How Business Owners Can Improve Cash Flow By Thinking Profit First

Entrepreneurs don’t necessarily need to be ‘numbers people’ in order to succeed. You need drive, passion, the ability and will to follow things through, and the hustler’s spirit that enables you to constantly try new things or relentlessly chase big opportunities.

Whether you’re a serial entrepreneur or simply looking to grow your small business to a sustainable level to reassess your goals, it’s crucial to have an understanding of your venture’s financial results. While small businesses don’t require the same horsepower in their accounting department as large companies and quickly-growing startups, it’s still integral for entrepreneurs of all calibers to have an iron grip on their financial controls, processes, and results to prevent roadblocks.

The profitability of your business is not solely reliant on how much revenue the company has brought in stacked up against your expenses, or how many strategic maneuvers can be deployed to minimize your business tax burden. Understanding your key ratios, terminology, and the stories behind your numbers, and having the right accountants and advisors who can help you interpret them, will take you from simple compliance to long-term stabilization and growing your business.

Where Is Your Money Coming From? And Where Is It Going?

It can seem like operations are running smoothly because cash is regularly deposited, the bills are paid, and imminent tax filings don’t feel like a shakedown where you have to scramble to get the funds together. But while your bottom line might look good on your next attempt to raise capital, you could find yourself in hot water if it turns out that only one revenue stream and/or client constitutes most of your revenue. If that client goes out of business or otherwise decides to stop or reduce their payments, it could be significantly harder to pay back the loan you took out or demonstrate to your investor that you’re worth going past seed stage.

Demonstrating that you can make a profit is important for raising capital, but raising capital isn’t an end-all be-all. The time that you spend trying to qualify for loans, grants, and outside investments might be better spent getting more clients, users, views, income-producing property, or other important revenue drivers first. This could prove to be even more important than trying to keep your burn rate, or cash outflow, under control. Constrained cash flow is usually why most companies fold within the first two to three years of operation, and often gets overlooked by busy entrepreneurs focusing primarily on raising funds or posting an impressive profit.

Financial Transparency — More Than Just Compliance

In your quest for capital, your focus is likely to be directed toward the numbers investors are going to pay attention to: margins, profit generated relative to the capital you already invested, and how many users you have. But in being transparent about your finances, you’re not just being compliant with the law. You’re also giving a more accurate picture of where your business currently is and where you expect it to go. Early stage companies are more likely to get investments when they show promise with their product and sturdy business model. Banks, on the other hand, have stricter requirements for loan repayment and will be more stringent concerning financial compliance. They will want to see a proven track record and put more emphasis on your profit than growth potential, especially if you’re not a very capital-intensive business with significant collateral such as vehicles or real estate to secure the loan.

Improve Cash Flow Management by Putting Profit First

Regardless of whether your business decides to take dynamic risks through investor funding, or a more predictable repayment process with a business loan, all external capital sources will want to see proof of proper cash management even more than having stellar revenue numbers.

The ability to adequately control your cash inflows and outflows is what will help your company weather any storm. One train of thought to help drive profits, is to look at concepts like Mike Michalowicz’s “Profit First” model that changes the Revenue – Expenses = Profit expression into Sales – Profit = Expenses. While this is not an official figure to report on financial statements, it’s an excellent cash flow management mindset that helps business owners prioritize their personal and business savings so that operating expenses, expansion, taxes, and personal income are always being paid.

By “paying yourself” first, it ensures that your financial results are based on having enough cash on hand before you pay any expenses.

Any small business accountant is required to furnish a cash flow statement to most investors and some banks, but you shouldn’t wait until you have one at the end of the month, quarter, or year. It’s a good idea to go over your cash flow every week. In addition to expenses that could be cut or revenues that could be added or bolstered, you might have bottlenecks in your cash collection processes that could be eliminated and you hadn’t even realized it. If you have questions about managing your cash flow, please contact us.

All the Expert Tips You Need to Properly Manage Cash Flow for Your New Business

Handling the cash flow for your new business is exactly what it sounds like ‒ you’re trying to get the clearest level of visibility into “money coming in versus money going out.” However, managing cash flow is about a lot more than that, too. It’s about making sure that you not only have the funds on hand to remain operational, but that you can capitalize on opportunities as they arise. To properly manage cash flow, it is necessary to prepare for any financial challenges that may develop in the future.

The importance of gaining a precise understanding of your cash flow cannot be overstated.

Indeed, running out of money is also one of the most common ways that new businesses are forced to close their doors ‒ usually very quickly after their initial launch. But while this is certainly an essential topic, it isn’t necessarily a difficult one. Properly managing the cash flow for your new business is a lot more straightforward than you might fear. Keep the following key factors in mind:

The “Breakeven” Point

By far, one of the most important metrics for you to understand about your new small business is your “breakeven” point. That is the point at which your current (or projected) revenues will allow you to meet all of your operating expenses. This is the bare minimum amount of money you need to keep your employees paid, keep your bills up-to-date, and keep your doors open. Unfortunately, it usually changes on a regular basis.

As your business continues to scale, your revenue should increase, but your expenses will increase, too. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that you don’t make finding your “breakeven” point something you “do once and forget about.” For the best results, you should return to this figure on a regular basis to make sure you: a) understand what it is in the literal sense; and b) understand what actions you need to perform to achieve that.

