Is April always one long blur for you, full of stress that’s compounded by anxiety and intensified by confusion? Your passion is growing your business. Having to screech to a halt every spring and tend to taxes can range from a minor inconvenience to a major meltdown, depending on how you treat tax prep throughout the other 11 months.

Forbes advises small business owners to consider taxes “an ongoing process that needs attention throughout the year in order to be successful.” Good in theory, right? Here’s how to put it into practice.

1) Spend Quality Time with Your Records Every Week

Whether you’re a freelancing independent contractor or a growing small business with employees, keeping your records up-to-date consistently will become a natural habit the more often you discipline yourself to do it. If it’s any incentive, not doing this on a weekly basis can result in a lot of missed opportunities (read: money) come filing day.

To ensure you’re reducing your taxable income at every step, review and save all expense receipts, go over your payables and receivables for that period and be sure they are logged, and review credit card transactions and cash flow. If you need help, get help! If you’re not prepared to hire an accountant, use accounting software to record everything electronically. And be sure to back up all of your electronic files to a remote location. Many cloud storage services are free.

2) Get in a Deduction State of Mind

Start finding effective ways to increase your expenses now so that you can maximize business tax deductions next April. Do you need new office equipment? Are you making charitable donations throughout the year? Do you need to take a career-oriented class? But don’t overlook the smaller items, such as magazine subscriptions and petty cash purchases.

Keep track of fully deductible state sales tax paid on large purchases like equipment and vehicles. Interest you pay on credit cards, loans, overdue bills, and bank fees can all be deducted, so track, track, track! Automobile costs like tires, oil, insurance, and parking fees also count. Remember that if you work from a home office for which you claim a deduction, any business driving you do from home to another location and back home is deductible mileage. Business News Daily recommends a great free tool called Deductr for simplifying expense tracking.

3) Get Off the Paper and Go Online

Even if you’ve been resistant to moving away from a paper trail and into digital commerce, it’s an extremely efficient way to transact business and access records. Use online banking, online bill pay, online credit card processing, and online accounting.

4) Feather Your Retirement Nest Egg

Have you established a Roth IRA, a SEP, or a Keogh plan? Do you have access to a 401(k)? If not, prioritize this as not only a way to reduce your annual taxable income, but also to get serious about ensuring that you’ve got something waiting for you at the end of your entrepreneurial rainbow.

5) Hire Independent Contractors

There has never been a more lucrative time to be a freelancer! Small business owners can take advantage of this self-managed resource explosion by using freelance workers in nearly every department of their business. Marketing, content writing, social media, direct sales, IT, web design, accounting, and general office support are just a few of the areas in which hiring independent contractors instead of employees can save you big money in payroll taxes and benefits.

Be sure you’re clear about the difference between an independent contractor and an employee, as per the IRS definitions. Caron Beesley at AllBusiness.com distinguishes between the two classifications this way:

Independent Contractor – The general rule is that an individual is an independent contractor if you, the person for whom the services are performed, have the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not the means and methods of accomplishing the result. Essentially independent contractors are considered to be in business for themselves. They take care of their own tax obligations and benefits.

Employee – Anyone who performs services for you is your employee if you can control what will be done and how it will be done. This is so even when you give the employee freedom of action. What matters is that you have the right to control the details of how the services are performed.”

Make 2015 the year in which you resolve to stay on top of your records and tax materials—and stick to your resolution! Your return will be accurate and complete, and you’ll sleep a whole lot better before, during, and after April 2016! Here are some other great helpers recommended by Business News Daily to support you in accomplishing your tax goals.

Sources

https://www.sba.gov/blogs/8-small-business-tax-preparation-mistakes-avoid

https://www.sba.gov/blogs/small-business-tax-preparation-tips-stay-step-ahead-tax-season-today

http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/7720-small-business-taxes.html

http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/5919-4-tax-deductions-you-might-forget-about.html

Today’s interconnected society provides consumers with the ability to research and purchase goods with just a couple of mouse clicks. A customer in Florida can have a wheel of authentic Wisconsin cheddar cheese delivered to their doorstep within days. A man in Spain can purchase a genuine Indian-cut diamond for his finance who is studying abroad in South Africa.  Having no borders and working basically anonymously, the internet has become an open playground for counterfeiters and frauds.  The magnetic strip on the back of a traditional debit or credit card contains an unchanging strand of data which can be used over and over once it is obtained.  This makes the process simple and effective for hackers and identity thieves. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a practical way to prevent the information from being transferred without handcuffing the convenience of the card? Well there is.  It’s called Europay, Mastercard, and Visa technology, or EMV. The United States will attempt to fully transition to EMV technology by October 1, 2015.

