PFSweb, a growing business providing e-commerce solutions to many major retailers, was courted by several communities when it was looking for a new location for its professional staff of more than 400 employees.
The company ended up opening its new facility in April 2012 in Allen because the city and the Allen Economic Development Corporation best understood its needs.
“The entire economic development group listened well in terms of what our needs and requirements were. The city’s been great,” says Mark Layton, founder and former CEO of PFSweb. “One year in, I don’t have anything negative to say about our experience in Allen.”
Smart Business spoke with Layton, who recently left PFSweb to pursue other business opportunities, about the factors that led to the move and a 10-year lease in Allen.
Why was PFSweb looking to leave its Plano, Texas facility?
We had been there about 20 years and there were growth issues, as well as a parking problem. Our real estate professionals encouraged us to take a broader look at the market and it became apparent that there was an opportunity to create competition.
The challenge was that we had two distinct uses — a worldwide data center and a call center operation — that potentially required different types of facility solutions. Vacancy rates had been so high in downtown Dallas that it was cost effective to relocate to a space that also gives us significant ability to expand and contract to meet our needs.
The city of Allen didn’t have a suitable site for the call center, but obviously played a part in relocation of our headquarters and technology development lab.
What separated Allen from the competition?
The building our commercial real estate representatives and the economic development corporation brought to us had some great amenities and potential. The owner offered flexibility in configuring the space correctly for us, building out a corporate park with a running track, basketball courts, horseshoe pits, etc. He also allowed us to be single tenant even though the space was bigger than what we needed — he delayed a requirement for us to lease the space for several years, giving us room to grow.
What role did the city and Allen Economic Development Corporation play?
Their help regarding financial supplements was very important. Dallas, Richardson and Frisco were also aggressive in trying to lure us, particularly when the call center piece was separated and we had about 400 relatively high-paying jobs that were very attractive.
The city of Allen and its economic development group showed a lot of awareness and understanding of our challenges relating to accounting regulations and how the incentives could be shown on our books to help reduce overall expense. Accounting regulations want you to take incentives in a lump sum; our profit and loss statement would have shown a higher rental through the entire 10-year term and a big financial windfall in the final quarter.
Other economic development corporations handed us a standard contract and didn’t show a desire to change the terms and conditions. With Allen, they had dealt with these issues with other public companies, and their familiarity was a breath of fresh air. We didn’t have to do a lot of education as we did with the other groups. Language needed to be structured correctly and it required flexibility as their legal group worked with our accountants. That was a differentiator for us.
Would you recommend the city to other companies looking to relocate?
Certainly, from my standpoint it has been a great experience. The only drawback is that Allen doesn’t have a large inventory of buildings, although the city is addressing that situation and there is land that can be developed if companies want to build to suit.
It’s been a great relationship and the economic development corporation did a wonderful job for us. We would absolutely recommend Allen to other companies looking for this type of office space.
Mark Layton is the founder and former CEO of PFSweb. Reach him at (972) 881-2900 or email@example.com.
Reach the Allen Economic Development Corporation at www.allentx.com or call (972) 727-0250.
Staying relevant. It’s why companies close old divisions and start new ones, why they introduce new products, make acquisitions, diversify their portfolios and invest in R&D. And for IT companies like Groupware Technology Inc., it’s the reason to complete one transformation, only to pause, and do it all over again.
The need to change was something that IT industry veterans — owners Mike Thompson, Scott Sutter and Anthony Miley — understood well when they acquired Groupware, an IT solutions provider that was on the verge of going belly-up in 2005. They recognized from day one that the company’s survival was dependent upon Groupware’s ability to transition outside its roots of
“systems and storage” and make a name in for itself in IT’s fastest-growing segments: big data, cloud computing, virtualization and data security. It’s a process that’s taken involved two restructurings in seven years.
“It’s a brand-new organization from the company that we acquired,” says Thompson, the company’s president and CEO. “We took a company that was doing at the time of the acquisition $1.7 million, and we turned it into almost $150 million with our company. We injected life into the organization by creating relevancy within the marketplace … and within the customer base.”
Here’s how Thompson and his co-owners have taken Groupware from struggling IT reseller into a leading systems integrator.
Look for an opening
Groupware’s broad customer base includes SMBs all the way to Fortune 500 companies. This means the company’s IT solutions must meet a wide range of technology needs. Delivering solutions that are on the leading edge of today’s systems and storage technology is the only way to stay relevant for customers.
