3 Ways to Use Data for Better Business Decision-Making
Businesses today have access to more data than ever before, which you can use to measure metrics, track trends, and gain insight into just about every aspect of your customers, products, and services.
Although gut instincts still come into play some of the time, the availability of so much data—and advanced software to calculate key performance indicators (KPIs) and issue real-time reports—makes it imperative for businesses to use data to inform their key decisions.
Following are three ways you can use data to make better, faster business decisions.
1. Use data to optimize pricing
One of the basic questions for businesses is whether they have priced their products or services too low or too high. Just because items are selling doesn’t mean the business is profitable, or that a different price might not lead to better sales and margins.
To optimize pricing, you first need up-to-date data on all costs related to each product or service. An item that is selling fast, generating a high level of revenue, may also be expensive to produce, resulting in low profits. Raising the price to reflect those higher costs might be necessary—and any price change can be closely monitored to see how it affects sales.
2. Manage your margins
Total revenue is not a true indicator of business success. What matters more are profit margins, including both contribution and gross profit margins.
Contribution margins are revenue minus variable costs. Gross profit margins are revenue minus the costs of goods sold. By following both, you can better understand what your profits are and where your break-even point is for every product and service you sell. Using those metrics, you can then look for opportunities to increase your margins—which could mean scaling back low-margin products, promoting the sale of high-margin goods, or other steps.
3. Evaluate your revenue stream
To properly evaluate your revenue stream, it is important to run individualized profit and loss statements on every client. Gut instinct might suggest that your oldest, biggest, or most renowned client is your best client. But when you run the numbers, you might be surprised by what you find.
By running individual reports, you can identify low-margin clients that are damaging your cash flow or limiting your growth. Spend too much time on serving those clients, and you might lose others. Then too, there might be an opportunity cost if you fail to reach new, higher-margin clients because you’re working so hard to maintain low-margin clients.
Get the insights you need
Insero & Co. is one of the premier public accounting firms in Western, Central, Upstate, and the Southern Tier of New York. Contact us to learn about our outsource accounting services, audit services, employee benefit plan audits, and how we can help your business use data and the latest accounting software to make more informed decisions.
The Challenge of Board Engagement
Just about every nonprofit understands the need for a motivated and engaged board of directors. So why doesn’t every nonprofit have one? Because it’s challenging to develop—and maintain—a healthy board.
The good news is that you can take a number of concrete steps to motivate both new and existing members of your board of directors, including these:
- Engage board members in the mission: Involve members in as many programs and activities as possible, so they can better understand and value the organization’s mission.
- Set high expectations: People rise to the level of expectations set for them, so set high expectations for new board members. Otherwise, you risk losing their attention.
- Set specific goals: By setting yearly financial goals, and revisiting them regularly, you can keep members on track.
- Use the latest technology: Provide board members with easy-to-read reports, marketing material, and other information to help them stay engaged and informed.
- Provide the right direction: Make sure the executive director manages the board but doesn’t lead it. If the ED is too directive, the board will not fully develop.
- Interview board members: Once a month, check in with each member. Are they pleased with their role? Have their needs or interests changed? Give them an opportunity to express themselves.
Conduct impactful board meetings
Another critical tool for building a better board is conducting impactful board meetings. Meetings set the tone for members, so plan them well, run them on time, and give members a chance to feel heard and valued.
To help board members appreciate the organization’s impact and mission, consider bringing in clients or program participants to speak or perform at meetings. You might also designate a subcommittee or person to monitor the dynamics of the group during meetings to identify issues and tensions, such as who is talking too much, who needs to talk more, and how to involve everyone.
Don’t overlook the small things
When it comes to building a successful board, details matter. Along with all the steps mentioned above, pay attention to other seemingly small things that can make a real difference:
- Collect personal information about board members (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) and acknowledge them as part of building a trusting relationship.
- Provide training on fundraising and other important board roles. Even members with skills and experience in a particular area can benefit from further training.
- Create fun contests or other incentives to encourage board members to hit their fundraising and other goals.
- Be creative to help board members succeed. If, for instance, they’re not comfortable asking for donations, send them out with an experienced staff member.
