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Start the New Year Off Right

The 10 commandments of business success you need to take to heart this year

Usually at this time of year, I make a list of my "10 New Year's Resolutions for the Small-Business Owner," but since New Year's resolutions seldom make it beyond January, I thought I should take a tougher stand this year.

Here are 10 "commandments" to help you make 2007 a better year for your business than 2006 was. Don't hesitate--do them now! Then you can enjoy the rest of the year without guilt. Let's start from the bottom and work backwards:

10. As soon as you finish reading this column, get in your car and drive directly to your local IRS office (it's usually in the same government building as your county courthouse). Pick up as many copies of IRS Form 1099 as you can carry, and make sure you send one to every human being--except employees and partners, who get different forms--you paid more than $600 to in 2006. The deadline for sending these is January 31, but the IRS runs out of forms well before then and you can't download them from the internet. Be sure to send copies to the IRS and your accountant.

9. Review your list of employees, identify the two worst performers or biggest "time vampires," and fire them. Advertise for their replacements. (I told you I was taking a tough stand!)

8. If you own a retail business and you don't have an eBay Store online, open one now. For information and advice, go to www.storessuccessvideo.com. If you have an eBay Store already, go to that website anyway and find out all the things you--and thousands of others--are probably doing wrong.

7. If you're a consultant or professional, print out all the pages of your website and update them. Make sure your fee schedule is current--or post your fee schedule if you haven't already done so--add any articles you wrote last year, and post at least five new testimonials from satisfied clients along with their photos and e-mail addresses. Mark up the pages, and give them to your webmaster.

6. Take your accountant or bookkeeper to lunch, and get them to tell you all the stupid things you did last year that need to be fixed now. Don't wait until February because then they'll be too busy doing people's tax returns.

5. If you pay estimated taxes, open an interest-bearing savings account, deduct 30 percent of your gross sales from your checking account each week, and deposit it into that savings account. Then you'll have the funds available to pay your estimated taxes when they come due.

4. Go to your office computer, look at all the software programs you have, and delete all those that are personal (like video games) or that don't relate to your business. If you have an instant messenger program on your computer, delete it, too. You don't need the distractions.

3. If you have a home office, call a local contractor and have him take a professional measurement of your home office. Make sure he sends you a letter stating the exact square footage of your home office. That letter will save your life if the IRS ever audits you. And don't wait until spring to call someone because then they'll be too busy with home repairs and remodeling projects.

2. If you have a corporation or limited liability company (LLC), call your attorney and offer to pay them an annual retainer to do all your corporate and LLC paperwork this year and act as the registered agent for your business. You'll never find the time to do the paperwork yourself.

1. It's all about entertainment these days. People just want to have fun no matter what they're doing. So find three ways you can inject a little fun into your business so your customers look at you as an "experience" rather than just a place to buy stuff.

Happy New Year! And that's an order.

Cliff Ennico is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series MoneyHunt. His latest book is Small Business Survival Guide (Adams Media). This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. Copyright 2006 Clifford R. Ennico. Distributed by Creators Syndicate Inc.

Cliff Ennico is a syndicated columnist and author of several books on small business, including Small Business Survival Guide and The eBay Business Answer Book. This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state.

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