RSSAll Entries in the "BizFinance" Category

Bonus Depreciation Tax Breaks Make 2011 a Year to Buy

If you are thinking of buying new vehicles, equipment, machinery, phones, computers or other technology for your business, 2011 could be the year to do it.  That’s because not one, but two laws passed late last year have greatly increased the amount of your immediate tax write-off for making such purchases.

The so-called Section 179 deduction limit, slated to revert to $25,000, was increased to $500,000, and the total amount of equipment that can be purchased was increased to $2 million (up from $200,000). This includes most new and used capital equipment, and also includes software.  In addition, bonus depreciation was increased to 100 percent on qualified assets (new equipment only). When applying these provisions, Section 179 is generally taken first, followed by bonus depreciation. 

Bonus depreciation, a special depreciation allowance, is a limited-time tax benefit for business purchases of qualified items during 2011, or in some cases 2012 as well.  Basically, bonus depreciation offers a giant tax incentive for businesses to buy new property and other assets now by allowing you to write off (or “expense” in accounting lingo) the entire purchase (100 percent) immediately rather than having to take those write-offs in little pieces over many years (called depreciation). Normally, businesses recover these types of capital investments through annual deductions spread over as many as 20 years. 

Now 100%:  This provision of the Tax Relief Act passed late last year doubles the amount of bonus depreciation allowed – from half of the purchase cost, to the full amount (100 percent) for this year. That’s up from 30 percent a few years ago. In other words, if you buy some PCs, servers, phone equipment, machinery, or all kinds of other qualifying items, you can take the entire amount as a deduction on your 2011 tax return.   

The temporary rule change also makes 50 percent bonus depreciation available for qualified property placed in service during 2012. Some long-lived property and transportation property is eligible for 100 percent expensing if placed in service by the end of 2012. What’s more, there is no cap on the amount you can spend and deduct, and the benefit applies to businesses of any size.

Where Section 179 Fits:  Other benefits available only to small businesses fall under different provisions known as the Section 179 rules.   The maximum amount of property that small businesses could deduct immediately under Section 179 was scheduled to revert to its old limit of $25,000, but that’s now been raised to $500,000. This includes vehicles, machinery, furniture and other equipment.  A detailed list of qualifying types of property is available at IRS.gov.

To qualify for the Section 179 deduction, your property must have been acquired for use in your trade or business. Property you acquire only to produce income, such as investment property, rental property (if renting property is not your trade or business), and property that produces royalties, does not qualify.

When you use property for both business and non-business purposes, you can take the Section 179 deduction if you use the property more than 50 percent for business.  If you use it more than 50 percent for business, multiply the cost of the property by the percentage of business use. Use the resulting business cost to figure your Section 179 deduction.

When to Forego the Bonus: The IRS also ruled recently that you can forego bonus depreciation if you want to.  That’s something you might want to consider if your business has an expiring net operating loss, an expiring capital loss carryover, or you believe that much higher tax rates in the future will make deductions more valuable in later years.

The website Section179.org is a helpful resource for figuring out Section 179 deductions, and covers the details in plain language, including what property qualifies and the many ways that the deduction can impact your bottom line. The site also has IRS tax forms, and tools for you to use, including a free Section 179 deduction calculator.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

An Insurance Pricing Secret You Should Know

A credit-based insurance score could cost or save you money.  Ever heard of it?  In short, it’s a special score that an insurance company gives you or your business based on information it digs up in your credit file that determines what premium you’ll pay and in some cases whether you get the insurance at all.

Credit scores and insurance scores are not the same thing.  Not knowing the difference can cost you and your business money.  Both are derived from the same data, but are intended to predict different things.  Credit-risk scores aim to predict the likelihood you’ll default on a loan or other credit.  Insurance scores, however, are built to predict whether you are likely to file more (or less) claims with the insurance company than the average customer.

More and more insurance companies are now using credit-based scoring to screen customers and set rates.  All of the 15 largest auto insurance companies in the U.S. now use it. Even if your business has a good claims history, you could end up paying higher rates – or could be turned down for coverage elsewhere – if the insurance company doesn’t like what it sees in your credit file. 

