Acuity Blog

How businesses can reinvigorate strategic planning

For businesses, and people for that matter, the beginning of the calendar year can be a bit of a grind. The holidays have passed, summer vacations are relatively far off and everyone is trying to build momentum for a strong, healthy year.

Amongst all the nose-to-the-grindstone stick-to-itiveness, however, you and your leadership team shouldn’t lose sight of strategic planning. Your competitors probably haven’t, and the business landscape is always shifting in ways large and small. If you’ve let strategic planning slide a bit recently, here are some ways to reinvigorate it.

Push back against procrastination

Ideally, most companies should engage in an active strategic planning initiative at least once a year. This would involve doing research and holding meetings that eventually result in actionable, measurable goals.

However, some businesses may get so caught up in day-to-day operations that strategic planning goes by the wayside. Sometimes, this is a positive sign. Perhaps the company is so busy and profitable that it must focus on maximizing the opportunities at hand.

But it can be dangerous as well. A sudden market shift or disruptive competitor may leave the business flat-footed. Generally, companies shouldn’t let more than three years pass without productively engaging in strategic planning.

Go to your happy place

Because strategic planning is all about the big picture rather than the day-to-day, the process tends to work best when you put the people involved in a fresh setting. This is why the company retreat has long been an iconic undertaking, often depicted in movies and TV shows.

Granted, there is the potential for excessive spending and counterproductive distractions when organizing and holding one of these events. But if planned carefully and undertaken mindfully, getting your strategic planning team out of the office, or away from their computer screens at home, may pay off.

Engage an outside facilitator

Intuitively, it may seem like a business owner or CEO should lead a strategic planning session. And this can certainly be a cost-effective approach. But the objectivity of an outside professional may be worth investing in.

First, a facilitator may be able to better create a “there are no bad ideas” environment. Team members are often more willing to speak freely when they’re not directly addressing the owner or chief executive of the company. Plus, experienced facilitators are usually good at “working the room” (making people feel at ease), as well as adhering to a productive agenda.

Devise an action plan

Strategic planning should never be all talk and no action. Typically, the first session will review the business’s mission (what it does), vision (where it’s going), current financial results, and perhaps some of its recent notable successes and setbacks. It’s critical, however, to be results oriented. This means:

  • Setting several clearly worded goals,
  • Devising reasonable strategies for pursuing those goals, and
  • Identifying the specific objectives that will enable you to accomplish the goals.

One way to ease the pressure of strategic planning is to not try to do everything at once. If you can accomplish the three points above in one session, schedule a follow-up meeting to devise an action plan with a timeline and assigned responsibilities. That plan can then be formally approved by business ownership.

Helpful voices

One last point: Don’t restrict strategic planning to only internal voices. Your professional advisors can also lend their expertise to the process, whether by attending a session or reviewing an action plan. For help with the financial side of strategic planning, contact us.

© 2024


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Update on IRS efforts to combat questionable Employee Retention Tax Credit claims

The Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) was introduced back when COVID-19 temporarily closed many businesses. The credit provided cash that helped enable struggling businesses to retain employees. Even though the ERTC expired for most employers at the end of the third quarter of 2021, it could still be claimed on amended returns after that.

According to the IRS, it began receiving a deluge of “questionable” ERTC claims as some unscrupulous promotors asserted that large tax refunds could easily be obtained — even though there are stringent eligibility requirements. “We saw aggressive marketing around this credit, and well-intentioned businesses were misled into filing claims,” explained IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel.

Last year, in a series of actions, the IRS began cracking down on potentially fraudulent claims. They began with a moratorium on processing new ERTC claims submitted after September 14, 2023. Despite this, the IRS reports that it still has more than $1 billion in ETRC claims in process and they are receiving additional scrutiny.

Here’s an update of the other compliance efforts that may help your business if it submitted a problematic claim:

1. Voluntary Disclosure Program. Under this program, businesses can “pay back the money they received after filing ERTC claims in error,” the IRS explained. The deadline for applying is March 22, 2024. If the IRS accepts a business into the program, the employer will need to repay only 80% of the credit money it received. If the IRS paid interest on the employer’s ERTC, the employer doesn’t need to repay that interest and the IRS won’t charge penalties or interest on the repaid amounts.

The IRS chose the 80% repayment amount because many of the ERTC promoters charged a percentage fee that they collected at the time (or in advance) of the payment, so the recipients never received the full credit amount.

Employers that are unable to repay the required 80% may be considered for an installment agreement on a case-by-case basis, pending submission and review of an IRS form that requires disclosing a significant amount of financial information.

