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Creating A Strategic Plan For 2016

As the year end approaches, now is the perfect time to think about your strategic plans and growth strategies for 2016.  Your growth strategies and strategic plan should be focused on the upcoming year as well as three to five years down the road.  You have to understand exactly where your business is and have a vision of where you want your company to be in the future.  If you don’t have a plan that looks toward the future, you risk not ever growing your business.

One of the most important places to start is to build a budget.  As you are building your budget for 2016, and for your long term (3-5 year) strategy – think about the following questions:

  • Where do you want to be?
  • What size do you want to be?
  • Do you want to sell your company?

All of these questions should be asked on a yearly basis as you look three to five years into the future.  The answers to these questions will determine the day to day operational decisions you make.  If you are going to sell your company in two years, then maximizing current profitability is key – in order to show potential of the business.  If you are going to sell in 5 years and you need to grow significantly, then you may consider doing an acquisition.

Another item to think about is if you have the resources who can help you effectively sell your business or help you complete an acquisition?  Do you know how to set your company up to maximize the value you receive through a sale?  Teaming with a certified public accountant can help you with this. CPAs are notorious for having a wealth of resources and contacts that can help you build a network of advisors.  Whether it be an attorney, a wealth management advisor, a capital advisor, a bank, or SBA lender – CPAs can put you in touch with the right people.

Creating a strategic plan is essential to your business.  It is something that can help you identify the best opportunities for growth, understand potential financial results, and provide you with a detailed and focused plan that you can communicate to your team.

If you would like to learn more about how LBA Haynes Strand can help you achieve your long term goals, click the button below for a no-cost consultation!

Important Tax Alert: How The 2015 Budget Act Will Affect Medicare and Social Security

The effect of the 2015 Budget Act will impact Medicare premiums and Social Security benefits.  Based on our reading of the bill and various other articles analyzing the new law, the following is an understanding of the changes in the 2015 Budget Act impacting Social Security Benefits:

Medicare Part B Premiums for 2016

The 2016 Medicare Part B premiums were originally scheduled to increase by 52% over the 2015 monthly amount of $104.90 for single taxpayers with income of $85,000 or less and married taxpayers with income of $170,000 or less.  Taxpayers with income above those amounts paid higher premiums. 

NEW LAW: The Act limits the 2016 premiums to the 2015 amounts for most taxpayers.  Taxpayers with higher incomes will pay the 2015 premiums plus $3 per month.  For 2017 and subsequent years, the premiums for the lower income taxpayers will be increased by the lesser of $3 or the cost of living adjustments in their monthly Social Security payments.

Social Security Benefits

Individuals who are or will be age 66 before May 1, 2016:

Under prior rules, individuals who turned age 66 could file for social security benefits and immediately suspend receipt of those benefits.  Their retirement benefits would continue to grow by 8% per year until the earlier of age 70 or an election to start receiving benefits.  While  benefits are suspended, their spouse or dependent child(ren) could receive up to 50% of their normal payment amount.  When the individual later begins  drawing payments, the individual could request a lump sum payment of the accumulated suspended payments in lieu of receiving the increased monthly payments.

NEW LAW: The 2015 Budget Act provides that anyone, who has already filed for and suspended the receipt of benefits prior to passage of the Act and whose family is receiving benefits, will not be affected. 

Individuals turning age 66 before May 1, 2016 can follow the old rule that allows them to file and suspend while their future benefits increase by 8% per year until age 70.  Their dependent child(ren) will be eligible to receive benefits and their spouse aged 62 or older as of December 31, 2015 will be able to receive spousal benefits at age 66. 

Individuals that will turn age 66 before May 1, 2016 but do not file for benefits before that date may file and suspend their benefits after April 30, 2016, but their family will not be able to collect any benefits while their benefits are suspended.   In other words, if the individual turning age 66 is not receiving cash payments, spouses and dependent children may not receive payments unless the individual turned age 66 before May 1, 2016 and filed for benefits. 

