The security breach at Equifax a few months ago left many people thinking once again about identity theft. The best thing is to do everything you can to prevent it from happening to you. Here are a few tips to help you reduce your risk of being a victim of identity theft as well as how to reduce the damage from security breaches of your personal data from sources you can’t control.

Discontinue paper statements that are mailed. 

Paper bank, brokerage, and credit card statements that are mailed can be misboxed, intercepted, lost, or stolen, and the information can fall into dishonest hands. Instead, discontinue paper statements, and access them via your online account where you can review, print, or save them each month for your records.

Rent a private mailbox.

If you have trouble with mail theft in your area and can’t check your mailbox as soon as the mail is delivered, consider renting a post office box or a private mailbox. These are especially handy if you travel a lot or have many packages delivered and no one is home to sign for them. They cost up to $300 per year, and you can find them at places like The UPS Store, Mailboxes Etc., Postal Annex, or your local post office.

Shred your trash.

If you throw out junk mail offers for new credit cards or bank accounts, be sure to shred that paper and anything else that might contain private information.

Don’t email secure data. 

Credit card numbers, social security numbers, and passwords should not be sent via email unless the email is encrypted or secure. The odds of something happening are low but could happen.

Use different passwords for different account groups. 

Even the most secure-minded person uses the same password for many different accounts. You can too, but be smart about it. Use a unique password for your bank that you don’t use anywhere else. You might use the same password for all of your social media accounts because it’s just easier. Or another one for all of your free accounts; just don’t use those for any banking or credit card activity. Be smart about your password use, and make your password difficult based on the level of information that is at risk.

Choose hard passwords.

It’s painful, but choosing long, hard passwords can help throw off thieves. Include at least one capital letter, one special character, and one number in your password.  Make it nice and long. And don’t use common words, your birthday, parts of your social security, or your phone number in your password.  When it’s provided, use a random password generator.  And don’t let your browser automatically save your banking passwords for you.

Close inactive accounts.

If you no longer use an account you signed up for, close it rather than let it linger. It will reduce your risk. Be mindful, though; if you close some credit card accounts, your credit score could be adversely affected even if there has been no activity for a while.

Consider freezing your credit.

If you don’t need a new credit card or loan or are not planning a large purchase soon, consider freezing your credit. When your credit is frozen or secure, no one can run checks against it. Any identity thieves would not be able to take a loan out in your name.

Avoid unsecured wifi.

Although the ambiance is nice at a Starbucks, the wifi is not secure, and connecting and doing your work all day long there is a big security risk.

Monitor all account activity.

Check your bank and credit card accounts frequently, and turn on all alerts and fraud notifications. You can turn on alerts for when transactions exceed a dollar amount and when your bank balance goes below a certain amount. Getting emails or text messages on your activity can help you stay on top of things.

Consider identity theft insurance.

Identity theft insurance is now common, and you can get it and fraud protection for your business as well as for individuals. If you are a victim, it reimburses you for the cost of restoring your credit. Check with your local insurance agent for more information.

We hope it never happens to you. Try these tips to reduce your risk of identity theft.

One of the hottest buzzwords in marketing this year is influencer marketing. Influencer marketing uses key people in thought leadership positions to spread the word about your brand.  These people may be paid or unpaid spokespersons for your brands, products, and services.

The profitable thing about influencer marketing is the leverage.  Instead of marketing or selling to one person at a time, you are marketing to key leaders with followings who can influence many people at once.

Influencer marketing varies by industry; here are some common examples:

  • Locating photos of your product already on social media and reaching out to those people to do more
  • Hiring a social media expert with a large following to talk about your clothing line
  • Having a prominent lifestyle blogger post a photograph containing your juice product
  • Starting a referral program for a makeup company so “regular” women will spread the word

The common theme to all of the above examples is finding people who have a huge number of followers that just happen to be your ideal customers.

To take advantage of this marketing method, ask yourself who is influential in your industry that has the ear and respect of your customer base. How could you partner with them so it’s a win for you, them, and their following?  You may or may not need to compensate them, depending on their revenue model.

