Dates to Keep You Straight

Every year, Freelancers have an important list of dates to remember and act on, primarily those related to tax filings, retirement account management and health insurance plan enrollment. To help you stay organized, I’ve compiled this date planner that brings together all deadlines into one document that you can bookmark, copy into your calendar or even print out and post on your refrigerator.

TAXES

January 31, 2019: 1099-MISC due to contractors
Those who hired Freelancers (independent contractors) to whom they paid $600 or more in the previous year must send 1099-MISC forms by January 31, 2019.  If a client paid you less than $600, then you probably will not be mailed a 1099-MISC, although the IRS nevertheless requires you to report all income.

Do keep scrupulous records of who owes you a 1099-MISC so that you can accurately report your income on your tax return.  Your clients will also send 1099-MISC data re: you to the IRS and any differences between your numbers and the clients’ could trigger an audit.  If you haven’t received a 1099-MISC from a client by January 31, contact your client ASAP and request a re-send.

If you used any subcontractors to whom you paid at least $600 last year, you must likewise send them a 1099-MISC by January 31.

April 15, 2019: Individual income tax filing deadline
You have until April 15, 2019 to file your Form 1040 individual income tax return for 2018. Be aware that April 15 isn’t the deadline to pay your taxes — tax payments for Freelancers are due on a quarterly schedule (see 2019 quarterly estimated tax deadlines, below). If you wait until the tax filing deadline to pay your taxes, the IRS may charge you penalties and interest on top of the tax you owe.

If you’re still waiting for information, or you’re too busy to file a return by April 15, you may apply for a six-month extension that gives you until October 15, 2019 to file. The extension application needs to be filed by April 15, 2019. Remember again that the extension is for filing, not paying your taxes.  Payments are still due on the quarterly schedule no matter when you file and penalties and interest can accumulate if you wait to pay.

QUARTERLY TAX FILING DATES

The IRS requires business owners to pay income taxes on a quarterly schedule. This may seem like a hassle, but it’s easier to pay in four installments than to try and come up with a whole year’s worth of income taxes all at once.

Here are the 2019 deadlines for quarterly estimated tax payments. Note that the four quarters are not of equal lengths: the 2nd Quarter covers only April and May, while the 4th Quarter covers the last four months of the year.

DEADLINE                                                         PERIOD COVERED

April 15, 2019                                                     January 1 – March 31, 2019

June 17, 2019                                                      April 1 – May 31, 2019

September 16, 2019                                           June 1 – August 31, 2019

January 15, 2020                                                September 1 – December 31, 2019

 

RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS

April 15, 2019: Deadline to set up and contribute to an IRA for 2018
Even if you made no contributions to your retirement savings account in 2018, you can still make a 2018 contribution to an IRA up until April 15, 2019. This includes traditional, Roth and SEP IRAs. You can also make 2019 contributions to these plans from now up until next year’s tax filing deadline of April 15, 2020.

December 31, 2019: Deadline to set up an individual 401(K) 
An individual 401(K) is another type of plan that Freelancers can use to save for retirement. One important detail is that an individual 401(K) must be established by December 31st of the first plan year (as opposed to an IRA, which can be opened up until April 15 of the following year). That means it’s too late to set up an individual 401(K) for 2018, but you may set one up for 2019.

Contribution limits 2019 update:

Solo 401(K)                                                                                                                            Employer: 20% of net self-employment income                                                            Employee: 100 % of earned income up to $19,000 (for age 50 years +, up to $25,000)   Total combined contribution: $56,000

Traditional or Roth 401(K)                                                                                                     $6000 annually $7000 if age 50 years +

SEP IRA                                                                                                                                               The lesser of 20% of net self-employment income, or $56,000 annually

 

HEALTH INSURANCE

The open enrollment dates to purchase health insurance for 2020 on the Affordable Care Act exchange will be November 1 – December 15, 2019.  Open enrollment for 2020 through the national health insurance exchange will also be run from November 1 – December 15, 2019.

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

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Market Research: Social Media Sleuthing

How many articles have you seen that counseled business owners to “deliver value”,  “know the client’s pain points”, or “create a marketable business model”?  It’s great advice, but no one tells you how to do it.  How can a Freelancer or small business owner who is not armed with a 5-figure marketing budget unearth such information quickly and inexpensively?

