If you keep any kind of digital information in your business, you have a chance of becoming a victim of a cybercrime. The odds have increased exponentially during the pandemic, with more cyberthreats and scams floating around than ever before. Here are some ways to reduce your chances of getting attacked.
Social engineering is when thieves try to get your employees to provide confidential information via a phone call or email. You can reduce your risk here by developing procedures and training any employees that take customer phone calls for the business. Require them to ask for identifying information such as a pin or code, or simply prevent them from giving out any information over the phone.
Passwords are terribly inconvenient but incredibly necessary. Almost everyone is guilty of using passwords that are simply too easy to guess. Here are some password tips:
- Avoid using dictionary words, even if the syllables are broken up in the password.
- Always use a combination of upper and lower case, and don’t just make the first letter uppercase which is too predictable.
- Include special characters, and don’t just use the exclamation point.
- Use separate passwords for everything, especially for banking apps, accounting apps, and social media apps which are frequently hacked.
- Make your passwords at least 12 characters. More characters will be needed each year.
Receiving and Delivering Information
If you deliver or receive information, it should be done safely and securely. One way to do this is to use a customer portal such as Box or ShareFile, where the information is securely stored in the cloud. Another tool that to safeguard information delivery is encrypted email.
All computer users should have anti-virus software implemented and active on their devices. Company procedures should dictate the settings as well as the brand to use.
Spam Protection for Email
Anti-spam software is also necessary to protect the device from bad links in emails. Users should be trained to detect and avoid phishing emails.
Malware can be installed on your computer without your knowledge and if you are not careful. To protect against these threats, avoid file-sharing when possible, be careful when visiting unknown websites, don’t download software that you don’t recognize, and be careful with links in emails.
You may also need to protect your website from malware attacks by installing a firewall or other preventative solutions.
Stay current with all of your software upgrades. Upgrades can patch vulnerabilities, so you are safer with each new upgrade you install.
Data in the Cloud
Make sure any data that you have in the cloud is behind an acceptably secure technology solution. Today, this generally means files are stored with AES 256-bit encryption. You can also look for SOC1 and SOC2 certifications.
Need to Know
There are many policies that need to be developed for employees with regard to data handling. One example is providing data access to employees on a need-to-know basis. For example, an operations manager does not need the password to the payroll system, but the payroll manager does.
Reducing Business Risk
These items above are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to having good data security practices in your business. Develop an excellent set of policies, train and monitor employees, and set a great example yourself when it comes to this growing threat to your business.
Independence is a key concept in accounting, especially in the assurance or auditing area of accounting. Assurance services are services where a licensed CPA reviews an organization’s financial statements and accounting records and provides an opinion about them. This opinion takes the form of a report that can be shared with third parties such as banks and shareholders. Auditing services are one of many forms of assurance services.
Only a licensed CPA can provide assurance services; this is regulated by the states. A CPA who provides certain assurance services must be independent from the business that it is writing an opinion for. Essentially, independence means that the auditor must be able to do their work objectively and with integrity. And it goes farther. The auditor must not be perceived as having any kind of bias or connection with the business it is auditing. There must be no perception of any impropriety.
To this end, the auditor must not have a relationship with the company’s executives. A CPA cannot, for example, audit her brother’s company. A CPA cannot be an investor in the company and also be the auditor because of the financial relationship. The audit opinion must not be influenced in any way by a relationship between the auditor and anyone in the company. The CPA must be able to provide an honest, professional, and unbiased opinion when auditing financial statements.
Being independent also means the CPA must have a healthy dose of skepticism. A common phrase in the accounting profession is “Trust, but verify.”
Numerous rules abound to protect auditor independence. For example, an auditor cannot be paid on a contingent or commission basis. All practicing CPAs must complete ethics courses every few years, and these almost always include independence scenarios and case studies.
If you have any questions about independence, assurance, or auditing, please feel free to reach out any time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Do you need to spend money on printing, or can the printed item be delivered electronically?
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.
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.
Make sure employees manage their time effectively by providing the right training and supervision. This should help to reduce labor expenses.
