If It Ain’t Broke …

Break glass

We’ve all heard the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

There’s a lot of wisdom in that. When you’ve implemented an efficient plan (i.e. a quick month-end close, financial processes that keep good data in front of you, etc.) it’s a good idea not to mess with it – to a point. But it’s never good to permanently rest in a routine that isn’t reviewed regularly. It’s then that we fall into a rut, otherwise known as a casket without a top.

And forgive the pun, but if you are not growing, you are dying. Growing requires the willingness to change.

I am working with several new clients who are making changes in their business. Change isn’t easy, but it is necessary to improve. It’s been good to see some of the positive outcomes from this process.

As I mentioned in a previous post, assessing your business regularly and recognizing the need to change is step one. Even if things are going well, the waterline is rising, and things can always be better. We need to continuously deal with any leaks, including new ones that may spring up.

So how do we do this?

I suggest a shift of mindset, based on a fabulous book I read many years ago: If it Ain’t Broke…Break It!: And Other Unconventional Wisdom for a Changing Business World by Robert F. Kriegel and Louis Palter. Their advice shared in the early ’90s is timeless. We must have a mindset toward embracing change, innovation, and continuous improvement as keys to success in both personal and professional life.

Here are some key thoughts from the book, along with a question you can ask yourself in assessing how your business and team are doing when it comes to each theme:

1. Embrace Change: it’s important to be open to change rather than cling to established norms or practices. Change can lead to improvement and growth.

Question: What change in process did we recently implement or consider as a way to improve our productivity?

2. Innovation is Key: Innovation is significant in driving progress and success. When you encourage a culture of innovation, you’ll see breakthroughs and competitive advantages.

Question: Does my team feel comfortable bringing me new ideas?

3. Challenge Conventions: Rather than accept that “This is how it’s always been done,” encourage questioning and challenge conventional wisdom.

Question: What is something we have been doing for years that we should consider changing or eliminating from our processes or policies?

4. Risk-Taking: calculated risks are essential for growth and advancement. Rather than fearing failure, consider it a valuable learning experience.

Question: When did we take a risk in the last 3-12 months? If we haven’t been willing to take a calculated risk, why are we holding back?

5. Continuous Improvement: Individuals and organizations should always seek ways to evolve and enhance their processes and products.

Question: What are three key areas where we are working on improvements in the company? (i.e. personnel, environment, culture)

6. Adaptability: In today’s rapidly changing world, being adaptable is crucial. During the pandemic, we saw a critical need to pivot and adjust to new circumstances and challenges.

Question: While we are not in an active pandemic now, what other concerns threaten our success? How do we need to re-position ourselves to stay relevant?

7. Creativity and Experimentation: encouraging these can lead to new ideas and solutions not considered before.

Question: What is a problem we are experiencing that could use a creative solution? What ideas can we consider for a while without shooting them down immediately?

8. Leadership Role: leaders are the critical component in fostering a culture of innovation and change. They should lead by example, supporting initiatives that promote growth and innovation.

Question: How strong is our leadership team? Do we inspire growth and innovation, or are we stuck in our ways? What would our employees say if guaranteed anonymity?

Some of these questions may be uncomfortable, but I assure you they are important. Culture affects the bottom line. An unhappy, stressed out, unproductive team creates leaks that sink your business success and satisfaction. A team that has the freedom to bring up fresh ideas, evaluate processes objectively, and follow values modeled by their leaders will help create an organization that makes money and contributes positively to society.

Which would you rather have?

How Do You Run a Business Without Good Data? 5 Ways to Change That

confused

As is my custom, I spent New Year’s weekend honing my 2024 plan and updating bookkeeping for my business as well as for several of my clients.

Yes, I was playing the role of bookkeeper for Verbeck Associates. When you have to do the work yourself, you realize again the value of a great bookkeeper. It’s great to have someone whose job it is to get all transactions in on a timely basis and ensure that accounts are all reconciled. I wish I could say I was always THAT someone for my own business! But as they say about the shoemaker’s son …

The further away from the transaction date, the more complicated it is to determine the essence of the transaction. In one case, I had to bring ten (yes 10!) months of a new client’s QuickBooks up to date. Their bookkeeper had completely dropped the ball. It was brutal, but we tenaciously got four bank accounts reconciled to 12/31.

