Extended Individual Returns are Due Soon! Fall Planning….


Don’t forget to finalize your extended personal income tax returns by October 15th. If you extended to fund a self-employed retirement fund like a SEP, you must make the contribution by October 15th and then file your return by that due date as well.

Fall is a great time to consider tax planning and preparing for 2017 with a better plan on how to manage your finances and taxes. If you have not fully funded your 401(k) for 2016, consider increasing your voluntary contributions during the last quarter of the year to get the tax advantage of retirement savings.

Consider changing how you spend money during the holidays and go with a more simple approach, save the money you normally spend for more important, long term goals.

Fund your HSA, fund your children’s college fund using a tax advantageous Colorado 529 plan (or the plan for your state if you do not live in beautiful Colorado)

Take control of your finances, re-evaluate your long term goals, connect with what is really important to your family’s future and cut down on that impulse spending to increase your chances of reaching bigger goals that getting that Starbucks fix today!

The Building of a Business Plan…Part 5


Ok, we are almost at the finish line with this business plan. You should be feeling a pretty strong connection with your products, your ideal customer and how you are going to reach them. Now it is time to determine how you will know you have reached your goals.

To know when you have succeeded at your business plan, you first have to know what success looks like. Do you have a revenue goal? Do you have a year-over-year growth goal, do you know how many new customers you need/want. What is your version of success? My goals are usually defined by the number of billable hours I want, the number of new clients I would like to engage.

Once you define what success means to you, you will then be able to measure how your efforts are helping you achieve success. Keep in mind that success is more than net income, revenue, etc. Keep in mind when you set your goals, your personal life should play into it as well.

In the summer, I like to work about 3 days a week, so my billable hour goal needs to compensate for that during the busier months. My daughter and I used to travel extensively in the summers, so my goals incorporated that time off and the need for the disposable income in order for me to make that happen. So remember, living an awesome, fulfilling personal life should be the ultimate goal. Your successful business provides for that awesome personal life, so be sure to keep your personal goals in mind when you start planning the benchmarks of success that you can measure against.

Common goal ideas:
Net Income
Gross Margin
Year-over-year growth
# of Customers
Billable Hours

Other non Number driven goals can be.
Standing in the Community/Industry or Field
Considered an Expert in the field
Online Reviews

Good luck with your business plan. I hope these steps have shown you how to define, build and measure the strength of a business plan. The process should really clarify how you can improve the success of your business. It is usually a powerful tool once you have gotten over the hesitation is starting to write a business plan. It is not as overwhelming as it seems when you break it down in the 5 steps we have shown you here.

The building of a business plan…Part 4


You’ve defined what it is you do or sell, you’ve described who it is you want to sell to and you have made an in-depth study of why that customer will and will not choose to do business with you. Now it is time to figure out how to best communicate and market to your target market.

You don’t want to waste marketing dollars or your time reaching out to people that are 1) not in the market for your services. 2) Not likely to purchase from you. 3) Not your ideal client. The blast shot marketing effort will reach a lot of people, but how to you know it is reaching the client you want? Why waste the money on the marketing effort? Plus, you may field a lot of inquiries from people who are not your ideal client and that takes time away from other more productive activities.

We do not use the following marketing:

Yellow Pages: I know an ancient artifact these days, but it illustrates my point well. We never used the yellow pages because the person who would use the yellow pages to select a CPA was never going to be an ideal client for my firm. You use the yellow pages to find a plumber or a locksmith, not a CPA, so if someone did use the yellow pages to find us, we knew they would not be sophisticated enough to have tax situations that would justify our fee structure.

The local newspaper: We never used the local papers because that advertising effort was a blast shot effort, reaching hundreds of thousands of potential clients, but not a direct enough approach for my services. While I may have reached a ton of people, my ideal client was not going to respond to an ad in the newspaper.

Yelp paid advertising: We were approached by Yelp some months ago to use their paid advertising and found that it was a waste of our time and money. It makes a lot of sense for other businesses, but not mine. The people who called, again were not my ideal client and I wasted a lot of time in telephone conversations with people I knew were never going to become a client.

What we do use.

