Business Success: Counting sheep to sleep?

Business Success LogoWe’ve all had them — those endless, miserable nights when, no matter how exhausted you are, you just can’t get your mind to stop saying “what if…” long enough to let you fall asleep. While technology certainly can’t relieve all your business worries, there are some simple solutions out there that can lift a few of them off your mind. Joe Langner, Executive Vice President, Midmarket Solutions, for Sage North America shares some of them with us in this week’s Business Success column.

Why Small Business Owners Sleep Less: Data Security, Audits and Uncertainty Keep Entrepreneurs Awake at Night

Let’s face it:  entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart.  Those who choose this path are typically enthusiastic and passionate, with big ideas, dreams, and goals, and the entrepreneurial journey can be incredibly rewarding, but it is also a path fraught with winding roads, sharp turns, and obstacles.   Owning a business brings about new challenges and tasks, which can be unfamiliar and confusing, but they don’t have to be. The following five are some common ‘worst’ fears and ways to overcome them and achieve peace of mind.

1.     Your payment transactions aren’t secure

In order for your business to get paid, you need to have a stable and compliant payment system in place. All businesses accepting payment via credit or debit card are required to be Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliant. PCI is a comprehensive set of payment industry regulations designed to keep your business and your customers’ credit card data safe by implementing payments security best practices. However, PCI is only a certificate – the real focus must be on security and the most effective approach is to remove credit card data from being stored in your business applications.  That’s easier said than done, but today’s industry leading business solutions do just that – they never directly interact with sensitive credit card data while still offering a streamlined customer experience in accepting credit and debit cards through integrated, PCI certified payment solutions.

PCI Payment Application Data Security Standard (PA-DSS) is the standard for evaluating payment platforms and solutions.  By using a PCI PA-DSS-certified platform, you can rest assured that your customers’ credit card data is never retained or transferred. However, that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the value of tight payments data integration. PCI PA-DSS solutions leverage the latest in tokenization and other secure methods to facilitate the credit card transaction in a secure vault and then passing the financial transaction detail to the business solution.   Wouldn’t it be nice to know your business is secure and your customers’ data is safe? Having one less thing to worry about is never a bad thing.

2.      You experience a data breach

The potential of exposing intellectual property, customers’ personal information and company data can be terrifying. With the vast depth of data stored on the Internet and with uncertainties of how it’s kept secure, you may be forced to think twice about how you store private information. Data breaches are common and the risk of attack can be high, with total breach costs growing every year.

Fortunately, companies can implement a number of solutions to protect themselves from a breach. In order to protect information from malicious hackers, merchants ought to find a solution based on a model that is content-aware and risk-based, meaning that the solution knows when sensitive data is being transmitted. Make sure the solution you choose can stop the invasion of targeted attacks by shutting down avenues to your business’ information assets, identify dangers by connecting real-time alerts and conduct a periodic risk assessment.

Another strategy that provides peace of mind is online data backup, which keeps your data off-site, intact and available even if your local disks are stolen or your office is affected by a disaster. One of the most important things you need to do when storing information, like backups online, is to make sure that your data is encrypted. Encryption of data at-rest ensures that if your data gets accessed by third parties, the information it contains won’t be readable.

Consider putting some of your business processes in the cloud—such as order tracking and accessing inventory—in order to maintain access to those processes even when your network is down.

If you’re storing your data in the cloud, consider working with a cloud provider that has a redundancy backup and that they’re certified under proper SSAE 16 SOC 1, 2 or 3 certifications. Make sure your data is in a secure environment, know where that data resides, and work with a trusted IT advisor.

3.     You just don’t know what’s going to happen

Uncertainty of what lies ahead in your business’ future can be terrifying. The thought of failing can prevent many entrepreneurs from taking the next step.  Unfortunately, there’s no crystal ball to predict the future, but proper planning definitely helps. Make sure that your business plan is solid and that you have solid financial controls in place.  Knowledge is power, and being able to see your business’s finances at a glance, who has paid you, who owes you and how long they’ve owed it, is key.  Cash flow is a huge challenge for many entrepreneurs.  Having a solid system in place to manage your finances, billing, invoicing, and inventory, can help you forecast and is key to success.  With data analysis tools, you can understand how your business is faring, where there are patterns or trends and determine which data is actionable. With proper planning and a positive attitude, you can help prepare for unforeseen circumstances, and face whatever challenges come your way.

There is no technology or software solution for this one; the answer lies within. Great American industrialist Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” Believing in yourself and the integrity of your work should fuel you to continue driving full speed ahead into your goals.

4.     You get audited

All small businesses need to comply with many rules and regulations imposed by all levels of government, and income tax is the activity that small business owners are most concerned about complying with (23 percent) followed by social security/payroll taxes (16 percent), according to a recent Sage Financial Capability Survey. However, small business owners who use accounting software are significantly more comfortable with complying with income tax rules than those using non-accounting software with only 17 percent reporting it as a concern versus 29 percent.

Businesses of all shapes and sizes, and particularly smaller businesses, fear the same one word: “audit.” It may first seem like a potential death sentence for entrepreneurs who are starting out and are not 100 percent confident in their back-end processes. On top of this, to enforce provisions of the Affordable Care Act, the hiring rate of IRS agents has skyrocketed; thus placing an even greater stress on small businesses to be “audit ready.”

Using accounting software and/or working with an accountant or bookkeeper will help you set up procedures for organizing and documenting your income and expenses—this goes a long way towards ensuring compliance with rules and regulations. Something many small business owners may not be aware of is the differing philosophies behind income and deductions. Whereas for income you assume that “everything is taxable” unless you can find a specific exemption in the tax code, it’s the exact opposite for deductions. For deductions, you should assume nothing is deductible unless a provision in the tax code allows for it, and you must satisfy the record-keeping requirements for each deduction. This is where accounting software comes in handy.

Also, consider off-site data storage in the cloud and don’t forget to back up your data regularly. Remember that thousands of companies are audited each year. It is not something to be feared, but a reminder to keep your business’s processes compliant and on track.

5.     You don’t know what these new, unfamiliar processes are or how to deal with them

Entering a new business gives you the opportunity to explore an industry in which you are passionate and driven. However, along with the opportunity to focus on what you know and love most, entrepreneurs may also be faced with new tasks that they fear and are not as skilled in. Uncertainty surrounding business sectors you are unfamiliar with can be daunting and time-consuming. These responsibilities are different for everyone, but accounting and invoicing efforts are most frequently dreaded by business people. Accurately and legally capturing your billing processes is necessary for any business to survive, but these tasks should not be feared.

Cloud-based business management software can greatly diminish the hassle and stress with accounting and invoicing by tracking billable hours and generating invoices for individual clients. There are solutions that help keep you on time by notifying you multiple times of an upcoming due invoice as well as notifications for unpaid invoices. Cloud-based software also reduces paperwork and minimizes the investment in hardware as well as the resources to manage it.  Choose software from a company that you can easily reach out to with questions and who understand your individual goals and problems. There are expert solutions out there to help you make the unmanageable more manageable. Also, look for software that will help simplify business processes, such as payroll and payments, and that is user-friendly and intuitive so your business operations are easier to manage.

Fears and anxiety are just part of the journey and, yes, you’ll have some nights where you’re tossing and turning. Warm milk and chamomile tea will certainly help with the sleep, but they aren’t going to solve your bigger business issues. If you can recognize the fears when they surface and remind yourself that there are ways to overcome them, you can ensure that your business is on the right path, giving you peace of mind as you successfully navigate the sharp turns and obstacles.