Does Your Business Have a Safety Net?

One of the most important parts of managing a business is making sure there is enough cash to keep the business going. As a business owner, you probably have a very good idea how much cash you have in the bank at any time. The smaller your business is, the more likely you are to keep a close eye on cash.

Checking your cash balance is a daily function you should be on top of. Yet there is another often-overlooked responsibility that many business owners don’t spend enough time on, and that is managing your future cash, especially in light of unplanned situations. Looking ahead helps reduce your business risk and allows you more time to correct any upcoming dip in your cash balance.

Having enough cash is akin to having a safety net for your business. It can sometimes even mean the difference between staying in business and going out of business. To plan how much you might need for your safety net, you can use a few different methodologies.

One way to plan your safety net is to prepare for the worst-case scenario. How long would your cash hold out if no revenue were to come in but all expenses kept going out? Some questions you might ask:

  • At what point will your cash run out? How many weeks or months of cash do you have?
  • Do you have a line of credit you can tap at a bank?
  • Do you have other loans or sources of cash that you can tap quickly in case of emergency?
  • What expenses could you shut down without hurting your business if you had to?

Another way to plan your safety net is to do what the average business does: acquire the amount of cash you need for two to three months’ worth of operations and keep it on hand. Alternately, you can make a plan to liquidate that much cash on a very fast basis and only put your plan in place if it’s needed.

An easy way to get these numbers is to look at your bank statements in conjunction with your average accounts receivable and accounts payable balances. If that’s all Greek to you, no worries. Feel free to contact us and we can help you figure out a safety net number that you’ll feel comfortable with and that will keep your business risk low.

Once you have a safety net in place, you’ll gain peace of mind for your business. It’s one step in an overall disaster preparedness plan that you can make for your business.

Posted in Business Tips | Leave a comment

Why Having a Budget Is Important

As an entrepreneur, you likely place a high value on freedom. When the word “budget” is mentioned, you might cringe and feel like it hampers your freedom. But it’s really the opposite. Here’s why.

According to a 2019 article in Small Business Trends, “Startup Statistics – The Numbers You Need to Know,” 82 percent of businesses that fail do so because of cash flow problems. Even if your business is no longer a startup, the failure rates for businesses started in 2014 were as follows:

  • 20 percent failed to make it to their second year,
  • 30 percent failed to make it to their third year,
  • 38 percent failed to make it to their fourth year, and
  • 44 percent failed to make it to their fifth year.

Many of the reasons for business failure can be prevented with good budgeting and planning. Here are some benefits of making a budget and managing to it.

  • A budget helps to control spending by seeing what’s available beyond your cash balance at the time.
  • Impulse spending can be curbed by avoiding spending on anything that is not budgeted for.
  • If a loan is needed to finance the business, you have a better idea of how much you need and how to best schedule the loan payments.
  • Your chances of business success increase with a budget.
  • You can see future revenue shortfalls so that you can take proactive steps to boost sales.
  • You can better manage growth.
  • You have a better idea of your profit level so you can make pricing changes, tax predictions, appropriate compensation, and other strategic changes.
  • You can plan for large expenditures such as asset purchases and time them better for cash flow, loan acquisition, and other considerations.

Getting started with a budget is easy. If you’ve been in business for more than one year, you can start with last year’s actual figures and then adjust for the growth and changes you want. The numbers can be input into your accounting system so that you can get reports that measure actual progress versus the budget numbers. You can then make good business decisions based on your variances.

When you take a little bit of time to create a budget, you really can enjoy the freedom of knowing you’re on track to make your numbers. If we’re not already working with you on your budget, feel free to reach out to find out more.

Posted in Business Tips | Leave a comment

Cool Tech Tools: Zoom

More and more small businesses are finding virtual meetings useful. Virtual meetings have many advantages:

  • No travel time is needed for participants, so you’ll save on gas and auto maintenance.
  • They create an ability to visually connect with remote employees, customers, vendors, partners, job candidates, and other stakeholders.
  • They are better than a phone call because of the visual element.

Before you climb into the car or book a flight, think about whether a virtual meeting could save you time and deliver the same result. It’s a very big change in habit to get used to, but when you do, you’ll find it saves you time and money.

To hold a virtual meeting, you’ll need a software app that works in your browser. There are many choices available, and one popular one is called Zoom. You can find them at https://zoom.us/.

It’s easier than you might think to hold a virtual meeting. The learning curve is more psychological than any skill or equipment needed. You’ll need a computer, and you can use your phone or your computer for audio. If you use your computer for audio, you’ll need a microphone and speakers.

For best results, you should also have a webcam built in to your computer, or you can purchase one separately and connect it. Everyone is camera-shy, or webcam-shy, but don’t let that stop you! You can always host a meeting without video.

