Big data strategies for every business

You’ve probably heard or read the term “big data” at least once in the past few years. Maybe your response was a sarcastic “big deal!” under the assumption that this high-tech concept applies only to large corporations. But this isn’t necessarily true. With so much software so widely available, companies of all sizes may be able to devise and implement big data strategies all their own.

Trends, patterns, relationships

The term “big data” generally refers to any large set of electronic information that, with the right hardware and software, can be analyzed to identify trends, patterns and relationships.

Most notably for businesses, it can help you better understand and predict customer behavior — specifically buying trends (upward and downward) and what products or services customers might be looking for. But big data can also lend insights to your HR function, helping you better understand employees and potential hires, and enabling you to fine-tune your benefits program.

Think of big data as the product recommendation function on Amazon. When buying anything via the site or app, customers are provided a list of other items they also may be interested in. These recommendations are generated through a patented software process that makes an educated guess, based on historical data, on consumer preferences. These same software tools can make predictions about aspects of your business, too — from sales to marketing return on investment, to employee retention and performance.

Specific areas

Here are a couple of specific areas where big data may help improve your company:

Sales. Many businesses still adhere to the tried-and-true sales funnel that includes the various stages of prospecting, assessment, qualification and closing. Overlaying large proprietary consumer-behavior data sets over your customer database may allow you to reach conclusions about the most effective way to close a deal with your ideal prospects.

Inventory management. If your company has been around for a while, you may think you know your inventory pretty well. But do you, really? Using big data, you may be able to better determine and predict which items tend to disappear too quickly and which ones are taking up too much space.

Planning and optimization

Big data isn’t exactly new anymore. But it continues to evolve with the widespread use of cloud computing, which allows companies of any size to securely store and analyze massive amounts of data online. Our firm can offer assistance in planning and optimizing your technology spending.

© 2018

Not necessarily a luxury: Outsourcing

For many years, owners of small and midsize businesses looked at outsourcing much like some homeowners viewed hiring a cleaning person. That is, they saw it as a luxury. But no more — in today’s increasingly specialized economy, outsourcing has become a common way to cut costs and obtain expert assistance.

Why would you?

Outsourcing certain tasks that your company has been handling all along offers many benefits. Let’s begin with cost savings. Outsourcing a function effectively could save you a substantial percentage of in-house management expenses by reducing overhead, staffing and training costs. And thanks to the abundant number of independent contractors and providers of outsourced services, you may be able to bargain for competitive pricing.

Outsourcing also allows you to leave administration and support tasks to someone else, freeing up staff members to focus on your company’s core purpose. Plus, the firms that perform these functions are specialists, offering much higher service quality and greater innovations and efficiencies than you could likely muster.

Last, think about accountability — in many cases, vendors will be much more familiar with the laws, regulations and processes behind their specialties and therefore be in a better position to help ensure tasks are done in compliance with any applicable laws and regulations.

What’s the catch?

Of course, potential disadvantages exist as well. Outsourcing a business function obviously means surrendering some control of your personal management style in that area. Some business owners and executives have a tough time with this.

Another issue: integration. Every provider may not mesh with your company’s culture. A bad fit may lead to communication breakdowns and other problems.

Also, in rare cases, you may risk negative publicity from a vendor’s actions. There have been many stories over the years of companies suffering PR damage because of poor working conditions or employment practices at an outsourced facility. You’ve got to research any potential vendor thoroughly to ensure its actions won’t reflect poorly on your business.

To further protect yourself, stipulate your needs carefully in the contract. Pinpoint milestones you can use to ensure deliverables produced up to that point are complete, correct, on time and within budget. And don’t hesitate to tie partial payments to these milestones and assess penalties or even reserve the right to terminate if service falls below a specified level.

Last, build in clauses giving you intellectual property rights to any software or other items a provider develops. After all, you paid for it.

Need more time?

Outsourcing may not be the right solution every time. But it could help your business find more time to flourish and grow. We can help you assess the costs, benefits and risks.

© 2018

New tax law gives pass-through businesses a valuable deduction

Although the drop of the corporate tax rate from a top rate of 35% to a flat rate of 21% may be one of the most talked about provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), C corporations aren’t the only type of entity significantly benefiting from the new law. Owners of noncorporate “pass-through” entities may see some major — albeit temporary — relief in the form of a new deduction for a portion of qualified business income (QBI).

A 20% deduction

For tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2026, the new deduction is available to individuals, estates and trusts that own interests in pass-through business entities. Such entities include sole proprietorships, partnerships, S corporations and, typically, limited liability companies (LLCs). The deduction generally equals 20% of QBI, subject to restrictions that can apply if taxable income exceeds the applicable threshold — $157,500 or, if married filing jointly, $315,000.

