Weekly Business Idea

November 1, 2019 – What Would Happen if You Did the Opposite?

Posted on | November 1, 2019 | No Comments

Main Idea:

Do you struggle with getting new sales?  Do you have problems with Google adwords and their changing algorithms?  Do you hate doing employee evaluations?  Do you understand your financial statements?  Do you worry about cutting your costs?

Expansion of the Idea:

I have noticed lately that a lot of companies get into ruts where decisions are made because that is how the owners and managers look at life.  And generally, if you have been successful, you will continue to do the things that made you successful.  There really isn’t anything wrong with that.  Most of the time, these are the right decisions and the right way to look at life.

However, I think there are some interesting outcomes if you look at life from the opposite direction.  How could your business be successful if you did the following :

  • You decided not to do any employee evaluations.
  • You never want to look at a financial statement again.
  • You decide to completely eliminate the marketing budget.
  • Instead of going with the low cost solution, you decide to invest double what you were previously going to spend.
  • Instead of increasing sales calls, you want to reduce them.
  • You look to fire customers instead of obtaining new customers.
  • Instead of being accessible to your team or customers all day you limit it to an hour.
  • Instead of not having time to plan, you allocate 4 hours a week to planning.
  • You decide to limit your time at work even though you never can get all of your work done.

There are a number of additional situations where it would be interesting to approach it by looking at it from the opposite viewpoint. Obviously, we don’t want to destroy our businesses.  We want to continue to grow our businesses and ourselves.  When we think about life from an opposite viewpoint, it forces us to do other tasks to compensate.  Sometimes we will come up with a better solution.

For instance, if I wanted to make fewer sales calls, I would need to make sure that the calls I made were higher quality.  The only way for me to make sure that they are higher quality would be to do additional research and better qualify the leads.  This would force me to look carefully at who buys my product and service and better identify my customers.  I could potentially eliminate hours of wasted time and at the same time create a better stream of new customers and sales.

Some of these ideas are very counter intuitive.  When you look at life from an opposite position, you realize you can achieve your goals quicker if you put in place some new and different processes and systems.

Next Steps

  1. Make a list of areas that you or your business is challenged right now
  2. Ask yourself how you can achieve success by doing the opposite of what you think you should do.
  3. Brainstorm with your team on this.
  4. Develop the discipline and systems to implement ideas that will help.

October 18, 2019 – How Are You Judged?

Posted on | October 18, 2019 | No Comments

Main Idea:

How do you compare to your competition?  How does your business compare?  What are the key points that are used to evaluate two individuals or two businesses?  In your eyes, is any business better than yours?  Is there any reason why someone should choose to do business with another firm besides yours?

Expansion of the Idea:

As I was watching the Cardinals lose the National League pennant, there was a series of commercials for an insurance company that focused on veterans.  The actors were stating how great the insurance company was because of the great service and low rates.  And it is my understanding that this company does have great service and low rates.  You might think that is worthwhile even to the point that you might consider using this company.  My problem with the advertisement is that the reason I buy insurance is not for great service and low rates.  If I don’t have the right coverage, it doesn’t matter that I received great service and low rates.  The insurance companies have gotten into a fight over low rates and that determines what is being discussed.  This becomes a race to the bottom and does not allow anyone to distinguish themselves.

This is true for most of our businesses.  Too often we are comparing two companies by price instead of what we really need.  We let other companies dictate how to compare our businesses instead of us controlling our marketing message.  This shows up in the following situations:

  • A CPA firm losing business because another firm promises lower tax bills even though it will cost twice as much in the long run.
  • A distributor who is compared based on freight policy, yet they are the only ones who consistently have the inventory in stock.
  • An HVAC service company who is compared on stated prices for work even though the competitor does shoddy work that takes two years off the useful life of the equipment.

All of us are in competition.  Unless we control the narratives, then we will be compared based on what our competitors are doing or based on what our customers think about our products and services.  We will be judged by the wrong standards.

To avoid being judged by erroneous standards, we have to be clear on the proper standards.  This is not easy to develop because some aspects may be difficult to articulate.  However, if we think about process and outcome, we will eventually get where we need to be.  If we have better processes and we can produce better outcomes, our customers will be better served.  It is our responsibility to do a better job of explaining how looking at longer term horizons or the quality of the processes is actually better for the customers.  If we go back to the original example of the insurance company, we will agree that the price is completely irrelevant if we have the wrong coverage.  It is acceptable to charge a little more for this because the customer gets certainty.  Additionally, in this case we eliminate risk, which is the ultimate purpose of insurance.

