Weekly Business Idea

March 16, 2018 – Do You Know Where You Want to Go?

Posted on | March 16, 2018 | No Comments

Main Idea:

Are you prepared for the year?  Is your team ready?  Do you have the skills necessary to win?  Do you have the balance and endurance to make it?  Do you have a good cash flow plan?

Expansion of the Idea:

This weekend is one of the most exciting weekends of the year for sports fans.  Of course, I am talking about the NCAA basketball tournament.  Even casual fans get excited because generally the games are very good, the big guys lose, and no one really knows who will win the tournament.  After one day there have been a couple of upsets.  I suspect that there will be a number of surprises today.  That is the beauty of the tournament.  Almost anyone can win a particular game.

As soon as the tournament is over, the coaches spend the next 7 months preparing to get their team ready for next season and then for the tournament.  It is a never-ending loop of vision casting, planning, recruiting, execution, feedback and refinement.  The better coaches have more developed teams of assistants that help them with this process.  No matter how well you do all of this, there is no guarantee that it will work.  However, you do consistently see certain teams at the elite levels so you know that they are doing something right.

How does this relate to your business?

Most small business owners don’t have a finish line for the year like the NCAA basketball tournament.  However, I think we can learn a lot from certain coaches and teams in the tournament.  Whenever I talk to small business owners and ask about goals, I get a lot of different answers.  Most are pretty vague.  Very few owners and managers have specific goals for the current year and for the next three years.  Contrast that with a college basketball coach.  If you ask them what their goal is they will clearly tell you that they want to win the NCAA tournament.  There is no ambiguity.  Their team understands the goal.  Everything that they do over the next 7 months will either lead them closer to the goal or move them away from it.

What would happen if small business owners had the same clarity with their goals?  Would it be easier to develop plans?  Would you be more careful in saying yes to something that could potentially take you away from your goal?  Would you use the NO word more often to get rid of unnecessary projects or systems?  Would you fire that customer that drains resources?  Would you watch your costs closer?  Would you invest in new technology or systems?

The questions and possibilities are endless.  When we are clear on what we want and where we want to go, we make much better decisions and end up with better results.

How clear are your goals?

Here are some possible next steps:

  1. Revisit (or develop) your goals.
  2. Clarify the goals.  Make them very specific.
  3. Discuss your team’s individual goals.
  4. Make sure that they are all in sync.

March 9, 2018 – How Is Your Energy Level?

Posted on | March 9, 2018 | No Comments

Main Idea:

Do you get tired?  Does every day seem like “Groundhog Day” where you are continuously doing the same thing and not achieving any results?  When you get behind at work, do you put your head down and work harder?  When was the last time you took two days off to work on your attitude and skills?

Expansion of the Idea:

Most businesses aren’t as extreme as public accounting.  We are busy all year but there is intense pressure for three months.  Everyone wants to know their financial results or whether they owe taxes.  There is a lot of demands on my time and that of my team.  Thirty years ago, I would have just put my head down and do as many tax returns and financial statements as I could, go home and repeat it all the next day.  While this may be admirable at one level, it was also probably not as productive as it should have been.  It is hard to focus intensely for 10 to 12 hours a day for three months straight.

Is there a better way?

For the last few years, I have been able to take a few days off at the end of February and attend the Global Leadership Summit point leaders’ meetings which are generally held somewhere warm.  The meetings are really educational opportunities where I can develop as a leader.  The other significant benefit is that this whole exercise energizes me.  I like learning new things and being around people who are much smarter than me.  By taking a few days off in the middle of a long push, I am able to be more focused for the last six weeks of tax season.  This allows me to work at a higher level and keeps my endurance up.

All of us have different demands and challenges.  Owning a small business can be a challenge.  Add on being a spouse, a parent and a myriad of other duties and you can be overwhelmed.  There is never enough time in the day to do everything that you should probably be working on.  That is why taking some time off is so counterintuitive.  By pulling back from the everyday grind, we actually can be more effective in doing our basic jobs.  Stephen Covey writes about it in his great book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective Leaders.  He calls it “Sharpening the Saw”.  This is time that you are doing activities that energize you.  Some examples are:

  • Going to an educational conference such as the Global Leadership Summit
  • Going with your spouse for a long weekend vacation but do it in the middle of the week.
  • Go golfing or to the zoo
  • Read a book that you are interested in, even if it doesn’t relate to your business.

