Budgeting Breakthrough

When you hear the word “budget,” what do you think about?  Most people would say something similar to “Ugghh!” If you would rather do just about anything besides create a budget, you’re not alone.  The word “budget” brings up connotations of endless numbers, constraints, the opposite of freedom and creativity, and hard work, none of which are very desirable.

Yet, the benefits of a budget are huge.  Budgets can help you with cash flow improvements, keep you on track for higher profits, and alert you to items that need further action.

From “Budget” to “Profit Plan”

To be successful with budgeting, we need to get rid of all of the connotations that go with the word.  Perhaps it might work if we rename “budgeting” to “profit planning.” And then, rather than focus on how little we should spend, let’s start with how much revenue we’re going to make.

Revenue Clarity

It’s simple to create a revenue plan if you go backwards.  What revenue goal would you like to hit this year?  Just like we would never get in a car without a final destination, a revenue plan gives us a number to aim for in our businesses.

Once you know your number, then we can use averages to come up how many sales or clients we need to generate in order to meet our revenue goal.  Here’s a quick example:  Let’s say you want to reach $5 million in revenue this year.  If you average order is $10,000, then you need 500 sales.  If you have multiple products and services, then you’ll need to sum the product of the average sale times the needed number of sales for each line.

From there, you can make marketing and production plans based on the number of sales or clients you need.

Protecting Your Profit

Think of the expense side of your “profit plan” as protecting your profit margins so that you can ensure financial gain from all the hard work you do.  Setting budget limits on spending will allow you to control overhead and other items so you can keep more of what you make.

Exceptional Reporting

A great “profit plan” report will provide several things.  You can compare budget to actual, or better yet, just be alerted to the accounts showing exceptions.  You can also get an income statement that compares the current period with the prior year period so you can see how far you’ve come.  One last option is a benchmark report which provides industry averages so you can measure how you fare compared to other companies in your industry.

A “profit plan” is a great tool for your business.  If we can help you with the process or provide you with custom reporting, please give us a call.

Need an A/R Makeover? A Quick, 5-Item Best Practice Checklist

June 27, 2013 · Posted in Accounting, Bookkeeping Tips, Management Tips · Comment 

Technology has allowed businesses to make substantial improvements in their customer invoicing processes.  The good news is that when you implement these technologies, you will almost always get paid much faster.

If it’s been a few years since the last time you’ve changed your accounts receivable processes, it’s time for a new look.  Here are five tips you can use to rate your own invoicing process, step by step.

1.     Invoice Creation

The best way to create all of your invoices is by the push of a button from one of about five types of systems that already have all of your data:

  •  Time and billing, if you bill hourly
  • Estimating and project management, if you use proposals
  • Customer relations management (CRM) systems that have invoicing as a feature
  • Point of sales systems that track open accounts
  • Accounting system that includes an A/R component

There are a couple of key best-practice concepts to follow at this step:

  • Eliminate any duplicate data entry you can.  You should only have to enter your invoicing data in one place, and it should flow to every other system that needs it.
  • Automate as much of the process as possible.  Never start in Word or Excel, because this always means duplicate data entry somewhere.
  • Have an easy approval process so someone else can do the data entry if needed.
  • Keep your invoice data real-time so you can benefit from the next step, which is….

2.     Invoice Delivery

How you create your invoice will vary by the type of business you have, but the main thing to make sure of is that the invoice is approved quickly and sent out to the client as soon as the work has been done.

The only way to do this is electronically.  If you’re still printing, stuffing, stamping, and mailing you invoices, you’re losing anywhere from two days to nearly a week before your customer even sees the bill.  Change that by using email or delivering the invoice electronically.

3.     Invoice Terms

When do you want to get paid?  Most people feel it’s realistic to aim for 30 days.  But if you set your payment terms to Net 30, you’re more likely to get paid in 45 days, not 30, according to recent research by Xero, where over 12 million small business invoices were reviewed.

