Things that Should Scare Small Business Owners

HalloweenWhen you’re running a business, there are a lot of things to consider. From payroll to people to marketing, you have a lot on your plate. In fact, we’re guessing there’s more than a few things that keep you up at night.

There are all sorts of scares lurking around the corner when it comes to owning and running a small to mid-sized business. Here are a few of the ones we find particularly frightening:

You hire without doing your research.

It’s true, you wear a lot of hats as a small business owner. It’s also true that quite a few of those hats are ones you don’t know anything about. Small business owners normally get into business because they have a dream to pursue, not to worry about the day-to-day details of running a business.

To solve that problem, you hire quickly for areas you don’t know anything about. Sounds good right? Not so fast …

  • Are they qualified? When you don’t know anything about the position you’re hiring for, you don’t know if the person (or consultant) is qualified to take on that role. For example, if you’re thinking about hiring someone to look at your financials, do you want a bookkeeper or a CFO? Or somewhere in between? There are several differences, including experience, duties and even pay.
  • How do you measure success? If you don’t know anything about the subject or position you’re hiring for, how do you measure success for that individual? How do you know your expectations and proposed timelines are reasonable?
  • Have you checked all the boxes when it comes to hiring? Another thing to consider is the entirety of the hiring process. Maybe you found the perfect candidate and you want them to start right away. But have you taken into account the necessary steps when it comes to hiring? There are several forms to fill out, items to consider and that pesky thing called onboarding. All of this has to be taken into account before you make that hire.

We’re all for hiring (whether it’s an employee or a consultant) to help you run your business. Just make sure you do the research and know what you want and need in order to help your business run more effectively.

You don’t take your financials seriously.

Having up-to-date, accurate financials is of paramount importance. If you don’t, you’re in for a world of hurt. Without it, you don’t know how much money you’re making (or losing), nor can you even begin to understand the basic state of your business.

Further, you won’t be able to make strategic business decisions and set a course for the future of your business. Plus, financial information is pretty important to creditors, investors and buyers.

Only 40% of small businesses say they are “extremely” or “very knowledgeable” in accounting and finance. (source)

Bookkeeping is not as simple as just throwing numbers into a spreadsheet. You need to understand basic accounting terminology in order to make informed decisions. For instance, just because your books say there’s money coming in, doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Cash flow and profit are two different things.

The solution? Invest in accurately tracking your business financials. Find a consultant or hire an accountant (once you’ve done your research) who can help you navigate your current situation and also look out for potential pitfalls.

You don’t have accountability.

Success matters to small businesses, especially in the early stages of your company. But what does success mean? Can you define it in a measurable way? Can your employees?

Businesses work when roles are defined and individuals understand their performance expectations. That’s why it’s important to have KPIs (key performance indicators) in place for your company and your employees.

It’s here where we remind you that KPIs are quantifiable measurements for critical success. Quantifiable is key as it helps you track progress and whether or not you’re accomplishing your goals. If you’re not tracking, then you have no idea if it’s working or if you need to find ways to improve.

You don’t value your product … or yourself.

Let’s start with the basics … one of the keys to starting a business is that you have a product or service people actually want. Once you’ve got that, the next step is pricing it effectively.

Often, business owners play the cheapest option game to get their product into the market. This path undermines the real value of your product. Plus, it’s a lot of work to come back from under pricing your product.

Take the time, instead, to do some market research and really find a price point that shows the value of your product and also allows for market entry. Also, ensure the price point you’ve chosen will help your business financially … which is why it helps to have up-to-date financial information from the beginning.

But let’s not forget about YOU. In addition to your product’s value, you have value as the business owner. At the beginning you’re trying to do it all. It’s important to realize when you’re in too deep and you need help.

“Your new venture demands that every aspect is handled by someone who understands what they’re doing. And no amount of good intention will turn an IT specialist into a good bookkeeper.” (source)

The moral of the story here is to value yourself. Value your time, know your strengths and why you got into business. Let someone whose passion is for numbers or marketing or HR or whatever the subject may be handle the tasks you need done. And remember, if you don’t want to hire someone full time, you can always outsource it.

You’re not playing by the rules.

To say there are more than a few updates to rules and regulations affecting small businesses each year would be an understatement. Did you know, for instance, the General Services Administration annually updates the federal maximum per diem rates? This update would affect any business that has employees travel for work.

Or did you know that several states and cities are now introducing mandatory paid sick leave policies? If you have workers, your policies (if your business is in any of the affected areas) will have to align with this new ruling.

These are just a few examples of the rules and updates small business owners face on a regular basis. Many of these rules directly affect your financials, how you report information about your company and its customers and the benefits and rights your employees get.

