SHAKE OFF THAT DEBT BURDEN WITH SOME COMMON BUSINESS TECHNIQUES

Every business owner struggles with competing priorities in a bid to keep their enterprise afloat in the increasingly complex world that is modern business. Not only are they keeping on top of cash flow needs, chasing bad debts, responding to customer demands, fending off competitors and managing staff, but they are also making difficult decisions about the ability of their business to grow without incurring an unserviceable level of debt.

Many successful businesses with quality products or services, solid market support and reputable trading methods can suddenly find themselves in a situation where they are being dragged down by a burden of unsustainable debt. If your business is in this situation, it is possible to turn it around with some quick action, hard decisions and good advice.

The first thing to do is to perform an objective assessment of the current financial position of the business. If you have the relevant skills, you could do this yourself, but it may be difficult to be objective, in which case you should speak to a business advisor. Comparing your budget figures with the actual results should highlight areas of concern. If you are trying to run a business without a budget, it is essential that you establish one.

Go through your list of creditors and prioritise those that must be paid now, those that you know will wait a little longer and those that may be willing to discuss a payment plan with you. At the same time, review your debtors and contact those that are outstanding. Give them a reminder and a payment date or negotiate a payment schedule. When these funds arrive, apply them to the creditors’ list that you have already prioritised.

You should have already contacted the major creditors and advised them of your position. Utilise any hardship provisions they may have, request an extension of time to pay or offer to make partial payments and start discussing a payment plan. They want to be paid without having to engage in expensive legal action, and if your business has a reliable payment record in the past, there is every chance they will assist you.

Now contact your bank and advise them of the situation, and the measures you have already taken to rectify it. Offer to provide a profit and loss statement and a cash flow forecast so they understand the issues that have brought your business to this position. You may be able to apply for an overdraft or some other financial measure to get the business back on track.

A business advisor will help you look at every aspect of the business and recommend changes. They may include staff reductions, new suppliers with better trading terms, an upgrade to management and accounting systems to give you quick and accurate financial reports, and a range of other measures.

By acting immediately, you will reduce the reputational damage to the business and return it to a profit-making entity. Close attention from that day forward to your budget, cash flow and market conditions should see you in a position to stay debt-free.

Many of these same business owners are also struggling with the regulatory requirements of managing their SMSFs (self-managed superannuation funds). They have chosen an SMSF as the vehicle for building wealth for their retirement rather than hand control over to a retail superannuation fund. They may not have realised it at the time they made this decision, but an SMSF requires a lot of time for administration and also for managing its investment portfolio.

More and more owners are now deciding to put all their efforts into managing their businesses and engaging companies such as SMSF Assure to look after their SMSF administration. If this is your situation, you may also want to consider this option. It will allow you to concentrate solely on your business and in the process, keep your eye on that goal of being debt-free all year round.

KEEP UP TO DATE WITH THE LATEST MANAGEMENT TOOLS

Every person who has turned their dream of running their own business into a reality is an entrepreneur. Most started small, trusted their business acumen, hired competent staff and most likely took advantage of the best financial management tools available at the time. Sound financial management is essential to business success and now, in our time of constantly evolving technology, there are all types of tools available to assist entrepreneurs and their staff.

Computerisation has revolutionised every aspect of our economic activity. Tasks that were once labour intensive, repetitive and slow to produce results are now completed in an instant, and the results of business and operational decisions are available for analysis almost immediately. The magic ingredient that allows this to happen is computer software and there is a program for every aspect of business activity.

Choosing which software is the best for financial management will depend on several factors including the size of the business and the types of products or services they provide, but as a general guide, there are three that many successful businesses use to process information and provide operational guidance to assist decision-making.

The first is Harmony PSA. This is suitable for companies with complex billing models and provides a consolidated system that supports the entire business cycle from lead generation to contract renewal. It is specifically suited to software and service businesses with all business functions automated on a single platform.

