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Small Business 101 posts:

Upcoming Webinar: How Harvest Can Help You During Tax Season

As we head into the new year, we recognize that tax season can be very difficult for businesses large and small. Face this tax season confidently by attending a live webinar and Q&A on how to use integrated finance apps that you can find on the Google Apps Marketplace. We’ll be hosting the webinar with Google and leading online financial apps Shoeboxed and Outright.

Harvest, along with Shoeboxed and Outright, will show you how Google Marketplace apps can help you organize your financial documents, streamline invoicing, and aggregate your accounting information. We’ll demonstrate how easy it is to seamlessly manage your accounts payables and receivables through Harvest, and how our contextual gadget in Gmail streamlines invoicing activities.

Please join us on Wednesday, January 26, 2011, 11:00 a.m. PST / 2:00 p.m. EST:
Register now!

Harvest Co-founder Danny Wen Talks About Being a Bootstrap Entrepreneur

Our very own co-founder Danny Wen was interviewed this week by Andrew Warner, the founder of Mixergy, a website dedicated to to ambitious start-up businesses.  Danny talked about how Harvest came to be, and what it’s like building a company from the ground up.  Here’s a glimpse into his thoughts on deciding which projects to focus on:

One of my former colleagues had a great piece of advice, which is when you think about projects, you want to qualify them. You want to have some rules that say, what is going to make this project worth my time. A quick rule of thumb is, does a project fit? Is it going look great on my portfolio in terms of where I want to take the business? Is the project profitable because it’s going to pay really well? Or is the project simply going to help me going to learn something new that I’m really interested in? Now, if you can get two out of the three criteria fulfilled, then it might be a really good way to say, “Okay, let’s go with that project.” If you can’t get two or even three of three of those criteria, then you might want to say no to the project.

Watch the full interview here:

And thanks to Andrew Warner, for asking the delving questions on the joys and challenges of starting your own company — we hope you enjoy the interview!

Confessions of a Productivity Hacker

We’d like to share some excerpts from Jeffrey Perkel’s article about his time-gap discovery, when he first started using Harvest for tracking his time.  Thanks Jeffrey, we hope this will help other freelancers and small business leaders, and we’re glad to help you along the path of productivity!

I have a confession to make: I’m not as productive as I’d like to be.  For me, the realization that I was less productive than I thought came via Harvest, a web-based app for time-tracking and invoicing. At the suggestion of productivity wonk John Pavlus, I gave Harvest a whirl.

Harvest is a productivity dream. There’s a web interface to track your projects, tasks, invoices, and expenses. There’s a dedicated MacOS dashboard widget, even an iPhone interface. I set up my tasks and projects, and then diligently set to work trying to track my day: 44 minutes to interview so-and-so; 36 minutes to read this paper; a bit more than 3 hours to write that article, and so on.

I felt very accomplished… until I added everything up and found that, despite all my careful tracking, I had gaping holes in my day. Partly, that’s because I didn’t add things like lunch, picking up the kids after school, and the occasional break to check Twitter, email, and the news. And partly it’s because I’d start reading something and then realize, oops! I forgot to turn on the timer. Still, it’s clear I can do better. It’s not that I thought I was some productivity machine, working 25 hours a day, 8 days a week. But I didn’t realize how much time I was frittering away, either.

By casting my daily activities in such sharp relief, Harvest helped me identify the problem. It’s up to me to set things right.

Confessions of a productivity hack(er) was originally posted on Freelancer Hacks

New Ways to Think About Your Brand

On my recent visit to San Francisco, I was walking down Valencia Street, in the heart of the Mission District, and this huge, hulking letterpress machine caught my eye, just sitting silently in a storefront. What is this? I peered in to the cavernous space. It was dark, and all the stores were closed. To the left, another letterpress machine, a Vandercook, and beyond, some more goodies I couldn’t make out. And there’s a big Levi’s logo on the storefront window. What the…? Turns out, this was a Levi’s store, but not like any store I’d ever been to.

Continue reading…

Communicating Effectively With A Team Located Around The Globe

Though Harvest Headquarters are located in New York City, a few members of the team are located in different parts of the world, across the U.S. and Europe. Over the years, we have learned a thing or two about communicating efficiently over time and space. These tips are likely to be appropriate for all teams using electronic communication, but their value is magnified when drop-ins and phone calls are not an option. Continue reading…

The Client’s Point of View

I recently came across a site called Clients From Hell, a blog that collects “client horror stories from designers”. Horror stories might be a bit of an overstatement – I skimmed a few posts, and there was nothing about people losing an arm or getting their faces blown off by clients. The general theme of the site appears to be designers mocking their clients for not understanding technology, Photoshop, or web conventions.

I’m a designer, and I have done my share of client work. I know how frustrating it can be to deal with clients at times, and I can empathize with my fellow designers. But to publicly mock the people who pay you to do your job seems to be a rather ungrateful and asinine thing to do.

Three years ago we launched Harvest, and since then we have transitioned from a web design studio to a product company. We have stopped taking on client work, and on a number of occasions, we have sat on the other side of the table and acted as The Client. Having been on both sides of the table, I’d like to offer you the client’s point of view:

We, the client, pay designers to create a usable and pretty design. You’d think it works like buying a camera: go on Amazon, add to cart, type in credit card info, check out, and a few days later you get a brand new camera at your door. Working with a designer works more like this: write a big check, meeting, answer lots of questions, review design, meeting (and it cycles a few times), write another big check. And the kicker is: if we don’t like the final design, there’s no refund. Many designs that we have invested money and time in never see the light of day. But we certainly won’t be putting up a website whining about designers or crying foul on Twitter.