Once you have a handle on your breakeven point, you will, at the very least, be able to remain functioning. This means you can start to devote more of your attention to growing your new business.

The Importance of Cash Reserves

If you look at some of the other reasons why small businesses usually fail, you’ll quickly see that they’re closely related:

  • About 79% of businesses fail because they start out with too little money, according to one study.
  • 77% run into trouble when they fail to price properly, or don’t include all necessary items when establishing prices.
  • 73% fail because they were either too optimistic about achievable sales, or about the money required to generate those sales, or both at the same time.

These types of issues are common with small businesses, and particularly with those controlled by an entrepreneur who is running their first small business. As much as all of these ideas ultimately tie directly back into cash flow management, they also underline another very important best practice:

The Value of Maintaining a Cash Reserve

  • Absolutely every new business, regardless of its size or the industry it’s in, should expect problems on a regular basis. Working hard to keep a quality cash reserve will not only help to reduce the ultimate impact of those problems, but it can also help reduce stress and distractions too.
  • If you have no cash reserve, every problem becomes a major cash flow problem. If, at the very least, you have something to fall back on, you will have the clarity you need to learn from the situation, maintain your focus on growing your business, and keep moving forward.

Take Control of Those Receivables

Typically, new businesses do not have a problem with the “money out” side of cash flow management. Even if business leaders do start to spend money too quickly, hopefully, they are able to recognize it so that they can make adjustments as soon as possible.

But it’s difficult to make adjustments if you’re not bringing any money in, which is why taking control over your receivables is so important.

For example, if a client owes $1,000, but you have no idea when they are going to pay it, do you really have $1,000? No, not really ‒ which is why you should try to make invoices “due immediately.” If someone needs additional time to pay, try to make sure the terms give them no longer than a week or two at most.

Depending on your specific circumstances, you may even want to offer discounts for clients who pay early. This can be a great way to incentivize them to pay their invoices and get essential money into your bank account.

At a bare minimum, you should have a staff person tasked with maintaining visibility into receivables and this employee should follow-up with clients who have outstanding invoices.

The more money you bring into your business, the more money you can spend on those initiatives that will continue driving your organization forward.

Every Dollar Spent Has a Purpose

Everyone knows that you should only spend money on essentials, but in the fragile early days of a new business, you need to take that concept one step further.

With every purchase you make, you need to be able to see the verified return on investment that it will bring. For example, if you’re buying a new piece of equipment, what does it get you? Will it speed up your production, allowing you to more quickly achieve a larger volume of higher quality finished products? In that case, the return on investment absolutely justifies the initial money you need to spend.

However, if you really want that new piece of equipment simply because it’s the “latest and greatest,” that isn’t really the “good idea” you thought it was.

Another example of this would be investing in a new payment solution that allows you to accept online payments. It may not be a “fun” purchase, but if it allows you to expand into a true e-commerce solution and if it creates new opportunities to introduce your products to a larger audience and sell them online, it becomes an “essential,” and is a step worth taking.

In absolutely no uncertain terms, you cannot afford to spend money “just for the sake of it.” Determine your essentials and make sure you have the cash on-hand to support them. Then, eliminate the costs for any non-essentials, at least until your business is in a fully profitable state.

In the end, remember that you need to be proactive about properly managing your cash flow. Not only do you need to know your current cash flow status at all times, you also need a clear plan and “line of sight” where you’re headed tomorrow. When everything is functioning as it should, your cash flow best practices support the former while making the latter possible. If they aren’t, there could be a serious issue with your current process that you should find and eliminate as quickly as possible.

If you have any questions, or need assistance managing your cash flow, please contact us.

Small Business Owners May Qualify for a Home-Office Deduction

Article Highlights:

  • Qualifications
  • Actual Expense Method
  • Simplified Method
  • Home Office Expenses for Renters vs. Homeowners
  • How Moving Affects the Home-Office Deduction
  • Other Issues
  • Gross Income Limitation

“Home office” is a type of tax deduction that applies to the business use of a home; the space itself may not actually be an office. One of the following must apply to be able to deduct home office expenses. The home office:

  • Must be the taxpayer’s main place of business. OR
  • Must be a place of business where the taxpayer meets patients, clients or customers. The taxpayer must meet these people in the normal course of business. OR
  • Must be in a separate structure that is not attached to the taxpayer’s home. The taxpayer must use this structure in connection with their business. OR
  • Must be a place where the taxpayer stores inventory or samples. This place must be the sole, fixed location of their business. OR
  • Under certain circumstances, must be where the taxpayer provides day-care services.

Generally, except when used to store inventory, an office area must be used on a regular and continuing basis and be exclusively restricted to the trade or business (i.e., no personal use).

Two Methods – There are two methods to determine the amount of a home-office deduction: the actual-expense method and the simplified method.

  • Actual-Expense Method – The actual-expense method prorates home expenses based on the portion of the home that qualifies as a home office, which is generally based on square footage. Aside from prorated expenses, 100% of directly related costs, such as painting and repair expenses specific to the office, can be deducted. Unlike the simplified method, the business is not limited to 300 square feet.
  • Simplified Method – The simplified method allows for a deduction equal to $5 per square foot of the home used for business, up to a maximum of 300 square feet, resulting in a maximum simplified deduction of $1,500. A taxpayer may elect to take the simplified method or the actual-expense method (also referred to as the regular method) on an annual basis. Thus, a taxpayer may freely switch between the two methods each year.Additional office expenses such as utilities, insurance, office maintenance, etc., are not allowed when the simplified method is used. Prorated rent or home interest and taxes are not either, although 100% of home interest and taxes are deductible if the taxpayer itemizes deductions.

