Creating a Money-Making Business Plan

In my experience (at least with the small businesses I’ve worked with), a business plan is often considered an “unimportant” waste of time, and many small business owners forego creating one.  The truth, however, is that a Business Plan can be incredibly beneficial for a business.  Not only can a business plan create a “Guide” for a company and its employees, but a good plan can also be taken to the bank in order to try and raise funding for a small business.  It can attract investors as well, and it can help focus a business owner’s vision in order to make the business as profitable as possible.

While there are tons of business plan models on the internet today, I can’t help but want to throw my own cap into the ring as well.  There are the business plans that a lot of general businesses use to satisfy mentors (or spouses), and then there are the types of business plans I’ve worked on, the type that big businesses pay tens of thousands of dollars (and hundreds of thousands) of dollars before they ever so much as sign a rental-lease agreement.

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The difference between a “General” Business Plan and a Business Plan that Makes Money comes down to one very important thing…Research.

When a small business owner includes research into a business plan, they are showing banks and investors that they are not going into a business venture blind.  A well-researched business plan shows forethought, logic, and realistic thinking.

Therefore, to create a business plan that will help raise money, a business should include the following elements in their business plan:

  1. The Mission Statement: In Bookkeeping Money-Saving Tip # 15: The Mission Statement, I discussed the importance of having a Mission Statement.  It is just as important to put that Mission Statement into the Business Plan.  Consider it the “Sales Pitch” of the Business that basically tells an investor the Business’s main goal.
  2. An Introduction:  The introduction is a fairly simple concept.  You create a page or two (or three) about the basic business concept.  What is the business selling?  If there is a location, where will that location be?  Will the business have an inventory  and if yes, where will that inventory be kept?
  3. Demographics:  Demographics are an excellent option to add to a business plan because it exhibits that you know who your ideal, targeted customers are and who they can be.  The demographics can help a business see where they should be focusing their marketing dollars, and how to theme their business to attract those ideal clients instead of creating a business that tries to “attract everyone.”  (Read Paint a Target on Your Customers for more information on how to do your own demographic analysis.)                                                             teamwork 2
  4. Competition Analysis:  You know the expression, “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”?  This expression is just as true in business as it is in life.  You should know what your enemies (ie, your competition) are doing in their businesses, because every choice they make could potentially harm or help your own business.  Therefore, creating a section that lists ALL of your local competition, as well as what products they are selling (that you may or may not sell as well) and what prices those products are marked at.  The more you know your competition, the more you will be able to create a business model that grinds theirs into the dust (should that be your wish).  Either way, it shows investors that you have a strategy to stay afloat despite what your competition is doing.
  5. CompassLocation Analysis:  A large majority of businesses draw their customers from within 10 miles of their location…TEN MILES. However, the more unique that business and its products are, the farther distance a customer is willing to travel in order to buy what that business is selling.  On the flip side, the less unique a business and its products are, the smaller the distance a customer is willing to travel to make a purchase.  For example – Disneyland has a very unique product; people are willing to fly from all over the world to experience the unique product that Disneyland offers (and that no one has been able to yet duplicate).  Another example – Souvenir shops.  Souvenir shops all sell the same products, and they all try to rent space where the tourists are.  The end result, tourists have so much choice on what souvenirs to buy and where to buy them, they don’t need to go far from their hotels to get what they want.  (In fact, they often buy from within the hotel).  So, in order to create a competent location analysis, you need to include the demographics and competition within YOUR 10-mile radius.  (You can read more about Location Analysis in my article entitled:  BOOKKEEPING MONEY-SAVING TIP #4: Analyze Your Business Location.)
  6. Marketing Plan: At this point, you should know your competition AND your customers, so you should have a pretty good idea how you can target your marketing campaign directly to your ideal customers.  Let your investors know as well.  Include a section just about marketing.
  7. The Dollars and Cents:  No investor is ever going to invest in a business that looks as if it is going to fold its doors as soon as it opens (unless that business is a non-profit).  Investors want to know that a business is going to make money and that they will recoup their initial deposit.  Therefore, the dollars and cents is one of the most important things to include in the Business Plan.  If the business is already open, then bankers would ask for a “Profit and Loss” Statement, as well as a “Balance Sheet.”  But whether the business is in operation or not, another excellent idea to include is the “Pro Formas” or basic monetary projections.  You can create a Budget and include it Graph line: up and down 1in the dollars and cents section, and you can project from that budget how you plan to make more money (or save money).  Calculate Budgets with Low Income-Expense Projections, Mid Range Income-Expense Projections, and High Income-Expense Projections.  That way, the investors will know that the business will still say afloat even in “Hard Economic Times.”
  8. An Executive Summary: The Executive Summary is basically the bare minimum summary of what the business has created plans to accomplish.  It takes the main points from each section, and presents them in a direct manner.  The Executive Summary is basically your “In Conclusion” statement, however, this summary is going to go at the BEGINNING of your Business Plan.  Most investors never really read past the Executive Summary (unless there is something in the Executive Summary that doesn’t make sense), so in essence, the Executive Summary can be the main section that makes or breaks your business plan’s goal:  to raise capital.   Therefore, make sure your Executive Summary has ALL the main items you want an investor to know, and put it right after your Business Plan’s Introduction.  Consider the rest a guide for the business and backup for the more thorough investors.

