A great way to start 2021 is to take a fresh look at your business finances. Many things changed in 2020, and if you are in the habit of spending on the same items year after year, it’s the perfect time to decide what is essential and what can go.

There are only a few ways to increase profits when you think about it in black and white terms. You can either raise revenues or cut costs. Let’s take a look at where we can potentially cut costs.

Publications

These expenses tend to be monthly or yearly, and we tend to just let them automatically renew time after time. But do we really need them? Take a look in your Dues and Subscriptions account to evaluate what you really need to stay informed, and cancel the rest.

Memberships

If you are a member of an organization or two, what benefits are you getting from your investment? Does it raise revenue for you? Do you use everything the membership offers? If not, it might need to go on the chopping block.

Memberships are especially tricky if the organization provides a local meeting component as a benefit and your state or county has been shut down. There’s a tradeoff right now between supporting the organization so that it’s still there when we can freely meet again and being responsible about your own business costs.

Office/Store Rent

With many employees working from home, the question has come up in many businesses about how much space they really need. As leases expire, consider how much space you really need. Some employees may love to work from home permanently, which frees up space.

Retail stores that have moved their business online may be able to cut back on customer-facing space but might need more inventory storage space. A restaurant that has successfully transitioned to pickup and delivery orders might be able to get by with a smaller seating area.

Software Apps

Are you paying for any technology applications that you are simply not using?  This is a good place to look for cuts.

Some applications charge by number of contacts.  Keeping your lists clean inside these apps will avoid increases and cut costs in some cases.

Office Supplies

Do you really still need things like staplers and scissors on everyone’s desk? If your business is going paperless, you can save a lot on office supplies.

Printing

Do you need to spend money on printing, or can the printed item be delivered electronically?

Shipping/Postage

While information can be delivered electronically, physical goods still need to be shipped.  Make sure you have the best deal with your shipping vendors based on your volume.  You may also need to consider building your shipping costs into the price of the product or add a shipping fee to the bill if you don’t already.

Marketing

A great way to increase profits is to become more intentional about your marketing costs. Are you able to measure what’s working and what isn’t? Or are you doing the same thing year after year?

Marketing has changed so much, even in the last few years. It might be time to implement digital marketing methods, which can be more cost-effective than older, outdated methods.

Labor

Make sure employees manage their time effectively by providing the right training and supervision. This should help to reduce labor expenses.

Telephone/Internet

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? Many telecommunication companies will often bargain with you or offer you a new deal just for checking in with them.

This gives you ten places to look to cut costs and correspondingly increase profits for 2021. If you need help reviewing your income statement, please reach out.

Qualifying small businesses can now apply for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans through certain lenders. The Small Business Administration (SBA) reopened its PPP portal on January 11, 2021 after Congress passed and the President signed legislation in December 2020, authorizing the continuation of the program and an additional $284 billion in funds.

The program allows for two types of applications:

  • First Draw Loans to qualifying entities that did not receive a PPP loan in 2020, and
  • Second Draw Loans for previous PPP loan recipients and with a narrower set of qualifications.

First Draw PPP Loans for First-Time Borrowers

Borrowers that qualify for first-draw PPP loans can apply for up to 2.5 times their average monthly payroll costs (with caps), for a maximum loan amount of $10 million. Generally speaking, the applicants must have been in operation on February 15, 2020 and be among the following types of businesses:

  • Businesses with 500 or fewer employees that are eligible for other SBA 7(a) loans
  • Sole proprietors, some self-employed individuals, and independent contractors
  • Nonprofits, including churches
  • Sec. 501(c)(6) businesses
  • Food or lodging operations with NAICS codes that start with 72 and with fewer than 500 employees per location
  • Certain news operations with qualifying NAICS codes in the 51 range

A number of entities are specifically prohibited from receiving loans.

The SBA application for First Draw Loans is here:
https://www.sba.gov/document/sba-form-2483-ppp-first-draw-borrower-application-form

The applicant must attest to the necessity of the loan, among several other declarations.

