Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A successful small business

What is success in a small business? I’ve been reading Small Giants, a book focusing on great companies who aren’t focused on growth for growth’s sake, or giant revenues, for giant revenues sakes. Most of the business owners I work with have their eye on a million, or a few million. One of the points he poses is what’s better, to have a highly profitable 10 million dollar company, or a mega 100 million dollar company. I think a lot of people assume that a 100 million dollar company must be profitable, but I think that is not always true; in fact I think that is often not true. To reach 100 million in sales, you most certainly will have had to leverage a lot, both in money, time and soul. Is it worth it?

Some of the questions we like to ask clients are:

  • What’s your ultimate goal?

  • Why are you doing this business?

  • What makes you truly happy?

Knowing what your core beliefs in business are can help guide your growth. Rarely do I come across a business owner who is just in it for the money. Most got into it for a way of life, or a love of the game of business growth, or because they had a passion to share their gifts and talents with others.

Is that profitable? It definitely can be; but profitability takes work, analysis, focus and a willingness to keep your knees bent. One of the CEOs in Small Giants talks about the Groundhog Day syndrome; doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. As small business owners, we have to keep our knees bent and be willing to shift, adjust and sometimes even do some stuff we don’t want to do.

The end result? Well, the goal is a happy life, a happy business and of course, profitability.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Date night with your finances?

Have you ever noticed that most people follow the statement “I have to pay bills tonight” with the word “ugh” or “yuck” or, something that rhymes with “yuck”? Those are often the same people that will sheepishly tell you they haven’t reconciled their checkbook any time in the past decade. And those same people probably couldn’t tell you how much they spend on groceries every month, or eating out, or healthcare.

When you look at the order in which our personal or business finances are done, it’s really no surprise most people consider it drudgery or despise it all. First, hunt and peck and gather everything we need to pay our bills. Second, pay the bills (i.e. give some or most of our money to others). Third, well, there is no third, because by then, we are physically and/or emotionally done with the monthly finances. Many aspire to continue on to: third, update their account balances, fourth, reconcile, and fifth, look at the totals of spending categories. But there’s no time or energy left to do the third, fourth or fifth steps.
My advice: try, just try, to make it fun.

Make it a date night; schedule time every month to just focus on your spending plan and financial goals. Light a candle, open a special bottle of wine, or go to your favorite cafĂ©. Divorce the bill paying monotony from the important work: providing yourself clarity about your finances by keeping your numbers, looking at your numbers, and planning for the next month. It doesn’t have to be drudgery! Numbers can be fun, when you allow your mind to open to the possibility.

Finance meetings every month?? What would we talk about??

I was having a frank conversation with a prospect the other day. He loved our business model, especially the concept of having someone take more than an accountant or bookkeeper’s interest in his business. He loved that there would be another person looking at his financials, his marketing activities, and his human resource management. He loved that he would have someone available so that he could just pick up the phone and ask a financial question.

His biggest concern, though, was that we require monthly meetings. “What on earth would we talk about every month?” I hope I didn’t offend him when I laughed.

What was so funny? He just filed bankruptcy on his last rather large business. And not to be outdone, it was a rather spectacular bankruptcy. Of course, it’s not funny that he had to file bankruptcy. I'm certain that for most, bankruptcy is a devastating financial and emotional experience. But it is funny that he didn’t see the correlation between that business’ downward spiral and how it might have looked different if he had hired us four years ago.

Businesses are closing down for a lot of reasons right now. The economy is certainly one of them, but it's the rare business that can say 100% of the reason lies with the economy. If you have had a financial person watching your back, they’ve steered you to put aside reserves, to lay off employees, to trim the fat, to raise your prices, to market more, not less, and most importantly, to not leverage your business to the point of no return.

If you’re talking to your accountant once a year, or once a quarter, that’s not enough. They are seeing what is happening to your business, but they probably aren’t helping you make better decisions. Ask them what it would look like if they talked to you more frequently.
Bankruptcy is expensive; monthly financial meetings, priceless.