Time Management

Are You Too Financially Cautious?

Is it possible to be too financially cautious?  Cautious does not mean that you are just conservative or frugal with your money, but that you are too afraid to spend your money wisely. You may not even be aware that you are too cautious and here are some examples:

Hesitate to make the right investments: Aside from traditional investments, you may be too cautious to invest in your own education and knowledge, spend the money for new equipment and technology, marketing, or spending money on employees.

Too cautious about wasting money: If you are so concerned that you will waste your resources then you will end up spending too much time trying to save a nickel, but it ends up costing you a dollar. For example, you don’t want to spend the money to keep track of your finances in QuickBooks or even Quicken for personal use, but yet you incur hundreds of dollars of insufficient funds charges each month. I have seen clients spend approximately $10,000 for insufficient funds fees.

Not taking a loan when you should: I am not an advocate of borrowing money excessively or foolishly, nor do I think that borrowing should be avoided at all times, which some pundits advocate each position strongly for. However, sometimes you need to have a line of credit to smooth out some bumps or to take advantage of low-risk opportunities that arise. Alternatively, if you pay off all of your debts too quickly then you may not have any cash available.

Time versus money: Using your time productively strongly dictates your financial success. However, if you spend your time on $10 per hour activities that drive you crazy instead of paying someone to perform them, while you can be making $200 per hour, then that is a poor use of your time and financial resources.

Money before relationships: If you are too financially cautious then you will probably never want to get married, and if you do, then you will worry about not having enough money for your children and will probably not have any.

Another way of saying financially cautious is to be penny wise and pound foolish. Don’t try to save your pennies, but make dollars!

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Are You Thankful for What You Accomplished?

Happy Thanksgiving! We should always be thankful for everything in our lives, including people, things, and accomplishments. Sometimes we take our accomplishments for granted, and it is good to examine the past to see just how far you have come. Here are some examples:

New home: Whether you just purchased your first home or moved into a more accommodating new home, this is quite an accomplishment.

Paid down debts: Did you significantly reduce your debts or pay them off? For some, if your debt levels have stabilized, this too is an accomplishment.

Started a business: Taking the leap to start a new business is exhilarating and quite an accomplishment.

Expanded your business: Did you open another location, hire additional employees, or increase your sales a sizable amount compared to the prior year? These activities all take time and energy and are a huge accomplishment.

Charitable giving: Has your charitable giving increased compared to the year before? If so, then excellent, but if it hasn’t, maybe it has increased as a percentage of your income if your income went down.

Increased your savings: Even saving just 1% more of your income than you did the prior year will have an enormous impact on your finances if you continue to do this each year.

Worked less: Are you working just a few less hours than you used to? A few less hours each week can make a big difference in your life.

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5 Habits for a Healthy Business and 3 Unhealthy Habits to Avoid

Our habits are repeated actions that we take, and have a tremendous impact on our results. Healthy habits become ingrained within us and we continue to do them with little thought or resistance over time. What are some practical, easy habits to ensure a healthy business and also the habits to avoid?

Healthy Habits:

Schedule activities: If you want important things to get done, especially non-urgent, important items, then you need to schedule them. Whether you need to schedule an activity on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, once it is on your calendar, then the likelihood of it being completed increases significantly. Examples include setting aside time for marketing, networking, reviewing finances, and reviewing processes.

Delegate often: Do you want to get more done? The key is to delegate, but not only to delegate, but to delegate the right things and delegate to the right people. Think before performing a task that needs to be done, especially a somewhat urgent task. This can be as simple as scheduling appointments, cleaning up a mess, or communicating simple issues.

Pause before spending: Virtually every single expense can be justified and rationalized for your business or for you personally. Before committing to spending money, first pause, think about it, and answer  the following questions: can the expense be delayed without their being a negative impact, are their other options, and what would happen if I do not incur this expense?

Consult advisors regularly: Everyone should have an advisor to consult with before making major decisions. High impact decisions can include: employee management issues, loans and finances, purchasing another business, opening another location, legal matters, etc.

Measure results: This can include reviewing your financial results, effectiveness of marketing campaigns, and employee productivity. Do not make assumptions, but keep track of important metrics and review your finances. Just because you are busy does not mean that you are profitable. Look at the numbers!

