Keep it Going: Sustaining Your Success

OMG you did it!! The months and years of working hard and working smart, of knowing when to listen to your inner voice and when to listen to a good adviser, the months of living on four hours of sleep and no vacations for what seems like forever and—–your company grossed $1 million over four consecutive quarters! You’ve reached a milestone that defines success.

OK. So now that you’ve reached the mountaintop, you have to figure out how to keep your footing and stay up there.  In fact, because you are focused, ambitious and determined, you’re already thinking about climbing even higher.  But sustaining and growing your success might demand as much work and determination as you invested to attain it. Here are four commonsense choices that can help you hold on to your earnings and continue the positive slope of your company’s future.

Pay taxes

Meet with a business accountant and figure out how much money you should reserve each quarter for tax payments (usually 30% – 40%). You don’t want to wait until the annual tax time and realize that you owe big money to the IRS.  Before you spread money around, pay the quarterly tax bill and set aside enough to ensure that all remaining tax bills in the calendar year can be covered.

Smart celebration

When you hit the revenue milestone that you’ve defined as your “made it” metric, whether the amount is a net or gross figure, you owe it to yourself to celebrate. What’s important, though, is not only how you celebrate but also with whom.

First, don’t overspend.  If you want to take a week-long spa vacation then go for it, because that will dissolve your stress and prepare you for the work you’ll do to build on your new-found success.  Or maybe you’d like to visit a place you’ve always wanted to see, or return to?  A splurge that refreshes and replenishes your energy stores is likewise always worth it.

Where you want to be careful is the amount you spend on consumer goods.  You may need a new car and if you can afford it, then do so, but be careful about splurging on luxuries.  Buying a Saab or Volvo probably makes more sense than buying a BMW or Benz at this point.  Save real luxury purchases for when you’ve raised your net worth to a more substantial level.

Others may want to throw a party.  Caution is advised when developing the guest list.  The sad fact is that there will be certain individuals, including family members, who will feel more envy than happiness upon hearing news of your success.  If a party is a must-do (and why not?), invite only those who supported and believed in you.

Fair-weather friends, frenemies, passive-aggressives, or critical types who claim that they’re just playing “devil’s advocate” or being “objective” are mostly about undermining and sabotaging. They are not your friends, even if they’re family members.  Don’t invite them and don’t let your mother guilt you into including them.  They don’t belong.

Save money

After you’ve paid down or, ideally, paid off any significant debts, business and personal, it’s time to save money.  Start with your retirement fund. Research options available to you in accordance with the business you own and pay the maximum amount allowed by your age and income level.  Investigate opening a Roth retirement account as a place to hold after-tax money if you anticipate having surplus cash.

Once you’ve figured out your retirement fund strategy, focus on other long-term investments. By all means, invest in the equipment, staffing, technology and office or manufacturing space that will support operations (including customer service), generate ROI and advance the business. But what if the building where you lease space comes up for sale? It might be a good move to buy the building, so that you can control your costs more effectively and also collect some rents.  For that, you’ll need money and a good credit score.

You can give yourself a wish-list savings account to build up cash reserves. There are other investments that can be made as well and to learn about your options, ask people you trust to recommend an investment counselor.  If you’ve got even $5000 to invest, investigate certificates of deposit, online banks such as Everbank, index stock funds, or actively managed mutual funds.

Keep doing what it was that made you successful

Now that you have a blueprint for making lots of money, continue to follow the template and don’t slack off! Don’t think that once you reach a certain level of success that things will just cruise along on their own. You must continue to do those things that created the conditions for success.  You can, however, devise methods that help processes become more efficient—that comes from experience. Operational efficiencies make money.  Plan your work to give priority to income-generating activities, such as sales calls and networking, to conserve your energy and bolster your stamina and creativity.

