For many small to midsize businesses, spending money on marketing calls for a leap of faith that the benefits will outweigh the costs. Much of the planning process tends to focus on the initial expenses incurred rather than how to measure return on investment.

Here are five questions to ask yourself and your leadership team to put a finer point on whether your marketing efforts are likely to pay off:

1. What do we hope to accomplish? Determine as specifically as possible what marketing success looks like. If the goal is to increase sales, what metric(s) are you using to calculate whether you’ve achieved adequate sales growth? Put differently, how will you know that your money was well spent?

2. Where and how often do we plan to spend money? Decide how much of your marketing will be based on recurring activity versus “one off” or ad-hoc initiatives.

For example, do you plan to buy six months of advertising on certain websites, social media platforms, or in a magazine or newspaper? Have you decided to set up a booth at an annual trade show?

Fine tune your efforts going forward by comparing inflows to outflows from various types of marketing spends. Will you be able to create a revenue inflow from sales that at least matches, if not exceeds, the outflow of marketing dollars?

3. Can we track sources of new business, as well as leads and customers? It’s critical to ask new customers how they heard about your company. This one simple question can provide invaluable information about which aspects of your marketing plan are generating the most leads.

Further, once you have discovered a lead or new customer, ensure that you maintain contact with the person or business. Letting leads and customers fall through the cracks will undermine your marketing efforts. If you haven’t already, explore customer relationship management software to help you track and analyze key data points.

4. Are we able to gauge brand awareness? In addition to generating leads, marketing can help improve brand awareness. Although an increase in brand awareness may not immediately translate to increased sales, it tends to do so over time. Identify ways to measure the impact of marketing efforts on brand awareness. Possibilities include customer surveys, website traffic data and social media interaction metrics.

5. Are we prepared for an increase in demand? It may sound like a nice problem to have, but sometimes a company’s marketing efforts are so successful that a sudden upswing in orders occurs. If the business is ill-prepared, cash flow can be strained and customers left disappointed and frustrated.

Make sure you have the staff, technology and inventory in place to meet an increase in demand that effective marketing often produces. We can help you assess the efficacy of your marketing efforts, including calculating informative metrics, and suggest ideas for improvement.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

As many states continue to struggle with the current surge in COVID-19 cases, the “new normal” demands continued social distancing in many areas of life. What does this mean for estate planning? Clearly, estate planning is as important today — or arguably more important — than ever. But how do you plan your estate and execute critical documents if you’re uncomfortable with face-to-face meetings or are required to self-quarantine?

Fortunately, many estate planning activities may be able to be done from the safety of your own home. Here are some options to consider, but keep in mind that requirements vary significantly from state to state, so it’s important to discuss your plans with your estate planning advisor.

Most planning can be done remotely

There are definite advantages to meeting with your advisor in person to talk about creating or updating your estate plan. But these discussions can be conducted in video conferences or phone calls, and document drafts can be transmitted and reviewed via email, secure online portals or even “snail mail.”

Traditionally, estate planning documents are executed in an attorney’s office in the presence of witnesses and a notary public. In-office document signings may still be possible with appropriate precautions, but there are other options that may allow you to avoid traveling to an attorney’s office.

The options available depend in part on the type of document being signed:

Wills. In most states, a typewritten will (as well as a modification or codicil to an existing will) must be signed in the physical presence of at least two witnesses. Typically, those witnesses must be disinterested — that is, they don’t stand to inherit or otherwise benefit under the will. But some states permit family members or other interested parties to serve as witnesses. In those states, it may be possible to conduct a will signing at home (with instructions from your attorney) and have members of your household witness it.

What about notarization? Wills are usually notarized as a best practice, but in most states it’s not required. However, wills are often accompanied by a self-proving affidavit, which must be notarized.

Another option in some states is a “holographic,” or handwritten, will, which generally doesn’t require witnesses or notarization.

Trusts. In many states, you can sign a trust document without witnesses or notarization, and it may even be possible to sign it electronically. One potential strategy for avoiding traditional will-signing requirements is to sign a holographic “pour over” will that transfers all assets to a revocable trust, which can accomplish many of the same objectives as a traditional will.

