Practice makes perfect
What every small-business owner needs to know to succeed in business
If you want to be successful, you need to do the things that successful business owners do, said Rob Yackel, a certified public accountant with Hascal, Sjoholm & Company in Everett. Tracking business income and expenses, planning and following best financial business practices allows a business owner better control of the company and its future.
It may seem simple, but it's not uncommon for business owners, especially busy hands-on types, to put off filling in the books until the task has become a nightmare.
"I recommend that a business sits down on a monthly basis and gathers all that information together," Yackel said. "Then they don't have surprises at the end of the year."
Use your budget like a flight plan, he said, and make the necessary changes to stay on course. Common mistakes that business owners make are not paying attention to cash flow and making decisions based on what they think the tax ramifications are rather than getting professional advice.
Having some type of financial team in place, no matter how small the company, makes it easier to control what happens to the company. This is especially true if professional advice is sought before big decisions are made rather than running damage control after the fact, Yackel said.
This may be especially true of the upcoming changes in health-care laws that will affect businesses in 2014. CPA Stephanie Onzay and Ryan Blume, a tax senior manager at Moss Adams, point out that proper planning now can protect a business against tax implications later.
"There are very complicated considerations that need to be looked at even if you have only one employee," Blume said.
If a business's tax professional or CPA hasn't yet brought up the topic of the health-care laws, it may be time to change professionals. The health-care law is a discussion that needs to be happening right now, Onzay said.
There is no one financial firm that will perfectly serve every business in every stage of its development. Businesses grow and shrink. But there are some common denominators to look for and key points to keep in mind.
Business owners should look for CPAs or tax professionals that actually seem interested in learning more about their business, Blume said. Financial advisers need to understand all aspects of the business in order to make sure the company can take advantage of all possible tax credits and deductions.
Owners may not want to spend the time to educate their tax professionals because they think they'll be billed additional fees for time spent in discussion. But that knowledge can more than offset any fees when added tax credits are discovered.
For example, out-of-state or foreign transactions may carry additional tax deductions or credits, so business owners should make sure financial professionals know the location of all transactions. Research and development costs may also carry tax credits.
"Giving your tax information to your tax preparer in a organized manner can really help to keep the fees down," Onzay said. This goes back once again to good bookkeeping and keeping the books up to date.
Conversations with a tax adviser also need to be candid. This is especially true for business owners who find themselves, for example, paying personal expenses out of business funds or getting behind on state, federal or payroll taxes. The financial professional can guide business owners back onto the path they need to follow before things get out of hand.
"Your CPA is going to know very personal information so it has to be someone you're comfortable with and who you can trust," Blume said.
Look for someone with integrity and steer clear of any financial professional who's not completely honest, Yackel said.
"If someone is willing to lie to the IRS, who has a lot more power than you do, they are willing to lie to you," he said.
Business owners can look to their financial professional to get essential buy-sell agreements in place. Similar to a personal will, a buy-sell stipulates what happens to a business in the event of the death, disability or incapacitation of the owner or a partner. It's easy to procrastinate on getting such agreements in place because it's a subject people don't like to think about.
Business owners also need to make sure their personal wills are up to date with state laws and estate laws.
"You may have plans for how your business is going to transition, but if your will says something else, you've totally countered everything," Blume said.
In the shorter term, a business continuity or contingency plan needs to be in place in case of disaster. This plan may stipulate who has short-term control and where vital passwords and personal information can be found in case the business owner is unable to reach or communicate with his or her company.
Business owners should also plan for the time when they leave their own firm. While that may be an event far in the future, they need to have an end game in mind and seek successors for the business whether within the firm, outside or through a family member.
"If they do sell the company, there are ways that we can structure it to minimize the tax impact and maximize the cash that will be left in their pockets," Onzay said.
Keeping a business's financial house in order may not be easy, but it is vital to success. The backing of a good financial professional can make sure that success follows the effort.