Why Changing to ACH Payments Could Make Perfect Sense for Your Business

They say money makes the world go round, and that's nowhere more true than in the world of small business. However, the days of trade being conducted using solely cash are far in the past, with checks long being the preferred way for smaller companies to make payments to their suppliers. 

Of course, electronic payments are becoming ever more common, and you'll be very accustomed to paying for personal goods and services with the swipe of a credit card. However, for many small businesses, the check still rules when it comes to paying suppliers - but there's a cheaper, easier, more reliable alternative that could be a perfect fit for your operation: payment over the Automated Clearing House (ACH) system. 

What is the Automated Clearing House System?  

The ACH network is an electronic system for transferring money digitally, and all the major banks are members of it. It is a way of moving funds almost instantly from one bank account to another, making it a simple matter to settle payments at the click of a mouse to anyone with a suitable bank account. No single company controls access to the network, meaning there is a range of different solutions available for any business wanting to make or receive payments, using the two systems of Direct Deposit by ACH and Direct Debit by ACH. 

Does ACH Make Financial Sense?  

The first consideration in any business operation is whether or not it's an effective and economical use of money. In this area, there's little doubt that paying your suppliers by ACH wins out over checks. The total cost of check payments, taking into account bank fees and other expenses, can easily be $5 or more per check. ACH payments come in at around a tenth of this, with a typical per-payment charge of $0.50 or less. 

What Are the Other Advantages?  

ACH payments offer a business many other benefits besides simple cost savings. 

  • They are more reliable: no more lost checks.  

  • They offer instant payment, putting an end to 'the check is in the mail' delays 

  • ACH payments are more secure. Despite the cybercrime scare stories, electronic payments are much more difficult to forge or intercept than paper ones, and are easier to track and trace. 

  • They're more convenient, removing the need for trips to the bank or the post office.  

  • ACH software simplifies record keeping and accounting by making full transaction histories available instantly online. 

  • They're kinder to the environment than printing paper checks and sending them by mail.  

What Apps Do We Recommend for SENDING Payments via ACH? 

Many companies just use the first electronic payment software they find. Often the first name recommended by small business advisors is Bill.com. However, the biggest name is not always the best for small businesses. Of course Bill.com can be an improvement over paper check, but it is far from perfect with some significant downsides. For example Bill.com has one major issue in that it requires the receiver of funds (the vendor of a small business) to register an account with Bill.com prior to receiving the money. For this reason along with an outdated and hard to use user experience, many small businesses are now moving to improved ACH payment software like Plooto. New companies like Plooto are revolutionizing payments by making it very simple and easy to use. Plooto is one company that unlike most of the others does not require the recipient to make a complicated account and login in to receive payment electronically. Simplicity and ease of use is a key differentiator prompting many companies to choose Plooto over Bill.com.

Who Do We Recommend For RECEIVING Payments Via ACH? 

The answer here is an easy one. Quickbooks Online makes receiving ACH funds from customers a snap. Within seconds, subscribers of Quickbooks Online can quickly email an invoice and check one box to receive the funds via ACH. Doesn’t get much easier than that. 

Considering all these benefits, it's little wonder that the number of payments the ACH system handles is now around 23 billion a year. Is it time for your own business to be adding to that number? Let us know we can help!

Do Small Businesses Need CFOs?

Small businesses often do not have the human resource capacity to hire a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) full time. Although the business’s internal or outsourced accountants can perform basic profit and loss and financial reporting, small businesses often miss out on higher level strategic interpretation, analysis and planning, which is the function of a CFO. 

Strategic advice 

In larger and often times small established companies, the board of directors meet monthly to discuss the business’s progress, position and future plans. Newer small businesses may not have a board of directors, but the progress, position and plans of any business is of vital importance to its continued survival and growth. A CFO is responsible for creating and reviewing forecasts and budgets, identifying gaps between actual and estimated, assessing viability of revenue streams, and strategizing the raising of capital.

