Following the ABCs of Customer Assessment

When a business is launched, its owners typically welcome every customer through the door with a sigh of relief. But after the company has established itself, those same owners might start looking at their buying constituency a little more critically.

If your business has reached this point, regularly assessing your customer base is indeed an important strategic planning activity. One way to approach it is to simply follow the ABCs.

Assign profitability levels

First, pick a time period — perhaps one, three, or five years — and calculate the profitability level of each customer or group of customers based on sales numbers and both direct and indirect costs. (We can help you choose the ideal calculations and run the numbers.)

Once you’ve determined the profitability of each customer or group of customers, divide them into three groups:

  1. The A group consists of highly profitable customers whose business you’d like to expand.
  2. The B group comprises customers who aren’t extremely profitable, but still positively contribute to your bottom line.
  3. The C group includes those customers who are dragging down your profitability. These are the customers you can’t afford to keep.

Act accordingly

With the A customers, your objective should be to grow your business relationship with them. Identify what motivates them to buy, so you can continue to meet their needs. Is it something specific about your products or services? Is it your customer service? Developing a good understanding of this group will help you not only build your relationship with these critical customers, but also target marketing efforts to attract other, similar ones.

Category B customers have value but, just by virtue of sitting in the middle, they can slide either way. There’s a good chance that, with the right mix of product and marketing resources, some of them can be turned into A customers. Determine which ones have the most in common with your best customers; then focus your marketing efforts on them and track the results.

When it comes to the C group, spend a nominal amount of time to see whether any of them might move up the ladder. It’s likely, though, that most of your C customers simply aren’t a good fit for your company. Fortunately, firing your least desirable customers won’t require much effort. Simply curtail your marketing and sales efforts, or stop them entirely, and most will wander off on their own.

Cut costs; bring in more

The thought of purposefully losing customers may seem like a sure recipe for disaster. But doing so can help you cut fruitless costs and bring in more revenue from engaged buyers. Our firm can help you review the pertinent financial data and develop a customer strategy that builds your bottom line.

Ins and Outs of Tax Deductions for Donating Artwork to Charity

If you’re charitably inclined and you collect art, appreciated artwork can make one of the best charitable gifts from a tax perspective. In general, donating appreciated property is doubly beneficial because you can both enjoy a valuable tax deduction and avoid the capital gains taxes you’d owe if you sold the property. The extra benefit from donating artwork comes from the fact that the top long-term capital gains rate for art and other “collectibles” is 28%, as opposed to 20% for most other appreciated property.

Requirements

The first thing to keep in mind if you’re considering a donation of artwork is that you must itemize deductions to deduct charitable contributions. Now that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has nearly doubled the standard deduction and put tighter limits on many itemized deductions (but not the charitable deduction), many taxpayers who have itemized in the past will no longer benefit from itemizing.

For 2018, the standard deduction is $12,000 for singles, $18,000 for heads of households and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. Your total itemized deductions must exceed the applicable standard deduction for you to enjoy a tax benefit from donating artwork.

Something else to be aware of is that most artwork donations require a “qualified appraisal” by a “qualified appraiser.” IRS rules contain detailed requirements about the qualifications an appraiser must possess and the contents of an appraisal.

IRS auditors are required to refer all gifts of art valued at $20,000 or more to the IRS Art Advisory Panel. The panel’s findings are the IRS’s official position on the art’s value, so it’s critical to provide a solid appraisal to support your valuation.

Finally, note that, if you own both the work of art and the copyright to the work, you must assign the copyright to the charity to qualify for a charitable deduction.

Maximizing your deduction

The charity you choose and how the charity will use the artwork can have a significant impact on your tax deduction. Donations of artwork to a public charity, such as a museum or university with public charity status, can entitle you to deduct the artwork’s full fair market value. If you donate art to a private foundation, however, your deduction will be limited to your cost.

For your donation to a public charity to qualify for a full fair-market-value deduction, the charity’s use of the donated artwork must be related to its tax-exempt purpose. If, for example, you donate a painting to a museum for display or to a university’s art history department for use in its research, you’ll satisfy the related-use rule. But if you donate it to, say, a children’s hospital to auction off at its annual fundraising gala, you won’t satisfy the rule.

