Category Archives: Business & Industry

How to make the most of your multigenerational workforce

Many of today’s businesses employ workers from across the generational spectrum. Employees may range from Baby Boomers to members of Generation X to Millennials to the newest group, Generation Z.

Managing a workforce with a wide age range requires flexibility and skill. If you’re successful, you’ll likely see higher employee morale, stronger productivity and a more positive work environment for everyone.

Generational definitions

Definitions of the generations vary slightly, but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation defines them as follows:

  • Members of the Baby Boomer generation were born from 1946 to 1964,
  • Members of Generation X were born from 1965 to 1979,
  • Members of the Millennial generation were born from 1980 to 1999, and
  • Members of Generation Z were born after 1999.

Certain stereotypes have long been associated with each generation. Baby Boomers are assumed to be grumbling curmudgeons. Gen Xers were originally consigned to being “slackers.” Millennials are often thought of as needy approval-seekers. And many presume that a Gen Zer is helpless without his or her mobile device.

But successfully managing employees across generations requires setting aside stereotypes. Don’t assume that employees fit a certain personality profile based simply on age. Instead, you or a direct supervisor should get to know each one individually to better determine what makes him or her tick.

Best practices

Here are just a couple best practices for managing diverse generations:

Recognize and respect value differences. Misunderstandings and conflicts often arise because of value differences between managers and employees of different generations. For example, many older supervisors expect employees to do “whatever it takes” to get the job done, including working long hours. However, some younger employees place a high value on maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Be sure everyone is on the same page about these expectations. This doesn’t mean younger employees shouldn’t have to work hard. The key is to find the right balance so that work is accomplished satisfactorily and on time, and employees feel like their values are being respected.

Maximize each generation’s strengths. Different generations tend to bring their own strengths to the workplace. For instance, older employees likely have valuable industry experience and important historical business insights to share. Meanwhile, younger employees — especially Generation Z — have grown up with high-powered mobile technology and social media.

Consider initiatives such as company retreats and mentoring programs in which employees from diverse generations can work together and share their knowledge, experiences and strengths. Encourage them to communicate openly and honestly and to be willing to learn from, rather than compete with, one another.

A competitive advantage

Having a multigenerational workforce can be a competitive advantage. Your competitors may not have the hard-fought experience of your older workers nor the fresh energy and ideas of your younger ones. Our firm can help you develop cost-effective business strategies while utilizing a multigenerational workforce.

© 2020

Cost management: A budget’s best friend

If your company comes up over budget year after year, you may want to consider cost management. This is a formalized, systematic review of operations and resources with the stated goal of reducing costs at every level and controlling them going forward. As part of this effort, you’ll answer questions such as:

Are we operating efficiently? Cost management can help you clearly differentiate activities that are running smoothly and staying within budget from the ones that are constantly breaking down and consuming extra dollars.

Depending on your industry, there are likely various metrics you can calculate and track to determine which aspects of your operations are inefficient. Sometimes improving efficiency is simply a matter of better scheduling. If you’re constantly missing deadlines or taking too long to fulfill customers’ needs, you’re also probably losing money playing catch-up and placating disappointed buyers.

Can we really see our supply chain? Maybe you’ve bought the same types of materials from the same vendors for many years. Are you really getting the most for your money? A cost management review can help you look for better bargains on the goods and services that make your business run.

A big problem for many businesses is lack of practical data. Without the right information, you may not be fully aware of the key details of your supply chain. There’s a term for this: supply chain visibility. When you can’t “see” everything about the vendors that service your company, you’re much more vulnerable to hidden costs and overspending.

Is technology getting the better of us? At this point, just about every business process has been automated one way or another. But are you managing this technology or is it managing you? Some companies overspend unnecessarily while others miss out on ways to better automate activities. Cost management can help you decide whether to simplify or upgrade.

For example, many businesses have historically taken an ad hoc approach to procuring technology. Different departments or individuals have obtained various software over the years. Some of this technology may still be in regular use but, in many cases, an expensive application sits dormant while the company still pays for licensing or tech support.

Conversely, a paid-for but out-of-date application could be slowing operational or supply chain efficiency. You may have to spend money to save money by getting something that’s up-to-date and fully functional.

