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Common pitfalls for small businesses

Nobody likes to talk about failure, but any entrepreneur knows it’s the elephant in the room. Starting your own business is an inherently risky venture, but startups need to address those risks as aggressively as possible. Jared Hecht at Inc. and Rhonda Abrams for Gannett each have lists of seven things entrepreneurs needs to look out for. The lists read very differently, but we noticed two strong similarities:

First, have a plan. Or better yet, multiple plans. Startups need to make sure that contingencies are thought out in advance to give a maximum chance of success. Of course, the most important one is the businesses plan. It can be a time consuming process but is critical to ensure the company has needed focus and direction. Another important one is a marketing plan. As Mr. Hecht succinctly puts it, “no matter how great your idea might be, no one can buy your product if they don’t know it exists.” But this doesn’t just include advertising; the sales and customer services processes shouldn’t be done on the fly either. Another good one to have is a cash flow plan. Often, startups, especially service-based ones, struggle with cash flow despite having plenty of sales because clients are slow to pay but the business has not yet built up its cash reserves.

Second, always be willing to ask for help. Ms. Abrams strongly recommends that a startup never hesitate to seek legal advice: “Often, a few hundred dollars spent on a lawyer at the beginning of a business or an important deal can save you thousands of dollars and loads of headaches later on.” Both also note that one way or another, you need to be willing to listen to customers and other employees rather than relying solely on your own desires for your product or service. After all, it is the customer that has to like your offering enough to pay money for it.

Of course, we would add to these lists that it’s important to get professional help with your finances. Payroll, bookkeeping, tax compliance, and financial statement preparation are all areas that can distract a small business from its core purpose, so if you need help in any of these areas, give us a call and find out how we can help!

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Getting creative with funding your small business

Over the past few weeks, we’ve come across several articles talking about some less common but potentially useful ways which small businesses can obtain funding. In an environment where traditional small business loans are getting harder to come by, small business owners should know that there are a lot more options than visiting your local bank branch.

First, online lending is slowly but surely gaining favor for small loans. Among the factors cited in its growth are banks’ hesitancy to loan to small businesses and small business owners showing distaste for the often drawn out loan application process. Advantages of online lending include a faster application process and increased willingness to lend to small borrowers. Both articles note that the lack of regulation among these types of lenders can be both good and bad, as it lowers costs but also means there’s little oversight. It’s also important to note that, while some of these lenders offer products similar to traditional loans, there are a wide variety of business models, such as Kabbage, which allows businesses to borrow against their outstanding invoices. Read more at New York Times and Fortune.

Next up is Kickstarter. A lot of us already know about the virtues of crowdfunding (here’s a good primer in case you’re unfamiliar), but sites like Kickstarter are generally thought to be tools for very early stage companies trying to get their first product off the ground. However, the Wall Street Journal reports that companies who have had successful Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaigns are even more likely to be successful with each subsequent round. In addition to gaining the necessary funds, one entrepreneur argues that an even more powerful aspect of repeat crowdfunding is it allows companies to build a fan base in increasingly crowded retail markets.

Finally, Adam Aronson writes for Entrepreneur that more businesses should consider family offices for their funding needs. Family offices operate as private companies that manage investments for high net worth families. As Mr. Aronson notes, there are over 3,000 family offices in the United States and they generally have at least $100 million to invest. He also notes some of the advantages of obtaining financing from family offices, including great networking connections, increased patience, and a higher willingness to serve as mentors.

No matter which route you choose, always know we’re here to help with tax planning, financial statement preparation, and any other needs you have along the way!

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Important Supreme Court Decision for 401(k) sponsors

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled on Tibble v. Edison International, and the result is something that all plan sponsors should take note of.

Several employees of Edison sued the public utility holding company because they believed that, as plan sponsor, the company had not acted in their best interests by selecting several mutual funds that were open to the public instead of institutional funds, which were identical except for charging lower fees. The Yahoo article linked below notes that a 1% increase in annual fees would reduce an average worker’s retirement savings by around $70,000 over a 40-year career.

The Court ruled unanimously in favor of the workers. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the opinion, “The continuing duty to review investments includes a duty to remove imprudent investments”

It’s important to note that this is a much higher fiduciary standard than plan sponsors have historically been held to. In short, plan sponsors need to actively monitor the investments in their plan to ensure they are the best options for the participants.

Link to articles: Yahoo!, WSJ

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Last minute reminders…

With April 15th just a couple days away, we want to remind everyone that taxpayers can receive a six month extension to file their taxes. As always, we remind you that it is not an extension for payment as your 2014 tax liability must be paid by April 15th; however, the extra six months can eliminate the panic of getting together all the necessary forms and documents needed for filing your tax return.

