An after-action review (AAR) is a fantastic process to help you look back at a project or period of your business to see what, why, and how things occurred and how they can be improved for the future. Taking a profit-focused view will help you get the most out of the idea.
- What was supposed to happen?
- What did happen?
- What worked? What should we keep doing?
- What didn’t work? What are some improvements?
- What advice would you give yourself at the beginning of the year? (Or project?)
- What personal lessons did you learn?
- Technology changes / additions or training
- Staffing changes
- Hiring process changes
- Marketing changes / additions or training
- Operations changes / additions or training
- New service or product development / new niches
- Changes in your existing services or products
- Customer retention
- Sales cycle changes or development
- Pricing evaluations
- Client surveys / communications / service level changes
Accounting automation has come a long way in the last few years, and the process of handling invoices and receipts is included in those changes. No longer is there a mountain of paperwork to deal with. In this article, we’ll explain some of the changes in this area.
Most invoices are now sent electronically, often through email or from accounting system to accounting system. Some accounting systems allow the invoice document, usually in PDF format, to be attached to the transaction in the accounting system. This feature makes it easy for vendor support questions as well as any audit that may come up.
Some systems are smart enough to “read” the invoice and prepare a check with little or no data entry. Others are able to automate three-way matching – this is when you match a purchase order, packing slip, and invoice together – so that time is saved in the accounts payable function.
Today’s systems allow you or your bookkeeper to scan in or take cell phone photos of receipts – whether cash or credit card – and then “read” them and record the transaction. This type of system cuts way down on data entry and allows the accountants to focus on more consultative work rather than administrative work.
Some vendors will email you receipts so all you have to do is use a special email address where your accountant is copied or forward the receipt as you receive it.
The biggest challenge for business owners is getting into the habit of photographing the receipt and sending it to the accountant. The days of shoebox receipts are not completely over, but cloud-savvy business owners are definitely enjoying the alternative options of today’s paperless world.
Some systems automate bill approval. This is especially handy for nonprofits or companies with a multi-person approval process. It cuts down on approval time and the time it takes to pay the bill.
There are many 3rd party applications that automate a part of the vendor payment or receipt management system. All of them have different features, platforms, software requirements, integration options, and pricing. Many of them integrate with Quickbooks, some with the desktop version, some with Quickbooks online and some integrate with both platforms.
- Receipt Bank
If you are interested in finding out more about automating your accounts payable invoices or receipts, please reach out anytime. We have partnerships with many of these 3rd parties for preferred pricing and in most cases we have certified in their products.
Most small businesses need help with cash during certain stages of their growth. If you find that you have more plans than cash to do them with, then it might be time for a loan. Here are five steps you can take to make the loan process go smoother.
1. Make a plan.
Questions like how much you need and how much you will benefit from the cash infusion are ones you should consider. If you don’t already have some version of a budget and business plan, experts recommend you spend a bit of time drafting those items. There’s nothing worse than getting a loan and finding out you needed twice the cash to do what you wanted to accomplish.
2. Know your credit-related numbers.
Do you know your credit score? Is there anything in your credit history that needs cleaning up before it slows down the loan approval process?
Take a look also at your standard financial ratios. These are ratios like your current ratio (current assets / current liabilities) and debt-to-equity ratio. If these are in line with what your lender is expecting, then you are in good shape to proceed.
3. Research your options.
Luckily, there are many more options for financing your business today than there have been in the past. Traditional options, such as banks, still exist, but it can be difficult to get a bank loan for a small business.
Here are some online loan sources where investors are matched with borrowers via an online transaction:
Or you can go to Fundera and compare which loan is the most economical.
There is also crowdfunding, which is very different from a loan. Crowdfunding is a way to raise cash from many people who invest a small amount. Top sites include GoFundMe and KickStarter, where you can find out more about how it works.
Other ways to get cash include tapping into your personal assets: using credits cards, refinancing a house, and borrowing money from family and friends.
4. Create your loan package.
Most lenders will want to know your story, and a loan package can provide the information they need to decide whether they want to loan you money or not. A good loan package includes the following:
- A narrative that includes why you need the loan, how much you want, and how you will pay it back. A good narrative will also list sources of collateral and a willingness to make a personal guarantee.
- Current financial statements and supporting credit documentation, such as bank statements and credit history.
- A business plan and budget, or portions of it, that cover your business overview, vision, products and services, and market.
- A resume or biography of the business owners and a description of the organization structure and management.
While it takes time to put together a great loan package, it’s also a great learning experience to go through the exercise of pulling all of the information together.