After that, I sat with the business owner, asking “How did you run your business without good data?”

While it may seem surprising for someone to run a business without looking at numbers, it’s not all that unusual. And while some business owners LOOK at the numbers, they don’t study them in a way to benefit from the information.

Here are some reasons why owners don’t look carefully at the numbers.

The books and records are not in good shape.

This tends to happen when a finance team player (i.e. bookkeeper) isn’t kept accountable for entering transactions in a timely way and providing a quick month-end close. They may be overwhelmed with the minutia, or be in over their head. But all financial staff should be accountable to someone, even if the supervisor isn’t finance savvy. They can still ask the right questions to make sure monthly tasks are current.

They assume things.

Business owners have told me, “I’ve been in business for ten years. I know how we are doing.” They assume their books are in good shape. (Most of the time they aren’t.)

They are afraid to look stupid.

Many business owners launched businesses due to their passion and skills in a particular area. They may be great carpenters, restauranteurs, therapists or marketers so they hung a shingle and started a company or practice. That may not mean that they have the financial and administrative skillset to excel in the operational side of running a business. Deep down, they may know that they are not good at math, or an accountant. There’s no shame in that – unless they refuse to acknowledge that they need some help.

They don’t like the “report card” feel.

Many times, when owners finally look at numbers, it’s been prompted by something unpleasant. It could be tax time and they are meeting with their CPA. They may be collaborating with a lender and have to face hard facts. Bookkeeping, when done correctly, doesn’t lie. If the numbers don’t add up, they don’t. I know someone who was gently told that they were making under $5 an hour once their time was accounted for. Facing numbers and facts like this is scary. No one likes to feel like they are failing, especially when they are putting a lot of time and energy (and even their own money) into a venture. 

So what’s the answer? Here are five things you can do right away no matter what time of year it is:

  1. Face facts. The first step to change is knowing. Decide that starting NOW, you are going to make a more intentional effort to keep up with the financial overview of your company.
  2. Hold your financial employees accountable. You can do this in a way that feels collaborative. Set up a monthly or even more frequent meeting. Tell them you need their help in making more informed business decisions and you’ll need transactions entered and month-end figures in a timely way. Set a meeting early in the new month to review last month’s numbers.
  3. Educate yourself. I offer a variety of resources (and am working on more) that can help you “be your own CFO.” You don’t have to become a CPA to learn to understand basic information like financial statements, cash flow, cost of sales elements, and other standard reports.
  4. Think beyond the numbers. Once you know the numbers, figure out why they may feel out of alignment with your goals. I always look at a business’s performance from a numerical point of view, which is objective. But there’s also a good argument for looking more closely at employee satisfaction and customer service. These are harder to tangibly measure, but there are ways to see if your company is hitting the mark more often than not. Remember that dissatisfied employees and/or customers cause profit leaks.
  5. Consider hiring outside help. Whether it’s an additional employee or a contracted company that provides CFO and/or bookkeeping services (like mine) you may find that your numbers improve because you have people with a gift for that side of business playing that role.

    If I can help, contact me. At the very least, start looking at your numbers more closely, more often.

Progress and Growth: Things I Learned in 2023

What I learned

At this time of year, I’m usually pushing to finish strong, both personally and professionally. I’m helping my clients get ready for a quick year-end close and effective kickstart to the new year. I’m finishing my own planning and goal setting as well, because I like to start each year with a clear direction and strategy. I thought it might be helpful to share some of the things I learned and experimented with this year.

12-Week Year Process
For the last two quarters, I’ve been using the 12 Week Year process. I love the idea of shrinking the year into 12-week segments, and then further breaking it down to weekly actions that are measured and tracked weekly. I had a hard time with this in the beginning. I had some bad weeks. But overall, it was a great way for me to see progress on a couple of projects that would not have gotten done if I didn’t have a precise focus. I recommend this book by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington: The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)
I’ve utilized AI for some writing help. It simplified some complicated memos, clarified business process instructions, and enhanced some of my more creative writing efforts. I learned it certainly does not replace the human touch in writing, and you have to customize it for the situation. But it’s a big help in avoiding “Blank Paper Syndrome.”

