Tag: small business

You take the left, I’ll take the right

I recently finished re-reading Michael Gerber’s “The E-Myth Revisited”.  It is one of my go-to books whenever I find an organization that appears to be dysfunctional.  I find myself using parts of his model on my own organizations – since typically professional firms believe everyone should do everything.  This isn’t to knock professional firms but this approach is the single biggest obstacle to healthy and effective growth that I know.

“You take corporations and I take LLC’s”, seems like a great business model for accountants but it is simply a permutation of the “You take the left and I take the right” approach to management.  It doesn’t address the actual needs of the business and it doesn’t leave room for growth.  How do you hire an employee to fit that sort of arrangement?

It is even worse for other types of businesses.  I have worked hard to try and straighten out small businesses who grew into a disaster.  It is in those instances that I find comfort in the E-Myth; technicians who didn’t want to work for a boss suddenly have the worst boss in the world and so do his 12 employees.  All of whom are stepping on each other, tripping over inventory, losing tools, upsetting customers and generally eating up profits.

And in the meantime the owner is working 14-16 hours a day 7 days a week. Until he collapses.  What was the owner doing in those hours?  Everyone else’s job.

Organization, structure, discipline are tough to live with.  I get it.  As Mr. Gerber implies, you start your business because you want to simply work – you want a job.  You want to do it your way, meeting your customers needs by you always being available.  And, as he points out, it can’t work.  You simply don’t know it yet.

The problem is inertia.  Actually, that isn’t true.  The problem is the owner-technician’s inertia.  Try to take the owner out of the picture and you are accused of planning a mutiny.  Never mind the reality that the owner has already lost control; he talked to a friend who had a buddy who hired a consultant and that consultant ended up buying the company for almost nothing.  Never mind the reality that a company built around the owner is worth almost nothing.

Are you looking at a situation like that?  Are you the sole owner-technician of a small business where it seems that you re-do everything your employees already did?  Do you feel you are the only person qualified to make a sales call?  To build the widget?  To make a collection call?

Perhaps you are in a partnership and hoped that by making your best friend/employee an owner she would work 140 hours a week just like you?  Re-doing everything someone else already did, calling the same customers, shipping extra widgets…

This is where I depart from the E-Myth.  The author makes it sound like you can be down this path and somehow recover.  Sorry, it simply isn’t going to work that way.  Inertia is working against you.

Think about it.  You hired a bookkeeper because you hated doing the books and it ate into the time to make a sales call and build the product.  You still hate doing the books plus you don’t know how.  And if you do the books who will make the sales calls?  And don’t even get you started on sales people:  They make deals that you can’t keep and then they leave and take the customer.  No, it is better if you keep things they way they are and just work harder, right?

No.  It is not better; not for you, not your business, not your employees.  You can make the change but you can’t fight the inertia.  You may, however, be able to start deflecting your path.  The goal is not to slow you down but rather start changing the direction so that you start going in the direction you want.

More on this in my next article.  Have a great day.

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You, Your Business and Internal Controls

Some of the most exciting people to have as clients are driven small business owners.  Some of the most exacerbating people to have as clients are driven small business owners.  While they want to make their first billion in sales, they also don’t want anything to stand in the way of them making those sales; even if it keeps them out of hot water.

Invariably, the entrepreneur comes to a decision point; start putting others in charge of areas of the business or shrink the business back to a manageable level.  The really driven, focused owner starts hiring managers.  The rest, well they ignore the advice.

The excuse for not hiring managers is mostly permutations of the, “It is my company, I made it so therefore only I can control it.”  Really?  Look at your balance sheet:

  • You have uncollected receivables from 9 months ago
  • You have nothing recorded for inventory but your shop is stuffed to the rafters with stuff
  • You barely have enough cash on hand to make next weeks payroll
  • You have loaned the company $250,000
  • The bank loaned you $500,000

I can go on but I think you get the picture.  You are not in control.  Because you are the only person who makes decisions, you are merely at fault for what is happening.  Being “in control” in business doesn’t mean making all the decisions, it means that there are natural checks and balances which make sure that one person can start a transaction and someone else verifies it.

So, what should you do as a first step to start building a solid internal control structure?

Start acting ethically and responsibly.

I have worked with small business owners who don’t like safety rules.  I have walked into shops where employees are grinding metal and are not wearing goggles.  Guess what?  I carry a set of goggles in my backpack.  I have walked onto job sites where employees are not wearing hardhats.  Yes, I carry my own hardhat in the car.  The point to make is that you need to set the tone that safety matters.  And it is not just about safety, it is about acting ethically and responsibly at every moment.

