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So You Think You Can Scale (Part 2 of 2)

(6) Set up team-based communication systems and share information freely with your team leaders.
You heard me. I said team leaders, not team. Even if you think you don’t have enough people to have team leaders, let this sentence be the last time in your business life that you think that.

You relate differently with your team when you recognize that they’ll be leading the next people you hire:
· You’ll train them on your decision-making frameworks, not just give them your decision. You’ll give them resources, not just answers.
· You’ll make sure that their compensation plan aligns with being and becoming a leader.
· You’ll be crystal clear about where they need to follow your lead to the letter and where they have the freedom to create.

(7) Make your calendar strategically reflect reality.
Huh?
There are five classes of activities that fill the life, and therefore the calendar, of every successful business leader. Everything, yes everything, fulfills one of these functions:
· Administrative
· Sales
· Marketing
· Operations
· Personal

Use your calendaring system to block out all of the appointments and classes, and assign each class a color.

If your inner voice is saying, “I don’t have time for that!” then I assert that you’d rather be busy than wealthy. Go get a job and beef up your volunteering. You’ll be happier.
If your inner voice is saying, “I do three or four of these in any 15-minute block!” then I assert that you’re letting other people, each person with a separate set of individual priorities, dictate how you live your life. Whose organization is this, again? Whose life is this, again?

It’s time to design your time to scale.

That means designing your schedule.
That means grouping similar activity classes.
That means creating expectations with others so every block begins and ends on time.
That means reviewing your weekly calendar at a 10,000-foot level to make sure each color is represented in alignment with a scaling organization.

You’ll need to do some research that, or work with a consultant, if you don’t already know what the Scaling Palette needs to look like for your industry, business life cycle stage, and goals.

(8) What is your favorite technique for growing your organization without your life getting busier? Write it in the comments below.

Five Ways to Streamline Your Payroll Process

For business owners with employers, payroll is a necessary task that can slow your day and tie you down if you let it.  If you’re looking for a way to make payroll less time-consuming, here are five ideas you can put to good use:

  1. Employee Onboarding

If you hire a lot, empower your new hires by letting them do their paperwork for you.  A good payroll system allows employees to “onboard” themselves, completing the I-9, W-4, and direct deposit authorizations electronically, even before they show up for their first day. You’ll still need to ask for ID on their first working day, but at least you won’t have to do their paperwork for them.

  1. Integrate Employee Benefits

Rather than hire several separate companies to handle benefits, some payroll systems allow you to integrate benefits solutions right in their dashboard.  That way, you won’t have to re-enter employee data in multiple systems, which often gets out of sync.  Deductions and payments can also be integrated to save accounting time.

  1. Delegate Timesheet Entry

Require non-exempt employees to enter their own time; all you should have to do is approve it.  The right timesheet application can take care of that, and a great timesheet application will allow employees to enter time from multiple options, including timecard, cell phone, and others.

  1. Eliminate the Annual Worker’s Compensation Audit

Tie your worker’s compensation vendor to your accounting system, and you’ll be able to avoid that time-consuming annual reconciliation report required by your worker’s compensation insurance company.  You can also avoid the large annual payment because the insurance will be taken out each payroll cycle.

  1. Reduce the Frequency of Payroll

It’s not always possible, but if you can pay employees less frequently, you might be able to cut your payroll time in half.  Pay weekly employees every two weeks or pay bi-weekly employees monthly.  Reducing payroll frequency boosts cash flow as well.

Try one of these five ideas to streamline your payroll time and costs in your business.  And as always, let us know if we can help.

So You Think You Can Scale (post 1 of 2)

It starts with the formula (what else did you expect from me?) that many of us are taught from a young age:

I work -> I get results

Which, if you want to grow a business or a not-for -profit organization, is so horribly, horribly wrong.

Have you already discovered this?

The trick is to increase your organization’s impact without making yourself busier:

I work at creating systems and processes for my inspired team to follow -> I get BIGGER results

Same number of hours in your workday. Therefore…not busier.

