On Providence

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: Whatever you can do, or dream, you can begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!

William Hutchison Murray was a mountaineer, a writer and a soldier captured during World War Two. The quote above originally appeared in his first book, Mountaineering in Scotland, which he wrote—while still a world war two prisoner—on the only paper available. That paper was toilet paper. That fact alone shows that WH Murray was himself a person of commitment and resolve.

As for the quote itself, well, I simply love it. From the first time I read it, over twenty-five years ago, in a book called Being Happy, it has stayed with me, resonating as strongly today as it did then.

There is power in those words. There is truth too.

The passage, which describes a climbing expedition WH Murray had planned, actually starts as follows:

…but when I said that nothing had been done, I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money— booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness…

And so, what Murray ostensibly describes is the power of a first step. Dreaming of something? Desire something? Something big, something scary, something seemingly insurmountable? Then just like WH Murray, who took a first step toward a climbing expedition, we must all, in our own way, take own own first step.  And soon, just as Murray suggests, Providence will awaken. Then, before long, we too will be standing atop our own, heretofore, unimaginable mountain.

And hey, whatever personal mountain it is you’re planning to climb, please make sure it’s a big one.  

Make it Rain

Marriam Webster defines it as such:


1: a person who produces or attempts to produce rain by artificial means;

2 : a person (such as a partner in a law firm) who brings in new business; also a person whose influence can initiate progress or ensure success

I was talking to someone. An accountant; he was starting his own firm. We talked about the thrill of startups, we discussed the myriad of tasks involved in running a business. When you’re an entrepreneur, or a solopreneur, you get to—you’ve got to—wear a lot of hats. You start a business and you need to do so much. You have to market it, you need to brand it. Web presence, logos, social media. You have to manage the workflow. Get the clients in. Get the work out. On time, on budget, and at a profit. You have to design that workflow too. What tools will you use? What processes?

And then, other tasks. What about staffing? What about business development. What about, well, everything man?

So I’m talking to this entrepreneur and he says, “You know what I want to do? You know what role I relish?” When I asked for the answer, he says, “I want to be the rainmaker.”

Ah yes, of course, the rainmaker. The one who brings in the biz. The catalyst, the spark-plug. Every business needs a rainmaker. It’s such an important task. A crucial one at that. And yet, so many of us, especially those of us of a number-crunching persuasion, well we don’t really know how to be rainmakers. We don’t know where to begin. The funny thing is it’s not about where to begin. No no, it’s not about the beginning at all. It’s about the ending. And the points in between.

Which reminds me of this tale, this allegory…

Somewhere, some remote area somewhere, there were these rainmakers, a group so well-versed, and therefore so well-known, in the art of the rain-dance. If there was a dry spell, if things were looking bleak, people from far and wide hired this group for the sole purpose of making it rain. Such was the success of these rainmakers that others began to travel great distances, just to study with this group of uncannily successful rainmakers. People would sit and ponder these rainmakers. They’d observe the most minute of details. No small thing was left unnoticed. No minor movement undocumented. Copious notes were kept. Observations discussed and debated. Did they dance clockwise or counterclockwise? What chants were they singing? How did they hold their arms, their legs, their tongues? What sequence of steps? How many to the left and how many to the right? 

Then, after studying every aspect of the rain-dance, the observant students left their enviable masters, and they returned to their homes where they would begin their rain-dance, making sure to mirror every movement of that successful group. But no matter what they did, no matter how thoroughly they copied the rain-dance, they couldn’t make it rain. They’d get tired, call it quits, “Let’s call it a day,” They’d say, “We’ll pick it up again tomorrow.” But tomorrow was no better. Nor was the day after. And eventually, dejected and despondent, the hopeful rainmakers gave up. They quit. And they asked themselves, “What sort of voodoo was at play? What magic potion did those rain-dancers possess and not reveal to us?” Eventually they refused to even try, convinced that those rainmakers were touched by the gods, or worse, cursed by demons.

But there was no magic, no dark science. There was none of that at all. There was, though, this one little thing. What no-one observed, what no-one understood, is that when that successful group started their rain-dance, they danced, and they kept on dancing–consistently and persistently–never stopping, not once ever stopping, until it began to rain.

Tires and Strategic Planning

Every entrepreneur, every small-business owner needs to plan. Planning means making a decision. And making a decision always means uncertainty and doubt—pretty much a whole bunch of second guessing. If you find yourself in such a position–stuck on a decision–maybe this metaphor invoking another metaphor will help.

