Four Tips for Finding A Great Bookkeeper

Having a terrific bookkeeper on your team brings peace of mind and improves your organizational health. But finding a great match for your business can be hard, especially if finances aren’t your strong suit.

To begin with the obvious, they should have basic bookkeeping skills, including:

  • Proficiency with bookkeeping software

  • Ability to add vendors and customers to your books

  • Ability to manage accounts payable and receivable

  • Familiarity with payroll taxes, and how to pay them online

  • Ability to reconcile bank and credit card statements

  • Knowledge of what clean books should look like, and the ability to spot errors and sleuth out problems

It’s also helpful if they have knowledge of and experience with your industry or organization type. But beyond these fundamentals, are there other guidelines for finding a great bookkeeper for your organization? Here are four tips that can help you identify just the right team member, whether you are making an internal hire or finding a bookkeeping contractor.

1. Look for someone who asks relevant questions. Good questions can provide insight into whether they are thinking about the big picture and anticipating problems. People who ask good questions are more likely to be proactive—to think strategically, to identify bottlenecks, and to improve systems, increasing efficiency and helping your business thrive.

2. Look for someone who is a good communicator. Clear, consistent, transparent communication is an essential set of skills for your bookkeeper. Not only do they need to feel comfortable asking your team for missing information, tracking down money mysteries, and sharing concerns about processes and systems, they need to be able to explain to you their reports, findings, and analyses in a way you can understand.

3. Look for someone who embraces innovation. Software is changing quickly, and cloud-based solutions are transforming bookkeeping and accounting. On top of that, add in the many apps that can be integrated with your books, your banking, your database, your customer service processes, etc. Many tasks that were formerly time-consuming can now be automated. In this era, you need a bookkeeper who embraces change and isn’t afraid to dive in and learn something new.

4. Look for someone who is a problem solver. When your numbers don’t reconcile, when information is missing or incomplete, when something just doesn’t feel right in a report, you need someone who isn’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and become a detective. If a system or process just isn’t working, you need a person who will not only identify the problem, but also help to develop solutions.  

If your contractor or bookkeeping candidate has a strong set of basic skills, and also shows these four attributes, you have likely found a good match.

Even when the team is solid, it’s sometimes helpful to have a bit of bookkeeping oversight—an expert resource your bookkeeper can call when a tricky situation arises or a tough problem develops. In these cases, Clarity is here to help. We can provide ongoing oversight and support for your bookkeeper, making sure they know about emerging technologies and industry best practices, and serving as a resource when the numbers just aren’t making sense; Clarity can be part of the team that keeps you fit and moving forward. Call today to learn more!

Resources:

Building the Financial Team That Will Help Your Business Thrive

By Robin Lancaster

For many entrepreneurs and small to mid-sized business owners financial management is one of the most challenging aspects of running their business. For some it makes sense to hire knowledgeable staff to manage financial processes internally; for others, contract services make more sense. So what are the different financial roles and services available, and what can they do for your business? I’d like to help define three roles—Bookkeeper, Controller, and Chief Financial Officer—and talk a bit about the different ways these roles can support your company’s overall growth, health, and wellbeing.

Your bookkeeper keeps you organized by entering all the data of your daily transactions into your database. She tracks all your invoices and receipts, cuts checks for you, bills your customers, reconciles your bank accounts, and does your payroll, all with a smile!

The controller manages the workflow of the finance department, keeping up on all cash flow needs, and helping to set up efficient financial systems. She creates tools for analyzing when you might have a shortfall, and advises you when you need to take advantage of a line of credit. She makes sure the accounts receivable are done in a timely manner and the bills don’t get paid too early.  Your controller will be your liaison to banks, tax agencies, and your Certified Public Accountant. Sometimes some of these tasks are blurred in smaller organizations.

Many small to mid-sized businesses don’t have a Chief Financial Officer; they feel the CFO role is too expensive, and why would a small to mid-sized business even need one? The CFO is there to help you with planning, projecting, measuring and tracking the financial and operational progress of your company. The CFO role creates complex financial projections that can aid in high-level strategic decision-making, and is an active player in the strategic management of the business. She allows you to focus on what you do best, and brings to your attention what you might not otherwise see in your numbers. In short, a CFO helps grow your business.