What is EMV Technology?

EMV technology is designed to protect buyers from the hackers and identity thieves lingering in the darkness. Instead of a magnetic strip, which stores unchanging information that is consistent with every purchase, EMV uses a small, metal chip inserted inside the card. This chip produces a different code for every transaction, limiting the potential amount of funds a thief could obtain when stealing the cardholder’s information.

How Does it Work?

Instead of quickly swiping a card, consumers will perform a process calling “dipping.” The card is placed in a scanning machine that sends and receives data to the bank associated with the card. The dipping process is not as time-efficient as the traditional swipe, but the security benefits of having a unique code with every purchase will ultimately prove to be worth the wait. Developers are currently working on a process called near field communications, which would allow the customer to tap the card against a terminal to complete the transaction. Both of these methods may require either an entered PIN or signed receipt to verify the purchase.

What Does this Mean for My Business?

Certainly, a more secure EMV card means merchants will not have to pay as many charge-backs because there will be less fraud. In addition to this, the Payment Brands are working out the details of a program that will allow businesses to waive the PCI-DSS audit fee if a percentage of their transactions are made with an EMV-implemented system. When the transition to chip technology takes place, business that have not properly prepared for the change could potentially be held liable for fraudulent purchases when a counterfeited card is used on location. In a nutshell, completing the changeover to EMV processing will save you money on a number of different fronts.

How Can I Prepare My Business for EMV Technology Payment Processing?

Though it may take some time to familiarize yourself with the process, these 4 tips will help you with making the transition:

  1. Start learning and training your staff on the product. Though you may not be ready to make the change immediately, early instruction and education on the system and how it operates will make conversion much easier.
  2. Do not procrastinate.  Make your move soon. It is definitely beneficial to be on the pole position with the EMV transition. Don’t wait until customers begin grilling you as to why you haven’t changed. Get out ahead of this thing before the need to convert feels ominous.
  3. Create a plan. Consider cost, weigh your options, and continue research. Know what you are dealing with and how it could affect your expenses, revenues, and time management.
  4. Consult with your merchant process provider. These companies are at the forefront of the EMV wave and have access to the latest updates in technology, procedures, hardware, and procurement options. Maintain a clear line of communication with them and they will make your transition to EMV processing easier and more efficient.

The Future is Here

The United States is among the last of developed countries to convert to EMV processing technology. In today’s fast-paced business market, this is the ground floor of a major change and improvement in battling credit card fraud. While the transition may seem costly and tumultuous, it will prove to be safer, less expensive, and easy to manage in the long run. Learn the product, create a plan, and keep constant communication with your process provider to prepare for the conversion.

With summer just around the corner, the wedding industry is gearing up for their busiest time of year. Preparing for weddings, receptions, and expos takes a lot of resources and energy. Putting careful thought into your approach for these events will pay massive dividends in the end, especially if you can make lots of contacts and get your name out to prospective clients.  It’s a hectic time, but it can also be lucrative and exciting. As wedding season heats up, accelerate your own strategy with these three secrets that every wedding vendor needs to know.

#1 Don’t Head into Crunch Time without a Plan — Tell Your Employees What It Is

Heading into a wedding expo or reception without a game plan will get you nowhere. Whether it’s to check out the competition, get new leads, increase sales, introduce a new product, conduct market research, or simply strengthen your company’s image, prioritize a goal to help focus your efforts and make the most of an event.

Some vendors have a basic plan in mind but fail to articulate it to their employees.  Make sure all your employees are clued-in on your ideas. Take time to train them on how to meet your goals. You may want to come away from an expo with 100 new names for your mailing list, or hand out 20 business cards at each event. But your success will be hit and miss if your employees aren’t on the same page. An effective team is an informed team. Articulating goals to your employees helps narrow in on what you want to accomplish, and they may even provide you with some helpful input.

If you’re relatively new in the wedding space or just launching as a wedding vendor, events and expos can be a great way to gather information and check pricing against other vendors. But there can be so much going on — especially at expos — it’s easy to get distracted and forget the reason you’re there. Do not head into crunch time without a plan.