Plan carefully

Donating artwork is a great way to share enjoyment of the work with others. But to also reap the maximum tax benefit, you must plan your gift carefully and follow all of the applicable rules. Contact us to learn more.

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.

Cost Control Takes a Total Team Effort

“That’s just the cost of doing business.” You’ve probably heard this expression many times. It’s true that, to invoke another cliché, you’ve got to spend money to make money. But that doesn’t mean you have to take rising operational costs sitting down.

Cost control is a formal management technique through which you evaluate your company’s operations and isolate activities costing you too much money. This isn’t something you can do on your own — you’ll need a total team effort from your managers and advisors. Done properly, however, the results can be well worth it.

Asking tough questions

While performing a systematic review of the operations and resources, cost control will drive you to ask some tough questions. Examples include the following:

  • Is the activity in question operating as efficiently as possible?
  • Are we paying reasonable prices for supplies or materials while maintaining quality?
  • Can we upgrade our technology to minimize labor costs?

A good way to determine whether your company’s expenses are remaining within reason is to compare them to current industry benchmarks.

Working with your team

There’s no way around it — cost-control programs take a lot of hard work. Reducing expenses in a lasting, meaningful way also requires creativity and imagination. It’s one thing to declare, “We must reduce shipping costs by 10%!” Getting it done (and keeping it done) is another matter.

The first thing you’ll need is cooperation from management and staff. Business success is about teamwork; no single owner or manager can do it alone.

In addition, best-in-class companies typically seek help from trusted advisors. An outside expert can analyze your efficiency, including the results of cost-control efforts. This not only brings a new viewpoint to the process, but also provides an objective review of your internal processes.

Sometimes it’s difficult to be impartial when you manage a business every single day. Professional analysts can take a broader view of operations, resulting in improved cost-control strategies.

Staying in the game

An effective, ongoing program to assess and contain expenses can help you prevent both gradual and sudden financial losses while staying competitive in your market. For further information about cost control, and customized help succeeding at it, please contact us.

Manage Costs of Health Benefits with a Multi-pronged Approach

Many companies offer health care benefits to help ensure employee wellness and compete for better job candidates. And the Affordable Care Act has been using both carrots and sticks (depending on employer size) to encourage businesses to offer health coverage.

If you sponsor a health care plan, you know this is no small investment. It may seem next to impossible to control rising plan costs, which are subject to a variety of factors beyond your control. But the truth is, all business owners can control at least a portion of their health care expenses. The trick is taking a multi-pronged approach.  Here are some ideas:

Interact with employees to find the best fit. The ideal size and shape of your plan depends on the needs of your workforce. Rather than relying exclusively on vendor-provided materials, actively manage communications with employees regarding health care costs and other topics. Determine which benefits are truly valued and which ones aren’t.

Use metrics. Business owners can apply analytics to just about everything these days, including health care coverage. Measure the financial impacts of gaps between benefits offered and those employees actually use. Then appropriately adjust plan design to close these costly gaps.

Engage an outside consultant. Secure independent (that is, non-vendor-generated) return-on-investment analyses of your existing benefits package, as well as prospective initiatives. This will entail some expense, but an expert external perspective could help you save money in the long run.

Audit medical claims payments and pharmacy benefits management services. Mistakes happen — and fraud is always a possibility. By regularly re-evaluating claims and pharmacy services, you can identify whether you’re losing money to inaccuracies or even wrongdoing.

Renegotiate pharmacy benefits contracts. As the old saying goes, “Everything is negotiable.” The next time your pharmacy benefits contract comes up for renewal, see whether the vendor will do better. In addition, look around the marketplace for other providers and see if one of them can make a more economical offer.

No silver bullet exists for lowering the expense of health care benefits. To manage these costs, you must understand the specifics of your plan as well as the economic factors that drive expenses up and down. Please contact our firm for assistance and additional information.

Tax Deduction for Moving Costs: 2017 vs. 2018

If you moved for work-related reasons in 2017, you might be able to deduct some of the costs on your 2017 return — even if you don’t itemize deductions. (Or, if your employer reimbursed you for moving expenses, that reimbursement you might be able to exclude from your income.) The bad news is that, if you move in 2018, the costs likely won’t be deductible, and any employer reimbursements will probably be included in your taxable income.

