As business owners, we want to remain optimistic about our business’s future. But life can happen, and we need to be prepared.  A good business owner thinks about all the risks to their business and has a plan in place to reduce or eliminate them.  In 2017, we’ve already had floods in the Midwest and California, a healthy dose of tornadoes, and an ice storm earlier in the year.  And those are just the weather disasters. Are you ready?

In 2015, Nationwide ran a survey that revealed that three out of four small business do not have a disaster plan.  The same survey noted that 52 percent of small business owners thought it would take three months to recover from a disaster.

The most common solution is to create two plans:

  • A disaster recovery plan, which details the steps needed to recover the business from a catastrophic loss
  • A business continuity plan, which details the steps needed to keep the business running in case of a major loss, such as a loss of electricity, location, or key personnel

There’s a lot of help online to help you create your plan. A few of the major items that should be covered include:

  • Employee safety: you’ll need an evacuation plan in case of a disaster that is life- or health-threatening.
  • Communication plan: how will you reach employees in an emergency?
  • Electricity contingency: will you need to access a generator?
  • Internet contingency: can your business survive without the internet for long periods of time, or will you need to find a way to get connected?
  • Location contingency: if your worksite is inoperable, do employees have another place to report to?
  • Employee roles: who will carry out the plan?
  • Private data: how will you safeguard private company and customer data?
  • Systems: do you have an inventory of hardware and software, including vendor technical support contacts? How will you prioritize which system to get back up first? Do you have agreements with vendors who can come to your aid quickly?

Creating a disaster recovery plan can be the lowest priority item on your to-do list as a business owner – until it isn’t.  If you have a lot to lose, then consider spending some time on a plan to give you peace of mind.

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.

For small businesses formed as an S Corporation and with plenty of profits, reasonable compensation is a term you may want to be familiar with.

Many small businesses have organized as an S Corporation form of entity.  In many cases, the S Corp election allows a business owner to save money on self-employment taxes, especially if they are operating as a sole proprietor. S Corp profits, or distributions, are not subject to payroll taxes.

If you are a business owner taking a salary and contributing substantially to the operations of the business, you may think that you should just take the distributions and forget the salary.  After all, think how much you would save in payroll taxes.  But this has already been tried and shot down by the IRS in the courts.  And this is where the term reasonable compensation comes in.

The IRS requires that business owners that perform a substantial contribution to the business be paid a salary according to a number of factors.  This is called reasonable compensation. You can’t pay yourself below market and take a large amount in distributions.

The IRS has issued a fact sheet that describes the guidelines that can be used to determine reasonable compensation. They include employee training, experience, duties, time spent, history of distributions, bonuses, and many other factors.

There are also reasonable compensation ramifications for C Corporations as well.

If reasonable compensation is an issue or concern for your business, please feel free to reach out and let us know how we can help.

For business owners with employers, payroll is a necessary task that can slow your day and tie you down if you let it.  If you’re looking for a way to make payroll less time-consuming, here are five ideas you can put to good use:

  1. Employee Onboarding

If you hire a lot, empower your new hires by letting them do their paperwork for you.  A good payroll system allows employees to “onboard” themselves, completing the I-9, W-4, and direct deposit authorizations electronically, even before they show up for their first day. You’ll still need to ask for ID on their first working day, but at least you won’t have to do their paperwork for them.

  1. Integrate Employee Benefits

Rather than hire several separate companies to handle benefits, some payroll systems allow you to integrate benefits solutions right in their dashboard.  That way, you won’t have to re-enter employee data in multiple systems, which often gets out of sync.  Deductions and payments can also be integrated to save accounting time.

  1. Delegate Timesheet Entry

Require non-exempt employees to enter their own time; all you should have to do is approve it.  The right timesheet application can take care of that, and a great timesheet application will allow employees to enter time from multiple options, including timecard, cell phone, and others.

  1. Eliminate the Annual Worker’s Compensation Audit

Tie your worker’s compensation vendor to your accounting system, and you’ll be able to avoid that time-consuming annual reconciliation report required by your worker’s compensation insurance company.  You can also avoid the large annual payment because the insurance will be taken out each payroll cycle.

  1. Reduce the Frequency of Payroll

It’s not always possible, but if you can pay employees less frequently, you might be able to cut your payroll time in half.  Pay weekly employees every two weeks or pay bi-weekly employees monthly.  Reducing payroll frequency boosts cash flow as well.

Try one of these five ideas to streamline your payroll time and costs in your business.  And as always, let us know if we can help.

In the last year, chatbots have exploded. A chatbot, short for chat robot, uses artificial intelligence to imitate a conversation with people. One place they have exploded is the Facebook Messenger app, which is a free instant messaging platform.

To get Facebook Messenger, you can download the app on your smartphone or go to https://www.messenger.com on your PC or Mac in any browser.

In Messenger, a chatbot looks just like a person. All you need to do to connect to a chatbot is to go to the People section and enter the name of the bot you want to connect with. Typically, there will be a Get Started button. The bot may ask you some setup questions such as your time zone, city, or topic preferences.

Bots can do many things. There are bots to deliver the news daily (Chat Newswire), bots that entertain and play games, bots that help you find recipes and restaurants, bots that improve your productivity, bots that help kids with their homework (Christopher Bot), and even a bot that connects with QuickBooks (Freelanzr).

Each bot works a little differently. In general, you will receive a welcome message, then the conversation will begin. The bot will prompt you to ask a question, enter a phrase or a word, or select from a group of horizontal button choices.

Bots are useful for your daily routine. You can get daily news, weather, reminders, and tips. If you are stuck standing in line somewhere, riding public transportation, in an Uber or taxi, or experiencing other downtime, you can have several conversations with your bots to pass the time.

If you don’t know of any bots or wonder about a bot that does a specific thing, there are lots of bot directories available. To get you started, here is one bot list:  https://botlist.co/.

The cool part is you can design your own bot for your business which can be fun for customers. The Facebook Messenger platform is open, and you can find out more about how to create a bot here: https://messengerplatform.fb.com/.

There are more platforms for chatbots besides Facebook Messenger, including Twitter, Android, Slack, and Amazon Echo, to name a few that you can explore if you don’t care for Messenger or Facebook.

It’s still early for bots. The effectiveness of the bots depends on how well they are designed as well as how much time the user spends learning how to work with the bot. Try connecting with a couple of bots to see if they will be productive for you. If nothing else, your kids will love the game bots while they are standing in line with you.