Economy

What Keeps Business Owners Up at Night?

Aside from worrying about everything, there are really just a few timeless concerns of most business owners. If you don’t have at least one of these concerns then that is probably a concern. Here they are with a few solutions:

Employees: No matter how well you run your business, it will always be a challenge to manage employees. Common problems are: finding good employees, keeping good employees, and making sure that they are productive. There are several ways to address these concerns that are simple, but no way full-proof. The first step is to take your time hiring and to hire the right people from the beginning. Next, treat your employees well and fair. Lastly, spend the time to train your employees properly so they are productive. It sounds so simple, but maybe that is why it is so difficult.

Taxes: Who wants to overpay their taxes? Not only paying taxes, but staying compliant with all of the numerous tax filings can be a huge burden. Having a good accountant can help to alleviate this concern.

Growing: If you are not growing then your expenses will soon eat up a good portion of your profits. Growing sales is a major concern, however, the focus should be to grow your sales profitably. Aside from smart marketing, each new dollar of sales should be profitable to you, otherwise something is wrong.

Cash flow: Either not knowing where your cash is going or not having enough are both problems. Your accountant should help to explain where your cash is going and why there is a shortage. Common solutions are to improve your accounting systems and procedures, increase sales, implement better collection processes, increase your profit margins, and obtain a line of credit.

Too many hours: I don’t think that you are allowed to stop thinking about your business so technically you work 24 hours a day. How can you work less hours? There are dozens of ways, but a few easy to implement solutions are: better scheduling, delegation, and a commitment to work smarter, not harder.

There are a few other closely-related concerns, such as health insurance for employees, feeling burnt out, and the economy. Unfortunately, we cannot control the economy.

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Follow Your Emotions and Go Broke

According to dictionary.com, one definition of emotion is “an affective state of consciousness in which joy, sorrow, fear, hate, or the like, is experienced, as distinguished from cognitive and volitional states of consciousness.” Emotions can be complex and if you make business and financial decisions based solely on how you feel at the moment without considering facts then this can be a disaster. Here are a few examples and ways to prevent you from making decisions based upon emotions:

Investment decisions: When the stock market tanks and the economy is in a recession, you may be strongly tempted to sell all of your investments, which is most likely the worst decision ever. If you have a good financial advisor then hopefully they can temper your emotions.

Too excited over expected results: A perfect example is when a sales person tells you how much money you will make by placing an ad in their publication because thousands of people will see your ad. It may be true that thousands of people will see your ad, but if they aren’t your target market then your results will be dismal.

Conflicts with customers and employees: If you have a performance issue with an employee, first determine if this is a recurring problem before you pounce on them. Maybe the issue just needs a gentle correction versus more severe actions. What about a customer complaint? Even if you are right, try not to reactive emotionally so as not to let the situation escalate out of control.

There are several techniques that you can use to prevent poor, emotionally-based decisions:

Wait: Don’t be reactive to another person or situation. If the situation requires you to speak or deal with it immediately, then pause, even if just for a moment, before speaking. For other decisions, take a day or more to make a decision. The time spent making a decision should coincide with its importance.

Look at the facts: What you think is true based upon how you feel and what actually is the truth are two different things. Separate feelings from facts.

Seek advice: Speak to a trusted professional, friend, or colleague about your decision. Sometimes just speaking to a third party before making a decision can put things into perspective.

Don’t let your emotions get in the way of your decision making.

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What is a Growing Business Doing Differently than a Struggling One?

There are major differences between the actions of a business owner with a growing business versus that of a struggling business. There seems to be a recurring theme for growing and struggling that closely mimics those who are fit and healthy versus those who struggle with their weight.  The accumulation of certain actions will greatly impact the outcome as follows:

Successful Businesses:

Hire smart and delegate: Business owners who are willing to take on additional employees will find that they are better able to increase sales due to additional capacity. They also do not over do it by hiring too many employees at once compared to needs, which ends up causing cash flow issues.

Invest in infrastructure: This not only includes the physical infrastructure, such as buildings, but also technology and equipment. Have you noticed that franchised restaurants update their locations quite often and do not hesitate to invest in technology and equipment?