For more than four decades, Insero & Co. has served nonprofits of all sizes. Our experienced experts provide outsource accounting services, audit services, employee benefit plan audits, and other services to help organizations achieve their missions.
Build a Better Board with a Better Board Orientation
Every job needs a job description, and every new member of a nonprofit’s board of directors needs a board orientation. The reasons are similar: In both cases, you want the new member of your team to know exactly what is expected of them, so they can be successful right out of the gate.
Key information in a board orientation
Make sure that, at a minimum, your board orientation provides new members with:
- A written description of the position
- A review of organizational operations (mission, bylaws, organizational chart, recent Form 990s, etc.)
- A summary of board goals, with a review of recent meeting minutes
- Fundraising obligations
- Attendance expectations and when and for how long the board meets
Motivate and inform
The board orientation provides an opportunity to do more than simply inform members of their roles and responsibilities. It also provides a chance to let new board members know how important they are to the organization’s success.
When members know that their skills and experience are valued, and they know exactly what’s expected of them, they’ll feel more confident when talking to friends, family, and potential donors. They’ll also be more likely to value their position and feel empowered to use their skills and experience to help the organization meet its goals.
Build a better board
Another advantage of conducting a thorough board orientation is that it can help the entire board of directors run more smoothly. If a new member comes on board who does not understand the organization’s mission or is confused or surprised by member responsibilities, the disruption can disrupt operations for both the board and the executive team.
In contrast, the arrival of a new member who understands the organization’s mission knows exactly what is expected of them, and feels empowered to tackle new challenges can breathe new life into the board and the organization.
Insero & Co. has served nonprofits of all sizes for more than 40 years. Our experts provide outsource accounting services, audit services, employee benefit plan audits, and other services to help organizations be more productive and efficient.
3 Tips to Implement Change Successfully
You know what’s hard for organizations? Change. You know what’s worse? Standing still. Whether you need to implement a new corporate process or a new technology, it is critical to not only get the solution and strategy right but also to implement it in a manner that wins over skeptics and ensures long-term success.
Here are three tips for implementing change successfully.
Tip #1: Recognize that a great idea is only the beginning
Let’s say you know—quantitatively, unequivocally—that your organization needs to automate its accounting system. It’s an absolute no-brainer. If you think your work is done, that all you have to do now is implement your wonderful automated solution, you’re making a mistake.
Anytime you’re going to change something at your organization, recognize that there will be hesitancy and resistance. There always is when it comes to dealing with change. So you have to be prepared to tackle several issues that are not about the product but about the culture:
- Win over management, so you have their support
- Engage and educate employees
- Identify opportunities for collaboration across affected divisions
- Make sure it’s clear who is in charge and accountable
Tip #2: Make it a two-way conversation
Employees are less likely to get onboard with a new technology or other solution—again, regardless of how great it is—if they’re simply told after the fact what it is and why it’s good for them.
Avoid employee resistance by engaging, as many of them as possible in the full process, from strategy development through implementation. Often, they’ll have valuable, on-the-ground insights into what’s working and what’s not—and they’ll feel more empowered, valued, and engaged.
When you announce a forthcoming change to employees, make sure that you explain not only what it is but also why, how, and when it’s being implemented. If you’re not ready to answer all those questions, you’re not ready to announce the change.
Tip #3: Review and refine your change processes
After implementing a new process or tool, it’s important to evaluate how well it worked—not the solution itself but the change process. Ask questions such as:
- Did management adequately support the change?
- Was there employee resistance? How could it have been better avoided?
- Was the implementation plan followed? If not, why not?
- Did the change process move fast enough? Are greater efficiencies possible?
Insero & Co. is one of the premier public accounting firms in Western, Central, Upstate, and the Southern Tier of New York. Contact us about our outsource accounting services, audit services, employee benefit plan audits, and how we can help your organization be more productive and efficient.
5 Reasons to Automate Your Accounting Processes
Many businesses begin using manual accounting processes and continue to do so as they grow, often because of the appeal of maintaining the status quo. The problem is that at some point those manual processes can slow organizations down, hindering growth and innovation.
