Business lessons from my new puppy Milo—Lesson Two: Finding buried bones and hidden treasures
In June, I made a big decision and brought home a precocious eight-week-old Miniature Australian Shepherd puppy named Milo.
Since then, I’ve noticed many parallels between raising a new puppy and starting a new business—specifically a brewery business, as that’s my area of expertise in the accounting world.
Last month, I covered five questions to ask when you’re starting a new business. This month, I’ve watched Milo digging in the yard and finding buried bones and other hidden gems, just like I uncover in my clients’ books.
If you’re an accounting professional and you don’t already do some deep digging, read on to learn what kinds of hidden bones and buried treasures you might be missing in your clients’ books.
Finding hidden bones
Sometimes, Milo’s digging results in unpleasant finds like those flowers he just dug up and left to die in the sun. This got me thinking about some of the less fun discoveries that I find in my clients’ brewery businesses. As unpleasant as some of these finds might be, it’s equally important for me (as an accounting professional) and my clients to “smell the roses.”
I would much rather find these hidden things before I get too far into an engagement with a new client. And, believe me, you would, too!
Increasing credit card debt
Using credit cards isn’t wrong and represents a necessity for many vendor purchases, but ever-growing credit card debt (not ever clearing the balance) without an increase in revenue can indicate a deeper problem in a business, such as unapproved expenses or cash flow issues. Reviewing credit card statements is one of the first places I look to uncover any surprises that might hide within a brewery’s books.
One or two missing documents can be expected (nobody’s perfect), but if you uncover noticeable gaps in a client’s documentation, this may be an early sign of fraud. Best case: Someone’s just disorganized, but it’s costly for the client when financial documents are buried or missing, and we have to spend even more time locating them or reconciling things without them.
Time and payroll inaccuracies
New business owners may also be first-time employers. Each year, businesses can lose up to 7 percent of their gross annual payroll to falsified or exaggerated employee timecards. Sniffing out timecard issues requires an experienced accounting professional who’s familiar with standard practices and what stands out as strange.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of the things I might dig up when I start working with a new brewery business. And just like a puppy can dig up some things you wish you’d never seen, it’s essential to dig into the business’ finances to unearth, wash off, and clean up anything you may find.
Finding buried treasures
The joy Milo has about digging up treasures reminds me of my clients’ joy when I uncover hidden cost savings or income opportunities.
The flipside of hunting for hidden nasties in my clients’ books is the task of uncovering unknown rewards.
Here are a few of my favorites that can not only add significant value to the engagement, but also aren’t buried too far beneath the surface.
Unnecessary, unused, duplicate, or accidental expenses
Some of my brewery clients don’t realize that they’re still paying for things they don’t need. Ever sign up for a free trial, only to realize you’ve been paying the whole time a year later?
It’s easy for small charges to get lost or overlooked, especially subscriptions on monthly autopay. But how many of these expenses are necessary to the business, and when was the last time you looked to ensure clients aren’t paying for things that they don’t need or weren’t aware of?
I help clients reduce unnecessary expenses by encouraging them to:
- Eliminate services and apps they aren’t using. Even though $50/month doesn’t seem like much, that’s $600 in annual savings.
- Use a virtual credit card number to sign up for free trials and set it to decline after a specific date, so that they never get charged if they forget to cancel.
- Bonus tip for my fellow Canadians: Choose apps that bill in CDN funds, when possible. This can save even more money on unpredictable exchange rates that increase your costs.
Don’t pay more money to use your money
Businesses get hit with many extra expenses that they don’t always have to pay. I make a habit of looking into the ways my clients might be giving away money for no reason, through things like:
- Business bank accounts that charge fees. I’ve seen bank fees over $300/month, and there’s just no need for that! Although not available yet in Canada, I’m particularly fond of Relay, and when business clients see how much they can save by using a bank without fees, they’re ecstatic!
- Paying higher interest rates for credit cards when a line of credit could be less. Shop around and negotiate rates, instead of just taking the first offer you get. I’ve seen business credit cards with twice the interest rate of a simple line of credit through a bank.
- Not taking advantage of the best possible rewards or cashback offers, when they do use credit cards.
Understand your tax laws
I understand Canadian brewery businesses inside and out, and I assist them in ensuring that they aren’t paying unnecessary taxes on exempt products or asset purchases. Understanding the brewery industry includes understanding the tax implications, and I don’t like any business owner to pay more than they should, as this impacts cash flow. Regardless of your clients’ industries, knowing how your local tax laws impact their specific field can set you apart from other professionals.
Review personal credit cards for possible business expenses
When business owners start, they often use a personal credit card to pay for business expenses. Sometimes, vendors keep the card on file, and the next thing you know, you’ve got multiple business expenses on a personal card. I go on this treasure hunt as a matter of course, and often find several hidden business deductions that my clients never realized.
Think like Milo in your business
I approach my clients’ books with the mind of a curious puppy who will follow every trail until he finds what he’s looking for. Sometimes, that means uncovering things you wish you hadn’t, but they’re still necessary to clean up. Other times, it can be a real hidden treasure in the form of extra money or savings that your clients didn’t know they had.