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How to Build Out an Accounting System Using Automation with Scott Scharf

On‌ ‌today’s‌ ‌episode,‌ ‌we‌ bring back ‌Scott‌ ‌Scharf‌ to talk about‌ ‌how‌ ‌to‌ ‌build‌ ‌out‌ ‌an‌ ‌accounting‌ ‌system‌ ‌using‌ ‌automation.‌ ‌

Scott is the Co-Founder of Catching Clouds, an outsourced cloud accounting service for e-commerce businesses.

Topics:

  • Why accounting is a daily, weekly, and monthly endeavor.
  • The best accounting software.
  • Setting clients up for accrual.
  • Understanding the technological ecosystem.
  • Switching from cash-basis accounting.
  • Refining the process of cash flow projections.
  • Why cash is king.
  • One thing to increase optimization.

 Transcription:

Joe: Mark, I said many times that I actually fell asleep in accounting class in college. And unfortunately, it was Northeastern University and there were probably 200 people in the room. I was sitting near the door. So 199 people marched out with me there, my head on my desk, drooling, and then the next class came in yet somehow I’m in the position over the last eight years of really revealing a bare minimum of 5,000 profit and loss statements. And I get on my soapbox and preach about this; how important good clean financials are, not only for an entrepreneur’s ability to analyze his own business and make sure they’re driving towards their goals properly, but to be able to even just get in the room with highly qualified buyers. Once you get in the room, there’s a ton of other things, but the P&Ls will get you in the room. And I understand you just had another conversation with our good friend Scott Scharff from Catching Clouds about building automation into accounting so you don’t have to actually do this yourself day in and day out, week in and week out by building some automation into the process, either through QuickBooks or Xero. I understand Scott has preferences for both and good things and bad things to say about both.

Mark: Yeah, so you’re not the only one that fell asleep in accounting class. I did as well. If you looked at my grades, you’d wonder why I’d talk about accounting so much. But you know this Joe I’ve been working my way through some biographies of various titans of American business. I went through John D. Rockefeller. I’m now in the middle of a biography on Andrew Carnegie. And you know what one thing they both have in common? They were religious about their books. In fact, that was one of the big advantages that Carnegie brought into his business, was detailed books that they could optimize. I just find it fascinating that we can see that this is the case all the way through history what the people have been super successful. Their books are up to date. They’re clean. They use them to optimize their businesses. And Scott and I talked a lot about how to do that with an Amazon business. I’m not going to lie, it was overwhelming, partly because Scott is crazy intelligent when it comes to this stuff and he has his systems all set up and he starts throwing around this system, that system, you just hook this up and you do that and then the other thing happens. And in my head, I’m thinking, how can anyone even start this? And at the end of this episode, you’ll hear me kind of say that to him. I’m like Scott, this is overwhelming. How do you even get started? But the idea is simple and it is you just get started. He said something in this episode, which I didn’t call out in the middle of the episode, but I think is really, really key. He said that of all the financial records that he sees people put together, he will see sometimes accountants that don’t know the Amazon world trying to do books, and then he’ll see some owners doing their own books. He said both are typically a mess but the ones done by the owners are less a mess than those being done by the bookkeepers because the bookkeepers don’t know anything about Amazon.

Joe: That is CPAs you mean, right? Not the bookkeepers.

Mark: Yes.

Joe: Yeah, I’ll agree with them a million percent because CPAs do taxes, bookkeepers manage books, and owners try to manage books as well but never quite as good. So I think he’s spot on. Guys, listen, and by guys, that’s a unisex term. Pay attention to this. I know I preach on it sometimes and I’m so sorry, but it’s because I’m here to help you. I’m here to protect you. We are entrepreneurs, we’re advisers, we’re brokers, we’re mentors, and we’re your friends, and we’re sharing this information for you to help you build a better business and have a better exit someday. Even if that someday is 20 years from now, if you’ve got automation in your books like Scott is talking about here with Mark, it’s going to make your life easier and help you make more money. So with that, let’s move to it. But before we do, I want you all to send an email to Mark to discuss whether Carnegie is pronounced Carnegie or Carnegie.

Mark: That’s a really good question. I go both ways by the way. The author of this; it’s an audiobook, he’s saying Carnegie so I’m saying Carnegie now.

Joe: Okay, Carnegie Hall is where I’ve been before, but I don’t know either. I actually said we have a client that is a one, two, three, fourth remove descendant of Teddy Roosevelt and I pronounced it Roosevelt because I Googled that.

Mark: That’s wrong.

Joe: I know. It was dead wrong.

Mark: Carnegie, Carnegie Accounting, let’s do accounting.

