Archive for February, 2010

What Does an Administrative Consultant Do for Me, You Ask?

Here’s a client education video for you.

Feel free to use it on your website to help explain to clients what you do and how you help them as someone who is in the administrative support business.

Dear Danielle: How Do I Keep Expenses Separate?

Dear Danielle:

It is that time of year… taxes!!! And I was wondering if there were any helpful tips or tricks that you could share for us newbies to help stay organized. What you do to keep track of your business expenses from your personal expenses? My tax accountant told me that it is very difficult to write off office expenses from home because you have to keep track of EVERYTHING. She also stated that being paid as an employee is better than being paid as an independent contractor for tax purposes. Is that true? I would love to hear your thoughts. –MB

Omigosh, you need a new accountant! The one you have doesn’t sound like she understands small business at all.

First of all, you aren’t an employee so you don’t have a choice about that, just like clients do not get to choose to pay employees as independent contractors. That’s called misclassification of employees and it’s against the law.

You are either an employee or you are a business. Independent contractor is not a third option. It’s just another name for someone who is in self-employment and self-employment is a business, just like any other.

The first thing I highly recommend is that you find an accountant who understands these things as well as the fact that you are a business owner, not an employee.

Of course, you have to be clear about that in your own mind as well.

In response to your accountant’s claim that it’s very difficult to write off office expenses from home: No, it’s really not.

EVERYONE in business has to keep track of everything; where your office is has nothing to do with anything (except for maybe the square footage of your office space).

Here is what I recommend: If you don’t have a dedicated room in your home for your office, at least have a  dedicated space, whether that is a desk in a corner or a tabletop in your den.

Wherever your space is, keep it off-limits to anyone and anything else. That becomes your dedicated business space that may not be used by anyone else or for anything else other than your business.

The square footage of that space is what you then get to use to calculate that business expense when you file taxes.

As far as keeping track of expenses, yes, of course, save your receipts. If a receipt isn’t clear about what it was for, you will need to make notes on them by hand.

Whatever you buy for the business is pretty much a business expense, as long as you don’t use it for anything else. Just keep that in mind and you’ll be good.

It’s only when you mix things for personal and business use that you have to start figuring out percentages and calculations and make things complicated so the way to keep things simple is to just not mix them. Get dedicated everything.

It is never a good idea to co-mingle business and personal funds, and, in fact, the law can dictate that you may not do that.

Therefore, plan on getting a dedicated checking and savings account with a debit and/or credit card that you use strictly for the business. (Depending on the bank and account, these can earn you rewards points that might come in handy as well.)

Each month, transfer funds over to the savings account to set aside for taxes. Your new accountant can advise you on the right percentage to set aside. That way, when it’s time to pay estimated self-employment taxes, you won’t be short and have to scramble. Personally, I feel you can’t go wrong setting aside 50% of everything you earn.

Also, if you haven’t already, I really recommend investing in a proper business accounting software like Quickbooks Pro.

Not only will it make entering and keeping track of things a breeze, but the reports you can pull up in analyzing your business and seeing how it’s doing will be invaluable. Your tax preparer will love you more, too.

I also want to be clear that when it comes to anything financial, legal and tax-related, you should never, ever rely on the advice, and especially not the opinions, of laypeople and colleagues, no matter how experienced they may be.

Always, always go to the source and seek the guidance of those who are educated, licensed and qualified to be giving the information (ahem, accountant and attorney).

In your case, you did the smart thing by consulting with an accountant; you just need to find one a little more knowledgeable, current and supportive of the small home-based business owner.

Living an Intentional, Conscious Life to the Fullest

Wow, it’s always surprising to see what resonates with folks, especially when it’s something that’s just a given in my own life that I don’t really think twice about.

Case in point, I always write a little personal note relating to that week’s feature article topic in every issue of our association ezine, The Portable Business.™

Since this week’s topic was about the problem with multi-tasking, this is what I wrote:

“Without a doubt, one of the secrets to my success is that I simply do not multi-task. I learned long ago back in my corporate days that it is simply counter-productive. You can’t really and truly be present in your work and for your clients if your mind is divided and distracted. That’s not fair to them. This is also part of the present and conscious lifestyle I intentionally choose to live. I absolutely love technology. I used to be the type who had all the latest gadgets as soon as they hit the shelf. But I found that I couldn’t live fully and presently in the moment if I was always hunched over the keypad of a Blackberry. Life is so much more delicious when your eyes and ears and fingers and mind aren’t constantly preoccupied. So I say “no” to too much technology in my life. I have a simple cell phone that does one thing: it makes and receives phone calls. Imagine that! I don’t text and I don’t tweet, and my clients are never given my mobile number. I keep our communication strictly to email and phone calls by appointment. When I am away from the office, I am fully engaged in LIFE and ready to savor experiences with all of my senses.”