We needed a new kitchen table. Not at the office. But at home. We had done the research. We had weighed the options. It’s crunch time. It’s time to choose the winning candidate. We discuss the pros and cons of this one, and of that one. We’re at a crossroads. We really like one particular table, realizing though, that once we move–at some undetermined date–into a smaller home, the table might prove too big. Might.

My oh my. What to do?

And then I remember something. 

I’m a big Formula 1 (F1) fan. I love F1. In F1, all teams must, at some point during a race, bring their drivers into the pits (that’s what the garage area is called) to change out their cars’ rapidly deteriorating tires.  Sometimes, these races are held on iffy days. Days that see storm clouds approaching; heavy rain threatening. And so imagine this. You’re a team manager. Your car’s tires are finished, your driver is losing time driving around a racetrack on worn-out tires. You message your driver, “Come in for new tires.” You gaze skyward, rain’s approaching, perhaps very soon. And you need to decide. What type of tire do you put on the car? Tires purposely designed for the approaching rain? Or tires that only work on dry asphalt? A wrong decision might mean disaster for your team’s standing. A bad decision could cost you a win. You swallow hard. you call your driver in, your crew removes the old tires and installs a fresh set. And your driver steers the car back out onto the track.

Now picture this.

This F1 race is broadcast worldwide (as every race is), the TV announcer saw what you had decided. The TV announcer saw you opt for dry-weather tires (actually called “slicks”). The announcer screams into the microphone, “I can’t believe this” He shouts, “Rain’s about to fall, any minute now! Why did that team manager put slicks on that car?”

Every sporting broadcast features  a cool, level-headed and experienced colour-commentator. In F1 broadcasts, the colour commentator, oftentimes a retired Formula 1 driver, is usually there as a foil to the excitable TV announcer. The colour commentator is  also there to offer insight and analysis—to make sense of the events unfolding on the racetrack. 

And it’s at this point, then, that this particular colour commentator cuts off the hyperventilating TV announcer and, in a calm, soothing voice, says, “You always install tires for the current conditions. Always.” 

Get it? Dry tires work well on dry asphalt. Even though it looks like rain is coming, no one knows when it’s actually coming. No one knows for sure that it will rain. And if it does, it might be in two minutes. It might be in thirty. What everyone does know is that the track is currently dry, so given those conditions, the best decision is to go with dry tires (slicks). And, if  conditions change–in two minutes or in thirty– you deal it, which might might mean bringing your car in to change tires again. But for now, it’s dry. So you install tires for those conditions. Makes sense, right?

And so, back to our kitchen table. Using the F1 tire metaphor, we decided to get a table for the current environment, the home we’re presently living in. If and when we move into a new (smaller) home, we’ll make the call on whether a new table is necessary. Makes sense, right?

Now think about this. How many times, as a small business owner, are you faced with a similar decision? How many times are you faced with a similar “this versus that” dilemma. Do I choose A or do I choose B?

And so, the next time you’re faced with an either-or decision, perhaps you might want to think about our Formula 1 metaphor. And determine whether this decision boils down to one of those “Current Environment” situations. Makes sense right?

What if?

I wrote this a few years back. I like to refer to it once in a while. I like to refer to it because, like any entrepreneur, I sometimes need something to motivate me. To cast away the self-doubt. The self-doubt that comes–part and parcel–with the world of self-employment. Anyway, I thought I’d put it up here; share here with anyone who’s considering taking that leap, that leap into self-employment, that leap onto a new and maybe scary project. That leap into the unknown.

What if?  You said, “I will” rather than, “I’ll try.”

What if?  There’s one person standing between you and your dream

What if? That one person is you

What if?  You have superpowers

What if?  You only need to realize you do

What if?  You said, “I’ll do it” rather than, “Someone should.”

What if?  You created opportunity rather than waited for it

What if?  It is rocket science, and you’re the only one with a Ph.D

What if?  Money does grow on trees

What if?  Your resourcefulness & imagination are the roots

What if?  You won’t enjoy doing nothing

What if?  It’s not about greed

What if?  Greed was illegal

What if?  Negativity is bad

What if?  Nothing is real

What if?  Everything is

What if?  Jagger had stayed at the London School of Economics

What if?  After being laughed off-stage, Charlie Parker had simply quit

What if?  Beethoven had said, “I’m deaf, I can’t write music.”

