In accounting, a key term to know is “internal control.” Internal control is the series of processes and procedures that are performed within the organization to ensure the integrity and accuracy of the financial information and reporting of that organization. Internal control is very important to consider in order to protect the business owners, employees, vendors, investors, and other stakeholders.

In a small business, maintaining good internal control is often a challenge since staff size is smaller and resources are limited. Yet, it is essential to understand so that the business owners understand what risks they are taking every day in their businesses.  A good system of internal controls can help the organization reduce the risk of fraud, safeguard against loss, and demonstrate good business practices.

Key Concepts

Segregation of duties is the first of three key concepts of internal control. It means that tasks should be assigned to different people when there is a risk that having everything assigned to one person could hide errors or even theft.  For example, the person who opens the mail and receives checks should not be the same person who applies the check to the correct customer in Accounts Receivable.

Delegation of authority is the second key concept of internal control.  While the owner has ultimate control, they cannot do everything. They must delegate to staff. Staff have the responsibility to maintain internal controls in their area of responsibility.

System access is the third concept of internal control. Access to documents, rooms, computers, applications, and other items should be on a need-to-know basis to reduce risk. While one person might have system access to enter a transaction, they should not also be the one to have system access to review or approve that same transaction.

Business Operations

Every aspect of the business should be considered while setting up the company’s policies and procedures.  In a small business, an easy way to develop internal controls is to review each major transaction flow and implement the controls needed.

On the customer side, this includes receiving the customer order, sales contracts, shipping, invoicing, managing accounts receivables, collections, bank deposits or merchant reconciliations, and cash management. It can also include customer service, pricing, and promotional activity.

On the vendor side, the process includes adding controls for vendor selection, purchase orders, receiving, bill pay, managing accounts payable, payments, managing travel and expense accounts, and company credit cards.

Depending on the company, additional areas that need to be reviewed for internal control include inventory and supply chain management and government contracts, if any.

When hiring, the process of hiring, onboarding, training, evaluating performance, and payroll should be considered.  Safety is also an important consideration.

A very large part of internal control development should focus on the information technology operations of the company. Areas include user access and controls, password management, naming conventions, physical security, disaster recovery, and network and applications development, updates, and change control. Data entry should also be considered and is best included when developing controls for the customer, vendor, and employee functions.

Additional functions that need internal control processes include treasury and financing; financial reporting, budgeting, and planning; records storage, access, retention, and destruction; asset management; and insurance.

Internal controls can be applied to small businesses as well as large organizations. It’s all about being able to feel confident that your business is operating with financial integrity, accuracy, efficiency, and a reduced risk of failure. If you have questions about how internal control applies to your business, be sure to reach out to us any time.

Sometimes it’s hard for business owners to know how to take their businesses to the next level of growth and profitability. If you’ve been stuck at the same revenue or profit level for a while, it could be because knowing how to scale your business is not a skill in your skillset — yet.

Enter a classic management book on scaling: High Output Management by Andrew Grove, ex-chairman and CEO of Intel. While it was written in 1983, it has made a recent comeback in Silicon Valley but is still not well-known outside of the Bay area. Many people who have read it say it’s the best management book they have ever read, life-changing even. It is certainly a timeless and invaluable read for business owners and managers.

In the book, Grove applies the principles of engineering and manufacturing production to management. It’s all about process: developing processes and procedures so that you can track what’s going on and measure the results, or output, every step of the way.  Only then can you improve the process so that it leads to high output.

Measurement is an important concept in the book. No matter what business you’re in, you can apply the ideas of developing processes, measuring them, and improving upon them in your business.

Grove gets into how managers can motivate their team members and affect production outputs. He talks a lot about leverage, which enables scaling both positively and negatively, and how it can affect employees’ output. One example of positive leverage is when managers can add a “nudge” activity to enable their employees’ work. A negative example is when managers meddle and get in the way of the employee making progress.

In the section on meetings, Grove breaks them down by purpose and lends his ideas on how to run each type better. He touches on other key topics such as decision-making, planning, motivation, performance reviews, and values.

One significant highlight from the book is that if you’re motivated to become a better manager, and wish to improve the output of your organization, then there is nothing more important than training yourself.

Reading this book is a wonderful way to spend time learning new business skills you can use and benefit from immediately.

We’ve been in a pandemic for what seems like five years now, right? All joking aside, if you’ve been lucky enough to work from home this past year, then it’s possible that you are in the process of going stir-crazy. Or maybe you’re simply ready to shake things up a bit.

