Monday, May 16, 2011

Importance of Operational Accounting in the Small Businesses

I read an interesting article this week written by John Nessel. John Nessel is the President of Restaurant Resource Group, a Boston-based consultancy providing financial tools and support services to independent restaurants and the hospitality industry. John’s number one red flag to restaurants failure is “Absence of a well organized and implemented accounting system.” He goes on to say “Printed copies of basic financial statements (Profit & Loss and Balance Sheet) are not adequate for this task because they do not verify the accuracy of the numbers presented.”

Luis Luarca of Allectus, a business management advisory, says “As proper and accurate accounting is the life blood of business, accurate and relevant accounting procedures allow for the opportunity to affect all aspects of business efficiently and effectively.” They both agree on some simple yet extremely important indicators of a poorly run business.

1. An overall lack of understanding concerning financial statements and their importance in business decision making

Understanding the technical definitions of items portrayed in financial statements is a long way from understanding what it really means and how an understanding of the meaning can be used to help run the business for efficiently and more profitably. The structure of the financial statements can mask potential risk and hide growing concerns. Not knowing what do don’t know can hurt you.

2. Over reliance on online bank balances to manage cash flow

The statement or online bank balance doesn’t tell the real story. It doesn’t tell what deposits haven’t cleared, what checks have not been cashed or what credit card transactions are not reconciled. More importantly it does not provide a vision into future cash needs. It is a point-in-time view of the health of cash. It can be dramatically different within minutes as transactions clear.

3. Inaccurate posting of financial information

This can run from simple transposition errors, to the more complex allocation error. One of the most overlooked concerns for small businesses is that the chart of accounts does not reflect the way the owner operates their business. A badly thought out chart of accounts can actually hide business problems until they are too late. Because of this, the allocation of expenses may not accurately show their impact on the business.

4. Daily and Weekly financial information is not routinely collected, reviewed and acted upon.

Many business owners are too preoccupied with data input to take the time to routinely apply a logic test to the financial information. Expand the effort to daily or weekly information gathering and little time is left to run the business. Owners should spend the majority to their time reviewing financial information for trends and taking action on those trends to improve the business performance. Instead many spend their time with the low level activity of capturing data.

5. The absence of a well organized and implemented accounting system that includes business specific Chart of Accounting, key performance tracking and repeatable procedures.

This seems to be the last thing any small business owners wants to take on. There are a lot of reasons for this. Tactical operational issues take precedence. There is a lack of understand as to the quantifiable benefits. There is a lack of interest or aptitude. All of these are the very reasons that a small business owner should look outside of their own expertise and time. This is a primary skill, much like tax accounting, that should be outsourced.

These trying economic times have brought to the surface ongoing operational issues that were previously covered by a better economy. Although poor profitability might have still been a problem, cash flow allowed these problems to go unaddressed. Many companies managed this through short term borrowing or lines-of-credit. Once credit was constrained and cash flow became an issue, operational inefficiencies came to light.

A lack of attention to good operational accounting may have masked many of these issues until they became a crisis. Crisis management is never a good answer. For some companies it became the only viable answer. The owner must take back control. To accomplish this there must be an in-depth review of how they currently account for financial activity and what that tells them or doesn’t tell them about the health of their business. This many times requires a third party that can objectively assess the environment exclusive of day-to-day operational bias and business ownership pride.

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