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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!

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.

 

 

Buying A Business – Part Two

In Buying A Business – Part One, I gave an overview on identifying the type of business you want to buy, searching for available businesses, and then a not-so-subtle tip that it will take time and hard work to actually close on the business you are pursuing. There are a few more areas in the process that I’ll cover in this post. As a reminder, these posts are not meant to be an all-inclusive primer on buying a business, but a high-level overview on some of my learnings as I’ve gone through the process multiple times.

Circle The Wagons

As soon as you start the process of buying a business, you should begin to identify your trusted advisers and vendors. Here is a short list of some of the most important connections for you to make. Each transaction is different, so you will want to evaluate your situation and identify any others you may need.

Accountant   An accountant is a great person to review your opportunities. They have seen many successful and unsuccessful business over the years and are well-equipped to give you advice on the financial health of the business. Also, you should decide if you are you going to do your own bookkeeping? If not, you will need to identify who is going to do it. If you are, it’s still a great idea to have a trusted financial adviser in your corner to help review your efforts and possibly prepare your necessary tax submissions. This is a critical area for the long-term success of your venture and is not an area to take shortcuts or try to save a few dollars.

Attorney   A strong deal lawyer is worth their weight in gold, especially if you can find one that will protect your interests without flooding your deal in paperwork. One of your decisions could be whether you want to go with a big or small firm. The benefits of a large firm are they can throw a lot of resources at a deal and make things happen quickly, which you will pay for. The benefits of a small firm is possibly a lower bill and personalized service. There are pros and cons to both options and I’ve seen success using both. The best advice I can give you is to get referrals from trusted advisers and go with the lawyer you connect with and understands what you are trying to achieve.

Financing   How are you financing your deal? Are you considering an SBA loan, a conventional loan, or other alternatives for your deal? There are many options for deal financing. Some will make more sense than others, depending on your financial situation, deal size, and type of business you are acquiring. Like other areas, the more homework you do ahead of time, the better. The worst time to start looking for financing is after you have made an offer. I highly encourage you to do a lot of homework in this area as soon as you start looking for a business. Until you know what financing you have available you will not know what price range to look at or what to offer. The other thing to keep in mind is that financing should not be a cookie cutter approach – financing a deal can be an art and use a lot of imagination and creativity.

These are just a few of the important connections you should make when you start your search. Depending on the type of business you buy you may need other resources like Information Technology, Marketing, Banking, etc. These will be valuable resources even after you close on your business.

Bow To Your Partner

You’ve found the business that meets all the parameters you previously established and you want to move forward. Now comes what I call “The Dance”. Depending on your personality, this could be the part of the process that really gets your adrenaline pumping or elevates your stress level. Usually you will be given the opportunity to meet with the Seller and ask them questions about the business. This is a great opportunity to learn about that specific business, but an even better opportunity to learn more about the Seller. Why are they selling? What type of deal structure do they prefer? What does their ideal Buyer look like? If there are multiple offers, what will they base their decision on? Don’t be afraid to ask specific questions about a deal. If it’s a question they don’t want to answer, they or their Broker will say so. If you are polite and genuinely interested, a lot of times they will give you some critical information. The key objective of this meeting is to give you enough information to decide whether you want to continue to pursue the opportunity or not. The secondary objective is to give you key information that will help you draft an offer that gives you a higher chance of acceptance, if you want to go down that road. Like other aspects of buying an acquisition, there is a little bit of an art to these meetings. If you do your homework and prepare quality questions for the meeting, you will do great.

Once you have decided to pursue the opportunity, you will need to submit a formal offer to the Seller. You will need to determine what price you want to offer and the broad terms of the deal. Depending on the Seller, the size of the deal, and a few other factors, you will probably present the Seller with a Letter of Intent or something similar. Each opportunity is different and your approach may need to be different for each one. If you are responding to a business that has been listed by an Aggregator or Broker, you will probably be competing with a few qualified buyers. You may go back and forth a few times or you may, but hopefully you will come to an initial agreement that allows you to move forward towards the actual purchase.

The Homestretch

The Seller accepted your offer. Now it’s just a matter of picking a closing date and getting the keys, right? No. You’ve still got a lot of work ahead of you. There are major things to do beyond just picking a closing date. Here are a few of the major things you will need to do to get to the closing date.

