Category Archives: Business Basics

What Tax Documents Should You Keep?

And which ones should you shred?

If your filing cabinet is bursting at the seams, you’re not alone. As a small business owner, you have a lot of paperwork to keep track of – everything from business licenses, employee records, lunch receipts – the list goes on.

Some of the more challenging records to manage are your business’ tax documents and all of their supporting paperwork. Navigating tax document requirements is complicated and is often unchartered territory for a small business.

As a default, many business owners end up unnecessarily saving every last receipt for years and years. Or, they become overwhelmed and throw away important information.

Properly storing tax documents comes down to these four keys to success.

  • Know how long to store your tax documents
  • Understand which ones to store
  • Understand which ones are safe to shred
  • Devise a plan to do things right

How long should you hold onto tax documents?

The IRS can audit your return for up to seven years after you file if they suspect tax filings were made inaccurately or if you claimed a deduction you didn’t deserve. The period of limitations – the period of time you have to amend your tax return – expires three years after a return is filed. So, hang onto your tax returns and all supporting documents for at least seven years.

Which must stay and which can go?

Tax rules pertaining to financial records seem to change every year. The guide below will help you better understand the latest requirements and break down which documents you should store, which you can shred, and which belong under lock and key.

Store paper copies of these six documents.

The following documents are those you’ll want to keep literal tabs on – print, file and store these six tax documents every year.

  1. Form 1040
    Small businesses should store 1040 forms and any other supporting documentation for a minimum of three years.
  2. Schedule K-1
    Small businesses that file as an S-Corp or Partnership need to hold onto schedule K-1 documentation for a minimum of six years to show evidence of partnership shares.
  3. Employee Records
    Store your employee records, payroll reports and other similar employee record documentation for a minimum of seven years to be safe.
  4. Partnership Agreements
    It’s critical to maintain all partnership or LLC partnership agreements, and any amendments to those agreements, in hard copy for life of the partnership.
  1. S-Corp Acceptance Letters and Form 2552
    Maintain a copy of both letters and forms indefinitely if you have an S-Corp.
  2. Required Licenses
    Maintain hard copies of all state and local licenses that are required for you to operate your business.

Store these electronically. 

Not every business record requires you to maintain a physical paper trail. If you’re like many businesses and prefer to maintain your records and documentation electronically, you can keep these documents on a server or on the cloud.

  1. Transaction Statements
    Bank or credit card statements or other similar transaction statements are your back-up documentation to most, if not all, of your payables. Paper or electronic transaction statements should be filed and stored for at least three years after the filing of the transaction’s tax season.
  2. Legal Agreements
    Contracts or legally-binding documents should be stored for the life of the contact, and for years after in the event that those documents need to be revisited.
  3. Federal and State Tax Filings
    Maintain your electronic records for a minimum of three years – more if your business owns property, has employees, or has any inaccurate filings from the past.

If you do decide to store these documents electronically, it’s critical to the safety of your business that you protect your information with trusted, proven data security. A recent SCORE Webinar, ‘What Small Businesses Need to Know About Cybersecurity,’ touches on the back-up and recovery of sensitive documents.

Whatever electronic or cloud-based storage option you choose, it’s worth your time to research that platform’s data security and their process for safeguarding your business, as well as recovering your data should there be a security breach. Check out this list of business cloud storage providers to help you determine the safest way for your business to store sensitive information electronically and keep your tax documents and other business records in order.

These you can shred. 

There are several types of business records that do not need to be physically or electronically stored. In fact, some records containing personal information are many times better shredded than not. This excludes any tax documentation, legal documents, and most of the records listed above.

Always check with your financial advisor and accountant before you begin to shred what may be important documentation for your business to maintain. Typically, though, most businesses can shred non-essential documentation that lists personal information.

If you’re still not sure whether to keep those business records or store them away, even after the period of limitations has expired, hanging onto them for a while longer is never a bad option. And, digitizing your records will make it even easier to store past documents, taking the stress off of your filing cabinet.

Create a system to keep things organized.

Now that you’ve organized your business’ financial records and know which documents to store as physical copies, which ones can be stored electronically and which ones can be shredded, the next step is to come up with a system for filing and storing the right documentation. 

If you have a question about your business records, reach out to a SCORE mentor today!

Should I take on a business partner?

Are two heads always better than one?

When it comes to taking on a partner to start or grow a small business, there’s no right or wrong answer. 

Partners can complement each other’s management skills and bring benefits such as special expertise and client relationships. 

As with any relationship, there are trade-offs that must be carefully considered before deciding whether adding a partner is a wise move, and then you have to find the right person for the role.

If it sounds a bit like marriage, you’re not far off. Having the right partner can be a terrific advantage for a business. Making the partnership successful takes as much energy, effort, and positive feelings for one another as it does to make a marriage work.

There are several important things to consider before choosing a partner and entering into a business partnership.

Define your objectives. From the beginning, the partners need to be certain they share the same personal and financial goals and have comparable expectations for what the partnership will accomplish.

Define your roles. Each partner’s roles and responsibilities should supplement and enhance other’s, but not overlap. In other words, don’t get in each other’s way. Respect each other’s skills and abilities, but do your own job.

