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    Good Cyber Security Practices to Protect Your Financial Data

    We’re all aware of the horror stories – data being held hostage by ransomware, workstations and laptops locked up and stolen user IDs and passwords, along with actual funds stolen from bank accounts and credit cards. The media is full of data breach and identity theft headlines. This leads us to the obvious question – how to best protect oneself?

    Before we get started, let’s make sure we’re talking about the right problem. A majority of what is now called identity theft used to be known as garden variety credit card fraud or bank fraud. With the almost universal use of credit cards, debit cards, and electronic funds transfers (EFT, also known as ACH), if you are active in the world (not even necessarily online), your information is already out there. Just the act of writing someone a check puts your bank, bank account number, and routing number into many people’s hands – and if your name and address are printed on the check, then potential scammers have all the information they need to possibly access your bank account.

    This knowledge can help us set out a few good practices to help prevent becoming a victim of cyber scammers. First, develop and practice the habit of paying attention to your financial information. This means reviewing your bank accounts, credit card accounts, credit score, mortgage accounts, brokerage accounts, and vendor accounts (telephone, gas, electric, etc.) on a regular basis. This means at least monthly for most accounts, perhaps more frequently for bank and brokerage accounts. A regular review will give you a sense of what should be happening in each account and make you aware of any unusual activity right away. Then make sure you take action immediately on anything out of the ordinary that shows up.

    Second – Your experiences when dealing with issues when they occur will undoubtedly lead straight to our second point – choose your vendors and institutions wisely. Doing business with entities that have more to lose from a data breach than you do can provide a significant backdrop to your good cyber health practices. Most major banks and credit card providers make it easy to initiate a claim for fraudulent activity through their web site. If you encounter difficulties resolving an issue, it may be time to look for another institution.

    Third – practice good internet hygiene. This means never clicking on a popup, never clicking a link in an email from someone you don’t know – even if it looks like it came from your bank or credit card company, and verify, verify, verify. If you do click on a link, check the address in your browser’s address bar. Banks, credit card companies, and reputable vendors, typically use an address that begins with ‘https:’ instead of ‘http:’. Note the added ‘s’. If the address isn’t familiar and/or does not begin with ‘https:’, leave that page and close your browser immediately.

    Finally, at least for this post, be cognizant of where you connect to WiFi. We’ve written extensively elsewhere about setting up your home and/or office with appropriate firewalls and installing antivirus protection on your laptops and workstations. The attraction of sitting in a coffee shop and connecting to your bank can be pretty enticing, but be careful. Public WiFi, without the added security of a good VPN, can be a bit too public and will most likely be operating without any firewalls or other protection. So our recommendation would be to save interactions requiring the exchange of personal information for locations where you are more assured of appropriate safeguards.

    One last word – most viral warnings, such as the one we all saw in early 2020 regarding writing out all 4 digits of the year to avoid various types of unscrupulous behavior, are not meaningful. You can easily check on whether you need to pay attention by doing a bit of research – don’t fall for what is sometimes called ‘security theatre’ – the appearance of doing something to keep your information safe, but doesn’t really help and distracts you from the real threats you need to address.

    Whether you are a business, individual, or non-profit, the Czar Beer team can outline specific steps you should take to minimize fraud and secure your business’ from. Contact us at info@czarbeer.com to share your comments on this article and more.

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    CARES Act Includes Qualified Improvement Property Fix

    As part of the December 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Congress created a framework to accelerate depreciation for businesses on qualified improvement property (QIP), which generally is any improvement made to the interior portion of a nonresidential building any time subsequent to a building being placed in service.

    The depreciable life of QIP was to be reduced from 39 to 15 years and with 100% bonus depreciation being available for all assets with a life of 20 years or less. This would mean if you spent a million dollars in 2018 renovating interiors you should have been entitled to an immediate million dollar tax deduction.

    Although that would have been great news, you know what happens -. In the final version, Congress forgot to specify QIP as 15 year life property. As a result, the life remained 39 years, and thus the property was not eligible for 100% bonus depreciation.

    The 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was the opportunity to repair things and provides a much-needed technical correction to the QIP problem, granting the intended 15 year life language while making the change retroactive to January 1, 2018. Thus, for anyone interested, you are entitled to file an amended return to reap the benefits of accelerated depreciation in 2018 and save when you file 2019.

