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.

Five Cash Leaks to Avoid

June 13, 2013 · Posted in Business Development, Business Tips, Cost-Saving Tips · Comment 

Cash flow improvement is a hot issue for small businesses; in many businesses, it seems like there is never enough cash when you need it.  The last thing a business owner wants is to reduce their cash balance unnecessarily.  To help you preserve or increase your cash, here are five cash management leaks to avoid.

1. Bloated Bank Fees

Some banks are more business-friendly than others.  We recommend you assess the fees you are currently being charged to see if you can discontinue any unnecessary services.

  • Could you maintain a cash balance to avoid monthly fees?
  • Are you being charged online banking fees and bill pay fees, and are these still necessary?
  • Are you being charged for a high volume of transactions or cash drawer services, and are these competitive with other banks?

Banks, including national brands, that have not kept up with technology and have not automated a significant amount of their transactions are inefficient and must charge higher fees to cover their processing costs.  If your accounts are located at one of these costlier banks, you do have a choice.

2.   Overtaxed

Are you sure that you are paying the lowest amount of taxes you legally owe?  There are several places to look to make sure you have not overpaid taxes anywhere in your business or personally:

  • Payroll taxes
  • Sales and use tax
  • Franchise taxes
  • State and local income taxes
  • Property taxes
  • Federal income taxes
  • Taxes that are specific to your industry

In preparing income taxes, a few of the easiest items to overlook include carryovers from prior years and new deductions you become eligible for.  If you received a large refund this year, congratulations, but that means you gave Uncle Sam an interest-free loan on your money.  You can do better next year by estimating your tax payments and paying only what’s due.

3. The Check Is in the Mail

Customers who take too long to pay you are big cash drains in your business.  Consider changing your terms, asking for deposits, or becoming more aggressive with collections to bring your DSO (days sales outstanding) down.  When you do, you’ll get an instant, permanent cash flow improvement.

4.  Sweat the Small Stuff

You may have an eagle eye on your largest bank account, but what about your other cash stashes?  PayPal, petty cash, and business savings accounts are among the places that may not get daily scrutiny.  Make sure those accounts are properly reconciled and have the proper controls in place so funds don’t go missing.

5.  It’s in Your Interest

A nice problem to have is when your bank balances get too large and you don’t need the money immediately.  Make sure that money is still working hard for you by putting the excess in an interest-bearing account.  It’s not much these days, but every little bit helps.

Make a Dash to the Cash

If we can help you plug any of these cash leaks in your business, please don’t hesitate to reach out and let us know.

 

The Fine Art of Prioritization

Running a business usually means putting in over 40 hours a week.  In fact, if you’re the typical entrepreneur, you have more ideas you want to implement than you have time for!  That’s when proactive, strategically executed prioritization can make all the difference.

So Hard to Choose    

If you have lots of ideas in your head or on your “to do” list that are not getting done, you’re certainly not alone.  Here’s a process for helping you decide what to do first, next, and not at all.

Step 1:  Write down all your ideas, tasks, “to do’s,” projects, and even items you need to do on a daily basis.  Use a spreadsheet and list each item in a row by itself.  Later you’ll want to be able to sort the list, so we recommend using Excel or another spreadsheet software.

Once you have everything down on paper, you will be amazed at how much this unclutters your thinking.  You will also have all your great ideas captured so you don’t forget them.  You might also get very overwhelmed, but don’t stop now.  Relief is on the way.

Step 2: Add some information about each item, creating four additional columns:

  1. Is this item about working IN your business (client work, overhead, etc.) or ON your business (new products or new services, developing procedures, hiring more staff, marketing, creating new partnerships)?
  2. Is this item revenue-generating?  Or will you lose revenue if you don’t get it done?
  3. Can you delegate this task or does it have to be done by you?
  4. If you were to hire someone to do this task, how much would it be worth per hour?