What is the purpose of your business?

Are you judged accordingly?

Next Steps

  1. Define what business you really are in.
  2. Brainstorm how you communicate it to your customers.
  3. Evaluate how well you live out your purpose.
  4. Clean up any systems that are not aligned with your purpose.

September 27, 2019 – Why Do Some People Have So Much Talent?

Posted on | September 27, 2019 | No Comments

Main Idea:

Are you amazed by how much talent some people have?  Do you sometimes wonder how one musician can play so many different instruments well?  How can a baseball player hit a pitch that is traveling at 100 miles per hour?  Why is someone blessed to speak in public with such clarity and passion that everyone drops what they are doing and listens?  Why do some business people attract the best customers and team members?

Expansion of the Idea:

For the last two weeks, PBS has been broadcasting the Ken Burns documentary on Country Music.  It is an interesting look at the development of country music over the past 100 years or so.  I have watched a little of it.  My wife has been glued to the TV.  (She is a little more musically gifted than me.)  What is interesting to me is the development of the music stars professionally and, more importantly, the development of their musical abilities.  These performers are at the top of their professions.

The problem is that it is too easy for us to look at them with complete awe and maybe a little jealousy.  We may look at a music star and wish we had their talent.  (Considering how so many of them have failing marriages and addiction issues, I am not sure we really want to switch places.)  While they have huge amounts of talent, they have that because of a few factors.

  • They were wired with musical gifts
  • They were in environments where those gifts were nurtured
  • They worked like crazy to develop them.

The funny thing is that, if you look at ourselves and the people in our businesses, we are not that different from the music stars.  We may not be in professions where we can make millions of dollars.  But we are wired with some intrinsic and unique gifts and talents.  We can nurture those gifts and talents.  And we can work like crazy to develop those.

Think about the following list and rate yourself on your natural ability and how much you have developed yourself.  Do the same for your team members.

  • Listening
  • Serving
  • Managing
  • Leading
  • Problem solving
  • Creativity
  • Caring & Empathy
  • Writing
  • Speaking
  • Sales
  • Training & Development of Others
  • Grit
  • Delegation
  • Systemization
  • Professional Skills (CPA, attorney, etc.)
  • Planning

All of us have some skills that can be classified as good, some great. Should they be developed?  Do we need to learn new skills?  Can we get to where we want to be in our businesses with our skill sets where they are right now?

When I look back at what I have been given in the way of skills, I am thankful.  Yet I also know that it absolutely critical that I spend as much time as possible developing what I have been given to get to the next level.  This will help me personally and my business.  As Thomas Edison said:

Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

What do you have to work on?

Next Steps

  1. From the above list, decide which skills are necessary in your business.
  2. Rate yourself in each of the critical skills
  3. Develop a plan for improvement.
  4. Discuss this with your team and help them develop their own plan.

August 2, 2019 – Do You Have Any Margin For Error?

Posted on | August 2, 2019 | No Comments

Main Idea:

When you get up in the morning, is your day completely full?  When you go on vacation, is everyday crammed full of activities?  Are your team members so overloaded with work that they remind you of a juggler with 10 balls in the air?  If you are in retail, are your aisles so full that customers can barely get through?  Does your website show every possible product or service you offer which makes it difficult for your customer to navigate?

Expansion of the Idea:

Yesterday, my car was involved in an accident.  No, I was not driving it. I was filling it up at the gas station and I saw the accident develop in slow motion.  I kept thinking the guy would stop backing up but he kept going.  It wasn’t a big deal and the guy got out of his car, acknowledged that it was his fault and said he didn’t know why hit my car.  He did say that he was worried about the two cars on either side of him because they were so close.  I told him that when I pulled into the spot for getting gas, I noticed that this was the poorest design of a gas station that I had ever seen.  (The station is probably less than 3 months old.)  I intentionally did not pull forward as far as I normally would because I could tell that the front spaces were too close to the pumps.  As I was pumping gas, I kept thinking that I just wanted to get out of there before I was in an accident.