    To determine the average square footage when using the simplified method, no more than 300 square feet for any month can ever be used, even if the taxpayer has multiple businesses for which he or she uses space in the home. If there are multiple businesses, a reasonable method to allocate between businesses is used. Zero is used for months when there was no business use or when the business was not operating for a full year. Don’t count any month when the business use was less than 15 days.

    Example: Sandra begins using 400 square feet of her home for business on July 20, 2019 and continues using the space as a home office through the end of the year. Her average monthly allowable square footage for 2019 is 125 square feet (300 x 5 months = 1,500/12 = 125).

Home Office Expenses – There are differences as to which prorated home expenses are deductible by renters and homeowners when computing the actual expense method, as illustrated in the table below.

Prorated Expense Own Rent
Mortgage Interest X
Property Tax X
Rent X
Homeowner’s Insurance X
Renter’s Insurance X
Utilities X X
Depreciation X
Home Maintenance X X

Note that the principal payments made on a home loan are not eligible expenses. Instead, homeowners claim a deduction for depreciation on the office portion of the home’s basis.

Rent vs. Own: What Happens If You Move or Sell the Home?

Rent – When you pay rent for your home and use part of it for business, move and then use space at the new location as a home office, for the year of the move, you’ll need to figure out the deduction separately for each home office based on the specific expenses and business use area of each home. If you don’t use space at your new living quarters for business purposes, then your home-office deduction for the year of the move will need to factor in just the expenses for the time you lived in the first home.

Own – On the other hand, if you own the home, sell it and had lived in it for two of the five years prior to the sale date, you can exclude up to $250,000 of gain ($500,000 for a married couple). However, you cannot exclude the part of any gain to the extent of depreciation you claimed for the home after May 6, 1997. For exclusion purposes, it makes a difference whether the home office was within the home itself or in a separate structure on the same property. If within the same structure, the exclusion will apply to the entire gain from the home (other than the depreciation component). If the office was within a separate structure, then the sale must be treated as two sales – one for the home and one for the office – and the gain from the office portion cannot be excluded.

Additional Issues That May Apply – As with everything tax, there are always special rules.

  • Multiple Businesses – If there are multiple businesses, only one method may be used for the year – either the regular or simplified.
  • Mixed-Use Property – A taxpayer who has a qualified business use of a home and a rental use of the same home cannot use the simplified method for the rental use.
  • Taxpayers Sharing a Home – Taxpayers sharing a home (for example, roommates or spouses, regardless of filing status), if otherwise eligible, may each use the simplified method but not for a qualified business use of the same portion of the home.As an example, a husband and wife, if otherwise eligible and regardless of filing status, may each use the simplified method for a qualified business use of the same home, for up to 300 square feet of different portions of the home.
  • Depreciation Rate When Switching Methods – When the simplified method is used and the taxpayer subsequently switches to the actual expense method, there are no special adjustments, and the depreciation is determined in the normal manner.

Final Notes – Even if you qualify for a home-office deduction, your deduction is limited to the business activity’s gross income. For this purpose, it is defined as the activity’s gross income, reduced by the home expenses that would be deductible if there were no business use (e.g., mortgage interest, property taxes, certain casualty losses), and the business expenses unrelated to the home’s use. When using the actual expense method, the disallowed amount will be carried over to the next year subject to the same limitations. However, there is no carryover when using the simplified method.

Business use of the home is deducted on a self-employed individual’s business schedule.

If you have questions or concerns about how the home-office deduction applies to your specific circumstances, please contact us.

How to Organize Spending Priorities for Your Newer Growth Startup

According to a recent study conducted by U.S. Bank, over 80% of all newly formed businesses that ultimately fail do so due to cash flow problems. If you needed a reason to believe that getting your spending in order and dedicating the time to drafting a proper budget for your new startup is important, look no further than that statistic.

If you take the time to properly budget now, you’re mitigating a significant portion of the risk you’re likely to face in the not-too-distant future. If you don’t, or worse—if you assume that you can just “make it up on the fly”—all you’re doing is setting yourself up for disaster. Therefore, if you truly want to make sure that you have the budget you need to continue to build the business you’ve always wanted, there are a few key things to keep in mind.

It Begins by Looking Inward, Not Outward

Maybe the most critically important thing for you to understand is that there is no “one size fits all” approach to creating a budget for your startup. Just as it’s fair to say that nobody does what you do quite like how you do it, that same unique quality must extend into the world of budgeting for your startup business.

Every business is different ‒ so while you can certainly look to some similar organizations for guidance and inspiration, be aware that their path is not one for you to rigidly follow. You need to start the process by looking at your long-term business goals ‒ where are you today, and where do you want to be in a year or five years from now? What are the steps you need to take to help you accomplish that? What are the mile markers you’ll need to hit along the way? Once you have the specific answers to these questions, then you can begin the process of figuring out what budget is most appropriate for your small business.

