Time Management

Just When I Thought I Was So Smart . . .

As a professional, it’s always wise to project a good image of yourself, especially that you are intelligent. However, sometimes or many times we do things that really humble us and hopefully help us to not be so prideful. Here are a few things that I have done recently and not so recently:

GPS: My GPS on my phone showed that it would take about 2 hours to get back home, which I thought was due to traffic and was normal, even though I was about 35 minutes away. For some reason the GPS kept on taking me through side streets with lights, which seemed to appear every 200 feet. Finally, after about 20 minutes I pulled over and took a good look at the directions and realized that I was taking the bike route. Yes, it took me 20 minutes to pull over.  I think that my pride ran away at that moment.

App and phone purchases: If you know anything about children and video games then you know that you can make in-app purchases within the games to obtain more virtual money, coins, or gems. There weren’t the proper safeguards in place on their tablets and in a blink a lot purchases were made. A lot of purchases were made. Did I mention that a lot of purchases were made? We were able to get some refunds, but let’s just say that where this is a will there is a way, especially when your children then ask if they can borrow your phone and decide to go on a shopping spree at Amazon. I really don’t need a PS4.

Per diem: When I started my practice years ago during the recession it took time to acquire clients, which is normal and expected. In the meantime I could have worked per diem at another firm at least for that first year or so. However, I had such a bad experience with the previous firm that I worked for as an employee that I told myself I would never again work for anyone else. The extra cash made working per diem would have been nice and would have made the transition from employee to practitioner easier and less stressful financially.  Eventually, I did work per diem after about a year or so at a few different firms, and I met some really good people.

There are many more that I’ll keep to myself, but we all need to be humbled from time to time.

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Want a Better Business? Focus on Recurring Revenues!

There are more ways to make money in business that can be listed. However, one mostly overlooked business model by a majority of small businesses is the recurring revenue model. Larger businesses already know this and are taking advantage of the benefits. Here are some pros and cons and how to implement the recurring business model:

Pros: Recurring revenues, specifically monthly recurring revenues, provide a steady stream of predictable cash flow. Since you can easily predict your income you can plan ahead for the amount of expenses needed to support your revenues, such as employees, technology, supplies, inventory, etc. This will in turn significantly lower your expenses and help to increase your profit margin. Additionally, a business with recurring revenues has a much higher value than one-shot deals. Think homebuilder (one-shot) vs. a subscription service like Netflix (monthly revenues).

Cons: Many small business owners love the large payments that they receive when they land a one-time or short-term project, which do not exist with the recurring revenue model for the most part. It can take time to build a recurring revenue business, but an existing business should realistically be able to see a massive change with a one year period.

How to Implement: Take a look at the services and/or products that you provide, and determine which ones can be modified to fit the recurring revenue model. For example, a marketing company that helps clients with social media can develop a package to perform certain tasks each month in exchange for a recurring monthly fee.  Virtually any business can turn at least a portion of their business into recurring revenues

The recurring business model is not costly or difficult to implement, but rather a low-risk, high-reward activity. It takes courage and openness to change your business, but it will be worth it.

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Small Business, Large Profits

All small business owners want to increase sales, open new locations, obtain more customers, add employees and grow, grow, and grow some more. It sounds good, but is it really necessary? Is there an alternative?

Necessity: It is necessary to grow your business as the alternative isn’t too appealing. You have financial obligations and people that depend upon you, such as family, employees, and customers. So, yes, it is necessary, however, here is a different view on growth.

Focus on profitability: If you double your profit margin then this has the same impact as doubling the sales of your business. Even if you increase the profit margin by several percentage points then it has the same impact as increasing sales. It sounds too easy, but here are some ways to do this:

  1. Decrease the number of services/products. Spreading yourself too thin usually decreases your profitability because it is hard to do everything well.
  2. Service the proper clients by targeting a more defined niche.
  3. Use marketing methods that only target the customers that you want to serve.
  4. Plan ahead for large purchases or investments, including space requirements, people, vendors, equipment, and technology.
  5. Price your products and services properly.