Step 3:  Analyze your choices.  Once you have these additional items filled in, you can go wild with opportunities.  Here are some very cool eye-opening activities to try:

  • Separate tasks that are working ON vs. IN your business.  There is never enough time to work on your business, so force it by blocking out a few hours or a half-day a week and do it, no matter what.  It might be the best way to make progress in your business.
  • Sort the list by how much revenue the task could generate or how much potential it has, and decide how to prioritize from there.  If you need help calculating the ROI, return on investment of an idea, we can help you calculate that.
  • Take a look at what you marked “not able to delegate,” and ask “why not?”  Does a procedure need to be written?  Do you need more staff?  Does your staff need training?  Or do you need to learn to let go?  Whatever it is, and especially if there are a lot of these items, get these roadblocks tackled so you don’t become the bottleneck in your own business.
  • Sort the list by “column D” above, the market value you recorded for the task.  Then ask yourself what your hourly rate is.  How many tasks are you doing that are below your hourly rate?  Hiring someone to do your lowest level tasks could very well be another item you need to add to your new “to do” list!

This last one is really important, because it can so strongly affect the profitability of your business.  The last thing you want to do is go backwards and give yourself a demotion with a pay decrease, but that’s exactly what you’re doing each time you do a task yourself that’s at a low market rate.

Step 4:  Prioritize with confidence.   With all of this information in an organized spreadsheet, you will gain the clarity you need to make some powerful decisions about how to spend your time.

Time

There’s nothing more precious and scarce than our time.  Every day, we have a choice about how to spend it, but too often we get caught up in the urgent, but not important, daily fires.  This exercise helps us take a step back and look at what’s important instead of what’s urgent.

Seven Strategies to Put the Spring into Your Sales

Spring is here and that’s the perfect time to try something new in your business to make things fresh.  Here are seven ideas to try in your business; pick the one that’s most likely to put the spring in your sales.

1. BOGO

“Buy one, get one” or BOGO deals are always hot and never grow old.  Even if it’s not common in your industry, see if you can adapt and create a deal like this.  The best thing about a BOGO strategy is it spreads more of your product or service around to a wider customer base, which can spur referrals or word-of-mouth, the best kind of sale.

Here’s an example of a BOGO applied to a service: Purchase a seat at a training workshop and bring a co-worker at no extra charge (or charge the price of materials and lunch to cover costs).  You can also offer one month free (cheaper than offering 10 percent off on an annual basis) if you have a service that is performed over time.

 2.Weekend Sale

Sales can move a lot of people to action.  The key is to limit the time that they can get the discount to a very small window.  Hold a time-limited sale when it is slow for you (could be during this month when people are hit with tax bills) to boost your volume.

 3.Freshen Up Your Displays

If you have a storefront, when is the last time you’ve freshened up your look?  Retail businesses work hard at this, but even if you aren’t in retail, take a look at what the customer sees.  Is it inviting?  Fresh?  Pleasant?  If not, do some spring cleaning!

If you work from home or have a virtual office, your website is your storefront.  See if it needs some spring cleaning so that you look more attractive to your prospects and clients.

4.Introduce New Features

Make a slight change to your existing product by adding a new feature, offering it in a new color, or something similar.  It will feel a little fresher to your clients, which may cause an increase in perceived value.

 5. Start a New Niche

Once you’ve gotten a couple of clients from a new industry, you’re off and running.  You will be able to learn from working with this new industry, and then you will be more valuable to others in that space.

Take a look at your client list, and see where you have just a few clients in the same industry but would like more clients like them.  Then go for it!

6.Flavor of the Month Club

Baskin-Robbins used to have a “flavor of the month” so that customers would be enticed to come into their ice cream shops over and over again.  You may be able to have an “item of the month” or even a VIP club where your customers get something new each month.  Your VIP Club could also include priority treatment with specials or discounts.  VIP clubs done right are especially effective in restaurants and retail, but can work in other industries too.  The goal is to increase the frequency of visits to your business by enticing clients to become regulars.

7.The Biggest Opportunity of All

We often overlook the top opportunity that’s under our own noses:  our current and past clients.  They trust us the most, which is the highest hurdle to new business.  If you haven’t contacted your top clients in a while, make a point to reach out.  More sales could be just a phone call away.

Now it’s time to spring into action on the one idea that resonates most for your business.

What Is Cloud Accounting?

One of the most exciting changes in the accounting industry is cloud accounting.  The concept is easy to grasp:  cloud accounting simply puts your accounting system in a private space online so that it is fully accessible to you via a browser or a secure remote connection.

