Monthly Archives: January 2017

Calculate Your Net Worth

Do you know how much you’re worth? Most people don’t but as a business owner, your personal net worth may be important. Although your business is probably legally separate from your personal assets, a bank that considers giving you a business loan will likely ask for personal collateral if your business has little real value. Calculating your net worth gives you an accurate picture of how much of your personal worth you’re pledging to your business. On a more personal level, having a clear picture of how much you’re worth helps with financial planning. Do you have enough saved for retirement; where is your debt and are there assets that could help you pay it down it down faster? What percentage of your net worth is in liquid investments and is it allocated appropriately? Your net worth is more than a single number—it’s an entire report full of important data.

Terms

Before diving into the calculations, you need to know a few terms:

Asset- Any property with real value. Real estate, a car, and jewelry or art are a few examples.

Illiquid Asset- Something that can’t be converted to cash quickly without a substantial loss. Remember the housing crisis that left people underwater on their homes? Homes became an illiquid asset for many.

Liability- Something you owe—a debt.

Liquid Asset- Something easily sold for profit. Stocks might be the best example.

Personal Property- Something you own that is movable—boats, cars, collectibles, and furniture are examples of personal property.

Real Property- Property permanently attached like a home, a barn, or detached garage.

Gather the Information

Probably the toughest part of calculating your net worth is gathering the information. Some of the information might be an estimate. Unless your real property was appraised recently, you won’t know it’s current value without paying an appraiser. In the case of your home, look up recent sales of similar homes in your neighborhood and use those as a guide for estimating your home’s worth. These are called “comps” or comparables in the real estate business.

If you have jewelry, some jewelry stores have appraisers on staff or they can recommend somebody.

For assets like your car or some collectibles, look at online guides that list their value. If you haven’t dug into the value of a 401(k) from a past employer or the cash value of a life insurance policy, set up online accounts with the firms holding these investments or call and request a current statement.

If you’re going to invest time into calculating your net worth, do the legwork to compile the most accurate data. The more you estimate, the more inaccurate your final calculation will be.

The Calculation

Calculating your net worth is simple once you have the information. It’s simply your assets (what you own) minus your liabilities (what you owe). Add everything you own including:

  • Money in savings or checking accounts
  • Actual cash
  • CDs or treasury bills
  • Annuities, bonds, mutual funds, pensions and other retirement plans, stocks
  • The cash value of any life insurance policies
  • The value of real and personal property
  • Anything else that you own that has sellable value.

Next, add your liabilities

  • Loans—car, mortgage, home equity, second mortgage, boat
  • Credit card debt
  • Medical bills
  • Student loans
  • Personal loans
  • Taxes due
  • Any other debt or outstanding bills

Subtract your total liabilities from your total assets. Now you know your net worth.

RELATED: How to Get Paid What You’re Worth

What’s Next?

Once you do the work the first time, the calculation is easier the next time around. If you haven’t already, use a free service like Mint.com to keep many of the numbers up to date in one place. Instead of having to compile the value of each of your investment accounts, credit cards, and everything else, you simply open Mint and copy the numbers into your spreadsheet.

In fact, Mint tracks the estimated value of many of your personal and real assets and gives you your net worth based on the information it has. It won’t be perfect but it will be pretty close.

Overpaying At Everyday Business Expenses

You’re a small business. You probably don’t have the money-is-no-object budget of big businesses when it comes to every day expenses. In fact, you’re probably trying to pinch pennies while providing your employees the tools they need to do their best work. So how do other business owners save money on—well—everything? Here are a few ideas.

Don’t Hire. Contract!

Gone are the days where you have to bring on a part-time “employee.” Employees need an office and/or equipment, you’re on the hook for a portion of their taxes and insurances, and you have to invest a considerable amount into training.

Instead, hire a contractor or freelancer. They’ll require some training but outside of that, all you pay them is the cost of the job. No taxes, no worker’s comp. insurance—just a fair wage for outstanding work.

But be careful. The IRS has very strict rules when hiring a contractor. For the most part, you can’t have any control over their schedule, you can’t act as their manager, and you shouldn’t provide them with any type of company uniform, among others. If you break the rules, they’re an employee. If you’re not sure, use IRS form SS-8 to figure it out.

Cut the Office Supplies

Nobody is saying not to provide paper for the copier but if you’re still following the old playbook of stocking your closets with binder clips, post-it notes, and boxes of pens, there’s probably not a need. Technology has made offices much more paperless. Those to-do lists that were once kept on post-it notes can now be saved on an app. Filing cabinets have been replaced with Dropbox and Google Drive, and there’s no need to print everything out.

