Weekly Business Idea

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.

February 8, 2019 – Should I Budget My Time?

Posted on | February 8, 2019 | No Comments

Main Idea:

How are you planning on spending your day?  Do you write it down?  Do you frequently get to the end of the day and wonder what you did that day?  Do you ever have time to do the planning that you need to do?  Is your life one interruption after another?

Expansion of the Idea:

Last week I wrote why I thought budgets were a necessary part of running a business.  This week I want to make the case for budgeting your time.  These are two different aspects of creating the future that you want.  You cannot achieve your goals, either business or personal, if you do not provide enough resources.  Resources can be time or money and frequently it is both.  The beauty of time is that we all have the same amount.  Our results are determined by how we use our time.  Every day and every week, each of us has to answer the same question:

What am I going to do today?

The point is that we either have a plan or nature will take over.  If you have ever cleared some ground in your yard to plant a garden, you understand what will happen if you don’t implement your plan immediately.  Weeds will start growing.  You have to go back and clear those.  The same is true with our time.  If we don’t have a plan, we will end up with a lot of wasted time because we allow the weeds in our businesses to take over.

About two years ago, I started planning the following week on Friday afternoons.  I have a tool that I use for this and it has some default scheduling options.  I blend in the appointments that I have scheduled and then think through what is critical for me to accomplish that week.  During tax season, the business part is pretty easy to schedule because I get backlogged with tax returns.  When I am really busy, the harder part is the personal side, such as spending time with my wife or family, or working out.  During the slower times, my personal schedule is pretty easy but it is harder to stay intentional about doing some longer-term business projects.  The point is that whether I am busy or not, I find it helpful to take the time to budget my time.

The other part of preparing a schedule or budget for my time is that at the end of the week, I can look back and see what I accomplished.  I normally find that I don’t do exactly what I budgeted because things don’t go exactly as planned.  However, I normally find that I accomplished most of my bigger objectives for the week.   This also allows me to think about why I didn’t accomplish something and whether I need to make adjustments in the business.  Sometimes, you just can’t control what happens and you move on to the next week.  But sometimes, you see some recurring issues that allow you to take major steps forward.  Because time is a boundary, you might realize that you are spending time on something that is unnecessary or is no longer fruitful.  Or you might realize that better systems would allow you to accomplish your goals.  Or maybe, you might be able to delegate some duties and raise your team.

The whole process of budgeting time and evaluating the previous week doesn’t take much time.  The insights and accountability provide a great return on that investment.   Peter Drucker writes about time in his book The Effective Executive.  He says:

Effective executives know that time is the limiting factor.  The output limits of any process are set by the scarcest resource.  In the process we call “accomplishment”, this is time.

Next Steps

  1. Try setting a time budget or schedule for your next week.
  2. Keep track of what you work on during the week.
  3. At the end of a week, evaluate what you worked on and what you accomplished.
  4. What new things did you learn by doing this process?

February 1, 2019 – Are Budgets Really Necessary?

Posted on | February 1, 2019 | No Comments

Main Idea:

Do you have a budget for your business?  Do you budget your time? Are you achieving your goals?  Do you have a clearly articulated strategy for the business?  Are you planning on doing anything different this year

Expansion of the Idea:

The term “Budget” is generally viewed as a negative word.  Budgets are viewed as nasty, time draining exercises that some accountant is saying needs to be done.  If it is done at all, it is done annually and then put away until next year.  Most small business owners don’t do budgets because they don’t feel that there is a benefit of going through that exercise.  And on a personal level, most people don’t budget their time or money because they don’t have the time and they won’t like the results.  Budgets have the same general appeal as getting a root canal.  We only really do them if we have to.

I think the starting point is to redefine the purpose of creating a budget.  A budget is not a system of restraints.  Instead we should look at it as a road map for implementing our strategy. Obviously, we need to know what our strategy is for competing in the upcoming year.  This is an overlooked part of the budget process.  It is the reason why the focus on budgeting generally is on numbers and is a nuisance.  When you start with clearly defining your strategy for the upcoming year, then the budgeting process flows out of that.