MYOB Advanced is the second choice. The original MYOB has been available for some years now and was a favourite of small business. MYOB Advanced is tailored for bigger businesses and includes accounting, inventory management, workflows, manufacturing, payroll and other functions. This software provides management with integrated data in real time for better decision-making, providing the opportunity for faster growth.

For the final pick, idu-Concept emerges as the ideal budgeting, forecasting and reporting system for mid to large-sized businesses. This versatile software is suitable for manufacturing, education, financial services and other sector businesses. The system also tracks spending and manages assets and equipment as well as other functions. It is also available as an outright purchase for installation on a company server for those organisations that prefer local control of their information.

Successful business owners should look at their operational software from time to time to make sure that what they are using is giving them the best value for money. What they should also be looking at is setting up their own SMSFs (self-managed superannuation funds).

Superannuation is one of the most effective and low-tax ways to plan for retirement, and most business owners have their own SMSFs instead of using retail or industry funds. Those who are too busy to look after the complex administration and reporting requirements of running an SMSF engage other companies such as SMSF Assure to look after these details for them, just like they hand over operational tasks to their own staff. Both approaches work well and give the busy entrepreneurs some leisure time to themselves.

CASH FLOW MANAGEMENT A MAJOR CHALLENGE FOR SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS

One of the biggest challenges for those running a small business and who do not have a strong background in bookkeeping or accounting that they don’t understand the difference between cash flow and profit. Many promising sole trader businesses have run into trouble because the owners started using the business bank account as their personal ATM, falsely believing that the money left at the end of the month was profit they could use for their own pleasure.

Cash flow is just that – the flow of money coming into the business from revenue and going out to cover expenses. If this is not carefully managed, there may not be enough money available to pay business accounts as they become due. Regardless of how much profit the business is making, if there are no funds to pay the bills, suppliers may refuse to continue supplying essential stock to satisfy customers, and banks or lenders may withhold funds.

Careful management of the business finances is the best way to ensure this does not happen. To do this, owners must understand the variables that impact on cash flow. Customer and supplier terms, the timing of loan payments, future business decisions and many other factors affect cash flow, but by planning and monitoring it, owners can predict shortfalls and surpluses, and make financial decisions accordingly.

One way to do this is to prepare an annual cash flow forecast or statement wherein the owner estimates and records several important parameters. These include the total monthly cash inflow, the total monthly cash outflow, the net cash flow and the opening and closing balances. The cash inflow should include income such as sales, capital injections from borrowings or owner funds, interest revenue or any other sources. Cash outflow would include purchases, loan payments, supplies and expenses such as telephone, electricity, wages and the like.

Bearing in mind that this is only an estimate, the next step is to monitor the inflows and outflows monthly and compare them with the actual figures which, by now, should be available. If the business is not tracking as planned, then the figures need to be reviewed and adjusted throughout the year.

Management may need to look at their stock control to save money on storing and insuring stock they do not need. Careful management of debtors, following up on outstanding accounts and establishing a sound credit policy are all a necessary part of good business management that will support the cash flow forecast. A review of product pricing, improved customer service and a renewed marketing push are all ways to increase income. Reviewing overheads and looking for ways to reduce costs such as power and water bills will also improve cash flow.

The skills of an experienced accountant are often the best investment a business owner can make, especially if handling the financial side is a new experience. Many owners are juggling the demands of running a business as well as the management of their SMSF (self-managed superannuation fund). By using the services of a company such as SMSF Assure to assist with the administration of their SMSF, they will have more time to spend with their accountant on improving aspects of their business such as the cash flow.

Computer Technology Freeing Up the Talents of Accountants

There is no part of our economy or any sector of our society that has not been impacted by the extraordinary advances that have taken place in all areas of technology over the past 30 or so years. While some industries have all but disappeared along with thousands of jobs, new ones have emerged, creating employment opportunities and requiring a new generation of highly skilled workers.

