Archive for the ‘Accounting & Bookkeeping’ Category

Where to Find the Hidden Timer in Outlook (Video)

 

I want to share with you a little-known feature in Outlook that you might not be aware of: it’s a task timer!

It’s a little out of the way so I’m going to show you where to find it.

  1. First, go down to your Outlook task bar in the lower left and click on those three little dots.
  2. This brings up some expanded navigation options. Click on “Folders.”
  3. You’ll see there are now some additional folders along the left side navigation list. From there, click on “Journal.”
  4. This brings up the Journal timeline. This is where your journal entries are saved and appear.
  5. When you’re ready to use the timer, click on “Journal Entry” there in the top left. This is where you find the hidden task timer!
  6. Now, fill in the details of your task or activity. First, select an entry type. I tend to use “Task,” but you have several options to choose from.
  7. Then give your entry a good description.
  8. You’ll see that the date and start time are already filled in for you. There’s a big note section below that where you can type anything you like. There’s also a company field where you might want to type in a client name (or, alternatively, you can start your description with the client name like I prefer; either way, you can play around and do whatever works best for you).
  9. Once you’re ready to begin whatever it is you want to track the time on, simply click “Start Timer” and away you go.
  10. When you wish to end recording, click on “Save & Close.” This will stop the timer and save the entry to the Journal timeline.
  11. To check the recorded minutes, go the timeline and click on the entry to open it. The total minutes recorded appear in the “Duration” field.

And that’s it, easy peasy!

A couple quick thoughts on task timing…

If you’ve followed me long, you know that I’m an advocate for ditching the timesheet, stopping the clock-watching and task-timing, and selling value-based solutions instead of hours.

So, in sharing the Outlook timer with you, I’m not suggesting you start tracking all your time and tasks for clients.

That just creates bigger administrative headaches, makes your business and billing more complicated and time-consuming, and limits your earning potential on top of everything.

However, there are certain instances when timing things is useful.

Sometimes, for your own internal use and frame of reference, you want to get an idea of how long certain common tasks or activities take you on average.

You also might want to track time when you are doing work that is separate from and not included in a client’s support plan.

For example, I work with attorneys and charge them a flat monthly fee for a body of administrative support. However, there are limitations to that support, one of which is litigation.

One of the activities that is sometimes (not always) needed in litigation is transcription.

A lot of times, an opposing party will provide pleadings in an uneditable format that a client must respond to.

If we can’t get them to send us an editable version (like Word) and OCR conversion won’t work or would be too time and labor intensive to clean up (quite often it’s easier and takes less time to simply retype something from scratch), that’s when transcription is needed.

However, transcription times can vary greatly, obviously. So, for work of that nature, that is outside the normal scope of a client’s regular monthly support plan, I use the Outlook Journal and timer to keep track of these additional activities so I can bill for them at the next invoicing.

So, I’m curious… did you know about the timer in Outlook? If not, do you think it will come in handy now for you? Let me know in the comments!

Accepting Electronic Payments with Viewpost

Last year, Intuit discontinued its Intuit Payment Network (IPN), which was a convenient way to collect payments from clients inexpensively (only 50 cents per transaction).

Plus, even though it was a great option for receiving payment electronically from clients, there were some minimum financial benchmarks to meet in order to qualify for the service so it didn’t work for everyone.

Paypal is a handy, extremely easy-to-use backup and while any fees you pay are a business write-off (so I don’t sweat them), it still would be nice to have another IPN alternative.

So I was definitely interested when I received an email from my bank about a third party service called Viewpost.

