Business Planning (4)

5 ways to withdraw cash from your corporation while avoiding dividend treatment

Do you want to withdraw cash from your closely held corporation at a low tax cost? The easiest way is to distribute cash as a dividend. However, a dividend distribution isn’t tax-efficient, since it’s taxable to you to the extent of your corporation’s “earnings and profits.” But it’s not deductible by the corporation.

Different approaches

Fortunately, there are several alternative methods that may allow you to withdraw cash from a corporation while avoiding dividend treatment. Here are five ideas:

1. Capital repayments. To the extent that you’ve capitalized the corporation with debt, including amounts that you’ve advanced to the business, the corporation can repay the debt without the repayment being treated as a dividend. Additionally, interest paid on the debt can be deducted by the corporation. This assumes that the debt has been properly documented with terms that characterize debt and that the corporation doesn’t have an excessively high debt-to-equity ratio. If not, the “debt” repayment may be taxed as a dividend. If you make cash contributions to the corporation in the future, consider structuring them as debt to facilitate later withdrawals on a tax-advantaged basis.

2. Salary. Reasonable compensation that you, or family members, receive for services rendered to the corporation is deductible by the business. However, it’s also taxable to the recipient. The same rule applies to any compensation (in the form of rent) that you receive from the corporation for the use of property. In either case, the amount of compensation must be reasonable in relation to the services rendered or the value of the property provided. If it’s excessive, the excess will be nondeductible and treated as a corporate distribution.

3. Loans. You may withdraw cash from the corporation tax-free by borrowing money from it. However, to avoid having the loan characterized as a corporate distribution, it should be properly documented in a loan agreement or a note and be made on terms that are comparable to those on which an unrelated third party would lend money to you. This should include a provision for interest and principal. All interest and principal payments should be made when required under the loan terms. Also, consider the effect of the corporation’s receipt of interest income.

4. Fringe benefits. Consider obtaining the equivalent of a cash withdrawal in fringe benefits that are deductible by the corporation and not taxable to you. Examples are life insurance, certain medical benefits, disability insurance and dependent care. Most of these benefits are tax-free only if provided on a nondiscriminatory basis to other employees of the corporation. You can also establish a salary reduction plan that allows you (and other employees) to take a portion of your compensation as nontaxable benefits, rather than as taxable compensation.

5. Property sales. You can withdraw cash from the corporation by selling property to it. However, certain sales should be avoided. For example, you shouldn’t sell property to a more than 50% owned corporation at a loss, since the loss will be disallowed. And you shouldn’t sell depreciable property to a more than 50% owned corporation at a gain, since the gain will be treated as ordinary income, rather than capital gain. A sale should be on terms that are comparable to those on which an unrelated third party would purchase the property. You may need to obtain an independent appraisal to establish the property’s value.

Minimize taxes

If you’re interested in discussing any of these ideas, contact us. We can help you get the maximum out of your corporation at the minimum tax cost.

© 2019

For best results, start your strategic planning early

Time flies when you’re having fun — and running a business. Although it’s probably too early to start chilling a bottle of bubbly for New Year’s Eve, it’s certainly not too early for business owners to start doing some strategic planning for next year. Here are some ways to get started.

Begin with your financials

A good place to find inspiration for strategic objectives is your financial statements. They’ll tell you whether you’re excelling or struggling so you can decide how strategically ambitious or cautious to be in the coming year.

Use the numbers to look at key performance indicators such as gross profit, which tells you how much money you made after your production and selling costs were paid. It’s calculated by subtracting the cost of goods sold from your total revenue. Also calculate current ratio, which is calculated by dividing current assets by current liabilities. It helps you gauge the strength of your cash flow.

Examine other areas

Human resources is another critical area of strategic planning. What was your employee turnover rate last year? High turnover could be a sign of poor training, substandard management or low morale. Any of these problems could undercut the strategic objectives you set.

Examine sales and marketing, too. Did you meet your goals for new sales last year, as measured in both sales volume and number of new customers? Did you generate an adequate return on investment for your marketing dollars?

Finally, take a close look at your production and operations. Many companies track a metric called customer reject rate that measures the number of complete units rejected or returned by external customers. Sometimes a business must improve this rate before it moves forward with growth objectives. If yours is a service business, you should similarly track and assess customer satisfaction.