The interesting fact is that when you are more profitable, then each additional dollar of business is worth more to you, which makes it easier to actually grow further.

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How to Successfully Start a Second Business

Quite often entrepreneurs want to start a second business or even possibly a third, fourth and so on. What are the ways to make this successful, especially without selling or potentially harming your existing business(s), and what are some alternatives?

Similar or complementary business: Instead of say, an attorney, starting a restaurant, they may consider developing software to help other attorneys manage their practice better. Since they already have the experience of being a practicing attorney, they can transfer this knowledge into helping other attorneys and ideally use it in their own law practice.

Business with similar customers: Some businesses also serve your customers with a different product or service. To determine the other business that your customers use, observe which products or service providers your customers are also using and see if there is a pattern. Also, look to see who you are referring your customers to. For example, a landscaper may constantly refer their clients to a lawn sprinkler company, pest control business, or tree removal service.

Have a foundation in place: Make sure that you have a foundation in place for your existing business(s) so that they do not suffer as you develop other businesses. This usually takes years, but the main goal is to make your current business less dependent on you with everyday tasks. If your business suffers when you are not there for a few days then you are not ready.

Alternatives to starting another business:

Add a location: If you are successful in one location and have a good business model, then it is much easier to repeat this with another location. This can include second or third offices for a medical or professional practice, additional restaurants, and additional sales offices.

Purchase an existing business in the same industry: Having a strong foundation is important because you can easily absorb another business in the same industry as long as you have all of the infrastructure in place. This can include capital, space, employees, technology, and operating procedures.

Operate a business within your existing business: Instead of creating a distinctly separate business you can operate the additional business within your own business as a separate service offering or division. This can work well if the service offering is very similar to your existing business. Legal and tax implications should always be considered.

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3 Ways to Turn Around a Struggling Business

After the Great Recession there are still some businesses that may be struggling and don’t know what to do about it. Here are a few ways to turn around a struggling business:

Upgrade: The rate of change nowadays seems to be accelerating at a pace that has not existed in the past. This includes technology, competition, lifestyles, behaviors, and preferences. Although business principals never change, everything else around us does. Questions to ask are:

  1. Is my service or product still relevant and in demand? A perfect example is Blockbuster and department stores.
  2. Are delivery methods of your product or service in sync with customer preferences, lifestyles, and behaviors? Another closely related question is, “How easy is it to do business with you?”
  3. Have demographics changed?

Your business may need to upgrade/change any of the following: location, technology, including website capabilities, payment processing, scheduling, and communications with customers, turnaround times, product and service offerings, the type of customer you are servicing, and so on.

Marketing: Marketing methods have changed dramatically over the last 10 years. Are you marketing your business to keep up with these changes? If you relied heavily on newspaper or phone book advertising in the past, then I would make a bet that it is not very effective anymore. Even businesses that serve very local customers need to have a strong Internet presence. The best products and services still need to get the word out. Rationally, they shouldn’t have to, but this is just not true.

Analyze and take action: Take a fresh look at your business and seriously consider hiring a consultant to point out your blind spots. Most likely you are not recognizing what needs to change or possibly you do but do not know how to go about making changes. The next step is to actually implement changes.

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So You Want to Flip Homes?

Buy a house, put in a few improvements, and then sell it for a much higher price. Do it again and again. It sounds so simple, but here are a few pointers to keep in mind if you want to succeed with house flipping:

Experience: If your experience in real estate is performing repairs on your home during weekends, then you do not have the required experience. Ideally, you should have experience in both residential construction and real estate sales.  Experience as a general contractor will help you to determine the amount of time and costs to improve a potential flip, while experience in real estate sales will help you to locate a property, determine the market characteristics, and eventually sell the property.  Both are extremely important because you want to maximize your profit by investing your time and money in the right house and the smartest improvements. If you do not have this experience then you need to spend the time to learn as much as possible before purchasing a flip to minimize costly errors.