To be eligible for this program, the employer must provide the IRS with the name, address and phone number of anyone who advised or assisted them with their claims, and details about the services provided.

2. Special withdrawal program. If a business has a pending claim for which it has eligibility concerns, it can withdraw the claim. This program is also available to businesses that were paid money from the IRS for claims but haven’t cashed or deposited the refund checks. The tax agency reported that more than $167 million from pending applications had been withdrawn through mid-January.

Much-needed relief

Commissioner Werfel said the disclosure program “provides a much-needed option for employers who were pulled into these claims and now realize they shouldn’t have applied.”

In addition to the programs described above, the IRS has been sending letters to thousands of taxpayers notifying them their claims have been disallowed. These cases involve entities that didn’t exist or didn’t have employees on the payroll during the eligibility period, “meaning the businesses failed to meet the basic criteria” for the credit, the IRS stated. Another set of letters will soon be mailed to credit recipients who claimed an erroneous or excessive credit. They’ll be informed that the IRS will recapture the payments through normal collection procedures.

There’s an application form that employers must file to participate in the Voluntary Disclosure Program and procedures that must be followed for the withdrawal program. Other rules apply. Contact us for assistance or with questions.

© 2024


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Should your business offer the new emergency savings accounts to employees?

As part of the SECURE 2.0 law, there’s a new benefit option for employees facing emergencies. It’s called a pension-linked emergency savings account (PLESA) and the provision authorizing it became effective for plan years beginning January 1, 2024. The IRS recently released guidance about the accounts (in Notice 2024-22) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) published some frequently asked questions to help employers, plan sponsors, participants and others understand them.

PLESA basics

The DOL defines PLESAs as “short-term savings accounts established and maintained within a defined contribution plan.” Employers with 401(k), 403(b) and 457(b) plans can opt to offer PLESAs to non-highly compensated employees. For 2024, a participant who earned $150,000 or more in 2023 is a highly compensated employee.

Here are some more details of this new type of account:

  • The portion of the account balance attributable to participant contributions can’t exceed $2,500 (or a lower amount determined by the plan sponsor) in 2024. The $2,500 amount will be adjusted for inflation in future years.
  • Employers can offer to enroll eligible participants in these accounts beginning in 2024 or can automatically enroll participants in them.
  • The account can’t have a minimum contribution to open or a minimum account balance.
  • Participants can make a withdrawal at least once per calendar month, and such withdrawals must be distributed “as soon as practicable.”
  • For the first four withdrawals from an account in a plan year, participants can’t be subject to any fees or charges. Subsequent withdrawals may be subject to reasonable fees or charges.
  • Contributions must be held as cash, in an interest-bearing deposit account or in an investment product.
  • If an employee has a PLESA and isn’t highly compensated, but becomes highly compensated as defined under tax law, he or she can’t make further contributions but retains the right to withdraw the balance.
  • Contributions will be made on a Roth basis, meaning they are included in an employee’s taxable income but participants won’t have to pay tax when they make withdrawals.

Proof of an event not necessary

A participant in a PLESA doesn’t need to prove that he or she is experiencing an emergency before making a withdrawal from an account. The DOL states that “withdrawals are made at the discretion of the participant.”

These are just the basic details of PLESAs. Contact us if you have questions about these or other fringe benefits and their tax implications.

© 2024


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Account-based marketing can help companies rejoice in ROI

When it comes to marketing, business owners and their leadership teams often assume that they should “cast a wide net.” But should you? If your company is looking to drive business-to-business (B2B) sales, a generalized approach to marketing could leave key customers and optimal prospects feeling like they’re receiving vague messages from a provider that doesn’t really know them. That’s where account-based marketing comes in.

Simply defined, account-based marketing is a strategy under which marketing and sales teams collaboratively focus on targeted high-value accounts. The objective is to create a customized experience for each account that locks in the buyer long-term through deep relationship building and personalized service.

Benefits and risks

The primary potential benefit of a successful account-based marketing campaign is return on investment (ROI). By focusing on customers and prospects most likely to invest substantial dollars in your products or services, you’ll better position yourself to win those odds and bring in substantial revenue. Indeed, the internet abounds with marketing surveys indicating that large percentages of responding B2B companies have gotten a higher ROI from account-based marketing than from other strategies.

Another potential benefit is better aligning marketing with sales. Many businesses struggle with mismatched messaging coming from the marketing and sales departments, respectively. This can lead to customer confusion and internal conflicts. Account-based marketing requires marketing and sales to work together to devise a unified, unique approach to each targeted account.