#2 Image is Everything — Especially to Potential Brides

So much about the wedding industry is based on image. Embrace this! Make sure you and your employees look the part and are well-mannered. Arrive to events early. Stand up and engage potential clients with enthusiasm when they come into your booth at an expo. Brides and grooms (and their families) are incredibly detail-oriented these days, and you should be too. Staff your events and expos with polished employees, and make sure to plan adequate breaks for everyone so they can maintain focus and keep energy high.

Some clients are interested in classic, traditional weddings, but it pays to stay informed about the latest wedding trends and new items being offered so your clients know you have your finger on the pulse of the wedding industry, and can trust you to help them make the best choices. Your clients are planning the event of a lifetime. Match their enthusiasm and show potential customers you care about their wedding as much as they do. Endurance is key. Hang in there until the very last guest leaves the event or the very last bride leaves the expo. Decisions are often made towards the very end of an event. Image is everything!

#3 Always be Prepared — To Get Paid

Take a cue from the Boy Scout motto and always be prepared. In the wedding industry, your next lead could come from anywhere. You might meet an engaged couple at an expo or catch the eye of a future bride at a wedding you’re catering. It’s crucial to be ready with promotional materials, contact information, and mobile methods for taking payment so you can take an order and close a deal wherever you are and, most importantly, wherever your potential clients are.

Using a mobile processor gives you the added benefit of being able to take (and encourage) tips from clients who aren’t carrying cash. This also provides the utmost convenience for parents and relatives — who often foot the bill for weddings — to discretely pay for goods and services. If you’re an independent contractor or wedding planner, you may not be working out of an actual storefront. You can project professionalism wherever you are if your smartphone or tablet is equipped to do business. It’s all about meeting clients on their terms, and in a way that makes them feel the most comfortable. Always be prepared!

Seasonal business owners are believed to have some of the coolest gigs on earth. However those most experienced know that along with tremendous flexibility—like having entire summers or winter’s off—there are long days that include significant physical work, lots of frenzy. And of course, worry that correlates directly to revenue.

But what gives seasonal business owners an advantage over year-round businesses is that they can use their off season to create additional lucrative opportunities or enjoy long periods of leisure activities. Another thing is that seasonal business owners usually have a very specific goal in mind. For instance some seasonal business owners may want to build their retirement savings. Others may want extra time to enjoy extensive travel, while some might only be interested in testing the market to see if there’s enough demand for their product all year long.

Regardless of your goal, whether you’re new at owning a seasonal business or are experienced, these tips will help you achieve the most from your venture.

1. Start Marketing Early

The longer you put off marketing, the harder you’ll have to work to get customers and earn their loyalty. So, set a date to announce your business opening. In your announcement state what your product will do for the people who buy it, how much it will cost, and where and when it can be purchased. If you have a booth at a farmer’s market be sure to list the hours that your booth is open.

Your announcement can take the form of many things. Be creative and you’ll spend less money. For instance flyers and emails are low-cost and easy. Social media is another opportunity. It has the potential to reach the largest audience in the shortest time. Combine social media with other marketing and you multiply your impact. Also by including your website address on every promotional item, even your voice mail greeting and in your email signature, you’ll drive traffic to your website.

2. Make the Most of Your Website

When you aim to monetize your website you create the opportunity for an additional income. Include an e-commerce function and you can take customer payments for items sold through your website.

If you create a specific web page to capture the email, first name and zip code of your customer, you gain the right information for future online marketing. For instance an email campaign will help you stay in touch with customers during your off season. The zip code information tells your customers’ general location. With this info you can plan special offers and tailor your products for specific customer groups.

Now let’s back up. Making the most of your website also means making it serve your customers. By this we mean including quality content that answers customers’ questions and helps them do something better or easier. Quality content brings quality website traffic, the kind that’s ready to do business.

3. Add Mobile to Your Game Plan

Today’s consumers want instant gratification. Your opportunity is to make sure your business is accessible. A website designed for tablets and smart phones enables your site to adapt to the customers mobile device.