There are plenty of apps to help you locate influencers relevant to you. A favorite is Ninja Outreach at ninjaoutreach.com.

Try reaching out to influencers to leverage your existing marketing and make your marketing dollars go farther.

If you have employees, you probably also have a process to help them understand how they are doing on their job performance. There’s a new trend in large companies to kill the annual performance review and replace it with continuous, instant feedback as well as a tool called an after-action review.

 

After-Action Review

An after-action review (AAR) is a fantastic process to help you look back at a project or period of your business to see what, why, and how things occurred and how they can be improved for the future. Taking a profit-focused view will help you get the most out of the idea.

The AAR provides you with a bit more formal process than a passing “hmm, how did we do on that project last month?” conversation in the hall.  For example, if you planned your client retention rate to be 90 percent and your rate was 85 percent, you may want to take a look at why that happened. Doing exit interviews or a survey with discontinuing clients can help to explain the five percent variation.
Continuing the example, once you have done the interviews, you may have some ideas for improvement. It might be to automate some communication, increase response time, add more time for explanations, or something else. Let’s say you got sick last year and lost some clients because your response time during that time was not good. This year, you can put a sick plan in place to call on a peer to help you out so your service does not suffer.
The AAR requires an open mind and you will need to accept responsibility. One of the key benefits of the AAR is increased accountability. The core questions to ask yourself and your includes:
  • What was supposed to happen?
  • What did happen?
  • What worked? What should we keep doing?
  • What didn’t work? What are some improvements?
  • What advice would you give yourself at the beginning of the year? (Or project?)
  • What personal lessons did you learn?
You can use the AAR to improve your business by using it after each large project, to measure goals, or for a specific timeframe. Look at your first quarter performance this year. Are you on track? What improvements do you need to make for next quarter that you can work on over the summer and fall? Some opportunities to use the AAR include:
  • Technology changes / additions or training
  • Staffing changes
  • Hiring process changes
  • Marketing changes / additions or training
  • Operations changes / additions or training
  • New service or product development / new niches
  • Changes in your existing services or products
  • Customer retention
  • Sales cycle changes or development
  • Pricing evaluations
  • Client surveys / communications / service level changes
The good thing about the AAR is you can make it as formal or informal as you want.  You can invite your team or do it yourself, although you’re going to need an open, unbiased mind.  Try it in your business, and let us know if we can help.

Online marketing is a large component of marketing for many small businesses.  There are many aspects to online marketing that you’ll want to consider for your business.  Here are just five for your consideration.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is huge, and it consists of generating articles, blog posts, social media updates, white papers, videos, and other educational materials about your company’s products and services. Content marketing provides your prospects with something to read, watch, or learn from.

You can offer your content via your website, social media pages, a special landing page, in a blog, in the description portion of your profiles, via paid ads, or almost anywhere online. Your content should promote your brand as well as show your prospect how to use your product or service.

Video

Video has become incredibly important.  It’s no longer enough to generate text.  Graphics are better than text, but video trumps them all when it comes to effectiveness, higher search rankings, engagement, and sales conversions.

The good news is you don’t have to hire an expensive video team anymore.  A good video camera is less than $500, and you can also use your smartphone for some very decent footage.

Directories

It’s no longer enough to simply have a website.  Being listed in online directories will help your business expand its visibility.  Some common directories for small business include:

  • Yelp
  • Angie’s List
  • Manta
  • Better Business Bureau
  • Yellow Pages (online version)
  • Thumbtack
  • Your local Chamber of Commerce
  • Craigslist
  • Google for Business (Google Places)

Some of these directories work best if you ask customers to post reviews.  Be sure to also check out your industry-specific directories.

Social Media

Including social media in your digital marketing is a no-brainer today.  Graphic and video posts are far more effective than text posts, so it’s important to make this content switch if you haven’t already.

If you’ve focused on the “big 3” platforms – LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook – it might be time to try some new ones. Pinterest and Instagram lend themselves to graphic representation of your product. Google Plus is often overlooked but can help search engine rankings. And YouTube is a must because of the importance of video.