Thanks for reading,


Image: Emanuel Leutze (1816 – 1868, Germany) Washington Crossing the Delaware (River) December 25- 26, 1776 (1851)

The Roth, The SEP and The Solo 

As you begin to ponder your inevitable retirement from the Freelance life,  you’ll  need to examine options for saving.  Those who generate an income large enough to make planning and saving for the future an obvious course of action probably have an investment counselor to act as guide through the minefield.  

Yet at some point,  less wealthy Freelancers must also understand how to finance the next phase of their lives.  Choosing the best retirement plan option is confusing and subtle differences can magnify both at tax time and when it’s time to retire.  I hope that you find this post useful as you formulate the plan for your future.

The Simplified Employer Pension Plan

Somewhat similar to Solo 401K,  the SEP IRA retirement plan may be used by Sole Proprietors,  LLCs,   C  Corporations,  S  Corporations and Partnerships.  As an added bonus,  the SEP IRA may be used not only by those who have both W2 and self employment income,  but also by business owners who employ more than just the spouse.

Contributions to the SEP IRA are made pre-tax and contributions are tax deductible.  It is permissible to contribute up to 25 %  of W2 earnings plus up to 20%  of self employment income,  to the maximum annual contribution of $49,000.00 in 2010.  There is no  “catch up contribution”  provision with SEP IRA.

If you have a job,  including one where you are able to participate in a retirement plan,  along with a sideline business,  then SEP IRA is your option of choice.   Up to the maximum,  the amount you choose to contribute,  or even if you choose to contribute,  in a given year is up to you.  Contributions are held tax deferred and withdrawals made after age 59 1/2 are taxed as ordinary income.  Withdrawals made prior to age 59 1/2 are subject to the customary 10 %  premature withdrawal penalty and additionally,  will be taxed as ordinary income.

Small business owners with employees may institute a SEP IRA for themselves and their employees.  Business owners are able to make generous tax deductible contributions to the company SEP IRA on behalf of themselves,  the on-the-payroll-wage-earning spouse and other employees.

The business owner decides at what level to fund the plan,  up to 25%  of annual compensation.  The %  of funding for the business owner must equal what is offered to employees.  Each employee has an individual SEP IRA account and the business owner pays the entire contribution.  The pre-tax money paid into each SEP IRA account is tax deductible for the business and is a tax free benefit for the employee.

If you like,  it is possible to convert a SEP IRA to a Solo 401K,  something you may choose to do when you turn 50 and want to make those catch up contributions.  Other retirement accounts can be consolidated into the SEP IRA,  with the exception of a Roth  401K,  which is an after-tax fund.  It is not possible to borrow against the value of the SEP IRA.  April 15  is the deadline to establish and fund your SEP IRA account in order to receive a tax deduction for the previous year.

Roth 401K

 Unlike SEP and Solo 401K,   Roth 401K contributions are made with after-tax income.  Which option you choose will,  like most of life’s choices,  depend upon how much money you generate.  Depending upon your financial situation,  you may decide to split the difference and have both a  (pre-tax)  Solo 401K and an  (after tax)  Roth 401K. 

It is permissible to use the salary deferred portion of your Solo 401K to make a Roth 401K contribution.   Remember that the maximum annual contribution is $16,500.00  for those younger than 50 years and $22,000.00 for those 50 years and older.  Profit sharing Solo 401K contributions are not eligible to be made as a Roth 401K contribution,  since they are made pre-tax and are tax deductible and you cannot commingle the two.

While Roth 401K income deferred contributions are NOT tax deductible,  withdrawals you make after age 59 1/2 years are tax free IF five years have passed since your first contribution to the Roth (known as the 5 year rule).  Roth distributions must begin at least by age 70 1/2,  unless you roll over to the Roth IRA.

BTW,  if you transition into a job that offers a retirement plan,  you may be tempted to roll your SEP IRA or Solo 401K into the new retirement account.  Be advised that may or may not be a smart move.  Maintenance fees will be much lower for an account attached to a large company vs. that of an individual;  but there is much more investment flexibility available in your Solo 401K vs. what is available to a big corporation. 

Thanks for reading,