Monthly Archives: December 2016

Free SWOT Templates for Your Small Businesses

A SWOT analysis is one of the most valuable tools an entrepreneur has to help make better business decisions. This exercise — whose name is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats — explores the positive and negative aspects of proposed ideas, strategies and other business moves. It also identifies any internal and external forces opposing those proposals and ways they can impact the company.

Most SWOT analyses are broken down into a two-by-two matrix, with one box for each of the four components. If you’re not sure where to start with your analysis, here are six free, downloadable SWOT templates to guide you.

Bplans offer its SWOT analysis template as a downloadable PDF file. From this resource page, you can find instructions for filling out a SWOT analysis, what to use it for, and sample SWOT analyses for various types of companies and industries. These include food establishments, as well as online stores, such as an Etsy shop, to give you an idea of what business-specific SWOT analyses should look like.

2. BusinessBalls On BusinessBalls, you’ll find several different downloadable SWOT tools available in Word and PDF format. This article includes a detailed explanation of each SWOT component, as well as a filled-out sample with numerous types of potential strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats your business might have.

3. Creately If you’ve ever wondered what a SWOT analysis would look like for some of the world’s biggest and best-known corporations, Creately has designed samples for companies like Google, Amazon and Nike on its SWOT analysis template page. You can also create and edit a blank template using Creately’s web-based SWOT software.

4. MindTools MindTools offers a SWOT worksheet that guides you through the process of filling out your analysis. This article lists a series of questions you can answer for each component to help you figure out what to put in each box. For example, for Strengths, you are asked to list what advantages your organization has over others and what your unique selling proposition (USP) is; for Weaknesses, you’re asked what factors cause your business to lose sales. This thorough, introspective look at your company may help you uncover things you didn’t think of.

5. Priority Matrix Priority Matrix, an app by Appfluence, provides a seven-step process that guides you toward filling out your SWOT analysis. First, it instructs you to choose your objective and decide what area of your business you want the analysis to focus on. Then, you need choose your “SWOT team,” the key team members who will be involved in any decision-making that happens following the analysis. After listing items for each SWOT component (the next four steps), your last step is to prioritize the results and figure out your next course of action. You can also download the Priority Matrix app to help you create your analysis.

6. SlideModel SlideModel’s collection of free PowerPoint SWOT analysis templates can help you get your message across in an eye-catching and engaging way that can help persuade your audience. The first is a basic, one-page template that simply lists items under each SWOT section. There are also two multislide, table-based templates — one template is very simple and flat, while the other uses sleek graphics and a clean layout — both of which use a master SWOT analysis as a cover or intro slide, and then break down each section in the next slides. Additionally, the concept-based SWOT analysis template uses shapes and colors to visually illustrate ideas, whereas the creative template allows the use of images, diagrams and other objects.

Six Big Regulatory Changes That Could Affect Your Business

It’s a new year and there’s a new incoming administration. That means there are likely some big-time regulation changes in the pipeline, not to mention changes that were already on the agenda. Some proposals will fail, while others will pass, but all of them could significantly affect your business in 2017 and beyond.  Top of the list this year are the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the currently suspended change in Department of Labor overtime regulations, and minimum wage or paid sick leave efforts at local and state levels. However, there are a bevy of other potential changes on the horizon that the savvy entrepreneur should be aware of as well. Here are some of the proposals we’re keeping an eye on this year, and how they might affect small businesses.

A freshly sworn-in Senate took the first step toward repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on Jan. 4. The senators voted 58 to 41 in favor of a budget resolution instructing congressional committees to draft a reconciliation bill, which would include a provision to repeal the ACA either in part or in whole.

Jessica Jennings, regulatory compliance manager at PrimePay, said that while the bill will be limited to items that affect budget and revenue, the portions of the ACA that could be repealed under this process include:

  • Insurance subsidies available on the health care marketplace
  • Medicaid expansion
  • The individual mandate and large employer shared responsibility payments
  • ACA fees on health insurers
  • The medical device tax

Last year, a U.S. District Court issued a preliminary injunction against a pending change to overtime regulations that would narrow exemptions and extend mandatory overtime pay to an estimated 4.2 million workers. Whether the overtime regulation change becomes final or not will determine if business owners need to reclassify employees, adjust wages and benefits accordingly, or budget for additional overtime. [See Related Story: Are You Ready for the Department of Labor’s Overtime Rule Change?]

Prior to the injunction, many companies had already done their due diligence in assessing payroll costs, reclassifying workers, communicating the changes and seeking professional advice, said Bob Drainville, president of Timesheet Mobile.

“Most likely, if companies have already put the processes and technologies in place, then they will stick to this, as it’s too difficult to reverse employee classifications and potentially have negative fallout due to worker frustration and possible disengagement,” he said. “At the very least, the overtime rule has given companies the chance to review wage and hour obligations, which is one of the biggest sources of DOL fines and penalties.”

Proposed rules from the federal CFPB would prohibit what are known as mandatory arbitration clauses in financial products. Those clauses essentially prevent consumers from filing class-action lawsuits against the company in the event that something goes wrong. The rules would instead leave people to litigate on their own, a time-consuming, costly endeavor that often has very little payoff in the end.

“It is expected that the Obama administration will issue the final rule before President-elect Trump’s inauguration,” David Reiss, research director of the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at the Brooklyn Law School, said. “Entrepreneurs with consumer credit cards should expect that they could join class actions involving financial products. They should also expect that credit card companies will be more careful in setting the terms of their agreements, given this regulatory change.”

Reiss added that the final adoption or rejection of these rules is also subject to the Congressional Review Act, which empowers Congress to invalidate new federal regulations. Even if the rules were adopted, Congress could ultimately reject them.