An excellent example is that of a typical modern business office. The equipment, business management systems and even the layout bear no resemblance to the old-fashioned model of rows of desks with clerical staff bent over stacks of paper and typists pounding away on manual machines. Computer software can now process a weekly payroll for over 200 people with only one or two clerical staff checking the input, and then transferring their wages directly into nominated bank accounts.

The same advances in computer technology and business management systems have also changed not only the way accountants do their job, but also expanded their skills base. Before the office environment became computerised, much of the accounting work was performed manually. Eventually, hand-written journal entries were replaced by ledger machines, and then basic computers with limited processing power were introduced, followed in large companies by mainframe computers that took up an entire room.

The introduction of the personal desktop computer accompanied by word processing and accounting software liberated not only accountants but also administration staff from boring and laborious tasks. Instead of spending countless hours manually analysing computer printouts to produce monthly Income Statements and Balance Sheets, modern accountants can now generate reports weekly and even daily if required.

With the data entry performed daily by a suitably trained bookkeeper, accountants now can run reports on “what if” scenarios applicable to their business. This enables them to suggest possible new business opportunities to management, or conversely, to advise against a business direction under consideration that has a significant element of risk attached.

Some accountants have also become proficient at the administration of self-managed superannuation funds (SMSFs). Many business owners are setting up their own funds to accumulate wealth for their retirement and are finding that the reporting and compliance requirements so onerous that they are unable to concentrate fully on their business. Companies such as SMSF Assure are now offering their clients the services of a dedicated superannuation team, which includes qualified accountants.

Technology has also allowed accountants to spend more time on developing important decision-making tools such as cash flow projections, financial forecasting, monitoring and measurement processes and establishing clear and achievable financial targets. This is not only good for the business, but also for the ongoing personal development of the accounting staff.

Accountants are still completing tax returns, but these days, there are no multiple page forms. Rather, the information is lodged directly with the ATO via an electronic portal. No longer shackled to endless manual tasks, accountants are using today’s technology to widen their influence, offer high quality advice to their management team and expand their skill set by undertaking new and exciting areas of specialisation.

A Good Accountant Is More Than Just Having A Qualification

As any successful business owner will tell you, their accountant is just as much a part of their success as product quality, marketing plans, reliable supply chains, customer service standards, experienced staff and every other aspect of their business model.

Many people successfully complete accounting qualifications every year and start working in their profession. Most of them will perform the technical parts of their job quite professionally, but only some of them will have that extra something that makes them invaluable to their clients.

Apart from the relevant qualifications, what are those extra qualities that make an accountant an invaluable asset to their clients, and a source of wise and relevant counsel? Depending on whom you ask, there will be a range of attributes put forward, but many experts agree that empathy, perspective and dedication will be in the top five.

Some would disagree and ask what use empathy would be in a profession renowned for mathematical and financial precision. After all, the goal is to ensure that the accounting records of client businesses are accurate and reflect the true financial position of an entity at any point in time and to correctly report on taxation obligations.

The value of having an empathetic accountant lies in their ability to understand the challenges and responsibilities of running a business, in addition to their financial skills. An accountant who can mentally stand in the client’s shoes and see problems affecting the business with the same emotional attachment as the client, will likely offer different solutions from someone to whom the business is just another set of figures.

Perspective is another quality that elevates the role from just lodging tax and BAS returns to one of a trusted sounding board. As someone with a thorough knowledge of the inner workings of the business, the accountant with perspective will be called upon many times by the client to validate their business decisions or alternatively, to offer a different point of view.

Every vocation needs employees who undertake their work with dedication and the accounting vocation is no exception. All business owners expect that their accountant would practice the profession with diligence and dedication. The best way to demonstrate this to clients is through ongoing professional development. New technologies and constantly changing laws and taxation rulings are part of the finance industry. An accountant who keeps up to date adds additional value to a client’s business through this dedication.

These qualities are not just necessary for accountants with business clients. They also enhance the services provided by companies administering self-managed superannuation funds such as SMSF Assure. The superannuation industry is also undergoing rapid change, so these qualities will be important to clients relying on external assistance to manage their administration responsibilities.