In their efforts to grow and succeed, many companies eventually reach the edge of a precipice. Across the divide lies a big step forward — perhaps the acquisition of a competitor or the purchase of a new property — but, financially, there’s no way across. The money is just not there.
One way to bridge that divide is with a mezzanine loan. These instruments (also known as junior liens and second liens) can bridge financing shortfalls — so long as you meet certain qualifications and can accept possible risks.
Mezzanine financing works by layering a junior loan on top of a senior (or primary) loan. It combines aspects of senior secured debt from a bank and equity obtained from direct investors. Sources of mezzanine financing can include private equity groups, mutual funds, insurance companies and buyout firms.
Unlike bank loans, mezzanine debt typically is unsecured by the borrower’s assets or has liens subordinate to other lenders. So the cost of obtaining financing is higher than that of a senior loan.
However, the cost generally is lower than what’s required to acquire funding purely from equity investment. Yet most mezzanine instruments do enable the lender to participate in the borrowing company’s success — or failure. Generally, the lower your interest rate, the more equity you must offer. Importantly, mezzanine debt may even convert to equity if the borrower doesn’t repay it on time.
Advantages and drawbacks
The primary advantage of mezzanine financing is that it can provide capital when you can’t obtain it elsewhere or can’t qualify for the amount you’re looking for. This is why it’s often referred to as a “bridge” to undertaking ambitious objectives such as a business acquisition or desirable piece of commercial property. But mezzanine loans aren’t necessarily an option of last resort. Many companies prefer the flexibility of these loans when it comes to negotiating terms.
Naturally, mezzanine loans have drawbacks to consider. In addition to having higher interest rates, mezzanine financing has a few other potential disadvantages. Loan covenants can be restrictive. And though some lenders are relatively hands-off, they may retain the right to a significant say in company operations — particularly if you don’t repay the loan in a timely manner.
Mezzanine financing can also make an M&A deal more complicated. It introduces an extra interested party to the negotiation table and can make an already tricky deal that much harder.
Best financing decisions
If your company qualifies for mezzanine financing, it might help you close a deal that you otherwise couldn’t. But there are other options to consider. We can help you make the best financing decisions.
Are you the founder of your company? If so, congratulations — you’ve created something truly amazing! And it’s more than understandable that you’d want to protect your legacy: the company you created.
But, as time goes on, it becomes increasingly important that you give serious thought to a succession plan. When this topic comes up, many business owners show signs of suffering from an all-too-common affliction.
In the nonprofit sphere, they call it “founder’s syndrome.” The term refers to a set of “symptoms” indicating that an organization’s founder maintains a disproportionate amount of power and influence over operations. Although founder’s syndrome is usually associated with not-for-profits, it can give business owners much to think about as well. Common symptoms include:
• Continually making important decision without input from others,
• Recruiting or promoting employees who will act primarily out of loyalty to the founder,
• Failing to mentor others in leadership matters, and
• Being unwilling to begin creating a succession plan.
It’s worth noting that a founder’s reluctance to loosen his or her grip isn’t necessarily because of a power-hungry need to control. Many founders simply fear that the organization — whether nonprofit or business — would falter without their intensive oversight.
The good news is that founder’s syndrome is treatable. The first step is to address whether you yourself are either at risk for the affliction or already suffering from it. Doing so can be uncomfortable, but it’s critical. Here are some advisable actions:
Form a succession plan. This is a vital measure toward preserving the longevity of any company. If you’d prefer not to involve anyone in your business just yet, consider a professional advisor or consultant.
Prepare for the transition, no matter how far away. Remember that a succession plan doesn’t necessarily spell out the end of your involvement in the company. It’s simply a transformation of role. Your vast knowledge and experience needs to be documented so the business can continue to benefit from it.
Ask for help. Your management team may need to step up its accountability as the succession plan becomes more fully formed. Managers must educate themselves about the organization in any areas where they’re lacking.
In addition to transferring leadership responsibilities, there’s the issue of transferring your ownership interests, which is also complex and requires careful planning.
Blood, sweat and tears
You’ve no doubt invested the proverbial blood, sweat and tears into launching your business and overseeing its growth. But planning for the next generation of leadership is, in its own way, just as important as the company itself. Let us help you develop a succession plan that will help ensure the long-term well-being of your business.