“Republicans have been very critical of the proposed rule, which they see as anti-business,” Reiss said.

New federal regulations governing the way enterprise companies report assets, financial statements and leasing activity are also on the horizon in 2017 and 2018. Cameron Nokes, senior industry product manager at Accruent, said many larger companies have already prepared for the change, but small businesses should be aware that they could be subject to the rules in the near future.

“Smaller companies, startups and entrepreneurs can begin to prepare for FASB’s implementation of these standards by following in the footsteps of enterprise companies and carefully reporting their financial assets and tracking their leasing activity so that it is FASB-compliant,” Nokes said. “Since many of these companies do not have robust finance departments, it’s important to be ready in advance.”

At the end of December 2016, U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy signed off on amendments to the agency’s Risk Management Plan. Those changes include additional accident-prevention measures, revised emergency-response requirements and additional reporting mandates.

“Over the past decade, facilities to be affected have reported more than 1,500 accidents,” Steven Minsky, CEO of LogicManager, said. “These accidents resulted in nearly 60 deaths; 17,000 injuries; 500,000 people evacuated or told to shelter in place; and more than $2 billion in property damages. These risks are preventable, and accountability for negligence is greatly increased [under the new regulations].”

Minsky added that the new EPA regulations are more likely to affect large businesses than small businesses.

Measures raising the minimum wage or mandating paid sick leave have been gaining popularity throughout the country in municipalities and statehouses. More of the same should be expected in 2017, said Richard Alaniz, a labor and employment attorney for the Alaniz, Schraeder, Linker, Farris, Mayes law firm.

“At the state and local level, business owners should prepare for minimum wage increases and expanding paid-sick-leave requirements that will take place within 2017 and beyond,” Alaniz said. “Moreover, cities and states are accelerating the pace at which they enact employment laws, and many employers are caught off guard by these laws each year. For example, California now prohibits most new employment contracts from requiring employees to litigate their case in another state or under the laws of another state.”

As a result, keeping an eye on your local and state governments will be just as important to your business’s well-being as watching for developments at the federal level this year.

The Ways to Reduce Your Business’s Tax Liability

Tax season is now underway, and businesses across the country are preparing to submit their financials to the IRS. If this is your first business tax return, you might be nervous about how much you owe the government. Fortunately, there are plenty of smart, simple and legal ways to reduce your tax liability. Business News Daily spoke with tax experts to uncover some of the best strategies for lowering your business tax bill. Know which deductions you can legally make The IRS allows for a wide range of tax deductions that you can potentially use to your advantage.

“Many small business owners are unaware of deductions and are missing out on money that can be saved every year,” said Gary Milkwick, chief product officer of

Milkwick named a few of the most common business expenses owners can deduct from their taxes:

  • Expenses and mileage for personal vehicles that are used for business.
  • Cellphone bills, if the phones are primarily used for business
  • Costs incurred to operate businesses from home (portion of the rent, utilities, etc.)
  • Meal and entertainment expenses with existing or potential partners, employees, contractors and clients (meals and entertainment expenses are 50 percent tax deductible)
  • Costs to purchase business equipment, such as computers, printers, monitors and phones
  • Setting up and contributing to retirement plans

If you’re going to invest in new equipment or services for your business, the timing of those purchases can affect your tax liability for the current or next year, said Milkwick. While it’s still early in the year, you may want to think ahead and plan out what you’re willing to invest in before the end of 2017.

“If it’s November and you’re planning on purchasing equipment within the next several months for a business expansion, for example, it may make sense to accelerate the purchase of the equipment before the end of the year to get the tax deduction in the current year,” he told Business News Daily. “Same goes for services. If it’s towards the end of the year and you’re planning on a large marketing campaign over the next several months, it may make sense to prepay for some of the costs to take the deduction in the current year.”

Happen to have the spare cash to make bigger investments? Be sure to consider tax-friendly opportunities. For example, you can write off a significant portion of initial investments in areas like real estate and oil and gas, said Casey Minshew, COO of

“Oil and gas investments that pass through ‘intangible drilling costs’ help reduce an investors’ taxable income, as they can take these costs as active deductions against their earned income,” Minshew said. “This can generate up to a first-year return of 30 percent based on tax benefits alone, even before a drop of oil has been produced.”

If you want to learn more, see this Charles Schwab article outlining which investment expenses are and aren’t tax-deductible.

Business owners often mistakenly think that all cash inflows are taxable income and all cash outflows are deductions, Milkwick said. In reality, the nature of the cash inflow or outflow determines its deductibility.

For example, he said, income from the sale of the business’s goods or services is taxable. However, some common cash increases that aren’t taxable to the company include bank loans, lines of credit and loans from the owner to the business.

“These [loans] are also not deductible to the owner until the business spends the money,” Milkwick added.

If you’re not sure about whether you can or should use these strategies, consult with your tax attorney or CPA.

While it makes good financial sense to explore all your options for reducing your tax bill, you need to be careful: If your deductions look suspicious to the IRS, the agency might select you for an audit.

The IRS has switched its focus from large corporations to smaller business entities like sole proprietors, LLCs, partnerships and S corps, said Jessie Seaman, senior managing attorney at Tax Defense Network. In other words, Seaman said, your business could be under even greater scrutiny than your bigger competitors are.

Seaman noted that the IRS commonly looks for certain types of business tax deductions — such as those for home offices; meals, travel and entertainment; vehicle use; and real estate losses — to make sure taxpayers are adhering to limits and regulations.

Similarly, Steven Aldrich, chief product officer of GoDaddy and former CEO of online accounting system Outright, reminded business owners to keep personal and business expenses separate. (The IRS looks for personal expenses reported as business expenses, he said.) And always report full, gross income before any fees, such as those for credit card processing, are taken out, he added.