For business owners with good credit, however, credit-based insurance scoring can be good news.  “Good credit can also reduce insurance premiums, since many insurers offer good credit discounts,” says Loretta Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute.  A study in Oregon, for example, showed that auto insurance policyholders with a good credit-based insurance score paid as much as 48 percent less for coverage.   

Ask your insurance company or agent if you are getting the best rate and terms available. If you aren’t, find out why: It could be due to a poor insurance score.  If you are denied coverage or offered a higher rate, consider reapplying after your credit picture improves. The simple step of paying all your bills on time is your best defense against trouble caused by a low credit-based insurance score.  Find out more about insurance scoring.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Why You Should Join Startup America Partnership

The Startup America Partnership is new and largely unknown, but this independent, private-sector coalition of corporate tech titans, advisors, financing firms, mentors and sundry service providers won’t be undiscovered for long.  Any business owner or entrepreneur – from startup (newly created), to rampup (initial growth stage), to speedup (going like gang busters) – should be ready to tap this free resource when the help starts flowing.

The way in will be through a free Startup America membership (via application) that isn’t yet available, but will be soon.  So sign up now to be notified by email when details on the membership application process are released.    

The group’s mission is mighty:  To inspire and accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship in the U.S. with services, product discounts, special access, resources, connections and “insider information” from a start-studded lineup of business power hitters.   It’s not a loan or grant program, do ditch that thought. Because Startup America is still starting up itself, most of what’s coming is still in development.  But here’s a sampling of what’s coming:   

  • Google will provide up to $100 million worth of online advertising to Startup America Partnership member companies to over the next year.
  • Intuit will offer special discounts on its flagship products and services, including QuickBooks Online, Intuit Payroll Services, QuickBooks Merchant Services and Intuit Websites. Value: $37 million
  • Angel Capital Association (ACA) and Angel Resource Institute (ARI) will double the number of high caliber investors in angel groups across the country, increasing annual investment by $1 billion.  Qualifying Startup America Partnership member companies will be matched with angel investor mentors to build their success in starting and growing their businesses.
  • Salesforce.com will provide products and technology to power Startup America Partnership member companies. This includes CRM, a collaboration platform, a resource catalog built on Force.com, and a workflow engine to connect entrepreneurs with resources from private-sector partners.    
  • The National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) will create the NVCA / Startup America Partnership Network, providing access to its 400 venture capital firms, 4,000 investors and thousands of venture-backed company CEOs via events around the country; and will provide access to StartUpHire.com, a free online jobs board for member companies.
  • American Express OPEN will provide special access and advantaged pricing for products and services to help businesses attract and retain customers and improve cash flow. Estimated value: $125 million
  • Cisco will provide training (through intermediaries trained and supported by Cisco) to approximately 6,000 entrepreneurs within 50 cities by January 2014.  Estimated value: $3 million.
  • Ernst & Young (EY) will provide access to EY professionals and the firm’s Entrepreneur Of The Year (EOY) network as advisors and mentors, plus on-line resources and other analytical tools.  Estimated value: $7.5 million.
  • First Data, a major electronic commerce and payment processing firm, will offer discounts on processing services including credit and debit acceptance as well as point-of-sale terminals to Startup America Partnership member companies.
  • HP will offer discounts on laptops, desktops, workstations, Palm smart phones, tablets, printers, wireless routers, servers and more to Partnership members.  Estimated savings for startups will be $100 million over three years.   
  • IndieGoGo, a platform for raising money online via “crowd sourcing,” will offer a 50% discount on campaign fees on the site and feature members on the company’s website.
  • LinkedIn will provide a special platform for Startup America members to build an identity and grow a network. LinkedIn will also contribute training, services, and products to members.
  • Microsoft will offer its BizSpark program to all qualified software startups.  BizSpark provides access to Microsoft software free for three years including support, training and access to Windows Azure, Microsoft’s Cloud Services Platform.  Participants are also connected to a global network of 700,000 mentors, partners and investors. 

AOL co-founder Steve Case chairs the partnership and the Kauffman and Case Foundations are founding partners, providing initial funding and strategic guidance.  