What if?  Robert Johnson hadn’t gone to the crossroads

What if?  Warhol only got 15 minutes too

What if?  Dreamers stopped dreaming

What if?  We’re all cheering you on

What if?  You’re not listening to us

What if?  Nothing is mutually exclusive

What if?  Everything is possible

What if?  Procrastination didn’t exist

What if?  Idleness was outlawed

What if?  Cartoons are real life

What if?  Real life is a cartoon

What if?  You listen to your heart

What if?  You ignore the negative chatter of naysayers

What if?  There’s no such thing as failure

What if?  The idea you’re hesitant to share is the one that will bowl us over

What if?  There’s a masterpiece inside you, just waiting to come out

What if?  The world is waiting for you

What if?  It’s you we’re all counting on

What if?  It’s all a dream

What if?  Dreams do come true

You’ve Got to Go

It’s mere days away. But it’s not too late to register. QuickBooks Connect. Downtown Toronto. Dec three-to-five.

You’ve got to go.

Why? If you’re a number-cruncher. A tax preparer. An IT type. If you have clients that rely on you. Then you need to be at QuickBooks Connect.

Our profession is changing. It’s transforming. Listen, I’ve been at this game more than twenty-five years. And never, never, have I seen our profession evolve. Never like it has in these last two, maybe three, years.  You’re a seasoned pro? You remember the dawn of the PC age? Think that was big? That’s nothing compared to today.

The dust has settled. Cloud is in. Cloud won.

The way we deal with data. The way we interact with clients. The tools we use. Our internal practice-management tools. Our client tools. Communication. On-boarding. Payment, Billing. It’s all changed.

You still keeping timesheets? You still using cheques? You still have legacy desktop software? Backups and software-versions? Well, that’s why you need to be at QuickBooks Connect.

Times have changed. Time are changing. You need–we all need–to keep up. Or get left behind.

QuickBooks Connect. You’ve got to go.

That Gateway Thing

We were in Granby.

Granby, just east of Montreal, is a gateway kind of place. It’s where the rolling hills of the Eastern Townshops begin to make their presence felt. If you haven’t been there, the Eastern Townships are a picturesque part of the world. Luscious hills, sparkling lakes.

But I wasn’t there for that. I wasn’t there for the lakes or the hills. I was there for work. I was there to discuss QuickBooks Online (QBO). Me and about forty other number-crunchers.

Later on, driving back toward Montreal, cool jazz playing on the car stereo–Miles Davis, that kind of stuff–I reflected on the day’s discussion. The word “gateway” came up; there was a lot of talk of gateways. About the way that QBO facilitates the transferring and sharing of data.

That’s what I like, you know, about QuickBooks Online. It’s a gateway app. A gateway to third-party applications that lets you do, well, just about anything. Need point of sale? Need time tracking? Need cash flow management? Need scheduling and CRM and project management? Yeah, we got that. And then some.

You use an app to take pictures of a receipt. You bridge that app to QBO and you’re now using your phone’s camera to input expenses. Use another app, also via QBO’s gateway, and you can pay anyone electronically. No more cheques, no more stamps and no envelopes. I mean come on, cheques and stamps? That’s so 1990, isn’t it?

Soon enough, the talk turned to something else, another sort of gateway. The gateway between the practitioner and client. Lines of communications have narrowed. Roles strengthened. Support more immediate, and information more current and more relevant. All of a sudden, the practitioner/client relationship is closer, more in sync. There’s less talk of what happened six months ago, or last year. There’s less talk of how someone did something. And more talk about how to do something. And why to do it.

The mood changes. There’s less (as one of my dear clients once termed it) “rear-view-mirror” discussions and more “where are things going?” planning. More depth; more meaning. All because of that gateway thing.

Oh sure. There are some, still today, who won’t get onboard. And that’s OK. Some people don’t want to hear of gateways, and even less of cloud.

Cloud! Cloud! Cloud! Cloud! What’s all this fuss about cloud?

Some don’t see the point. Some don’t get the benefits. My old software does this, my desktop software does that. And sure, that’s all good and true.

But it’s not about software. It’s about the philosophy of software. It’s about the way we think about it all. How are we going to use that software to strengthen relationships? To modernize the game? The playing field is larger, but the players are closer together. Things are more immediate, information more crucial and relays ever shorter. Today, we need to build communication, and support, and trust. And we need a gateway to do that. A really dynamic, really reliable gateway.

And that’s what stayed with me as I drove out of Granby, that gateway to the Eastern Townships. Gateways, everybody needs gateways.

It’s What Comes Out That Counts

Some people, in search of relaxation, play tennis; others chess or mahjong maybe. Me, to relax, I play the guitar. Except that, at times, this blasted instrument is not quite the stress buster I want it to be. Case in point: I was working on–and struggling with–a beautiful piece of music called Marieta. It’s an hypnotic piece, not overly complex (when compared to other contemporary pieces) but nuanced–a sneaky sort of nuanced.