To begin with, you and your organization have to be clear on your strategy.  You need to think about questions like these:

  • Are you selling to a broad customer base or a specialized niche?
  • How does your pricing compare with your competitors?
  • Are you selling direct to your customers or through middlemen?
  • How are you marketing your product or service?
  • How are you distinguishing your product or service from your competitors?
  • How are you managing your business?
  • Are you in a growth mode or maintenance mode?

There are a number of other questions you can ask.  The point is that you need to be clear on your strategy because your strategy dictates where and how you spend resources.  This is the beginning of your budget.  If you start with budgeting the types of sales and what your margin is on those sales, then you have to decide how you are going to achieve those goals.  You can then define your marketing and sales plan.  From there you need to look at capital budgets, administrative and other overhead.  Everything should be geared to making sure that you can sell according to your budget and have sufficient resources to service that level of sales.  While this can take a little bit of time, it is less than you think.  And more importantly it helps maximize your year.

A lot of people are uncomfortable with this process because it creates accountability.  Instead, it provides the road map to run the business.  We cannot possibly know the future.  We have to constantly adapt.  By thinking through the budgeting process, we are in the best position to thrive in this current business environment.

Next Steps

  1. Evaluate (or start) your budgeting process.
  2. Discuss with your team on how to improve the process.
  3. Make it fun.

January 18, 2019 – Are You Fully Present?

Posted on | January 18, 2019 | No Comments

Main Idea:

When you are in meetings does your attention drift?  Do you constantly want to check your email?  If you get a phone call when you are talking to someone else do you take it?  Do you look at your phone when it dings because someone posted a new cat video on Facebook?

Expansion of the Idea:

I was reminded at a meeting this morning about the need for being fully present in all situations.  This is something that I think most people suffer from.  And I think it is getting worse.  Cell phones and social media encourage multitasking even though science has proven that multitasking doesn’t work.  But the problem is bigger than just getting a phone call during a meeting.  I know I struggle with focus at this time of the year.  I have so many issues that need immediate attention.  It is easy to get overwhelmed by the workload.  The net result is that my attention can drift and requires me to work at focusing on whatever the current job is.

The cost of not being present can be hidden but is much larger than you think.  It can result in any or all of the following:

  • Lost sales
  • Employee turnover
  • Employee disengagement (which might be worse than turnover)
  • Wasted time
  • Inability to finish projects
  • Missing out on opportunities
  • Failed relationships

You can probably add another 10 or 20 items to the above list. This is an issue in the workforce as well as in our personal lives.  When we fix the problem our lives change.

We first have to identify the problem and then articulate what we want.  That starts with defining “being present”.  Being present means that you are actively interested in the current situation, whatever that is.  If you are talking to an employee then that employee deserves all of your attention.  If you are working on a presentation, then you should be fully focused on the presentation, not worrying about your to do list or checking social media.  When I say “fully”, I mean that our conscious and subconscious minds are focused.  This will only work if we want to be present.  This is the real hard part.  We may have a meeting that we don’t want to attend.  If you are not going to be fully present, then you would be better off not going.  This shows honesty and integrity.  If you attend, you need to decide that you are going to give it your best effort.

The impact of being fully present is improved relationships with your team, your customers, your spouses and anyone you are in contact with.  If we are fully present when working, our work product will be better.  The only problem will be to decide how to use all of the time that has been freed up because we are so much more effective.

Next Steps

  1. Talk to your team about this issue
  2. Look at your systems to see how they contribute to the problem
  3. Define what meetings and interactions should look like
  4. Encourage your team to create more focused meetings.

November 30, 2018 – Do You Have the Right Skillsets for 2019?

Posted on | November 30, 2018 | No Comments

Main Idea:

Do you ever feel like you are half a step off from your business or your customers?  Is your business moving faster than you are?  Do your customers expect more than you are able to deliver?  Do you have a plan for continuous improvement?  Does your team have a plan also?

Expansion of the Idea:

Change is continually happening.  None of us are doing our work in the same way we did it 20 years ago.  Some of us are doing things that didn’t exist 20 years ago.  I am continually amazed at the new software and ideas that help us manage our businesses or present ideas.  With all of the change going on, it is hard to keep up with the new things going on in our business.  Adding new skills is almost impossible. Yet that is what most of us need to do in order to compete in the future.

