Eric Johnson
Author Archives: Eric Johnson

What You Need to Do NOW to Prepare for Tax Season

While income tax filings have an annual deadline, the management of your taxes is ongoing, especially as business owners. 

The key to managing your tax taxes is Proactive Tax Planning. This can mean many things to business owners, depending on the size and complexity of your business. But for the sake of keeping things simple and pragmatic, we’ll refer to proactive tax planning as a periodic review of your financials and projected tax liability DURING the tax year. This allows you to forecast your potential tax liability and position yourself to maximize any credits or deductions you may qualify for. This is the best way to make sure you’re paying the least amount in tax that you’re legally obligated to pay. But what does this look like in practice?

What you SHOULD have been doing (from January to September)

It is currently the beginning of the 4th quarter in 2021 (early October). If you were actively managing your taxes throughout the year (with the help of a tax pro, of course), you will have done these things:

  • Know your tax liability for the previous year—This number is the basis for what you may need to pay as quarterly estimated taxes. 
  • Pay your quarterly estimated taxes—If profitable, you should have been paying quarterly estimated taxes.
  • Review your financials on a monthly basis—You should know if you are more or less profitable as you were this time last year. This will give you a strong clue if you should increase or decrease your quarterly estimated tax payments. 
  • Review your financials on a quarterly basis with your tax pro/advisor—They will help forecast your tax liability, identify any tax savings opportunities, and help you make your estimated tax payments. 
  • A-la-carte consultations—Between quarterly consultations, you should have reached out to your tax pro before making any major decisions that will have a large tax consequence, like real estate or large asset purchases.

What you should do for the rest of the year (from October to December)

One of the biggest benefits that we have as business owners is the ability to control how much our businesses are taxed. How? By controlling how profitable we are. But we can only exercise that power by having up-to-date financials (a profit and loss statement and balance sheet). 

You can’t know what your tax liability will be until you close out your books after December 31. This is why they call it ESTIMATED taxes. However, by having accurate financial statements, we can make very accurate projections of what you may owe. And by knowing how profitable you are as we near the end of the year, you have the ability to increase or decrease business spending, which ultimately gives you great control over what you’ll be taxed on. 

There’s one popular, yet horrible strategy that I want to warn you against. There are accountants and “advisors” who will encourage business owners to sped off all of their profit in order to save on taxes. This is equivalent to spending $10 to save $3. It’s not illegal, but it’s just a bad strategy if you’re looking to build wealth. Instead, you want to focus on increasing PROFIT while budgeting for and minimizing your tax liability.

So, here are the things you’ll want to do for the remainder of the year:
  • Have all of your financial statements cleaned up and updated ASAP if you haven’t done this already. You cannot plan for taxes effectively without accurate financial statements.
  • Compare January through September 2021 to January through September 2020. Are you more or less profitable than the year before? This will give you a large clue if you should anticipate a larger or small tax bill.
  • Consult a tax pro. Have them do tax projections and forecasts based on your year-to-date Profit and Loss Statement, and based on what you think your net profit will be at the end of the year. Have them identify any potential tax savings opportunities.
  • Pay your quarterly estimated taxes if you haven’t done so yet. It’s important to pay 2021’s taxes with 2021’s dollars.  
  • Plan to meet with your tax pro before the year ends and keep a really close eye on your net profit as you approach December 31. 
  • Catch up on your quarterly estimated taxes if you haven’t done so yet or start planning for it. You should have very accurate estimates if you consulted a good tax pro. If not, use last year’s tax liability as your basis. 

Profit First has a wonderful system to help keep sufficient tax reserves. It’s simple, painless, and can help make sure you have enough for taxes, no matter how little or how much you make. Sign up now for an assessment and let’s get you started!

Who is on Your Business Money Team?

There can be a lot of confusion around who should be on your business money team and their roles (including your role as the business owner). But without a solid team, you may feel confused about your finances–which is never a good feeling.

No matter how long you’ve been in business, it’s time to pull together your team now or revisit the individuals who are supporting you.

