Tag: Accounting

Excellence

Topic number 3 today so far.

I am in the process of designing our proposal template.  Actually templates because we will end up with several different ones for each type of work we do.  I was originally going with only having one but doing so required far too many variables.  Take an audit proposal, as an example, we list out several things that could cause the clients costs to increase beyond what was quoted.  We decided to do that because our goal is to provide a high quality and fairly (i.e. low) priced audit.  But when there is a lack of cooperation our time commitment increases and so does the cost.  We wanted to convey this fact to the reader.

For a review engagement we don’t face those same sorts of hurdles.  So the list is not only smaller but vastly different.  It would take a lot of variable programming to make use of a single template which added and subtracted elements.  I dislike the idea of having multiple templates but we want to provide proposals now and we want them to feel right.  So we did a trade-off and I am learning to be ok with that.

Yes, I strive for excellence.  I strive for things working well and with the least amount of effort.  In my mind excellence is an attitude that says I will always try to improve.  Improve me, my relationships, my work experience.

But I am not a perfectionist.  Not by a long shot.  I believe in the concept of materiality; not only as it applies to auditing and accounting but in life in general.  Some things just are not material – they seem important but in reality have little impact on decisions.

For example – I love giving examples – lets talk accounting adjustments.  In my mind, a client’s accounting records, the trial balance they send me, is the Word.  I treat it as true and correct, to the best of the clients knowledge and ability.  Which means that it holds blemishes and inaccuracies.  It has to as it was crafted by a person.

The perfectionist accountant wants everything to “tick and tie”.  They immediate start making $2.00 adjustments to “tie-out” the depreciation schedule to the trial balance.  They go through each line item in hopes of bringing the trial balance to the “right” numbers.  And in the process cost the client thousands of dollars.

We focus on excellence.  Excellence starts with the end product in mind.  Lets say atax return.  An excellent tax return is one that can be filed and then never recalled.  What keeps it from being recalled?  Certainly not the little differences between supporting schedules and the trial balance.  Material differences cause returns to be recalled.

Sometimes materiality is an amount, sometimes it is a concept.  If the taxpayer is an accrual basis corporation then not having any accounts receivable, no matter the amount, is material.  The accounts receivable being overstated by $50,000 might not be; with a client who makes $200 million in sales annually.

Yes, the perfectionist says adjust the books.  I say only adjust if it is going to make a difference.  Yes, the amount doesn’t agree to something but who says that something is actually correct?

In our opinion, the excellent practitioner of his or her art starts with an entirely different premise.  They start by asking, “What is the purpose of this work?”  They frame the end game.  The perfectionist starts by asking, “What is wrong with what I am looking at?”

Which is why I think many people have difficulties choosing professionals to help them.  Lets face it, we choose a tax practitioner based on the claim of the largest refund, i.e. the perfectionist.  Never mind the fact that in order to gain a large refund you first had to pay it in.  We choose lawyers based on the claim they have never lost a case, because they always settle cases where there is the risk of loss.  Perfection.

Focus on excellent, on improvement.  Think about the bigger picture and then surround yourself with those who can support your vision.  You will be a happier person in the end.

Have an awesome day.

 

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GAAP and Projections

I have a new project which I started at the end of last week and which must be ready for discussion by Friday.  I need to pull together a projection for a start-up company, determine its capital requirements, figure out how it should be structured by debt and equity class and then make sure that, given a certain range of possibilities, what the ROI is going to be.

Did I mention this has to be done by Friday?

It is interesting and I have a great model I have developed over the years (in my humble opinion) that helps me focus on the big picture while also making sure I cover the necessary ingredients.  One area I have spent a lot of time updating is the revenue projection side.  First, I am trying to design a revenue model which takes certain assumptions, like lead generation rates through sales close rates and figure out how many sales will happen.  And then from there how many sales support people are needed.  And then…

Sorry, I was going to slide right in and describe why I like modeling this so much but really, today I am writing to discuss how Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) are causing a serious headache for me in this projection.

Naturally, my first irritation is the requirement of recognizing stock awards as compensation expense, although I know intuitively that it is something the employees earn.  It is still a challenge because the only “cash” part of this is the amount paid in taxes to gross up the award.  Why am I worried about it?  Because I am thorough and don’t want anyone to say they were “Unaware” that earnings were going to be lower than projected because GAAP treats stock compensation differently than cash models.

The bigger concern is the new GAAP on revenue recognition.  You remember, the one I have blogged about here recognizing that this particular headache was coming.  Well, this projection is impacted by it because, naturally, it is a software company that licenses its program on an annual subscription and offers free, unlimited tech support.  Love it.  Revenue recognition side?  Not so much.

