Business Acquisitions – Update

Two years ago I wrote a series of posts on buying a business. You can find the first one here, if you want a little background. Recently, I completed my third acquisition and I thought it made sense to go back and either validate or update my information.

Finding a Business

This was the surprising part of my recent acquisition. I found this business with an internet search. Historically, I haven’t had much luck using this approach, but this time I was a little more open-minded. I was looking for a business that I could easily move back to Kansas City. By expanding my search to all states, I really opened up my options. Being willing to look at my search from a different perspective and thinking outside the box really helped me be opportunistic.

Valued Partners

This is still one of the more important factors of buying a business. Having a team of talented partners to help you out in key areas will make the process go as smooth as possible. Depending on your acquisition target, your team could include an attorney, accountant, technical support, and operations expert. I’ve had this team in place from previous acquisitions, but this purchase was in a distant state and had existing vendors. I had to consider how to transition from the prior owner’s vendors to my local vendors without disrupting ongoing operations. While it wasn’t always as smooth as I would have liked, by openly communicating and being willing to transition over a reasonable time period, I found that most vendors were very helpful. There’s a difference in offering a reasonable workout plan and pulling the rug out from under a vendor’s feet.

Due Diligence

I can’t emphasize the importance of due diligence enough. What was different this time versus my prior two acquisitions was doing all of it remotely. I like to meet the seller in-person to really get a understanding of how they run their business. It’s harder to do this over the phone. With this transaction I weighed making a trip just for due diligence versus doing everything via phone. I opted for the phone method, which ended up being fine, but the next time I would schedule a trip to meet the owner and complete some of the due diligence. I think this would have made the transition and ongoing operations smoother.

Post-Acquisition Integration

This was where the real learning took place. I place a huge emphasis on preparing  to run your acquired business before you close on the deal. I felt we were very prepared for the transition, but the remoteness of the the business made moving the operations to Kansas City a little rougher than I liked. I underestimated the amount of time we should have spent in the seller’s city prior to transitioning the business. I also underestimated dealing with some vendor relationships that remained in the seller’s city. They were used to face-to-face conversations, not email and telephone. Some of that could not be avoided, but a little more communication while I was there, would have been beneficial.

I continue to enjoy every part of the acquisition process. Each time I find a different part of it challenging, which I enjoy. You have to pay attention to every aspect of the acquisition cycle to have the best chance of success. Even then, you need to make sure you continue to execute after you close. The closing date is just the beginning of your dream. I would love to hear about your acquisition experiences.

 

 

Financial Regulation – The Sword of Damocles?

 

Running a successful financial institution comes with a plethora of responsibilities and pressures. Dealing with these effectively and continuing to move forward can be challenging and rewarding. When you throw an uncertain (even hostile?) regulatory environment that has been threatening to pull the rug out from under your feet for years, that’s a stress multiplier that has made some take a bunker mentality and just try to survive. While the bunker mentality is certainly a safe play, it makes it hard to be innovative or even keep pace with the competition.

Can you compare this environment to the tale of the Sword of Damocles? Damocles, a court attendant, traded places with King Dionysius after Damocles told the king how great his job was.  The king traded, but placed a sword over Damocles head that was held precariously by a horse hair to represent the constant pressure a leader faced. Damocles quickly wilted under the constant threat of the sword and gave up his position. (Wikipedia has a better summary of the tale)

This is similar to the current situation many financial institutions find themselves with the federal regulators placing a figurative sword over their heads. While the sword is figurative, the threat is very real. The big difference is the leadership of the financial institutions did not want to trade places with the regulatory body. In fact, they continue to appreciate the role of regulation in creating a healthy, consumer-focused business environment. The regulatory body just decided to place this “sword” over the financial service providers collective heads, periodically tweaking the tenuous string from which it is hanging to make sure everyone is aware of its presence. This threat has kept a large group of organizations from adapting to the changes in technology, consumer preferences, and competition. Who is benefiting from this situation? Consumers – no. Operators – no. Regulators – hmm.