Two Ways to Be in the Clouds

There are primarily two ways to have your accounting system in the cloud.  First, it can be “hosted.”  This means that the current software you are using on your desktop, such as QuickBooks or Sage, does not change.  Neither does your company file.

The only thing you do differently once it’s set up is click a different icon to start the software.  Once you log in, most everything else is the same.  There are a couple of differences in printer access, Microsoft Excel® access, and some of the other interfaces, but it’s essentially the same experience.

So if it’s the same, why would you want to move to the cloud?  Because it completely eliminates the passing back and forth of the file among you, your CPA, your bookkeeper, and anyone else that needs to update or access your accounting file.  No more restores.  No more DropBox or YouSendIt downloads.

Hosting saves a ton of time because the people you grant access to can login to your file from anywhere.

The second way to have your accounting system in the clouds is to switch to an online accounting system.  In industry jargon, this is called SaaS, which stands for Software as a Service.  Examples of online accounting systems include QuickBooks Online, Xero, Wave, and Kashoo.  These systems have fewer features and will only be right for a client with a need for a simpler accounting system.

When you switch from desktop accounting software to SaaS, it will likely require conversion, setup, and training.  It’s a major change.

Benefits

There are many benefits to moving to the cloud; here are just a few of the more common ones:

  • Anywhere, anytime access to your accounting system.  Companies with multiple locations will benefit significantly from a hosted solution.
  • No more worrying about who has what version and whether the changes the accountant made were updated or applied.  There is one central file, and multiple people can be accessing it at the same time as long as you have the right number of user licenses.
  • No more software updates that you have to apply yourself or wait for.  This is done by the hosting provider or the SaaS.
  • Tighter security for your data.  The data centers typically have multiple state-of-the-art data security controls and must pass a rigid audit, which is far more protection than any small business can afford to provide for their own data.
  • Automatic offsite backup for disaster recovery purposes.

Concerns

Clients’ two major concerns include security, which is covered above, and costs.  When it comes to costs, the most important thing to look at is return on investment.  Will the time you save be of greater value to you than the costs of hosting or moving to a SaaS?  That answer varies for each client.

Curious About the Cloud?

If we’ve piqued your curiosity about cloud accounting, please feel free to reach out so we can continue the conversation.

Is Your Data Backed Up? Seven Often-Overlooked Places

March 21, 2013 · Posted in Business Development, Business Tips, Management Tips · Comment 

Hopefully, you’re already making backups of the data on your business server on a regular basis.  It’s simple to set up data backups automatically and then forget about them until you need them.  But have you ever looked around to see if there are any gaps in your backup strategy?   Here are seven places to look to make sure all your business data is backed up safely.

 1.Online Calendar

Do you use an online calendar?  If you use a calendar such as Google Calendar, then it’s a good idea to keep a backup in case something happens to it that’s out of your control.

In Google, go to Settings from the Settings menu, click the Calendars tab, and Export your calendar to get your backup.

2.Website 

It’s common for business owners to rely on their webmaster to have a backup of their website, but this is often not within the scope of the webmaster duties.  Check with your webmaster to get a backup of your website files so that you are protected against hackers, hosting problems, and more.

If your blog is in the same place, make sure you have a backup of it as well.  You may also want to preserve any online profiles you have in the same way.

3.Your Email

We are so dependent on our email these days that we should consider backing this file up daily, if not hourly.   The location of your email file varies, and some people have more than one.  It’s worth double-checking to see if this file is included in your regular backup routine.  You may also want to create a separate, more frequent backup routine for this critical file.

If you have an online email account, make sure you have a backup of all those emails in case something goes wrong.

4.Browser Data     

Browser-related data, such as your bookmarks, history, toolbar, and saved passwords are all stored in files, but they can be hard to find and recover.  If something happens to your browser data, it may or may not be a big deal.  If it is, include these files in your regular backup so you can recover what you need more easily.

5.Online Bank and Vendor Account Information

If you get audited by the IRS, it’s almost always for a year in the distant past.  Digging up invoices you might have had online access to but no longer do can be time-consuming and painful.  Most banks and vendors have made it super-easy to download PDF versions of your invoices and statements, so be sure you do that before your access to them expires or becomes an extra charge.