What else?

 

(1) Make sure your business model is sustainable.

Never scale an organization that isn’t financially workable.

Unless you *want* to grow yourself out of business (see “How to Become an Employee”)

 

(2) Get the processes of your head.

Use checklists, flowcharts, cross-functional flowcharts, videos, screencasts, a knowledge base.

Or hire telepaths.

 

(3) Combine your processes for accountability and support.

Your empowered, inspired, and integrious team goes to a team-oriented project management tool such as Wrike or Asana that they use to proudly check off their completed tasks AND ask for help and support where they need it.

 

(4) Establish communication protocols.

E-mail is used for what kind of communications? Texting? Phone calls? Video calls? Webcast? Snail mail? Yammer? Instant messaging? Popping your head into someone’s office? Water cooler? Lunch?

To what extent do synchronous communications need to be scheduled in advance and when will you and your team be available to communicate synchronously? What is your organization’s commitment to turnaround time for asynchronous communication?

 

Guess what. You get to design this. You get to choose. Really.

 

(5) Make sure there is / Make sure you can create more market demand for what your organization does.

“But how could anyone NOT want our product/service?” I hear you ask.

No, you’re not asking that. You were actually paying attention while your currently-successful organization was getting off the ground.

So be ready to pivot if the market is changing. (Hint: The market is changing)

 

Which one of these does your organization currently have nailed? Which one of these is “what’s next” for your organization?

More to come next week!

Transform Small Donors into Major Donors

Your not-for-profit organization is making a profound difference in the lives of those served. You are busy, your staff is busy, your staff is busy, and it’s time to put the pedal to the floor and launch a Major Gifts campaign.

The organization has a strong fan base, and there are those who would like to really leave a legacy. But not everyone may be in a position to part with legacy-level dollars…

…while they are alive.

The answer: Life insurance.

Here’s how it works: A person can make a small or medium-sized donation to the charity of their choice. That charity uses those funds to purchase a life insurance policy on that donor, with the charity as the beneficiary. (The charity also creates a budget line item for the premiums in case the donations to cover the premium stop coming for whatever reason.) Upon the eventual passing of the donor, the benefit that the charity receives will be many times the sum donated over the years.

If it’s so straightforward, why aren’t I hearing about this all over the place? I hear you ask.

  • Certain institutions do this all the time, notably charities that promote medical research, United Way, and Jewish Federations. It’s also a common practice in estate planning. The word is spreading.
  • Life insurance is, plainly put, an underutilized way to help people leave a legacy.

A cautionary note: It is better for the not-for-profit to own the policy so that after years of paying premiums, the beneficiary doesn’t get changed by the policy owner. Make sure to run it past a lawyer because it has to be done in a certain way, to the benefit of everyone.

So help someone to hit the Good Deed button, they can make a difference in the lives of the people who will benefit from your organization!

We thank Steven Kobrin for his co-authoriship of this blog. Steve is a life insurance expert with over 25 years experience. He serves high net-worth individuals and business owners, as well as high risk and uninsurable “impaired cases.” Steven offers concierge life insurance process to ensure the policy is approved as it’s quoted. To learn more, visit his website, read his blog, connect with him on LinkedIn, or request a policy audit today by calling his office at (866) 633-1818 or by email at skobrin@stevenkobrin.com. Steven is a contributor to Investopedia; view his profile here.

Cool Apps: Chatbots

In the last year, chatbots have exploded. A chatbot, short for chat robot, uses artificial intelligence to imitate a conversation with people. One place they have exploded is the Facebook Messenger app, which is a free instant messaging platform.

To get Facebook Messenger, you can download the app on your smartphone or go to https://www.messenger.com on your PC or Mac in any browser.

In Messenger, a chatbot looks just like a person. All you need to do to connect to a chatbot is to go to the People section and enter the name of the bot you want to connect with. Typically, there will be a Get Started button. The bot may ask you some setup questions such as your time zone, city, or topic preferences.