Due Diligence   You will need to perform some due diligence on the Seller’s business prior to closing. Depending on your financing, they may require some proof of this. At a minimum, you will want to do this for your own benefit. You will want to verify the validity or existence of key items that the Seller represented to you. This could include reviewing the Seller’s prior years’ tax returns to verify revenue and expenses. It could also include reviewing existing customer contracts to verify that they can be transferred or assigned to your new entity. A thorough due diligence process is vital to closing the deal and assuring you the business you are buying is worth the amount you are paying.

Finalize Financing   Your financing partner should be working closely with you at this point to make sure you are gathering the right information they need to approve your funds and make sure everything is proceeding in a timely fashion. I highly recommend communicating often with your financing partner to make sure everyone is on the same page during this whole process. You don’t want any last-minute surprises or delays that could derail your deal. Generally, these partners have a lot of these transactions under the belt and will be a huge asset to you completing the deal.

Closing Documents   While you are doing due diligence and working on your financing, you should also be working on all of the closing legal documents. In addition the the sales agreement, you may also need consulting, non-compete, and lease agreements. Whether the Seller’s attorney or your attorney is drafting these documents, you will want to thoroughly review them to make sure they encompass everything you want and need to transition the business.  If the Seller’s attorney is preparing them, you will want your own attorney to give them a thorough review. Don’t be afraid to ask for changes if you need them. This is another area that may cost some money, but you should not try to cut corners.

The process of buying a business takes a lot of flexibility, patience, and endurance.  You will be juggling a lot of different balls at the same time, but it can be one of the most gratifying and exhilarating things you go through. In my next post I will cover the important things that should happen after you take possession of your new business. That’s right – there is more work to do! In the meantime, if you have any questions or want more details about my experiences buying businesses, don’t hesitate to contact me.

 

Buying A Business – Part One

Over the last few years I have had the pleasure of going through two different searches to find and purchase a business. I’m not sure which was more exciting to me – the hunt or closing on the deal. I learned a lot from both searches and wanted to share my experiences, in case you are considering something similar.

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

For me, one of the hardest things about buying a business was trying to identify which type of business I wanted. Since I grew up in service-oriented companies, I naturally gravitated towards them. Beyond that, I wasn’t sure what I wanted. I went through the SIC directory to see if any specific type caught my eye, but it really didn’t help much, except to identify some industries that I wanted to stay away from. After a lot of time and headaches, I decided that not knowing exactly what I wanted was not a bad thing. Actually, for me, being open-minded helped me buy two of my businesses.

Release The Hounds

Finding the right business to buy is a combination of skill, persistence, and sometimes luck. Once you have narrowed down what you are (or are not) looking for, the really hard work begins. The first thing you should understand about “the search” is that you will probably have a lot of competition. Depending on the market you are searching, many times there are more buyers and sellers. It’s important for you to understand this dynamic in your market. If there are a lot of pursuers for a business, many times you will have to pay a premium for the business or be creative with your offer. If you know people who have recently bought a business in your market, ask them how the process went and what the competition was like. The more informed you are about your market, the better your chances. Here are a few options on how to find available businesses.

List Aggregators

An example of a list aggregator is BizBuySell. They provide lists of companies available for sale that you can filter by location, type, etc. If you register, you can also get updates emailed to you. I would sign up for these lists whether you are seriously looking or just thinking about starting a search. You should definitely understand that this is a volume game and that you and a gazillion others will be looking at the same information. However, there is a plethora of great information on these websites. Once you find an industry you are interested in, you can look at different locations outside your market and see how they are priced. This is helpful insight for you when you are contemplating offers.

Brokers

If you are serious about buying a business, you should absolutely reach out to the brokers in your market. Before you send your first email or make your first call, reach out to your network and find out who the best brokers are in town. You might also find out who you should shy away from. Once you have your short list, reach out to each of them and take the time to introduce yourself and begin developing a relationship. I highly recommend you meet them in person. I’ve always believed that you can build a relationship stronger and faster if you meet in person. Each brokerage will have a slightly different approach to working with clients. Some may offer to help you perform your search – for a fee. While I have not gone with this approach, I know others who have had great success with it. This is a decision you will need to make based on what you are looking for, how fast you want to find your business, and your budget.