    The Czar Beer team is dedicated to providing timely, accurate information on all aspects of the CARES Act and the current economic crisis that affect our clients. However, as this is all developing quickly we are here to offer support in any way we can. You can email us at info@czarbeer.com or call 212 397 2970 with any questions you may have.

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    Quick Guide: Main Street Lending Program

    For the past few weeks we’ve been bombarded with information on the most popular aspects of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, but the Federal Reserve took additional steps to bolster the economy with the Main Street Lending Program (MSLP). Designed to further assist small and medium-sized businesses this program provides liquidity during the coronavirus crisis. The MSLP enables new financing of eligible term loans from eligible lenders to eligible businesses by making an extra $2.3 trillion in loans available. As with the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), businesses should reach out to their banks or lenders to apply for one of these loans. However, we need to mention that for now the minimum loan size is $1 million and the interest rate is expected to be higher than that of PPP loans.

    Businesses will need to attest that they require financing due to COVID-19 and have made efforts in the areas of retaining employees as well as maintaining payroll during the term of the loan. An important stipulation of the use of the loan is that the borrower may not use proceeds to repay or refinance pre-existing loans. Small businesses that participate in the PPP may also take advantage of the Main Street Program.

    The MSLP will enhance support for eligible borrowers that were in good financial standing before the crisis by offering four-year loans to companies employing up to 10,000 workers or with revenues of less than $2.5 billion. Interest rates on this unsecured debt will be based on the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) plus 2.5% to 4%, depending on the credit risk. SOFR is a newer benchmark that is due to replace the London Inter-Bank Offered Rate (LIBOR) next year.

    Amortization of principal and interest is deferred for one year (the amortization schedule for an eligible loan is not otherwise specified in the term sheets released by the Federal Reserve). Eligible lenders (banks) may originate new MSLP loans or use them to increase the size of existing loans to businesses.

    Prepayment is permitted without penalty and there is a 1% loan origination fee based on the principal amount of the loan. However, unlike the PPP, these loans contain no provisions for forgiveness.

    The borrower must agree to not use the proceeds of the loan to repay other loan balances and concur that it will not seek to cancel or reduce any of its outstanding lines of credit with the lender or any other lender.

    There are compensation restrictions in that until one year after the loan is repaid, no officer or employee of the business whose calendar year 2019 total compensation exceeded $425,000 receives from the business total compensation that exceeds during any consecutive 12-month period the total compensation received by that person in 2019. Additionally, severance pay or other termination benefits cannot exceed two times the maximum compensation received by that person in 2019.  Lastly, no officer or employee of the business whose total compensation exceeded $3 million in calendar year 2019 may receive during any consecutive 12-month period total compensation in excess of $3 million plus or 50% of the compensation over $3 million of total compensation received from the business in calendar year 2019.

    The good news is that banks are already seeking changes as the Federal Reserve finalizes the MSLP in order to expand eligibility. The feedback has been for new enhancements that make the program workable for lenders as this would get the funds into the real economy quickly. The program’s $1 million minimum loan size appears to be too large and will exclude many small businesses that need to borrow a smaller amount while a minimum of $100,000 seems more appropriate. Calls have been made to reduce the floor to $50,000. As some lenders have yet to adopt to SOFR, those lenders want to use LIBOR or other benchmarks.

    Further, other industry groups have made requests to include more flexibility on the duration of the loans allowed and the maximum size of the loan, as well as giving lenders more discretion as how to supervise capital distribution restrictions that are imposed on borrowers as a condition of the loan.

    The Czar Beer team is dedicated to providing timely, accurate information on all aspects of the the current economic crisis that affect our clients. However, as this is all developing quickly we are here to offer support in any way we can. You can email us at info@czarbeer.com or call 212 397 2970 with any questions you may have.

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    Net Operating Losses: The Carryback is Back!

    The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) updated the net operating loss rules to eliminate carryback opportunities, while allowing carryforwards to be used to offset 80% of taxable income. On the plus side, the updated rules allowed losses to be deferred indefinitely removing the 20 year expiration rule and even better than that, is the good news that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) has modified those rules even further and now the 80% limitation has been lifted, meaning once again losses can now be carried back for up to five years.