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.
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 clients’ 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.
One of the best tools to forecast cash requirements is the 13-week cash flow forecast. It can help a business owner predict what their cash balance will be 13 weeks in the future. It helps to answer whether there will be enough cash to cover payroll and bills for a particular week. If you’re having significant ups and downs in your cash balance, it’s the perfect tool to help gain clarity around your cash needs.
Thirteen weeks may sound like an odd length to select, but it’s the length of a calendar quarter. This is the length of a financial projection that is typically used when a business is in financial distress; however, it’s also useful when a company is going through some ups and downs or simply wants to get a better handle on its cash requirements.
The forecast computations start with entering cash receipts and cash disbursements into a spreadsheet. Start with actual spending and receipts for the first week, then use estimates for the remaining weeks. Include planned expenditures such as overhead, payroll, and loan payments. Add in inventory purchases. Project your receipts based on history or recent changes in your business.
Once you’ve completed your forecast, you can make changes and do what-if scenario planning. For example, if the forecast shows that you will run out of cash in week seven, you have some time to decide what you need to do to remedy the shortfall. Options might be:
- Accelerate the collection of 30 percent of your receivables.
- Dip into your line of credit to cover a portion the shortfall.
- Furlough 10 percent of your workers.
Plug your selected scenario into the forecast to see how much that relieves your shortfall.
The benefits of creating a 13-week cash flow forecast are many. You can see what actions need to be taken and when to take them well ahead of time. You can also see how much of an action you need to take. For example, instead of furloughing 50 percent of your staff, you may only need to furlough 25 percent. Or instead of borrowing $50,000, you might only need $20,000.
The cash flow forecast can also save time when developing your annual budget. Budgets are especially useful when business conditions are volatile or when business owners need all the clarity they can get.
Try your hand creating a 13-week cash flow forecast for your business, or reach out to us for help any time.
At the beginning of 2020, you might have thought that developing a business continuity plan was not a top priority. Or maybe you thought it was only for large businesses. Fast forward to today, and a business continuity plan has become an essential staple in business planning.
There are more business risks than ever before to consider that can affect business continuity. Businesses are being shuttered, reopened and shuttered again from the pandemic, fires, hurricanes and damage from riots, just to mention a few of the more common issues in this unusual year.
The biggest benefit of a business continuity plan is the process of developing it. It helps you think through the steps you should take if a business interruption occurs. If you have a disaster recovery plan – or even a few steps jotted down of what you’d do – then you have already started a portion of the process.
Here are some of the major pieces of a business continuity plan to consider developing for your business.
Roles and Responsibilities
In this section, all of the business stakeholders should be identified and listed. On a high level, questions like these should be answered:
- What is each person’s role within the company, and how would that change if the business is interrupted?
- What new skillsets should be acquired in the case of a disruption?
Potential Impacts to Your Business
This part of the continuity plan lists major scenarios where something could go wrong with your business. It should include things like weather events, fire, riots, theft, leadership interruptions, cash flow shortages, and the long-term impact of the pandemic. For each event, an analysis should be made as to how it will affect the business and what possible outcomes could occur. This part is also called a Business Impact Analysis.
Once you’ve identified impacts, the next set of questions covers how to most effectively recover from them. These remedies might include seeking additional financing, selecting backup locations, checking IT department functionality, creating alternate supply chain and distribution sources, and identifying many more actions along these lines.
As we’ve seen this year, this is just as important to think through for small businesses as it is large businesses.
When owners and employees are not in the middle of an actual disaster, they can better map out a recovery strategy that’s optimal and cost-effective for the business.
A good plan should be implemented through distribution, testing, and training. All stakeholders should read and understand the contents of the business continuity plan. The plan should be tested in drills and exercises when possible. Employees should be trained so they know their part and feel comfortable carrying it out while under high stress.
The long-term viability of your business is important, and it can be strengthened when you put a business continuity plan in place. If we can help, feel free to reach out any time.