“We love our customers!” Every business owner says it. But all customers aren’t created equal, and it’s in your strategic interest to know which customers are really strengthening your bottom line and by how much.
Sorting out the data
If your business systems track individual customer purchases, and your accounting system has good cost accounting or decision support capabilities, determining individual customer profitability will be simple. If you have cost data for individual products, but not at the customer level, you can manually “marry” product-specific purchase history with the cost data to determine individual customer value.
For example, if a customer purchased 10 units of Product 1 and five units of Product 2 last year, and Product 1 had a margin of $100 and Product 2 had a margin of $500, the total margin generated by the customer would be $3,500. Be sure to include data from enough years to even out normal fluctuations in purchases.
Don’t maintain cost data? No worries; you can sort the good from the bad by reviewing customer purchase volume and average sale price. Often, such data can be supplemented by general knowledge of the relative profitability of different products. Be sure that sales are net of any returns.
Incorporating indirect costs
High marketing, handling, service or billing costs for individual customers or segments of customers can have a significant effect on their profitability even if they purchase high-margin products. If you use activity-based costing, your company will already have this information allocated accurately.
If you don’t track individual customers, you can still generalize this analysis to customer segments or products. For instance, if a group of customers is served by the same distributor, you can estimate the resources used to support that channel and their associated costs. Or, you can have individual departments track employees’ time by customer or product for a specific period.
Knowing their value
There’s nothing wrong with loving your customers. But it’s even more important to know them and how much value they’re contributing to your profitability from operating period to operating period. Contact us for help breaking down the numbers.
From the baseball field to the boardroom, statistical analysis has changed various industries nationwide. With proper preparation and guidance, business owners can have at their fingertips a wealth of stats-based insight into how their companies are performing — far beyond the bottom line on an income statement.
The metrics in question are commonly referred to as key performance indicators (KPIs). These formula-based measurements reveal the trends underlying a company’s operations. And seeing those trends can help you find the right path forward and give you fair warning when you’re headed in the wrong direction.
A good place to start is with some of the KPIs that apply to most businesses. For example, take current ratio (current assets / current liabilities). It can help you determine your capacity to meet your short-term liabilities with cash and other relatively liquid assets.
Another KPI to regularly calculate is working capital turnover ratio (revenue / average working capital). Many companies struggle with temperamental cash flows that can wax and wane based on buying trends or seasonal fluctuations. This ratio shows the amount of revenue supported by each dollar of net working capital used.
Debt is also an issue for many businesses. You can monitor your debt-to-equity (total debt / net worth) ratio to measure your degree of leverage. The higher the ratio, the greater the risk that creditors are assuming and the tougher it may be to obtain financing.
There are many other KPIs we could discuss. The exact ones you should look at depend on the size of your company and the nature of its work. Please contact our firm for help choosing the right KPIs and calculating them accurately.
You’ve probably heard the term and wondered whether it could happen to your company. Maybe it already has. We’re referring to “digital disruption” — when new technologies and business models affect the value proposition of existing goods and services.
Perhaps the most notorious recent example of this is the rise of ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft, which have turned the taxi industry on its ear. But it’s hardly a fait accompli that a business will fall flat on its face because of digital disruption. You may be able to dance right through it with the right digital transformation strategy. Here are five steps to consider:
1. Focus on customers. Businesses often view the world through the filters of marketing, sales and maximized revenues. Instead of thinking about business success, target the customer experience.
2. Make analytics your friend. Develop a strategy to access, analyze and use that data. Tap the brains of analysts who can think outside the box of departmental silos in order to combine all types of data, including point of sale, sensors and machines, logs and social streams. Then use that big data to innovate.
3. Unify operations. Best-practice organizations assess digital requirements from across the business and then set objectives. Most organizations have multiple teams and departments involved in digital transformation. It’s crucial to ensure that all of your business is aligned and operating toward the digital goals you’ve defined.
4. Think visually. Data visualization is the ability to see various data in a variety of formats such as charts, graphs or other representations. Infographics often play a role in visualization. If your company has a hard time understanding how data can be used to drive digital transformation, consult an advisor who can help you leverage this critical information.
