As a small business, once you decide to extend credit to a customer, you now have a financial stake in continuing that relationship even if you suspect there might be trouble brewing. While you don’t want to crack down on a good customer too hard, too soon, you also don’t want to be taken advantage of by a customer who has become unable or unwilling to pay. Here are some ideas to help you manage this risk.
Develop a rating system. Score each customer with a number. The number represents to whom you will sell on credit and how much risk you are willing to take. Also have scores that represent customers you will not bill and those who you will no longer take orders from because of credit risk. Develop a system to objectively assign the score. Payment history and external credit scoring reports are both good indicators of whether a particular customer will be an acceptable credit risk.
Consider credit applications. Create a simple credit application. The application should be signed by the responsible party to pay the bill. If large credit amounts are expected, get a person to take personal responsibility to pay the bill. This will provide an additional means to collect your money should the company fail to pay. You will need this signed document if you wish to use a collection agency to collect delinquent accounts.
Look at history. Those to whom you provide a credit line must have their payment history monitored. If they are habitually late payers, reduce their credit line. If they frequently miss payments, move them to prepay only.
Create a notes section on your customer records. Use this to record what a late paying customer tells you. Over time, this will reveal the customers who are honest and the customers who fail that test. This idea also provides continuity of communication for the customer that tries to tell different employees different stories.
Develop a collection system. The best credit rating system starts with a receivable aging report run once a month. This will quickly show you current trouble customers and potential trouble customers. When a bill ages through the report, know what you are going to do to collect bills at 30 days, 60 days, 90 days and anything older than that.
Look for other signs of trouble. Train your team to be on alert for:
Customers paying smaller invoices while larger invoices go unpaid.
The customer fails to return your phone calls or shows annoyance at your inquiries.
Your requests for information, such as updated financial statements, are ignored.
The customer places multiple, large orders and presses you for a higher credit limit.
The customer tries to coax you into providing a good credit report to another supplier.
You get word that the customer’s credit rating has been downgraded.
Remember, great customers can have sincere problems paying a bill. By having a good credit rating system, you can more readily identify the customers you want to accommodate to pay their bills and those customers whose activity should be suspended because they are truly problem accounts.
As always, should you have any questions or concerns regarding your tax situation please feel free to call.
Tax and financial planning is a year-round proposition. In fact, you can benefit personally from a continuous, 12-month rolling forecast, much like a business does.
What is a rolling forecast?
Rolling forecasts let you continuously plan with a constant number of periods 12 months into the future. For example, on January 1, you would plan what your financial picture looks like each month through January 1 of the following year. When February 1 rolls around, you would then drop the beginning month and add a forecast month at the end of the 12-month period. In this case, you add February of the next year into your 12-month forecast.
The month you add at the end of the 12 months uses the finished month as a starting point. You then make adjustments based on what you think might happen one year from now. For example, if you know you are going to get a raise at the end of the year, your next-year February forecast would reflect this change.
How to take advantage of a rolling forecast
By doing tax and financial planning in rolling 12-month increments, you may find yourself in position to cash in on tax- and money-saving opportunities within the next 12 months. Here are several strategies to consider:
Plan your personal budget. Will you need to put a new roof on your house? How about getting a new vehicle? Do you need to start saving for your kids’ college education? A rolling 12-month forecast can help you plan for these expenses throughout the year.
Plan your healthcare expenses. If you have a flexible spending account (FSA) for healthcare or dependent care expenses, forecast the amount you should contribute for the calendar year. Although unused FSA amounts are normally forfeited at year-end, your employer may permit a 12-month grace period (up from 2½ months) for 2021. This means that you could potentially roll over your entire unused FSA balance from 2021 to 2022. Your forecast can help you see the impact of this change.
Plan your contributions to a Health Savings Account (HSA). When an HSA is paired with a high-deductible health insurance plan, you can take distributions to pay qualified healthcare expenses without owing any tax on the payouts. For 2021, the contribution limit is $3,600 for an individual and $7,200 for family coverage. In this case, you can forecast an increase in contributions and double-check to ensure you have enough money on hand to pay future bills.
Plan your estimated tax payments. This is often significant for self-employed individuals and retirees with investment earnings. The quarterly due dates for paying federal and state tax liabilities are April 15, June 15, September 15, and January 15 of the following year (or the next business day if the deadline falls on a holiday or weekend). So if your personal income is seeing a recovery from the pandemic, your rolling forecast will show this and allow you to plan for the estimated tax payments.
Plan your retirement contributions. If you participate in your company’s 401(k) plan, you can defer up to $19,500 to your account in 2021 ($26,000 if you’re 50 or over). Contributions and earnings compound tax-deferred. As the year winds down, you might boost your deferral to save even more for retirement.
