Get ready: Paid Family & Medical Leave is on its way!

All Washington employers must provide paid family and medical leave under a bill signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on July 5. 

The new law creates an insurance fund that employers and employees both pay into, with a 0.4 percent payroll tax. Payroll deductions will begin on Jan. 1, 2019, and benefits will become available to employees on Jan. 1, 2020.  https://www.paidleave.wa.gov/ 

Washington joins a handful of other states (California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York) to have enacted a paid-family-leave law. 

Quick Facts: 

  1. This statewide insurance plan requires employers to report employee wages, hours worked, and additional information every quarter. 

  2. Premiums are 0.4% of gross wages paid. 

  3. Premium collection begins in 2019 and claims for leave benefits start in 2020. 

  4. Workers can take leave for qualified events for up to 12 weeks generally, and up to 18 weeks under exceptional circumstances. 

  5. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not required to pay the employer portion of the premium but are required to collect and remit the employee portion of the premium and abide by all reporting requirements. 

  6. Small business assistance grants are available to businesses with 50-150 employees, and businesses with fewer than 50 employees who have opted-in to the employer share of the premium. 

  7. Voluntary plans are available to employers who want to manage a plan internally that meets or exceeds the state plan’s requirements. 

Download the Employer Tool Kit from ESD. This will give you the employee paystub insert.   https://paidleave.wa.gov/employers 

Confused? This shared benefit will bring peace of mind and increased wellbeing for many of our citizens here in Washington State beginning in 2020—but starting something big, new, and aspirational is often hard. We are happy to help! Call Clarity with you questions, for assistance setting up the payroll deduction, and for help with creating your plan for reporting to Washington ESD. (360) 385-9963.

Set Your New Hire Up for Success: The Secrets of Onboarding

You followed our 6 Steps for Hiring The Right Person, and you found a fantastic new candidate to join your team. How do you keep the positive momentum going? A thoughtful “onboarding” process is a critical component of successful entry for your new hire.

These first activities are most likely a new hire’s first impression of your organization and will set the tone for their experience.

1. First, have your hiring documents ready to go:

  • Employee offer letter

  • Job description (this protects you as an employer),

  • W4,

  • I-9,

  • DSHS New Hire Reporting Form,

  • Employee manual  *(We will write a future post with more detail about what to include in an employee handbook.)

2. Next, be sure to provide policy & procedure manuals. Clear and concise policy and procedure manuals are essential—they help protect your employees, and they help protect your business or organization from liability. Again, we will write a more detailed post on employee manuals soon, but for now, know they should cover these key topics:

  • Organizational values and expectations

  • Organizational compliance with applicable law

  • HR best practices specific to your industry.

  • Clear guidelines and expectations around equipment. ( Who owns the cell phone, PC or laptop being used remotely? Who is responsible for maintenance of those electronics?)

  • Policies around work hours, meals and breaks, workplace harassment, and vacation,sick, and family medical leave. (Every employee has a right to one hour of sick leave for 40 hours worked as per new Washington State law.)

3. Finally, create a plan and timeline for a 90-day Orientation Period. The orientation period happens after the initial onboarding meeting. In these first 90 days on the job, you’re providing training and support to your new hire (training should be your focus for the first 30 days, with scheduled check-ins throughout the 90-day period.)

In your initial orientation, outline your schedule for probationary period, and make it clear that there will be a performance assessment with termination if expectations aren’t being met. This will help provide legal cover if you need to terminate. We recommend you schedule check-ins for questions and constructive feedback at end of first week, then 30, 60, 90 days after. Get as much feedback as possible from the employee on what’s working for them and why. If possible, capture the highlights in a written report. This is a performance management component of an initial phase of employment.

Sometimes, for various reasons, an employee can get off to a rocky start; you can always choose to extend a probationary period beyond 90 days. But heads up: if someone is not succeeding in their orientation and probation period, they are unlikely to work out for your organization. You are more than likely seeing the best a person has to offer in the first 3 months. Extending the probationary period may just increase the amount of time (and money) you are investing in an employee who likely isn’t a good fit.

If you plan these activities into your 90-day onboarding process, your new employee will have clear direction around how their job functions, what their tasks and roles are, applicable team processes, performance metrics, and workplace expectations. When coupled with a great hiring process, a solid onboarding process helps strengthen your chances of having a productive, successful, long-standing employee. Good luck!