6.Local and Cloud Drives 

Every business’s technology setup is different.  If you have a server, chances are you’re getting it backed up regularly.  If you have employees, make sure each of their hard drives are backed up so they don’t lose any files that are not on the server.

If you have your files centralized in the cloud, make sure you have a backup of those files.

7.Desktop

One additional place that may not be backed up is your Desktop.  It depends on your operating system; sometimes desktop files are excluded if you have your backups set to copy only “My Documents” files and subfolders.

Bonus Tip

Periodically check the accuracy and effectiveness of your backups and see if you can recover a file or two.  If not, you’re back to the drawing board, and it’s better to find out in a non-emergency situation that you have some work to do on your backup and recovery strategy.

Reducing Risks 

Being a business owner is all about taking calculated risks.  Having all your important business data backed up helps you reduce your risks and protect what’s perhaps your most important business asset.

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 Places Where Spending More Pays Off

February 7, 2013 · Posted in Business Development, Business Tips · Comment 

It’s generally a good idea to keep overhead costs low so that your business profits will be higher.  This is especially true with items that are easily commoditized and fairly standardized, such as utilities and rent.  But there are times when increasing expenses pays off nicely, and here are five areas to consider so you can reap the rewards.

Training

Whether it’s for you or your staff, good training can pay back for years to come.  Learning new skills, no matter what our crafts are, will keep our businesses from becoming stagnant.  Implementing what we learn will help us grow.

You might get training to increase the mastery of your chosen profession.  You might also want to consider general business skills, including technology, marketing, finance, and leadership.  Just about everyone can benefit from learning more about project management, communications, and negotiations, to name a few more.

You might also want to consider “human performance” skills such as public speaking.  Whatever you choose, training is always a great investment that pays back big dividends.

Tools

Without the right tools, the same task can take double the time.  It’s a great idea to provide your employees with the most powerful computers and software on the market.  The cost of labor outweighs the costs of the computers, so it makes sense to load employees up with the best tools you can.  An employee with a slow computer, through no fault of their own, is not giving you their best, and that will cost money in lost productivity.

The same thing goes for owners.  You can spend your time fighting with a machine or getting a ton of work done.  I’m pretty sure the latter is more profitable.

Accounting

The most successful companies we work with invest in accounting services in five areas: accounting technology, accurate bookkeeping, thorough reporting, tax minimization, and professional consulting.  When we see business owners cutting corners in any of these areas, it usually costs them more money in the long run to clean up the problems that result.

An up-to-date accounting system minimizes maintenance and troubleshooting costs.   Making sure the bookkeeping and reconciliations are done properly is essential for compliance reporting and decision-making.  A robust set of reports allows a business owner to make smart decisions about running their business, and minimizing taxes helps you keep more of what you make.

Since accountants see thousands of financial reports in their careers, they have developed an eye for opportunities that a business owner may not see.  Bringing an outside perspective into your business is a good investment that can help you discover great opportunities in your business.

Marketing

Whatever you do in your business, you are helping others.  You are sharing a skill you have that your clients either don’t have or don’t choose to do for themselves.   Being a best-kept secret doesn’t help you share your gifts and talents.

Marketing can help you get the word out to people who need your services but might not know about you.  Developing great marketing materials will help you communicate what you do as well as receive fair compensation for what you do.  It almost always makes sense to invest in this area of your business.

Employee Perks and Benefits

Keeping employees passionate about your vision and motivated to be productive is a continuing task.  One way to do that is to provide employee benefits and perks that make it attractive for employees to work for you.

There are many ways to invest in your employees.  Good health insurance, personal time off, extra vacation time, education reimbursement, flex time, and working from home are just a few of the many options you can choose from to enhance employees’ working environments.

Measuring the Payoff

We can help you measure your return in any of these areas; as always, please let us know how we can help.

Five Places to Find More Profits

It’s always a good idea to be on the lookout for ways to increase your profits, and luckily, there are many ways to do that.  One way is to focus on cost-cutting, and here are five places that are good to periodically review for cost-cutting possibilities.

Telephone

Re-negotiating with the phone company every one to two years is a really good idea.  Many telecommunications companies will often bargain with you or offer you a new deal just for checking in with them.