Unhealthy Habits:

Impulsive decision making: Almost all important business decisions can be pondered, and do not have to be made immediately. Take your time!

Following emotions and feelings: Don’t do things just be you feel like it or because you don’t feel like it. This can include being reactive to a customer that is upset or an employee that made a mistake. Although you may feel better at the moment, it doesn’t help long-term. The same goes for how you feel. I know that I feel like playing Cooking Fever on my phone for a few hours, but if do so, then only the virtual customers in the game will be fed, while my family will be starving.

Consulting with inept people: I know this may sound harsh, but seek the advice of people who are competent to give you advice and/or thoroughly know you and your situation.

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Help Your Employees Succeed in 5 Steps

One of the common topics that I discuss when advising business owners is that of employees. From finding employees, keeping employees, and sometimes letting employees go. Dealing with employees can be difficult because we are people with emotions, problems, families, health issues, and also have lives outside of work. As a business owner and manager, here are 5 steps to make sure that your employees succeed:

#1 First things first: Slow down the hiring process to make sure the position and the potential employee are a good match before even starting. This can include multiple interviews, interviews with your other employees or managers (if you are a solopreneur, then the other interviewer can even be your wife or someone that you trust greatly), asking the right questions to gauge ethics and personality, and tests. A test can include a short demonstration of skills and knowledge.

#2 Initial set-up: It seems so simple, but is your employee ready to start working on their first day? Do they have the proper technology, equipment, uniforms, or even completed payroll information all ready before starting? Don’t waste their time because ultimately you are wasting your time and money and also do not appear to be organized.

#3 Training: Even if you hire experienced employees, they will still need to be trained with how you operate. Take the time to train so that they will perform well and feel good about their job.

#4 Set expectations: Let your employees know what you expect them to work on today, tomorrow, this week, and in the future. Also, set expectations for hours worked, time off, busy times during the year, and the like.

#5 Support: Employees will experience sickness, need to attend to family matters, and go through stressful times. Support them during their time of need to help them throughout any ordeals they may have. If you need support, then good employees will support you too.

There are many more ways, but this is a good start. Remember, success is not accomplished by itself.

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Try to Move the Needle Just a Little Bit

Do you want to make big massive changes? From growing your sales, increasing profits, working less hours to even losing weight, it seems daunting, but here’s how to get started:

Habits: When you want to change something drastically, it all starts with your habits. Incorporate new habits into your routine, and replace the old habits with these new habits. Doesn’t this sound so easy?!

Keep track: Keep track of your results to be able to measure your progress. For example, let’s say that you want to increase your sales by 20% compare to last year. First, monitor your results using financial software, such as QuickBooks, or even in Excel. If you do not measure your results, then you will not be able to determine if your actions are working.

Give it time: When making changes, you have to give it time to see those changes happen. It can be weeks, months, or sometimes years. As long as you are seeing the needle move in the right direction, then you know that it is working, no matter how small the positive results are.

Sustainability: If you make a monumental change then it may not be sustainable over the long haul. For example, if you decide to work less and cut your hours all at once, then you will quickly become overwhelmed and will go back to your old schedule. Look at the longer-term goal and then work backwards to figure out the proper actions and timeframes. For example, if you are currently working 50 hours per week and want to cut back to 40 hours, then give yourself a timeframe of one year. Next, shoot to reduce your workweek by approximately 1 hour per week for the first month, then 1 hour the next month and so on, until you have achieved a shorter work week. Then, figure out which actions you need to take to reduce your hours.

Change can be dramatic even if the results seem small in the beginning. Have the endurance, discipline, and willpower to continue your actions to achieve your long-term goals.

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Don’t Focus on the Wrong Things

What we focus on gets our time, energy, and attention, but how do we know what to focus on to amplify our financial results?

Reactive items: Sometimes there will be an event that needs to be dealt with immediately, but most of the time this is not the case. If you find that you are always being reactive then you are probably not focusing on actions that will produce the best results. Also, this means that you not operating your business in an organized manner, which tends to produce more reactive items.

Minor items that produce little to no value: An example is spending gobs of time and money trying to design and print your business cards. Your business card should be a representation of your business, but if you spend 15 hours trying to design them, then that is overkill. Cleaning excessively and making everything impeccably neat is another waste of time. Cleanliness and neatness are good, but don’t spend an hour each day cleaning your desk, car, or anything else. If you do, then you may have other issues that I am not qualified to fix!