 

Top 5 Employee Motivators

1. Challenging Work—Providing your employees with challenging work does not mean over-loading or over-whelming them; it means that they are inspired to do more by being given challenges that help them feel more successful.

2. Recognition—Recognition is a powerful motivator.  Showing an employee that you recognize they bring their best effort to their work is key to employee satisfaction. Similarly, if an employee is unengaged in their work, recognition can bring an extra boost of confidence.

3. Employee Involvement—Your employees are aware of, and part of, the future goals of your organization. This is closely related to the practice of transparency, which means your employees see you actively engaged in work and trust that you’re keeping them up-to-date on what is going on with the organization. Work to create the sense that you are all in this together.

4. Job Security—Nothing will make employees disengage from an organization faster than fear they will lose their job. While you should aspire to create a work culture of transparency and employee involvement, take care to avoid sharing too much worrisome information about financial concerns, market issues, lagging sales, etc.  Helping your employees feel secure in the work they do will deepen their job satisfaction.

5. Compensation—While fair compensation is important, money sits at the bottom of this list of motivators. Increased compensation may bring employees through your door, but it doesn’t keep them for the long haul; no amount of money will keep someone in a work environment they are unhappy with.  

Six Steps to Hiring the Right Person for the Job

This article is excerpted from an HR best practices webinar that Clarity presented in partnership with Washington Nonprofits.

Human resources are the people that make up your workforce—from the largest corporation to the smallest business or nonprofit organization. They are the engine that power your ability to invent things, produce things, or deliver services. Humans bring the value to your enterprise. As a business or nonprofit organization, your employees are your greatest expense and your greatest opportunity.

Once hired, it takes 6 months for an employee to learn all aspects of their job, and an additional 6 months to become proficient at it. This means it takes a full year to begin to offset the cost and investment of the employer. To receive a return on investment of a full year of expenses associated with hiring, on-boarding, training, and supporting your new employee to proficiency, you really need to keep an employee for two years. This is why it’s important to find just the right fit for your position during the hiring process!

Here are six steps every organization should take to boost their chances of finding and hiring a great match.

1. Assess. First, take the opportunity to assess the needs of your organization. Do you have a strategic plan? Does the position you’re hiring for support the strategic needs of your company or organization? Is the position really needed? It could be that your organizational needs have evolved since you last hired. Would a restructuring of the position or different reporting structure better meet your needs and vision?

2. Determine organizational culture & values. This may be the most important facet of the hiring process. What are your organization’s core values, and how are those communicated to applicants, job candidates, and existing employees? If you have clearly identified your mission, values, and goals, you have a much better chance of honing in on a good match. A good match increases the likelihood that a candidate will be able to align with and adapt to the core values, expectations, and behaviors that make up an organization. A good match will minimize work drama, save money through reduced hiring and training, and increase retention.

3. Create, update, improve the job description. Make sure every employee has a job description containing the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to perform the core functions of that position. It can be short and sweet, or detailed and complex, depending on the needs of the position.

4. Advertise. First you should consider whether internal recruitment will best serve your needs. Internal recruitment brings the advantage of knowing whether a candidate is a good fit for your organizational culture; they also likely have existing knowledge of the job responsibilities and may be able to quickly come up to speed in a new role.

Sometimes there isn’t an internal candidate that would make a good fit. If you decide to advertise externally, cast as broad and diverse a net as possible. Here is a list of common sites for posting and searching job openings: Indeed.com, monster.com, Craig’s List, Philanthropy NW, LinkedIn.

If there are relevant membership organizations, industry organizations, or list-serves, include them, as well as local & regional newspapers. Are there any means of advertising in minority communities? This will encourage diversity in applications.

You may also decide you want to include a supplemental survey that gives you more information about what the candidate is looking for in a job, if they will be a good fit for the culture of the company, or whether they bring other sorts of skills, experience, or perspective that might be beneficial for your organization.

5. Screen. Screen applications with HR staff and the manager, or person on staff who has the greatest knowledge of the job requirements. Ensure the confidentiality of the application and resume screening process. Screen all applications and resumes for qualifications, values and mission fit, job experience and achievements, and references before going to the interview stage.

