Turning employee ideas into profitable results

Many businesses train employees how to do their jobs and only their jobs. But amazing things can happen when you also teach staff members to actively involve themselves in a profitability process — that is, an ongoing, idea-generating system aimed at adding value to your company’s bottom line.

Let’s take a closer look at how to get your workforce involved in coming up with profitable ideas and then putting those concepts into action.

6 steps to implementation

Without a system to discover ideas that originate from the day-in, day-out activities of your business, you’ll likely miss opportunities to truly maximize profitability. What you want to do is put a process in place for gathering profit-generating ideas, picking out the most actionable ones and then turning those ideas into results. Here are six steps to implementing such a system:

1. Share responsibility for profitability with your management team.
2. Instruct managers to challenge their employees to come up with profit-building ideas.
3. Identify the employee-proposed ideas that will most likely increase sales, maximize profit margins or control expenses.
4. Tie each chosen idea to measurable financial goals.
5. Name those accountable for executing each idea.
6. Implement the ideas through a clear, patient and well-monitored process.

For the profitability process to be effective, it must be practical, logical and understandable. All employees — not just management — should be able to use it to turn ideas and opportunities into bottom-line results. As a bonus, a well-constructed process can improve business skills and enhance morale as employees learn about profit-enhancement strategies, come up with their own ideas and, in some cases, see those concepts turned into reality.

A successful business

Most employees want to not only succeed at their own jobs, but also work for a successful business. A strong profitability process can help make this happen. To learn more about this and other ways to build your company’s bottom line, contact us.

© 2018

Use benchmarking to swim with the big fish

You may keep a wary eye on your competitors, but sometimes it helps to look just a little bit deeper. Even if you’re a big fish in your pond, someone a little bigger may be swimming up just beneath you. Being successful means not just being aware of these competitors, but also knowing their approaches and results.

And that’s where benchmarking comes in. By comparing your company with the leading competition, you can identify weaknesses in your business processes, set goals to correct these problems and keep a constant eye on how your company is doing. In short, benchmarking can help your company grow more successful.

2 basic methods

The two basic benchmarking methods are:

1. Quantitative benchmarking. This compares performance results in terms of key performance indicators (formulas or ratios) in areas such as production, marketing, sales, market share and overall financials.

2. Qualitative benchmarking. Here you compare operating practices — such as production techniques, quality of products or services, training methods, and morale — without regard to results.

You can break down each of these basic methods into more specific methods, defined by how the comparisons are made. For example, internal benchmarking compares similar operations and disseminates best practices within your organization, while competitive benchmarking compares processes and methods with those of your direct competitors.

Waters, familiar and new

The specifics of any benchmarking effort will very much depend on your company’s industry, size, and product or service selection, as well as the state of your current market. Nonetheless, by watching how others navigate the currents, you can learn to swim faster and more skillfully in familiar waters. And, as your success grows, you may even identify optimal opportunities to plunge into new bodies of water.

For more information on this topic, or other profit-enhancement ideas, please contact our firm. We would welcome the opportunity to help you benchmark your way to greater success.

© 2018

Could your next business loan get “ratio’d”?

We live and work in an era of big data. Banks are active participants, keeping a keen eye on metrics that help them accurately estimate risk of default.

As you look for a loan, try to find out how each bank will evaluate your default probability. Many do so using spreadsheets that track multiple financial ratios. When one of these key ratios goes askew, a red flag goes up on their end — and the loan may be denied.

Common metrics

To avoid getting “ratio’d” in this manner, business owners should familiarize themselves with some of the more common metrics that banks use to gauge creditworthiness.

For example, banks will compare cash and receivables to current liabilities. If this ratio starts slipping, you’ll likely need to push accounts receivable so money comes in more quickly or better manage inventory to keep cash flow moving. Other examples of financial benchmarks include:

• Gross margin [(revenue – cost of sales) / revenue],
• Current ratio (current assets / current liabilities),
• Total asset turnover ratio (annual revenue / total assets), and
• Interest coverage ratio (earnings before interest and taxes / interest expense).

