t worry, there are certain tools that make it easy to track these numbers and actually do all the number-crunching for you automatically. Google Analytics and Shopify Reports are two of the most common tools used by online businesses today.
Having Difficulty Acquiring Customers Effectively?
When dealing with the customer acquisition funnel, many businesses struggle to make that initial contact with potential customers. This is imperative when you don’t have the proper strategies in place to attract them.
Let’s discuss some of the most prominent and effective customer acquisition strategies your business can benefit from.
Social Media Presence
One of the most powerful tools and strategies your business can implement when acquiring new potential customers is social media. It’s free (at its core) and is extremely fun when you use it to spread your message and core values.
With some companies boasting followers in the millions, there’s no telling what a stronger social media presence could mean for your company. It drives in organic traffic and it helps give others proof of your leadership in your industry.
Unfortunately, it’s also difficult to maintain, takes time to build a following, and the landscape for social media is always changing. The pros weigh the cons in most situations, though.
Focus on SEO
If you like free strategies, here’s another one -- search engine optimization (SEO). This is the process of optimizing your website to make it easy for search engines to find your content. With the amount of purchases starting with a Google search these days, this is an important strategy to implement for any business with a website.
You’ll need to determine the keywords that best associate with your business and its customers, as well as blast those keywords strategically throughout the site. There are also a variety of other SEO strategies that could help you gain some respect with Google and improve your ranking in searches.
While it’s free and brings a good amount of organic traffic to your website, it isn’t always easy to implement and may require some assistance. It also takes time to see results and, of course, there's a lot of competition out there.
Wile digital marketing has certainly become the focus for many businesses, that doesn’t mean forms of traditional advertising are dead. In fact, they’re still very much in-use today and can have a very strong impact on your ability to attract leads.
The great thing about traditional advertising is it comes in many forms and they range from small-scale campaigns (like print advertising and direct-mail advertising) to large-scale campaigns (like radio and television ads).
Traditional advertising is a great way to build customer trust and gain widespread exposure the old way. Unfortunately, it often costs a pretty penny and is difficult to track how well it’s working for your business. Either way, it’s a good option to explore when searching for more ways to gain leads.
Introduce Referral Programs
There’s nothing better than having existing customers bring you new customers, it’s like the gift that keeps on giving. It’s effective because others are more likely to trust a referral from someone they know and there’s a limited up-front cost since the incentive is rewarded after the new customer is brought to the bottom of the funnel.
A referral program helps encourage repeat purchases, it increases exposure in areas where your customers already live, and it helps add some excitement when customers interact with your business. For a lack of better words, it gives them a reason to do your marketing for you.
Of course, it also means you won’t get to engage with that lead until they reach the middle of the funnel. You’ll have to act fast in persuading them before they lose interest.
Utilize the Power of Emails
How often do you personally check your email every single day? For most people with a mobile device, this answer is likely by the hour -- if not more often. That means there’s a ton of opportunity to connect with potential customers via email.
Newsletters are one of the biggest ways of doing this. It allows you to be visual and creative with the content, opposed to the boring old text email we’re used to. Of course, this strategy only works if you have emails to connect with.
To collect emails, you need to ask for them. Your website and social media profiles are the two easiest ways to gain email leads. The best part is you get to keep those emails until they unsubscribe from the newsletter -- and let’s be honest, that rarely occurs.
Your lead generation list will continue to grow and you’ll always have a way of reaching out to potential customers. Eventually, it’ll be just as powerful as a popular social media page.
Take Advantage of Influencers
Speaking of popular social media pages, you don’t always have to use your own followers to gain potential customers and leads. In fact, there are a wide variety of influencers on the internet that are prepared to market your product for you to their followers.
Since some of these influencers have hundreds of thousands and even millions of followers, this can open you up to a wide range of followers. As long as you choose your influencer wisely, those followers could hold a strong interest in your own company.
Influencers help with brand awareness and niche targeting, but it also only works if you have a budget or something to offer the influencer (free membership, free samples, etc.). It’s also difficult to track how well it’s working.