Zoom has a free account that you can use to try out virtual meetings. Once you’ve set up your account, you can schedule a meeting or host a meeting on the fly. Setup choices include whether you’ll use computer or phone audio, whether you want the video to be on or off, and whether you want to record the session, which can be very handy. You can also mute and unmute participants, so that it can be used for classes as well as meetings.

Here are a few tips to make sure your virtual meetings go off without a hitch:

  1. Treat a virtual meeting with the same importance as a face-to-face one: be on time, have an agenda, and make sure everyone is heard.
  2. Audio quality is probably more important than visual quality. If you are new to the software, do a test run before you start inviting clients to meetings so you can get through any learning curve. Consider using a microphone headset for higher quality sound. Apple EarPods work great if you have an iPhone.
  3. For good video results, face a window or light source so that your face is not in shadow. The brighter the better; everyone looks better with more lighting because the light erases wrinkles! If possible, the webcam lens should be at eye level or above. You can use books under your computer to raise it if you need to.

Try virtual meetings in your business, and invite us to your next meeting.

Posted in Cool Tech Tools | Leave a comment

Five Key Reports for Your Business

Each month, your accounting system yields actionable information for you to run your business better. Here are some key reports that all business owners should review every month.

Balance Sheet

A quick review of the balance sheet can tell you the balances of your current assets and current liabilities. Current assets should always be larger than current liabilities; if it’s not, you may have liquidity issues.

You can also take a look at these accounts: cash, accounts receivable, and accounts payable. They should look reasonable to you based on your business history.

Accounts Receivable Aging

Your gaining report can alert you to who has not paid their invoice, so that you can take action to collect that money. Any balances over 30 days should trigger a collection process since the older the receivable gets, the less likely it is to collect.

Accounts Payable Aging

Hopefully, this report is clean and you are able to pay all of your bills on time. If you have an unusually large amount in this account, you’ll want to make sure you have the future cash to pay the bills.

Income Statement

The first number most entrepreneurs look at on the income statement is profit. It’s a good idea to review every account balance on this report to see if it is what you expected. Some questions to ask yourself include:

  1. Did I generate the amount of revenue that I expected? If not, should I ramp up marketing for the next few months?
  2. Do all of my expenses look reasonable? Are there any numbers that look too high?
  3. Are my payroll expenses in line with what I was expecting?
  4. Which accounts caused me to generate more or less profit?
  5. What I can I do next month to improve performance and increase profit?

Sales Reports

There are many excellent sales reports to dive deeper into your revenue so you can see what sold and what didn’t. Sales by Item and Sales by Customer are two good options for you to get more detail about your revenue balances. By analyzing your revenue, you can see what promotions worked and how you might take action to increase sales.

These five reports are very basic, but they are also very key to your business. To profit from these reports, it’s up to you to take action in your business to improve your success.

Posted in Accounting, Business Tips | Leave a comment

Understanding Cost of Goods Sold

The account on your income statement called Cost of Goods Sold can be confusing to non-accountants. In this article, we’ll attempt to de-mystify it and explain how it works.

Cost of Goods Sold is an account in your Chart of Accounts that is a very special type of expense. It is the amount of direct costs of items that were sold by the company. It is related to inventory, and it helps to see the flow of transactions to understand the big picture.

When you purchase an inventory item for sale, it’s considered an asset (not an expense yet) in your company. When you sell an inventory item, the asset is reduced and the Cost of Goods Sold account is increased, moving the item from an asset to an expense. It’s no longer an asset once it’s sold, and the cost of the item sold reduces your profit and is expensed into the Cost of Goods Sold account.

Some accountants will abbreviate the Cost of Goods Sold account to COGS, and you might hear them call it that.

In the case of wholesale and retail businesses, the cost of goods sold is the amount that was paid for the inventory items to be sold. In the case of a manufacturer, the costs can include the cost of raw materials, labor to produce the item, and sometimes additional allocations of other related costs. Construction businesses may have a Cost of Construction account or Contract Costs instead of COGS. Service businesses will typically not have a balance in the Cost of Goods Sold account. If they do have direct costs, the costs are often coded to a Supplies account under expenses.

At any point in time, the cost of items you purchase are in two different accounts:

    1. The unsold items are reflected in the asset account, Inventory, on your Balance Sheet report.
    2. The sold items are reflected in the Cost of Goods Sold account, on your Income Statement report.

It’s important that the Cost of Goods Sold balance is accurate, because there are many good things you can learn from it when you compare it with inventory. You can learn how fast your inventory is selling, and you can determine your gross profit margin.

If your inventory purchases have not been coded correctly, you can take inventory and arrive at the correct cost of unsold items. If your physical inventory does not match your books, your accountant can make a correcting entry between Cost of Goods Sold and the Inventory account so that both of them are accurate.