Individuals who will be age 62 before December 31, 2015:

Under the old rules, an individual born in 1943 through 1954 could file for full Social Security benefits at age 66 regardless of employment status or earnings.   Generally, spouses age 62 or older and certain dependent children could also get benefits of up to 50% of the individual’s benefit amounts, even if suspended.

NEW LAW: The Act limits the spousal benefits to the greater of the spouse’s own benefits or 50% of the primary beneficiary’s benefits when the spouse reaches age 66.  Spousal benefits and dependent benefits are only paid when the primary beneficiary has filed for benefits and is receiving benefits. 

There is an exception  for a spouse who is age 62 as of December 31, 2015.  If the primary beneficiary attained full retirement age before May 1, 2016 and has either claimed Social Security benefits or has filed and suspended their benefits prior to May 1, 2016, the spouse may claim either spousal benefits or their own benefits when he or she turns 66.  This allows the spouse to collect 50% of the primary beneficiary’s full retirement amount for up to four years and their benefit will increase by 8% until age 70 when they must switch to their own retirement benefits. 

The other exception is for surviving spouses who may continue to choose their own benefits or the spousal benefits.

Individuals under age 62 at December 31, 2015:

NEW LAW: Anyone who turns 62 after December 31, 2015 will lose the right to claim spousal benefits.  If they are entitled to both their own retirement benefit and a spousal benefit, they will only receive the higher amount.  The only exception is for surviving spouses.  A surviving spouse may choose the spousal benefit first while his or her benefit continues to increase by 8% per year until age 70 at which time the surviving spouse can claim his or her own benefit.

Due to the complexity of the rules for electing Social Security Benefits, we encourage you to consult your tax advisor.  The tax professionals at LBA Haynes Strand, PLLC are available to assist you in understanding this process, and making the best possible decision.  Click the button below if you would like to schedule an appointment to discuss your Social Security Benefits, or other important tax planning for your retirement years.

Attention Business Owners: Don’t Just Survive….Thrive!

Are you helping your business thrive or are you helping it survive? If you are a business owner you may be spending too much time focusing on how to keep the ship afloat and not focusing enough on the opportunity to shift your time and attention to helping your business thrive.  One option to assist you is outsourcing business functions to professionals.  Look outside your company for consultants, for example a CPA firm that provides bookkeeping or outsourced accounting services.  This can save you time and money, as the fee will likely be less than hiring a full time accountant on your staff.

The moral of the story: Don’t try to wear all the hats!

Business owners that try to wear all the hats simply don’t have time to focus on their business.  They are too busy focused on the mundane activities such as accounting, marketing, hr, etc. As the leader of your business, you should be spending 0% of your time crunching numbers of everyday finances, and 100% of your time finding ways to increase the overall value of your business.

Let’s examine how outsourcing your accounting function can give you a tighter grip on managing your business in its entirety:

Outsourcing Saves Time

Your accounting department shouldn’t require a babysitter. You might think it’s your duty to manage work flow, or you might just be intent on keeping a close eye on your company’s finances. Is this really the best use of your time as the leader of your business? What you should be doing is checking in to each of your departments, ensuring smooth sailing, and then getting back to running your business as a whole.  

Outsourced accounting allows you to do this by taking all accounting issues off your hands. With an outside accounting firm, you are relieved of the day-to-day oversight of your company’s finances. Your available time increases, and you feel confident in taking that time to tackle other, more important, business issues.

Outsourcing Gives You An Organized System

When you ask your bookkeeper for a specific document, they should be able to retrieve it immediately. There shouldn’t be massive amounts of time spent digging through files and searching through desktops.

If you’re like most successful business owners, disorganization conflicts with your strategically structured approach to running a business. When you have a CPA firm on your team, your files are classified by revenue, or expense or location – however YOU want them to be classified. Which brings us to your next point…

Outsourcing Puts You In Control

You obviously have control over your business if you own it, but are things being managed according to your guidelines? Are the financial policies and procedures your company requires being put into place? You may not have tremendous accounting knowledge, but you have ideas on how you’d like to see your reports compiled and presented.