Set new objectives

With a review of your financials and key business areas complete, you can more reasonably set goals for next year under the banner of your strategic plan. On the financial side, for instance, your objective might be to boost gross profit from 20% to 30%. But how will you lower your costs or increase efficiency to make this goal a reality?

Or maybe you want to lower your employee turnover rate from 20% to 10%. What will you do differently from a training and management standpoint to keep your employees from jumping ship this year?

Act now

Don’t let year end creep any closer without reviewing your business’s recent performance. Then, use this data to set realistic goals for the coming year. We can help you choose the best metrics, crunch the numbers and put together a solid strategic plan.

© 2019

Putting together the succession planning and retirement planning puzzle

Everyone needs to plan for retirement. But as a business owner, you face a distinctive challenge in that you must save for your golden years while also creating, updating and eventually executing a succession plan. This is no easy task, but you can put the puzzle pieces together by answering some fundamental questions:

When do I want to retire? This may be the most important question regarding your succession plan, because it’s at this time that your successor will take over. Think about a date by which you’ll be ready to let go and will have the financial resources to support yourself for your postretirement life expectancy.

How much will I need to retire? To maintain your current lifestyle, you’ll likely need a substantial percentage of your current annual income. You may initially receive an influx of cash from perhaps either the sale of your company or a payout from a buy-sell agreement.

But don’t forget to consider inflation. This adds another 2% to 4% per year to the equation. If, like many retirees, you decide to move to a warmer climate, you also need to take the cost of living in that state into consideration — especially if you’ll maintain two homes.

What are my sources of retirement income? As mentioned, selling your business (if that’s what your succession plan calls for) will likely help at first. Think about whether you’d prefer a lump-sum payment to add to your retirement savings or receive installments.

Of course, many business owners don’t sell but pass along their company to family members or trusted employees. You might stay on as a paid consultant, which would provide some retirement income. And all of this would be in addition to whatever retirement accounts you’ve been contributing to, as well as Social Security.

Am I saving enough? This is a question everyone must ask but, again, business owners have special considerations. Let’s say you’d been saving diligently for retirement, but economic or market difficulties have recently forced you to lower your salary or channel more of your own money into the company. This could affect your retirement date and, thus, your succession plan’s departure date.

Using a balance sheet, add up all your assets and debts. Heavy spending and an excessive debt load can significantly delay your retirement. In turn, this negatively affects your succession plan because it throws the future leadership of your company into doubt and confusion. As you get closer to retirement, integrate debt management and elimination into your personal financial approach so you can confidently set a departure date. We can help you identify all the different pieces related to succession planning and retirement planning — and assemble them all into a practical whole.

© 2019

The key to retirement security is picking the right plan for your business

If you’re a small business owner or you’re involved in a start-up, you may want to set up a tax-favored retirement plan for yourself and any employees. Several types of plans are eligible for tax advantages.

401(k) plan

One of the best-known retirement plan options is the 401(k) plan. It provides for employer contributions made at the direction of employees. Specifically, the employee elects to have a certain amount of pay deferred and contributed by the employer on his or her behalf to an individual account. Employee contributions can be made on a pretax basis, saving employees current income tax on the amount contributed.

Employers may, or may not, provide matching contributions on behalf of employees who make elective deferrals to 401(k) plans. Establishing and operating a 401(k) plan means some up-front paperwork and ongoing administrative effort. Matching contributions may be subject to a vesting schedule. 401(k) plans are subject to testing requirements, so that highly compensated employees don’t contribute too much more than non-highly compensated employees. However, these tests can be avoided if you adopt a “safe harbor” 401(k) plan.

Within limits, participants can borrow from a 401(k) account (assuming the plan document permits it).

For 2019, the maximum amount you can contribute to a 401(k) is $19,000, plus a $6,000 “catch-up” amount for those age 50 or older as of December 31, 2019.

Other tax-favored plans

Of course, a 401(k) isn’t your only option. Here’s a quick rundown of two other alternatives that are simpler to set up and administer:

1. A Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA. For 2019, the maximum amount of deductible contributions that you can make to an employee’s SEP plan, and that he or she can exclude from income, is the lesser of 25% of compensation or $56,000. Your employees control their individual IRAs and IRA investments.