Joe: There we go. All right. Here we go.

Mark: Scott, thank you so much for coming back on the podcast. I know you are on the podcast a while ago. I think we talked about the ultimate seller’s checklist about the things that you have to do, both leading up to a sale and then after the sale, closing on the business but I’m excited about today’s conversation. We’re going to talk a little bit about bookkeeping and the reason I’m excited about this and I know people in the cars or wherever you’re listening at would be like I need to stay awake, I want to talk bookkeeping. I hop on this all the time. Bookkeeping is so important and there’s so much data in your books if you keep them right. I had a conversation with somebody just the other day who is ready to sell. He’s got a great business that’s growing like crazy and he’s going to have to put things on hold to flip over to accrual because that’s what we require now. And so I want to talk to you about this because it’s what you guys do over at Catching Clouds. Why don’t you just kind of give a quick introduction for those that are listening to you for the first time?

Scott: Okay, cool. Thank you. That was a while ago and that was a good conversation. So Catching Clouds, we provide outsourced cloud accounting services to e-commerce businesses. So our whole focus is only working with businesses that are selling a physical widget on Amazon, eBay, Shopify, Bigcommerce, TrueCommerce, House, Wayfair, Wish, Amazon Canada, CO, UK. Really most of our clients are those more complex multi-channel sellers and we’re working with the larger established businesses and the one to fifty million dollar range. But the main value we offer is we provide the bookkeeping, accounting, and controller level review of their financials and we do all the work. The clients get read-only access to the financials. They threw everything over the wall to us and we leverage technology to pull everything together and then we turn that into accurate financials. And we just consider ourselves part of our client’s businesses. Were just part of their team.

Mark: Why? I mean, let me just start off with kind of an obvious question and one that I think if somebody is not at the million-dollar revenue or fifty million dollar revenue level, why are companies at that level hiring and spending money on a company like yours? Why is it that their financials are important enough to have that controller level service like yours?

Scott: Yeah, so the main thing is that they feel out of control. And we have talked all about management accounting, not just year-end for taxes; we’re like a clock, strike twice a day. And otherwise, you only know; and if anything it is extended, you only know if you’re profitable in September for the whole prior year. And our whole focus is accountings at daily, weekly, monthly piece and that the owners at a minimum have to stop, take a step back and look at their financials and adjust their gut feeling so they can make great decisions on a daily, weekly, monthly basis, which are all those decisions you have to make so that your business runs better. It’s more efficient, it’s more profitable, and better to sell because it’s managed well. But if you don’t get that feedback where we have people; sellers that will go, wow, that was my best month ever and we’re like, yeah, you lost a bunch of money. And they’re like, wait, what? Well, you spend all the money on this and you didn’t pay attention to your marketing spend and you spent through all your profit on the marketing spend. And if you don’t see that, it doesn’t do any good to notice that six months from now. So it’s those kind of things. Or when they’re looking at any of the many real-time tools, there’s a big difference between real-time tools to do re-pricing and high-level reporting and you can use to make real-time decisions on re-pricing product or what to buy and all that stuff, and then double-entry accounting that accounts for everything. And then we help them adjust they’re gut. Hey, this tool always shows you your sales numbers 10% too high, and then they can adjust to it and make those real-time tweaks. But the real value is they’re serious about being entrepreneurs. They understand and they hate doing accounting. Most of these businesses didn’t go into business to pay sales tax or do accounting and they want somebody else to do it, but they want somebody else who can talk the talk, who understands where the FBA is and FBA reimbursements and inventory and accrual and landed costs. And they don’t want to have to train the accountants on just the terminology, let alone what are all the crazy things Amazon does, what’s the settlement statement, and all that crazy. So that somebody that they can trust is taking care of those financials and then it’s our goal to educate them on how to read the financials themselves and provide insight.

Mark: Yeah, I think you talked a lot about kind of those boots on the ground sort of decisions, those granular decisions. I think financials and getting comfortable with reading your financial statements there’s two levels. I’m a big picture type of guy and I actually just recently did this with Quiet Light and with another company I own where I took a look at my financials over the course of the last year and I just simply broke down the expenses as a ratio of revenue in the big categories and where are we? And with Quiet Light one thing I want to do is up our data game. We’ve got a lot of data that we built on over the years, but it’s not organized as well as it could be. It’s not point and click we could pull this data up. It requires some work. And you know what? It shows in my P&L because we historically had a large tech department that’s changing. With my other company, we should be more marketing focused and it was this kind of bigger directional sort of CEO sort of thing and saying, hey, you know what, we really need to double down on the marketing. So I think the financials have that kind of dual-level play of you get the big picture, but the granular boots on the ground sort of decisions too is important if you know how to read them and understand them. You guys help with that. You help laicized some of it.