You’re now ready to get your loan. Or not. Going through these five steps helps you discover more about your business and helps you make an informed decision about whether a loan is still what you want and need.
Throughout the process, you may have learned new information that tells you you’re not quite ready for a loan, or that in fact, you are. At any rate, preparing for a loan is a great learning process, and the good news is there are lots of avenues for small businesses to get the cash they need to grow.
It’s not hard to see when your home needs a good cleaning but QuickBooks company file errors are harder to recognize so here are a few errors to watch for:
- Performance problems
- Inability to execute specific processes
- Occasional program crashes
- Missing data (accounts, names, dates)
- Refusal to complete transactions
- Mistakes in reports
One thing you can do on your own is to start practicing good preventive medicine to keep your QuickBooks company file healthy. Once a month or so, perhaps at the same time you reconcile your bank accounts, do a manual check of your major Lists.
Run the Account Listing report (Lists, Chart of Accounts, and Reports). Ask yourself: Are all of your bank accounts still active? Do you see accounts that you no longer use or which duplicate each other? You may be able to make them inactive or merge duplicates. Be very careful here. If there’s any doubt, leave them there. Do not try to fix the Chart of Accounts on your own. Let us help or speak with your tax preparer. Do not make accounts with balances inactive.
Figure 2: You might run this report periodically to see if it can be abbreviated.
A Risky Utility
The program’s documentation for this utility contains a list of warnings and preparation steps a mile long. We recommend that you do not use this tool. Same goes for Verify Data and Rebuild Data in the Utilities menu. If you lose a significant amount of company data, you can also lose your company file. It’s happened to numerous businesses.
Figure 3: Yes, QuickBooks allows you to use this tool on your own. But if you really want to preserve the integrity of your data, let us help.
The best thing you can do if you notice problems like this cropping up in QuickBooks – especially if you’re experiencing multiple ones – is to contact us. We understand the file structure of QuickBooks company data, and we have access to tools that you don’t. We can analyze your file and take steps to correct the problem(s).
Your copy of QuickBooks may be misbehaving because it’s unable to handle the depth and complexity of your company. It may be time to upgrade. If you’re using QuickBooks Pro, consider a move up to Premier. And if Premier isn’t cutting it anymore, consider QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions.
There’s cost involved, of course, but you may already be losing money by losing time because of your version’s limitations. All editions of QuickBooks look and work similarly, so your learning curve will be minimal.
We Are Here for You
We’ve suggested many times that you should contact us for help with your spring cleanup. While that may seem self-serving, remember that it takes us a lot less time and money to take preventive steps with your QuickBooks company file than to troubleshoot a broken one.
A 2014 Global Fraud Study conducted by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) estimates that the average business loses five percent of their revenues to fraud. The global total of fraud losses is $3.7 trillion. The median fraud case goes 18 months before detection and results in a $145,000 loss. How can you avoid being a fraud victim?
The first step is to become more aware of the conditions that make fraud possible. The fraud triangle is a model that describes three components that need to be present in order for fraud to occur:
- Motivation (or Need)
When fewer than three legs of the triangle are present, we can deter fraud. When all three are present, fraud could occur.
Financial pressure at home is an example of when motivation to commit fraud is present. The fraud perpetrator finds themselves in need of large amounts of cash due to any number of reasons: poor investments, gambling, a flamboyant lifestyle, need for health care funds, family requirements, or social pressure. In short, the person needs money and lots of it fast.
The person who commits fraud rationalizes the act in their minds:
- I’m too smart to get caught.
- I’ll put it back when my luck changes.
- The big company won’t miss it.
- I don’t like the person I’m stealing from.
- I’m entitled to it.
At some point in the process, the person who commits fraud loses their sense of right and wrong and their fear of any consequences.
Here’s where you as a business owner come in. If there’s a leak in your control processes, then you have created an opportunity for fraud to occur. People who handle cash, signatory authority on a bank account, or financial records with poor oversight could notice that there is an opportunity for fraud to occur with the ability to cover the act up for some time.
Seventy-seven percent of all frauds occur in one of these departments: accounting, operations, sales, executive/upper management, customer service, purchasing and finance. The banking and financial services, government and public administration, and manufacturing industries are at the highest risk for fraud cases. (Source: ACFE)
Once you understand a little about fraud, prevention is the next step. To some degree, all three points on the triangle can be controlled; however, most fraud prevention programs focus on the third area the most: Opportunity. When you can shut down the opportunity for fraud, then you’ve gone a long way to prevent it.
While we hope fraud never happens to you, it makes good sense to take preventative steps to avoid it. Please give us a call if we can help you in any way.