Public Relations

Digital public relations has been around for a while as well. If you don’t already have a Press page on your website, consider this addition. It can list contact information for reporters as well as a list of articles that your product, company, or employees have been featured in. You can also post press releases to this page.

Distributing press releases is less expensive than ever with options such as PRWeb and PRNewswire.

Make sure your digital marketing campaign has all the components above and that you have updated your content for these latest trends.  Having an up-to-date digital campaign will help you generate more revenue and grow your business.

Tim Ferriss made the 4-hour workweek a popular concept in his 2007 book.  But is there such a thing, and more importantly, can business owners like you and me cash in on it?  As the last of the Baby Boomers approach retirement, the topic of working less while making the same or more income is popular.

Here are five ideas to help you work fewer hours while making the same or more income.

Active vs. Automatic Revenue

Some business models allow you to generate automatic revenue.  Automatic revenue is revenue you can earn and leverage over time by doing something only once and not over and over again.  Active revenue is earned while doing something over and over again.  Showing up for a teaching job with a live audience is active revenue while producing and selling video recordings of the same teaching is automatic revenue.

A goal of a 4-hour workweek concept is to increase automatic revenue while reducing active revenue.  You may have to think out of the box to do this in your industry, but the payoff can be huge.

Delegation and Outsourcing

One traditional way to move to a 4-hour workweek is to have others do the work.  Hiring staff frees up your time and allows your business to become scalable.  When it runs without you, it’s more salable too.

Time Batching

If you have a lot of distractions in your day, you can easily double your productivity by learning time batching, which is grouping like tasks together in a block or batch of time and getting them done.  For example, if an employee interrupts you with questions multiple times a day, train them to come to you only once a day to get all their questions handled at one time.  Take your calls one after the other in a group, and then stay off the phone the rest of the day.  Do the same with email, social media, running errands, and all of your other tasks.

Automation and Procedures

New apps save an amazing amount of time. List all of your time-consuming chores and then find an app that helps you get them done faster.  For example, a scheduling app can reduce countless emails back and forth when setting meetings and appointments.  To-do list or project management software can cut down on emails among you and your staff.  And apps like Zapier can connect two apps that need to share data, reducing data entry.

Leverage

The key to working less is to embrace the concept of leverage.  How can you leverage the business resources around you to save time, increase staff productivity, and improve profits?  It takes discipline and change, two difficult goals to accomplish.  But when you do, you will be rewarded.

If you’re looking for more ways to bring in additional revenue, then a VIP revenue stream is one option for many businesses. Here are a couple of examples:

A plastic surgeon has a long waiting line of patients. The surgeon sets up a special membership fee of $3,000 per year for patients who wish to work with her. These patients get first access to her appointment schedule. They get priority surgery dates and personal care. Her other patients that do not pay are able to see her physician assistant. She earns an extra $300K — insurance-hassle-free — for the hundred patients who join her VIP group.

A pizza restaurant always has long lines during rush hours. The owner sets up a VIP membership of $75 per year for customers who want to bypass the long lines. He dedicates one of his cash registers to the VIP line and staffs it accordingly during rush hour. He sends specials by email and a birthday coupon to the VIP members. Five hundred customers sign up, grossing an extra $37,500 with little or no additional expenses.

A consultant has a couple of clients that want to have access to her 24/7. She sets up a special retainer of $1,500 per month for these clients and provides her cell number. Since they are busy CEOs, they only call a few times a year, but when they do, she drops everything to be of service. With four clients on retainer, it’s an extra $72K per year for a few days of work.

No matter who your clientele is, there are always a few who demand extraordinary service and are willing to pay extra for it. Capitalize on this by adding a VIP revenue stream to your offerings.