 Even if a full-time CFO seems out of reach for your business, having someone in that role who helps you see strategic possibilities in your numbers will give you an extra edge. In this situation you might consider hiring a contract CFO—someone who gets to know your business, but serves in the CFO role for a limited number of hours per week, per month, or per quarter.

Clarity can support you in building your team, whether through providing referrals to trusted contractors, providing oversight to your in-house staff, or helping you make sense of the numbers in a way that allows you to take your business to the next level ; we are your partner in designing financial health. Want to learn more? Contact us!

Get ready: Paid Family & Medical Leave is on its way!

All Washington employers must provide paid family and medical leave under a bill signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on July 5. 

The new law creates an insurance fund that employers and employees both pay into, with a 0.4 percent payroll tax. Payroll deductions will begin on Jan. 1, 2019, and benefits will become available to employees on Jan. 1, 2020.  https://www.paidleave.wa.gov/ 

Washington joins a handful of other states (California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York) to have enacted a paid-family-leave law. 

Quick Facts: 

  1. This statewide insurance plan requires employers to report employee wages, hours worked, and additional information every quarter. 

  2. Premiums are 0.4% of gross wages paid. 

  3. Premium collection begins in 2019 and claims for leave benefits start in 2020. 

  4. Workers can take leave for qualified events for up to 12 weeks generally, and up to 18 weeks under exceptional circumstances. 

  5. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not required to pay the employer portion of the premium but are required to collect and remit the employee portion of the premium and abide by all reporting requirements. 

  6. Small business assistance grants are available to businesses with 50-150 employees, and businesses with fewer than 50 employees who have opted-in to the employer share of the premium. 

  7. Voluntary plans are available to employers who want to manage a plan internally that meets or exceeds the state plan’s requirements. 

Download the Employer Tool Kit from ESD. This will give you the employee paystub insert.   https://paidleave.wa.gov/employers 

Confused? This shared benefit will bring peace of mind and increased wellbeing for many of our citizens here in Washington State beginning in 2020—but starting something big, new, and aspirational is often hard. We are happy to help! Call Clarity with you questions, for assistance setting up the payroll deduction, and for help with creating your plan for reporting to Washington ESD. (360) 385-9963.

Set Your New Hire Up for Success: The Secrets of Onboarding

You followed our 6 Steps for Hiring The Right Person, and you found a fantastic new candidate to join your team. How do you keep the positive momentum going? A thoughtful “onboarding” process is a critical component of successful entry for your new hire.

These first activities are most likely a new hire’s first impression of your organization and will set the tone for their experience.

1. First, have your hiring documents ready to go:

  • Employee offer letter

  • Job description (this protects you as an employer),

  • W4,

  • I-9,

  • DSHS New Hire Reporting Form,

  • Employee manual  *(We will write a future post with more detail about what to include in an employee handbook.)

2. Next, be sure to provide policy & procedure manuals. Clear and concise policy and procedure manuals are essential—they help protect your employees, and they help protect your business or organization from liability. Again, we will write a more detailed post on employee manuals soon, but for now, know they should cover these key topics:

  • Organizational values and expectations

  • Organizational compliance with applicable law

  • HR best practices specific to your industry.

  • Clear guidelines and expectations around equipment. ( Who owns the cell phone, PC or laptop being used remotely? Who is responsible for maintenance of those electronics?)

  • Policies around work hours, meals and breaks, workplace harassment, and vacation,sick, and family medical leave. (Every employee has a right to one hour of sick leave for 40 hours worked as per new Washington State law.)

3. Finally, create a plan and timeline for a 90-day Orientation Period. The orientation period happens after the initial onboarding meeting. In these first 90 days on the job, you’re providing training and support to your new hire (training should be your focus for the first 30 days, with scheduled check-ins throughout the 90-day period.)

In your initial orientation, outline your schedule for probationary period, and make it clear that there will be a performance assessment with termination if expectations aren’t being met. This will help provide legal cover if you need to terminate. We recommend you schedule check-ins for questions and constructive feedback at end of first week, then 30, 60, 90 days after. Get as much feedback as possible from the employee on what’s working for them and why. If possible, capture the highlights in a written report. This is a performance management component of an initial phase of employment.