5. Be nimble. By the time a project is completed, the market and customer requirements have often changed. To avoid this problem, develop digital agility that will let your business embrace operational changes as a matter of routine by using digital technologies. Digital agility is rooted in the concept of learn, launch, relearn and relaunch.
Digital disruption — and transformation, for that matter — are very much the new normal. We can help you crunch the numbers and target the trends that enable you to waltz around trouble and boogie your way to continued success.
Many business owners and executives would like to save more money for retirement than they’re allowed to sock away in their 401(k) plan. For 2017, the annual elective deferral contribution limit for a 401(k) is just $18,000, or $24,000 if you’re 50 years of age or older.
This represents a significantly lower percentage of the typical owner-employee’s or executive’s salary than the percentage of the average employee’s salary. Therefore, it can be difficult for these highly compensated employees to save enough money to maintain their current lifestyle in retirement. That’s where a nonqualified deferred compensation (NQDC) plan comes in.
NQDC plans enable owner-employees, executives and other highly paid key employees to significantly boost their retirement savings without running afoul of the nondiscrimination rules under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). These rules apply to qualified plans, such as 401(k)s, and prevent highly compensated employees from benefiting disproportionately in comparison to rank-and-file employees.
NQDC plans are essentially agreements that the business will pay out at some future time, such as at retirement, compensation that participants earn now. Not only do such plans not have to comply with ERISA nondiscrimination rules, but they aren’t subject to the IRS contribution limits and distribution rules that apply to qualified retirement plans. So businesses can tailor benefit amounts, payment terms and conditions to the participants’ specific needs.
There are several types of NQDC plans. Among the most common are:
The key to an NQDC plan: Because the promised compensation hasn’t been transferred to the participants, it’s not yet counted as earned income — and therefore it isn’t currently taxed. This allows the compensation to grow tax-deferred.
Naturally, there are challenges to consider. NQDC plans are subject to strict rules under Internal Revenue Code Sections 409A and 451, and plan loans generally aren’t allowed. But attracting and retaining top executive talent is a business imperative, and an NQDC plan can help you win the talent race with a powerful benefits package. Please contact our firm for further details.
A buy-sell agreement is a critical component of succession planning for many businesses. It sets the terms and conditions under which an owner’s business interest can be sold to another owner (or owners) should an unexpected tragedy or turn of events occurs. It also establishes the method for determining the price of the interest.
This may sound cut and dried. And a properly conceived, well-written buy-sell agreement should be — it is, after all, a legal document. But there’s a human side to these arrangements as well. And it’s one that you shouldn’t underestimate.
Turmoil and conflicts
A business owner’s unexpected death or disability can lead to turmoil and potential conflicts between the surviving owners and the deceased or disabled owner’s family members. Such disorder has the potential of disrupting normal business operations and can result in instability for employees, customers, creditors, investors and other stakeholders.
A buy-sell agreement ensures that an owner’s heirs are fairly compensated for the deceased owner’s business ownership interest based on a predetermined method. The other owners, meanwhile, don’t have to worry about the deceased’s spouse (or other family members) becoming unwilling (and unknowledgeable) co-owners. And employees will benefit from less workplace stress and disruption than would otherwise be caused if an owner dies or becomes disabled.
Indeed, among the worst potential succession-planning scenarios is when a deceased or disabled owner’s spouse becomes an unwilling participant in the business. Without a properly structured buy-sell agreement in place, the spouse could be thrown into this situation — even if he or she knows little about the business and doesn’t want to actively participate in running it.
There’s also the less tragic, though still difficult, possibility of divorce. When a business owner and his or her spouse decide to end their marriage, the ramifications on the business can be enormous. A buy-sell helps clarify everyone’s rights and holdings.
Ownership successions are rarely easy — even under the best of circumstances. These transitions can go much more peacefully with a sound buy-sell agreement in place. Please contact us for help with the tax and financial aspects of drawing one up.
August is back-to-school time across the country. Whether the school buses are already rumbling down your block, or will be soon, the start of the school year brings marketing opportunities for savvy business owners. Here are some examples of ways companies can promote themselves.
A virtual “brag book”
A creative agency posts on social media a vibrant photographic slideshow of employees and their children on the first day of school. It gives the parents an opportunity to show off their kids — and creates a buzz on the agency’s Facebook page.
