Category Archives: Business coaching

Ducks in a Row: It’s All About the Benjamin…Franklin, that is.

There are two ways to increase your wealth. Increase your means
or decrease your wants. The best is to do both at the same time.”

— Benjamin Franklin.

Benjamin Franklin portrait isolated on white backgroundBenjamin Franklin was a wise man. He was also a wealthy man. He grew wealthy as a self-employed publisher. Let there be no doubt that he was a man who knew the numbers side of his business. He understood the essential rule of business. You increase wealth one of two ways. Either increase your revenue or decrease your expenses. And better yet, do both.

In business, that’s the only equation that matters when it comes to finances. All financial management can be distilled down to that one equation. Increase revenue plus decrease expense equals more profit. It is profit that builds wealth. A business without profit does not prosper. A business with profit that is then heavily taxed by the government does not prosper.

In recent years a lot of talk has gone on about disgustingly profitable businesses and high rates of CEO pay. This is not representative of the vast majority of businesses in the United States. We are a nation of shopkeepers, service providers, and small manufacturers. According to the Small Business Administration, there are nearly 24 million businesses with the business owner as the only “employee.” And all those businesses together generate just 4% of the total economy. That’s a lot of very small operations, with business owners all working away at making a living for themselves and their families.

As one-person business owners (and I include myself in the ranks), we have special concerns and challenges. How do we make enough to pay the bills of the business, provide a satisfactory living for ourselves, and keep the process going year after year? How do we make the best use of our most precious and limited resource…Time? How do we make the best use of every dollar that comes in to the business? How do we bring in more dollars consistently? How do we move from survival to profitability and wealth?

The way we answer those questions determines the success or failure of our businesses. That’s a whole lot of pressure, isn’t it? But, by distilling it down to Benjamin Franklin’s equation: Increase revenue AND decrease expenses, we can simplify the process. That simple equation leads to questions like this:

• What are my best opportunities to increase sales? (Untapped potential or underused assets)
• Do I have leaks in my business that drain cash and provide no benefit? (Bank fees, subscriptions)
• To increase revenue will my expenses need to increase? (Think marketing or cost of goods)
• How can I minimize my tax burden? (Better tracking of financial information, hire a CPA for taxes)

Running a successful business isn’t just about how we deliver the goods and services we provide. We have to be financially savvy, too. Once we combine talent in delivering the goods and services with the talents of business acumen, we arrive at a place that Old Ben would consider to be “healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

Financial Organization: The First Step to Getting Your Ducks in a Row

Closeup of a hand gripping a message "Get Your Ducks In A Row", possibly for a business strategy, isolated on a white background.
We all know what we’re supposed to do, right? We know we need to eat healthy, exercise regularly, and call our mothers. And if we own a business, we know we’re supposed to take care of that pesky financial stuff like keeping track of what we spend, what we owe, and what hole the money went down. If you’re like most business owners, you’ve probably mentioned to yourself (okay, nagged yourself) that you need to “get your ducks in a row.” And maybe, just maybe, you wonder to yourself just what having your ducks in a row really means. What should you be doing that you’re not doing? And even more importantly, if you did do that thing, whatever it is, what difference would it really make?

I’ve gathered up a few of my duck friends to help you out with this important subject.

ducks

First and foremost, in the process of “getting your ducks in a row”, having some sort of holding pen to put those wandering ducks into once you’ve herded them is important. When we’re talking about the financial aspects of your business, this holding pen can be a software program like QuickBooks or Xero or an Excel spreadsheet. Or if you’re more old school, a shoebox. Now, I don’t recommend keeping your ducks in a shoebox, but if that’s what you have, we’ll start there and work our way into a better system.

Once you have some sort of high- or low-tech containment solution, the next step is herding the ducks into it. Financially speaking, those “ducks” are things like receipts, checks, bank deposits, bank statements, credit card charges, and the like. Each one of those “ducks” is a part of the puzzle that tells you what is really going on in your business. Each piece of the puzzle put together in an appropriate way, reveals a complete picture of your business.

Every check, receipt, deposit, credit card charge then gets sorted into a bucket. This receipt goes into the bucket called Office Supplies. That credit card charge goes in the bucket called Gas. This deposit goes into the bucket called Sales. And so forth, until all the pieces of the puzzle are sorted out.

From there, the buckets each get totaled up. Those totals tell you important things about where your money came from and where it went. To make life easier, we put all those totals in a column. Money in goes at the top, followed by money out. Money In minus Money Out equals Profit. Or if the ducks are too hungry…Money In is less than Money Out and that means one of your ducks has got to go.

Often, keeping track of the ducks gets pushed aside when the business owner is occupied with other things…like providing services or goods or putting out the inevitable fires of running a business. Then, the ducks wander off in all directions. This is bad. Once you lose control of the ducks, herding them just gets harder. But, once a year the Day of Reckoning arrives. The Duck Revenue Service stops by every April 15th to find out how many ducks you have. This is sometimes the only time a business owner gets her ducks in a row. Herding ducks on a deadline is very stressful. It’s also far too late to find out what you needed to know to help your business succeed because the ducks you’re herding on April 15th are last year’s ducks. They’re the ducks that have already flown the coop.