Networking

If you are in a position to share the news that you are searching for a business, by all means do so. Leverage the network you have built over the years to help you find the business of your dreams. You may be surprised and find the business of your dreams through your network. I would leverage your connections and even look at groups on LinkedIn to identify opportunities. Think of searching for a business like fishing. The bigger the net, the more fish you will catch, and hopefully find one that is a keeper.

Law Of Large Numbers

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it may take longer than a few days to find the business of your dreams. I’m also sorry to tell you that you may bid on the business of your dreams and lose – multiple times. I will tell you that if you are persistent, you will find more than one of these golden opportunities. I don’t know how many dream businesses I lost or even walked away from (actually, I do), but I picked myself up and kept working hard. Eventually, it paid off.

In my next post I will discuss what happens once your offer is accepted. The fun of due diligence and contract negotiations begins. You also will need to start developing key relationships with your trusted advisers. These are the critical people that will help you finalize your transaction and get you started on the right foot.

If you are thinking about starting the exciting adventure of buying a business, or in the middle of a search and would like to get some valuable feedback on the process, don’t hesitate to contact me. I would be happy to share my successes and failures with you.

 

Consumer Lending Revolution

The more I look at what is happening with consumer lending today, the more I believe we are in the midst of a true revolution. This is not a slow evolution, although some of these changes have been happening over the past few years, this is a substantial change in the lending environment. In my opinion, there are three main areas driving this consumer lending revolution:

Regulatory Changes

  • The CFPB’s proposal for changes in small dollar credit will have a dramatic impact on short and longer term loans. No matter what the final rules say, you can be assured they will dramatically change consumer’s access to credit and lender’s approach to offering credit.  Good or bad, it will be a significant change.
  • The Department of Justice’s “Operation Chokepoint” initiative to pressure financial institutions to cut off access to “risky” businesses illustrates the federal government’s willingness to take an unorthodox approach to affect their change – even as it negatively impacts law-abiding business owners.

Technology & Data

  • There is increasing consumer comfort with initiating financial transactions outside of a branch. While there is still a group of consumers that prefers a face-to-face experience, that group is shrinking. Smartphones are now mainstream and this will continue to drive transactions from the storefront to a mobile device. Not only do you need to be online, your site needs to be responsive and very user-friendly.
  • More companies are implementing data analytics to improve their marketing efforts, risk management, and product offerings. In fact, there will soon be a time when consumers expect an offering that is tailored specifically to them.

Consumer Habits

  • Soon the Millennials will outnumber the Baby Boomers.  According to Nielsen, Millennials and Baby Boomers each number approximately 77 million in population.
  • Also according to Nielsen, over 70% of the U.S. population owns a smartphone with the Millennial segment owning over 85%
  • Barkley reports that Millennials expect to be able to interact with brands on social media and gather product information from their social circles before making a decision

Currently, there is a lot of focus on the impending regulatory changes, but we shouldn’t overlook the impact that technology and consumer habit changes are having on the landscape. By themselves, the Millennials are forcing businesses to rework how they look at customer interaction. Companies that don’t recognize their buying power will have a hard time catching up.

How is your organization handling this revolution? Here are four steps for your organization to complete to effectively prepare for this revolution.

Understand your current situation

  • Do a thorough analysis of how the proposed CFPB rules will financially affect each of your branches.  You may have to look at multiple scenarios, but take the time to fully understand what may happen. Something will happen and it will be dramatic.
  • Review all of your current processes and systems to understand how they could handle the changes in technology and consumer habits.  How adaptable are they?
  • Do you have the best resources available to help you? Whether it is your organization’s team or your vendor relationships, do you have the best team to handle this revolution?  How adaptable and willing to change are they? How up-to-speed are they on these three areas?
  • Grab your smartphone and pull up your customer-facing website.  Is this the experience that will attract consumers in the future? How are you currently interacting with your customers on social media? Are you providing the experience Millennials expect? If not, they will go to someone that does.

