business_success

20 tips to maximise your chances of success in business

Let’s assume we have already explored the reasons for why businesses fail and focus on what you can do to maximise your chances of being successful.

Here is a list of 20 actionable tips:

1. Be aware of the reasons why people fail! By reading this, you’ve shown you want to learn and become aware of the traps, pitfalls and mistakes that people before you have experienced.

2. Start selling. Become a sales guru. Learn to sell. No sales means no cash. Sell everyday even as the founder, particularly early on. With cash, you can hire people and improve your systems. Pick up the phone, start prospecting, and start speaking to customers. If you aren’t getting rejected, then you simply aren’t trying hard enough!

3. Know what you don’t know. The problem is that most people don’t know what they don’t know. This might sound confusing, but it’s important to become aware of the areas in which you lack understanding or experience. This is a positive thing as now you are more aware of where you need to either up-skill yourself and those around you or otherwise seek professional assistance. Accept that you can’t be an expert in everything and that if you try to do so, you are going to get bogged down.

4. Be clear on your skill sets and interests. Stop doing what you aren’t good at and dislike doing. Outsource it as soon as you can afford to or invest in getting assistance in those areas. If you focus on what you are good at and what you like doing, you will be more efficient and happy, but ensure that these activities help drives sales and add value to your business.

5. Build a support network around you. Building a business can be a lonely journey. Once you are in the game, surround yourself with others who are also ‘in the game’. It’s an emotional rollercoaster at times and it’s imperative that the support you have around you understands and recognises the commitment required to succeed. Positive people are a great influence and will be great sounding boards when you are going through the ups and downs.

6. Educate your spouse, partner and family. Conflict often arises on the home front if those who are closest to you can simply not understand or appreciate your journey. It is well documented that a successful business starts in the home, and a happy home helps fuel success.

7. Get a mentor. If it’s good enough for Tiger Woods or Roger Federer to have a coach, then I guarantee we are all good enough to have a mentor to guide us and help us strive to improve. Without a coach, we can drift along the wrong path, stay stagnant, move sidewards and in fact go backwards. Even the most successful entrepreneurs have mentors – whether they are paid or unpaid. Reach out to people who may be able to mentor you. You’d be surprised at how successful entrepreneurs like to give back to those starting out.

8. Be committed to learning. Always keep an open mind and allocate a percentage of your time for self-development and continuing education. There is an infinite amount of material to read, so be fussy with what you read and focus on topics that are most relevant to you today or in the near future. Chip away and keep adding to your stockpile of knowledge. I am a firm believer that any new knowledge gained today means that you will make better decisions tomorrow which you may not have otherwise made.

9. Be willing to fail. Once you achieve the feeling of invincibility, anything is possible! There is no such thing as failure. I am a proud failure and will continue to be proud to fail. The word ‘fail’ should be seen as a positive learning experience which makes you smarter and stronger while fuelling your passion and desire for success even further.

10. Be Passionate. Passion drives everything. With passion, people feed off your energy and buy in to your vision. Passion is one of those things that is too hard to fake. Passion drives you to work long hours and weekends but makes it never feel like work. If your passion dies, your business will inevitably stagnate.

11. Build a powerful network. It’s not just who you know. It’s who THEY know. Invest time in building trusted connections with people who can help you along your journey. Be first to ‘give’ and good things will return. Get to know the right people in your industry and be the person that is seen and heard and who people want to get to know. Your network lasts with you a lifetime if maintained properly and will help thread you through to the right people fast. By knowing who to turn to, you can solve problems, get access to clients and achieve things very fast in business. Constantly think of others, and how you can help others in your network.

12. Work really hard but smart. There is no escaping hard work. Passive income is rarely passive. The entrepreneur is what ultimately fuels growth. It is up to you to work hard but smart. Be outcome-oriented but continue to demonstrate a work ethic second to none. When I played semi-elite sport I always trained like I was number 2, and wanted to make sure that I was ready for battle and did more work on the training track than my competition to give me the best chance of succeeding. Entrepreneurs are rarely lazy beings. They are inspired to achieve and often highly self-motivated people who often live and die by their own sword.

13. Hire people better and smarter than you. The most successful entrepreneurs hire really smart people around them who are experts in their field. They recognise that they don’t need to be the smartest person, but they need to hire people who are smarter and better than them. It’s a simple philosophy, but they don’t have any desire to be an expert at everything.

14. Manage key relationships. Some of the best advice I received from a high profile entrepreneur was to recognise which relationships are critical for the owner to maintain. Whether this be with key staff, suppliers or customers, it is critical to ensure that the entrepreneur does not risk losing key relationships in the event that staff or partners exit the business.

15. Learn to lead. The best leaders attract the best clients and the best talent. By being able to lead well, you can train other leaders effectively and grow and scale a business successfully. Without leadership, a business has limited chance of success.

16. Manage cash flow. Cash is king. You can’t grow without cash. Be aware of the differences between cash flow and profit. If you run out of cash, your business can die quickly. Prioritise managing cash flow each week so you spend wisely. Many businesses grow too quickly and run out of cash and die despite having profitable businesses.

17. Stay fit and healthy. Self-care is critical to optimise performance. If you are unfit or unwell, you, your family and your business suffers. Prioritise exercise, eating well, drink water, maintain stress-relieving activities and ensure good sleep. Schedule in recreational time to clear the mind. Take breaks and have holidays. Regular exercise and a healthy body will ensure a healthy mind providing you with loads of positive energy and a positive outlook.

18. Manage risk. Look at all the risks in your business. Be aware of them and ask yourself what you can practically do to mitigate any risks. Most risks can be identified and managed to some extent and can help you plan for contingencies.