2. A SIMPLE IRA. SIMPLE stands for “savings incentive match plan for employees.” A business with 100 or fewer employees can establish a SIMPLE. Under one, an IRA is established for each employee, and the employer makes matching contributions based on contributions elected by participating employees under a qualified salary reduction arrangement. The maximum amount you can contribute to a SIMPLE in 2019 is $13,000, plus a $3,000 “catch-up” amount if you’re age 50 or older as of December 31, 2019.

Annual contributions to a SEP plan and a SIMPLE are controlled by special rules and aren’t tied to the normal IRA contribution limits. Neither type of plan requires annual filings or discrimination testing. You can’t borrow from a SEP plan or a SIMPLE.

Many choices

These are only some of the retirement savings options that may be available to your business. We can discuss the alternatives and help find the best option for your situation.

© 2019

Some business owners can’t participate in their own companies’ HRAs

Many companies now offer Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) in conjunction with high-deductible health plans (HDHPs). HRAs offer some advantages over the perhaps better-known HDHP companion account, the Health Savings Account (HSA). If you’re considering adding an HRA, you might assume that, as a business owner, you can participate in the HRA. But this may not be the case.

Following the rules

Whether an owner can participate in his or her company’s HRA depends on several factors, including how the company is organized and the amount of the business owned by each working owner. Tax-free benefits under an HRA can be provided only to:

  • Current and former employees (including retirees), and their spouses,

  • Covered tax dependents, and

  • Children who haven’t attained age 27 by the end of the tax year.

Owners who are “self-employed individuals” within the meaning of Internal Revenue Code Section (IRC) 401(c) aren’t considered employees for this purpose and aren’t allowed to participate in an HRA on a tax-favored basis.

Defining the self-employed

Generally, a self-employed individual is someone who has net earnings from self-employment as defined in IRC Sec. 1402(a), accounting for only earnings from a trade or business in which the “personal services of the taxpayer are a material income-producing factor.” Ineligible owners include partners, sole proprietors and more-than-2% shareholders in an S corporation. Stock ownership by employees of a C corporation doesn’t preclude their tax-favored HRA participation.

The ownership attribution rules in IRC Sec. 318 apply when determining who’s a more-than-2% shareholder of an S corporation, so any employee who’s the spouse, child, parent or grandparent of a more-than-2% shareholder of an S corporation would also be unable to participate in the S corporation’s HRA on a tax-favored basis. A disqualified individual (whether because of direct or attributed ownership) could, however, be the beneficiary of a qualifying participant’s HRA coverage if he or she is the qualifying participant’s spouse, tax dependent or child under age 27.

Comparing HRAs to HSAs

Although self-employed individuals can’t receive tax-free HSA contributions through a cafeteria plan, at least they can have HSAs. This relative advantage has led some employers to favor HSA programs over HRAs.

But HRAs have other advantages for employers, including more control over how amounts are spent and typically lower costs relative to the nominal amount of benefits provided. (While the full HSA contribution must be funded with cash, HRAs typically are notional accounts that need only be funded when participants incur expenses, and not all participants will incur expenses up to the limit established by the employer.) Thus, the decision can seldom be made based on the participation rules alone.

Going in smart

Controlling costs remains a challenge for most businesses that offer health care benefits. An HRA may be a feasible solution, but make sure you know all the rules going in. Our firm can help you choose health care benefits that suit you and your employees.

© 2019

The tax implications of a company car

The use of a company vehicle is a valuable fringe benefit for owners and employees of small businesses. This benefit results in tax deductions for the employer as well as tax breaks for the owners and employees using the cars. (And of course, they get the nontax benefits of driving the cars!) Even better, recent tax law changes and IRS rules make the perk more valuable than before.

Here’s an example

Let’s say you’re the owner-employee of a corporation that’s going to provide you with a company car. You need the car to visit customers, meet with vendors and check on suppliers. You expect to drive the car 8,500 miles a year for business. You also expect to use the car for about 7,000 miles of personal driving, including commuting, running errands and weekend trips with your family. Therefore, your usage of the vehicle will be approximately 55% for business and 45% for personal purposes. You want a nice car to reflect positively on your business, so the corporation buys a new luxury $50,000 sedan.

Your cost for personal use of the vehicle will be equal to the tax you pay on the fringe benefit value of your 45% personal mileage. By contrast, if you bought the car yourself to be able to drive the personal miles, you’d be out-of-pocket for the entire purchase cost of the car.