Growth 

If small businesses want to expand, they will need to raise capital, whether the money is for mergers and acquisitions or simply to fund organic growth. Without the direction and oversight of a CFO, this can be a tricky procedure. This is especially true if a business plans on listing on a public stock exchange in the future. A CFO will have the expertise necessary to undertake the many requirements for a stock exchange listing. CFOs can help in other areas, such as strategic alliances, marketing pricing, acquisitions and cost cutting, all processes which are vital to a business’s growth. 

Specialist advice 

Small companies such as technology firms may have the knowledge and expertise in their field of work, but how much would a normal tech employee in product development know about tax credits for research and development? Or company valuations of patents and how to recognize and measure grant applications on the accounting books? It’s these and many other reasons why CFOs are essential to some small businesses’ operations because they provide specialist knowledge that core employees may not have. 

Outsourced CFO

The cost of hiring a CFO can often be prohibitive, especially for start-ups and research technology companies that have yet to set up a revenue stream and are cost-conscious. Paradoxically, it is also these businesses – the startup, research-heavy companies – that require the services of a CFO the most. The solution is outsourcing the CFO function to an accounting firm for an integrated strategy, tax, accounting, reporting and financial advice service. 

If you have any questions regarding how ALTIUS can help with your outsourced CFO needs, reach out to us any time.



8 Actions To Take Before You Seek Venture Capital Funding 

Obtaining financing for a business is not easy. There are many actions you need to take to maximize your chances of success before you approach your first investor. 

The keys to success are preparation and practice. You should have all of your documentation completely prepared and ready for a professional presentation. Practice your presentation to the point it flows naturally. In other words, it shouldn't sound like a  presentation at all.  

Remember, trying to obtain seed funding puts you in a selling position. You are trying to get a company, or individual, to buy into your company. Your goal is to convince them you have a valuable idea and a viable plan.  

The competition is fierce. According to Statista.com, there were over 4,500 venture capital deals in the United States in 2016, and those deals resulted in financing that exceeded $59 billion.  

That is a lot of people vying for a lot of money, what can you do to make your company stand out? At a minimum, have the following steps completed before you begin. 

  1. Have a thorough and professionally prepared and produced business plan and pitch deck. This step alone takes time, and you shouldn't rush it. Investors want to know you have put thought into your business, its future, and how you plan to develop and grow. 
  2. Know what financial forecasting investors expect to see and make sure it is in the format they are accustomed to. Be prepared to to dive into the accounting data if needed. 
  3. Form a business structure or legal entity. Your choice of whether you want to be a sole proprietorship, LLC, corporation or one of the other options is not just dependent on you and your co-founders. Investor preference matters and they prefer to strike business deals with companies, not individuals. You should always consult with an attorney that specializes in this space, so you cover all angles of establishing your business and protect yourself legally and financially.
  4. Create a capitalization table. A capitalization table lays out the current owners and their types of ownership in your company. The classes of ownership would be the types of shares and bonds you have sold to people. The table should also list who owns what and when they bought into the company and how much of the company they own.
  5. If you are producing something you consider proprietary to your company, make sure you have secured all the necessary property rights, copyrights, trademarks, and anything else you feel required to establish your ownership of the property. This is another time when will want to consult with an attorney specializing in the space.
  6. Develop and practice your sales approach. This cannot be emphasized enough, too many entrepreneurs have an "I'll just wing it approach," and that is not a good idea. Create a plan for how you will speak with them during the initial and subsequent meetings. Map out your responses to questions, critiques, and objections. Practice your approach with colleagues and family in front of a mirror and keep practicing it till it flows naturally, like a conversation.
  7. Have hard copies of everything. Yes, this is the digital age, but people are still more comfortable reading paper instead of digital. However, have everything available digitally in case somebody would like copies to store on a hard drive.
  8. Lastly network and research VCs you want to talk to, much of their investment history is discussed online. Knowing their industry preferences and average round size can be a good indicator if you are a good fit. Find out when their funds started as this could give you some insight into how soon they are expecting exits to liquidate their investors.

These steps are only the beginning of the tools you will need when approaching investors. If all goes well, and they show an interest in your company, you could end up having to do multiple presentations and provide further documentation.  

If it seems time-consuming and laborious to take all of these steps, but that's because it is. But, obtaining funding depends on your approach and presentation. So, spend the time to complete these steps and practice, practice, practice.