6. Interview. Only interview top candidates. Establish who will conduct the interview—will it be a single manager or team? Prepare 10 quality interview questions in advance; questions that provide a good sense of skill set and organizational fit. Maintain consistency between candidates of interview team and questions asked.

This may seem like an exhaustive and exhausting process, but we can’t stress this enough—hiring the wrong person can be an expensive, time consuming mistake.  Hiring the right person for your job can bring stability, sustainability, and significant return on investment.

With a little luck, and a lot of legwork, this six-step process can yield an excellent candidate for your position.

Next month we’ll talk about the on-boarding process. Can't wait until then? Watch the recorded webinar here: The Lifecycle of an Employee: HR Best Practices

 

 

 

Meet Sally Keeling, Senior Accountant

Please join us in welcoming Sally, our new Senior Accountant. Sally comes to Clarity with twenty years of experience in finances and a passion for accounting. She has worked in hospitals, nonprofits, accounting firms, and medical clinics, doing everything from payroll to accounts payable, from reporting and forecasting, to auditing and tax preparation. She has a BS in Business Administration, and an MBA with a concentration in Accounting.  

Sally and her husband moved to Port Townsend to be closer to the water and the art community. She is excited to become more deeply connected to the community by getting to know our fabulous businesses and nonprofit clients.

When Sally is not at work, she enjoys cooking, visiting her children, and taking a walk by the ocean with her husband and their dog Zoey.

Sally Keeling

Welcome Fernando, Human Resources Consultant

Fernando Conill

Clarity is delighted to welcome Fernando J Conill, human resources management expert, to our growing team. Fernando brings extra capacity for Clarity to provide human resources management consulting, support, and training for our clients.

Fernando has worked as a Human Resources professional for over 25 years, and has been certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) since 1997. He brings a diverse and unique set of skills, understanding, and knowledge specific to the key components of creating and maintaining an engaged, productive and thriving workforce. He is a subject matter expert in multiple human resources arenas and disciplines, including recruitment and selection, employee and labor relations, classification and compensation, HR policies and systems, workplace safety, performance management and strategic planning. 

Fernando’s educational background includes a Bachelors Degree in Psychology, and dual graduate degrees in Education and Counseling. 

In his spare time, Fernando most enjoys spending time with his wife of 37 years and their friends. He enjoys walking the many trails in Port Townsend and the Olympic Peninsula, eating great food, reading, and painting with acrylics. He is a multi-sport enthusiast, and is New York Yankee, (sorry, Mariners!) and a Seahawks fan for life.

Since moving to the community in 2001, he feels “Port Townsend is the closest I have come to perfection--for living, working and playing. Our community works hard to be the best it can be; it’s a community that really cares.”

Interested in talking with Fernando about how he can help your organization build, boost, or streamline your human resources program? Contact him here: fernando@clarityei.com.

Celebrate Earth Day, Green Your Business

There are so many reasons to go green! Increasingly, people are recognizing we have a shared responsibility to lighten our collective environmental impact—for our children, and future generations of all living things. More and more business and nonprofit leaders see the potential their sectors have for pushing our culture and economy toward sustainability, and are stepping up to do the good work.

In addition to being the right thing to do, did you know that taking steps to become more environmentally conscious can also be good for business? Studies show customers want greener choices, they view green businesses as innovative and progressive, and are willing to pay a premium for responsibly and sustainably produced goods and services. This is especially true of Millennials, who represent an increasing share of the adult population.

Here is a list of ideas, both small and large, for making your business more environmentally friendly:

  • Create a company or organizational Environmental Policy Statement. There are many good templates available.
  • Assess your organization’s Carbon Footprint.
  • Energy conservation: turn off and unplug at the end of the day. Even sleeping machines can draw energy through the evenings and weekends.
  • Convert to natural & biodegradable cleaning products and equipment. Besides, who wants to work among toxic chemicals anyway?
  • Get rid of your single use coffee pods. Sure, it’s a convenient way to brew coffee—but remember, K-pods are non-recyclable, and plastic doesn’t biodegrade. Every plastic coffee pod you use will be around FOREVER.
  • Start a workplace recycling program. Here is a link to what’s recyclable in Jefferson County.
  • Get a water cooler and a set of reusable glasses.
  • Begin an office walk/bike/bus challenge. Consider providing employees with transit passes as a non-traditional benefit.
  • Give your staff the ability to flex-work from home. This cuts down on CO2 emissions from car travel.
  • Consider going paperless (or nearly).
  • Cloud-based computing. Move your server to the cloud, and implement a file storage system that reduces the need to print hard copies. Google Docs, Office 365, Dropbox, and other cloud-based systems can help.
  • Considering upgrading your office equipment? With your next upgrade, purchase energy saving office equipment. And be sure to recycle your old e-waste.
  • Practice Green Procurement—take care to source locally and sustainably, when possible.
  • Include an environmental impact analysis when adding new products, programs, or services.

