Thursday, September 12, 2013

Something's Gotta Give

Quarterly Tax Payments or a Living Wage

Wrapping your self-employed head around this one can be super-perplexing, to say the least. 

You get paid this X-amount per month. It's seldom enough to cover your monthly nut and even worse at the end of the year you have to scramble to cover the huge sum in Self-employment taxes. Paradoxically, this is all good information- crucial numbers to help make vital decisions.

One method to help alleviate the Year-End tax burden challenge for independent contractors is to take a flat % off the top, each & every payment received. 20-30% (*Consult your local CPA) off the top. This is technically not income & you shouldn't even consider spending it. 

Now if you do the math and subtract out the % for taxes then you now know your real number of income to work with. This is valuable information that can be leveraged in make or break decisions such as: 

1) Hey there big spender? You may need to cut back the discretionary spending to fall in line with your actual earning level. 
2) Need more billable hours? You may need to get out there and find more clients or transition away towards less price sensitive (cheap) clients.
3) Time for a Raise? To make a living wage you may need increase your hourly rate. 

Any of a number of options to get out of the way of the 20-foot April 15th tidal wave coming to crush your sunny day at the beach attitude. With this info you can make informed decisions. Better to base your self in reality rather than false hope, denial or vagueness. Vagueness inevitably bites back.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Error: QuickBooks was not able to complete your request.

Recently, BofA and Chase have instituted a number of security upgrades, which has scrambled their downloading functions for Quickbooks for Mac.

This has become a major issue for Quickbooks for Mac 2011, 2012, and 2013. I first noticed this problem 2 weeks ago, when I downloaded and a following my normal routine, I then upon double clicking the QBO file to import the downloaded transactions, I receive an error message: “Quickbooks was not able to complete your request. Please contact your financial institution." Blah, blah, blah- not the best advice because chances are the bank online tech support will just refer you to QB tech support.  

Since nothing happens when you download, there are a lot of options. You can try what we did- The Stick-Your-Head-in-the-Sand Strategy: 
1) Surrender: Press CMD+Q and close down QB for the day and try again tomorrow. For us this netted us zero sum gain towards our predicament. 
2) Slog-it-Out: Or you could enter in your transactions manually and check back periodically until magically the problem resolves itself. This tactic didn't go over well, as our data entry staff immediately rebelled and HR resources were called in. This strategy also creates issues on the client side. If you have 100s of transactions each week this could be problematic especially when you try to bill out for this time and your client realizes a sudden spike in billable hours. 
3) Last but not least: Call QB Tech Support. If you have a tech support plan, they can be terribly helpful. Once we got through the 15 minutes of questions and searches through their database to match my business name, support account number and business address etc, we had the issue resolved within 5 minutes.

The diagnosis of the problem was that after recent upgrades in online security the "FI File", which works as a bridge between online banking and the quickbooks software became inoperable. The increased security levels initiated by the 2 banking institutions have resulted in a “damaged path” so until you repair the file that bridges the data import you will be stranded in option 1 or 2 (see above). 

The 5-minute fix that QB Tech Support walked us through was: Download a new FIDIR.txt file, find the old file, delete the contents, copy/paste in the new contents and save the file. 

If you are a bookkeeper running multiple versions of Quickbooks for Mac, I suspect that you will have to do this for each version and for each laptop. 

This call may be recorder for quality assurance
QB support gave us a Reference# in case the problem persisted and we need to call back (God help us). It may be helpful to reference this:  Ref# 222-512-968-435.

Given quickbooks' renown labyrinthian online support resources and the engulfing nature of endless peer-to-peer support pages, it can be virtually impossible to search-query the correct, up-to-date support page that addresses the specifics of your problem. To save yourself the infuriating dilemma of wading through hundreds of online pages or paying a pretty-penny for support, I include here the link to the latest support article:

It'll be a wonder if in the coming years, the heir-apparent Bangladesh* tech support staff will be able to keep pace with the exponential problems emerging and spiraling out from San Jose engineering R&D.  *Not to pick on any one country, region or industry outsourcer who are making a killing on farming out their local low-commitment / low-cost / low-wage countrymen, but the problems are systemic. Current and future silicon solutions may be creating more problems than they solve and continue to feedback into an expanse of stalls, crashes and glitches. What we may be witnessing are the first signs of a design weakness in our fragile support-supply chain cycle. 