I spent about 6 hours last night after the game (nice to see the Saint’s work hard to try and lose but they managed to survive until next week – not much hope there) updating my assumptions page and working through the model to address control and amortization of revenue.  No, I am still not done but I am getting closer.  What I can tell you is, I don’t like the results.

On a cash basis, this particular start-up should get to positive operating cash flow in about 14 months; right now it takes about 52 months to get to profitability under GAAP.  I am also seeing about $8,000,000 in deferred revenues.  That is, by the way, cash collected from customers that the company cannot claim as revenue.  Yes, it is software and there is no right to refund but still, under the control principles in new GAAP, the revenue is unearned.

How I get there is to make certain assumptions about purchasing patterns and I am making a rather aggressive assumption that most purchases will happen in the first part of the year.  It is more intuition at this stage but my research indicates that this is the likely time when this sort of software is installed – something about New Year resolutions.  So, this is only a few months of overall deferred revenues but it is enough to throw off accounting ROI.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the most important information comes from cash flow.  How quickly cash is burned through, minimum cash levels, marketing expenditures are absolutely essential to figuring out minimum equity positions, acceptable leverage, target interest rates; all that delightful CFO stuff that can make or break a project.   But still, I think that potential investors have a right to know everything about the project they are taking under consideration and GAAP is one of those things – because at the end of the day, if the goal is to go public, then GAAP is the beast to tame.

Like I said, I try to be thorough.

I will keep you updated, probably at the end of the week when I meet with the ownership to review what I have and start changing assumptions and figure out what to add.  They want to start pitching by the end of the month so I have my work cut out for me – because I am doing this on top of everything else I do!

If you are looking for an accountant who might be able to help you get to that next level, either by acting as your controller or CFO (or combination) feel free to contact me and lets schedule a time to talk.  I enjoy being of service to growing entities and risk-takers.ready for discussion

Have a great day.

 

Financial Statement Compliance

Doug and I were primarily responsible for audits and reviews and Currie & McLain CPA’s and this has rolled over to our new venture C.O.R.E. Services, LLC .  While we focus our efforts almost exclusively on audits of condo and homeowner associations, we also provide review services for clients of smaller CPA firms in Oregon and Washington who prefer to focus on income taxes. We think it can be a great partnership all the way around.

We conducted many financial statement reviews during 2017.  And, as odd as it sounds, each of them was facing a going concern problem.  While this is not a rehash of the new accounting standards for going concern, we did want to point out what we look for and what management needs to consider.  This can be very important with your year-end possibly approaching and you want the review to be completed early.

For the clients whose financial statements we reviewed this year, the number one driver of the going concern evaluation was non-compliance with bank covenants. For instance, your loan agreement may state that your business must maintain a current ratio of 1.25:1.00.  This means that you must have $1.25 in current assets – cash, a/r, inventory to every dollar of current liabilities – a/p, accrued payroll, current maturities of debt.

Another covenant we typically see is some sort of debt coverage ratio.  This is typically calculated as the current debt obligation divided by earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA).  if it says you must have a coverage ratio of 1:1, then if you have $1.0 Million of current debt obligations you need to earn $1.0 Million in EBITDA.

The problems arise when one or both of these are missed and missed by a lot or for multiple years.  Most of the financial statements we reviewed reported a second or third year where the current ratio and/or the debt coverage ratio were well below the requirement.  The problem is that, technically, the bank can call the debt, forcing the owners into very painful decisions.

What can management do?  Well, the first step is to admit the problem.  Non-compliance with bank covenants should not be a surprise to management, the owners or the bank.  Typically, the bank will require some sort of plan to address the covenant violation.  This may be as simple as a cash flow projection to a complex plan to sell assets and lease them back to generate cash to pay down a line of credit.  Whatever you do, don’t bury your head in the sand.

The second step is to prepare a disclosure for your financial statement.  Now, I know that typically you expect your accountant to write up the notes but this is one where you may want to be involved.  Your company is on the line and the reader, i.e. the credit officer at the bank, may well decide that your plan can’t deal with the problem and start creating solutions for you.

If you would like some ideas of how to disclose the going concern issue and your plan, let us know  by writing to info@core-acct.com and we will be happy to send you an outline of the disclosure we have clients complete.  The vital thing though is to provide enough detail that the reader can see the issue and understand your plan without investing so many hours that it distracts you from the issue of running the business.

