Does your business ask your customers for their credit card numbers at any time during the sales process?  If so, it’s essential that you honor the privacy of your customers’ private data as well as stay in compliance with the Payment Card Industry rules.

Every business that has an account with a merchant services vendor is required to follow PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliance when collecting and storing credit card data. There are many different levels of compliance depending on the technology you use to capture and store credit card data.  These levels depend on whether you use a point of sale terminal, the customer hands you their card, orders are entered through an online shopping cart, or a combination.

In all cases, there are several no-no’s that you’ll want to share with your staff to make sure they are properly trained:

  1. Never ask a client to send a credit card number via unsecure email.
  2. Never take down a credit card number over the phone on paper before entering it into your system. If you do, you need to shred the paper immediately.
  3. Don’t ask clients to take a photo of their credit card to send to you.

If you need to use credit card authorization forms in your business, you’ll need to consider the proper collection of these forms as well as the proper storage. Storing a credit card outside any system requires you to follow further PCI compliance steps.

  1. After a client has signed and completed the credit card authorization form, you will need to provide a secure, encrypted email connection for them to send it back to you. Alternately, you can set up a private client portal for them using Box, DropBox, ShareFile, or another generic portal or file transfer app.  Just sending a pdf via email is not a great idea unless the PDF is password-protected and the password is sent via secure, encrypted email.
  2. Once you’ve received the form on your end, you’ll need to keep it in a secure place. If you print or download it, you’ll need to follow physical building security protocols to stay in compliance with PCI as well as to protect the customer data.

It’s not a surprise that so many credit cards get hacked each year.  It’s inconvenient to customers and vendors when their credit card gets compromised, and much of this can be prevented through proactive and safe measures. Respect your customers and help them keep their credit card data safe.

One of the most important parts of managing a business is making sure there is enough cash to keep the business going. As a business owner, you probably have a very good idea how much cash you have in the bank at any time. The smaller your business is, the more likely you are to keep a close eye on cash.

Checking your cash balance is a daily function you should be on top of. Yet there is another often-overlooked responsibility that many business owners don’t spend enough time on, and that is managing your future cash, especially in light of unplanned situations. Looking ahead helps reduce your business risk and allows you more time to correct any upcoming dip in your cash balance.

Having enough cash is akin to having a safety net for your business. It can sometimes even mean the difference between staying in business and going out of business. To plan how much you might need for your safety net, you can use a few different methodologies.

One way to plan your safety net is to prepare for the worst-case scenario. How long would your cash hold out if no revenue were to come in but all expenses kept going out? Some questions you might ask:

  • At what point will your cash run out? How many weeks or months of cash do you have?
  • Do you have a line of credit you can tap at a bank?
  • Do you have other loans or sources of cash that you can tap quickly in case of emergency?
  • What expenses could you shut down without hurting your business if you had to?

Another way to plan your safety net is to do what the average business does: acquire the amount of cash you need for two to three months’ worth of operations and keep it on hand. Alternately, you can make a plan to liquidate that much cash on a very fast basis and only put your plan in place if it’s needed.

An easy way to get these numbers is to look at your bank statements in conjunction with your average accounts receivable and accounts payable balances. If that’s all Greek to you, no worries. Feel free to contact us and we can help you figure out a safety net number that you’ll feel comfortable with and that will keep your business risk low.

Once you have a safety net in place, you’ll gain peace of mind for your business. It’s one step in an overall disaster preparedness plan that you can make for your business.

As an entrepreneur, you likely place a high value on freedom. When the word “budget” is mentioned, you might cringe and feel like it hampers your freedom. But it’s really the opposite. Here’s why.

According to a 2019 article in Small Business Trends, “Startup Statistics – The Numbers You Need to Know,” 82 percent of businesses that fail do so because of cash flow problems. Even if your business is no longer a startup, the failure rates for businesses started in 2014 were as follows:

  • 20 percent failed to make it to their second year,
  • 30 percent failed to make it to their third year,
  • 38 percent failed to make it to their fourth year, and
  • 44 percent failed to make it to their fifth year.

Many of the reasons for business failure can be prevented with good budgeting and planning. Here are some benefits of making a budget and managing to it.

  • A budget helps to control spending by seeing what’s available beyond your cash balance at the time.
  • Impulse spending can be curbed by avoiding spending on anything that is not budgeted for.
  • If a loan is needed to finance the business, you have a better idea of how much you need and how to best schedule the loan payments.
  • Your chances of business success increase with a budget.
  • You can see future revenue shortfalls so that you can take proactive steps to boost sales.
  • You can better manage growth.
  • You have a better idea of your profit level so you can make pricing changes, tax predictions, appropriate compensation, and other strategic changes.
  • You can plan for large expenditures such as asset purchases and time them better for cash flow, loan acquisition, and other considerations.

