Category Archives: Strategies

The Death of Transactional Bookkeeping
Transactional BookkeepingGone are the days of paying a bookkeeper to do data entry. With the advent of electronic downloads from banks, credit card companies, and vendors, the tedious nature of bookkeeping is being replaced by efficient processes and systems that save time and increase accuracy. Although some businesses have been slow to adopt new technologies, tech-savvy business owners are embracing the change. A change that is revolutionizing the back office workings of every business, and freeing up resources formerly spent on low-value activities.

The bookkeeper of old (B.C. Before Computers) was tasked with tracking every transaction of a business manually, carefully recording and tallying up columns, and cross checking for accuracy. With the advent of programs like QuickBooks, many business owners (mistakenly) believed they could “handle the books.” With little or no knowledge of accounting and financial management, chaos reigned. Once a tangled mess was created, it was time, they thought, to call in a bookkeeper to straighten the mess out. Unfortunately, the modern day bookkeeper is often a pale shadow of the old school bookkeeper, lacking accounting knowledge and the skills needed to clean up the messes of others. The result is often one tangled mess piled on top of the original tangled mess.

Technological advances have made the need for transactional bookkeeping a thing of the past. Modern accountants and bookkeepers need to be “differently” skilled. Transactional bookkeeping is still necessary in that transactions need to be correctly coded when downloaded. But, downloading and coding take far less time than the paper processing activities of old. The new accounting professional needs to be both tech-savvy and a skilled financial manager. The need for business owners has been and always will be for professional financial management. With no professional financial management, businesses will always suffer. Cash flow will be erratic. Profits will evaporate.

Still, many business owners continue to think that they can get by with “doing the books” themselves or having a spouse, family member, or “cheap” bookkeeper handle the task. While technology makes the day to day transactions easier, the lack of a qualified professional providing oversight and insight in a business will always lead to lost profits and tight cash flow. The revolutionary changes in the accounting field are an opportunity for business owners to attract competent financial managers to help increase profit and improve cash flow. For the accounting professional, it is an opportunity to bring real value to clients’ businesses by being well-versed in both the knowledge and the tools to make businesses more efficient and profitable.

Transactional bookkeeping is dead. In its place will be old school financial management matched with new technology that guides businesses down the path to profitability and smooth cash flow.

Called the Wizard of Cash Flow, Caroline Grimm focuses on helping her clients build strong, profitable businesses by employing seemingly magical financial management tools and strategies. For more information visit www.CashFlowRollerCoaster.com.

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.

 

You’ve Got Personality, Use It!

For the self-employed professional, nothing is more important than the image you project to your clients and potential clients. Napoleon Hill put it best when he said, “People buy your personality and ideas long before they buy your products and services.”

Your image may be projected by the clothes you wear, the car you drive, and your posture. But, your image is also projected by your marketing. What does your website say about you? What do your brochures or office sign say about you? Are you communicating the image you want to communicate?

I worked with one self-employed professional whose target market was other small business owners. Yet his website had a very corporate feel about it. It wasn’t designed to attract the kinds of customers he was interested in attracting. The language he used on the website was formal and stripped of all “person-ality.” But in talking to him, I really “got” how much he loved working with small business owners and helping them become more successful.

Statistics overwhelmingly support that when people are shopping for a professional they buy the person first, the company second, the product or service third, and the price last. Your personality is a major competitive advantage. It’s what sets you apart from all the other people who do the same work you do.

Think about you favorite professionals. Why do you like working with them? My dentist is always jovial, laughing, and telling stories during my visits. His personality carries throughout his practice and makes going to the dentist actually enjoyable. If he stripped away the personality, he would be just another dentist.

Let’s say you’re a real estate agent who loves golf and you communicate that to potential customers. You’ll find that you attract customers who also enjoy golf. It establishes a point of connection between the two of you. Your potential client starts out feeling like they know something about you. You’re not a stranger. You’re a fellow golfer. That builds rapport and trust.

Don’t be shy about letting people know who you are and what you stand for. If you’re an eye doctor who travels to Guatemala once a year to provide eye care for children, post a picture on your website or in your office. Send a press release to the local paper about your trip. Not only does it encourage others to support worthy causes, it establishes you as a caring person and a dedicated professional.

Give clients and potential clients multiple opportunities to get to know you by carrying your image and personality throughout your business.

How do you let your personality shine through in your business? Post a comment to let us know!