Your “Accountant’s” Role

The term “accountant” is broad and is mostly misused by business professionals. For this article, we’ll limit it to the role of tracking your business’s finances and producing accurate financial statements with them. Think P&Ls, balance sheets, reconciliations, and all of that good stuff. 

At a basic level, a bookkeeper will focus more strictly on recording your financial transactions. An “accountant,” however, can give you insight into your financials to help you make strategic decisions. Newer or smaller businesses may suffice with a bookkeeper initially but may have to hire an accountant as the business grows and becomes more complex.

Oftentimes, it’s not the best use of the owner’s time to keep the books. However, you still must understand how to read your financial statements and conduct your financial affairs in such a way that it’s easy for your accountant to track everything (i.e. no commingling of funds between personal and business accounts). Also, if you don’t understand your financial statements and don’t review them regularly, you may put yourself at risk of being stolen from. You want to find an accountant with the heart of a teacher, who will help you understand your financial statements.

Your Tax Pro’s Role

Business owners often think that all accountants prepare taxes. This is not true. Tax and accounting (bookkeeping) are two processes. The accounting needs to be complete before the taxes can be prepared. When seeking out a tax pro, find someone with the heart of a teacher (see a recurring theme there?) who will explain to you how to minimize your taxes and stay in compliance with the IRS and state. If you really want to save on taxes, you’ll meet with your tax pro on a quarterly basis, but definitely at the end of third quarter as you near year-end. Proactive tax planning is the best way to keep taxes low and to ensure there aren’t any surprises come tax time.

You can make your tax pro’s job easier by having accurate and complete P&Ls and balance sheets. Your accountant actually does the heavy lifting in this regard. Be sure to ask your tax pro about any tax savings opportunities or recent changes in tax law that might affect you (a great tax pro will tell you before you ask). Last, make sure you pay your quarterly estimated taxes to the IRS and the state.

NOTE: If your tax pro encourages you to spend off your profit to reduce taxes, seek a different tax pro.

Your Cash Flow Management Coach

We can’t talk about money teams and neglect to mention Profit First Professionals! While accounting tells you where your money came from and when (via financial reports), cash flow management directs where your money goes. We use the Profit First cash flow management system to help business owners become permanently profitable, pay themselves regularly, reserve for taxes, and know exactly how much they need to budget for their business’s expenses. A Profit First Professional can help you design a system that works for your business and your goals.

Contact a Profit First Professional Firm (that’s us!) to do an assessment of your finances and build out a customized cash flow strategy for you. If you contact us, we’ll give you step-by-step instructions.

Last Thoughts

Accounting, taxes, and cash flow management are different disciplines, although closely related. There are some professionals who can do all three, but it’s probably best if you separate some of it out to protect yourself and your money. But all the members of your business money team should be in some type of communication with each other. Just make sure that they are familiar with your business, your industry, or goals, and have the heart of a teacher.

Analyze Your Expenses and Increase Your Profits

Who doesn’t want a more profitable business? We’re in business to help people, sure, but we’re also here to make a living. And if we want to make a good living with a business, we need to be profitable.

Generally, there are two ways to increase your profit:

  1. Increase revenue (while keeping expenses in check), or
  2. Reducing expenses (while keeping revenue the same)

This article will focus on the latter—reducing expenses to increase your profitability. Because while increasing revenue is important, most businesses forget that increased revenue is not an excuse to lose sight of expenses. The beautiful thing about this strategy is that it simply involves cutting some expenses to increase what you keep. Expenses that you probably don’t need anyway.

To reduce your expenses, simply conduct an Expense Analysis. There are many ways to conduct one, but here’s a simple method that anyone can use:

Make a list of your common and recurring business expenses.

  • Go through your bank and accounting records, and be on a special lookout for those small monthly subscription services that you no longer really use or don’t use fully.

Trash or Trim your list.

  • Write TRASH (or strike through) any expense that you can eliminate without negatively affecting your business (think about services that you no longer really use, but are still paying for)
  • Write TRIM next to expenses that can be negotiated down to a lower rate, replaced with a competitor at similar quality but lower price, or downgraded without issue to the business. 