A good CPA firm abides by these ideas, taking your business plans and reporting preferences and arranging them in an easy-to-read, comprehensible format. For example, if you’re not 100% in tune with 100% of your expenditures, a CPA firm might recommend a weekly, monthly or quarterly cash flow analysis, depending on your needs.

The fact that you are not an accounting expert shouldn’t prevent you from creating policies around your finances.

Leading your business means bringing about a brighter future, looking at the overall picture, and not busying yourself with daily duties throughout your departments. Even if your accounting department is performing adequately, as a leader, it is your responsibility to turn “adequate” into “effective” if you want to achieve sustainable business success. Outsourced accounting services ensure this effectiveness, and give you the time and tools you need to lead your business.

Want to learn more about the benefits outsourced accounting provides for your business?  Click here to start the conversation about your financial future with LBA Haynes Strand or click the button below to download your free whitepaper on the subject!

Finding The Right CPA For Your Construction Firm

Often times the relationship between accountants and their clients can be misunderstood as one that just produces a tax return or one time advice.  If this describes your current relationship with your CPA, you might want to re-think your CPA Firm.  An accountant is supposed to act as a trusted advisor, one that you can count on to answer all your accounting questions on a year-round basis and someone you will never hesitate to call with a question.

So, how do you maximize your relationship with your accountant?

It starts with hiring the right accountant.  You need to find the professional CPA firm that has experience handling similarly sized construction companies, someone who understands the nuances of construction accounting.  They should also show a general interest in your company.  Your accountant should be able to ask relevant questions about your company/industry and should be able to provide advice that is specific to the construction industry.  For example if your CPA firm is REALLY knowledgeable about the construction industry, the CPA firm will be able to provide you with strategic planning, smart growth and expansion consulting, sound internal controls, tax and cash flow planning, and finally budgeting and forecasting.

You must understand that your CPA is a resource to your company. If you are only sending over your financial information and waiting for your accountant to send over a completed tax return – then you are missing an opportunity to better your company. Your accountant should be utilized as a financial resource.  Accountants can develop corporate strategies, financial plans, can make recommendations to how to lower taxes and increase profits, and can open up doors to new relationships with lawyers and bankers for example.

In today’s economy many general contractors have attempted to do more work with less resources.  This often times puts more of a burden on employees and on the contractor or owner of the company.  This has led to some aspects of the overall financial plan being ignored or not maintained.  If you are a contractor, wouldn’t it be nice to receive monthly reports and analysis of your spending, cash flow, and other financial data?  Utilizing your accountant to do this, can help you stick to a financial plan that increases your financial health and can help identify problems before they turn into significant issues.  When hiring the right accountant, ask them if they are able to provide monthly analysis and reporting, if they say, “no”, then move on and find an accountant who can.

What else should you be looking for in an accounting firm for construction companies?
  • Accountants with industry knowledge.  Look for the “CCIFP” designation!
  • Look for accountants who won’t charge for phone calls and will never put you on the “clock.”
  • Look for CPAs who are in Construction related groups.  CFMA for example.
  • Find your trusted advisor – someone you can envision developing a relationship with and contacting on a weekly or monthly basis.
  • Someone who can provide insight into the construction industry.
  • During your first meeting, ask the accountant a specific tax question about the construction industry.  If they truly are a “specialist” in construction accounting, this will help you learn that.

Construction accounting is a specialty. That’s why you need an accounting firm that has keen insight into the challenges faced by general contractors and specialty contractors. LBA Haynes Strand’s in depth understanding of construction accounting is the result of providing services to more than 150 clients in the construction industry. For more information on construction accounting, download our free guide, “Profitable Construction: A Guide To Outsourcing Tax Preparation And Accounting.”

Criminals Stole Data From 330,000 Taxpayers Off IRS Website

This week, the IRS reported that the initial data breach on taxpayer data was much worse than initially stated… 3 times worse. Back in May, we reported that the breach had compromised 100,000 accounts, based on initial reports from the IRS. After conducting an extensive review covering the 2015 filing season, the IRS realized that the number of accounts that had been breached was actually more like 330,000. However, we are sure this number will rise in the coming months.

