A small business adviser’s year in review: 2015

(still in draft format)

2015 was an active year of change in services for small business management. The opportunities, tools and resources are quite different today than they were only 12 months ago.

There is much good news about small business accounting systems. Costs are coming down and quality is going up. I took additional training and certification for Vend, FreshBooks and Xero in addition to the perennial dominant force QuickBooks. All of them are impressive. There are literally hundreds of others that get good reviews but are mostly unknown. Despite all the advantages of these services I am still supposed by the number of small businesses that have no computerized accounting. Perhaps most surprising is the level of fury that some accountants have adopted in digging in their heels to avoid converting to remote hosted accounting systems. It’s a moot point; within a few years almost all small business accounting (just like all other computer services already) will be remotely hosted. My colleagues will continue to preach the virtues of the buggy while Fords populate the roadways.

Likewise, payroll services got better and cheaper in 2015. There is no “one size fits all” solution bit plenty of good choices. I prefer the self-serve online programs like Gusto, old stand-by firms continue to evolve to make their products better and more relevant.

The mass migration of people from office campuses work-at-home employees and freelancers has led to a massive shift in demand for physical and intangible services.  I am surprised by the number of freelancers generating hundreds of thousands of income in fairly standard business contracts for services that they formerly provided as an employee (for a much lower salary). Many new freelancers are still unaware that they have need for services to make them grow and thrive in the same way as older traditional small businesses.

Banking is still a disaster for small businesses and possibly getting worse. Some lenders indicated a willingness to ‘loosen the purse strings’ on borrower requirements earlier this year. But by years’ end those turned out to be unfulfilled promises. I’ve learned about and complained that some banks are reporting uncashed bill payment system checks as ‘cleared’ (effectively ripping off customers) of using twisted accounting procedures to extract unreasonable fees on what should be routine transactions. I’ve been thinking about the fact that there is no ‘Consumer Reports’ type of service comparing bank features, fees and services. They vary quite a bit more than most people realize yet businesses cannot act on information that is not available to them. There seems to be an open market niche for any firm that would wish to provide this information service.

Cloud funding is a great topic for reporters but still useless to most small businesses. We are just not there yet. Smart advisers focus on ways to build business without outside funding sources.

Health care is a mess. I receive more questions in this area than all others combined. The fact is that there is plenty to complain about and little to praise. Tet there are a few good strategies for small business owners and I find that few owners or advisers have the insight to cut through the noise and focus on those areas where they can make a difference in their small business health plan.

I am disturbed by the direction of small business Web sites and Web site services. It appears that we are ‘dumbing down’ and thereby losing diversity and creativity in online presence primarily because typical providers don’t have the skill set that they did a decade ago. Much promoted as ‘rules’ in this area of practice are little more than brainwashed industry dribble.

The concept of conflict of interest has always taken a beating in the world of small businesses. We notice that many providers are attempting to combine various services but not yet gaining much ground for that approach the market. Theoretically, it might be great to have one firm handle all of your banking, payroll, accounting, health care and marketing. Or maybe not. Time will tell. Meanwhile, I remain committed to the core principle that a small business should not be purchasing products and services from the same providers who provide strategic advice.

I want to take time to personally thank a few people – Sara and Framcine – who helped my business far more than you realize this year. Also thanks to the few people in government (who may not want to be mentioned by name) but who reached out to let me know that they ‘get it’ and will support my local efforts to help rebuild our environmentally and economically ravaged region of the southwest New Jersey shore.


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