There is one person, and one person only, who is responsible for the financial statements for a business. That’s you. That doesn’t mean that you have to, or even should, be the person doing the bookkeeping. It means that you’re the person who needs to insist on getting the financial statements to you in a timely manner.
Here’s a story that Megan and I talk about in the “Smart Business Stupid Business” chapter entitled ‘Are Your Employees Ripping You Off?’
Cherise had years of experience as a bookkeeper when she decided to try something new. She had a long-time friend, Rick with a thriving real retail business in Michigan, near the Canadian border. He had both US and Canadian tourists filling his store on the weekends to buy his unique, hand-crafted items.
He had a huge facility and a lot of staff. The items had a low manufacturing cost and they fetched a high price on the open market. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, Rick’s business was always late paying its bills. He was now looking at some serious financial problems. Cherise bought in as a 50% partner for a song because her friend needed her expertise more than he needed her money.
The first thing Cherise noted was that they had a full-time bookkeeper on staff, but there hadn’t been any financial statements issued in years. They had both a retail and wholesale business, so profit margins were all over the place. And without financial statements, no one could be sure what they were anyway.
The other thing she found had her even more concerned. Her long-time friend was a tax cheat. Rick had a habit of not ringing up sales on the cash register when he was working. Instead, he’d put the money straight into his pocket. With his new partner, Rick wanted to keep things fair. So, he started a new system. For every dollar he put in his left pocket, he put another one in his right pocket for Cherise.
That’s when Cherise called us. She needed some help showing Rick that there were plenty of ways to legally pay less tax. He didn’t need to cheat to do that.
Rick listened. But now we needed accurate financial statements In order to do good strategic planning. Plus, Cherise wanted to find out why the company wasn’t making more money.
Rick had been in business for over 30 years and for 27 of those years Barbara had been his bookkeeper. He trusted her with his life. Cherise couldn’t stand her. She could never get a straight answer. Barbara hid the records every chance Cherise came around.
Finally, Cherise got fed up and told Rick that unless he ordered Barbara to start producing accurate financial statements, she had to go or Cherise was going to withdraw from the partnership.
First, Rick argued and cajoled. Barbara had been with him almost from the beginning. He trusted her with his life. Without her, he wasn’t sure the company could even exist. But he finally agreed to Cherise’s demand.
Rick put his foot down with Barbara. And that’s when the rest of the story came out. She broke down crying. She had worked for Rick for 27 years. And for 24 of those years, she’d been stealing money. Because Rich had been “cooking the books” by stealing from the topline of the business, it was easy for Barbara to steal money too.
There’s a second moral of the story too: If your bookkeeper can’t seem to get you financial statements in a timely manner, investigate further. Something is definitely wrong and as a business owner, it’s up to you to find out what.