Some banks may also calculate company- or industry-specific performance metrics. For instance, a warehouse might report daily shipments or inventory turnover, not just total asset turnover. Meanwhile, a retailer might provide sales graphs that highlight product mixes, sales rep performance, daily units sold and variances over the same week’s sales from the previous year.

Other methods

Bear in mind that not every bank uses ratios to evaluate performance, or they may combine ratio analysis with other benchmarking tools. Some use community-based scoring, by which a selected group of finance professionals rate and review companies based on their payment histories. Others use proprietary commercial-scoring models that use creditor reports to develop credit scores for businesses.

Preventing disappointment

When a strategic initiative fails to launch because your business can’t obtain financing, it can be crushing. To prevent such disappointment, have your financials in order and target as many common ratios as possible. Please contact our firm for help evaluating your performance and determining where you may need to improve to obtain a loan.

© 2018

Home vs. away: The company retreat conundrum

When a business decides to hold a retreat for its employees, the first question to be answered usually isn’t “What’s our agenda?” or “Whom should we invite as a guest speaker?” Rather, the first item on the table is, “Where should we have it?”

Many employees, and some business owners, might assume a company retreat, by definition, must take place off-site. But this isn’t necessarily so. Holding an on-site retreat is an option —and a markedly cost-effective one at that. Then again, it may also recall the old adage: You get what you pay for.

Staying put

There are several ways that staying put can better keep out-of-pocket expenses in check. The most obvious is that you won’t need to rent one or more meeting rooms. Perhaps even more important, no one at your company will need to spend valuable time and energy calling around to various hotels, gathering information and negotiating costs.

You’ll also likely spend less on food and beverages. A local restaurant can probably cater in the food for a nominal sum, and you could buy beverages in bulk. Furthermore, you’ll have no concerns or expenses associated with transporting employees to the retreat location (as long as your employees all work on site).

Problem is, employees tend to view on-site retreats as just another day at the office, making it hard to turn on creative juices and accomplish goals. They’re constantly tempted to run back to their desks to check their emails and voice mails. Worse yet, they may consider their employer a little too cost-conscious, if you catch our drift.

Heading out

Generally, people are better able to focus on a retreat agenda at off-site locations. They’re in a new, “special” environment that has no visual cues triggering their workday routines. So, even though you’ll incur additional costs, you may get a better return on investment.

During the planning process, remember that everything is negotiable. Hotels and facilities that host company retreats need and want your business. Get several quotes and compare prices and services. You’ll have more leverage if you avoid scheduling your retreat during a time of year when local venues tend to be busy.

Because hotels earn bigger margins on food, beverages and meeting setup fees, many will provide complimentary or discounted rooms for guest speakers and out-of-town employees. Also, try to negotiate a set food and beverage price for the entire retreat, rather than a per-person or per-event rate.

In addition, don’t be shy about asking for discounts. For example, if the facility requires an advance deposit and the balance at the end of the retreat rather than giving you 30 days to pay, request a prompt-pay discount.

Thinking it through

Not every company can afford to fly their staff to Aruba and hold beachside brainstorming sessions replete with tropical beverages. But crowding everyone into the break room and expecting mind-blowing strategic ideas to flow forth probably isn’t realistic, either. Find a suitable and productive point somewhere in between. Let us know if we can help with further information or more ideas.

© 2018

Building a sales prospect pipeline for your business

An old business adage says, “Sales is a numbers game.” In other words, the more potential buyers you face, the better your chances of making sales. This isn’t completely true, of course; success also depends on execution.

Nonetheless, when a company builds a pipeline to funnel prospects to its sales team, it will increase the opportunities for these staff members to strike and close deals. Here are some ways to undertake construction.

Do your research

First, establish a profile of the organizations that are the best candidates for your products or services. Criteria should include:

• Location,
• Number of employees,
• Sales volume,
• Industry, and
• Specific needs.