While initially setting up a rolling 12-month forecast can be a bit of a pain, once established, it is pretty easy to keep up-to-date as you are simply rolling forward last month into the future. A well-planned system can often be the first sign of future challenges or potential windfalls!
Summer’s almost here, and soon most children will be on their long-awaited summer vacation. If you own or manage a business, have you thought of hiring your children, nieces, or nephews for a summer job?
If you do it right, it can be a win-win situation for everyone.
The kids will earn some money and gain valuable real-life experience in the workplace while your business will have some extra help during summer months when other staff may be on vacation. If it’s a family business, there might even be some tax advantages as well.
If your child is doing a valid job and the pay is reasonable for the work, your business can generally claim a normal tax expense for wages paid. Your child will probably pay no or very little income tax on the wages they earned. And if the child is under age 18 and your business is unincorporated, neither your child nor your business will have to pay Social Security or Medicare payroll taxes in most cases.
To make the arrangement work, follow the following guidelines:
Ensure it’s a real job. It could be a simple job, such as office filing, packing orders, or simple production activities. But it needs to be an actual job.
Treat your child like any other employee. Expect your child to work regular hours and exhibit appropriate behavior. Don’t show favoritism or you risk upsetting regular employees.
Keep proper documentation. Keep records of hours worked just as you would for any employee. If possible, pay your child using your normal payroll system and procedures.
Avoid family disputes. If the arrangement is not working, or is disrupting the business, help your child find a summer job at another business.
The best way to weather a storm is often by being prepared before the storm hits. In the case of small businesses, this means building a fortress balance sheet.
What is a fortress balance sheet?
This long-standing idea means taking steps to make your balance sheet shockproof by building liquidity. Like a frontier outpost or an ancient walled city, businesses that prepare for a siege—in the form of a recession, natural disaster, pandemic, or adverse regulatory change—can often hold out until the crisis passes or the cavalry arrives.
Building a fortress balance sheet isn’t just a good idea for mitigating risk. Healthy cash reserves can also enable your firm to capitalize on opportunities, expand locations, or introduce new products.
Consider these suggestions for building your own fortress balance sheet.
Control inventory and receivables. These two asset accounts often directly impact cash reserves. For example, carrying excess inventories can deplete cash because the company must continue to insure, store, and manage items that aren’t generating a profit. Also take a hard look at customer payment trends. Clients who are behind on payments can squeeze a firm’s cash flow quickly, especially if they purchase significant levels of goods and services—and then fail to pay.
Keep a tight rein on debt. In general, a company should use debt financing for capital items such as plant and equipment, computers, and fixtures that will be used for several years. By incurring debt for such items, especially when interest rates are low, a firm can direct more cash towards day-to-day operations and new opportunities. Two rules of thumb for taking on debt are don’t borrow more than 75 percent of what an asset is worth, and aim for loan terms that don’t exceed the useful life of the underlying asset. A fortress balance sheet also means that debt as a percent of equity should be as low as possible. So total up your debt, equity and retained earnings. If debt is less than 50% of the total, you are on your way to building a stronger foundation for your balance sheet.
Monitor credit. A strong relationship with your banker can help keep the business afloat if the economy takes a nosedive. Monitor your business credit rating regularly and investigate all questionable transactions that appear on your credit report. As with personal credit, your business credit score will climb as the firm makes good on its obligations.
Reconcile balance sheet accounts quarterly. It’s crucial to reconcile asset and liability accounts at least every quarter. A well-supported balance sheet can guide decisions about cash reserves, debt financing, inventory management, receivables, payables, and property. Regular monitoring can highlight vulnerabilities in your fortress, providing time for corrective action.
Get rid of non-performing assets. Maybe you own a store across town that’s losing money or have a warehouse with a lot of obsolete inventory. Consider getting rid of these and other useless assets in exchange for cash.
Calculate ratios. Know how your bank calculates the lending strength of businesses. Then calculate them for your own business. For example, banks want to know your debt service coverage. Do you have enough cash to adequately handle principal and interest payments? Now work your cash flow to provide plenty of room to service this debt AND any future debt! But don’t forget other ratios like liquidity and working capital ratios. The key? Improve these ratios over time.
Remember, the best time to get money from a bank is when it looks like you don’t need it. You do this by creating a fortress balance sheet!
Your firm survived 2020. Now you may be asking yourself when will the economy return to pre-pandemic levels? Will it be this fall? A year from now? Longer?
Until the economy fully emerges from the pandemic, small businesses can help one another stay afloat. By collaborating with other like-minded firms, your business can find creative ways to strengthen local markets and encourage consumer loyalty.