You also don’t need swanky, high-end desks. If you have an IKEA close by, head there and buy desks on the cheap.

Teleconference your Meetings

Is it essential that you’re all in the same room to hold a meeting? How about a teleconference? There are plenty of conferencing platforms on the market and some are pretty expensive but if you only have a few people in the meeting, consider Google Hangouts. For meetings of 10 or less, all your people need is an Internet connection. It’s completely free and easy to use.

If you need a more robust platform, platforms like GoToMeeting will cost $50 per month for up to 100 people but that’s still cheaper than flying people to one location.

Speaking of Technology

First, Internet. Depending on your type of business, you may not need business-class service. If you have a lot of employees or they’re doing high-end computing tasks that actually require a robust service, then business-class speed is a necessity. But if you only have a couple of employees and they’re performing basic computing tasks, you can probably get by with a slower speed at a lower price. Don’t buy more than what you need.

Second, no need to upgrade your equipment every time something new comes out. Purchase every other software update instead of each one unless there are large amounts of security updates. No need to buy the newest iGadget either. On the other hand, don’t be cheap. New features and faster, more efficient hardware could be a cost saver. Buy and update, skip an update, buy an update—that makes for a reasonable upgrade cycle.

Don’t be Too Loyal

In business, loyalty to vendors can be a plus but don’t be too loyal. That insurance agent you play golf with might not have the lowest rate. The vendor you’ve done business with for decades may not be the best deal. At least once per year, compare prices and don’t be afraid to do some haggling. Loyalty means giving your current vendors the opportunity to match prices. It doesn’t mean paying more for the same product.

Stop Paying Finance Charges

There’s no way around it—if you’re paying finance charges, late fees, or bank charges, you are throwing away money unnecessarily. If you’re paying annual fees on a credit card, unused gym membership fees, and strange fees from a vendor, it’s time to cut these out. Every business ends up having a bit of money bleed. Audit your books regularly. Ask questions about every charge, regardless of how small it is, and refuse to pay unnecessary fees. You can’t avoid taxes but fees are negotiable.

Advertise Online

Advertising takes a lot of time and research to get right. That doesn’t mean you should pay for a mailing and hope it works. Online advertising gives you more control over the audience that will see your ad and you can spend as little as a few dollars each day if you want to. Carefully measure your advertising efforts and use the platform that converts the most people.

Partner with Other Businesses

Businesses are finding creative ways to cut expenses by sharing. Businesses sometimes rent a large office space and move in together. They can then share Internet service, other utilities, and office equipment. Companies like Uber have made “sharing economy” a household term. There’s no reason your business can’t take advantage of it too.

Small Business Money Mistakes

Of all the roles a small business owner takes on, often the most challenging is managing the business’s finances. The reasons are many, but most small business owners don’t have a background in business finance, and at least at the start, are more focused on bringing in business and serving the customers than they are on record keeping and financial planning for their business. As a result, many work long and hard at their businesses with only mediocre success to show for their efforts. Others fail completely. You can improve your chances for success – and your profitability — by being aware of and steering clear of these common small business money mistakes.

Insufficient Cash

Insufficient cash is one of the leading causes of business failure. Startups often overestimate how quickly they’ll start making money, and underestimate all the expenses they’ll incur. But startups aren’t the only businesses prone to failure due to insufficient cash. Once you have a steady flow of business you can run into cash problems in a couple of ways. One is a failure to realize the difference between cash flow and sales. You can have plenty of sales on record, but unless you get paid in advance for those sales, you’ll have expenses to pay before you collect from your customers. If one or more of your big customers pays late, or doesn’t pay at all, you may not have the cash to pay your bills on time.

Growing businesses can have a similar problem. You ramp up to be able to serve bigger customers or a wider areas, and before you start earning income from the growth, you need cash to pay your growing staff, growing payroll taxes, and other growing overhead expenses.

Still another problem for an existing business: existing cash flow may make the business owner miss or ignore falling profits and growing debt. To avoid cash flow problems take pains to accurately estimate all your costs and allow for the time it can take you to get paid. Get invoices out on time, stay on top of collectibles, and reassess your cash position at least quarterly, if not more often.

Waiting Too Long to Seek Credit

The worst time to look for a business loan or line of credit is when you most need it. If your business is paying its bills late and is on the brink of failing, finding funding will be difficult or impossible. The time to seek funding is when your business looks solid enough to convince a lender you will be able to repay what you borrow.