I would argue that the regulatory environment many not stabilize until 2018, if then. There always seems to be something that continues to kick the “payday rules can” down the road another six months, right? Even if there is a change in leadership of the regulatory “king”, can you be assured that it will have a positive effect for your business or will it just create more uncertainty and continue the waiting game? How has the change at the executive office helped your business so far in 2017? I’m not being critical, some changes takes time and involve a lot of moving parts behind the scenes. My point is you can always find a reason to not act, but you need to take charge of your destiny and create your own environment that removes the sword from hanging over your head.

Innovation – Myths that are preventing your organization’s success

The practice and discipline of innovation is critical to the sustained success of any organization. In 2013, PwC’s report Unleashing the power of innovation surveyed executives from around the world and 64% said that innovation and operational effectiveness were equally important to the success of any company. Yet, there are many companies that don’t initiate this practice, or even worse, discourage it from developing at all. Part of the reason for this is due to some myths on how innovation works in an organization. Here are a few of the common myths.

Innovation is only for large companies

While it is true that innovation is critical to help sustain large companies (see how the Fortune 500 has changed over the last 10 years), innovation is just as critical for the survival of smaller companies, if not more so. Small and medium sized companies are even more exposed and at risk to changes in competition, external environments, and technological disruptions. Being aware and constantly ready to change is paramount to sustained success.

Innovation requires a team of like-minded people

It’s true that your approach to innovation should have a group of people that are passionate about innovation, however, your group needs to have a nice mix of thinkers. This allows you to get different, valuable perspectives on solutions. It is especially helpful for organizations that have not been innovative to pull in outside resources to get started correctly. This provides added measures for success and brings in a fresh, unbiased perspective to provide alternative views and help move things forward.

Innovation is only good for brand new products and services

Umm, no. It is absolutely true that innovation can create a brand-new product offering, but it is not the only outcome of innovation. Many times, through the process of innovation, new processes will be created or, even better, improved processes are created. You don’t have to be a disruptor to claim innovative success. If you can get dramatic improvements in your existing processes, whether it is creating better margins or improving value to your customer, that is a great result.

Innovation takes too long

If you are hoping for a “one and done” approach to innovation, then yes, it may take too long. And yes, your innovation efforts will most-likely fail. If you take the approach that innovation is an ongoing part of your organization and it will never truly end, then the timeframe should not be an issue. The by-products of an innovation approach, if done correctly, will continue to improve the strength of your organization and add real value. It is important to understand that innovation will have its challenges. There will be times where a proposed innovative idea will not work out as expected. It is important at these times to fail fast, glean any data from the process that you can, and move to the next project. Oftentimes these “failures” provide valuable insight that provide real value.

Innovation is not a company-wide initiative

Look at companies that have started innovation initiatives that sputtered, stalled and failed. One of their common traits will be that their organization did not fully accept the innovation initiative. They also probably did not have a senior leader champion their efforts. If there is not complete buy-in from an organization with support from senior leadership, the chances of success are zero. Innovation does not happen in a vacuum.

Innovation interferes with our strategy

If your organization’s culture believes this, then it will be a problem. Innovation should be compliment of your strategy, not compete with your strategy. There is a need for organizational discipline when it comes to innovation. You can’t change directions on a whim and have the entire organization chase every new idea that comes up. There needs to be an innovation process that allows the organization to move forward and take advantage of innovation, not be distracted or mired down by innovation. This is another area where outside assistance can provide the guidance needed to create a successful innovation program.

In the same 2013 PwC survey, 57% of the executives said having the right culture to foster and support innovation is the most important ingredient for successful innovation at a company. Don’t let the common myths of innovation prevent you from taking the important first step. Innovation should be a permanent fixture in your organization to assist in your sustained success. The traits of the team that you assign this important function are critical to its success, along with the full backing of the organization. If you would like to further discuss the make-up of this team and how to start innovation in your organization, contact Incite Business.

Great Service Story – Google Fiber

We recently had Google Fiber installed in our house. As a little backstory, our house is about 30 years old and has seen at least three different cable companies come through and run cables. To say our cabling was a rat’s nest is probably an understatement. The Google Fiber installation tech came in and quickly realized he needed some help. Instead of rescheduling, someone showed up within 20 minutes to help him. Both were extremely polite and professional. Did I mention that neither of them were an employee for Google? They were subcontractors and really represented Google in a professional way. Once they were done, the technician walked me through everything and made sure I knew how to use all of the new equipment.