Getting started with a budget is easy. If you’ve been in business for more than one year, you can start with last year’s actual figures and then adjust for the growth and changes you want. The numbers can be input into your accounting system so that you can get reports that measure actual progress versus the budget numbers. You can then make good business decisions based on your variances.

When you take a little bit of time to create a budget, you really can enjoy the freedom of knowing you’re on track to make your numbers. If we’re not already working with you on your budget, feel free to reach out to find out more.

Each month, your accounting system yields actionable information for you to run your business better. Here are some key reports that all business owners should review every month.

Balance Sheet

A quick review of the balance sheet can tell you the balances of your current assets and current liabilities. Current assets should always be larger than current liabilities; if it’s not, you may have liquidity issues.

You can also take a look at these accounts: cash, accounts receivable, and accounts payable. They should look reasonable to you based on your business history.

Accounts Receivable Aging

Your gaining report can alert you to who has not paid their invoice, so that you can take action to collect that money. Any balances over 30 days should trigger a collection process since the older the receivable gets, the less likely it is to collect.

Accounts Payable Aging

Hopefully, this report is clean and you are able to pay all of your bills on time. If you have an unusually large amount in this account, you’ll want to make sure you have the future cash to pay the bills.

Income Statement

The first number most entrepreneurs look at on the income statement is profit. It’s a good idea to review every account balance on this report to see if it is what you expected. Some questions to ask yourself include:

  1. Did I generate the amount of revenue that I expected? If not, should I ramp up marketing for the next few months?
  2. Do all of my expenses look reasonable? Are there any numbers that look too high?
  3. Are my payroll expenses in line with what I was expecting?
  4. Which accounts caused me to generate more or less profit?
  5. What I can I do next month to improve performance and increase profit?

Sales Reports

There are many excellent sales reports to dive deeper into your revenue so you can see what sold and what didn’t. Sales by Item and Sales by Customer are two good options for you to get more detail about your revenue balances. By analyzing your revenue, you can see what promotions worked and how you might take action to increase sales.

These five reports are very basic, but they are also very key to your business. To profit from these reports, it’s up to you to take action in your business to improve your success.

Can you believe that half of 2019 is gone already? That means it’s a great time to take stock of how your business has done for the first half of 2019 so that you can meet your financial goals for the entire year. 

On Track for Sales

Are you on track to make your 2019 revenue number?  The first step is to check your 2019 budget numbers for total revenue. (Don’t have a budget? – Check with us; we’d be delighted to discuss that service with you.)

Next, get your Income Statement for June 2019 Year-to-Date and check the revenue figure. Are you on track with your budget, or are you halfway there revenue-wise, accounting for seasonality? If so, pat yourself on the back!  If not, what promotions will you put in place to boost your growth for the rest of 2019?

On Track for Profit

Looking at the same Income Statement, check your net income figure. Are you on track with what you planned?  If so, great!  If not, the reason is simple: it will be either lower sales than expected or higher expenses than expected. 

If your expenses are too high, you’ll need to drill down into each of your expense accounts, including cost of goods sold, to see which ones are higher than expected. Were there some unanticipated costs?  Does your pricing need adjusting? Do you need more volume to cover your costs?  This is where we can help you with an analysis of where your opportunities are to increase profit. 

On Track for Cash

One more place to look is your cash balance. It can be uncomfortable when you are running short of cash for your business. If your balance is lower than you’d like it to be, it could be because of some of the factors mentioned above.  It could also be because you just purchased an asset like a truck.  If you need help with improving your cash flow, that’s another thing we can help you with. 

Mid-Year Review

This mid-year review can help you head off any small problems before they grow into big ones throughout the rest of the year. And it can keep you on track so you can meet your 2019 business goals.

Having repeat customers is essential to many businesses, and the key to keep clients coming back is to provide them with great customer service. Here are five ideas to rate your business’s savvy when it comes to serving customers well.

  1. Make a great first impression.

When customers make a purchase from you, make them feel great about it by sending them a series of indoctrination emails. Congratulate them on the purchase, let them know how to get the most out of their new purchase, and encourage them to connect with you on social media and your mailing list. 