While I cannot guarantee that this business plan format will raise capital (after all, there are many other factors that investors take into account besides the business plan), I will say that a well written business plan can tip funding in a business owner’s favor.  You really have nothing to lose by creating a thorough, well-researched business plan – but you do have everything to gain.

Diary of a Bad, Bad Bookkeeper: A Warning Sign

Betty Bookkeeper Headshot

Dear Diary,

Betty Bookkeeper HeadshotToday sucked… and I mean, straight up sucked.

There I was, minding my own business, when in walks the boss with a receipt. On the receipt are stamped the letters C.O.D. It was from one of our vendors that apparently hasn’t been paid in so long, they’ve changed our account from credit to C.O.D.

“What is this, Betty?” the boss asked me. “Why has ABC Hardware turned our credit account into a Cash-on-Delivery account? I’ve been with them for five years, and they’re saying we’re three months behind in our payments. I told Bill – the boss over there – that it can’t be right. We’ve never missed a payment with them, but their bookkeeper swears we’re late. What’s going on?”

I looked at him as innocently as I could, and shrugged. “It has to be a mistake, Boss. I’m certain we’re current.”

“Can you call them and fix this, please?”

“Sure. No problem.”

Then, the boss practically tosses the bill at me and storms out of my office.

I picked up the phone line, figuring he’d probably be watching the extension from his office to make sure I called, but I didn’t bother dialing the number right away. I knew the truth – we were behind. I should have made that payment a while ago, but I knew if I sent it, the checking account would go in the hole. Since I wasn’t quite sure how far behind we were, I figured I’d better check.

Typing a few things into the computer, I saw that we were about $1,200 behind. That wasn’t too bad. So I did actually call the bookkeeper over at ABC Hardware. When she got on the phone, I said, “Hey, Jane. How’s it going?”

“Betty,” she said coldly.

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A few choice words ran through my head, but of course I kept them to myself. “Listen, Jane. I just got reamed by my boss about some notice he got from your company. He said you made our account a C.O.D. account. What’s up with that?”

“Well, Betty, you’re company’s late in paying us. And it’s not the first time.”

“Well, Jane… I just mailed a check for $1,200 a couple days ago. Have you checked your mail today?”

“’The check’s in the mail?’ Really, Betty? You’ve used that one before. And then we never got the check. So my boss decided to make your account C.O.D. from now on. Besides, you owe us $3,100 – not $1,200.”

No kidding. “Are you sure about that? I only have invoices for $1,200.”

“I’m sure. In fact, I emailed you and faxed you hard copies of the invoices several times over the last couple months.”