Your personal use will be treated as fringe benefit income. For tax purposes, your corporation will treat the car much the same way it would any other business asset, subject to depreciation deduction restrictions if the auto is purchased. Out-of-pocket expenses related to the car (including insurance, gas, oil and maintenance) are deductible, including the portion that relates to your personal use. If the corporation finances the car, the interest it pays on the loan would be deductible as a business expense (unless the business is subject to business-interest limitation under the tax code).

In contrast, if you bought the auto yourself, you wouldn’t be entitled to any deductions. Your outlays for the business-related portion of your driving would be unreimbursed employee business expenses that are nondeductible from 2018 to 2025 due to the suspension of miscellaneous itemized deductions under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. And if you financed the car yourself, the interest payments would be nondeductible.

And finally, the purchase of the car by your corporation will have no effect on your credit rating.

Administrative tasks

Providing an auto for an owner’s or key employee’s business and personal use comes with complications and paperwork. Personal use will have to be tracked and valued under the fringe benefit tax rules and treated as income. This article only explains the basics.

Despite the necessary valuation and paperwork, a company-provided car is still a valuable fringe benefit for business owners and key employees. It can provide them with the use of a vehicle at a low tax cost while generating tax deductions for their businesses. We can help you stay in compliance with the rules and explain more about this prized perk.

© 2019

Dashboard software helps you keep your eyes on the prize

Like most business owners, you’ve probably been urged by industry experts and professional advisors to identify the most important key performance indicators (KPIs) for your company. So, just for the sake of discussion, let’s say you’ve done that. A natural question that often follows is: Now what? You know you’re supposed to keep an eye on these metrics every day but … how?

The right technology has you covered. There’s a specific type of software — commonly referred to as a “business dashboard” — that allows business owners to create customized views of all their chosen KPIs. And these applications don’t just lay out numbers like a spreadsheet. They provide an easy visual experience that allows you to keep your eyes on the prize: a cost-controlled, profitable company.

Cloud-based knowledge

Business dashboards have been around for a decade or two in various forms. But today’s solutions have the advantage of being cloud-based, meaning the data driving them is typically stored on a secure server off-site. And you can access the dashboard from anywhere at any time on an authenticated device. (You can also still run a dashboard from your company’s own servers, if you prefer.)

If you’ve never used a dashboard before, you might wonder what one looks like. The name says it all. Ideally, a dashboard is a single screen of data — like the panel of gauges in your car — that displays various KPIs in the form of pie charts, bar graphs and other graphic elements.

A few must-haves

When shopping for a product, there are a few “must-haves” to insist on. The software should:

* Support your chosen KPIs,
* Present itself in a visually pleasing, logical manner that allows you to easily, intuitively follow those KPIs, and
* Update itself in real time, enabling you to react quickly to sudden swings in your company’s financial performance.

Be wary of vendors that over-promise “otherworldly” knowledge of your industry or try to upsell you on bells and whistles. The simpler the dashboard, the better. There will always be more complex financial issues regarding your business that can’t be put into simple terms on a dashboard.

Also, the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) is causing many to question the long-term viability of business dashboards. AI gathers and shapes data so quickly, and in such massive amounts, that some experts argue that a business owner’s chosen KPIs can rapidly become outmoded.

Nonetheless, dashboard software is still widely used in many industries. Just be prepared to regularly reassess and, if necessary, update your KPIs.

Shop carefully

If you decide to invest in a business dashboard (or upgrade your current one), you’ll need to go about it carefully. We can help you set a budget and compare prices and functionalities to get an optimal return on investment.

© 2019

Should you elect S corporation status?

Operating a business as an S corporation may provide many advantages, including limited liability for owners and no double taxation (at least at the federal level). Self-employed people may also be able to lower their exposure to Social Security and Medicare taxes if they structure their businesses as S corps for federal tax purposes. But not all businesses are eligible — and with changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, S corps may not be as appealing as they once were.

Compare and contrast

The main reason why businesses elect S corp status is to obtain the limited liability of a corporation and the ability to pass corporate income, losses, deductions and credits through to shareholders. In other words, S corps generally avoid double taxation of corporate income — once at the corporate level and again when it’s distributed to shareholders. Instead, tax items pass through to the shareholders’ personal returns, and they pay tax at their individual income tax rates.