That’s why it’s important to know what’s going on and ensure you’re in compliance. Find a consultant who can stay on top of these updates and regulations and ensure your business is following the rules.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tax Planning & Your End Game: What Business Owners Need to Know

We can’t stress enough the importance of having an exit plan for your business from the start. An exit plan allows you to lay out transition of ownership and passing of responsibilities associated with your business. Ultimately, it will give you peace of mind as you work on your business, knowing you already have your end game in motion.

Plus, by working on your end game early on, you can hopefully save yourself some time and headache later. One of the key areas where this is especially applicable is taxes. Without the proper planning, taxes can trip you up at the end if you haven’t planned from the beginning.

Here are a few common exit options and some key tax issues:

Buy-sell agreement.

A buy-sell agreement lays out a roadmap for what happens to the business should a specified event occur (we’re talking retirement, disability, death, etc.). Among other things, it can lay out methods for setting a price for owner shares, allows for business continuity and provides a buyer with a way to fund the purchase of the business.

But what about the taxes?

Life or disability insurance associated with the business often helps fulfill the need for funding the purchase. One of the biggest advantages of utilizing life insurance this way is that proceeds are generally excluded from the taxable income of the beneficiary (the person receiving the benefit from the life insurance policy).

Family succession.

You do have the ability to transfer your business to a family member. This is done by giving them interests or selling them interests in your organization (or both).

But what about the taxes?

There’s an annual gift tax exclusion which allows you to gift up to $14,000 of ownership interest under your gift tax annual exclusion without incurring federal gift tax consequences.

ESOP.

Some individuals choose to transition their business to their employees through an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). An ESOP is a qualified retirement plan created to purchase your company’s stock.

But what about the taxes?

There are all sorts of tax implications and benefits for ESOPs. Check out the National Center for Employee Ownership for a list of some of the major tax benefits of going this route.

Sale and acquisition.

You’ve built something from the ground up and now you’re ready to sell it. Or maybe, you’re ready to add on through acquiring another company. Either way, you need to have your business in a ready state, including transparent operations, updated financials and streamlined processes and procedures.

But what about the taxes?

Here are a few tax considerations to think about:

  • Asset v. stock sale
  • Tax-deferred transfer v. taxable sale
  • Installment sale

The moral of the story.

It’s safe to say taxes have far reaching implications on your business, including how you plan to transition out of that business. That’s why it’s important to consider your end game early and prepare for the tax implications that come with it.

A trusted tax adviser can help you navigate all these circumstances and discuss what will work best for your business and your goals. That way you’ll prepared for the end, before you actually get there.

A version of this post first appeared in our 2017-18 Tax Planning guide.

Introducing the 2017-18 Tax Planning Guide

Tax planning guideTaxes are important, especially as you’re running your business. Paying attention to tax laws, and planning in a timely fashion for taxes, can seriously help you in the long run. For instance, you can estimate your tax liability and even look for ways to reduce it. That’s why we created our annual tax planning guide.

The guide highlights all sorts of information related to tax planning and tax law. Topics include:

  • Executive compensation
  • Investing
  • Real Estate
  • Business Ownership
  • Charitable Giving
  • Family & Education
  • Retirement
  • Estate Planning
  • Tax Rates

To learn more, or download the guide, click here.

Change could be coming …

There’s a large possibility that tax laws could be seriously changing, thanks to a change in White House administration and Republicans maintaining a majority of Congress. But for now, following current tax laws is the way to go.

However, it’s important to know that change could come quickly and you need to be ready to respond. We encourage you to have a tax adviser who can help you navigate these changes if they happen.

The Importance of Classifying Workers

Recently, the IRS released a fact sheet to help remind small businesses of the importance of correctly classifying workers. Sometimes IRS lingo can be complicated, so we broke it down for you.

Let’s start with the question that’s probably going through your head – why does this matter?

When you classify your workers, this can help determine if you need to withhold income, social security and Medicare taxes. It also helps determine if you actually have to pay these taxes on employee wages. When it comes to independent contractors, businesses usually don’t have to withhold or pay taxes. If you’re not classifying correctly, you can get stuck with some harsh fines and penalties.

So how do you determine if the individual is an independent contractor or an employee? One general rule to follow is that your worker is an independent contractor if the business has the right to control only the result of the work, not how the work will be done. However, there are three categories that can help you make your determination.

Behavioral Control

A worker is considered an employee when the business gets to be bossy. Okay, maybe bossy isn’t the right word, but the business does have the right to direct and control the work being done. Behavioral control can be broken down into a few more distinct categories:

  • Type of instructions – This can include telling the employee where to work, when to do the work and how the work should be done.
  • Instruction complexity – The higher the complexity of the instructions given, the more likely it is the individual is an employee. When the instructions have less detail, this gives the worker more control to do the job how they see fit, which points towards the worker being an independent contractor.
  • Evaluation – How a business evaluates the work can help determine if the worker is an employee or contractor. If the details of how the work was done are evaluated, then the worker is likely an employee. However, if only the end product is being evaluated, it’s more likely you have a contractor.
  • Training – This one is fairly simple. Would you like someone else telling you how to do your job? If a worker is an employee, the business has the authority to do just that. For independent contractors, they are the experts and generally don’t require training from the hiring company.

