Archive for March, 2009

Where is your money going?

Grandfathers expense book 1933-34  ccLicense

Grandfather's expense book 1933-34 ccLicense

The first step to budgeting is knowing where your money is going.  Many of you probably save your receipts and promptly turn them into the accountant during tax time.  This is great, but you may not have an idea of where your money is actually going.

Let’s break down some easy-peasy ways to track your expenses.  You’ll need to schedule some time each month to work on this.  Think of this as a very important appointment with yourself.

The Old Standbys

These are the most widely used systems for tracking expenses, and happen to be what I use.

  • Quickbooks is my favorite program to use, but it is expensive ($100-300) and can be tricky to learn.  I recommend this if you are interested in getting very detailed reports about your expenses.  I also think it’s essential to have something like this if you are tracking inventory.  If you don’t like numbers or don’t have very complex systems, then this is not the best program for you.
  • Excel is also one of my obsessions.  (Yes, I am a total nerd.)  I love cells and rows and columns.  If you don’t have many transactions each year, excel is a good place to start.  It’s easy to use, and most people have it on their computers.  If you aren’t trained in excel, an inexpensive course at the local college will give you the basics.

The Rookies

These are new online programs for tracking expenses.  They are user friendly and, in some cases, FREE.

  • Wesabe (www.wesabe.com) is a great online tool for tracking your expenses.  Wesabe allows you to link your bank accounts to the website.  From there, you can have a look at all of your expenses in one place.  You can tag and itemize items.  There are also great tips available for your planning.  Take a tour of Wesabe here.
  • Mvelopes (www.mvelopes.com) is an online tool known for it’s ease with budgeting.  If you are a photographer and are saving up to buy a new camera, this system would allow you to save your money in a “virtual envelope”.  The program is set up for personal financing, but would work easily for small businesses.  You can try it free for 30 days and then enroll in a quarterly or yearly plan.  Take a tour of Mvelopes here.
  • Your bank may have some easy online expense tracking and budgeting options.  Wells Fargo allows you to categorize expenses when you send payments using their bill pay.  American Expense often sends itemized bills showing charges and their classifications.

After tracking expenses for 1-3 months, you should have a good idea of where your money is going.  This will make your budgeting easy to do.  Tomorrow, we’ll share how to make a good budget and, how to stick to it!

March 31, 2009 at 6:00 am 2 comments

The “B” Word: Budget

Being on a budget is like being on a diet.  For me, it would be great to sit around eating cheese every day for every meal.  But, the reality is that I need to have some restraint.  It’s the same story with your business expenses.  No one wants to be on a budget, but a healthy business requires it.

This week we are going to cover the following to help you set up a budget, and more importantly, stick to it!

  • The business expense MYTH
  • Tracking your expenses
  • Setting expense GOALS (budgeting!)
  • Finding a system that works for you
A poor mans method for budgeting?  CClicense

A poor man's method for budgeting?

Now… onto…

The BIG MYTH

How many times have you or one of your fellow small biz owners said the following:

“It’s a tax deduction.”
“Oh – I’ll get this, it’s a tax write-off.”
“All of these expenses should make for a great tax refund.”

If you have uttered these words, listen (read) closely:
A business expense is a tax deduction.  However, a tax deduction does NOT mean the government is giving you any money or that you will ever see this expense come back to you in any form of money.

HOW TAX DEDUCTIONS WORK

Now stick with me… I’m going to talk in numbers (don’t be scared).

Let’s say in one week you make $1000, and you spend $800 of it on supplies, phone bills, and rent.  This is what happens:

$1000 sales
– $800 expenses
$200 income that you will pay ~$60* of tax –> $140 income (money in your pocket)

But, if you spent $500 instead of $800, it would break down as:

$1000 sales
– $500 expenses
$500 income that you will pay ~$150* of tax –> $350 income (money in your pocket)

By spending $500 in expenses instead of $800, you were able to make $210 more (after taxes).  The ONLY benefit to having more expenses is that you pay less tax.  The BIG downside to having more expenses is that you have less income (LESS money in YOUR pocket).

Now repeat this after me:
Tax Deduction means that I pay less tax.  Tax Deduction = Business Expense.  A business expense (or a tax deduction) results in less income.

You are a PRO!

Tomorrow, we’ll go over some AWESOME systems for tracking your expenses.  (Hint: there are some really cool, fun, online sites that make this easy-peasy.)

* For purposes of this example, the tax rate is 30%.  It would largely depend on the annual income and the individual’s tax bracket.

March 30, 2009 at 6:00 am Leave a comment

Insider to Insider: Eliza Truitt ~ Eliza Truitt Photography

Eliza TruittEliza Truitt is truly a brilliant photographer and a very keen business woman.  She is one of my cohorts on Get Hitched Give Hope.  When she’s not shooting gorgeous photos, she’s hunting thrift stores for vintage textiles and china.  (LOVE that!)