“At the rate that technology is changing — it’s pretty amazing the acceleration that it’s going through — we need to stay in the forefront in regard to what technology is out there,” Thompson says. “It’s having business conversations with our customers to understand what pain points they’re trying to solve for and where they’re trying to take their business.”
Nobody knows the needs of the market better than your customer base. So one of Thompson’s first steps as CEO was to ask customers, “What’s going on in the marketplace?” and “Where do you want to take your business?” to see where Groupware should be investing.
“Understanding what’s going on around cloud computing, big data, next generation data centers and having the expertise to be able to deep dive into those types of opportunities and conversations with customers has allowed us to remain in the forefront,” Thompson says.
“It’s having conversations with our end users in regard to what business issues they are trying to solve and then understanding how we can help them solve those issues, and not just for today.”
What Thompson and his partners realized quickly is that businesses buying IT products also wanted in-depth knowledge and advice from their providers. They began working on a strategy to transform Groupware into a services-led business, which could provide both products and support for its customer’s technical capabilities.
As it turned out, the challenges in the down economy — more companies began seeking IT workarounds to help them manage with more limited resources —gave the company an “in” to present its new solutions and services to the marketplace.
“Customers looked to us to offset some of the reductions that they had in place because business has to go on,” Thompson says. “You still have to solve these business issues. You’ve just got to find new ways to address the business models out there.”
While competitors scaled back, Groupware doubled down on IT investments, including its service segment, which Thompson and his partners believed would propel demand moving forward. The company also invested heavily investments in its labs and engineering capabilities — especially engineering talent.
“Where there is change and uncertainty, there is opportunity,” Thompson says.
“As we went through it, we saw that people were going to pull back. Our opportunity was to go invest heavily to have resources available to [businesses] and to create value out in the marketplace that our customers could leverage from us to continue to be successful in their operation.”
Start tough conversations
By the time the recession began bottoming out in 2010, Groupware had nearly doubled its business, a sign that new investments were paying off. Still, the business transformation also forced Thompson and his executive team to restructure certain areas of the company to make room for those investments.
It was important to engage people in “adult conversations” about why the changes were happening and what they meant.
“I think too often we let niceness get in the way of the truth. You need to have those conversations and not delay the hard conversations, acting decisively based on that and moving forward. I’ve been in situations where the executive team has been slow to make changes and it became irrelevant really quickly by not acting and not executing. It’s critical to have those conversations and then act on them appropriately.”
Groupware has now gone through two restructurings since 2005, a transformation process that’s involved rearranging certain departments, eliminating remote offices and consolidating operations. These strategic moves have helped drive the company’s investment in “rack and roll” solutions — complete technology solutions designed to be rolled into the data center and quickly put into production, generating higher returns for Groupware.
For Thompson, the ability to have honest conversations with team members has helped him keep the company accountable to progress, but also to earn employee respect. People prefer to do business with people that they like, but they’ll also follow a leader who they respect, he says.
“We need to have those hard conversations and get everybody on board with the investments that we want to make as an organization,” Thompson says.
“You can move too quickly, but if you set the goals and hold accountability level, you can make minor changes to that if you need to, or you can pull back.”
That said, building a dialogue with employees is also important in helping you monitor your investments. Strong internal communication gives you a continuous feedback loop to know where your investments stand and what kind of returns they are generating so that you can know when to pull back.
“It goes back to where you place your bets, making bets and then understanding the return, setting expectations associated with those bets and managing toward that,” Thompson says. “If you don’t see the return or you don’t see the return coming, you need to be able to take those resources back and double down where you do see return on those investments coming from or where you believe you can get a greater return.”
Share in excellence
Today, Thompson continues to invest heavily in the company’s core competencies — networking, security and storage — as well as its services practice, its fastest-growing division. Smart investments combined with open and honest communication are two building blocks in a foundation that helps Groupware stay relevant with customers, and the marketplace.
The third is collective ambition, or a shared commitment by employees to the company’s success.
“I’m a firm believer in building winning teams, having the right people in the right positions at the right time,” Thompson says. “Then you’ve got to empower them to go out and execute.
One way Thompson drives collective ambition at Groupware is by creating an environment where employees want to come to work.
“I’ve always felt that it’s our job from a leadership perspective to put our employees in a position to be successful,” Thompson says. “When they drive home that night, we need to give them a reason to come back in the office the next morning.”
What makes a great work environment? At Groupware, it comes down to living the company’s three core values every day.
“The great thing about this transition is that we’ve remained true to our core values of customer service, excellence and fun,” Thompson says. “My belief is that you keep those core values intact and you create an environment where employees can be successful and understand the consistency of the model that you’re bringing to the marketplace.”
