The Two Lives
In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Arthur Dent said, “You know it’s at times like this, when I am stuck in a Volgon air lock with a man from Betelguese, about to die of asphyxiation in deep space, that I really wish I’d listened to what my mother told me when I was young.” The Ford Prefect asked, “Why? What did she tell you?” Arthur responded, “I don’t know. I didn’t listen.”
Like your mother, there are things that your accountant will tell you that you may wish you had listened to when you are sitting in an IRS office being audited about to die of asphyxiation. If I were only allowed to give one piece of advice to any business owner it would be this – Keep your two lives (business and personal) separate.
Keep a business bank account and a personal bank account and keep them separate. Deposit your business revenue into the business account. Pay your business expenses from the business account. Deposit your personal revenue or your draw or paycheck from the business in to your personal account and spend that money on personal expenses. Do your absolute best to keep them separate. If you have multiple businesses, keep them separate from each other as well. The same goes for business and personal credit cards – keep the use separate.
I understand that there may be things that are combined use, that are both business and personal. These can be treated in two ways, paid for by the business and then reimbursed for the personal use (via direct reimbursement or accounting classification) or paid for personally and reimbursed by the business for a portion attributed to business use. Does this always happen, no – I am a realist, but it should.
I also understand that we screw up and pull out the wrong credit card once and awhile. All is not lost. When this happens, the business should pay us back via an expense reimbursement or we should pay the business back via a direct reimbursement (the business charges us) or an accounting classification such as an owner’s draw or distribution.
Why is this important? For starters, it will give you a clear picture of how your business is doing when it isn’t subsidizing your personal life. It makes your accountant happy and your fees generally lower as he or she has greater confidence in you and your records. It also prevents big penalties and elimination of your deductions should you ever be audited. Should an auditor begin finding personal expenses deducted on your business return, they can disallow the entire category of the expense leaving you to provide receipts and records for all items in order to keep the deduction. The auditor can also expand your one year audit to a three year audit should they find transactions that cause them to doubt the accuracy of the deductions potentially tripling the tax assessment and penalties.
One of the things my mother said that I did listen to is “If you start now, you’ll never be further behind than you are at this moment.” I invite you to start now if you haven’t already and keep your business and personal lives separate. It beats death in Volgon air lock.
Busy versus Productive
I have a confession. I make lists and check off the tasks when they are done. I don’t know if it is the momentary sense of accomplishment that comes when I make that check mark or cross it off the list but it feels good. For a little bit at least.
Lasting fulfillment comes not from checking off the task but having the right tasks on the list to start with.
We each have 525,600 minutes in a given year. It is what we do with those minutes that set us apart from others (and our competition).
A great place to start before we allocate our time to our tasks is our priorities. Are we getting the most important things done first? How do we know what is most important? Looking at people who are both happy and successful (they are not mutually exclusive), we will find that they balance their lives, not just their careers or business. Their goals are set based on what kind of person they want to become not what is on their bucket list.
Why do you wake up in the morning and get out of bed? What are your core values? (Family? Relationships? Opportunity to make the world better? A chance to realize your potential?) Spending a little time to think about what is important allows you to set your priorities. You can then plan tasks around those values.
I had a college professor who taught a great lesson to me. After discussing priorities, he said that “time does not equal priorities.” I used to set my priorities and then get down on myself because I was spending time on other things – work, school, sleep, etc. When I stopped attempting to measure my priorities by how I spent my time, a whole new world was opened up. I was able to plan tasks that took care of what was most important even though I didn’t spend the majority of my day on them.
If I took it a step further and planned to do those important tasks first thing in the day, my whole day was better because I had spent time on what was important before I spent time being busy. I was being productive.
Start your day with tasks that you do to take care of yourself so you can be productive, happy and fulfilled. That might be prayer, reading, expressing gratitude, a healthy meal, etc. When you get to work, start with the most pressing things that only you can do. If you can delegate a task, set aside time to properly delegate the item to the team member and then pass it along. This will let you take care of what only you can take care of and let the other stuff get done too.
I work in a world of deadlines. Some can be extended but some cannot. My time at work starts with listing the tasks only I can do from my list in order of the most important to the less important – sometimes this is based on due date and other times wants or needs. I have time set aside on my calendar to work them (in order) which keeps me focused. Some days I am able to get through many things on the list, and some days only part of one. Having spent the time on what is most important leaves me feeling productive even if I didn’t get to make my check mark.
Many years ago I was walking down a long street in Brazil. It was warm and a little humid. It began to get a little dark and I looked around me. Behind me and fast approaching was a dark cloud with a sheet of water pouring underneath. We hadn’t planned for rain let alone a monsoon. We started to run as fast as we could for shelter. The wall of water hit us just as we were reaching a store front with an awning. It was too late. We were drenched and laughing and amazed that it could rain without raindrops.
We had thought we could out run it. We couldn’t. It came too fast. Because of where we were, we couldn’t avoid it either.
In business we are faced with all sorts of challenges that come quickly and without warning. We may be lucky to see it getting dark around us giving us a little time to get a head start before we get wet. Technology is changing so fast. Markets are changing faster. We are bound to experience some disruption in our lives.
What do we do about it? Joey Havens, a fellow CPA, in a recent article I read said he takes time to ask five questions in his accounting firm every week for an hour and uses the answers to change and tweak what he and his firm does. I wanted to change the questions slightly to apply to a broader business base than just CPAs. So here are five questions you should ask yourself as a business leader every week:
1 – Are you moving fast enough? Growth is a blessing and a curse. It brings with it problem solving revenue but also begins to burden our operational systems. The pace of change in business and industries is fast and often we cannot move fast enough to keep up. When that happens, so does disruption.
2 – What would have to be true for me/us/you to change our direction, assumptions or mind? This is a good follow up question to the first. It helps us identify the assumptions we have made that we are using to drive our business and question whether or not they are good assumptions.
3 – What are you measuring right now that slows you down? Often times we set key performance indicators (KPIs), setup monitoring systems and watch them. We should ask ourselves if what we are measuring is still important in our business today. One of my favorite Demotivators® posters from despair.com is Tradition showing the running of the bulls and someone about to be trampled by a bull with the caption “Just because we have always done it that way, does not mean it is not incredibly stupid.” If we are measuring the wrong thing, we will get the wrong results.
4 – Does your price reflect the value, worth or impact of the products or services or advice you sell? It is the nature of economics to always put downward pressure on price while costs generally increase. Is your price keeping up with your costs? Are you priced well enough to out serve and outperform your competition?
5 – Will my present business model survive exponential change by new competitors? We have watched and benefitted from disruptive competitors throughout our lives. Video killed the radio star. Netflix killed Blockbuster Video. Uber and Lyft have disrupted the taxi cab. AirBNB has upset the hotel industry. What are your competitors doing? What are the new ones doing? How are they using technology to change how you have done business in the past. How can you be more innovative and creative in bringing your offerings to your customers?
These questions allow us to monitor the direction of the storm and hopefully keep us from getting too wet. There are opportunities on the horizon if we are looking for them. Joey Havens closes his article with, “Relevance is hard work and it takes hard questions.” Irrelevance is easy.
This blog allows you to experience the raw, gut wrenching drama of human conflict through accounting in each of its three stages: preparing to do battle, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.