The temptation to hang up on her was irresistible, but I didn’t. “Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t know what happened to the invoices. And I did send you $1,200 just a couple days ago. So, what’s it going to take to forget this whole C.O.D. thing?”

“If you want the account to revert back to a credit account, you need to pay the balance in full immediately. That’s the only way.”

“Okay. I can do that. I’ll put a check in the mail today.”

“No, that’s alright. I’ll come and pick it up.”

Of course you will, you snotty… “Okie dokie. How about five o’ clock? I can have a check for you by then.” And the boss will be gone by four, so he’ll never see the real balance due.

“Fine, see you at five.” Then, she actually hung up on me.

Long story short, I had to scramble and figure out a way to pay $3,100 without letting the boss know what was going on. It took me a bit, but I finally figured out that I could write a balance transfer check from one of the new credit cards I opened in the company’s name…a credit card that goes to the Company P.O. Box the boss doesn’t know about.

I told the boss it was just a misunderstanding, and that Jane actually found our payment in the mail that day…so there should be no problem from now on. The boss went back to thinking I’m a genius, and Jane showed up at 4:45 – Eager twit.

All I have to say now is: Man, that was a close call!

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Why This is a Warning Sign

superhero_edited_no_maskA lot of small business owners don’t realize it, but when a credit account is changed to a C.O.D. account, that’s usually a BIG warning sign that “the business is suffering”. (Notice, I’m NOT saying anyone’s embezzling…this is quite simply a sign that the business needs to handle their finances better, and possibly their cash better as well.) Most vendors that offer credit to their preferred clients are loathe to take that line of credit away if it means they might lose a business as a customer. Usually, the only reason a vendor would change a credit account is if there is a history of serious delinquency or bounced checks. So the minute any vendor demands a COD payment, realize that your company’s credit history is on shaky ground and become proactive.

How to Know for Sure

Should the above scenario happen to your company, don’t go running to your bookkeeper first. Instead, ask the bookkeeper at your vendor’s company to print up a Statement of at least 90 days to 6 months so that you have a record of EXACTLY how your bookkeeper has been paying them. Look it over and take note of how far apart the payments are. Are there any amounts that were subtracted and added back on? (That could be the sign of a bounced check.) Most credit accounts require a minimum of one payment a month, while some require more. Ask the other bookkeeper what the terms are for your company, and THEN approach your bookkeeper.

Before you make any accusations, however, there is one more thing you can do to double check your bookkeeper. When you have the Vendor’s Statement for your company in hand, ask your bookkeeper for the last three bank statements. Also, ask for a “Check Detail” listing all of the checks for the same three months. A good bookkeeper will know exactly where those bank statements are and will be able to give you both documents in less than 10 minutes. (The key is to ask for this information immediately and DO NOT let your bookkeeper put you off ‘til the end of the day…they can cover their tracks if given too much time.) Then, when you have the Vendor Statement, the Check Detail, and the Bank Statements in your hand, do a quick check for the following:

  • Highlight the check numbers listed on your Vendor Statement.
  • Find the corresponding check numbers on your Check Detail printout. From here, you will be able to tell exactly when the check was supposed to have been printed and then mailed. The dates should be a week apart if the vendor is in town…up to 10 days if the vendor. (Of course, the time it takes to cash a check also depends on how big the vendor is.)
  • Now check the bank statements for the same check numbers. Do the dollar amounts actually match, and when were the checks cashed? Sometimes, the other company may hold onto the check for any number of reasons, but it will give you a good idea of how long the check cashing process takes with THAT particular vendor…and how long your bookkeeper may be holding checks.

Your Bookkeeper May Be Embezzling if…

Now, before I tell you exactly what to look for as far as embezzling goes, let me just say one thing. This does NOT 100% mean that your bookkeeper is embezzling. There can be reasons for any discrepancies you find. However, if you do find the following discrepancies, don’t be stupid and sit on your hands either. Ask an accountant or an independent bookkeeping company for help immediately. Make a backup of your bookkeeping program without the bookkeeper’s knowledge, and put that aside…(you may need it later).

