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How to Break Through and Overcome Financial Hardships
By admin | |

Your life and personal finances don’t always go the way you hope. We all have struggles and no one achieves success without their share of hurdles and challenges. However, there are tools that can help you break through financial hardships and live the life you want.

I interviewed AJ Gibson, author of Flipping the Script: Bouncing Back from Life’s Rock Bottom Moments, an Amazon #1 new release. We talk about the personal, professional, and financial challenges that he’s overcome.

AJ is a Los-Angeles based TV host, public speaker, and coach who loves great people, food, fashion, entertainment, and travel. He’s been the host of the nationally syndicated daytime talk show, Hollywood Today Live, a co-host on Access Hollywood Live, and a frequent anchor on Good Day LA. You’ll see him on CBS’s The Talk and even on several episodes of The Wendy Williams Show.

His journey from being a closeted gay boy in Ohio to a host chatting with the some of the world’s most admired celebrities on Hollywood’s biggest red carpets is incredibly inspiring. He has a gift for busting through life’s roadblocks and persevering despite failure.

On the Money Girl podcast, AJ and I chatted about key lessons from his book. You’ll learn how to shift your perspective to find the beauty in life’s most challenging moments. We cover:

  • Overcoming the financial hurdles of becoming self-employed
  • Tips for reaching financial goals when you have big dreams
  • Why fear and shame may be causing you to ignore your financial situation
  • Leaning on professionals to help stay on top of your financial life
  • Tools for turning hopelessness into a positive, fresh outlook on your future
  • Using a focus wheel for daily motivation to achieve your dreams and goals

Listen to the interview using the audio player above, or check it out on Apple PodcastsSoundCloudStitcher, and Spotify

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Adams received an MBA from the University of Florida. She's an award-winning personal finance author, speaker, and consumer advocate who is a trusted and frequent source for the national media. Her book, Debt-Free Blueprint: How to Get Out of Debt and Build a Financial Life You Love was an Amazon #1 New Release. Do you have a money question? Call the Money Girl listener line at 302-364-0308. Your question could be featured on the show. Stay in the personal finance loop! Listen and subscribe to the Money Girl podcast on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Easy Ways to Increase Your Earning Potential Today
By admin | |

Are you sick of feeling as though you always have more bills than income? Every month, you work hard to bring home a decent wage to support your family. Yet, somehow, when you need funds, there never seems to be anything available in your bank account. Sometimes, the problem might be that you’re struggling to manage your budget. Not knowing how to properly look after your money could mean that you spend too much, too fast. In other circumstances, your issue might be that you’re not taking advantage of opportunities to increase your earning potential. If you’re already doing everything you can to reduce excess spending and improve your financial habits, but you’re still facing money worries, then the following earning boosters could be just what you need. Let’s look at some quick and easy ways to turn your life around.

Consider a new job

All jobs have their pros and cons to consider. However, some roles definitely pay more than others. If you feel as though you’ve already gotten everything you can out of your current position, and there’s no room left to grow, a new role might be the best option. If you don’t want to switch away from the current company that you’re with, you could ask about switching to a different department. If there’s nowhere else for you to go in your current business, then it might be a good idea to see what someone can offer you elsewhere. Many people who switch jobs can take advantage of looking to improve earning potential than those that stick with the same role. Remember, if you do decide to switch to somewhere new, take your time to find something that actually appeals to you. Don’t just jump at the first offer you get. Play the field first.

Stick with learning about topics that you’re genuinely interested in. This will give you an opportunity to get a job in a space that you enjoy.

Improve your reputation

Reputation can make a big difference in your earning potential these days. In a world where we’re constantly connected to the internet, your image online might help you to find a new or higher-paying job. For instance, if you’re connected to the right people on LinkedIn, then you might speak to someone who can give a good word for you in a higher-paying department in your company. Start by auditing your existing personal brand online. See what people will find if they look for your name. If you have any unprofessional social accounts that are set to public, make them private immediately. Once you’re ready to begin building a name for yourself, look for opportunities to network and show off your skills. This could mean that you join some professional groups, comment on forums, or even visit local events from time to time.

Once you’re ready to begin building a name for yourself, look for opportunities to network and show off your skills.

Develop your skills

Sometimes, jobs will pay you a higher wage for a reason. A career that requires a specialist skill will often pay more than a basic entry-level job. With that in mind, it might be worth building on the talents that you already have. Think about the kind of things that you enjoy doing. Maybe you could work on something like coding or improving your technical expertise. The best way to boost your chances of getting your new skills recognized is to check out some student loans and head back to school. There are tons of different courses that you can take to add new certifications to your resume. You could also look into building out your knowledge about other topics online, taking free courses in your spare time. Stick with learning about topics that you’re genuinely interested in. This will give you an opportunity to get a job in a space that you enjoy.

Ask for a promotion

When’s the last time you just asked your boss whether they could pay you more? If you know that you’ve been delivering excellent work for a good while now, then it might be a good time to ask for a raise. Most business leaders won’t want to take the risk of losing an employee that’s valuable to the team. Check websites that list job openings and find out if there are any higher-paying companies out there that provide a better wage for the role you do now. This will give you a good starting point when you start asking for a wage. If you’re nervous, remember that hiring new team members comes with its own costs. If you’re a great employee, your boss would prefer to keep you around most of the time—even if that means paying more.

If you want to be able to pay your bills each month without worrying about your bank account, it’s worth keeping your mind open to ideas that could increase earning potential.

Start a side hustle

Finally, if you’ve already gone and built some new skills at school, but you haven’t found the perfect job to use them in yet, why not try creating your own career with a side hustle? This is basically a job that you can do on the side to add more income to your bank. Many people have discovered that they can put a few extra hours into their work online each day and make a hefty amount of additional income. Thanks to the gig economy, it’s easy to find opportunities to make cash with things like graphic design, content writing, website development, and more. Start by making a list of the kind of things you’d be interested in doing. You might even decide to create your own business and sell items online using a dropshipping company. Dropshipping services handle things like manufacturing and shipping products for you, so you just need to build a brand and find customers.

