Accounting firms finding benefits in casual dress trend

By Teri Saylor, June 21 2016

At some of the largest accounting firms in the US, managers are adopting dress codes that are low on formality and high on comfort.

Armanino LLP, a firm based in San Ramon, California, unveiled its new policy in April, and employees are enthusiastically trading in their suits and wingtips for jeans and loafers.

“We saw an opportunity to reflect how the workplace is changing, and we wanted to enact positive change for our employees,” said Kevin Turco, senior manager of internal communications at Armanino. “We believe we can be professional and comfortable at the same time.”

Crowe Horwath LLP initiated a policy allowing casual clothing in addition to a mobile workforce initiative in December. Firm personnel who are working in the office and not meeting with clients are allowed to dress casually and wear jeans any day of the week.

Julie Wood, chief people officer at Crowe Horwath, said her firm has been exploring options for providing its people with flexible work options to achieve a better work/life balance in today’s hectic, technology-driven environment. In a survey of the firm’s workforce last fall, casual attire was ranked the most important workforce amenity.

“The top thing they indicated they really enjoyed and wanted was the ability to dress casually in the office, especially when they are sitting at their workstations, being comfortable, being engaged, and being productive,” she said.

These firms are keeping pace with a trend seen in many office environments. A survey conducted by OfficeTeam, a Robert Half company, shows that employees are forsaking the formal attire that was a workplace staple five years ago. Further, 31% of surveyed employees responded they would prefer working at a company with a business casual dress code, and an additional 27% favoured a completely casual dress code or no dress code at all.

Embracing the change

The idea of casual office attire is not foreign to Armanino’s team. The firm had long maintained a Monday through Thursday business casual environment, with Friday reserved for jeans casual. The entire firm embraced the change, which was instituted by the firm’s executive committee.

Now the staff is invited to wear jeans five days a week, with guidelines that require proper fit, appropriate footwear, neatness, and cleanliness.

Armanino, with offices in California, Oregon, and Illinois, announced its new dress code using a humourous employee video starring senior tax accountant Sean Taylor as “Jimmy,” who tries a variety of inappropriate clothes before he finally emerges in full compliance with the new guidelines for casual office attire.

“Our employees received the video very well,” Turco said. “The news itself was fun and exciting, and the video was a great way to announce the new dress code to the firm.”

The instructions in the video are reinforced through written guidelines in Armanino’s employee handbook.

Part of Armanino’s strategy in implementing the dress code change was to reflect the firm’s modern image, Turco said.

“It is written into our DNA to be innovative, forward-thinking, and progressive,” he said. “We express this view through our dress code. We believe our employees can be both professional and comfortable.”

The employees at Crowe Horwath are equally happy with their new dress code.

“With our change in dress, the level of excitement and feedback from our people has been really phenomenal,” Wood said. “And it’s amazing how a seemingly simple thing goes such a long way.”

The firm even has had queries from job candidates based on the new dress code. That’s a welcome development for the firm amid the current environment of intense competition for talent.

Turco said Armanino’s clients also appear to appreciate the change. Armanino serves clients in Silicon Valley, where an entrepreneurial workforce often is more focused on technology than office fashion.

“Our clients seem to like the change, especially the tech companies,” Turco said. “They have a relaxed dress code, and that helps the staff align with clients as well.”

At Crowe Horwath, employees have a backup plan for days when they face an unexpected encounter with a client or a prospect.

“On any given day, you never know when a client meeting may come up or you have an unexpected opportunity to grab lunch with a prospect in the market,” Wood said. “In our South Bend (Indiana) office, they cleared out a closet for people to bring in a suit so when those situations do come up, they are prepared.”

As part of its survey report, OfficeTeam offered a list of general tips for employees to follow when they choose the casual clothes they plan to wear to work on a given day. Generally, it all boils down to comfort and professionalism.

If there is a written dress code, abide by it. Also consider what your manager and co-workers wear, and use that information to guide your choices. But mostly, make sure your clothes fit well. If you are uncomfortable in your outfit, it will show.

—Teri Saylor (terisaylor@hotmail.com) is a freelance writer based in Raleigh, North Carolina.

15 Cash Flow Management Tips for Small-Business Owners

From budgeting to billing, these 15 cash flow management tips can help you save money and survive tough financial times.

JULY 22, 2015

Often, when a popular business closes, the community is surprised. Why would such a promising business suddenly shut down? Too often, it has to do with not managing cash flow correctly.