Getting your ducks in a row is an important function of running your business. Stay tuned for real world solutions to make the process easier, and for insights on how to use the information you gather to create a more profitable and cash flow positive business.

Until next time…Don’t be a chicken. Get your ducks in a row.

Classic yellow rubber ducks in water.

Caroline Grimm
Cash Flow Wizard and Head Duck Wrangler

Of Rubber Bands and Catapults: Strategies for Business Growth

A growing small business bears a great deal of resemblance to a rubber band. Left to its own devices a rubber band holds one shape. With the right type of pressure, a rubber band can expand to great lengths as long as the pressure is held steady or carefully stretched more and more. If too much pressure is applied or you lose your grip, the rubber band sails off across the room and someone loses an eye.

 

Apply this analogy to a small business. Sometimes businesses fade away because the owner doesn’t apply the right pressure (or any pressure) to move the business forward. Sometimes pressure to move the business forward is only applied sporadically, leading to inconsistent results. Pressure is applied and the business moves forward. Pressure is slacked off and the business moves back three spaces. Sometimes too many people are applying pressure in different directions, pulling the business in different directions, too. This creates infighting and factions that prevent the business from thriving. And often, small business are “stretched too thin” and find operating day to day outweighs business growth. And cash flow? Suffers every time. Every. Time.

 

Now consider the catapult. When someone refers to “going ballistic,” the catapult fits the bill very well. Using concentrated force, the catapult can hurl fire, take down walls, and make a big splash. Catapults are all about “go big or go home.”

 

If a small business uses a catapult approach to business growth, growth happens forcefully and fast. It’s a tried and true way of getting bigger, faster results. But, this method has its own challenges. First of all, if the catapult is not well-built, it will not sustain the force exerted and will fall apart. Building a strong business before attempting fast growth is necessary. That means having critical skills and competencies in place to build that solid infrastructure. The second big challenge with a catapult approach is to have a plan in place for once the walls are breached. Catapults open the doors to opportunities, but a business has to be poised to capitalize on those opportunities. All those expenses of catapulting and capitalizing can cause cash flow problems, too.

 

So, which business growth plan is better? The rubber band plan or the catapult plan. The answer is that it’s really just having a plan that is the important point. The plan determines the tools and skills needed. Executing that plan often requires the use of both steady pressure and the use of massive force. There is no “one size fits all” plan for business success. If there was, we’d all buy that book. The truth is small business ownership takes constant thought, planning, action, tweaking, and re-engineering. We work in an ever-changing field of endeavor where we must always be on the edge of our chairs, ready to adjust to circumstances as they come. And most of us wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

Follow the Bouncing Paycheck

A Facebook friend recently posted that her husband’s paycheck had bounced … again. The responses from other employee-types were what I would expect them to be:

“That’s so unfair! What is his boss thinking?”

“He apparently thinks it’s a good way to run his business.”

“Guy can’t even keep a checkbook!”

And so on.

My thinking was, of course, much different. My first thought was: I need to send that business owner one of my business cards. He clearly needs The Cash Flow Wizard. My second thought was: They (the employees) really don’t get it. They have no idea of all the stars that have to align for a business owner to make payroll every week. They have no idea of how close to the edge so many business owners are financially. So many business owners are one missed payroll away from disaster.

Now, I am not saying business owners should tell employees how close their businesses are to financial disaster. I don’t think we should, as one friend says, “spook the herd.” In fact, it isn’t the employees’ concern at all. They are trading time for money. That’s the deal. They shouldn’t be worried about making payroll. That’s the business owner’s job.

As business owners, we are where the buck inevitably stops. It doesn’t matter that a customer didn’t send a check when promised. It doesn’t matter that health insurance went up again. It doesn’t matter that we haven’t taken a paycheck since Bill Clinton was President. For the employee, all that matters is this: They traded their time and now they expect their money. Period. End of discussion.

I see so many business owners who don’t have the first idea how to manage money in their businesses. They operate without good financial practices because they don’t know what good financial practices look like. They take the “fly by the seat of your pants” approach to money management, often thinking it’s just the way life is in the rough and tumble world of small business. The result is bounced paychecks, late payments on loans and credit cards, bank fees for nonsufficient funds, and high levels of financial stress.

I’d like to sit down with each and every business owner and show them a better way. The path to financial sanity and stability. Unfortunately, there is just one of me and my wizardry doesn’t include cloning myself. Instead, I created a self-study course to help all those small business owners who are “pantsing it” financially. It’s called “From Chaos to Control.” Or you can call it “Cash Flow Wizard in a Box.” Whatever you call it, just know that there is help available when you’re ready to stop living on the edge of financial disaster.

Wasting Away Again – A Tale of Misspent Youth

It was the summer of 1984; I was a sweet young thing still in college in Machias, Maine, (go to the end of nowhere and turn left). I met a handsome stranger who breezed in from Florida to spend the summer with friends. He was blond and tanned from hours of surfing in the Florida sun.