The brag book’s innovative design also demonstrates the agency’s creative skills in a fun, personal way. And it helps attract talent by showcasing the company’s fun, family-friendly atmosphere.
Promos for parents
In August, many parents are in the midst of desperately trying to complete checklists of required school supply purchases. To help them cope, a home remodeling / landscape business offers free school supplies with every estimate completed during the month.
Customers receive colorful bags containing relatively inexpensive items such as pencils, pens, pads of paper and glue sticks all stamped with the company’s logo. And even though every estimate won’t result in a new job, completing more estimates helps create an uptick in fall projects.
Freebies for students
During the first week of school, a suburban burger joint offers students a free milkshake with the purchase of a burger. Kids love milkshakes and, because the freebie is associated with a purchase, the business preserves its profitability.
Meanwhile, the promotion brings entire families into the restaurant — widening the customer base and adding revenue. The campaign creates goodwill in the community by nurturing students’ enthusiasm for the beginning of the school year, too.
Determine what’s right for you
Obviously, these examples are industry-specific. But we hope you find them informative and inspirational. Our firm can help you leverage smart marketing moves to strengthen profitability and add long-term value to your business.
From the time a business opens its doors, the owner is told “cash is king.” It may seem to follow that having a very large amount of cash could never be a bad thing. But, the truth is, a company that’s hoarding excessive cash may be doing itself more harm than good.
What’s the harm in stockpiling cash? Granted, an extra cushion helps weather downturns or fund unexpected repairs and maintenance. But cash has a carrying cost — the difference between the return companies earn on their cash and the price they pay to obtain cash.
For instance, checking accounts often earn no interest, and savings accounts typically generate returns below 2% and in many cases well below 1%. Most cash hoarders simultaneously carry debt on their balance sheets, such as equipment loans, mortgages and credit lines. Borrowers are paying higher interest rates on loans than they’re earning from their bank accounts. This spread represents the carrying cost of cash.
A variety of possibilities
What opportunities might you be missing out on by neglecting to reinvest a cash surplus to earn a higher return? There are a variety of possibilities. You could:
Acquire a competitor (or its assets). You may be in a position to profit from a competitor’s failure. When expanding via acquisition, formal due diligence is key to avoiding impulsive, unsustainable projects.
Invest in marketable securities. As mentioned, cash accounts provide nominal return. More aggressive businesses might consider mutual funds or diversified stock and bond portfolios. A financial planner can help you choose securities. Some companies also use surplus cash to repurchase stock — especially when minority shareholders routinely challenge the owner’s decisions.
Repay debt. This reduces the carrying cost of cash reserves. And lenders look favorably upon borrowers who reduce their debt-to-equity ratios.
Optimal cash balance
Taking a conservative approach to saving up cash isn’t necessarily wrong. But every company has an optimal cash balance that will help safeguard cash flow while allocating dollars for smart spending. Our firm can assist you in identifying and maintaining this mission-critical amount.
Just about every business intends to provide world-class customer service. And though many claim their customer service is exceptional, very few can back up that assertion. After all, once a company has established a baseline level of success in interacting with customers, it’s not easy to get to that next level of truly great service. But, fear not, there are ways to elevate your game and, ultimately, strengthen your bottom line in the process.
Start at the top
As is the case for many things in business, success starts at the top. Encourage your fellow owners (if any) and management team to regularly serve customers. Doing so cements customer relationships and communicates to employees that serving others is important and rewarding. Your involvement shows that customer service is the source of your company’s ultimate triumph.
Moving down the organizational chart, cultivate customer-service heroes. Publish articles about your customer service achievements in your company’s newsletter or post them on your website. Champion these heroes in meetings. Public praise turns ordinary employees into stars and encourages future service excellence.
Just make sure to empower all employees to make customer-service decisions. Don’t talk of catering to customers unless your staff can really take the initiative to meet your customers’ needs.
Create a system
Like everyone in today’s data-driven world, customers want information. So strive to provide immediate feedback to customers with a highly visible response system. This will let customers know that their input matters and you’ll reward them for speaking up.
The size and shape of this system will depend on the size, shape and specialty of the company itself. But it should likely encompass the right combination of instant, electronic responses to customer inquires along with phone calls and, where appropriate, face-to-face interactions that reinforce how much you value their business.