In the grand scheme of things this is a minor irritant.  However, I started thinking about how the owners designed the station so that they could maximize their income.  It wasn’t the owners of the station that backed into my car.  Yet they designed the station without much regard for their customers.  Accidents must be a daily ritual.  In fact, the concrete posts that guard the pumps had already been hit with some force as they were leaning towards the pumps and the concrete was broken up.  I know I would never go back to this station.  This event further taints this particular brand which doesn’t have the best reputation anyway.  I will probably never use this brand again.  They have cut corners and focused too much on maximizing their income at their customers expense.

This brings up a bigger issue for all of us.  All of us are guilty of some of the same issues that the gas station owners were guilty of.  We try to cram too much into our businesses, our lives and our people.  I face this issue every day and every year when I decide whether to accept a new client or not.  I need new clients but I have to be careful about how much time they will consume during tax season.  There is a tension here between looking for new business and not getting greedy.  I know that I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that I am here to serve my customers.

This is also true for us at a personal level.  We need to grow and learn new things.  But we also have some capacity issues based on what is going on in our lives.  You can’t commit to handling more work unless you already have capacity or you know how you are going to get rid of current work.  Currently a lot of businesses are struggling to find employees.  We can’t keep throwing more work on our team members or else we are going to push them out even faster.  We must have honest discussions about work levels with our team members so that we can provide the right environment for growth.

Finding the right balance in our approach to business is critical.  We have to be aggressive and look to grow.  At the same time, we have to make sure that we are focused on our customers and team members.  We need to make sure that our businesses are easy to deal with and great to work for. This is an area that we will always need to be reviewing.  When we get the right amount of tension, we will find our true path forward.

Next Steps

  1. Do you have any margin in your schedule?  If not, brainstorm how to fix that.
  2. Are your team members stretched too thin?  Discuss this with your key team members and decide if there is anything that should change.
  3. Are there areas of your business that you have crammed too much into?  This could be inventory, physical layout or service commitments.  If so, brainstorm with your team on how to fix this.
  4. Are you focused on serving your customers or yourselves?  Discuss this with your team to see if there are things you should change.

July 19, 2019 – What Can Prevent Your Success?

Posted on | July 19, 2019 | No Comments

Main Idea:

Are there specific events that could prevent your success?  Are there things that you have done or haven’t done in the past that will turn up in the future with uncertain consequences?  Have you ignored the practices that made you successful in the past?  Have you overlooked the people that have helped you in the past?

Expansion of the Idea:

This has been an interesting week.  I have noticed several situations with my firm and also with clients where some problems have surfaced that need to be dealt with immediately.  It wasn’t a good time to deal with them. As a result, you ended up doing something that won’t help grow your business.  In my situation, I might end up doing some work and not getting paid for it.  This is not the end of the world and I will recover.  However, if I had acted proactively over the last 24 months, I would not have this issue.  All of us are so focused on growth and marketing and getting sales out the door that we don’t notice some of the cracks in the walls of our businesses.

This is very natural and even the best run businesses have this issue occasionally.  Systems are designed for certain volume levels or for certain periods.  Technology, people, the world, customers and everything else are changing rapidly.  When we don’t have our foundations right, then these cracks get bigger and bigger and end up demanding time and money at normally the wrong time.

Here are a few of the areas that can come back and hurt you:

  • Employees
  • Customers
  • Product offerings
  • Operating systems
  • Marketing
  • Technology
    • Computer systems
    • Email and communications
    • Social media
  • Investment decisions
  • Spending
  • Management discipline
  • Business planning

There are probably another 50 specific issues for you and your business.  You know you don’t invest enough time in some of these areas.  In other areas, you aren’t aware of the issues that are building.  As you get busy some things are set aside with the idea that you will come back to them which rarely happens.

There isn’t a right answer in all of this.  Each of us has to make daily decisions on how to spend our time and money.   There are always tradeoffs.  There isn’t enough time and money to do everything.  The big idea is that you should have enough margin in your schedule so that you can consciously make these decisions from a place of strength and not out of emergency.  When we do the planning, we will make bad decisions occasionally but we can normally correct them going forward with minimal damage to us and our businesses.  If we can reduce the things that are holding us back, frequently our businesses will soar like a balloon when we let go.