A surfer on the coast of Maine is an unusual find. Any of you who have jumped into the ocean off the coast of Maine know why. The water is really freaking cold. Plus there’s the whole jagged rock thing.

Anyway, the stranger fell in with our group of friends bringing an exotic breath of air from far off places. One sweet, starry, summer night with the peepers and crickets providing accompaniment, the stranger initiated me into the hidden pleasures of …

Being a Parrothead

I had you going there for a minute didn’t I? “So what in the world is a Parrothead?” I can hear some of you asking. A Parrothead is a follower of the great bard, Jimmy Buffett. He of Margaritaville fame. Fins to the left, fins to the right, white sport coat and a pink crustacean, son of a son of a sailor. And of course, a few songs I can’t sing in polite company. But enough about me, let’s talk about Jimmy.

Many know Jimmy Buffett as a partying troubadour, but look behind the loud shirts and the flip flops and you’ll see something else: a very, very smart businessman. Jimmy is the head of a sundrenched, toes-in-the-sand empire. To illustrate, visit his official website margaritaville.com. You’ll find a paradise for Parrotheads. Jimmy understands the value of a brand.

MaragaritavillejpgNot only is Jimmy a singer/songwriter, he’s also an author and a merchandiser. Just slip into your Jimmy Buffett T-shirt, shorts, and flip flops. Sit back in your Jimmy Buffett Adirondack chair. Hit the play button on your Jimmy Buffett CD player. Reach into your Jimmy Buffett Cooler and pull out a Jimmy Buffet Landshark Lager. Hey, I couldn’t even make this stuff up if I tried!

How about a Jimmy Buffett golf club bag, golf club covers, golf balls, and spiffy little palm tree golf tees? Got that, too.

Are you more into eating than golfing? Good news, Jimmy’s got a food line, too. Available at Costco and BJ’s. Or how about a Margaritaville cat collar? Or a T-shirt for your Chihuahua?

I can only surmise that some business consultant must have locked himself in a room with Jimmy and delivered the atomic wedgie of all atomic wedgies to convince a lifetime, chronic nonconformist to go commercial. Either that or being a troubadour just doesn’t pay like it used to. I mean, a troubadour’s kids have to eat and someday there’ll be the Home for Aged Troubadours to contend with.

Now, I am in no way advocating drunken revelries (hey, even Jimmy will tell you it gets old real quick), and I’m certainly not encouraging anyone to sell out to “The Man,” however, there is a very important business and cash flow lesson to take away from all this.

Jimmy Buffett took a signature song, Margaritaville, and turned it into an empire. He took a loyal band of followers and turned them into Parrotheads. The Margaritaville brand has tremendous power and appeal to Parrotheads. He’s taken this troubadour gig and turned it into a business that makes money for him when he’s sitting on the beach. That’s pretty darned smart for a guy who never outgrew his aspiration to be a pirate when he grew up. Perhaps he’s discovered a modern day Pirate’s Dream.

The lesson for all business owners is to develop a loyal band of followers and give them more of what they want. It is, indeed, the Treasure Map that leads to riches. Sail on over to www.CashFlowRollerCoaster.com and grab some financial treasures from the Cash Flow Wizard’s treasure chest. Then, it’s yo ho ho and a bottle of cash, Matey.

It’s the Great Pumpkin Plan!

pumpkinHere in my neck of the woods, Maine, we have our first frost warning for tonight. That means pulling out all the tarps to cover up the tender tomato and pepper plants so the frost doesn’t kill them. Now, I insist we still have plenty of summer left, but the temperatures and the earlier darkness at the end of the day tell a different tale.

As my sister and I spread and anchored tarps, I was checking out our pumpkin crop. During the height of the summer, the pumpkin vines looked like they were well on their way to taking full control of the free world. Alas, a powdery mildew attacked and our valiant vines died back considerably. The pumpkins are still going strong, and I think we’ll have some good pumpkins for eating and carving.

Looking at those pumpkins, I remembered reading a business book not long ago. It’s called The Pumpkin Plan by Mike Michalowicz. I’m always on the lookout for resources for my clients (and for my own businesses) so I thought I’d give this one a try. Although I think Michalowicz is likely “one brick shy” and I’m not a fan of his potty humor, I actually enjoyed his book. Here’s why:

His strategy is based on a simple premise. When you’re growing pumpkins, you have to weed out the weaker, smaller ones so the big, champion pumpkins have room and resources to grow. That one concept has so many different applications in a business.

Products that take up far too much time and money can be weeded out to allow profitable products in growth markets to flourish.

Employees who take up space and time without contributing to the company’s success should be retrained or relocated to a desk in your competitor’s business.
Superstar performers should be nurtured and rewarded. Don’t let them die on the vine from sheer neglect.

Businesses that are weak should be given more of what they need to succeed or tossed on the compost heap.

Systems should be put in place to yield the desired results: one giant champion pumpkin versus many small performers — the only difference is how you support them and nurture them.