Shortly after they left, I realized that one (out of many) of the network cables was not connecting. Not a huge deal since 99% of the house would be using the blazing fast wireless network. However, we do have an office that used a switch to connect equipment. I’d prefer for that part to be wired. I was not upset considering the mess the technicians had to work with for the installation. I scheduled a follow-up visit to get my issue resolved.

The second crew came in a few days to fix this issue. I was surprised when he said he was going to go through my whole cabling setup to confirm everything was good and to see if he could improve the initial setup. Again, very professional and courteous the whole time. While he worked on that, the other technician fixed my wired setup issue. Usually in these situations when a follow-up crew fixes a problem left behind by another crew, the “clean-up” crew may say some negative things about the first crew. Not these guys. They were very complimentary of the first group and really spoke positively about everything. They were excellent ambassadors for Google. I continued to get more impressed.

Later that night, we received an email from Google saying they were going to credit our account for the time we were without some of our service. I was astonished. An unsolicited credit to compensate for our problems. Frankly, since our wireless worked the whole time, we really were not inconvenienced by the issue. This is a great example of how a company can, and should, handle unfortunate situations that arise. Google really impressed me, especially for a company of their size. They have a great product, really strong ambassadors for their company, and, at least for us, very loyal customers.

This was a great lesson for me, as a business owner, on how to effectively provide a valued service, find the best ambassadors, and treat customers appropriately.

Want better customer service? Be a better customer.

A few weeks ago I received a disconnect notice from my internet service provider for my business. We had an issue with a payment being applied to the wrong account (my fault) a few months before and, for some reason, they could not get it resolved. Because of this, my account goes into a delinquent status and I get this notice every month. I’m not sure about you, but I prefer not spending my time trying to resolve ongoing issues that should have been fixed. Having a little bit of a type A personality probably does not help this situation and being wired as a problem-solver really does not help. As I was dialing their customer service number I started getting into battle mode. What I was really doing was ensuring that this upcoming experience had very little chance of succeeding.

As I mentioned before, I tend to be a problem-solver. In this situation, I realized that if I started the conversation in a negative and defensive manner, it would force their customer service representative to react in a certain way. They would be trying to defuse my behavior as much as trying to defuse my problem. However, if I started out in a positive, problem-solving manner, it would allow us both to focus 100% on fixing the problem. If both sides are focused 100% on fixing a problem, the chances of success are much higher.

For most of my career, I have been deeply involved in service-oriented industries where excellent customer service is the standard. From firsthand experience I know agents will take the extra step or give a little more effort to customers that are positive and willing to work with them. I wish I could say that I take this positive results-oriented approach every time, but occasionally I let my emotions lead the way. I will say that the times when I create a positive mindset prior to engaging a customer service agent, my outcomes almost always are positive – for both sides. For me to expect excellent customer service, it’s only reasonable that I am an excellent customer.

 

Is Apathy Hurting Your Business? Meh.

If you are a business owner with employees or a manager of employees, you may have encountered employee apathy. You know, the employee that has been doing a great job and then all of a sudden they are not engaged, mistakes are happening, and possibly complaints from clients. When it gets to this point, the challenge of reversing the situation is pretty difficult. It’s not impossible, but it will take a willing effort from both parties.

Causes of employee apathy

There are a variety of reasons why an employee could become disengaged with your organization. Here are a few that may resonate with you:

  • They have been in their position for a long time and are now bored with their responsibilities
  • They feel they are not appreciated or acknowledged for their work
  • Poor performance by other employees is tolerated so there is no reason to try hard
  • Antiquated systems or processes make the organization uncompetitive and there is no plan for upgrades
  • Something in their personal life is affecting their work life

It is important to remember that you might not agree with their thought process on any of these items, but right or wrong, it is what they believe and is what is driving their thought process and behavior. It’s also important to be open to the idea that there may be some validity in their concerns. This is a great opportunity to salvage an employee relationship and possibly improve parts of your business.