If you have further questions about the Cost of Goods Sold account, feel free to reach out any time.

Posted in Accounting | Leave a comment

Mid-Year Review

Can you believe that half of 2019 is gone already? That means it’s a great time to take stock of how your business has done for the first half of 2019 so that you can meet your financial goals for the entire year. 

On Track for Sales

Are you on track to make your 2019 revenue number?  The first step is to check your 2019 budget numbers for total revenue. (Don’t have a budget? – Check with us; we’d be delighted to discuss that service with you.)

Next, get your Income Statement for June 2019 Year-to-Date and check the revenue figure. Are you on track with your budget, or are you halfway there revenue-wise, accounting for seasonality? If so, pat yourself on the back!  If not, what promotions will you put in place to boost your growth for the rest of 2019?

On Track for Profit

Looking at the same Income Statement, check your net income figure. Are you on track with what you planned?  If so, great!  If not, the reason is simple: it will be either lower sales than expected or higher expenses than expected. 

If your expenses are too high, you’ll need to drill down into each of your expense accounts, including cost of goods sold, to see which ones are higher than expected. Were there some unanticipated costs?  Does your pricing need adjusting? Do you need more volume to cover your costs?  This is where we can help you with an analysis of where your opportunities are to increase profit. 

On Track for Cash

One more place to look is your cash balance. It can be uncomfortable when you are running short of cash for your business. If your balance is lower than you’d like it to be, it could be because of some of the factors mentioned above.  It could also be because you just purchased an asset like a truck.  If you need help with improving your cash flow, that’s another thing we can help you with. 

Mid-Year Review

This mid-year review can help you head off any small problems before they grow into big ones throughout the rest of the year. And it can keep you on track so you can meet your 2019 business goals.

Posted in Business Tips | Leave a comment

Five Timeless Tips to Improve Customer Service

Having repeat customers is essential to many businesses, and the key to keep clients coming back is to provide them with great customer service. Here are five ideas to rate your business’s savvy when it comes to serving customers well.

  1. Make a great first impression.

When customers make a purchase from you, make them feel great about it by sending them a series of indoctrination emails. Congratulate them on the purchase, let them know how to get the most out of their new purchase, and encourage them to connect with you on social media and your mailing list. 

  1. Measure response time.

How fast do you answer prospect and customer questions? Social media has changed the game. Customers that reach out via social media platforms, their phones, chat, or messaging apps expect an immediate answer.  Facebook even gives a badge to businesses who respond quickly and consistently.   

Not only do businesses need to monitor messages coming in from a record number of places – email, phone, web forms, chat, social media, and more – they need to respond faster than ever. 

Without measuring your response time, it’s hard to know how you’re doing, so putting measures in place is the first step to improving this customer service metric. 

  1. Publish clear policies.

Good customer service starts with setting clear expectations. Before a customer buys from you, they should be able to know what your return policy is in case something goes wrong. Some of the policies that should clearly be published online as well as at all customer-facing business locations include:

  • Returns policy: If the product or service is not as expected, can the customer obtain a refund? Is there a re-stocking fee?  What about shipping?  Cash back vs. store credit?
  • Shipping policy: Most people expect free shipping these days. They will want to know what it costs and how long will it take to get the item.
  • Terms of service: Are there any limitations to the product? Or legal items that need to be communicated?
  • Privacy policy: All clients will be giving you private customer data. They will want to know if it’s secure, if you share it with anyone, and if you are compliant with laws like GDPR (Europe), the CAN-SPAM act (US), or CASL (Canada).
  1. Encourage feedback.

Your best ideas for new products and services can come from your customers. Ask for feedback by sending customer satisfaction surveys and requests for testimonials and reviews. Read what customers have to say about your service so that you can make improvements as needed. 

  1. Check your ego at the door.

As small business owners, sometimes we need to be humble, especially when things go wrong. Be generous with apologies to customers; it will go a long way toward improving customer relations. If you’re at fault, admit it and make it right with the customer.  Even if you’re “right,” find a way to explain to the customer so that they feel good about you and your business. 

Delivering great customer service can be a huge competitive advantage for your business. How does your business stack up against these five ideas?  Try them, and watch your revenue grow.

Posted in Business Tips | Leave a comment

Do You Know Who Your Top Customers Are?

Every business has customers, and while all customers are important, most entrepreneurs will agree that some customers are more important than others. This may be due to the amount of revenue the customer brings in, their ability to refer new clients to you, the interesting challenges of the customer, or another factor. It makes sense to identify these clients so you can spend more time with them or at least acknowledge them in some way.

How do you find out which clients have generated the most revenue with you? If you store customer data in your accounting system, you can run a report to generate the data you need.  In QuickBooks, the report is called the Income by Customer Summary Report.  In Xero, it’s called Income by Contact. If you do not store customer data in your accounting system, you may be able to generate a report from your billing system, shopping cart, or point-of-sale system.