Eliza Truitt
Owner, Eliza Truitt Photography
www.elizatruitt.com

What is your favorite thing about weddings?

For all their pomp and circumstance, weddings are full of real, intense human feelings. Romantic love, family love, deep friendship-it’s not often that all those different aspects of what make life meaningful get crammed into one day. You see it on people’s faces and it is such a thrill to photograph.

What is your best tip for time management?

Make a schedule for yourself and stick to it. If you work on things as they come to you, you will remain in reactive mode and will inevitably shortchange the aspects of your business that don’t scream for attention. If you start by deciding what’s worth spending time on, you can create a schedule reflecting that and avoid a certain degree of craziness.

What is your little marketing secret?

Marketing who you really are instead of what you think an imaginary client might want. If in everything you do you are displaying what is true and genuine about yourself and your business, you will attract like-minded clients who will feel a connection to you and respect the work you do.

What is the funnest trend you are seeing in the industry?

I love the trend towards wedding vendors coming together to help each other–and the industry–out. Whether it’s networking groups, fundraisers, or just informal get-togethers, we all benefit by sticking together.

If you were starting your business all over again, what would you have done differently?

I would have outsourced more of the things I’m no good at, like accounting. When I was starting out I just wanted to do everything myself (doing it all yourself sooo cheap!), and it took me a while to realize I should leave certain things up to the pros. Especially things I don’t enjoy doing.

Thanks Eliza!

If you’d like to share your insider tips with the world… answer the five questions listed above and email SageWeddingPros-at-gmail.com .

March 27, 2009 at 6:00 am 1 comment

Cost Cutting Thursday!

Every Thursday, we introduce FIVE COST CUTTING TIPS.  Here are our favorites for the week:

  1. Reduce your Credit Card Interest Rates Just like with personal credit cards, your business credit cards could be carrying a hefty interest rate.  One of my favorite blogs in personal finance is The Simple Dollar.  Trent recently posted some great steps to reduce your interest rate on your credit card(s).  He describes how to call the credit card companies and ask for a lower rate.
  2. Is your advertising paying for itself (and then some)? Last week, we discussed the analysis of your marketing plan.  If you don’t already, ask your clients how they found you.  Take a look at how much you spend on advertising and compare that with the list of “where clients are coming from” and how much they spend on your services.  Does it justify the price you are paying for the ad?  Over time, you’ll be able to determine if one ad is worth its cost or not.  Often times, people are paying for ads that aren’t yielding any returns.
  3. Look at your lifestyle expenses Being in the wedding industry warrants that we be involved in a number of social and networking events.  It’s part of our job to meet and greet… and spend money on dinners, and drinks, and coffees, and treats.  And, while these expenses are tax-deductible, it is still money out the door.  Now, because I know that a good portion of my clients are from referrals, I find these expenses to be a valid expense.  But, it’s important to put together a spending plan and stick to it.  Pick and choose which events are the most wise “networking investment”.
  4. Printer ink is expensive You are spending a lot on your printer ink. Cartridges run $20-30 in most cases (and that is just for the cheap inkjet.)  If you are an organizational nut like I am, you probably do a lot of printing: client info, questionnaires, email, etc. Most of the “office printing” does not need a high-quality print.  I have a high-quality printer that I use for client marketing materials.  And, I have the “office stuff” printer for which I use recycled cartridges.  Cartridge World will refill your cartridges: good for your wallet, good for the environment.
  5. Watch your gas mileage Many of us drive all over the city to meet with clients.  We can rack up 100 miles in just one day driving in several directions.  This is affecting your gas expenses (and the wear and tear on your car).  Last Friday, Kelly Simants had a great tip in time management: plan out your week and schedule your meetings on one or two days of the week. This can also help how much you are spending on gas.  Once you are out of your house or office, maximize the time on the road and get all of your meetings and errands out of the way.

We’d love to know what YOU do to cut costs.  Send us your tips by emailing SageWeddingPros-at-gmail.com!

March 26, 2009 at 6:00 am Leave a comment

The Great Recession or the Great Opportunity?

So… maybe you are just getting warm to the thought of starting a small business and feel a little gun shy.  Or, maybe you’ve been in business for a while, but feel the need to start from the beginning.  This is a crazy time for small businesses.  Every day, we read and hear stories of how the wedding industry is not as recession-proof as once thought.  But, a recession is also a great time to start a small business.

