Upon reading Cari Gervin’s “The Case Against Pilot” in last week’s Metro Pulse, I realized that the sales executives at Pilot/Flying J kind of had a point. If a business doesn’t keep track of rebates themselves, they sort of deserve to lose money when they don’t get their fair share. Isn’t it the job of accountants at a business to account for profits and losses? As a local IT professional, I wanted to point out a couple of things that small business owners could do to keep themselves from falling victim to the other Pilots of the world–shady business people intent on screwing their customers.

First off, the businesses were discarding emails from Pilot with daily rates. These should have been saved and referred to by accountants to form their own record on how much a rebate should have been. If we’re talking about upwards of almost $300,000, I think the emails merit being kept. Accountants can’t always make a business money, but this is one case where they can. And email retention isn’t expensive or complicated, especially with providers offering unlimited storage space in many instances. If nothing else, keep a copy of your old email in an archive you can access later if necessary. For some markets, it is mandatory.

The email details of the daily rates should have been accounted for in an Excel spreadsheet, which one of the executives so eloquently said these “unsophisticated” businesses didn’t know how to use. If an accountant doesn’t know how to use Excel, you need to find a new accountant. Spreadsheet programs have been around since the 70s and in no way represent modern business technology, unless maybe you’re pulling it up on dropbox from your smart phone. The spreadsheet allows businesses to easily created tabulated data in rows and columns that can be viewed and calculated visually, if not using the programs formulas. Like I said, this ain’t rocket science and any small business owner should immediately go and check their accountants computer to see if it even has a spreadsheet program installed and if there are recent documents being used frequently.

Both of these applications fall into the realm of Information Technology, or IT, As a local IT professional, I can tell you that good communication with your IT department or contractor can pay off in dividends. Have a frank conversation with your IT pro about what your company can do to facilitate information flow within the business, in and out of accounting. IT branched off of Accounting as a trade, and still keeps many of the same processes and procedures as common practice, so think of it that way: as a method of accounting for your company’s information, including invoices, emails, spreadsheets, and other ways your employees make you money.

So by retaining email, using simple spreadsheets, and keeping communication with your IT people, small businesses can avoid losing money to unscrupulous businesses. You can bet their accountants and IT are calculating new and exciting ways to get one over on you. Fight back by keeping your information current and easily accessible and accounting for everything your business does.