Monitor legal developments

Requirements for signing estate planning documents have been evolving in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic may accelerate the process more. A few states permit electronic wills (e-wills) and online notarization, which makes it possible to execute these documents without the need for physical interaction with anyone. These technologies are still in their infancy, but they’re being considered by lawmakers in many states. Contact us with any questions regarding your estate planning documents.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

How to conduct a remote fraud investigation

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, most fraud investigations took place in the office or other work facility. This made it easy for investigators to gather and analyze data and interview suspects and witnesses in a face-to-face setting.

But if your company allows employees to work from home — either temporarily or permanently — you may need to conduct a remote fraud investigation. In addition to suspects and witnesses working remotely, those tasked with conducting investigations (including outside experts) may also be remote. Here’s how to manage these situations.

Policies and procedures

First, develop policies and procedures for remote investigations. If you already have written polices for traditional fraud investigations, use them as a starting point. Some features, such as the role and processes of investigators may remain basically the same.

Cover the entire process, including:

  • The technology solutions you’ll use to communicate with employees and investigators,
  • Backup options in the event of technical problems, and
  • How you’ll share relevant files and documents — both electronic and paper.

Once you’ve developed a draft, have legal counsel review it.

Conducting interviews 

Before conducting interviews, prepare subjects for the process. Let them know approximately how long the interview might take and whether they must review documents before or during the discussion. Stress the importance of sitting in a quiet location with minimal background noise where they can remain undisturbed throughout the interview.

To provide your team with ample opportunity to detect verbal and nonverbal signs of deception, subjects need to keep their video feeds on the entire time. Most computers, smartphones, tablets and wireless connections can facilitate video calls, but be sure to test subjects’ devices and Internet connections before interviews. Consider having a trusted member of your IT department perform the test, instructing this employee not to discuss anything specific about the interview or the fraud allegations.

There are a couple things you should keep in mind. First, any conversation conducted via video conferencing will be recorded and can be used in a subsequent court case. So discuss interview plans with your attorney.

Second, expect the unexpected. For example, how will you proceed if a fraud suspect declines to answer questions, turns off his or her video or audio feed or consults with an unknown third party in the room? Subjects attempting to dodge uncomfortable questions may pretend to have connectivity problems. 

Unique challenges

Remote fraud investigations present unique challenges — many of which can be anticipated and mitigated. But even if you normally would conduct a preliminary fraud investigation in-house, consider engaging a forensic accounting expert early in the process to help ensure you don’t miss anything.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

In order to prepare for a business audit, an IRS examiner generally does research about the specific industry and issues on the taxpayer’s return. Examiners may use IRS “Audit Techniques Guides (ATGs).” A little-known secret is that these guides are available to the public on the IRS website. In other words, your business can use the same guides to gain insight into what the IRS is looking for in terms of compliance with tax laws and regulations. 

Many ATGs target specific industries or businesses, such as construction, aerospace, art galleries, architecture and veterinary medicine. Others address issues that frequently arise in audits, such as executive compensation, passive activity losses and capitalization of tangible property.

Unique issues

IRS auditors need to examine different types of businesses, as well as individual taxpayers and tax-exempt organizations. Each type of return might have unique industry issues, business practices and terminology. Before meeting with taxpayers and their advisors, auditors do their homework to understand various industries or issues, the accounting methods commonly used, how income is received, and areas where taxpayers might not be in compliance.

By using a specific ATG, an auditor may be able to reconcile discrepancies when reported income or expenses aren’t consistent with what’s normal for the industry or to identify anomalies within the geographic area in which the business is located.

Updates and revisions

Some guides were written several years ago and others are relatively new. There is not a guide for every industry. Here are some of the guide titles that have been revised or added this year:

  • Retail Industry (March 2021),
  • Construction Industry (April 2021),
  • Nonqualified Deferred Compensation (June 2021), and
  • Real Estate Property Foreclosure and Cancellation of Debt (August 2021).

Although ATGs were created to help IRS examiners uncover common methods of hiding income and inflating deductions, they also can help businesses ensure they aren’t engaging in practices that could raise audit red flags. For a complete list of ATGs, visit the IRS website here: https://www.checkpointmarketing.net/newsletter/linkShimRadar.cfm?key=89521181G3971J9375406&l=72457

© 2021 Covenant CPA

TOP