Video creation has gotten so easy that just about anyone can do it. You no longer need professionals. You don’t even need video editing software with the long learning curve and high price tag. All you need is an app and your imagination.
There are many reasons to create a video:
- Web pages that include video rank higher than those that don’t have video.
- People love to watch video; it’s more interesting than text.
- Video is often the best way to educate people.
- Your message comes more alive when you use more senses: sight and sound
The first step is to figure out what you want to say. Here are a number of video topic ideas for your business:
- A customer service tip
- Your company mission, vision, and values
- Your company’s origin story
- Why you’re in business
- A product, event, or service promotion
- A sale
- An employee spotlight
- A customer spotlight
- A how-to
- A deadline reminder
- A new product or service announcement
The next thing you need is a rough script of what you want the video to say, as well as graphics you can use to illustrate your points.
The final thing you need is a video creation app. Animoto is a great example of an easy-to-use video creation app. Just open your browser and go to https://animoto.com/. There are free and paid plans to choose from.
With most video creation apps, you have hundreds of templates that can get your started fast. Choose the template that is closest to the type of message you want to start with. You can easily replace your text, graphics, and sound with your own items, or ones that the software provides.
Options besides Animoto include Adobe Spark, Magisto, and several others.
Don’t be afraid to try your hand at video creation. It’s an easy way to impress your customers.
Every company should have a strict process to follow when an employee leaves the company, no matter what type of termination it is – voluntary or involuntary. Here’s a checklist you can use to compare to your own process so that you can either confirm you’re on the right track or add some ideas to improve your current methods.
1. Collect the resignation letter.
While so many things are remote these days, you MUST get the employee’s resignation letter in writing and signed by them. If they don’t supply one, create a form they can sign that includes the reason for termination.
If you initiated the termination, have the employee sign the notice of dismissal.
This is not only important for general human relations records, it’s also important this year for any Paycheck Protection Program forgiveness documentation if the employee turned down a hire-back request. There may also be a requirement to submit the paperwork to your state’s unemployment office.
2. Handle legal and benefits issues.
- Collect any company advances owed by the employee.
- Ask the employee if they have any final expense reports to file.
- Remind the employee that certain legal requirements, such as confidentiality clauses and noncompete agreements must be upheld after employment.
- Review insurance options such as COBRA.
- Let the employee know how to access their 401(k) and other benefit plans.
3. Update the payroll system and cut the final paycheck.
Compute PTO and vacation balances due the employee. Calculate severance pay. Cut the final paycheck, incorporating those items.
Review the paycheck amounts with the employee, and ask them for a forwarding address.
4. Collect company property.
The employee should turn over their computer equipment, including laptops, monitors, mice, keyboards, PCs, Macs, phones, beepers, printers, drives, and scanners. Don’t forget to ask for keys, business cards, name badges, security badges, gate and garage door openers, uniforms, and tools. Oh, and company cars or trucks.
5. Revoke computer access.
Any user accounts held in the employee’s name should be revoked. Many passwords may need to be changed. Their email address should either be forwarded to someone else who can answer the emails, updated with an autoresponder, or revoked altogether.
Voice mail and their phone extension should also be re-routed. Take the employee’s name off of any internal distribution list and remove them from the About page of your website.
6. Hold an exit interview.
The business owner should hold an exit interview with the employee if they are leaving voluntarily. Ask questions such as these:
- Why did you decide to start searching for a new job?
- Was there anything we could have done to keep you employed here?
- If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
- Could you describe your relationship with your direct supervisor?
- Would you consider working here again?
7. Communicate this change to your staff and customers.
Let your staff know immediately after the employee leaves that they will not be coming back. Don’t go into detail about the termination; that information is private.
If the employee was involuntarily terminated, assure your staff that their jobs are safe (if they are) so they don’t ruminate or spread false rumors.
If the employee worked with customers, each customer should be notified and given the name of the new staff member that will be handling their issues.
Follow these steps to protect your company when an employee is terminated.
The purpose of marketing is, in part, about creating relationships with customers and prospects. While traditional advertising is a standard way of letting prospects know more about you, it’s not always the most creative way to connect.