Once you contextualize everything through that lens, many of your priorities will easily reveal themselves. At that point, your job becomes making sure you’re spending money in a way that supports those goals first, and everything else second.

As you develop your budget, you can even use it as an opportunity to learn more about the business and the way it operates. Once you can better identify how much money you have on hand and where it’s going, you start to better understand things like:

  • The money you’re spending on labor and other materials necessary for your products and services;
  • Your overall costs of operations;
  • The level of revenue you’ll need to generate to support your business moving forward; and
  • A realistic idea of how much money you can expect to make in terms of profit, and when.

So, as you develop a budget that is more specific to your growth startup, you also begin to better understand how that startup works. At that point, you’re not just able to make accurate, informed decisions about things like hiring or materials spending ‒ you can also go back and reconfigure your budget to account for any trends or patterns that you’ve discovered. This cyclical process is also a great way to make sure that you always have the cash necessary to take advantage of opportunities as quickly as possible, even ones that you didn’t necessarily expect.

The “Day One” Budget

For the sake of an example, let’s say that you’re planning a budget for a business that hasn’t technically gotten off the ground yet. At that point, your priorities are a bit different as you’re essentially trying to make “Day One” possible. Again, every business is going to be different from the next. But having said that, there are a few key things you will want to focus on to make sure that your opening goes as smoothly as possible:

  • Facilities costs – Where, specifically, are you going to do business? Do you need to rent a storefront? Are you working out of a commercial office space? Will you need a warehouse or other logistical assets? Regardless of which one best describes your situation, you’ll need to think about things like security deposits, any cosmetic or structural changes you need to make to the building, and even things like signage.
  • Fixed assets – Also commonly referred to as “capital expenditures,” these are things that your staff will need to do the jobs you’ve asked of them. This includes thinking about purchases like work vehicles (if applicable). You’ll also have to buy furniture and other equipment like computers and other technologies.
  • Materials and supplies – Costs in this category would refer not only immediate needs like office supplies, but also those related to marketing and other promotional activities in which you might be engaged. You’re going to need a steady stream of all these items to hit the ground running.
  • Miscellaneous – These are all the other costs of physically opening a business that don’t fall into the other three categories. You’ll need to work with an attorney and your Tarlow advisor to make sure the backend of your business is in order. Depending on your industry, you may need things like licenses and permits, which can be costly.

Remember: these aren’t necessarily the costs associated with running your business in the long-term. These are just the things you’ll need to take care of to make sure you’re prepared to open your doors in the first place.

Get Your Priorities in Order

From a longer-term point of view, you will need to organize your spending for your newer, growth-focused startup and get your priorities in order. Expenses like those outlined here will remain important. However, those are related to meeting short-term needs. To meet your long-term needs, you will need to be judicious about where you spend your money and, more importantly, why.

For the best results, try to prioritize expenditures that generate revenue or some type of sizable return on investment in the future. If your startup depends on a particular piece of equipment in order to successfully produce a key product, it stands to reason that: A) buying that equipment and B) paying to maintain it and keep it in proper working order would be top priorities as you literally cannot function without it. The more products you can produce, the more you can sell—and thus the more revenue you can generate.

Carefully review all of your expenses and arrange them in order of importance. For the most part, the things that are necessary to avoid interrupting your business in any way should be at the top of your list.

As you re-order certain budget items, be thoughtful of both the short- and long-term implications of that move. If you prioritize Factor A over Factor B, what chain of events could that cause? If you choose not to focus on computer maintenance and instead move funds elsewhere, what issues would that potentially cause? Are you in a business where slower or more outdated equipment would hurt productivity and your ability to serve your customers? Because if you are, that’s a move you might want to re-think.

Creating the right budget and organizing your spending priorities for your newer startup can feel complicated and time-consuming. This is an example of a situation where “getting it done” is less important than “getting it right”.

If you have any questions about financing your small business, or need assistance with organizing your spending priorities, please contact us. We can help you create a budget that supports your startup as it exists today, and help you prepare for the business it will become tomorrow.

Top Ten Startup Business Questions Every Entrepreneur Should Answer

Starting a small business can be one of the most exciting and rewarding events in someone’s life. But it can also be extremely stressful. If you’re thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, you might have more questions swirling around in your mind right now than you can count. Don’t despair. This is completely normal. After all, it shows you’re serious about your business venture and care enough to want to do things the right way. . Before you move forward with a new business idea, it is crucial to know the answers to ten vital questions.

1. Does your startup idea meet a need?
Before starting a small business, you need to know if your product or service will meet a need those in your target market have. It doesn’t matter how special your potential product or service offerings are to you. If you can’t convince others to care about them, your small business won’t be a success.

2. Is your plan feasible?
Learning things on the fly isn’t smart in the business world. Rather than taking a blind leap of faith, determine if your plan is feasible before moving forward. For instance, will you be able to afford to put your plan into action? Will your loved ones commit to the ways this venture might affect them? Starting a small business isn’t for the faint of heart. Do you have the ambition and determination to see your vision through?

3. How much financing do you need?
Not adequately estimating financing needs is a common mistake of entrepreneurs. To avoid this pitfall, strive to perform an accurate cost analysis. Approximate both foreseen and unexpected expenses for the first year. Also, determine how long it will take you to become profitable. When creating a cost analysis, be realistic. Don’t count on things going perfectly. Despite your best efforts, they most certainly won’t.

