Key Questions for Small Business Owners


MENLO PARK, CA -- As the weather improves, many people are eager to get outside and in shape, but companies also can benefit from a little conditioning.  Robert Half Management Resources has identified 10 key questions for small business owners to address when conducting their annual business checkup, and offers tips for maximizing personnel resources.

“Small business owners faced with tight deadlines may put off addressing certain issues, such as updating obsolete accounting systems, but delaying key projects can result in lost time, money and productivity,” said Paul McDonald, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources.  “Companies should view slower work periods as an opportunity to evaluate current processes and procedures, identify ways to improve internal controls, and determine if adequate staffing resources are available for upcoming projects.”

Robert Half Management Resources is the world’s premier provider of senior-level accounting and finance professionals on a project and interim basis.  McDonald, an expert in project and staff management, poses the following 10 questions to small business owners who are interested in maximizing productivity:

1. Is it time to update your financial systems?  Outdated financial systems can hinder business performance.  Many companies that postponed major systems initiatives in the past are now making them a priority.  Before undertaking these tasks, identify a project manager to oversee the budget and timeline, and consider the impact on internal personnel during the implementation, integration and staff training phases.

2. Does your company have a 3-, 5- and 10-year business plan? Short-term planning won’t yield long-term results.   Determine if you have the appropriate intellectual capital to drive your company’s future growth.  For example, if you are preparing to launch a new product or service or expand into a new market, make sure you have an expert on hand to determine if projected growth plans are attainable.

3. Is your business secure?  E-mail viruses, worms, unauthorized systems access and data theft are among the many threats that can leave a company vulnerable.   Businesses should have adequate security systems in place and technical support staff available to implement the necessary safeguards.  Firms also should regularly update employees on new policies and guidelines for protecting the company’s systems.

4. Are business costs under control?  Even with an improving economy, companies are looking to maintain sensible operating budgets.  In a recent survey by Robert Half Management Resources, 45 percent of chief financial officers said they anticipate employee healthcare plans to be the biggest cost increase to their companies in 2005.  Prior to the annual budget review process, brainstorm ways to help offset rising healthcare and other general business expenses.

5. Are you adhering to current accounting best practices?  Consider how your existing financial team can enhance its knowledge of best practices in accounting procedures.  Identify key staff members who can benefit from attending industry conferences or training courses.  They can learn how your business measures up to similar companies in areas such as financial reporting, tax planning, systems, cost accounting, inventory management, strategic planning, procurement and payroll.

6. Have you experienced another taxing tax season?  State and local taxes can be particularly complex when a company operates in multiple jurisdictions.  Even when businesses file for tax extensions, they should have qualified accounting and finance professionals in place to identify savings opportunities and make sure all necessary paperwork is in order.  Bringing in project professionals to augment full-time accounting employees can ensure all deadlines are met and help prevent staff burnout.

7. How do you rate on the corporate governance scale?  Terms such as “corporate governance” and “internal control” give cause for all businesses to determine how they are affected by regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, HIPAA, the USA PATRIOT Act and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.  Companies that encourage cross-departmental cooperation and collaborate with outside advisors are in a better position to effectively address corporate governance issues that may impact their businesses.

8. Are you holding onto your best people?  As the economy gains momentum, don’t be surprised if your top performers get other offers.  Offering competitive compensation packages, as well as creative benefits, will help your organization recruit and retain the most qualified employees.  Recognizing individual and team accomplishments on a regular basis will also help instill staff loyalty.

9. Are you losing market share to the competition?  Continually stay abreast of news or developments from similar firms in your local market.  Ask clients and business associates how they feel the company measures up to the competition and solicit ideas to improve the firm’s products, services and customer satisfaction ratings.

10. Has your company been a victim of fraud?  While small businesses are not required to establish an internal audit function, many bring in internal auditors on a full-time or project basis to work with accounting and other departments companywide.  These professionals can implement checks and balances to help firms improve internal controls and better detect and prevent fraud.

McDonald added that small business owners should look to their best assets -- their employees -- to solicit new ideas on how to improve processes, cut costs and increase productivity:  “Enlisting your best people in the decision-making process enables them to directly contribute to the success of the company and gain fresh perspectives on recurring problems.”

Robert Half Management Resources has more than 100 offices throughout North America, Europe and Australia, and offers online job search services at www.rhmr.com.



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