Sealing the Deal with a Letter of Engagement

After meeting with a potential client, you should compose a letter of engagement immediately to formalize your business relationship. The letter not only seals the deal, but it articulates and solidifies expectations of both contractor and client.

Most small businesses respect a formal agreement but appreciate one that is not written like a legal document. Typically they are interested in a gentleman’s agreement and not something they will need a lawyer to look over (chances are both you and your client do not have the resources to consult regularly with lawyers). A letter of engagement will stand as a contract between you and your client, making the relationship formal and binding. And if done correctly, this document can protect your interests as you move forward in your business.

Services

A letter of engagement should specify the services you agree to provide. Start the letter by stating, “This is a list of my services as per our conversation today. If there is anything that I have missed or neglected to include, please contact me immediately as these are the services I am currently prepared to provide.” This avoids any misunderstanding as to what you agreed to do. Your client cannot come back months later and say, “I thought you were also going to…” This letter provides your client with the opportunity to ask for additional services upfront if necessary, and it protects you from doing work you had not originally planned on.

Timeline and Reporting Mechanisms

Be specific as to the services you will provide, but not the timeline in which they are to be performed. In managing your clients you will need flexibility in order to accomplish all the tasks associated with your business. For example, if you are collecting information from your client weekly, do not give an exact day or time. If you have specified a pick-up time and are late by even a day you are in breach of the contract. Simply state that you will collect the information weekly; perhaps you could say the “end of the week” or the “beginning of the following week.”

In your letter you must formalize the necessary reporting mechanisms you plan to use with your client. Provide a time when you will have the month-end prepared and ready to deliver; based on the client’s needs this can be monthly or perhaps quarterly. Again, do not be specific as to the times you will meet, as this could change. For example, you may want to state that you will meet with them by the 15th of each month with the previous month’s data. This allows for you to schedule a new appointment each month with leeway as to when the actual meeting time is.

Fees and Billing Processes

State the monthly fee charged for your services and the accepted method of payment (CC, Check, trade, etc.). You also need to state when the payment is due. If you require payment “at the time of pick-up,” you expect to be paid at the time you pick-up weekly information, before the work is done. If you require payment “at the time of delivery,” you expect to be paid before you handover the reports in your monthly meeting with the client.

You may also consider payment on a reoccurring date. Billing the client on a given date each month has many advantages; it is a bill that will be more likely to be paid by the client because it’s an expected monthly expense. This also helps your relations with your client, because they will be less likely to avoid you or postpone meetings because of a lack of funds. Make it clear whether or not the payment is for the previous month or for the work to be done in the upcoming month. Clarify that the set-up fee is in addition to your monthly billing fee.

Certified Mail

Send the letter to the potential client through certified mail. This signifies to your client the letter’s importance and provides you with notification that it has been received. Once you have a receipt, you can rest assured that your client has access to the document and will notify you if any changes are necessary.

A letter of engagement documents expectations of both contractor and client. It can be a means through which both feel comfortable in their business relationship. In this way, a prompt response following your first meeting with a potential client can seal the deal and provide you with a safety net as you move forward in your business.

Proper Business Processes Help Guard Your Success

With your business’ legal issues, it is critical to dot all your I’s and cross your T’s. Most startup business owners that you run into have a few stories of things they learned the hard way.

One of the most important ways that the Professional Bookkeeper™ program really distinguishes itself is in how it helps new businesses avoid legal hangups. Knowing the best ways to protect yourself ensures that you get paid for every hour of work that you do. You will learn how to earn $30-$60 per hour doing the kind of bookkeeping needed by every small business.

Listen: What Are Your Clients Really Saying?

When you put your ear to a seashell, you could swear that the rushing sound you hear is the very ocean from which the shell originated. Of course, you know it’s not really the ocean!

Hearing the voice of the client can be equally deceiving. You might think you know what your clients are saying, but how can you be sure? For example, when a client says “I’m disappointed with this tax return,” you might think the client is saying “I don’t think I should pay you!” or “I’ll never do business with you again!” In truth, however, your client just doesn’t like to pay taxes. Most unhappy clients are simply saying

“I want my problem to be heard.”

Solution:  Listen

“I want an apology.”

Solution:  Find out specifically what they don’t feel is right and apologize for any errors.

“I want reassurance that some action will be taken to fix my problem and to prevent it from recurring.”

Solution:  Offer to help them plan better for next year and set up an appointment to meet with them later in the year.

So listen carefully to your clients. Reassure them that you will resolve the problem to their satisfaction. Finally, follow up to make sure that you’ve fulfilled their needs — both voiced and unvoiced.

