Plan ahead for a stress-free holiday season

small business prepare for holidays

I can’t believe it’s almost December. In just over a month retail businesses will be completely swamped...and my business will be a ghost town.

If you are in the world of retail, where everyone pays you before they leave the store...you can safely skip this post. This information is for those of us who provide services and who spend time chasing down payments throughout the year.

This is a very tricky time of year. The holidays usually demand a large monetary sacrifice, so we want to bring in as much money as possible. We also roll into December completely exhausted, and want nothing more than to take some time off.

I made a big mistake for many years. I like to be able to take time off with a clear conscience. That means I like to wrap up as many projects as possible before I go. I also wanted to do a big burst of work so I could send out a few last minute invoices to cover the extra costs. I would give myself a deadline like the 15th. Then, in an unsettling display of mania I would work day and night to get project after project wrapped up. By the time I was clicking send on my invoices, my hands would be gnarled claws, shaking and twitching from the caffeine overdose. It was not a pretty sight, but I got it done!

Guess what happened next? Nothing. And do we know why? Because who pays for invoices a week before Christmas? Nobody, that’s who.

What lessons can you take from my failures?

Know your clients.

If you’re counting on some last minute revenue to help cover your holidays, you need to know if this is possible. If you work with clients who typically pay in Net 30 or Net 45, don’t send out an invoice on December 15th and expect to see any funds before the New Year.

Also, if your bigger clients are taking time off, make sure you wrap things up and invoice them at least a week before they leave. I don’t know your clients, but any mail I get after December 15th that isn’t a package or a Christmas card is getting ignored until after the holidays.

Tackle your receivables.

Take a minute to review your outstanding invoices. This is something you should review on the 1st of every month, but do it as early as possible this time.

Reach out to all your clients with past-due balances right away. If any of them are working with a limited budget, you’re going to want to be the first person they hear from.

Finally, here are two more tips. One for this year, and one for the future.

Relax.

If you’ve done your work and followed up on your receivables...there’s not much more you can do. Make the most with what you’ve got and really enjoy the time off. Running your own business means holidays are rare. If you get a chance to take a few days off this year enjoy every minute of it.

Learn from your mistakes.

Take some time in the New Year to review 2014 thoroughly. As it pertains to this post, review your cash flow for November/December. If possible, pull up similar reports for 2013 and 2012. Are there any obvious patterns? Did cash flow stop on a certain date? Did your clients pay less or slower than usual? Take these facts into consideration when budgeting for the 2015 holiday season.

What about you?

How do you handle the holidays? Do you take time off? Do you have a hard time collecting payments? Let me know in the comments.

Tell Me About Your Bookkeeping System

Today I come to you, my readers, with a question.

I have spent the last 3+ years testing out different cloud-based bookkeeping options. Sometimes I just give them a few days "test run". Other times they have impressed me enough to be added to my official bookkeeping toolbox.

At present, I have 4 main services that get daily use. They are, in no particular order.

  1. Freshbooks
  2. Wave Accounting
  3. Kashoo
  4. Xero

There are others that I like, but just haven't had the free time to truly test out. I'm really interested, for example, to give the 2 big names a shot. QuickBooks Online hasn't been particularly powerful up here in Canada compared to its US counterpart. And, since it's not part of the QuickBooks ProAdvisor program up here like it is in the US, it's not an extra expense I can justify given the fact that I don't have any clients using it. I also just found out that Sage has a cloud-based option too. Not sure how I missed that, but I guess I don't deal with Sage all that often.

If either of them have something worth talking about, I'll be sure to let you all know.

What I'd really love to know is what you use. Don't stop at cloud-based options. If you're using QuickBooks, Sage, Excel, or a good ol' ledger book, I'd love to hear about it. And, beyond that, let me know if you're happy with your current system.

You can leave a comment right here, or contact me directly instead. If I get enough responses, I'll write up a follow up post with a summary of what you've told me. Don't worry, no personal info will be shared...just a list of what seems to be popular out there.

Accounting Opportunities: Personal CFO

Some individuals and families need daily, hands on financial management... kind of a personal CFO of sorts. While most of these people are of the high asset, high activity sort, some are merely going through some sort of crisis, are seniors without a support system in place, or a variety of other issues. For whatever reason, they need a butler who specializes in financial matters.

At its very simplest level, you might be asked to pay bills for a client. To do this efficiently, I require access to their online banking account so that I can quickly and accurately download the transactions into Quicken.

Once downloaded into Quicken (or similar software), you can quickly record the income/expense account for each deposit and withdrawal. Alternatively, the software can be set-up to automatically do this for you under most circumstances. Also, the software will automatically reconcile the account after each banking connection.

With the recording of all transactions, you can now easily prepare an income statement and general ledger (so to speak) for the client, all automatically from the software. The time required to download the transactions, assign the correct income or expense categories to each, and prepare an income statement should take about 30 minutes, maybe less.

Personal bill paying is not a huge money maker, but still profitable. More importantly, it can be an entre into other parts of the client’s business which can really help build your practice.

The logistics involved in paying bills is a bit more involved, but not complex. I will share this with you in my next writing. Other topics will include client reporting, document retention, and gateway conversations with the client for additional, more profitable work.

Irvin Jaffe is an MBA, CPA in private practice for decades dealing exclusively with the daily management of high asset/high activity families and individuals. He routinely deals with both personal and business related issues.

Accounting: A Degree You Can Count On

As many students or job seekers search for fulfilling career paths, perhaps now is the time to seize an opportunity in accounting. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of accountants and auditors is expected to grow 16 percent by 2020. This outpaces the projected 14 percent growth rate for jobs in general, and could mean over 190,000 new accounting jobs through 2020.

The profession is expected to grow for a number of reasons: • An expanding economy means more businesses, and more businesses inevitably mean more accountants • Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) will be in demand as companies face increased financial scrutiny, and the globalized economy will require accountants capable of navigating complex international accounting rules • Lastly, many “baby boomer” CPAs will be retiring within the next ten years, creating job openings for today’s young professionals prepared to fill the void

What you can expect as an accountant With the advent and growing adoption of technology such as cloud computing and advanced mobile applications, the responsibilities of accountants are rapidly changing. Cumbersome data entry and compilation is becoming more of an automated process with the help of advanced software like Oracle/Peoplesoft, SAP and Epicor, thereby freeing up accountants at all levels and in all industries to take on more consulting, advisory and supervisory roles for their companies and clients.

While traditional accounting principles still apply, the integration of technology has created exciting accounting specializations within the field. For instance: • Green accounting: looks at operations costs as they relate to the environment • Forensic accounting: analyzes numbers involved in disputes or litigation, often for issues like data loss or theft • Healthcare IT auditing: evaluates the numbers associated with healthcare and information technology systems

Who is hiring accountants The job market for accounting is increasing. Job opportunities are especially strong for tax professionals, financial analysts and compliance officers in manufacturing and food services.

An accounting degree is one you can count on, and it’s a field that is rapidly growing each year. Do you see your future career in accounting?

Barbara Davies is an adjunct instructor at DeVry University’s Keller Graduate School of Management. Prior to joining DeVry in 2002, she was an adjunct instructor at Upper Iowa University and an accountant at Deloitte Haskins & Sells (now Deloitte & Touche LLP). Davies holds a bachelor’s of science degree and a master’s degree in management with a specialization in accounting from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.