The cyber group that remains unnamed, attacked the IRS through the “Get Transcript” tool. This group then duped “Get Transcript” by using previously acquired stolen information and downloading millions of people’s tax documents. “Get Transcript” has since been disabled to prevent any more fraud.

How Do You Know If You Are A Victim?

The IRS will be sending letters to each taxpayer whose information has been breached that warns them of potential identity theft. It is very important that if you receive this letter, you contact your CPA or you follow the steps that the IRS recommends to protect you from future issues. This includes an extra PIN number to protect your future tax filings and free credit protection.

Are You Safe Now?

The answer unfortunately is no. Off of tax forms, these criminals had access to salary, family information, property and investment values. In addition to identity theft, these criminals are able to claim bogus tax refunds and are also able to open lines of credit in your name. Unfortunately it is becoming increasingly difficult to secure anyones information in the digital age.

Remember: The IRS will not call, email or send you letters for your personal information in response. Scammers and thieves see this as an open opportunity. These thieves will try emailing malicious links to alleged receipt of funds or calling taxpayers and posing as the IRS to receive funds. If you have a situation occur and you receive an email or a phone call from the IRS, contact your CPA. Your CPA will be able to tell you if it is a scam or not. Contact LBA Haynes Strand regarding a scam attempt – click here – and our team will get back to you ASAP!

Accounting For Growing Companies: What To Consider

Do you know the old adage of “it takes one to know one?” We believe this to be a characteristic of LBA Haynes Strand, that just isn’t available at other CPA Firms. We of course are talking about a growing company. Growing companies face all kinds of challenges: accounting, hr, marketing, operations, etc, etc. There are two areas that we see growing companies needing the most assistance in: Cash Management and Internal Controls.

Cash Management

The truth of the matter is, it takes a LOT of cash to grow a business. Think about it – when a company grows their receivables grow, their work in progress grows, they have to hire new employees, they may need more inventory to sell, different technology needs, etc. All this costs money, but it is essential to creating a business structure that is capable of handling the business growth. If you are a business owner and you are looking to grow your company, you need to be aware of this.

It is a common story in the business world that businesses grow quickly, but then fail quickly, because the business was not properly prepared to handle the growth.  Business growth does not always equal success. When you grow you must look at all sides of your business and make sure that each function is strong and able to handle the increasing workload. Cash is going to be spent quickly to do these things, but the business owners must realize that this is necessary! The trick is not running out of money and working with your CPA can help you accomplish that.

Internal Controls

We see it often that a company comes to us asking for assistance because their company’s growth is outpacing their business structure. Sometimes these companies have little to no accounting function, because they just haven’t had the time to put the right systems in place, the right internal controls in place, or put the right people in place. This is a big area of concern for us.

Internal controls are often pretty logical measures that can make the difference between the success or the failure of your business. Implementing strong internal controls early on in the growth process can save the company a lot of time and money in the long run. This will also ensure the company that they will have efficient and effective business functions, reliable financial reporting, compliance with laws pertaining to the businesses activities, and the company’s assets are properly protected. So how do you know what internal controls you need to strengthen? This is where a certified public accounting firm with a team of internal auditors comes in handy. The internal audit team will come in and learn your business, conduct testing of your internal controls, create solutions for any issues they find, and then make recommendations to the management team.

If you are a growing company and have questions about your internal controls and your accounting function, contact LBA Haynes Strand today. As a two-year Inc. 5000 fastest growing company, we understand growing companies. What better advisors to your growing company than ones who knows how to handle it themselves!  Contact us today for your no cost-consultation!

Be Prepared for the September 15th Tax Deadline!

There is a misconception among that there is only one busy season when it comes to tax and accounting firms in the United States. However, there are many deadlines to be met throughout the year, making for multiple busy seasons. With the September 15th tax deadline fast approaching, we want to alert our clients of what is due.