You already know that it’s essential to communicate to clients, in a number of ways, that you understand their needs, the results they’re trying to achieve and that you’ve got the know-how to get the job done.  When invited to speak with a decision-maker about a potential role in a project, I recommend that you turn to the company’s social media feeds, ranking sites such as Yelp or Trip Advisor and the website and take notes on what you find—and you will find! Social media platforms and websites contain posts, newsletters, case studies, videos and/or audio reels that provide a treasure chest of information that you can use:

  • Marketing messages promoted to current and prospective customers
  • News about upcoming product and service launches
  • Indication of the products and services their customers prefer
  • Customer service complaints and compliments
  • Special promotional events
  • How the company positions itself against key competitors
  • Insights into whether customers skew male or female
  • The age range of customers
  • Job titles of customers if the company is B2B

Once you understand the prospect’s customers more completely, you can identify discussion topics and questions that will make you shine when you and the prospect meet. You’ll develop a winning sales pitch that speaks directly to the prospect’s needs, including perhaps matters that were not fully articulated when you first spoke with the prospect.

  • You’ll portray yourself as a highly competent, capable, trustworthy problem-solving professional who has the expertise to not only get the job done, but also to exceed expectations.
  • Your asking price will reflect the above conditions, meaning you’ll be able to command a premium price for your product or service (as determined by the client’s budget).

Now what if you are in the midst of writing a business plan to launch a new company, or conducting a business model refresh, perhaps in response to some inevitable disruption in the market place? Once again, social media sleuthing will reveal information that will ensure your business model will appeal to the evolving tastes and expectations of your target customers. You’ll be positioned to predict what factors will resonate for target customers, from their preferences regarding product or service features in your category, to the best way to express the perceived benefits and designing the ideal customer experience.

Social media postings will bring to light the big picture of your target customers and help you understand what makes them unique. You can then explore how your products and services can appeal to those distinctive attributes and conditions, in particular those needs and preferences that are either not fulfilled or are insufficiently served by competitors. Your product or service line, marketing materials, advertising and marketing campaigns, packaging, hours of operation, pricing and payment options will be structured to accommodate the distinguishing needs of your target customers.  You will capture your target market and your business will thrive as a result.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Peter Sellers in The Return of the Pink Panther (1975)

 

5 Ingredient Recipe to Make a Profit

It is useful to simplify and de-mystify processes that are prone to confuse or intimidate, frustrate or overwhelm.  Stripping complex processes down to their basic ingredients allows a clear picture to emerge and reveals how the gears and levers really work.  It is then easier to understand how to build out, alter, or sustain as needed.  A recipe (or formula, if you will) can de developed and codified.

Just like your favorite cookie or potato salad recipes, there are recipes that can be used to develop a profitable business enterprise. Let’s look this profit-making ingredient list:

LEADS

That is, prospects. Those individuals who consider doing business with you.  You may meet them in person anywhere and if they pose serious questions about your business that seem to make follow-up discussion appropriate, then consider that person a prospect.  If someone visits your website and pages through in search of information about your products and services, those visitors are also prospects.

CONVERSION RATE

Prospects who do business, whether they purchase a product or sign a contract for your company to provide a service.

AVERAGE DOLLAR SALE

You can calculate the average sale on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis.  Divide the accounts receivable amount by the number of hours invoiced.

AVERAGE NUMBER SALES

Depending on your business, you may have only two or three projects in house at a given time.  Intangible service providers often have bigger ticket sales (projects) that are fewer in number than tangible service or product providers.

PROFIT MARGIN

This metric will be much easier to determine in a retail business, where wholesale acquisition costs or product production costs are readily verified.  Service providers must estimate their wholesale cost to produce that which is sold to clients.  If you provide graphics services or shoot videos, what does it cost you to provide the service? That estimated amount will be deducted from the hourly or project rate that you bill the client and that will reveal the profit margin.

  1. Leads X Conversion rate = Clients
  2. Clients X Average Dollar Sale = Revenue
  3. Revenue X Profit margin = Profit

Consider this example.  In your business, you, your newsletter or blog, social media accounts and your website make contact with an average 20 leads a month and you manage, on average, to convert one in every five of those prospects into a paying client, giving your organization a 20% conversion rate.

Leads (20) x Conversion rate (20%) = Clients (4/month) 

A reasonable estimate of the wholesale value of your time —-considered your production expense—to provide one of your services is $40.00/hour.  You typically bill at $65.00/hour, meaning that your hourly net income is $25.00/hour.