Bots can do many things. There are bots to deliver the news daily (Chat Newswire), bots that entertain and play games, bots that help you find recipes and restaurants, bots that improve your productivity, bots that help kids with their homework (Christopher Bot), and even a bot that connects with QuickBooks (Freelanzr).

Each bot works a little differently. In general, you will receive a welcome message, then the conversation will begin. The bot will prompt you to ask a question, enter a phrase or a word, or select from a group of horizontal button choices.

Bots are useful for your daily routine. You can get daily news, weather, reminders, and tips. If you are stuck standing in line somewhere, riding public transportation, in an Uber or taxi, or experiencing other downtime, you can have several conversations with your bots to pass the time.

If you don’t know of any bots or wonder about a bot that does a specific thing, there are lots of bot directories available. To get you started, here is one bot list:  https://botlist.co/.

The cool part is you can design your own bot for your business which can be fun for customers. The Facebook Messenger platform is open, and you can find out more about how to create a bot here: https://messengerplatform.fb.com/.

There are more platforms for chatbots besides Facebook Messenger, including Twitter, Android, Slack, and Amazon Echo, to name a few that you can explore if you don’t care for Messenger or Facebook.

It’s still early for bots. The effectiveness of the bots depends on how well they are designed as well as how much time the user spends learning how to work with the bot. Try connecting with a couple of bots to see if they will be productive for you. If nothing else, your kids will love the game bots while they are standing in line with you.

Do You Have Past Due Accounts?

If you perform a service or ship a product before you get paid, then you likely have a balance in your Accounts Receivable account. If customers pay when their invoice is due, all is right with the world. If they don’t, then your cash flow slows down and your bank balance is not as high as it should be. Here are some tips, preventive and supportive, to help you keep your accounts receivable current.

Granting Credit

When you deliver your service or product before your client pays you, you are in effect their “bank,” granting them credit. Not everyone deserves to be granted credit. Consider running credit checks, especially if you are billing large amounts of money for your sized business.

You may also want to ask for a retainer or deposit prior to starting work or shipping your products. This will smooth your cash flow and reduce your credit risk.

Offer Multiple Payment Options

When a customer is ready to pay their bill, make it easy on them by offering multiple payment options. Perhaps they will pay faster if you take payment by credit cards. Many people have extra money sitting in their PayPal accounts, so that is another payment option.  Apple Pay and Android Pay are relatively recent options to consider adding.

You may also want to revisit the credit cards you offer: MasterCard, Visa, and American Express are universal, but many places also take Discover and Diners Club. If you are doing international business, consider JCB (Japan), China UnionPay, and RuPay (India).

Collection Process

Once an unpaid invoice has reached its 90-day mark, the chances of collecting it are about 50 percent. This means that you will need to put some aggressive collection processes in place prior to the 90-day mark.

If the invoice is due in 30 days, start at the 35- to 40-day mark with a friendly reminder. At 60 days, your customer needs a strong reminder and perhaps a phone call. At 75 days, they need to know what consequences there will be for not paying. Will you report the customer debt to credit agencies? Will you turn the account over to a collection agency?

At 90 days, it’s probably a good idea to make one final collection effort and then turn it over to a collection agency. It might sound too soon, but the odds of collecting something much older go down significantly as time passes.

At any rate, create your own process, and automate it as much as possible. The main thing is to stay on top of it.

Past Due Accounts

From how you first engage with your clients to the last steps in the collection process, there are many cost-effective techniques to avoid past due accounts and the unpleasantness that goes with them for both parties. If this is an issue in your business, try these ideas above and reach out if you’d like our help.

 

Eight Ways to Increase Your Profits

Increasing your profits might sound like it’s an unattainable dream just out of your reach. But there are a finite number of ways that profits can be increased. Once you understand what they are, you’ll have clarity on how to best reach your goals.

There are two primary ways to increase profits:

  • Raise revenue
  • Lower expenses

That’s not particularly enlightening or instructional, is it? Let’s look at the four ways you can increase revenues and the four ways you can reduce expenses to get clearer on what actions we can take.