    The widening of the use of net operating losses and allowing carryback refunds as part of implementing the CARES Act presents an opportunity for small businesses to recoup taxes paid, as well as significantly reduce their tax burdens going forward. The IRS also announced temporary procedures that allow a fax transmission of the required forms to speed up the processing times for these refund claims. The new law requires a taxpayer with a net operating loss arising in a 2018, 2019, or 2020 taxable year to carry that loss back to each of the five preceding years unless the taxpayer elects to waive or reduce the carryback.

    Starting on April 17, 2020 and until further notice the IRS will accept eligible refund claims forms to a specific fax number – 844-249-6236 for Form 1139 (corporations) and 844-249-6237 for Form 1045 (individuals, estates and trusts). The IRS is encouraging taxpayers to wait until April 17, rather than mailing in the forms since mail processing is being impacted by the pandemic.

    Previously, these forms could be filed only via hard copy delivered through the USPS or by a private delivery service. The temporary procedure to accept these forms via fax allows the federal government to make the relief in the CARES Act available to taxpayers before IRS processing centers are able to reopen. The other procedures to process claims will remain the same – the only difference is to allow an additional method to file eligible refund claims.

    The Czar Beer team is dedicated to providing timely, accurate information on all aspects of the CARES Act and the current economic crisis that affect our clients. However, as this is all developing quickly we are here to offer support in any way we can. You can email us at info@czarbeer.com or call 212 397 2970 with any questions you may have.

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    Quick Guide: CARES Act Payroll Tax Deferral

    News of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act has made headlines every day since its enactment in late March. As of April 16, the Small Business Administration (SBA) announced that the initial amounts appropriated for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) (including up to $10,000 emergency grants) for the COVID-19 virus situation have run out, but fear not for businesses concerned about cash flow can find solace in two other CARES Act provisions.

    One provision of the Act allows the employer portion of payroll tax deposits to be utilized if no PPP loan is forgiven. This provision seeks to alleviate the burden on employers struggling to make payroll by allowing the employer’s share of the 6.2% social security tax that would otherwise be due from the date of enactment through December 31, 2020, to be deferred and then paid in two 50% installments by December 31, 2021 and December 31, 2022. For those who are self-employed, you can immediately defer paying 50% of your self-employment tax that would be due from the date of enactment through the end of 2020 until the end of 2021 (25%) and 2022 (25%).

    This means an employer who incurs its 6.2% share of Social Security tax in 2020 may defer payment of that tax until 2021 and 2022.

    The second provision allows an employer to receive an immediate credit against those yet-to-be paid payroll taxes via the sum of the emergency medical leave credit, sick leave credit, and new employee retention credit. This will increase the cash available to businesses in the coming months. It appears these credits may also be refundable, meaning you can get cash back from the IRS for certain payroll taxes already paid.

    The Czar Beer team is dedicated to providing timely, accurate information on all aspects of the CARES Act and the current economic crisis that affect our clients. However, as this is all developing quickly we are here to offer support in any way we can. You can email us at info@czarbeer.com or call 212 397 2970 with any questions you may have.

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     3 Most Effective Strategies for Retaining Good Employees

    In case you haven’t noticed, the job market has become increasingly competitive and for the small business owner this means that if you don’t treat your employees right someone else will take them. However, that doesn’t mean that they will treat them any better. So let’s take a look at the many ways we can be proactive and ensure the most vital and important aspect of small business management – the employee.

    In the past all it took was a strong economy, which created a lot of companies needing assistance, for workers to have more job opportunities.  Nowadays, the average job seeker has numerous opportunities to search for jobs and post their resumes using services like LinkedIn and Indeed which seem to encourage job movement.  As a small business, you will struggle to match the pay or perks offers of bigger companies, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as you may be able to create an environment which offers significant career development opportunities leading to greater success and higher work satisfaction.

    Also, while the larger companies might offer your employees a raise that doesn’t mean you can’t compete. You will need to be flexible and creative so you can develop the best mix of benefits t you can offer that larger companies may not be willing or able to match.

