Google has released a new mobile app that makes it easier for storeowners to stay in touch with customers in real time, even when you (and they) are on the go. Businesses that want to accept messages from customers can install the Google My Business app and enable messages. Customers can see their messages with the businesses they connect with via Google business profiles in the side menu within the Google Maps app, which they’ll be using anyway to look for things to do and places to shop in the neighborhood.
Here’s how Google describes some of the app’s benefits for local businesses:
“It’s a simple, free way to stand out on Google with a great business profile.”
A new Post button in the app lets you upload content to fill out your profile and keep it fresh and appealing (a little more like a Facebook page). You can upload a photo, create an offer or event and add it right to your Google My Business profile. For instance, you might want to post a video of the new spring leotards arriving at the store, or a photo of your Valentine’s Day windows. Showing off your products or even your storefront gives you the chance to make a good first impression when someone discovers you through a local search. And, of course, you can manage your business information—hours, phone number, address—from the Profile tab, and your edits will appear across Search and Maps.
“You can see your customers on Google—all in one place.”
When people find you on Google, they can connect with you by messaging you, following you, booking your services (pointe shoe fittings, anyone?) or leaving a review—right from your business profile. You’ll be able to see all of these customers in one place from the app’s new Customers tab. From there, you can easily respond to customer reviews and post offers to your followers to keep them coming back to your store, and soon you’ll be able to respond to messages right from the app. Google My Business sends you a notification when you get a new customer connection.
“You can keep track of the results that matter.”
Front and center on the home screen of the app, you can see how many people are finding and connecting with you from your business profile.
But you’re shortchanging your store when you skip one.
Nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of small businesses—and almost three-quarters (74 percent) of those with 1 to 10 employees—operated without a formal budget in 2018, according to a survey by Clutch, a B2B research, ratings and reviews firm. While very small businesses may squeak by without a budget, they are more likely to thrive with one. As Riley Panko, author of the survey report, wrote: “Businesses of all sizes should create a budget or risk the financial health of their business.” Experts quoted in the report pointed out how a budget can help a small business focus and grow, as well as mitigate common entrepreneurial challenges. For instance, small businesses have listed “unforeseen expenses” as their top financial challenge in earlier Clutch surveys. With a budget, there’s more chance these can be avoided. And, as Donna Conte, service area leader at accounting services firm Warren Averett, points out in the report, “Without a budget, you have no measuring stick to evaluate your goals and performance. [A budget] is part of developing a business and its growth goals.”
So why do smaller businesses skip formal budgets even when they can benefit from them? Perhaps “because the task is confusing or because they feel a budget is constraining,” says Panko. Yet a smartly planned budget can be based on concrete data and still leave you some wiggle room to deal with the unexpected. (For more on constructing a budget, see “The Right Way to Prepare Your Budget” in the Harvard Business Review.)
Think of working with a budget as a tool for uncovering problems, getting back on track and revealing the path to growing your business.
Use a budget to determine what your challenges are and how quickly you need to fix them before running out of financial resources, says the report. “From month to month, you’ll be able to improve and get back on track,” according to Wanda Medina, CEO of Maventri, which provides accounting, marketing and other services to small businesses. “If your expenses go up, you’ll know why, and you can fix it next month.”
Conduct monthly budget reviews. “Don’t wait until the end of the quarter or the end of the year,” says e-commerce site COO Matt Ross in the report. “By looking at your actual results versus your budget every 30 days, you can see how and why your business is missing the mark and make timely adjustments.”
Think of budgets in terms of cash flow. “Too often, small-business owners create a budget based on linear expense projections,” David J. Campanella, senior vice president for U.S. Bank Private Wealth Management, says in the report. “For example, budgeting an annual insurance premium payment into 12 monthly expenses. Small-business owners thrive and survive on cash flow. Getting into a cash crunch at year-end when the annual insurance premium is due can have dire consequences. Instead, these small businesses should budget for their payments when they are actually due.”
So don’t wait for a crisis to create a formal budget; do it now.
The good news: You (and your employees) can save more for retirement.
A few of the 2019 tax-year changes mean storeowners can save more for their retirement. (As an employer, you also need to know that the maximum you’ll have to pay for your employees’ Social Security tax has gone up, although most store employees will probably fall well below the top salary range.)
For the 2019 tax year, taxpayers may contribute up to $19,000 to their 401(k) plans; the limit on contributions to traditional and Roth IRAs goes up to $6,000 ($7,000 if you’re age 50 or older). The Adjusted Gross Income phaseout ranges for traditional and Roth IRAs have also been increased.
The wage base for computing the Social Security tax (OASDI) in 2019 increases to $132,900 from $128,400. The maximum 2019 portion of the FICA tax payable by employers per employee is $8,239.80, up from $7,960.80
NOTE: Despite the government shutdown, the IRS opened the 2019 filing season on January 28. It “will be doing everything it can to…minimize the impact on taxpayers.”