Some business activities will energize you also.  Some people might get energized by spending time planning or doing a management retreat.  The key is that you intentionally block out time to do something that energizes you.  When you intentionally energize yourself, you will help energize your team and your business.  Businesses with energy are easy to spot.  They are the ones that are thriving.

Here are some questions to consider:

  1. What is your current energy level?
  2. Do you have some time scheduled for energy renewal?
  3. Is your company culture energetic or is it lethargic?
  4. Brainstorm with your team on how to improve.

February 16, 2018 – Do You Have Courage?

Posted on | February 16, 2018 | No Comments

Main Idea:

Are you a courageous person?  Do you test the limits?  Do you agonize over decisions because you are afraid to make the wrong one?  Do you put off having difficult conversations because you are afraid of the outcome?

Expansion of the Idea:

Last weekend, my wife and I went to see “The Post”.  This movie shows the events that led to the Washington Post publishing the Pentagon Papers.  The Pentagon Papers outlined the Pentagon’s views of the Vietnam War and how it was an unwinnable war.  The papers clearly showed that each administration from Eisenhower through Nixon lied to the American public.  Publishing the papers was considered an act of treason by the Nixon White House because the papers were classified.  The movie showed the gradual change in Katherine Graham’s maturity from a Washington insider and socialite to a business executive.  (Meryl Streep as Katherine Graham and Tom Hanks as Ben Bradley were great.)

The key point of the movie was the decision to publish the papers.  Katherine Graham struggled with this decision because she was risking everything on the decision.  Her key legal and business advisors told her not to publish.  The only advisor who told her to publish was Ben Bradley.  If the courts held that she was violating national security, the paper would have been shut down, she would have lost everything and probably would have gone to jail.  This is a pretty tough decision.  Ultimately her decision was guided by two main things.

  • Purpose of the Washington Post and the press in general
  • Core values of the Washington Post

If the Post had failed to publish, it would not have continued to function as a check on government.  Katherine Graham played the decision to publish and not to publish forward and evaluated where the paper would be in both situations.  The bottom line was that there was only one outcome that was good.  And that was not completely under the paper’s control.

Most of us do not have such monumental decisions to make.  However, we are faced with tough decisions all the time.  Some of the decisions are made by us and some of the decisions are made by us not making a decision.  It can be a real problem if we don’t face reality when:

  • A key employee is not performing
  • Your biggest customer needs to be fired
  • A long time vendor needs to be changed
  • Your company had a data breach
  • Your business model isn’t working

There are numerous other examples of problems that need to be addressed.  When we make tough decisions sooner rather than later, we normally end up in a better place.  This also builds decision making muscles.  It gets easier once we start doing the right things.

There are a couple of keys to making courageous decisions.  One is making sure you are getting good advice from your advisors.  And the second is to make sure you are connected to others.  Henry Cloud talks about this in his book, The Power of the Other.  When we are connected to others and not isolated, our decisions are significantly better.  Katherine Graham had great advisors who were focused on her.  Even though they didn’t all agree, she was able to gather a variety of viewpoints.  She also knew that they were in it with her.  That makes a huge difference in her ability to make quality decisions.  By doing it right, she saved the paper and shortened the Vietnam War.

What action or decision are you putting off?

Here are some questions to consider:

  1. Do you have decisions to be made that you are avoiding?
  2. Do you feel isolated or connected?
  3. Is your purpose and the purpose of the business clear?
  4. What are your core values?
  5. What would your team say about the questions above?

February 2, 2018 – What Do Your Customers Expect From You?

Posted on | February 2, 2018 | No Comments

Main Idea:

Are your customers raving about what you do?  Do your products and services consistently exceed what they expect?  Do you know what your clients expect?  Are you sure you know what they expect?  Or, are you meeting their expectations from 10 years ago?

Expansion of the Idea:

Spring training is just around the corner for baseball fans.  In St Louis you cannot listen to the radio or watch local television without references to the Cardinals.  Every year the Cardinal’s fan base expects that they will not only get into the playoffs but will do well.  Is this realistic?  Probably not.  But that is the nature of expectations.  They exist and we need to pay attention to them if we want our customers to be delighted with our products and services.