Danny Meyer runs a series of very successful restaurants in New York City.  He wrote a book called “Setting the Table”.  One of the most interesting ideas concerns his employee philosophy.  When they hire and later when they evaluate employees, 51% of the evaluation is based on emotional hospitality and 49% on their technical skills.  Obviously, they are in the hospitality business but I think all of us are in that business at some level.

His definition of emotional hospitality includes 5 things.  They are:

  • Optimistic warmth
  • Intelligence, including curiosity
  • Work ethic
  • Empathy
  • Self-awareness and integrity

Too often we focus on the technical sides of our businesses and not enough on the intangible parts.  I really like all 5 characteristics.  I was really drawn to the emphasis on curiosity and self-awareness.  I think it will lead to some interesting discoveries.  Developing self-awareness is extremely hard to do.  Yet it can be done by using curiosity, learning and feedback.  When we can develop self-awareness, we know what we can do and what we can’t.  Then we can bring in those skills or knowledge that we don’t possess.  That allows us and our businesses to flourish.  I know most of us don’t take time for self-reflection.  Yet, when we do and allow our curiosity and self-awareness to take over, we can develop the plans and skills to be successful next year and in the future.

What would happen to our businesses if all of us and our employees had these 5 characteristics? 

Next Steps

  1. Read Danny Meyer’s book “Setting the Table”
  2. Develop your own list of intangibles that are critical for you
  3. Evaluate your skills against the intangible list
  4. Get feedback from your team on your skills
  5. Develop an action plan for improvement for 2019

November 16, 2018 – Do You Worry?

Posted on | November 16, 2018 | No Comments

Main Idea:

Is your business cruising along without any problems?  Are you having trouble hiring people?  Are you struggling with your marketing efforts?  Are your customers taking longer to buy your products or services?  Are they slower paying you?  Are the international markets impacting your supply chain?

Expansion of the Idea:

Currently, the economy is doing well.  Unemployment is almost nonexistent.  Interest rates are still historically low.  And yet, business owners lose a lot of sleep worrying about different factors.  I have had a number of discussions with business owners over the past year where they were worried about different things.  For some, business is going well and they are worried it won’t last.  Others need to find new employees.  Some are worried about their market because of the changes in online purchasing.  And almost all business owners worry about taxes and cash flow.

The problem with worrying is that it is a very negative emotion.  When you worry about a problem, you are actively preventing yourself from solving the problem.  You lose creativity and objectiveness.  Your mind dwells on the problem and cannot break lose to try and solve it.  And frequently, you are worrying about something that isn’t really a problem.  You think it might be a problem sometime in the future.

If you are stuck worrying about something, how do you break loose from that mindset?

There are probably a number of ways to stop worrying.  However, one way that has helped me is to focus on being thankful.  When we are thankful, we are in a completely different mindset.  We see abundance in the world as opposed to scarcity.  We are appreciative for what we do have, and we don’t worry about what we don’t have.  We can think of possibilities and potential.  We can brainstorm.  We can look to the future as opposed to worrying about what we might lose.  Thankfulness allows us to be positive and proactive.  Even though we may have some problems in our businesses, we can still look at options.

Thankfulness has one other benefit.  It allows us to connect to others.   All of us would much rather be around someone who is thankful versus someone who is worried about everything.  When we are connected to others, the quality of our decisions is improved exponentially.  When we make better decisions, our businesses and our personal lives will be better.  And there will be more to be thankful for.  It is a positive cycle.

As we look to Thanksgiving next week, I would encourage you to write out a list of things you are thankful for.  I know I have been extremely blessed with family and friends.  I also have been extremely blessed by association with my clients and referral sources.  I am very thankful for all of you.

Have a great Thanksgiving.  Instead of moaning about cousin Eddie, be thankful.  It will make all the difference.

November 2, 2018 – Do You Believe Anything You Hear?

Posted on | November 2, 2018 | No Comments

Main Idea:

How many marketing messages do you get in a normal day?  What do you think when you get an offer from someone you have never heard of?  Do you toss it immediately?  Have you ever received an offer for something that you needed and then were completely disappointed when you tried the product or service?

Expansion of the Idea:

Every day all of us are bombarded with tons of information and data.  Right now, it is especially bad.  The elections are in a week and it seems that every commercial is a political one.  Millions of dollars are being spent and almost no one believes anything that is being said on either side.