Identify all of your options and gaps

  • What changes or additions to your current product mix can you make to improve it? Are there products you can add to attract more customers? How will your existing pool of customers respond to a new product? You should model how this will affect your financial results. Revisit opportunities you may have turned down in the past. They may look more attractive to your customers now.
  • Poll your current customers to learn what they would like to see from you. Poll customers that recently left to find out why.
  • Look at your team and determine who will have the passion and capacity to champion your organization to the next level. Identify any gaps you may have to handle this transformation.
  • Are you using data to make marketing decisions or helping with your risk management?
  • Examine all of your vendor relationships to help position you for the future. Are their positions missing? Do you have a solution for gathering and analyzing data? Sometimes you need to rent expertise.

Understand your timeline

  • This revolution is happening now. If you wait, you should understand that others are not.
  • How long does it take to add functionality to your current systems? If you want to add a new product, how long will it take?
  • If you are not online (desktop or mobile), how long will it take?
  • How long would it take to add a new product and make it work correctly? If you need to get licensed in a state for a new product, that by itself may take multiple months. If you are thinking of adding a longer-term installment loan, it may take 6-18 months to test and make changes to the program to keep losses within your tolerance level.
  • The short answer is you need to start now!

Create your plan and start

  • Don’t wait for absolute clarity on everything to start. Regulations, technology, & customer behaviors are changing – some very quickly. You need to create a plan and begin working towards your strategic solution to handle this revolution.
  • At a minimum, you should do a complete review of your entire organization. You will find opportunities to make improvements and get a better understanding of what you need to do to come out a winner.
  • There are experts that are ready to help you work through this process. You can get a fresh, unbiased perspective on your business and assist you in identifying the resources you need to succeed.

I think it is fitting to wrap this up with two quotes from Sun Tzu that are very appropriate:

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” 

“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”

I would love the opportunity to discuss this more with you and identify areas that our group can assist you. Please don’t wait to work on these four steps.

How Are You Responding To THE RULES?

It’s been almost two weeks since the CFPB released its proposed rules that will cover short-term and longer-term credit products. It’s been hard for me to have a conversation with anyone in the industry without a majority of the conversation being dominated by THE RULES. This makes sense for several reasons:  they have been anticipated for a long time, they are extremely complicated to understand, they may restrict viable financial solutions to consumers in need, and they may radically change the way the industry does business. Granted, when I use the word “may”, it’s only because THE RULES are not final, yet. In my humble opinion, the proposed rules will become effective, and no matter what modifications, if any, are made due to the small business review panel, the final rules will be dramatic and transform the industry.

There is conjecture that the effective date of THE RULES will not be until 2017, which has given some breathing room to some. While that effective date may make sense, postponing action, even if the rules are not final, may be harmful to your operation. There may be some benefits in seeing the finished version of THE RULES to create a plan, but there are definitely benefits in taking some actions now. I’m going to touch on a couple of areas that you should consider as you create your strategy for the future.

Evaluate The Proposed Rules

You should spend some time, as much as necessary, to fully understand the proposed rules. Then, examine how they will affect your existing product mix and profits in the state(s) you operate. I’ve been reviewing and analyzing the rules since they were published and one of best things I have done is to discuss the rules with others to make sure what I am interpreting is similar to what they are interpreting. I suggest having at least one or two additional sets of eyes to review the rules and then get together to discuss what you think. Not only will this lead to clarity, it might also start a productive brainstorming session. Even though THE RULES are not final, it doesn’t hurt to look at several scenarios to determine what your business may look like in 2017.

Evaluate Available Products

Are you currently offering all of the available products in your state? When was the last time you reviewed your competition to see if they have discovered something new? I’m not suggesting that you rush out and add every single product to your mix immediately, but you should have a comprehensive list of available options for you to consider. For each product that you consider, you should model the profit potential, the likelihood of your existing customer base accepting this product, and, importantly, how long it will take to implement this product and work out all of the bugs. If you add a 12-month installment loan as a new product, it is going to take more than a few months to make sure your model works. If you add a product that requires you to change your marketing approach, that may also take some time.  That 2017 time horizon isn’t that far away anymore, is it?

What should you NOT do now?