    Flexible Hours

    How flexible can your employee work schedule be?  Do you require employees to always be on the premises or with clients during working hours?   As a small business, you have the option to not limit your employees to a traditional schedule. Be open to your employees figuring out schedules that meet your needs but give them the hours they want.

    By using this method, you allow your employees to customize their work schedules to their lives. Maybe a worker needs to schedule around a school bus pickup and drop-off, but still works their hours.  Another prefers to work longer days in order to leave early on Friday.  The mix is up to the employees, but it is YOUR flexibility that wins them over. Having work lives that don’t interfere with their personal lives is one of the most important aspects of job satisfaction for younger workers.

    While those are not traditional schedules by any means, there’s no reason for you to worry as long as everyone is happy, and the work gets done.  Your role is to develop systems and utilize technology to best understand how the employee functions and benchmark it to the results that you require to succeed.  To make this even more innovative you can implement technology that lets you supervise your staff without needing to see them.

    Profit-Sharing

    Although you may not be able to commit to salaries that are as big as what larger companies offer, you can’t afford to lose your best employees who more likely than not deserve higher pay within your organization.  By using a profit-sharing strategy, you will be able to offer employees a piece of your profit which then creates the incentive to increase production levels as your key employees will see more dollars if they perform well.  This incentive should be structured so that the best employees always get fairly compensated, but they also have the opportunity to create more and more profit for themselves and you.

    You see, when you give your most-valuable workers a piece of the profits they’ll stop thinking like employees and start acting like owners. This can lead to your small business operating more efficiently because top performers now have an incentive to maximize profits.

    Your ability to cut your important employees in on a piece of the profits does require some transparency on your part. You will need to provide employees with information on the metrics that you are determining their share of the profits on.  There are additional benefits for empowering employees with knowledge about your business. If you intend to grow the business and will need future managers, the profit bench-marking approach teaches them the basic aspects of financially supervising your business.

    Ownership

    In addition to profit sharing you can consider whether your key employees are capable of being part of ownership someday.  As a small business owner you may also want to someday move on and to do so you will need to establish an heir apparent.  By properly training one of your key employees to take this role your small business will be able to function without the existing owner and the new owner can simply pick up as executive over a fully functioning business.

    You can use the long-term goal of a creating a succession plan with one or more of your key employees at the same time to create an environment where they will be less likely to jump ship over a raise.  Start with the worker(s) earning equity based on hitting performance goals and grant that person the right to make the first offer to buy the company when it’s time for you to step away.  While it isn’t a small feat, setting the foundation for someone else to run your company if something happens in your life/ or to you creates business value and increases employee satisfaction.

    How clever and resourceful can you be?  The CEO of a large company can’t talk to every employee and create a strategy just for them, but in a smaller business, you have the luxury of being able to get to know your workers and understand what will help them develop their hopes and dreams.

    It is vital to be proactive; you can’t wait until your employees inform you that they are leaving to make the necessary changes.  They won’t tell you that they are receiving other offers and opening yourself up to lose key employees will definitely keep you up at night.  We suggest that you become aggressive when it comes to creating the most positive workplace culture that makes each and every vital (this may be all) employee at the very least consider long and hard before leaving.

    Whether you are a business, individual, or non-profit, we can outline specific steps you should take to minimize taxes, maximize loan eligibility, and ensure your business’ sustained growth.

    For more information, contact us at info@czarbeer.com or (212) 397-2970.

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    How to Fraud-Proof Your Business

    We all wish we lived in a world where others think like us and have the same morals we do, but we need to forewarn you that there are people out there in the job market who don’t share your vision.  They are the small percentage of job seekers who hide important information about their job history so that you will feel comfortable enough to offer them a position.

    The problem when you encounter these types of situations is that small businesses normally don’t  take the time to prosecute employees they know or think committed fraud. These employees understand this so they tend to ride the high employment wave into jobs that no one else is available to take. With unemployment less than 4% we want to remind you how important it is that fraud prevention be part of your company’s culture, particularly during the hiring process.

    While we all attempt to avoid hiring such types, it is better to be safe than sorry in this high employment environment.  What helps most to protect against this risk is the amount of attention that a business owner devotes to fraud. Dedicating time to fraud prevention sends a powerful message to employees about its importance and empowers honest employees to help sniff out the not so honest ones.