But double taxation may be less of a concern today due to the 21% flat income tax rate that now applies to C corporations. Meanwhile, the top individual income tax rate is 37%. S corp owners may be able to take advantage of the qualified business income (QBI) deduction, which can be equal to as much as 20% of QBI.

In order to assess S corp status, you have to run the numbers with your tax advisor, and factor in state taxes to determine which structure will be the most beneficial for you and your business.

S corp qualifications

If you decide to go the S corp route, make sure you qualify and will stay qualified. To be eligible to elect to be an S corp or to convert, your business must:

  • Be a domestic corporation,

  • Have only one class of stock,

  • Have no more than 100 shareholders, and

  • Have only “allowable” shareholders, including individuals, certain trusts and estates. Shareholders can’t include partnerships, corporations and nonresident alien shareholders.

In addition, certain businesses are ineligible, such as financial institutions and insurance companies.

Base compensation on what’s reasonable

Another important consideration when electing S status is shareholder compensation. One strategy for paying less in Social Security and Medicare employment taxes is to pay modest salaries to yourself and any other S corp shareholder-employees. Then, pay out the remaining corporate cash flow (after you’ve retained enough in the company’s accounts to sustain normal business operations) as federal-employment-tax-free cash distributions.

However, the IRS is on the lookout for S corps that pay shareholder-employees unreasonably low salaries to avoid paying employment taxes and then make distributions that aren’t subject to those taxes.

Paying yourself a modest salary will work if you can prove that your salary is reasonable based on market levels for similar jobs. Otherwise, you run the risk of the IRS auditing your business and imposing back employment taxes, interest and penalties. We can help you decide on a salary and gather proof that it’s reasonable.

Consider all angles

Contact us if you think being an S corporation might help reduce your tax bill while still providing liability protection. We can help with the mechanics of making an election or making a conversion, under applicable state law, and then handling the post-conversion tax issues.

© 2019

4 tough questions to ask about your sales department

Among the fastest ways for a business to fail is because of mismanagement or malfeasance by ownership. On the other hand, among the slowest ways is an ineffective or dysfunctional sales department.

Companies suffering from this malady may maintain just enough sales to stay afloat for a while, but eventually they go under because they lose one big customer or a tough new competitor arrives on the scene. To ensure your sales department is contributing to business growth, not just survival, you’ve got to ask some tough questions. Here are four to consider:

1. Does our sales department communicate customers’ needs to the rest of the company? Your sales staff works on the front lines of your industry. They’re typically the first ones to hear of changes in customers’ needs and desires. Make sure your sales people are sharing this information in both meetings and written communications (sales reports, emails and the like).

It’s particularly important for them to share insights with the marketing department. But everyone in your business should be laser-focused on what customers really want.

2. Does the sales department handle customer complaints promptly and satisfactorily? This is related to our first point but critical enough to investigate on its own. Unhappy customers can destroy a business — especially these days, when everyone shares everything on social media.

Your sales staff should have a specific protocol for immediately responding to a customer complaint, gathering as much information as possible and offering a fair resolution. Track complaints carefully and in detail, looking for trends that may indicate deeper problems with your products or services.

3. Do our salespeople create difficulties for employees in other departments? If a sales department is getting the job done, many business owners look the other way when sales staff play by their own rules or don’t treat their co-workers with the utmost professionalism. Confronting a problem like this isn’t easy; you may unearth some tricky issues involving personalities and philosophies.

Nonetheless, your salespeople should interact positively and productively with other departments. For example, do they correctly and timely complete all necessary sales documents? If not, they could be causing major headaches for other departments.

4. Are we taking our sales staff for granted? Salespeople tend to spend much of their time “outside” a company — either literally out on the road making sales calls or on the phone communicating with customers. As such, they may work “out of sight and out of mind.”

Keep a close eye on your sales staff, both so you can congratulate them on jobs well done and fix any problems that may arise. Our firm can help you analyze your sales numbers to help identify ways this department can provide greater value to the company.

© 2019

Is it time to hire a CFO or controller?

Many business owners reach a point where managing the financial side of the enterprise becomes overwhelming. Usually, this is a good thing — the company has grown to a point where simple bookkeeping and basic financial reporting just don’t cut it anymore.