Identifying employee apathy early

The faster you can identify when an employee is starting to become apathetic, the easier it is to help them change course. The nice byproduct of these solutions is that it should improve the overall communications and culture of your organization.

  • Have regular one-on-one checkins with your employees. You can do this formally or informally. Ask open-ended questions and then listen. “How are things going?” “How can we improve things?”
  • If possible, have group functions periodically. An informal lunch goes a long way to building relationships and keeping everyone engaged as a team.
  • Create a mechanism for employees to provide feedback. While this could be a formal process, it can also be as easy as having an open-door policy. If employees are empowered to bring things to your attention with the knowledge that you will actively listen and are interested in what they have to say, it will go a long way to keep them engaged.
  • Create a mechanism for clients to provide feedback. An easy way to do this is with a telephone call or an email. It doesn’t have to be elaborate and you can also use the same open-ended questions.

Unwinding meh

Hopefully apathy doesn’t happen frequently in your organization, but if it does, there are ways to help this situation. A lot of it comes down to you as the leader. You may have an organization-wide issue that you need to change such as improving workflow processes, implementing cross-training to give employees some variety, or creating more of a team environment. You may also need to improve your communication skills and sharpen your leadership skills.

As a leader in the organization, you need to be committed to staying engaged yourself. If you are working in the business instead of on the business, you may be missing key signals that are being sent by your team. Take this opportunity to take a hard look at your current situation and determine if there are areas that need some attention.

If you would like to discuss how to keep employees engaged and stop meh in further detail, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  I am here to help!

 

Pause and Refocus

I clearly remember back in 2014 when I started my new journey to become a business coach and consultant I was excited, nervous, and a little unsure about the best way to start. I jumped in and then stopped. What happened? I had the opportunity to acquire a company and it made too much sense to pass up. Instead of jumping into coaching and consulting I dove into an acquisition and then the post-close transition. I’ve been through a few of these and absolutely love the challenges associated with these transitions. I had the opportunity to work with a great team of people at HPS Process Service & Investigations and I continue to be thrilled with the level of service they provide. They’ve been doing it for over 30 years and really know their stuff!

About six months after my first attempt to jump in  I was ready for my second attempt. This time I decided to focus on one industry and mainly focus on the consulting side. A lot of time and energy was spent on creating fantastic programs to help companies transform into something new. The only problem? The industry wasn’t ready to buy what I was selling. Someone very wise told me “It’s not very fun to go to a dance when no one will dance with you.” So true! At that point I decided to take a pause and focus more on my two existing companies HPS and Get Smarter Prep and spend more time with my kids. While this happened I would ponder on what I wanted to do next.

One of the best things about coaching is providing clarity on next steps to others. Sometimes, with a little reflection, you can get your own clarity. Sometimes it takes a lot of reflection. I realized that I was at the same place I started back in 2014, ready to jump in and work on business coaching and consulting. I am less nervous, not unsure about the best way to start, and very excited. Will I get diverted by a new opportunity? Maybe. But that’s the best part of life – living it!

Don’t Let the Unknown Stop Your Strategy

Over the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to talk with a wide variety of participants in the financial services industry. Most of the time the conversations would touch on the impending publication of a regulatory agency’s proposed rules for the small dollar credit industry. We would talk about what the rules might look like, when the rules would be published and when they would become effective. Frequently we would speculate on the impact the rules would have on consumers and the providers in the industry. As you can see, the common theme in these discussions was speculation. We would gather snippets from presentations at conferences or information from published interviews, but there has been very little clarification provided by the government agency to help the industry prepare. Whether this exact situation applies to you or you are being stalled by some other type of pending outcome with multiple scenarios, the following process can help.

Why is this important?

The lack of information is important because it is stopping some from creating and acting on a strategy for their organization. There are many owners and executives delaying creating or modifying their existing strategy because of this huge regulatory unknown. Whether it is because they don’t want to waste time creating a strategy that turns out to be wrong or they don’t have the available resources to effectively work on a strategy because their best people are now focused on compliance instead of growth, a majority are not working on an effective strategy. This is concerning because there are other significant disruptors, beyond regulatory, in the market that need to be addressed. Changing customer demographics, quickly evolving technologies, and the influx of capital to new competition is creating a challenging environment that requires action to stay competitive.