Set your terms to 13 days or less, Xero suggests, because most small business debtors pay two weeks late.  Here is the infographic in case you want to check it out:  http://www.xero.com/guides/invoicing/

4.     Payment Method

How does your business rate when it comes to payment options?  If all you take is checks, you can add another week’s delay to your payment.  Instead, we recommend creating lots of choices for customers, such as taking:

  •  Credit and debit cards through MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and Discover
    • You can set up links online (best) or receive a fax or scanned form where you can enter the card into your back office.
  • PayPal
  • ACH for recurring payments that the client agrees to draft from their bank account
  • Checks

Your industry may even have more options.  For example, in accounting, Intuit has their Intuit Payment Network (IPN) where small businesses can receive money electronically and send and receive requests for money.  IPN is far cheaper than PayPal fees, too.

5.     Receipt

When you get paid electronically, it’s in your bank (or your merchant account) within minutes.  If you bank online, you can see things immediately now (it’s really amazing!).  When you receive a check, you have the overhead of preparing the deposit and making the trip to the bank.  If you have hundreds of paper checks, you also have additional bank fees incurred from processing the checks.

If your accounting system interfaces with your bank, then you save a lot of time and money not having to post those transactions.

Invoice-Free Zone

Why not get out of the invoicing business altogether by offering a pay-in-advance option?  Your Accounts Receivable balance goes to nothing, to name one of many benefits.  Not every industry can adopt this practice, but if you think creatively, you might find some ways you can implement this in your business.

How did your A/R process rate on the 5-point checklist?  Got some ideas for improvement?  As always, please reach out if you have A/R questions or if we can help you implement your best practice invoicing system.

Is Hosted QuickBooks Right for You?

If you are currently using the popular QuickBooks desktop software, you now have a fairly new option available to you:  hosted QuickBooks.  In this article, we’ll talk about what it is, what type of businesses it’s right for, and how to get started if you decide it’s for you.

A Host of Opportunities

Hosted QuickBooks changes the location of your QuickBooks company file from your local computer to one of the dozen authorized QuickBooks hosting companies.  You then access your QuickBooks file through a secure Internet connection.  The good news is you continue using the exact same QuickBooks software, screens, forms, and reports that you are comfortably familiar with, so the additional learning curve is extremely low.   The two biggest differences are:

  • You access your QuickBooks differently; instead of accessing your local software, you will access the same version of QuickBooks software via the cloud on a secure server provided by a hosting vendor.  You will most likely access your QuickBooks by clicking on a desktop icon or accessing a screen and entering your login information.
  • The pricing is different.  Instead of paying a large software fee at the beginning and then optionally paying for annual upgrades, you pay monthly, like a lease.

There are a few other very minor differences, such as how you back up your file, how you print checks, invoices, and other forms, and how you interface with other software such as Microsoft Outlook® or Word®.  At most, the learning curve for each of these minor changes is five minutes top for any user.

Who Benefits

You will benefit from hosted QuickBooks if any of the following are true:

  • You, your team, your bookkeeper, or your CPA needs to be able to access your QuickBooks files from multiple locations.
  • You are spending at least one hour per month restoring the file from one location to another.
  • You have experienced errors in the past from backing up and restoring the company file or the Accountant’s Copy because of passing it back and forth among people who need to update it or to get information from it.
  • You prefer to save the time it takes installing QuickBooks and applying the upgrades to QuickBooks software.  With hosted QuickBooks, the hosting vendor takes care of all of that.
  • You do not have a recent backup of QuickBooks and forget to take backups on a regular basis.  With hosted QuickBooks, backups are a routine part of the process.
  • You’re great at working on the core items of your business, but want to reduce time spent on IT-related tasks.
  • You dislike or feel inadequate when it comes to technology, and you agree it makes sense to outsource as much as possible.

Any Concerns

Hosted QuickBooks is great, but it’s not right for everyone.  If you feel “safer” with no one having access to your QuickBooks, then hosting it may not be right for you.  Although the data centers are far more secure than the PCs in most people’s homes and offices because they have to undergo a rigorous security audit to become a hosting vendor, some people are simply uncomfortable passing their financial data to others.  If you want to consider hosted QuickBooks and wonder about security, we’ll be happy to have a conversation with you about that.

Hosted QuickBooks is also not right for people that are using very old software versions because you may be forced to upgrade to a newer version.

Hosted QuickBooks is also not right for people who have much more free time than budget.  Although hosted QuickBooks is not particularly expensive, there is a cost outlay that will buy you time savings.  If the free time you gain (that you can apply to completing more important priorities in your business) is not valuable to you, then hosted QuickBooks may not be right for you.