A third potential benefit is establishing your B2B company as an industry expert. In most industries, when word gets out that a company is successfully marketing directly to certain well-known players, that business’s reputation rises because, clearly, it “speaks the language.”

Of course, account-based marketing has its risks. The biggest one is, as you might’ve guessed, a negative ROI. You’ll need to invest substantial time and resources on each targeted account. If the initiative flounders, the resulting losses can be steep. You may also end up ignoring other customers or prospects. Your business could even hurt its reputation by interacting with a major industry player in a less than flattering way.

3 steps to success

So, how do you avoid those downsides? Here are a three general steps to success:

1. Create a framework. Before doing anything, your business will need a broad framework for executing an account-based marketing strategy. A good way to build one is to use a readily available template to map out the process. You’ll also need to form a dedicated account-based marketing team. You might even invest in specialized software to automate everything.

2. Choose your targets. This may be the most important step! You’ve got to pick the customers and prospects that are the best fits for account-based marketing. It’s generally best to start with a short list or even just one or two. Next, meticulously research key details about each business, such as its mission, size, revenue model and spending patterns. Also, identify the specific individuals you’ll need to win over within the target company.

3. Design, execute and analyze. As mentioned, you’ll need to design a customized campaign for each account. Do so with great care, relying on your research and meaningful interactions with contacts at the business in question. From there, be prepared to measure and analyze your results and iterate the campaigns as necessary.

A significant boost

Account-based marketing isn’t feasible for every business. But if you believe that messaging directly to a few key customers or prospects could give your B2B company’s sales a significant boost, it’s worth considering. For help projecting the results of an account-based marketing campaign, or assistance choosing and analyzing metrics for a campaign in progress, contact us.

© 2024


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Defer a current tax bill with a like-kind exchange

If you’re interested in selling commercial or investment real estate that has appreciated significantly, one way to defer a tax bill on the gain is with a Section 1031 “like-kind” exchange. With this transaction, you exchange the property rather than sell it. Although the real estate market has been tough recently in some locations, there are still profitable opportunities (with high resulting tax bills) when the like-kind exchange strategy may be attractive.

A like-kind exchange is any exchange of real property held for investment or for productive use in your trade or business (relinquished property) for like-kind investment, trade or business real property (replacement property).

For these purposes, like-kind is broadly defined, and most real property is considered to be like-kind with other real property. However, neither the relinquished property nor the replacement property can be real property held primarily for sale.

Asset-for-asset or boot

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, tax-deferred Section 1031 treatment is no longer allowed for exchanges of personal property — such as equipment and certain personal property building components — that are completed after December 31, 2017.

If you’re unsure if the property involved in your exchange is eligible for like-kind treatment, please contact us to discuss the matter.

Assuming the exchange qualifies, here’s how the tax rules work. If it’s a straight asset-for-asset exchange, you won’t have to recognize any gain from the exchange. You’ll take the same “basis” (your cost for tax purposes) in the replacement property that you had in the relinquished property. Even if you don’t have to recognize any gain on the exchange, you still must report it on Form 8824, “Like-Kind Exchanges.”

However, in many cases, the properties aren’t equal in value, so some cash or other property is added to the deal. This cash or other property is known as “boot.” If boot is involved, you’ll have to recognize your gain, but only up to the amount of boot you receive in the exchange. In these situations, the basis you get in the like-kind replacement property you receive is equal to the basis you had in the relinquished property reduced by the amount of boot you received but increased by the amount of any gain recognized.

How it works

For example, let’s say you exchange business property with a basis of $100,000 for a building valued at $120,000, plus $15,000 in cash. Your realized gain on the exchange is $35,000: You received $135,000 in value for an asset with a basis of $100,000. However, since it’s a like-kind exchange, you only have to recognize $15,000 of your gain. That’s the amount of cash (boot) you received. Your basis in the new building (the replacement property) will be $100,000: your original basis in the relinquished property ($100,000) plus the $15,000 gain recognized, minus the $15,000 boot received.

Note that no matter how much boot is received, you’ll never recognize more than your actual (“realized”) gain on the exchange.

If the property you’re exchanging is subject to debt from which you’re being relieved, the amount of the debt is treated as boot. The reason is that if someone takes over your debt, it’s equivalent to the person giving you cash. Of course, if the replacement property is also subject to debt, then you’re only treated as receiving boot to the extent of your “net debt relief” (the amount by which the debt you become free of exceeds the debt you pick up).

Unload one property and replace it with another

Like-kind exchanges can be a great tax-deferred way to dispose of investment, trade or business real property. But you have to make sure to meet all the requirements. Contact us if you have questions or would like to discuss the strategy further.

© 2024

 


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