Share financial obligations and rewards. Be clear with each other about your financial obligations and how the rewards (i.e., the profit and owners’ equity) from the partnership will be shared. 

Sign a written partnership agreement. This is absolutely essential. Every partnership should be based on a well-written partnership agreement, prepared by an attorney with a great deal of experience in business law. It will be worth every dollar you spend to have it prepared. 

Share decision-making. Partners need to agree on all major decisions affecting the business, particularly those involving large investments of capital, changes in strategic focus, key management hires, and more. Decide in advance how you will make these decisions and know you will benefit by having more than one perspective. 

Understand that unhappiness happens. Any relationship between two people is bound to produce a bit  of friction and sometimes anger. More often than not, they are caused by miscommunication or misunderstanding. The sooner they are brought out in the open and discussed, the less likely they will lead to a major “blow-up.”

Provide an “escape hatch.” Every good partnership agreement contains a “buy/sell” provision in case the partnership doesn’t work out, or one of the partners needs to withdraw from the business for any reason. 

When there are disagreements, knowing the consequences of not reaching an agreement is often all it takes to help partners find a reasonable compromise.

My first business was a 4-way partnership that included an Angel investor. Before the investor wrote his check, and the four of us got down to business, we hired an experienced business attorney to write our partnership agreement. He asked a lot of questions and we talked among ourselves until we had the answers. 

We agreed on our roles, our financial obligations and potential rewards. When the time came to dissolve the partnership, everything we had to do was right there in the agreement. 

If you would like to meet with an experienced business person who has volunteered his or her time to help people like you, reach out to a SCORE mentor today! SCORE’s mentoring services are free.

How to develop a successful new product.

Developing and launching a new product requires research, resources, and a determination to follow through despite roadblocks and setbacks. If you have a product idea, how can you better ensure your development effort goes smoothly, and the end result is a win for you and your company?

While product development comes with varying levels of complexity that depend on the type of product you plan to create, several key ingredients for success remain universal. Continue reading

The SCORE Startup Roadmap: Your Guide to Successfully Starting a Business

Take the SCORE Startup Roadmap

Are You Ready to Start Your Business?

The path to business ownership is an exciting journey. As you embark on your journey, you need a few things to successfully reach your destination. First and foremost, you need a good roadmap or GPS to successfully navigate your way.

The SCORE Startup Roadmap, sponsored by FedEx, guides your journey, from your business idea through opening your doors to customers.

Whatever startup route lies ahead of you, the Startup Roadmap provides direction along the way. It will help you chart a course to success, minimizing detours and dead ends so you can get to your goal faster. This Roadmap will take you from the initial step of defining your business idea through your ultimate destination: launching your business. In each chapter, we’ll teach you what you need to do and give you the resources and expertise you need to get it done. Continue reading

Top 10 bookkeeping mistakes by small businesses.

couple working on finances

From one-person entities to Fortune 500 companies, no business can escape the dreaded task of bookkeeping. While it’s definitely not one of the more glamorous parts of the job, bookkeeping is at the heart of small business success, which means errors can be crippling.

To avoid the financial headaches that come with bookkeeping mismanagement, it’s important first to be aware of the pitfalls that can ensnare you. Continue reading

Business Help for Veterans from Facebook and SCORE.

Welcome Veterans!

We are proud to partner with Facebook to help veterans, military members and their families start and grow their own small businesses. Learn more, and find your mentor today.

How Can SCORE Help Veteran Entrepreneurs?

SCORE is the nation’s largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors. Our 10,000 mentors can meet with you face-to-face in over 300 chapters, through video chat or via email. Continue reading

Closing Sales Starts With Building Trust

Making the sale, especially when your small business offers products and services to other businesses, demands more than being good at what you do. It definitely requires building professional relationships. To do that, you must earn your customers’ trust. 

There’s no scientific formula for earning trust. It requires time, patience, and honest effort. 

Here are some suggestions to help you lay a foundation of trust with your potential customers: Continue reading

Create an emotionally engaging customer experience.

It seems somewhat contradictory, but the more technologically savvy buyers become (and the less time they spend visiting stores or talking to services providers on the phone) the more they want a personal, emotionally gratifying experience with businesses.

Entrepreneurs must find ways to not only appeal to customers’ desire for quality products or services, but also to their hearts.

In a Harvard Business Review article by consumer intelligence experts Alan Zorfass and Daniel Leemon, “Our research across hundreds of brands in dozens of categories shows that the most effective way to maximize customer value is to move beyond mere customer satisfaction and connect with customers at an emotional level.”

What does this mean for you? Instead of just transactions, your business must make memorable interactions. To gain a competitive edge and win customer loyalty, you must make an emotional connection with buyers. Continue reading

What resources help women entrepreneurs succeed?

According to the 2017 State Of Women-owned Businesses Report commissioned by American Express, women-owned businesses now account for nearly 40 percent of all companies in the United States. With the increase in the number of women-owned firms a whopping 114 percent (compared to the 44 percent increase among all businesses) from 1997 to 2017, it’s evident women entrepreneurs are a powerful force within the U.S. economy.   Continue reading