An example is the fact that Groupware invites every employee in the company to its national kickoff — an event that many businesses limit to their sales teams.
“It’s customer service,” he says. “It’s the pursuit of excellence and it’s having fun. Those three complement each other.”
Getting employees together for the kickoff is about showcasing the company’s values and vision; but it’s also about “getting everybody to fill part of the success of the company,” Thompson says.
Driving this culture is also why Groupware expanded its focus on collective ambition in 2010, when it rolled out a corporate program around the concept. The goal of the program is to help employees understand their role in serving the purpose of Groupware and better explain to employees how all departments participate and work in harmony to help the company succeed.
“Once you have buy-in and you have collective ambition by multiple individuals in the organization, you can propel the business in the direction that you want to take it,” Thompson says.
How to reach: Groupware Technology Inc., (408) 540-0090 or www.groupwaretechnology.com
The Thompson File
President and CEO
Groupware Technology Inc.
Born: Mountain View, Calif.
Education: USC undergrad; MBA Regis University
Leadership philosophy: I don’t shy away from the fear of failure. That actually makes me work harder, and I take those challenges and adversity head-on. I’m a classic example of ‘productive paranoia.’ I’m always looking over my shoulder, always working hard and always trying to better myself to make sure that I can keep moving in the right direction.
What would you do if you weren’t doing your current job?
In some capacity, creating an environment and opportunities for others to grow. Leadership and mentoring have always been important to me.
What is one part of your daily routine that you wouldn’t change?
When I’m not traveling, taking my kids to school in the morning. Discussing ESPN Radio with my son while my daughter tries to sing over the conversation and dance free of her car seat always starts my day off in perspective.
If you could have dinner with one person you’ve never met, who would it be?
Cassius Clay. I’m a huge boxing fan. The man who became Mohammed Ali was a personal branding genius and his endless confidence and brashness are endlessly fascinating to me.
What do you do to regroup on a tough day?
If I can, go do something with my son, shoot hoops, play catch and so on. It gives me a half hour or so away from my phone. Practice, form and fundamentals messages, repeated to him over and over, are great reminders for me as well.
What do you do for fun?
Get out on the water: wake surfing, boating, being out on the water with friends and family.
I’ve always enjoyed working for myself. In fourth grade, I mowed lawns. In high school, I expanded into window washing. Later on, I started a janitorial company and an outdoor advertising company. Eventually, I raised money from venture capitalists and started a business to sell marketing supplies online. Supposedly, all of that was a single kind of activity called “being an entrepreneur.”
“Entrepreneur” however, is a stretched out word. It may have been a perfectly good word at one time, but it isn’t very useful any more. A fellow who owns a McDonald’s restaurant is called an entrepreneur, and so is Mark Zuckerberg who started Facebook. The word has come to mean something like a “businessperson” who takes “risks” to make money.
I am not sure how much risk is involved in opening a McDonald’s or dropping out of Harvard — maybe because I’ve never done either. But launching Facebook seems fundamentally different than opening the 14,000th McDonald’s. We need more nuanced definitions to describe these varied activities so that we can see the differences.
Originality, not risk
There is certainly risk in starting any new business, just as there is risk in investing in any business, no matter how large or well-established. But the essence of entrepreneurship in its most exhilarating and important sense has to do with originality, not risk. There is greater value in the discovery of new things than in the refinement of the known. That is why cooks and bakers proudly guard their newest recipes, while the best of the tried and true are free online.
Oftentimes, when we’re speaking admiringly of successful entrepreneurs, what we’re really talking about are what I’d call imagineurs (thanks, Walt Disney, for the inspiration).Imagineurs bring to the table not just a desire to build, but a desire to create — whether their creation is a new gadget, a new idea or a new business model.
This act of invention is what differentiates starting up Facebook from starting up a new McDonald’s. Both require the riskiness of basic entrepreneurship, but only one requires doing something no one else has done before.
New life into an old field
To see the potentially tremendous value in thinking up something completely new, consider a field that’s incredibly old: music. People have always wanted to be able to listen to the music of their choice at the time and in the place of their choosing.
Over the past 150 years, our ability to do so has changed and improved dramatically. Each great leap forward depended on imagineurs, be it Thomas Edison and his phonograph, or Nobutoshi Kihara and his Walkman, or Steve Jobs and his iPod and iTunes store. Each imagineur’s efforts enhanced our ability to listen to the music we love.