  1. Measure response time.

How fast do you answer prospect and customer questions? Social media has changed the game. Customers that reach out via social media platforms, their phones, chat, or messaging apps expect an immediate answer.  Facebook even gives a badge to businesses who respond quickly and consistently.   

Not only do businesses need to monitor messages coming in from a record number of places – email, phone, web forms, chat, social media, and more – they need to respond faster than ever. 

Without measuring your response time, it’s hard to know how you’re doing, so putting measures in place is the first step to improving this customer service metric. 

  1. Publish clear policies.

Good customer service starts with setting clear expectations. Before a customer buys from you, they should be able to know what your return policy is in case something goes wrong. Some of the policies that should clearly be published online as well as at all customer-facing business locations include:

  • Returns policy: If the product or service is not as expected, can the customer obtain a refund? Is there a re-stocking fee?  What about shipping?  Cash back vs. store credit?
  • Shipping policy: Most people expect free shipping these days. They will want to know what it costs and how long will it take to get the item.
  • Terms of service: Are there any limitations to the product? Or legal items that need to be communicated?
  • Privacy policy: All clients will be giving you private customer data. They will want to know if it’s secure, if you share it with anyone, and if you are compliant with laws like GDPR (Europe), the CAN-SPAM act (US), or CASL (Canada).
  1. Encourage feedback.

Your best ideas for new products and services can come from your customers. Ask for feedback by sending customer satisfaction surveys and requests for testimonials and reviews. Read what customers have to say about your service so that you can make improvements as needed. 

  1. Check your ego at the door.

As small business owners, sometimes we need to be humble, especially when things go wrong. Be generous with apologies to customers; it will go a long way toward improving customer relations. If you’re at fault, admit it and make it right with the customer.  Even if you’re “right,” find a way to explain to the customer so that they feel good about you and your business. 

Delivering great customer service can be a huge competitive advantage for your business. How does your business stack up against these five ideas?  Try them, and watch your revenue grow.

Every business has customers, and while all customers are important, most entrepreneurs will agree that some customers are more important than others. This may be due to the amount of revenue the customer brings in, their ability to refer new clients to you, the interesting challenges of the customer, or another factor. It makes sense to identify these clients so you can spend more time with them or at least acknowledge them in some way.

How do you find out which clients have generated the most revenue with you? If you store customer data in your accounting system, you can run a report to generate the data you need.  In QuickBooks, the report is called the Income by Customer Summary Report.  In Xero, it’s called Income by Contact. If you do not store customer data in your accounting system, you may be able to generate a report from your billing system, shopping cart, or point-of-sale system.

The reports look like this: each row holds the customer name and the Income column holds total revenue by the customer. If your system allows you to sort the revenue field, do this in descending order. If not, you can export the data to Excel and sort it in Excel. 

Once you’ve sorted the data, the answer is right in front of you.  Your top customers based on revenue will show in order. These are the customers you may want to consider spending more time with. Schedule periodic lunches with them, give them a call on a regular basis, and send them a gift or thank you note once in a while.  The report helps you organize your connection points with your top clients so you don’t miss an opportunity or forget to reach out to an important customer. 

Run this report on a regular basis so that you’re focused on nurturing the most important relationships in your business. You can also look at trends to see if you’re losing revenue over time or gaining revenue with new clients. You can reach out to clients that are spending less with you to try to save the relationship before it’s too late.  And you can get to know new clients that are growing with you so that you can grab even more business. 

Make this report a regular activity in your business to stay close to what your customers are doing with you.

Setting customer expectations in your business is essential to gain the trust of your customers, avoid conflicts, and maintain a high level of customer service. One way to set customer expectations is to clearly state policies that are customer-facing. Many of these are accounting policies that we can help you with. The following policies are ones that every business should clearly publish. 

Refund Policy

When customers purchase your products or service and don’t get what they expect, what is their recourse? Your refund policy should clearly state which products and services are refundable. Do customers need to physically return the product in-store or via shipping? What if it’s a service? Are they refunded in cash or credit card? Or is it a store credit? Is there a deadline for refunds?

All of these questions should clearly be outlined in your refund policy.  Your website is a great place to publish it. 

Customer Complaints

If your customer has a complaint, how should they submit it? Is there a hotline to call, a suggestion box, or a form to fill out? If your business and employees are licensed, is there a government agency to write? A notice should be posted on your website and in your physical location describing where to submit complaints.

