Friday, December 14, 2012

Do a year-end business review

Business owners and managers spend most of their time monitoring operations and dealing with everyday problems. But just as an annual checkup from your physician helps to monitor and manage your personal health, an annual checkup can do the same for your business. The benefits of such a review are holding your company accountable and evaluating current performance to better plan and execute future operations. Here are seven things that you should make time to do every year. These are important for your longer-term business health and personal success.

1. Review your business insurance coverage. Don't just automatically write a check to renew your insurance policies when they come due. Instead, you should sit down with your insurance agent every year. Review your business operations, focusing on any changes. Discuss types of risk that could arise. Ask about new developments in business insurance. Use your agent's expertise to identify risk areas and suggest suitable coverage.

2. Review your business tax strategy. Consider adjusting taxable earnings for the year, perhaps by accelerating expenses or delaying income at year-end. (You may want to reverse that strategy this year if you think tax rates will actually increase in 2013.) If you're a cash-basis taxpayer, you could boost 2012 deductions by declaring and paying bonuses in December rather than in early January. Also, you may be able to defer invoicing or make early purchases to reduce your 2012 tax bill.

Look into the "Section 179" rule that allows you to take an immediate tax deduction for most purchases of business furniture and equipment. By deducting the full cost immediately instead of depreciating it over several years, you'll cut this year's tax bill. For 2012, you can deduct up to $139,000 of qualifying purchases, subject to limits.

As your business grows, it's always good to make sure you're using the most appropriate form of business -- whether it's sole proprietor, S or C corporation, LLC, or partnership.

Look for other tax breaks, such as specialized tax credits, that you might not be using to full advantage.

3. Survey your customers. An annual customer satisfaction survey is a great way to assess performance, obtain insight on potential new products or services, and to let your customers know how much you value their business.

4. Check the effectiveness of your marketing. Are your current methods and channels working well, or are you simply doing what you've always done?

5. Update succession planning for your business. Review your succession planning annually. You should have a specific plan for each key manager position, including yourself. Be prepared for a short-term absence or a permanent vacancy. Your plan might mean promoting from within or recruiting externally. An up-to-date plan can be invaluable if you have an unexpected vacancy.

6. Review your business banking relationships. Annually, you should go over your cash balances and banking relationships with your controller, CFO, or accountant. Then both of you should meet with your banker. Ask about new products or services that could help your company. Address any service concerns or problems you might have had. Look for ways to reduce idle cash, boost interest earned, and improve cash flows.

7. Review and update your personal estate planning. If you're a business owner, your company is likely to be a significant part of your estate. A good estate plan is essential if you hope to pass the business on to your heirs. Your company, your personal circumstances, and the tax laws are continually changing. You should take time each year to make sure your plans are current.

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