If you have employees, you probably also have a process to help them understand how they are doing on their job performance. There’s a new trend in large companies to kill the annual performance review and replace it with continuous, instant feedback as well as a tool called an after-action review.

After-Action Review

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.

The AAR provides you with a bit more formal process than a passing “hmm, how did we do on that project last month?” conversation in the hall.  For example, if you planned your client retention rate to be 90 percent and your rate was 85 percent, you may want to take a look at why that happened. Doing exit interviews or a survey with discontinuing clients can help to explain the five percent variation.

Continuing the example, once you have done the interviews, you may have some ideas for improvement. It might be to automate some communication, increase response time, add more time for explanations, or something else. Let’s say you got sick last year and lost some clients because your response time during that time was not good. This year, you can put a sick plan in place to call on a peer to help you out so your service does not suffer.

The AAR requires an open mind and you will need to accept responsibility. One of the key benefits of the AAR is increased accountability. The core questions to ask yourself and your team include:

  • 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?

You can use the AAR to improve your business by using it after each large project, to measure goals, or for a specific timeframe. Look at your first quarter performance this year. Are you on track? What improvements do you need to make for next quarter that you can work on over the summer and fall? Some opportunities to use the AAR include:

  • 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

The good thing about the AAR is you can make it as formal or informal as you want.  You can invite your team or do it yourself, although you’re going to need an open, unbiased mind.  Try it in your business, and let us know if we can help.

 

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.

Vendor Invoices

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.

Receipts

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.

Approvals

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.

New Systems

Here is a short list of new systems that automate a part of the vendor payment or receipt management system. There are a lot more, in addition to your core accounting system, and all of them have different features, platforms, software requirements, integration options, and pricing.

  1. Bill.com
  2. Hubdoc
  3. Receipt Bank
  4. Expensify
  5. SmartVault
  6. Doc.it
  7. Tallie
  8. Concur
  9. LedgerSync
  10. ShoeBoxed
  11. ShareFile
  12. DropBox

If you are interested in finding out more about automating your accounts payable invoices or receipts, please reach out anytime.

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:

  • Kabbage
  • OnDeck
  • LendingClub
  • FundBox
  • BlueVine

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.

5. Execute!

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.

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:

  1. Motivation (or Need)
  2. Rationalization
  3. Opportunity

When fewer than three legs of the triangle are present, we can deter fraud.  When all three are present, fraud could occur.

Motivation

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.

Rationalization

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.

Opportunity

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)

Prevention

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:

  1. Would it be great to access your to-do list from any device?
  2. Do you need subtasks?
  3. Would you like to set priorities and due dates?
  4. Do you want notifications or reminders?
  5. Do you want to share tasks with others?
  6. Do you have repeating tasks that need to be handled differently?
  7. Do you need to be able to make comments or notes for each task?
  8. Would it be nice to forward an email to your to-do list and just have it logged?
  9. Do you want to be able to print your to-do list?
  10. 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:

  • ToDoist.com
  • Wunderlist.com

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.

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.

Taxability

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.

Nexus

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.

The Risk

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.

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.

A great way to speed up your cash flow is to get paid faster by customers who owe you money.  One way to do that is to examine your payment terms to see if you can accelerate them.  First let’s talk about what payment terms are common.  Then I’ll share a study that showed which payment terms generate the fastest payments.

English, Please

Traditional payment terms are spoken in the following format:

Percentage discount/(Days due from invoice date), “Net” (Days due before payment is past due)

An example is 2/10, Net 30.  It means to the customer that if they pay within ten days, they can take two percent off of the invoice due amount.  If they don’t want to do that, they need to pay the full invoice within 30 days of the invoice date.

You could write “2/10, Net 30” on your invoice, but you will get paid faster if you write it out in plain English.

Industry Standard

If your industry “has always done it that way,” I encourage you to challenge the status quo.  Getting your cash faster is important to all small businesses, so don’t let your industry hold you back.

Discounts

Most corporations are required to take discounts if they are offered, so offering an early pay discount might help you get paid faster.

Insights

There are several studies on how to get paid the fastest.  Of course they all have different conclusions!  FreshBooks advises that “due upon receipt” terms can work against you as most people decide that that can mean anything.  They suggest using wording that says “Please pay this invoice within 21 days of receiving it.”  Here is their blog post on the topic:

http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/the-best-invoice-payment-terms-to-help-you-get-paid-faster-and-more-often

Xero produced a page on the topic as well. Their research suggests that debtors pay bills 2 weeks late on average.  They also suggest using terms of net 13 or less in order to get paid within 30 days.  Here is their page on the topic:

https://www.xero.com/us/small-business-guides/invoicing/invoice-payment-terms/

Feel free to contact us if you’d like help deciding on payment terms for your business.

Google Drive, which used to be called Google Docs, is a great way to collaborate with team members and stakeholders that are in a different location than you are. Here’s a quick introduction (or refresher) on how to use this powerful collaboration tool.

Google Drive is a browser-based application that allows you to create documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and other documents that reside in the cloud. They can easily be shared with others, and both of you can see and edit the document at the same time.

Using Google Drive

To get started, you’ll need to have (or set up) a Google account. If you have a gmail account, you can use it. Log in to your gmail or Google account, and at the top right corner of your screen, you will see a square made up of nine small squares. You can click on it and select Google Drive.   Alternately, you can go to drive.google.com.

Time to Create

Once you’re on the Google Drive main page, you’ll see a large red CREATE button on the top left. Click it to create your first Google document. Select among the choices of spreadsheet, document, presentation, and more. Give the document a title, and start editing. The commands are very similar to Microsoft Office®, so there’s no learning curve.

Time to Share

When you are viewing a document, you’ll see a blue SHARE button on the top right side of your screen. Click it to enter the email address of a person you’d like to have see and/or edit the document.

You can tell who else is viewing the document at the same time you are because you’ll see a colored box and perhaps their picture on the top right side. You can also tell where their cursor is in the document; it will show up in another color.

As you create documents, you will see your list growing under My Drive. If someone else created the document and shared it with you, you’ll see it under Shared With Me.

So Many Uses

Here are a couple of ideas on how you can use Google Drive.

  • As a bulletin board for your employees or customers
  • For status reports on projects
  • As a to-do list when multiple team members are involved – they can check off the items as they go
  • As a collaborative note-taker when you’re brainstorming with another person
  • With a client when you need to explain part of a document – you can copy and paste from Word or Excel to Google Drive (but check to make sure everything came over)

Google Drive is great for productivity and makes communications easier. Try it and let us know how you use it.