Are reluctant to use debt: Debt can easily overwhelm your business even if you are growing rapidly. Although debt can be useful if used for the right reasons, it must be used sparingly and wisely to avoid pitfalls. As a business matures, then the goal should be to rely less on debt to support business operations. Why do you think the interest rates and payment terms are much different with traditional financing versus non-traditional loans, such as merchant loans or hard-money loans?

Seek advice: There are different ways of learning and some are more efficient and effective than others. One way to shortcut your success is to seek the advice of those who know more than you and then implement their suggestions. It sounds easy, but our pride tends to get in the way.

Struggling Businesses:

Are obsessed with cutting expenses: This may come as a surprise, but many struggling business owners are obsessed with cutting expenses. My only guess is that they do not see the link between smart spending to support profitable business operations. They are also penny wise and pound foolish and spend enormous amounts of time trying to save a few bucks, which ends up costing more.

Think that debt is THE answer: Debt may be a part of the solution, but it is not the answer to all of your business problems. Examples of problems that debt will not solve are: a lack of sales, overly burdensome expense structure, too many employees for the size of the business, and bad customer service.

Have an excuse and don’t listen to reason or reality: The economy is by far the most common excuse, along with “nobody buys this anymore” or “no one has time to do that anymore.” They may be right to an extent, but what about when the economy has turned around? If your customers have changed their buying trends, then why don’t you adjust your strategy as well? If you don’t change then you will prove yourself to be correct, but at a major cost to your business.

The probability of becoming a growing business will increase if you take the actions of growing business, while the odds of struggling will increase if you take the actions of a struggling business.

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4 Low Risk Ways of Starting Your Real Estate Empire

Real estate investing can be lucrative over the long haul, but most people never even get started except for owning their own home. How can you get starting without taking upon too much risk?

Don’t sell your home: It is very common for individuals to purchase their first home with little money down and then sell and move after a handful of years. Usually, there is some equity in the home, which is used as a down payment on a larger home. Aside from a large percentage of your equity being eaten up by selling costs, you now have another 30 year mortgage, most of the time. However, another option is to save up the funds for a down payment on a larger home and then rent out your original home. You still need to prepare the calculations to see if this makes economic sense, and if so, then now you are officially a landlord.

Buy the building: This option is for business owners only. Over time, if your business is growing profitably, then owning a building instead of renting could be a good option for you. There are several advantages to purchasing a building and renting to your business. First, if you occupy a majority of the building then you may be eligible for SBA funding, which generally requires a much lower down payment then traditional financing. Additionally, you know the tenant really well.

Partner up: I’m not a huge fan of partners for various reasons, however, you may have a family member or friend that you can partner with to combine resources that you would not have if purchasing a rental property alone.

Look farther away: The real estate market in North Jersey is very expensive compared to other parts of the State and the country in general. If you look a little farther away, then you may be able to find a real estate property for much less, and quite possibly a higher ratio of rental income received versus the price paid. This will make it easier to come up with a down payment.

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Is Your House Really Considered an Asset or Just a Place to Live?

Is your house an asset? Some would say yes, and I am sure that some would say it’s actually a liability. Here are different ways of thinking about your house.

Asset: Hopefully your house will appreciate in value over time, but this is not always the case. Because of the often high amount of leverage that most people take on when buying a house, the increase in value can often be multiplied. If it goes down in value and you are underwater, then your asset turns into a nightmare.

Even if your house does appreciate in value it usually does not make much of a difference. This is because most people end up selling their first house and using the proceeds, if any after considering all of the costs of selling a house, to purchase a larger house. Any equity is then “locked up” in their new house again.

No income generation: Unfortunately, your house does not generate income, unless you own a multi-family property, which is not a bad idea, but shunned by most. As a side note, a good strategy is to purchase and live in a multi-family house as your first home, stay for a number of years, move to a new home, and then rent out your unit.

Place to live: Economically, over the long-term owning a home is much better than renting, although life does seem much simpler when renting.  If you think of your home as a place to live vs. an asset than your perspective will change, including funds spent on  improvements. A cost benefit should be considered when making improvements, but know that improvements to your home are not usually the best investment.

Using it as an asset: If your home appreciates in value and your mortgage balance has steadily increased then you have the opportunity to tap into the equity of your home. Just make sure to use this equity wisely as you don’t want to find yourself unable to pay your equity loans and then end up in financial turmoil. Investments considered should be high return, low risk, which they should always be.