ALTIUS OFFERS CLIENTS FREE IT SECURITY ASSESSMENT

In the wake of recent large-scale security breaches at companies like Equifax and others, ALTIUS is currently offering complimentary IT security assessments to it’s clients. The recent attacks have many business owners wondering: If a breach like the Equifax one can bring a large company to its knees what would happen to their businesses? A security attack can critically hurt any company. What every business owner wants to know is what can they can do to protect against a future security failure and is a plan in place to ensure the business survives one if they are attacked.

IT security is critical to businesses at any size and that is why ALTIUS feels a duty to help proactively protect and prepare its clients for the uncertain. In addition to the security concerns illustrated in the headlines we are also finding that the healthiest companies today are constantly evaluating their future technology strategy and leveraging all the new tools and cost efficiencies that can help them do more with less. By providing the complimentary IT security assessments ALTIUS is sending a reminder to its clients they are here to provide the guardianship and guidance that is relevant today.

ALTIUS Among 87 Companies Approved for $62.8 Million in Tax Credits -- Adding 6,400 Jobs in California

The CA Competes Tax Credit program is provided by the State of California to award tax credits to businesses that plan to hire workers or invest in the state and any company can apply. In the most recent round of applications ALTIUS was among 87 companies to be awarded CA Competes Tax Credits and we can help your business secure these credits as well.

While technically a competitive credit program, there is actually little competition for small businesses. In fact, in the recent application period, every small business that applied for the credit was automatically moved on to the second phase of the process. That relative lack of competition means opportunity for California small businesses.

Windows For Application

Tax credits totaling $200 million are available for the state’s 2017-2018 fiscal year. Following are the open application periods for the upcoming fiscal year:

  • July 24, 2017, through Aug. 21, 2017

  • Jan. 2, 2018, through Jan. 22, 2018

  • March 5, 2018, through March 26, 2018

Application Process

The value of the credit awarded is determined by a number of different factors, including the number of jobs that will be created or retained in the state, the amount of competition for the jobs in question, the amount of total investment in the state and the unemployment rate in the area where the business plans to locate.

Phase 1

During the first phase of the evaluation process, the businesses vying for the tax credits are ranked on a number of important factors.

Some of those factors include:

  • The total number of jobs that will be created or retained in the state of California

  • The wages and benefits associated with those new or retained positions

  • The amount of investment the company is planning to make in the state

  • The current rates of unemployment and poverty in the area where the business is located

  • Other available tax incentives, including incentives at the state and local level

  • The duration of the proposed investment project

  • The overall economic impact the project is expected to have on the state

  • The strategic importance of the business to the state in total, as well as the region or locality in particular

  • Opportunities for future growth by the company in question

  • The extent by which the anticipated benefit to the state of California exceeds the benefit of the tax credit

Phase 2

Businesses, that are successful in Phase 1 will move on to Phase 2 of the tax credit awarding process. During Phase 2, an evaluation is conducted by state representatives to assess the overall value of the proposals and award the tax credits based on their established criteria.

In Phase 2 of the program, a number of important factors are considered, including:

  • The local unemployment rate

  • Competitive incentives in other states or jurisdictions

  • The economic impact on the state of California and its residents

  • The outlook for business and industry

Businesses who are awarded the tax credits can use those credits to offset taxes in the current year, and any award beyond the current income tax due can be carried forward and applied to taxes due for the following five years.

ALTIUS is proud to be to be a recipient of California Competes Tax Credits in previous application windows and can help your company be awarded credits as well.

Tax Deductions for Business Travel

Even in the age of the Internet and easy videoconferencing, the need for business travel remains strong. No matter how good your Skype connection or how robust your conference call capabilities, some things are just better done in person.

 

When the need for business travel arises, it is important to understand all the implications, from the out-of-pocket costs and time away from the office to the tax consequences. In regard to taxes, at least, there is some good news.

 

When you travel for business, the actual costs of that travel, including airfare, cab rides to and from the airport, rental cars and hotel rooms, are deductible. The deductibility of these common business expenses apply to all out-of-town business trips, and you can also deduct the cost of meals.