Increase your earning potential

Money might not make you happy, but it’s one of the most important things in many of our lives. If you want to be able to pay your bills each month without worrying about your bank account, it’s worth keeping your mind open to ideas that could increase earning potential. Whether you’re developing new cash opportunities with your current employer or thinking about becoming your own boss with a side hustle, make the conscious effort to invest in yourself this year. The quicker you start working on your new earning opportunities, the more money you’ll make for your future.

16 Good Jobs for Teens (Plus Business Ideas!)
By admin | |

If you’re a teen looking for a job (or a parent helping your teen find a job), you’re in luck! Most people know that 16-year-olds can work in a variety of stores and restaurants. However, some companies will hire teens as young as 15, and sometimes even as young as 14. We’ll share where you should look if you’re a teen looking for ways to earn your own cash.

Here are some of the more well-known jobs that employers hire 14 and 15-year-olds for.

Jobs for 15-year-olds

There are a few companies willing to hire teens as young as 14 or 15. We’ll focus on a few industries that hire 15-year-olds first.

Restaurant Worker

Fast food and casual restaurants often hire teens as young as 15. For instance, Boston Market is a casual restaurant chain with over 450 locations in the United States. Some of the job positions they might hire 15-year-olds for include busboy/busgirl jobs and cleaning crew.

Grocery Store Worker

Some grocery stores will hire 15-year-olds to work as a cashier or stock person. Hy-Vee is a national grocery store chain with nearly 250 locations in states such as Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois.

Note that not all Hy-Vee stores hire 15-year-olds. Check with your local Hy-Vee location and talk with the manager there.

Movie Theater Worker

As a movie theater worker, you might sell tickets, take tickets, work in concessions or do theater cleanup. The AMC movie theater company has locations throughout the U.S and often hire teens as young as 15. As with Hy-Vee, locations are independently managed and many locations will hire 15-year-olds, however not all locations do.

Amusement Park Worker

Six Flags amusement parks and other amusement parks commonly hire teens as young as 15. There are a variety of job positions available such as park cleaner, store cashier, food service jobs and ride operators.

Check with your local Six Flags or other amusement parks to see what types of job positions are available for 15-year-olds.

Lifeguard

The American Red Cross lets teens as young as 15 get certified for service as a lifeguard. If you’re interested in this type of job, talk with hiring managers at local pools and beaches.

If they’re willing to hire a certified lifeguard at 15, get your certification through your local Red Cross or online.

Jobs for 14-year-olds

Some industries, although not many, hire 14-year-olds. There are a variety of restaurants and stores that hire 14-year-olds. Some of the jobs you might do in a restaurant at 14 include cleaning, cashiering, and food preparation.

The following restaurants often hire teens as young as 14. Note that the hiring age can vary by location.

  • Baskin Robbins
  • Ben and Jerry’s
  • Bruster’s Real Ice Cream
  • Chick-Fil-A
  • Culver’s
  • Dairy Queen
  • McDonald’s
  • Rita’s Italian Ice

Grocery stores also hire teens as young as 14 at times. Again, each location may vary on the hiring age based on management preference and state laws. But the following grocery stores have been known to hire 14-year-olds.

  • Giant Eagle
  • Giant Food
  • Kroger
  • Publix
  • Winn Dixie

If you want even more ideas for jobs for teens check out this list.

Not interested in working for a company? Try this next idea on for size.

Businesses you can start as a teenager

What if you want a job as a teenager but you want something different? How about starting your own business?

One of the keys to operating a successful business is to “underpromise and overdeliver.” In other words, do a better job than what you agreed to do and make the customer extra happy they hired you.

Here are some business ideas that anyone age 14 or up can start.

Tutoring

Are you smart in school subjects such as English, reading, math or science? How about working as a tutor for other students your age or younger?

Advertise your skills to parents of other children in your area, or on social media outlets. Set a rate of pay; most tutors charge by the half-hour or by the hour.

Continue reading at WalletHacks.com.

How to Measure Progress and Achieve Goals
By admin | |

Measurement! I just love measurement. That’s because it tells you how you’re doing and how much progress you’ve made. Progress checks can motivate you, help you catch yourself when you’re slacking, and tell you when to change course. 

Without giving thought to how you define progress, however, you can measure the wrong thing, or measure the wrong way. You might end up demoralized for no reason, or falling behind unknowingly on a project, or missing opportunities. So if you’re going to measure progress, do it right! Turn off auto-pilot “gut checks” and measure progress thoughtfully.

Measure process goals

If you’re Type A like me, you probably overwork yourself, under the assumption that more work gives more progress. But does it? Have you ever measured? Just being busy and stressed doesn’t mean we’re getting anything done. We need to track how far we are from our goal, and whether we’re closing that gap.

First determine the kind of goals you’re chasing. Episode 462, “Grow a Pair for Your Career,” outlines the difference between outcome goals and process goals. Outcome goals—like getting a promotion—are something you strive for, not something you just do. Process goals, on the other hand, are measurable actions that help you get closer to your outcome goal, like making ten more sales calls each day. 

If you’re going to measure progress, do it right! Turn off auto-pilot “gut checks” and measure progress thoughtfully.

On a daily basis, measure progress through movement toward your process goals. It doesn’t matter how much you work, only whether that work takes you closer to finishing that day’s process goals. Then check that your process goals are doing what they should, by tracking overall movement toward an outcome goal.

For example, if you work in sales, your process goal might be to make fifty cold calls a day. If that’s your goal, sending two hundred emails should not count as progress. What’s more, if your outcome goal is to close sales, and you haven’t closed one in months, you may need to rethink if you have the right process goals. Maybe “number of calls” doesn’t lead to sales. Maybe you need to make progress on the quality of your calls, instead. So make your new process goal tweaking your sales pitch, and direct some work toward that.