Scott: We do. And one of the key values we do is each of our controllers who are CPAs we don’t do federal and state income taxes, but they understand accrual accounting, gap accounting, and everything else. But each one is supporting at least 10 sellers and we never share confidential information, SKUs, or whatever but we can look across all of our clients and say, hey, wow, you’re spending three times as much on your Google ad spend as we’ve seen with our other clients and we’re not seeing that show up in your income. And they’re like, oh, I just launched a new product, in four weeks I’m going to cut that back. And then our controller as from an accountability puts it on the calendar, calls the seller and say cut it back so you can start making profit. It’s okay to ramp up your marketing spend and burn through your profit for whatever number of weeks to launch a product but sometime you’ve got to back it down. And if you forget all your profit is flowing out. And so it’s that comparison and we can do that common comparison, kind of small data, big data across our client base because they’re all consistent because we have no restaurants or which would be bad or nonprofits or other things. So it’s that insight of being able to see multiples and your business too, you have the same benefits of the fact that I’ve looked at over a thousand seller’s books. You guys have looked probably at least that many if you get that when you’re in this niche and you focus on these areas, you really understand the nuances and you see the different scenarios and then you can provide that feedback.

Mark: Absolutely, specialization especially for what you guys do. It makes a huge difference. Let’s start with talking about different types of software, because Joe Valley, the co-owner of Quiet Light he often, says Excel is not accounting software. Unfortunately, we see a lot fewer Excel books these days than we used to, although they still come up every once in a while. The two dominant ones seem to be QuickBooks and Xero. I have seen other systems thrown in there from time to time. I know you’ve dealt with NetSuite to an extent. What’s your favorite, why, or are they equally good?

Scott: So Pepsi, Coke, they’re great. It’s so great that they…

Mark: I’m a pop guy.

Scott: Okay, yeah.

Mark: Oh no, I’m joking. I’m not, I don’t drink pop or soda.

Scott: Yeah, I know. So in general it’s great that they’re both out there, they’re both heavy competitors, Xero does much better internationally. Intuit has a much bigger footprint here; a much, much bigger footprint here in the US. But because Xero came along and has been in the cloud and about six years ago, got 200 million in VC funds Intuit went uh-oh we better fix our cloud solution. So that helped anybody that was on QuickBooks. So today they’re both feature consistent. Okay, so if you pick either platform one or the other, you’re going to be okay. We prefer Xero. We think Xero is a better cloud platform. It’s better with multi-currency. If you’re doing multi-currency, it is by far significantly better. And then our view is that Xero is a better company. Intuit is a shareholder driven marketing company and that’s all they care about. They don’t care about accountants. They don’t care about small business. I mean their marketing says they do. They are a big, big business. And Xero even though it’s much bigger, is still only a few thousand people. It started in New Zealand and is very much about supporting businesses and being engaged in everything else. And they’re just really upping the feedback always.

Mark: Yeah, I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for Xero. I put my other company on it for a while. I actually had to take it off because I didn’t like their PayPal integration at the time and that other company had a good amount of PayPal sales, but I just like how they set up the system philosophically. It just felt tighter. It felt like QuickBooks you could have all these loose ends kind of floating out there and Xero, like their name kind of alludes to, wants everything zeroed out and they wanted all the balance out. And philosophically, it felt better. What about NetSuite or other third-party systems? Are there other systems that you think are good to work with?

Scott: Not really. Really it’s in that small; even if you’re a startup, you should start on Xero and QuickBooks and you should be doing accounting from day one even if you have no idea what you’re doing. And every business owner, entrepreneur, you have to wear every hat in the business so you understand it enough so when you delegate it, you can oversee it. So you can start at that level and the only reason we would expect anybody that would outgrow Xero or QuickBooks online or us at that 50 million or whatever stage is when their supply chain gets more complicated. So we can talk about cloud inventory tools but the idea is need and I’m a big believer in best of breed; so Xero for cloud accounting, Gusto for payroll, A2X for Amazon and Shopify income, Hubdoc for document management, Bill.com and others and Veem for international wire. So we’ve got these set of tools but then the cloud inventory tool really has to be specific to the client. Almost all of them suck in different ways but there are some that are getting to be pretty good that you can use. But if you outgrow those or you can’t find a tool that you need that will meet your supply chain and the number of 3PLs you have and your manufacturing process, then you might have to grow up to NetSuite. And if you’re a larger business and you want to be able to; you’re buying a lot of international stuff and you have customs invoices that show up six months after you’ve done a sale and you want to back-calculate all of your COGS into the past, the only way to do that is on NetSuite. Because we do monthly snapshot accounting so if there’s an adjustment six months later we posted in that month, we don’t go unravel everything and put it all back. So if you need that sophistication or you need a more advanced one but you’re going to pay for it price wise and you’re actually going to pay a penalty that in my opinion, not great integrations to pull data from these sites and it makes it difficult to impossible to at least reconcile Amazon working with the different NetSuite integrations.