19. Stay focused. The number one tip overall is to stay focused. Every successful entrepreneur has had a laser sharp focus on one thing at a time before being able to scale into multiple ventures. Give yourself the best opportunity of succeed, otherwise you may spread yourself too thin and take the opportunity away from maximising potential.

Remember this:

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20. Persist. I have had a motivational sign on my wall for the last 10 years which reads, “Persistence. It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”

If you manage to stick to these tips along your journey, you will be way ahead of the pack and heading towards a successful business ready to replicate your skills over and over throughout your business lifetime. All of these skills don’t magically appear overnight, so be patient in developing your skills which will hold you in good stead.

-Jonathan Weinstock

bank employee

Tax deductions for bank and finance industry employees

If you work for a bank or in the finance industry, some of the tax deductions you may be able to claim on your personal tax return are:

Meals and Travel

  • The cost of buying meals when you work overtime, provided you have been paid an allowance by your employer (you can claim for your meals without having to keep any receipts, provided you can show how you have calculated the amount you spent)
  • The cost of parking, tolls, taxis and public transport if you are required to travel between branches or offices to work or to attend seminars, meetings and training courses (if you need to stay away overnight you can also claim for the cost of all meals and your accommodation)
  • The cost of using your own car for work, including travel to attend training courses, between branches or offices or to meet with clients (to claim for car costs it is usually best to keep a diary record of the number of kilometres you travel during the year for work purposes and then we can calculate the amount of your tax deduction at the end of the year)

Work Clothing

  • The cost of buying compulsory uniforms (including shirts, pants, skirts, jackets, jumpers, ties and scarves – your uniform should have the bank’s logo on it to ensure it is tax deductible)
  • The cost of laundry or dry cleaning of your uniforms
  • The cost of repairs or adjustments to your uniforms

Training

  • The cost of work-related short training courses, for example computer skills, first aid, OH&S, bookkeeping, or management, which are not run by a University or TAFE (you can also claim for the cost of travelling to and from the course and any accommodation and meal expenses if you are required to stay away overnight)
  • The cost of self-education courses run by a University (not including HECS) or TAFE, such as Accounting or Financial Planning, provided these courses relate to your CURRENT work. If you are studying, you can also claim for the cost of books, stationery, equipment and travel required for your course

Work Equipment

  • The cost of buying and repairing equipment you use at work, including calculators, electronic organisers, laptop computers and mobile phones
  • The cost of any materials or supplies that you buy for use at work, for example office stationery, diary, work bag or briefcase

Other Work Expenses

  • The cost of annual association membership fees or union fees
  • The cost of work-related magazines or journals
  • The cost of work-related books
  • The cost of work-related mobile or home telephone calls and rental (you should keep a diary record of the number of phone calls you make for work for one month and then we can use that to estimate your usage for the whole year)
  • The cost of work-related internet connection fees (you can only claim the proportion of your monthly fees that relate to work use, which could include emailing, research relating to your job or your training)
  • The cost of maintaining a home office if you are required to complete work at home (you should keep a diary to record how many hours per week you spend working from your home office)

General Expenses

There are some tax deductions that all employees can claim on their personal tax returns:

  • The amount of any donations to registered charities (as long as you haven’t received anything in return for your donation, such as raffle tickets or novelty items)
  • The cost of bank fees charged on any investment accounts
  • The cost of income protection or sickness and accident insurance premiums (this type of insurance covers you if you hurt yourself (including when you are not at work) or become sick and you are unable to work. It will pay you your normal wage until you are fit to return to work – if you don’t have this insurance you should see a financial adviser or ask us and we will refer you to someone who can organise it for you. It is definitely worthwhile)
  • Your tax agent fees (the amount you pay to your accountant to prepare your tax return each year)
  • The cost of travelling to see your tax agent (you can claim the cost of travelling to see your accountant to have your tax return prepared. You should keep a record of the number of kilometres you travel and any other incidental costs such as parking, meals, accommodation etc)

We suggest that you keep receipts for all purchases that are work related, even if they are not listed above. That way, when we prepare your tax return, we can decide whether you are allowed to claim a tax deduction for them or not.

If you would like any more information about the deductions listed or if you would like our team to prepare your tax return for you to ensure you maximise your claims this year, contact us at info@youraccountants.com.au

tax cut

Tax Tips End of Financial Year

1. Keeping a car log book could increase your refund by thousands

If you use your car for work purposes and keep a log book for 12 weeks then the deductions can be in the thousands. Make sure that you keep all costs associated with the running of your car (such as petrol, insurance, registration, servicing and lease payments) for the whole year, not just the period that you kept the log book. Remember that the ATO motto is no receipt = no deduction so you could be costing yourself $$$ by not keeping those dockets!

2. Take advantage of the Government’s free money service known as the “Super co-contribution”

It is surprising how few people actually take advantage of some free money from the Government. If your income is under $31,920 and you contribute $1,000 post tax into super the government will match it 50 cents in the dollar. Whilst this incentive gradually phases out above this figure at $46,920, it’s free money! Also, if you earn less than $10,800 then your spouse can put up to $3,000 into your super fund and they will receive an 18% rebate ($540) on tax via the spouse super contribution rebate.

3. Minimise capital gains tax (CGT) by deferring sale or offsetting losses against gains already made

The share market has had a roller coaster year in 2012/13. If you made a nice capital gain or two earlier in the year then you can reduce CGT by selling any non-performing shares that you may be currently holding. Any unrealised gains should be sold after 1 July to defer tax for another year.  And remember that if you hold shares for more than 12 months you reduce CGT by half.

4. Build your nest egg quicker by paying 15% rather than 46.5% by salary sacrificing into super

Salary sacrificing into superannuation is one of the best, and legitimate, ways to minimise your income tax bill.  You can contribute up to $25,000 per year into super which is only taxed at 15 per cent instead of your marginal tax rate (potentially 46.5 per cent). There are not many pay packets left to do it this tax year, so keep in mind to start putting extra away when 1 July arrives.