Microsoft Co-Pilot
I anticipate this tool having a big impact for me next year. I am always looking for new approaches and systems to up my capability. AI add-ins for MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint will be great additions to their product suite, and will certainly help me produce better presentations.

First Principle Algorithm
Inspired by Elon Musk’s “first principal algorithm,” I scrutinized and optimized business processes, emphasizing the elimination of unnecessary tasks before automation. This philosophy, encompassing questioning, deletion, systematization, acceleration, and automation, has become a guiding principle in enhancing operational efficiency for myself and my clients.

Client Challenges
In general, I have great experiences with my clients. But like anyone in business, there are times when challenges come up. Hindsight is 20/20, and I learned some things to do differently in the future. I learned that being assertive and direct is often necessary for handling difficult conversations. Make sure expectations are clear on all sides. Make mid-course corrections and stay committed to communication to avoid misunderstandings.

Food / Exercise Discipline
I worked on living a low/no-sugar lifestyle this year. I started a no-dessert policy. I find that cutting a food altogether works better for me than moderation – you have to know what works best for you. And, I’ve been logging all my food intake. Writing it down helps me stay on track. I found myself less disciplined about logging my workouts, and guess what – I ended up skipping many days and my intensity plummeted. I got back to my daily log this last quarter and it proved again to me that what gets measured gets done.

Meditation and Journaling
I generally get up at 5:00 am to do a morning ritual that includes a meditation practice. This year, I increased my practice from 10 minutes to 20 minutes every day. I noticed a big difference in the rest of my day. I also have been journaling daily for the last six months. This took me some time, but it has been really helpful to cultivate ideas, and handle issues. I have better focus, mindfulness, and clarity.

Home
We’ve been building a new house over the last two years. It’s amazing to create something new, but the number of decisions involved is incredible. Add the stress of falling behind schedule and going over budget – it can get overwhelming. I am fortunate that my team (i.e. my wife) stepped up to lead the project so I could focus more on business. The process has taught me a great deal – not only about construction and project management but also leadership, negotiation, teamwork (delegation?) – and stress management!

As I look ahead, the lessons learned and practices adopted promise continued personal and professional growth in the coming year. Ask yourself the following questions, and let’s both look forward to more progress and resilience!

What is your next bold move?
Are you committed to certain disciplines for the new year?
Where can you up your skills?

Contact me for help streamlining your financial processes next year!

Unlocking Business Success with Simplified KPIs

In the vast sea of business complexities, the need for a reliable compass cannot be overstated. Enter Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) – the navigational tools that help business owners chart their course and make informed decisions. In this blog post, we’ll explore the art of simplifying KPIs and their pivotal role in guiding your business journey.

Embracing Simplicity in a Complex World

Complexity tends to sneak in as time marches on. And being a business owner is difficult. We often find ourselves facing challenging moments, as a contact of mine did when his sales pitches to a large company ended in rejection. This, however, is normal and part of the journey. Most sales calls receive the dreaded “no,” a harsh reality of the sales world. In the face of adversity, we must not lose heart; instead, we should expect challenges and remain steadfast in our vision.

Our North Star in this tumultuous sea is a clear and unwavering vision. Every business owner must ask themselves: “Where are we heading, and what is our vision?” A clear vision will serve as a guiding light through turbulent waters and should influence the type of information you track and reporting that you do.

Simplicity in Reporting and KPIs

Just as life’s complexities grow with age, so do the complexities in business operations and reporting. If you’ve been in business for a while, you’ve likely seen your processes and reports become increasingly intricate and complicated. It’s just the way it is. With more time, things get more complex.

The key, however, is to keep things simple. The allure of intricate dashboards with tons of data points and graphs is enticing, but often it becomes challenging to see what truly matters. To cut through the noise, it’s essential to maintain a straightforward approach.

Organize and Focus with KPIs

One effective way to streamline your business’s focus is by categorizing KPIs on your weekly Company Scorecard with categories such as marketing, sales, operations, and finance, and assign teams to brainstorm and track three to five key metrics in each category. This approach narrows the focus, ensuring that each KPI contributes to the overall value of your business. And each KPI has a person (or you) accountable for it.