Mark: Well, let’s talk a little bit about that because I want to talk about some of the automation of this because I think the biggest challenge with a lot of the software is figuring out how to pull in the data in an efficient manner and we especially run into this problem with accrual accounting. This is why so many bookkeepers mistakenly or misguidedly tell their clients you should just do cash basis, because for them it’s a lot easier, right? You see the purchase order, you enter it in, and going through to an accrual, you need to check your beginning inventory levels at the beginning of the month and ending inventory levels to figure that out. And it’s just more work than they want to do, frankly. How do you set your clients up? I want to talk two questions, one would be how do you set your clients up for forward-looking moving forward we’re going to be on accrual and keeping that automation in place. And then secondly, what are easy ways if there is an easy way to go back and get those historical COGS on a monthly basis for an Amazon business?

Scott: Yeah, the two sides income. I mean, the first piece would be the automation we look at is first making sure you’re posting your income properly. If you sell a hundred widgets that you get paid for 100 widgets and so we use a tool called A2X accounting to post the Amazon income. We’ve been using it for six-plus years. If posted a penny, it breaks up a hundred plus Amazon fees and follows the accrual method by posting a summary invoice. Because the main thing we recommend for everybody, unless you’re doing B2B or direct manual sales on turns, every other sale can be summarized on a daily or weekly or monthly invoice and A2X will post Amazon and Shopify income. For Shopify, it will post Shopify payments every day that matches the payout every day. So the first thing you want to do is be able to get all the income into the system properly and then A2X breaks out based on our design. We’re their close partners. We’re using it for a year and a half but we were in Alpha for about six months, but they’ll post and our standard is to post all the income by payment processor. So on Shopify, if you’re using Shopify Payments and Amazon Pay and PayPal and Globally and Sasol and Afterpay or whoever else. It’ll break out each of those posted invoice for each of those merchant providers and then you can reconcile it. So that’s how you get your income and it’s going to post it in the right period as to when the sale happened, not when you got paid. The difference between accrual, you track everything. And in our opinion and accrual, not only do you need it for valuation, not only do you need accrual to make sure you have a balance sheet so you can see your inventory and your assets versus liabilities but it’s also easier to look at that if you have these huge expenses that you pay for or you’re buying a ton of inventory and you pay $100,000 this month in shipping charges you want to spread that out and as you sell the product, pull that out not pull it together. Now for COGS and inventory, if you’re looking for your values, the best tool is just you can’t do it on spreadsheets. Just like you can’t run accounting on spreadsheets, you really need a cloud inventory tool. You need the automation so you have a structured process to purchase products through a purchase order so you know what you’re paying for. I mean you’re constantly updating your costs, you’re receiving that inventory. So whether it’s fraud or they forgot to put a case; you bought 20 cases and they only put 19 in and they were just going super fast, which is usually the problem not so much someone’s trying to rip you off. And if you can’t catch that in controller control, you just have money that’s just leaking because inventory is just cash in a different form that you’re trying to turn into more cash. And so you really need those tools that are pulling in every order because all of that detailed data doesn’t have to live in the accounting and it shouldn’t. Xero and Quickbooks online are not set up to pull in every Shopify transaction, every Amazon transaction. They’re not. The idea is you want that summary information and then you want to make sure that your cost of goods sold aligns with the income. So you have to have a consistent process. For Amazon, we upload costs into A2X and it’ll post cost of goods sold so the same orders that were in your income even if the settlement statement splits over the end of the month all get posted in the appropriate month, and then you can do the same thing for Shopify. And then for our clients that are on cloud inventory, you can run as long as the tools provide in our focus, which would be cost of goods sold per channel so you can see your profitability per channel on the financials is really the piece you want to make sure that you can get that number, be able to validate it, and everyone’s like, oh, that’s this big accounting thing. I’m like no your whole world is operations; its purchasing product and shipping product out. Everybody will know we did 422 orders last month and they’ll go, okay, and there’s all the data for it and that needs to get applied to the accounting and then you need somebody who can do that properly.