To spice up your marketing, let’s explore six unusual ways to connect with customers.
1. Celebrate an obscure or fun holiday.
For example, August 27 is National Just Because Day. It’s a day to do random things, which can be pretty easily tied to whatever your service or product is.
You can do something as small as send an email or as big as hosting a live event on the holiday you choose.
2. Feature a customer or staff member.
A great way for customers to get to know your team and for your team to get to know your customers is to feature them in a short writeup that you post or send out.
Make this fun by sharing things like favorite ice cream, activity they would love to do, country they want to visit most, most fun responsibility they have at work, favorite purchase from you, and more.
3. Highlight community work.
Does your organization have a favorite charity? If so, share experiences with your customers. Many customers value and prefer to support businesses that make community contributions.
Go as far as holding a volunteer day or do as little as a writeup for donations in your newsletter.
4. Take a survey.
When is the last time you’ve been asked a “deep” question? Send a survey that asks your colleagues and customers a question like what inspires them. Then share the results, with their permission, of course.
This type of activity can lead to meaningful conversations and a deeper connection with your customers. It may also provide great insight into how you can connect with what’s important to your clients.
5. Provide a gift guide.
Is it close to Christmas or another holiday where gifts are exchanged? If so, your customer might benefit from a gift guide you can put together.
You don’t have to own a retail store to benefit from this idea. Service organizations can provide gift certificate and other ideas in their gift guides. And you don’t always have to list only your own items. Add your customers’ and suppliers’ items and make it one big “business family” affair.
6. Tell people a story.
Do you remember your first sale? Write a story about your first sale, the first day you opened your new location, your first hire, or another fun business milestone.
People love hearing stories about how others got started. Don’t be so private that you miss out on this wonderful way to connect with clients.
Try these six fresh marketing ideas to create a meaningful connection with your customers and prospects, and watch your relationships blossom.
Paying bills is never fun, but paying bills you shouldn’t pay in the first place is even worse. There are many risks that can part a small business owner with their hard-earned cash, and here are five to watch out for when it comes to your bill-paying process.
1. Fraudulent invoices
Some companies will send marketing documents disguised as invoices to businesses. You may have to read the fine print to notice it’s not really an invoice. In some cases, it’s simply outright fraud, trying to get you to pay something that is not owed.
Many times, these invoices look official, similar to legal filing requirements, but don’t be fooled. Examination of the fine print can save you a lot of money.
Set up procedures to catch these types of invoices. Managers should be careful not to approve these invoices for payment. Bookkeepers should be trained to question their supervisors about these invoices.
2. Item(s) not received
Three-way matching can prevent paying an invoice for which the goods were never received. Put into place a couple of procedures to prevent this accounts-payable error:
- Have warehouse staff match the shipping receipt to what’s in the shipment when it arrives.
- Have accounts payable staff match the marked-up shipping receipt to the invoice when it comes in. If the invoice shows that more items were billed for than received, a call to the vendor to correct the invoice is in order. The invoice amount should be adjusted on the books and a check can be cut for the reduced amount.
3. Wrong amount
Sometimes the wrong price can be listed on the invoice. If this happens, there may have been a misunderstanding during the sales process. A call to the vendor is needed in this case as well so that a corrected invoice can be issued.
4. Math error
This hardly happens in these days of computers, but it can. All invoices should be reviewed for reasonableness. If it doesn’t make sense that something should cost so much, it probably shouldn’t. In rare cases, a price may have been entered wrong or a computer bug could have occurred.
Spot-checking the invoice’s math can save money if an error has been made.
5. Duplicate invoice
This happens way too often. We may get an emailed invoice; then the same invoice comes in the mail. We need procedures in place to keep it from being paid twice.
Many accounting systems do this automatically, but if one character is off related to vendor name, the system could break down. Review a list of disbursements monthly to make sure payments don’t get duplicated.
Procedures are the answer to reducing accounts payable errors and making sure you pay only the invoices that are truly due.