Imagineurs don’t have to be technological wizards or tinkerers in the lab. Walter L. Jacobs started America’s first rental car business with 12 Model T Fords; today that company is called Hertz.
Reed Hastings upended the video rental business by sending discs through the mail on a monthly subscription basis and started Netflix.
Imagineurs are architects, designers, creators and seers of the unseen. Through curiosity, ingenuity and discovery they contribute a founding insight without which, neither they nor any other business builder can proceed successfully for very long. They find a way to give customers what they’ve always wanted, but better, faster or cheaper than before.
Just as every great inventor had a mother, every great invention began with an imagineur.
Jerry McLaughlin is CEO of Branders.com, the world’s largest and lowest-priced online promotional products company. Reach him at JerryMcLaughlin@branders.com.
Small business owners still remain concerned about access to capital and making sure that they have access to the best solutions for improving their cash flow and finances.
So what specific financial solutions can truly help small businesses throughout the state grow and prosper?
Smart Business spoke with California Bank & Trust Executive Vice President Betty Rengifo Uribe about ways small business owners can leverage some helpful financial solutions to save money and streamline operations.
What specific types of financial solutions should small business owners be considering right now?
There are several different solutions that many business owners can use to improve their finances.
Since access to capital is still a critical issue for many small business owners, entrepreneurs should consider a wide range of solutions, including loans, lines of credit, leases and, perhaps most importantly, Small Business Administration (SBA) loans that may offer very favorable rates and terms.
Beyond that, any solution that can help grow revenues and streamline operations is worth a further look. Some of the most useful include: merchant services, business credit cards and remote deposit.
How can small businesses use merchant services to their best advantage?
Any business, large or small, should be offering customers as many payment options as possible. With the right merchant services solutions and technology, you can accept credit cards, debit cards and even gift cards.
What’s your advice for using business credit cards?
One of the best cases for using a business credit card is that it allows you to keep your business expenses completely separate from your personal expenses. With many cards, you will receive detailed reports of expenses that are already sorted by categories. That can make it a lot easier for both you and your accountant during tax season — saving time and resources.
Many small business owners have cards issued to employees. You have to be careful and monitor spending, but imagine how much easier it is for employees to pay their expenses with a credit card instead of dealing with the tedious paperwork of requesting reimbursement checks. This allows your employees more time to focus on their core job responsibilities.
Additionally, you get the usual benefits of credit cards, such as various rewards programs, a credit line that you’re able to access and protection against fraud for purchases made with the card.
What is remote deposit, and how does it help small business owners?
Business owners and their employees need to make the best use of their time. One way to do that is to avoid frequent trips to the bank to make deposits.
With remote deposit, you can deposit checks right from your office. You simply scan checks and they’re automatically deposited into your account. That means you can make deposits anytime — on weekends or in the evening — which can give you an extended deposit window for crediting funds to your account.
Remote deposit also allows you to store images of checks electronically so there’s no need to store physical copies of deposited items.
What do you say to business owners who don’t see value in solutions like these?
Time and time again these solutions and others really move the needle in terms of streamlining operations and enhancing revenue opportunities. Not every solution fits every business, of course, but with a wide range of choices, your business banker can help you customize solutions that address your goals and add more value to your business.
Betty Rengifo Uribe is executive vice president at California Bank & Trust.
Website: Helpful resources for small businesses.
Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by California Bank & Trust
Companies looking to grow and needing an infusion of capital have several options, which come with various costs and requirements.
“We look at capital on a sort of continuum, with equity perhaps being the most expensive form primarily because of its diluting impact on ownership of the company. At the other end, there’s self-generated working capital derived from profitable operations,” says Paul Gibson, senior vice president and Eastern Region market manager at Bridge Bank. “In between there are a variety of financing options to assist a growing company.”
Smart Business spoke with Gibson about where small businesses fit along the continuum and options they have available to secure working capital.
What is the least expensive option to get working capital?
There is no cheaper form of capital than self-generated profits. Apple, Inc. is an example of a company that continues to be profitable and has a huge war chest of cash available for any need. But most small and growing businesses are not capitalized like Apple and look to banks to assist in the form of senior debt. This financing is usually based on a bank’s prime lending rate as its index and has a modest margin over, or under, this index. These loans are structured, including a senior secured lien on all assets through a Uniform Commercial Code filing and frequently have financial and/or performance loan covenants. There may be a borrowing formula and an advance rate against receivables as well. There is a direct relationship between pricing and structure, as all pricing is ultimately dictated by risk. When a business can’t adhere to a traditional covenant structure, the looser structure usually translates to increased pricing.