Mark: You said something just a little bit ago here which I find; it tends to be a mindset shift among a lot of sellers and that is your inventory is just cash in a different form that you hope to turn into more cash. And this is where the switch from cash to accrual changes and people that are on cash basis tend not to see this, right? They see their business bleeding cash and they see a cash in, cash out and when they spend all the money on inventory, they see that as losing value but it’s not. You’re just transitioning one asset cash into another asset inventory. And I think this is, again, why this topic of discussing books excites me because it causes you to think of your business in a different way; in completely different ways, as a blend of assets. Most of what you said, I already know our listeners are going to listen to this and be like that is way too complex for me to go through and do. Can I connect these things directly? Can I just plug and go or do I need to hire somebody to do this? Can I train somebody to do this? I mean, how do you actually go about implementing this?

Scott: So there isn’t one tool that will connect all the different pieces. Now Xero and QuickBooks online and A2X for an Amazon-only business gets you a long way along the method because if you’re all FBA A2X will get you most of the way there. But for anything else, there’s no secret process. So someone’s like, oh, I’ll just use what Logility and use their reports, they connect everything. I just did a deep dive review of them again and we couldn’t figure out how they were posting the data and then we couldn’t rec because we were evaluating we were trying to implement it. So you have to have a consistent set of processes to know you’re doing your accounting on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. We do cost of goods sold monthly. So it’s an hour or two per client per month because we have a standardized process that we follow through that shakes out vendor deposits and the other details. So the first process is what are you doing, what are you trying to accomplish, and just break that down, whether you’re doing it yourself. Look at resources. We have some online courses. We have a bunch of YouTube videos to make sure we educate people. But then we still have a manual process for Walmart and eBay and Etsy and House and Wayfair and all these other channels where we download the data monthly, pivot it to post the income, and reconcile it. But we use the exact same data to apply a cost to post COGS. So it’s a matter of that. Now, there are consultants out there that will help you set up the cloud inventory tool which we don’t do, or you can work with the vendors to implement it and then you either have to manage it yourself or hire someone like Catching Clouds or another e-commerce accountant that understands the technology, the e-commerce space, and accounting.

Mark: I think this is why it’s so tough for so many people. Because as an entrepreneur, I have an idea, I’ve invented a product or I’ve identified a niche I want to go after and I’m good at that but now you’re asking me to understand my financial reports. And then on top of that, you’re asking me not to just understand my financial reports, but to understand the technological ecosystem around these financial reports to make them all work without hiring somebody who’s going to cost me $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 a month just to be able to do this and suck up any profits that I do if I do have. That’s why it is so difficult for people. The whole ecosystem is complex and difficult to understand. But I do know once you do get it set up, it is just a few hours a month. So you put in the effort of what am I selling, what are my processes, and then how can I get this into the system the right way? Once you get that setup, then maintaining it isn’t as difficult as the initial setup. Is that fair?

Scott: That is correct. Once you get those processes in place and you’ve got a defined process, you’re just not assuming you can set automation and set and forget it, you’re there. And then I would put the same due diligence that everybody puts into outsourcing; I mean, e-commerce sellers, the big things they outsource, except for the few that decide to buy a warehouse and want to invest in property and that’s important to them being an entrepreneur and that’s part of the journey. But that’s, in my opinion, a very small percentage of the sellers, everybody else is working with 3PL warehouses or FDA or Walmart fulfillment service, Shopify fulfillment network. The same due diligence that anybody puts into that and understanding their supply chain or their vendors or who they’re purchasing from, you just need to decide the financials are a priority for that order and then go through the same due diligence where you know nothing as an entrepreneur about whatever and then you start. But it is absolutely possible to put these systems in place or outsource the work like most sellers outsource and one thing I recommend every seller do is outsource sales tax. Don’t try to use a tool like TaxJar or Taxify or Avalara. Just hire assault consultant or have someone like Catching Clouds, which we do it only with our accounting services because it’s so complex. We’re filing over 5,000 returns a year and even if you do everything right, the states generate notices and you have to deal with all of that. And the same thing applies to outsourcing your 3PL and your fulfillment. And then I would recommend outsourcing your accounting and finance because unless you’re 30, 40, 50 million, it’s really expensive to hire a bunch of accountants and manage them and train them and make sure they stay on top of the technology and all that other stuff.

Mark: You know this is the sort of field that if you fall behind, is that much more work to get caught up. And I know we’ve referred some business over to you in the past that need some cleanup. We refer them to other partners as well that need clean up. What does that process look like? I’m saying, okay, I’ve fallen behind, I’ve been doing cash basis accounting for the past forever and now I want to go back three years to do this right and get moving forward. What sort of workload are you typically looking at to be able to get that caught up?