QBI is generally defined as the net amount of qualified items of income, gain, deduction and loss from any qualified business of the noncorporate owner. For this purpose, qualified items are income, gain, deduction and loss that are effectively connected with the conduct of a U.S. business. QBI doesn’t include certain investment items, reasonable compensation paid to an owner for services rendered to the business or any guaranteed payments to a partner or LLC member treated as a partner for services rendered to the partnership or LLC.

The QBI deduction isn’t allowed in calculating the owner’s adjusted gross income (AGI), but it reduces taxable income. In effect, it’s treated the same as an allowable itemized deduction.

The limitations

For pass-through entities other than sole proprietorships, the QBI deduction generally can’t exceed the greater of the owner’s share of:

  • 50% of the amount of W-2 wages paid to employees by the qualified business during the tax year, or
  • The sum of 25% of W-2 wages plus 2.5% of the cost of qualified property.

Qualified property is the depreciable tangible property (including real estate) owned by a qualified business as of year end and used by the business at any point during the tax year for the production of qualified business income.

Another restriction is that the QBI deduction generally isn’t available for income from specified service businesses. Examples include businesses that involve investment-type services and most professional practices (other than engineering and architecture).

The W-2 wage limitation and the service business limitation don’t apply as long as your taxable income is under the applicable threshold. In that case, you should qualify for the full 20% QBI deduction.

Careful planning required

Additional rules and limits apply to the QBI deduction, and careful planning will be necessary to gain maximum benefit. Please contact us for more details.

© 2018

The TCJA temporarily expands bonus depreciation


The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) enhances some tax breaks for businesses while reducing or eliminating others. One break it enhances — temporarily — is bonus depreciation. While most TCJA provisions go into effect for the 2018 tax year, you might be able to benefit from the bonus depreciation enhancements when you file your 2017 tax return.

Pre-TCJA bonus depreciation

Under pre-TCJA law, for qualified new assets that your business placed in service in 2017, you can claim a 50% first-year bonus depreciation deduction. Used assets don’t qualify. This tax break is available for the cost of new computer systems, purchased software, vehicles, machinery, equipment, office furniture, etc.

In addition, 50% bonus depreciation can be claimed for qualified improvement property, which means any qualified improvement to the interior portion of a nonresidential building if the improvement is placed in service after the date the building is placed in service. But qualified improvement costs don’t include expenditures for the enlargement of a building, an elevator or escalator, or the internal structural framework of a building.

TCJA expansion

The TCJA significantly expands bonus depreciation: For qualified property placed in service between September 28, 2017, and December 31, 2022 (or by December 31, 2023, for certain property with longer production periods), the first-year bonus depreciation percentage increases to 100%. In addition, the 100% deduction is allowed for not just new but also used qualifying property.

The new law also allows 100% bonus depreciation for qualified film, television and live theatrical productions placed in service on or after September 28, 2017. Productions are considered placed in service at the time of the initial release, broadcast or live commercial performance.

Beginning in 2023, bonus depreciation is scheduled to be reduced 20 percentage points each year. So, for example, it would be 80% for property placed in service in 2023, 60% in 2024, etc., until it would be fully eliminated in 2027.

For certain property with longer production periods, the reductions are delayed by one year. For example, 80% bonus depreciation would apply to long-production-period property placed in service in 2024.

Bonus depreciation is only one of the business tax breaks that have changed under the TCJA. Contact us for more information on this and other changes that will impact your business.

© 2018

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Key provisions affecting businesses


The recently passed tax reform bill, commonly referred to as the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (TCJA), is the most expansive federal tax legislation since 1986. It includes a multitude of provisions that will have a major impact on businesses.

Here’s a look at some of the most significant changes. They generally apply to tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, except where noted.

  • Replacement of graduated corporate tax rates ranging from 15% to 35% with a flat corporate rate of 21%
  • Repeal of the 20% corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT)
  • New 20% qualified business income deduction for owners of flow-through entities (such as partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations) and sole proprietorships — through 2025
  • Doubling of bonus depreciation to 100% and expansion of qualified assets to include used assets — effective for assets acquired and placed in service after September 27, 2017, and before January 1, 2023
  • Doubling of the Section 179 expensing limit to $1 million and an increase of the expensing phaseout threshold to $2.5 million
  • Other enhancements to depreciation-related deductions
  • New disallowance of deductions for net interest expense in excess of 30% of the business’s adjusted taxable income (exceptions apply)
  • New limits on net operating loss (NOL) deductions
  • Elimination of the Section 199 deduction, also commonly referred to as the domestic production activities deduction or manufacturers’ deduction — effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, for noncorporate taxpayers and for tax years beginning after December 31, 2018, for C corporation taxpayers
  • New rule limiting like-kind exchanges to real property that is not held primarily for sale
  • New tax credit for employer-paid family and medical leave — through 2019
  • New limitations on excessive employee compensation
  • New limitations on deductions for employee fringe benefits, such as entertainment and, in certain circumstances, meals and transportation

Keep in mind that additional rules and limits apply to what we’ve covered here, and there are other TCJA provisions that may affect your business. Contact us for more details and to discuss what your business needs to do in light of these changes.