Give them a thrill
Consistently great customer service can be an elusive goal. You may succeed for months at a time only to suffer setbacks. Don’t get discouraged. Our firm can help you build a profitable company that excels at thrilling your customers.
Today’s businesses operate in an era of hyper-connectedness and, unfortunately, a burgeoning global cybercrime industry. You can’t afford to hope you’ll luck out and avoid a cyberattack. It’s essential to establish policies and procedures to minimize risk. One specific area on which to focus is your employees.
Know the threats
There are a variety of cybercrimes you need to guard against. For instance, thieves may steal proprietary or sensitive business data with the intention of selling that information to competitors or other hackers. Or they may be more interested in your employees’ or customers’ personal information for the same reason.
Some cybercriminals may not be necessarily looking to steal anything but rather disable or damage your business systems. For example, they may install “ransomware” that locks you out of your own data until you pay their demands. Or they might launch a “denial-of-service attack,” under which hackers overwhelm your site with millions of data requests until it can no longer function.
Naturally, crimes may be committed by shadowy outsiders. But, all too often, it’s a company employee who either leaves the door open for a cybercriminal or perpetrates the crime him- or herself.
For this reason, it’s essential for your hiring managers to be mindful of cybersecurity when reviewing employment applications — particularly those for positions that involve open access to sensitive company data. If an applicant has an unusual or spotty job history, be sure to find out why before hiring. Check references and conduct background checks as well.
For both new and existing employees, make sure your cybersecurity policies are crystal clear. Include a statement in your employment handbook informing employees that their communications are stored in a backup system, and that you reserve the right to monitor and examine company computers and emails (sent and received) on your system. When such monitoring systems are in place, prudence or suspicious activity will dictate when they should be ramped up.
These are just a few points to bear in mind in relation to your employees and cybercrime. Although most workers are honest and not looking to do harm, all it takes is one mistake or one bad apple to compromise your company’s cybersecurity. We can provide you with more ideas for protecting your data and your business systems.
Many business owners are accustomed to running the whole show. But as your company grows, you’ll likely be better off sharing responsibility for major decisions. Whether you’ve recruited experienced managers or developed “home grown” talent, you can empower these employees by taking a more collaborative approach to management.
Not employees — team members
Successful collaboration starts with a new mindset. Stop thinking of your managers as employees and instead regard them as team members working toward the same common goals. To promote collaboration and make the best use of your human resources, clearly communicate your strategic objectives. For example, if you’ve prioritized expanding into new territories, make sure your managers aren’t still focusing on extracting new business from current sales areas.
You also must be willing to listen to your managers’ ideas — and to act on the viable ones. Relinquishing control can be hard for business owners, but keep the advantages in mind. A collaborative approach distributes the decision-making burden, so it doesn’t fall on just your shoulders. This may relieve stress and allow you to focus on areas of the company you may have neglected.
Confidence and development
Even as you move to a more collaborative management model and include employees in strategic decisions, don’t forget to recognize their individual skills and talents. You and other managers may have uncertainties about a new marketing plan, for instance, but you should trust your marketing director to carry it out with minimal oversight.
To ensure that managers know they have your confidence, conduct regular performance reviews where you note their contributions and accomplishments and explore opportunities for growth. Moreover, help them grow professionally by providing constructive, ongoing training to develop their leadership and teamwork skills.
An open mind
As you learn to trust your management team with greater responsibility, keep in mind that the process can be bumpy. In a crisis, your instinct may be to take charge and brush off your managers’ advice. But it’s critical to keep your mind open and be receptive to input from people who may one day run your company. Let our firm assist you in assessing the profitability impact of your management team.
When it comes time to transition your role as business owner to someone else, you’ll face many changes. One of them is becoming a mentor. As such, you’ll have to communicate clearly, show some patience and have a clear conception of what you want to accomplish before stepping down. Here are some tips on putting your successor in a position to succeed.
Find ways to continuously pass on your knowledge. Too often, vital business knowledge is lost when leadership or ownership changes — causing a difficult and chaotic transition for the successor. Although you can impart a great deal of expertise by mentoring your replacement, you need to do more. For instance, create procedures for you and other executives to share your wisdom. Begin by documenting your business systems, processes and methods through a secure online employee information portal, which provides links to company databases. You also could set up a training program around core business methods and practices — workers could attend classes or complete computer-based courses. Then, you can create an annual benchmarking report of key activities and results for internal use.