Next, think lead generation. The two best sources for generating leads are companywide marketing activities and individual salesperson initiatives, both of which create name recognition and educate prospects on the benefits of your products or services. Although you may find one method works better for you than the other, try not to be too dependent on either.

3 ways to reach out

Once you identify prospects, your sales team has got to reach out. Here are three ways to consider:

1. Cold calls. Every salesperson has done traditional cold calling — assembling a list of prospects that fit into your established customer profile and then calling or visiting them. Cold calling requires many attempts, and the percentage of interested parties tends to be small. Encourage your sales staff to personalize their message to each prospect so the calls don’t have a “canned” feel.

2. Researched cold calling. Select a subset of the most desirable candidates from your prospect list and do deeper research into these organizations to discover some need that your product or service would satisfy. Work with your sales team to write customized letters to the appropriate decision makers, highlighting your company’s skills in meeting their needs. If possible, quote an existing customer and quantify the benefits. The letter should come from the sales rep and state that he or she will be following up with a phone call. Often, after sending such a letter, getting in the door is a little easier.

3. Referrals. Research potential referral sources just as you study up on sales prospects themselves. Your goal is to develop and maintain a referral network of satisfied customers and other professionals who interact with your prospects. When you get referrals, be sure to send thank-you notes to the sources and keep them informed of your progress.

Go with the flow

Does your business regularly find itself hitting dry spells in which sales prospects seem to evaporate into thin air? If so, it may be because you lack a solid pipeline to keep the identities of those potential buyers flowing in. Contact us for further ideas and information.

© 2018

7 ways to prepare your business for sale

For some business owners, succession planning is a complex and delicate matter involving family members and a long, gradual transition out of the company. Others simply sell the business and move on. There are many variations in between, of course, but if you’re leaning toward a business sale, here are seven ways to prepare:

1. Develop or renew your business plan. Identify the challenges and opportunities of your company and explain how and why it’s ready for a sale. Address what distinguishes your business from the competition, and include a viable strategy that speaks to sustainable growth.

2. Ensure you have a solid management team. You should have a management team in place that’s, essentially, a redundancy of you. Your leaders should have the vision and know-how to keep the company moving forward without disruption during and after a sale.

3. Upgrade your technology. Buyers will look much more favorably on a business with up-to-date, reliable and cost-effective IT systems. This may mean investing in upgrades that make your company a “plug and play” proposition for a new owner.

4. Estimate the true value of your business. Obtaining a realistic, carefully calculated business appraisal will lessen the likelihood that you’ll leave money on the table. A professional valuator can calculate a defensible, marketable value estimate.

5. Optimize balance sheet structure. Value can be added by removing nonoperating assets that aren’t part of normal operations, minimizing inventory levels, and evaluating the condition of capital equipment and debt-financing levels.

6. Minimize tax liability. Seek tax advice early in the sale process — before you make any major changes or investments. Recent tax law changes may significantly affect a business owner’s tax position.

7. Assemble all applicable paperwork. Gather and update all account statements and agreements such as contracts, leases, insurance policies, customer/supplier lists and tax filings. Prospective buyers will request these documents as part of their due diligence.

Succession planning should play a role in every business owner’s long-term goals. Selling the business may be the simplest option, though there are many other ways to transition ownership. Please contact our firm for further ideas and information.

© 2018

It’s time to get more creative with retirement benefits communications

Employees tend not to fully appreciate or use their retirement benefits unless their employer communicates with them about the plan clearly and regularly. But workers may miss or ignore your messaging if it all looks and “sounds” the same. That’s why you might want to consider getting more creative. Consider these ideas:

Brighter, more dynamic print materials. There’s no getting around the fact that printed materials remain a widely used method of conveying retirement plan info to participants. But if yours still look the same way they did 10 years ago, employees may file them directly into the recycle bin. Look into whether you should redesign your materials to bring them up to date.