It’s best to determine working capital and growth capital needs first when exploring financing solutions. Next, identify the various capital sources starting at the least expensive and work down until sufficient working capital is obtained. Many times it’s possible to meet all needs with senior debt, but there is a limit to how much is available and that is largely determined by the profile and complexion of the company — overall assets, liabilities, cash flow, liquidity. All of these factors help identify risk.
Many growing businesses find it difficult to obtain traditional senior debt financing because they’re focused on growth at the expense of profitability. Some banks specialize in assisting companies in this dilemma, forging strong relationships long before the mega-banks will.
What’s next if companies can’t obtain sufficient senior debt?
Another potential source of working capital is subordinated debt, also known as mezzanine debt or venture debt. Subordinated lenders do not recover their first dollar in a liquidation scenario until the senior lender has collected its last dollar. This type of financing can take many forms.
With subordinated debt there is generally less structure than with senior debt. The reduced or even lack of covenants and junior lien position contribute to increased risk. Because there’s greater risk, subordinated debt also has a higher price.
Some banks offer these instruments, but more often commercial finance companies, hedge funds and other non-bank lenders offer them. The higher rates they charge are reflective of the higher cost of their capital, usually in investor funds or a bank line.
Why is cheaper not always better?
The true cost of capital shouldn’t only be measured in simple dollars or as the spread of basis points in an interest rate. The least expensive capital isn’t always the best capital because there are more factors than just price, such as opportunity costs, ease of use, flexibility of structure and other intangible benefits. For example, a low-interest loan with a covenant package that’s too restrictive can potentially result in a business disruption when a covenant violation occurs. Balancing pricing and structure relative to individual needs is critical when evaluating multiple loan options.
Most people assume that competition is the primary driver of pricing, but it’s not. Risk determines pricing — whether it’s equity or debt — and competition further refines it. Companies should understand their risk profile. It’s a powerful tool in helping to achieve the best outcome for a business’s financing needs.
Paul Gibson is a senior vice president, Eastern Region market manager, at Bridge Bank. Reach him at (703) 481-1705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by Bridge Bank
Trademark, copyright and intellectual property (IP) laws can vary greatly in foreign markets, so it’s vital to seek local legal expertise before doing business internationally, says Michael J. Ioannou, a partner at Ropers Majeski Kohn & Bentley.
“Local law firms know the system, including the politicians and judges,” Ioannou says. “It’s no different than doing business here. If a Florida company has a problem in San Jose, they could send someone, but they would most likely hire an attorney here. It makes sense to have someone like me who has practiced law here for 32 years and worked in the local courts.”
Smart Business spoke with Ioannou about how companies can avoid legal problems when expanding into foreign markets.
What are some important issues to consider before entering a foreign market?
From a general standpoint, you need to understand the business environment. You can accomplish that in India, for example, through the National U.S. India Chamber of Commerce, Confederation of Indian Industry or the National Association of Software and Services Companies, which caters to high-tech companies.
You also should be checking local laws with the help of a local lawyer in the country or near where you want to do business. So, if you’re going to mainland China, there are good attorneys in Hong Kong that can advise you or connect you to counsel in mainland China that they know well.
What mistakes do companies make when doing business overseas?
They might rush into a market without checking other companies’ rights and get sued for infringing IP rights in the foreign country. Apple thought it had acquired rights to the iPad trademark in China from a Taiwanese company, but courts said a subsidiary of that company still owned the rights in China. Apple paid $60 million in a court-mediated settlement. So one route is to buy the trademark, but you still have to ensure that what you’re buying is legitimate.
It’s the same situation with foreign companies coming into the U.S. A client with a chain of Indian restaurants wanted to expand here and found a restaurant on the East Coast that used the name in interstate commerce first — that’s the test for trademarks, first use — but the restaurant didn’t have the trademark registered. Instead of spending money to argue in federal court that the restaurant didn’t have first-time use, the client bought the restaurant and trademark. It was cheaper than paying legal fees in a later dispute over the name.
How can businesses protect themselves from legal problems?
When entering a country, you want to secure trademark rights for your product there. If you can, obtain patent protection, register and apply for a patent in China or India, for example. A patent in the U.S. is not enforceable in India or China. You can stop someone from shipping goods into the U.S. that infringe on a patent here, but you can’t stop a sale occurring in India or China based on a U.S. patent.
