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The beginning of a new year is a popular time for people to embrace new behaviors. You might promise to exercise more or eat extra vegetables. But don’t forget about your financial wellbeing, as the beginning of the year is a great time to look more deeply at your money habits and make positive changes.

Tamika Stafford is a Business Access Advisor with U.S. Bank who works with professionals and business owners and focuses on building wealth specifically among minorities in the Charlotte area. In addition to working at the bank, Stafford is active in the community, volunteering as a Certified SCORE Mentor advising small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs and assisting with everything from business plan development to guiding business owners as they grow.

Stafford says now is a great time for entrepreneurs to assess how their business is going (or perhaps envision the type of business they would like to start in 2023), and take steps to ensure a prosperous new year. She spoke with QCity Metro and shared her top tips for starting the year off on successful footing.

Stafford said it is important that professionals use an accounting system that lets them easily track the money flowing into and out of their business.  

Many professionals that Stafford have counseled start out using simple spreadsheets that they must manage manually by inputting data. These professionals then either become too busy to change their system, or they are intimidated by the idea of learning an accounting software system, she says. 

“Early-stage business often use a manual process of sorts, such as spreadsheets,” Stafford says, “but manual data entry and financial statement generation is time consuming, which can incur higher accounting and/or tax preparations costs.” Instead of spreadsheets, entrepreneurs should use a system that lets them identify income streams, reconcile bank accounts with the company’s accounting, and automatically generate reports, she says. 

There are a variety of software accounting programs available, including some that are free.

Stafford recommends programs such as Wave or QuickBooks. She said there are local organizations that offer training in accounting software. These include ASPIRE Community Capital, which helps current and future business owners in under-resourced communities start and succeed at business, as well as Mecklenburg County’s Small Business Concierge and Business Diversity & Inclusion programs

Businesses also benefit from having a reliable bookkeeping system should they need a loan early in the year.

“Any business owner looking to secure funding now likely hasn’t done their 2022 tax returns yet,” Stafford says. “Lenders will rely on year-end statements. With the click of a button, you can easily generate these reports with accounting software.” 

Optimize cash flow efficiencies

Once your accounting system is established, Stafford recommends taking time to understand how and when you are being paid and to look for ways to make receiving payment more efficient. 

One of Stafford’s clients received checks through the mail as payment. The problem was his bank didn’t accept mobile deposits. So he would have to make trips to the bank to cash the checks. The checks were also at risk of being lost or stolen as they traveled through the U.S. Postal Service or were in his possession. 

The client didn’t want to receive payment by credit card because he was concerned about
incurring merchant processing fees, so they discussed other options such as Zelle and ACH draft, where an electronic fund transfer is made between banks and credit unions.

Are your invoices being paid too slowly? There may be an opportunity to speed up payment by offering incentives for faster payment. 

One of Stafford’s clients handles lots of cash. He makes weekly trips to the bank to make deposits, but this means he keeps a great deal of money sitting in a safe. Stafford told her client about a service that offers cash pick up and insures the funds in the store. 

“It’s like a reverse ATM,” she says. “They deposit cash into a machine, their bank account gets credited for the money, and the contents are insured.”

To optimize their cash flow, business owners should examine how their money is being spent and look for alternatives, such as tools to extend payables. 

One of Stafford’s clients wanted to make a large equipment purchase to use in her film business. The equipment was being offered for cash and was expected to be snapped up quickly by a buyer. Stafford’s client decided to pay her suppliers with a credit card that offered a 25-day grace period without interest to save her cash, which she used to purchase the equipment. She then paid off the credit card in full at the end of the grace period.

“Because she understood her credit card terms, she was able to use her bookkeeping system to understand her cash flow situation and leverage the grace period to snap up the equipment deal,” Stafford says. “It takes discipline and accurate recordkeeping to be able to do this.”

Business owners, Stafford says, don’t have time to learn about all of the cash flow tools their
financial institution offers to help their businesses operate more efficiently, which is why it’s imperative they have a relationship with their business banker and have regular touch points with them.

Understand your personal and business credit

Good credit is necessary should you need a loan. Stafford advises people to regularly review their personal and business credit reports. Stafford says that anyone who owns more than 20 percent of a business should especially maintain good credit as they would likely be named as a guarantor on a business loan.

Regularly monitoring your credit also lets one start repairing problems sooner. Stafford says there are options for people who find themselves with debt challenges. Filing for bankruptcy protection is an option but should be a last resort. There are nonprofit credit counseling agencies that can help people repair their credit and manage their debt that will be less damaging to their credit.

She also advises people to consider putting a credit freeze on the credit agencies. You can remove the credit freeze on their personal credit bureaus when needed, but having a freeze in place will prevent others from using your name to access credit. 

Have adequate insurance coverage

Businesses face a lot of risks, both internal and external. It is important that business owners protect themselves the best they can with this uncertainty, and one way to do this is to ensure they have the appropriate insurance coverage.

Insurance coverage will look different for every business, but it is important for business owners to make sure they have adequate protection for their particular industry, business model and ownership structure, Stafford says.

Do you have necessary workers compensation insurance for employees?  How about general liability for a car that is driven for business purposes? Are you protected if a customer walks onto your business property and suffers an injury?

Is your business dependent on one key person? If so, Stafford suggests exploring keyman
insurance with your business insurance provider to cover the loss of business revenue in the
event of the incapacitation or death of the key person. If you have a business partner and that partner were to die, you would need to deal with the executor of the partner’s estate. There are insurance policies that can help deal with this situation, and other unplanned events.

Stafford remembers how when she worked in Atlanta a section of an interstate collapsed. It took months for the interstate to be repaired, and during this time all the businesses located along this stretch of interstate lost much of their business traffic. She remembers speaking with business owners who hadn’t known they could have purchased business interruption insurance, which could have helped replace the lost business revenue.

“Talk to an agent so you can understand all the policies available, get multiple opinions, and then make informed decisions,” she says.

Take things step by step
If these tasks feel overwhelming, Stafford advises people to take things one step at a time. Give yourselves goals and benchmarks and proceed as you are comfortable. Business owners may also want to consider obtaining a business mentor to help them along the way and as an accountability partner. For example, SCORE Charlotte, a Small Business Administration (SBA) partner, offers free business mentor resources.

“Checking these items off their to-do list will help entrepreneurs build a solid foundation on which their business can grow and thrive,” she says. 

Resources

Find workshops and other programs offered by ASPIRE Community Capital  and Mecklenburg County’s Small Business Concierge and Business Diversity & Inclusion programs.

For help finding a credit counselor, read this article from the Federal Trade Commission.

The three large, nationwide credit reporting agencies are: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian.  You can request free credit reports from these agencies at annualcreditreportcom

Another resource to check your credit is creditkarma.com

Stafford recommends this article about how Black Americans can use life insurance to shrink the racial wealth gap

Visit the U.S. Small Business Administration website to learn about types of business insurance available. 
Want to talk with Tamika Stafford? Make an appointment here.  You also can find her on Instagram at bankervibe.

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