Here are more New Year's resolutions for business owners.
Is Your Business Crowdfundable? New regulations passed in May 2016 allow many small businesses to raise money from their social media followers and others on crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo. If you have a craft brewery, a specialty foods restaurant, a historic bed-and-breakfast or another business with a cool story people can relate to, you can now legally sell them stock! For details, see my new book, "The Crowdfunding Handbook."
Stop Retail Arbitrage. If your business is selling stuff online, be aware that the days of retail arbitrage — buying stuff at local retail stores and selling it for higher prices online — are coming to an end. Amazon, eBay and a gazillion other manufacturers really don't want you doing that and will work harder and harder to shut you down.
To stay profitable for the long term, have local manufacturers sign exclusive distributorship agreements, which state that you are the sole company authorized to resell their merchandise on Amazon, eBay and other online platforms for the next five years. You could also take out ads in local newspapers with the screaming headline "I Take Consignments!" Or, send a letter to all local trust and estate attorneys (people who write wills) letting them know you are available to clean out their clients' houses when they die.
Get Your Taxes Right. If you have been selling things on eBay or Amazon and haven't been paying taxes, now is the time to get into compliance with the tax laws. The IRS and state tax authorities are losing patience with people who don't know they are in business when they're selling online, and it's only a matter of time before you will be required to pay income and sales taxes in every state where your business has a legal nexus. Get a copy of my book "The eBay Seller's Tax and Legal Answer Book" and read it cover to cover — it's the best 20 bucks you will ever spend.
Renew Your Web Address. If your business is dependent on the internet, make sure you check your domain-name registrar at least once a year to make sure your web address hasn't expired. Pick a date that's easy to remember — like your birthday — and renew each of your important web addresses on that day.
Update Your Software Twice a Year. Just about every software program gets updated at least once or twice a year, but not every software developer sends an email announcing the latest updates. Make it a point to visit the website of each software company whose products you license and look for updates. It just might save your computer.
Sheath Your Smartphone. Make 2017 the year you stop being a cellphone. Make some rules about when you will use your smartphone or tablet and when you won't. Stick to them. Rule number one: Do not use any mobile device while driving a motor vehicle. Period.
Get Control of Your Bookkeeping. If your bookkeeping system consists of a shoebox, you have absolutely no idea what's going on in your business. Sign up for an evening class at your local community college on QuickBooks Pro and learn to bookkeep the right way.
If you use live bookkeepers, meet with them at least three or four times every year to review your chart of accounts and other operating statements, and get their opinions on things you are doing right and things you need to improve. Because they look at your business from 5,000 feet up, they may see risks, problems and threats you can't see.
Start Escrowing for Estimated Taxes. If you pay estimated taxes to the federal and state governments four times a year and find yourself occasionally without enough cash on hand to make the payments, you need to start escrowing for these taxes. Take your gross sales each month, withdraw one-third of that amount from your business checking account and deposit it in an interest-bearing savings account. Do this every month, and learn to operate your business on the remaining two-thirds of revenue. This way, you will have enough cash on hand to make your payments when they come due.
Get Involved in the Political Process. We have a new administration and Congress this year — one controlled by Republicans who have committed to support small businesses and their owners. To make sure they deliver on those promises, make your voice heard. Contact your elected representatives periodically (to find them, visit http://hq-salsa.wiredforchange.com/o/5950/getLocal.jsp). Offer to serve as an informal (and unpaid) advisor on proposed legislation affecting your business. Or, if they don't respond, maybe consider running for local office next year.
Wishing a happy, prosperous and successful new year to all of my readers. Let's make America great again.
Cliff Ennico ([email protected]) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series "Money Hunt." This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our webpage at www.creators.com.