Good Luck, due to high call volumes, as wait times may exceed 45 minutes, there may be winners and losers, who's keeping score?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tornadoes, Drafts and other Clues

When you feel a draft in the room do you just go turn the heat up? Most likely we take the easiest, quick fix approach over the more extensive insulating, installing ductwork, and central heating. But avoiding the root cause of the draft has a cost that significantly adds up over time and burdens us in ways we underestimate. 

Let us apply the laws of thermodynamics to our new years resolution: heat moves from warm to cold. This is an important distinction to realize- you aren’t gaining cold you are losing heat. Our action plan needs to take this into consideration. In a business plan or in a personal project you want to keep the heat up. As projects become sidelined or get placed on the back burner that brief blue flame of consistency can flicker out.

We want to maintain the heat at the same time we want to find the leaks in our energy, focus and follow through. But we are faced with a reckoning.  Key moments of profound choice often define the rest of our lives. Everyday we undermine our best efforts in ways big and small. And all the clues are right there beneath our nose. Many we already fully recognize and know not what to do. But in order to preserve our projects or maintain our new years resolutions we need to transform the knowable everyday clues into known facts that we neither hide from, nor hide for. We need awareness but we also need action. 

The living room draft that keeps blowing the pilot light out and leaving our dreams in the cold is a knowable, significant factor. We know its there, but in order to maintain the comfort and avoid discomfort we turn up the heat and downplay leak. Too much comfort comes with a hefty price tag.

Big storms are coming. We can see the looming dark clouds and hear the freight train wind of the tornado. Some like myself are slow learners, some quickly anticipate the next right action, but regardless I’d say 90% of our personal storms and leaks in character are knowable. And great leverage can be gained with a simple daily awareness practice of looking for those clues and paying attention to the details of your life. Astounding losses occur through the littlest of leaks. But the little clues give way to bigger clues and the mind gets more acutely aware with each step out of denial, defeat, and disrepair.

Continued insight builds resolve and momentum to take on more. We need help though. Be honest: if our way of working with the nouns in our life- the people, places and things, isn’t in fact working then we may want to seek a second opinion from folks who have the experience and skills needed in each of our specific situation. Things get complicated quick and we don’t have an instructions manual that comes with this life. Some things may be knowable and we still don’t know the right action. That’s where asking for help and seeking out the right people pays off in the long run.

Access to some of the leaks may be obstructed by someone else’s stuff. But first focus on what you do have control over and leave the rest for now. This is plenty. As you take inventory of the other rooms in your house you will be more able to see the priorities and get help on the things you can’t move yourself, but focus that action in your own room first.

We can predict a lot of the reoccurring negatives that will rattle our windows. With this foresight we can plan and prepare ourselves accordingly. If we let our worst habits, fears, and self-defeating thought patterns run us, we will quickly leak out our brightest dreams and deepest passions until we again are sunk down in a hushed life.

With a systematic, gentle, but shrewd approach we minimize the negative impact of our inevitable fears, procrastination, and self-denial. At the same time we can maximize the quality and quantity of our work—with that, consistency and performance improves.  This multifaceted approach, plugging the leaks and getting the heat turned back on is simultaneously working both sides of the equation, signaling ahead our own determined cry of freedom.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Lucky 13 & New Year's Probability

13 days into 2013 how are your New Years Resolutions coming?

Instead of just hoping your way to success-- put a number on it. Estimate the probability that you will be successful in your new year's resolution and this may increase the likelihood you'll be successful.
Developing the skill of thinking probabilistically taps into the power of observation. What you observe affects the outcomes. The observer effect states that the act of observing a system inevitably alters its state-- and possibly make life more amendable to your resolutions. Furthermore, with an timely application of Bayesian Methodology, which describes a world in which our perception moves more and more towards reality, attaining greater and greater accuracy- our hypothesis that if we change X,Y, and Z then our new year's resolution will in fact prevail. However, if you don't measure, observe, and predict there is a strong likelihood for more of the same.