Customer’s expectations are a very hard thing to quantify.  Every customer has a slightly different and nuanced expectation.  Expectations change over time, sometimes slowly and sometimes rapidly.  Some expectations are realistic and some are completely unrealistic.  (I can’t make a client’s tax bill go away permanently.)  The point is that we can never delight and wow our clients unless we exceed their expectations.  If we do not know what the expectations are, it is very hard to exceed the expectations.

Every business is different in what to consider as far as expectations are concerned.  My clients don’t care too much what the tax return looks like.  They are much more concerned that they don’t have surprises and know what to expect.  If you are a marketing company, the quality of the print product is absolutely critical as well as the creativity of the concepts.  When you are selling a product, quality can range from decent to great as long as it matches price points.

The key point in expectations is that you should have a general idea of what the expectations are.  Then you must decide if your product and service delivery will at least meet them and preferably exceed them.  If it will exceed the expectations, then go out and execute.  If it looks like it will fall short, then you either need to reengineer your product and service or you need to educate the customer on why the expectation is unreasonable.  When there is an expectation gap, you will create unhappy customers which will mutate into lost customers.  It might not be immediate but it will happen.  And just as importantly, you will not get the positive referrals that you would otherwise get.

All of us fail to hit expectations at different times.  We are not perfect.  By consistently meeting or exceeding them, we will build up some goodwill that will carry you through a rough patch.  More importantly, we will build great businesses that will continue to grow.

Here are some questions to consider:

  1. Do you know your customer’s expectations?
  2. Have you brainstormed with your team to identify the expectations?
  3. Have you asked your customers what they are looking for?
  4. Do you get feedback on your customer service?
  5. What do you do with the above information.

January 5, 2018 – Is Your Team Aligned with Your Business?

Posted on | January 5, 2018 | No Comments

Main Idea:

What is the toughest job of the leader?  What do you think is the most common complaint I hear from small business owners?  (No, it isn’t about taxes.)  How do we get our whole team moving in the same direction?

Expansion of the Idea:

It is interesting to read about the New England Patriots.  They are arguably the best professional franchise in the last 20 years.  I might not agree with their methods but they have systems and a focus on winning that is hard to argue with.  According to recent news reports, they are currently having trouble between their owner and head coach fueled by a key player going behind the coach’s back to the owner.  I don’t know the real story, but it is obvious that this could be a distraction for the team as they head into the playoffs.  And more importantly, it looks like the team traded away their future quarterback because of current egos.

This highlights one of the big issues for all small business owners.  We may not own a professional football team but we do have key employees.  Our businesses may not be worth billions of dollars, but they are critical to our financial success.  The key to almost all businesses is getting alignment of their team members.  I am incredibly blessed with my current team.  They are completely focused on helping clients and doing what they can to further the business.  As a result, I have had several good years.   And we are positioned for growth.  This can only happen when everyone is pulling in the same direction.

The million dollar question is “How do we get alignment”?

Alignment is a function of the following:

  • The right team
  • A clear direction
  • Communication of the direction
  • Systems to help the business run smoothly

That seems simple yet we all fail to stay focused.  A great team will drift over time as individual’s needs move away from the company’s needs.  It is accelerated if individuals start thinking more about themselves than the company.  When that happens, no matter how clear the direction is and how well it is communicated, you will have problems.  Everything starts with the team.

However, after that it is frequently the leader who fails the team.  The leader may not be clear on the direction or doesn’t communicate what is going on.  Any of these issues create problems that surface in unexpected ways.  And all of this must be supported by systems.  Key systems that help with alignment are:

  • Goal setting
  • Key performance indicators
  • Feedback
  • Coaching

Too often, small business owners don’t focus on these systems because they are soft systems.  Yet I might argue that these are some of the most critical systems to long term success.  They take work and an investment of time.  With the start of the new year, now is a good time to focus on alignment of your business.

Here are some questions to consider:

  1. Do you feel that your team is in sync?
  2. How often do you have communication gaps?
  3. Can all of your team explain your purpose for being in business?
  4. Are all of your team in positions where they can flourish?
  5. Is the business working well and growing?