Sometimes, for various reasons, an employee can get off to a rocky start; you can always choose to extend a probationary period beyond 90 days. But heads up: if someone is not succeeding in their orientation and probation period, they are unlikely to work out for your organization. You are more than likely seeing the best a person has to offer in the first 3 months. Extending the probationary period may just increase the amount of time (and money) you are investing in an employee who likely isn’t a good fit.

If you plan these activities into your 90-day onboarding process, your new employee will have clear direction around how their job functions, what their tasks and roles are, applicable team processes, performance metrics, and workplace expectations. When coupled with a great hiring process, a solid onboarding process helps strengthen your chances of having a productive, successful, long-standing employee. Good luck!

 

Top 5 Employee Motivators

1. Challenging Work—Providing your employees with challenging work does not mean over-loading or over-whelming them; it means that they are inspired to do more by being given challenges that help them feel more successful.

2. Recognition—Recognition is a powerful motivator.  Showing an employee that you recognize they bring their best effort to their work is key to employee satisfaction. Similarly, if an employee is unengaged in their work, recognition can bring an extra boost of confidence.

3. Employee Involvement—Your employees are aware of, and part of, the future goals of your organization. This is closely related to the practice of transparency, which means your employees see you actively engaged in work and trust that you’re keeping them up-to-date on what is going on with the organization. Work to create the sense that you are all in this together.

4. Job Security—Nothing will make employees disengage from an organization faster than fear they will lose their job. While you should aspire to create a work culture of transparency and employee involvement, take care to avoid sharing too much worrisome information about financial concerns, market issues, lagging sales, etc.  Helping your employees feel secure in the work they do will deepen their job satisfaction.

5. Compensation—While fair compensation is important, money sits at the bottom of this list of motivators. Increased compensation may bring employees through your door, but it doesn’t keep them for the long haul; no amount of money will keep someone in a work environment they are unhappy with.  

Six Steps to Hiring the Right Person for the Job

This article is excerpted from an HR best practices webinar that Clarity presented in partnership with Washington Nonprofits.

Human resources are the people that make up your workforce—from the largest corporation to the smallest business or nonprofit organization. They are the engine that power your ability to invent things, produce things, or deliver services. Humans bring the value to your enterprise. As a business or nonprofit organization, your employees are your greatest expense and your greatest opportunity.

Once hired, it takes 6 months for an employee to learn all aspects of their job, and an additional 6 months to become proficient at it. This means it takes a full year to begin to offset the cost and investment of the employer. To receive a return on investment of a full year of expenses associated with hiring, on-boarding, training, and supporting your new employee to proficiency, you really need to keep an employee for two years. This is why it’s important to find just the right fit for your position during the hiring process!

Here are six steps every organization should take to boost their chances of finding and hiring a great match.

1. Assess. First, take the opportunity to assess the needs of your organization. Do you have a strategic plan? Does the position you’re hiring for support the strategic needs of your company or organization? Is the position really needed? It could be that your organizational needs have evolved since you last hired. Would a restructuring of the position or different reporting structure better meet your needs and vision?

2. Determine organizational culture & values. This may be the most important facet of the hiring process. What are your organization’s core values, and how are those communicated to applicants, job candidates, and existing employees? If you have clearly identified your mission, values, and goals, you have a much better chance of honing in on a good match. A good match increases the likelihood that a candidate will be able to align with and adapt to the core values, expectations, and behaviors that make up an organization. A good match will minimize work drama, save money through reduced hiring and training, and increase retention.

3. Create, update, improve the job description. Make sure every employee has a job description containing the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to perform the core functions of that position. It can be short and sweet, or detailed and complex, depending on the needs of the position.

4. Advertise. First you should consider whether internal recruitment will best serve your needs. Internal recruitment brings the advantage of knowing whether a candidate is a good fit for your organizational culture; they also likely have existing knowledge of the job responsibilities and may be able to quickly come up to speed in a new role.

Sometimes there isn’t an internal candidate that would make a good fit. If you decide to advertise externally, cast as broad and diverse a net as possible. Here is a list of common sites for posting and searching job openings: Indeed.com, monster.com, Craig’s List, Philanthropy NW, LinkedIn.

If there are relevant membership organizations, industry organizations, or list-serves, include them, as well as local & regional newspapers. Are there any means of advertising in minority communities? This will encourage diversity in applications.