I haven’t used it yet, but I have signed up, which was very easy to do. Here’s what I can tell you so far:

  1. It works with any bank in the U.S.
  2. There are no minimum financial qualifications or balances to meet to sign up and use the service.
  3. You can invoice anyone for free using the ViewPost invoice service. (Aside: I prefer my own custom, fully branded business invoices inside Quickbooks so I won’t be using this feature. I consider invoicing both an accounting and marketing function, and I’m VERY particular about how all of that is done and looks. While you can upload your own logo in Viewpost, their invoicing isn’t very sophisticated or customizable beyond that so it’s a no-go for me. However, I was informed that the service is compatible with Quickbooks if you like to automate the bookkeeping portion of it.)
  4. Clients can pay with bank account or credit card (all my clients prefer credit card because their payments to me earn them a significant amount of travel miles, hotel and cashback rewards). During the sign-up process in Viewpost, you’ll also have the option to sign up with Stripe which is the service that will give you the additional functionality of accepting credit card payments. If you sign up for Viewpost only, payment will only be bank account to bank account.
  5. You are not charged for any payments you receive through the service.
  6. For clients to pay you through the service, they will also need to set up an account. However, this is a one-time process and they can then use that account with other vendors as well as for themselves and their own clients if they so choose.

CAVEAT: While you pay no fees for any payments submitted to you, the client is charged 50 cents per transaction. Of course, 50 cents in the scheme of things is nothing; however, on principle, I don’t feel my clients should be charged any kind of fee to pay me. This is a pretty important standard to me so I don’t like this part whatsoever. I would prefer to be the one paying the 50 cents as I feel any fees charged are my business cost to bear. I consider my practice to be an upscale service and would never dream of charging or passing on chintzy fees like that to clients. I’m sure there’s some work-around I can figure out (e.g., reducing my invoice by 50 cents perhaps), though, knowing my clients, they aren’t going to care about paying an extra 50 cents. (But I care!)

All said and done, it’s still worth trying out as it would be nice to keep more of my own well-earned payments myself.

Check them out here: Viewpost

And their pricing page: Viewpost Pricing Info

Better yet, ask your bank if they already partner with Viewpost and ask for their special link/sign-up page as there might be some special advantage to doing that. I received my invite via my bank and there is a special $25 Amazon gift card sign-up bonus right now.

Have you used Viewpost before? What was your experience with it? Any other Viewpost info or tips you can share with us?

Do you know of a similar service that only charges 50 cents per payment transaction?

Let us know!

UPDATE 2/22/17:

Well, this has turned out to be a bit of a no-go for me. It occurred to me to ask about accepting credit card payments. I have most of my clients on auto-pay (where they sign an agreement and I process their payments to me automatically each month), and most of them prefer paying by credit card because they want the airline/travel/hotel/cashback points and rewards. I was informed that you can only accept credit card payments by using Stripe (which the Viewpost sign-up process has you sign up for as well) and their regular merchant account processing fees  (I think they said it was roughly 2.9%). I was also told that it would take anywhere from 2 – 7 days for those payments to actual process and be available to me. And while the bank-to-bank account payments through Viewpost, even though they would only cost 50 cents to the client who is paying, those would also not resolve for 2 days and could take as long as 10 days to finalize.

So that was all a deal breaker for me. Why would I switch to a new system that creates more work and rigamarole (for me and my clients) and no cost savings when I can already have a system in place with the ease and convenience of instant payment with Paypal? Sure, I might pay the same fees to PayPal, but you’re going to pay the same (or more) to any merchant account service and the ease and convenience and instant availability of my funds is worth it to me. Plus, any fees you pay are a business write-off so I’m not worried about them. They help reduce my taxes.

Still, as with anything, there’s always a positive side. Now I know more about this particular service and even though it’s not right for me and my clients currently, there still might be some odd occasion where it can be handy, either for me or for one of my clients.

Dear Danielle: Do You Use PayPal?

Dear Danielle: Do You Use PayPal?

This was a question posted in my private Facebook community last November. With Intuit Payment Network (IPN) ending next month, it seems like a good time to revisit the topic.

Dear Danielle:

Do you use PayPal for invoicing and payments in your business? Do you recommend them? —GB

Yes, I use PayPal as a payment processor, but I invoice clients with my customized invoice in Quickbooks Pro (which is the comprehensive software program where I do all of my bookkeeping).

I’ve been using PayPal since 2000 and have never had a single problem. It’s super easy to use, integrates quickly and easily with web coding, and it’s established and trusted.

A merchant account is an alternative to PayPal, but I’ve always found them more complicated to use, and not necessarily any cheaper, and in my experience, you don’t get the same level of tech support that PayPal provides.