Blaming others: Everyone likes to be right, right? But if you don’t know who is helping you and who is hurting you then how can you run your business profitably? Know who is your enemy and who is your friend. The people surrounding you include your employees, vendors, professionals, subcontractors, etc. They are usually working toward the greater good, but if you do not think so, then take an objective look at the situation, which is probably more positive then your emotions will lead you to believe, to determine if this is the case.

Tasks that can easily be delegated so you can make more money: There is a business owner that I often see cutting the grass, edging, and taking care of the landscaping of his business. It is understandable to do this for your home if you really enjoy this type of work and have the time to do so, but not for your business. Let’s calculate the lost income from this endeavor. Let’s say the landscaper cost an average of $50 a week plus some extras and snow plowing for a total of $3,500 per year total. Then, it takes you an average of 2 hours or more each week to do all the landscaping (don’t forget that you need to have all of the equipment, maintain the equipment, change your clothes before yardwork, shower, change your clothes after, and now you probably need a nap). This can easily equate to spending 5% or more of your time on landscaping work. What if that time was spent trying to grow and develop your business and was equivalent to $10k, $50k, $100k or more of income?

How we spend our time has the largest impact on the profitability of our business. All of the above also relate to letting your emotions rule your decision making versus being well though-out, which I have written about previously. Focus on the right things!

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What Keeps Business Owners Up at Night?

Aside from worrying about everything, there are really just a few timeless concerns of most business owners. If you don’t have at least one of these concerns then that is probably a concern. Here they are with a few solutions:

Employees: No matter how well you run your business, it will always be a challenge to manage employees. Common problems are: finding good employees, keeping good employees, and making sure that they are productive. There are several ways to address these concerns that are simple, but no way full-proof. The first step is to take your time hiring and to hire the right people from the beginning. Next, treat your employees well and fair. Lastly, spend the time to train your employees properly so they are productive. It sounds so simple, but maybe that is why it is so difficult.

Taxes: Who wants to overpay their taxes? Not only paying taxes, but staying compliant with all of the numerous tax filings can be a huge burden. Having a good accountant can help to alleviate this concern.

Growing: If you are not growing then your expenses will soon eat up a good portion of your profits. Growing sales is a major concern, however, the focus should be to grow your sales profitably. Aside from smart marketing, each new dollar of sales should be profitable to you, otherwise something is wrong.

Cash flow: Either not knowing where your cash is going or not having enough are both problems. Your accountant should help to explain where your cash is going and why there is a shortage. Common solutions are to improve your accounting systems and procedures, increase sales, implement better collection processes, increase your profit margins, and obtain a line of credit.

Too many hours: I don’t think that you are allowed to stop thinking about your business so technically you work 24 hours a day. How can you work less hours? There are dozens of ways, but a few easy to implement solutions are: better scheduling, delegation, and a commitment to work smarter, not harder.

There are a few other closely-related concerns, such as health insurance for employees, feeling burnt out, and the economy. Unfortunately, we cannot control the economy.

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What is a Growing Business Doing Differently than a Struggling One?

There are major differences between the actions of a business owner with a growing business versus that of a struggling business. There seems to be a recurring theme for growing and struggling that closely mimics those who are fit and healthy versus those who struggle with their weight.  The accumulation of certain actions will greatly impact the outcome as follows:

Successful Businesses:

Hire smart and delegate: Business owners who are willing to take on additional employees will find that they are better able to increase sales due to additional capacity. They also do not over do it by hiring too many employees at once compared to needs, which ends up causing cash flow issues.

Invest in infrastructure: This not only includes the physical infrastructure, such as buildings, but also technology and equipment. Have you noticed that franchised restaurants update their locations quite often and do not hesitate to invest in technology and equipment?

Are reluctant to use debt: Debt can easily overwhelm your business even if you are growing rapidly. Although debt can be useful if used for the right reasons, it must be used sparingly and wisely to avoid pitfalls. As a business matures, then the goal should be to rely less on debt to support business operations. Why do you think the interest rates and payment terms are much different with traditional financing versus non-traditional loans, such as merchant loans or hard-money loans?

Seek advice: There are different ways of learning and some are more efficient and effective than others. One way to shortcut your success is to seek the advice of those who know more than you and then implement their suggestions. It sounds easy, but our pride tends to get in the way.

