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?

  • Hi Kellye,

    Terrific advice. I love the concept of the holiday video greeting.

    Another thought on holiday cards: I have created personalized e-mail cards for my business contacts the last two years after years of the snail mail kind (also with personal notes, of course). This isn’t a faster approach, just a different one. I’ve found that the e-mail cards put me more top-of-mind as people can respond with a click of the mouse and the activity becomes somehow more personal and more immediate.

    Keep the great posts coming.

    Best, Daria

    Daria Steigman’s last blog post..Check Your Charitable Gift Checks Carefully

  • Kellye Crane

    Hi Daria: Thanks for sharing your experiences with the customized e-card method! I can see how this would generate some immediate conversation with the recipient, which is a great benefit.

  • Bobbi Jo Woods

    Hi Kellye

    Someone passsed this link to me via Twitter and I’m glad I found it! Great tips for anyone in business, no matter what industry.

    I will bookmark this site and come back for more 🙂

    -Bobbi Jo

    Bobbi Jo Woods’s last blog post..“You Oughtta Know” Inbound Marketing

  • Kellye – great tips!

    Some others that I found useful:
    – gather up your expenses/receipts and make sure it’s all in order and you haven’t neglected to expense something that you should have
    – if you’re working out of your house, collect the utility bills, phone etc and put that in order so it’s easier for your accountant to process
    – take the time to review your hit list/closing ratio and make a weekly or monthly plan NOW on what you will do to hit your budget next year
    – don’t neglect the charities…contribute and deduct now for maximum tax benefit this year-end

  • Kellye Crane

    @Bobbi Jo: Welcome, and glad you found this useful!

    @ethnicomm: Thanks for these great ideas to get ahead of the curve for tax time. One note about charities: I’m not an accountant, but based on advice I’ve received, charitable contributions are typically deducted from your “personal taxes.” That is (depending on how your business is organized), the deduction is taken on your Schedule A (rather than the business’ Schedule C). Regardless, this is a great reminder to get those contributions in by the end of the year!

  • @Kellye – my apologies and I’m not an accountant either. This is a Canadian perspective but you are right about the charitable donations – if the biz is NOT incorporated, then it comes off of personal income here.

  • Kellye Crane

    @ethnicomm No need to apologize! It’s still a great tip for folks to take into account in their year-end planning. 🙂 Thanks again for adding to the list.

  • Karen Strong

    Hi Kellye! Great blog filled with fantastic advice, of course. Congrats on launching it!

  • Kelley; If you are a sole proprietor your personal taxes impact your business taxes anyway (except for those levied at the state level) at least insofar as income is concerned. So, the charitable contributions still help.

    Kami Huyse’s last blog post..You’re Fired: HR Should Consider the PR Consequences of How Layoffs are Handled

  • Kellye Crane

    Hi Kami: I agree — every bit helps wherever you can get it! I just wanted to offer some additional guidance about where to place the deduction on your tax forms, since I was confused about that issue myself when I started out. I always appreciate a sanity check!

  • David Benjamin

    The biggest take away from this helpful post is leaving logos off of presents or giveaways. The purpose isn’t to subconsiously have your client, customer, or business partners think about you selling something. We do that enough throughout the year, make this one special and from the heart. Thanks for sharing.