The third step is to get the bank to issue a waiver or forbearance on compliance.  Stay in control here because this can become a circular problem since the bank will want the reviewed financial statement to know where your business is and the accountant will not want to issue the reviewed financial statement without the forbearance.  It requires a good deal of communication to make this work and it is very helpful if you can get them together for a conversation.

A going concern issue is possibly the single biggest financial statement headache you are likely to ever have to address.  Get in front of it early and work closely with your bank on getting approvals in place and with your accountant to draft the plan for inclusion in the notes and it is very likely that you can still meet a respectable turnaround time for producing the financial statements.

Have a great Monday.

Pricing

Happy Tuesday.  On Sunday, we had brunch with some good friends Jordan and Whitney at Tommy O’s in downtown Vancouver.  Kubae and I split a delicious Kahlua Pork Quesadilla and had a great time with conversation about firing ranges and civil liberties.  We then spent the rest of the day driving around contemplating if it is time to move to another spot as we are fast approaching our 2 years in downtown.  How time flies when you are having a great time.

One of the things I think that worry small business owners is what price to charge.  And since most small business owners start their small business after leaving their employer, they typically follow the model they were taught there.  This works, but I think there may be a better way.

When I was working with VSource in the startup of Argentstratus, I decided to approach the pricing model differently.  Instead of first saying, “here is our price”, I suggested the sales team start by asking what the prospective buyers budget was for things like

  • Server replacement
  • Desktop PC replacement
  • Software updates
  • System security
  • Downtime for server maintenance
  • etc

The typical response was a blank – deer-in-the-headlights- stare because most small business owners don’t stop to think about those things.  Depending on their answer though, the sales team could help create a frame of reference for the costs of doing everything in-house versus outsourcing their entire IT.

This had two benefits: First we avoided having the investment discussion too soon and second we ensured that the prospective buyer understood what they were really purchasing.  In essence, we established the value of the offer and then provided a price which was dramatically lower than that value.

To be clear, there is no such thing as the right price.  What the small business faces are buyers with absolute maximum and minimums to their pricing decision.  Many start-ups are willing to pay legal counsel several thousands of dollars: Some will not pay a dime.  Established businesses are willing to pay a million dollars to buy out a competitor but won’t spend $100,000 on an advertising campaign.  Each party perceives the value differently but I honestly believe the main point of differentiation is how the investment is packaged to the buyer.

By the way, I intentionally use the word investment over “Price” or “Cost”.  For most of us, especially in the service industries, we are often considered a “Cost of Doing Business” – an expense.  I go out of my way to explain that using my services is an investment.  By paying my firm you get access to some of the best business, tax and accounting minds in the area.  By deliberately removing loaded words we can continue the conversation in ways that benefit all parties.  If I say your tax return is going to cost  you $1,800 you will try to shop me.  If I say that your investment in assistance in running, managing and reporting on your business is $1,800 and I will throw in a tax return for free… you see my point.

So some guidelines I have learned along the way when it comes to pricing.  Where I can remember the source I will give credit and if I do not actually remember the source I apologize in advance and if you can send me a message with the actual source I will update this post for that information.

  • Do not charge by the hours worked, but by the years it took to get you to this point. Harry Beckwith
  • Price high and offer amenities – it is easier to remove add-ons than raise prices
  • It is always easier to offer discounts than to raise prices
  • Determine what your customer can pay and then figure out if you can service the client profitably.
  • Offer tiers of service (Bronze, Silver, Gold or the like) with very clear differences between them so you can cater to a larger audience
  • Ask the prospective buyer their budget and try to hit it.  Jeffrey Gitomer
  • People hate to be sold but they love to buy.  Help them buy.  Jeffrey Gitomer
  • Your number one competitor is apathy, price accordingly.
  • Your costs are not your customers problem.

What these guidelines suggest is to be open and creative when it comes to pricing your solution.  You are offering a solution to someone’s problem so don’t be afraid to be creative about what they pay for their investment.  As a general rule, if you are looking for new or more business opportunities, look at how your competition is pricing and then do something different.  Make your pricing easy to understand and consistent for a set of prospective buyers.  Test your price and if you are getting 100% of prospects saying yes, realize your price may be too low.  If you are getting 100% saying no, your price is too high.

Somewhere in between is that sweet spot for that group.  You can find it.  If you are interested in thinking about ways to create new pricing models, try talking with your current accounting professional about ways to make your solution and pricing more effective.  If you are looking for a new accounting professional or would like a second opinion, feel free to contact me for a free no obligation consultation.

Have a great day and enjoy the challenge of charting a new course on pricing your solution.