Next Steps

  1. Review the above list and decide if there are any areas that are screaming for attention
  2. Discuss this with your team.
  3. Take 5 minutes to plan the rest of the day.
  4. Try to set aside an hour a week to plan for the upcoming week.

June 6, 2019 – Apparently There Is a Word That Will Cost You Customers!!!

Posted on | June 5, 2019 | No Comments

Main Idea:

What happens when you look at your business from the outside?  What do others think of your business?  Do people feel good referring your business to their friends?  Have you asked your customers what they hate about your industry?

Expansion of the Idea:

Last week I wrote about a word that I definitely don’t want my clients thinking about.  My word is surprise.  I don’t want clients to be surprised, unless it is a pleasant surprise from an idea that worked better than we thought it would.  I suggested that everyone would benefit from looking at their business from the customers point of view.  There are some very interesting insights from that.  I got several great responses to the idea.

The best response came from Sarah Wolk, a wealth advisor with Mosaic Wealth Management.  She came up with the following responses to the 10 challenge companies.

  1. Apple: Out-of-date
  2. Fedex/UPS: Late
  3. Auto Dealership: pushy
  4. Bank: Understaffed
  5. Retail Store: Overpriced
  6. Church: Judgmental
  7. Lawyer: Dishonest
  8. Insurance Agent: Uneducated
  9. Landscaping Company: Late
  10. Medical Office: Dirty

You may disagree with her answers but they are a great start in identifying impressions that those businesses don’t want to leave.  You might look at her initial ideas and then come up with a better answer.  That is the benefit of multiple people participating in the exercise.  One of my clients was going to get his team together to do the exercise for their business.

When we can get our team together to look at our business from our customers point of view, you almost have to succeed.  This is what Stephen Covey calls Quadrant II time.  You are working on important but not urgent matters.  All planning goes into this quadrant.  This will save a lot of time later because you are better prepared for what life throws at you.  Anything you do along these lines will help your business provide better customer service, provide better focus for your team, and eliminate the focus on ourselves which creates a lot of our problems.

If any of you want to overachieve, what would happen if you looked at your business from your employee’s point of view?  How can you better serve your employees so that they can better serve your customers?  I am talking about becoming a better servant leader.  When we serve our employees and our customers, we are going to be more successful.  We can’t serve them unless we know what they want and what they don’t want.  The less we focus on ourselves, the better off we will be.  This is one of those counter-intuitive truths of life.  Try it for a week and see what results you get.

Next Steps

  1. Discuss with your team the idea of being a servant leader
  2. Ask for input on how you can improve.
  3. Talk to your customers about what you can do to improve your services.
  4. Continue to brainstorm with your team on the negative word you don’t want your customers to think as well as the positive word that you want them to think.

May 31, 2019 – Is There a Word that Will Cost You Customers?

Posted on | May 31, 2019 | No Comments

Do you know why you lose business?  Have you talked to customers after they have decided not to do business with you in the future?  Are there common reasons why people choose to do business with your competitor across the street?

Expansion of the Idea:

Earlier this week, I went into a fast food restaurant.  While I was walking across the lobby, I could feel my shoes slide.  I knew instantly that the floor was dirty and greasy.  (I would guess that they didn’t have clean water when they washed the floor.)  The service was slow but eventually I got the food and went home.  I was contemplating this operation because it is a brand new store.  I do not understand why a business owner would invest a significant amount of money in a new building and then let the store get dirty.  I suspect that it was cheaper to build a new building than to clean the previous location which was closed shortly before this one was open.  I have no real intention of going back there.  Who wants to go to a restaurant that is dirty?

I started thinking about whether there is a word or two or a phrase that summarizes why we lose business.  This word is normally tied to either a key frustration or a core value that would operate as a boundary for how the business operates.  As I thought about different industries and businesses, I could come up with one pretty quickly.  For a restaurant, dirty is at the top of the list.  For my business, surprise is the word.  My clients do not want and can’t afford to have surprises.  Whenever my clients end up with a surprise, I end up with a client who is at risk for leaving.