5. Income expected to be lower next year?  Bring some 2013/14 expenses forward into this year

If you are expecting that you will have a lower income next year – due to factors such as maternity leave, redundancy, a smaller bonus or perhaps cutbacks to overtime – then why not try to bring forward your deductions into this tax year. Stocking up your home office with stationery, laptops and printers or prepaying subscriptions and interest for up to 12 months in advance are just some of the simple ways to reduce your income before 30 June this year.

6. Claim a deduction for the costs you incur in running your home-office

More and more people these days are doing work at home but not many are aware that they can claim a deduction for costs you incur in running your home office, even if a room is not set aside solely for work-related purposes.  Deductions are available for the work-related portion of home telephone, internet, stationery, computer equipment and printers.   Keep a diary of your time that you work from home and claim a 34 cents per hour deduction for electricity, gas and depreciation of home-based furniture.

7. Keep your receipts

With the ATO continuing to ramp up their audit activity yet again it is important that you keep your receipts. The ATO motto is no receipt = no deduction so you could be costing yourself $$$ by not keeping those dockets!

8. Get a great accountant

Avoid paying too much in tax or leaving yourself to a visit from the taxman. Great accountants are like surveyors … they know where the boundaries are. And their fees are tax deductible!

This information is of a general nature only and does not constitute professional advice. Please contact us  info@kpmc.com.au for a professional advice in relation to your particular circumstances before acting.

commications

5 Ways to stay in touch with your customers

When it comes to increasing your sales and overall profitability, one of the best places to start is to increase your level of customer interaction.

 The more contact you have with your customers, the more likely it is that they will buy from you and refer you to others who need your products or services.

 It shouldn’t be just any old customer interaction though. You need to be strategic, targeted, value-driven and compelling – without appearing to be desperate, spamming or annoying.

 Not always the easiest feat, but to help you here are five proven ways to maintain regular customer contact and how to use them more effectively so your customers look forward to hearing from you.

1. Newsletters

 While some will argue the trusty newsletter has had its day, I tend to disagree. If you are going to make it work in this day and age of endless emails though, you’re going to have to shake things up a bit.

 When producing your newsletter, e-zine or e-news always come at it from the perspective “What’s in it for my customer? What information, tips and offers can I include that will make my customer want to give up 5, 10 or 15 minutes of their life to read this every month?”

 Think industry insights or a market update, some key tips that could be helpful and implemented the day they receive your newsletter, a relevant article and a call to action by way of a special offer.

 You want to keep it short and succinct, and where possible, in the reading pane of their email. If you do have any long articles or pieces of information you want to include, publish them as a blog post on your website so you can provide a short sentence or two with a link to “read more” in your newsletter to save space and increase your website traffic.

2. Special offers and competitions

A special offer for the month can be a great way to stay in touch with your customers and get them buying from you. Competitions also have the benefit of getting customers to engage with you by sharing your brand both online and offline.

 To hold your customers’ interests and ensure the best results, make sure your special offers are different each time and your competition prizes are desired items that are relevant to your business.

3. Emails using auto-responders

Not only are auto-responders an effective way of interacting with your customers, they can also save you a lot of time in the process.

 You could have a set email sequence start from when a customer or potential customer first inquires, becomes a customer, signs up to your mailing list or downloads a resource from your website so there is a clear process leading them to a sale or repeat sale.

 Or you could use it to give a quick weekly tip, update, thought, special offer, or all of the above to add more value to them.

 For optimum impact, make it concise, poignant, relevant and educational. Also use a value-driven or fear-based headline in order to stand out in an overcrowded email inbox.

4.  Social Media

 Social media is perhaps one of the best ways to stay in touch with your customers as it’s the most accepted regular form of contact, and a more “social” form of contact, making rapport building quicker and easier when done right.

 On social media, most people are anticipating regular updates from you – normally daily updates and possibly even multiple daily updates depending on your business. No other communication method has as much expected or allowed regular communication with a customer, making it an extremely valuable tool.

 To use it effectively and maintain your customer’s interest, you need to do more than post special offers and sales pitches. Look to inform, entertain and add value to your customers first, and then add some business promotion in.

5. Blogging

 While it is a slightly more passive way of communicating with customers as they are coming to you, when you post relevant, interesting and educational content regularly, you can build a loyal readership that will keep coming back for more.

 To make it a little less passive, give readers the opportunity to subscribe to your blog by email or RSS feed. This way they can have updates sent to them immediately instead of potentially missing something when they are left to come back on their own.

 To monetise your blog and convert your readers to customers, add a call to action or special offer that relates to what you wrote about in the post as a P.S. at the end of your blog post.

By Amanda Jesnoewski

Property 5

Rental properties – Deductions

If you own a rental property you could be one of the 110,000 investors who will be getting a letter from the Australian Tax Office (ATO) about your tax liabilities.

The ATO has announced that it will be writing to a sample of rental property owners about their tax obligations and entitlements, after new data mining technology identified that property investors may have submitted incorrect tax claims in prior tax years.

The ATO are targeting aggressive expense deductions and particularly the estimated two thirds of property investors who are negatively gearing their investments and claiming losses on their investment properties to offset their tax bills.

If you fall into this category, the following tips might be worth considering when you are completing your tax return.

What’s the status of the property?

Firstly, it’s vital that, if you’re claiming deductions, your rental property needs to be rented or available for rent. If a property is not available for rent, then expenses incurred by a taxpayer are not deductible.

This would seem an obvious point, but it’s worth remembering particularly if your property – as a holiday home or other part-time accommodation – is not rented out across the entire year. If that’s the case, remember that you can only claim deductions for the period that the property is rented or available for rent.