Steps to Reduce Stress In Your Life

The majority of people polled said they are more stressed today than they were just a few years ago. Nobody needs to convince you of that. Demands from family, work, money, and a dozen other factors can stretch us to the limit if we don’t know how to eliminate stress. The list of stress-related health problems ranges from mild headaches to ulcers. Your very health depends on managing stress, because we all have it.

Bank presidents and owners of multiple companies deal with immense pressures, and still make time for family, hobbies, and things they enjoy. So how do they do it? Most effective business people simply cannot eliminate the pressures that often result in stress. What they do learn is coping mechanisms for managing stress.

7 Steps to Effectively Managing Stress

Effective daily planning can eliminate many of the stressors in your life whether employed or self-employed. Here are some tips to get you started:

Step 1 — Determine what stresses you.

Stop right now, take 5 minutes, and think about the major causes of stress in your life.

Don’t expect to solve the problems now; just write them down. Before you can eliminate your stress, you need to understand what responsibilities and external pressures cause it in the first place.

Step 2 — Examine the efforts you have made, if any, to eliminate these stressors.

Have any of them worked in the past? We often forget how we successfully coped with problems before when facing them again. Go with what works.

If you’re like many people, your days are a patchwork of commitments to work, family, and the community, with little time left over for you. Rather than reflexively respond to each demand, take a minute to consider each one. Ask yourself the following:

  • Is it reasonable?
  • Is it realistic?
  • Are there steps you can take to make your commitment less stressful?

Step 3 — Identify your weaknesses and respond to them.

Do you try to pack far too much into one day? Do you have a hard time saying “no” to unreasonable demands? Are you chronically tardy in meeting deadlines? Realize that you are causing your own stress, and change your behavior accordingly. Stress doesn’t come from the pressures we face. It comes from how we react to them.

Step 4 — Assess the urgency.

When a situation is on the verge of becoming stressful, stop and ask yourself:

  • “Will this matter in a week?
  • Will this matter in six months?
  • What’s the worst thing that can happen because of this?
  • Is it worth jeopardizing my health over this?”
  • Is this important to me to do right now, or is this someone else’s priority?

Someone once said, “I know that worrying works, because everything I worry about never happens.” Silly? Maybe, but the fact is, the vast majority of the things that we worry about simply never happen they way we feared they would.

Step 5 — Communicate the reasons for your shortcomings.

Since most of us would acknowledge living stressful existences, we can certainly understand the stress of others. If your financial reports are late because the printer broke, communicate with your client who is waiting for the report. If you showed up late for an appointment because you locked your keys in your car, explain the reason.

People tend to be more forgiving if they understand why you were unable to follow through on your responsibility. By the same token, use your failures as a basis for improvement. If this is the third time this month you’ve locked your keys in the car or the printer is inoperable because you never learned how to fix a paper jam, it’s time to address those problems.

Step 6 — Streamline your day so that you accomplish more.

Think about how much time that goes to waste every day. Some of it you can do something about and some you can’t. Focus on those areas where you can make change by improving yourself. Then think about what’s important in your day-to-day living, and focus on those tasks.

To streamline your work, you need to determine where others rob you of your precious time. If you find that your time is robbed by endless “hey you’s” all day, set some ground rules. Take command of your time by pushing back when appropriate.

Step 7 — Prioritize your work.

Each day, plan your work based on what is the most important to get done that day. When distractions threaten to consume the time you have planned for the most important items on your list, write them in your planner and assign them a lower priority. You now have captured the “to do” item so that you won’t forget it, but you have not allowed it to distract you from what you really want to accomplish. If someone drops one of their hot priorities on you, let them know that you have captured the “to do” item, and once you get the most critical things off your list, it’s next. That way, they know that you haven’t dropped the ball, and hopefully they won’t bother you about it again.

If your boss is the one that dropped the task in your lap, ask them politely if they would like to move that priority in front of the tasks that you already had planned for the day. This serves a couple of purposes. First, your boss doesn’t feel that you are pushing back; they will respect that you want them to set the priorities. Secondly, you set the stage for them to realize that if something doesn’t get done, it isn’t because you are not working hard. You simply worked on what they wanted the most. This proactive approach is far preferable to dealing with why things didn’t get done after the fact, when your legitimate reasons may be interpreted as “excuses”.

Pressure You Have to Live With, Stress You Don’t

With the best of planning, life will still place demands on you. Some of these demands are time-sensitive, the natural reaction to which is to stress over them. Pressures won’t go away as long as there are tasks that need to be done under a compressed time scale. Through prioritization of the demands placed on you and strictly working on the most important things first, you at least ensure that the things that get done are those that must get accomplished.

If you don’t get all of your daily tasks crossed off, you are about normal. But so what, most of us don’t get as much done as we would like. Focus on those things that will have the greatest impact on your life and you are doing the best you can. Make every effort to forget the rest . . . at least until you have the time and ability to do something about them.