If you would like to look at further resources on this, I would encourage you to read Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Advantage.

December 22, 2017 – What Should You Do with the New Tax Law?

Posted on | December 22, 2017 | No Comments

Main Idea:

Are your ready for the new year?  What is the impact of the new tax law?  Is there anything you should do before year end?  Do you need to make changes in how you operate in 2018?

Expansion of the Idea:

Leave it to Congress to make everyone’s life crazier in December than they already are.  As you have heard they passed major tax legislation and President Trump signed it today.  Whether you like it or not, it will impact you.  We just don’t know yet whether the impact is significant and is it positive or negative.

As I have looked through the legislation, I have the following general observations:

  • Most individuals will have simpler tax filings
  • Most businesses will need to spend more time planning for taxes
  • Tax payments will generally be lower.
  • There are a number of “gotcha’s” that will hit certain companies, such as the elimination of entertainment expense deductibility.

There are a lot of pundits that are saying all sorts of things right now.  Most people don’t need to do anything.  The biggest things that you can do is to pay your fourth quarter state estimated tax payments and any miscellaneous itemized deductions before December 31.  Of course, if you are subject to alternative minimum tax, then these accelerated payments will have limited benefits.

The more important thing to consider is how your business is set up and what your goals are.  There are some significant changes in business taxation and that could involve changing how you are organized.  At a minimum, we should spend time discussing this.  Because of the major changes in business tax law, now is a good time to reconsider your business and personal situation.  I would encourage you to spend time over the holidays to define what your personal and business goals are.  Only by being clear on those goals will we be able to craft a plan that incorporates the new tax law to maximize your after tax business results.

We are in the process of assembling models on how the tax law will impact our clients.  By tax season we will have calculations set up to determine how the new tax law will impact you.  We are also planning on having workshops the first week of February that will discuss how the new tax law impacts the various methods of organization.  This will help you understand how C Corporations, S Corporations and LLC’s compare and which one is better for you.  For most clients, they have until March 15 to make changes in how they operate, if changes are appropriate.  The key is to be proactive.

Here are some specific steps to consider:

  1. Write down your personal goals for 2018
  2. Write down your business goals for 2018
  3. Email me if you are interested in attending a workshop on the impact of the new tax law or if you have specific questions on the new tax law.

With all of the changes going on and the divisiveness in the world, I really hope that we can individually and as a nation enjoy the spirit of Christmas.  I pray that God’s peace will be with you and your family during the holidays and in the coming years.

December 8, 2017 – What is Important to Me?

Posted on | December 8, 2017 | No Comments

Main Idea:

Do you have a lot of demands on your time, especially at this time of year?  Are you caught up in the Christmas season?  Or has Amazon made it too simple?  Have you done your year end planning?  Do you have goals and budgets set for next year?

Expansion of the Idea:

December is hectic.  We scurry around like a bunch of mice going from one project to another and then fit in holiday parties, shopping and kid’s programs at school.  We get pulled in a lot of different directions.  In my case, my firm is about to enter our busiest time of the year and I need to be ready for it.  There are a lot of competing demands on our time.

Last week, I talked about a tactical approach to make the best of the busy season.  I suggested that you focus on serving.  This will really help with relationships with your team, your customers and your family.  This week, I am going to suggest that you look at the issue strategically.  The important question is:

What is really important to me and my business?

This is a tough question and one that we lie about.  We lie to our customers, our team and most importantly we lie to ourselves.  We don’t intentionally lie but we do it all the time.  It is really hard to really define what is important.   The easiest way to determine what is really important to us is to ask the following questions:

  1. How do I spend my time?
  2. Where do I spend my money?
  3. What do I think of my team, my customers and my family?

When we start down this path of determining what is really important to us, we get rid of the lies we tell ourselves.  Frequently, I will meet with a small business owner who tells me what they are looking for.  As I ask questions, it becomes obvious that they don’t want to spend any time or money accomplishing their goals.  The reason is that building a better business is not important to them.  It is obvious that their focus is on money, vacations or status symbols.  Their priorities are themselves and their lifestyle.  They will take shortcuts to accomplish their goals.  They are just giving lip service to building a business or having a good retirement or any of the other priorities that they would say but don’t mean.  They don’t want to do the hard work of building a business with a concrete foundation.