I did advertise in my neighborhood newspaper because it was a much more intimate experience, it reached geographically desirable potential clients. It was likely that someone would choose to hire me simply because I was close to where they lived and/or worked. An article written about me in the neighborhood newspaper brought me a ton of clients I still have 20 some years later. It was more personal, my picture was included in the article and they got a sense of who I was from the interview. My phone started ringing as soon as that little piece ran.

The internet, managed with search terms that ensure potential clients who need the specific services we offer will find us and give us a chance to sell them on my firm.

We like working with Attorneys, so we do periodically advertise in Attorney specific publications because it is a direct connection with one of our target markets. Industry specific publications are a good way to reach a particular audience.

We encourage and reward referrals from our current clients. They are a great source of new business to us and we constantly remind them to consider referring us. We send out a gift card every time a current client refers a potential client to us as a way of ensuring they know how much we appreciate their efforts. A warm lead like that is almost a sure bet for us.

The point here, is you need to know how your potential client wants to be communicated with, what do they read, how do they search for services such as yours. Spend your dollars on the efforts that are targeted, most likely to reach your ideal client and then design an ad that is most likely to convince them to call you and move forward.

The Building of a Business Plan….Part 3


Okay.  You know what it is you do and sell.  You know who you want to sell these services and products to.  Now, let’s explore how you are going to be the most successful in selling your services to the people you most want to sell them to.

To develop the most targeted and successful marketing plan, you need to know the following: Do they want to buy from you? If so, why do they want to buy from you specifically?  If not, why do they not want to buy from you?  The answers to these questions become the foundation of your strategies.

Make a list of all the reasons why your target market wants to buy your product or service and why they want to buy from you specifically.  These reasons include proximity, ease of transaction, personality characteristics, expertise, experience, enthusiasm, price, quality, value perception.  List everything you can think of; tangible, intangible, factual and only in perception.  You will use these selling points as the centerpiece of your marketing campaign.

Then attack the reasons why your target market might not want to do business with you.  Use the same list as you did above. Add to that list things like they already buy from someone else, they aren’t aware of you, they don’t know how to make the decision, your new to the industry and other reasons people will not, are not, have not yet become a customer.  Find all the reasons why your desired customer would not choose you or your company so you can then address these reasons in your marketing information.  Basically, you want to address these issues so you can change their mind.  Correct their impressions that make them hesitate to buy from you, change their mind on other reasons, provide the information they need to get past their initial impression or decision that your company is not the one for them.  You might not change their mind, but to avoid addressing the reasons why people will not do business with you ensures that they will, in fact, not do business with you.  By addressing the reasons you find, you can change those aspects of your product, service or business model that keep customers you want from becoming customers.

Other than using your own knowledge to come up with the reasons why potential customers will or will not become customers, you can also seek the information in other ways.  Surveys, focus groups, interviews with current customers or prospects that did not become customers, internet research on buying trends for your specific industry, etc.

This exercise clarifies how to be the most successful in selling to customers that are already inclined to buy from you, but will allows you to press to your advantage the reasons you have determined they should choose you over other providers.  It also gives you the tools you need to address reservations desired customers may have for buying from you and convert them from lost prospects to customers.

You’re well on your way to being able to develop a marketing plan now that you have thoroughly answered these questions.  You should be starting to feel more centered and anchored in writing your business plan.  Ideas are probably already forming as to how you can develop or change your marketing strategy or how you need to re-package your product or services to reach your most desired customer.

Good luck in this step.  You are increasing your chances for success substantially by completing this process.  There is power in knowledge, clarification and organization of this information. It allows you to act in a more proactive manner that has a significantly improved chance of success.

8 steps to Successful Succession Planning


Unless you want your business to die with you, arrangements have to be made for a transition or sale to new owners. You should plan ahead for what you want to happen to your business as a result of a specific plan to exit after a number of years or in case of unforeseen circumstances. Planning ahead ensures that your business retains its value. Here is a good article on the steps you should take to have a succession plan in place for your business.

CCH Article on Successful Succession Planning

The Building of a Business Plan….Part 2


After you have fully defined what it is you do, what product or services your provide, the second step is to work on your customer. Who is your ideal client? Who do you want to sell you products and services to? Again, you want to be as specific and descriptive as possible. The general public is not a good answer. The more you know about your idea customer, the more obvious your marketing strategies will be. Here are the kinds of questions you want to consider:

Who do you want to do business with? What are their characteristics? Is your customer an individual, a company, an industry?