Keeping a to-do list is a great way to be productive, avoid having things fall through the crack, and unclutter your brain. How you maintain your to-do list varies: some people use pen and paper because they love the feeling of crossing tasks off, others use Excel or Google documents. Still others might try Evernote.
If all of those still have you feeling unorganized, then you’re in luck. There’s a whole new genre of apps to automate your to-do list. Here is a list of things to consider:
- Would it be great to access your to-do list from any device?
- Do you need subtasks?
- Would you like to set priorities and due dates?
- Do you want notifications or reminders?
- Do you want to share tasks with others?
- Do you have repeating tasks that need to be handled differently?
- Do you need to be able to make comments or notes for each task?
- Would it be nice to forward an email to your to-do list and just have it logged?
- Do you want to be able to print your to-do list?
- Do you want to be able to set hash tags, filters, and labels for each task?
Once you’ve thought about your requirements, now you can look for an app that meets it. Here are two to get you started:
If those don’t work out, Google “to-do list apps” and you’ll have a bevy of selections to choose from. These to-do lists will work for not only business projects but also major life projects like weddings, vacations, and more.
Try these new to-do list apps and let us know what you think.
As we move into the fall season and the final quarter of the year, it’s a perfect time to commit to a project in your business that will help you reach the year’s end in better shape. Here are five ideas:
1. Back-to-School Time
If payroll expenses are one of the higher costs in your business, then it makes sense to boost your team’s productivity and maybe also your own. Fall is back-to-school time anyway, so it’s a natural time of the year to take on a course, read a business book, or hire an organizer to help you get more from your workspace.
If you spend a lot of time doing email, consider taking a course on Microsoft Outlook® or even Windows; learning a few new keystrokes could save you tons of time. If you need more time, look for a book or course on time management. Look for classes at your local community college or adult education center.
2. A Garage Sale for Your Business
Do you have inventory in your business? If so, take a look at which items are slower-moving and clear them out in a big sale. We can help you figure out what’s moving slowly, and you might even save on taxes too.
3. Celebrate Your Results
Take a checkpoint to see how your revenue and income are running compared to last year at this time. Is it time for a celebration, or is it time to hunker down and bring in some more sales before winter? With one more quarter to go, you have time to make any strategy corrections you need to at this time. Let us know if we can pull a report that shows your year-on-year financial comparison.
4. Get Ready for Year’s End
Avoid the time pressure of year’s end by getting ready early. Review your balance sheet to make sure your account balances are correct for all transactions entered to date. You will be ahead of the game by getting the bulk of the year reviewed and out of the way early.
Also make sure you have the required documentation you need from vendors and customers. One example is contract labor that you will need to issue a 1099 for; make sure you have a W-9 on file for them. If we can help you get ready for year-end, let us know.
5. Margin Mastery
If your business has multiple products and services, there may be some that are far more profitable than others. Breaking these numbers out to calculate your profit margins or contribution margins by product or service line can help you see the areas that are adding the most income to your bottom line. Correspondingly, you can determine if you have any items that are losing money; knowing will help you take the right action in your business. Refresh your financials this fall with your favorite idea of these five, or come up with your own fall project to rejuvenate your business.
Sales tax laws are constantly changing, and sales tax audits have increased since states and local agencies have become creative about finding new ways to generate revenues. If you haven’t made any changes in your sales tax procedures in a while, you are probably at risk.
From state to state, the taxability of items varies. For example, data processing services including web hosting and graphics are taxable in Texas but not California. Because of these intricacies, it makes sense to consult an expert in this area. Some states have been taxing certain services for many years now.
The new buzzword in sales tax is “nexus,” which simply means presence. If your business has a presence in a state, then certain items you sell could be taxable. “Presence” is a little gray, but here are a few examples of some characteristics that the courts have decided prove nexus.
- If you have employees or contractors working in a state, you are liable to collect and remit sales tax. This can play havoc if you hire virtual or remote workers. Even if they are part-time, you have nexus in that state.
- If you outsource inventory fulfillment in any way (think Amazon sales), you have nexus in states where there is a physical warehouse that houses your products.
- If you own business property in a state, you must file sales tax.
- If you participate in trade shows or are a public speaker, you have nexus in states where the conferences are held.
If you fail to collect taxes where you should, the risk is easy to calculate. Take the potential taxable sales times the sales tax rate, and add any penalties. The numbers get scary if you’ve been in business for several years.
Let’s say your annual revenues are $5 million. You didn’t realize that your Texas sales were taxable, and this amounts to 10% or $500K. Your tax liability is $41,250 per year. If you have been doing it wrong for five years, well, you can add it up. Add penalties on top, and it’s not a small amount. It can wipe out your entire year’s profit.