You may also decide you want to include a supplemental survey that gives you more information about what the candidate is looking for in a job, if they will be a good fit for the culture of the company, or whether they bring other sorts of skills, experience, or perspective that might be beneficial for your organization.

5. Screen. Screen applications with HR staff and the manager, or person on staff who has the greatest knowledge of the job requirements. Ensure the confidentiality of the application and resume screening process. Screen all applications and resumes for qualifications, values and mission fit, job experience and achievements, and references before going to the interview stage.

6. Interview. Only interview top candidates. Establish who will conduct the interview—will it be a single manager or team? Prepare 10 quality interview questions in advance; questions that provide a good sense of skill set and organizational fit. Maintain consistency between candidates of interview team and questions asked.

This may seem like an exhaustive and exhausting process, but we can’t stress this enough—hiring the wrong person can be an expensive, time consuming mistake.  Hiring the right person for your job can bring stability, sustainability, and significant return on investment.

With a little luck, and a lot of legwork, this six-step process can yield an excellent candidate for your position.

Next month we’ll talk about the on-boarding process. Can't wait until then? Watch the recorded webinar here: The Lifecycle of an Employee: HR Best Practices

 

 

 

Celebrate Earth Day, Green Your Business

There are so many reasons to go green! Increasingly, people are recognizing we have a shared responsibility to lighten our collective environmental impact—for our children, and future generations of all living things. More and more business and nonprofit leaders see the potential their sectors have for pushing our culture and economy toward sustainability, and are stepping up to do the good work.

In addition to being the right thing to do, did you know that taking steps to become more environmentally conscious can also be good for business? Studies show customers want greener choices, they view green businesses as innovative and progressive, and are willing to pay a premium for responsibly and sustainably produced goods and services. This is especially true of Millennials, who represent an increasing share of the adult population.

Here is a list of ideas, both small and large, for making your business more environmentally friendly:

  • Create a company or organizational Environmental Policy Statement. There are many good templates available.
  • Assess your organization’s Carbon Footprint.
  • Energy conservation: turn off and unplug at the end of the day. Even sleeping machines can draw energy through the evenings and weekends.
  • Convert to natural & biodegradable cleaning products and equipment. Besides, who wants to work among toxic chemicals anyway?
  • Get rid of your single use coffee pods. Sure, it’s a convenient way to brew coffee—but remember, K-pods are non-recyclable, and plastic doesn’t biodegrade. Every plastic coffee pod you use will be around FOREVER.
  • Start a workplace recycling program. Here is a link to what’s recyclable in Jefferson County.
  • Get a water cooler and a set of reusable glasses.
  • Begin an office walk/bike/bus challenge. Consider providing employees with transit passes as a non-traditional benefit.
  • Give your staff the ability to flex-work from home. This cuts down on CO2 emissions from car travel.
  • Consider going paperless (or nearly).
  • Cloud-based computing. Move your server to the cloud, and implement a file storage system that reduces the need to print hard copies. Google Docs, Office 365, Dropbox, and other cloud-based systems can help.
  • Considering upgrading your office equipment? With your next upgrade, purchase energy saving office equipment. And be sure to recycle your old e-waste.
  • Practice Green Procurement—take care to source locally and sustainably, when possible.
  • Include an environmental impact analysis when adding new products, programs, or services.

Remember, small steps can lead to big impacts over time. If you’re starting from scratch, choose one or two things that seem doable and implement them this year. Sustainable business practices will mean healthier, happier lives for all people today and in the future—and they might just lead to a healthier bottom line.

Dashboards Can Be Springboards!

“Measure everything of significance. Anything that is measured and watched, improves.” - Bob Parsons, founder of GoDaddy
 
Most businesses and nonprofits today are swimming in data, and generating more all the time. It’s stored in customer databases, inventory software, QuickBooks, marketing programs, social media platforms, and even Google Analytics. Many entrepreneurs and leaders know intuitively that this can be a powerful tool for smart decision-making, but feel overwhelmed by the prospect of mining and making sense of it all. This is where dashboards come in.
 
A Digital Dashboard is an information management tool. Dashboards create visualizations of your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) by pulling them into charts and graphs that are displayed side-by-side and updated in real time. This allows you to see trends, patterns and opportunities as they emerge.
 