What size is your ideal customer in terms of income, revenue, employee size, etc?

For people: Are they male or female? How old is your customer? Are they young, old, retired, just out of college. Do they have children? Where do they live? Where do they work? Where do they hang out? Where do they shop primarily? Given their age, how do they shop? Do they shop online, in stores, from catalogs? Do they want a brick and mortar place? Do they use social media? What do they read? Newspapers, social media, do they participate in Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. What does your product bring to their life? Is it a convenience? Entertaining? Necessary? An impulse buy? How does it improve their life or their situation? What does it bring to their daily life? Why should they want to purchase it?

For Companies or businesses: Are they new businesses or established businesses? Where are they located? Does it matter where they are located? What industry resources do they use or read? What are their buying patterns? How does your product affect their business? Is it necessary to them or not? How does your product improve their situation?

The more factual information you can write down about your customer, the more obvious your marketing strategy will become. When you know your ideal customer really well, you know how to reach them. You know how to market to them. You know how to get in front of them via advertising, networking, etc. You recognize when a potential customer is not ideal and whether or not you should take time and resources pursuing a customer who is not ideal.

You will be surprised at the power that the information you get from this exercise will give you for moving forward with a strategy to reach these customers. New ideas will come to you as a result of gathering demographic information about your ideal customer. Some marketing or advertising strategies you have used will prove ineffectual and others will seem obvious. You will stop wasting time, money and effort with shot gun blast marketing that reaches a large number of people, but not the people you need to reach. Yellow page advertising is smart for some companies, but a huge waste of time for others. This is a bad example because the yellow pages as I think of them do not really exist anymore. But using my firm as an example; that kind of advertising is a complete waste of time and money. My ideal client would never look in the yellow pages for their CPA and if they did, they are not a client I want.

Give this exercise some time and effort and see what information you get that makes moving forward with a marketing strategy easier and more productive.

The Building of a Business Plan….Starts with 6 Questions


A business plan can make all the difference in having a successful business or one that falls flat.  It is critical to have a well thought out, defined, documented plan if you want to have a much better chance of getting your business off the ground, getting it out of a rut or just improving profitability.

I think most people do not write a business plan because they are intimidated by the process and just don’t know where to start.  This series of articles will help you get started on a business plan with what I think are the questions that will ensure your plan gets written.  The answers to these questions will turbo charge your path to success;  will focus your efforts and clarify the strategies in a way that makes marketing so much easier. You will be much more likely to recognize opportunities once you have completed these 6 questions.  The more in depth you can answer these questions the more enlightened you will feel on how to accelerate your success, how to not waste time or money on efforts that are not compatible with your business model.  The path becomes clear and obvious once you give serious thought to these questions and write down your answers.

Writing the questions and answers down is critical to the success of this process.  It can be a living breathing document, but it must be in written form.  You cannot carry the answers in your head and think you are benefiting from the power of this exercise.  Take each question and be as detailed as you can with your answer.  The more you think about your answer, hone your answer the more power the answer will have for you.  So here goes with Question #1.  Good luck, you are making a huge step toward success.

Question #1: What do you do?  What do you sell?  Seems obvious, right?  But how much thought have you given to the details of what your business does?  The more in depth you can get here the more fuel you will give to the questions that follow.  Focus on one thing at a time if you offer several different types of products or services. Give each one the time it deserves to get well defined.  Once you write in detail what services and products your business offers, give some thought to how you described it.  How you describe it to yourself is the start to determining who you will sell your product to.  Use a lot of adjectives, this will get your creative juices flowing and make the definition more dramatic, exciting and motivating.

Make sure you have a 25 – 50 word version you can use when you are meeting people and they ask you what you do for a living.  Use every opportunity to market your business and that means even at casual get togethers of friends, conversations with strangers at the airport or coffee shop.  The more succinct and descriptive your response, the more likely you are to identify a client or have a client identify you.

I will post a question every week and in a few weeks you will have the basis of a business plan and will see that you are excited about finishing it.  You will see the power the plan gives you and how it clarifies your next steps.