Who’s the owner?

It’s also worth remembering that the legal ownership of the rental property determines the proportion of ownership and entitlement to deductions on your individual tax return. This means that if a husband and wife purchase a rental property in joint names, then their levels of ownership will be 50/50 unless stated otherwise in the purchase contract.

Categories of deduction

Generally, the ATO specifies three types of rental property expenses:

  • Those which you cannot claim a deduction.
  • Those which can be claimed as an immediate deduction in the financial year in which they were incurred.
  • Those that can be deducted over a number of years.

Capital or personal expenses aren’t deductible, although you may be able to claim decline in value deductions (depreciation) or capital works deductions, or include certain capital costs in the cost base of the property for capital gains tax purposes. Other examples across each of the three categories are outlined in the sidebar alongside this article.

The picture also gets a bit more complicated when other considerations are factored in. For example, if you take out a loan to purchase a rental property, you can claim the interest charged on that loan as a deduction. However, if the loan is taken out for more than one purpose, you can only claim the interest relevant to the amount borrowed for the rental property. Depending on your circumstances, there may also be potential to claim prepaid interest to maximise your deductions.

Another factor which often confuses owners is the area of repairs and improvements to the property. Spending on repairs and maintenance is tax deductible, but you can’t immediately deduct costs on improvements and total replacements of items, as these are considered capital in nature. However, you might be able to claim depreciation and capital allowances on some improvements.

And, if you’re looking to fix something straight after buying the property, remember that you cannot claim initial repair costs for deterioration and damage already there when you bought the property until at least 12 months after purchase

You should consider getting a quantity surveyor’s depreciation report to ensure you can claim the maximum depreciation and capital allowances deductions. A specialist quantity surveyor can visit your property and prepare a depreciation report that will cover the actual building and the items within it (such as air-conditioner, stove, hot water service, etc).

It’s also worth consulting your accountant before you leap into the property investment space. Given the issues outlined above, tax time can be complex for property investors. When it comes to completing your tax return, working with your accountant to get it right can save a great deal of paperwork – and cost – down the track.

Please feel free to contact us : info@youraccountants.com.au

architect

Tax deductions for architects

If you work as an architect, some of the tax deductions you may be able to claim on your personal tax return are:
Meals and Travel
  • The cost of buying meals when you work overtime, provided you have been paid an allowance by your employer (you can claim for your meals without having to keep any receipts, provided you can show how you have calculated the amount you spent)
  • The cost of parking, tolls, taxis and public transport if you are required to travel to attend seminars, meetings and training courses (if you need to stay away overnight you can also claim for the cost of all meals and your accommodation)
  • The cost of using your own car for work, including travel to attend meetings, attend training courses, pick up supplies and driving between or around job sites (to claim for car costs it is usually best to keep a diary record of the number of kilometres you travel during the year for work purposes and then we can calculate the amount of your tax deduction at the end of the year) . You can claim the cost of using your own car to travel to and from work, BUT only if you are required to carry bulky tools and equipment for your work AND there is no secure area to leave these items on site overnight
Work Clothing
  • The cost of buying uniforms (including shirts, pants, skirts, jackets, jumpers – your uniform should have the business’s logo on it to ensure it is tax deductible)
  • The cost of laundry, dry cleaning or repairs of your uniforms
  • The cost of buying sun protection items (including sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and sun-protection shirts or jackets) if you are required to work on-site
  • The cost of buying any protective equipment required for working at your business premises, including gloves, goggles, masks, steel-capped boots, gum boots, high visibility clothes, winter outdoor jackets and aprons. This is only relevant if the protective items are required to be worn when you are working on-site
Training
  • The cost of work-related short training courses, for example first aid, OHS, computer skills or project management, which are not run by a University or TAFE (you can also claim for the cost of travelling to and from the course and any accommodation and meal expenses if you are required to stay away overnight)
  • The cost of self-education courses run by a University (not including HECS/HELP) or TAFE.  If you are studying you can also claim for the cost of books, stationery, equipment and travel required for your course
Work Tools & Equipment
  • The cost of buying and repairing equipment you use at work (including tools, electronic organisers, laptop computers and mobile phones)
  • The cost of any materials or supplies that you buy for use at work, for example office stationery, diary, work bag or briefcase, safety gear or first aid equipment
Other Work Expenses
  • The cost of annual memberships or union fees
  • The cost of work-related books, magazines and journals (these could include design, architecture, computer, management or OH&S books)
  • The cost of work-related mobile or home telephone calls and rental (you should keep a diary record of the number of phone calls you make for work for one month and then we can use that to estimate your usage for the whole year)
  • The cost of work-related internet connection fees (you can only claim the proportion of your monthly fees that relate to work use, which could include emailing, research relating to your job and research for your training courses)
General Expenses
There are some tax deductions that all employees can claim on their personal tax returns:
  • The amount of any donations to registered charities (as long as you haven’t received anything in return for your donation, such as raffle tickets or novelty items)
  • The cost of bank fees charged on any investment accounts
  • The cost of income protection or sickness and accident insurance premiums (this type of insurance covers you if you hurt yourself (including when you are not at work) or become sick and you are unable to work. It will pay you your normal wage until you are fit to return to work – if you don’t have this insurance you should see a financial adviser or ask us and we will refer you to someone who can organise it for you. It is definitely worthwhile)
  • Your tax agent fees (the amount you pay to your accountant to prepare your tax return each year)
  • The cost of traveling to see your tax agent (you can claim the cost of traveling to see your accountant to have your tax return prepared. You should keep a record of the number of kilometres you travel and any other incidental costs such as parking, meals, accommodation etc)
We suggest that you keep receipts for all purchases that are work related, even if they are not listed above. That way, when we prepare your tax return, we can decide whether you are allowed to claim a tax deduction for them or not.
If you would like any more information about the deductions listed or any other personal tax information, contact us at info@youraccountants.com.au
start up 2 sales

Affordable online services for startups

Australian start-ups are turning to cheap online services in growing numbers to run their business. Here are eight popular services that save time and money.