If you’ve been on the fence about transitioning to automated accounting processes, it might help to consider the following benefits of automating your accounting processes with Sage Intacct or other cloud ERP solutions.
- Save time
Are your month-end closes taking up most of the month? Have you missed payment deadlines? Manual data entry is tedious and time-consuming, with employees spending hours on mind-numbing manual tasks instead of focusing on strategic tasks that add real value to the business.
- Be accurate and consistent
Even highly skilled employees will occasionally make mistakes. Automation alleviates common data entry errors and ensures that every action is performed identically, so your customers, clients, and internal departments receive a consistently high level of service.
- Reduce costs
Manual tasks almost always take longer than automated tasks, which means they demand more employee hours every week, month, and year. Automation reduces those work hours and helps prevent errors that can lead to unexpected additional costs.
- Increase visibility
Using manual accounting methods, it can be extremely difficult to monitor, update, reconcile, and report on every internal process across the organization. When you automate billing, collections, sales, and other processes, you can automatically record and report on key metrics, in real time, so the information you need is always at hand.
- Reduce risk
Automated processes can help you reduce the risk that you are out of compliance with the latest regulations or vulnerable to data breaches and other security concerns. Automated, cloud-based accounting solutions are automatically updated to adhere to the latest guidelines, and top providers follow strict security guidelines to protect your business and its data.
Where to start?
If you’re convinced of the benefits of automating your accounting functions but overwhelmed by the challenge, remember that you can start slowly. For instance, you could automate your accounts payable workflows or audit documentation first, and move gradually to a completely automated solution.
Insero & Co. can help you weigh the benefits of automating your accounting processes and help you make the transition to best-in-class software. Contact us to talk about the relationship-based services we provide and how we can help you improve your processes to be more efficient and productive.
Successful nonprofits tend to have healthy, energized boards of directors. Board members don’t just show up—they actively participate in meetings, fundraise, provide thoughtful oversight, and much more.
The challenge for many nonprofits is to build and then maintain a strong and engaged board. One way to do this is by performing a periodic board assessment, which can accomplish a number of important goals:
- Illustrate (and reiterate) the board’s importance to the organization
- Define roles and prevent duplication of effort among board members
- Provide opportunities for self-reflection regarding strengths, weaknesses, etc.
- Create a baseline for future efforts
- Help begin essential conversations (about term limits, recruitment, etc.)
- Provide a format for expressing concerns and raising or revisiting concerns
How to build a board assessment
If you think your nonprofit would benefit from a board assessment, begin by asking these two fundamental questions, which will drive the framework for your assessment:
- Why does this nonprofit exist?
- How can our board help advance our mission?
There is no single template for board assessments. Depending on your needs, you can tailor the format, questions, grading scales, and more. For example, you might want to ask each board member to rate the board on a scale from 1-5 on topics such as performance on core responsibilities, understanding the mission, and succession planning.
Typically, you’ll want to describe each item you ask about, such as what exactly the board’s core responsibilities are. That ensures that every board member is responding based on the same understanding, and it helps to educate board members who may not have a full understanding of every topic.
Another best practice is to leave room for comments, which can add depth and insight to the results. Remember that your goal is not only to gather information from board members but also to encourage them to reflect on their individual and collective performance, which can lead to new ideas and insights, as well as a greater feeling of belonging.
When you collect and compare all of the board assessments, you can identify challenges, strengths, and opportunities, which can be relayed to board members. Using that information, you can then start to outline the topics of conversation in your timeline for governance agendas.
Insero & Co. has worked with nonprofits for more than 40 years. Our experienced experts are available to help you with outsource accounting services, audit services, employee benefit plan audits, and other services designed to free you to focus on mission-critical work.
The Basics of Cloud ERP Software
Just about every organization is already in the cloud or considering moving there. If you’re trying to decide whether to transition to cloud-based ERP software, you first need to understand some basic terminology. Then you can ask smart questions and identify the right solution to fit your business needs.