Remember, small steps can lead to big impacts over time. If you’re starting from scratch, choose one or two things that seem doable and implement them this year. Sustainable business practices will mean healthier, happier lives for all people today and in the future—and they might just lead to a healthier bottom line.

Tina Flores-McCleese Joins Board of Washington Nonprofits

Washington Nonprofits, a statewide association of nonprofit organizations, has recently recruited Tina Flores-McCleese to serve on their board of directors.

Washington Nonprofits helps nonprofits learn, increase their influence, and connect with people and resources so they can successfully fulfill their missions. “Everything important in our communities relies on nonprofits, from education to eldercare, from economic development to the environment.”

Laura Pierce, Executive Director of Washington Nonprofits, said “We have been actively seeking to add several visionary leaders who are committed to building a strong nonprofit sector in Washington State and who bring relevant experience. [Our Education Director] Nancy Bacon recommended Tina as a business owner that  ‘gets’ nonprofits. Tina brings private sector experience, geographic and ethnic diversity, and financial and business acumen. It’s a different, important perspective from many of our other board members who are nonprofit executives. And [she] will be a champion for our education efforts.” 

Tina Flores-McCleese is the Principal and owner of Clarity, a Port Townsend-based financial and management services company that provides support to businesses and nonprofits.

 “I want to be able to build stronger organizations that do good in our communities,” Flores-McCleese said. “My service has always circled around education - because I believe the more informed we are, and the better our tools, the more impactful we are. I’m excited to serve at the state level where I can make a difference for many nonprofits working to make the world a better place.”

For more information about Washington Nonprofits, visit their website: washingtonnonprofits.org.

Dashboards Can Be Springboards!

“Measure everything of significance. Anything that is measured and watched, improves.” - Bob Parsons, founder of GoDaddy
 
Most businesses and nonprofits today are swimming in data, and generating more all the time. It’s stored in customer databases, inventory software, QuickBooks, marketing programs, social media platforms, and even Google Analytics. Many entrepreneurs and leaders know intuitively that this can be a powerful tool for smart decision-making, but feel overwhelmed by the prospect of mining and making sense of it all. This is where dashboards come in.
 
A Digital Dashboard is an information management tool. Dashboards create visualizations of your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) by pulling them into charts and graphs that are displayed side-by-side and updated in real time. This allows you to see trends, patterns and opportunities as they emerge.
 
Organizations of all kinds can use dashboards to help track meaningful metrics, for example: nonprofit fundraising or grant administration, marketing strategies, accounts payable and receivable, sales, lead generation, web traffic, project management, etc. Businesses and nonprofits working in healthcare, finance, insurance, small manufacturing, retail sales, customer service, education, conservation, and more. See some examples of different industry dashboards here.
 
With all of this information clearly visualized, accessible, and at your fingertips, your stress will go down and your productivity will increase!
 
Need help honing in on your KPIs? Would a few tweaks to your existing systems help you gather data that can be translated into a dashboard for smart decision making? Give Clarity a call or drop us a line. Together we can design a system that works for you, keeping you fit and moving forward.
 
Sources for this article:
Wikipedia 
The Best Business Dashboard Apps for Small Businesses
 
Best practices when designing dashboards:
Data Dashboards for Small Business
 
For Nonprofits:
Models & Components of a Great Nonprofit Dashboard
 
A few examples of companies providing dashboards for small business:
Klipfolio
Dasheroo 
Tableau 
iDashboard 

Why Human Resources Management is Essential for Small Business

By Lisa Minnihan, MBA-HRM

What is Human Resources Management (HRM), and why is it important to your business? Human resources are the people that make up your workforce—from the largest corporation to the smallest business or nonprofit organization. They are the engine that power your ability to invent things, produce things, fix things, sell things, or deliver services. Humans bring much of the value to your enterprise.