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Guide to Sample Business Plans and Business Plan Templates

Starting or expanding a business?  Looking for small business loans, venture capital, angel investors or other financial backing?  Then you need a business plan, plain and simple.  Every successful startup begins with a sound business plan

But why start from scratch if you don’t have to. By using a sample business plan, business plan template or helpful business plan software, creating a buttoned-down business plan that does what you want it to will be a lot easier.  No matter what your business idea, there’s a free sample business plan or template that you can adapt to your own circumstances and needs.   

Even if you plan to work from samples or templates, you should consider using business plan software to put the pieces together.  While there are many business plan software choices available, Business Plan Pro (Palo Alto Software) is a “BizBest ShortList” selection and has been the #1 bestseller for a reason:  It’s simply the best.  At $99 for the standard edition ($159 for premier), it’s something no entrepreneur should be without. 

And here’s a big plus: Business Plan Pro comes with over 500 sample business plans.  Inspire yourself and your cohorts by looking at other successful plans.  You can even start with a sample plan or template and merely edit and change what’s already there to be assured you start off on the right track.

Another key benefit of using business plan software is that it can bullet-proof your numbers.  Nothing frustrates potential investors or venture capitalists like numbers that don’t add up.  Because business plan software comes with built-in formulas and linked tables, you’ll be alerted to any missing numbers, and the software automatically puts data where it needs to go.  Business Plan Pro also comes with data on over 9,000 industries, so you have numbers to back up your projections.

If you’re too cheap or stretched to spring for the $99, check out Bplans (also from Palo Alto Software) which offers hundreds of free sample business plans in popular business categories such as a restaurant, cafe, bakery, retail store, online or eBay store, beauty salon, day spa and service businesses such as accountant, insurance agent, self storage business and cleaning service.  Other categories include consulting, real estate, fitness center, construction and engineering, hotel, bar, medical and health care, pet services and many others.

Free business plan templates are also available from SCORE .  And coming from SCORE, rest assured they are well done and high quality. Free downloads include a business plan for a startup, as well as an established business.  There are also business planning tools for nonprofits.  Other helpful templates you can get for free from SCORE on the same page include: competitive analysis, startup expenses, opening day balance sheet, financial projections, breakeven analysis, bank loan request, cash flow statement, profit and loss projection, and sales forecast.

In the business plan templates for purchase category, Business Plan Success (Version 5.0; $49) is a good choice. It’s a quick and easy way to get your plan into a professional format (and nice looking, too!) that will get serious attention.  The template includes integrated, fill-in-the-blank financials, is fully customizable and comes with lots of extras, including a directory of investor resources, and guide to SBA small business loans.

You’ll also find a large selection of business plan templates and sample business plans – both free and for purchase – at DocStoc.

Remember these keys to good business plan:

  • It should be simple — which means easy to understand.
  • It should be detailed and specific. Your goals, objective, benchmarks, competitive analysis, market overview and other key items should be concrete and measurable.
  • Be specific about what actions the business will take, with specific completion dates, who is responsible, and budgets.
  • Your business plan should be realistic, including your sales goals, expense estimates, market size projections and milestone dates. Unrealistic plans fall apart quickly.
  • And be sure to read BizBest’s Five Steps to Business Plan Perfection.

Visit the BizBest StartupSmarts section for more helpful ideas and resources for starting a business.  

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Rules and Benefits of Employee Credit Cards

Sooner or later, growing businesses face this decision:  Should certain employees have their own company credit cards?  While many biz owners are psychologically opposed to issuing plastic to employees, business credit cards can actually be big time and money savers.  They greatly reduce the number of checks you have to write, provide detailed and itemized expense documentation, and reduce the frequency and cost of employee expense report reimbursements.

They can also save the day.  Say, for example, you have a big presentation first thing tomorrow morning. You send your key employee to pick up the finished presentation materials at the printer, which closes in an hour. Your employee shows up with a signed check for the original quote, but the final total is higher.  What now? If your employee has a business credit card, you wouldn’t have to cut a check in the first place, and there’d be no problem.