What you include in your VIP package will vary by industry, but here are a few thoughts:

  • Increased access to you
  • Special service, perhaps via another phone line or checkout lane
  • Invitation to exclusive events or sales or previews
  • Free gift wrapping
  • Free shipping
  • Special gifts
  • Friends are free
  • A richer experience
  • Birthday acknowledgement
    • A VIP offering is not the same as a points program. A points program encourages volume sales, while a VIP program is all about special perks, exclusivity, and a higher level of service.

      Does your business lend itself to a VIP offering? If so, give it a try.

Sometimes, the most telling numbers in your business are not necessarily on the monthly reports. Although the foundation of your finances revolves around the balance sheet and income statement, there are a few numbers that, when known and tracked, can make a huge impact on your business decision-making. Here are five:

1. Revenue per employee.

Even if you are a solo business owner, revenue per employee can be an interesting number. It’s easy to compute: take total revenue for the year and divide by the number of employees you had during the year. You may need to average the number in case you had turnover or adjust it for part-time employees.

Whether your number is good or bad depends on the industry you’re in as well as a host of other factors. Compare it to prior years; is the number increasing (good) or decreasing (not so good)? If it’s decreasing you might want to investigate why. It could be you have many new employees who need training so that your productivity has slipped. It could also be that revenue has declined.

2. Customer acquisition cost.

If you’ve ever watched Shark Tank®, you know that CAC is one of the most important numbers for investors. This is how much it costs you in marketing and selling costs to acquire a new client. Factors such as annual revenue, or even lifetime value of a client will affect how low or high you can allow this number to go.

3. Cash burn rate.

How fast do you go through cash? The cash burn rate calculates this for you. Compute the difference between your starting and ending cash balances and divide that number by the number of months it covers. The result is a monthly value. This is especially important for startups that have not shown a profit yet so they can figure out how much cash they need to borrow or raise to fund their venture.

4. Revenue per client.

Revenue per client is a good measure to compare from year to year. Are clients spending more or less with you, on average, than last year?

5. Customer retention.

If you are curious as to how many customers return year after year, you can compute your client retention percentage. Make a list of all the customers who paid you money last year. Then create a list of customers who have paid you this year. (You’ll need to two full years to be accurate). Merge the two lists. Count how many customers you had in the first year. Then count the customers who paid you money in both years. The formula is:

Number of customer who paid you in both years / Number of customers in the first or prior year * 100 = Customer retention rate as a percentage

New customers don’t count in this formula. You’ll be able to see what percentage of customers came back in a year. You can also modify this formula for any length of time you wish to measure.

Try any of these five metrics so you’ll gain richer financial information about your business’s performance. And as always, if we can help, be sure to reach out.

TSheets Pros
The New Business Directions Team is bringing the #1 employee-rated and requested Time Tracking Software to you. Sondra Love, Wayne Kukuruza, and Rhonda Rosand, CPA have recently joined the 6000+ TSheets PRO community by participating in an exclusive TSheets PRO certification course accredited by CPAacademy.org.

So what exactly is TSheets? TSheets is a time tracking and scheduling software designed for businesses that track, manage, and report time. TSheets provides the alternative to paper timesheets and/or punch cards to simplify human resource and data processing roles for companies of all sizes.

But here’s the best part, TSheets fully integrates with QuickBooks by syncing accurate timesheets to your QuickBooks file and eliminating manual, duplicate time entries. Tracked and approved time can now be easily exported to either QuickBooks® Online or Desktop with just one click. Management can then use their favorite tools within QuickBooks to process payroll, calculate job costing, and create invoices in a more simplified work flow.

TSheets is also a scheduling software making it faster and easier to build and share schedules with employees, assign jobs, and alert shifts while increasing profitability and improving communication. In other words, we want to keep your workforce running like a well-oiled machine.

Oh, and have I mentioned their amazing customer service department? The TSheets team who’s behind the product is just as amazing as the software itself. Customer service team is passionate about their customers and provides exceptional support in times of need. They make your entire TSheets experience FUN and might even give you a smile or two.

Are you ready to sign up? To find out more about TSheets, email sondra@newbusinessdirections.com or give us a call at (603) 356-2914.