And whatever else you do… DO NOT…I repeat… DO NOT confront your bookkeeper with what you find. If your bookkeeper IS an embezzler, the MINUTE you accuse them of anything, they will WIPE their hard drive, and your bookkeeping program, and they will destroy any evidence of embezzlement you may have in your office. Be certain first, and then do a cold hard lockout. The minute you KNOW – without a doubt – that they’re embezzling, DO NOT let them back in the office, and disconnect the bookkeeping computer from the internet. (You don’t want them logging on remotely to destroy your bookkeeping program.)

  • To know if your bookkeeper might be embezzling, look at the Check Run and look at the Bank Statements. Do the check numbers and amounts match? Bookkeepers can always go in and change the check names and amounts later on (which they will do if they want to show the boss an inflated bank balance), but the Bank Statements will give them away every time.
  • Another thing to pay attention to…are the checks being cashed months after they were written? If they are, then your bookkeeper was sitting on them for some reason (probably to make sure they didn’t bounce)…but keep in mind, YOU may have told your bookkeeper to hold those checks. That happens a lot, so don’t make any accusations unless you’re sure you did NOT ask the checks to be held.

Again, this is just a warning sign, but it’s a good sign to look for. Do not ignore it.

 

Bookkeeping Money-Saving Tip # 14: Making Money with Your Website (Part 2)

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In the last BOOKKEEPING MONEY-SAVING TIP # 13: Make Money With Your Website (Part 1), I discussed two ways that you can supplement your income with your business blog.  As promised, here is another tip that anyone can do to make money with their business website.  However, today I am only going to focus on one main money-making idea because it is such an important and valuable way to make money.  It is your business blog.  With a business blog, you are basically getting free advertising (for really only the cost of your time to write an article), you are creating a relationship with your customers (whether you know it or not), and you can build a community that will only help your business in the business world.  Here’s why the Business Website Blog is so important:

Blogging: If you haven’t noticed lately, one of the biggest trends going on in businesses today is blogging.  It seems like anyone and everyone has a blog, and even an eBook.  There’s a reason for that.  (In fact, there are multiple reasons for that.)  It’s one of the cheapest ways to advertise and to build lasting relationships with your customers – and since you’ll want to save money on advertising…

Having said that, here are some of the most profitable reasons to add a blog to your website:

  1. Blogging is the Sharing of Free Information AND a Person/Company’s Personality: I don’t care what anyone says – Companies have personalities.Maybe that personality is to be “a Big Bad Corporation” or maybe “an Environmentally-Friendly Non-Profit.”  Either way, there is a mission involved and a way that company has of sharing information.  Blogging is the best way for any person or company to share their personality and information, while also educating a customer about the products they sell.  It doesn’t necessarily matter what information you share or how you share it (i.e. words, podcasts, videos, etc.), so long as you share who YOU and your Company are in the process.
  2. Constant Blog Updates Lead to Lots of Traffic: New blog information should be added on average of once a week or more, which means the website is constantly changing.  Since the website and blog are constantly changing, people have a reason to return to the website again and again, which reminds people that there are products to buy.  Constant visits increase the likelihood of “Impulse Purchases, which obviously helps the company’s bottom line.  (On the other hand, websites without blogs are only visited when people are looking for something in particular to buy, which can end up being “rarely.”)
  3. Lots of Traffic Leads to Popularity and New Customers: The more often people visit your blog, the more popular your site will become.  The more popular your site, the higher your website will rank in a Search Engine’s Ranking List.  That means when a customer searches for your product, you have a better chance of being the website that Google or Yahoo! recommends.  The end result is that new customers will begin to visit your website as well, recommended both by your current customers, and the Search Engines.  And thus…
  4. New Customers Leads to New Additional Sales.
  5. Finally, Customers Will Keep Coming Back: As crazy as this might sound, people want to buy from people they know and feel comfortable with.  Even if they don’t buy from your website every time they visit, every blog you post cements you as an “Expert” in their mind, and someone they “just like.”  Thus, they will come to you first when they need advice regarding your industry or when they need your products.  Every blog – whether you make money right away or later – will lead to building customer relations and eventual sales.