Pharmaceutical companies are having problems getting inventions patented in India because there’s a huge market there for generic drugs. India doesn’t even recognize software patents. One client in India was threatened by a U.S. company for IT support services offered here. It was a U.S. patent, so as long as the function that was within the patent claim was being done in India only, the U.S. company couldn’t claim infringement.
What can companies do to fight patent infringement?
In India, for example, you could file a lawsuit in civil court, but that could take 15 years to reach a resolution. However, the entity that’s infringing laws in India may be doing business in the U.S., which would provide another angle to file a lawsuit here for unfair competition. You also may be able to intercept their goods from coming into this country, depending on the nature of the IP rights being infringed.
But if you have a counterfeiter in Shanghai that’s only selling goods there, you have to use the local courts. Things are getting better in terms of that kind of infringement — that’s why you’re seeing a lot more activity to enforce rights in China, for example. Just be cognizant that you can’t expect a perfect day in court as a foreign company coming into these jurisdictions.
Michael J. Ioannou is a partner at Ropers Majeski Kohn & Bentley. Reach him at (408) 287-6262 or email@example.com.
Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Ropers Majeski Kohn & Bentley PC
There’s a popular metaphor referred to as “the boiled frog.” Simply put, it says if you drop a frog in boiling water it will quickly try to escape. But if you place a frog in tepid water that’s slowly heated to a boil, the frog will “unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death.”
With the 2013 tax changes, this metaphor may apply to taxpayers, married and filing jointly, with wages of taxable income of $223,000 to $450,000, says Geoffrey M. Zimmerman, CFP®, Senior Client Advisor at Mosaic Financial Partners, Inc. These households could see their federal marginal tax rate go from 28 to 45.5 percent.
“Executives in this income range may soon find that they are in hot water with the heat on as the marginal tax rates ramp up fairly quickly,” Zimmerman says.
Smart Business spoke with Zimmerman about key tax changes as well as possible planning and investment strategies.
Why are $223,000 to $450,000 income earners unaware of the danger?
The increases come from moving up tax brackets, new Medicare taxes of 0.9 percent on payroll and 3.8 percent on unearned income, and the phase-out of itemized deductions. People earning more than $450,000 have a good idea of what’s coming, but others aren’t as prepared for 1 to 2 percent increases that can add up. For example, if each spouse earns less than $200,000, their employers aren’t required to withhold additional taxes from their paychecks for the 0.9 percent increase in Medicare. But, if their combined income pushes them over the $250,000 threshold in household wages, they may be surprised by an unexpected tax bill.
Additionally, if you live in a state like California where state income taxes have gone up, combined federal and state income tax rates can exceed 50 percent, with capital gains rates reaching 33 percent or more.
What should these taxpayers be doing?
First and foremost, don’t let the tax tail wag the dog. Tax strategies that look great in a silo may actually be detrimental to the big picture. If your strategy puts you in a concentrated position or triggers undue risk, then a sudden bad market movement can be worse than paying the taxes.
This is an opportunity for people to update their financial plan and review how the tax changes affect their goals. Make sure your advisers are talking with one another and coordinating their work and advice.
How can some key planning strategies mitigate these increases?
Look for opportunities related to the timing of cash flows. If you have a big income year where up to 80 percent of your itemized deductions might be lost, defer some itemized deductions to the following year where the income might be lower. In a low income year, look at doing IRA to Roth conversions, realizing capital gains and/or accelerating income.
Take the initiative to engage in tax loss harvesting in taxable accounts, which means you sell a security, harvest the loss and then use that loss to offset a gain in either the current year or carry forward for use in future years. This can be attractive, particularly for investing styles that offer similar but not identical alternatives. One example might be to sell an S&P 500-index fund and reinvesting with a Russell 1000-index exchange traded fund to capture the loss while remaining invested.
Review the use of asset location strategies to improve tax efficiency. Strategically place securities that produce ordinary income or that generally don’t receive favorable tax treatment into a tax-deferred account, while putting tax-efficient investments that generate long-term capital gains or qualified dividends in taxable accounts.
Municipal bonds/bond funds in taxable accounts now may be more attractive, and you also can review opportunities to take advantage of ‘above the bar’ deductions, such as contributions to qualified plans like your pension, 401(k), etc. For senior executives, contribution to nonqualified deferred compensation arrangements may be more attractive, particularly if a transition, such as retirement, is on the horizon.
With the help of good advisers who understand these moving parts and how they fit together, executives can use these strategies and others to make better decisions to move toward the things that are really important to them.