    At Czar Beer we suggest that you structure your work and day-to-day responsibilities with an eye toward fraud prevention so that it can be stopped in its tracks. To do so we recommend several business routines that will help  minimize loss. They will also improve employee performance and security, and positively affect your overall business prosperity.

    We’ll say it again, these business routines will guard against fraud, make things better and allow you to better prosper.  Who’s listening now?

    Simple precautions can save you from future fraud trouble:

    • Research who you hire – Conduct due diligence with thorough interviews, references checks and past employer calls. Don’t skip formal background checks: they’re required to build a trustworthy team.
    • Separate duties – Don’t give any single employee too much authority. Structured separation of duties with financial checks and balances helps you avoid concentrating too much power in one person and gives you and your employees the confidence that business finances are being handled correctly.
    • Educate employees – Set up training sessions to teach employees how they can help prevent fraud with due diligence and adherence to operational guidelines, roles and responsibilities.
    • Prepare your business for fraud strikes – These strikes are most likely created internally.  That’s right, we watch the bank and credit card statements for items incorrectly posted from outsiders and the risk from inside is about two thirds as much.  Research shows that 37% of fraud is initiated by internal sources.

    By expanding precautions, you can add more security:

    • Conduct frequent account reconciliation– Only half of small business owners review bank statements, credit card charges and accounting books. Frequent reconciliation identifies financial red flags early. Online banking services provide transaction, balance and utilization reporting for easier reconciliation.
    • Fraud audits – Regular fraud audits signal your commitment to reduce fraud and keep your business secure. Reduce risk and uncover weaknesses with audits and reviews by your Certified Public Accountant.

    Whether you are a business, individual, or non-profit, the Czar Beer team can outline specific steps you should take to minimize fraud and secure your business’ sustained growth.

    For more information, contact us at info@czarbeer.com or (212) 397-2970.

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    The No.1 Tip to Successfully Completing Your IRS Audit

    Many people dread the mere thought of an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) audit.  However, these days, you’re most likely to receive a “desk” audit whereby a missing income item or proper documentation for a deduction is requested. Sometimes this happens because the taxpayer doesn’t receive or misplaces a source of income and they don’t have an alternative source of knowledge about that income, so an adjustment is necessary.  In cases like this, the matter is then easily resolved through a payment by the taxpayer, while the IRS is successful in finding money for the government.

    At Czar Beer, we sometimes work with some clients who reveal that while they have deductions, the record keeping burdens can create a situation where the deduction amount is correct but adequate documentation is not readily available.

    We are not suggesting that everyone should drop everything else that goes on in their lives to invest a huge amount of time into meeting the IRS requirements, but we would like to take this opportunity to remind you that taxpayers are required to maintain adequate documentation for certain deductions on certain forms.   Additionally, be mindful of the fact that several tax court cases came down to negative conclusions not only for the tax due but also for not maintaining adequate records and the court upheld the accuracy-related penalties assessed by the IRS.

    To avoid this you should discuss contemporaneous record requirements with your tax professional to assure that you only spend required time, but still have the documentation needed to meet the IRS’ minimum requirements.

    Whether you are a business, individual, or non-profit, we can outline specific steps that you should take to minimize taxes, maintain appropriate records and successfully defend your deductions if you are audited.

    For more information, contact us at info@czarbeer.com or (212) 397-2970.

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    Protecting Yourself From Fraud

    We often read in the news about various large corporations, and sometimes small businesses, experiencing privacy breaches and  vulnerability.  We thought that every one of our clients could benefit from knowing what they can do to protect their money, credit and identity.

    Our first suggestion is that you keep in touch with your financial institutions and  make it easy for them to keep in touch with you. This starts with you keeping your contact information up-to-date.  This is especially true of your mobile number since some people change numbers frequently.  You want them to be able to reach you so that their systems can best protect your accounts and information.  As much as some us want to limit the number of applications we put on our mobile devices, if your financial institutions have a mobile information or banking app, then download it! But don’t stop there, make sure to turn on the mobile app alerts that apply to you. Then when their systems detect unusual activity, they can easily notify you.