Scott: Yeah. So in general, unless they were using A2X and it’s very, very rare or they were doing things right or in a lot of cases it’s interesting if the owners are involved, they don’t know all the things in accounting and what they do they’re very particular about so they do less wrong. Invariably when we see other accountants that don’t work with any other e-commerce businesses, they’re just making it up as they go and they make it worse and worse. 80%, 90% of the time we have to start over with a brand new Xero file even if somebody is on Xero because there’s just tens of thousands of bad records in there and you can’t get to it. So we set up a new Xero file. You import all the bank and credit card transactions for that time period. You categorize them and you reconcile all those accounts. Then you post all the income and then you go through accounts payable through all that time. And of course, once you just identify the data and even if they have another system, we can rip all that out, put it back in, but then make sure that no, no, this invoice was paid this month, but it was from the prior month to make sure that the bills are in the right period to get all that going. And you just do those accrual things and then we can post the income per month historically and then do the cost of goods sold per month. And so if it’s 12 months or; and so we have to go back to either 1120 or 1119 to the prior tax return or back to the beginning of the business and run that and that’s what it’s going to take. We have looked at; we are Xero expert experts. My co-founder, partner, and wife Patti teach Xero experts how to do cool expert things in Xero and we have all these tricks to clean up the accounting. And I’ve got a whole list of things that I want Xero to do to allow us to make it so we can just take what’s already in Xero and clean it up because the bank feeds and the fundamentals for Xero are great it’s just when you connect all these apps and push in data, you end up with whatever. So it’s really a process for us. It’s about four to six weeks for one to maybe a little bit longer but it takes time. It takes time to set up the systems. It takes time to pull in the data. It takes time to get through it all and redo it and then validate things with the client go away. Hey, I bought a forklift. That was in inventory. I don’t sell forklifts. You go, oh okay that doesn’t go in inventory. We’ll move it over to a fixed asset and off you go to the races. But it just takes a fair amount of work to understand to pull in all the data and do it. But for the most part, you just start with a new accounting file, get all your data; bank, credit card, bills, income, and COGS, and repost it following the accrual method.

Mark: Yeah, I get that. I’ve been there. I’ve had to do that before. And you’re right, going back when you have thousands of transactions can be a nightmare. I want to know where’s the balance between good enough and probably not good enough and too much. And here’s what I want to bring up to you, there’s a well-known accounting company, which I will not name names, that has a cloud-based service that I know does cash basis and then at the end of the year does an inventory adjustment so basically giving you a full yearly accrual basis. And I’ve seen these financials before where all of a sudden December looks like the worst month ever because they’re doing this massive adjustment at the end of the year. So that’s one extreme and for a lot of owners, they’ll say, well, it’s good enough, I’m getting some high-level understanding of my sales and maybe my some cost, but not COGS. That’s one and I would say that’s not good enough but that is the attitude. On the other end, you and I have talked before about entering sales down to the individual sale, and being that’s ridiculous you don’t need to go to that level of detail. What is the balancing point from a controller standpoint being able to look at financials and be able to understand these books and be able to get both those kind of big picture decisions made, but also those granular decisions of look you’re over overspending here. This is not a profitable product line or you need to stop ramping up your expenses in this area. What’s that balancing point for you guys?

Scott: So, yeah, there are a lot of people that really look at their financials and that other method is good enough for a tax return. It’s not good enough to make those decisions to understand what’s in your business. And it’s just making sure that you’re doing all of the accounting, not everything, right which means every bank. And the most common things we see when we review books is that they’re not reconciling every bank account and credit card every month. Because if you think your system; you downloaded whatever data and you think you have $50,000 in the bank and the bank thinks you have 10, they win unless you’ve caught the error and fixed it. And it’s typically just a data error so if you’re not looking at the end of the month settlement for every bank account, credit card, and merchant account to say, hey, this is where we have clients were like, you had $30,000 disappear. Oh, it’s a reserve. PayPal’s got a reserve or Strike has a reserve which has been happening a lot recently. So we want to have those triggers but you want to make sure you’re doing those reconciliations so that you know about all of those expenses and all the things flowing through your credit cards. The other thing is make sure every account’s on there. If you’re using a personal credit card from the owner because you don’t have an Amex, Plum, or whatever in your business, and as long as it’s dedicated to that business, it should be on the books. You should be tracking those expenses and then it’s just do; and then you pay it off and it’s just payments to the owner and it all works out from an accounting perspective. And then, like we said, you just want to make sure you’re posting the income in a summary fashion and you could just decide to do it all monthly and know that I’m going to take four hours a month, I’m going to post the income and figure out COGS and get that done and it’s good enough and if there’s any adjustments. And then the last thing is you have to make sure that the balance sheet balances, which means all the numbers and the liabilities and assets. If the balance sheet doesn’t balance you can’t trust the P&L. You can’t trust your statement of cash flows. And so it’s kind of a do those core things and then go make sure you have somebody; an external party that’s reviewing what you’re doing at least monthly or quarterly to say, yeah, this is right or no, you have this write off or hey, you have this big hundred thousand dollar adjustment leach let’s go see if we can figure out what’s going on in there.

