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Done your 2014 business plan yet?

A business plan proper contains lots of non-financial information, but all roads lead to the bottom line. A simple way of creating a budget from your other business assumptions is to do it in ….. wait for it ….. Excel.

With a row for each income/expense heading and columns for time periods (usually months) you can quickly put together a budget profit and loss for the next financial year. For some expenses particularly overheads you can refer to the current cost base, and depending on the nature of your business this can work for revenues too. If you have departments or divisions in your business you can have a budget sheet for each of them and total to get the big picture. Likewise for different product or service lines.

Once you’ve done this you’ll end up with something looking like this:Budget

You can then do other things, such as looking at profitability, exploring the impact of sales or costs going up or down, work out your break even point, and create a cashflow budget.

Drop me an email if you’d like a copy of the spreadsheet template, and look out for other business planning posts in this series.

Chris Dixon, Eightoaks

Time for a new payroll process?

A recent experience of a client being selected for a National Minimum Wage review by HMRC led me to recommend some changes to their payroll process.

Like many businesses this one paid its staff by the day and adjusted for absences such as unpaid sick. Some of the staff were at or just above the minimum wage for their age, so increasing the risk of an error pushing them below the minimum. HMRC conducted a check which spanned several months, with much to-ing and fro-ing over detail and found some errors which had resulted in a few staff being underpaid small amounts.

Having gone through the results with the client I suggested some changes to the payroll process:

  1. Stop basing pay on a daily rate, pay by the hour instead.
  2. Implement a simple timesheet process, where hours per day are recorded and the employee signs it at the end of the pay period as a correct record of hours worked.
  3. Where staff are on piece work, ensure the equivalent hourly rate is calculated to check it is above the minimum wage.
  4. Check each month for staff birthdays or other changes in circumstances that might change their minimum wage level.

So if you pay by the day, it is worth checking you can easily produce records of the actual hours worked. My client has only a few employees, so can manage with a paper record, if you have enough staff to warrant a computerised time recording system, this may be worth considering.

Chris Dixon, Eightoaks

CIMA la difference?

For most clients the institute a qualified accountant is a member of isn’t a key factor, especially if they are only looking to have their accounts prepared and tax return done. Some simply look for a “Chartered” accountant, which most qualified accountants in practice are if they belong to one of the main professional bodies.

However there are some key differences between the skills and experience of a traditional “high street” accountant and a CIMA Member in Practice. Here are a few:

  1. A CIMA accountant will tend to look at the business from the inside, rather than just the numbers that make up statutory accounts.
  2. Their professional training placed a lot of emphasis on providing businesses with meaningful data to support the day to day running of the business, so called management accounts.
  3. They are likely to have been exposed to a variety of different software systems, and may think more in terms of business processes.
  4. They are less likely to have worked on statutory audits (which are usually only needed for companies that meet 2 out of the following requirements: turnover of over £6.5 million; assets of more than £3.26 million; has more than 50 employees) so for SME’s that tends not to be an issue.
  5. They will generally be less obsessed with timesheets and billable hours!

That’s not to say that hiring an accountant who has just emerged from a 30 year career in the Management Accounting department at a local shoe factory is going to be the best thing for a small business, but CIMA have thought about that. Before a CIMA member can get the Practising Certificate they need in order to provide services to the public they need to meet the institute’s skills and experience requirements.

Back to the beginning, many individuals and companies hire an accountant without checking if they are qualified at all. Unlike the financial services industry, accountancy is lightly regulated and anyone can set up shop. Indeed, there are many “qualified by experience” accountants out there giving a good service to their clients. However should things go wrong ……. we’ll look at “when accountants go bad” in a future blog.

Compare the market!

As a nation we seem obsessed with comparison websites and we readily switch insurers to save £50-100 on our car or home insurance. So why don’t businesses market test their accountant more often? Is it because they are happy enough with the basic service and see little differentiation between local firms, or do they think its a lot of hassle to change even if they are open to the idea? I often meet business owners who aren’t entirely happy with their accountant but can’t bring themselves to do much about it, so when I get the chance I explain how easy it is to change, at the right time.

Service and other benefits aside, businesses can often save significant amounts by shopping around. This particularly applies the more services you require. Take a look at your accountancy and bookkeeping costs over the last year. How many items were billed separately, or in addition to the core fee you had agreed? Was your personal tax on top of the fee for the accounts?

In a future blog I’ll look at how to go about changing accountants and the differences a CIMA accountant can bring.

Meanwhile if you can see some benefit in changing your accountant, go (and) compare!

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