The Power of the Weekly Review

Weekly reviews are the engine that keeps your business on course. This routine check-in allows for the timely identification of issues and the resolution of bottlenecks. It’s the glue that aligns everyone with the same KPIs and growth targets, fostering unity and clarity within the team.

Measuring Progress with KPIs

When it comes to KPIs, consider the following areas: Growth, Fulfillment, and Innovation. To measure your business’s performance, keep an eye on a range of metrics tied to these areas, such as:

  • Growth: Revenue growth, monthly recurring revenue, pipeline, customer acquisition cost, gross margin, net profit margin, monthly active users, activation rate
  • Fulfillment: Order fulfillment time, inventory turnover, on-time delivery rate, total support tickets, average response time, number of clients onboarded, renewal rate, net promoter score
  • Innovation: R&D ratio, new product launches, time to market for new products, milestone achievement, churn.

Additionally, analyze other vital KPIs, including unique visitors, cost per acquisition, return on ad spend, average customer value, new customers, sales, sales leads, qualification calls, close rate, booked revenue, average deal size, and pipeline.

A Deeper Dive into KPIs

If you’re looking to expand your KPI knowledge, consider delving into the following key metrics:

  • Days of inventory on hand is found by dividing the average Inventory by the ratio of cost of goods sold to the number of days in the period. It indicates the average number of days it takes for a company to sell its entire inventory, providing insights into inventory management efficiency.
  • Gross profit margin: Determined by subtracting cost of sales from total sales, then dividing the result by total sales.
  • Working capital ratio: Computed by dividing current assets by current liabilities.
  • Account payable turnover: Found by dividing net credit purchases by the average accounts payable. It measures how many times, on average, a company pays its accounts payable during a specific period, providing insights into the efficiency of the company’s payment process and its relationship with suppliers.
  • Days Sales Outstanding (DSO): found by multiplying the ratio of average accounts receivable to average daily credit sales by the number of days in the period. It represents the average number of days it takes for a company to collect payment after a sale has been made on credit.

KPIs are the lighthouse that guides your business towards success. Keep your compass simple, focus on your vision, and harness the power of weekly reviews to ensure everyone is on the same page. With the right KPIs in your arsenal, you’ll navigate the intricate waters of the business world with confidence and clarity.

Contact me for help establishing your KPIs and creating a helpful dashboard!

Budget Time: Use the 80/20 Framework to Keep Costs in Line

80 20 rule

You’ve probably heard of the 80/20 concept (also known as the Pareto Principle), where 20% of whatever you are considering (i.e. workers, technology, inventory) is responsible for 80% of the results (productivity, sales, and profit.) The fourth quarter of the year is budget season and a great time to take a closer look at your overall cost structure within the 80/20 framework. It’s time to ask yourself what you REALLY need to run and continue to grow your business.

When addressing costs – start with the larger impact and more important things.  Dive into the right problems. 

Don’t start with something that will have a minimal impact.  I like to value stream map key processes with stickies and a whiteboard.  Note people and processes around the sales and delivery experience and the customer/vendor touch points like invoicing and getting paid, improving customer delivery, paying vendors, and maximizing cash outlays.

Here are three areas to take a careful look at, with an 80/20 perspective.

PEOPLE

So much of business is based on unknown revenue numbers, and people are your biggest expense. An unfortunate reality is that many times, the people who got you to where you are now are not the same people to get you to where you need to go next. They cannot change and develop as the business does. That’s why budget time is also a good time to review your organization chart. You’ll often see that 80% of your results are coming from 20% of your team. Can you identify the 80% that are less productive and think of ways to scale, or invest in increasing their contribution through training, for example? Are there ways to continue growing your revenue while not growing (and perhaps even reducing) your team as you look into next year?

INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENTS

Another cost that can be significant is Infrastructure investments – money you put into the business for tools, applications, equipment, and more. These generally come in what I call stairsteps, not in a linear path. It’s tempting to be attracted, for example, to the bells and whistles of new technology, but it’s quite possible that only 20% of the features would contribute to 80% of your results. Ask yourself if investment into new tech or equipment would overcomplicate the workplace rather than be the solution you need. Will the learning curve create other problems/costs? It’s essential to ensure that these investments will actually elevate productivity and address challenges.