A targeted number of well-formatted emails. You probably augment printed materials with email communications. But finding the right balance here is key. If you’re bombarding employees with too many messages, they might get in the habit of deleting them with barely a glance. Then again, too few messages means your message probably isn’t getting through. Also, like your printed materials, emails need to be well written and formatted.

Social media. Some employers have tried using their social media accounts to keep employees engaged and reminded about benefits. The effectiveness of this will depend on how active you are on social media and how many staff members follow you. It may work well if you have a younger workforce.

“Gamification.” As the name suggests, gamification involves incorporating some fun and a competitive element into benefits education — offering virtual rewards, status indicators or gift cards to successful competitors. Games can include quizzes testing employees’ understanding of their benefits or the fundamentals of retirement planning.

Robocalls. Granted, this may not be an immediately enticing option. These prerecorded calls have largely gotten a bad reputation because of their overuse for sales purposes. But, some employees may appreciate an occasional robocall as a reminder or update that they may have otherwise missed.

Making the problem of benefits communication even tougher is the fact that many companies budget little or even nothing to accomplish this important task. But, considering the cost and effort you put into choosing and maintaining your retirement benefits, effective communication is worth some investment. Let us know how we can help.

© 2018

5 questions to ask yourself about social media

Social media can be an inexpensive, but effective, way to market a company’s products or services. Like most businesses today, you’ve probably at least dipped your toe into its waters. Or perhaps you have a full-blown, ongoing social media strategy involving multiple sites and a variety of content.

In either case, it’s important to ask yourself — and keep asking yourself — some fundamental questions about why and how you’re using social media. Here are five to consider:

1. What differentiates your company? This question is more complex than it may appear. When striving to stand out on social media, you’ve got to separate yourself from not only your competitors, but also many other entities vying for your followers’ attention. Look closely into whether your brand “pops” and how dynamic your messages may or may not be.

2. What will your followers react to? Get to know your company’s followers. Remember, this may include current customers and prospects, as well as potential new hires and community leaders or activists. Be careful: In their efforts to get noticed, many companies have crossed the line into offensive or just plain embarrassing content.

3. What do you hope to accomplish? Your social media strategy should be no different from any other profit-building initiative. Establish clear, trackable objectives; allocate a reasonable budget; and assess regularly whether you’re succeeding or failing.

4. How often should you post? There’s no hard and fast rule for how often to post new content. Anyone who’s active on social media knows there’s a limit before you become a nuisance. Then again, posting too infrequently may inhibit you from gaining any traction in the competitive online environment. Appropriate frequency depends in part on the social media site — you should generally post much more often on Twitter than on LinkedIn, for example.

5. Who’s minding the store? Social media requires ongoing attention. In addition to creating new posts, you’ll need to continuously watch for inappropriate comments and block social media “trolls” looking to cause mischief. Make sure that someone’s stated job duties include keeping an eye on every social media account associated with your business.

The answers to these questions can help guide your company’s overall social media strategy. Remember, the social media world is constantly in flux, with new trends and sites arising all the time. You’ve got to keep an inquisitive mind. We can help your business find the right answers to building its bottom line in a variety of ways.

© 2018

Make sure repairs to tangible property were actually repairs before you deduct the cost

Repairs to tangible property, such as buildings, machinery, equipment or vehicles, can provide businesses a valuable current tax deduction — as long as the so-called repairs weren’t actually “improvements.” The costs of incidental repairs and maintenance can be immediately expensed and deducted on the current year’s income tax return. But costs incurred to improve tangible property must be depreciated over a period of years.

So the size of your 2017 deduction depends on whether the expense was a repair or an improvement.

Betterment, restoration or adaptation
In general, a cost that results in an improvement to a building structure or any of its building systems (for example, the plumbing or electrical system) or to other tangible property must be depreciated. An improvement occurs if there was a betterment, restoration or adaptation of the unit of property.