Sales tax liability becomes more important if you plan to sell your business. A traditional valuation will always include a sales tax risk analysis. Even if you don’t plan to sell, the odds of you getting audited or a disgruntled employee blowing the whistle can be too much to risk.
If you want help calculating your risk or assessing nexus or taxability for your business, reach out and we can help.
Wow, can you believe that 2015 is half over already? Now that we’ve crossed the halfway mark, it’s time to see if we’re on track for our 2015 goals. To do that, we need to see if we’ve met our mid-year milestones.
Managing By Milestones
A milestone, in project management terms, is simply a point along a project timeline. It’s marked so that project managers recognize when that portion of the project has been completed. We can use milestones to see how we’re faring toward financial goals as well.
Assuming our business is not seasonal, we should have earned half of our target revenues for 2015 as of the June 30, 2015 income statement. If we’re falling short, we can recognize that and perhaps add some promotions or sales to spike revenues so that we can correct the shortfall before the year has ended. If we’re ahead of the game, we can see what is working so well and make sure to replicate it.
Either way, with milestones, we can be more proactive in reaching or surpassing our goals.
By the Numbers
Some of the numbers you may want to set milestones for include:
* Revenue to date
* Profit to date
* Debt paid down or debt taken on
* Assets acquired or sold
* Number of employees added or lost or both
* Number of clients added or lost or both
* Accounts receivable aging
Milestones don’t have to be numeric. You can also use them to determine if you’re on track with internal projects. Perhaps for 2015, your goal was to replace 5 PCs and convert your shopping cart software. You can set milestones to monitor specific phases of these projects or just monitor when you start and complete them.
Mid-Year Milestone Report
Document your accomplishments in a mid-year milestones report. It feels good to write them down, plus you’ll have a history of how much you accomplished as well as what worked.
The report can include the milestones as well as a narrative explaining the performance to date. If you’d like our help creating this report, please feel free to contact us.
Accounting for milestones can help you become more proactive toward reaching your business goals. Plus, it’s great to see how far you’ve come since the beginning of the year.
As always if you have any questions regarding any of our newsletters, please feel free to call for further clarification.
Cool Tech Tools: Customer Portals
If you have a business where you have to send documents of any kind to your customers, then you may benefit from a portal. You can save time on customer service and possibly postage and labor. You will also look most professional while increasing service delivery.
What Is a Portal?
A portal is software in the cloud that allows users to upload and download files from a secure space that only they have access to. For each client you have, you can set up a private virtual filing cabinet where only you and the client will have the key. Your client will have their own user ID and password into their area of the portal. There, they can upload and download documents. Some portals also have secure signature capability to help you take the paperwork out of obtaining signatures.
How Can I Use a Portal?
Think of all the paperwork that occurs between you and your customer, and that will give you several ideas about how to use a portal. If your business is data-intensive, you will definitely benefit from a portal; imagine moving all of those documents out of email and into a clean, private filing folder in the cloud.
Businesses that would benefit the most include:
- Any small business with remote employees: a portal can be where they pick up and drop off work.
- Mortgage companies where the loan officers are collecting a great deal of information for the underwriters.
- Construction companies: each subcontractor could access the schedule, estimates, material details, invoices, and certificates of insurance.
- Real estate agents to collect the details of home purchases and sales
- Accountants, attorneys, consultants, coaches, and other professionals who deal with private customer information.
- Web design, ad agency, and marketing companies
Types of documents and files you can upload and download from portals include:
- Contracts, estimates, and legal documents
- Invoices and credit card authorizations
- Instructions and training materials and aids
- Company policies and procedures
- Brochures and marketing materials
- Reports and spreadsheets
- Forms and applications, blank and completed
- Graphics, drawings, and photos
You don’t necessarily have to set up a portal for every client; perhaps it’s cost-effective to use a portal on your largest customers or vendors.
Where Can I Find a Portal?
One of the leading vendors in the portal space is Citrix Sharefile. You can find them here: http://www.sharefile.com/. Your industry may have specific solutions for you as well, especially if you have regulations such as HIPAA that you need to follow.
You may also have heard of DropBox and Box.net. These companies offer file transfer and don’t have a dedicated user area, so they are useful, but a bit different than a portal.
Look for software that provides each user with their own unique login, and that will distinguish the software as a true portal.
If you decide to implement portals for your business, you can private-label them with your logo and place a direct link to your portal login page for easy client access.
Using portals will keep your inbox cleaner, save time looking for lost emails and documents, and help you look professional in the eyes of your clients.