The end of the year is fast approaching, but there’s still time to close out 2015 with a bang! Here are 12 items that should be on any independent consultant’s year-end checklist:
1. 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 next year. There was a time when this didn’t make sense to me (what if I have a better year next year?), but now it’s second nature – you want to keep your money in your pocket as long as possible, and deducting expenses helps you do that.
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.
But what if you won't have the funds to pay for these items until January? Fortunately, if you charge items on your credit card in December, the purchases count as having been made this year, 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 taxes.
2. Dues and subscriptions – This one’s easy – dues and subscriptions are one of the simplest purchases to make in advance. From magazines to online products to the professional development you know you’ll want to have next year, buy an annual subscription now so you can take it off your taxes this year! (Let me offer a special invitation to join us as a Solo PR PRO Premium member – we'd love to help you start the new year on the right foot!).
3. Pre-pay your business bills – If you can pay in advance for your January business expenses, such as Internet service, phone charges, etc., you’ll be able to deduct them from this year’s taxes. Many of these services allow you to pay with a credit card and then pay them off in January, once again accelerating expenses but deferring payment.
4. 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 (they may also have some tips you need to execute before year end). I’ve found getting a recommendation from a friend is the best way to find a good accountant.
5. Holiday greetings – Personal and professional networks are important to both our mental and financial health. Reaching out at this time of year is essential to maintaining those relationships. It also happens to be fun!
Whether you choose to send a unique gift (here are 23 ideas) or a traditional holiday card, personal greetings are one of the best ways to remember your clients and colleagues this time of year. Provide your sincere well-wishes, and you’ll stand out from the crowd.
Too busy to send December greetings? Another 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!
6. Touching base – For contacts you don't know well enough to send a holiday greeting, it's still a perfect time of year to reconnect and say hello. Send a nice note to connect current and prospective clients, as well as colleagues you want to work with – use one of our 10 foolproof excuses to network if you need ideas for what to say.
7. Get contracts in place for next year – Whether you had contracts this year with your clients and subcontractors or not, make sure you enter the new year on solid legal footing. Solo PR Pro has a free ebook, Get It In Writing! The Communications Consultant’s Guide to Contracts, with 45 pages of advice and 9 full contract examples to help. Now is the best time to formalize your arrangements (don’t be shy about contacting clients on this – we give you wording in the ebook to make it easy).
8. Purge/organize – This one can be fun (and cathartic!). Break out the big trash bag and a shredder and throw away stuff you no longer need. Scan items you'd prefer to store electronically and update your filing system. You can also take this opportunity to check and see if you'll need to send any 1099s to your subcontractors, and make sure you have their W9s.
9. Update online profiles / passwords – The end of the year offers an opportunity to review your online information and make changes to reflect your current positioning and status. While you're at it, change your passwords (consider a tool like LastPass) to start the new year current and secure.
New Year Planning
10. Review 2015 – What worked well for your business this year? What areas could be improved? Don't be too harsh on yourself (an unfortunate tendency among hard working self-employed types) – take time to celebrate your accomplishments as you take stock of the lessons learned. No matter how long you've been working for yourself, there's always more to know.
11. Plan for 2016 – Schedule a “retreat” for yourself to review your business plan, make adjustments, and identify your measurable objectives for next year. Perhaps run some of your ideas by a trusted colleague or an “advisory board.” Get out a calendar and schedule your new business activities and other tactics that will help you reach (and exceed!) your goals.
Optional: Catch up on your education and professional development – If you're like me, you have a bulging “to read” file (it's downright embarrassing). If you have time, the slower year-end period can be a great chance to read business-boosting ebooks and attend mind-expanding webinars. Pick materials this time of year that will be inspiring and motivating, so you can be ready to meet 2016 head-on!
12. Take time off – We've saved the most important for last.
As a self-employed consultant, it's so tempting to keep cranking on work during this slower period to try to get ahead. I've made this mistake myself in the past, and here's what I learned the hard way: the rest of the world will be rested and re-energized the first week in January, and if you don't take some quality time for yourself, you won't be able to meet them with the same energy and enthusiasm.
The importance of taking time off cannot be understated, so make sure to relax, laugh, and enjoy time with family and friends as the year draws to a close. I wish you all a very safe and happy holiday season!
What’s on your year-end checklist?
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