I’ve given you just a couple of things to do, but there are also some things you should not do. First of all, don’t stop providing excellent customer service. Outstanding customer service is the trademark of the industry. You provide customers a needed service that they truly appreciate. Their demand for your products and services has not diminished because of THE RULES. Next, don’t stop becoming lean and efficient in every aspect of your business. Part of this process should include a review of your systems to see if they can accommodate aspects of the proposed rules. Does your loan management system have a built-in CRM? How well does it handle installment loans? Do you have the ability to collect email addresses from your customers and then schedule email campaigns to them? Finally, don’t wait too long to start understanding and acting on the impact of THE RULES.  Granted, with a long time horizon and potentially grim prospects, it would be easier to wait and see, but as a successful business owner, is that the behavior that got you to where you are today?

The next two years are going to be challenging, there is no doubt.  This is an opportune time to establish strategic partnerships with those that can help you navigate this terrain. Whether it is a consultant with a needed expertise or a business coach to help you gain clarity on your future strategy, we are here to help you succeed.  Don’t wait to take your first step.

Hey Lenders, Is Winter Coming???

One of my favorite shows recently has been the HBO series Game of Thrones. One of the sayings from the series is “Winter is coming.” This is a dire warning to all that the current favorable conditions are ending and you need to prepare for the inevitable struggle of a long, harsh winter. During the CFSA conference last week it struck me that this saying could apply to the payday loan industry and its anticipation of new rules coming from the CFPB. While it may be a stretch to say that the landscape after the rules are implemented will be as foreboding as what is portrayed in the Game of Thrones, the sentiment shared by the operators in the industry certainly is not one of excitement and understanding.

One of the questions repeated by operators in the industry is why there are new rules being created when there are already existing laws in each state? Historically there have been comments that the numbers of complaints from consumers about payday lenders to the state agencies are very low. If consumer satisfaction is high, why the need for more rules? Maybe to help clarify this, the CFPB created a mechanism for consumers to make complaints directly to them – not only for payday lenders, but other industries (credit cards, private student loans, mortgages, bank accounts and services, credit reporting, consumer loans, money transfers, & debt collection). Based on a presentation given by the CFPB at the CFSA conference, the bureaus started collecting complaints on 11/6/2013. As of 1/31/2015 they had received 538,300 complaints covering the named industries. The payday loan industry had over 7,100 of these complaints. My rough math says that is about 1.32% of all the complaints. Out of the nine groups they are compiling data on, the payday loan group had 1.32%. One of the attendees stated, “This seems really low”.   Obviously with complaints this low there must be a problem…. just not sure it is with the operators.

As I was walking between workshops I overheard one operator tell another that she was shutting her business down due to her bank kicking her out with no notice and no past issues. Another victim of Operation Chokepoint? Apparently, she could not find a replacement bank. While recent news has been positive that this “initiative” has been halted, are the banks opening their doors back up to those they kicked out unnecessarily? I actually had a bank representative (name withheld to protect the “innocent”) contact me to try and help place their customer with another bank that would accept check cashing and payday lending. I asked the obvious question – “Do you not serve businesses in the industry?” The response was, unfortunately, not surprising, “No.” I sent him an article to enlighten him about the change in Operation Chokepoint. Never got a response. I still go back to the high customer satisfaction in the industry and the high product demand and just don’t understand the disconnect.

There was much discussion during the conference about the CFPB’s timeline for the rules to be effective. It appears that the final rules may not be effective until 2017, but that could change. At this point we still don’t know if the rules will only cover payday loans or if they will reach over into title loans, installment loans and other products. Based on the amount of time this is taking, it may be safe to assume the reach will go beyond payday loans. Not only are there going to be industry-changing rules in the future, data at the conference illustrated that customer demand has been shifting from a single-pay product to a multi-pay product. Customers are also getting more comfortable operating in an online environment for their financial products. Think about these last two items as they relate to your current operations. Do you offer a multi-pay product now? Do you offer your products in an online or mobile environment? If you said no to either of those, winter may be closer than you think!