What is due by September 15th?
  • 3rd Quarter estimated tax payments for the 2015 tax year
  • Final deadline to file corporate tax returns for the year 2014 if an extension was requested. (Forms 1120, 1120A, 1120S)
  • Final deadline to file trust income tax returns for the year 2014 if an extension was requested. (Form 1041)
  • Final deadline to file partnership tax returns for the year 2014 if an extension was requested. (Form 1065)
What are the penalties if the September 15th Deadline is ignored?
  • C Corporations – The IRS can assess a penalty of 5% of the next tax due for each month or part of a month the return is filed late, up to a maximum penalty of 25%.
  • S Corporations – The IRS can assess a penalty equal to $195 per shareholder for each month the return is filed late (maximum of 12 months). Therefore, the maximum penalty per shareholder is $2,340.
  • Partnerships, including multi-member LLCs – The IRS has the ability to assess a penalty equal to $195 per partner/LLC member for each month the return is filed late (maximum of 12 months).

If you are unsure if you are adequately prepared to meet these deadlines, contact us for a no cost consultation. We are able to provide on the spot tax preparation advice and will begin your tax planning for next year, so that deadlines no longer sneak up on you.

Download Your Free LBA Haynes Strand Smartphone App

LBA Haynes Strand has developed an app to deliver real world accounting solutions to businesses and individuals alike.  Included in the app are:

  • Office Information – addresses, directions, phone numbers, office hours
  • M&A Due Diligence Checklist – Be prepared and make sure your due diligence is done!
  • Tax Questionnaire – Stay organized with this helpful tool!
  • Free Industry Guides
  • A Printable Tax Organizer
  • Subscribe To Our Newsletter
  • Read the most recent LBA Haynes Strand Blog posts
  • Keep up with Firm News
  • Document Submission – Take a photo of your document and send it to our team of CPAs!

In an effort to become the best CPA Firm for our clients and provide them with up to the minute updates, news, and service, we have developed this App with their needs in mind.

To download our app, click the links below:

Apple App Store URL:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/lba-haynes-strand/id1016215236?mt=8

Google Play URL:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.app_haynestrand.layout

Fraud Alert: Rise in Imposter Fraud

Imposter fraud is the most recent attempt of fraudsters to trick businesses out of money. Imposter fraud is when a fraudster poses as a person or an entity that you know. They could pose as an executive of your company, a vendor, or even the IRS! 

In these instances the fraudster will most likely contact you by email. The only problem is, the email looks exactly like the one you receive from the person you know, even down to the email signature. When the fraudster is posing as an executive at your company, they will attach an invoice and instruct you to make payments, usually by wire transfer. Most employees would take an email from their CFO or Controller as a direct order and would pay the invoice without any hesitation. This is exactly what these fraudsters want. We have heard from numerous companies in North Carolina that have seen this attempt at fraud. Some have caught on to this fraud before sending money, others unfortunately have not.

When the fraudster is acting as a vendor they will most likely send you a similar email as your vendor would. However, they will request that you change the original vendor’s payment instructions and that you pay the account of their choice. In addition, they may also hack into your email account and find trends of who you do business with. This allows the fraudsters to create fraudulent invoices or payment requests with very subtle differences than the original invoices.

So, how can you reduce this risk?

First of all, you need to alert your employees and tell them to be aware of scams such as these. No payments should leave your office without being approved by multiple people in your office. If something seems odd or off about a request for payment, be sure to discuss the matter first hand with the executive or the vendor in question. This could alleviate any concerns you had and could protect your company against this fraud.

Education is truly the best way to prevent fraud. We must learn from what others have seen in the marketplace in order to create best practices in these kinds of situations. We challenge you to discuss openly any external attempts at fraud that you have seen. Discuss these cases with your friends, at networking events, at chamber meetings, on social media, etc.

To learn more best practices and speak to a team of CPAs that understand how to safeguard your business against fraud. Contact us for your no-cost consultation.

Property Management Companies Are Growing Through M&A

Mergers and Acquisitions have become an increasingly popular growth strategy among property management companies. In an earlier blog titled, “What Industries Are Growing Through M&A,” we mentioned property management companies as a top industry for mergers and acquisitions. So let’s dig a little deeper and learn what is being gained by M&A and what trends are driving M&A in the property management marketplace.