Getting Started

Before moving to a hosted QuickBooks solution, your accounting professional will want to ask you questions about how you are using QuickBooks, if they aren’t already familiar with your requirements.  Selecting the right hosting solution means evaluating:

  • What version and line of QuickBooks you are currently using because this has to be exactly matched with the hosting vendor.
  • What other applications access QuickBooks, such as online banking and payroll.
  • What add-ons you are using with QuickBooks, if any.
  • What printers, Microsoft software, email software, and other peripheral needs you have when using QuickBooks.

Once those answers are gathered, your accounting professional can provide you with some hosting solutions, costs, and implementation plans.  Most accounting professionals partner with one or more hosting companies so that you can get a seamless one-stop shop experience.  You may also be able to benefit from volume or package pricing through your accounting professional.

If you are thinking that hosted QuickBooks might be right for your business, please email us or give us a call so we can talk more about it.

Five Ways to Protect your Cash

As entrepreneurs, we work hard for our money, and the last thing we need is to have it disappear due to fraud, hackers, or identity theft.  Some people have called 2013 the year of the hacker, which is worrisome.  But you’re far more likely to experience risks with disgruntled or financially desperate employees and contractors.  Mistakes happen, too, and when they do it can be costly to get them corrected.

Here are five ways to increase your financial controls so that you can lower your business risks when it comes to the handling of cash and cash equivalents.  As you read the list, check to see where you can tighten up controls in your business.

Checking for Checks

Do you have blank checks lying around?  If so, reduce the temptation and get them locked up.  You can also go a step further and have your accountant run a report each month (or week) of missing check numbers.  If any checks are unaccounted for, take action by processing Stop Payment orders at your bank.

Bank on It

If you are still getting your bank reconciliation on paper, where does it get mailed?  The business owner should always see the bank reconciliation before anyone else does.  Also, make sure the person that performs the reconciliation is not the same person that deposits the checks.  Segregation of duties is essential to improve cash controls.

Today, it’s a good idea to do all your banking online, if possible, so that nothing gets mailed.  In that way, you have some reduced risk over identity theft.

Some banks offer multiple-user access to your banking account, so that bookkeepers can get the information they need.  Lock that user ID down as much as possible, so that the user can only get to what they need to.  If they’re honest, they will appreciate the reduced level of responsibility and consider it a smart financial move.

PayPal Protection

If you have a PayPal account, keep the balance low by transferring funds frequently to your bank account.  You can also restrict access to reduce your risk.

Credit Card Control

If you use credit cards in your business, you’ll want to maintain tight control over them.  For each employee or contractor that needs to charge items on a credit card, here are a couple of points to consider:

  • If the credit limit on the current card is sky-high, then ask the bank to lower it or set up a new card with very low credit limits just for employee use.
  • Contact your credit card company and get a card in the employee’s name.
  • Make sure you can access the credit card transactions online.  They are immediate, and if necessary, you can closely monitor what’s going on.
  • Insist on a receipt brought to you for every purchase.
  • Create clear procedures, limits, and approvals before the spending occurs.
  • Don’t let the employee “keep” the credit card during off hours.  Keep it locked up on your premises instead.

Safeguarding Payroll

One of the biggest cash outflows for small businesses is payroll.  Here, segregation of duties comes into play again.  The person preparing the payroll should not be the one who approves it and actually runs it.

You can do this by having different user accounts and controls within your payroll system.

Hopefully, you already have a lot of these ideas in place.  If not, add the ideas you like to your to do list so that your business risks will be reduced.

Five Hidden Talents of Your Accountant

When you think of an accountant’s duties, you might think about traditional tasks, such as tax preparation, bookkeeping, and financial statement preparation.   Here are five additional tasks that accountants can help with that you might not think of.

1. Evaluating Current Accounting Employees

How can you know if your accounting employee is a star that does everything right, is organized, and is fast or if you’ve accidentally hired someone who talks a good game but is doing everything wrong, takes way too long based on your size company, or is making unnecessary and costly mistakes?  Your external accountant can often help you objectively evaluate your current staff and point out their strengths and weaknesses so you can create the right training programs for them, communicate the right message at review time, or take the proper HR steps you need to.  Your accountant can also help to train your bookkeepers so that they are more efficient.