1. Fiverr.com

All the services listed on fiverr.com set you back just $5, and include everything from graphic design, online marketing, video and animation and business card design.

This site is hugely popular among Australian business owners, who are prepared to risk a few bucks to see what they can get done at such a low price.

Digital marketing and self-publishing speaker and author Pam Brossman has used the service for transcribing, editing, formatting, book covers, video editing, voice overs, video intros and more and has been happy with the outcome.

“Many entrepreneurs have acquired their full-time contractors from using fiverr.com services. They test their work, turnaround time and professionalism by giving them a $5 job, and then if they deliver exceptional service, they hire them,” Brossman says.

“I really like this service because it’s like a resume of experts out there showcasing their wares.”

2. Hiring a virtual assistant

Hiring a virtual assistant for jobs like updating Instagram eight times a day has been a really cheap and effective outsourcing technique for the founder of fashion and beauty brand Cherry Blooms, Jellaine Ross.

She’s used oDesk and Elance to track down virtual assistants for times when no one was in the office, enabling the business to virtually trade around the clock. There are also a range of virtual assistant websites to help you track down the best person for the job, including virtualcoworker or virtualassistants.com

“You can’t get rich doing minor tasks, and you need a lot of mental power and energy to have a successful business, so I recommend delegating as much as you can to virtual assistants or interns and to be very precious about your energy. Good enough is better than not done when it comes to small tasks,” Ross says.

3. Salmat MicroSourcing

Renovator Store founder and MD Scott Pendlebury talks constantly to his Manila-based web developer and customer service manager from his Victorian headquarters via Skype.

Outsourcing these jobs to people based overseas has saved Pendlebury about 70 per cent of the cost of employing the equivalent people in Australia, enabling him to commit more cash to sales and promotion. Salmat MicroSourcing helped him find the right talent for the job.

“I think there’s a perception that offshoring is about cutting Australian jobs, but really, it’s a great way for small business to start playing in the same space as the big end of town,” Pendlebury says.

Renovator Store is one of about 80 Australian SMEs using the offshore services of Philippines-based Salmat MicroSourcing.

4. Cloud technology

A cloud solution can make a huge difference to the effectiveness of your business, and most cost next to nothing. In basic terms, the cloud refers to the ability to access your applications, information and data over the internet via a third-party provider, which means you don’t have the store this information yourself.

Business consultant and publisher of The Big Smoke, Alexandra Tselios, researched individual features, capability and simplicity before opting for DropBox.

“This service allows my team to remotely access our files and ensure that all employees work on the most current document at any one time. It also allows us to share resources without the traditional barriers of time zones or convoluted filing systems getting in the way of service delivery and operations,” Tselios says.

5. PicMonkey

The ability to customise images for social media or to use on your website can be a huge plus for business owners.

The founder of My Kitchen Garden, Alice Faeth, has turned to PicMonkey to create branded images for social media and website graphics, which is completely free. Some of these images have been widely shared on her Facebook page.

Creating these images herself saves a lot, particularly given a graphic designers costs around $120 an hour, which was beyond her budget for jobs like this.

“I still use professionals for material I want to get printed, but I really like being self-sufficient for social media images, especially when you want to capture an idea quickly.

“You can also play around with images and designs without wasting valuable time and money trying to get the right look,” Faeth says.

6. 15five.com

This cloud-based weekly team reporting app has revolutionised internal communications for online wine retailer Vinomofo.com, according to CEO and co-founder, Andre Eikmeier.

The app allows him to create questions for his team each week, which each staffer fills in, allowing him to read and respond.

Eikmeier goes through this process every Monday, which takes just 15 minutes.

“We use it partly to see how people are going in their roles, and partly to understand how they’re feeling generally and to see if there are any issues or obstacles.

“It means little things are getting bought to my attention every week, often before they escalate, and I can action them,” Eikmeier says.

7. Freelancer.com and elance.com

This is a staple site used by many small business owners, particularly to track down freelancers for website development, design jobs, content writing, research and lead generation and sales and marketing, with more than 600 job categories.

According to freelancer.com, Australians are awarding their projects to professionals in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the US, Vietnam, the Philippines, as well as to fellow Australians.

Another great way to track down appropriately experienced freelancers at reasonable rates is via elance, which Business in Heels CEO Jac Bowie relies on for design and programming.

It also appeals because the site also allows for feedback and escrow payments, she says.

It’s also worth checking out 99 Designs and DesignCrowd for logo design.

8. Odesk

Having access to a virtual team able to complete tasks in various time differences was a big bonus for Emilia Rossi, co-founder of fashion jewellery store emiliarossi.com.au and second hand wedding classifieds site, capriess.com.au.

Being able to work with a virtual team of graphic designers, web designers, social media experts has been a huge bonus, Rossi says.

“I’ve trialled and tested these services, and know it works,” she says.

A word of advice

While often very cost effective, avoid wasting money on these sorts of sites by following a few rules.

The founder of management advisory business, BRS, Nicole Williams minimises her risk when outsourcing in a number of ways. Firstly, avoid language issues by only giving jobs that require a good grasp of English to people whose first language is English.

“Also, I would never outsource anything of high value or importance. There’s always a risk when you outsource anything, and typically you get what you pay for, so your expectations need to be realistic,” she says.

Williams says some freelancers have been fabulous for the first few jobs, but then over time, become less reliable and take a long time to provide what she needs, or don’t respond.