Personally, I could never be bothered with using them, and when I was still in the web design business way back when, I hated trying to integrate their coding onto websites. So convoluted and difficult and they don’t necessarily care about providing more than a superficial level of support.

Maybe that’s changed. And of course, I have  programmer now that I let handle that kind of work when it comes up.

The other payment processor I use is IPN which is Intuit Payment Network:https://ipn.intuit.com/.

IPN only charges $0.50 per transaction, which is far less of a fee than others including PayPal charge (although personally, I never sweat those kind of fees, they are pennies in comparison AND they are tax deductible business expense that you get to write off at the end of the year which lowers your tax experience).

The only caveats with IPN are:

1) If you are billing a client over $1,500 on an invoice, they will need to be on IPN as well (you can bill guests up to $1,500 though).

2) You need a checking account with unlimited withdrawals and deposit; and

3) To get approved you will need from 3 – 6 months of consecutive bank statements showing an ongoing minimum balance, the amount of which depends on what you expect to bill out via IPN each month. So, for example, let’s say you will be billing $2,500 a month via IPN. To get approved for an IPN account, you will need to keep a minimum balance of at least $5,000 in that checking account for 3-6 months. The minimum balance they’re looking for all depends on the amount you intend to bill and they have different tiers that you’d have to call them directly to find out what your amount would be specifically. But once you get approved, you don’t have to keep that minimum balance anymore because they don’t monitor your bank account.

UPDATE: Intuit is discontinuintg their popular IPN (Intuit Payment Network) come April 2016. The company is encouraging users to move over to their Quickbooks-integrated merchant account product, Quickbooks Payments. There are two plans to choose from to fit your business, and you can also get mobile credit card processing if that’s of interest to you.

Personally, I probably won’t be switching over as PayPal meets all my needs. It’s easy, I trust it, and the costs are comparable.

Dear Danielle: Why Can’t I Find Income Tax Info All in One Place?

Dear Danielle:

I submit final draft of my business plan to my mentor soon (I can’t thank you enough for the business plan template you have included in your packages). My question is for the financial aspect of the business plan: calculating the income taxes. There are so many websites out there and not one that offers suggestions of what a someone in our business could file. I mean, you have state, federal, etc. Is it just the same when you are taking an owner’s withdrawal vs. salary? I really want to check all of my resources before I pay an accountant for the same thing I can find myself. –MK

I love to see how you are doing your actual homework!

I can’t stress enough to new business owners the importance of not being penny wise and pound foolish.

What I mean by that is I think every business owner should do this homework to make sure they have a good grasp of these things. That way, when they do talk with an accountant and/or business attorney, the information makes more sense; they understand it at a more cellular level.

Even after doing your own homework, it is more than wise to still consult with an accountant and/or business attorney.

The reason you can’t find all this info spelled out for you is because it all depends.

Your business formation will be relevant. If you are in the U.S., besides federal obligations, different states and localities will have their own varying requirements.

Every person’s situation and circumstances are different. Therefore, there’s just no way around simply going to all the pertinent agencies in your own location, talking to them and getting the low-down on exactly what your particular tax, licensing and reporting obligations are.

And don’t expect one agency to know the particulars of another. It’s not their place, and relying on wrong info they might give can cost you. You need to talk with each one.

As far as figures go, you can figure on 15.3% right off the bat to Uncle Sam. Technically, it’s 12.4% for Social Security up to $106,800 and 2.9% for Medicare. After $106,800, you only have to pay for the Medicare portion of the self-employment taxes.

However, things can get more confusing depending on individual circumstances, like for example, if you have a job in addition to running a business.

Personally, I don’t worry about cut-offs and just keep setting the same amounts aside. Anything extra can go into the fund for future payments or turned over to savings. (And realistically, it’s not likely that you would even hit the $100,000 mark, if at all, until several years in business. Not that’s it’s not possible; it’s just that most people in our industry don’t know how to work with clients or run their businesses in a way that allows them to reach that potential.)