By naming this word or phrase, I can also fine tune my operations and service offering.  This can be a unique selling proposition or it may just be a boundary.  Because I am concerned with clients having surprises, I have set up systems to reduce and hopefully eliminate the surprises.  All of my service offerings are geared towards clients not having surprises.  Now if a client does have a surprise, it generally is because they have decided not to look at their financial statements proactively.  I cannot control what clients do but I can make sure that I do everything I can to help them towards the right solution.

The obvious question for you is whether there is a word or phrase that is an almost automatic trigger for your customers to leave you. If there is, then what systems need to be in place to make sure it doesn’t get used.  And if you have the systems in place, when was the last time you checked to make sure that they were working properly.  When you get clarity on this and can simplify it, then it is easier to discuss with your team.  My team knows that we don’t want clients to have surprises.  While this may not be my ultimate goal in providing services, it is a good starting point.  If we don’t get this right, then we normally won’t be able to do the more advanced services that really help our clients achieve their goals.

Next Steps

  1. Brainstorm with your team regarding words that you don’t want your clients thinking.
  2. Identify one or two words or phrases that you want to eliminate.
  3. Discuss and evaluate your systems to ensure that you can deliver great service to your customers.
  4. If you are struggling in identifying a word for your business, try to identify the word for the following businesses and send them to me:
    1. Apple
    2. Fedex/UPS
    3. Auto Dealership
    4. Bank
    5. Retail Store
    6. Church
    7. Lawyer
    8. Insurance Agent
    9. Landscaping Company
    10. Medical Office

May 17, 2019 – Why Are We Struggling to Keep Team Members?

Posted on | May 17, 2019 | No Comments

Main Idea:

Are you struggling to keep team members?  Do you have the right team?  Are you afraid to let someone go because you don’t think you will be able to replace them?  Have you been clear what you expect from your team?  Do you understand what they expect from you?

Expansion of the Idea:

As some of you know, I am a member of a group of CPA’s that meet a few times a year to discuss best practices, new ideas, and better ways to serve our clients.  We met last week and we had a new member that was considering becoming part of our group.  As we discussed personal and group expectations, I threw out that everything could be summarized by the 3 C’s; commitment, contribution and communication.  If everyone is truly committed to helping others, is contributing to the group, and is communicating good and bad in a positive way, then the group should be functional and helping all of us move forward.

That made perfect sense to me.  However, as I thought about it over the last week, the 3 C’s pretty well sum up what is needed in our interactions with our team members.  We want team members who are committed to the business or organization.  They need to be contributing to the results that are being produced.  And they need to communicate with us.  They have to tell us when there are problems and they have to tell us where good things are happening and how we can push more in that area.

The funny thing is that these principles work in reverse also.  Most employees leave because they want to escape a boss.  What would happen if the bosses were completely committed to helping their team members?  Or what would the employees feel like if the bosses focused on helping develop the team members for a better position, even if it is working for a new company?  What would happen to the culture if there was open and honest communication between the bosses and the employees?

There is some honest debate over whether you should place customers before employees or place employees over customers.  You can make arguments both ways.  What I do know is that all of us can improve our relationships with our employees and our bosses.  We are at work for a significant chunk of our week.  There is no reason why we can’t help each other improve and make a great place to work.  When we do that, our customers will notice and that will lift our business.

Next Steps

  1. Discuss the 3 C’s with your team.
  2. If you are the boss, evaluate your commitment, contribution and communication with your team.
  3. If you are part of the team, evaluate your commitment, contribution and communication with your boss.
  4. Then put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and do the same evaluation.
  5. Make an action plan on what you need to improve.

May 3, 2019 – What Are You Consistently Failing to Do?

Posted on | May 3, 2019 | No Comments

Main Idea:

Do you know what activities you need to do to succeed?  Do you know what activities you need to do to live a healthy life?  Are there relationships that you need to invest in?  Is your waistline growing instead of your business?

Expansion of the Idea:

I am going to admit upfront that that I know it is ironic that I am talking about consistency in a weekly idea that I haven’t sent out for two months.  I really only have two goals every year that are based solely on my own efforts.  One is to send out the weekly idea every week and the other is to get to the gym every week.  The last few months have not been good for either goal.  Tax season gets in the way.  Throw in an IRS audit and a few other issues and all of a sudden you haven’t accomplished what you want to do.  The urgent takes precedent over the important.