Prepare your company to adapt and grow. With customer needs and market factors continually changing, your successor will likely face challenges that are different from what you encountered. To enable your company to adapt to an ever-changing business world, ensure your successor understands how each department works and knows the fundamentals of key areas, including customer service, marketing and accounting. One way is to have your successor work in each business area.
Also have your successor join industry trade associations and community organizations to meet other executives and successors in diverse industries. In addition, require him or her to review and, if necessary, help update your company’s business plan. To encourage your successor to develop relationships with key players inside and outside your company, include him or her in meetings with managers and trusted advisors, such as your accountant, lawyer, banker and insurance agent.
Ideally, when you walk away from your company, your successor will feel completely comfortable and ready to guide the business into a fruitful future. Please contact our firm for more help maximizing the effectiveness of your succession plan.
Many business owners buy accounting software and, even if the installation goes well, eventually grow frustrated when they don’t get the return on investment they’d expected. There’s a simple reason for this: Stuff changes.
Technological improvements are occurring at a breakneck speed. So yesterday’s cutting-edge system can quickly become today’s sluggishly performing albatross. And this isn’t the only reason to regularly upgrade your accounting software. Here are two more to consider.
1. Cleaning up
You’ve probably heard that old tech adage, “garbage in, garbage out.” The “garbage” referred to is bad data. If inaccurate or garbled information goes into your system, the reports coming out of it will be flawed. And this is a particular danger as software ages.
For example, you may be working off of inaccurate inventory counts or struggling with duplicate vendor entries. On a more serious level, your database may store information that reflects improperly closed quarters or unbalanced accounts because of data entry errors.
A regular implementation of upgraded software should uncover some or, one hopes, all of such problems. You can then clean up the bad data and adjust entries to tighten the accuracy of your accounting records and, thereby, improve your financial reporting.
2. Getting better
Neglecting to regularly upgrade or even replace your accounting software can also put you at risk of missing a major business-improvement opportunity. When implementing a new system, you’ll have the chance to enhance your accounting procedures. You may be able to, for instance, add new code groups that allow you to manage expenses much more efficiently and closely.
Other opportunities for improvement include optimizing your chart of accounts and strengthening your internal controls. Again, to obtain these benefits, you’ll need to take a slow, patient approach to the software implementation and do it often enough to prevent outdated ways of doing things from getting the better of your company.
Choosing the best
These days, every business bigger than a lemonade stand needs the best accounting software it can afford to buy. Our firm can help you set a budget and choose the product that best fits your current needs.
You’d be hard pressed to find a company not looking to generate more leads, boost sales and improve its profit margins. Fortunately, you can take advantage of the sales and marketing opportunities offered by today’s digital technologies to do so. Here are four digital marketing tips for every business:
1. Add quality content to your website. Few things disappoint and disinterest customers like an outdated or unchanging website. Review yours regularly to ensure it doesn’t look too old and consider a noticeable redesign every few years.
As far as content goes, think variety. Helpful blog posts, articles and even whitepapers can establish your business as a knowledge leader in your industry. And don’t forget videos: They’re a great way to showcase just about anything. Beware, however, that posting amateurish-looking videos could do more harm than good. If you don’t have professional video production capabilities, you may need to hire a professional.
2. Leverage social media. If you’re not using social media tools already, focus on a couple of popular social media outlets — perhaps Facebook and Twitter — and actively post content on them. Remember, with some social media platforms, you can create posts and tweets in advance and then schedule them for release over time.
3. Interact frequently. This applies to all of your online channels, including your website, social media platforms, email and online review sites. For example, be sure to respond promptly to any queries you receive on your site or via email, and be quick to reply to questions and comments posted on your social media pages.
4. Tie it all together. It’s easy to end up with a hodgepodge of different online marketing tools that are operating independently of one another. Integrate your online marketing initiatives so they all have a similar style and tone. Doing so helps reassure customers that your business is an organized entity focused on delivering a clear message — and quality products or services.
When it comes to marketing, you don’t want to swing and miss. Our firm can help you assess the financial impact of your efforts and budget the appropriate amount to boosting visibility.