Top 3 Takeaways from State of Technology

By: Katie Hutton

We spent Wednesday morning talking tech at The Chamber’s State of Technology with a rock star lineup of speakers from around the region. The theme for the day came straight from Senator John Hoeven’s opening remarks: “North Dakota is THE state of technology.”

Below are a few of our key takeaways from the morning:

Take a chance
“We’re going to make our own destiny and make ourselves THE state of technology.” – Senator John Hoeven

A key theme for the event (and for entrepreneurism in general) was taking chances and taking charge. Consider Cooper Bierscheid. He and his co-founders started Protosthetics, an organization dedicated to helping families and children (seriously, check out their story ) while still in school at NDSU. They saw a need, took a chance and filled it.

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And they were not alone. The day was filled with stories like theirs, of chances taken and ideas that became reality.

Adapt (and know your strengths)
“You have to learn to play to your strengths for promoting the commercialization of technology.” – Miguel Danielson, Danielson Legal

Another key takeaway was the ability to know your strengths and how to adapt to your environment. North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani spoke about higher education’s need to change the mindset about entrepreneurism. “We’re far better at creating IP than commercializing it or helping others to do so,” he said.

In response to the ever changing demands of the market and the fast paced growth of the entrepreneurial sector, President Bresciani said NDSU will start to offer programs for student entrepreneurism and innovation, which are long overdue in the Fargo area.

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Miguel Danielson of Danielson Legal also said that it’s important to learn that all of us have different strokes. When considering commercializing technology or innovation, he cautioned the audience to not have a one size fits all mentality. Rather, play to your strengths and help your whole organization get on board. “Entrepreneurism must be adopted system wide and become part of your culture if it’s going to succeed,” he said.

Collaborate collaborate collaborate
“We need to foster and build an ecosystem that allows folks to jump out in their individual ventures, while at the same time collaborating.” – Corey Kratcha, C2Renew

A vital component to the success of entrepreneurship, and building the Fargo Moorhead and North Dakota business climate, is COLLABORATION.

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Speakers heralded the connectivity of the community. Botlink noted that this was an essential component to getting their business off the ground. “There was such a sense of collaboration and cooperation in this community,” said Terri Zimmerman, CEO. “We connected with people who connected us with others in the community and around the globe.”

Every speaker on the panel championed the need to connect with one another and foster an environment of growth for all.

“We’re too small to not collaborate,” said Chad Ulven of C2Renew. “We all have to collaborate if we want to be global and make North Dakota known for technology.”

 

Benchmarking 101: How Do You Rate?

By: Jim Ramstad, Business Consulting Manager

Sometimes, you just want to know how you stack up. Chalk it up to competitive drive or the need for constant improvement. Whatever the reason, utilizing benchmarking, especially in the business world, can be a powerful tool to assess performance and see how you compare to your peers. In fact, when used correctly, benchmarking can help you succeed and thrive as an organization.

Here are just a few reasons why benchmarking is so important:

It helps you understand your situation. Knowing how your company ranks relative to others empowers management to evaluate the company’s performance. Business owners can use peer group benchmarks to not only understand their current situation, but also identify new or future opportunities. To best do this, make sure that you’re using a peer group comparison rather than a one company comparison.

It can be used continually. Benchmarking is not a one-time solution. It can (and should) be used throughout the life cycle of the business. Assume the numbers and performance is always changing. The more frequently the benchmark analysis is performed, the sooner the business can identify trends and find solutions.

It provides you with real-time data. You’re only as good as your data. So make sure to look for benchmarking data that is:

  1. Accurate:  In order for a benchmark analysis to provide meaningful insights, the business owner has to trust the accuracy. Heed Ronald Reagan’s advice and “trust, but verify” the data prior to relying on it for decisions
  2. Timely: Ensure the benchmarks being used are the most recent benchmark’s available to account for seasonality, economic cycles and other externalities.
  3. Relevant: Make sure to take into account your industry, geography and organization size. Each of these has their own trends and externalities to incorporate. This ensures an “apples to apples” comparison.