Contact the vendors to cut/trim expenses.

  • Do your research ahead of time if you plan to ask for a reduced rate.
  • If you’re switching software, set up a free trial of the new service first before cutting out the old one. If needed, hire a professional to help with the transition.

Any business can do this in a couple of hours. The more your cut, the more profitable your business becomes–as long as you’re not cutting out vital services in an effort to save a few dollars. It’s worth weighing whether cutting out a service will mean less fluidity of workflows or more time investment for you. 

We recommend going through this process on a quarterly basis at a minimum. This practice will keep you financial efficient and profitable.

Not sure if you can eliminate a particular expense? Try this test…

Eliminate the expense for a month, but be prepared to regain if needed. How do your customers react? Does your team notice its absence? Are you having to spend any additional time connecting dots that are no longer connected? If no one is negatively affected, then you could probably eliminate the expense.

Remember the old saying, “It’s not what you make, it’s what you keep.” Doing a quarterly expense analysis will help you keep more of your money, and help you earn higher profits. If you need help implementing Profit First in your business, let’s connect. Schedule a call with us today.

You Have a Personal Savings; Why Not a Business Savings?

Many of us have a rainy day fund for when (not IF) things go south. Your car needs a new transmission, your roof has a leak, a child gets ill. These things happen, and our personal emergency fund is there waiting to save us, or at least minimize the impact.

But very few business owners seem to have an emergency fund for their business. And knowing your personal emergency fund is there to bail you out if needed is not what it means to have an emergency fund for your business. Business and personal funds should always remain separate.

There’s a lot of unexpected expenses that could come up in a business, from losing a big account to needing a new HVAC system to a water leak that needs to be fixed ASAP, attorney fees to help with a disgruntled employee or former client. We hope that none of these happen, but the reality is that they can and they will at some point.

The beautiful thing about the Profit First cash flow management system is that your business will start building an emergency fund for itself if you run the system correctly.

Here’s how Profit First helps your business establish its own emergency fund:

Twice a month, you’ll transfer a percentage of revenue to your Profit bank account. (How much depends on your own profit allocation percentages.) Over time, your Profit account grows.

Then, each quarter, you’ll transfer half of the funds in the Profit account to your own personal account to do with as you wish. It’s your reward as the business owner. Use it to pay down personal debt, buy something fun, take a trip, you name it.

The other half will stay in the Profit account as an emergency fund, and you can let that fund grow. Now, when (not IF) things go south, the business has its own support.

Ideally, you’ll want to reserve three to six months for business expenses in your Profit account or another emergency account. It’s generally not a good idea to have too much cash due to liability, so once you have a fully-funded emergency fund you can use 100% of the funds in the PROFIT account.

And no matter what the size of your current emergency fund, know that every dollar will help you rest a little bit easier.

Need help getting your accounts set up or determining your distribution amount? Let’s talk!

Planning for Taxes if Revenue Increases

Planning your tax liability can be tricky when done right. To do it accurately, you need accurate records and a tax pro. And even then, it’s not precise.

One of the things that make projecting your taxes difficult is the fact that your tax liability is affected by multiple factors, like income from other sources, marital status, family size, medical expenses, homeownership, etc. And since the end of the year has not arrived yet, you have to forecast (or guess) what your profit will be at the end of the year.

To simplify knowing how much to pay in quarterly estimated taxes, the IRS wants you to pay the tax balance for the previous year in quarterly installments (or 110% of the previous year’s tax balance if your adjusted gross income is greater than $150,000 if married filing jointly).

But what happens if you have a revenue spike? While the IRS’s method is designed to be simple, it doesn’t account for drastic changes in income or profit. Its method will help you to avoid a penalty, but you still must have the remaining tax balance paid by April 15.

As stated earlier, the way to get the most accurate estimates for your tax liability if your income spikes is to have a tax planning session with a tax professional who can give you estimates based on accurate and up-to-date financials. 