Music is a cross between golf and, oh I don’t know, acting maybe. Like golf, it’s all about technique. And like acting, it’s the interpretation and interpersonal style that makes or breaks the end result. And it was frankly in all of that that I was struggling. I was tilting at windmills, trying to balance technique (the accurate placement on the fingerboard), interpretation (loud when the piece called for it, and soft when it didn’t) and style (making the whole thing cohesive and compelling).

Over and over, I started and restarted the piece–bar after bar–getting at times impatient and at other times impatient and frustrated.

And then a thought hit me. Instead of focusing on how to pluck the strings and how to position my fingers, what if I tried it with the other side of the instrument in mind? What if, while playing, I actually listened to what was coming out of my guitar? What if I tried to experience the whole process as a listener rather than a technician?

And you know what? Strange as that might appear, it actually worked. Focusing on the outcome made me more attentive to what I wanted to achieve. And that felt good.

And then, a little later, another thought hit home. And it was this. How often, as entrepreneurs and advisors, do we focus only on the effort that we put into a project? How often do we lose sight on what our customers are “hearing”–on what they’re experiencing? I mean, let’s face it, all too often, we’re solely focused on the technical side of the work we perform. Too many of us are all too self-aware and self-obsessed with the required skill and acquired dexterity of the oh-so-important work that we do. Which begs the question. Do any of us ever stop, even for a minute, to imagine what the person sitting on the other side of our desk is getting from all this? How often do we pause to consider the client perspective–the customer perception? Sad to say, for too many of us, the answer is, not very often.

And so, as entrepreneurs, as advisors and business owners, we’re missing the boat. We’re focusing on inputs rather than outcomes. And we’re losing a key opportunity to make our service more client-centric. So hear’s (get it?) a suggestion; let’s tune our ears so that we can listen from our clients’ perspective. Let’s view our work the way they might view it. And maybe that way we’ll solidify, even further, the client relationship. And we’ll all  enjoy the overall sound of success.

What a Dumb Accountant Learned About Branding

It’s 4:45 AM. I’m sitting here, not far from my gate, inside the restricted boarding area of the Winnipeg airport, where there happens to be a Starbucks.

The airport is quiet, the Starbucks even more so. I’m lounging in a comfortable corner, and there’s Dylan—a more obscure, less recognizable version of Dylan—coming over the loudspeakers.

The music at Starbucks is always soft, usually tender—a catalyst for quiet reflection. For some reason, the white noise in the background only adds to, never diminishes from, the mood. I can hear the subtle bustle of the servers brewing a cappuccino, they’re talking, softly to each other, and to their customers. The whole thing makes for a pleasant experience. A curious one too, because today’s visit makes me realize that this is why I come to Starbucks. Not for the coffee. Not really. More so for the atmosphere, essentially for the mood, and especially for the music.

And even if it is, for me, about that wonderful background music, the funny thing is, as a music lover, most of the time, Starbucks is playing stuff I don’t know. I seldom recognize the artists; I rarely clue in to the music that’s playing. And I don’t want to know either. It’s as though the enigmatic nature of the music just adds to the magic of the experience. There are times, you know, when one should simply not pursue the ingredients of a perfect moment.

Starbucks, wherever I happen to be, and especially early in the morning, is a place I seek out—a relaxing place. A place that invokes memories of, well, other Starbucks. Like the one on King Street West, in Toronto; a location tailor-made for Flipboarding and people-watching, on a really rainy, really early, quiet morning.

That’s why I go to Starbucks. It’s a known entity. The environment is comfortable, the coffee consistent, and the staff helpful and pleasant.

Then it hits me. That word, that awkward word, the one that I, a clueless accountant, could never truly understand. That word that sounds oh-so-trendy, and so impossibly clichéd. That word that all the consultants and marketers use. That marketing term they called “branding”.

Is my Starbucks experience a result of branding ? Setting expectations, establishing a predictable, consistent message. Creating a mood. Is that what branding is all about?

It’s about Identity, isn’t it? Corporate identity. One that’s authentic and meaningful. That’s what it is, isn’t it?

Then I shake my head. Why didn’t they just use that word—Identity? Everyone, even dumb accountants like me, understands that word.

And then I shrug. I lean back a little more, and listen to the music at the Starbucks inside this quiet Winnipeg airport. And I go back to Flipboard. Sometimes, some things are better left un-pursued.

Shareholder Woes

So you just incorporated your business? Congratulations!