The term “cost management” is often applied to specific projects. But you can also apply it to your business, either as an emergency step if your budget is really out of whack or as a regular activity for keeping the numbers in line. Our firm can help you conduct this review and decide what to do about the insights gained.

© 2020

Congress rolls back burdensome UBIT on transportation benefits

A much-hated tax on not-for-profit organizations is on the way out. At the end of 2019, Congress repealed a provision of 2017’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) that triggered the unrelated business income tax (UBIT) of 21% on nonprofit employers that provide employees with transportation fringe benefits. Unequipped to handle the additional administrative burdens and compliance costs, thousands of nonprofits had complained — and legislators apparently listened.

Same benefits, new costs

At issue is the TCJA provision saying that nonprofits must count disallowed deduction amounts paid for transportation fringe benefits such as transit passes and parking in their UBIT calculations. UBIT applies to business income that isn’t related to the organization’s tax-exempt function. Thus, simply by continuing to provide some of the same transportation benefits they’ve always provided employees, nonprofits were liable for additional tax.

For example, employers were forced to assign a value to parking spaces provided to employees. Such activities were time-consuming and burdensome, and the additional costs forced nonprofits to divert funds from pursuing their missions. Nonprofit coalition Independent Sector estimates that the transportation tax and related administrative costs set back nonprofits by an average $12,000.

Fortunately, the repeal of the UBIT provision will be retroactive. Although the details haven’t yet been hammered out, nonprofits that paid the tax on applicable transportation benefits in 2018 and 2019 are expected to get their money back.

Other developments

Repealing the UBIT on certain transportation benefits isn’t the only recent legislation of interest to nonprofits. Last month, Congress also streamlined the foundation excise tax. The current two-tiered tax that many foundations protested will be replaced with a 1.39% revenue-neutral tax.

Congress is likely to address other nonprofit demands — for example, for the introduction of a universal charitable deduction — in future sessions. We can help you stay current with the latest tax developments affecting nonprofits. Contact us.

© 2020

5 ways to strengthen your business for the new year

The end of one year and the beginning of the next is a great opportunity for reflection and planning. You have 12 months to look back on and another 12 ahead to look forward to. Here are five ways to strengthen your business for the new year by doing a little of both:

1. Compare 2019 financial performance to budget. Did you meet the financial goals you set at the beginning of the year? If not, why? Analyze variances between budget and actual results. Then, evaluate what changes you could make to get closer to achieving your objectives in 2020. And if you did meet your goals, identify precisely what you did right and build on those strategies.

2. Create a multiyear capital budget. Look around your offices or facilities at your equipment, software and people. What investments will you need to make to grow your business? Such investments can be both tangible (new equipment and technology) and intangible (employees’ technical and soft skills).

Equipment, software, furniture, vehicles and other types of assets inevitably wear out or become obsolete. You’ll need to regularly maintain, update and replace them. Lay out a long-term plan for doing so; this way, you won’t be caught off guard by a big expense.

3. Assess the competition. Identify your biggest rivals over the past year. Discuss with your partners, managers and advisors what those competitors did to make your life so “interesting.” Also, honestly appraise the quality of what your business sells versus what competitors offer. Are you doing everything you can to meet — or, better yet, exceed — customer expectations? Devise some responsive competitive strategies for the next 12 months.

4. Review insurance coverage. It’s important to stay on top of your property, casualty and liability coverage. Property values or risks may change — or you may add new assets or retire old ones — requiring you to increase or decrease your level of coverage. A fire, natural disaster, accident or out-of-the-blue lawsuit that you’re not fully protected against could devastate your business. Look at the policies you have in place and determine whether you’re adequately protected.

5. Analyze market trends. Recognize the major events and trends in your industry over the past year. Consider areas such as economic drivers or detractors, technology, the regulatory environment and customer demographics. In what direction is your industry heading over the next five or ten years? Anticipating and quickly reacting to trends are the keys to a company’s long-term success.

These are just a few ideas for looking back and ahead to set a successful course forward. We can help you review the past year’s tax, accounting and financial strategies, and implement savvy moves toward a secure and profitable 2020 for your business.