But here’s a simpler way to stash away extra dollars for taxes in the event your income increases so you don’t have to worry if your tax estimations are a bit off: Use the Profit First system.

Generally, we set aside 15% of revenue for tax reserves. Being that this system is based on percentages, the amount in your Tax bank account will vary in proportion to the income that you generate. If you make a little money, you’ll have a small amount in the Tax account. If you make a lot, then you’ll have more in your reserves. Which is exactly what you need.

This is by far, the simplest system to making sure you always have enough in reserves to cover your income tax liability, no matter how much or how little you earn. Continue to make your quarterly estimated taxes based on the tax liability from the previous year, and you should have ample cash in reserves to make up the difference if needed.

To get the most accurate percentages to set for your Tax account (and any of the other core accounts), we’d be happy to help. Just reach out for a consultation.

Are You Making This Profit First Mistake?

There are several mistakes that a business owner can make while implementing the Profit First system into their business. And chief among them: not following the instructions to a “T.”

A bit about me: My wife loves it when I cook (which I could do more often), and she often likes what I cook. And I tell her, “I don’t cook. I simply follow the instructions.”

Now I’m nowhere near my mom or grandma’s level of culinary genius; they don’t use or need measuring utensils the way I do. But, my food almost always comes out good because I follow the instructions to a “T,” despite my lack of experience.

The same is true for following the Profit First system. It works well. And I suspect you know it works well too, or you wouldn’t be reading this article. It works because it’s based on time-tested, solid financial principles.

(It also works for personal finances, if that’s something you struggle with.)

Now, in terms of which points in the system should be adhered to the most closely, at the top of the list is limiting business spending to what’s available in the OPEX account.

In my humble opinion, being able to keep business spending to what’s available in OPEX (i.e. making the hard decisions when it’s low, avoiding using funds from other accounts to handle the business’s spending, etc.) is the crux of the entire system. If everything else is done correctly except for compromises in this area, you will not get the promised results. It’s that simple. We guarantee our profits by keeping strict limits on what the business can spend as a percentage of revenue.

It is super important to be watchful and vigilant over monitoring your business’s monthly expenses. We must be proactively innovative and creative when it comes to limiting our expenses. I’m not suggesting we be cheap, but we should cut all unnecessary spending and make sure we are receiving maximum value for every dollar spent. And if it comes to it, we must make the hard choice to cut or reduce whatever is necessary to stay within the amounts of the OPEX account whenever there are more expenses than cash available within that account (with emphasis on “within that account”).

Life will happen, and there are times when we’ll have to adjust, although not frequently. And that’s OK. But there are also ways that we can preempt large or unexpected expenses:

  1. In using the Profit account, 50% will stay in this account as an emergency fund. So, any emergency funds needed should be available to your business if you’ve been running the system for a few months/quarters/years. But you can only use it for business spending if it’s a true emergency.
  2. Establish a special account for large expenses. For example, if you have an annual recurring expense that you often forget about until after they take funds from your account, you can consider opening an annual expense account that will hold the funds for the purchase each year without sacrificing the OPEX budget, your pay, profit, or taxes. Also, If you need to purchase expensive equipment or have regular maintenance needs, you can establish an account that will have funds available for your equipment purchases or routine maintenance.
  3. While this isn’t a direct Profit First strategy, proper insurance will protect you from certain emergencies and allow your business to stay viable under extreme duress. We recommend having a conversation with a legal representative and having a quality insurance policy to protect yourself and your business.

So, follow the system. Don’t take shortcuts when implementing Profit First. The system is already simple and broken down to its simplest form for maximum results; there’s nothing added to it that isn’t necessary. If you want the results that the system promises, just follow the system and instructions to a “T.”

If you need help implementing Profit First in your business, let’s talk!

How to Project Taxes Accurately

Projecting your tax liability can be very tricky.

First, the tax law is constantly changing, which can cause your tax liability to change, even if all other factors remain the same.

Also, the final tax bill that business owners receive often includes income from sources outside of the business, as well as deductions, credits, and penalties outside of the business.