Cash flow management can be critical to the success of any business. You can say I've been around the business block: I've had success, failure and everything in between. With my company Hostt, there was one point where we had to come up with $200,000 in three days to pay a bill that shouldn't have been due for several months. This scenario required us to get creative with money.

Here are a few cash flow management tips I paid attention to when launching my business and that I reevaluate each year. These have helped to keep my business alive during those times when we don't have cash on hand.

1. Create a Realistic Budget

Create a realistic budget according to your sales cycle, and monitor these figures at least once a month. You also want to take note of any variations, estimate incoming revenue and include discounts and payment terms you may offer to your customers. Also include expenses such as equipment maintenance and purchases of raw materials and other supplies. Salaries, taxes and operating expenses are other items that should be considered in a business budget. SCORE's mentoring service offers budget templates if you need additional assistance.

Billing your clients on a timely basis will help maintain an incoming stream of revenue. Make sure you send out online invoices to the correct recipient immediately following a task or job.

2. Have a Backup Plan

Always have a plan in place to handle any unexpected expenses, such as purchasing a new piece of equipment to handle production demand. You’ll also want to build up cash reserves for emergencies—for that recent purchase that just broke down, for example. It also wouldn’t hurt to establish a relationship with banks and business lenders by supplying them with operating statements from your business so they’re aware of your company’s stability if you need to apply for a loan.

3. Bill Clients on Time

Billing your clients on a timely basis will help maintain an incoming stream of revenue. Make sure you send out online invoices to the correct recipient immediately following a task or job through online services like Due (disclosure: I know the founder of Due personally) and Invoice Ninja. Offering a discount for quick payments is one way to motivate them to pay you as soon as possible.

4. Pay Creditors

Make timely payments to your creditors, and ask if they offer discounts for early payments or paying with cash so you can avoid any late payment charges. Also be sure to spread your expense payments throughout the month to maintain some cash on hand.
It's best to err on the side of not having to pay to borrow each month. Pay off all those pesky bills because they can eat you alive. Nothing can kill a business faster than unpaid bills.

5. Use Remote Deposit

Several banks will allow you to immediately deposit checks into your account by sending a digital image of the check through an app. This saves both time and money by reducing trips to the bank. It can also help you avoid fees if you're close to zero in your account.

6. Review Payroll System

Having a bimonthly payroll system can save money over a biweekly system. This is due to the fact that there are only 24 pay cycles per year in the bimonthly system, while biweekly systems have 26 cycles. Having two fewer pay cycles can save on taxes and processing costs.

7. Obtain a Business Credit Card

This can keep your business and personal finances separate, as well as establish a line of credit for your company. Having bad credit prevented me from getting a loan, which really put my business in a bind when things got tight. Don't make the same mistake; get credit early and grow it.

8. Require Employees to Use Direct Deposit

This can save the expense of printing and delivering employee paychecks, which can make things a lot easier in the long run.

9. Stay Current on What Your Customers Owe You

Require customers to pay upon service or receipt of goods. Stay informed on the invoice aging process so you can follow up with late payers and offer solutions to settle the amount due.

10. Keep Cash in an Interest-Bearing Account

This is assuming you have a lot of cash and you're making profit. Do not place funds into long-term CDs as you may incur fees for withdrawing funds before the maturity date. I was foolish and did this years ago; it ended up really hurting our profits. Transfer funds to cover payroll and other expenses immediately before they're needed to maximize your interest-earning potential.

11. Deposit Taxes Into a Separate Account

This practice can help ensure that funds are available to tax payments and help you avoid any penalties for late payments. I learned this from my accountant, and it's the best advice I've ever received.

12. Use a Payroll Service

This can save the expense of having an in-house payroll staff. It can also ensure that all payroll taxes are paid and recorded legally and in a timely fashion.

13. Be Conservative With Spending

For example, repair capital equipment instead of replacing and establish a maintenance schedule. If you must replace anything, consider purchasing good-quality used equipment.

14. Use the Barter System

Bartering for needed services and supplies can help you keep cash available for other needs. I try to barter for everything; I was once even able to barter for our entire hosting bandwidth for three years by just asking. This helped us get our hosting company off the ground and scale it like nothing else. Remember, if you don't ask, you will never get anything! I always ask.