Four Ways to Increase Revenue

1. Raise prices

The easiest way to raise revenue is to simply raise prices. However, this is not foolproof and assumes you’ll be able to maintain the volume of sales you’ve achieved in the past.

This method is also limited by market demand, what your customers are willing to pay.

2. Add new customers

Adding new customers is what most entrepreneurs think about when raising revenue. Increasing your marketing or adding new marketing methods is typically the way to add new customers.

Another related option is to work hard to keep the customers you already have. You can also potentially contact the customers you lost and ask them to come back.

3. Introduce new products or services

For some companies, your products and services are changing every year. For others, not so much. To increase revenue, consider adding new products or services that will bring in an additional revenue stream that you didn’t have before.

Even if your products are changing every year, you can consider adding something completely different that your customer base would love.  For example, a hair salon could add a nail desk, a clothing store could add handbags or shoes, a grocery store could add a coffee bar, a restaurant could add catering, a landscaper could add hardscaping, and so on.

4. Acquisition

The final way a business can increase revenue is to acquire another business in a merger or acquisition.

Four Ways to Reduce Expenses

1. Negotiate for a better deal with vendors

If you’ve been working with a vendor for a while, you may be able to re-negotiate your contract with them. This is especially common with telecom companies. Call you phone provider and ask them for the latest deal. They always favor new customers over long term customers, but they don’t want to lose customers either. Just calling them usually yields a better price than what you are paying now.

2. Change vendors

If a vendor has gotten too expensive, it might be time to look for a new vendor. Health care insurance seems to be in this category. Often, changing providers will lower your costs.

3. Cut headcount

If there is not enough work to support your employees or not enough cash flow to pay them, then it might be time for a layoff or restructuring. You might also consider outsourcing a function that you previously did in-house.

4. Cut the expense or reduce services

It might be your business no longer needs to spend money on an expense. Perhaps this expense has been automated. In this case, it’s an easy decision to cut the expense out entirely.

Those are the eight ways to increase profits. Which one makes the most sense in your business? Create a plan around these eight ideas to boost your profit in 2017, and let us know if we can help.

Relocating brought unexpected benefits

Relocating brought unexpected benefits

This month we moved from Rock Hill, South Carolina, to Naples, Florida.  Our business had reached a growth milestone (thanks to our team, clients, referral sources, vendors, and networking partners) and it was the perfect time to create a fresh start in the location of our dreams.

The moving process allowed us to make improvements we hadn’t anticipated. We were able to redesign our workspace for greater efficiency, and, yes, even greater elegance. We were also able to redesign our schedule for greater balance (hello, sunsets!). And…we finally scanned our backlog of paper (remember that?) and developed a process that prevents future backlogs. The moving process also gave us time to take a step back and think about communicating our excitement about this journey with our network.

Whether by design or by chance, a change in your day-to-day work life can help you initiate other changes that can have far-reaching positive impact. Ours was a move to sunny Florida that kicked off a process of sorting and streamlining. What shifts have taken you or your organization by surprise? Have you planned changes that didn’t turn out the way you anticipated? No matter the impetus, a break in the status quo – whether it comes in the form of a moving van or a burned-out hard drive – may be an opportunity for the kind of reinvention that takes you and your organization to the next level.

Has something happened that created an a-ha or an uh-oh break in your flow? What opportunity are you creating as a result?

Comment below and then download! Top 10 Overhauls You’ve Been Avoiding

Five Ways to Add Pizzazz to Your Customer Service

It’s the little things that add up to make an exceptional experience for your customers. Here are five “little things” you can add to your services to create an exponentially memorable connection with your customers.

Generosity

Add a little extra something to the products or services you offer. It could be a piece of chocolate like Hershey’s® Kisses®. It might be a handwritten thank you note. It could be a coupon for their next visit. It could be a bottle of water.

