Friday, August 22, 2008


Back in May I wrote about accounting systems (What Accounting System Should I Choose?) where I talked about accounting systems for startups.

I can't stress enough about the value and importance of getting the right software and creating appropriate systems.

Yesterday I was at a new client's office helping them set up some industry specific software to interface with QuickBooks. They called me because of my QuickBooks expertise and to see if I could help them with the integration. I went to help despite no previous knowledge of this specific third party application.

Prior to me setting up their new system, they spent hours, upon hours writing up invoices, POs, and work orders to run their business. Now they can do these same tasks in minutes and have better records and a far more professional appearance to their customer using their new software.

The business owner was also spending at least a day/month reconciling his VISA/MC deposits, while being completely frustrated at the process. I also got him set up with QuickBooks merchant services so these tasks can be automated in the future. This change will probably cost him an additional $25/month but he will free up an entire day and eliminate a major source of frustration. A poorly designed system had him pulling his hair out.

The industry software he acquired (Mitchell 1) costs about $250/month but it allows him to go from being an amateur to working like a professional overnight. I'll bet this software has an off the chart ROI for him as he goes forward. It was clear that his business was severely hamstrung trying to operate on QuickBooks as he fought to make his system function. Now he has an elegant system that works for him and will give him the information he needs to run his business.

While these additional costs are significant to a startup, a good business must invest money to make money and his investment in the proper systems should pay huge dividends.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Residential Energy Tax Credits Set to Expire

Hurry!! At the end of 2008, without Congressional action, the only remaining federal residential energy tax incentives available for homeowners will expire. You must act soon if you want to take advantage of the following tax credits:

FUEL CELL POWER PLANT – A credit of 30 percent, to a maximum of $500 per ½ kilowatts of electricity generated by electrochemical means from a qualified fuel cell plant installed in the taxpayer’s primary home located in the United States.

SOLAR ELECTRIC AND/OR SOLAR WATER HEATING SYSTEMS - The credit is 30 percent of the cost, with a maximum cap of $2000, for the installation of a qualified system in the taxpayer’s primary or secondary home located in the United States.

These credits are nonrefundable and can only be used to offset your income tax in the current year. Any unused credit can be carried forward to future years. No credit is allowed for expenditures related to hot tubs or swimming pools. You may lose part or all of the credit if you are taxed by the alternative minimum tax.

The House passed H.R. 5351 (Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008) back in February 2008, which would have extended these credits as well as others to 2009 and beyond. Unfortunately, the bill is stuck in the Senate and faces a threatened veto so it looks unlikely to pass this year. The cost of the extended credits would have been funded by reducing subsidies to the oil and gas industry. Hmmm, I wonder if that has anything to do with the hangup?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What inspires you?

I love this question.

What have you been doing?
What is working well?
Give me a highlight of your day?
What do you want?
Tell me a story when the team was at its best.

These and countless other questions are the foundation of Appreciative Inquiry (AI).

We studied AI at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute but that was just a little taste. Last week I attended a 5-day morning seminar learning more about the practice.

AI is an approach to facilitate change. The theory is that by changing the questions we ask we change the world by discovering what is and by bringing the "best" of the past consciously into the future.

Change the questions.....Change the world.

People and organizations move in the direction of what is studied. Study problems and you get problems. Study success and you get success. Problem solving tends to narrow the thought repertoire while AI expands it by engaging enthusiasm, dreaming and creativity. Problem solving tends to be backward looking while AI is about projecting forward. Both approaches have the same goal --> moving a person or organization from the current situation to a preferred situation. The difference is in approach, and I would add effectiveness.

You can learn more about AI by visiting the AI Commons.

Ask some positive questions today and see how people respond. AI offers great promise in our efforts to change the world.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The high cost of not following the rules

A client of mine is out of business. They were struggling for the past two years operating in the construction industry and the economic downturn hit them hard. While the economy played a part, the truth is they were poorly managed.

I won't go into all the details but they didn't take advice from me or their other advisers and failed to deal with the details and realities of their situation. They acted as if little were wrong despite the fact they weren't paying their payroll taxes (This is a ominous warning sign). People responsible for payroll decisions can be held personally responsible for the payroll trust fund taxes.

While I was working with her to settle past tax problems, I recommended that she obey the first rule of holes (When you are in a hole, stop digging) and that she should seriously consider closing shop if she couldn't meet her payroll tax obligations.

I subsequently met with the owner and a team of mentors and advisers about a year ago to help them understand some of the accounting and business issues they faced. All the advisers agreed with my advice and that closing would at least stop the bleeding.

Needless to say she pushed on and continued to rack up debt. She closed the business last month and now owes over $100,000 in trust fund taxes. The IRS will lien her home.

The ultimate kicker however is that she also failed to renew her corporate license, let it lapse and is now personally liable for many debts that would otherwise have stayed inside the corporate entity.

I feel bad that she has all these problems but leading a business requires attention to detail and making sure you follow the rules.