As you might already know, there are a number of advantages to incorporating a business (and if you’d like to know more about those advantages, click this blog post for a brief explanation).

If, prior to incorporating, you were operating a proprietorship  (just a fancy name for an unincorporated business) you might remember that any personal cash you withdrew (or advanced) to your business was treated as a draw or a contribution, and that those funds really had no impact on your bottom line.

With a proprietorship, your business income is effectively included on your personal tax return and, provided you’re paying tax on that income, CRA generally won’t kick up a fuss as to the amount you’re withdrawing from your business.

Knowing how a proprietorship works, the temptation, for many recently-incorporated business owners (let’s call them shareholders), is to continue to withdraw (or contribute funds) through their corporation’s bank account, to continue to ignore the actual balance of the draws and contributions, and to record every “in and out” in a Shareholder Loan account. In other words, shareholders will often lend money to their corporation—crediting that Shareholder Loan account—and when they themselves need cash,  they’ll just “borrow” it from the corporation—this time debiting that Shareholder Loan account.

And that’s where things can get ugly.

Unbeknownst to most shareholders, unlike a proprietorship, CRA views an individual and a corporation as two distinct and separate taxpayers. And as such, CRA takes a very different, very narrow, perspective on what a shareholder can and cannot do via a Shareholder Loan account. Though CRA’s rules can be somewhat arcane, here are some important principles to keep in mind.

  • While a shareholder can “borrow” money from their corporation, it’s crucial to know that CRA has specific rules that address not only time-limits, but also the allowable purpose of those shareholder loans. And there have been countless instances of shareholders, unaware of CRA’s regulations, finding themselves on the receiving end of very severe (and very expensive) penalties.
  • Because CRA views a shareholder and a corporation as two distinct taxpayers, any amount a shareholder regularly receives from her corporation should usually, in one way or other, be treated as taxable income by the shareholder.
  • The balance, not to mention the series of transactions that contribute to the balance, of the Shareholder Loan account cannot be left unattended and ignored.
  • If a shareholder inadvertently expenses personal amounts in her corporation’s books and, if CRA—via an audit—discovers the error, CRA might, regardless of the Shareholder Loan balance, impose tax on both the shareholder and the corporation.

Though there are exceptions to the rules mentioned above, those exceptions, (like the rules themselves) are somewhat complicated. As such, whether you are now (or about to become) incorporated, we strongly recommend that you get in touch with us so that we can discuss CRA’s rules regarding Shareholder Loans.

Pay Me Now, Or Pay Me (A Whole Bunch More) Later

CurrencyTo the casual observer, our friends over at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) sometimes make head-scratching policy decisions. Just one example of CRA’s puzzling policy deals with deadlines for small business corporations. Were one to look it up, one would discover that a small corporation has six months from fiscal year-end to file a corporate tax return. So you’d probably understand how a business owner would automatically put that year-end task on the back-burner. And you’d also excuse her or him for thinking that they’ve got CRA covered, as long as the tax return is filed within six months.

Imagine their surprise then when CRA’s assessment includes an interest charge. Why is there interest if the tax return is filed on time? Because there’s a second component to that “six-month” rule. An important clause that says; even though the return is due six months after year-end, the actual tax is payable within no more than three months. So, our fictitious business owner isn’t onside at all. Yes, the tax return was filed on time, but the tax payment was late. Hence the interest charge.

Yeah, I know head-scratching.

To make matters worse, if that same business owner owes more than $3,000 in income tax (or HST for that matter), then CRA further requires the corporation to estimate and remit, every three months, an amount owing for next year’s tax too. Those prepayments are called quarterly instalments and if the business owner forgets to pay up, and if there is tax due next year, then CRA will once again assess an interest charge.

And what’s even more head-scratching for most business owners is that CRA won’t automatically send out a notice, or a reminder, that those instalments are due. In other words, the onus is on the business owner to verify, calculate and remit payments as required, and at the right time.

And, given that most business owners are much too busy thinking about other things; sales & marketing, product development, staffing, overhead and expenses (you know, the not-so-mundane stuff), it’s not uncommon to see an HST or income tax instalment go unpaid. Or sometimes get overpaid.

What this all mean is, in today’s increasingly complex world, business owners need more than a once-a-year-accountant. They need someone who will keep track of these things. Someone who will keep them onside, and on the right side of the tax and instalment game. In today’s world, business owners need an on-going relationship and a reliable service from a trusted advisor.

And we’ve got just such a service. One that we’re calling Concierge. And with our concierge offering, among all the other services it offers, it also makes sure that you pay CRA the right amount right now. Rather than a whole bunch more later.