When your team is strong, healthy, and efficient, you can stretch to reach your goals. When you must spend a lot of time putting out fires, untangling messes, or managing high employee turnover, you don’t have the time or resources to fulfill your core mission. Chronic personnel issues can serve as a slow bleed for your bottom line; the loss of a key employee or two can be like a hemorrhage as you scramble to recruit, interview, hire, and train replacements.

This is why Human Resources Management can make a difference to your profitability. Human Resources programs help create organizational structure, develop job descriptions, maintain employee manuals, manage employee benefits packages, conduct performance reviews, manage training and professional development opportunities, ensure employee satisfaction and motivation, address discrimination and harassment issues, and ensure businesses are following employment law. They help everyone understand roles, responsibilities, performance expectations, and what to do if there’s a problem.

It’s a lot. Many small organizations don’t have the time, energy, or expertise to create and maintain a dedicated human resources program, and they may not have the resources to hire a dedicated staff person. But that doesn’t mean they should turn a blind eye. Besides protecting you from legal exposure, I believe HRM is a key ingredient to small business success.

Over the next several months we will share a series of short articles that can help you think about Human Resources Management issues in your small business or nonprofit. They will focus on a topic, introduce a few ideas, and provide resources for digging deeper. 2018 is a good year to build a Human Resources Management program that will help you survive and thrive for years to come!

Need some help right now? Call 385-9963, or email me at lisa(at)clarityei.com to set up a conversation.

New Sick Leave Law Begins January 1, 2018

Washington State’s paid sick leave initiative, I-1433, will go into effect on January 1, 2018.  While this initiative covers new minimum wage rates for future years and important language regarding tips and service charges, most of the initiative revolves around the new requirement of Washington State employers to provide paid sick leave to employees. Wondering if this applies to your business? Chances are good that it does!
 
As a part of the State’s Minimum Wage Act, as of January 1st, employers must provide most employees with 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked.  Employees entitled to paid sick leave are those covered by the Minimum Wage Act.  The initiative covers when and how employees may use their paid sick leave, exact increments of sick leave accrual vs. usage, for whom paid sick leave can be used, notification and reporting requirements, regulations on record-keeping, and employer parameters around reasonable notification and lawful use. 
 
If you are interested in learning more about how implementation of this initiative will impact your business, two local workshops will be held in January: 1/11 and 1/25, at the Chamber / EDC Team Jefferson classroom. Each will include a core presentation from Washington State L&I, followed by question and answer with Clarity's HR expert Lisa Minnihan, and attorney Eileen Baratuci of AIM Services.

Co-presenting partners include Clarity, Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, EDC Team Jefferson, Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, and AIM Services. 

There are a limited number of spaces in each workshop, so don't delay! For details, and to register, send your name, the name of your business, and your contact information to Lisa Minnihan at lisa@clarityei.com.  

Clarity Welcomes Lisa Minnihan

Lisa is a business development and human resources professional with deep roots in the community. Over the course of her career, Lisa has worked in many small businesses, been an entrepreneur, worked in healthcare, served as a paralegal for a local law firm, worked as a behavior intervention specialist in the Port Townsend School District, and successfully launched a nonprofit. Most recently she served as the Human Resources Director, and Director of Finance and Business Administration, at Discovery Behavioral Healthcare. We are fortunate to have someone who can bring experience from so many economic sectors! Her background gives her insight into the joys and challenges of running small- and medium-sized businesses and nonprofit organizations. She holds an MBA with a specialization in Human Resource Management from Walden University. We are excited to have Lisa join the team at Clarity!

Interested in having Lisa help you with a Human Resources Health Check? Contact her to start the conversation.

 

Lisa Minnihan

Creating a Simple Budget

This month we wrap up our three-month series on planning for 2018 with a process for creating a simple budget. Below you'll also find a link to last year’s article on preparing for year-end financial tasks.
 
Many entrepreneurs—whether you work in the world of small business or nonprofits—are overwhelmed and intimidated when faced with the prospect of taking a deep dive into business financials. You spend all of your time and energy creating products and experiences, marketing, managing employees, serving clients and customers, tracking your daily income and expenses...the list goes on and on. But there’s nothing quite like creating a budget to help you reach your business goals. 