Multi-tenant vs. single-tenant
ERP software is built with multi-tenant or single-tenant architecture. Most organizations will benefit most from multi-tenant Software as a Service (SaaS) applications like Sage Intacct that were written exclusively for the cloud. With multi-tenant applications, the cloud provider shares infrastructure and applications across multiple customers and takes care of upgrades, security, and more. That means every user runs on the same software version, with updates and upgrades automatically applied across the business.
Single-tenant software versions—also called hosted or managed services—give a business dedicated access to the infrastructure and applications. Single-tenant solutions are typically more expensive than multi-tenant arrangements, and you have to manage the deployment much as you would for a private cloud.
Application programming interfaces (APIs) allow for communication between different applications. APIs are critical with ERP software because they allow you to integrate your ERP system with other cloud applications. Every ERP software solution will have APIs, but you’ll want to be sure they’re well-documented and have existing integrations with other popular cloud software products that you use, such as ADP and Salesforce.
If a cloud application is device-agnostic, you can access it from any device, from desktops to smartphones, using any web browser. Make sure that any ERP software you purchase is device-agnostic, so you can add new devices without concern about accessibility.
SOC 2 compliance
All cloud-based ERP software providers will no doubt promise that your data will be secure, but how can you be sure? First, ask to be certain that their data center has been audited. Then ask if they are SSAE 16 SOC 1 or SOC 2 compliant (SOC 2 is strongest). If they say they are compliant, request a copy of their SOC 1 or 2 report, which they should freely supply.
Insero & Co. can help you understand all the key features of different cloud-based ERP software solutions, and help you decide whether now is the right time for you to make the move to the cloud.
What the 2017 Tax Reform Means for Nonprofits
Individual filers have already seen how the recently passed tax reform law—the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017—affected their taxes, including the good, the bad, and the unexpected. Now, it’s nonprofits’ turn.
The 2017 law features a number of changes that will affect nonprofits, including these three provisions that experts expect to be especially impactful.
Higher Unrelated Business Tax Income
The change likely to affect the most nonprofits is the addition of Section 512(a)(7), which eliminates deductions nonprofits used to be able to take for certain fringe benefits, effectively increasing unrelated business taxable income (UBTI).
Under this new tax requirement, you must include the cost of employer-provided fringe benefits for which there is no deduction under federal law (such as transit benefits and employee parking) in your UBTI. Nonprofits will have to pay taxes at the corporate rate of 21% on the qualifying benefits provided.
Activities that Trigger For-Profit-Like Taxes
The tax law has a new section, Section 512(a)(6), that requires nonprofits to separately compute unrelated business taxable income for each trade or business. Previously, if you had multiple trades or businesses, you could offset gains in one activity with losses in another. The new section eliminates that option. You can carry your losses forward for a particular trade or business, but you can no longer offset them.
New Excise Tax on Executive Compensation
Nonprofits with high executive compensation need to be aware of Section 4960 of the Internal Revenue Code, which imposes a 21% excise tax on certain nonprofits that employ “covered employees” who receive either “excess compensation” (total annual compensation in excess of $1 million) or an “excess parachute payment” (severance in excess of three times a base amount defined as part of Sec. 4960).
Another new tax to be aware of is the Section 4968 excise tax that will affect some private colleges and universities by imposing an excise tax equal to 1.4% of qualifying institutions’ net investment income for the taxable year. This new tax will only apply to about 30 to 50 institutions in the country—just make sure you know if yours is one of them.
Get Help from Tax Experts
Those are just a few of the changes to the tax law that nonprofits need to know about. To make sure you’re aware of, and complying with, all the new requirements, talk with the tax professionals at Insero & Co. We can help you navigate all the latest changes and free your internal team to focus on more mission-focused work.
Why Weekly Cash Flow Forecasts Are Worth Your Time
Do you really need to create weekly cash flow forecasts when you already create monthly profit and loss statements (P&Ls)? Actually, yes!
P&Ls are not a true indicator of an organization’s inflow and outflow of cash. For instance, they don’t show the cash used to make payments on loans—only the interest you’ve paid on the loan. Also, they don’t tell you whether you’ve received cash for the revenue billed or whether checks have been written for the expenses recorded.