Struggling Businesses:

Are obsessed with cutting expenses: This may come as a surprise, but many struggling business owners are obsessed with cutting expenses. My only guess is that they do not see the link between smart spending to support profitable business operations. They are also penny wise and pound foolish and spend enormous amounts of time trying to save a few bucks, which ends up costing more.

Think that debt is THE answer: Debt may be a part of the solution, but it is not the answer to all of your business problems. Examples of problems that debt will not solve are: a lack of sales, overly burdensome expense structure, too many employees for the size of the business, and bad customer service.

Have an excuse and don’t listen to reason or reality: The economy is by far the most common excuse, along with “nobody buys this anymore” or “no one has time to do that anymore.” They may be right to an extent, but what about when the economy has turned around? If your customers have changed their buying trends, then why don’t you adjust your strategy as well? If you don’t change then you will prove yourself to be correct, but at a major cost to your business.

The probability of becoming a growing business will increase if you take the actions of growing business, while the odds of struggling will increase if you take the actions of a struggling business.

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5 Traps to Avoid When Growing Your Business Rapidly

Growing your business, especially growing rapidly, can be a really great accomplishment, but there are dangers when growing too quickly. Here are several traps to avoid to ensure successful growth:

Cash flow: Quite often, a small business will have cash flow issues when growing too rapidly. This is due to a delay of getting paid, while expenses need to be paid for upfront or before getting paid. There are 3 solutions that can help depending upon your situation. The first is to see if you can obtain terms with your suppliers to delay expenditures, second is to obtain a line of credit to support your receivables, and third, which tends to be the hardest, is to build up a cash cushion first.

Finances: As you grow your business, the financial aspect becomes even more crucial to your success. This entails a focus on investing in more robust accounting software, accounting staff and/or accounting services, streamlined processes and procedures, and internal controls, to name a few.

Employees and management structure: Unless you enjoy working 24/7, you need capable managers to manage your employees (you have been hiring more employees, right?). It is easier to have a few people reporting directly to you then several dozen. Also, make sure to acknowledge and reward the loyal employees that helped you to obtain your success.

Personal time and wellness: It is very easy to put in excessive hours to handle the massive growth of your business. There will be times when you need to work extra, but if this becomes the norm then it is easy for your personal relationships to suffer, along with a decline of healthy habits.

Infrastructure and organization: This applies not only to the physical nature of your business, but especially your operations. Have you outgrown the physical space that you occupy? Are you using equipment, technology, or IT that is not keeping up? Are your vendors and advisors able to handle the growth of your business? What about marketing and marketing staff? These are all areas to consider; otherwise, they will act as barriers to your growth.

Growth needs to be profitable, stable, and smart; otherwise, your results can easily go in the opposite direction that you intended. Think long-term, strategically, and surround yourself with the appropriate advisors to help you along your journey.

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The Lifeblood of Your Business

There is one critical aspect of your business that you cannot underestimate or take for granted. It’s not marketing or accounting, although these are important and critical also. It’s . . .

Your employees!

Customer service: Depending upon your role in your business, they probably have much more interaction with your customers than you do. Your employees should understand the importance of your customers and enjoy servicing them. Customer-focused employees will ensure a pleasant and successful experience for your customers.

Operations: Properly trained employees will be more productive and have better outcomes than poorly trained employees. Training can be on-site, off-site, or a combination of both, but is extremely important to the overall results of your business. Your customers will also have a much better experience when dealing with capable employees.

Team: Your employees are your team and to some extent like an extended family, especially if you factor in all of the time that you spend together. The business owner is the leader of the team and how well your team is lead will ultimately determine how well they perform. Leadership skills can be learned by experience, training, advisors/mentors, and education resources.

Treat ‘em well: Your employees are people too and need to be treated with respect and compassion. This does not mean that you should not correct them or be firm when necessary. Everyone needs this from time to time, even you. Make sure to compensate them as well as you are able to and provide room for career growth. Remember that people have ups and downs in life and sometimes it will be your employees who will pull you through those rough patches; other times you will be their rock.

Good employees will help your business to grow and prosper and they will grow along with it. Bad employees will provide a stumbling block and decrease your chance of success. Don’t neglect your team!

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