Create a Business Budget in Five Simple Steps: (from the Fresh Books Blog)

1. Tally Income Sources: start with figures from your profit & loss reports
2. Determine Fixed Costs: these are expenses that are the same each month, like rent or mortgage, phone and internet, web hosting, etc.
3. Include Variable Expenses: these typically can be scaled up or down, depending need and cash flow. An example might be advertising.
4. Predict One-Time Expenses: these might include capital improvements, investments in technology or equipment, or trainings and certifications
5. Put It All Together. Click here for a free template with example from QuickBooks.

Remember, a budget is not set in stone, it's simply a tool to help you make thoughtful decisions. Undoubtedly things will change and evolve over the course of the year. But it is a very helpful exercise, and taken together with the goal setting you've done, your marketing plan, your annual plan, and some good bookkeeping reports, you'll be empowered to grow and thrive in 2018 and beyond!

Do you see the value but feel overwhelmed by the thought of creating a budget for next year? Contact Clarity for help. We're your partner in designing financial health.

Build An Annual Plan for 2018

Annual Plans help you focus your energy; they help you say yes to the right things and no to the things that won’t serve your business. (No doesn’t have to be forever! It can just mean ‘not right now.’) They also help you measure your progress.

Here's a summary of steps you can take to create a rock solid annual plan. 

Start with a quick SWOT analysis. (Assess your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats.)

Mission & Vision Statements.

  • Mission: Where are you going? Why are you in business?
  • Vision: Paint a picture of the business you would like in the long run. This is not time-specific. Don’t be afraid to dream big!

Annual Focus or Theme: You can pick a couple. Break them down into outward facing themes, (like adding a new product, program or service, or increasing customer satisfaction,) and inward facing themes, (improving systems, building your HR program, addressing strategic weaknesses.)

Goals: Bring in goals from your goal planning exercise —if needed, rewrite them so they are SMART. (Specific/Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Focused.)

  • Sales goals. They should be easy to understand and measure. For example: add three more desert sales each night. Add 5 more customers in your store per day.
  • Operations goals. For example, improve your database. Shift to QuickBooks Online. Revamp your website. Create an employee handbook.

Prioritize & Sequence: Review your goals to prioritize or consider necessary sequencing. Do some naturally come first? Are there goals (sales, for instance) that are specific to a season?

Breakdown: Break your large goals into component pieces. What are all the steps needed to accomplish each goal? Now assign a best-guess budget to each goal—you will feed this info into your 2018 Budget. (We’ll talk about this process next month.)

Anticipate obstacles and challenges: How will you overcome them? Imagine a worst-case scenario. How will it impact your business? Are there steps you can take now to ensure your business will survive, should the worst come to pass?

Timeline: Look at your 12-month calendar, and consider the natural ebb and flow of activities. Split your goals appropriately throughout the year, based on prioritization, natural synchronicity, or the most reasonable windows to devote time and energy to them. Working backward, break the steps needed to achieve your goals into quarterly or monthly goals.

Schedule regular times for reflection. Each week, each month, each quarter, review the timeline you’ve created. Celebrate your accomplishments, measure your progress, and adjust your deadlines.

*Remember, your plan doesn’t need to be perfect! Assume it is a starting point that will require revision and finessing as the year goes by.

Want help setting sales goals? Ready to shift to QuickBooks Online, but would feel more confident with a coach? Interested in building a database or a website? Need professional HR help in creating an employee handbook? Contact us. We’re your partner in creating financial health. We empower you to reach your goals.

Resources for this article:

 

Build A Marketing Plan for 2018

First things first: marketing is not the same thing advertising, though advertising can be an important part of a marketing plan. Marketing is promoting or selling products, services, or programs. It includes activities like market research, building your brand, identifying customers or constituents, building relationships with them, developing creative partnerships, among other things. 

The marketing plan that's right for you is as unique as your business. Here are a few tools and resources to consider.

To go beyond advertising in the yellow pages or on the web, start with this ten-point guide from Alyssa Gregory at The Balance. We have included a summary below, but click through to her post for more details: 10 Questions You Need to Answer to Create a Powerful Marketing Plan. 