For example, you may decide that a new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system will streamline tasks and management of employees. This can be true! But if the system is overcomplicated, and you have to retain an on-call consultant for a year, is that an effective use of funds in the long run? It could be, but there may also be simpler solutions available using applications you already have. Perhaps some additional training on current applications so users can move from beginner to intermediate or advanced would cost less and work just as well.

Bonus tip: One way to help separate the problem and solution is to identify and address the pain points in one meeting, give time for the assigned team members to research potential solutions, and then have a separate meeting to consider the options they discovered. This allows your team to determine the core problem without having to provide potential fixes right away. A clear understanding of the problem can be extremely helpful in researching solutions.

VENDOR INVOICES / CREDIT CARD CHARGES

Face it – all companies are leaking, some worse than others. Another cost to consider is what your vendors are charging. It’s not unusual for companies to be paying for services and products they aren’t using regularly (or don’t need more of right now.) Again, 20% of the services and products you receive could be covering 80% of your needs.

I recommend that you review each vendor invoice and credit card charge for the next 45 days and determine if each item is necessary. When I’m doing this for a client, I ask the obvious question – “What is this for?” Other questions include, “Are the services billed leading to the expected outcome?” “Are you paying for a subscription for an app you only use twice a year?” “Are automatic deliveries keeping your supplies overstocked?” “Are these conference expenses leading to the collaboration, soft skill enhancement, or team bonding or are you essentially providing your employees a paid-for trip/vacation?” (If that’s something you want to budget for, fine, but be intentional about it.)

If you need a more objective eye, there is a group of consultants like my colleague Steve Thompson at Integrity Cost Consulting. He can analyze your vendor spend to look for historical overpayments. His company earns their fee based on the savings they find. I love that! I like to track savings based on hard savings AND process improvements as a critical success factor.

Cost analysis exercises are generally a helpful practice for most companies, even if they can be somewhat painful. Use this 80/20 framework to budget wisely.

Additional tips:

  • Ask yourself not only about getting the best price – but getting the best value. 
  • When cuts are necessary, be sure you cut deep enough the first time.
  • Do cost analysis on a regular basis.


Need some objective input? I can help. Contact me!

The Rearview Mirror for Looking Ahead: Know Yourself to Grow Yourself

rear view mirror

“Why do you accountants always focus on the rearview mirror?”

This question was posed to me during a small business workshop I was conducting. Read on to see how I answered it. But first some context:

I do workshops for small businesses frequently, to share more deeply about my Fractional CFO framework and approach. I share how business changes with growth that generally comes in 1’s and 3’s. (In other words, growth from $100,000 – 300,000, or $1m to $3m, or $10m to 30m.) In this particular workshop, I had been discussing the weekly scorecard and how to improve the accuracy of the company’s numbers using a solid financial close process. I also encouraged tracking many other data points like new customers, new web sign-ups, sales by segment, gross margin, inventory turnover, production and direct labor efficiency, etc. I was rattling on about how these metrics need to be on your dashboard and the importance of not judging your performance on the metrics of other people. I emphasized that their business is not your business. However, your business can always perform better. If you want to jump in 3’s, you first have to know your business well.

That’s about when I received this great, and understandable question. At first glance, CFOs do appear to look at the past a lot. The rearview mirror is important, and we do have to have accurate data; it’s essential to know where you are and where you’ve been. If you don’t it’s hard to get to where you want to go.

I ride my bicycle for my workout four times per week in the summer logging about 100 miles per week.  My bike is equipped with lights so cars can see me and I have a mirror that attaches to the handlebar.  The other day, when I was riding on some incredible roads we have here in Central NY, I was looking in my mirror, which is small and was so dirty that it wasn’t useful.  Using the mirror is safer than turning my head, but the visibility with the mirror was terrible. Trying to focus on the images in the mirror, I almost rode off the road. (I recently bought a radar tool that beeps when there’s a car behind me. Much safer.)

