Tuesday, February 15, 2011

It was the Best of Times...It was the Worst of Times...

The song went something like that. Today we hear the economic crisis has passed then with the next newscast, it still is present but weakening. The economy is improving but taking a very slow upward tick. Regardless of what we hear, read or speak, we have been in one of the worst recessions ever recorded and we are probably not out of it by a long shot.

But even with the improvement, it is important to learn from the past so we don't repeat it. That is something I am very conscious of as I am always seeming to learn from my repeated mistakes after I have banged my head a few times too many. So I decided to find some universal advice that would work in both bad and good times. I think I found it. Some may call it common sense but we all know that item is in short supply these days in America's business world today. But read on and let me know your opinions on the advice.

#1 - Adapt your business - don't be afraid to answer those questions/problems that are constantly there waiting - fix them and get them off your back; look to see if your business strategy is still in line with your customers; take a look at your strengths and weaknesses and address any changes; realize the correct decisions made now will make you stronger in the future.

#2 - Motivate your people - Remember your workforce is your best selling tool to the public; tell them the tough decisions you need to make and share with them the why you are making the decisions; it is important they understand your actions and can support them; if you have to cut people, try to do it one time as repeated cuts only serves to demoralize the workforce; get it done and behind you so you and your most important asset, the people, can move forward together.

#3 - Be more focused on your core - Look at your products and if something does not make sense, fix it; if it is not profitable, then get rid of it; ask yourself - what does this product contribute to the company's bottom line?

#4 - Stay True to Your Vision - Know where you are and where you want to be in the future then work towards that goal; constantly ask yourself how does this decision get me closer to my ultimate destination for the business?; look into the future and see where your business fit in.

#5 - Communicate, Communicate, Communicate - When you make a decision talk to your key stakeholders about the reasoning behind it; don't let your marketing efforts suffer either as companies that advertise during a down time consistently come out on top in market share/sales when the economy improves.

#6- Innovate on new ideas - Encourage your employees to think of new ideas, you think of new ideas; watch people use your product for new ideas; take some calculated risks in research and development and when they hit pay dirt, you could transform the industry; look for new partnerships to create win-win situations.

#7 - Remember your customer - Position your small business through marketing efforts to talk to your customer and remind them of your solutions to their needs; build on a few key themes to drive home; remember to add value instead of cutting price so you can maintain pricing levels, keep customers buying and overall increase your market share.

#8 - Retain credibility - Honesty is always the best policy; lies have a way of being found out and then cause harm to the business and you; when the news is bad news, say so, tell why and your plan of action to correct it; face the music and you will be stronger for it.

#9 - Inspire customers to be better - That sounds sickening sweet but if you can create an emotional tie to your customers you have just strengthened their willingness to purchase your product no matter what; emotions are strong influcencers for us.

Well there they are folks - some universal tips to help us in both the bad and good times. Send me your thoughts and opinions so we can start talking about these ideas.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

How do I Hire an Accountant?

That is a question I am asked when a client and I talk about the business team for a small business. It seems most people wanting to start a business are familiar with accountants for their personal uses but when it comes to using one for their business, they think it is so difficult or even so diffrent. I usually ask them how they sought out the one they have now? We discuss their answers and how they like the current person doing their personal books. From there we build on the conversation.

Hopefully the following tips will help you in deciding how to hire an accountant the next time you need one for your business.

1) How long has the accountant been in business? - you want to consider a minimum of five years but that is not set in stone; you need to feel comfortable with the person first.

2) What are the credentials the accountant has? - you do not want a person who has no professional training besides the degree he got 10 years ago. If they are fresh out of college, your call but if they have been in business for multiple years and no further professional education, then you may want to consider moving on. What kind of image does that send to you, as a customer, when they say "none" and you know the world of taxes, bookkeeping and financial matters is constantly changing - just in the part you have in managing your business.

3) How familiar is the acocuntant with your industry? - the best case situation is when you can find a person who knows your industry or at least has a client or two in your industry. You want your accountant to know the specialized industry practices you have to follow - you don't want to pay and train him at the same time.

4) How will the person track your financial changes? - you want the future accountant to encourage you to meet with him to go over your financials and help you avoid any surprises; you don't want him to tell you at the end of the year, "if only you had done this..., you would have avoided paying that....."

5) What are the fees and what do they cover? - ask upfront and don't be shy; you want to know what you are getting; nothing worse is when you thought you brought something only to find out later when you need it, it is not there. Specifically ask about phone calls for quick questions or the travel time from his office to yours - does he charge for them?

6) How does the accountant guarantee his work? - will he go with you to an audit and defend your business?

If the person you are talking to promises unrealistic financial management or the know how to get around taxes, feel comfortable to get up and walk out the door. You don't want to end up in tax court or find out you owe the Federal Government money you were not planning on paying to them.

Let me know your stories about choosing an accountant. Remember to check in and also give me your comments on this topic also. As always, if you have questions or concerns about your small business, call me at 573-243-3581 or email me at profferrd@missouri.edu.

Until next time.....