4. Where will your company be located?
The type of small business you want to start will largely determine where it should be located. For example, you wouldn’t attempt to open a ski lodge in sunny, balmy Florida. Generally, you’ll want to find a location with lots of foot traffic. If you’re a new entrepreneur looking to break into an already crowded market, locating your business near your competitors might be a good idea, because you’ll already have a built-in market in the location. But if you’re competing in a saturated market with major brand-name competition, locating your business a short distance away from your competitors may be your best bet.

5. Who will comprise your customer base?
If you’re thinking about starting a small business, you likely already have a vague idea about who will comprise your customer base. However, delving into the profiles of potential clients of your company is a smart idea. During this research, you can study characteristics such as age, gender, buying triggers and general preferences. This should help you fine-tune your marketing efforts and target your products or services to the people who would most benefit from them.

6. When can you expect to be profitable?
The adage is that you should expect to wait at least a year until your startup becomes profitable. But times are changing. Innovations in technology and communication mean entrepreneurs can start companies with little to no overhead nowadays. This rings especially true for service-oriented companies. Therefore, having an astute business plan is essential. A good business plan will help you predict when you may start turning a profit.

7. What setbacks can you anticipate?
The road to small business success can be a bumpy one, so anticipating setbacks is important. One of the most common ones is failing to meet revenue expectations. This can sometimes be blamed on overestimating the amount of business your company will generate in the early days of its existence. A second setback startups can face is losing vital employees. If you plan to start a sole proprietorship, this isn’t an issue. But if you’re launching a business venture with one or more partners, someone might decide to jump ship. To prevent your company from disintegrating into shambles, develop an exit plan that can be utilized if a partner wants to get out.

8. Do you need solid advisors?
Starting a small business can be overwhelming. This is especially true if you try to do everything yourself. Surprisingly, the CountingWorks What Small Business Owners Value Most in 2019 survey reveals that 60% of small business owners handle their budgeting themselves. Unfortunately, the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy’s 2018 Frequently Asked Questions says only about half of small businesses survive past five years. To boost your chances of long-term success, surround yourself with solid advisors. For instance, your Tarlow accounting and financial advisors can assist you with accurate budgeting and legal advisors can assist you with contracts and permits.

9. How will you lure the best talent to your company?
Obviously, offering prospective employees a competitive salary can help you lure the best talent to your company. But when you’re just starting a business, this might not be an option. To compensate for this, providing employees with growth bonuses is a good alternative. Offering employees flexible scheduling options and wellness perks such as an onsite gym, a break room stocked with healthy snacks, and standing desks may also attract promising talent to your company.

10. Should you start more than one company at once? 
Do you have multiple ideas for new small businesses? Perhaps you’re eager to get more than one startup running at the same time. While this might be tempting, starting out with one company is best. You can put all your energy into getting it profitable and stable. This will prevent you from spreading yourself and your resources too thin. You can always branch out later if your first business takes off.

Starting a business can be quite an undertaking. Therefore, planning correctly and thoroughly is critical. Before you can enjoy small business success, you’ll need to learn the answers to the above questions. Please contact us to discuss your unique situation and how we can be of assistance.

Is Your Small Business as Profitable as It Can Be?

There is an excellent chance that even if you’re an expert in your particular industry, you’re probably not an expert in small business finances. This may not seem like that big of an issue on the surface; however, in order to make the best decisions possible for your company, you need work from complete and accurate information. It’s easy to see how failing to grasp the financial side of the equation can quickly cause problems everywhere else.

For example, just because your company looks profitable on the surface doesn’t necessarily mean that this is the case. In fact, there are a number of clear ways in which your small business might not be as profitable as it could be that are certainly worth exploring.

Not Everything Is About Sales

Maybe the most important thing for you to understand is that just because sales are high does NOT mean that your company is experiencing profitable growth in the way you think it is. This is actually just one small part of a much larger (and more complicated) story.

Sales could be going up AND profits could be going down in a number of ways. Maybe you’re selling a higher volume of low-margin items while also not selling as many high-margin goods. Perhaps the cost to actually make your product has increased higher (and faster) than your revenue. It’s possible that your operating expenses are so high that even though you’re increasing sales, your business is still not as profitable as it could be.

The lesson here is that you need to look beyond sales growth to find out what is really happening with your company. If you discover a problem like those outlined above, come up with a specific solution designed to address those particular issues in the most effective way possible.

Dive Deep Into Your Line-Item Profits

Likewise, you need to recognize the difference between bottom-line profits and line-item profits — particularly in terms of the health of your business year-over-year. Instead of just looking at the bottom line, look at the tangible contribution that each product or service makes to that bottom line.

Break down all of your sales by product lines, individual products and services. Is Product A losing so much money that it is eating into the profits generated by the hugely successful Product B? If that’s the case, Product B probably isn’t as “successful” as you thought it was.

Don’t Forget About Margins

Finally, paying attention to your profit margin percentages can tell you a number of critical things about the financial health of your company, essentially all at the same time. You’ll be able to determine whether:

  • You’re correctly pricing and promoting your products in a way that drives profitable growth.
  • All of the products and services you’re offering are profitable to begin with.
  • The true value of the relationships you’re forging with your customers, and how long they last on average.
  • If you’re allocating resources in the most efficient way possible, thus maximizing profitability whenever possible.