Along the same lines, we remind you that you may still be able to make an IRA contribution deductible on your 2014 taxes. See this article for more information.

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Good Records Key to Claiming Charitable Deductions

As the countdown to April 15th hits the home stretch, the IRS has published a series of articles guiding taxpayers through some of the trickier filing issues. One of our favorites discusses charitable giving and the importance of maintaining good records.

Among the key takeaways:

  • Make sure the entity you’re giving to is a qualified organization. Keep in mind that an organization being a nonprofit doesn’t necessarily mean that a gift will be deductible. The IRS’s Select Check tool is a great resource for determining whether the organization you’re thinking about donating to is eligible to receive tax-deductible donations.
  • Keep in mind donors must have a written acknowledgement of any gift over $250. So when you receive a letter from a charity acknowledging your gift, it’s not just a receipt – make sure you put it in the proverbial (or often literal) shoe box for tax time!
  • Rules may differ depending on the substance of the donation. Check out the article for tips on donations of cash, vehicles, clothing, and others.
  • Finally, keep in mind the timing requirements. A gift must have been made in 2014 to be deducted on the 2014 tax return; so if you pledged money but didn’t write the check or charge the card, it isn’t deductible.

Head on over to the IRS article linked above for more details.

And as always, know that we’re always here to help with any tax-time questions about donations (or anything else)!

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Don’t Let Tax Issues Trip Up Your Great Idea

Late last week, the New York Times published a story that caught our eye: they profiled several entrepreneurs who ran into some complicated tax issues after running successful Kickstarter or other crowdfunding campaigns.

Not only were some of these people surprised at having to pay taxes despite not having formally set up a business, a couple of them ran into particularly thorny problems, such as determining sales tax liability and having a large tax bill due to incomes that didn’t match up with expenses. Check out the article for the details.

The bigger issue here is that many people don’t know that the IRS has a fairly expansive definition of income. While most think of income as either being earned in a formal job where one receives a paycheck and a W-2 or made in a formal business, there are lots of other ways to earn income. As the NYT story notes, the exchange of money for a tangible good and/or service is almost always considered income to the person receiving money. And though the story doesn’t venture into such choppy seas, it’s important to note that money doesn’t have to change hands for income to have been earned.

If you have any concerns at all about the taxable status of business (or non-business) activities, or if you get a form that you’re not sure what to do with (such as the 1099-K discussed in the story above), give us a call and we’ll be happy to make sure all your bases are covered so that you can go back to doing what you do best.

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Is your business using social media effectively?

Ah, social media. An industry that barely existed ten years ago is one of the most talked about parts of the internet, if not the entire business world. Everyone seems to be on it, but could your small business be using it more effectively? Court Cunningham over at Huffington Post has four great tips on how to make it happen, and just in case you didn’t think this is a big deal, his first paragraph should make you reconsider:

If you’re still wondering whether social media is important for your business, think of this: Facebook has facilitated more than 2 billion connections between small businesses and consumers. Instead of wondering “Do I need to be on social media?” start asking “How can I use social media to help me and my business?” For small business owners that are already pressed for time it can be hard to make social media a priority, but in today’s digital age, you need to meet customers where they are. You don’t want to ignore a study conducted by Market Force, which found that 78 percent of U.S. consumers’ purchasing decisions are impacted by posts made by businesses they follow on social media.

Head over to the article for his advice on how small businesses can maximize the potential of social media.

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Can you turn your hobby into a business?

Many small businesses are started when someone turns a personal interest into a money-making endeavor. But what’s the difference between a hobby and a business? And why does it matter in the first place?

As with many tax questions, it’s complicated, but Kay Bell at the Bankrate tax blog has a great rundown of the rules to keep in mind.

The IRS defines a hobby as an activity you pursue without expecting to make a taxable profit. Basically, you do it because you like it, regardless of the cost.

But if you demonstrate that you are involved in an activity with the expectation of making money on it, the IRS will consider it a business. As such, you’ll be able to deduct expenses directly from your income. You even can deduct overall business losses in the years you don’t turn a profit.

You must, however, make the right moves to convince the IRS that your sideline is a legitimate business.

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And as always, know that we’re here to help you navigate all these rules and much more!

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IRS provides relief for small businesses from filing Form 3115

On February 13, the IRS released Rev. Proc. 2015-20, which provides a simplified method for qualifying small businesses to comply with the final tangible property regulations.

Here’s an article from the Journal of Accountancy discussing the changes, and here’s a link to the original Revenue Procedure from the IRS.

Finally, don’t forget we’re always available to help small businesses navigate the latest rules and regulations from the IRS.

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