Thoughts on change

Happy Friday.

Have you noticed that many people are afraid of change?  That somehow the way it was is good enough and so should be continued into the future unnecessary.  Or worse, because it didn’t work before it can’t work today.   While looking back at history is a decent guide to making a decision, it cannot be the only tool we use when deciding how we should do things today.  Or tomorrow.  Things are changing and small business has to get on top of this or suffer the consequences.

Last night Kubae and I had dinner with Wes and Dianne – good friends for many years.  We got onto the topic of change – technically we were discussing the Brexit and the Trump issue – and the things that both sides had in common.  Dianne pointed out that that the supporters of both movements lived in fear of the change that is happening.  Kubae then pointed out that it isn’t just the change but the pace of change that is possibly a driver.

The pace of change. I think they are onto something.

Look at the last 100 years. in 100 years we have gone from being essentially foot-mobile to autonomous vehicles.  We have gone from handwritten letters to text messages.  We have gone from biplanes to space shuttles. All this in 100 years.

Look at the last 50 years. We have gone from 3 major automobile manufacturers to 15. From leaded gasoline to electric and solar. From princess phones to Bluetooth.  From large global mass manufacturing to 3D printing of single pieces.  Amazing changes in my lifetime.

As an accountant, I am a trained historian.  Historians look at the past and try to make sense of it.  All accounting is really is ensuring that the business history (its transactions) are recorded clearly and concisely for future use.  History is useful but I have found that history alone is insufficient to help chart a course of action.

As a business developer, I am a futurist.  A futurist looks at today and asks how it might look tomorrow.  A futurist needs history to provide a starting point and trends that can help guess what tomorrow will look like.  Guessing about the future is fun, although it is often seen as science fiction or worse a waste of time.

And yet, a futurist is a planner.  Businesses must plan what their future is going to look like and then remain flexible enough to adapt to the unforeseen changes and also record things so that the historical reality can be compared to that future guess.

And this is the rub isn’t it?  I have often joked that I think most small business owners are frustrated accountants. They love the history of their business -how hard they’ve worked, how much money they’ve made.  But when asked what the future holds for their business, the response is typically, “same as last year but add 10%”.  That might have worked in 1960, but I don’t think this is going to hold true in 2020; and that is only 4 years away.

That’s right. four short years.  Are you asking yourself what your business is going to look like with

  • Drones doing delivery
  • cars that drive themselves
  • trucks that drive themselves
  • equipment that warns before it malfuctions
  • a printer that can make parts by adding and not subtracting raw materials
  • energy without being connected to the power grid
  • food grown locally instead of on large farms and trucked
  • and a million other things

This is the easily predicted future because most of this is here now.   What about the things we haven’t even dreamed of yet?  Are you positioning your business to be part of these changes or are you going to defiantly wave your buggy-whip until the end?

Typically, I would sign off by suggesting you have a conversation with your accountant, but not today.  Take someone two generations removed from you out to lunch and ask them these questions.  Find a good science fiction book and read about what their vision of the future looks like.  Let your mind explore the fascinating potential that your business has before it and start thinking about your future. Because it doesn’t have to be about fearing the change – it can be about embracing it.

Have a great weekend.

 

 

 

Thoughts on Marketing

Happy Wednesday.  You know, I am typically not much for working out in the evening – I prefer reading and drinking wine – but it does help me sleep much better.  Still a little sore from last night’s routine, but I slept like a rock!

Kubae and I were talking this morning about a restaurant that started and died a few blocks away.  It lasted about 2 months before the doors were closed.  she wondered what they might have been thinking and what lessons we could learn from this.

I think there are several important lessons for anyone starting a business in this story.

First, the old adage, “If you build it, they will come” is no longer valid.  I am not certain there ever was a time you could open business and customers would flock to your doors, but it definitely won’t work today.  Today, your potential customers have a huge array of choices so a small business owner must find a way to get to “top of mind”.  This means marketing.