Here are the reasons why:

  • It’s a buyer’s market
    You can get great deals on everything from an office space to office equipment.  Search Craig’s List and you are sure to find available office space, liquidations on equipment,  and sales on supplies.  There are also great promotions on advertising and wedding shows.
  • Brain power
    Unfortunately, the economy has left some of our nation’s brightest without employment.  With unemployment at a 27 year high of close to 9.5% there are a number of extremely smart and capable people between jobs.  Recent college graduates are among the hardest hit according to a recent report done by cnn.  There is an opportunity to hire great talent and mold them into the future of your company.
  • A side business can become your full-time business
    Test out a hobby and see if you can make some extra income.  When I started mmm… paper it was in the living room of a one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood, CA and I was balancing 2-3 other jobs.  Many small businesses start out this way.  Trent, author of The Simple Dollar, recently wrote how starting a side business during a down economy can bring in a little extra income.  Everything that goes down, must come up (economically-speaking).  Your extra side income can eventually lead to more full-time income when the economy takes a turn for the better.
  • Opportunity for innovation
    A down economy is a great time to innovate, recreate, rethink what people want.  I love this list from cnn of 6 companies born during downturns.  They may seem like giants today, but they started out small, just like the rest of us.
  1. Proctor & Gamble
  2. IBM
  3. General Electric
  4. General Motors
  5. United Technologies Corp
  6. Fedex

Read the full article here for a little more inspiration on these 6 companies.

What are you waiting for?   When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!

March 25, 2009 at 6:00 am 2 comments

On a Mission

You’re stuck in a business rut and you don’t know where to go next… have you reviewed your mission statement?  Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve thought about the mission of your business – or maybe you’ve never written one.  The time is now to re-think how your business will achieve the success for which you set out.

On Monday, we explored Starbucks’ Mission Statement and began to work through some questions to help craft (or re-craft) your business’ mission statement.  Today, we are going to explore some useful tips for the actual writing of it.

We recommend the following:

  • Soul Search
    Turn off your computer and take the list from Monday’s post and go outside: soul search.  Get away from the daily “completion of tasks” and think about what you really want to accomplish with your business.
  • Talk with others
    Ask your family members (who are probably well-versed on the good, bad, and ugly of being an entrepreneur.)  Talk with your employees.  Ask your fellow colleagues: other vendors, partners, suppliers.  Get thoughts from those around you and their perceptions of your business.
  • Doodle
    Some people find doodling a great tool to brainstorm.  I like to use a program called MindManager.  It is a software that lets you create decision trees and outlines.  What you used to sketch out on paper (or chalkboard) you can now create on your computer.
  • Explore
    I love reading other companies’ mission statements.  (Is that weird?)  It inspires me to be a better business owner.  And, it makes me think about what I want to achieve in my business.  I just stumbled upon missionstatements.com!  What an awesome resource for gazillions of mission statements.  I also like how they have personal and family mission statements too.
  • Use exciting words
    The essence of your business should be exciting… don’t be afraid to use colorful words.  I don’t know where I’d be without my trusty thesaurus.

When you are finished exploring, piece it all together.  A good mission statement will include answers to the following:

  • What is your business?
  • How will you serve the people of your business (employees, customers, stakeholders)?
  • What underlying philosophies drive your business?

Now, you’re ready for take-off!

March 24, 2009 at 6:00 am Leave a comment

What is your mission?

What is the mission of your business?  When is the last time you looked at your mission statement?

I’m hoping your answer to the latter question is, “Michelle, I just looked at it an hour ago as it is emblazoned in hot pink on my walls.”  But, if you are like most small business owners (myself included) you just winced with the thought of it and mumbled “Make the bad man stop.”

But, it’s time to face it: you need to know what your business is all about and what the purpose is of your business.

We’re going to do two things today: break down a successful mission statement and begin to craft one of our own.  EGADS!

Starbucks’ Mission Statement

The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary is a great read.  The book breaks down the secrets of all that is Starbucks.  The company has an amazing mission statement:

“To inspire and nurture the human spirit— one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”

WOW! That’s a lot of pressure for a little cup of coffee! The book goes on to talk about how the company’s five guiding principles direct everyone in the organization to achieve this mission.  They are:

  1. Make it your own (Be welcoming, be genuine, be considerate, be knowledgeable, be involved)
  2. Everything Matters  (It really is the little things that count)
  3. Surprise and Delight  (What is the extra something? The je ne sais quoi?)
  4. Embrace Resistance (Learn from criticism, challenge skepticism, do not avoid conflict)
  5. Leave Your Mark (Leave a powerful and positive mark on the community)

By having this clearly communicated mission statement – and the five guide principles – the company has been able to achieve unbridled success.  Employees know what to do and how to do it.  Clients understand the product and the company.

YOUR Mission Statement

Now… drumroll, please!  What about your mission statement?  Dust it off and let’s get started.  Here are questions taken from Entrepreneur Magazine’s Start Your Own Business to help you in the construction/re-construction of your company’s mission statement:

  • Why are you in business?
  • Who are your customers?
  • What is the nature of your products and services?
  • What level of service do you provide?
  • What roles do you and your employees play?
  • What kind of relationships do you maintain with suppliers?
  • How do you differ from competitors?
  • How will you reach your goals?
  • What underlying philosophies or values guide your business?

Spend some time fleshing these out.  They will help refine the backbone of your business. On Tuesday, we’ll work on fine-tuning these and helping you turn them into a working mission statement.  We’re on a mission!

March 23, 2009 at 6:00 am 2 comments

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