What Property Management Companies Are Trying To Gain Through M&A:
  • Size/Proximity to New Locations: In some cases, especially in the Charlotte area, management companies are looking to grow across State lines.  Rather than a Charlotte based management company opening a new location in South Carolina, they will often acquire other established management companies already based in South Carolina.  This is also true within the State as well (Charlotte -> Greensboro, Wilmington, Raleigh, etc.)
  • Economies of Scale: Management companies deal with many different service providers from landscapers and painters, to accountants and attorneys.  As management companies grow and manage additional communities through M&A, they are better able to pass cost savings (via economies of scale) onto their clients.  Doing so, theoretically, makes the management company more attractive in the market place as they are better able to offer attractive rates.
  • Additional Management Offerings: There are many local management companies who specialize in residential communities while others mainly do commercial associations.  Through M&A, management companies may be able to acquire residential work if they didn;t already have it, or vice versa.
What Trends Are Driving M&A In The Industry:
  • Real Estate Brokers Wanting Out: Community management is NOT a glamorous field. In lean times (2008 – 2012) many small/local real estate sales offices turned to property management when they were struggling to sell homes. With real estate “Hot” again, some real estate agents are looking to shed their portfolio of community associations to better focus their efforts on more lucrative selling activities.
  • Lack of Succession Planning: Similar to the CPA industry, some “mom and pop” community management companies simply have no succession plan, while other “younger” management companies are seeing this as a great opportunity for M&A.
  • National Players Coming To Charlotte: Up until 2008, community management in Charlotte was pretty much locally run (i.e. 20 or so management companies throughout the State and SC, perhaps). However, in the past 5 to 7 years, Charlotte has experienced an increase in nationally known management companies who often launch their local office by purchasing a locally-owned community management company.

This may be un-chartered territory for some management companies, and LBA Haynes Strand is here to help. We have a team that understands the needs and the financial issues associated with HOAs and property management companies. If your property management company is looking to grow through M&A, schedule a no-cost consultation with us and we will walk you through the steps for a successful merger or acquisition.

10 Common Internal Control Deficiencies Found in Small Businesses

The following 10 common internal control deficiencies found in small businesses can cause the loss or damage of assets, loss of resources, and a decline in revenue. These deficiencies can easily be rectified by slightly changing or modifying existing processes or introducing basic internal controls:

1. Inadequate documentation / records
Documentation provides evidence of the underlying transactions. It is the input to establishing proper financial records. Financial documents should be pre-numbered to ensure all transactions are recorded and accounted for. This will help to prevent recording of the same transaction twice, as there should not be any duplicate numbers in your system. With proper numbering of documentation, tracing documents that relate to follow up queries/claims and questions from customers or owners of prior transactions will be easy.Proper documentation would most probably provide satisfactory answers to most, if not all, financial transaction related questions. Furthermore, adequate documentation will ease the process of compiling financial records and completing tax returns.

2. Key business cycles not properly defined 
Managers and owners don’t see the need to create written policies and procedures or just even basic flowcharts defining the key business processes, as some small business processes appear to be uncomplicated. However, this is probably one of the most unused control tools where the most value can be added with little effort. An effective procedure can align business objectives and help establish best practice operating procedures. As businesses have different focus areas, different cycles will be important to your business but for most businesses the following processes will be critical. Sales and Accounts Receivable, Cash Management, Banking Procedures, Purchases, and Accounts Payable. For a business selling goods, inventory controls will be an important cycle. Documenting key controls in each of these cycles will provide transparency and consistency. Specific roles and responsibilities in each of these cycles can easily be assigned to specific individuals. When improvements and changes are made to your processes, employees can quickly be informed, trained, and brought up to speed.

3. Lack of control with authorization of transactions 
Authorization of purchases should occur before the commitment of resources. Depending on the size of the business, levels of authority can be introduced to better eliminate the risk of inappropriate spending. For example, with orders above a certain dollar value, say $1,000, more than one quotation should be obtained which could ultimately reduce your overall expenditure. Authorizing of transactions before placing orders provides the owners/managers the opportunity to evaluate different purchasing options, and make sure items or services obtained will support the business objectives.