But 15.3% isn’t all that you want to set aside for taxes from your business income…

As far as your state goes, you want to find out if there is an income tax or not (some states have one while others don’t). How much is it? When do you need to pay it? Does your state require a business license? How much is that? How often must it be renewed? What are your reporting obligations?

Your city, even your county, may also have their own business licensing and tax requirements as well. You’ll need to find all of this out.

As you can see, there’s no one-size fits all answer. It all depends. And this is exactly why it is always in your best interests to work with an accountant and/or business attorney.

Even if you think you understand things or have covered all your bases. Because unless you are an accountant or attorney, you simply don’t always know what you don’t know.

And they can literally save your butt from making potentially costly errors, giving you the right advise based on your own particular set of circumstances and business formation and saving you all kinds of time, energy and money trying to figure all that stuff out on your own.

PS: No, an owner’s draw is not the same thing as a salary. Just one of the myriad bits of knowledge you must know about in order to do your own bookkeeping.

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.

Dear Danielle: Should I Provide Bookkeeping or Not?

Dear Danielle:

I purchased some of your business products this week and Love Them. One question, in the price section of services and throughout some of the contracts it states this contract does not include bookkeeping. Is it normal to charge more for the bookkeeping service? —IK

There’s no “normal” way to do things. The great thing about being in business is that you get to decide whether or not you want to include something in your administrative support.

What I wanted to do by separating bookkeeping in the contract template was bring it to your attention that bookkeeping is a different service, skillset and business altogether from administrative support.

You see, a lot of people in our industry (dare I say, most of them) struggle to earn well. A lot of times that’s because they don’t understand what they specialize in (i.e., administrative support).

And what they do when they don’t understand this is they lump everything together.

By not differentiating that administrative support is a skill and value that is separate from other categories of business, they deprive themselves  of the opportunity to create another stream of income in their business.

So you can decide whether or not you want to provide bookkeeping in with your administrative support.

Maybe you decide that bookkeeping is a category of training and knowledge (and value) that is completely separate from administrative support and therefore warrants a separate charge to clients for that work.

You might even decide to offer a completely separate retainer or add-on fee for that work.

On the other hand, you might not be a bookkeeper at all and decide not to provide it whatsoever (it does require special knowledge, skills and training and there’s a great deal more liability when you are dealing with someone’s money and finances after all).

In that case, you would simply let clients know that bookkeeping is a separate industry/profession from administrative support and refer them to some fabulous bookkeeping experts you know of (it’s always a good idea to connect with experts in other fields so that you can refer clients to each other).

Hope that helps!

Dear Danielle: Do I Need to Charge Sales Tax on My Services?

Dear Danielle:

Do I need to charge sales tax on my services? –AM

This is a tax and legal question, not a question for your colleagues.

When it comes to tax and legal questions, you need to talk to the proper professionals.

No matter how well intentioned or experienced, your colleagues’ advice may or many not be accurate, especially since the laws and requirements in every country, state and locality are going to vary and not necessarily be the same as those where you operate.

Your reliance on inaccurate information could then put you in noncompliance and cause you problems, maybe even get you into hot water.

What you want to do instead is ask the appropriate governing agencies in your state and locality.

That might be your state’s Department of Revenue (or equivalent) and your city or county tax and licensing departments.

Whatever those agencies are, they will be the place to get the most accurate information on the matter.

Dear Danielle: My Billing Is Overwhelming Me!

Dear Danielle:

My billing is overwhelming me! Any suggestions? –PV

Well, a little more detail would have been helpful. ;)

You may as well ask me how to solve world hunger for as general as your question is, but a few thoughts do come to mind.

First thought is:  Hire someone to take care of that for you.

Administrative Consultants are business owners, after all, and every business owner should be handing off non-core, non revenue-generating duties to an employee or service provider.

So get help, sooner rather than later.

Of course, that’s the overly simplistic and obvious answer.

And even if you get help, you still need to be involved in the analysis of the process and problems, and setting things up, at least initially, with the person who takes that work on for you.

In the meantime, I have a few questions of my own.

First, I’d want to know what your business model is.

Because if you are running an administrative support business, I can’t imagine any easier kind of service to bill for than a once a month retainer fee.