    The app will also allow you to review your account activity regularly and report suspicious activity promptly. That’s right, in order to protect yourself in this way, you have some work cut out for yourself! Be prepared to have bank representatives  respond quickly to your suspicions and for you to respond just as quickly to any of their security and/or fraud alerts. That way when you or they reach out to one another, they can take immediate action on your behalf and put up a protective wall immediately. This can happen at any time and you can be anywhere. Also, avoid attempting to access your financial accounts through email inquiries as you will also need to stay alert to many online threats. This includes avoiding clicking on suspicious links or responding to emails or texts urging you to act quickly. Do not provide personal information like your account numbers, PIN or Social Security number. If ever in doubt about anything, initiate a separate communication either through the app, by dialing the number on your monthly statement or credit card, or by visiting a branch.

    Create strong, unique passwords for each of your online accounts and take advantage of any additional security features when available from the institution.  All passwords should include upper- and lower-case letters and special characters.  Try mixing them up and adding special characters which tend to be added at the beginning and end of passwords.

    Go further and protect your devices by installing antivirus software and keeping your operating systems, applications and web browser up to date on your mobile phone, tablet and computer.  Don’t simply buy it and use it- embrace the technology!

    You should also know how to identify and avoid scam attempts.  If you provide your information or send money to a scammer, there is often little that can be done to help get your money back. Never, ever trust caller ID: Always validate a person’s organization by calling them back through an official phone number like the one found on your bank statement or back of your credit card.  Scammers may also pose as government officials, law enforcement or even institutional employees in order to steal your personal information, so always be on the alert.

    Here is a list of red flags that might point towards a scam. It is important that you can identify them.  These are many, BUT NOT ALL, of the most common types of scams.

    You may be:

    ◾Pressured to send money

    ◾Threatened with law enforcement action

    ◾Told to purchase gift cards and provide codes as a form of payment

    ◾Asked to cash a check for a stranger

    ◾Instructed to make a cash deposit for sweepstakes

    ◾Offered more than you are asking for something with a request to send the over payment elsewhere

    Let’s make our own personal security a top priority! Therefore, please take these steps in order to help yourself to fight prevalent frauds.

    Whether you are a business, individual, or non-profit, we can outline specific steps that you should take to minimize taxes, maximize loan eligibility, and enhance the value of your property.

    For more information, contact us at info@czarbeer.com or (212) 397-2970.

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    Why Choosing A Good Accountant Should Be Your Top Priority

    One of the most important decisions that you will make as a small business owner is choosing an accountant and tax advisor. In addition to being important, is can also be one of the most intimidating because this is a relationship that extends beyond just bookkeeping and will provide guidance and advice as your business grows.

    You should acquire an accountant as soon as you start your business in order to set up the proper legal structure. An incorrect legal structure can wind up costing you a lot in taxes and legal fees to correct. If you are buying a franchise or other small business, an accountant’s evaluation of the financial records is absolutely necessary.

     

    Don’t make the mistake of delaying to involve an accountant until tax time. Working with an accountant to set up the proper procedures for record keeping and financial projections can help you to avoid costly tax problems.

    Research and Interview

    Your relationship with your accountant is a relationship that deserves your time and attention. Even solo entrepreneurs will benefit from establishing a solid relationship with an accountant who can aid in setting up the business correctly and assist with questions as you grow.

    As a small business owner, you should interview small accounting firms that can provide you with the personal time and attention that you will need. Beware solo accountants who may not be able to spend time answering many of your questions because of their own workload. Regardless of whomever you choose, you need to make sure that you feel comfortable as you will be dealing with sensitive personal financial information.

    Some strategies that will help you choose an accountant or firm that best suits your needs are:

    Marshall Persky, a SCORE mentor and former chairman advises “…to build a shortlist of accountants that you would consider ‘partnering’ with because that is exactly what you are doing by hiring a business accountant.”

    • Interview in person so you can gauge your level of comfort.
    • See if they have experience with your specific industry. Accounting metrics can vary substantially by industry so you’ll want to hire a firm that has substantial experience in your are. It is also imperative that the accountant or firm has experience handling small businesses.
    • Verify credentials. A CPA (Certified Public Accountant) designation is preferable and they should have access to current tax information. The AICPA (Association of International Certified Public Accountants) maintains a directory of accounting companies that you can choose from or try to get a referral from another local small business that you trust.  The SBA (Small Business Association) suggests inquiring with your local Chamber of Commerce for networking events. Your business bank may also be able to aid you with suggestions.

