Estimates vs. Actuals: Was Your 2018 Budget Reasonable?

As the year winds down, business owners can be thankful for the gift of perspective (among other things, we hope). Assuming you created a budget for the calendar year, you should now be able to accurately assess that budget by comparing its estimates to actual results. Your objective is to determine whether your budget was reasonable, and, if not, how to adjust it to be more accurate for 2019.

Identify notable changes

Your estimates, like those of many companies, probably start with historical financial statements. From there, you may simply apply an expected growth rate to annual revenues and let it flow through the remaining income statement and balance sheet items. For some businesses, this simplified approach works well. But future performance can’t always be expected to mirror historical results.

For example, suppose you renegotiated a contract with a major supplier during the year. The new contract may have affected direct costs and profit margins. So, what was reasonable at the beginning of the year may be less so now and require adjustments when you draft your 2019 budget.

Often, a business can’t maintain its current growth rate indefinitely without investing in additional assets or incurring further fixed costs. As you compare your 2018 estimates to actuals, and look at 2019, consider whether your company is planning to:

  • Build a new plant,
  • Buy a major piece of equipment,
  • Hire more workers, or
  • Rent additional space.

External and internal factors — such as regulatory changes, product obsolescence, and in-process research and development — also may require specialized adjustments to your 2019 budget to keep it reasonable.

Find the best way to track

The most analytical way to gauge reasonableness is to generate year-end financials and then compare the results to what was previously budgeted. Are you on track to meet those estimates? If not, identify the causes and factor them into a revised budget for next year.

If you discover that your actuals are significantly different from your estimates — and if this takes you by surprise — you should consider producing interim financials next year. Some businesses feel overwhelmed trying to prepare a complete set of financials every month. So, you might opt for short-term cash reports, which highlight the sources and uses of cash during the period. These cash forecasts can serve as an early warning system for “budget killers,” such as unexpected increases in direct costs or delinquent accounts.

Alternatively, many companies create 12-month rolling budgets — which typically mirror historical financial statements — and update them monthly to reflect the latest market conditions.

Do it all

The budgeting process is rarely easy, but it’s incredibly important. And that process doesn’t end when you create the budget; checking it regularly and performing a year-end assessment are key. We can help you not only generate a workable budget, but also identify the best ways to monitor your financials throughout the year.

Three Ways to Get More from Your Marketing Dollars

A strong economy leads some company owners to cut back on marketing. Why spend the money if business is so good? Others see it differently — a robust economy means more sales opportunities, so pouring dollars into marketing is the way to go.

The right approach for your company depends on many factors, but one thing is for sure: Few businesses can afford to cut back drastically on marketing or stop altogether, no matter how well the economy is doing. Yet spending recklessly may be dangerous as well. Here are three ways to creatively get more from your marketing dollars so you can cut back or ramp up as prudent.

1.  Do more digitally.

There are good reasons to remind yourself of digital marketing’s potential value: the affordable cost, the ability to communicate with customers directly, faster results and better tracking capabilities. Consider or re-evaluate strategies such as:

  • Regularly updating your search engine optimization approaches so your website ranks higher in online searches and more prospective customers can find you,
  • Refining your use of email, text message and social media to communicate with customers (for instance, using more dynamic messages to introduce new products or announce special offers), and
  • Offering “flash sales” and Internet-only deals to test and tweak offers before making them via more expansive (and expensive) media.

2.  Search for media deals.

During boom times, you may feel at the mercy of high advertising rates. The good news is that there are many more marketing/advertising channels than there used to be and, therefore, much more competition among them. Finding a better deal is often a matter of knowing where to look.

Track your marketing efforts carefully and dedicate time to exploring new options. For example, podcasts remain enormously popular. Could a marketing initiative that exploits their reach pay dividends? Another possibility is shifting to smaller, less expensive ads posted in a wider variety of outlets over one massive campaign.

3.  Don’t forget public relations (PR).

These days, business owners tend to fear the news. When a company makes headlines, it’s all too often because of an accident, scandal or oversight. But you can turn this scenario on its head by using PR to your advantage.