She also admits that she finds long-term relationships much harder to find on these outsourcing websites.

“Make sure you keep track of what software and technology your freelancers have access to, so that if jobs go pear-shaped, you can easily change passwords, so that your content isn’t compromised.”

HOUSE #2

Legally underquoting? How real estate agents get away with it

Anyone in who has searched though one of the online real estate websites recently, will understand the frustration experienced when price quotes are missing – and judging from Australia’s real estate obsession, it’s no meaningless amount. The REA group alone claim to get “8.8 million unique visitors each month”.

Putting a price on real estate, particularly with homes offered as private treaty, is not difficult.

Ideally, an assessment of the property is undertaken by the sales agent – one familiar with market sales in the immediate locality – and in conjunction with the vendor, a price is set that produces a happy balance between both vendor expectation and local comparable sales.

If interest is lagging in the two weeks following, the agent can negotiate with the vendor to reduce the range.

If sales enquiry is healthy – or an offer in excess of the range is achieved and subsequently rejected – the agent has the ability and ethical responsibility (in conjunction with their vendor) to change the quoted range to reflect the heightened level of interest.

For a proportion of agents acting within their “reasonable” duty of service, this still is the norm.

However, now it seems every second advertisement you click upon, whether auction or private treaty has “contact agent” or a similar term listed underneath the subheading “price”.

An enquiry then produces a roundabout of guessing games with somewhat wishy-washy lines totted out, such as “it’s too early to tell”.

In other words, the agent is indicating he has no idea where to place his price quote, because Joe Blogs buyer hasn’t yet walked through and in some occurrence of pure fiction, stopped to tell the agent exactly what he’s prepared to offer.

Whilst we all agree –in a free market – real estate can only be valued on what a willing buyer is prepared to pay; this is precisely why real estate agents appraise a property against recent comparable market sales in the first place.

When combined with good local knowledge, a market appraisal (not to be confused with a valuation,) will give the agent a very good indication of buyer demand – at least to the degree of being able to publish a negotiable price range that falls in line with vendor expectation at the outset.

I should pre-empt before going further that a proportion of agents I speak to will give me a realistic idea of vendor expectation upon enquiry – however, after years of complaints within the industry regarding those who still choose to lowball their ranges, or quote using a ‘plus’ price, (which in today’s terms, can mean anything from 5-30%) – there continues to be an overall lack of transparency within the sector, allowing a number of agencies (particularly when advertising for auction) to continue selling buyers “false hope” with no fear of reprimand.

To give an example, I recently attended an auction in the Balwyn High School zone.  The property was quoted at $700,000 plus, and later revised to $750,000 plus in the final week of the campaign.

A call to the agent indicated vendor expectation was “very reasonable,” they “hoped” to get over $800,000 I was told, but “who knows?”

The comparable data told a different story.  A price in excess of $850,000 should have been expected.  This selling agent – (an expert in the area) – would have known this, and the auction merely confirmed it.

The opening bid was $800,000 – $50,000 above the price quote.

The property did not reach its reserve until $900,000 – $150,000 above the price quote.

With competition from seven bidders, it finally sold for $1,011,000 – but not before a neighbour I’d been casually chatting to, leaned across and revealed the ‘wish’ price, when she whispered: “I know the vendor, and she wants a million.”

It’s time we valued the ethical side of our sales industry with a little more seriousness than pricing an item on e-bay – with a “quote ‘em low, watch ‘em go” mantra.

The continual problem with different methods of quoting – or lack thereof – runs to the very base of mistrust most buyers have against the real estate industry as a whole – and it’s a brush that tars us all.

Even in a buoyant market, recent data will give a good pinpoint of expectation for the agent to advise their vendor’s of an appropriate reserve at the outset – should market forces take over once the property has reached that reserve, so be it – it doesn’t change what should be a simple exercise.

It seems silly to point out the obvious, but no buyer likes to play guessing games when it comes to putting a price on an advertised listing – and neither should they have to.

Everyone understands real estate is a negotiated asset, however, the verbal game playing that now surrounds the sales industry is often laughable – ranging from “we don’t know yet” to “properties in the area are selling in the $400,000 and $500,000 range” – information a simple internet search could reveal.

When an enquiry is made regarding price, the one bit of information buyers require, is an accurate ‘ball park’ indication of vendor expectation.

Whether it’s too high, or at a reasonable level for market demand doesn’t matter – the vendor is signing the contract and therefore interested buyers need evaluate if it falls in line with their own budget constraints.

As for an assessment of value – if we were operating in an ideal world, buyers would ignore price quotes altogether and do their own research to establish market value, prior to spending hundreds on a pest and building inspections or solicitor fees chasing an unobtainable dream. However, despite recent improvements, closely comparable sales data is not always readily available.  In Victoria, many are still listed with undisclosed prices.

Computer-generated “estimates,” are just that – and more often than not, hopelessly inaccurate at providing the depth of information buyers require for effective negotiation.

Suburb reports are equally unhelpful, and while median data will give a clue of the dollars the majority market is spending, they are no help when evaluating individual property prices.

Using a buyer agent who has access to such information is all well and good – however, agents should not have a monopoly on data, and it’s reasonable to suggest buyers deserve a “hint” of vendor expectation by way of an accurate price quote before wasting time and money chasing a dream.

A handful of agencies dealing with the more volatile luxury end of the market, in which interest is discretionary, understandably choose to sell via ‘expressions of interest’. However, the decision to drop the quoted range all together, from a large percentage of real estate advertisements seems, in a good number of cases, to have been employed as “self-protection” from accusations of “underquoting” – a policy designed to protect the sales agent – and not one that’s necessarily in the best interests of their client.