If your bookkeeper is not performing at the level of pay you are providing, it can be an inefficiency in your business.  Your accountant can help you make sure you are not over- or underpaying your current staff.

2. Hiring a Bookkeeper

For businesses that have full or part-time accounting staff, your accountant can help you test candidates for technical skills so that you can make a wise hire.

3. Selecting Better Tools

Most bookkeepers that do books for one company do not have the experience that lets them see there may be “a better way” to do what they are doing.  Your external accountant can help you find or develop systems, reports, and software to supplement your current accounting system that may save you time and money.

Since your accountant can be working on as many as ten different companies in one day, they have far more experience and expertise than bookkeepers who work at one company at a time.  Take advantage of that experience to streamline your workflow and learn lots of great money-saving shortcuts.

4. Identifying Process Inefficiencies and Irregularities

The fresh eyes that your external accountant can bring to your business can often uncover inefficiencies in accounting processes that can reduce your expenses and increase your profits.  One opportunity area is listening for the “we’ve always done it that way” answer.  When that explanation comes up, usually it means that the person saying it has lost or never knew the reason behind the process, which could now be obsolete.

External accountants have the benefit of seeing dozens if not hundreds of financial statements among their many clients.  We’ve often developed the eagle eye of scoping out expenses that are out of line based on other clients in your industry and company size.  If you are paying too much for telephone, utilities, and other common expenses, we can bring it to your attention that there may be an opportunity to re-negotiate a contract or look for some kind of error.

5. Strengthening Internal Control and Taking Measures to Reduce Risk of Fraud

Developing checks and balances in your accounting system is essential in businesses where employees handle money and have access to credit card numbers and bank account information.  Your external accountant can help you develop internal controls within your accounting system that will work for the level of risk you wish to take in your business.  They can also point out reports in QuickBooks or your accounting system that facilitate controls and that can help you review irregularities on a periodic basis.

Tapping into Talent

Next time you find yourself in one of the above situations, think of your external accountant first, and give us a call.

Seven Year-End Adjustments to Make to Your Books

November 29, 2012 · Posted in Bookkeeping Tips, Business Tips, Cost-Saving Tips · Comment 

Year-end is coming up for many businesses, and it’d be nice to know what your final revenue and profit numbers will be for the year.  Before we can calculate these key numbers, there are year-end adjustments that may need to be made to your books that will change the numbers. Here are seven common ones.

Bonuses

It’s great to give bonuses to employees at year-end, but it’s not so great to forget about the tax part of it. Bonus checks should always be run through payroll, but often are not, which requires an adjustment after the fact.

Retirement Plan Contributions

If cash is available at year-end, it’s a great idea to maximize the allowable deductions for the retirement plan you qualify for.  One example is a SEP IRA.  You can deduct up to 25% of your or your employee’s salary (up to $50,000 deduction maximum per employee for 2012, but please check with us or your tax professional for numerous exceptions and rules.

Withholding

If you are both the owner and an employee of your company and have not made enough tax payments throughout the year to account for all that money you’ve earned in 2012, you can adjust your last few paychecks to withhold the amount you need.  Sometimes, this also reduces or eliminates the penalty for underpayment of estimated taxes.   To find out more, please check with your tax professional.

Depreciation

If you have assets that will last longer than one year, such as factory equipment or a fleet of automobiles, an adjustment may need to be made to reduce the value of those assets.   This adjustment will reduce your profit and will also reduce your tax bill.

Amortization

If you have a loan of any type, the payment consists of both principal and interest.  Each time you make a payment, the principal and interest amounts can vary.  At the beginning of the loan, you pay more interest and less principal.  At the end of a loan, it’s reversed.  Each payment is different, and if they haven’t been recorded correctly each month, it’s time to make the adjustment so that the loan balance is correct.

New Acquisitions or Obligations

If you’ve made a significant acquisition, such as real estate, buildings, large equipment, or another company, and somehow the transaction did not get properly recorded on your books, then now is the time.   Similarly, if you’ve taken on new debt, the new liability needs to be put on the books.

Noncash Transactions

It’s easy to overlook transactions that do not require a cash outlay, but these need to be recorded as well.   For example, if you performed consulting services in exchange for a spa gift certificate, this transaction should be reflected in the proper revenue and expense accounts.