But ironically, a good CFO uses the rearview mirror but doesn’t focus on it. We shouldn’t look in the rearview mirror too often.  We do need to see what’s behind us if it poses danger – like a car for a bicyclist. But we shouldn’t constantly be looking in the mirror to see where we’ve been. We need to keep our eyes focused on the road ahead. 

The job of a CFO is to help a business look ahead. Yes, we focus on getting the monthly financials closed and the reporting package published, but those are tools for our main priority of helping the business deliver on its mission. Reasons come first, results come second. We try to make things better for the future.

To do this well means that a lot of my time is spent trying to help businesses improve processes. Consistent improvements over time often lead to impressive results. Companies that stay stuck in their ways tend to stagnate. Small businesses that are nimble tend to grow and flourish.

In Robert Greenleaf’s book, The Servant Leader, he shares how the servant leads from the back with empathy and compassion. They see the struggle of others and bring clarity and solutions. I’ve seen the suffering of many small businesses over the last 30+ years – and I have been there myself, so I have a desire to help turn that around. Having solid processes and taking a regular, but not obsessive, look in the rearview mirror helps me do that.

The other service that is very helpful to a CFO is to know the valuation of a business. Click here to learn more about our valuation service.

What is the next thing that you need to do to get ahead? Do you need to shift your perspective from the rearview mirror to the road in front of you? I’d be happy to help. Contact me!

Image by Hebi B. from Pixabay

The Two Things a CEO Must Know

A recent CFO survey shows that although inflation concerns have decreased some, it continues to rank as a high concern for business owners – as it should.

During one period of time when inflation seemed out of control at 9%, Biz Equity, the company that provides the backbone to my business valuation program, published a white paper discussing the effects of inflation on business valuation. Although inflation does have a tendency to cool down, the long-term effects of a large bump in inflation are significant. We sometimes never return to the pre-high levels.

If you are a business owner, this whitepaper is worth the read. We all know inflation affects our long-term purchasing power and that we need to continually increase income to counteract increasing costs. Inflation also degrades the value of our business. Over time, the effects on valuation are dramatic.

The trick is to ensure that your business outpaces inflation with profit and growth so that you keep building value. For example, for 2022, a successful business would have needed to grow by 10% just to keep pace with inflation rates.

The first step in being more intentional about staying ahead of inflation is to know your numbers. This is a frequent topic with me because it is so important. Your business is your biggest asset and you need to know the facts. I am a huge proponent of a weekly scorecard to track key data and measure how your company performed the previous week compared to last year and to plan. Using a review like this, we can easily see ways to improve in key areas.

The second step is to perform a business valuation report. It is a great way to get an overview of what your business could bring if you wanted to sell it today.

If you are properly prepared, we can complete a valuation in about an hour. The BizEquity platform works great to perform a low-cost, accurate business valuation using strategic technology and a large database of business valuations. They are world’s only patented and the largest provider of business valuations, having valued 33,466,715 private businesses globally.

The frequent self-monitoring I recommend in knowing your numbers helps you improve performance, be proactive, and focus on the key factors that are moving the valuation needle, so these steps actually work in tandem.

Research shows that self-monitoring improves progress. Yes, you can blame external circumstances such as who is in office, what the interest rates are, or how the economy currently stands for the success or failure of your business. But that’s not the truth. Many businesses still survive (or even thrive) when external conditions are less-than-ideal. The value of your business is directly proportional to how well your company works. And how well your company works is directly proportional to the effectiveness of the systems you have in place.

So be courageous and self-monitor frequently. Become comfortable taking a hard look at your performance. Set high standards for yourself and your business. Know your daily/weekly/monthly numbers as well as what your business is worth.

No one may have told you that as a business owner, your role as CFO is the most important (or working closely with a qualified CFO.) But without understanding your numbers and valuation, you don’t understand a major portion of how your business runs and its health for the long term. And as a leader, that’s YOUR responsibility. Your team and the market is depending on it.

Contact me to schedule a valuation or a review of your numbers.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Keep the Bathtub Full: Understand Your Numbers

Most business owners went into business to do what they love and do what they are good at –  and they hoped to make a living and improve the business’s value while doing it.  Most started their careers as employees, so they tend to carry an employee mindset vs. that of an owner, entrepreneur, or CEO.  As a result, some business owners have created a high-stress job for themselves, not a business.