Tell Me a Story: A Simple But Powerful Tool to Build Your Business

Everyone loves a good story. Whether it’s the story of your vacation to an exotic place, the story of how you met your spouse, or the story of your small business, people get drawn in and feel involved. Storytelling is as old as civilization itself.

I participated in a seminar at which I met Rob Nicoll the owner of a Meadery. “A Meatery?” I asked. No, a Meadery where Rob makes mead, honey wine, and cordials. The name of his business is Fiddler’s Reach, and it’s located on the coast of Maine.

One thing I’ve found in talking to people all over the country is that the very mention of the word “Maine” evokes an immediate positive response and adding “coast of” in front of it increases that positive response. It calls to mind rugged granite, crashing waves, soaring seabirds, sturdy lighthouses, wild sea roses, and a feeling of peace and ease.

As I talked with Rob about his business, he spoke of tying his business story into the mystique of the coast of Maine. The name of his company, Fiddler’s Reach, comes from the name of a sharp turn in the river that ships have to navigate to finish their sea journey.

In days of old, once a ship came safely through Fiddler’s Reach, the journey was nearly done, the work slowed down, and the sailors had time to relax and anticipate the joy of homecoming after long months at sea. And that is when the fiddler would reach for his fiddle and the sailors would dance, sing, and laugh.

What an appropriate story for a business specializing in an old-fashioned beverage designed for enjoyment during times of relaxation. Envision how Rob can use all those images in his marketing—package design, sales letters, advertising, letterhead, etc. Ships and waves and fiddles and joyous homecomings on the coast of Maine. It ties into the longing we all have for a little rest and relaxation. It transports us to another time when life seemed simpler and less hectic. A magical time when the plaintive sound of a fiddle expressed our homesickness and a joyful tune spoke of coming home to a well loved place. I’ll take a case of that!

Engaging your customers through storytelling makes them feel as though they are a part of something greater than themselves. It lessens the loneliness of an uncaring world and provides a momentary escape from reality.

What stories can you tell about your business that make people say, “I’ll take some of that!”

Yeah, It IS Lonely At the Top

Sometimes when you run a business, you feel as lonely as the Maytag repairman. Loneliness and isolation are very common problems for business owners. You sit at your desk wondering if you are steering your business in the right direction. When faced with a decision, you worry that you may be making a mistake or missing an opportunity. You get frustrated because you have no one to talk to about all the problems and decisions you have to make every day. When you have a confidential matter you can’t discuss with employees, family members, or friends, you suffer in silence because you don’t have an advisor to turn to. And unless your spouse is an MBA, he or she probably doesn’t have the answers you need either.

Finding people you can trust to help you with your business is tough. You need someone knowledgeable. You want someone you feel comfortable with. Someone you can really take into your confidence.

Often business owners turn to their bankers or accountants for business advice. But, do you really want to tell your banker that you need guidance running your company? Does your accountant encourage you to sit down and chat about your business over a cup of coffee? Absolutely not. First of all, you don’t want to look like a dope in front of other professionals. You want to be seen as the competent professional that you are.

In my early days of running my business, I felt very lonely and isolated. Who could I talk to about my business? Not my customers certainly. They were looking to me for business advice. Not my family. They weren’t really sure what I do, and I deal with a lot of technical stuff that they’ve never even heard of. So, I spent an awful lot of time struggling. Struggling to learn. Struggling to make the right decisions. Struggling to choose directions for my business. And all the while, feeling like I needed someone to advise me, but I just didn’t know WHO!

Over the years, I have found the resources I need to help me move my business forward. I know who I can trust. I know who has the answers to my questions. Now, it’s a matter of picking up the phone or sending an email to the right professional. And almost magically, my questions are answered and my business moves forward. Sometimes, just getting a second opinion or a new perspective clears the fog and the confusion. The moral of the story is that no one (even business consultants with MBAs) has all the information and knowledge needed to build a successful business. We all do better when we can get by with a little help from our friends.

If you’re looking for a confidential, trusted advisor to give you apply-it-now practical advice, learn more about my consulting service and choose the consulting package that fits your business and budget at http://cashflowrollercoaster.com/consulting-packages.

Article Writing Made Simple

A great way for self-employed professionals to enhance their reputations is to write articles. But for many, the thought of writing an article calls to mind your school days of struggling to write a composition, trapped indoors while your friends played baseball without you.

Article writing doesn’t have to be difficult and the rewards are great. Since I started writing articles, my website traffic increased, signups for my newsletters increased, the media has sought me out, and I’ve become what Stephen Van Yoder calls “slightly famous.”