To calculate your profit margin, determine the amount of revenue (before deducting expenses) that your business earned during the calculation period.  For this example, we’ll have you bill those four clients a total of 100 hours/month, as 25 hours each per month, invoiced at your usual $65.00/hour for a total of $6500.00 gross revenue (sales) earned monthly. You invoice each client $1625.00 a month. Your $25.00/hour net income amounts to $2500.00 in a typical month.

Clients (4) x Avg. Dollar Sale ($1625)  =  Revenue $6500.00

The profit margin is calculated by dividing the monthly net income of $2500.00 by the gross monthly revenue (sales) of $6500.00 to reveal a monthly profit margin of 38.46%.  The profit (in contrast to either gross or net revenue) is calculated by multiplying the profit margin of 38.46% X  the gross revenue (sales) of $6500.00, that equals $2500.00/ month profit. You may recognize that figure as your monthly net income!

Revenue ($6500.00) x Profit margin (38.46%) = $2500.00

So there you have it.  As you can deduce, proprietors of service businesses that see few clients each month can, after doing research that helps determine a reasonable wholesale cost of your labor when providing services, can really impact profit by appropriately pricing services offered.  An increase of just $5.00/hour will add $500.00/month to the four client, 25 hours/month per client, total of 100 hours/month scenario presented here.

You’d invoice each client at $1750.00 per month, rather than $1625.00, and your monthly gross revenue (sales) would be $7000.00, a nice improvement over $6500.00/ month. To account for the inevitable fluctuations in Freelancer earnings, I estimate that for 10 months/ year one can reasonably expect to earn at the projected level shown here.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph:  © Girl Scouts of America, circa 1960

Challenges That Impact the Solopreneur Enterprise

There are always challenges associated with operating one’s own business venture. Some challenges are formidable while others are merely annoying.  Many are common and probably inevitable.  Anticipation and preparation are the best defenses and can mostly be addressed in your business plan and its subsequent updates.

TIME CONSTRAINTS

Employees can, on occasion, walk into their office, close the door, and choose to be non-productive for most of the day.  Solopreneurs do not have that luxury.  We must meet or exceed the expectations of clients and prospects every time and hit a home run whenever we walk up to the plate.

Solopreneurs are often faced with a lengthy daily to-do list— client work to perform, a meeting to attend, a workshop to develop, a class to teach, an event with probable networking potential to attend.  Furthermore, there are business operations to maintain, such as financial management, marketing, prospecting and customer service. Every item is mandatory.

Over time, fatigue and a sense of being overwhelmed can develop.  Even depression can manifest. The successful Solopreneur must learn to manage and prioritize routine tasks and in fact consider removing some from the plate through outsourcing.  The judicious use of technological tools that save both time and money is smart management, as they help business processes and customer service operate seamlessly.

Click  here  and  here  to assess no-cost and low-cost apps that not only record the time you spend on project work, but also invoice clients and in some instances, accept accounts receivable payments online.

FOUNDER’S SYNDROME

The reality of a single-person shop is that services that generate billable hours cannot be delivered unless the founder is on the job and able to produce them. That means, if you’d like to attend a multi-day skills training session or take a one or two week vacation, be certain to allow adequate time to make key preparations that will help you to discreetly step away from center stage for a few days.

Tasks that you’ve outsourced, e.g. invoicing or bookkeeping, can continue as pre-arranged, but the production and delivery of the services that are the business must be put on hold until you return.  Learn how to prepare your business for your absence (in this case, a vacation) when you click here.

HOW TO GROW

You work alone and that is why you are called Solopreneur.  To promote the expression of your creativity and ingenuity, it will be wise to remove certain routine tasks from your plate, as noted above.  Grow your organization by giving yourself adequate time to concentrate on the money making functions of a business owner: client acquisition and retention, recognizing potential new revenue streams, including niche markets you might enter, effective and timely business strategies to implement, collaborations, beneficial partnerships and networking.

If you elect to continue to perform all administrative tasks as you work to grow and sustain the business, quality control might become an issue.  Spreading oneself too thin is inadvisable and may result in sub par work, diminished customer service, poor decision-making and fatigue. It is far more preferable to spend the money on outsourced help so that you can maintain or enhance the expectations of your brand.

In closing, I reiterate that when you write a business plan, you will be encouraged to acknowledge and prepare in advance for most of the business challenges mentioned.  The initial marketing plan, financial plan and business model will keep you from falling prey to client list, money management and growth challenges.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Mosaic depicting the Amazon queen Melanippe, courtesy of the Haleplibahce Museum in Urfa, Turkey.