Again — determining whether or not your small business is as profitable as it can be involves a lot more than just looking at any one particular line item on a balance sheet. Often, it is a combination of many things — each representing their own individual piece of the puzzle that is your company. Only by understanding the bigger picture will you have the information you need to see where you truly stand and be in a position to determine what you need to do about it moving forward.

In the end, the most important thing for you to understand is that while you may be an expert in running your small business, you’re probably not (nor are you expected to be) an expert in small business finances. Those are two entirely separate concepts and should always be treated as such.

Partnering with the right financial professional isn’t something that you do after your organization is already up and running. It should be a natural part of the process of launching a business in the first place. There are so many decisions that will ultimately affect your cash-flow and taxes moving forward — from the financial structure that you set up to the entity you choose during formation. One wrong move at any of these points can artificially limit your ability to make money, and that is a difficult position for any entrepreneur to be in.

Instead, partner with a seasoned financial professional immediately and look to this person for insight and guidance as often as possible. If nothing else, they will make sure that the foundation upon which your company is built is as strong as possible — thus eliminating many and even all of the potential issues that could hold you back in the future. If you have any questions about implementing these and additional strategies to make your small business as profitable as possible, please call us.

The Major Reasons a Virtual CFO Can Help Your Business Thrive

On a basic level, a virtual CFO (or vCFO for short) is exactly what it sounds like. This is someone who performs all of the services normally associated with a chief financial officer, only in a third-party capacity. Instead of going to the trouble (and expense) of hiring, training and bringing someone with these qualifications into your organization, you’re getting access to someone who can handle all of this remotely on a schedule that works best for all involved.

This is a job that didn’t even exist as recently as a decade ago, but technology has advanced to the point where not only is it possible, but more businesses than ever are using on demand or part time CFOs to help their organizations soar in increasingly competitive marketplaces. This is true for a huge variety of different reasons, all of which are certainly worth exploring.

The Power of a Virtual CFO
The major reason why smaller organizations in particular are finding vCFOs so helpful is that they’re a viable way to control costs almost immediately. Rather than paying the salary to hire your own CFO in a full-time capacity (which can easily balloon into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year once experience and benefits are accounted for), you get the services you need, in an on-demand way, for a fraction of the cost. To that end, a vCFO is really no different than managed services or similar options you may already be using.

This bleeds directly into the next major reason why vCFOs can be so beneficial: They can customize their own skills and services to better meet the needs of your unique organization. Rather than paying someone for a lifetime’s worth of education, you’re only paying for the skills needed to perform the tasks at hand. But even better, the services being offered can also be adjusted on a regular basis as your business continues to grow and evolve. All of this provides you with almost unprecedented access to a wealth of knowledge that used to be out of your budget.

Leveraging Someone Else’s Experience to Your Advantage
That expertise also creates a ripple effect across your enterprise in the best possible way. You’re bringing in someone who naturally has involvement in many different companies similar to your own. This means that you’re in a unique position to avoid making the same mistakes that they’ve previously made.

But maybe the biggest advantage that a virtual or gig-based CFO brings to a company has to do with the quality of the advice being offered. This is more than just an accounting setup. The focus goes beyond simply setting up a financial structure and putting a framework in place for you to effectively manage your books.

Consider the types of challenges that you’re likely to experience over the course of just five years. Your business will naturally get more complex as you add not only more employees but also suppliers, vendors and all the contracts that come with them. If you go through a period of rapid growth, it can quickly cause your financials to grow out of control … unless you’re prepared for it.

A straightforward accounting setup isn’t necessarily enough to offer that much-needed level of preparation, but a vCFO is. This is a professional who has arrived with the express purpose of putting the systems in place to not only better support the current phase of your business, but the next one as well.

Being Better Prepared for What Comes Next
In the end, a vCFO won’t just explain the finer details of your business’ financial situation. They’ll work with you to make sure you’re better informed about not only your current status, but the pros and cons of the options that are available to you in the future. That level of strategic advice — and the advanced decision-making made possible because of it — would be difficult to replicate through nearly any other means.

Armed with more actionable knowledge than ever, you’ll quickly find yourself in a better position to always make the right choice at exactly the right time moving forward. This, in turn, ensures that your business can maximize profitability as much as possible over the next few years, thus allowing you to run the type of organization you always dreamed you’d one day be a part of.

If you’re a large, national organization that can afford to bring on a full-time CFO, there really isn’t any reason NOT to do so. But for most other companies, using a vCFO isn’t just an effective way to fill the types of gaps that naturally exist in your skill set — it’s a way to help your business thrive for the next five, 10 or even 20 years in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.

Reasons Why Your Small Business Needs an Employer Identification Number

Entrepreneurs often shrug off the idea of obtaining an employer identification number, or EIN, believing that their small business really doesn’t need one. Though there are some cases where a solo business can get away with merely utilizing the business owner’s Social Security Number, doing so is not necessarily the best idea, even if you don’t have plans to hire employees in the future. In almost all instances, having an EIN is a good idea. It provides many benefits that go beyond facilitating the payment of employees.