If you can relate to the feeling, it may be time to add a CFO or controller. But you’ve got to first consider whether your payroll can take on this generally high-paying position and exactly what you’d get in return.

The broad role

A CFO or controller looks beyond day-to-day financial management to do more holistic, big-picture planning of financial and operational goals. He or she will take a seat at the executive table and serve as your go-to person for all matters related to your company’s finances and operations.

A CFO or controller goes far beyond merely compiling financial data. He or she provides an interpretation of the data to explain how financial decisions will impact all areas of your business. And this individual can plan capital acquisition strategies, so your company has access to financing, as needed, to meet working capital and operating expenses.

In addition, a CFO or controller will serve as the primary liaison between your company and its bank to ensure your financial statements meet requirements to help negotiate any loans. Analyzing possible merger, acquisition and other expansion opportunities also falls within a CFO’s or controller’s purview.

Specific responsibilities

A CFO or controller typically has a set of core responsibilities that link to the financial oversight of your operation. This includes making sure there are adequate internal controls to help safeguard the business from internal fraud and embezzlement.

The hire also should be able to implement improved cash management practices that will boost your cash flow and improve budgeting and cash forecasting. He or she should be able to perform ratio analysis and compare the financial performance of your business to benchmarks established by similar-size companies in the same geographic area. And a controller or CFO should analyze the tax and cash flow implications of different capital acquisition strategies — for example, leasing vs. buying equipment and real estate.

Major commitment

Make no mistake, hiring a full-time CFO or controller represents a major commitment in both time to the hiring process and dollars to your payroll. These financial executives typically command substantial high salaries and attractive benefits packages.

So, first make sure you have the financial resources to commit to this level of compensation. You may want to outsource the position. No matter which route you choose, our firm can help you assess the financial impact of the idea.

© 2019

Taking a long-term approach to certain insurance documentation

After insurance policies expire, many businesses just throw away the paper copies and delete the digital files. But you may need to produce evidence of certain kinds of insurance even after the coverage period has expired. For this reason, it’s best to take a long-term approach to certain types of policies.

Occurrence-based insurance

Generally, the policy types in question are called “occurrence-based.” They include:

  • General liability,

  • Umbrella liability,

  • Commercial auto, and

  • Commercial crime and theft.

You should retain documentation of occurrence-based policies permanently (or as long as your business is operating). A good example of why is in cases of embezzlement. Employee fraud of this kind may be covered under a commercial crime and theft policy. However, embezzlement sometimes isn’t uncovered until years after the crime has taken place.

For instance, suppose that, during an audit, you learn an employee was embezzling funds three years ago. But the policy that covered this type of theft has since expired. To receive an insurance payout, you’d need to produce the policy documents to prove that coverage was in effect when the crime occurred.

Retaining insurance documentation long-term isn’t necessary for every type of policy. Under “claims-made” insurance, such as directors and officers liability and professional liability, claims can be made against the insured business only during the policy period and during a “tail period” following the policy’s expiration. A commonly used retention period for claims-made policies is about six years after the tail period expires.

Additional protection

Along with permanently retaining proof of occurrence-based policies, it’s a good idea to at least consider employment practices liability insurance (EPLI). These policies protect businesses from employee claims of legal rights violations at the hands of their employers. Sexual harassment is one type of violation that’s covered under most EPLI policies — and such claims can arise years after the alleged crime occurred.

As is the case with occurrence-based coverage, if an employee complaint of sexual harassment arises after an EPLI policy has expired — but the alleged incident occurred while coverage was in effect — you may have to produce proof of coverage to receive a payout. So, you should retain EPLI documentation permanently as well.

Better safe than sorry

You can’t necessarily rely on your insurer to retain expired policies or readily locate them. It’s better to be safe than sorry by keeping some insurance policies in either paper or digital format for the long term. This is the best way to ensure that you’ll receive insurance payouts for events that happened while coverage was still in effect. Our firm can help you assess the proper retention periods of your insurance policies, as well as whether they’re providing optimal value for your company.

© 2019

Run your strategic-planning meetings like they really matter

Many businesses struggle to turn abstract strategic-planning ideas into concrete, actionable plans. One reason why is simple: ineffective meetings. The ideas are there, lurking in the minds of management and key employees, but the process for hashing them out just doesn’t work. Here are a few ways to run your strategic-planning meetings like they really matter — which, of course, they do.