15. Cover Processing Fees

If you accept credit cards for payment, raise the price of goods and services to cover the cost of processing fees. Also consider offering discounts for cash payments. Set the discount as equal to the credit card processing fee and perhaps offer a layaway plan for customers.

Peter Daisyme is the co-founder of Palo Alto, California-based Hosting Inc. and a member of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC).

The information contained in this article is for generalized informational and educational purposes only and is not designed to substitute for, or replace, a professional opinion about any particular business or situation or judgment about the risks or appropriateness of any financial or business strategy or approach for any specific business or situation. THIS ARTICLE IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL ADVICE. The views and opinions expressed in authored articles on OPEN Forum represent the opinion of their author and do not necessarily represent the views, opinions and/or judgments of American Express Company or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions (including, without limitation, American Express OPEN). American Express makes no representation as to, and is not responsible for, the accuracy, timeliness, completeness or reliability of any opinion, advice or statement made in this article.

Peter Daisyme
Cyber Security, Hostt

What Small-Business Owners Should Know About Audits

Scared by the prospect of an audit? This tax expert breaks down the various types of audits and the factors that may put you at risk.

MARCH 16, 2015

The prospect of an audit is one of the most dreaded experiences any business owner may face. Audits can be a considerable time drain on owners and staff, cost a lot in professional fees, and result in owing additional taxes, penalties and interest. Fortunately, the risk of being audited is low, and even if selected, the type of audit may not be as onerous as feared.

Types of Audits

Audits can take various forms, from minor inquiries by mail to line-by-line examinations at IRS offices or in your place of business. Identify the type of audit you’re facing by the correspondence you receive from the IRS:

Letter with notation of CP-2000. This isn't really an audit but merely a question about an item that IRS computers can’t square with what you have on your return (e.g., an omission of income that has been reported to the IRS on Form 1099-MISC or income that has been reported but doesn’t agree with amounts the IRS has for you). The letter tells you the IRS has made an automatic adjustment to your return reflecting the information it has in its computers and makes a demand for payment for the omitted income. You can pay up if you agree, or explain or contest the amount (you can do this by telephone or in writing, and usually don’t need a tax pro to help you). But if you fail to respond, your situation may devolve into an extensive examination.

Letter with notation of Form 566(CG). This is the classic correspondence audit, the most popular method used by the IRS to question specific deductions on your return. The IRS is merely seeking proof to support the positions you’ve taken on the return. Supplying the requested documentation (e.g., a canceled check, invoice, credit card statement) usually closes the matter. Again, you may be able to handle this yourself without a tax pro’s assistance.

Letter with notation of Form 3572 for audit at IRS office. This indicates a regular audit (office audit) for self-employed individuals and small businesses at the IRS where you and/or your representative must appear at a designated office at a designated time to review specific items on your return. Appointments can be rescheduled, but at some time the audit will happen. It’s highly advisable to have a tax pro there to make sure that the examination is limited to the initial items raised and that you don’t say anything which could expand IRS inquiry.

Letter with notation of Form 3572 for field audit. IRS auditors come into your place of business or even your home to look at things related to your return (field audit). For example, if you claimed a write-off for a particular machine, the auditor may want to have a look at it. The audit may not necessarily be limited to specific items; the auditor has leeway to question anything and everything on your return. Needless to say, representation by a tax pro is essential in this situation.

From time to time, the IRS also conducts extensive audits under the National Research Program (NRP), for which taxpayers are selected at random. In these audits, the IRS goes line by line, questioning everything on the return for one to three years. The audits are designed to elicit statistics that the IRS will use to better select future returns for audit, but those selected for the NRP audit can wind up owing taxes, interest and penalties. In the past several years, the IRS has conducted these audits for S corporation returns and employment taxes. Because there is a random selection, there’s nothing you can do to prevent one.
Note: The IRS may contact you by telephone for an audit but will always send a letter confirming the audit. The IRS never initiates contact by email.

Audit Risk

Overall, the number of returns selected annually for audit is very small as a percentage of the total number of returns filed. For example, in 2014 the IRS audited only 0.86 percent of individuals, the lowest rate in a decade, and fiscal constraints mean the number of audits is not likely to increase any time soon. Of course, that number is small comfort to you if you’re one of the unfortunate ones examined. And some returns have a higher likelihood of being audited, including:

Being a sole proprietor with substantial income (e.g., a Schedule C filer with business income over just $25,000 has a slightly higher audit risk; those with overall income over $1 million have a significantly higher audit risk).

