Thank you from the LAS and ClientTickler teams!

“Donna and her team were invaluable to us when we started our new firm”
Kelli M. Kennaday, Kennaday Leavitt & Daponde

Legal Administrative Services, the first venture of ClientTickler’s CEO, Donna Gary, celebrated 20 years of business last week with colleagues, clients, family and friends. The event was attended by the entire LAS team, some of LAS’s most important partners including Terrapin Technology Group, Interco Solutions, and Wells Fargo, as well as Northern California’s top legal and banking professionals. Special thanks are due to Terrapin Technology, who co-hosted the event.

“She exceeded all of my expectations and has been very easy to work with during this process. I was very fortunate to have been introduced to Donna and to have worked with her.”–Jeff Koewler, Delfino Madden O’Malley Coyle Koewler

Starting your own company is risky business–the simple truth is that most business don’t survive the test of time.  Indeed, data gathered from multiple sources indicates that half of all businesses fail within 4 years of their founding, and a mere 30% survive a full decade. We don’t point this out to be pessimistic, but rather to show just how proud we are to celebrate the 20 year anniversary of our sister company, Legal Administrative Services.  ClientTickler is a direct outgrowth of LAS—we even share the same office–and we at ClientTickler were delighted to attend LAS’s celebration last week, mixing and mingling with LAS’s partners and clients!

“…why wouldn’t you go with Donna Gary?”
–Mike Daponde, Kennaday Leavitt & Daponde

Want to step up your business? Learning to fail is the key to success.

student-failureEvery business started small, but starting small doesn’t mean you have to stay that way.  How do you grow your business?  How do you get more clients or make more money?  Here are a couple of simple tips to help you make the best of 2014:

Setting Goals:

Do you have a financial goal for your business? Whether you’re estimating how many new clients you expect or anticipating new employees, setting goals will help you stay on track.  Don’t be afraid to dream big—if an annual goal seems too daunting, break it down to tackle it one month at a time.  Goals are important because they help you understand your business.

Create a Business plan

Writing a business plan is a crucial step toward achieving real growth.  If you don’t know where you’re going, how can you know what steps you need to get there?

There are a million different ways to make a business plan, but the basic models have the following:

  • Executive Summary—a brief summary of the entire document.  It’s helpful to write this segment last, once you know what details to stress.
  • Company description—describe your company, the products that it offers, and your goals.
  • Staff summary—this segment should define your company’s management structure, as well as give brief biographies of people holding important managerial positions.
  • Market analysis—use this segment to describe the market niche your product is intended to fill.
  • Financials—the least fun bit of the business plan is also one of the most important. You’ll use this section to describe your business’s growth, predict operating costs, and annual potential.

It is a lot of work, but you’ll be glad once you’ve done it.  It took me and two employees nearly a full month of effort to create the business plan for ClientTickler. All that effort paid off, though—now I know where ClientTickler stands, and where it needs to go.

Learn to Delegate

It’s your business, but that doesn’t mean you need to do everything yourself.  You could spend your whole day handling simple-but-important busywork if you’re not careful.

When I was just starting ClientTickler, I thought that I had to be personally involved in every aspect of the business.  I ran myself ragged trying to do tech support, customer service, finance, accounting, management—in trying to do everything, I wound up not accomplishing much.  When I was able to hire staff to take care of specific areas of the business (say, Tech Support), I was able to focus on what I wanted to accomplish. Identify competent employees, and give them more responsibility.  Train them properly and you’ll be able to rely on them to handle the drudgery, leaving you free to focus on growing your business.

Setting up processes that can be easily duplicated will save you time and money.  Don’t under estimate the value of having everything organized and easily assessable for your employees.

A key corollary to delegation is learning to prioritize your time and effort.  You want to hand off some work to your employees, but it’s crucial to ensure that work “matches their pay grade.”  You don’t want to trust your business financials to the entry-level intern.  Identify the work that demands your attention, and delegate as much of the non-essential work as you can stand.

Sign_PostStrive to go your own way

If you want to succeed, you shouldn’t merely try to imitate what worked for somebody else. Factors vital to the success of another product might not have as much effect on you and your company.  If you want to get ahead, you’re going to want to make sure your team can think outside the box.