Second Draw PPP Loans for Borrowers That Received a PPP Loan in 2020

Borrowers that qualify for a second-draw PPP loan can apply for up to 2.5* times their average monthly payroll costs (with caps), for a maximum loan amount of $2 million. Generally speaking, the applicants must qualify as follows:

  • Employ no more than 300 employees
  • Have spent all of their first PPP loan on eligible expenses
  • Do not have to apply for forgiveness for the first loan ahead of receiving the second loan
  • Can show a 25 percent drop in gross receipts in any one 2020 calendar quarter from 2019. If it’s easier to show a 25 percent drop for the entire 2020 year compared to 2019, applicants can submit their tax returns as proof.

*Companies with NAICS code 72, which generally speaking are food and lodging operations, can borrow up to 3.5 times their average monthly payroll costs (with caps).

The SBA application for Second Draw Loans is here:
https://www.sba.gov/document/sba-form-2483-sd-ppp-second-draw-borrower-application-form

The applicant must attest to the necessity of the loan, among multiple other certifications and declarations.

Loan Forgiveness

PPP loan recipients can apply to have PPP loans forgiven if the funds are used within a specified covered period from 8 to 24 weeks on the following eligible costs: payroll (60 percent of funds), rent, covered worker protection and facility modification expenditures, covered property damage costs, certain supplier costs, accounting (!) expenses, and a handful of other qualifying expenses.

Timing

The SBA portal opened Monday, January 11, 2021 for first-draw loans by lenders (about 10 percent) that cater to underserved communities. These include Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs), Certified Development Companies (CDCs) and Microloan Intermediaries.

On Wednesday, January 13, 2021, the SBA application portal began accepting applications for Second Draw loans. A few days later, additional lenders will be added to the portals.

SBA says it “plans to dedicate specific times to process and assist the smallest PPP lenders with loan applications from eligible small businesses.”

What to Do Next

Here are some suggested steps to get ready for this next round of PPP funds.

  1. Determine which lender you want to use to apply for PPP funds.
  2. Visit your lender website to see if they have a PPP notification signup so you can get notified of updates.
  3. Collect the documents you need for the application.
    a. Payroll summary reports
    b. Profit and loss statements
    c. Tax returns
  4. Begin calculating the amounts you’ll need for the application:
    a. Gross receipts by quarter for 2020 and 2019
    b. Average monthly payroll costs, including cap limits for wages over $100,000, for the year you want to use (2020, 2019, or the year from the application date)
  5. Contact us if you need help with documentation or calculation or other advice.
  6. Contact your tax preparer about tax ramifications.
  7. Contact your attorney to evaluate the loan agreement.

Further PPP Resources

Updated PPP Lender forms, guidance, and resources are available at www.sba.gov/ppp.

CARES Act Treasury page: https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/cares/assistance-for-small-businesses

Jan 6, 2021 SBA PPP Interim Final Rule – 82 pages
https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/PPP-IFR-Paycheck-Protection-Program-as-Amended-by-Economic-Aid-Act.pdf

Jan 6, 2021 SBA PPP Second Draw Interim Final Rule – 42 pages
https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/PPP-IFR-Second-Draw-Loans.pdf

Do you have a lot of customer service inquiries in your business? If so, it can be a challenge to manage them all. Being responsive with customer service can make all the difference in your company’s success, so it makes sense to take a look at some tools that can streamline the process.

The most common solution to automating customer service inquiries is to implement a ticket management system, which is also called help desk software. Some of the things that are important to consider include:

  • How fast you can respond to a customer
  • How well you solve the customer’s problem
  • How to track a customer’s issue if it has to be open for a while before it can be solved
  • How to do all of this in a cost-effective and efficient, yet friendly, manner

These days, an inquiry can come from a multitude of places:

  • Phone calls and voice mails
  • Emails
  • Text messages
  • Social media accounts, for all the platforms you have a business presence
    • Posts, replies, and comments
    • Messaging
    • Any other methods you have set up in your social accounts
  • Chat feature on website
  • Snail mail

That’s a lot of inputs to organize. When they can all be fed into the same system, you have just unified your messaging input and taken a giant step toward organizing all of these moving parts.  A good ticketing system will accomplish this, and the feature you want to ask for is multi-channel accessibility.