Successful business owners create a vision of the business and think like a CEO.  Smaller business owners may wear several hats, but in order to become a better CEO, they must strive to delegate responsibility and create sustainable processes to deliver customer value consistently. Employee vs. CEO.  There is a big difference.  The successful business owner also understands their numbers – the balance sheet, the cash flow drivers, and the income statement as well as their overall performance scorecard. 

I’ve had many business owners tell me over the years tell me “I am not an accountant.”  True, but you ARE a business owner and you need to understand your numbers!  That means learning how to read and understand financial reports such as balance sheets and income statements and understand how they relate.  You need to understand your working capital needs and cash flow drivers.  Most business owners know how to read a P&L, yet have no idea where their cash is going. They wonder, “How can we be tight on cash when business is booming and sales numbers are growing?”

It is a common perception that reading and understanding financial statements is difficult.  Some of the problem is that many of the system-generated reports of many ERP systems are too detailed and difficult to read.  But also, business owners haven’t invested the time to learn how to read financial statements and interpret what the numbers mean.  I find it generally makes sense to simplify.

It reminds me of the bathtub illustration I learned from a banking CFO back in my KPMG days, used to explain the bank’s cash flow statement.  He said, “Cash is like a bathtub of water.  Cash comes in through the faucet and goes out through the drain.  The trick is to understand the flows in and out and keep the tub full of water.”

One way to gain confidence is to review your financial reports regularly.  Develop a weekly scorecard and review your financial statements with your controller or accounting team monthly.  Notice trends in key areas like new customers, sales, average transaction value, gross margin, cash flow turnover, and operational efficiencies. What are the financials telling you?  Are you increasing your company’s valuation or are you just sustaining a high-stress job? 

Spending time on this will help you avoid “reaction” mode (daily firefighting) and allow you to work more in “ready” mode. Ready mode is working on needle-moving activities, the kind that will truly grow your business in all the right ways.

If you spend time with your numbers, you will get better at understanding them. In addition to studying your reports, take a course. Read blog posts like these.  Prepare or update your business valuation.  Get people on your team that know financial stuff well and can help YOU understand it.  Trust me, everything you apply time to, you get better at.

Contact me for additional help!

Four Things to Regularly Assess in Your Business

avalanche

One of the skills an experienced big mountain backcountry skier practices is testing the snowpack for avalanche risk. “I think it looks good,” won’t cut it. We have to pull out the shovel and test the pack to ensure we can venture down in a safe way. Otherwise, we risk life-threatening conditions and danger. “Where’d he go?”

It’s similar when it comes to your business. You can glide along thinking “I think it looks good,” but without regular testing and evaluating of the conditions, you can end up in an avalanche of trouble. So I encourage my clients to take the time to regularly assess and evaluate their business. Natural times for this include quarter-end and year-end, but you can even do monthly evaluations to some degree.

At regular intervals, I like to pause, reflect, and delve into data to evaluate the progress of the businesses I serve. I like to look at goals that were set at the beginning of the year (such as sales growth and EBITDA margin growth) and the list of initiatives and projects we’d hoped to have well underway. We face the facts and compare our expectations with reality.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of self-assurance, saying, “I think it looks good! This is a great year so far! We’ve been busier than ever.” But we also need to honestly assess four crucial elements to support or adapt our hopes that we are indeed, in good shape.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when you assess your business.

Your Team

Just as they say in sports, “You are only as strong as your weakest player,” the same applies to business. Here are some questions we ask regularly:

  • Are there any individuals on the team holding our business back?
  • Are we as leaders unintentionally becoming a hindrance?
  • Which team members (including those in leadership) need coaching to improve their performance?
  • Are there any team members (including those in leadership) that need to be promoted, or conversely, helped into another career?
  • Do all team members possess the necessary skills, resources, and attitudes to help us achieve victory in our industry?

Your Strategies

  • Has the competitive landscape shifted, demanding adjustments and recalibrations on our part?
  • What strategies have worked for us?
  • Which strategies should be changed (or even eliminated?)