Ideas come from all kinds of different backgrounds, so make sure that you and your employees complement one another without being too similar.  Too many like-minded people can lead to a stagnant work environment.

Even with a diverse, creative staff, going your own way is risky.  That’s one of the reasons we see businesses working so hard to mimic the success of others—it’s safe to follow the leader.  You’re going to have to take chances if you want to succeed.  You can’t avoid risk, but you can mitigate it and learn from it.  When something goes wrong, take a few hours to really debate why things didn’t turn out like you expected.  Learning to fail is the key to success.

Summary:

–Set goals
–Create a business plan
–Delegate
–Create a team of people who think outside the box.

Donna Gary

President of ClientTickler and Founder of Legal Administrative Services

www.clienttickler

ww.las-corp.com

Year-End Tax Tips from Guest Writer James Putnam

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As year-end approaches here is a quick overview of the provisions of as the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 signed into law Jan. 2, 2013 and relevant state tax conformity. Please call or email if you have any questions or need to schedule a tax planning meeting.

  • A Tax Increase on the Highest Incomes in 2013. Although most taxpayers avoided a tax increase, rates did rise for top earners who earn more than $400,000 ($450,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly) that will see their marginal tax rates increase to 39.6%. All other existing rates remain the same. Also, these taxpayers who have net investment income will face a 3.8% surtax on categories of certain unearned income, potentially increasing the total tax rate to 43.4%.
  • Higher Capital Gains Rates for Top Earners. The same individuals who are subject to the new 39.6% top rate on income now face a 20% rate on capital gains and dividends, up from 15%. Taxpayers in the 10% and 15% income brackets have a zero capital gains rate and those in the middle will continue to pay 15%.
  • Higher Personal Exemptions Phase-out. The phase-out for personal exemptions and itemized deduction return and but have been raised to $300,000 for married couples and $250,000 for individuals.
  • Permanent AMT Inflation Indexing. After years of last-minute Alternative Minimum Tax “patches,” the new law permanently indexes the AMT to inflation starting in tax year 2012. Unfortunately, because of high state income and real estate taxes most couples earning more than $200,000 will still be subject to AMT.-accounting-professionall1
  • Tax Relief for Mortgage Loan Modifications. Taxpayers struggling to pay their mortgages, or whose home values have fallen below their purchase price, were given another year of tax relief on any qualifying “indebtedness income” they may receive as a result of a loan modification or short sale on their principal residence. Caution -California did not conform to this change.
  • Medical Itemized Deductions. Taxpayers under age 65 will see their AGI haircut on medical deductions raised from 7.5% to 10%; those over age 65 (thank AARP) will retain the 7.5% for another three years. California does not conform to the increase.
  • Business Changes. New hire credit for the state will end this year and Enterprise Zone credits will be reduced starting in 2014. For federal returns, employer health insurance credits are still available and attractive Section 179 and bonus depreciation (including real estate improvements) will end December 31st.

Is Your Internet Secure?

cryptolocker-1The internet is an invaluable tool for business, but it comes with its share of risks.  Every year, the war between hackers and the internet security industry heats up, with millions of end-users’ data at stake.

 Recently the hackers got a bit of a leg up with programs known as “Ransomware.”  As you might expect from the name, Ransomware locks up your data, then holds it hostage until you “ransom” it by paying the hackers.  If a worm like Cryptolocker or Reveton gets into your system, it can all but destroy your data. 

Following the tips below will go a long way towards keeping your data secure

  • Make sure that programs on your PC are properly updated. Many viruses and worms rely on exploiting weaknesses in old versions of common programs like Adobe Acrobat, Java, or Flash. Ensuring that those programs are kept up-to-date is key.
  • Use an antivirus program.  Always ensure that your chosen antivirus is up to date, and that you scan your network regularly. This will help you detect risks before they become entirely destructive.
  • Never open attachments or links in emails unless you explicitly trust the person sending you the email.  Even then, you should be sure that the link or attachment makes sense-ask yourself “why did this person send me this email?”
    If you suspect it might be spam, do not open the links/attachments.
  • Always have backups.  Make sure that your backups are not stored on at-risk computers, nor connected to at-risk computers for extended periods of time. By regularly backing up, you minimize the damage any virus or hacker can cause.
  • Maintain secure passwords. A strong password goes a long way to keeping your data secure, but if you aren’t careful, hackers can guess your password.  Always try to use non-obvious passwords (“1234″ will not suffice!) and never use the same password for different services.