It is critical that we name our current priorities.  These priorities are emotionally driven.  We are going to follow these priorities until we change our habits.  The funny part is that our brains might be telling us that we need different priorities.  Only by confronting the differences can we make the necessary changes to accomplish our long-term goals.

Here are some specific steps to consider:

  1. Do an audit of your time, money and thoughts.
  2. Ask your family to do the same
  3. Ask your team to address the business priorities.
  4. Determine if there are any course corrections that are needed.

December 1, 2017 – Should You Be a Servant Leader?

Posted on | December 1, 2017 | No Comments

Main Idea:

Are you going crazy yet?  What about your team?  Do you have a bunch of items to get done before year end?  Have you started your Christmas shopping?  Do you have 50 different priorities depending on the time of the day?

Expansion of the Idea:

The holidays are upon us.  There is a lot of busyness which leads to craziness.  Everyone has too much to do in too little time.  Frequently, people start thinking about all the things they want to get done before the new year and it paralyzes them.  They don’t know where to start.  You may think about your goals for the year and realize that you haven’t crossed any off.  Or, every time you cross one off another one pops up and you still have way too many things to do.  That is just the business side.  And then you think about all the personal things to do before year end and you decide the best use of your time is to just go take a drive.

All of us can get caught up in the busyness and we become less than effective.  If we look at our customers, they are in the same situation.  They are just scrambling to get through the month.  Everyone goes through the day with their heads down just trying to cross off items from their to do list.  The problem with having your head down is that you don’t see what others are going through and possible opportunities.

What would happen if you, as a leader, focused on a fundamental aspect of leadership – Servant Leadership?  What would your world look like if, instead of just trying to get through the day, you would look for opportunities to serve your team or your customers?  How can you make their lives a little better?  For your team, by relieving them of a little pressure, they could be more effective and actually get more done.  For your customers you could generate some tremendous goodwill.

Servant leadership was first demonstrated 2000 years ago but wasn’t really named inside business circles until 1977 by Robert Greenleaf.  He wrote a book called Servant Leadership.  In it he radically changed the discussion of what a leader is.  His definition is:

“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.” – Robert K. Greenleaf.

This month is an ideal time to practice servant leadership.  When we serve our team and our customers, we can make a huge difference in their lives.  That will have a big impact on your life and your business.  The side benefit of practicing servant leadership is that you might find a little more joy in your life.

Here are some specific steps to consider:

  1. Pay attention to your team and their time demands.
  2. Ask your team if there is anything you can do to help them.
  3. Look for opportunities to add more value to your customers.
  4. Look for opportunities to serve your spouse and your family.
  5. Look for opportunities to serve your community.
  6. Go serve.

November 17, 2017 – Can Your Habits Help You?

Posted on | November 17, 2017 | No Comments

Main Idea:

Do you ever do anything without thinking about it?  Do you know what your habits are?  Do you have bad ones or just good ones?  Have you ever tried changing habits?  How did that work?

Expansion of the Idea:

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a book by Charles Duhigg called the Power of Habit.  I was instantly intrigued because I knew that some of the things I wanted to do would be impacted by my existing habits.  I also knew that I needed to develop some new habits.  I realized that while this was not the answer to all of my dreams, it would help me.  As I was reading it I started to realize how much habits and cues impact our lives.  Some examples are:

  • Saying thank you (or not)
  • Making coffee when you wake up
  • Grab snacks as you sit down to watch the football game
  • Look at email first thing when you get into the office
  • How you answer the phone
  • Park at the same spot at the store
  • Tense up with a team member or difficult customer

You probably have hundreds of habits, some of which you would not identify as a habit unless you really thought about it.  These habits could be good, bad or neutral, depending on the circumstances.  One good habit for you might be bad for me.

Habits are the key for people recovering from alcoholism.  They were also the key for Tony Dungy when he led the Indianapolis Colts to the Super Bowl.  He created habits to allow his team to move faster than the opponents.  The key with habits is to first acknowledge that they exist and then look at three things; the cue, the routine, and the reward.  The cue is what triggers the routine which leads to the reward which further reinforces the whole process.