Still, there are a several factors to consider when entrusting employees with a business credit card.  Here are three rules that business owners should consider when issuing company cards:  

  1. Set spending limits:  Often, the best way to prevent credit card abuse among employees is to set tight spending limits and “merchant category codes” (MCCs) to limit areas in which employees can spend money on the card.  For example, American Express offers MCC blocking of 281 standard individual and 28 proprietary predefined groups of codes.  By using this feature, business owners can allow employees to spend only with merchants in specified categories. You can also link card holders to a list of MCC codes and enable them to spend at any establishment other than the merchants in the codes listed. You can even restrict spending to specific merchants or locations by using Preferred Supplier Lists.
  2. Issue guidelines and a written company policy:  In other words, do not assume employees know their limits when it comes to credit card spending. Ask employees to read and sign a written agreement that states compliance with the company’s rules for using credit cards.
  3. Review statements regularly:  Regardless of trust in employees or any signed company policies, it is important to remain aware of employees’ spending.  Conduct regular reviews of credit card expenses. It’s easy to do online where you can see precise details of every transaction.  Also ask employees to provide receipts and to reconcile their spending monthly.  Immediately bring any questions or concerns to the employee’s attention.
  4. Capture points and rebates:  Using company credit cards is also a great way to consolidate business purchases, earn points and capture extra discounts. 

For free comparisons of business credit cards that can help your company expand and save money, visit the business card section at CreditDonkey. You can search, compare and apply on the website, finding the best business credit card for your needs.  Card issuers, such as American Express, sometimes offer extra cards on existing accounts at no additional charge for business customers in good standing.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

World’s Richest and Largest Business Plan Contest

Graduate level student-entrepreneurs at universities worldwide are percolating new ideas and pitching them to business plan contests to a record pace.  For a few, the result is money — and gobs of it.  For example, the Rice Business Plan Competition (RBPC) — the world’s largest — will award more than $1 million in prizes to aid new startup businesses at the 11th annual competition at Rice University April 14-16.

Forty-two teams were selected from more than 500 entries, an application pool that was more than 20 percent higher than last year. They were chosen based on their executive summaries to compete in six categories: life sciences, information technology, energy and clean technology, green technology, renewable and recycling, and social and other. The teams will have 15 minutes to present business plans and the top six will vie for the big prize valued at $400,000.

The Rice University Business Plan Competition is the world’s largest and richest graduate-level business plan competition. It is hosted and organized by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship which is Rice University’s flagship initiative supporting entrepreneurship. The competition aims to give collegiate entrepreneurs a real-world way to fine tune their business plans and elevator pitches and perhaps generate funding. Judges evaluate the teams as real-world entrepreneurs seeking startup funds from early stage investors and venture capital firms.

2011 Rice Business Plan Competition teams

Business NameUniversity
AluseraUniversity of Gothenburg, Sweden
Amma Healthcare TechnologiesRice University
Antenatal Screening KitJohns Hopkins University
Arctic SandMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Are You a Human?University of Michigan
Black LocusCarnegie Mellon University
BOSS MedicalJohns Hopkins University
C5 BioMassachusetts Institute of Technology
CamGaNUniversity of Cambridge, England
ClearBrook ImagingThe University of Texas at Austin
cycleWood PlasticsUniversity of Arkansas
DeepScanThammasat University, Thailand
Diagenetix Inc.University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
EternoGenUniversity of Missouri
Exciton SystemsUniversity of Illinois at Chicago
Fiddlers’ GreenRice University
GreenCoatThe University of Texas at Austin
Hemova MedicalJohns Hopkins University
iLumi Lighting SolutionsThe University of Texas at Dallas
InnovatorsIndian Institute of Technology
JanusUniversidade Federal Minas Gerais, Brazil
NeuvelNorthwestern University
OsteoceneBaylor College of Medicine / Rice
PK CleanMassachusetts Institute of Technology
PulmoCADWashington University in Saint Louis
Purisorb Inc.Dalhousie University, Canada
QR Code CityBrigham Young University
Quantitative Insights The University of Chicago
ReGenerate Solutions University of Michigan
ReGreen TechnologiesGeorgia Institute of Technology
RhoManiaCarnegie Mellon University
Sahara BotanicalsUniversity of Oxford, England
San + CONorthwestern University
Secure InfoShareGeorgia Institute of Technology
ShuaTech Chemical SystemsLouisiana Tech University
SmartershadeUniversity of Notre Dame
Somatis TechnologiesUniversity of Southern California
StaticFlow AnalyticsUniversity of Washington
SulicoLondon Business School, England
TiFiberUniversity of Arkansas
TitinGeorgia Institute of Technology
TNG PharmaceuticalsUniversity of Louisville