Under the “betterment test,” you generally must depreciate amounts paid for work that is reasonably expected to materially increase the productivity, efficiency, strength, quality or output of a unit of property or that is a material addition to a unit of property.

Under the “restoration test,” you generally must depreciate amounts paid to replace a part (or combination of parts) that is a major component or a significant portion of the physical structure of a unit of property.

Under the “adaptation test,” you generally must depreciate amounts paid to adapt a unit of property to a new or different use — one that isn’t consistent with your ordinary use of the unit of property at the time you originally placed it in service.

Seeking safety

Distinguishing between repairs and improvements can be difficult, but a couple of IRS safe harbors can help:

1. Routine maintenance safe harbor. Recurring activities dedicated to keeping property in efficient operating condition can be expensed. These are activities that your business reasonably expects to perform more than once during the property’s “class life,” as defined by the IRS.

Amounts incurred for activities outside the safe harbor don’t necessarily have to be depreciated, though. These amounts are subject to analysis under the general rules for improvements.

2. Small business safe harbor. For buildings that initially cost $1 million or less, qualified small businesses may elect to deduct the lesser of $10,000 or 2% of the unadjusted basis of the property for repairs, maintenance, improvements and similar activities each year. A qualified small business is generally one with gross receipts of $10 million or less.

There is also a de minimis safe harbor as well as an exemption for materials and supplies up to a certain threshold. To learn more about these safe harbors and exemptions and other ways to maximize your tangible property deductions, contact us.

© 2018

Defer tax with a Section 1031 exchange, but new limits apply this year


Normally when appreciated business assets such as real estate are sold, tax is owed on the appreciation. But there’s a way to defer this tax: a Section 1031 “like kind” exchange. However, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) reduces the types of property eligible for this favorable tax treatment.

What is a like-kind exchange?

Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code allows you to defer gains on real or personal property used in a business or held for investment if, instead of selling it, you exchange it solely for property of a “like kind.” Thus, the tax benefit of an exchange is that you defer tax and, thereby, have use of the tax savings until you sell the replacement property.

This technique is especially flexible for real estate, because virtually any type of real estate will be considered to be of a like kind, as long as it’s business or investment property. For example, you can exchange a warehouse for an office building, or an apartment complex for a strip mall.

Deferred and reverse exchanges

Although a like-kind exchange may sound quick and easy, it’s relatively rare for two owners to simply swap properties. You’ll likely have to execute a “deferred” exchange, in which you engage a qualified intermediary (QI) for assistance.

When you sell your property (the relinquished property), the net proceeds go directly to the QI, who then uses them to buy replacement property. To qualify for tax-deferred exchange treatment, you generally must identify replacement property within 45 days after you transfer the relinquished property and complete the purchase within 180 days after the initial transfer.

An alternate approach is a “reverse” exchange. Here, an exchange accommodation titleholder (EAT) acquires title to the replacement property before you sell the relinquished property. You can defer capital gains by identifying one or more properties to exchange within 45 days after the EAT receives the replacement property and, typically, completing the transaction within 180 days.

Changes under the TCJA

There had been some concern that tax reform would include the elimination of like-kind exchanges. The good news is that the TCJA still generally allows tax-deferred like-kind exchanges of business and investment real estate.

But there’s also some bad news: For 2018 and beyond, the TCJA eliminates tax-deferred like-kind exchange treatment for exchanges of personal property. However, prior-law rules that allow like-kind exchanges of personal property still apply if one leg of an exchange was completed by December 31, 2017, but one leg remained open on that date. Keep in mind that exchanged personal property must be of the same asset or product class.  

Complex rules

The rules for like-kind exchanges are complex, so these arrangements present some risks. If, say, you exchange the wrong kind of property or acquire cash or other non-like-kind property in a deal, you may still end up incurring a sizable tax hit. If you’re exploring a like-kind exchange, contact us. We can help you ensure you’re in compliance with the rules.

© 2018

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