© 2017

Find time for strategic planning


As a business owner, you know that it’s easy to spend nearly every working hour on the multitude of day-to-day tasks and crises that never seem to end. It’s essential to your company’s survival, however, to find time for strategic planning.

Lost in the weeds

Business owners put off strategic planning for many reasons. New initiatives, for example, usually don’t begin to show tangible results for some time, which can prove frustrating. But perhaps the most significant hurdle is the view that strategic planning is a time-sucking luxury that takes one’s focus off of the challenges directly in front of you.

Although operational activities are obviously essential to keeping your company running, they’re not enough to keep it moving forward and evolving. Accomplishing the latter requires strategic planning. Without it, you can get lost in the weeds, working constantly yet blindly, only to look up one day to find your business teetering on the edge of a cliff — whether because of a tough new competitor, imminent product or service obsolescence, or some other development that you didn’t see coming.

Quality vs. quantity

So how much time should you and your management team devote to strategic planning? There’s no universal answer. Some experts say a CEO should spend only 50% of his or her time on daily operations, with the other half going to strategy — a breakdown that could be unrealistic for some.

The emphasis is better put on quality rather than quantity. However many hours you decide to spend on strategic planning, use that time solely for plotting the future of your company. Block off your schedule, choose a designated and private place (such as a conference room), and give it your undivided attention. Make time for strategic planning just as you would for tending to an important customer relationship.

Time well spent

Effective strategic planning calls for not only identifying the right business-growing initiatives, but also regularly re-evaluating and adjusting them as circumstances change. Thus, strategizing should be part of your weekly or monthly routine — not just a “once in a while, as is convenient” activity. You may need to delegate some of your current operational tasks to make that happen but, in the long run, it will be time well spent. Please let us know how we can help.

©2017

This year’s company holiday party is probably tax deductible, but next year’s may not be


Many businesses are hosting holiday parties for employees this time of year. It’s a great way to reward your staff for their hard work and have a little fun. And you can probably deduct 100% of your 2017 party’s cost as a meal and entertainment (M&E) expense. Next year may be a different story.

The 100% deduction

For 2017, businesses generally are limited to deducting 50% of allowable meal and entertainment expenses. But certain expenses are 100% deductible, including expenses:

  • For recreational or social activities for employees, such as holiday parties and summer picnics,
  • For food and beverages furnished at the workplace primarily for employees, and
  • That are excludable from employees’ income as de minimis fringe benefits.

There is one caveat for a 100% deduction: The entire staff must be invited. Otherwise, expenses are deductible under the regular business entertainment rules.

Additional requirements

Whether you deduct 50% or 100% of allowable expenses, there are a number of requirements, including certain records you must keep to prove your expenses.

If your company has substantial meal and entertainment expenses, you can reduce your 2017 tax bill by separately accounting for and documenting expenses that are 100% deductible. If doing so would create an administrative burden, you may be able to use statistical sampling methods to estimate the portion of meal and entertainment expenses that are fully deductible.

Possible changes for 2018

It appears the M&E deduction for employee parties — along with deductions for many other M&E expenses — will be eliminated beginning in 2018 under the reconciled version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. For more information about deducting business meals and entertainment, including how to take advantage of the 100% deduction when you file your 2017 return, please contact us.

© 2017

Make New Year’s resolutions to improve profitability


Many people scoff at New Year’s resolutions. It’s no mystery why — these self-directed promises to visit the gym regularly or read a book a month tend to quickly fade once the unavoidable busyness of life sets in.

But, for business owners, the phrase “New Year’s resolutions” is just a different way of saying “strategic plans.” And these are nothing to scoff at. In fact, now is the perfect time to take a critical look at your company and make some earnest promises about improving profitability in 2018.

Ask tough questions

Begin by asking some tough questions. For example: How satisfied are you with the status quo of your business? Are you happy with your profitability or had you anticipated a much stronger bottom line at this point in your company’s existence? If you were to sell tomorrow, would you get a fair return based on what you’ve invested in effort and money?

If your answers to these questions leave you more dissatisfied than pleased, your New Year’s resolutions may have to be bold. This doesn’t mean you should do something rash. But there’s no harm in envisioning next year as the greatest 12 months in the history of your business and then trying to figure out how you might get there.