Thus, if you haven’t started a business blog, you really need to consider it.  Especially because a blog is the best way to bring traffic to your site again and again, and it will help you make even more money later on.

Come back next week as I talk a bit more about adding Google Adsense to your blog, and how to use it correctly.

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Quick Note: In the month of September, I will be doing a very intense 30-day online workshop on How to Turn Anyone’s Business Blog into a Money-Making Blog. The intent is to teach people how to supplement their income no matter their industry. The cost is $20 for the online workshop, and everyone who joins will receive a $20 gift certificate to Elance.com so that they can hire help for any aspect of their business or website development.

If you would like to know more, you can click the “Workshop” tab above, or Click Here.

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Diary of a Bad, Bad Bookkeeper (Day 195) – The IRS

Betty Bookkeeper Headshot

Dear Diary,

Today I got a notice from the IRS.  Luckily, the receptionist passed the letter to me unopened before the boss saw it (she didn’t know what it was), and he doesn’t know it’s here.

Opening the letter, I was shocked.  The IRS said that the company owned payroll taxes on the paychecks for the last three months that I’ve been here, and since we hadn’t paid when we were supposed to, we now owe penalties and interest.  Apparently, payroll taxes are due within three business days of cutting payroll checks, and the IRS considers that money “they’re money.”  All I can say is…”WHOOPS!”

So now I have a dilemma.  Do I show the boss the letter and have him cut the check right away?  Or, do I just hide this letter and try to deal with it a little at a time, without the boss knowing?  Obviously, the first choice comes with the unfortunate consequence of the boss coming to believe that I don’t know how to do my job when I do (I mean – Seriously!  It was one simple mistake).  The latter choice means that he continues thinking I’m brilliant, and that the company is doing better in my hands…

Hmmmm…choices, choices.

Although, now that I think about it, I see a third option here.  I could always continue to fill out the payroll tax forms, but instead of cutting the IRS checks, I could just take the payroll tax money and enter the taxes as “Paid” in the bookkeeping program.  The boss will think that I’m paying the taxes, and I can make a little extra on the side.  Then, if the IRS does ever come calling, I can just explain it away as, “the bookkeeping program must have made an error in calculating the payroll taxes.”  After all, it’s not like the boss would expect me to stay on top of all the interest rates.

And how often does the IRS come calling?  I mean, Really?

You know what they say, “Ignorance is bliss.”

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Keeping a Clean Bill of Health with the IRS

I’ve often told my clients, “The IRS is an unforgiving mistress.”  Would this piss the IRS off to hear?  Sure…but I think they would rather keep their intimidating reputation than have people painting them as sweet and kind.

The facts are these…The IRS considers themselves debt collectors for the people.  The money that a business is supposed to pay does NOT belong to the business, but to the business’s employees the moment those checks are cut (at least in the IRS’s point of view).  What that means is, they will NOT negotiate on when you can and cannot pay payroll taxes.  You should pay it within three business days of the checks being cut, PERIOD.  And if you ask employees to hold off on cashing their checks until you can get some money in the bank account, you could suffer fines as high as $25,000 per Employee Check.  (Imagine it…your business is strapped for cash, and so you ask your employees to wait a week to cash their checks.  Then you fire a bad employee.  What will they do?  They’ll run to the IRS and report you, and BAM – bye, bye business.)

The point I’m dancing around here is that – YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE IRS!  You – whether you’re the bookkeeper or the business owner – need to make sure the taxes get paid on time.  Since payments can now be made over the phone directly from a checking account, the business owner will likely never see a payroll tax check to cut.  That means, the business owner needs to check up on their bookkeeper and make sure the taxes were paid, or you could suffer huge fines.

To Make Sure the IRS Taxes are Being Paid

This step merely comes down to one thing yet again. Open your bank statements and look at it.  You will probably see the payments listed near the top, detailed out as an EFTPS payment to the IRS.  It’s that simple.  If you don’t see the payments cut as often as payroll is cut, get it taken care of immediately.