New year's resolutions symbolize our hopes and dreams for positive change in our life. Relish in following through on the promise that this time you will accomplish a simple goal in your life. My new year desire is to learn spanish. Now how can I be successful this time when every other time before I failed. Clearly willpower is not working. Most adherents to the doctrine of willpower would blame me, the actor, for not working hard enough. What I suggest is that there is something in the context or situation that can commands an overwhelming force, no matter how hard I assert willpower, every time I come up short.

If I just think positive you might say. Behaviorists blame behavior, Thinkers blame thoughts, beliefs, attitudes. But numbers can't lie. So to increase our chances of success - estimate the percentage chance that you think you will be successful.

Get to the root cause: the more you use willpower the more you get trapped by the law of diminishing returns. You need to leverage a force more powerful. So go out on a limb and estimate, observe, estimate, observe and the more your goals will close in on the actuals.

When things get busy and your schedule fills up the margin for error decreases. This means things get tight, time and space shrink and our priorities succumb to daily pressures, things like your exercise routine or eating healthy get squeezed out for sake of expediency.

Put aside for a moment the notion that you may not want to be successful and deal with all that comes with that new job, new boyfriend, new new. Change sucks.

Focus on accuracy. With practice your predictions obtain clearer assessments of reality, moving more and more from fiction to fact, delusion and false hope to the way things actually are.

Acceptance and the world as it is.  
Now through this process you attain several important things: a more accurate perception of the world, clearer resolutions, estimates of your chance of success, and greater wisdom and insight into the personal and environmental factors that act as barriers to improving your success rate. Be successful or have a higher success rate? The first is an overly simplistic assumption based on fantasy perception of the world. And assumes we can just plop down in perfection. The second is a process promoting greater and greater progress.

The more we practice thinking probabilistically and dealing with the reality of uncertainty in the world the more chance this time we will be successful in our predictions and find closer approximations of our limitations and the barriers inherent in our everyday world.

So don't make a resolution unless you intend on keeping your predictions.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Make More Roof

Ok so when your roof is leaking big time and there is a gusher coming down in the middle of your living room. Since the living room is direcly below lil’ Tommy and baby Ann’s room, this downspout has drenched your new born’s crib and her big brothers bed. What do you do…. worry about making more roof?

Ever have someone after describing their money problems say to you- “I just need to make more money.” This may be true once and a while, say 1 person out of 5, but for most of us (myself included) this is too simple of a diagnosis and may be covering up the deeper root cause.

Spending Side & Earning Side

For one thing, worrying about making more money is like worrying about the weather. You need a sophisticated super computer to run data sets and statistical modeling and employ experienced analysis to generate an accurate prediction --- we will leave that to a later blog. At this point our crude thinking and wobbly intuition, oft given to exaggeration and bias, is not equipped to properly forecast your revenue side.  But for the time being, we can focus on the hundred little leaks and set up for a deeper reckoning.  (The actual path of your hurricane is too hard to predict and when your in the middle of the storm you need a few simple things to anchor your  focus on and get out of harms way.)

The problem put simply nine times out of ten is the gaping hole inside me that I am trying to fill with everything and the kitchen sink. Our coping mechanisms: Distraction, Denial, Soothe and Self-Medicate are helping us get by, but this symptom-maintenance is feeding the folly by avoiding what’s truly responsible and slowly sinking the boat. 

When you put the focus on what you CAN manage and do the action within arm’s reach then the rest starts to conform and fall in line. You start to generate momentum that can get you over the hill. Settle in on your own insanity (blindspots & bouts of ; blackouts- getting sidetracked for hours ) and things directly in touch will be affected.

I love the saying: "It's an inside job." There is no quick fix, we want a slow recovery so we can build a super strong foundation. At the same time, there is no perfect foundation – unshakeable. There is still wind and there is still rain.  But we are made to be flexible to bend with the wind and to seek coverage during the rain.

I write this as much for myself as for you. I am in this process too and obviously not the perfect model. But I see it as creative process and I am hungry to learn new things and willing to put myself out there. So keep showing up, engaging, learning and together let's earn our lives back. I welcome your comments, feedback and ideas! We can't know it all in advance, but with just enough faith and trust to take the next step we can continue the journey.