Prizes this year include the $150,000 Investment Grand Prize from The GOOSE Society of Texas, the $100,000 Waste Management “Think Green” Investment Prize, the $100,000 DFJ Mercury Tech Transfer Investment Prize, and $100,000 Opportunity Houston / Greater Houston Partnership Technology Prize, the $100,000 Opportunity Houston / Greater Houston Partnership Life Science Prize, the $100,000 Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers (KPCB) Prize for CleanTech Innovation, and the $75,000 OWL Investment Prize.

In 2011, applications increased nearly 20% from the previous year.  More than 100 corporate and private sponsors support the business plan competition. Venture capitalists and other investors from around the country volunteer their time to judge the competition, with the majority of the 250+ judges coming from the investment sector. More than 100 past competitors have gone on to successfully launch their business and are still in business today, raising in excess of $327 million in funding.

“Great ideas are just that – great,” said Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance. “But, taking that novel idea ensuring it holds a competitive advantage in the market, conducting market research and identifying opportunities, demonstrating management capability, financial understanding and investment potential are what develop that great idea into a venture and hopefully a financially successful business.”

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Claim Your Small Business Health Care Tax Credit

If you’re a small employer with a health insurance plan and pay at least half of employee premiums, you probably qualify for a new health care tax credit worth thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars.  Contrary to rumors and media reports, most small businesses do in fact qualify for substantial tax credits, and SBA Administrator Karen Mills issued a letter today saying just that.

Generally, tax credits are available for small business owners who:

  • Started or continued health insurance coverage for employees in 2010
  • Contribute at least 50% of employee premiums at the single coverage rate
  • Have fewer than 25 full-time employees (part-time employees are counted proportionately)
  • Pay their employees an average of less than $50,000

The IRS has a simple three-step worksheet (at www.irs.gov/pub/irs-utl/3_simple_steps.pdf) to help determine your eligibility.

Here’s an example.  An auto repair shop with 10 employees whose earnings average $25,000 can get what amounts to a 35% “rebate” on its health insurance premiums. Based on typical costs, that would be a credit of $24,500, according to IRS estimates. Not bad. And that’s a credit – which directly lowers your tax dollar-for-dollar – not merely a deduction.

Here’s what you need to know…

Because the eligibility formula is based in part on the number of FTEs, not the number of employees, employers that have more than 25 individual workers may also qualify if some workers are part-time. For eligible businesses the credit could provide a welcome boost.  Here are the four key health care credit eligibility standards:

1)    Your business provides and pays for health coverage. To clear the first hurdle, you must cover at least half of the cost of health care coverage for your employees.

2)    Your business is small. You cannot have more than the equivalent of 25 full-time workers. Eight half-time employees count as four “full-time equivalent” (FTE) workers. Thus, an employer with fewer than 50 half-time workers can still qualify.

3)    Your wages aren’t too generous. A qualifying employer must pay average annual wages below $50,000 to get even a partial credit.  For the full credit, the average must be under $25,000.

4)    Both taxable (for-profit) and tax-exempt (non-profit) firms qualify.

The credit is worth up to 35 percent of your premium costs in 2010 (25 percent for non-profits). In 2014 that jumps to 50 percent (35 percent for non-profits).  A ruling just issued by the IRS also confirms that the credit applies to premiums you pay for dental and vision coverage.  And your business can still qualify for the federal credit even if you receive a separate state credit.

Businesses with 10 or fewer workers and average annual wages less than $25,000 will qualify for the full credit. The credit starts to phase out as you move above those limits.  Businesses with average payrolls over $50,000 will not qualify for the credit at all.

Also be aware that if your business pays only a portion of health insurance premiums, with employees paying the rest, you can only count the premiums you pay when calculating the credit.

Another example: Downtown Diner, a restaurant with 40 part-time employees (the equivalent of 20 full-time workers), pays total wages of $500,000, or an average of $25,000 per full-time equivalent worker. Health insurance premiums paid by the business this year total $240,000, and the business would qualify for a 2010 credit $28,000, after applying “phase-out” provisions.