© 2019

Buy vs. lease: Business equipment edition

Life presents us with many choices: paper or plastic, chocolate or vanilla, regular or decaf. For businesses, a common conundrum is buy or lease. You’ve probably faced this decision when considering office space or a location for your company’s production facilities. But the buy vs. lease quandary also comes into play with equipment.

Pride of ownership

Some business owners approach buying equipment like purchasing a car: “It’s mine; I’m committed to it and I’m going to do everything I can to familiarize myself with this asset and keep it in tip-top shape.” Yes, pride of ownership is still a thing.

If this is your philosophy, work to pass along that pride to employees. When you get staff members to buy in to the idea that this is your equipment and the success of the company depends on using and maintaining each asset properly, the business can obtain a great deal of long-term value from assets that are bought and paid for.

Of course, no “buy vs. lease” discussion is complete without mentioning taxes. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act dramatically enhanced Section 179 expensing and first-year bonus depreciation for asset purchases. In fact, many businesses may be able to write off the full cost of most equipment in the year it’s purchased. On the downside, you’ll take a cash flow hit when buying an asset, and the tax benefits may be mitigated somewhat if you finance.

Fine things about flexibility

Many businesses lease their equipment for one simple reason: flexibility. From a cash flow perspective, you’re not laying down a major purchase amount or even a substantial down payment in most cases. And you’re not committed to an asset for an indefinite period — if you don’t like it, at least there’s an end date in sight.

Leasing also may be the better option if your company uses technologically advanced equipment that will get outdated relatively quickly. Think about the future of your business, too. If you’re planning to explore an expansion, merger or business transformation, you may be better off leasing equipment so you’ll have the flexibility to adapt it to your changing circumstances.

Last, leasing does have some tax breaks. Lease payments generally are tax deductible as “ordinary and necessary” business expenses, though annual deduction limits may apply.

Pros and cons

On a parting note, if you do lease assets this year and your company follows Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), new accounting rules for leases take effect in 2020 for calendar-year private companies. Contact us for further information, as well as for any assistance you might need in weighing the pros and cons of buying vs. leasing business equipment.

© 2019

Financial statements tell your business’s story, inside and out

Ask many entrepreneurs and small business owners to show you their financial statements and they’ll likely open a laptop and show you their bookkeeping software. Although tracking financial transactions is critical, spreadsheets aren’t financial statements.

In short, financial statements are detailed and carefully organized reports about the financial activities and overall position of a business. As any company evolves, it will likely encounter an increasing need to properly generate these reports to build credibility with outside parties, such as investors and lenders, and to make well-informed strategic decisions.

These are the typical components of financial statements:

Income statement. Also known as a profit and loss statement, the income statement shows revenues and expenses for a specified period. To help show which parts of the business are profitable (or not), it should carefully match revenues and expenses.

Balance sheet. This provides a snapshot of a company’s assets and liabilities. Assets are items of value, such as cash, accounts receivable, equipment and intellectual property. Liabilities are debts, such as accounts payable, payroll and lines of credit. The balance sheet also states the company’s net worth, which is calculated by subtracting total liabilities from total assets.

Cash flow statement. This shows how much cash a company generates for a particular period, which is a good indicator of how easily it can pay its bills. The statement details the net increase or decrease in cash as a result of operations, investment activities (such as property or equipment sales or purchases) and financing activities (such as taking out or repaying a loan).

Retained earnings/equity statement. Not always included, this statement shows how much a company’s net worth grew during a specified period. If the business is a corporation, the statement details what percentage of profits for that period the company distributed as dividends to its shareholders and what percentage it retained internally.

Notes to financial statements. Many if not most financial statements contain a supplementary report to provide additional details about the other sections. Some of these notes may take the form of disclosures that are required under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles — the most widely used set of accounting rules and standards. Others might include supporting calculations or written clarifications.

Financial statements tell the ongoing narrative of your company’s finances and profitability. Without them, you really can’t tell anyone — including yourself — precisely how well you’re doing. We can help you generate these reports to the highest standards and then use them to your best advantage.