Vendor expectation can often be inflated.  It’s made worst by the commission-based competition between real estate agents and their respective agencies – which can promote the need to “buy” a listing through selling false hope, or risk missing out to a competitor who promises they can achieve more.

Quoting low ‘legally’ is not difficult. In Victoria – which has fallen under more scrutiny that any other state – if the vendor does not disclose the reserve on the sales authority when assigning their listing to an agent, (which is the general practice and advised by most) the quote does not need to reflect vendor expectation.

Instead, an agent must provide a written estimate of market value, which if a range, should be no more than a 10%.  This range is theoretically based on comparable data, but finding near by results to establish a lower price is not difficult – should that be the intention.

For example, in the story I highlighted above – comparables on nearby streets outside the schools catchment area would have placed the listing closer to the quoted range.

Similar applies within the suburb – if you’re not familiar with the good and bad streets, which attract different levels of demand, the price differences can be stark.

Albeit only by quoting below the agents written estimate of market value on the authority is officially “underquoting”. Therefore, under current legislation, the written estimate does not necessarily need to reflect vendor expectation.

It may not be admitted as such, but when agents list a property it is common practice to encourage the vendor to withhold their reserve price. This enables a conservative estimate of value – as either a verbal or published quote range – to glean as much buyer enquiry as possible.

Once again I stress, that each agent has different ethics. I am talking generally across the industry – and unfortunately, there is enough evidence of the above practices to pollute an overall impression of the whole.

Furthermore, if one agent quotes low, and another in the same suburb quotes at a level more reflective of reality – guess which listing gathers the greatest enquiry? A catch- 22 for agents working to turn over business, in a very competitive commission based sector.

The only time an agent is required to adjust the range higher, is if a written offer in excess of the published figure is received. However, what typically happens in this scenario, is the number – (should there be one) – is removed altogether.

The above process of ‘quoting low,’ is sold to the vendor via an explanation of the “buyer pyramid” – it works a little like step quoting – get the lower priced bidders to build momentum during the auction, to fuel those bidding with healthier bank accounts to step in at the end.

In this scenario, during which emotions are strong, buyers tend to bid to win, rather than bid to buy. In a heated market, rational thinking is generally not employed, especially when competition is fierce and ‘fear of missing out’ ensues.

Without the lower budget bidders, auctions can pull up short lacking the usual frenzy that has – in our boom eras of growth – significantly contributed to pushing medians to unsustainable levels and exacerbating upward swings in the market cycle.

Furthermore, any gaping hole between the quote and reserve can be waved off with the excuse that the vendor ‘changed their mind’ – or ‘upped’ expectation.  Hence why it is so easy to get away with purposefully placing the price range below the level at which the vendor will sell – and when that quote is verbal, it’s arguably easier still.

To suggest that a property owner’s expectations fluctuate to such an extent so as to not be represented in the price quote is highly questionable. Having worked as a sales agent in previous years, I can categorically say there was never a time where I didn’t know my vendor’s approximate reserve well enough in advance of the auction, to place a reasonable quoted range on a listing from day one.

Furthermore, vendors are not without blame. Assuming the price quote is a estimate based on “recent comparable sales” and the vendor isn’t in the dark when it comes to the price quoted on his or her vendor-paid advertising, why would he or she agree to list the property and quote at a level they would not be willing to sell for in the first place?

In such instances, I would suggest this is a pretty good example of what should officially be termed “underquoting” – conservative at best, deceitful at worst.

There are many solutions to this puzzle, which would not be difficult to legislate.

Some states have suggested banning quotes altogether – either verbal or otherwise – but this does not take us closer to an effective solution for buyers. Additionally, it makes it very hard for a good sales agent to interact with buyers to enable them to modify their vendor’s expectation as the campaign progresses.

With this in mind, I would suggest, it’s time vendors were required to take shared responsibility (with the agency) for their own paid advertising campaigns and ensured their reserves – or ranges in which they’re prepared to negotiate within – are published at the outset and provide an accurate indication of a price they are willing to consider.

If minds are changed, quotes should be changed, but leaving such a large question mark for buyers, who are increasingly frustrated at having their time, money, and energy wasted, is damaging for all concerned.

-Catherine Cashmore

Tech 2

Five technology trends small businesses need to consider in 2014

With technology always and rapidly evolving, it can be tough for small businesses to keep up.

While nearly all small and medium-sized businesses in Australia have a computer, according to Sensis’s 2013 e-Business Report, more are acquiring laptops and tablet devices, how effectively they use that technology can influence how successful they’ll be.

As Australians increasingly access the internet on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, businesses should factor that into their digital planning for 2014, says Sensis’s advertiser insights manager Christena Singh.

“When people come in (to a business website) on a mobile device they need to get a mobile experience,” Singh says, warning that if a customer doesn’t get a mobile experience they will probably go to another business that does.

Australians using the internet on their mobile phones continued to grow over the past year at 68%, up from 58% last year, and half of Australians accessed the internet on a tablet, the Sensis report says.

Here, Singh shares the top five technology trends small businesses should prepare for in 2014:

1. Making sure websites are optimised for mobile

With more and more people using mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones to access the internet, it’s become essential for businesses to ensure their web presence appears and functions well on those screens.

It’s called “mobile optimisation”.

“The proportion of small to medium enterprises with a website that’s optimised for mobile has gone from 5% two years ago to 17% this year,” Singh says.

She says start-ups and small businesses should make ensuring their websites are optimised for mobile devices number one on their list of things to do in 2014.

Singh says optimised sites could include buttons that use a smartphone’s maps function to locate the business or a button to dial its phone number.

2. Consider the devices that customers use to access a business’s website

Singh says if a business is targeting a population demographic that uses tablet devices then they should consider putting in place features that cater to that audience.

She says businesses may look at having apps created that work on particular devices, adding that 5% of businesses have an app and 13% are looking at having one next year.