Keeping your customer service costs low is another factor, and one way to accomplish that is to help users self-serve and solve their own issues when they can. This requires a robust knowledge base feature. A knowledge base is a set of how-to articles and videos of the most frequently asked customer service questions.

Here are a few very basic topics to consider including in your knowledge base:

  • What forms of payment do you accept?
  • What is your shipping policy?
  • How can I get help if I need it?
  • What is your return/refund policy?
  • What is your privacy policy?
  • What is your guarantee?
  • Is my data secure with you?
  • How do I update my credit card/address/phone/email?
  • When will my items arrive?
  • What licenses do you have?
  • What are your hours?
  • Do you have hours for seniors?
  • How do I login?
  • How do I access my digital items?
  • What are your covid-19 policies for your employees? For customers?
  • Are you hiring? How do I apply? What are your employment policies?

A good ticket system will also have the ability to customize the ticket, the customer service agents, the customer records, and the other important parts of the system. For example, you may want to set up your own status items for each ticket.  Open, assigned, active, hold, and complete are typical status types, but you may need another one.

The workflow must also be considered in a ticket system.  How does a typical ticket flow through your business, and can the system replicate that flow.

Other important features of a ticket system include:

  • Support for multiple languages
  • Customer response to tickets, as well as customers can view status of their tickets
  • Uptime of system – service-level agreements
  • Tracking, such as number of open tickets, tickets on hold, and the like
  • Reporting metrics, such as wait time, ticket servicing time, and number of tickets handled by each agent
  • Ticket tagging and categorizing
  • Feedback loop for customer suggestions of product improvements
  • Ease of use for customers and agents
  • Notifications

A few of the most popular ticket management systems include:

  • Zendesk
  • Freshdesk or Freshservice by Freshworks
  • Zoho Desk
  • HubSpot Service Hub
  • Salesforce Service Cloud
  • LiveAgent

There are literally hundreds of technology options for any size business.

If you want to take your customer service to the next level or just want to get more organized, consider looking into these ticket systems.

A cashless business is one that processes all cash transactions electronically. There is no paper or coin money taken or handled. While no one society has become 100 percent cashless yet, most organizations are moving in that direction.

A business can become cash-free by providing multiple electronic alternatives to payment.  Credit cards are the most common electronic payment implementation. This option most likely includes MasterCard, Visa, Discover, and American Express.  Some businesses also have a PayPal account and offer that method for payments. Venmo, owned by PayPal, is an efficient mobile alternative, but it is mostly used for consumer-to-consumer transactions. And there is also cryptocurrency.

Cashless businesses are more efficient, help to reduce crime, and have a better audit trail of transactions. Going cash-free also saves money and time spent counting the money, storing the money, safeguarding the money, protecting employees at risk of becoming theft victims, and physically going to the bank.

On the negative side, credit card companies charge fees to merchants, although these can now be passed to the customer in most states. Electronic transactions also require a higher level of technology, and privacy is reduced. And while security is an issue, all merchants that take credit cards must comply with PCI (Payment Card Industry) security standards and sign a document each year stating so.

If your clientele does not keep their money in a bank or if they are not able (or have chosen not) to have a credit card, you may need to rethink going cashless. About 20 percent of U.S. households are challenged when it comes to having access to checking and savings accounts. This has led to several state and local laws being passed in the U.S. prohibiting a business from going cashless. Nothing has been passed at the national level as of this writing, however the Payment Choice Act was introduced in both chambers in mid-2020.