Second, as I discussed in a prior post, the saying, “Location, location, location” is extremely important for certain types of small businesses, especially restaurants.  In this instance, this restaurant might have had the best Chinese cuisine in the Pacific Northwest.  It wouldn’t matter as it was sandwiched between two other restaurants and on a side street.

Third, whatever you think is the bare minimum you can spend to get the word out, triple it.  That’s right, plan on spending 3 times as much on marketing than you originally anticipated.  Your potential customers are bombarded with thousands of choices a day and your small business competes with those other messages.  Whether you choose to spend money or time, a conservative approach is to plan for more messaging.  A lot more.

Fourth, when in doubt, spend more on marketing.  A good friend of mine, Mike Leitch of VSource Systems, used to joke that the biggest problem he would like to see is having more work than he has time to do it.  With a growing business you can hire to handle the extra work; but if your business never gets going, you will be hard pressed to pay yourself.

Fifth, change your marketing channels.  The first thing you need to do is ask yourself how anyone is going to find out about you.  If you are a restaurant, you need to find out how to get listed on Yelp and Google Maps and any of the other dozen websites that cater to restaurant reviews.  If you are an accounting business you will need to find out how your potential customers look for new accountants.  And then, ask yourself, what other ways can I get the word out.  Experiment with channels, track their effectiveness and if after a few months it isn’t working, discard it for now and try something else.

Starting a business is risky.  If you are ready to take the plunge, then I strongly suggest you create a marketing plan to help you build excitement about your Company.  And if you are looking to expand your business, I strongly suggest you create a marketing plan to help you build excitement about your Company.  Getting more potential customers than you have time to work on is a great problem to have.

If starting a business is in your future, I encourage you to reach out to your accounting professional and create a business plan and budget to help you get through the first 3 years.  If you are looking for an accountant who can help you plan your startup or would like another opinion, feel free to contact me for  your free no obligation consultation and lets see what we can do to help make your dream come true.

Have an awesome Wednesday.

 

Thoughts on Weekends

Good morning and Happy Monday!

I hope everyone had a fun and memorable 4th of July weekend.  Attached are some pictures of the fireworks display held at the Fort of Vancouver.  This is from our condo downtown Vancouver.  We always have an incredible view and it is one of the things we love about living downtown.    The pictures are a little blurry as we were sitting inside (it was a cool 63 degrees out there) and I was using my Samsung phone which is really not suited for night photography.  But we still had an awesome viewing experience.

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Are you a small business owner who ended up working all weekend?  I imagine most of your efforts involved paperwork.  From emailing quotes to entering bills, you likely have forgotten why you wanted to work for yourself in the first place.  If your business is consuming all of your time, perhaps you should rethink your efforts.

Working harder in your business doesn’t really save you anything – not time, not money, not effort.  But what exactly do I mean by that?  Well, first thing is doing a job you have hired people to do.  You have a customer call on Friday for special work for delivery on Monday and what do you do?  You don’t want an employee to do it because it is A) the weekend and B) it will cost you overtime so you spend your weekend doing the work.  Why did it happen this way?  Inertia.

You are used to being the chief problem solver.  Whether you have 2 employees or 20, you cannot get over the inertia of you starting your business and trying to do everything.  The problem with you being the only solution is that your Company doesn’t grow, even as you add new employees.  Think about it… has your workload increased or decreased when you added new employees?  I bet your workload increased didn’t it?

The one thing your business needs is you.  No, it doesn’t need you doing the technical work that you hired competent employees to do – your business needs you to think clearly about how to grow, how to succeed.  How are you going to land that new contract?  Who is our target customer next year?  These are the things your business needs you to work on.

If you hired good employees and you have given them effective written instructions, you will get a good result. But hiring well and not having effective written instructions leads to poor results.  You don’t even want to think about the mess that happens when you combine hiring the wrong people along with not having written instructions.  Sadly, we have seen all too many of these situations.