Claiming substantial deductions relative to the amount of income claimed (the ratios that put you at risk are not known).

Claiming certain type of deductions (e.g., expenses that require specific and extensive substantiation which many fail to have, such as records for travel and entertainment expenses or car expenses).

Taking a small or no salary as an S corporation owner despite substantial corporate income.

Special Issues for Pass-Throughs

Partnerships with more than 10 partners must be audited at the partnership level; the IRS cannot question a partner’s reporting of partnership items until then. Smaller partnerships can consent to the consolidated audit procedures, which is a more efficient process; partners are notified of the audit but only the tax matters partner (the person designated as such by the partnership) deals directly with the IRS for the audit. If the audit results in any changes, partners are then notified about corrections to their personal returns.

S corporations aren't subject to the uniform audit procedures. The corporation may be audited first or each shareholder can face questions about corporate items reported on their returns.

Overall, when it comes to audits—avoiding them and handling them—the best defense is usually a good offense. Make sure entries on your return match up with income reported to the IRS on information returns. Be sure to have all required documentation to back up any tax deductions and other positions taken on your return in case you’re questioned. If you get an unwanted note from the IRS, address it promptly and bring your tax professional into the loop immediately.

Barbara Weltman is an attorney, author of J.K. Lasser’s Small Business Taxes and J.K. Lasser’s Guide to Self-Employment, and advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs. She is also the publisher of Idea of the Day® and monthly e-newsletter Big Ideas for Small Business® at www.barbaraweltman.com. Follow her on Twitter @BarbaraWeltman.
The information contained in this article is for generalized informational and educational purposes only and is not designed to substitute for, or replace, a professional opinion about any particular business or situation or judgment about the risks or appropriateness of any tax strategy or approach for any specific business or situation. THIS ARTICLE IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL TAX ADVICE. The views and opinions expressed in authored articles on OPEN Forum represent the opinion of their author and do not necessarily represent the views, opinions and/or judgments of American Express Company or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions (including, without limitation, American Express OPEN). American Express makes no representation as to, and is not responsible for, the accuracy, timeliness, completeness or reliability of any opinion, advice or statement made in this article.

AUTHOR
Barbara Weltman
Host of Radio Show, Build Your Business Radio

Why It’s (Probably Past) Time to Update Your Business Plan

Barry Moltz, Getting Small Businesses Unstuck, Shafran Moltz Group
 
If all you've ever used your business plan for is to raise money, you're ignoring a critical part of business planning. Find out how an annual review can help grow your business.

“If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.”—Lewis Carroll

 

Many small-business owners treat their business plan like a shareholder’s agreement: They know they need one, but as soon they've developed it, they hide it away and never look at it again.

But the purpose of a business plan isn't just to have something to show to bankers or investors. These documents should be reviewed at least once a year in order to measure your company against your stated goals, learn from the results and shift directions when necessary.

Annual Review

Once you've located your business plan, take a look at these eight sections that should be in every plan and need to be reviewed every quarter or at least annually:

Executive Summary. This is where you talk about “what we do and why we do it.” It answers the question, “What pain do we solve, and who do we solve it for?” It's critical that you review this section on an annual basis to determine whether your mission has stayed the same. Is it still relevant to your company, employees and targeted customers? Is it something your employees can still rally around and customers still want to buy? Most companies’ missions evolves over time, which means you'll need to update your executive summary from time to time.

Market and Competition. Markets change rapidly, and new competition seems to sprout up daily from every corner of the Internet. Check what's changed in the market since your last business plan review, and see how new companies are approaching and solving problems for their customers. Overall, what's being done well or poorly to meet the needs of prospective customers in your market niche? Is the market expanding or shrinking, and what changes are happening in adjacent areas that represent new opportunities? Think about how your company’s mission can change to meet those opportunities.

Product or Service. These plans should be reviewed at least quarterly because you need to be aware of which products and services are selling and which need to be abandoned. You should review why your customers are buying (or avoiding) your products, and you should explore other pains in the market where your business can expand (without losing focus).

Management Team. There are very few companies that can grow from startup to a $100 million company with the same leadership team. Most people are only good at certain growth phases of a business—some are better suited for the startup stage, while others are more effective once the company has grown to $5 million or $25 million in sales.