It helps you gauge success. Each industry (and even different companies within an industry) could have different measures of success. While only you can determine what success looks like for your organization, there are a few metrics that, taken together, will provide a quick and high level review of your organization’s health:

  • Net Profit Margin=Net Profit Before Taxes divided by Sales
  • Liquidity Ratio-Current Ratio=Total Current Assets divided by Total Current Liabilities
  • Turnover Ratios, including accounts receivable days, accounts payable days and inventory days.

Benchmarking is a great way to gauge your current status and help implement changes that can grow your organization. By utilizing peer group comparisons you can work to find the solutions that make sense for your business.

Don’t really get how benchmarking can help? Or what benchmarking can do for you? NO WORRIES. We can help. Contact Jim at jramstad@eidebailly.com or call 701.239.8500.

 

5 Things You Didn’t Know Your CPA Could Do

Picture1By: Amber Ferrie, Partner

I laugh out loud when friends ask me to do their taxes. If they only knew that I don’t do my own! The initials behind my name (of which I have way too many: CPA/ABV/CFF, CMAP) can be deceiving. After all, not all CPAs specialize in tax and not all auditors work for the IRS. Below are five areas you may not have known your CPA can offer assistance in.

Forecasting. We’re not talking about channeling your inner weather girl/guy. Rather, we’re talking about mapping your future into something that banks and potential investors can relate to. Forecasting allows you to have a better indicator of things like profitability, growth rate and capital needs going forward. By having a business advisor help you forecast your business, you can plan ahead for things to come and, hopefully, take a lot of guess work out of the equation.

Dashboards. No, not the one inside your car. It’s a reporting tool that takes your critical success indicators (CSIs) and the metrics behind them and turns them into dashboards. These dashboards are highly customizable to whatever drives your business. As CPAs we have a sweet place in our hearts for spreadsheet applications like Excel, but to efficiently manage a company you shouldn’t have to dig through rows, columns and tabs to find the key pieces of information to analyze operations. These CSIs should be identified and then made readily available to management so that timely decisions can be made.

Strategic Planning. Is your accountant ready to think outside the box? While boxes often remind most CPAs of spreadsheets or tax forms (which get our hearts racing), a few outsiders in the group would rather help you plan strategically. They have a knack for analyzing dilemmas and finding solutions that can propel an organization to the next level, overcome a barrier or solve personnel issues that can be dicey. Strategic planning sessions can involve various levels of management and ownership, be on site or offsite in a retreat setting. The options are endless, and the outcomes pay dividends.

Personnel. North Dakota is in a unique position with a strong economy and a low unemployment rate. This leads to a workforce issue, where employees are difficult to find and expensive to train and retain. Positions that are even more difficult to fill can include CFOs and controllers who provide strategic advice, guidance and direction for your organization. Without these positions filled, the organization may suffer from a lack of timely reporting and decision making. Outsourcing this accounting and/or finance function is another possibility, allowing for real-time data and guidance while you’re still in growth mode.

Exit. Here’s a question … why did you get into business in the first place? Was it to be your own boss? Try something new? Make your first million? Take a company public? Your business advisor can help you plan for your end game, even if you’re just beginning to run the race. CPAs are not only the go-to for the life cycle of the business, but can also help you ensure a proper exit/next step when the time comes. Whether your goals are to transition to a family member or employee, sell to a third party, or start a new gig, your CPA should be able to assist you in that process. (Of course, I wouldn’t mind talking about your new Arizona retirement home on site or discussing how to make your first million over a round of golf or with a cocktail.)

The important thing is to truly use your accountants and CPAs to their full advantage, making them your business advisor, rather than just someone you visit once a year.

Eide Bailly can help with any of the opportunities listed above. Learn more at www.eidebailly.com/ebpossible or call 701.239.8500.