Measure how far you’ve come

Another way to track progress is to look at how far you are from your starting point. 

Sam is a twenty-something who’s just started up a fairly successful online delivery company. The vision of being the next Amazon.com seems impossible! Or at least, light years away. And it is. But knowing that it’s not Amazon yet isn’t a useful measure for evaluating progress. Furthermore, it’s so far away that it isn’t even clear which paths lead to that result.

Sam can instead concentrate on what’s been accomplished so far. They started sitting around a dining room table. Now they have office space, customers, a business model that works, money in the bank, and profit. By measuring progress based on how far they’ve come, not on how far they have left to go, Sam can realize they’ve made tons of progress, and can make sure it continues to unfold, as more and more milestones get added to the list.

Measure distance to your goals

At some point your goal is within reach. Then, you can start measuring how far you are from your goal, and concentrate on closing the gap.

Don’t do this too soon! You can hurt morale. At my last Harvard Business School reunion, for example, doing an “Am I there yet?” progress check gave me a soul-crushing burst of inadequacy as I was moderating a panel of my classmates, whose combined net worth was enough to purchase a third world country and pave it over. In gold. 

When you’re out on a long run, you get a surge of fresh energy when you see you’re only ten feet from the finish line, and there’s an entire 55-gallon drum of gummy bears waiting at the end. And an Oreo ice cream cake. The next thing you know, you’re barreling over the finish line.

When you’ve passed the halfway point, start measuring your progress by how quickly you’re closing on your goal. Keep that Oreo ice cream cake in mind, and set new goals to push you those last few feet.

Even if you get some steps wrong, just making the plan will energize you and be motivating.

A good way to do this is to make a checklist of things you’ll need to do to reach the end point. These can be high-level things like, “Run A/B testing with focus groups,” or low-level things like, “Write an email to call for A/B testing participants.” Once your plan is on paper, finishing your project will seem much more doable, since all the steps left to take are right there in front of you. And as I talked about in episode 466, "Make a Plan for Motivation," even if you get some steps wrong, just making the plan will energize you and be motivating.

Re-measure often

Once you figure out the best way to track your progress, and the types of progress you need to track, choose how often you’ll track. Sometimes, tracking progress once a week is plenty. But from my experience, it’s best to track progress every two to three days.

That way, if you suddenly notice you’re not where you should be, you only have to make up two or three days’ worth of work. If you were only checking once a week, you could get an entire week behind before you’d notice it.

From my experience, it’s best to track progress every two to three days.

What gets measured gets managed. And we love to manage progress. On a daily basis, concentrate your measurements on your progress goals, rather than your outcome goals. Then choose a less-frequent measurement that is based on where you are in your project: distance to your goal, or distance from your starting point. With a little experimentation, you can find the magic balance that keeps you on top of your game.

This is Stever Robbins. I give great keynote speeches on productivity, Living an Extraordinary Life, and entrepreneurship. If you want to know more, visit http://SteverRobbins.com.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!

Does Your Small Business Need a Blog? Blog Writing Services Can Help
By admin | |

If you have a business, the next step to taking it further is to build and grow a connection with your customers. Simply providing a service or product is no longer enough. In a world that is always moving and full of change, people crave meaningful interactions. And that need extends to the products and services they use. Customers want to be surrounded by things they can identify with. If a business with great products or services is also able to provide some kind of added value for someone, that person is more likely to become a loyal patron. 

As a business owner, providing that added value can feel like a huge task. This is where the value of blog writing services can really shine. Not only can these services create more connections between you and your customers, but they can also make your life easier through a smoother workflow. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to get started.

What are my goals?

Ultimately, you probably hope to increase your sales. However, modern consumers expect personal connections. Set a goal for providing helpful facts that engage new readers. Establish a goal regarding how many new readers left comments on your blog. Consumers are more likely to complete sales when they feel that you hope to improve their lives. 

Do I even need a blog?

Yes. According to studies conducted by the Pew Research Center, people regularly turn to blogs and internet articles instead of using their televisions for news and information.

How can I connect with customers?

A blog allows businesses to connect with customers in many ways. Blogs provide answers to consumers' questions. They make your brand seem approachable and friendly. Blogs encourage readers to interact with your company and maintain meaningful connections. In addition to providing a blog, reach out through social media to invite readers to visit your website. 

Who are my current customers?

If you aren't sure about the needs, motivations, and concerns of your existing customers, it will be easy to miss out on meaningful connections. As you respond to comments on your blog posts or on your social media sites, you'll learn more about the needs that drive sales. While copywriters will spend time researching your current customers, it's also helpful for you to develop relationships with them.

Who is the target audience?

Who benefits most from the goods or services you offer? These people are your target audience. Take a look at the demographics of your existing customers to identify the new audience you want to attract. Remember to focus on how your offerings can improve the lives of your existing customers to understand how to attract people from your target audience. 

How busy is my schedule?

Building and maintaining a blog with a consistent schedule takes a lot of work. Some people make the mistake of underestimating the time commitment that goes into planning, design, and content creation. When your workday is already pushing beyond the 9-to-5 schedule, you don't really have time to produce consistent, fresh content. 

There are a lot of potentially great blogs out there that consist of just one or two posts ... last updated eight months ago. If you want to have a blog that builds and sustains an audience, a consistent schedule is critical. Without a schedule, it can sometimes be impossible to ensure posts are written and content keeps flowing. If you have loyal followers and you disappear for several months, you may very well be forgotten! Using blog writing services makes this a non-issue. When someone else writes your content, you can tend to your life and work without having to worry about losing customers.

Can copywriters really represent my voice?

The task of finding someone to accurately portray your company should not be taken lightly. After all, writing in a business or brand's voice is a critical part of the copywriting process.

It is equally important to understand the value of professional copywriters. There are many factors involved in the process of creating great copy that leads to increased sales, and copywriters must understand and use these strategies. With research into your subject and your target consumers, talented copywriters can represent your voice. 