Most of us don’t trust political advertising because it doesn’t match reality.  I think it is frequently the same problem for businesses.  Their online marketing or flyers imply one level of service but the reality is something completely different.  This creates a disconnect between the businesses and their customers.  As a result, they spend all of their time and money getting customers to try their product but they never lock in the customers.  This leads to the obvious question.

Does our marketing message line up with what we are actually delivering to our customers?  And if it doesn’t line up, what do we need to do about it?

Our marketing messages are critical for our businesses.  They need to be creative in their presentation but not creative with the facts.  However, our actions and service delivery are more critical to being successful.  Actions and systems tell people a lot more than anything words can convey.  We want to create customers for life.  If someone tells me what they are going to do, and then does it, trust is created.  In future transactions, I will believe them.  The next interaction may be a bigger purchase.  My family has had great experiences with a certain brand of automobile.  They have been extremely reliable.  We probably won’t even look at another brand until we have a problem.  When people return your calls promptly you make a mental note.  You expect them to continue to do so.  It shows you that they care.  All of the service and product delivery issues need to be thought through so that the customer receives exactly what we promised (and maybe a little more).

Occasionally we end up with a mismatch where we are providing a real high level of product or service but we aren’t adequately describing it in our marketing materials.  This hurts us because we would acquire more business if potential customers knew exactly what we do.  Either way, it makes sense to compare our product and service delivery with what we are telling customers.

Next Steps

  1. Evaluate what you are promising your potential customers.
  2. Ask your customers about your marketing collateral and whether you are fully delivering value.
  3. Brainstorm with your team to look at your systems through your customers eyes.
  4. Follow up on any ideas.

October 26, 2018 – Is Coffee Better in a Mug or a Yeti?

Posted on | October 26, 2018 | No Comments

Main Idea:

Are your sales process efficient and oriented towards completing the transaction?  Do you know what your customers are experiencing when they buy your products or services?  Should your customers feel something or is giving them a good product in exchange for money enough? What do you want them to experience?

Expansion of the Idea:

A few years ago, my brother gave me a Yeti for my birthday.  Yeti’s are amazing.  They will keep coffee hot or drinks cold for a long time.  I don’t know how they do what they do but it is phenomenal.  However, the other day I was reminded of something that I miss when I am using the Yeti.  If you like coffee, the smell is probably part of the experience.  It may not be the main thing but it is something that I like.

This led me to think about our small businesses.  Too often, we focus on efficiencies and metrics, and we miss the little extras. These extras could be something as simple as the smell in your office.  I know real estate agents will frequently advise home sellers to bake bread prior to having an open house.  The freshly baked bread smell helps create positive impressions of the house.  Sometimes, extras could be a giveaway.  Insurance agents frequently give away calendars and travel guides.  This might seem stupid in today’s environment of everything being on our phone, but some people like those extras.  In my case, I do one thing with tax returns that I believe has helped with client retention.  If a client owes money and it is unexpected, I call them to explain what happened.  This helps them get control of the situation.  I know I am not perfect in providing service.  The act of calling clients shows them that I do care and I am trying to help them.

Customers buy from us for a lot of different reasons.  In today’s environment of having to compete with businesses across the globe, it is too easy to focus on cutting costs and improving efficiencies.  Obviously, we need to be as efficient as possible.  However, this is one of the areas that we can differentiate ourselves from our competitors.  Our customers have a lot of choices for where they can get the products and services we sell.  Adding a smile to the interaction or doing something to personalize the experience may not cost much, if anything, but can mean all the difference.  And if you doubt that, consider how far Southwest Airlines has gone with their primary differentiator being the friendliness of their people.  As much as the other airlines try, they don’t seem to be able to match that.

Creating shared experiences can help cement relationships.  If you provide that little extra, it is cheaper than trying to get new customers and you can have a lot more fun in your business.  The question for you is:

What is your extra?

 Questions to Ponder

  1. Have you been running your business efficiently?
  2. Do you manage your business by metrics?
  3. Do customers get a good feeling when they deal with you?
  4. Do you have a high retention rate?
  5. Is there something that you can add to the service that would be valued by the customer and won’t cost you a lot of money?
keep looking »
  • 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.