Know your costs and potential selling price: Before purchasing a property you need to estimate your cost of purchasing the property, the necessary improvements, and carrying costs such as real estate taxes, loan payments, utilities, and insurance. Just as important is the estimated selling price. If you underestimate your costs, overestimate the selling price, or underestimate the time to improve and sell the property, then your chance of profit will be greatly decreased. The formula is simple, but not always easy to accomplish; profit = the selling price minus all costs. With this in mind you want to make sure that you leave enough wiggle room to make a profit in case your estimates are off.

Capital: If you don’t have the necessary capital to purchase a fixer upper, make improvements, and pay the carrying costs, then you need to either obtain a loan or partner with someone who has the necessary capital. Make sure that you have a cushion just in case your estimates are wrong.

Time and opportunity cost: Let’s say that you are a contractor and are looking to flip a house. Make sure that you estimate that you will make more money on the time spent with your flip than during your regular construction activities. The same goes for anyone else trying to invest their time and money in a flip.

Start small: If just starting out then make sure that your first slip does not have the potential to decapitate you financially. Just think back to what happened to many house flippers about a decade ago.

Taxes: Most likely your profit will be taxed at ordinary income tax rates and possibly self-employment taxes vs. long-term capital gains rates. This is due to the fact that you are usually considered to be a dealer with the intent to buy, improve, and sell a home in a short time frame.

Alternatives: An alternative and close cousin to house flipping is to rehab a rental property, rent it out, and hold it for the long term. It is not as exciting as house flipping, but it can be very worthwhile, while also carrying less risk.

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What is the Best Type of Business to Own?

What’s the best type of business to own? One that makes money of course, but let’s dig a little deeper . . .

Simple: The more complex a business is then the harder it is to operate. For example, if your business requires the talents of very technical people, then this complicates the delivery of your products and services. Unfortunately, it also requires more time and expertise of the owner. Such businesses include engineering, law, healthcare, IT consulting, accounting, and other technical fields.

Low capital requirements: If you need to invest heavily in equipment, real estate, or large amounts of inventory, then this can create a drain on your cash. Supposedly, lack of capital is one of the main reasons for business failures.

Repeat business: A perfect example of a business that receives repeat, recurring sales is a subscription based software company. An example of the opposite type of business is a general contractor. There is a wonderful book called, “The Automatic Customer” by John Warrillow that outlines the value of a having a business with predictable, steady, recurring sales. He gives numerous examples on how this can be applied to many businesses, and not just software companies. I’m a big advocate of businesses trying to maximize their recurring sales.

Easily duplicated: Any business that can easily replicate the tasks that the owner performs is a plus. Did you ever notice that many of the chain restaurants do not serve overly complex dishes? If they did, then it would complicate the way the run their business.

If you are thinking of starting a new business, an additional business, or even a side business, then you should strongly consider a business with these traits.

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What if You Just Don’t Feel Like It?

Ever have one of those days? It’s a struggle to get out of bed, and once you do you feel like you are walking around with weighted boots on your feet? What’s the solution to this common problem aside from going back to bed? Because your energy levels and health have a significant impact on your productivity and the ability to achieve successful results, here are a few tips to overcome sluggishness when it comes about.

Just start: Even though you don’t feel like getting out of bed, starting a project, or exercising, you must resist the temptation to give in to these feelings. All you need to do is get past that initial resistance and just start doing. Once you are out of bed, you just won the first battle against sluggishness. Did you ever notice that after you start something then you end up continuing the task and finishing?

Routine and daily scheduling: The more you schedule important tasks the more you will eliminate the thought process of what to do. For example, if you wake up at 6 AM every morning to go for a run then it will be easier and easier to do as this becomes a habit. Also, if you schedule tasks on your calendar then it creates a sense of importance and things get done.