Benefits of Weekly Cash Flow Forecasts
The many benefits of weekly cash flow forecasts include that they:
- Provide an early warning of both positive and negative cash situations
- Offer insight into when funds are expected to come in and be paid out
- Can be used to plan cash movements to maximize investments and ward off cash shortfalls
- Are useful for evaluating liquidity
- Help predict line of credit needs
- Can help you maximize purchase discounts and avoid late fees
- Can assist with the timing of inventory purchases
- Help gauge the impact of grant funding and billing delays
A Real-world Example
Imagine that your organization experiences a four-week delay billing due to an employee being out on medical leave, resulting in a shortage of cash and a need to draw on a line of credit. The P&L would show the total revenue billed but not when it was billed or when funds were expected.
With a weekly cash flow forecast, you would not only see the impact on cash but also be able to time the line of credit draw.
Challenges of Creating Weekly Forecasts
If they’re so helpful, why do some organizations choose not to create weekly cash flow statements? Mainly because it can be difficult to pull together timely, accurate forecasts on a weekly basis. The statements need to be simple enough to be read quickly and, as forecasts, they’ll undoubtedly include constantly changing data.
Weekly forecasts are nonetheless worth creating for organizations that are willing to devote themselves to three key areas:
- Critical thinking: Some data will be subjective and hard to find, so you need to be able to dig into difficult questions, make judgments, and have conversations with the right people to get answers.
- Data collection: To get meaningful data, you need reliable financial systems and people who can provide up-to-date reports and information.
- Smart models: You’ll need to decide whether to rely on a canned model for your statement or build your own model in Excel.
Need a Helping Hand?
Developing a helpful weekly cash flow forecast requires human interaction, good data, a hint of intuition, and experience. Insero & Co. can help you weigh the benefits of forecasts and, if it’s the right step for your organization, help you get started.
Why and How to Go Paperless
Some people still use flip phones, and some businesses and nonprofits still use paper. If you’re among the holdouts still hanging on to the old-school comfort of printed handouts and boxes full of documents, it’s time to take a deep breath and embrace a paperless world—a world that will be better for your organization.
Why Go Paperless?
There is an overwhelming list of benefits to going paperless—it really is a smart move for just about every type of organization imaginable. The benefits include:
- Cost savings: Imagine not having to buy paper, copier ink and toner, envelopes, and file storage solutions!
- Time savings: No more manually filing and searching through reams of paper documents—a few mouse clicks is all it takes for employees to find whatever they want.
- Space savings: Paperless offices have less clutter on desks and fewer storage needs. Now your organization can grow without requiring more space.
- Environmental benefits: One office does make a difference, given that it takes one small tree to produce about 10,000 pieces of paper. By going paperless, you can do your part to leave more trees in the ground, where they benefit people and the environment.
- Better access: Need to read a document while on the road or at home? If it’s stored digitally, you can always access what you need.
- Stronger security: More than a decade ago, it made sense to question the security of cloud storage, but now the cloud is far more secure than your office, where theft and natural disasters are a continuing threat.
How to Go Paperless
Probably you already recognize the benefits of going paperless, but how do you get unstuck and actually make the change? Start by making a plan that covers these and other concerns:
- How will you convert physical files to digital files? It’s going to take some time, but it’s a one-time process. Decide what you need to scan, who will scan it, and when and how they’ll dispose of the paper documents once they’re done.
- How will you convince employees to change their behavior? Employees might resist a top-down announcement, so you might want to involve them in the process, including listening to their ideas for making the transition successfully.
- What will your new processes be? Decide how current paper-based processes will change. You might need new business software to help.
- Where should we start? You might want to start going paperless by tackling “low-hanging fruit.” Can you shift to electronic billing statements, for instance? Achieve success in one area, and use that to build momentum leading to other changes.
Need a Helping Hand?
Insero & Co. provides audit, tax, outsourced accounting, and business advisory services to help you through every business transition. Contact us to talk about how we might be able to help you improve efficiency through the use of cloud-based software and other solutions.