How do you create a strategy for the unknown?

The first thing you should do is identify where your organization is right now. What are your current strengths and weaknesses? What areas of the organization need help? How is competition affecting you? I highly recommend that you get very granular on this with the review of your people, departments, financial status, products, competition, etc.

If there are areas of your organization that are going to be affected by the proposed rules, I would suggest looking at 2 or 3 scenarios for your strategy. At a minimum, I would look at a best-case and worst-case scenario. You would need to decide, but I can see where you might consider the rules not becoming effective at all as the best-case scenario and the rules coming out as previously defined as the worst-case. If you wanted to add a third scenario, you could create a middle-of-the-road scenario that falls somewhere between the best and worst. Once you have your scenarios, you would follow a decision tree type logic to determine your strategy options.

How does this help?

Granted, creating a strategy that is dependent on different possible outcomes is not ideal, but it will potentially give you important clarity in a few areas that will allow you to act now. For instance, if you determine that you want to add a new loan product in your branches to help diversify revenue, you could start the licensing and product definition process. The earlier you get your application in the licensing queue the better in some states. The other example would be if you wanted to introduce data analytics to your lending decisions, this would be beneficial to your existing way of doing business and if/when the new rules are applied. Getting this discipline effectively integrated into your organization takes time and effort. If you determine that you want to offer your customers an omnichannel approach to strengthen relationships, there is some lead time to create that solution. The bottom line is that this approach allows you to act.

How do I start?

Creating a strategic plan takes effort and commitment from key personnel in the organization, especially senior leadership. You have to balance the work everyone is doing for the present and your investment in the future. An important part of strategic planning is getting an unbiased perspective on the organization’s current situation and its ability to achieve future goals. For this reason, organizations benefit from bringing in an outside expert to help facilitate the process. This person will not have the organization’s historical biases to cloud their judgement or the desire to protect their turf. In fact, the right person can ask tough, clarifying questions that will benefit the process and organization. The other benefit of using an outside party is that it will tie up less of your critical resources – allowing your key personnel to continue working on critical projects. Whether you go through this process with internal or external resources, the most important thing is to start!

If you would like to discuss how to create a strategic plan in further detail or would like some assistance taking that first step, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  I am here to help you!

 

 

Half Empty or Half Full? Who Cares!

I constantly see the sayings “Is your cup half empty” or “Is your cup half full”. There are many variations to these, all with the purpose of determining whether you are optimistic or pessimistic. While I think that, as a leader, it is important to know how you naturally perceive things, it is just as important to take the next step and ask the question “Why isn’t the cup full and what are we going to do to fill it back up?”

Why perception is important?

As a leader, you need to understand how you and each of your team members perceive things. If you are naturally pessimistic and you surround yourself with like-minded individuals, you are probably going to see your environment in a less-than-positive manner. The same if you are naturally optimistic. I want to stress that I firmly believe you should embrace who you are. If you are naturally pessimistic or optimistic, understand that and work with it. Create a team that balances your natural perception.

You’ve observed, now act!

How many times does your organization encounter a difficult situation and then nothing happens? I see situations like this frequently and too many times there is a lack of action because the team is too focused on why they are in the situation. They spend a lot of time working through the cup half empty / cup half full debate. While it is important to understand the situation, once you have defined it you need to create your strategy. Then act!

It’s overflowing!

The next time you encounter a difficult situation, I encourage you to not spend too much time defining the situation and spend more time on planning how to move forward and fill the glass back up. Rally your team around creating a strategy to not only fill up your cup, but make it overflow – then you will need a bigger cup! Then you can have a heated debate with your team on whether your new cup is half empty or half full!

Getting stuck in these situations is a very common problem for businesses of all sizes. Sometimes, a new perspective helps get things started. Please contact me if you would like a confidential, no obligation conversation about your cup.