    In addition to assisting you in legally structuring your business, an accountant can also be very helpful in dealing with your bank’s loan officer and the bank’s requirements for particular financial reports.  When choosing your accountant ensure that they are always available to answer your questions with clear explanations – no technical jargon.  It is imperative that you understand what you are doing financially and why you are doing it.

    Make sure you keep yourself updated.  The accountant should be accessible during the year to guide your financial decisions in growing your business and understanding your cash flow.

    Define Your Needs

    Be honest about how much time you can devote to preparing, updating and maintaining your financial records. Can you maintain your own accounting software? If not, you will need to keep organized records –  and no that doesn’t mean shoeboxes of receipts. See if your accountant can provide some training for you.

    Remember that your main responsibility is to run your business so don’t take on more than you are capable of handling. If necessary, Make a list of requirements that you would want the accountant to handle because records that are not maintained correctly can be costly.

    If you are handling the daily accounting, allow your accountant access to your cloud payroll and accounting services. This will enable the accountant to keep updated and will reduce the costs physical meetings and printing reports.

    Make Sure You Are Covered For Taxes

    Tax season is particularly hectic for both the small business owner and the accountant.

    Avoid the last minute tax crunch. Schedule a meeting with your accountant at the start of the year and supply all the relevant files and documents as early as possible.

    Find out how your accountant handles a government audit. These can be very costly in time, money and stress. In the event you would need one, it is essential that you have a good accountant to assist you.

    Use your accountant to aid in tax planning so you can avoid unexpected tax bills.

    What Are the Costs?

    The costs associated with hiring an accountant or accounting firm are very important to discuss, especially for the small business owner. Very often, you may not be able to afford a retainer structure. Even if that is the case, you will hopefully be able to develop a relationship with the accountant or accounting firm you choose that will allow you to utilize their services strategically as you grow. Efficiency with your record keeping and timely updates will help toward keeping  costs down. The expense is still worth your time as good accounting is needed to run your business effectively and avoid costly financial errors.

    Taking the time to establish a solid business relationship with an accountant who you are comfortable working with will pay off in time and money. Now that you’ve bought into the need for an accountant, stay tuned for more tax tips and tricks as tax season approaches!

    Whether you are a business, individual, or non-profit, we can outline specific steps you should take to minimize taxes, maximize loan eligibility, and enhance the value of your property.

    For more information, contact us at info@czarbeer.com or (212) 397-2970.

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    Using Artificial Intelligence for Small Businesses

    With all the hype about artificial intelligence (AI) these days, we were wondering how we can use it to help our small business clients grow, and whether it’s even worth the investment.

    Let’s take a moment to remember that AI is already deeply interwoven into our everyday lives. In fact, those who have become accustomed to communicating using natural language processing AI programs like Alexa or Siri use it daily. There are many examples of how AI has become an integral part of our lives. Take a look at how all of the suggestions on your “feed” are similar and reflective of your interests and tastes or create your own channel on Spotify and you’ll see how learning software has chosen your tunes.

    If there’s one thing most small business owners have in common, it’s that they simply don’t have enough time. If you feel like your workload keeps growing, trust us, you’re not alone. Having insufficient time is a hurdle that affects most businesses, which is why we believe that AI tools can be a huge advantage when it comes to this topic. Let’s look at some areas that we thought our clients and other small business owners could use to put the magic of AI to work.

    Lead scoring is a prime area which offers huge time savings and return-on-investment potential for your business, especially by boosting your conversion rate of leads to customers, with predictive lead scoring.  We consider this area one of the disciplines with the most potential to cost-effectively incorporate AI.

    In traditional lead scoring, marketers assign high ratings to the leads they think are the most promising and lower scores to the rest. Scores are based on the leads’ activities and interactions, which are gauged by a process that relies on guesswork. The problem is that the part of the score that’s based on activities and interactions are typically only assigned once.  Any incorrect assumptions about the value of an activity, or how the impact of an activity changes over time can cause a lead to have an inappropriate score. Contrary, the value of an important lead could be grossly underestimated.  The result of these errors is that focus is placed on under-qualified leads and there is a miss on better ones that have historically never surfaced.