However, if you are running a secretarial type service where you work primarily by task-based project, rather than a monthly retainer basis, and you bill by line-item services, you are necessarily going to have more complex billing issues and a greater administrative burden.

The other drawback to billing by line-item hours is that the faster you work, the less money you make, while none of the value and benefits the client receives from that work is reduced. That’s not fair nor profitable for you, is it? You didn’t go into business to give things away for free, right?

The other thing I’d want to know is, if you are working on retainer, how or what on earth are you billing for that is making things so complicated?

  • Do you have overly complex fee structures and/or charge different rates for different admin work?
  • Are you overly concerning yourself with reporting hours to clients?
  • Are you charging different clients different rates?
  • Are you making too many policy exceptions and creating counterproductive, unprofitable distraction for yourself in the process?

As an independent professional, and not an employee, it’s not necessary to itemize every single minute of effort and time you’ve expended on behalf of a client.

If you are doing that, you are making things a whole heck of a lot harder on yourself than need be.

It helps to remember that clients aren’t paying for line-item tasks and projects; the value they are paying for is the overall service of having a smart, competent, right-hand administrative professional to work alongside them in their business.

When that’s the case, there’s no need to bill or report all the minutiae.

It can be as easy as setting some basic parameters, creating a package based on that, and putting a single pricetag on the value of that support.

One of my main rules of profitability is keep things Simple, Simple, Simple.

Streamline. Get all your clients on the same page and bring everyone up to your current rates.

Set your policies and don’t be in the habit of making exceptions to them as that only increases your administration and reduces your profitability.

Beyond that, I really need more specific details to elaborate further.

Hope that helps a bit in the meantime.

Invest in the Tools You Need for Business

Don’t be afraid to get the tools you need in your business.

They are an investment, not an expense, and will help you grow your business faster while building in efficiency and automation right from the get-go.

And before I start hearing from the folks who somehow think going into business shouldn’t cost them anything, let me say that I understand not everyone opens their business adequately funded.

When that is the case, my advice is to take that same drive and determination that set you to open your business in the first place, and use it to get the things you NEED in your business for it to succeed, come hell or high water.

Now, when it comes to subscription-based tools, those things that are billed on a monthly basis, I highly recommend opting to pay annually instead.

There is usually a great savings when you go this route, and if you are on a tight budget and often don’t know when your next dollar is coming in, you won’t have to worry about having enough money in your account each month to cover the installment.

The problem that many poorly-funded new business owners have is that this can mean a significant initial outlay of funds that they often just don’t have all at once.

But here’s a little trick you can do to make it easier and spread the cost out over a period of time:  Stagger your annual subscription purchases over several months.

In the first month, pay the annual subscription cost for one, maybe two, services.

Pay for another annual subscription the following month.

And so on each subsequent month until all your annual business tools and subscriptions are paid for.

The cool thing about doing this is not only will you be saving a ton of money while alleviating your monthly budgeting woes, but then when those bills come around again the following year, they won’t all be due at the same time.

If you’re wondering what month is best to start doing this, I recommend May because it’s after the first of the year reporting crunches of January and April.

December is also a good month to stuff in as many last-minute business expenses as you can before the new year so you can get even more tax write-offs.

Dear Danielle: What Is the Best Salary Structure to Offer Potential Employees

Dear Danielle:

I am very new to the Virtual Assistant business world. I have a question about hiring employees. I am a sole proprieter and would like to hire virtual recruiters, administrative assistants and sales/promotional/marketing staff. What is the best salary structure to offer potential employees? So many people are burned by work-at-home scams, I want to be able to offer a reasonable salary to potential virtual staff without insulting them with minimum wage or hiring them as independent contractors. What do other Virtual Assistant business owners do? —CT

 

What you need to do is talk to an accountant and bookkeeper.

Employers are governed by both federal and state laws. You will have employee, payroll and tax withholding and reporting obligations you are required to meet so it’s imperative that you get the correction information on this from your own local (city, county, state) agencies as well as the IRS.

Talking to an accountant will get you started in the right direction.