Reducing stress will make you more effective at all of the things that you CAN get to. Stress is just another form of fear, and fear is a paralyzing force in a person’s life. You may work well under pressure, but be assured that none of us work well under stress.

Learn How To Work Effectively and Get More Done

The best way to cope with stress is to get things accomplished and off your list as quickly as possible. In running your own accounting and tax service, you need to be as efficient as possible, using the most time-efficient ways to get things done. The Professional Bookkeeper™ program teaches you methods perfected over years of practical, real-world accounting and tax experience. And because the best-paid freelance accountants are paid by the task, not by the hour, whether you make $30 per hour or $60 is determined by your efficiency. The Professional Bookkeeper™ program teaches you well-honed methods to get accounting tasks done in less time so that you can get home sooner or service more clients and earn more money.

Learn More About the Professional Bookkeeping Program

The Pareto Principle of Priority Management

The 80-20 Rule

The Pareto Principle is one that is followed by most successful business operators. It’s name is derived from the nineteenth century Italian economist of the same name and is a performance rule which states that 80% of your results are achieved from 20% of your activities.

It can also be expressed as 80% of revenue is generated by 20% of your client base and 20% is generated by the remaining 80% or activities which take up to 80% of your effort may only produce 20% of your results and profits.

The obvious trick is to determine which 20% will yield the desired results.

Focus On What is Working

From a marketing perspective the Pareto Principle indicates that we should concentrate on the big picture and not waste our efforts on activities that, at best, will provide only mediocre results. That 80% of your client base, although providing you with diversification, can be the most demanding and yet the least profitable part of your business.

You can harness the message from the Pareto Principle in your own business by:

  • Focusing your attention on those clients who provide you with the bulk of your work and your income. It’s a matter of practicing the “love the one you’re with” concept by offering your existing clients your full range of services.
  • Concentrating your marketing efforts on those activities that have traditionally accounted for the major part of your business — developing word of mouth referrals.
  • Putting your efforts into those services which represent the major component of your income.

Use the Pareto Principle to Be More Profitable

It’s worth reflecting on the Pareto Principle and determine those activities which sap your energy and your time but which don’t make a useful contribution to your results. Once you identify them you need to decide on whether they should be eliminated.

Proper Business Processes Help Guard Your Success

With your business’ legal issues, it is critical to dot all your i’s and cross your t’s. Most startup business owners that you run into have a few stories of things they learned the hard way.

One of the most important ways that the Professional Bookkeeper™ program really distinguishes itself is in how it helps new businesses avoid legal hangups. Knowing the best ways to protect yourself ensures that you get paid for every hour of work that you do. You will learn how to earn $30-$60 per hour doing the kind of bookkeeping needed by every small business.

Learn More About the Professional Bookkeeping Program

A Low-Cost Way to Leave a Lasting Legacy

With tax season behind us, it’s time to assist clients in their tax planning. For that reason, I felt it timely to discuss the IRD — I had one of my largest tax clients, and a good friend, surprised by this when his father passed away last year.

When an individual passes away, it’s almost certain that there’ll be a piece of his or her estate that can be taxed at a rate of almost 100%. It’s a little thing known as “income in respect of a decedent,” better known as IRD. It’s almost certain that you will have it in your estate — but your heirs may not see one thin dime of it. But the good news is that IRD can be used to make a charitable gift that can leave a lasting legacy.

What’s IRD? Basically, IRD is income that was owed to an individual upon death. It can include unpaid salary, most deferred-compensation arrangements (e.g., IRAs, employer-provided retirement and pension plans), accrued interest on bonds, previously untaxed appreciation in Series E savings bonds and similar government bonds.

The income is not included on the individual’s pre-death income tax return. But it gets hit with a multiple-tax whammy. How? IRD is subject to estate tax and income tax when it’s in the hands of the heirs (however, an income tax deduction for the federal estate tax paid is allowed to the taxpayer who has to include the IRD in gross income). With a top state and federal estate tax rate of 55% and a top income tax rate of 39.6%, the effective rate of overall taxation on IRD is around 80%. But when you pile on other possible taxes — extra death taxes in certain states, generation-skipping transfer taxes, state and local income taxes — the tax rate on IRD could approach 100%.

What to do:  Consider giving the IRD items that will wind up in an estate to charity instead of having it all go to the tax man. A gift to charity of IRD items will generally avoid the tough estate and income tax treatment these amounts receive. This can be structured as an outright bequest.

Important: Charitable gifts that involve IRD items must be structured just right to achieve the desired tax benefits. If it’s a large amount you may want to suggest that the client see an attorney.

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