"A marketing plan is an essential marketing tool for every small business. Start by answering these 10 questions:

  1. Marketing Strategy: How will your marketing plan support your business goals?
  2. Mission Statement: What are you trying to accomplish, and why?
  3. Target Market: Who are you trying to reach with your marketing activities?
  4. Competitive Analysis: Who are you up against, and where do you rank?
  5. Unique Selling Proposition: What makes your business unique?
  6. Pricing Strategy: What will you charge, and why?
  7. Promotional Plan: How will you reach your target market?
  8. Marketing Budget: How much money will you spend, and on what?
  9. Action List: What tasks do you need to complete to reach your marketing goals?
  10. Metrics: How are you implementing, and where can you improve?

Once you have completed each step, you will have a marketing plan that you are ready to use as a blueprint for your marketing activities in your small business."

If you don't have the juice to create and implement a full-on marketing plan, don't worry! Start small. There are many free or low-cost ways to boost your marketing program. Choose a few actions you can take to build connections and find clients or customers: examples include attending a mixer, writing an elevator pitch, or starting a client appreciation program. Here are more ideas:

6 Ways to Market Your Small Business for $100
10 Ways to Market Your Small Business on a Shoestring Budget
101 Marketing Ideas for Small Businesses

Either way, challenge yourself to write down the marketing tools you will use next year, and attach a time cost and a dollar cost to each activity. These numbers will help you create your budget for 2018.

 

Building Blocks for Success in 2018: Goal Setting

It's undeniably autumn, and therefore budget season--a time to reflect, refresh, and refocus, as we look ahead to 2018. Over the next few months, we'll share a few simple tools to help guide you through this process.

When planning, it's helpful to spend some time thinking about the big picture. Once you have a few high level goals for 2018, you can develop a marketing plan and annual work plan that will help you reach them, and a budget that will support your work. 

Goal Setting
Use the month of October to set goals using these four simple steps from Alyssa Gregory at The Balance:

1. Schedule a Few Minutes of Focused Time--away from work and other distractions. Take yourself out for coffee or a walk on the beach.
2. Pick a Theme for Your Goal--choose a dream, a niggling idea, or an area of work that needs attention. If time is short, stick with one. Write it down.
3. Make an Action List--brainstorm all the actions, large and small, that will be required to reach your goal. Break each action down into component actions. This list will probably change as you begin the work; it is enough for now to create an outline.
4. Make a Commitment--and write it down on paper! Make yourself accountable by sharing it with a partner, a colleague, a friend. 

You don't have to do all of your goal setting at once; try building three or four short sessions into your next couple of weeks.

Go forth and dream big!

Independence & Interdependence: Best Apps for Integration & Efficiency

With the celebration of Independence Day, the team at Clarity has been thinking about the paradox and tension between independence and interdependence, as it relates to our families, communities, nonprofits, and businesses. 

There are so many great apps out there to help you track your time, money, projects, inventory, and customer/donor relationships. What are people using and loving these days? We decided to pull together a sampling that can serve as a good place to start your inquiry.

Finances

Write checks, create and send invoices, file your bills, all in an easy to use interface configured for your business, and accessible from any computer, tablet, or mobile device that has an internet connection. Interested, but overwhelmed by the prospect of switching from QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online? Meet Liz!

FreshBooks: An accounting software alternative to QuickBooks if you have a simple, service-oriented business. It's not as robust or customizable, but may feel less intimidating to those who prefer a simple, intuitive tool for managing business or organizational books. Track finances, send invoices, track time, and capture expenses.

Digital Timesheets

TSheets: Eliminate paper time sheets and schedules! TSheets is a flexible, easy-to-use time tracker and scheduler filled with innovative tools to help you maximize your most valuable resource: time. It integrates seamlessly with Intuit's QuickBooks Online, Xero, Sage, Gusto & Square.

Project Management

Asana: Track projects, goals, workflows, and team collaboration; integrates with communications Apps like Slack, and document storage Apps like Dropbox and Box. The interface is flexible with customizable fields, and gives you a good visual dashboard.  

Basecamp: Well known and easy to use, Basecamp is streamlined and intuitive. It organizes your projects, internal communications, and client work in one place so you have a central source of truth. Pay per project, rather than per user. 

Other Apps for Productivity

Slack: Team Communications for the 21st Century. Organize team conversations in channels, chat one-one-one with team members, share documents, spreadsheets, photos, and more, and filter and find information quickly with powerful search of the indexed archive.

