Thursday, February 23, 2017

Be authoritative without being an author

One of the classiest – and most cost-effective – promotional tactics for small businesses is content marketing. Being the one the news reporter calls for a quote takes reputation and a fair amount of luck (or a whopper of a public relations budget). Blogging ranks second only to getting tabbed as the ‘expert’ quoted in a news piece.
First things first: Becky’s Bytes is a blog and this piece is a blog as well. Also known as a post. Or an article. The word comes from web log, which is too long of a moniker in our digital age, so techies yanked out the ‘we’ and a space. From my own experience, space and ‘we’ are things you’ll want to keep IN a blog: If people see too many words and not enough space around them, they won’t read it… and if you make it all about you, they won’t read it either.
Creating and maintaining your reputation and putting it out there on the internet and social media offers two advantages getting to be the news reporter’s go-to source however.

1)      Blogging is nearly immediate! A well-written article can ‘go live’ as quickly as you can post it – or as quickly as your website manager can get to it if you are using a service provider. Let’s say you’re in the auto-repair business. A hail storm sweeps through our area. You can have an article about auto finish restoration on social media and the internet before the storm is over.

2)      Blogging is inexpensive. You need a platform, which can be as simple as a Facebook page. Those are still free. There are other resources more effective and more visible to search engines, too. Blogger (by Google) is one of many no- or low-cost blog platforms.

The caveat here is that it can be very costly when done poorly. If you don’t craft your message with keywords that get your business noticed, the value of the time/money put into blogging is wasted. If you’re not a good wordsmith or are prone to typos and grammar missteps, the result is a turn-off for potential customers looking for your expertise. The best landscaper in town could put out a sloppy blog and down goes Frazier… and not the tree. Cutting and pasting may help you look good, but it’s illegal. Hitting ‘send’ instead of ‘delete’ has tanked more relationships – business or otherwise – than we ever consider. Why? Because the internet IS permanent.
This brings me back to the first of Becky’sBytes on outsourcing. You know what you’re doing in your profession: Find someone you trust if blogging isn’t your strength. Your reputation and your next set of clients depend on it.

Photo: Melpomene, used with permission.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Can I dump any of these old tax records yet?

Photo: Patpitchaya. Used with permission.

You and I are in the full-on, tax-season sprint between Groundhog Day and the filing deadline. The big question pops up as you try to find a place to store the newly ended year's financial receipts while you're staring at a room full of boxes of prior years' money records, 'Can I get rid of any of this old stuff yet?' Other versions of the same question:
  • How do I know how long to keep records?
  • Why do I need all this paper?
  • Can't I just shred it?
  • Can I just convert it to digital images?
  • It's all in my QuickBooks, so I don't need the receipts any more, right?

All the questions many rules. The simple answer from an office management point of view is that it is less expensive to store it then it would be to re-create in an audit. You throw out an old box and you could be throwing away hours or days – or longer – tracking down a duplicate somewhere. So, err on the side of caution. If you are ever in the position to try and find room in the budget to pay attorneys and accountants to defend an audit, the storage bill won't even compare!

Audit's are time consuming and expensive, especially if you end up in a position of defending a position that you can't prove. An auditor can do his/her best to create an estimate of what happened based on their best assumptions, and it's up to you to prove it differently.

For example, if you move money between accounts, they possibly could be viewed as two deposits , not a deposit and a transfer of the same money. The end result if the transfer isn't clear is that it could be counted as unreported income. The paper trail, even in the digital/paperless age, is still important! Just because it's entered into your software doesn't mean you won't need that dead-tree receipt (or at minimum an image of that receipt) in the future.

My general rule of thumb – always check with your CMA or CPA as they know your specific business situation – but generally, if in doubt, keep records at least seven years. Minimum. If you signed it, definitely keep it. There are some things like prior audits, prior returns, property transfers, and other vital documents, you keep forever! There are record types which generally are not audited after four years, but unless you hear it from the CPA, keep everything an extra couple years. You'll avoid headaches in the unfortunate event of an audit.