 

Work Smart: Your New Year’s Resolution

Happy New Year! Thank you for starting the year with Freelance: The Consultant’s Diary.  This is the 10th Anniversary Year.  I am grateful for your support—subscribers, followers and occasional readers.

Let’s get the year off to a good start and talk about how to maximize the time and effort that you devote to operating your business.  Time is our most valuable resource because it’s irreplaceable.  Smart people are aware that if the goal is to build and sustain a successful venture, then one must formulate strategies designed to produce the best results ASAP.  Working hard is a given, but working smart will get you where you want to go, faster and easier.  The following are behaviors anyone can follow to support the competitive advantage of working smart.

Wake up early

Biologist Christoph Randler, Professor of Biology at the University of Tuebingen in Germany, recommends the early to bed, early to rise philosophy attributed to the American statesman Benjamin Franklin for those who want to become high achievers.

Dr. Randler says early risers are “better positioned for career success because they’re more proactive than people who are at their best in the evening.” Randler theorizes that their success stems from the discipline and conscientiousness associated with the preference for an early wake up call and the tendency of those individuals to make plans and to-do lists to ensure that tasks for the day ahead are completed.

Start your day with an early morning workout and give yourself a blast of energy that keeps you going all day long.  Numerous credible studies have demonstrated that moderate to vigorous exercise of 30-60 minutes duration performed at least three days each week makes us smarter, more resilient and healthier.

Never stop learning

Read books and other publications that address business topics relevant to your industry.  Attend workshops and conferences.  Join a professional association and/or your local chamber of commerce or local business association.

The SBA  and your local public library and/or adult learning center regularly sponsor workshops designed for independent business professionals.  Research the availability of courses that will upgrade your skills in any number of business sectors, from finance to Microsoft Excel, content marketing to selling skills.

In other words, if your goal is to become successful, or to sustain your success, then get some education.  Investigate also the dozens of free courses presented by top-ranked universities that are available on-line at sites such as Open Culture/Business and Coursera.

Ask for help

If you wonder how Freelancer colleagues have been able to build successful ventures that leave yours in the dust, the answer is that they most likely have highly marketable capabilities (perhaps only perceived) and relationships that you do not have.  When choosing to go into business, the smart thing to do is enter a field in which you have expert-level experience that you’ve earned at a company where you also had a job title that not only conveys leadership and but will also guarantee that you’ll know people who will become your first customers.

Along with skills and connections, your successful colleagues most likely had additional help that they hired. A graphic artist with website building talent may have created the beautiful website that navigates so well.  A marketing specialist could have shaped website text to inspire trust and convert visitors into prospects and prospects into customers.

If billable hours are sub par, get creative and consider how you can obtain some free or low-cost help that will guide and support your plan to expand your customer base and grow sales revenue.  Inquire at a local adult learning centers and your public library to investigate development programs.

As well, your local SBA will have retired executives happy to share useful marketing advice and even help you develop effective sales talking points.  In the process, you may refine your ability to recognize which demographic groups have the most potential to become your customers.  Insights into how to price your tangible or intangible services can be another valuable piece of advice you might seek out, since pricing is a cornerstone of a profitable enterprise.

Set boundaries

Sometimes it’s necessary to back away from certain people.  You know, those who seem to have many creative strategies designed to pull you away from that which you must or would like to do, either with finesse or the blunt force of badgering or guilting.  When you’ve made a plan for the day, the last thing you need is some controlling, manipulative person to burst into your life with a mission to upend it.

Pulling away from those who do not respect your boundaries will probably be difficult because boundary bandits are not afraid to make others feel uncomfortable.  They have entitlement issues and they are relentless about enforcing their agenda.  Some will wheedle and whine.  Others will arm-twist and put you up against the wall.  All are out to shake you down.  None is good for your life or your business.

Be strong, fight back and put them in their place.  You alone are authorized to control your time and priorities and not even your parents or siblings have the right to hijack you.  Some relationships may need to be significantly curtailed, if not severed.  It’s sad, but it’s on them and not you.  Your boundaries are nonnegotiable.

Thank you for reading. I wish you the best year ever!

Kim

Image: Hauling Nets on Skagens North Beach, 1883 by Peder Severin Kroyer (Denmark, 1851 – 1909) courtesy of Skagens Museum in Skagen, Denmark