End of Year Tips for Consultants

The end of the year is fast-approaching, but there’s still time to think about some of the items that should be on any independent consultant’s radar:

Consider hiring an accountant – Most accountants become insanely busy as soon as the new year arrives, and many do not take on new clients after January 1. I’m a firm believer that a good accountant pays for herself in tax dollars saved, so if you think you might benefit from some professional assistance, now would be the time to get this person lined up. I’ve found that getting a recommendation from a friend is the best way to find a good accountant.

Holiday greetings – In the current climate (you know the one I’m talking about), our personal and professional networks will continue to increase in importance in 2009. Reaching out at this time of year to those who have been part of your business in 2008 is essential to maintaining those relationships. It also happens to be fun!

While some seem to be losing enthusiasm for traditional holiday cards, I still believe these personal greetings are one of the best ways to remember your clients and colleagues this time of year. If you’re going this route, a short, handwritten note on the inside of the card is a must, in my opinion, to differentiate yourself from the calendar sent by the insurance salesman. Religious messages are generally a no-no, and I think it’s best to refrain from placing business cards or logos on the inside of the greeting. Provide your sincere well-wishes, and you’ll stand out from the crowd.

Another idea is to craft a fun, even silly, video greeting. Depending on your movie-making skills, this could even be an easier and lower-cost option to sending conventional cards.

Too busy to do any December greetings? One way to stand out from the pack is to send Happy New Year cards. They are automatically religion-neutral and can express optimism for the year ahead. It's a great way to cure the post-holiday blues.

For your best clients and colleagues, a token gift is always appreciated. Again, it’s my belief that it works best for consultants to keep these free of logos or other transparent sales pitches – show your human side. I’ve found that edible holiday goodies are always a hit (who doesn’t like a tower of treats?).

Make business purchases now – One of the top tips any accountant will give you is to “accelerate expenses.” Translated, this means that you’ll probably benefit the most if you take expenses in this calendar year, rather than waiting until 2009. So if you’re thinking of purchasing new office equipment or furniture in the next few weeks, be sure to make those purchases before the end of the year. Also take a look at your office supplies: are you getting low on paper, pens or ink? If so, take advantage of some of the excellent year-end deals at the office supply stores, and get tax savings to boot.

Not planning to spend on these things until January, you say? Fortunately, if you charge items on your credit card in December, these count as having been purchased in 2008, but the bill won’t arrive until next year. Be sure not to overspend, of course, and buy only what you would actually end up acquiring anyway. This is an important strategy in reducing the how much of your hard-earned cash goes to Uncle Sam.

Pre-pay your business bills – Related to the above, if you can pay in advance for your January business expenses, such as Internet service, phone charges, association dues, subscriptions, etc., you’ll be able to deduct them from this year’s taxes. Most of these services allow you to pay for these items on a credit card and then pay them off in January, once again accelerating expenses but deferring payment.

These are a few of the easiest and most important items to think about as 2008 draws to a close. What’s on your year-end checklist?