The reports look like this: each row holds the customer name and the Income column holds total revenue by the customer. If your system allows you to sort the revenue field, do this in descending order. If not, you can export the data to Excel and sort it in Excel. 

Once you’ve sorted the data, the answer is right in front of you.  Your top customers based on revenue will show in order. These are the customers you may want to consider spending more time with. Schedule periodic lunches with them, give them a call on a regular basis, and send them a gift or thank you note once in a while.  The report helps you organize your connection points with your top clients so you don’t miss an opportunity or forget to reach out to an important customer. 

Run this report on a regular basis so that you’re focused on nurturing the most important relationships in your business. You can also look at trends to see if you’re losing revenue over time or gaining revenue with new clients. You can reach out to clients that are spending less with you to try to save the relationship before it’s too late.  And you can get to know new clients that are growing with you so that you can grab even more business. 

Make this report a regular activity in your business to stay close to what your customers are doing with you.

Posted in Business Tips | Leave a comment

Accounting-Related Policies

Setting customer expectations in your business is essential to gain the trust of your customers, avoid conflicts, and maintain a high level of customer service. One way to set customer expectations is to clearly state policies that are customer-facing. Many of these are accounting policies that we can help you with. The following policies are ones that every business should clearly publish. 

Refund Policy

When customers purchase your products or service and don’t get what they expect, what is their recourse? Your refund policy should clearly state which products and services are refundable. Do customers need to physically return the product in-store or via shipping? What if it’s a service? Are they refunded in cash or credit card? Or is it a store credit? Is there a deadline for refunds?

All of these questions should clearly be outlined in your refund policy.  Your website is a great place to publish it. 

Customer Complaints

If your customer has a complaint, how should they submit it? Is there a hotline to call, a suggestion box, or a form to fill out? If your business and employees are licensed, is there a government agency to write? A notice should be posted on your website and in your physical location describing where to submit complaints.

Shipping Policy

Not all businesses need a shipping policy, but you do if you ship physical goods to a customer location. What is the cost of shipping? What is the expected delivery time? A shipping policy explains this as well as what can go wrong: If the item was never received, what should one do? Must you sign for a shipment? If you return a shipment, who pays the shipping? If an item is received damaged, how do you file a claim?

Payment Methods

While not a policy this customer communication needs to be clearly posted. What forms of payment will you take? If you take a check, what ID does the customer need to show? Do you take some of the newer forms of payment such as Apple Pay or cryptocurrencies? How do gift cards work?

Past-Due Accounts

If a customer doesn’t pay their bills on time, they should know what to expect. Will interest be charged? Will the account be sent for collections? Will someone break the customers’ legs? Will future purchases be cancelled or require a C.O.D. (cash on delivery) payment? 

You might not think of your accountant when it comes to writing these policies, but you should; we can help. A good accountant can help you craft these customer service policies so that your communications and expectations with customers are better than ever. 

Posted in Business Tips, Customer Service Tips | Leave a comment

How AI Is Changing Accounting

Artificial intelligence (AI) has arrived in the accounting profession in a big way. The good news is it’s streamlining accounting tasks, finding patterns in data you can take action on, and generally making things better. Here are just a few places we’re seeing AI and machine learning impact accounting.

Transaction Coding

Most systems have incorporated some form of machine learning into transaction coding. When bank feeds are imported, each transaction needs to be coded to add the account code in the chart of accounts.  Class, tracking codes, and other custom data may need to be added as well. Rules can be set so that the accounting application can pre-code the transactions; in this case the accountant simply approves or corrects the entry.

Invoice Fetching

It starts with a picture of a receipt. Invoice fetching applications can turn pixels into data using sophisticated OCR (optical character recognition). The data is then turned into a business transaction that can be imported into an accounting system.

Auditing

The books of many government agencies, nonprofits, and large businesses need to be audited on a regular basis. Auditing is an expensive process. Smart programs can review a company’s data and assess where the risks and anomalies are so that the audit program can be modified to focus on the more important parts. This reduces risk and cost for everyone involved. 

Accounts Payable

Artificial intelligence can help to speed up the matching of purchase orders, packing slips, and invoices so that accounts payable tasks are streamlined.  It can also automate approvals and look for duplicate invoices to avoid overpayments. 

Accounting Tasks That Are Clerical

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a platform that allows users to create automation without involving the IT department. Think Excel macros or Zapier on steroids. Any workflow with a mind-numbing set of clerical steps is a candidate for RPA. 

AI allows accountants to spend less time on routine tasks and more time on higher-level analysis work. As AI becomes more affordable for small businesses, everyone will benefit from this long-term trend.

Posted in Accounting, Cool Tech Tools | Leave a comment