Eligible small businesses can claim the credit as part of the general business credit starting with the 2010 income tax return they file in 2011.

Small Business Tax Credit Calculator is a new web-based tool that computes precise (not estimates) small business health care reform tax credit calculations for filing actual small business tax returns based upon each state’s allowances and up-to-the-minute legal requirements.  As the regulations regarding the small business health care reform tax credit continue to evolve it is critical to have a calculator that updates with the changes as they occur.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved. 

Finding Startup Funds Made Easier

Websites hoping to play matchmaker between investors and startup entrepreneurs have come and gone with great regularity.  FindVenture.com looks like a player.  The site has partnered with a long list of venture capital funds to create a kind of exchange that connects VC and other investors with biz owners and entrepreneurs seeking capital.  FindVenture uses a special algorithm to match investors and entrepreneurs — a time saver for both sides — and carries detailed profiles of VC firms and other investment companies.  Biz owners and startup entrepreneurs can post a funding request on the site and get themselves quickly on the funding map.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Money to Start a Business or Fund a Creative Project

Need to start a business with no money?  Looking for a small loan to expand a business or idea already underway?  Going for a grant to get your dream creative project off the ground?  If so, there’s good news. Despite what you might have been told, “microloans” of $500 to $50,000 are available through a variety of private, online, nonprofit and government-sponsored sources.  And several new and exciting online funding platforms are now helping creative professionals line up money for all kinds of creative endeavors. Some of the sources might even surprise you!

The BizBest Bottom Line: The odds of finding funding to get your idea underway are probably better than ever.   Here’s where to look for the money:

Person-to-Person lending:  This is also called peer-to-peer lending and thanks to tight-fisted traditional lenders and a group of web sites that back it, it’s a booming alternative to traditional loan sources.  Several P2P lending websites have grown rapidly, connecting people who have money with people who need it, while helping structure and manage loans between them.  The average loan made through a P2P site is about $5,000.

The best P2P lending sites right now are Prosper.com, Lending Club and RaiseCapital.com. Individual lenders (investors) compete with each to make loans to borrowers who have posted a loan request on the site.  The better your credit rating and proposal, the lower you rate is likely to be.  Because P2P lending sites have to meet state government lending rules (as well as federal SEC requirements), they aren’t operating in all 50 states. Check their web sites for a list of areas they operate.

ACCION USA is a private non-profit that offers startup and expansion microloans of up to $50,000 to small business owners in the U.S., along with credit and business advice to small business owners who cannot access traditional credit.  This organization offers loans for startups as well as established businesses, and specializes in working with qualified individuals who don’t meet customary bank lending criteria. You’ll find an application and other helpful resources on the web site.

The U.S. Small Business Administration Microloan Program makes funds available to a variety of non-profit community-based lenders or “intermediaries.”  Those lenders, in turn, make the microloans to eligible entrepreneurs.  The average loan is about $13,000 and the range is typically between $5,000 and $50,000.  One example is Valley Economic Development Center (VEDC) which provides microloans to startups in Southern California.  In addition to loans, VEDC provides technical assistance to small companies. VEDC works with SCORE, the SBA and U.S. Bank branches to identify potential borrowers.

Crowdfunding for creative projects: Kickstarter has quickly become the largest online funding platform for creative projects. Every month, thousands of people pledge millions of dollars to creative projects in the fields of music, film, art, technology, design, food, publishing and others.  It’s a new form of commerce and patronage that’s not about investment or lending. Project creators keep 100% ownership and control over their work.  In return for money, they offer products and experiences that are unique to each project.  Funding on Kickstarter is all-or-nothing.  A project must reach its self-chosen funding goal before time runs out or no money changes hands.  That way, creators aren’t expected to develop their project without necessary funds, and it lets you test concepts risk free.

At this writing, for example, the would-be makers of a documentary film about the Venezuelan dance band  Los Amigos Invisibles had raised $12,100 toward their $30,000 goal with 8 days to go.  A project to create “A history of the future in 100 objects” was 90% funded with 36 days left.  Several other projects were well above their funding goals. Two other sites doing similar things are RocketHub.com and IndieGoGo.com.