Control over Finances

This category looks at what control the business has over the financial and business pieces of the worker’s job. Factors to consider include:

  • Equipment investment – Independent contractors are much more likely than employees to make significant investments in the equipment they are using to get the job done. Employees are often provided equipment from their employer, rather than investing in it on their own.
  • Expense reimbursement – Businesses generally reimburse expenses for their employees, not for independent contractors.
  • Availability – Independent contractors generally have the freedom to seek out more business opportunities, while employees work is usually contained to the one business.
  • Payment – This one is easy to understand. When you have employees, you usually guarantee them a regular wage. With independent contractors, a flat fee is usually agreed upon and paid on the completion of the work.

Relationship Elements

What the business or worker offers in the relationship can also determine classification. Some key elements to consider are:

  • Contracts – Written contracts which describe the relationship the parties plan to create are a fairly simple way to determine which type of worker the business has. However, it’s important to note that a contract stating the worker is a contractor or an employee isn’t enough on its own to classify the worker’s status.
  • Benefits – Insurance, retirement, vacation and sick pay are benefits provided to employees. It’s rare for these benefits to be given to independent contractors.
  • Forever or just a fling – The length of time of the relationship can help determine a worker’s status. When an employee is hired, the expectation is that the relationship is long term. For contractors, the relationship isn’t permanent. Instead, both parties enter the relationship with the assumption of a certain amount of time for the work to be completed.

When businesses wrongly classify their workers, they are still liable for the related taxes and payments for those workers, and may even face other sanctions. Correctly classifying your workers helps you avoid this, making it easier for you to run your business.

We know this stuff can be kind of confusing – and even scary. But don’t fear! We are here to help.. just ask!

 

Updates to Per Diem Rates

Back in August, the General Services Administration (a.k.a GSA) issued its annual update on federal maximum per diem rates. These new rates pertain to locations within the continental United States – otherwise known as CONUS. This includes the lower 48.

Before we go into detail on the new rates, let’s do a little refresher.

Per Diem: A Latin word that translates to per day, or for each day. In the case of this post, per diem is being discussed as the daily allowance employees are paid and reimbursed for when they travel for work. Common expenses covered under per diem rates include:

  • Lodging
  • Meals
  • Tips
  • Ground Transportation
  • Wi-Fi Charges
  • Other incidental expenses, such as dry cleaning

Another simple way to put it: it is the amount of money an employee is able to spend, per day, on a business trip, attending conferences and events related to work and traveling to work away from the home office. Think of it as an allowance. However, it is important to note the per diem rate doesn’t include the cost of transportation to the site, such as flights or driving. Those costs are usually paid separately by the employers.

So, let’s get back to the main point: these rates are changing, and if you or your employees travel for work, it’s important to know them and stay in compliance!

The new FY18 rates apply to work travel on or after October 1, 2017. If the per diem allowance given to an employee is equal to or less than the federal rates, the allowance is excludable from income tax; those over the federal rates are subject to employment taxes.

Let’s take a look at what FY18 per diem rates have to offer.

The first takeaway to note is the CONUS meal and incidental expense (M&IE) rate hasn’t changed – it is staying at $51. The M&IE rates for non-standard areas – areas still within CONUS which have different rates for travel – will also stay the same. However, all locations in CONUS that don’t appear on the non-standard area list will have an increase in the lodging per diem rate. This has gone up from $91 to $93.

There are also some changes to the non-standard areas list. While no new locations were added, there were 14 locations removed for FY18. They include:

  • Redding, CA
  • Cedar Rapids, IA
  • Bonner’s Ferry/Sandpoint, ID
  • Dickinson/Beulah, ND
  • Watertown, NY
  • Youngstown, OH
  • Enid, OK
  • Mechanicsberg, PA
  • Scranton, PA
  • Laredo, TX
  • McAllen, TX
  • Pearsall, TX
  • San Angelo, TX
  • Gillette, WY

These removed locations are now considered part of the regular CONUS, and follow CONUS standard rates.

You might also be wondering about rates in places that aren’t part of the CONUS, such as Alaska, Hawaii or even Puerto Rico. If your employees are lucky enough to travel to Hawaii for work, it’s important to note these rates are not updated annually, but rather on an irregular basis.

The Department of State steps in and updates per diem rates for foreign travel, but also on an irregular schedule.

To find these rates, as well as the CONUS rates, be sure to check out the GSA website.

In the meantime, if you’re struggling to understand how much to reimburse your employees for their travels, reach out to us. We would be happy to help!