3. Cloud

Software and data storage in the cloud is becoming increasingly accessible and attractive for small businesses that don’t want to pay the costs of expensive hardware or computer program tools.

“It (the cloud) can save you costs and give businesses access to any number of utilities without purchasing them outright,” Singh says.

She says businesses could use the cloud to access software such as word processing and store files which can be accessed from almost any location.

4. Considering innovative technology such as apps, wearable technology

Singh suggests businesses should consider what technology is gaining traction with consumers and investigate ways it can be applied in their own business.

She says wearable technology is an area that’s emerging as popular with consumers, noting that Google Glass, Google’s wearable computer, is a device that’s eagerly anticipated.

“Look at technologies and how they might be able to draw people into your business,” Singh says.

She says a tourism-based business may look at using wearable technology in some way to enhance a customer’s experience.

Location-based technology is also innovative and could be used in stock handling, Singh says.

“Taking a leaf out of the consumer book and seeing how some of the new technology can give you benefits and how you can flexibly do business,” she says.

5. Strategy

Singh says one of the most important things start-ups and small businesses need to have when adopting new technologies is to have a strategy to back up what they’re doing with it.

“Small businesses are spending on average $15,800 on technology. That’s quite a lot of money for business to be spending,” she says, noting that only about 19% of businesses had a digital strategy.

Singh says a business may spend money and time on social media but without a strategy behind it, that money and time could be wasted.

“There should be strategies in terms of website presence, social media and how they work and develop leads,” she says.

 By Gavin Lower
cleaner 2

Tax deductions for cleaners

If you work as a cleaner, some of the tax deductions you may be able to claim on your personal tax return are:

Meals and Travel

  • The cost of buying meals when you work overtime, provided you have been paid an allowance by your employer (you can claim for your meals without having to keep any receipts, provided you can show how you have calculated the amount you spent)
  • The cost of meals and incidental expenses when you are required to stay away from home overnight for work (if you receive an allowance from your employer, you can claim the full amount of that allowance provided it is shown on your PAYG payment summary). If you didn’t receive an allowance, you should keep receipts to prove the amount you have spent on all meals and accommodation
  • The cost of parking, tolls, taxis and public transport if you are required to travel to attend meetings and training courses not held at your usual place of work or to travel between job sites
  • The cost of using your own car for work, including travel to attend meetings, attend training courses, pick up supplies and driving between or around job sites (to claim for car costs it is usually best to keep a diary record of the number of kilometres you travel during the year for work purposes and then we can calculate the amount of your tax deduction at the end of the year) . You can claim the cost of using your own car to travel to and from work, BUT only if you are required to carry bulky tools and equipment for your work AND there is no secure area to leave these items on site overnight

Work Clothing

  • The cost of buying uniforms (including shirts, pants, skirts, jackets, jumpers provided the uniforms have the business’s logo on it)
  • The cost of laundry, dry cleaning or repairs of your uniforms
  • The cost of buying sun protection items (including sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and sun-protection shirts or jackets)
  • The cost of buying other protective equipment that is not supplied by your employer (including overalls, gloves, goggles, masks, harnesses, helmets, steel-capped boots, gum boots, high visibility vests and winter outdoor jackets)

Training

  • The cost of work-related short training courses (for example first aid, OH&S, management, staff supervision which are not run by a University or TAFE. You can claim for the cost of any course fees, books, stationery, internet connection, telephone calls, tools or equipment and travelling to and from the course. You can also claim any accommodation and meal expenses you have to pay if you are required to stay away overnight to attend your course
  • The cost of self-education courses run by a University (not including HECS/HELP) or TAFE (provided they relate to your current work). If you are studying you can also claim for the cost of books, stationery, equipment and travel required for your course

Work Tools & Equipment

  • The cost of buying and repairing equipment you use at work (including tools, electronic organisers and mobile phones)
  • The cost of any materials or supplies that you buy for use at work (for example safety gear, first aid equipment, backpack or belt bag)
  • The cost of stationery, diary, log book, work bag or briefcase

Other Work Expenses

  • The cost of annual memberships or union fees
  • The cost of renewing machinery operating licences and tickets that are required for your work, but not including your normal drivers licence
  • The cost of work-related books, magazines and journals
  • The cost of work-related mobile or home telephone calls and rental (you should keep a diary record of the number of phone calls you make for work for one month and then we can use that to estimate your usage for the whole year)
  • The cost of work-related internet connection fees (you can only claim the proportion of your monthly fees that relate to work use, which could include emailing, research relating to your job and research for your training courses)

General Expenses

There are some tax deductions that all employees can claim on their personal tax returns:

  • The amount of any donations to registered charities (as long as you haven’t received anything in return for your donation, such as raffle tickets or novelty items)
  • The cost of bank fees charged on any investment accounts
  • The cost of income protection or sickness and accident insurance premiums (this type of insurance covers you if you hurt yourself (including when you are not at work) or become sick and you are unable to work. It will pay you your normal wage until you are fit to return to work – if you don’t have this insurance you should see a financial adviser or ask us and we will refer you to someone who can organise it for you. It is definitely worthwhile)
  • Your tax agent fees (the amount you pay to your accountant to prepare your tax return each year)
  • The cost of travelling to see your tax agent (you can claim the cost of travelling to see your accountant to have your tax return prepared. You should keep a record of the number of kilometres you travel and any other incidental costs such as parking, meals, accommodation etc)

We suggest that you keep receipts for all purchases that are work related, even if they are not listed above. That way, when we prepare your tax return, we can decide whether you are allowed to claim a tax deduction for them or not.

If you would like any more information about the deductions listed or if you would like our team to prepare your tax return for you to ensure you maximise your claims this year, contact us at info@kpmc.com.au