So what should your strategy be to prepare for the upcoming “winter”? Here are a few things to consider as the landscape continues to evolve:

  • Continue to provide excellent customer service in a compliant, ethical fashion. The best way to maintain and grow your business is to still offer it at a high standard.
  • Explore options to add installment loans to your portfolio. There is a lengthy runway to implementing installment loans successfully – start now!  At the same time, you might want to start looking for extra funding – installment loans tie up cash.
  • Look at your current systems to understand what it would take to offer your products online or in a mobile environment. Will your current system handle installment loans? Do you need to change platforms?
  • Maintain good relationships with your vendors and bankers. At the same time, look for effective replacements. Don’t let yourself get caught without a way to operate.
  • Stay informed. The product and regulatory landscape are changing quickly and dramatically. Monitoring regulations and your competition are critical to gain insights to the future.

While these times are fluid and maybe a little ominous, there is also good news.  If you have the right strategy and the ability to adapt with the times, customer demand is out there.  If you don’t, there are experts out here that are able and willing to help you succeed.  Winter is coming.  Let’s get ready!

Management Reports – Drowning In Data?

One of the recent new buzzwords is “Big Data” and as technology progresses, all forms of data will continue to play a bigger and bigger role in our lives, especially in business. While the ability to access data and use it to make informed decisions is exciting, it is also challenging. It is getting easier to reach data overload and the dreaded “paralysis by analysis” – the state where you have so much data you just don’t know how to make a decision. As business owners, it is our responsibility to sift through all the data and identify the key points that drive our business. This is especially true if you have a management team in place that will also be reviewing the same data. What’s important to you will be important to them.

Financial reporting is critical to every successful business and a frequent, in-depth analysis of your income statement, balance sheet, and statement of cash flows should be happening. I am assuming that this is already happening in your business and we will not cover it. I am focusing on management reporting and how we should be using it to operate our business. I am going to look at three areas from a high level and hopefully create some thought-provoking items for you.

What should be in my reports?

Maybe the better question should be, “What shouldn’t be in my reports?” As we get access to more and more data, there is a tendency to continue to create more and more reports to capture that data. More is better, right? Not always. Like other things, there is a point of diminishing returns. If you have 20 reports available to your team, each with 5-20 different data points, how often do you really think they are using it effectively to evaluate the business? I encourage you to sit down with your team and identify the Key Performance Indicators for your business and design your reports around them. My recommendation is to keep your KPIs around 8 to 10 or fewer. More than that and my concern would be that some of the important data is not being seen. If your business has multiple divisions, you would probably have a unique set of KPIs for each division. Remember, your KPIs are the measurements that illustrate how your business is doing and the direction it is going.

Who Should Look At Reports?

I’m a fan of sharing data, so I would be in favor of everyone in the organization having access to management reports. What a great way to make sure everyone is focused on the same goals. This may not be comfortable for all business owners. I would suggest that, at a minimum, you provide relevant reports all the way up to the team members that are providing the service. It’s important for them to get feedback on their hard work. The other benefit of sharing reports with everyone is that it helps create a team environment. Also, take the extra step and have a training session with your team to make sure everyone understands what the reports say and how you can use reports to help the business. Don’t assume everyone understands the reports the way you do.

We’ve looked at the reports – now what?

Once you have reviewed your management reports, what do you normally do? Do you identify areas to focus on? Do some data points prompt you to look deeper? If you see a negative trend do you create a refresher training session? When you see a positive result, how often do you send out an email high-five to the team? Many times we are looking at data for negatives, when it could be used as a powerful motivator when results are good. It’s important to remember that data is just that – data. It’s your interpretation of the data that prompts action. How many times have you looked at results and come to one conclusion and then, after talking with your team, come to a different conclusion? Before taking any actions based on report data, you should ask yourself and your team if you have all the information needed to make the best possible decision. Only then should you consider making a change.

Next Steps

I encourage you to take a hard look at what reports you are currently using and talk to your team. Do your existing reports cover your KPIs correctly? Do you have reports that no one is looking at? Does your team understand what the reports are saying? This is a great opportunity to take a hard look at how you are measuring your progress and successes. It’s an even better time to align your entire team and make sure you all are focused on the same items. Management reports should encourage analysis, communication, and action. The other step I would encourage you to take is to start learning more about data analytics and how it can help your business. This is an evolving area of business that, if implemented correctly, will give some businesses a competitive advantage. Don’t get left behind.

If you would like a fresh set of eyes and perspective to help you and your team review your management reports or identify your KPIs, don’t hesitate to contact us. We are here to help you.