One Last Note for Small Business Owners

The mistake of not paying the payroll taxes is VERY common with a lot of bookkeepers.  The biggest reason is that many bookkeepers are office managers that were handed a company’s check register and told to “take care of it.”  So, just because payroll taxes may not have been paid at your company, doesn’t mean your bookkeeper is an embezzler.  It could just mean that they aren’t on top of everything they’re supposed to be doing yet.  Make sure your bookkeeper is on top of the IRS forms, and definitely talk to your accountant for help.  That’s an accountants main job – to deal with the IRS.

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Diary of a Bad, Bad Bookkeeper: Why the Accountant Did NOT Catch Me

Dear Diary,

Let me just say – WhewWhat a relief.  Tax time is over and I got off scott-free.

You see, I was very concerned that when I handed over the business books to the accountant this year, I would be busted – caught – nailed to the wall.  I was sure I’d be in Shawshank before long, and I was almost tempted to clean up my act – almost.  I was sure I was cooked when the accountant called me a couple days ago and asked for the bookkeeping program’s “Accountant backup.”  How could the accountant NOT see at an instant that I’ve been embezzling from the company for months now, especially when they have completely access to everything I’ve done?

But I got lucky.

Turns out, the accountant only wanted the backup of the program so that he could enter the usual accountant adjustments like depreciating the assets, updating interest balances, and adjusting the Cost of Goods Sold account.  And thankfully, most of that information was updated from the reports that I created for the accountant’s perusal.

Still, it was a long couple of days as I waited for the Accountant’s copy to be returned.

And then the wait was over.  The accountant copy was back and the accountant had praised me to the boss.  He went so far as to say that I “kept a clean set of books.”

The boss was so happy, he gave me a raise.

I never thought I’d say it – but I’m glad the accountant looked at the books.  I can’t wait until next year.  I’m thinking, maybe I’ll create a second set of books… just in case the accountant ever decides to look closer.

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Why the Accountant Did NOT Catch the Embezzlement

E.T. Barton

This is a concern I hear from a lot of business owners that were embezzled from.  Even more often, I hear business owners that have NOT been embezzled from telling me that they are NOT worried about embezzlement because “they have an accountant.”  Both types of business owners usually believe that when they hand over their books at the end of the year, the accountant is automatically going to look deeply between the lines and spot anything suspicious.

FINDING EMBEZZLEMENT IS NOT THE ACCOUNTANT’S JOB… not unless they’re asked.

During tax time, accountant’s are bombarded with books from various businesses.  They have a very limited amount of time to do everything from sending out tax forms to making adjustments to various accounts.  In other words – tax time is an accountant’s “busy season.”  They often have a preset list of actions to do with any business’s books.

Another Example of Missed Embezzlement

Let me state this another way.  Recently, I have been working with a non-profit branch of a company that reports their profits and losses to their “parent” company.  Since the company is a non-profit branch (or chapter) and NOT a business that is run in the usual ways, this branch reports does NOT report directly to the IRS or an accountant.  Instead, they are sent a questionnaire from the parent company that they have to fill out and send back to the parent company.  They are not asked for any backup, which makes it even easier to steal from the branch.

Recently, when I reported to the parent company that I saw signs of embezzlement in this particular branch, the parent company said they would look into the financials.  When they looked over the reports that the embezzler made up for the chapter, they reported no signs of embezzlement.  They openly admitted that they had to have a closer look at the records and the bank statements in order to verify if their was embezzlement or not.  And since the branch (chapter) is not required in the non-profit policies and procedures, the branch could very well go under if a closer look at the books is not performed immediately.

How to Catch this Kind of Embezzlement

The only way for an accountant to catch this type of embezzlement is to have the business owner actually ASK the accountant to look for embezzlement.  If the accountant is not asked, they will not look closer.  They will go through their preset list of actions and look no further.  The other way is to have someone else – preferably another bookkeeper – look more closely at the reports and compare them to the bank statements.