Avoid sluggishness: The best way to overcome sluggishness is to avoid it in the first place. Take a look at your life, including habits, routines, schedule, diet and anything that impacts your energy levels. Years ago, I dramatically cut sugar out of my diet by reducing the amount of sugary beverages I drank and my energy levels skyrocketed. I do miss drinking sweetened iced-tea and soda, but I sure don’t miss the drain on my energy.

Look around you and take notice of the energy levels of people around you. Generally those with higher energy levels are more productive and quite possibly more positive to be around.

Focus on These 3 Areas to Multiply Your Business Success

Having a business is not easy, and even successful business owners know this. But what is the secret to running a successful business and multiplying your results? You must focus on these 3 areas:

Operations: Operations is a very broad category, but it can be viewed as any activity that supports or creates and delivers the services or products that you are selling from start to finish.  Many small business owners are very good with providing their service or selling their product. However, there are usually great improvements that can be made with efficiencies, employees, and using time and resources wisely.

Marketing & Sales: Surprisingly, some small business owners perform almost no marketing activities, but are actually marketing their business by their reputation, the way they deliver their services, the characteristics of their products, and the overall customer experience. Virtually all must sell to some degree as many interactions are sales opportunities. Think of restaurants that try to “upsell” a larger size or additional items, such as much needed desserts! Smart marketing and effective sales can help you to multiply your revenues, and it does not have to be expensive.

Financial: This is all of the boring stuff, such as accounting systems, cash flow, internal controls (to ensure more reliable financials and to reduce fraud), and managing receivables and payables. I have yet to see a business that does not either have cash flow issues or tax issues if they ignore this part of their business. Finances are a crucial part of every business and are mistakenly ignored or paid very little attention to. With proper attention to finances, a business can easily become more profitable, have greater cash flow, pay less taxes and interest, reduce stress levels, and have a greater sense of control.

An interesting observation is that all three areas are very interdependent upon each other. An improvement in one are will help the others, but on the flip side, if one are is lacking, then the others will suffer as well. If you need help with any of these, then please let me know.

9 Ways to Reduce Your Money Worries

When we lack money it creates a lot of stress and anxiety, and can be a source of tension in relationships. But how can we make our money work for us? Here are several ways we can take more control of our money to reduce our stresses:

  1. Change your thoughts: Reframe the way you think about money from being worried about it to being non-emotional about it. Nothing changes if you are worried about it, but worries may cause you to make worse financial decisions. This doesn’t mean that you should not care about money or be reckless.
  2. Be a good steward: If you think of your money not as your own, then you will manage it differently. It is a resource, no matter how great or how small, that we are given to be responsible with. Don’t be foolish with how you spend your money or the way you invest it.
  3. Save it first: Save your money first before you pay anyone else. Even if you start with saving 1 % of your income, it will create a habit that will last you a lifetime, and over time you can increase the percentage to more meaningful amounts. Although 1% may only amount to $20, $50 or so a week so there is almost no excuse to save this small amount, even if you are struggling. I like percentages because you save more when your income is higher and less when it is lower.
  4. Delay large purchases: Houses and cars are our largest expenses, but usually there is not a lot of thought put into these purchases. More time should be spent discerning larger purchases then small ones.
  5. Minimize useless debts: It seems as though anything can be financed today, from cell phones to plastic surgery. If your cell phone bill is $500 a month because you financed 5 iphones then you probably couldn’t afford the phones in the first place.
  6. Make more money: If your income is not high enough and your spending is not an issue, then figure out ways to make more money. If you need to switch jobs or hire a consultant for your business then do it.
  7. Give it away: I’m not sure if there are studies on this, but anecdotally, people who are more charitable seem to be happier than those who are not.
  8. Be timely: Pay your bills in a timely manner by being more systematic. Late fees and threatening notices are never enjoyable.
  9. Do something different: As with any problem, you need to change what you are doing because obviously it is not working. Yes, we are all stubborn.

By the way, it doesn’t matter if you make $50,000, $500,000 or $5,000,000, as you will have the same issues, with different variations. And, more money doesn’t mean fewer problems.