Rate your profitability

To assess your company’s financial status, begin by honestly gauging your current performance. Rate your profitability on a scale of 1 to 10, where adequate working capital, long-term employees and customers, consistent growth in revenues and profit, and smooth operations equal a 10.

Many business owners will apply numbers somewhere between a 5 and a 7 to these categories. If you rate your business a 6, for example, this means your company isn’t tapping into 40% of its profit-generating capacity. Consider the level of improvement you would realize by moving up just one notch — to a 7.

Identify areas for improvement

One way to discover your company’s unrealized profit enhancement opportunities is to ask your customers and employees. They know firsthand what you are good at, as well as what needs improvement.

For instance, years ago, when the American auto industry was taking its biggest hits from foreign imports, one of the Big Three manufacturers was experiencing significant customer complaints about poor paint jobs. An upper-level executive visited the paint shop in one of its factories and asked an employee about the source of the problem. The worker replied, “I thought you’d never ask,” and proceeded to explain in detail what was wrong and how to solve it.

Get ready for change

If you have a few New Year’s resolutions in mind but aren’t sure how to implement these ideas or how financially feasible they might be, please contact our firm. We can work with you to identify areas of your business ready for change and help you attain a higher level of success next year.

© 2017

Should you buy a business vehicle before year end?

One way to reduce your 2017 tax bill is to buy a business vehicle before year end. But don’t make a purchase without first looking at what your 2017 deduction would be and whether tax reform legislation could affect the tax benefit of a 2017 vs. 2018 purchase.

Your 2017 deduction

Business-related purchases of new or used vehicles may be eligible for Section 179 expensing, which allows you to immediately deduct, rather than depreciate over a period of years, some or all of the vehicle’s cost. But the size of your 2017 deduction will depend on several factors. One is the gross vehicle weight rating.

The normal Sec. 179 expensing limit generally applies to vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 14,000 pounds. The limit for 2017 is $510,000, and the break begins to phase out dollar-for-dollar when total asset acquisitions for the tax year exceed $2.03 million.

But a $25,000 limit applies to SUVs rated at more than 6,000 pounds but no more than 14,000 pounds. Vehicles rated at 6,000 pounds or less are subject to the passenger automobile limits. For 2017, under current law, the depreciation limit is $3,160. And the amount that may be deducted under the combination of Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) depreciation and Sec. 179 for the first year is limited under the luxury auto rules to $11,160.

In addition, if a vehicle is used for business and personal purposes, the associated expenses, including depreciation, must be allocated between deductible business use and nondeductible personal use. The depreciation limit is reduced if the business use is less than 100%. If the business use is 50% or less, you can’t use Sec. 179 expensing or the accelerated regular MACRS; you must use the straight-line method.

Factoring in tax reform

If tax reform legislation is signed into law and it will cause your marginal rate to go down in 2018, then purchasing a vehicle by December 31, 2017, could save you more tax than waiting until 2018. Why? Tax deductions are more powerful when rates are higher. But if your 2017 Sec. 179 expense deduction would be reduced or eliminated because of the asset acquisition phaseout, then you might be better off waiting until 2018 to buy.

Also be aware that tax reform legislation could affect the depreciation limits for passenger vehicles, even if purchased in 2017.

These are just a few factors to look at. Many additional rules and limits apply to these breaks. So if you’re considering a business vehicle purchase, contact us to discuss whether it would make more tax sense to buy this year or next.

© 2017

2018 Q1 tax calendar: Key deadlines for businesses and other employers

Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the first quarter of 2018. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.

January 31

  • File 2017 Forms W-2, “Wage and Tax Statement,” with the Social Security Administration and provide copies to your employees.
  • Provide copies of 2017 Forms 1099-MISC, “Miscellaneous Income,” to recipients of income from your business where required.
  • File 2017 Forms 1099-MISC reporting nonemployee compensation payments in Box 7 with the IRS.
  • File Form 940, “Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return,” for 2017. If your undeposited tax is $500 or less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it’s more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 12 to file the return.
  • File Form 941, “Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return,” to report Medicare, Social Security and income taxes withheld in the fourth quarter of 2017. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until February 12 to file the return. (Employers that have an estimated annual employment tax liability of $1,000 or less may be eligible to file Form 944,“Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return.”)
  • File Form 945, “Annual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax,” for 2017 to report income tax withheld on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on accounts such as pensions, annuities and IRAs. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 12 to file the return.

February 28

  • File 2017 Forms 1099-MISC with the IRS if 1) they’re not required to be filed earlier and 2) you’re filing paper copies. (Otherwise, the filing deadline is April 2.)
  • March 15
  • If a calendar-year partnership or S corporation, file or extend your 2017 tax return and pay any tax due. If the return isn’t extended, this is also the last day to make 2017 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans.

© 2017