Wunderlist: Organize and share your to-do, work, grocery, movies and household lists. No matter what you’re planning, how big or small the task may be, Wunderlist makes it super easy to get stuff done.

With the right combination of integration tools, you can improve your business processes, streamline communications, boost efficiency, and save both time and money...giving you more independence through smart interdependence! 

Welcome, Liz! QuickBooks Online ProAdvisor

Liz Arp

Meet Liz, our newest Clarity team member, and QuickBooks Online ProAdvisor. Liz has worked in the finance field for the last ten years, handling bookkeeping for a wide variety of clients large and small.  She enjoys dealing with the nitty gritty details of financial transactions in order to provide business owners with tangible data to use in their decision making. 

Liz says, "I feel that the greatest advantage to QuickBooks Online is being able to collaborate with clients in real time. I am committed to supporting my clients with training and advice, because just having the technology is not enough--being able to implement and use it appropriately and effectively is imperative to making the most of the program. 

"QuickBooks Online can be set up to sync with other apps as well, reducing data entry and providing greater transaction detail in QBO.  In addition to being able to assist with setting up syncs to 3rd party apps, I can also help users set up processes to ensure accurate entry of financial information, which may include tasks such as invoicing, receiving deposits, and bill paying.  I can also assist in setting up and generating customized financial reports as well as providing basic navigation tips and advice."

Liz is excited about the opportunity to work with the businesses and nonprofits who engage Clarity’s services and is happy to embrace the holistic team approach that the staff at Clarity provide. We are thrilled to have her join our team!

10 Tips to Help You Stay on Top of Your Books

Whether you are outsourcing your bookkeeping or doing your own books in-house, as the leader in your organization you need to know your financial information is reliable.  Understanding "best practices" and incorporating them into your own business processes will help you get data you can trust, so you can make the decisions that are best for your business. 

Here are some tips to help you stay on top of the books:

1.     Get or stay involved!  Knowing what the system is and how it works helps keep you, the director of this show, in the know. A broad understanding of the way the books work will help you to make informed decisions regarding processes, and to understand the capabilities and limitations of the data. If you need education ask questions, do some research, or take a class.  Finances are not everyone’s favorite topic – but it is vital to the success of your organization!  And in particular, if you are a board member for a non-profit, it is part of your fiduciary responsibility to each donor.

2.     Make the most of the data.  The information that is being entered into your bookkeeping system is used fulfill state and federal requirements (taxes,) but what else are you using the data for?  Make the data work for you. Set up reports to help you zero in on areas that help you manage your organization.

3.     Have your processes documented.  Focus on the how as well as the what. We know that processes are often undergoing change as the way we do business changes, but it is important to document this as a protection for your organization. Updating this periodically is an opportunity to review and make adjustments as circumstances change.

4.     Never have your bookkeeper as a signer on your account.  Naturally, access to accounts is helpful, but there must be checks and balances and this is a big one. Have your bookkeeper manage the entry and classification of transactions, but allow for having another person to authorize the bill payments or payroll deposits. 

5.     Make sure you see the bank statement each month.  Are you familiar with all the activity you see?  All deposits, transfers and checks written?

6.     Check in with your tax professional mid-year or 3rd quarter in addition to tax time.  Your tax professional needs to know what is going on with your business so that if you need it, you have time to implement their recommendations to save tax dollars.

7.     Cross-train your staff. Plan for the unexpected! It is not unheard of to find yourself in a compromised position due to illness or sudden changes. Remember, this is a team – make sure you have some backup.

8.     Set a regular time to meet and review your financials.  Reviewing sales, projecting cash flow, estimating upcoming expenses and liability payments are some of the things you should be reviewing on a regular basis. This could be weekly, monthly, or something else, depending on your organization’s need. If it is a date with yourself, your in-house support or if you outsource the work, consistency creates a window of time where you know these items will be addressed and allows you to get on with your other tasks.

9.     Create systems to help your organization’s efficiency.  Something as simple as coding your transactions when they are approved relieves so much verbal communication – sometimes words can be misinterpreted, but a number is definitive.  Any effort made to streamline this work makes it more reliable and lets you get to other parts of business that need your attention.

10.  Provide your staff and yourself with support.  Invest in the time to explore how this part of your business can provide valuable information. Invest in documentation and processes to support and assist your mission. Invest in your staff to provide training to help them do the best job they can.