Your End Game: Selling Your Business

By: Amber Ferrie, Partner

No matter whether you’re just starting out, already getting going or ready to take the next strategic step, it’s important to think about your end game when it comes to your business.

If your end game is to sell, it’s crucial to consider your potential buyers and determine the best solution for you and your company as your business matures. In other words, it’s never too early to start thinking about who might want to buy once you’re ready to sell.

Think about it like the dating game. Let’s meet our potential dates … er, buyers:

The Employee
For some owners, it’s appealing to sell directly to current employees. This is very attractive to owners who want to take care of their people, and there are various strategies to structure these types of transactions, such as an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. However, relatively few employee groups have the financial capacity to pay an owner what the business is worth.

The Outsider: Private Equity Group
real estate_sold signAnother reliable option is to sell to a private equity group (PEGs). PEGs are similar to the date who wants to flip a house. They invest in a home (company), make improvements and then, hopefully, sell for a gain. Each PEG is different and some groups like to have the owner involved in continuing to grow the business and business value. This gives both the PEG and the owner an upside in that the owner remains involved in the success of the business while the PEG is assured that they have maintained corporate knowledge and time to make the transition successful.

The Family
There are many great companies with success stories about long-term family ownership. However, family ownership can also see its fair share of problems when the company value declines due to the next generation not being able to run the business properly. A transition to family needs careful guidance, structure and often benefits from an unbiased third-party consultant.

One option to consider is a family office. A family office operates similarly to a private equity group, but is unique in the fact that it is established solely to manage a family’s wealth. As a result, family offices control their own wealth and are not required to work with other investors, which allows for quicker decision-making and more flexibility with respect to investment timelines. Furthermore, these organizations are less restricted in their selection criteria for investments.

So who would you choose? There are several options consider, each with their own set of pros and cons. However, even with all of these viable options, in the end the majority of sales are actually to an outside party. This could include competitors, or other potential buyers.

Regardless of who you choose, it’s important that you prepare for your date in advance, to ensure a smooth transition process. Here are a few simple steps to help you be date/transition ready:

  • Get real. It’s important to get a realistic expectation of what your business is worth now and how to increase that value.
  • Gain understanding. It’s helpful to truly understand what your transaction options are. You can do this by arranging to talk with a transaction advisor who can introduce you to PEGs, investment bankers and brokers.
  • Be on the lookout. It’s never too early to start exit planning. You may face a challenging and highly competitive market when the time comes to sell your business. Even if a potential exit is years away, it’s important to focus now on key business issues, develop a planning process for the future exit and coordinate services with a wealth management team.

A version of this article originally appeared on BizWest.com.

Imagine the Possibilities

By: Jenni Huotari, Partner, Director of the Possibilities Center

I’ve been an accountant my whole career. Believe it or not, I love numbers and everything about them. I love what they can tell you about a business, how they can project the next stage of growth or predict what needs to change.

Numbers can also tell you about a community. For instance, the population can tell you that Fargo and the surrounding communities are growing. Area organizations can tell you that our business community is thriving.

Essential to this business community is the entrepreneurial and startup movement. This movement is awesome … awe inspiring. These individuals are developing their own products, filling needs in our community, becoming their own boss. They’ve taken risks and jumped in with both feet to create, envision and, hopefully, succeed.

That’s why I’m proud to head the newly formed Possibilities Center within Eide Bailly’s Fargo office. Its concept is simple: helping businesses imagine what’s possible.

Through a variety of services, we’re helping businesses and startups get out of the day-to-day operation of their organization and instead concentrate on doing what they love. These services include:

  • Business planning
  • CFO 2.0
  • Bookkeeping Services
  • Tax Services
  • Technology
  • Your End Game

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We’re excited to help these small to mid-sized businesses and entrepreneurial startups grow and thrive in our community. Let’s imagine what’s possible.