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Some Horrible Ways to Lower Your Tax Bill That are Not Recommended

I don’t think that I ever met anyone that likes to pay taxes. Everyone feels better when their taxes are paid in full with no outstanding balances, but not actually paying them. Sometimes this hatred of paying taxes can go too far and here are a few examples of what not to do:

Understate your income: As a business owner there is a huge temptation to “pocket” any cash that is received or cash checks instead of depositing them to your account. However, if you understate your income too much then you may be facing jail time and massive penalties.

Overstate expenses: Maybe you really like cars and use multiple cars for your business. However, if your spouse does not work in your business then her car payment is not a tax deduction. The same goes for personal meals, personal expenses, and outright lying about your expenses and deductions. Most likely you do not give 15% of your income to charitable. It’s possible, but not very probable.

Losing money in a side business: The main purpose of starting a business is to make money. Maybe some contemporary experts think that you should try to change the world, but most likely you are selling a product or service that is not going to cure illnesses. Sometimes a newer business owner is so intent on losing money to not pay taxes that they never let their business actually become a business. A business can only lose money for so long. The same goes for real estate investments and traditional investing.

Spend a dollar to save a quarter: Do not ever spend money on an unnecessary tax deductible expense just to save taxes. The math is very simple – spend $1 to produce $.25 of tax savings, which equals $.75 lost.

Multi-state taxation: The tax laws are extremely complex and each state has its own set of rules. However, don’t let this stop you from doing business or working in other states to take advantage of opportunities.

Tax-exempt investments: Even though municipal bonds are exempt from Federal taxes and possibly state taxes, this does not mean that they are appropriate for you. You must do the math to make sure you compare after tax returns of taxable investments to tax exempt investments, otherwise you may be worse off economically.

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An Observation Regarding Money Worries

There are a few things that I noticed over the years that seem to contradict each other regarding money worries. There seems to be a link between being charitable, concerns over saving too much, and stress about money.

Charitable giving: some people make a lot of money and give little to nothing to charity, especially as a percentage of their income, and the opposite is sometimes true regarding those with modest incomes. Theoretically, the greater your income then the greater should be your charitable giving. Why does this make sense? I believe that it has to do with a scarcity mentality and a fear of letting go. If you are overly concerned with not having enough money, whether real or imagined, then why would you part with your money?

Overly concerned about saving: Let’s face it, it is daunting to think that we have to make sure to save enough for retirement, college, a house or a larger house, 6 months of expenses for an emergency fund, weddings, sweet 16 parties (they can be over the top nowadays), vehicles, business ventures, and everything else. It even makes me exhausted just writing that! However, some take it too far and save so much or are concerned so much about saving that they get really stressed out. Although I am an advocate for saving up for most of the above (I’m not a big fan of massive weddings and outlandish sweet 16 parties), you have to balance that with current needs or you will be miserable. Who wants to eat the cheap steak to save an extra $10 for their retirement?

Do any of these apply to you? Maybe just a little?

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A Silly Trap When Trying to Pay Off Debt

I have had numerous clients tell me that they are paying off their debts early, whether it is a student loan, car loan or mortgage, which is very admirable. However, they really aren’t paying off their loans early. How can this be and why?

The reason is simple. They are not actually paying off their debts, but prepaying their regular monthly payments. The assumption is that if you make extra payments then those extra payments will go directly towards principal, which in essence will reduce your loan balance. It sounds logical, but usually the loan company will apply these payments towards future bills, so in reality no extra principal is being paid. They are just considered prepayments.

One way of determining if your extra payments are being applied properly is to look at your current monthly statement to see if your payment amount is either -0- or shows a lower amount than normal. If this is the case, then your extra payments are not being applied towards principal.

The proper way and easiest way to ensure that your extra principal payments are being applied correctly is to specify that your extra payment should be applied towards principal. It is best to do this online and then check your activity once the payment settles to confirm this.

It’s not right, but when it comes to finances you must be extra careful and do not make any assumptions!

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Is Debt Good or Bad?

What are we to believe? Is debt good or bad? On one extreme are some financial pundits that say to go into debt and use other people’s money to make money, and on the other extreme are experts that believe that any form of debt is bad. Who should we listen to?