Don’t allow cash-only transactions to decrease sales. Enabling customers to pay by phone is easier now than ever. Your business doesn’t need a large infrastructure or lots of clunky processes. All that you do need is a mobile payment processor. They permit your business to accept credit cards, expedite check out, and they help you gain insight into your customer’s product preferences. Expect all of these benefits at a huge cost? No way! Many mobile payment companies charge less per transaction than credit card companies. If you’re considering a mobile payment processor, while you’re here, check out ProPay Jak. It’s our mobile phone credit card reader that lets you securely process credit and debit cards in real-time.

4. Turn Free Time into Cash Flow

A farmer knows there’s always something to do before harvest. Adopt this mindset and use your off-season to build income streams.

Take natural spin-offs, they can be quite lucrative and also provide gratifying work. A landscaper who works from early spring to end of summer might use her skills to decorate residential or commercial properties during the winter holiday season. A food truck owner can create specialty foods items to be sold from her website. She could also sell recipe books.

Again, be creative. Think about your main product offering and consider what other products or services you can add that would complement it well. Cooking classes might work splendidly for a food truck owner; teaching horticulture classes at a community college might be ideal for the landscaper.

Real-time payment processing systems have already been successfully implemented in multiple countries around the world and will soon be implemented in the U.S.  According to an article by Tom Gorenfeldt in Forbes, “The Federal Reserve Banks and the Federal Reserve Board are evaluating potential strategies for collaborating with the industry to achieve real-time payment capabilities. The final consultation report, ‘Payment Systems Improvement Roadmap,’ has been delayed repeatedly but is expected out before the year’s end. It will define action plans to achieve faster payments capabilities in the U.S.”  Customers, businesses, and banks alike will need to learn about the benefits and potential pitfalls of real-time payment processing.

Benefits

In an increasingly digital world where a company might exist totally online, a person could theoretically buy something, have it shipped, and receive it all before their payment is completely processed. Lag in payment processing time can mean that customers could easily overspend their accounts. Lag in payment could also severely hinder some businesses, particularly when they are crossing time zones. “Merchants like to restock once they sell, and the time it takes to get the proceeds of their sales can create cash flow management issues for them. The impact of that latency just moves up the supply chain,” said Rich Koehler, Director of Product and Marketing at Amazon, “When we look at payments in the future we should look at it as an enabler for new business models.” Real-time payments can help eliminate some of the issues that come with that lag in payments. While online businesses operate 24/7, banks don’t, which may have to change as real-time payment processing in the U.S. starts to become a reality.

Making the Change

While some businesses are completely ready for a more reactive payment processing system, some banks just can’t justify the cost of switching to a real-time payment process. However, with new direction from the U.S. federal government and so many other countries already operating with real-time payment systems, their philosophies could soon change. According to the same Forbes article, The Clearing House “plans to undertake a multi-year effort to build a real-time payment system to better meet consumers’ and businesses’ expectations in an increasingly digital economy. The real-time payment system will be designed to address gaps in payment processing and will enable consumers and businesses to securely send and receive immediate payments directly from their accounts at financial institutions,” and banks will need to keep up.

Pitfalls

Although a real-time payment system has a lot of benefits, businesses need to be aware of potential pitfalls. As businesses and banks begin developing a real-time payment system, they’ll need to develop a real-time fraud prevention system. The way fraud prevention operates now, banks and credit card companies rely on the day or two it takes to fully process a transaction to help identify and rectify fraudulent transactions. But if real-time payments truly are the future, then real-time fraud protection that could stop an unauthorized transaction in its tracks needs to be developed as well. The U.S. implementation of EMV cards will help decrease the risk of fraudulent transactions, but that doesn’t mean companies can completely abandon their fraud detection and prevention measures. They’ll need to evolve to encompass every new change.

While the U.S. might not be totally ready to implement real-time payments, businesses, banks, and customers alike can start preparing themselves for the changes real-time payment processing will mean.

About ProPay

Since 1997, ProPay has provided simple, secure and affordable payment solutions for organizations ranging from the small, home-based entrepreneur to multi-billion dollar businesses. ProPay is a leading provider of complete end-to-end payment security solutions that reduce, and may even eliminate, an organization’s risk of having sensitive payment data compromised. ProPay can help you:

  • Enable merchants to quickly begin accepting credit and debit cards through instant underwriting
  • Secure payment data
  • Reduce compliance obligations
  • Reduce overall transaction costs
  • Enable companies to ACCEPT and MAKE payments in multiple international currencies

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