Specifically, ask your marketing department to craft clear, concise but exciting press releases regarding your newest products or services. Then distribute these press releases via both traditional and online channels to complement your marketing efforts. In this manner, you can make the news, get information out to more people and even improve your search engine rankings — all typically at only the cost of your marketing team’s time.

These are just a few ideas to help ensure your marketing dollars play a winning role in your company’s investment in itself. We can provide further assistance in evaluating your spending in this area, as well as in developing a feasible budget for next year.

Are You Ready to Expand to a Second Location?

Most business owners want to grow their companies. And one surefire sign of growth is when ownership believes the company can expand its operations to a second location.

If your business has reached this point, or is nearing it, both congratulations and caution are in order. You’ve clearly done a great job with growth, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ready to expand. Here are a few points to keep in mind.

Potential conflicts

Among the most fundamental questions to ask is: Can we duplicate the success of our current location? If your first location is doing well, it’s likely because you’ve put in place the people and processes that keep the business running smoothly. It’s also because you’ve developed a culture that resonates with your customers. You need to feel confident you can do the same at subsequent locations.

Another important question is: How might expansion affect business at both locations? Opening a second location prompts a consideration that didn’t exist with your first: how the two locations will interact. Placing the two operations near each other can make it easier to manage both, but it also can lead to one operation cannibalizing the other. Ideally, the two locations will have strong, independent markets.

Finances and taxes

Of course, you’ll also need to consider the financial aspects. Look at how you’re going to fund the expansion. Ideally, the first location will generate enough revenue so that it can both sustain itself and help fund the second. But it’s not uncommon for construction costs and timelines to exceed initial projections. You’ll want to include some extra dollars in your budget for delays or surprises. If you have to starve your first location of capital to fund the second, you’ll risk the success of both.

It’s important to account for the tax ramifications as well. Property taxes on two locations will affect your cash flow and bottom line. You may be able to cut your tax bill with various tax breaks or by locating the second location in an Enterprise Zone. But, naturally, the location will need to make sense from a business perspective. There may be other tax issues as well — particularly if you’re crossing state lines.

A significant step

Opening another location is a significant step, to say the least. We can help you address all the pertinent issues involved to minimize risk and boost the likelihood of success.

It’s Time to Get More Creative with Retirement Benefits Communications

Employees tend not to fully appreciate or use their retirement benefits unless their employer communicates with them about the plan clearly and regularly. But workers may miss or ignore your messaging if it all looks and “sounds” the same. That’s why you might want to consider getting more creative. Consider these ideas.

Brighter, more dynamic print materials

There’s no getting around the fact that printed materials remain a widely used method of conveying retirement plan info to participants. But if yours still look the same way they did 10 years ago, employees may file them directly into the recycle bin. Look into whether you should redesign your materials to bring them up to date.

A targeted number of well-formatted e-mails

You probably augment printed materials with email communications. But finding the right balance here is key. If you’re bombarding employees with too many messages, they might get in the habit of deleting them with barely a glance. Then again, too few messages means your message probably isn’t getting through. Also, like your printed materials, emails need to be well written and formatted.

Social media

Some employers have tried using their social media accounts to keep employees engaged and reminded about benefits. The effectiveness of this will depend on how active you are on social media and how many staff members follow you. It may work well if you have a younger workforce.

“Gamification”

As the name suggests, gamification involves incorporating some fun and a competitive element into benefits education — offering virtual rewards, status indicators or gift cards to successful competitors. Games can include quizzes testing employees’ understanding of their benefits or the fundamentals of retirement planning.

Robocalls

Granted, this may not be an immediately enticing option. These prerecorded calls have largely gotten a bad reputation because of their overuse for sales purposes. But, some employees may appreciate an occasional robocall as a reminder or update that they may have otherwise missed.

Making the problem of benefits communication even tougher is the fact that many companies budget little or even nothing to accomplish this important task. But, considering the cost and effort you put into choosing and maintaining your retirement benefits, effective communication is worth some investment. Let us know how we can help.