Business

The trouble with New Year’s resolutions is their limited shelf life. By the time you read this, most 2005 resolutions—personal and business—may be no more than hazy memories. The main reason for such a lack of follow through is the difficult demands people place on themselves in the form of well-meaning but unrealistic pledges.


When it comes to your dance studio in 2005, there’s no need to make ambitious but unattainable promises. Here are seven easy steps you can take to simplify your life, lower expenses and pump up your net income in this year and beyond.


1. Cut Your Communications Costs

As a dance teacher, you have to be reachable. In that department, you’ve never had it so easy. With your cell phone, pager, broadband Internet access and regular telephone service, you’re never out of reach.


However, you’re probably paying more than you realize for all of that. If you’re like most professionals, you’ve added individual services one at a time, paying top dollar for each. One way to lower these costs is to take advantage of the combination plans that include unlimited local and long distance telephone calling or single-provider telephone, Internet connection, cable TV and cell phone service. Contact your primary provider to see what plans are available in your area. In addition to saving you money, dealing with one company will greatly simplify your bill paying.


2. Click Away Those Bills

No one enjoys paying bills. That’s why we sometimes postpone that nasty job, even risking late payment fees and blemishes to our credit reports. Online bill paying is one of the new widely available technologies to make the task quicker, easier and a little less costly. Most major banks in the U.S. now offer online bill paying for free or for a nominal fee, allowing you to pay utilities, manufacturers and sometimes individuals without the added costs of postage, checks and envelopes. Once you sign up and choose a password, you log on to the bank’s website, where you enter the payee’s name, address and phone number and the amount to be paid. The bank takes over from there, either by mailing a check to the payee or making an electronic transfer of the money. The bank then stores that data so that next time, you just click on the payee’s name.


3. Organize Your Tax Records

Sure, you hate paperwork and record keeping. But if you find yourself scrambling to find receipts and other records at tax time every year, you’re probably costing yourself more money. “When clients present me with a shoe box full of unsorted papers, I have to charge them for the hours it takes to make sense of them,” explains Pennsylvania-based CPA Tom Normoyle. “A simple filing system is one sure way to reduce my fee.” He notes that business owners can save money by simply creating one file for income and one for expenses. But going one step further and separating expenses into categories such as payroll, studio supplies, capital purchases and taxes can really reduce the time involved in preparing tax returns.


Genevia Gee Fulbright, a senior finance advisor with the National Association of Black Accountants, adds that “a great way to save money on accounting bills is to use accounting software compatible with your accountant’s. And remember, accountants like things to be in balance. So make sure that you reconcile your bank statements each month. This reduces fees by eliminating time spent tracking down unaccounted or outstanding items.”


4. Slay the Credit Card Monster

A recent survey revealed that many people are now carrying around eight to 12 credit cards. A wallet full of plastic can give you an illusion of having more money than you actually do. It can also increase your risk of identity theft in the case of lost or stolen property. Saying “charge it” is quick and easy, but that habit, uncontrolled, can lead to financial disaster. Once you become hooked, it can be painfully difficult (and sometimes, impossible) to free yourself.


For most, two or three credit cards are plenty, and many people manage just fine with one or two. Evaluate which cards you want to keep—perhaps a “rewards” card and a low-rate card for purchases you are unable to pay off in full, as well as a separate card for your studio business. Then, cancel the rest on a controlled basis, perhaps one or two each month, starting with the newest ones first. Credit reporting agencies are impressed by a history of responsible credit usage. Once you get yourself down to the fewest cards you need, your wallet will be bulging with the money you’ve saved instead of all those pieces of plastic.


5. Dig Out From the Paper Heap

More than 80 percent of the paper in most people’s homes and businesses is either out-of-date or of no further use. With all of the paper you’re required to slog through for business purposes, you don’t need to add to the burden by hanging on to junk mail. Organization guru Maria Gracia suggests following the steps below to help end the nightmare of out-of-control paper.


- Use the 4-D system: Do it, delay it (file it in an action file or archive file), delegate it or dump it.


- Open mail over the recycling bin: Immediately get rid of junk mail such as catalogs or advertising offers. Then, use the 4-D system with what’s left so it doesn't have a chance to pile up.


- Use e-mail: Use e-mail instead of snail mail for the majority of your business communications and store the messages and attachments on your computer. Just beware of virtual clutter. The same rules for avoiding paper pileups apply to the files on your computer.


Gracia also provides guidelines for deciding what to keep and for how long:


- Credit card and ATM receipts: until monthly statement arrives


- Monthly bank, brokerage and credit-card statements: until you get the year-end summary


- Paycheck stubs or income records: until you get your W-2 or 1099 forms for the year


- Year-end statements and tax returns: seven years


- Insurance policies still in effect, medical records, home improvement receipts and mortgage papers: indefinitely


- Appliance warranties: until they expire


Once you’ve banished the paper dragon, keep it away by signing on at www.dmaconsumers.org to get your name off junk-mail lists.


6. Cancel Unnecessary Insurance Policies

The cost of insurance is a major burden for entrepreneurs these days, so it’s important to assess the need for your current policies. In addition to business liability insurance, there are only five types that you must have: life, health, disability (as long as you’re working), homeowners and auto. For many, the rest are a waste of money.


Car rental insurance, for example, is unnecessary as auto policies typically cover any damage. Evaluate your insurance and consolidate some of your remaining policies with one company as an extra money saver.


7. Capitalize on Free Publicity

Free publicity in the form of a simple news item about your studio in the local paper is a highly effective way to promote your business. Because it appears in an objective and trustworthy source, an article on your studio will often generate more interest than a paid advertisement. So how do you go about getting a piece of the free advertising pie?


First, you should learn what makes for a good story. Then you need to determine how to best “sell” it to your local media. The news item doesn’t have to be monumentally important or controversial to garner attention; it just has to be newsworthy, or something about your business that the public will find interesting. Here are a few ideas:


- Employee news: Check to see if your local publications have a column dedicated to community news. Submit items such as hirings, employee promotions, special awards or information on staff members who have unusual hobbies or who have performed public services.


- Changes in your business: Many neighborhood papers are eager to receive information about local businesses. Every time you make a change in your studio, such as a renovation, expansion, relocation or the addition of a new class, you have an opportunity to gain some press.


- Personal activities and accomplishments: If you are involved in your community, get invited to speak to a local service club, operate your studio in a unique way or participate in any newsworthy events, be proactive about informing the local press and grab a spot on the free publicity bandwagon.


Now, even if you’ve already broken those 2005 resolutions, these easy-to-follow steps can still help you make this year prosperous. 



William J. Lynott is a former management consultant, lecturer and author of Money: How to Make the Most of What You’ve Got. He has written on business and financial topics for various consumer and trade publications. 

Business

• Act quickly. Call the police and ask for a crime report. You’ll need to attach it to the letters you will send to banks and credit card issuers.


• File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by contacting its Identity Theft Hotline: 877-438-4338; or by mail: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20580. For online help, go to www.consumer.gov/idtheft.


• Contact the fraud departments of one of the three major credit bureaus and report that your identity has been stolen. (It’s no longer necessary to call all three.) Ask that a “fraud alert” be placed on your file to ensure that no new credit will be granted without your approval.


• For any accounts that have been accessed or opened fraudulently, contact the security departments of the appropriate creditors or financial institutions and close these accounts immediately. Put passwords (not your mother’s maiden name) on any new accounts you open.


• Run a background check on yourself periodically. For $40, you can run a check through www.privacyscan.com.

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