The consensus in the book is that you cannot eliminate bad habits.  What you have to do is to change them from bad to good by changing the routine.  For instance, you might like to have a bowl of ice cream after dinner.  That might not be the best thing for your health so you consciously know you should not do it.  But somehow it happens.  Could you change the routine from 3 scoops to 1 scoop?  Or maybe when you get the urge, you go for a walk instead.  The point is that we have to substitute something for the habit you want to change.  And what we substitute has to provide a similar reward to what you got with your existing habit.  This isn’t easy but there are significant benefits personally and in our businesses.

By changing some habits, we can do the following:

  • Improve our health
  • Improve our relationships
  • Improve our energy
  • Improve our teamwork
  • Improve our customer service
  • Improve our effectiveness
  • Improve our leadership and management

The key thing is to identify what your habits are.  You want to continue the ones that are helping you.  Any habits that are hurting you need to be evaluated carefully and see if you can change the routine.  It also helps to involve others to help you.  They can give you feedback on how you are doing with any changes you are trying to make.  As a leader, when you are open to improving like this, your team is much more likely to do the same.  That is how you can make significant improvements to your business.

Here are some specific steps to consider:

  1. Make a list of personal or business habits.
  2. For any bad habits, evaluate why you do them and how to change the routine.
  3. For any good habits, evaluate the reward.
  4. Brainstorm with your team about potential new habits that you would like to implement.
  5. Read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

October 27, 2017 – Are You Making Enough Mistakes?

Posted on | October 27, 2017 | No Comments

Main Idea:

Do you ever make a mistake?  Or at least one you will admit?  What is the culture in your business?  Does everyone own their mistakes?  Do people get hammered because they made a mistake?

Expansion of the Idea:

John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, had a set of principles that he coached by.  One of them was “The team with the most mistakes wins.”  Or said another way, “The man who is afraid to risk failure seldom has to face success.”

Mistakes and failures are the building blocks in getting stronger and growing as a company and as a person.  Most of the time, we view mistakes as something we want to avoid at all costs.  However, there are really two different types of errors.

The first type of error is an operational error.  Examples would be sending the wrong merchandise to a customer, billing the wrong amount, or failure to return a phone call.  In my case it would be sending out a tax return in error.  These types of errors can seriously damage a business and need to be avoided.  Typically, hiring the right people, training them, and developing systems can minimize these errors.  They will still occur but they will be minimal and customers will accept the fact that you will occasionally make a mistake.  You just need to make sure that the mistake is addressed early and as proactively as possible.

The second type of error is a growth error.  These mistakes occur when you are trying something new.  This might be a new product line or service offering.  Or, it could be putting someone in a new position with significant amounts of additional responsibility.  Sometimes everything works perfectly.  However, most of the time there is a learning curve to a new position.  There will be some stumbles.  If you are developing a new product, there will be some mistakes.  If there are never any mistakes, then that normally means that you are not trying anything new.  In the current environment, we have to take some calculated risks.  Obviously, we want to minimize the risks.  But we can’t be afraid to make a mistake.  We will never move forward.

We have to try things.  And we have to encourage our team to try things.  When we go outside our comfort zone and fail or when we encourage our team members to try new things, there are a lot of benefits that we never would have received without this.  They include:

  • New products or developments
  • More creative workplace
  • Better problem-solving skills
  • More honesty
  • Development of our team
  • Growth mindset
  • Quicker resolution of operational errors
  • Better internal culture
  • Closer to our customers

There are probably 100 more benefits that I did not identify.  The point is that as we try to grow and do new things, we will make mistakes but we will learn from them.  They will allow us to reach places that we otherwise could never have reached unless we tried something that we could fail at.  And in the meantime, we are creating workplaces that attract people and serve our customers.  That is a pretty good outcome for making mistakes.

Here are some specific steps to consider:

  1. Make a list of the last 5 mistakes you personally made.
  2. Label them as either operational or growth.
  3. For all of the operational mistakes, have systems or training been performed to minimize those mistakes in the future?
  4. For the growth errors, what have you learned?
  5. Share with your team.
  6. Have your team do steps 1-5 above.  Discuss.
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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.