Using an EIN Instead of Your Social Security Number Protects Your Personal Information
One of the top benefits offered by an Employee Identification Number is that it can help protect your personal identity. Though you still need to protect your EIN and shouldn’t share it without being certain of how it will be applied, using it for your business means that your personal information will have less exposure. Government forms and documents require an identifier, and the EIN (which is issued by the IRS) can be used on all of these instead of the Social Security Number. Though you can still suffer significant damage if your EIN is stolen, the information that is limited to your business is less sensitive than the information that is connected with your Social Security Number. Both require vigilant protection.

If You’re Going to Incorporate, You Need an EIN
Immediately incorporating your business makes it into a separate entity, and as such, it needs its own form of identification, especially if you’re going to have employees. Even if you’re considering yourself an employee, you will need to pay yourself a salary, and that means that you will need to collect payroll tax and take other steps that keep you in step with the IRS requirements. This is true whether your entity is established as a corporation, an LLC, and especially as a partnership, as you can’t use two Social Security numbers for filing financial papers.

The EIN Has Multiple Applications
Having an Employer Identification Number has long-term benefits that go far beyond its initial issuance. In addition to facilitating payroll, it can also be used to apply for all types of credit accounts and bank accounts needed by entities including general partnerships, LLCs, S corporations and sole proprietorships. You’ll need to have that number available for filing to change your business’ entity, for filing your tax returns every year, for setting up financial instruments such as profit-sharing plans, pensions, and retirement plans, and more.

Every business is different, and though we encourage all business owners to give serious consideration to obtaining an Employer Identification Number, we know that it may not apply to your situation. Please call us if have questions related to an Employer Identification Number and your particular circumstances.

Are You an S Corporation Stockholder? Are You Taking Reasonable Compensation in the Form of Wages?

S corporation compensation requirements are often misunderstood and abused by owner-shareholders. An S corporation is a type of business structure in which the business does not pay income tax at the corporate level and instead distributes (passes through) the income, gains, losses, and deductions to the shareholders for inclusion on their income tax returns. If there are gains, these distributions are considered return on investment and therefore are not subject to self-employment taxes.

However, if stockholders also work in the business, they are supposed to take reasonable compensation for their services in the form of wages, and of course, wages are subject to FICA (Social Security and Medicare) and other payroll taxes. This is where some owner-shareholders err by not paying themselves a reasonable compensation for the services they provide, some out of unfamiliarity with the requirements and some purposely to avoid the payroll taxes.

The Internal Revenue Code establishes that any officer of a corporation, including S corporations, is an employee of the corporation for federal employment tax purposes. S corporations should not attempt to avoid paying employment taxes by having their officers treat their compensation as cash distributions, payments of personal expenses, and/or loans rather than as wages.

If the S corporation does not pay its working stockholders a reasonable compensation for their services, then the IRS generally will treat a portion of the S corporation’s distributions as wages and impose Social Security taxes on the deemed wages.

There is no specific method for determining what constitutes reasonable compensation, and it is based upon facts and circumstances. Generally, it is an amount that unrelated employers would pay for comparable services under like circumstances and based upon the cost of living in the area where the business is located. The following are just some of the many factors that would be taken into account in making this determination:

  • Training and experience
  • Duties and responsibilities
  • Time and effort devoted to the business
  • Dividend history
  • Payments to non-shareholder employees
  • Timing and manner of paying bonuses to key people
  • What comparable businesses pay for similar servicesCompensation agreements
  • The use of a formula to determine compensation

The problem here, of course, is that it is easy for the IRS to list contributing factors used by the courts in determining reasonable compensation and leave it to the corporation to quantify these factors into a reasonable salary but still have the ability to challenge the selected amount later if an auditor, off the top of their head, decides the compensation is unreasonable.

The IRS has a long history of examining S corporation tax returns to ensure that reasonable compensation is being paid, particularly if no compensation is shown being paid to employee-stockholders.

Reasonable Compensation in the Spotlight – With the passage of tax reform, reasonable compensation will be in the spotlight because of the new deduction for 20% of pass-through income. This new Sec. 199A deduction is equal to 20% of qualified business income (QBI) and will figure intro the shareholder’s income tax return. The QBI for the stockholder of an S-corporation is the amount of net income passed through to the stockholder and designated as QBI on the K-1, but the stockholder may not include the reasonable compensation (wages) he or she was paid as QBI. Thus, wages paid to stockholders actually reduce the QBI because the S corporation deducts the wages as a business expense, therefore reducing the corporation’s net income and QBI. But that does not mean wages can be arbitrarily adjusted to maximize the Sec. 199A deduction.

IRC Sec. 199A Deduction – Here are some details about how the 199A deduction works and the impact of the reasonable compensation wages on the Sec. 199A deduction.