Suspension for 2018–2025

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), signed into law this past December, suspends the moving expense deduction for the same period as when lower individual income tax rates generally apply: 2018 through 2025. For this period it also suspends the exclusion from income of qualified employer reimbursements of moving expenses.

The TCJA does provide an exception to both suspensions for active-duty members of the Armed Forces (and their spouses and dependents) who move because of a military order that calls for a permanent change of station.

Tests for 2017

If you moved in 2017 and would like to claim a deduction on your 2017 return, the first requirement is that the move be work-related. You don’t have to be an employee; the self-employed can also be eligible for the moving expense deduction.

The second is a distance test. The new main job location must be at least 50 miles farther from your former home than your former main job location was from that home. So a work-related move from city to suburb or from town to neighboring town probably won’t qualify, even if not moving would have increased your commute significantly.

Finally, there’s a time test. You must work full time at the new job location for at least 39 weeks during the first year. If you’re self-employed, you must meet that test plus work full time for at least 78 weeks during the first 24 months at the new job location. (Certain limited exceptions apply.)

Deductible expenses

The moving expense deduction is an “above-the-line” deduction, which means it’s subtracted from your gross income to determine your adjusted gross income. It’s not an itemized deduction, so you don’t have to itemize to benefit.

Generally, you can deduct:

  • Transportation and lodging expenses for yourself and household members while moving,
  • The cost of packing and transporting your household goods and other personal property,
  • The expense of storing and insuring these items while in transit, and
  • Costs related to connecting or disconnecting utilities.

But don’t expect to deduct everything. Meal costs during move-related travel aren’t deductible, nor is any part of the purchase price of a new home or expenses incurred selling your old one. And if your employer later reimburses you for any of the moving costs you’ve deducted, you may have to include the reimbursement as income on your tax return.

Please contact us if you have questions about whether you can deduct moving expenses on your 2017 return or about what other tax breaks won’t be available for 2018 under the TCJA.

Not necessarily a luxury: Outsourcing

For many years, owners of small and midsize businesses looked at outsourcing much like some homeowners viewed hiring a cleaning person. That is, they saw it as a luxury. But no more — in today’s increasingly specialized economy, outsourcing has become a common way to cut costs and obtain expert assistance.

Why would you?

Outsourcing certain tasks that your company has been handling all along offers many benefits. Let’s begin with cost savings. Outsourcing a function effectively could save you a substantial percentage of in-house management expenses by reducing overhead, staffing and training costs. And thanks to the abundant number of independent contractors and providers of outsourced services, you may be able to bargain for competitive pricing.

Outsourcing also allows you to leave administration and support tasks to someone else, freeing up staff members to focus on your company’s core purpose. Plus, the firms that perform these functions are specialists, offering much higher service quality and greater innovations and efficiencies than you could likely muster.

Last, think about accountability — in many cases, vendors will be much more familiar with the laws, regulations and processes behind their specialties and therefore be in a better position to help ensure tasks are done in compliance with any applicable laws and regulations.

What’s the catch?

Of course, potential disadvantages exist as well. Outsourcing a business function obviously means surrendering some control of your personal management style in that area. Some business owners and executives have a tough time with this.

Another issue: integration. Every provider may not mesh with your company’s culture. A bad fit may lead to communication breakdowns and other problems.

Also, in rare cases, you may risk negative publicity from a vendor’s actions. There have been many stories over the years of companies suffering PR damage because of poor working conditions or employment practices at an outsourced facility. You’ve got to research any potential vendor thoroughly to ensure its actions won’t reflect poorly on your business.

To further protect yourself, stipulate your needs carefully in the contract. Pinpoint milestones you can use to ensure deliverables produced up to that point are complete, correct, on time and within budget. And don’t hesitate to tie partial payments to these milestones and assess penalties or even reserve the right to terminate if service falls below a specified level.

Last, build in clauses giving you intellectual property rights to any software or other items a provider develops. After all, you paid for it.

Need more time?

Outsourcing may not be the right solution every time. But it could help your business find more time to flourish and grow. We can help you assess the costs, benefits and risks.