Year-End Profit

Once your books are adjusted for all of these changes, you’ll have all the information you need to find out how your business performed for 2012.  You can then use your 2012 revenue and profit numbers to set new goals for 2013.

Life Beyond the Profit & Loss Statement – Do You Know Your Lifestyle Ratios?

Each month, you may anxiously await the reports that provide the numbers that help you manage your business.  Revenue, net income, total expenses, and payroll costs are just a few of the items that you may be monitoring on your profit and loss statement.  Those numbers will help you meet and improve your business goals, but the question is, what numbers are you using to determine if you are meeting your life goals?

It might be fun to come up with a few lifestyle ratios to help you measure and move toward your personal goals.  Here are a few for your consideration:

Passive vs. Active Income

If you’d like to work less as time goes by, then you’ll want to create your passive vs. active income ratio.  Make a list of all of your sources of income (not just business) in a spreadsheet.  You might have interest income, rental income, and investment income along with your business income or salary.

Then write down how many hours you spend working to earn each type of income.  For interest income, it is likely to be very little.  Investment income will only include the time you take selecting your investments and managing your portfolio. If you are active in your business, this will be the lion’s share.

Income is passive if you spend almost no time earning it.  Income is active if you spend time earning it.  (These definitions correlate to your time spent, not the IRS definitions.) Put the income in the appropriate column, passive or active.  You can allocate if necessary.

In the example below, this person is well on their way to retiring.  They also might question why they are spending so many hours working so hard for a fraction of their monthly income!

Income Monthly Hours Passive Active
Interest Income $5,000 0 $5,000
Rental Income $6,000 2 $6,000
Investment Income $20,000 1 $20,000
Business Income $10,000 167 $10,000
Totals $41,000 170 $31,000 $10,000
Passive/Active ratio 76% 24%

 

The “aha” comes when you see the numbers.  The numbers often drive people to action.  You might decide to be more intentional about moving your income to passive sources so you can do the things you want to do.

Leveraged vs. Unleveraged Revenue

Leveraging your business revenue is a way to work less while making more money.

Measuring leverage is business-specific.  Examples of revenue that are not leveraged include seeing clients one at a time and selling hours-for-dollars services without a staff.  Revenues that are partially leveraged include group programs such as classes and events like webinars and conferences as well as hourly consulting that your staff performs with your limited oversight.  And revenue that is fully leveraged includes product sales.  Once the product is developed, it takes little incremental time to sell (unless you’re in retail).

Here’s an example, assuming this business owner has a staff of five people.  Both hourly consulting and training classes are partially leveraged because the business owner spends time teaching, consulting, and supervising.

Revenue Leveraged Unleveraged
Book sales $500,000 $500,000
Hourly consulting $3,000,000 $2,500,000 $500,000
Training classes $2,500,000 $1,500,000 $1,000,000
Total $6,000,000 $4,500,000 $1,500,000
Ratio 75% 25%

 

If your revenue streams are flexible, you can work on moving more of your business income over to the leveraged side.  To create more leverage in the example business, the owner could sell or develop more products, hire another teacher, hire an additional consultant, and/or hire someone to review the consulting work of the employees.

Days Off vs. Days Worked

This ratio measures how much time we are able to spend away from the office.  It’s simple to compute, and you can estimate it if you don’t track your time.

Assuming a 5-day work week, there are about 250 working days in a year, not including about 10 holidays.  Estimate the numbers of days you were off, and divide by 250.  For example, if you took 5 1-week vacations from work last year, that would be 25 days, resulting in 10%.  This assumes you worked the rest of the year.

Your Lifestyle Goals

What’s on your “bucket list?” (This is a list of things you want to do in your lifetime before you die.)  Figure out the metric that will get you thinking about doing your dreams sooner rather than later.

You can have fun with metrics and ratios in and out of your business.  Here are some more ideas to think about:

  • The number of customers you have that really fit your ideal client and how many more you need to go.
  • How many countries (or states) you want to visit each year vs. how many you’ve already visited.
  • How many volunteer hours or dollars you spend vs. how much more you like to.

When you put your goals into numbers and on paper, they seem more real and achievable.  You can get an “aha” just by computing these ratios.  Hopefully, life beyond the profit and loss statement will get you closer to your dream life.