The best cakes have layers and layers of different delicious flavors to enjoy. Stacked on top of one another, each layer is baked separately and becomes part of the whole. Like a layer cake, your business expenses have layers of meaning to them. When you can understand how expenses play a part in profit, you can manage them better.

Here’s how to make a layer cake of your business expenses. Let’s start with the most direct expenses.

Direct Costs

If you have inventory you will have a balance in the Cost of Goods Sold account. It should represent how much you paid for product or inventory that you are selling. It is the most direct expense of all the expenses; if you don’t spend this money, you would not have a product.

If you sell services, you should not have a balance in Cost of Goods Sold, but you will have direct expenses that are tied to performing your services. These might include labor from wages of the employees who carry out the services for clients. Any supplies directly involved with delivering services should be included as well.

You may also have other direct costs related to selling specific products or to servicing specific accounts.

Indirect Costs

The next layer includes indirect expenses. These expenses do not make up your product directly and might contribute to several different lines of products. Indirect costs might be attributable to a group of products or projects and can be apportioned accordingly.

Overhead

Although overhead is technically a form of indirect cost, it’s good to create a separate layer for it. It includes management salaries, rent, utilities, and other fixed costs that cannot be directly allocated to a product or service.

Assembling the Layers

A wonderful exercise is to classify each of your expense accounts in your Chart of Accounts as direct, indirect, or overhead. In that way, you can see how each account contributes to the costs of running your business. Some questions to ask yourself:

  • What is my gross margin before indirect costs and overhead?
  • What is my gross profit after indirect costs and before overhead costs?
  • How can I cut down on any of these categories of expense?
  • What is my breakeven volume in sales before overhead is factored in?
  • Can my profit margin be changed if I spent less in a certain area?

This layered view is just another way to view the financial aspects of your business and can help you make better decisions down the road.

You can also break the layers down even further by classifying the expenses as critical and non-critical. This will help you determine where best to invest while maintaining the level of profit you desire.

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Layering your expenses will help you have your cake and eat it too. And if we can help, just reach out as always.

Sondra Love and Rhonda Rosand, CPA of New Business Directions, LLC took to the sky last week to attend the 8th annual Scaling New Heights 2016 conference at Atlantis Paradise Island Resort located on Paradise Island, Bahamas.

This year’s theme was “epic” designed as the epic conference to empower small business advisors to develop and sustain the epic practice that distinguishes itself and embraces the key differences that separate ProAdvisors around the good, the great and the “epic.”

Sessions
The four-day conference kicked off each morning with Power Breakfast Sessions followed by main stage presentations with keynote speakers such as Daymond John of Shark Tank, Joe Buissink of Canon Explorer of Light, and author Mike Michalowicz of Profit First. In between general session, attendees dispersed around the conference center into rooms where cutting edge training sessions were being held. Training sessions were broken down into 5-tracks for Practice and Professional Development, Practice Growth, In-Depth QuickBooks Training, ProAdvisor Certification Training and QB Integrated Apps.

If you were fortunate enough to attend, Rhonda Rosand, CPA taught a 100-minute informative training session titled Successful Implementations from Initial Contact through Ongoing Support on Sunday, May 22nd. As the evenings came around, networking sessions were held consisting of ICB Bookkeeper’s Symposium, the Woodard Network Social hosted within Atlantis’ stunning marine life exhibit, The Dig and of course, the infamous TSheets dance Party on TSheets Tuesday.


Sondra’s Take on Vendors
 In between training, I was able to visit the exhibit ballroom which held over 90 vendors, some of which were very familiar. I came across software I use everyday to make my work flow run smoothly and now I am able to put a face to the product. For example, SmartVault allows me to access files anywhere, anytime and from any device. I also have the capability to securely share files with clients and our team.

While at Scaling New Heights, I learned the importance of technology and how it relates to strengthening our firm and supporting our clients.

The advanced level training will allow us to continue to assist our clients in streamlining the process of making money and creating order out of chaos. We would like to thank all of the members of the Woodard Group for another successful event at Scaling New Heights and look forward to next years’ conference in Orlando, FL.