Your Guide to Claiming a Legit Home Office Tax Deduction
By admin | |

I’d bet that on just about every city block or long country road, someone is operating a business from their residence. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, about 50 percent of businesses are home-based, with a larger percentage (60 percent) working as solopreneurs with no employees.

Having a home-based business is one of the easiest and least risky ways to become an entrepreneur, test your business ideas, and increase your income. No matter if you run a business full-time or as a side gig, claiming the home office deduction can significantly reduce your taxes.

No matter if you run a business full-time or as a side gig, claiming the home office deduction can significantly reduce your taxes.

I received an email from John, who says, “My New Year's resolution is to earn more money working during my off-hours and on weekends. Since the work will likely entail making deliveries for different mobile apps, I’m not sure if it qualifies me for the home office tax deduction. Can you explain more about it?”

Thanks for your great question, John! In this post, I’ll give an overview of the home office deduction. You’ll learn who qualifies, which expenses are deductible, and how to legitimately claim this money-saving tax break no matter what type of business you have.

Who can claim the home office tax deduction

If you work for yourself in any type of trade or business, either full- or part-time, and your primary office location is your home, you have a home business. The designation applies no matter whether you sell goods and services, are a freelancer, consultant, designer, inventor, Uber driver, or dog-walker.

If you work for yourself in any type of trade or business, either full- or part-time, and your primary office location is your home, you have a home business. 

You can have a home-based business even if you’re like John and mostly earn income away from home. This is common for many trades and solopreneurs, such as musicians, sales reps, and those working in the gig economy. If you’re self-employed and do administrative work like scheduling, invoicing, communication, and recordkeeping at home, you have a home business.

Note that employees who work from home can’t claim a home office deduction. W-2 workers used to be allowed to include certain expenses if they itemized deductions. But tax reform took away that benefit starting with the 2018 tax year.

The home office deduction is available for any self-employed person no matter whether you own or rent your home, with the following two requirements:

  1. Your home office space is used regularly and exclusively for business
  2. Your home office is the principal place used for business

You must regularly use part of your home exclusively for conducting business. For example, if you use a guest room in your house or a nook in your studio apartment to run your business, you can take a home office deduction for the space.

You don’t need walls to separate your office, but it should be a distinct area within your home. The only exception to this “exclusive use” rule is when you use part of your home for business storage or as a daycare. In these situations, you can consider the entire space an office for tax purposes.

Additionally, your home must be the primary place you conduct business, even if it’s just the administrative work you do. For example, if you meet with clients or do work for customers away from home, you can still consider the area of your home used exclusively for business as your home office.

Your home doesn’t have to be the only place you work to qualify for the deduction. You might also work at a coffee shop or a co-working space from time to time.

You could also consider a separate structure at your home, such as a garage or studio, your home office if you use it regularly for business. Also, note that your home doesn’t have to be the only place you work to qualify for the deduction. You might also work at a coffee shop or a co-working space from time to time.

RELATED: How to Cut Taxes When You Work From Home

Expenses that are eligible for the home office tax deduction

If you run a business from home, two types of expenses are eligible for the home office deduction: direct expenses and indirect expenses.

Direct expenses are the costs to set up and maintain your office. For instance, if you work in a spare bedroom, you might decide to install carpet and window treatments. These expenses are 100 percent deductible, no matter the size of the office.  

Indirect expenses are costs related to your office that affect your entire home. They’re partially deductible based on the size of your office as a percentage of your home. 

For renters, your rent, renters insurance, and utilities are examples of indirect expenses. You’d have these expenses even if you didn’t have a home office.

For homeowners, you can't deduct the principal portion of your mortgage payment, which is the amount borrowed for the home. Instead, you’re allowed to recover a part of the cost each year through depreciation deductions, using formulas created by the IRS.

Other indirect expenses typically include mortgage interest, property taxes, home insurance, utilities, and maintenance. Allowable indirect expenses actually turn some of your personal expenses into home office business deductions, which is fantastic!

Allowable indirect expenses actually turn some of your personal expenses into home office business deductions, which is fantastic!

However, expenses that are entirely unrelated to your home office, such as remodeling in other parts of your home or gardening, are never deductible. So, your ability to deduct an expense when you’re self-employed depends on whether it benefits just your office (such as carpeting and wall paint) or your entire home (such as power and water).

Also, remember that business expenses unrelated to your home office—such as marketing, equipment, software, office supplies, and business insurance—are fully deductible no matter where you work.

How to claim the home office tax deduction

If you qualify for the home office deduction, there are two ways you can calculate it: the standard method or the simplified method.

The standard method requires you to determine the percentage of your home used for business. You divide the square footage of the area used for business by the square footage of your entire home.

For example, if your home office is 12 feet by 10 feet, that’s 120 square feet. If your entire home is 1,200 square feet, then diving 120 by 1,200 gives you a home office space that’s 10 percent of your home. That means 10 percent of the qualifying expenses of your home can be attributed to business use, and the remaining 90 percent is personal use. If your monthly power bill is $100 and 10 percent of your home qualifies for business use, you can consider $10 of the bill a business expense.

To claim the standard deduction, use Form 8829, Expenses for Business Use of Your Home, to figure out the expenses you can deduct and then file it with Schedule C, Profit or Loss From Business.

The simplified method allows you to claim $5 per square foot of your office area, up to a maximum of 300 square feet. So, that caps your deduction at $1,500 (300 square feet x $5) per year.

The simplified method truly is simple because you don’t have to do any record-keeping, just measure the space and include it on Schedule C. It works best for small home offices, while the standard method is better when your office is larger than 300 square feet. You can choose the method that gives you the biggest tax break for any year.

But no matter which method you choose to calculate a home office tax deduction, you can’t deduct more than your business’ net profit. However, you can carry them forward into future tax years.

As you can see, claiming tax deductions for your home office can be complicated. I recommend that everyone who’s self-employed use a qualified tax accountant to maximize both home office and business tax deductions.