I received such a flurry of emails on this from folks who identified so much with the idea of purposely NOT having all the latest gadgets, yet are made to feel guilty or “less-than” about that.

I hear you guys!

It’s like peer pressure. It’s the internet version of “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality.

People are made to feel like they aren’t successful if they don’t have all the latest and greatest stuff, and that’s just crazy.

Stuff isn’t what makes people happy. Nor is it what makes them better or more successful people.

It’s okay to be conscious and purposeful about how much stuff and technology you allow in your life, and how you leverage the technology tools you do allow in your business without letting them taking over your life.

This topics reminds me of a documentary I saw recently called The Bridge about all the suicides that occur at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Apparently more people take their lives there than anywhere else in the world.

The filmmakers set up a camera over the course of a year and documented these very tragic last moments of people taking their lives there there were all too tragically common.

They then set out to learn more about some of those people, interviewing family members, bystanders and rescuers.

It was quite controversial because some folks thought it was exploitive. Personally, I felt they gave a very moving, respectful treatment.

At any rate, one of people interviewed was a bystander who ended up saving a woman from jumping to her death (a woman who had attempted it before and later attempted it again, that time succeeding in taking her own life).

He was someone who was just sightseeing and taking photos like all the thousands of other people who visit the bridge. Something he said has always stuck with me.

He said he’d been looking through his lens and watching this person who was about to commit suicide, and explained how you really are in a different world when you are behind the camera. It’s like it’s a movie and not real and he really had to shake himself out of it in time to help that person and save her life.

I remember so totally understanding what he meant because at the time I’d been really infatuated with a new camera and was being Miss Shutterbug until I realized I was missing so much other stuff because I was always behind the lens.

It’s like you aren’t really taking part or experiencing what is going on. You’re just an observer and at the same time, not seeing or feeling everything fully.

I still love taking pictures; that won’t stop anytime soon because I’ve always regretted not taking more pictures earlier in my life.

But I’m more conscious about not taking it to extremes and putting it away so that I don’t miss out on the experiences and memories that are life. It’s those things — not gadgets — that enrich your soul.

 

What Webconferencing Service Do You Recommend?

I will be conducting some learning modules this month and need your webconferencing recommendations.

What services do you or your clients currently like/use?

Or, have you been on a webinar recently where you liked the webconferencing interface? If so, what were they using?

Here’s the snag I’ve been running into…

In the past, we’ve used GoToWebinar which allows plenty of room for attendees (GoToMeeting only allows up to 25 attendees, if I remember correctly).

GoToWebinar was fine when all we were doing was conducting webinars, but I now need something for conducting classes and it just doesn’t cut it.

Truth be told, I never really liked the interface.

For one thing, attendees couldn’t see who other attendees were. Plus, you can’t unmute everyone all at once. You have to unmute each attendee individually and then, you are only allowed to have 25 attendees unmuted at one time.

This is a problem because what I’m using it for is an interactive class. I need for people to simply be able to talk without having to go through a bunch of rigamarole.

The workaround is to use our own bridgeline, but then (since I want all the classes recorded), GoToWebinar can’t record the audio portion.

I could try to integrate the audio and video together later using Camtasia, but that’s just an irritating extra step/work that I’d prefer not to have. So that just isn’t going to work.

So here’s what I need in a webconferencing service:

  1. It must provide screensharing, not simply file sharing (CoolConferenceLive only provides file sharing, not screensharing, if I’m correct).
  2. A conference line that allows everyone to be unmuted all at once and not have restrictions.
  3. Ability to record everything (audio & video).
  4. Ability for attendees to see who other attendees are.
  5. Support at least 50-100 attendees.

I could really use your recommendations. Thank you!

Do You Understand the Difference?

Sometimes I’ll read things from other people in our industry, and I have to wonder whether they understand the difference between a project and providing support.

In case you’re confused, I thought I’d talk about it here…

A project is something that is basically one-off, one-time work. It has a start and a finish.

Web design is a good example of project work. It’s a one-time gig where you are hired specifically to do that one thing and that one thing isn’t ongoing because there is an end date, which is the completion of the site design.

Support, on the other hand, is something that is ongoing.

In the case of administrative support, it’s a body — a package — of any number of administrative tasks, roles and functions in a business that are recurring and continuous throughout the life of that business.

For example, you don’t just return one customer’s call and that’s it, you never have to call another customer in your life, right? Of course not.

So customer service is just one aspect, one area in a business in which you will have to engage in any number and kind of tasks and actions throughout the life of the business. There is no beginning and ending like with project work. It is ongoing.

When you understand the differences clearly, you can begin to better distinguish categories of work and services in your business so that you can create more revenue streams and make more money.

That means you can group all kinds of administrative support into retainer packages and then charge separately for specific projects and other work unrelated to administrative support.