  • The S corporation’s employee-stockholder’s wages are NOT included in qualified business income (QBI) when computing the 199A deduction. Thus, the larger the wages, the smaller the K-1 flow-through income (QBI) and thus the smaller the 199A deduction, which is 20% of QBI. In this case, an S corporation would tend to pay the stockholder a smaller salary to maximize the flow-through income and, as a result, the 199A deduction.
  • If married taxpayers filing a joint return have taxable income that exceeds $315,000 ($157,500 for other filing statuses), the 199A deduction begins to be subject to a wage limitation, and once the taxable income for married taxpayers filing a joint return exceeds $415,000 ($207,500 for other filing statuses), the 199A deduction becomes the lesser of 20% of the QBI or the wage limitation. For these high-income taxpayers, an S corporation will tend to pay stockholders less wage income for them to benefit from the Sec. 199A deduction.
  • If an S corporation is a specified service trade or business, the Sec. 199A deduction phases out for married taxpayers filing a joint return with taxable income between $315,000 and $415,000 (between $157,500 and $207,500 for other filing statuses). And although the wage limitation is used in computing the phase out, once the taxpayer’s taxable income exceeds $415,000 ($207,500 for other filing statuses), the taxpayer will receive no benefit from the wage limitation and therefore would again want to minimize their reasonable compensation to minimize FICA taxes. Specified service trades or businesses (SSTBs) include those in the fields of health, law, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, athletics, consulting, and financial services (for more information on what constitutes an SSTB, please call us).

Of course, taxpayers cannot pick and choose a reasonable level of compensation to minimize taxes or maximize deductions. Therein lies a trap for taxpayers who do not consider the factors related to reasonable compensation. There are commercial firms that have the data necessary to determine reasonable compensation and specialize in doing so. These firms can be found by searching the Internet for “reasonable compensation.” Even the IRS has employed these firms to provide reasonable compensation data in tax court cases.

If you want additional information related to reasonable compensation, please call us to schedule an appointment.

Six Common Small Business Accounting Problems That Are Killing Your Growth

If you’re a small business owner, you want your organization to do far more than survive: you want it to thrive! Unfortunately, to make sure that customers are happy and the lights stay on there are a lot of details that need attention, and some end up being overlooked. The intricacies of accounting are neither sexy nor fun, and most business owners don’t have the training or background that’s needed for this vital area of operations. To help make sure that you’re doing everything you can to maximize your profitability and fiscal responsibility, here’s a list of the six most common accounting problems small businesses encounter. By addressing each, you’ll go a long way toward assuring your business’ success and growth.

1. Not Using Accounting Software
There are a lot of benefits to using accounting software, and the most obvious of these is that if you try to do all of the necessary calculations by hand, you’re at risk for making a small mistake that can lead to a giant headache. There is a fantastic selection of software available — it may even feel overwhelming when you first begin doing the research – but if you take your time, read reviews and look for something that is designed to meet the needs of your particular type of business, you’re sure to end up satisfied. If you’re not sure what to look for, use this checklist of minimum requirements:

  • Sales tracking 
  • Financial statements, cash flow statements and balance sheet 
  • Generating Invoices 
  • Contacts management and contact history tracking 
  • Budget planning 
  • Account to accept credit card payments 
  • Inventory management 
  • Payrolls 
  • Taxation 

2. Not Knowing How to Use the Software That You Have
It may seem funny, but the second most common mistake that small business owners make in terms of accounting is also about accounting software – it’s having the software in-house but not using it, not using it the right way, or not really knowing how to use it. Like the treadmill that sits in the corner of your bedroom and slowly becomes something to throw your clothes over, having invested in accounting software and then not actually using it (or using it the right way) is a reason for regret, and so much more beyond that. When you’re not using your software the right way, you leave yourself vulnerable to making accounting mistakes. More importantly, you end up taking far too much time on bookkeeping tasks that it could do for you quickly and efficiently. Most of the packages available come with tutorials, but if you need help, contact an accounting professional and ask them to run through bookkeeping basics with you so that you can use it to its best benefit.

3. Failing to Produce Monthly Financial Reports
A lot of small businesses tend to minimize the importance of financial reports, feeling that if they produce some snapshot every few months or even twice a year, it’s good enough. The truth is that if you have financial backers or are interested in getting additional investment in your business, having a monthly report is an essential tool for them, as well as a sign that you’re taking their investment seriously. More importantly, the more closely you monitor your company’s financial activities, the faster you can pick up on issues as they develop, including slow-paying clients, oversites in your accounts payable, and more.

4. Having the Numbers, But They’re Wrong
There are a lot of things that can lead to your financials being incorrect: it can be not using accounting software (or not using it correctly); failing to update data; inputting incorrect data; and more. Whatever the cause, the result is never good and can cause problems significant enough to close your business or scare investors away. Worse, it can leave you vulnerable to bad actors who can use the inaccuracy to perpetrate fraud.

5. Mixing Your Personal Accounts with Your Business Accounts
Even if you are operating a pass-through business, it is essential that you keep separate books, separate credit cards, and separate banking for your personal needs and your business needs. Failing to do this will make it nearly impossible to determine what expenses are deductible, what capital investments generate profit and more. Small oversights are more likely to occur in accounting for out-of-pocket expenses, and this generally leads to paying more in taxes than you need to. Worse, if you face an audit, it will lead to a nightmare of having to separate and justify accounting measures that have been taken.

6. Failure to Properly Manage Your Payroll
Payroll is one of the most complex areas of running a business. Not only do you want to make sure that you’re paying your employees appropriately, but you need to be sure that essential areas like payroll taxes and withholding are being done accurately. When in doubt, it makes sense to bring in outside professionals for assistance. If you have any questions about these or any other small business accounting problems, please do not hesitate to contact us for assistance.