Fellow designers, let’s be grateful for getting paid to do a safe and socially respectable job. Show a bit more respect for the people that write us checks (they don’t have to hire us, you know). And please, stop whining.

Track Your IRS Business Expenses with Harvest

As a follow-up to our article in June by Harvest user Jennifer about Simplifying Your Estimated Tax Process with Harvest, we’ve got another fine customer who wrote us about a parallel, but different issue: tracking IRS business expenses.

Kevin McGee, a freelance Technology Writer and Content Developer in the Bay Area, was kind enough to share with us his step by step system of using Harvest to record and report his IRS business expenses.

A huge thanks to Kevin for sharing this detailed 3-page rundown with the rest of the Harvest community – it’s available by PDF download, with screenshots and easy-to-follow descriptions.

We love hearing about the innovative ways people are using Harvest to meet their needs, so if you’d like to share a tip from your small business, let us know!

Small Business 101: Dealing with Difficult People

The Small Business 101 column is where we share tips and ideas to help you work better, posing questions and finding solutions to the issues faced by the small business community.

Difficult People: What to Be on the Lookout For

There are many reasons why a client or supplier can be difficult to deal with, from a project that’s unwieldy, to personality differences.  It feels awful when a client is unhappy, and you feel drained by a project which is demanding more time and energy than you anticipated.  In “12 Breeds of Client and How to Work with Them” Jack Knight explains what to be on the lookout for BEFORE you start working with a certain personality, and how to safeguard yourself.

Continue reading…

Simplify Your Estimated Tax Process with Harvest Reporting

Earlier today, one of our fine customers tweeted at @harvest to say that Harvest’s printer-friendly reports have helped to make the process of calculating estimated taxes a breeze.  Since making quarterly estimated payments to the state and federal governments are a requirement for all freelancers and businesses based in the U.S., we followed up with her to get more information.  Jennifer, a freelance front-end web developer based in Illinois, was kind enough to follow up and share a detailed explanation of how Harvest simplifies her process for making estimated tax payments on a quarterly basis.

Taxes can’t be described as fun, but I actually don’t mind the process of doing my estimated taxes each quarter. I made it as easy as possible on myself by doing a few things at the start of the year. First, I grabbed the 2009 1040-ES form for the IRS. Before I printed it out, I filled in the information that wouldn’t change- my name, social security number, and address- on each of the four forms. I printed that sucker as well as four envelopes with the IRS address (The address for your region is on page 6 of the 1040-ES PDF) and my return address. I’m based in Illinois, so I did the same thing for the IL-1040-ES state form (use google to find your state’s 1040-ES form). I also marked the four estimated tax due dates in my calendar to remind myself a week before-hand that they were fast approaching!

The due dates for estimated taxes as well as the timeframe for each are as follows:

  • April 15, 2009 (payments received from January 1 – March 31, 2009)
  • June 15, 2009 (payments received from April 1 – May 31, 2009)
  • September 15, 2009 (payments received from June 1 – August 31, 2009)
  • January 15, 2010 (payments received from September 1 – December 31, 2009)

Putting in this extra effort at the beginning made me feel super organized about the whole process. It allows me to grab two forms and two envelopes and start crunching some numbers. That’s where Harvest comes in!

I do my estimated taxes by payments received (instead of hours invoiced, which is another option), so each quarter I create a Payment Report by navigating to Invoices > Report > Create New Report. I check off Payments Received Report, change the timeframe to custom so that I can select the appropriate quarter dates, and leave Clients set to All.

The first time I printed a Payment Report, I was pleasantly surprised at how clean and simple it looked. It’s perfect to file for my records. I do the math right on that print out so that everything is together. I multiply the total payment by my state tax percentage (3%) and cut a check to the Illinois Department of Revenue. On the check, I make sure to note the form name (IL-1040-ES) and my social security number. I do the same thing for the IRS. The percentage for federal tax is a little bit trickier to figure out. It’s based on your income as well as if you’re filing as a single, head of household, or jointly with your spouse. There’s a handy worksheet on page 5 of the 1040-ES form to help figure out the correct percentage. I’m lucky enough to have an accountant in the family, so I also asked his advice on the right percentage for me. I err on the side of caution by overpaying now and possibly getting a tax return later rather than underpaying now and having to pay extra later.

Finally, I slap a stamp on those pre-printed envelopes and make a photocopy of the envelope, the estimated tax payment voucher form, and my personal check for both the state and federal taxes. I keep those on file with my Harvest Payment Report. And Bam! I’m ready to get back to making money!

A big thanks to Jennifer for taking the time to share her tip with the rest of the Harvest community.  We love hearing stories like this, so if you’d like to share a small business tip involving your use of Harvest, let us know!

How to Raise Billing Rates in a Recession

I recently made my yearly call to the accountant. After some small talk and catching up, he apologized, but informed me that my appointment was going to cost a bit more than it did last year. He cited the general state of the economy, the fact that his rent has gone up and that even his printer paper was more expensive now. In all honesty, I didn’t really flinch. He’s always done a great job, and everyone is feeling the economic pinch in some way. I’m still happy to be his client.

This prompted me to think that despite the economic crisis, some service businesses still need to consider raising their hourly rates. I wondered: How is it possible to let clients know that your rates are going up, while making sure they remain satisfied clients? I decided to round up some strategies and advice to make this task a little bit easier for business owners and their clients.

Continue reading…