 

Importantly, meals are deductible even if they are not connected to your business or to any business function. Just as importantly, only 50% of the cost of the meal is deductible, so choose your entrée with care. The news is a bit better if you are a long-haul trucker; in that case, you can deduct 80% of your meal.

 

This more generous compensation for business meals also applies to certain employees of bus lines, train companies and airlines, as well as some merchant mariners.

 

The IRS does recognize that the deductibility of meals can create room for fraud and exaggeration, so the agency does not allow a deduction for meals and lodging expenses considered "lavish or extravagant". That term has been held to mean "unreasonable", so you might want to hold back on the $200 filet mignon or the $1,000 bottle of wine.

 

Expenses for personal entertainment during your business trip are not tax deductible, but expenses incurred while entertaining clients can be deducted from your business income. You can also take a deduction for things like dry cleaning services, telephone calls and the use of computers, which are all considered legitimate business expenses.

 

Special care must be taken when combining business and pleasure, and separating expenses carefully is always recommended. If you fly to a far-of location for five days of business meetings and decide to stay for the weekend, you can only deduct your meals, lodging and other expenses for your business-related time. Your two-day vacation is totally at your expense.

 

The good news is that the cost of the travel itself, including the airfare and the cab to the airport, is tax deductible, even if you do take on a day or two of vacation time. As long as the primary reason for the travel was business related, you can deduct the cost of the trip. But if the trip was primarily personal, with a few business meetings tacked on, you cannot deduct the cost of your airfare and related travel expenses.

 

Sometimes your trip will not involve the actual conduct of business, but the costs could still be tax deductible. If you are traveling to attend a convention, seminar or other business-related event, the IRS will first check the nature of the meetings to ensure they pass muster. If the meetings are deemed to be business-related, the deduction will be allowed. If the IRS finds that the business travel was just a vacation in disguise, expect to write a check for the disallowed deduction.

 

As with any business-related expenses, be sure to keep your receipts and track your costs carefully. You will need to back up your business tax deductions if the IRS questions your return, and the more information you have, the better off you will be.

 

If your spouse accompanies you on your business trip, you will need to be careful when claiming any deduction. The rules governing spousal travel and expense deductibility are quite restrictive, and you will not be able to deduct any expenses unless your spouse is an employee of the company and the travel is also for business expenses.

 

Last but not least, it is important to note that you cannot deduct incidental personal expenses you incur as a result of your business trip. Things like pet expenses, small purchases and the like are not deductible, and including those personal items could get your return flagged for an audit.

 

Travel is an integral part of the business world, but the deductibility of travel-related expenses can make it a bit more bearable. Knowing the rules before you go, and abiding by them once you return, is the best way to keep your tax bill low without attracting unwanted attention from the tax man.

 

Our CPAs specialize in finding additional small business tax deductions. Reach out to one of our business tax specialists to determine if you may be missing travel deductions in your business.

6 Signs That You Are Ready To Start Your Own Business

Starting your own business is a massive undertaking. In fact, it is so large of a task that it can be hard to know if you are truly ready. The thought of starting a business can be scary, especially since so many new businesses end up failing. Still, there are some people for whom taking the entrepreneurial road will prove to be the best decision they ever made. Here are the six big signs that you are indeed ready to open your own business.

1. You no longer enjoy your job.

If you still find your current job satisfying, it might be better to stay put. But, if you feel restless, and don't believe your talents are being put to good use, it's likely that now is the time to set out on your own. Ideally, a job should be more than just a paycheck. Starting your own business can be a way to reach a deeper level of personal fulfillment. Creating something on your own is likely to be more satisfying and meaningful than working for somebody else.

2. You're a good leader.

Starting a new business means you'll probably have employees to lead and motivate. Running a new business will undoubtedly test your leadership skills to the limit. As the head of the business, the responsibility for every decision will ultimately rest on your shoulders. That's why it's important to step back and honestly assess your leadership abilities before you begin. If you have done well in positions of authority before, and if colleagues look to you as a leader, you're probably ready to open your own business.