The evolution of the skills of the leadership team is why companies are successful. Every member of the team (including the founder) needs to be evaluated on an annual basis to see if their talents are still the best fit for that particular stage of the company. The planning process for the shifting of responsibilities and hiring new people takes a lot of time and forethought.

Marketing, Sales and Distribution Plan. Contrary to popular belief, products and services don't sell themselves. Check the effectiveness of each of these channels. Which marketing efforts have worked in the past quarter? Insist on tying tactics to results. Remember, if it can’t be tracked, it can’t be evaluated. What sales and distribution methods have had the best results during this same period? What needs to be changed? Are there new strategic alliances that can be formed?

Financials. This is the area most overlooked by business owners because many have a severe lack of understanding of their company's financial statements. While these should ideally be reviewed monthly, analyzing them once a quarter is acceptable (and the bare minimum). Review how this period compared to the same period last year. You should also analyze this year’s results as compared to your annual budget.

Use of Funds. While this category is typically used for determining how an investment or loan will be used, each year you need to decide where your profits are going to be invested. Will you reinvest them for growth or for accumulating cash? What are the major initiatives or “big bets” you'll be making in the coming year? Determine how much you'll invest in each area and what the expected return is.

Exit Strategy. You should have an end game, whether it's to sell the company or provide ongoing financial support for you as the business owner. Annually, determine whether this purpose has changed. For example, maybe you've shifted your company's tactics for growth to show a bigger profit. If there's been a change, most of the plan also needs to change with it.

When was the last time you updated your plan? If it's been more than a year, now's the time to sit down with it and make sure it mirrors your company's actual trajectory.

Crisis Management: Plan Ahead

Crisis Management: Plan Ahead

 

Stuff happens, as the saying goes. Make sure you have a plan in place if stuff should happen to you

Crises come in a wide variety: A sudden supply interruption that prevents you from making sales, an irate customer on Facebook causes a communal uproar or even the sudden destruction of your inventory in a structure fire. Each of these events represents a crisis to your business, and each needs a management plan.

“Something will happen. That is a fact of life,” say the experts at SmallBusinessNotes.com. “It is how you handle it when it happens that is your test. Having systems in place that provide clear instructions to all concerned and a way to provide continuity of business operations during and immediately after the crisis is critical.”

This is the essence of crisis management; knowing that something is going to happen and knowing just what you’re going to do to come through it.

It’s true that there is no way to prepare for absolutely everything that might occur, but preparation for any crisis will make you better prepared for every crisis. Know who you’ll need to communicate with for crises in each area of your business, and make sure your staff is prepared as well.

“A pragmatic way for small businesses to prepare a crisis management plan is to, first, scope the five worst case scenarios you could face; those which would have the most significant financial impact on the business and/or which are most likely to happen,” says PR and management consultant Craig Pearce. “Then it’s about doing everything you can to prepare for these crises… Consider how your response will impact on your reputation and the achievement of your business objectives long-term.”

Crisis management can also involve making some very tough decisions. Often, a business cannot emerge from a crisis the same as it was before and still hope to thrive. Changing relationships and changing directions can be hard, and many small businesses find this hard to do on their own.

“Sometimes the owner can’t do this. It’s triage, and they’re not built to do it,” crisis manager Nat Wasserstein says. “They’re not going to fire friends and family. They’re not going to have conversations with customers and vendors. Sometimes they need a professional to ‘block’ for them and have the confidence that they don’t have.”

Pearce agrees, noting that attitude is important. When it comes to the public relations angle, he recommends exploring “strategic approaches you could apply including asking trusted, credible and influential stakeholders to speak out on your behalf.”

So be sure you have an effective crisis management plan in place. Know what you would do if your business was suddenly disrupted by consumer relations issues, supply issues and other key problems you might face. Write your plan down and review it several times a year, updating as necessary.

When the crisis comes, the time you invest will have a major payoff.

New Year, New Business Plan

by Sam Meenasian, AllBusiness.com

The beginning of a new year is always a time when we set new goals, both for ourselves and for our businesses. If you truly want to achieve the business goals you’re setting for 2015, the best way to do so is update your business plan.

It might have been years since you last looked at the business plan you wrote when you started your business. (Maybe you never even wrote one in the first place.) Either way, take some time as the year begins to think about how your business has grown and changed, and how you want it to grow even further in the coming year.

Click Here to read the full story on AllBusiness.com