© 2019

Estimates vs. actuals: Was your 2018 budget reasonable?

As the year winds down, business owners can be thankful for the gift of perspective (among other things, we hope). Assuming you created a budget for the calendar year, you should now be able to accurately assess that budget by comparing its estimates to actual results. Your objective is to determine whether your budget was reasonable, and, if not, how to adjust it to be more accurate for 2019.

Identify notable changes

Your estimates, like those of many companies, probably start with historical financial statements. From there, you may simply apply an expected growth rate to annual revenues and let it flow through the remaining income statement and balance sheet items. For some businesses, this simplified approach works well. But future performance can’t always be expected to mirror historical results.

For example, suppose you renegotiated a contract with a major supplier during the year. The new contract may have affected direct costs and profit margins. So, what was reasonable at the beginning of the year may be less so now and require adjustments when you draft your 2019 budget.

Often, a business can’t maintain its current growth rate indefinitely without investing in additional assets or incurring further fixed costs. As you compare your 2018 estimates to actuals, and look at 2019, consider whether your company is planning to:

• Build a new plant,

• Buy a major piece of equipment,

• Hire more workers, or

• Rent additional space.

External and internal factors — such as regulatory changes, product obsolescence, and in-process research and development — also may require specialized adjustments to your 2019 budget to keep it reasonable.

Find the best way to track

The most analytical way to gauge reasonableness is to generate year-end financials and then compare the results to what was previously budgeted. Are you on track to meet those estimates? If not, identify the causes and factor them into a revised budget for next year.

If you discover that your actuals are significantly different from your estimates — and if this takes you by surprise — you should consider producing interim financials next year. Some businesses feel overwhelmed trying to prepare a complete set of financials every month. So, you might opt for short-term cash reports, which highlight the sources and uses of cash during the period. These cash forecasts can serve as an early warning system for “budget killers,” such as unexpected increases in direct costs or delinquent accounts.

Alternatively, many companies create 12-month rolling budgets — which typically mirror historical financial statements — and update them monthly to reflect the latest market conditions.

Do it all

The budgeting process is rarely easy, but it’s incredibly important. And that process doesn’t end when you create the budget; checking it regularly and performing a year-end assessment are key. We can help you not only generate a workable budget, but also identify the best ways to monitor

Keeping a king in the castle with a well-maintained cash reserve

You’ve no doubt heard the old business cliché “cash is king.” And it’s true: A company in a strong cash position stands a much better chance of obtaining the financing it needs, attracting outside investors or simply executing its own strategic plans.

One way to ensure that there’s always a king in the castle, so to speak, is to maintain a cash reserve. Granted, setting aside a substantial amount of dollars isn’t the easiest thing to do — particularly for start-ups and smaller companies. But once your reserve is in place, life can get a lot easier.

Common metrics

Now you may wonder: What’s the optimal amount of cash to keep in reserve? The right answer is different for every business and may change over time, given fluctuations in the economy or degree of competitiveness in your industry.

If you’ve already obtained financing, your bank’s liquidity covenants can give you a good idea of how much of a cash reserve is reasonable and expected of your company. To take it a step further, you can calculate various liquidity metrics and compare them to industry benchmarks. These might include:

• Working capital = current assets – current liabilities,

• Current ratio = current assets / current liabilities, and

• Accounts payable turnover = cost of goods sold / accounts payable.

There may be other, more complex metrics that better apply to the nature and size of your business.

Financial forecasts

Believe it or not, many companies don’t suffer from a lack of cash reserves but rather a surplus. This often occurs because a business owner decides to start hoarding cash following a dip in the local or national economy.

What’s the problem? Substantial increases in liquidity — or metrics well above industry norms — can signal an inefficient deployment of capital.

To keep your cash reserve from getting too high, create financial forecasts for the next 12 to 18 months. For example, a monthly projected balance sheet might estimate seasonal ebbs and flows in the cash cycle. Or a projection of the worst-case scenario might be used to establish your optimal cash balance. Projections should consider future cash flows, capital expenditures, debt maturities and working capital requirements.