So, set a priority to take weekends off.  This means work on your business, not in it.  Rethink how people work to reduce the paperwork and emails and questions.  Spend your time creating the “How we do it here” manual so that you can eliminate most of the verbal instructions that go on.  Start simply and let your employees finish the rest of the manual. I bet that in no time you are actually able to enjoy a Saturday off and not feel buried when you come back in Monday.

I strongly encourage you to talk with someone who can help you create effective work processing documents and checklists.  Believe it or not, your accountant actually follows many checklists in doing their work so start there.  If you do not have an accountant or are looking for a second opinion, feel free to contact me to schedule your free no obligation consultation about how you can once again enjoy the weekend.

Have a great week.

 

Interview with Tim Seivers

Good morning and happy Friday!  It is going to be an awesome day and we get to enjoy Brendan and David this weekend!

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to meet with Tim Seivers with Floyd Watkins & Associates.  Floyd Watkins operates out of Vancouver Washington and specializes in business and personal insurance.  My relationship with Tim goes back several years working with clients jointly on business and key person insurance.

Tim is a very easy professional to work with as he does not try to dazzle clients with “insurance-eze”.  He speaks their language and always looks out for the best interest of the small business owner.  Don’t get me wrong, he cares about the employees as well, but he is primarily driven to help protect the business owner and the value of the business.

This includes not only insurance products but retirement plans which are focused on the business owner.  One of the things I appreciate most about working with Tim is his use of the “Grocery Bag of Savings.”  It is worth contacting him to find out more about how he helps your employees deal with savings for retirement!

I asked Tim what three things he would like a reader to take away from our conversation.

  1. Floyd Watkins carries more than one plan.  When asked to explain he pointed out that he can offer many different types of insurance plans, not just Kaiser or Blue Cross.  His team can craft a compliant plan that maximizes the benefits to the owner and key employees while also offering fair coverage to all the employees.  He pointed out that one of our mutual clients from a few years ago has a policy which cut health insurance in half and provides much greater benefits to the key employees.  This plan was designed to address the fact that most of the employee base was under 30 and unmarried while the management team was over 45 and had dependents.  The plan was designed so that the Company picked up the first $1,000 of medical expenses; and since the younger employees didn’t go to the Doctor, the Company saved huge.  Plus, this policy actually refunded premiums if claims were below the threshold.
  2. Business owners need to plan their exit strategy or face a fire sale.  Tim told the story about a partnership he was working on recently.  The partners were debating if they needed a $1.0 Million or $3.0 Million policy on each partner.  This went on for over six months.  About two weeks before they were to meet with Tim, one of the partners called to say he was diagnosed with lung cancer.  This partner passed away 2 months later and not only did his family receive no value from the business, they actually had to repay money to the partnership because he had personally guaranted loans. This risk can be reduced by using appropriate types of insurance.  He stresses that the paperwork to suport a buy/sell agreement is important but that it isn’t worth anything without the means to pay for it.  Let’s face it, most businesses are worth far more than the cash they have on hand so anything you can do to ensure you protect your family and your business is worth considering.
  3. People should consider this “Money at a discount”, not life insurance.  Let’s face it, you are not going to get the benefit of any of this insurance (in most cases – although Tim knows of products which can allow you to access some portion of the insurance while you live) in the event a pay-out is required.  So he suggests thinking about this as paying money out today for a payment of money in the future. By asking yourself, “How do I make sure that my family has what it needs to go on without me and what is that investment today?” This is especially true for small business owners who potentially put their family at huge risk if something should happen. Investing a stream of cash payments today to receive some greater future benefit to protect them may be worth it.

Finally, Tim wants everyone to know that he likes being the Second Opinion Professional.  He strongly encourages you to have this discussion with your business insurance professional and then he encourages you to have a conversation with him.  The consultation is free and there is no obligation but it will give you peace of mind in knowing that your current plan recommendation is meeting your needs now and in the future.

You can find out more about Tim Seivers and Floyd Watkins & Associates here.  I strongly encourage you to think about getting a second opinion on your benefits and protection and think Tim is the right person in the Clark County area to talk with.  Thank you Tim for the time and great information.

Have a great Fourth of July Weekend everyone.