Paid Ads Go a Long Way
The final strategy we’ll discuss when attracting customers to the top of your customer acquisition funnel is paid advertising. There are so many ways to advertise online when you have the budget to do so -- including social media ads, search engine ads, and even advertising your stuff on other websites.
When done properly, it can lead to a wide range of exposure on the internet and is pretty easy to target where the funds should go. At the same time, it can be rather expensive and there’s a steep learning curve when getting the most out of paid ads.
If you have the budget for it, it’s certainly worth a try -- especially if you have the right help in your corner.
Which Strategy Works Best for You?
With so many different strategies available to online business owners, it can be difficult to understand which one works best for you. You know your goal and you know you’re ready to do what needs to be done to achieve it, you just need that extra little push.
Don’t worry, we understand. At Consultants In-A-Box, we dedicate ourselves to making sure every business is implementing the right customer acquisition strategies to maximize their exposure and increase sales on a consistent basis.
If you need further assistance implementing these strategies or finding the one that will work best for you, contact us today. We can’t wait to discuss how we can help your business continue to grow and elevate it to heights you’ve always dreamed of.
How To Choose The Right Bookkeeping Software
Most small business owners aren’t considered experts at financial management. Since your business’ financials never stop, having to manage this yourself with ineffective tools can be frustrating and time-consuming. It’s what makes small business bookkeeping such a dread.
Finding the right bookkeeping software for your company is essential to maintaining an organized environment that limits mistakes and confusion. Below, we’re going to discuss some of the most important factors when determining the best bookkeeping software -- that way you can make a more-informed decision.
Finding the Best Bookkeeping Software
First and foremost, you need to understand what your business needs. Some businesses need something simple, while others need something complex. Some companies might be looking for something that can support both if they plan on scaling the business in the future.
Either way, you need to have a deep understanding of this before you start looking at software or consultants. It’ll help you narrow down your options initially so you can focus on the things that separate the best bookkeeping software from everything else.
In order to determine that, there are five major factors you need to consider -- customization, simplicity, accessibility, customer support, and integration. To limit any confusion with these factors, we’ll break them all down one-by-one for you.
1. Customization & Personalization
When it comes to small business bookkeeping, every business is unique and they all have their own way of operating. In order for a bookkeeping software to be of any assistance to your needs, it needs to be flexible enough to customize and personalize to your liking.
Whether you have hourly employees or contractors working for you, need assistance managing income and expenses, or need general help when it comes to taxes, your bookkeeping software should have a solution for you.
2. Ease of Use is Crucial
No small business owner wants to invest company funds into a bookkeeping software that provides more confusion and frustration than it does assistance. In fact, it would defeat the purpose of investing in bookkeeping software to begin with.
Your new software shouldn’t have a steep learning curve for any business owner or accounting team. It should streamline the process and save you loads of time in the process. If you’re receiving anything less than that from your bookkeeping solution, it’s time for new software
3. Accessibility At All Times
Much like you want the software to be simple, you also want it to be accessible. This means having the ability to view your books and financial insight whenever or wherever you need to -- especially since most small business owners are constantly on-the-go.
It doesn’t matter what device you’ve grown to love over the years, your new bookkeeping software should be supported on it. Phones, tablets, laptops, PCs, you name it!
4. Excellent Customer Support
Any product, service, or software needs excellent customer support. Nothing is perfect and you’re sure to run into an issue, question, or comment at some point. Since bookkeeping is a stressful process in general, having courteous and helpful customer service agents by your side is a must.
That also means having easy access to these agents, whether it be live chat, phone call, email, by mail, in-person, or through social media. The more options, the better!
5. Integration At It’s Finest
Over the years, every small business owner has become attached to certain software, apps, tools, and resources when running their business. Having a bookkeeping software that easily integrates with your existing operations is essential to finding one that works for you.
When you have all your technology working together, it makes everything that much easier for you and your team. Since putting yourselves in a position to succeed is crucial to achieving success, you’ll be in a good spot moving forward.
Now that you know what to look for, put that knowledge to good use and find a bookkeeping software that works well with your business. Contact Consultants In-A-Box today to learn more about our solutions and how we can help you take control of your business’ financials.