SEC Lifts the ban on general solitication. What does it all mean?

what-need-know-about

It’s really just removing the first of two obstacles that stand in the way of crowdfunding.  The 2nd obstacle, which could get lifted later this year, would be to lift the accredited investor restriction.  At that point, private companies could raise equity by advertising to a wider audience through crowdfunding websites such as www.CircleUp.com and www.Fundable.com.  This will make it easier for small businesses to raise the capital needed to grow and stimulate the economy, but it could also open the door to fraud and high-risk investments.  What do you think will be the impact of crowdfunding?  

Eliminating Inefficiencies in Excel Spreadsheets

excel_university_logo_100I attended an IMA meeting this evening and the guest speaker was Jeff Lenning, President of Click Consulting and author of “Excel University: Microsoft Excel Training for CPA’s and Accounting Professionals”.

The theme of the presentation was basically “eliminating inefficiencies in recurring use spreadsheets”.  I build a lot of large spreadsheets with vlookups, pivot tables, charts, if statements, conditional formatting and other relatively advanced functions.  To be honest, I did not expect to learn much, but as is often the case, the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know.  I quickly learned several relatively simple tricks that I can apply more consistently throughout my recurring use spreadsheets to save a lot of time for myself and my clients.  I’ll summarize some of these below:

  • Stop using SUM where SUBTOTAL is more efficient.  The SUBTOTAL function excludes other subtotals within the range, so it eliminates the need to revise the ‘grand total’ formula when new rows or subtotals are inserted into the range.
  • Add a “skinny row” before formula rows.  A “skinny row” is a blank row with a relatively small row height.  Adding a skinny row eliminates the need to adjust the formula row or the formatting when inserting a new row at the bottom of the range.
  • Hide rows and columns using Data-Outline-Group feature rather than using the hide function.
  • Use the FILTER function in conjunction with the SUBTOTAL function to create methods for other users to sort and subtotal data that are a little simpler to use than pivot tables.  I like pivot tables, but they aren’t for everyone so this is a good alternative.
  • Use a “Start Here” worksheet for input areas and highlight input cells with the “input” cell style.
  • Use an “Error Check” worksheet to ensure integrity throughout multiple worksheets.
  • Use hyperlinks to ease navigation between source data and other worksheets.
  • Use keyboard functions (rather than right click or ribbon icons) for common features such as “F2” to edit a cell, “F4” to toggle through cell references, Arrow+Shift/CTRL to scoot around your worksheet more efficiently than with your mouse, and double-clicking the lower right corner of a formula cell to push the formula down as far as there are adjacent cells.

I have used many of the tips above, but the key is to use them more consistently.  If you have any additional Excel tips or tricks you like, please share them in the comment section below.

Can your business pivot?

streetballblogLike a basketball player who keeps one foot planted while spinning on it to explore different directions, companies pivot by staying grounded in what they’ve learned while shifting directions to explore a new customer base or providing different products or services to your existing customer base.  The pivot is a term coined by Eric Reis in his book The Lean Startup and it has gotten a lot of buzz in the startup and growth communities of late.  Nearly every successful company has pivoted on some level and there are many classic examples. Nintendo started selling playing cards before switching to electronic games. Tote was an online clothing catalog before it pivoted and became Pinterest.  So, how do you do it? For starters, make it a topic of discussion in management meetings on a regular basis.

  • Discuss your business environment – your supply chain, your competition, feedback from your customers.  Are there changes on the horizon that will be disruptive to your industry?  They could be opportunities.
  • Brainstorm for ideas on how your company could pivot to improve your position in the value chain, to get a leg up on the competition or better serve your customers.
  • Decide on a course of action and execute it.  Use what you have learned to this point and build on it.  Do not be anchored to things that do not work, but don’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater” either.  Make sure you allocate sufficient resources in terms of budget and training and marketing to implement the pivot successfully.

Being able to pivot is critical for middle market companies.  The good news is, it is easier to do at this stage while everyone is accustomed to constant change.  This makes it easier to pivot without leaving a divot!

Have you pivoted in your company?  Share your story in the comments below.

Photo courtesy of streetballblog.

Preventing Payment Fraud

fraud-alertMost middle market businesses have either been or will be the target of attempted payment fraud.  The good news is when you are following best practices to prevent payment fraud, it is fairly easy to detect and prevent the attempted fraud from being successful.  Best practices include the following:

1) Implement Positive Pay:  This is an early warning fraud detection system that helps you prevent fraud before it occurs.  It involves sending your bank an electronic file of payments made as you make them, which they can cross reference as checks are cashed.  The service is inexpensive and can be provided by your bank or your ERP system provider.

2) Daily bank reconciliations:  Some people think daily bank rec’s are overkill, but the truth is they prevent fraud, give you a clearer picture of your short term cash flow and they often actually save time.  Minor discrepancies can be difficult to identify when you are working with a whole week or month of data.   Reconciling daily makes it a simple task that can be easily performed by lower level accountants.

3) Use fewer paper checks and keep your check stock secured:  Most of the attempted payment fraud is the result of fraudsters getting their hands on your paper checks and either duplicating them or  using the information to make unauthorized ACH debits.  Converting regular payees to electronic ACH payments reduces the risk of fraud.

Following these 3 simple practices will greatly reduce the risk of fraud and give you some additional peace of mind.