Build buy-in

Meetings often fail because attendees feel more like spectators than participants. They are less likely to zone out if they have some say in the direction and content of the gathering. So, before the session, touch base with those involved and establish a clear agenda of the strategic-planning initiatives you’ll be discussing.

Another common problem with meetings occurs when someone leads the meeting, but no one owns it. As the meeting leader, be sure to speak with conviction and express positivity (if not passion) for the subject matter. (If others are delivering presentations during the proceedings, encourage them to do the same.)

Fight fatigue

To the extent possible, keep meetings short. Cover what needs to be covered, but ensure you’re concentrating only on what’s important. Go in armed with easy-to-follow notes so you’ll stay on track and won’t forget anything. The latter point is particularly important, because overlooked subjects often lead to hasty follow-up meetings that can frustrate employees.

In addition, if the contingent of attendees is large enough, consider having employees break out into smaller groups to focus on specific points. Then call the meeting back to order to discuss each group’s ideas. By mixing it up in such creative ways, you’ll keep employees more engaged.

Tell a story

There’s so much to distract employees in a meeting. If it’s held in the morning, the busy day ahead may preoccupy their thoughts. If it’s an afternoon meeting, they might grow anxious about their commutes home. If the meeting is a Web conference, there are a variety of distractions that may affect them. And there’s no getting around the ease with which participants can sneak peeks at their smartphones (or smart watches) to check emails, texts and the Internet.

How do you break through? People appreciate storytellers. So, think about how you can use this technique to find a more relaxed and engaging way to speak to everyone in the room. Devise a narrative that will grab attendees’ attention and keep them in suspense for a little bit. Then deliver a conclusion that will inspire them to work toward identifying fully realized, feasible strategic goals.

Make ’em great

Grumbling about meetings can be as much a part of working life as burnt coffee in the bottom of the breakroom pot. But don’t let this occasional negativity sway you from doing the critical strategic planning that every business needs to do. Your meetings can be great ones. We can’t help you run them, but we can assist you in assessing the financial feasibility and ramifications of your strategic plans.

© 2019

The 1-2-3 of B2B marketing

Does your business market its products or services to other companies? Or might it start doing so in the future? If so, it’s critical to recognize the key differences between marketing to the public — or even certain segments of the public — and business-to-business (B2B) marketing.

Whereas wide-scale marketing campaigns generally need to be simple, concise and catchy, effective B2B campaigns are typically more detailed, complex and substantive. Here are three critical points to keep in mind:

1. Solve their problems. You’re not selling a product or service; you’re selling a solution. For example, a company selling aspirin is offering to solve the problem of anyone with a headache. But in B2B marketing, you want to show how your product or service can help a company cure the cause of that headache, not just the symptom.

Think of it from your own perspective. When other companies try to sell to you, you’re not going to pay for anything without an acceptable return on investment. Tell the businesses you’re marketing to precisely how your product or service will solve problems in areas such as productivity, quality, time and costs. Better yet, show them with real-world examples and testimonials.

2. Provide plenty of specifics. When marketing to the public, an abundance of detail can confuse or bore buyers. In B2B marketing, specifics are often what close the deal. Every industry faces myriad challenges that encompass a wide array of technical, technological and regulatory details. Speak their language. Make it clear you understand what they’re up against.

And give yourself plenty of room to do so. Whereas a traditional sales letter or pamphlet sent to an individual is usually best kept short and colorful, B2B marketing materials can be longer and more detailed. Apply the same principle to social media: Posts directed at other companies can go to greater lengths as long as they include current and cogent points.

3. Get to know the people involved. If you tried to get to know every person included in a mass marketing campaign, you’d never get anywhere and probably go out of business. In B2B campaigns, however, specific people — that is, those who make the buying decisions at your targeted accounts — mean everything.

In fact, under an approach called account-based marketing, a company directs its B2B marketing efforts directly at the individual or set of individuals at each targeted account (or certain high-valued accounts). It’s the “personal approach” writ large, with your sales and marketing staff working together to get to know and appeal to the sensibilities and personalities of the people representing the companies that buy from you.

Obviously, any B2B marketing effort will need to go beyond these three points. Nonetheless, they should form a solid foundation in this often-tricky area. Our firm can help you assess the financial impact of your marketing efforts, B2B and otherwise, and come up with strategies for the future.

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