“My success, part of it certainly, is that I have focused in on a few things.” — Bill Gates

 

What Do You See?

During my career I have had opportunities to work in many different locations all over the country.  Each location had a completely different view.  If I was in a retail location, the view was generally of a busy street with passing cars and pedestrian traffic.  A hotel meeting or conference usually did not have a window to the outside world, so you saw mostly hotel guests and generic artwork.  A corporate office view would range from a picturesque landscape that covered countless acres to a dark alley that made you glad you were inside.  Prior to my new venture, my personal office looked over acres of trees and rolling hills that overshadowed the highways and office buildings in the area.  It was really quite beautiful, especially when a midwestern thunderstorm would roll in.  I noticed that in each location, over time, I would become accustomed to the view and almost not even notice it.  This “phenomenon” not only happens with the visual things we see everyday, but with the other important things we encounter on a daily basis.  How many times over the years do things change so gradually that we fail to notice that “suddenly” they don’t look the same anymore?  If we don’t stop and take a hard look at our business on a regular basis, what are the things we miss?

You hear about the horrible fraud cases where someone trusted within an organization has been defrauding them over a long period of time.  How did that situation happen?  Was there someone that should have been taking a hard look at things, but instead did not notice the gradual changes that were taking place?  The same could be said for long-term clients.  Do you ever get surprised because you have a sudden departure from what you believed was a very satisfied client – “They never said they were unhappy.”?  Did you take the relationship for granted and not notice the gradual unhappiness creep in?  If you are a manager in a retail location, do you ever get surprised when you get feedback that the appearance of your shop is “tired”?  As you walk in every day it looks clean and organized.  How do you notice that over time paint, signs, and other fixtures become faded and lose their lustre?  All of these situations require us to take a hard, honest look at the things we see on a daily basis.  If we cannot be the objective eye to identify the opportunities for improvement, who do we task to give us this critical information?

My new venture has the wonderful view of a rooftop.  I see roofing, air conditioning units, and depending on the season, leaves blowing around.  While others may see this as an eyesore, I see it as the view that was given to me as I explore my new opportunities to help others with their vision.  I see this as my avenue to adventure.  Over time, to make sure that I do not miss the gradual changes or become accustomed to the view, I will need some objective help to remind me that this vision needs to stay on track.  Who will you have do this for you?

 

Are We Excited Yet?

It’s been 10 days since I left my my “cushy” corporate job that I have spent over 22 years as an operations executive to start a consulting business from scratch.  I have spent almost half of my life and most of my professional life with the same organization.  I started with QC Holdings, Inc. when it had less than 20 locations and as I am leaving it has over 400 locations.  I helped transition QC from a one-product company to multiple products over multiple divisions in two countries  We went from a small, privately owned company to a larger, publicly traded company.  As I look back at the time I spent at QC, I am amazed at all the memories I have, both good and great.

Why in the heck would I leave this?

I asked myself that question and have been asked that question many, many times over the last couple of weeks.  The answer is I need to wake up and be excited for the day.  Not just from the perspective of spending time with my wonderful family, but with creating something meaningful at work.  QC is doing exciting, meaningful things, but it just has not been invigorating for me lately – and that’s how I knew it was time to do something different.  There used to be times I would wake up in the middle of the night with my adrenaline going because of something exciting we were working on.  Recently I would wake up in the middle of the night because one of our three kids is crying…  While that is part of being a good father, from a business/career perspective, I used those early mornings as a barometer of working on challenging, exciting projects.

My passion over the years has been growing our business and creating new product opportunities.  As I contemplated my departure from QC to the great unknown, I realized I would need to find an opportunity that allowed me to focus my passion and energy on something that I loved, but at the same time had enough variability that I would stay challenged.  The obvious answer to me was to start a consulting company that focused on helping businesses grow.  I want to help businesses take their growth to the next level.  I want to have the opportunity to match my passion for growth with their passion for their business.  I am excited to see how I can leverage my 20+ years of diverse experiences to help others succeed.  Truthfully, I am nervous about leaving the safety net of a regular paycheck and solid structure for the vast unknown of the world of entrepreneurs, but I am exhilarated that it is something new and exciting.  I am looking forward to the new opportunities that will be available to me.  I am excited!