Organizations of all kinds can use dashboards to help track meaningful metrics, for example: nonprofit fundraising or grant administration, marketing strategies, accounts payable and receivable, sales, lead generation, web traffic, project management, etc. Businesses and nonprofits working in healthcare, finance, insurance, small manufacturing, retail sales, customer service, education, conservation, and more. See some examples of different industry dashboards here.
 
With all of this information clearly visualized, accessible, and at your fingertips, your stress will go down and your productivity will increase!
 
Need help honing in on your KPIs? Would a few tweaks to your existing systems help you gather data that can be translated into a dashboard for smart decision making? Give Clarity a call or drop us a line. Together we can design a system that works for you, keeping you fit and moving forward.
 
Sources for this article:
Wikipedia 
The Best Business Dashboard Apps for Small Businesses
 
Best practices when designing dashboards:
Data Dashboards for Small Business
 
For Nonprofits:
Models & Components of a Great Nonprofit Dashboard
 
A few examples of companies providing dashboards for small business:
Klipfolio
Dasheroo 
Tableau 
iDashboard 

Why Human Resources Management is Essential for Small Business

By Lisa Minnihan, MBA-HRM

What is Human Resources Management (HRM), and why is it important to your business? Human resources are the people that make up your workforce—from the largest corporation to the smallest business or nonprofit organization. They are the engine that power your ability to invent things, produce things, fix things, sell things, or deliver services. Humans bring much of the value to your enterprise.

When your team is strong, healthy, and efficient, you can stretch to reach your goals. When you must spend a lot of time putting out fires, untangling messes, or managing high employee turnover, you don’t have the time or resources to fulfill your core mission. Chronic personnel issues can serve as a slow bleed for your bottom line; the loss of a key employee or two can be like a hemorrhage as you scramble to recruit, interview, hire, and train replacements.

This is why Human Resources Management can make a difference to your profitability. Human Resources programs help create organizational structure, develop job descriptions, maintain employee manuals, manage employee benefits packages, conduct performance reviews, manage training and professional development opportunities, ensure employee satisfaction and motivation, address discrimination and harassment issues, and ensure businesses are following employment law. They help everyone understand roles, responsibilities, performance expectations, and what to do if there’s a problem.

It’s a lot. Many small organizations don’t have the time, energy, or expertise to create and maintain a dedicated human resources program, and they may not have the resources to hire a dedicated staff person. But that doesn’t mean they should turn a blind eye. Besides protecting you from legal exposure, I believe HRM is a key ingredient to small business success.

Over the next several months we will share a series of short articles that can help you think about Human Resources Management issues in your small business or nonprofit. They will focus on a topic, introduce a few ideas, and provide resources for digging deeper. 2018 is a good year to build a Human Resources Management program that will help you survive and thrive for years to come!

Need some help right now? Call 385-9963, or email me at lisa(at)clarityei.com to set up a conversation.

New Sick Leave Law Begins January 1, 2018

Washington State’s paid sick leave initiative, I-1433, will go into effect on January 1, 2018.  While this initiative covers new minimum wage rates for future years and important language regarding tips and service charges, most of the initiative revolves around the new requirement of Washington State employers to provide paid sick leave to employees. Wondering if this applies to your business? Chances are good that it does!
 
As a part of the State’s Minimum Wage Act, as of January 1st, employers must provide most employees with 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked.  Employees entitled to paid sick leave are those covered by the Minimum Wage Act.  The initiative covers when and how employees may use their paid sick leave, exact increments of sick leave accrual vs. usage, for whom paid sick leave can be used, notification and reporting requirements, regulations on record-keeping, and employer parameters around reasonable notification and lawful use. 
 
If you are interested in learning more about how implementation of this initiative will impact your business, two local workshops will be held in January: 1/11 and 1/25, at the Chamber / EDC Team Jefferson classroom. Each will include a core presentation from Washington State L&I, followed by question and answer with Clarity's HR expert Lisa Minnihan, and attorney Eileen Baratuci of AIM Services.

Co-presenting partners include Clarity, Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, EDC Team Jefferson, Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, and AIM Services. 

There are a limited number of spaces in each workshop, so don't delay! For details, and to register, send your name, the name of your business, and your contact information to Lisa Minnihan at lisa@clarityei.com.