The pandemic has accelerated the move to cashless with the desire for contactless transactions. Several countries are leading the way to becoming cash-free as an entire country, including Sweden, Finland, Norway, China, and South Korea. Sweden’s government has been the most aggressive, claiming they will become a 100 percent cashless society by 2023.

Is going cashless right for you? Meeting your customers’ needs is a prime consideration. At the very least, you can move to increase the percentage of electronic transactions and decrease the percentage of cash transactions when feasible.  This measure will save time and money in and of itself.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (CAA 2021) became law on December 27, 2020, and among many other things, provided for a second round of potentially forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans to small businesses that were financially impacted by the effects of the pandemic.

The Act not only provides funds and guidelines for a round two of PPP money; it also expands PPP round one in a number of ways.  Here are a few of the highlights.

Changes to PPP Round 1 Loans

Existing borrowers with PPP loans can reapply for a loan or request a loan increase as long as they have not received forgiveness. This includes borrowers that returned all or part of their PPP loan or whose loan maximum has increased due to regulations implemented after receipt of their loan.

Businesses that have not been granted forgiveness can spend PPP money and apply for forgiveness on an expanded list of expenses, including:

  • Software, cloud computing, HR, and accounting
  • Property damage
  • Supplier costs
  • Essential contracts in force prior to loan
  • Worker protections, e.g. PPE
  • Payroll costs can include group insurance including group life, disability, vision, dental

They can now choose their covered period at any time between 8 and 24 weeks (previously it was 8 OR 24 weeks only).

There will be a simplified forgiveness application for loans under $150,000.  However, do note that this is not the rumored rubber stamp: the backup paperwork and calculations are still required.

The SBA has until January 21, 2021 to establish the guidelines for the application process.

PPP Second Draw Loans

Additional PPP monies will be available to qualifying businesses, up to loan amounts of $2 million. The business must:

  • Employ 300 or fewer employees
  • Have used or plan to use the full amount of PPP1
  • Can prove a 25 percent drop in revenue in any quarter of 2020 compared to 2019

Businesses, certain non-profit organizations, housing cooperatives, veterans’ organizations, tribal businesses, self-employed individuals, sole proprietors, independent contractors, and small agricultural co-operatives are eligible.

In round two, borrowers may receive a loan amount of up to 2.5X the average monthly payroll costs in the one year prior to the loan or the calendar year. Businesses with NAICS code 72 (Accommodation and Food Services) may receive loans of up to 3.5X average monthly payroll costs. The rules for forgiveness are the same as in round one.

Organizations not eligible for PPP2 include:

  • Businesses not in operation on Feb 15, 2020
  • Businesses that received a Shuttered Venue Operator Grant
  • Entities normally ineligible for SBA loans in general, except for nonprofits and religious organizations
  • Political organizations and lobbyists
  • Entities affiliated with entities in the People’s Republic of China
  • Registrants under the Foreign Agents Registration Act
  • Publicly traded companies

The entire program is extended to March 31, 2021.

There are also special provisions for these types of businesses:

  • Venues
  • Farmers and Ranchers
  • Housing Cooperatives
  • News Organizations
  • 501(c)(6) and Destination Marketing Organizations
  • Businesses in bankruptcy proceedings

The disclosures have also gotten stronger, with specific provisions for collection of demographic information and required disclosures for leaders in government to publicize their receipt of PPP forgiveness as well as prohibition of them receiving PPP loans in the future.

The law gives SBA a deadline to act, which varies from 10-24 days depending on the section. The next course of action for businesses that want to apply for these funds is:

  • Continue gathering your documents,
  • Make your calculations,
  • Check with your accountant if you need help,
  • Select your SBA-approved bank, and
  • Wait for both
    • The SBA guidance and
    • Your bank to open the application portal

The Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits, and Venues Act starts on page 2042 of the 5593-page bill in case you want to see for yourself. And if not, know we’re here as your tax law interpreter, so feel free to reach out anytime.