Yes, professional advice costs money. But it’s well worth it, and it usually saves money in the long run when you know how to take advantage of every legit tax deduction.

Tips And Services To Help Your Bookkeeping Go Paperless
By admin | |

The COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t a catalyst to shift businesses toward digital transformation, it merely sped up the process. Businesses needed to scramble to move much of their operations online so workers could efficiently collaborate with each other and maintain business continuity during a difficult time.

Fortunately, departments not traditionally associated with the digital universe, like Bookkeeping, had an easier time adapting thanks to online services like Bookstime.com, a provider of digital bookkeeping tools with unique experience in difficult areas like sales tax automation, health benefits administration, and more.

Advantages of digital bookkeeping

Keeping track of every business transaction is among the most important and perhaps underappreciated tasks. Failure to keep track of transactions in a professional manner can result in a business owner making wrong decisions because they have inaccurate information.

Even worse, they might think they end the year with a profit but in reality, a bunch of small bookkeeping mistakes over several months means the business owner really lost money.

A shift to a digital platform eliminates these concerns. Online digital platforms make use of the most up-to-date accounting automation software that erases nearly every careless mistake. This is especially useful for a business owner who does the tedious but necessary job of bookkeeping themselves to save money. The more time a business owner spends on ancillary tasks, the less time they have to generate revenue and keep clients happy.

Some of the other advantages associated with going online include:

  • Eliminating clutter: keeping a clean home office is challenging enough but a digital platform means more space for higher priority files.
  • Save time: A digital bookkeeping platform is always available online with a few short clicks of the mouse. It can be accessed as needed and when needed in a few short seconds.
  • Environmental benefits: It isn’t unusual for a company to use at least 10,000 sheets of paper each year. Shifting resources online may seem like a small benefit but everyone has a responsibility to do a little bit more to protect our environment.

Case in point: Fill in a W-4

Every business owner is happy to hire new workers because it means they are expected to provide value to the company above and beyond their salary. But that doesn’t mean that the formal process is enjoyable.

One of the more undesirable parts of the hiring process is the pesky W-4 form that every employer has to ensure is properly filled in before a worker’s first day. Simply put, the W-4 form confirms how much income tax a worker wants to have withheld from their recurring paychecks. Under-withholding taxes means a worker will likely experience a shock come tax season as they owe money to the government. Over-withholding taxes means a worker is paying the government too much money and has to wait for a refund.

Digital bookkeeping can help simplify this process so you're less prone to errors. When other people’s finances are at stake, small careless mistakes could impact a worker’s desire to give the business owner 100% of their focus.

Businesses that shifted their bookkeeping process online to better navigate through the pandemic quickly realized this was a move that should have been done years ago. The advantages of having access to a clean and organized online tool far outweigh the costs.

How Can Your Small Shop Get Off To a Roaring Start?
By admin | |

Are you just trying to get your own shop or retail business off the ground? Do you have physical items to sell but don’t have the capital to open a brick-and-mortar store? With the latest iPad point-of-sale (POS) systems, you can sell your products, manage your inventory, show your products to potential customers, and even analyze your progress. This allows you unparalleled flexibility to alter your business strategy for the best results in today’s rapidly changing retail landscape.

Whether your own shop or retail boutique is still a glimmer in your eye or you’ve investigated avenues to making it a reality, you may not realize just how easy it can be to get up and selling. Renting retail space may not make as much sense during a pandemic, but there are other ways to get your products in front of your prospective customers beyond the online arena.

One such way is to investigate opportunities for popup store locations in your area. Farmers markets are great for this, but you need a location that’s equally effective in warm or cold weather. All across the country, malls are looking to repurpose themselves as their anchor department stores go bust. Many mall owners, noting the consumer trend toward buying local, are looking to fill these spaces with small-scale merchants like you. Combining a popup location when it’s cool with an outdoor spot when it’s warm could give you an effective high-traffic spot without shelling out what it would cost to rent, say, space in a strip mall or downtown location.

Get up and running

When you think of opening up your own store, you probably picture a daunting checklist as long as your arm and myriad expenses that would make launching such a venture unacceptably risky. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Today’s POS providers offer packages that can get you up and running for less outlay than you might imagine.

Part of the problem with traditional POS systems was that they were so cumbersome to learn that you could spend a month digging into their complexities and still be unable to perform some basic functions. iPad POS systems are far more intuitive, which means you’ll be able to take advantage of everything the system can do within hours, not days, weeks, or months. At first, you’ll barely be scratching the surface of your system’s capabilities, but as you grow you’ll be well served to take advantage of key features such as inventory management and customer tracking.

Optimize your inventory

The true power of today’s mobile POS systems lies in their ability to track your sales and help you manage your inventory based on your results over time. What do you sell the most and when do you sell it? What’s collecting dust? You’ll be able to view all of this at a glance, and more importantly, you’ll be able to take appropriate actions to load up on what sells and rid yourself of what doesn’t. If you do have an online store, most systems allow you to integrate your inventory management so that someone shopping online isn’t surprised that an item they want is actually out of stock because it was sold to a walk-up customer or vice versa.

Customer tracking and rewards

These days, customers have become accustomed to sharing some data with their favorite shops. This is especially true when they're rewarded for doing so. Forging mutually beneficial customer relationships takes time and can cost you a bit in the short term. However, in the long term, they can pay huge dividends not only in frequent repeat business but also when it comes to spreading the word about your shop on social media and among friends and colleagues. It’s never too early to start identifying and rewarding your loyal customers.

Fortunately, most POS software makes this easy. Simply by providing the phone number or email where they would like their receipt sent, you can start building a profile of their likes and dislikes. You can also use this info to send them promotional messages, though you will need to make sure they opt in to this service.

Customer tracking is a win-win. They win because you can use their preferences to recommend products in which they will likely be interested; you win because you can keep presenting them with products that they’re eager to buy.