Ignoring the rare exceptions, most successful people have incurred some form of debt either personally or through their business, and if they did not incur this debt then they would most likely not be in the position that they are in currently, even if they have now paid off all of their debts. Let’s look at some pros and cons.

Pros of debts: Without incurring debts, virtually no one in this expensive area would be able to purchase a house. If you were debt averse and had to save up for your house to pay cash, then you may never get there. If a $500,000 house appreciates by 3% per year on average (let’s ignore significant ups and downs to keep the point simple), then just one year later you would need to save an additional $15,000 to purchase your home. You may never get there.

If you want to expand your business or start a new one and need capital to build out your office or purchase equipment, then a loan is most likely needed. Even the best savers have a hard time saving up the significant sum that is needed to do so. The same applies to investment properties.

Unfortunately, you most likely need to incur some debt to finance college or purchase a vehicle.

Cons of debt: Debt is not without risk and I am a big proponent of proceeding cautiously and wisely when incurring debt. Here are several pitfalls of debt:

Over leveraged: If you incur too much debt than you may not able to meet your payment obligations. This is especially true if and when there is a slow down in the economy and/or your business. Think of debt payments as taking from your future income, but you really never know what your future income will be. If you find yourself with tons of debt then you need to closely examine your spending and look for ways to increase your income.

Increases risk: Debt amplifies the risk of any financial endeavor due to a decrease in cash flow from making debt payments and the financial obligation of the debt. Most debt is personally guaranteed, even if it is for business. Trust me when I say that a bank owns you when you take out an SBA loan. They may even put a lien on your children, but that may just be a rumor.

Makes you spend more (much more): Surprisingly, this isn’t mentioned too often as most people only consider the monthly payments, interest rate, and length of a loan. However, debt makes you less cautious when spending and investing money, even if it is for something productive, such as  purchasing equipment for your business or buying rental properties. The end result is that you wind up spending more than you anticipated. Why do you think so many companies offer enticing payment plans for just about everything? If you have the resources to pay cash, then it probably makes sense to do so.

Increases costs: Even loans with low interest rates increase your costs due to both interest and fees, which can be very significant.

As you progress on your financial journey, then a noble goal is to become debt free. Ideally, you should try to avoid debt when possible, but it may provide you with a much needed boost to get you started. Just do not over do it.

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This Will Kill the Economy Long-Term

There are many factors that can help an economy to grow, including productivity gains, wage growth, sound governmental policies, healthy banking systems, etc. A lack of all of these items will hurt economic growth, and there is one more often overlooked item that can and will devastate an economy over the long haul.

It’s probably not what you think, but I’ll give you a hint: think Japan. What is a major issue that is facing Japan? Low birth rates and a disproportionate amount of older persons compared to younger persons. Why does this matter?

Minimum: Statistically, a country needs approximately 2.1 births to have a stable population. If you want to bury yourself in statistics, then you can read reports from the U.N. or The World Bank. Although there are lower mortality rates than in the past, fewer births will mean a declining population and a disproportionate amount of older persons. By the way, the world’s population is expected to stabilize and/or decline by the end of this century.

Disproportion of elderly: In Japan, the population of elderly persons is much higher than in the U.S. Unfortunately, with lower birth rates there are less younger people able to physically take care of the elderly and also financially. Systems like social security will not be able to continue in a healthy fashion if there are not enough younger people available to contribute towards the system.

Basic math: If there are less people available to purchase services and products then economic growth will stagnate or decline. This can be offset somewhat by productivity gains and wage increases to an extent. Also, there will not be enough candidates to fill employment opportunities at businesses, which will stifle growth further.  More people = growing economy.

Myths?: I believe it started back in the 1960’s with doomsday scenarios of overpopulation and a strain on the resources of the planet. It really hasn’t panned out, but there have also been other modern inventions and policies that have stifled population growth. There is one statistic that I’ve heard that states the entire world’s population can fit in the State of Texas comfortably. Even if this statistic is way off and it would take the entire United States, then that would leave the rest of the world wide open.

Solutions: There are a few solutions to address this problem. One is immigration from countries or regions with high birth rates, such as Africa to countries with low birth rates, such as Japan. This would take changes to immigration policies enacted by governments.  The other solution is to encourage families to have more children and not to wait too long to do so. What is the worst that can happen – you may need to buy a massive van to drive your family around?!

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