3. You have the necessary skills.

Passion and self-belief alone are not enough to succeed when it comes to a new business. You will need to know your chosen industry inside and out before you decide to go it alone -- especially since there is a huge difference between working in a particular industry and running a business in it. A business owner must be involved in almost every aspect of the business, which requires a far greater range of skills than being an ordinary company employee. While an employee can focus on their particular role, an owner must be versatile and able to wear many different hats.

4. You are financially prepared.

Whether you are seeking outside investment or using your own money, having adequate funds before you start your own business is critical. Starting a new business is almost always expensive. In addition, it can be years before even a successful business turns a profit. This means that in some cases a new business owner must go without a salary until the business itself is on steady footing. Prospective business owners should prepare for this eventuality by setting aside some money to live on in the meantime.

5. You are a hard worker.

No matter what other skills you might possess, you are unlikely to succeed as a business owner if you do not work hard. Long, tough hours are often a requirement for owners, especially when trying to get a new business off the ground. Opening a business requires enormous effort, so you must have the dedication necessary to overcome difficulties and setbacks. A passing enthusiasm will never be enough to sustain you over the long months and years of labor.

6. You can handle risk.

There's no doubt about it: starting a new business is a hazardous endeavor. While there is a chance of tremendous success, there is also a very real possibility of total failure. There is no guarantee you will make it. A business owner must be adaptable, willing to handle whatever is thrown at them. If uncertainty causes you serious stress and anxiety, you may not be suited to running your own business -- entrepreneurship is no place for the risk-averse.

Starting a new business could be one of the best and most rewarding experiences of your life -- if, that is, you are truly ready to make the leap and set out on your own. Since determining if you are really prepared or not can be hard, use the six indicators described in this article to help you make your decision.

Tune-Up Your Business Finances With This Checklist

At ALTIUS we think of the financials as the engine of a business. A company with well-maintained financials thrives in comparison to their competitors. Just like a well-oiled and tuned-up engine, it is important that business owners regularly tune-up their financials to help their business perform at maximum potential. The fuel in any business is cash and we help businesses make the most efficient use of that fuel to turn more profits. Below are a few things we help clients with to “tune-up” their financials:

SALES & CUSTOMERS

·       Are you overpaying in merchant service fees? A 1% difference in what you pay here can make a big difference on the sales that you keep. Check if your current contract allows for variable rates as these can result in unexpected cost increases.

·       How quickly is cash sales deposited, do you utilize mobile deposit and ACH? By quickly getting cash into your account, a business can minimize loan or other capital costs.

·       Do you have a good collection process? Are you offering trade discounts?  Minimizing time to collect can increase cash flow and there are new services that automate much of the process.

·       Will factoring receivables result in a better source of cash than traditional financing? Often not, but it is important to compare the cost of various sources to ensure you’re minimizing debt costs.

INVENTORY & VENDORS

·       Does your business have a lot of cash tied up in inventory? Cash flow issues can easily be remedied by liquidating inventory through sales to surplus retailers, through promotions or using online stores like eBay and Amazon.

·       Is your purchasing behavior overly capital intensive? By not ordering in bulk and using a “just-in-time” purchasing system you may be able to significantly reduce the money you are borrowing.

·       Are your suppliers willing to negotiate their terms of payment? If they require bulk purchasing they may be willing to extend no interest credit on those purchases.

·       Do you regularly audit your vendors? An audit of your largest overhead expenses like common area maintenance charges from your landlord or internet and phones costs can often result in significant savings in the long term.

ASSETS & INSURANCE

·       Are you using all of the assets that your business currently owns? Asset utilization analysis can quickly identify assets that may be better off sold for the cash and if needed, rented in the future.

·       Do you review your insurance policies every year? A good independent broker can help you identify cost savings through comparing providers and reducing excessive coverage.

TAXES & INCENTIVES

·       Is deferring income or accelerating deductions possible? A deferment in tax due to the government can be the difference of unnecessary spending on loans that may be required to pay tax.

·       Are you taking advantage of all the government programs available for businesses? There are over 3,000 business tax and other incentives programs in the US that if utilized can be a tremendous source of non-dilutive monetization.

If you would like to learn more about how ALTIUS can help “tune-up” your business, please click here to schedule your free consultation today.