The type of credit to seek will depend on the type of business you run, the purpose of the funds, and the size of the loan. Depending what you need, funding sources include traditional banks, online lenders, credit card cash advances or purchases, and specialty lenders. (For major projects, check with your local economic development agencies for suggestions on funding.) Interest rates and terms vary widely, so give yourself time to find the best funding source for your needs. And don’t get discouraged if local banks turn you down. Check with the major online lenders to see if they’ll work with you and how their rates and terms may compare with other options.

Mixing Business and Personal Funds

Whether you are starting a new business, or you’re running an established business, mixing personal and business funds is a recipe for disaster. Assuming you are the sole owner and you buy business supplies with your personal credit card or use a business check to pay for a personal purchase, you’re going to have difficulty keeping track of how much money the business actually is making or losing throughout the year.

You’ll also have a big headache at tax time trying to separate out the business and personal purchases to determine what’s deductible on your business tax form, and what your profit or loss is for the year. The headache will get a lot worse if you get audited and the IRS believes you have purchased goods or services for personal use and deducted them as business expenses. If you have business partners or investors and mix business and personal expenditures, you’ll have even more problems on your hands.

Finally, if you don’t clearly separate business and personal expenses (using separate banking accounts and credit cards for each), you’ll find it difficult or impossible to get a business loan if you ever need one.

Even if your business is only a part-time operation with few profits, you should have a separate checking account and separate credit card for the business. You may need to take out the credit card in your own name when you’re starting out, and that’s ok, as long as it’s used exclusively for business purchases.

If there are times when you have to use personal funds for your business – or vice versa – the correct way to handle the situation is to make a formal transaction and document it. If you have business partners, get them to sign off on the transaction, too.

Not Staying on Top of Recordkeeping

Let’s face it. Recordkeeping is a big pain in the neck. As a business owner your focus is usually on winning business and making sure the customers get it in a timely fashion. Along the way there are so many things to do that it’s easy to let recordkeeping fall by the wayside. Receipts for inventory or other purchases get shoved in a folder, envelope, drawer, or the proverbial shoebox, until such time as you “get around” to recording them. Invoices for items you’ve purchased on credit maybe wind up in your inbox – with dozens of other pieces of paper. Mileage records for business travel may wind up on the back of a receipt or napkin, or stuck in a note on your smart phone. Check stubs from people who still pay you that way wind up in the same folder or drawer, and credit card payments show up in your bank account based on the credit card used to make the purchase, with no convenient way of matching any one day’s credit card receipts to specific purchases made.

As a result, whenever you get around to actually putting the expenses and income records in an accounting program or spreadsheet, you’ll waste a lot of time trying to remember what each thing was for. You may also have misplaced some of the records. Worse, if you haven’t been keeping all your accounting up-to-date, you may find out months down the road that you’re losing money because the cost of your supplies went up and the number of hours your employees worked went up, but you never raised your prices.

The only way to avoid these kinds of recordkeeping disasters is to do you recordkeeping weekly or more frequently. Either you have to take the time yourself to enter all the data into an accounting program or spreadsheet or you need to delegate the job to someone else. If you have someone else manage all your financial records, you need to review their work weekly, looking to be sure income and expenditures are properly documented and be sure that nothing looks strange. Employee theft is a big problem for small businesses, and often the thief turns out to be a trusted, long-time employee.

Under-pricing

Determining the right price to charge for products or services is seldom an easy decision. Charge too much, and you could lose sales to a competitor. Charge too little, and you won’t make much profit – or worse, you’ll lose money.

Small businesses – particularly those just starting out – often charge too little. Sometimes they rationalize that the low price is a way of “getting their foot in the door.” Sometimes the price is low because a new business owner isn’t taking into account the cost of his or her own labor, or hasn’t accurately determined all of the costs that have to be considered in setting prices.

A fencing company, for instance, has to figure in not only their costs for the fencing, but also the costs of labor, advertising, office expense, vehicle maintenance and repair, and other overhead costs when deciding what to charge customers. An independent consultant may have fewer overhead or labor costs to consider, but has to pay close attention to what her target annual income is, how many clients she’ll actually land and be able to serve during the year, and how many hours of work time will be billable vs unbillable and what her advertising, networking and other promotional expenses will be.

Established small businesses sometimes underprice their goods and services because they’re afraid to raise their rates. They worry if they increase their prices their customers will go elsewhere.