End-of-year self review part 2: preparing your small business for the New Year

We discussed basic office organization in part 1 of the series. Today, we’ll focus on the home-based office. We recommend starting with the organization discussed in part 1, as it will make your small business tasks we’ll be tackling here much, much easier.

Step 1: Review your professional materials

While we live in a primarily digital world, there are still times when the small business owner needs to pull out a business card, send a paper invoice or pull out the pre-printed address labels or envelopes. Even digital information may represent your identity. Take time to review any existing pre-printed materials now, when printers are slow and have time to take on your project. Check for:

  • Design. Does it still represent you and your business? Is your logo dated, or in need of a facelift?
  • Accuracy. Has anything changed?
  • Content. Think carefully about how you want clients contacting you. If a phone shouldn’t ring at 11 p.m., don’t include that number.

Step 2: Review your shipping services

If you ship regularly, odds are you have an account with your preferred shipping vendor. Now is a good time to review your terms and determine if you have the right service. In this case, there is no downside to playing the field. Some things to consider are:

  • Cost. Do you get a discount for being a preferred customer, shipping volume or other factors?
  • Delivery range. Again, this really applies to those doing business internationally. If you ship overseas (or even just over the border), review delivery services and fees.
  • Niceties. These are really subjective, but make a difference. For example, some shipping agencies will deliver shipping materials to your house and pick up packages free of charge.
  • Bonus discounts/points. Some delivery services have cross-over deals with other vendors (e.g., credit cards). Check your loyalty programs, credit cards, etc. and see what they have to offer. It
    might tip the scales in one direction or the other.

Step 3: Review your technology

Your tax advisor probably told you to do this already, but it is worth repeating: take a look at your equipment and determine if it’s time to upgrade. The obvious place to start is with your computer.

  • Laptop vs. desktop. For business travelers, the choice is obvious: a laptop that is (preferably) not a brick, has good battery life, a nice screen, and can boot quickly for the inevitable airport security check. For completely home-bound business owners, a desktop might offer a cheaper viable solution. I’m in-between; while I don’t travel for work, I do have to visit clients from time to time. I’ve found a nice, widescreen laptop plus a second monitor at home (two screens total) allows me to multi-task at home and easily take my work with me when I need to go.
  • Display screen. Treat your eyes right – get a decent-sized, flat-screen display that is also easy to read. This is one area you don’t want to skimp.
  • Shredder. Every business should have a security shredder that creates confetti, not spaghetti strings. Get a heavy-duty workhorse model.
  • Backup software and materials. How you backup is up to you – the important thing is to make sure it happens early and often. Consider keeping an off-site copy of key digital documents that will not be affected if disaster strikes.
  • Assorted office materials. Notepads, pens, stapler, USB portable keys, etc. If you haven’t stocked up in a while, stop by your local office supply store. Even they are having end-of-year sales.
  • A comfortable chair and desk. You’re going to be spending a lot of time there. Be comfortable.
    Remember to save your receipts – you have until December 31 to make purchases against this year’s tax deductions.

Step 4: Get Ready for Tax Time

Speaking of which, now is a great time to start prepping your tax materials. Whether you do it yourself or use a financial advisor, you’re going to need to get organized. Here are some guidelines to help get you started:

  • Organize this year’s deductible bills. Find your deductible utility bills, mortgage, etc. and organize by month. Keep a written list of missing bills (type and date) as you go. You can hunt down the strays later – focus on the task at hand now.
  • Gather up your tax-deductible donation receipts. Organize by type (cash vs. goods) and organization if you have multiple donations to the same org.
  • Organize your receipts. Group them by possible deduction type. Don’t forget to shred any receipts you no longer need!

Remember, by preparing now you can take your time and really review the year. Forgotten house upgrades or missing receipts can cost you tax deductions. Do it now so you have time to do a thorough job.

Part 1: Organizing your office life for a happy New Year
Part 3: Part 3: Spending the end of year improving yourself (but not at the gym)

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