Geoffrey M. Zimmerman, CFP®, is a senior client advisor at Mosaic Financial Partners, Inc. Reach him at (415) 788-1952 or Geoff@MosaicFP.com.
Insights Wealth Management & Finance is brought to you by Mosaic Financial Partners Inc.
Service organizations are trusted with some of their customers’ most sensitive information. In order to thrive, these organizations need their stakeholders’ full faith that their internal controls safeguard both financial and nonfinancial information, and are designed and operating effectively. How can service organizations demonstrate that their control systems are protecting their customers? According to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), Service Organization Control (SOC) reports are the answer.
Smart Business spoke with Jeff Stark, audit partner at Sensiba San Filippo LLP, about SOC reporting and how it helps service organizations provide the broad spectrum of assurance their stakeholders require.
What are SOC reports?
SOC reports are standards created by the AICPA to allow for reporting on controls at service organizations. There are three types of SOC reports: SOC 1, SOC 2 and SOC 3. Together, they both replace and expand on Statements on Auditing Standards (SAS) 70 reports, giving service organizations the tools they need to provide the assurance their stakeholders require.
Though not widely known, SOC reports are becoming essential to the ongoing growth of the technology service sector as more businesses are outsourcing tasks and functions to outside service providers. Since the risk of the service provider becomes the risk of their stakeholders and customers, SOC reports provide much needed assurance, empowering service organizations to gain trust, while helping to protect their stakeholders from outside risk.
Why was SAS 70 replaced?
Since 1992, SAS 70 has provided service organizations with a vehicle to disclose control objectives and activities related to financial reporting. As the market changed, service organizations had a growing need to report on many nonfinancial control objectives. SAS 70, with its limited intended focus, was too often being used for purposes outside of financial controls.
In order to solve this problem, the AICPA issued Statements on Standards for Attestation Engagements (SSAE) 16, which replaced audit standards with attestation standards for internal controls over financial reporting. SSAE 16 standards became the basis for SOC 1 reporting, replacing SAS 70.
Additionally, the AICPA issued guidance related to attestation on controls relevant to the Trust Service Principles and Criteria including security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality and privacy. This guidance became the basis for SOC 2 reporting, bridging the gap between market need for broad assurance reporting and the previously narrow financial focus of SAS 70.
How can an organization know whether a SOC 1 or SOC 2 report is right for them?
Whether an organization should obtain a SOC 1 or SOC 2 report depends entirely on the controls in question. Controls relating to information that could affect financial statements are covered by SOC 1 reports. SOC 2 covers controls related to nonfinancial information.
Payroll processors, employee benefit plan managers and banks commonly use SOC 1 reports. Data centers, Software as a Service providers and companies subject to industry-specific regulatory standards frequently benefit from SOC 2 reports.
Why should companies consider SOC reporting?
Service organizations that want to remain competitive need internal control attestation in a variety of areas. Many companies will not even consider working with an organization without assurance that relevant controls are well designed and operating effectively. In a highly risk-averse business climate, organizations can demonstrate effective controls with the appropriate SOC report.
Jeff Stark is an audit partner at Sensiba San Filippo LLP. Reach him at (480) 286-7780 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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One law small businesses frequently underestimate is the misclassification of employees as being exempt from Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime rules, an oversight that could cost millions in employee misclassification lawsuits.
Minimum wage rates also pose problems because there may be different standards at federal, state and local levels.
“Companies need to know the basics of the FLSA in order to determine if they’re in compliance,” says Tracy Baskin, payroll compliance analyst in Wage and Hour Compliance at TriNet, Inc.
Smart Business spoke with Baskin about FLSA issues and how to stay compliant.
What are typical FLSA compliance issues?
Many businesses have problems keeping in step with minimum wage rates. An employee, having worked a year or so at a given rate of pay, may be due retroactive payments because of an increase in state or local minimum wage rates. Employees paid at the lower rate of the previous calendar year could file a complaint with the Department of Labor (DOL), which could lead to an audit.
It can be even more of a problem with exempt employees — many companies aren’t even aware there is a minimum salary basis. Exempt employees paid at a rate less than minimum wage would need to be increased to at least $16 an hour to be in compliance with California’s requirement for executive, administrative and professional (exempt) employees. For example, computer professionals are employees who typically write or modify programming have their own minimum, which is $39.90 per hour.
The most impactful item is overtime compensation. Companies are not accurately calculating overtime pay because they aren’t including additional earnings such as bonuses or commissions, which need to be included to comply with the FLSA.