Set the example: Be the example.  This one little rule applies to every small business and starts everyone on the path towards better decision making.

Reward good behavior when you see it.  I worked with a contractor who sat back and watched an employee help a subcontractor who dropped a bucket of nails off the back of a truck.  Nails scattered everywhere.  The employee stopped what he was doing and helped shovel up the mess.  It was the right thing for the employee to do.  The owner missed a great opportunity to teach his employees how to act responsibly and reinforce actions that benefit everyone.

Don’t be arbitrary as you teach employees to be arbitrary.  A business owner employed his daughter to work reception.  She would on occasion come back a few minutes late from lunch.  The owner berated her out in the open about setting a poor example.  Another employee came back over an hour late from lunch and he joked with him.  You might think it is not showing favoritism by abusing your receptionist/daughter but it is in fact an arbitrary enforcement pattern.  If the rule is “In your seat at 1pm” then make sure you enforce the rule on everyone, not just the convenient target who won’t fight back.

Strong controls begin with the tone at the top.  If you take shortcuts, your employees will take shortcuts.  If you pad your expense account, your employees will add time to their work week.  You cannot grow and be successful if everyone is always looking for the easiest route.  Believe it or not, your success as an entrepreneur is totally based on the success of the people you hire.  Act accordingly.

Have a great day.  If you would like to learn more about how to start implementing effective internal controls that won’t break the bank, feel free to write me anytime for a free consultation.  I can help you understand how to grow your business while also keeping it under control.  If you would like to learn more about C.O.R.E. and how our services can help your business and association, check out our website.

Quantifying Entity Elections

The new tax law, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, has created a new set of expectations when it comes to choosing the correct entity for your business.  But one of the things it didn’t do, as far as my analysis can tell, is eliminate the “unreasonable” compensation issue for S Corporations.

I have run several different scenarios comparing the tax and net cash flows for a somewhat typical small business.  I compared the following tax effects:

  • C Corporations paying most of the profits in the form of wages to the owners
  • C Corporation paying nothing but dividends to the owners
  • S Corporation paying wages to the owners of most of the profits
  • S Corporation paying no wages to owners
  • An Operating partnership

Hands down, the continued superior driver of net cash to the owners is driven by the S Corporation paying no wages.  Hands down.  For most small businesses making reasonable profits, the most tax advantageous manner to do this is electing to be an S Corporation and then not paying anything to the owners.

This is so even if the business does not have any other employees so that it can take advantage of the Qualified Small Business Credit of 20%.  This credit is capped at the amount paid in total wages.  Given the rather insignificant differential in tax rates of C Corporations at 21% and the individual rates of ‘Middle income” taxpayers at 22%, there is no marginal difference as far as income tax goes.  The game continues to be the avoidance of payroll taxes.

Hopefully the following scenario will help.  Lets say two friends, Will and Fred, decide to form a fishing guide business called, Will and Fred’s Amazing Adventures.  The Company does $1.0 Million in Revenues, $300,000 in payroll for guides and helpers and a net profit, before paying anything to Will and Fred, of $300,000.

  • As a C Corporation paying $250,000 in wages to Will and Fred, the total taxes paid are $99,000 and net cash to Will and Fred is $176,000 – or $88,000 each.
  • As a C Corporation paying no wages and issuing dividends instead, the Total Tax is $107,000 and net cash to Will and Fried is $200,000 – or $100,000 each
  • As an S Corporation paying $250,000 in wages to Will and Fred, the total taxes paid are $98,000 and net cash to Will and Fred is $201,000 – or $100,000 each
  • As an S Corporation paying no wages and instead paying all earnings as distributions of “profits”, the total tax is $53,000 and net cash to Will and Fred is $247,000 – or $123,000 each
  • As a general operating partnership, total taxes are $90,000 and net cash to Will and Fred is $210,000 – or $105,000 each

A really aggressive tax practitioner would work with Will and Fred to be taxed as an S Corporation and not pay wages.  Most slightly less aggressive practitioners would have them set compensation at $25,000 each.  Zero is hard to defend whereas $25,000 is hard to beat – for the IRS.  I will save that debate for another day but the point is, there is still no disincentive to not pay  wages to the owners.

It is true that there is still better net cash flow to the owner by being treated as an S Corporation than by being taxed as a C Corporation and paying the same wages but no one will say “Gosh that’s good enough for me!”.  Taxpayers will strive for the lowest tax effect and highest dollar return and that still points to S Corporation treatment and low officer wages.  And we are talking about a 20% increase in net cash and a 30% reduction in taxes – no one is going to sneeze at that opportunity.