Working from home has its benefits. Yet, if you are someone who enjoys going to the office every day, chatting with co-workers in person, attending meetings that aren’t all virtual, and having a little spontaneity each week, then we’re here to help. Here are five tips to boost your WFH (working from home) environment.

  1. Take Short Breaks

Taking regular breaks throughout the day is so important, and more so now than ever before! Without a doubt, these breaks will help you mentally (that is, keep you from going stir-crazy), but they can also help your work productivity and quality. These breaks don’t need to be—and shouldn’t be—long or strenuous.

Walk the dog. Stand up and do some light stretches. Run up and down your stairs. Go outside into your backyard. Dance to a song. Do a quick chore, like emptying or loading the dishwasher. Call a friend. Or choose your own favorite break activity.  The goal is to get the blood flowing and the fog cleared from your mind.

  1. Switch Up Locations

Get creative and switch up your location. If you have a yard or patio of some sort – and good weather — that allows you to sit outside and work, perfect! If not, try working from the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, even the bedroom. The idea here is to change your surroundings a couple of times a week so that you don’t feel stuck or get lost in the monotony of a daily routine.

  1. Treat Yourself with Lunch

Everyone needs something to look forward to, and what is better to look forward to than food? Depending on your budget, treat yourself to a special lunch once a week, every other week, or monthly. Consider trying new restaurants, different foods, places that you’ve always wanted to eat at but haven’t had the opportunity to do so. Not only will this be fun for you, but you will also be supporting small, local businesses. Win-win!

  1. Dress for Success

We can probably all agree on one thing: sweatpants are comfortable! As such, it can be difficult to trade in the sweats for jeans or dress pants every day. After all, if you’re working from home and there’s no dress code to enforce, it can be hard to dress for success. Yet, doing so can give you a little burst of inspiration to get through the day. You can keep your outfits casual just as long as you have fun getting dressed. For example, you could have Sandal Mondays or Blue Shirt Fridays. Again, just have fun with it!

  1. Create a New Playlist

Does music motivate you? Are you able to work and listen to music at the same time?  If so, create different music playlists to listen to throughout your day. Try listening to various genres or new artists, anything that keeps you alert and stimulated, even excited about your workday. Depending on the type of music you enjoy listening to, you can even get up periodically and take dance breaks (Tip #1)!

Keep your day fresh, and boost your productivity and mood by using your imagination and trying the tips above.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) signed into law on March 11, 2021 by President Biden contains numerous tax provisions which may affect the tax situation for your business in 2020 and 2021.  We’ll provide a general recap of some of the major changes impacting businesses in this article. 

Employee Retention Credit

The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) has been extended through the end of 2021, which adds the third and fourth quarters to the mix. It also allows the credit to be claimed against the 1.45% Medicare or Hospital Insurance (HI) taxes.

The ERC can be a significant windfall for businesses that have had a drop in gross receipts or have been shuttered by a government order. 

Paycheck Protection Program

While the current March 31, 2021 application deadline for First and Second Draw PPP loans has not been extended as of this posting, the ARPA did add more funds to the program, made COBRA eligible for forgiveness, and expanded eligibility to additional entities, including additional covered nonprofit entities, newspapers, and certain nonprofits.  

The Paycheck Protection Program was designed to save jobs by providing forgivable funds to employers and self-employed individuals so they can make payroll and support their ongoing operations during the economic uncertainty of the pandemic. 

Shuttered Venue Operators

Additional monies have been allocated to this program which was initiated by the Consolidated Appropriations Act signed in December 2020. Entities that are eligible for the Shuttered Venue Operators program, which has not opened as of this writing, can now apply for Paycheck Protection Program loans. 

Paid Sick Leave

ARPA extended the sick and family leave benefits that began with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) to September 30, 2021. It adds the employer’s share of Medicare and Social Security taxes on qualifying leave wages to the credit calculation and increases the per employee limit from $10,000 to $12,000.

The changes also include time for the employee to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and recover from it if needed. Self-employed sick days limit is expanded from 50 to 60. 

Restaurant Revitalization Grant

Certain restaurants, food businesses, and shops located in an airport can apply for a restaurant revitalization grant that will be offered through the Small Business Association. The grant is for $10 million, up to $5 million per location, and can be spent on expenses necessary to keep the business open. A total of $28.6 billion has been allocated.

Businesses cannot have more than 20 locations, cannot be operated by a state or local government, and cannot apply if they received or have pending applications for Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits and Venues Act.    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other important features of a ticket system include:

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

A few of the most popular ticket management systems include:

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

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

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