If you do start building an email or SMS list, that’s an excellent way to reach out to them with a killer deal when things are slow, or to let them know about an item that you're sure they’ll want to see. Take care, though—it’s very easy to overuse these capabilities, which can drive customers away and turn them into brand ambassadors of the worst kind, former customers who tell prospective customers to stay away. However, done with the right touch, direct marketing programs can bring in a solid core of business on which you can expand.

Contactless payment

With the pandemic raging, no one is eager to touch surfaces outside their home. That’s why it’s so critical to employ a contactless payment solution. iPad POS providers charge a bit more for these card readers, but being able to loudly tell potential customers that you have this capability will pay for the additional expense and then some.

Setting up your own shop is far from a walk in the park, but with a solid plan and a simple iPad POS solution, it need not be nearly as complicated as it has been in the past.

5 Tips for a Memorable Holiday Card for Your Business
By admin | |

In a time when most communication takes place online, receiving a personal holiday card in the mail is a welcome treat—and one that can help build stronger business relationships while supporting your company’s brand.

So how can you be sure that your company’s holiday card earns a place on the mantel or card display and isn’t just tossed in the recycling bin? Start with a high-quality card from a well-known stationer like Crane, and then remember these tips.

1. Reflect Your Brand

Although sending a holiday card spreads cheer and acknowledges the spirit of the season, it’s a marketing tool ultimately, giving you a chance to thank your customers for their business and maintain top-of-mind awareness. Therefore, it’s important that the design you choose reflects your company brand and sends the right message to customers. Try to choose card designs that align with your brand colors, imagery, fonts, and overall corporate identity. That doesn’t mean you have to stick to boring or conservative designs, but you should consider the message you’re sending. Even conservative businesses like accountants or attorneys can incorporate whimsical or colorful designs into their cards when done appropriately.

2. Consider a Photo

Photo cards are among the most popular design choices for holiday cards. After all, who doesn’t love seeing the smiling faces of friends and family that they might see all that often? Photo cards are also appropriate for businesses and are likely to get the recipients to look more closely at them. Photo cards work well both for businesses where customers have regular contact with your team and for those where your customers might not see you and want to put faces to names. They are also a great choice for family businesses. Including a family photo on the holiday card supports your “family-owned” brand and a personal touch to the card.

3. Make it Personal

Speaking of adding a personal touch, the most memorable holiday cards are those that have a personal touch. Nothing will send your card to the bin faster than a preprinted card that was clearly a mass mailing. People want to feel special and acknowledged, and adding a personal touch to the card creates that feeling. Hand-signing cards is ideal, but not always practical, but many printing companies can add digital signatures that mimic the look of a signature. Another option is to have your team send cards to specific clients with a personalized message thanking them for their business or mentioning a specific memory or project.

Sending business holiday cards is a key part of your marketing, so take the time to do it right.

4. Take Care with Messaging

Understanding your customer base and being culturally sensitive is important all the time, but in particular during the holidays. It’s important to choose holiday cards and write messages that are sensitive to your customers' religious and cultural preferences. This means avoiding cards with overtly religious messages or focused on the religious aspects of the season, instead opt for more neutral designs and greetings. The primary exceptions are if your business is devoted to a specific religion (eg. a Christian bookstore), if you are certain that your customer base is of a specific faith, or if you’re sending greetings for a holiday you celebrate (for example, if you’re of the Jewish faith and sending cards for Hanukkah). Even then, it’s best to opt for cards that have more subtle religious imagery and messages. If you’re unsure, choose a more universal “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” theme.

5. Mail Carefully

There’s no point in putting time, effort, and money into your holiday card only to have many of them returned undeliverable because you have incorrect addresses. Devote some time to updating your mailing list, adding new contacts, removing old or outdated addresses, and removing duplicates. If you’re sending cards to contacts and clients at other companies, make sure that the recipients are still with the company and that you have their titles correct.

This means that you should begin working on your holiday cards well in advance. You might not be thinking about the holidays yet in October, but it’s best to get your company cards in the mail as close to Thanksgiving as possible. Not only does getting your card in the hands of your contacts early make it more memorable—it’s not going to get lost in the pile of cards filling mailboxes the week before Christmas—but it also ensures that people receive them before they head out of the office for the holidays. Many people take time off in the days before and after Christmas, and if your cards are mailed late, they won’t be seen until after the New Year. If you are running late with your holiday cards, consider sending New Year’s greetings instead.

Sending business holiday cards is a key part of your marketing, so take the time to do it right. Your customers will be happy to receive them and remember your company in the year to come.

10 COVID-19 Stimulus Benefits for the Self-Employed
By admin | |

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, life and business certainly have changed. If you’re self-employed full-time or earn business income on the side of a day job, you may be wondering what economic relief applies to you.  

Let's review what relief Congress passed to help self-employed Americans cope with financial challenges. I’ll review ten key stimulus benefits that apply to solopreneurs and small businesses.

If you're experiencing economic hardship due to the coronavirus, using some of these new regulations may be the ticket to managing your personal and business finances better.

10 ways the self-employed can get financial relief

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act became law on March 27 as the largest stimulus legislation in American history since the New Deal in the 1930s. Here are ten ways it provides relief for individual solopreneurs and small business owners.

1. Getting lower interest rates

On March 3, the central U.S. bank, also known as the Federal Reserve or Fed, made a surprising emergency interest rate cut of half a percentage point. That’s the largest single rate cut since the financial crisis of 2008. While this move wasn’t part of a coronavirus stimulus package, it was an aggressive cut meant to prepare the economy for problems the pandemic was expected to cause.

An economic recovery could take a few years, which likely means the Fed rate will stay near zero through 2023.

In mid-September, the Fed reiterated its promise to keep interest rates near zero until the economy improves and the unemployment rate declines. They indicated that a recovery could take a few years, which likely means the Fed rate stays near zero through 2023.