Shipping Policy

Not all businesses need a shipping policy, but you do if you ship physical goods to a customer location. What is the cost of shipping? What is the expected delivery time? A shipping policy explains this as well as what can go wrong: If the item was never received, what should one do? Must you sign for a shipment? If you return a shipment, who pays the shipping? If an item is received damaged, how do you file a claim?

Payment Methods

While not a policy this customer communication needs to be clearly posted. What forms of payment will you take? If you take a check, what ID does the customer need to show? Do you take some of the newer forms of payment such as Apple Pay or cryptocurrencies? How do gift cards work?

Past-Due Accounts

If a customer doesn’t pay their bills on time, they should know what to expect. Will interest be charged? Will the account be sent for collections? Will someone break the customers’ legs? Will future purchases be cancelled or require a C.O.D. (cash on delivery) payment? 

You might not think of your accountant when it comes to writing these policies, but you should; we can help. A good accountant can help you craft these customer service policies so that your communications and expectations with customers are better than ever. 

Hiring a new employee is a big accomplishment in any small business, and there are a lot of steps involved, too. Here’s a handy checklist to help you stay organized when you bring that new hire on board. 

First things first, the legal and accounting items:

  • Signed employment agreement, typically an offer letter. There may also be a supplemental agreement outlining employee policies.
  • Payroll documents include:
    • IRS form W-4
    • Form I-9
    • Copy of employee’s government-issued ID
  • Most states require a new hire report to be filed; sometimes your payroll system vendor will automatically file this for you.
  • Notify your workers comp insurance carrier.

Next, it’s time for employee benefits enrollment:

  • Health insurance
  • 401K
  • Any other benefits you provide
  • Provide the employee with the holiday schedule
  • Explain their PTO and vacation if not already explained in the offer letter

Set your new employee up for success with the right equipment:

  • Desk, chair, lamp, other furniture
  • Uniform
  • Tools
  • Coffee mug, refrigerator shelf
  • Phone
  • Truck, keys
  • Computer, monitor, mouse, keyboard, power strip, floor mat
  • Office keys, card entry, gate remote, parking assignment
  • Filing cabinet, keys
  • Tablet
  • Forms
  • Office supplies
  • Cooler, other supplies

Your new employee may need access to your computer software systems:

  • Employee email address
  • Any new user IDs and password for all the systems they will need to access
  • Document access

How will your new employee learn the ropes?

  • Set up training
  • Assign a buddy

Hopefully, this list will give you a start toward making your employee onboarding process a little smoother.

One of the biggest challenges for small businesses is managing cash flow. There never seems to be enough cash to meet all of the obligations, so it makes sense to speed up cash flow when you can. Here are five tips you can use to get your cash faster or slow down the outflow.

1. Stay on top of cash account balances.

If you’re collecting money in more than one account, be sure to move your money on a regular basis when your balances get high. One example is your PayPal account.  If money is coming in faster than you’re spending it, transfer the money to your main operating account so the money is not just sitting there. 

2. Invoice faster or more frequently.

The best way to smooth cash flow is to make sure outflows are in sync with inflows. If you make payroll weekly but only invoice monthly, your cash flow is likely to dip more often than it rises. When possible, invoice more frequently or stagger your invoice due dates to smooth your cash balances. 

Take a look at how long it takes you to invoice for your work after it’s been completed.  If it’s longer than a few weeks, consider changing your invoicing process by shortening the time it takes to send out invoices. That way, you’ll get paid sooner.  

3. Collect faster.  

Got clients who drag their heels when it comes to paying you? Try to get a credit card on file or an ACH authorization so you’re in control of their payment.

Put a process in place the day the invoice becomes late. Perhaps the client has a question or misplaced the bill. Be aggressive about following up when the bill is 45, 60, and 90 days past due. Turn it over to collections quickly; the older the bill is, the less likely it is to get paid. 

4. Pay off debt.

As your cash flow gets healthier, make a plan to pay off any business loans or credit cards that you have. The sooner you can do this, the less interest expense you’ll incur and the more profit you’ll have. 

Interest expense can really add up. If you have loans at higher interest rates, you might try to get them refinanced at a lower rate, so you won’t have to pay as much interest expense.    

5. Reduce spending.

You don’t always have to give up things to reduce spending. Look at your expenses from last year and ask yourself:

  • What did you spend that was a really great investment for your business?
  • What did you spend that was a colossal mistake?
  • What do you take for granted that you can cut?
  • Where could you re-negotiate contracts to save a little?
  • Where could you tighten up if you need to?

Managing cash flow is always a challenge, and these tips will help give you a little cushion to make it easier.