Your Financials

It is astonishing how often struggling companies and overwhelmed owners have financials that are in disarray. Transactions are delayed, balance sheet accounts lack accuracy, and cost-of-sales accounts fluctuate without any apparent reason. Inaccurate data produces unreliable results. These questions will help:

  • Are we consistently following a monthly close procedure?
  • Is our staff able to keep our transactions and records current?
  • Are our receivable days increasing?
  • Are inventory turns slowing down?
  • Did we gain or lose significant customers?
  • Are our cost of goods sold numbers slipping?
  • Is the average selling price (ASP) increasing?
  • Are we able to make decisions on accurate and up-to-date numbers?

By measuring these primary financial drivers, we gain valuable insights into our business’s performance.

Your Projections

  • Are we on track with our projections? If not, what do we need to change? (It might be uncomfortable to do this, but you are better off dealing with accurate results for goals set.)
  • What changes would help our current situation align better with our goals?

Embrace these moments of reflection, evaluation, and adjustment. By examining our team, our strategies, our financials, and our projections, we can set ourselves up for a stronger future.

At Verbeck Associates, we can help with these evaluations. For example, we produce CFO reports for our clients, providing them with a comprehensive financial story that aids in decision-making. Contact me if I can help you in this evaluation process!

Three Ways to Grow Your Business

Grow Your Business

When it comes to ways to grow your business, it may not be that you lack time but that you need to do some prioritizing. It’s important to constantly evaluate your growth and progress. With the year already well underway, it’s time to take a closer look at how your business is doing. Is it multiplying? Are revenues increasing? If not, here are three ways to grow your business.

Let’s dive into each of these and see how you can measure and improve your progress, using a fictional example of a mid-size coffee roaster, employing 40 people, and supplying over 50 coffee shops with custom-roasted blends.

Add More Customers

This is the most obvious way to grow your business. The more customers you have, the more potential sales you can make. Look at your metrics for new customer acquisition. How many new customers have you gained since this year began? If you aren’t seeing the numbers you’d like to see, do you need to adjust your marketing strategy or invest in new acquisition channels?

Example: ABCoffee expands their strategic social media campaign to target not just their base city and suburbs, but counties 100-200 miles away. Their sales reps do “coffee shop tours” of shops in this expanded area, sharing photos their marketing specialist then posts to encourage people to visit the shops, and leaving a packet of information and sample roasts to the owners of the shops, so they will consider carrying ABCoffee.

Increase How Much You Sell to Each Customer

Another way to grow your business is to increase the amount that each customer spends with you. Look at your average order size. Has it increased compared to previous years? Consider offering bundle deals, or upsell items during the checkout process. I’m sure you’ve seen stores that have multiple low-price items in the checkout area or have been asked online if you want to add “these regular items” to your cart. Always try to add another line item to an invoice and offer premium/higher-priced products to encourage customers to spend more.

Example: ABCoffee offers specials that allow regular customers to add free bags to orders over a certain size. They occasionally slip in samples of new roast, hoping to whet the customer’s appetite to carry more varieties. They host “cuppings” for coffee shop owners to do tastings of their coffee blends, and offer special pricing for orders placed at these events.

Increase the Number of Times a Customer Buys from You

You can also grow your business by increasing customer loyalty and encouraging repeat purchases. To measure this, look at your purchase frequency metrics. Have customers been buying from you more frequently this year? If not, consider implementing a loyalty program or offering discounts to encourage repeat purchases. Make it a desirable thing to be a regular customer.

Example: ABCoffee implements a wholesale customer subscription program that provides a 10% discount to customers that sign up for their automatic monthly delivery service, thereby increasing the frequency of orders (with the bonus of providing reliable and predictable orders to their fulfillment center, increasing efficiency.

By evaluating your metrics for each of these areas of potential growth, you can identify where your business is thriving and where there’s room for improvement. (There’s always room for improvement.) Maybe you’ve been focusing on customer acquisition when your efforts would be better applied to increasing customer spend or loyalty.

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to growing a business. Find out what works for your specific business and customer base. By concentrating on these three key areas and monitoring your metrics, you can make data-driven decisions to drive growth and achieve your business goals.