4. No oversight and review  
Small business owners many times get so involved in the day to day operations of the business that they tend to neglect performing basic review procedures. Business owners should take some time and interest in the financial records. This is an important aspect of fraud prevention. Not a lot of time is required to review monthly revenues, expenditure reports, inventory reports, budget vs. actual amounts, and variance reports. Having a more hands on approach will give the owner invaluable feedback on how the business is performing and where any potential problem areas or poor performance areas may exist. Review of the financial records is a critical component and input for better decision making. The frequency of the review of financial data depends on the volume of transactions and type of business, however, the review of financial data should generally be conducted on a monthly basis.  

5. Dated or ineffective information systems  
Small businesses run on lean resources and very little time is often spent evaluating information systems. Investing time in this area could add a lot of efficiencies in the long run.  List the systems in your business and the key performance measures you need from each. Working systematically though these will help you stay competitive and efficient. Many user-friendly software systems are out there which could shorten processing and operating cycles – and are not that expensive to operate. 

6. Lack of physical & logical security  
Lack of physical security of business assets and resources could result in the loss or damage to assets and resources. Access to equipment, petty cash, and check stock should be restricted to appropriate individuals and stored or locked in an appropriate secure location. Computer equipment and networks should be password protected and computer passwords should be changed regularly. Having firewalls and protective devices or software on computer systems is an important component to help prevent security breaches.  Protection of personal information and banking information are becoming increasingly important with the increase in risk of identity/credit card theft. Personal and employee data should be encrypted and stored in secure folders.

7. No formal ethical policies and procedures 
This control may not seem to be crucial for the success of a business, but without clear guidelines on the use of the business assets and expectations, in terms of integrity and ethics from employees, businesses can expose themselves to inefficiencies and misappropriation of assets.  A code of ethics is an open disclosure of the way an organization operates.  A well written and thoughtful ethics policy can serve as a communication vehicle that reflects important values and goals of the business.  It can provide guidelines of how employees should deal with potential misbehavior and/or misappropriation of assets and can provide alignment with regard to company values and commitments.

8. Job roles and responsibilities not clearly defined 
Employees are your most important assets and as a small business you are very reliant on your employees.  They are representatives with customers, suppliers, and competitors. For this valuable resource to be effective in your business you will need to provide clear direction and define appropriate roles and responsibilities for each employee.  Job roles and responsibilities should be clear and preferably be in writing.  This will ease the process of separating duties discussed in the next section.  New employees will quickly be able to reference back to their responsibilities and understand their roles better.   

9. Lack of separation of duties 
Small businesses are susceptible to fraud by their own employees as they may have a few employees with multiple roles. Each employee should have specific job responsibilities, preferably in writing to ensure there is no confusion in assigned job roles and responsibilities.  Generally, assigning different people the responsibilities of authorizing transactions, recording transactions, and maintaining custody of related assets such as cash and credit cards provides for more effective internal control and less opportunities for misappropriation of assets. 

10. Inadequate disaster recovery, backups and business continuity plans   
The importance of backups and business continuity are many times under-emphasized.  Systems can be designed so that back-ups are performed automatically and on a regular basis.  Backups should be made based on transaction volume and stored off-site.  To re-create data can be painful, time consuming, or not practical at all.  Business Continuity plans outline how recovery will be accomplished in case of a disaster.  Long term power outages or disruptions, offices not available for long periods of time, and loss of staff on a large scale are not that uncommon and can happen. Planning ahead for disasters before they strike is important to the survival of your business.  A disaster recovery plan typically consists of an emergency plan, disaster recovery plan, and a continuity plan.  

Changing your approach towards internal controls in your business in these 10 key areas, can make your business grow! Implementing control tools in these areas can be accomplished in a fairly easy manner and in a short amount of time. Consult your local accountant or auditor for advice with some of the technical financial processes and controls. Changing your focus in these 10 areas, will add a lot of value to your business over the long run!