These steps, while somewhat obvious, are crucial in preventing the catastrophic loss of data that programs such as Cryptolocker can incur.  Ransomware programs are likely to become more and more common in the future, so take the end of the year to ensure your security is up-to-date!

Ami’s Tips for Year End

ClientTickler_HS_2013-113a-510x255Year End is right around the corner, are you prepared? Some helpful tips to help ease the stress and enjoy more of the holiday season.

  • Have your bookkeeping/accounting department prepare an Income Statement and Balance Sheet for you to review, around the end of November or first part of December
  • Have your bookkeeping/accounting department determine the estimated income and normal expenses expected prior to the end of the year. This can easily be done by figuring out what your average expenses are a month and taking a look at your Account Receivables. Most offices have a good handle on the pattern in which their clients pay in order to determine the income to be expected.
  • With the help of your CPA, discuss and decide a plan of action that best suits your Income Taxes. Some business’s decide on a more aggressive approach to include additional expense items to decrease your taxable net income (ie: rent, staff bonuses, etc.)
  • Now is also a good time to ensure your bookkeeping/accounting department has started the process of obtaining the necessary supplies and information to prepare your annual 1099’s. January 31st creeps up on us before you know it.

These are just a few simple tips that can help to ensure a smoother process to your year-end tax preparations. Please feel free to contact me directly if you should have any questions.

Ami Steward, Account Executive,

Maintain Control With Local Data

survellienceThe introduction of cloud-based computing has made sharing and accessing data easier than ever, particularly for small businesses that may not have the resources to invest in a private network. But this convenience can come at a cost. In many cases, the trade-off for easy access is security. By putting a business’s data in the cloud, a user is implicitly trusting the provider to maintain that data securely.

While many cloud service programs have security that is well designed from a technical standpoint, they may expose the data in ways not possible to data is stored locally. Consider last year’s breaches at Dropbox, caused because of an employee error. As a result of this breach, user logins, passwords, and addresses were exposed.

What’s worse, most cloud service providers explicitly protect themselves in their EULAs.  This means that in the event of a breach the service provider is free from all liability, even when they are at fault. “There have been many recent breaches in security that involve the cloud and some household brands,” said David Kelly of Upside Research comments, “These concerns need to be mitigated quickly before large enterprises lose faith in the cloud.”

Both client information and operations data is crucial to running a successful business. As exciting and flexible as cloud storage is, SMBs must concern themselves with local storage as well. Local storage allows for users to take their own steps to ensure the security of their data and hold themselves accountable rather than having to rely on outside providers.

ClientTickler’s effective task-management software combines the best of both worlds. Users who value the flexibility of cloud technology are able to opt in to the service, allowing them to share calendars and appointments between their desktops and mobile devices, while those who need to ensure the security of sensitive data can continue using desktop storage. ClientTickler is easy to download and install. Ensure the security of valuable businesses data by downloading a free trial of ClientTickler today.

Track Those Billables

Post-it-NotesHow many times have you jotted the time spent on a project on the nearest Post-it? Or relied on memory to input the hours later? You put great effort into providing excellent services to clients, and that effort should not be forgotten. Clients expect and rely on you to track projects, and accurate reporting builds confidence in your services. Take advantage of one of the favorite features of the project management software ClientTickler – Tracked Billable Time.

ClientTickler’s billable features allows business owners, project supervisors, and individual users to track the time spent for each task and client, making client updates, billing and reporting fast and easy. In industries where project hours are directly billable to client invoices, this feature becomes extremely valuable in efficiently discerning time spent for a client.

Managing projects and tasks is easier when you’re able to view the data in several different ways. The reporting in ClientTickler gives you the ability to build summary reports of incomplete tasks, tasks by team member, tasks by due date, supervisory reports, and more. Use reports to track time spent for invoicing or documentation purposes, or export to Microsoft Excel.

The ability to track hours against tasks also affords business owners the ability to use historical data to provide more accurate estimates and project assessments for future work, providing bottom-line value for the business.

Say good-bye to the accordion of Post-its and hello to accurate billing and reporting. Step up your game with ClientTickler.