Has your business changed?  Do you need all those extra features you are paying for?  Could you do without those extra lines?  Would another phone plan save you money on long distance or international calls?

The risk is low:  one quick call will let you know if you can save money in this area.  It’s worth it to give it a shot, and while you’re at it, you can call your smartphone provider too.

Travel

Travel is always a great area to look into for possible ways to save.  Are all trips necessary and profitable?  Are there any meetings that can be done virtually instead of face-to-face?  Virtual tools such as GoToMeeting can make travel unnecessary.

What trips can be cut this year?  Can the number of people sent per trip be cut?  Can travel arrangements be made early to save money?  Are booking dates flexible so you can compare and find the lowest rates?  Is a taxi or rent car cheaper?

Dues and Subscriptions

Paying our annual dues for the club or association we’ve belonged to forever may be a habit, but is it beneficial for your business?  We might enjoying seeing everyone once or twice a year at the meeting, but we may not necessarily have to have a membership to do that.  Sometimes paying the guest rate is more affordable than the member rate if we are attending infrequently enough.

Review a list of organizations and publications you and your employees are part of, and choose which ones you are truly benefiting from.   If being an officer in one of your organizations is not getting you any new business, then you may eliminate a time drain by bowing out and letting someone else volunteer.

Labor

As your business grows, it can be a challenge to decide who to hire next.  The first place to look before you decide should be your existing employees.  What tasks are they doing that you are paying them too much for?  For example, do you have a manager doing clerical work?  If so, you may be able to piece together an administrative job that frees your current staff from all the clerical work they are doing.

It’s worth a look to see where your current employees are being overpaid and find someone to do those parts of the job.  You’ll save labor costs and come out ahead in the long run.

Fixed Assets and Equipment

Another place to save money that can be significant is purchases of large items such as furniture, automobiles, and production equipment.  It’s a good idea to get three bids from reputable vendors so you have a choice.  Going with the lowest bid is not always a good move; going for the highest quality is.

Look in these five places, and let us know how much you find to increase your profits.  As always, if we can help, let us know.

The Entrepreneur’s Paycheck

January 10, 2013 · Posted in Business Tips · Comment 

As business owners, we may be so busy making sure the bills get paid and the product gets out the door that we may not be quite as proactive about our own compensation.  To pay themselves, many new business owners take what’s left after employees and vendors have been paid, and that ends up being their paycheck.

I’d like to propose a whole new way:  entrepreneurs should be paid three times, once for what they do, second for the risk they take, and third for the going concern they’ve built.  If you’re not getting paid three times, here’s how it can work.

First: Your Services

Just like the employees and contractors we work with, we should get paid for the actual work we perform in our business.  Most of us wear many hats in our business, and we should get paid for all those hats!

As your business grows, the tasks you initially performed will be delegated to employees.  They would never go without a paycheck, and you shoudn’t either.

The amount you pay yourself should be similar to the market rate you would have to pay someone if you hired someone else to do the jobs you are doing.  As your company grows, you will be going up the management ladder and your salary should increase accordingly.

Here’s an aha for some new business owners just starting out:  If you have cash flow problems paying yourself or others, then you might have one of two problems:  The goods and services you sell may not be priced correctly, or the number of clients you have may need to increase so that you reach an acceptable volume in your business.

Second: Your Risk

After you’ve paid yourself for the jobs you are doing in your own company, there should be something left over: profit.  As a business owner, you have earned that profit; it’s your reward for taking the risks that go with business ownership.

If there’s no profit left over, then there could be a number of problems.  This is where accounting professionals can help you review the revenues and expenses in your business and see where things are not adding up.

So far, your paycheck and your profits get you paid twice as an entrepreneur, and that’s the way it should be.  But there’s also a third way.

Third: Your Going Concern

A third way to get paid is when you sell your business.  There are many things you can do throughout the years to boost your business valuation, and the more you can do that, the higher the proceeds will be from your business.

Financial Success

One of the factors that can increase all three forms of compensation is your financial skillset.   Building your financial skills by working with accounting professionals can help you price your goods and services accurately, improve your cash flow, hire employees at the right pay rates, and implement many more financial success factors in your business.

When you’re ready to review your entrepreneur’s paycheck, feel free to call on us for expert financial assistance.

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