9 Essential Business Tasks That Take an Hour or Less
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It’s easy to feel overscheduled as a small-business owner. Your inbox is likely overflowing, your to-do list is a mile long and every task seems essential.
With so much on your plate, you might put off some things that don’t immediately contribute to your business’s day-to-day success. But some of those things are critical for the long-term health of your business — meaning you’ll have to do them at some point.
In a matter of minutes, you can take the following nine actions to formalize your business, shore up your cybersecurity and maintain good relationships with customers and staff.
1. Apply for an Employer Identification Number
An Employer Identification Number is like a Social Security number for your business. The IRS requires EINs for some businesses, including those with employees and those filing taxes as corporations. You may also need one to open a business bank account or apply for a business loan.
You can apply for an EIN on the IRS’s website in a matter of minutes, as long as you know your business’s legal structure and provide your address and Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.
If you want more formal structure and additional protection for your personal finances, consider forming a business entity like an LLC or a corporation — though that will likely take longer than an hour.
For Jason Emery — head of U.S. partnerships at online insurance marketplace Simply Business — turning his consulting business into an LLC provided “that level of protection where I can go about my life not fearing that screwing up in any way is going to then put me in a position where my assets are at risk.”
2. Apply for a business bank account
A business bank account is a key tool in separating your business income and expenses from your personal ones. You can open a business checking account online by providing basic information about your business — such as your EIN — and about yourself, like your driver’s license.
3. Move to a password manager
Using secure passwords is one of the easiest ways to protect your business against cyberattacks.
“Using the same short password on multiple websites is a bad idea,” Thomas Muth, director of consulting banking solutions at digital consulting company SoftServe, said through email. “If one site gets hacked, it can be used to log in to your account somewhere else.”
The easiest way to create and store unique passwords is by using a password wallet like LastPass or 1Password. These services let you store all of your passwords behind another password. Once you have an account, you can use your browser or password wallet to generate a new random password for every new account, then save it in your wallet — you don’t even have to write them down.
4. Get business insurance
Getting a quote and buying a policy from an online business insurance provider can take as little as 10 minutes. Not only does insurance protect your business finances after accidents or disasters, but it’s also required by many leases, contracts and vendor agreements.
Getting business insurance “is something that you need to do in order to really enable your business to grow, let alone to protect it,” Emery says.
5. Plug into local resources
A quick online search should tell you if your region has a Small Business Development Center or SCORE chapter — both programs funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration offer free business coaching — or a business incubator.
If you find one, sign up for its newsletter or follow it on social media. Getting connected to local resources now will give you a place to turn when you need advice and keep you up to date on networking events, grant funding opportunities and more.
6. Survey your clients
Gathering data about your customers’ preferences doesn’t have to be a heavy lift. Free tools like Google Forms and SurveyMonkey make it easy to create an email survey in minutes.
“The low-tech version of [gathering customer data] is, just send out a survey to your clients,” says Reed Switzer, founder and CEO of payments platform Hopscotch. “Some of our vendors have done that with us … and we end up getting a better experience.”
7. Back up your data
If a cyberattack reaches your files that are stored in the cloud, it can be difficult to recover them. Regularly saving a copy of business-critical data to an external drive can help protect you.
“As soon as your local environment is compromised, this could also affect your cloud data,” Muth said. An offline backup “will allow you to recover much faster in case your files get attacked.”
8. Install a grammar plug-in
Switzer uses Grammarly, a browser extension that points out grammatical errors and complicated sentences, to make sure his emails are clear and easy to read.
“Communication with your team and with your clients is probably the most important thing for any small-business owner,” Switzer says. “All of that really builds trust on both sides.”
9. Skim your bank statement regularly
It’s easy to miss a price increase on something like your payments software or internet bill. Reviewing your bank statement regularly can help you notice and respond to those changes.
“Make sure that you have a really good idea of where you're spending [and] where you can cut costs,” Switzer says. “If there are any sort of ancillary fees, like transaction fees, seek out services that don’t have fees.”
While you’re at it, if you use accounting software, make sure it’s pulling in all your transactions and categorizing them correctly. The sooner you spot an error, the easier it can be to put it right.