Community Development Financial Institutions:  About 1,000 CDFIs nationwide make microloans for business startups mainly in lower-income communities, serving both rural and urban areas.  Use the handy CDFI State Locator to find one near you. Here are a few CDFI funding examples:

• The Utah Microenterprise Loan Fund, a certified CDFI, is making loans of up to $25,000. Their motto is “Building brighter futures through small business.” A $10,000 micro enterprise loan from the Utah fund helped Somer Gardiner get her Salt Lake City yarn store, Soul Spun Yarn, off the ground.

• Enterprise Corporation of the Delta, a CDFI in Jackson, MS, has helped train or fund thousands of entrepreneurs in the Mississippi Delta region it serves. It helped back Computers, Inc., a small business owned by three women. Computers, Inc. installs custom equipment for schools and businesses.

• Self-Help, a CDFI in North Carolina, provides small business loans in several southeastern states and elsewhere around the country. Loans range from a few thousand dollars and up to start, buy or expand a business or non-profit.

Count Me In, a non-profit organization, makes microloans to women entrepreneurs through its Micro to Millions Award program. Visit www.makemineamillion.org.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

10 Steps to Keeping Better Business Records

For many business owners, record keeping is an unwelcome chore that often gets far less attention than it deserves. There’s no shortage of other things to do that are far more fun.  But keeping good records is essential to running a successful business – and staying out of trouble.  Here are 10 ways to get your business finances and recordkeeping under control – and keep it that way:

1.       Separate your business and personal finances. Many biz owners (especially sole proprietors), and startup entrepreneurs fail to set up separate banking, bookkeeping and other systems to keep track of their business finances, causing confusion, tax headaches and a potential loss of business value later on. Using business checks or credit cards to pay for personal expenses, for example, can get you in legal hot water, and at a minimum complicates your recordkeeping.

2.       Reconcile and don’t delay; do it today.  Review your bank statements and balance your accounts regularly. Don’t just toss statements into a stack. If you let days or weeks pass without updating records, you’ll soon be lost and errors may go unnoticed. If your business finances change daily, you should have bookkeeping systems that update daily as well. This should include daily sales, purchases and other transactions, and especially any cash transactions.

3.       Hire a bookkeeper. Don’t pay an accountant’s higher professional fees to handle routine bookkeeping. Many biz owners have part-time bookkeepers to help keep things in order. The American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIBP) has some excellent bookkeeping tips, and a free bookkeepers hiring test.  Or consider outsourcing it online with a service such as Balance Your Books.

4.       Use calendar month timing. Most business owners find it helpful to account for money on a calendar month basis. But things don’t always line up. For example, if your bank statement isn’t based on a calendar month, ask for it to be changed. Most banks can make that accommodation.

5.       Be pro-active with your accountant. One reason to keep good business records is so you can provide accurate and timely information to an accountant to prepare your business taxes. Ask for their advice on how to set up your books and organize your information.

6.       Use a payroll service if you have employees.  When your business becomes large enough to have employees, recordkeeping requirements take a quantum leap. Outsourcing to a payroll service such as Paychex, Sure Payroll or ADP places the record keeping burden on them, and makes your end vastly easier.

7.       Use an online expense reporting service:  If your business reimburses employees for out-of-pocket expenses (yourself included), you need a process to track and record those costs and make timely, accurate payments. Several web-based services are out to ease the pain with easy-to-use, low-cost systems that make the expense reporting process as quick and easy as possible for small business owners. Choices include Expensify, Concur Breeze and ExpensePoint.

8.       Keep it simple and consistent. Bookkeeping is all about columns, and by keeping the same column headings all the time, you will avoid the frustration of mismatches. And if you avoid over-categorizing income and expenses, you’ll also save yourself time. Often it’s just not necessary to break things down into great detail.

9.       Automate your invoicing. Online billing services that can effortlessly issue your invoices and keep track of everything are one of the most helpful web-based (or “cloud”) small business services arou8nd.  Look at Bill.com and FreshBooks.com in particular. The services are cheap and can help clean up a billing mess quickly.

10.   Get the right software. Don’t even think about keeping your books manually or with spreadsheets. Low-cost, easy-to-use financial software for small business such as QuickBooks, or the free version called QuickBooks Simple Start (both at www.intuit.com) are perfect for keeping everything in order.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.