While savers never celebrate low interest rates, they're beneficial to borrowers. In general, the financing charge on variable-rate credit cards and lines of credit goes down in lockstep with interest rates. Carrying a balance on your personal and business credit cards may be slightly less expensive, depending on your card issuer and type. For instance, if your card’s annual percentage rate or APR is 20%, your adjusted rate could go down to 19.5%.

If you have a fixed-rate credit card, the APR doesn’t change no matter what happens in the economy or with federal interest rates. Also, note that if you pay off your balance in full each month, a credit card’s APR is irrelevant because you don’t pay interest on purchases.

2. Having more time to file taxes

Earlier this year, the due date for filing and paying 2019 federal taxes was postponed from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020. You didn't have to be sick or negatively impacted by COVID-19 to qualify for this federal tax delay. It applied to any person or business entity with taxes due on April 15, 2020.

If you missed the tax filing deadline, be sure to request an extension.

Most businesses make estimated tax payments each quarter. Those payment dates have shifted, too. The 2020 schedule gives you more time as follows:

  • The first quarter was due on July 15, 2020, which changed from April 15, 2020
  • The second quarter was due on July 15, 2020, which changed from April 15, 2020
  • The third quarter was due on September 15, 2020
  • The fourth quarter is due on January 15, 2021

Individuals and businesses can request an automatic extension to delay filing federal taxes. But it doesn’t give you more time to pay what you owe for 2019, only more time to submit your tax form—until October 15, 2020.

If you missed the tax filing deadline, be sure to request an extension. Individuals must file IRS Form 4868, and most incorporated businesses use IRS Form 7004.

However, depending on where you live, you may have to pay state income taxes, which have not been postponed. If you need a state tax filing extension, check with your state’s tax agency to determine what’s possible.

Taxes due on any date other than April 15, 2020—such as sales tax, payroll tax, or estate tax—don’t qualify for relief.

3. Getting more time to contribute to retirement accounts

You typically have until April 15 or the date of a tax extension to make traditional IRA or Roth IRA contributions for the prior year. But since the CARES Act postponed the federal tax filing deadline, you also have until July 15 or October 15, 2020 (if you requested an extension) to make IRA contributions for 2019.

However, this deadline doesn't apply to retirement accounts you may have with an employer, such as a 401(k). Nor does it apply to self-employed accounts, such as a solo 401(k) or SEP-IRA, which correspond to the calendar year.

4. Getting more time to contribute to an HSA

Like with an IRA, you typically have until April 15 or the date of a tax extension to make HSA contributions for the prior year. Under the CARES Act, you now have until July 15 or October 15, 2020, to make HSA contributions for 2019.

To qualify for an HSA, you must be covered by a qualifying high-deductible health plan. In early March, the IRS issued a notice that a high-deductible health plan may cover COVID-19 testing and treatment and telehealth services before meeting your deductible. And just as before the coronavirus, you can pay for medical testing and treatment using funds in your HSA.

5. Delaying tax on retirement withdrawals

While you typically must pay income tax on retirement account withdrawals that weren’t previously taxed, the good news is that for a period, you can delay or avoid tax altogether. The CARES Act gives you two options for withdrawals made in 2020:

  • Repay a hardship distribution within three years to your retirement account. You can replace the funds slowly or all at once, with no change to your annual contribution limit. If you take money out but return it within three years, it’s like you never took a distribution.
  • Pay taxes on a hardship distribution from your retirement account evenly over three years. If you can’t pay back your distribution, you can ease your tax burden by paying one-third of your liability for three years. 

Since withdrawing contributions from a Roth retirement account doesn’t trigger income taxes, it’s a good idea to tap a Roth before a traditional retirement account when you have the option.

6. Skipping early withdrawal penalties

Most retirement accounts impose a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you take make withdrawals before age 59.5. Under the CARES Act, if you have a coronavirus-related hardship, the penalty is waived.

Under the CARES Act, if you have a coronavirus-related hardship, the penalty is waived.

For instance, if you, your spouse, or a child gets diagnosed with COVID-19 or have financial challenges due to being laid off, quarantined, or closing a business, you qualify for this penalty exemption. You can withdraw up to $100,000 of your retirement account balance during 2020 without penalty. However, income taxes would still be due in most cases.

The no-penalty rule applies to workplace retirement plans, such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s. It also applies to IRAs, such as traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and SEP-IRAs.

Since you make after-tax contributions to Roth accounts, you can withdraw them at any time (which was also the case before the CARES Act). However, the earnings portion of a Roth is subject to income tax if you withdraw it before age 59.5.

7. Getting larger retirement plan loans

Some workplace retirement plans, such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s, permit loans. Typically, you can borrow 50% of your vested account balance up to $50,000 and repay it with interest over five years.

You can delay the repayment period for a retirement plan loan for up to one year.

For retirement plans that allow loans, the CARES Act doubles the limit to 100% of your vested balance in the plan up to $100,000. It applies to loans you take from your account until late September 2020, for coronavirus-related financial needs.

You can delay the repayment period for a retirement plan loan for up to one year. For example, if you have $20,000 vested in your 401(k), you could take a $20,000 loan on September 30, 2020, and delay the repayment term until September 30, 2021. You’d have payments stretched over five years, ending on September 30, 2026. Any amount not repaid by the deadline would be subject to tax and a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty.

Note that individual retirement accounts—such as traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and SEP-IRAs—don’t allow participants to take loans, only hardship distributions.

8. Suspending student loan payments.

Starting on March 13, 2020, most federal student loans went into automatic forbearance until September 30, 2020, due to the CARES Act. On August 8, the suspension of student loan payments was extended through December 31, 2020.

On August 8, the suspension of student loan payments was extended through December 31, 2020.