I know that I need to send out weekly ideas to stay in touch with clients and referral sources.  I have identified the weekly ideas as critical for my marketing success.  The effect of not sending out the weekly idea is felt three or four months later when I don’t get referrals or clients don’t ask additional questions about their businesses.   The weekly ideas have zero impact on my current business but have a significant impact on my future.

The same is true for most of our businesses.  There are practices that you employed when you were building your business that slip away over time.  As you get busier you lose touch with the customer or with follow up.  This can show up in marketing, employee training and coaching, customer service, management and any of a million areas in your business.  We need to identify the right practices and systems and then we need to consistently employ them.

Consistency is the reason you go to your favorite restaurant or order online from Amazon.  You know what you will get.  Occasionally they will exceed your expectations.  Even if they just do a consistent job, you will probably go back.  Consistency creates loyal customers.

Most of us have our routines and our lives are going fairly well.  The question is how to improve them.  Consistency in certain areas is one way.  The two areas that I know I need to be consistent in are actually the two areas of my life that I either find hardest to do or don’t like to do.  (You can guess which is which.)  However, these are holding me back because they are impacting my future. Therefore, I am committed to try to fix my shortcomings.

What areas of your business or your life need improvement?

Next Steps

  1. What are the areas of your business that you don’t like to address?
  2. What are the areas of your business that you don’t understand?
  3. Make a list of 2 or 3 things that you need to focus on.
  4. Pick one of those and determine to make it a habit over the next 3 months.
  5. Repeat every 3 months.

February 22, 2019 – Do I Need a Personal Budget?

Posted on | February 22, 2019 | No Comments

Main Idea:

Do you have a personal budget?  Do you have a personal financial plan?  When you need extra money, do you pull it from the business?  Do you frequently have surprises personally?  Is managing your personal finances like playing “Whack a Mole” at Chuck E Cheese?  Is it important to pay yourself first in your business?

Expansion of the Idea:

The last few weeks I have been focused on budgets.  First it was on budgets for the business.  A couple of weeks ago I wrote about budgeting your time.  The last main area for budgets is your personal finances.  This is often overlooked when business owners try to build successful businesses.  However, frequently personal financial decisions can make or break the business.  This happens so quietly and incrementally that you don’t realize it.  And then you buy the place at the lake or significantly upgrade your house.  All of a sudden, your personal cash demands have increased.  That happens at the exact time when you are facing a temporary downturn in the business.

I see this all the time.  I have known several businesses that were killed because the owner’s spending created cash flow issues for the business.  Business owners recognize it but only after they have an issue.  Too often they get caught up in the marketing messages for buying stuff.  I also hear business owners talk about paying themselves first.  I know that there are business gurus who talk about that and they are just wrong.  It creates cash flow issues and focuses on the short term as opposed to the long term.

What is the right thing to do?

Successful business owners do a couple of things that are critical for success.

  1. They build a company that works well.
  2. During the building process, they identify their personal cash needs and plan for those.
  3. They stick to their personal cash flow budget.
  4. As the business generates excess cash, they are intentional about how it is used.
  5. They build a solid financial cushion at the business.
  6. They build a solid financial cushion in their personal finances.

You might think that the above items are too simple and don’t reflect reality.  However, to the extent you can build margin in your finances in your business and in your personal finances, it gives you flexibility when you have challenges.  Ideally you want to have a cushion in both the business and in your personal finances.  All of us have issues with college tuition, economy, loss of a big customer, regulatory issue, IRS and taxes, and a whole host of other things that can derail us.  We have to create the cushion in our lives so that these problems don’t kill our businesses.  And on the upside, by having a cushion, you are prepared to handle the opportunity when you might be able to buy a competitor or a new product line that could dramatically increase your business.

All of us are looking for a higher quality of life.  Sometimes delaying gratification is the most important thing we can do.  It will lead to a life that achieves all of your goals.

Next Steps

  1. Evaluate your personal budget.
  2. Evaluate your financial plan.
  3. Identify weaknesses in your plan.
  4. Identify 3 things that you can do to improve your finances.

If you still have doubts, read about the Stanford marshmallow test and what happened to those kids who delayed gratification.

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  • About

    These weekly ideas are brought to you by FitzGerald & FitzGerald P.C. For more information about how to use these ideas with your small business contact Tim FitzGerald at trfitz@fitz-net.com.