Formal financial forecasts provide a coherent method to building up cash reserves, which is infinitely better than relying on rough estimates or gut instinct. Be sure to compare actual performance to your projections regularly and adjust as necessary.

More isn’t always better

Just as individuals should set aside some money for a rainy day, so should businesses. But, when it comes to your company’s cash reserves, the notion that “more is better” isn’t necessarily correct. You’ve got to find the right balance. Contact us to discuss your reserve and identify your ideal liquidity metrics.

Stop your trade secrets from walking out the door

Trade secrets are among the most critical yet often overlooked assets of any organization. And they aren’t always as sophisticated as proprietary software or as famously secret as Coca-Cola’s formula. A trade secret can be as seemingly innocuous as a customer list, business strategy, policy manual or pricing sheet.

When looking to protect yours, the first line of defense should be following the advice of your attorney. But your HR staff and policies can also play critical supporting roles in stopping trade secrets from walking out the door.

Eyes only

For starters, create an internal employee policy dealing with the care and keeping of confidential information. Only those needing access to trade secrets should be able to get to them.

Control access to physical facilities where documents related to trade secrets are kept. Just as important, if not more so, establish strong technological safeguards to prevent unauthorized access to servers and hard drives where confidential data is stored.

Whenever you must share trade secrets with a third party, first get approval from your legal counsel. Then, require the third party to sign a nondisclosure agreement stating that the information is confidential and proprietary to your organization.

Also incorporate nondisclosure language into employment applications and job descriptions for sensitive positions. And ask key employees to sign a noncompete agreement that contains language specific to trade secrets.

Employee departures

When employees leave your organization, you should conduct exit interviews to, in part, remind them of their obligation to maintain confidentiality. During the interview, use a checklist to ensure all intellectual property has been returned. And change passwords and take other security measures after the employee departs.

If necessary, send a letter to the former employee’s new employer, advising them that this person had access to trade secrets as well as confidential information and has a continuing duty not to disclose it. But don’t overstate your company’s rights to confidentiality or cast the former worker in a negative light.

Everything in your power

A well-protected trade secret can mean the difference between keeping a competitive edge and losing it. Make sure you regularly take inventory of your trade secrets. Then do everything in your power to protect them. Our firm can provide more information and further guidance.

© 2018

Business tips for back-to-school time

Late summer and early fall, when so many families have members returning to educational facilities of all shapes and sizes, is also a good time for businesses to creatively step up their business development efforts, whether it’s launching new marketing initiatives, developing future employees or simply generating goodwill in the community. Here are a few examples that might inspire you.

Becoming a sponsor

A real estate agency sponsors a local middle school’s parent-teacher organization (PTO). The sponsorship includes ads in the school’s weekly e-newsletter and in welcome packets for new PTO members. Individual agents in the group also conduct monthly gift card drawings for parents and teachers who follow them on Facebook.

The agency hopes parents and teachers will remember its agents’ names and faces when they’re ready to buy or sell their homes.

Planting the seeds of STEM

An engineering firm donates old computers and printers to an elementary school that serves economically disadvantaged students. The equipment will be used in the school district’s K-12 program to get kids interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.

At back-to-school time, a firm rep gives presentations at the schools and hands out literature. Then, in the spring, the company will mentor a select group of high school seniors who are planning to pursue engineering degrees in college.

Participating in STEM programs fosters corporate charity and goodwill. It can also pay back over the long run: When the firm’s HR department is looking for skilled talent, kids who benefited from the firm’s STEM efforts may return as loyal, full-time employees.

Launching an apprenticeship program

The back-to-school season motivates a high-tech manufacturer to partner with a vocational program at the local community college to offer registered apprenticeships through a state apprenticeship agency. In exchange for working for the manufacturer, students will receive college credits, on-the-job training and weekly paychecks. Their hourly wages will increase as they demonstrate proficiency.

The company hopes to hire at least some of these apprentices to fill full-time positions in the coming year or two.

Finding the right fit

Whether schools near you are already in session or will open soon, it’s not too late to think about how your business can benefit. Sit down with your management team and brainstorm ways to leverage relationships with local schools to boost revenues, give back to your community and add long-term value. We can provide other ideas and help you assess return on investment.

© 2018