And to complicate it further, let’s just say there’s a reason the IRS calls them “quarterly ESTIMATED taxes.” You can’t know your tax liability until you close your books at year’s end.

So how do we estimate, or project, how much a business’s taxes will be?

Proactive Tax Planning

The best and most accurate way to project your tax liability is to have tax planning sessions throughout the year with a tax professional.

Tax pros keep up with the constant tax law changes and can include business and non-business factors to provide very (but not completely) accurate projections throughout the year. A tax pro can also proactively look for tax savings opportunities to make sure you’re keeping your taxes as low as possible.

The IRS Method

First, the IRS doesn’t project your tax liability; it suggests you pay your estimated taxes for the present year, based on the tax liability of the previous year. So, if last year’s tax liability was $4000, the IRS wants you to pay $1000 in quarterly installments throughout the year.

This method (for paying estimated taxes) is better than nothing, but if you have a drastic increase in income, you could still end up with a very high tax bill using this method alone.

Profit First Method

The Profit First cash flow management system doesn’t project your tax liability either (which is very complex). But what it does really well is to make sure that you always have enough in reserves for whatever tax bills come your way.

The Profit First system works off of percentages, so you’ll have a lot of money in reserves if you did well, and not so much if you had a bad year. Either way, you’ll have enough in reserves based on the performance of your business. And you don’t have to be a tax nerd to get it right.

At Fit For Profit, we can help you with implementing Profit First into your business so you can feel secure that you’ll have enough saved for taxes. Fill out this form and book a call to get started.

Steady Salary Amid Uneven Revenues

I started my business as a tax preparer before I started serving as a Profit First Professional. One of the major issues of my business was the uneven revenue throughout the year.

From January to April, revenues were strong, so I paid myself a lot–and frequently. But after April 15th, revenues would drop dramatically. I’d be able to pay myself from the excess throughout the summer. But fall and winter months, I was barely able to pay myself anything from the business, if at all.

Here’s how Profit First allowed me to pay myself a steady salary throughout the year WITHOUT having to earn extra revenue:

Set-Up

The Profit First system required that we set up our 5 core accounts, and allocate predetermined percentages to each account. The core accounts are income, profit, owner’s pay, taxes, and operating expenses. Here, we’re going to focus on owner’s compensation because you deserve to be paid for the work you’re doing!

Lifestyle Lock

It’s important to establish a lifestyle lock amount, the amount you need to maintain the lifestyle you want to live. It’s what you will pay yourself each month, consistently.

The lifestyle lock puts a limit on how much you will take from your owner’s compensation account, no matter how much money is in there, to support your lifestyle. My lifestyle lock number was $3,500 a month. So, during tax season, even though my owner’s compensation accounts easily had more than $10,000 in there, I’d only pay myself my lifestyle lock number ($3,500).

Slow Months

Revenue would still come after tax season, but much slower. But because I only paid myself the lifestyle lock number, I was able to pay myself consistently throughout the year from the owner’s compensation account, well into the fall.

The post-tax-season revenue, although much slower, would make sure that money was still being allocated to my owner’s compensation account. And there was extra revenue built up there from tax season to make up for that lower revenue. The end result was being able to now pay myself year-round, as well as greater confidence in my business’s finances, and a much happier wife (true story).

No-Revenue Months

Every year, especially since implementing Profit First, I have at least one month where I do not generate revenue. Using the lifestyle lock helped (and still helps) me to take a month off, but still be able to pay myself in full. This is huge because typically when solopreneurs stop producing revenue, the impact on the salary is normally felt immediately. The lifestyle lock helped me to break the month-to-month, check-to-check cycle.

Conclusion

Profit First works and paying yourself with your own lifestyle lock works wonders for any business owner who experiences high seasonality with their income. It offers peace of mind for yourself and your loved ones and takes the stress out of the question, “Where’s my next paycheck coming from?”

If you’d like to learn more about how to even out your salary or take-home pay using the Profit First cash flow management system, we’d love to see how we can help you. Schedule an appointment, and we’ll talk about it!

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