Ask INVISION: Why Your Accounting Absolutely Needs To Be Spot-On

Fix your accounting system

Is it absolutely necessary to reconcile our books to the last penny? It seems a lot of effort for not much point.

There are some areas where you can disregard small discrepancies, but when it comes to reconciling the bank account to the general ledger you need to be “bang on all the time,” says David Brown of the Edge Retail Academy. It primarily has to do with security: A common embezzlement technique involves skimming small, seemingly random amounts of cash from revenue. Over many years, these mysterious discrepancies can add up to tens of thousands of dollars. Keeping everything in order shouldn’t be that hard if you’ve computerized your accounting and your checking account reconciliation, Brown says.

We’re just a small practice and can’t afford the help of an ad agency. What should I know about approaching a radio station to buy air time?

The first thing to know is that TV and radio stations love customers who buy direct, says Andy Malis, co-founder of MGH, a full service ad agency in Owings Mills, MD. “Why? Because they know you don’t what you’re doing,” Malis says. He recommends you call your local station and ask the sales manager for the names of a few freelance media buyers they work with. “Choose one that buys for a variety of other local businesses. They’ll charge a lot less than a full-service agency but they’ll know how to choose the right stations, programs, etc. and more importantly, they’ll know the best rates,” he says. “They can also connect you with creative freelancers.”

I don’t agree with holiday decorating for many reasons, like being respectful of everyone who walks in the door by not catering to one religious group or another and drawing attention away from the products we sell. What’s your view?

We agree with part of your reasoning: Props should never draw attention away from your merchandise. But display consultant Larry Johnson warns that never decorating for a holiday “misses a chance to create excitement in the shopping experience.” As for customers who are going to get offended by Christmas decorations, try to minimize potential offense but there are always going to be individuals intent on finding fault somewhere. Experiment with different approaches to your displays and decorations. “Then do more of what increases sales and change what does not. By trying different approaches, different arrangements, different groupings, different (or no) signage or props, a retailer can allow his customers’ purchases to guide him to the best answers,” he says.

I went away for a vacation that I’d hoped would also serve as a test of my staff’s initiative. The result? I came back to a pile of pending work. How do I get them to pick up the ball?

It sounds as if you may have micromanaged them into drones. Basically you’ve got two options: Go big picture, where you give them ownership of their responsibilities on a day-to-day basis (not just when you go away), or go small, where every procedure and system is mapped out in detail. The first requires employees with the right personality and experience who will know what do when you say, “OK, our goal is to ‘wow’ every person who comes in. Go to it!” The second requires a lot of work from you in putting systems in place and providing the necessary training. The great benefit, however, is that when you’ve done it, you will again be able to step aside. Your staff will know how to tackle most situations and know they have your confidence in their decision-making. Also, should you ever want to sell your practice, you’ll have self-operating business to offer, not one that is overly dependent on your presence.

What should I look out for with seasonal hires?

Sure, they may be temps, but you need to apply almost the same attention to hiring short-timers as full-time staff. That means applying the same scrutiny to references and background checks, having a structured training program in place to get them up to a professional level quickly, and having a detailed idea how you plan to utilize them (if they’re short-term holiday or flex-benefit season hires, a plan to use them as support staff to give your sales staff more time on the floor is a good idea; answering phones or calling customers to come in and pick up a lens order or repair can be a particular time suck this time of year). Also, keep an eye on the long term. Advises Suzan DeVries, owner of Diamond Staffing Solutions: “Hire seasonal employees who could be full-time hires in the future. If all goes well, the time spent with them can be an investment.”