Mark: It sounds like there’s two steps here, right? There’s the validation of your financials, but there’s also an understanding or review of those financials. And maybe they’re kind of linked together in the same thing where when things don’t add up right that’s a sign that you need to be digging deeper into something. Maybe you have an inventory leakage or you’re leaking money because not all the inventory has been shipped or accounted for. And you would recommend that on a monthly basis then?

Scott: Yeah, at a minimum, it’s hard to do. We try to do as much of the accounting daily as possible. We believe that to stay on top of a dynamic e-commerce business, you have to be pulling in the bank feeds from yesterday today. You need to be looking at accounts payable and bills you know oh, I did a $30,000 prepayment on a $100,000 purchase order and I owe $70,000 in six weeks when it ships. Like if you’re not paying attention to those things on a daily basis, then the owners are constantly pulling money out when they have to pay bills out of the business; their personal bills, and then the next week loaning the same amount of money or more back into the business and you just go do this swing if you’re not staying on top of it. But if you’re smaller and you’re ramping up and everything else, at least do it monthly and then start doing a little bit more weekly. There is more automation that’s coming over time around bank feeds and AI and other stuff, but it’s going to take a while to get here.

Mark: You know, one of the things that I think can really help once they start getting the stuff together is the ability to forecast. And I’m not talking about even on the sales side, that’s kind of the second level of forecasting. But on the expense side, because you just brought it up right now, right? You have a bill of $70,000 that’s going to come due. Have you planned for that or is that something that’s gotten lost with all the craziness of the rest of your business? Or you want to launch a new product line what do your expenses look like over the next three, four, or five months? You can’t do that if you aren’t living to some extent in your financials on a fairly regular basis where you understand what’s coming up. Do you guys get into much of forecasting even on the expense side?

Scott: Not long term forecasting, but cash is king and cash flow projections. So we’re just refining our process. So we have some clients that we’ll do it for a daily for a short time when they’ve got lots going on at a specific time frame. And then we’ll just provide kind of a weekly cash flow that’s always that four to six-week view; here’s where payroll comes out, here’s your expected income, here’s what the Amazon payments come in if you’re not using Payability or something that lets you cash out every day so you can manage cash flow but it’s really all about that. And we just haven’t chosen to extend it for a longer period of time because our focus is daily, weekly, monthly but the idea is that the owner should take a step back and look and say, oh, because what we’re trying to always get to is to say, here’s how much free cash flow you have to buy inventory, pay for marketing, invest in the business, new products, new design, new people, whatever and then hopefully there’s something left over for the owner as well. Unless you’re in that I’m continually investing that’s great but you need to know how much that is so you’re not constantly doing. And that cash flow and that availability can include you have a $100,000 Amex plan card. That’s just capital to you because most e-commerce sellers love racking up points and that’s not debt. That’s not a long term loan. They’re going to pay that Amex bill probably every two or three times a week to keep the balance down so they can keep buying product to keep up with demand. But you need to know where those numbers are, where are those thresholds? When you’re starting to push out against them if you’re growing and your sales are growing, which is what’s been happening for a ton of sellers in this big new world that we’re in where everyone’s home and everyone’s buying online and that’s all ramped up you need to know when you’re hitting those limits and that you either need to invest more money as the owner because you’re going to turn that cash into more profit; into more cash. Or you’re looking at different lines of credit whether it’s with a bank, which is usually the most painful way. But there are other alternative ways that aren’t quite online loan shark and you find the balance between those to post that in. But it’s really cash is king. If you’re not looking at it; there’s so many businesses that are profitable on paper, profitable on their P&L that go out of business because they didn’t manage their cash.

Mark: They didn’t manage their cash or the cost. And you said costs are king what do you mean by that?

Scott: Cash is king.

Mark: Cash is king.