How do you determine if an employee should be classified as exempt and nonexempt?
The FLSA provides general guidelines. You’ll need to concentrate first on the employee’s primary duties. Are they managers who customarily and regularly direct the work of two or more employees? Do they set company policies, or authorize, suggest or recommend the hiring and firing of others?
Employees who have advanced knowledge in a field of science, whether college or beyond, may qualify for certain professional exemptions. However, college graduates are not necessarily exempt. In California, the professional exemption is reserved for those licensed or certified by the state, generally in the fields of law, medicine, dentistry, architecture, engineering, teaching and accounting. Typically, exempt employees must also be paid at least $455 per week on a salary or fee basis.
Nonexempt employees have to be paid a certain amount per hour. If they’re tipped, they must earn enough in tips to bring them up to minimum wage. They’re the average employee and are paid time and a half if they work in excess of 40 hours in a workweek.
While most exempt employees are required to receive salaries, not all salaried workers are necessarily exempt. As a rule of thumb, you can say that an employee whose duties include supervising two or more employees; authority to hire, fire and promote; and giving job assignments to others are usually exempt. But it’s not the job title that matters, it’s the actual job duties that determine whether an employee is exempt or not.
What are the penalties for noncompliance?
Penalties vary depending on what the employee has presented to the DOL, whether it’s an overtime violation, he or she wasn’t paid the minimum wage or a simple miscalculation. If the DOL considers the violation to be willful because a business has had this offense before and not corrected it, fines can be doubled or tripled.
Our recommendation is to pay employees what they are due. If you don’t, you should expect someone will eventually reach out to the DOL, which will open the company up to a much larger audit. The DOL will examine the status of all employees and ask for the documentation to see the criteria the business used to determine their status as exempt or nonexempt. So it’s best for everyone to make sure employees are classified properly and paid what they are owed.
Tracy Baskin is a payroll compliance analyst, Wage and Hour Compliance, at TriNet, Inc. Reach her at email@example.com
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A global company that started out as a provider of telecommunications equipment, TelStrat was founded in 1993 in Plano, Texas to take advantage of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex’s Telecom Corridor.
“Being in the middle of the telecom industry is very important to us because of the engineering and product development talent that is available,” says Jennifer Slack, CFO of TelStrat.
When the company sold off a division a couple years ago to focus solely on software, the Plano site was leased to another business and TelStrat needed to find a new location. TelStrat celebrated its 20th anniversary this past February and is focused on providing call recording and workforce optimization solutions.
Smart Business spoke with Slack about the decision to move the company’s headquarters to nearby Allen, Texas.
What were the key factors favoring Allen?
It was the location and the local talent pool. We knew we wanted to stay in the same general vicinity. Employees love the Allen area because of the good schools and housing that is available. The quality of life that’s in Allen makes it very easy to find employees.
How has the Allen Economic Development Corporation assisted TelStrat?
They helped with incentives that made it more affordable to change locations. Moving can be very disruptive, as well as expensive, and the financial incentives they provided definitely helped.
The city of Allen and the economic development corporation also sponsor many programs for businesses. They provide many opportunities for networking and encourage businesses within Allen to build on the synergies available, or just talk to each other for advice. They certainly promote that spirit of cooperation.
At one of their events, I met a representative from a local company that was able to help with our recruiting efforts. We’ve probably not taken full advantage of what Allen and the economic development corporation offer, but it did help with recruiting.
What is the nature of TelStrat’s operations in Allen?
It’s a complete headquarters facility; we have about 50 employees working in departments from sales order entry to engineers for software development and support and maintenance of our product with customers. There are also some sales staff, accounting and HR personnel.
The landlord was very helpful in remodeling the site. We predominately needed office and lab space and the building had served as a call center or back office. We’re in a five-year lease and it’s a very convenient location right off of the North Central Expressway.
What’s the best thing about your new location?
It’s the convenience — it’s very easy to get around for meetings, or if we have clients or partners visiting us. There are plenty of nearby options for lunches and shopping, which employees enjoy because it saves them a lot of time and helps with developing a good work/life balance. It‘s great when you have children and you need some flexibility if they have something special going on or are sick. You can pick them up for a dental appointment and get back fairly quickly. It helps a lot to have your place of employment near your neighborhood.
We’re a pretty simple company with simple needs. The city of Allen and economic development board have made it easy for us to do business here.
Jennifer Slack is the CFO at TelStrat. Reach her at (972) 633-4512 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach the Allen Economic Development Corporation at www.allentx.com or call (972) 727-0250.