The suspension covers the following types of loans:

  • Direct Loans that are unsubsidized or subsidized
  • Direct PLUS Loans
  • Direct Consolidation Loans
  • Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL)
  • Federal Perkins Loans

Note that FFEL loans owned by a private lender or Perkins loans held by your education institution don’t qualify for automatic forbearance. However, you may have the option to consolidate them into a Direct Loan, which would be eligible for forbearance. Just make sure that once the suspension ends, your new consolidated interest rate wouldn’t rise significantly.

During forbearance, qualifying loans don’t accrue additional interest. Even if you have federal student loans in default because you haven’t made payments, zero percent interest applies during the suspension period.

Additionally, missed payments during the suspension don’t get reported to the credit bureaus and can’t hurt your credit. Qualifying payments you skip also count toward any federal loan repayment or forgiveness plan you’re enrolled in.

However, if you want to continue making student loan payments during the suspension period, you can. With zero percent interest, the amount you pay gets applied to your principal student loan balance, enabling you to get out of debt faster.

With zero percent interest, the amount you pay gets applied to your principal student loan balance, enabling you to get out of debt faster.

If you’re not sure what type of student loan you have or the pros and cons of consolidation, contact your loan servicer. Even if your student loans are with private lenders or schools, they may offer relief if you request it.

9. Having Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans forgiven

The PPP is part of the CARES Act, and it supports small businesses, organizations, and solopreneurs facing economic hardship created by the pandemic. The program began providing relief in early April 2020, and the application window ended in early August 2020.

Participating PPP lenders coordinated with the Small Business Administration (SBA) to offer loans to businesses in operation by February 15, 2020, with fewer than 500 employees. Loan amounts could be up to 2.5 times the average monthly payroll up to $10 million; however, annual salaries were capped at $100,000.

For a solopreneur, the maximum PPP loan was $20,833 if your 2019 net profit was at least $100,000. The calculation is: $100,000 / 12 months x 2.5 = $20,833.

When you spend at least 60% on payroll and 40% on rent, mortgage interest, and utilities, you can have those amounts forgiven from repayment. Payroll includes payments to yourself, but you can’t cover benefit costs, such as retirement contributions, or payments to independent contractors.

In other words, a solopreneur could have received a PPP loan for up to $20,833, paid the entire amount to themselves, and not repaid it by having the load forgiven. Using a PPP loan for qualifying expenses turns it into a grant.

The best part about PPP loan forgiveness is that it won’t qualify as federal taxable income. Some states that charge income tax have indicated that they won’t tax forgiven amounts.

However, if you have employees, the PPP forgiveness calculations and requirements are more complex. For example, you must maintain reasonable salaries and wages. If you decrease them by more than 25% for any employee (including yourself) who made less than $100,000 in 2019, your forgiveness amount will be reduced. 

PPP loan forgiveness also depends on keeping any full-time employees on your payroll. But if you had employees who left your company voluntarily, requested a cut in hours, or got fired for cause during the pandemic, your loan forgiveness amount won’t be reduced for those situations.

The best part about PPP loan forgiveness is that it won’t qualify as federal taxable income. Some states that charge income tax have indicated that they won’t tax forgiven amounts.

However, not all states have issued their rules on taxing PPP forgiveness. So be sure to get guidance if you live in a state with income tax.

You must complete a PPP Loan Forgiveness Application and get approved by your lender to qualify for forgiveness. The paperwork should come from your lender, or you can download it from the SBA website at SBA.gov. Most PPP borrowers have from six months after loan disbursement or until the end of 2020 to spend the funds. 

The forgiveness application explains what documents you must include, and they vary depending on whether you have employees. Once you submit your paperwork, your lender has 60 days to decide how much of your PPP loan can be forgiven.

If some or all of a PPP loan isn't forgiven, you typically must repay it within five years at a 1 percent fixed interest rate. You don't have to start making payments for ten months after loan disbursement, but interest will accrue during a deferral period.

10. Getting SBA loans

In addition to PPP loans, the Small Business Administration (SBA) offers several loans for businesses and solopreneurs facing economic hardship caused by a disaster, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) can be up to $2 million and repaid over 30 years at an interest rate of 3.75 percent. You can use these funds for payroll and other operating expenses.
  • SBA Express Bridge Loans gives borrowers up to $25,000 for help overcoming a temporary loss of revenue. However, you must have an existing relationship with an SBA Express lender. 
  • SBA Debt Relief is a program that helps you make payments on existing SBA loans for up to six months.

Depending on your state, you may qualify for unemployment assistance, which allows self-employed people, who typically are ineligible for unemployment benefits to get them for a period.

This isn’t a complete list of all the economic relief available for small businesses and solopreneurs. There are federal tax initiatives, funds from local and state governments, and help from private organizations that you may find by doing a search online.

How to manage money in uncertain times

When it comes to surviving uncertainty, such as how COVID-19 will affect the economy, those who have emergency savings will feel much less financial stress than those who don’t. That’s why it’s essential to maintain a cash reserve of at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses in an FDIC-insured bank savings account.

If you don’t need to dip into your emergency fund, continue shoring it up when possible. If you don’t have a cash reserve, accumulate savings by cutting non-essential expenses, and even temporarily pausing contributions to retirement accounts. That’s a better option than succumbing to panic and tapping your retirement funds early.

If you don’t need to dip into your emergency fund, continue shoring it up when possible.

If you find yourself in a cash crunch, contact your creditors before dipping into any retirement accounts you have. Many lenders will be willing to work with you to suspend payments or modify existing loan terms temporarily.

RELATED: How to Reduce Money Anxiety—Compassionate Advice from a Finance Pro

My new book, Money-Smart Solopreneur: A Personal Finance System for Freelancers, Entrepreneurs, and Side-Hustlers, covers many strategies to earn more, manage variable income, and create an automatic money system so you can strengthen your financial future. It’s a great resource if you’re thinking about earning side income or have already started a business.

Many economic factors that affect your personal and business finances aren’t under your control. Instead of worrying, look around, and figure out how you can create more income or cut unnecessary expenses. Working on tasks that you can control gives you more clarity and helps manage stress in uncertain times.