Scott: Well, actually, costs are pretty important. If you don’t have a good handle on your costs, you’re going to run into the situation where you don’t know what the value of your inventory is. And the most important thing is you don’t know how to price your product. So if you have a product that you buy in the US and you buy in huge volumes and that your suppliers don’t charge you shipping, you can use your buy cost. It’s pretty straightforward. But if you’re buying a product, either whether it’s being manufactured or shipped internationally and it costs you a dollar per unit, but it costs you nine dollars to get it live in Amazon FDA or your warehouse, you need to know your cost is $10 is your landed cost after shipping and customs and insurance and even inbound into Amazon. So you know your all up cost to know what that is. And if you don’t have a good handle on one of the first things we do with just about every client is revalidate their costs, identify the ones that are wrong, and then look at what they’re selling it for. And they think they’re averaging some margin and it’s usually a lot less because they’re not aware of their full cost for their product. And that’s understanding that landed cost and landed cost is a key accrual process where you pay for everything and then you take that shipping and it gets added to inventory and then as you sell, it comes out and it’s value. And that can make a huge difference on client’s business. We have clients that are close and they’re using landed cost, but they’re not doing that last accounting bit monthly to do a journal entry to take hey, I spent as much on cost, customs, tariffs, whatever, and moving that all into the inventory account. And then you go, oh, I really have spent two million dollars on inventory and shipping and everything else, and I’m pulling out 200,000 a month in cost of goods sold. I have not just the number of quantity of units, but you can see the money flowing in and out of your business.

Mark: Why don’t we have you on monthly to the podcast? I don’t know I feel like we just scratched like the first quarter of what you put together as far as the list of things we can talk about. But we are up against the half an hour, so I am going to cut it here and ask the best way to reach you; obviously CatchingClouds.net. You guys have courses available. Is that on Catching Clouds?

Scott: Yeah. So if you go to our site, we have a contact form if you want to talk to me, especially if you’re a larger business, I’m happy to talk or email and interact with anybody. I just enjoy interacting with sellers. Then we have our YouTube channel, which we have over a hundred YouTube videos, and we’ll start adding more next month on basic topics. Now it’s all my wife mostly who can explain things better and doesn’t talk as fast as I do, but we’re really there. And we have so much more that we want to push out onto those YouTube videos because we’re happy to share the basics; how to read financials, and all these different things. We just want to help those sellers that are smaller than a million and or do it yourself. And then we also have a Facebook group that supports that for sellers and accountants for providing answers and questions for people that take our courses and just have general questions and then we have our outsourced service. So if you go to our contact form, reach out and I’m happy to interact and have a conversation. And most of my focus is really where your biggest challenge is and if I can help them figure out the top two or three cloud inventory tools that would be there or a developer that would do automation and build zappy integration to improve their efficiency or point them in the right direction, I’m happy to do that. And then our big services, we’ll just take it all over, clean it all up, and then run it.

Mark: Yeah, I think for those that are listening here, especially those that may not be in that one to fifty million dollar revenue range, the one thing I can say just from my experience is the companies that get there have books in order for the most part, much more so than smaller companies. And part of the reason that they’ve gotten there is because they have taken the time to put together good books. And it does give you insights into the business that you can’t get otherwise. That doesn’t mean that we haven’t seen companies in the one to 50 million dollar range that don’t have their books together. But all the more reason for those companies to make sure you’re are doing this because if you aren’t, I can almost guarantee you’re bleeding cash somewhere and you’re lacking optimization somewhere. I think the biggest thing; let’s end with this cut, people are overwhelmed by this, they may be not sure how to start. What’s one thing that they can do today? If they think that they’re under optimized with their books right now, what’s one thing that you would suggest that they do today?

Scott: I mean, it really usually just comes down to education. So whether it’s our YouTube videos or books like Financial Intelligence for Entrepreneurs is a good book. It’s looking at that and then our big thing is process. So if you’re not documenting your process for receiving inventory and dealing with returns, just take a whiteboard and put it on your wall and start building those things. So it’s called the combination of education and then it’s just organization so you can keep track of your to-do list and you know, oh, I’ve got to block out this much time every day or week or month for accounting. It’s more about that discipline and then just get an accountability coach. There are other things you can do, like profit first for a different way to look at profit. Or you can hire someone for EOS entrepreneurial operating system and the traction books. So there are actual structured processes that you can join in where it’s not just you have to determine it ahead of time, but it’s kind of education. Have coach as partners, whether that’s Quiet Light who gives out I know great advice. Even when they’re talking to people two or three years from when they’re selling and they may never sell to say, no, these are the smart things to do because everything they’re telling you to do smart to sell your business is the same guidance to run your business profitably. And then get those external resources, find your peers out there and talk to them and share best practices, and just continue to evolve as an entrepreneur.

Mark: Scott, it’s really good to see you again. Thanks so much for coming on.

Scott: You’re welcome. Thank you.

Resources: 

Catching Clouds

Catching Clouds Contact Form

Catching Clouds YouTube Channel

Catching Clouds Facebook Page

Quiet Light

[email protected]

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