    In contrast, AI software like predictive lead scoring drilled into your lead conversion history uncovers patterns and factors that predict YOUR success, and ranks leads accordingly.  As any new data comes in, the system keeps refining its model and recomputing the lead scores. For example, you publish a new demo video and it starts generating more conversions than you’ve ever seen before, then the AI tool will recalculate the lead scores in real time and there you have it- you won’t need to worry about manual inaccuracies.

    Predictive lead scoring seems to be most effective when it is integrated into everyday processes. Sales and marketing teams should consistently use and evaluate their lead scoring systems to ensure these systems are helping them use their time and energy efficiently. From our perspective, finding new ways to increase conversion rates is something every small business should do and AI just makes it easier!

    Let’s face it, as small business owners, we tend to shoot from the hip. What would you think about an enhanced system, capable of seeing the patterns we miss in the details of our sales forecasting model? Well, it seems that AI makes a bottom-line difference in sales forecasting!  It gives sales managers accurate and emotion-free data points to balance against their representative’s subjective predictions. AI forecasting works by analyzing all the data in your customer relationship manager, identifying the activities and behaviors that correlate with success and modeling those to predict which current opportunities will most likely close.

    A key here is to run your forecasts early enough, and AI will help you figure out how to improve the predicted outcome. Suppose you felt like leads were drying up? Wouldn’t you be worried about making your numbers?  From our experience, AI tools have the ability to tell you that this may not be a problem at all; you might simply have larger-sized opportunities available to you that you didn’t realize. Finally, a business tool that might eliminate worry!

    If you had the ability to do so, wouldn’t you use this insight to adapt your strategy and focus resources on these bigger accounts, maximizing the odds of closing them by the end of the month? By utilizing AI software, you minimize anxiety and maximize performance. For a small business having this type of insight is a game-changer.

    Keeping customers happy is as critical for growth as winning deals. Research tells us customers like live chat support, but when they use it, they expect an immediate response. Smaller businesses don’t typically have the resources to keep a full staff of agents on duty all day long. In this regard, another type of AI software to consider is the AI-based chat-bot, which front-end customer support and provides your business with around-the-clock service. By embracing customer service trends with technology, your business can establish the presence of a much larger organization.

    With its built-in intelligence, an AI chat-bot can decipher semantics and grammar, determining what the customer wants and can serve up a fast and accurate response. If and when a customer requests a live agent, the chat-bot can quickly route them to one. The re-route is accompanied by an issue summary and helpful contextual data for the agent to step into action. With the appropriate knowledge, the agent can solve the problem in short order. The customer receives the service that they need and expect, and the business is able to handle more support queries without hiring more agents.

    By using chat-bots, you put the customer experience first. While chat-bots can help streamline your service teams, in the case of complex issues, the customer needs to be connected with a staff member to make sure that they get the information they’re looking for. We suggest that you evaluate chat-bots that provide numerous options so that your staff can easily select from the top features and understand the chat-bot’s capabilities.  Isn’t it smart to scale up customer service and keep satisfaction high with AI chat-bots?

    By harnessing AI, your small business can grow faster.

    These are just basic examples of how AI can drive you to greater success by investing less time in sales, marketing and customer service.  We suspect it’s only the beginning, but the beginning is the best place to start!  We see AI as a force multiplier- not just versus peers, but in your going up against larger rivals and surviving.

    Connect those dots and you’ll realize that AI collects large quantities of data and provides the answers that we need. It works much faster than any human, automating mind-numbing tasks and searches to save us valuable time. Naturally, those benefits translate perfectly to the business world. We know that you can incorporate out-of-the-box AI tools to become more efficient and grow your business. In our opinion, the more AI tools that you can add to your arsenal, the greater your competitive advantage will be.

    Whether you are a business, individual, or non-profit, we can outline specific steps you should take to minimize taxes, maximize loan eligibility, and enhance the value of your property.

    For more information, contact us at info@czarbeer.com or (212) 397-2970.

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