These little additions pack a huge wallop for the customer experience. And none of them cost a lot to implement (unless you eat all the Hershey’s® candies yourself). Think of what you can add to your customer experience so that the customer sees you as generous and caring.

Speed

Many customers value their time, and adding speed to your service will be appreciated. When customers call in or email you for a service question, how fast do you respond?

Set response time goals for you and your employees to respond to customer issues and questions. You might choose one minute, four hours, or one day for response time, depending on your business. Make sure customer emails are answered first, and have someone monitoring the phone during business hours.

Track your results and reward your speediest employees.

Acknowledge and Apologize

Sometimes things go wrong, and an apology to the customer is in order. In most cases, customers simply want to be heard, so your listening skills are your best asset at that moment.

As an entrepreneur, the buck stops with you. Even though it might not have been your fault, it’s sometimes a good idea to simply apologize in the sincerest way possible. If there’s something that needs to be done to make it right, go overboard. Give the refund, take the loss, and let the customer win.

Positive Communications

How you word things can make all the difference. Which sounds nicer?

“That item is out of stock and won’t be in for six weeks.”

“We will have that item in stock in six weeks.”

The first sentence has two negatives (out of stock and won’t), while the second sentence is positive. It avoids the negative wording.

It’s a small but powerful change in the customer experience. Think about how you can word your communications so that there are more positive words and fewer negative words when speaking with customers.

Your Full Attention

Although you want to respond to customer issues with speed as mentioned above, while you are working with the customer, take time to slow down and really engage with the person. Our world is so fast, and some companies even reward multi-tasking, but no customer appreciates interruptions when being helped.

When you are with a customer, even on a phone call, be with the customer. Avoid interruptions and distractions, and give them your full attention. It’s the most powerful thing on this list. Treat them as a real person, not just another figure, and the customer will notice.

Try one or more of these five customer service boosts to take your customer service experience to the next level.

The Death of the Annual Performance Review

If you have employees, you probably also have a process to help them understand how they are doing on their job performance. There’s a new trend in large companies to kill the annual performance review and replace it with continuous, instant feedback as well as a tool called an after-action review.

After-Action Review

An after-action review (AAR) is a fantastic process to help you look back at a project or period of your business to see what, why, and how things occurred and how they can be improved for the future. Taking a profit-focused view will help you get the most out of the idea.

The AAR provides you with a bit more formal process than a passing “hmm, how did we do on that project last month?” conversation in the hall.  For example, if you planned your client retention rate to be 90 percent and your rate was 85 percent, you may want to take a look at why that happened. Doing exit interviews or a survey with discontinuing clients can help to explain the five percent variation.

Continuing the example, once you have done the interviews, you may have some ideas for improvement. It might be to automate some communication, increase response time, add more time for explanations, or something else. Let’s say you got sick last year and lost some clients because your response time during that time was not good. This year, you can put a sick plan in place to call on a peer to help you out so your service does not suffer.

The AAR requires an open mind and you will need to accept responsibility. One of the key benefits of the AAR is increased accountability. The core questions to ask yourself and your team include:

  • What was supposed to happen?
  • What did happen?
  • What worked? What should we keep doing?
  • What didn’t work? What are some improvements?
  • What advice would you give yourself at the beginning of the year? (Or project?)
  • What personal lessons did you learn?

You can use the AAR to improve your business by using it after each large project, to measure goals, or for a specific timeframe. Look at your first quarter performance this year. Are you on track? What improvements do you need to make for next quarter that you can work on over the summer and fall? Some opportunities to use the AAR include:

  • Technology changes / additions or training
  • Staffing changes
  • Hiring process changes
  • Marketing changes / additions or training
  • Operations changes / additions or training
  • New service or product development / new niches
  • Changes in your existing services or products
  • Customer retention
  • Sales cycle changes or development
  • Pricing evaluations
  • Client surveys / communications / service level changes

The good thing about the AAR is you can make it as formal or informal as you want.  You can invite your team or do it yourself, although you’re going to need an open, unbiased mind.  Try it in your business, and let us know if we can help.

 

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