In summary, the best advice for Will and Fred would be, in the following order:

  • Be an  S Corporation and pay themselves reasonable, but low, wages
  • Be a general partnership
  • Be an S Corporation and pay themselves almost all income as wages
  • Be a C Corporation paying themselves almost all income as wages
  • Be a C Corporation paying themselves no wages and taking all income as dividends

Yes, there are other things to consider – such as health insurance and retirement – but for strictly tax purposes this is how I would advise the owners of Amazing Adventures.

Have a great day.  If you have any questions, feel free to write and ask and if you are interested in discussing how we might be able to help with tax planning and business strategy, feel free to contact us and learn more about how we can work with you.

 

 

Committee Advising Superior Hobbies

Good morning.  Ginger is becoming more and more secure and is now switching between Kubae and me.  Yesterday she wouldn’t leave Kubae’s side and today she is constantly under foot – mine to be precise.  Fortunately I sit a lot.

There is an interesting tax court Case, Welch, that I discovered in my Monday research.  It is all about hobby losses.  I will provide a more detailed summary later this week but wanted to share my thoughts on the big thorny issue of small business losses I have faced in my years of public accounting.

Oh, and in case you would like to make a donation, make your check out to the Committee Advising Superior Hobbies (CASH for short).  Yes, this is from an old Beverly Hillbilly episode.  Ha and you didn’t think accountants had a sense of humor or ever watched bad TV (The Office anyone?).

I have reviewed thousands of individual, partnership and S Corporation returns over the years.  I have seen hundreds of potentially troubled hobbies.  This is because most had multiple years of losses and the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) provides a safe harbor of 3 years of profitability out of 5.

Most were of the garden variety small business type.  An individual had a full-time job and then had a sideline business.  Most generated some income but no where near the costs of keeping the business alive.  So, the owner plowed additional money into the operation.  Sounds familiar?

They never really had business plans and, typically tried to remedy the problem following Einstein’ oft-misquoted definition of insanity “Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result”.  Classic madness – but ’tis the spice of life I suppose.

Your tax firm’s role is to guide your decision making, especially when it comes to potential audit-risk areas.  Schedule C and Schedule E losses are potentially easy targets for IRS audit – especially when you have 4,5 or 6 straight years of losses and are receiving a substantial W2.

So what is the advice from a mild-mannered, fiscally conservative accountant?

It depends.

Like you didn’t see that coming.  But, while each potential hobby-loss business is somewhat unique, each follows similar patterns.  The owner finds something they are good at and try to monetize it.  They generate a little revenue and then talk to the accountant.  The accountant, believing in the client’s dream and hearing the “I don’t want to pay taxes” grumble from the client, starts finding other supporting expenses to write-off.  The home office, the internet, driving to the mailbox down the country lane.

So, while your little business is huffing and puffing, chugging up the hill towards profitability, your tax guide is piling more and more weight on you to keep your inertia from getting out of control.  Yes, you guessed correctly, most of the expenses that drive the loss are actually not direct costs of being in business.

One Schedule C I reviewed is a great example.  Her little business generated $25,000 in revenue.  The direct costs were about $15,000, for a $10K gross profit.  She lived in Portland and drove to Cannon Beach every weekend to a little craft bazaar.  You guessed it, for 4 years straight, we dutifully recorded her mileage and the meals and entertainment (she owned a beach house in town) which generated about $20,000 in additional costs.  Voila!  Tax loss!

And the possible loss of the safe harbor.

I approached the client manager with a new plan.  Let’s cut these expenses in half and call them personal.  She ends up with a small profit.  Victory I cry!

Not so fast. The client wasn’t pleased with this amazing insight into protecting the losses. After all, no one saw fit to tell her this before.  Even after explaining the risk that the IRS can go back to year 1 and deny every year of losses (did you know that?) she wasn’t sold.  She was fixated on the $575 in taxes that were due.

Keep in mind that her 5 years of accumulated losses were over $120,000.  At her 25% tax bracket, she had sheltered over $30,000 over the years.  We were trying to save that $30,000, plus penalties, plus interest, plus plus plus.  And the cost was a mere $575.

I know, its hard sometimes to want to pay additional taxes.  I hate it as much as everyone else.  But, given the choice of paying a little tax or paying a lot of tax, I will choose a little tax every time.  Trust your tax advisor when we offer our kernels of tax wisdom.

And really, C.A.S.H. needs you: More importantly I need C.A.S.H. to continue to bring you these excellent little tidbits of hard won knowledge. So donate today!  Or you can simply become a client and we both win.  Feel free to contact me anytime with questions or if you would like to meet and discuss how ITS can help you and your company increase profitability while minimizing your taxes.

Have an awesome day.