Consider the following ideas of how you can help each other:
Partner with industry peers. One Vietnamese restauranteur in New York City was eager to open his business for in-person dining. Then the pandemic hit. According to a Time Magazine article, two years of careful planning, hard work and sacrifice seemed fruitless. But sympathetic restaurant owners in nearby Chinatown reached out with an innovative idea: offer a punch card to encourage customers to support local businesses. By partnering with this newly-minted entrepreneur and introducing him to like-minded people, established firms kept the restaurant business alive in their locale and helped a fledgling owner pursue his dream.
Donate staff resources. During government-mandated quarantines, some industries enjoyed burgeoning revenues while others were trying to keep staff employed. Why not offer to help if you have excess labor? For example, businesses selling camping gear and recreational vehicles saw an uptick in consumer demand. A company supporting that industry might offer some of its staff on a temporary basis to help another firm meet customer needs. Such a partnership could provide the added benefit of boosting morale and avoiding layoffs.
Leverage locations. Say you’re a company that raises chickens. You might partner with a firm offering other meat products to share a tent at a farmer’s market. Or two dance studios might join forces to enable patrons to attend similar classes at across-town venues. You could team up with others to organize a business fair. Or you might donate space to help another business sell goods at a common location for centralized pickup and delivery.
Share your expertise. Perhaps you’ve experienced great success with your business website, but other firms are struggling to make inroads in the digital marketplace. You could teach these companies how to connect with customers via social media. Train them to build and market a website. If you have remote workers, share your experience about helping home-based employees stay productive.
Cross promotions. Look for businesses that you can help and that can help you. Then cross-promote each other’s services. Customers of dog groomers need veterinarians and vice versa. Accountants need their hair cut and customers of hair salons need accountants. Vacation rental property owners can offer restaurant deals for their renters and restaurants can offer the rental owners coupons for meals. The ideas are endless, you just need to think creatively.
Before making a commitment to help another business, be sure to weigh the pros and cons. Any potential relationship should benefit both parties. Don’t be afraid to consider companies outside your industry or local market, but look first to businesses with services and products complementing your own.
Have you considered cross-training your employees to ensure more than one person knows all key functions? Cross-training can be a win-win situation for you and your employees. Large companies often use it to prepare managers for future promotions. But in small companies, it can be the difference between success and failure.
Why companies cross-train
Cross-training provides greater flexibility in scheduling, especially when dealing with unexpected workload and staffing issues. It also helps employees develop expertise in other areas and increases their awareness of the company’s roles and functions, helping them better understand where they fit into the big picture.
For employees, some of the biggest advantages of cross-training include:
Learning new skills
Working more efficiently and effectively with other departments
Feeling more invested in the company
Enjoying growth opportunities
Create your cross-training plan
How you implement cross-training will depend on the size and nature of your business. Consider prioritizing the departments that need and/or want cross-training the most. These departments may be understaffed or have many new employees. Look for important functions that are currently dependent on a single person’s knowledge. These areas should be a focus of your cross-training program.
If you’re considering cross-training your team, here are a few tips to help you prepare:
Document your key processes. You cannot cross-train if you don’t know the process. These written processes will turn into training documents as you implement your program.
Communicate to your team. It’s essential to get everyone involved before you start a cross-training program. Help your team understand why the company is cross-training employees. Reasons may be to prepare for organizational growth or new industry standards, to cover functions when someone is impacted by the pandemic, or to adjust to a changing structure around roles and responsibilities. Then continue to communicate with your team throughout the program with status updates and team meetings about progress and next steps.
Present cross-training as an opportunity. Your employees may be more resistant to cross-training if it feels like it’s an obligation or a threat to their roles. You can help them feel motivated by highlighting the benefits, like developing different skill sets and having a better understanding of how their contributions positively impact the business.
Start with a small pilot program. Test the waters with a select group of employees to get a better understanding of what works and what needs to be tweaked. You can then expand the program later as you gain insight and experience.
Determine cross-training hours. Figure out how much time can be dedicated to cross-training for each team to still run efficiently. This may include setting aside a few hours each day, or setting aside full days for a certain period of time to focus on cross-training. If your business is seasonal, ramp up cross-training during your low seasonal period.
Listen to feedback. You may learn that some employees have already started cross-training on their own. You can use this kind of valuable feedback to fine-tune your official cross-training program.
Keep in mind that some employees may resist having to train others, and productivity may suffer in the short-term. But remember the cost of not cross-training. If you lose a key employee and no one else knows how to do their tasks, your business may have trouble finding a replacement.