Here is the formula I use to write articles:

First of all, I do not see myself as a writer. You will not find me starving in a garret, suffering for my art. I see myself as a communicator. I have important and useful information to impart that can help people build successful businesses. When you look at it that way, it really takes a lot of pressure off you.

Secondly, your articles do not have to be Pulitzer Prize quality. They need to communicate information in a way your customer can relate to. If your customer is put off by high-falutin’ language, don’t use it. Speak in language that resonates with your customer. Remember, your intent is to communicate, not to win prizes or bludgeon others with your knowledge of polysyllabic words.

Next, start out by writing out a sentence or two (no more) that explains what you want to accomplish with your article. Your purpose is twofold: You want to establish your expertise in the eyes of your potential customers, and you want those customers to do something. Here is an example for an article I am writing about how self-employed professionals can enhance their reputations:

“I will write an article to give self-employed professionals ideas on how to enhance their reputations which will result in more traffic to my website.”

That statement causes me to focus on achieving a specific result (more traffic) by providing specific information (reputation enhancing ideas). It really is the most important part of writing an article. Without that focus, I am likely to head off on a tangent.

From there, develop a main thought and support it with three or four points. Add a brief story, a website to visit for more information, or a quote from an expert (that expert can be you), and you’ve got your article.

Sometimes when I get writer’s — I mean communicator’s – block, I grab my microphone and “talk” my article. This also ensures that my articles have a conversational tone instead of a boring professorial monologue.

Give it a try and you’ll soon be turning out articles with ease and enhancing your professional reputation.

If you’re looking for a confidential, trusted business advisor to give you apply-it-now practical advice, learn more about my consulting service and choose the consulting package that fits your business and budget.

Is It Recess Yet? Confessions of a Self-Employed Workaholic

I have a confession to make. My name is Caroline and I’m a workaholic. I try to pretend I don’t have a problem. I try to cover it up. But, in the end, I’m faced with the cold hard truth that I am a person who works too much. I even tried to take work with me on my honeymoon! (I got busted.)

Not only do I work too much, when I’m not working I’m thinking about working: How can I use this new idea to help my business and my clients’ businesses? How can I make this task simpler, less time consuming? How will that news story I just read impact small businesses? My mind is constantly clicking away.

Oh, I know I’m not alone. There are many other self-employed people in need of a 12-step program. In fact, another definition of workaholic might be “Self Employed.” When you’re self-employed, it’s hard to take a break. It’s not like you can punch the time clock and head home for the day. Your business is always with you, especially if your office is in your home.

I am very aware of the toll self-employment can take on a person’s life. But, I also know that like Stephen Covey says, you have to sharpen the saw. Trying to work when you’re overtired takes twice the effort for half the result.

So I like to think of it in terms of grammar school. You work really hard and then the bell rings and you get to go outside for RECESS! Take a walk or a run; play with your kids or your friends or your pets; change your perspective by hanging upside down on the jungle gym. When you go back to work, your mind and body are refreshed, you’re less stressed, and you’re better able to focus and be productive.

The brain only has the capacity to focus for 90 minutes at a stretch. Then, it needs to reboot. The most important thing to remember is… RIIIIINNNGGGG! Oops! Goody, I get to go play outside now, its RECESS time!

(Seriously, take a break. If you stop for ten minutes, the world will still keep turning. And you’ll be more productive and focused. Enjoy.)

Five Reasons You Need a Business Bank Account

Some small business owners make the mistake of using their personal bank accounts for business purposes. Unfortunately, they are creating problems for themselves. As a small business owner, you must, must, must keep your personal finances and your business finances separate. You need a business bank account for your small business in order to:

  1. Keep the Internal Revenue Service happy. They want to know that you have a very clear distinction between your personal affairs and your business affairs. They want details. If you try to pass off personal expenses as business expenses, you’re violating tax laws. They don’t like that. Need I say more?
  2. Provide information to lenders and vendors. If you ever need to borrow money for your business or get credit from your vendors, your lender or vendor will want to see detailed records of your business performance. Handing them your personal checkbook register is not going to make them want to give you money or sell to you on credit.
  3. Analyze and adjust. You need to know how your company is performing at all times so you can plan ahead, make adjustments in your operations, and make informed decisions.
  4. Maintain accurate records. The more accurate your records, the more accurate your tax return. It prevents you from missing deductions.
  5. Know if your business is profitable. It’s the only way you’ll know whether your business is making money or if you’re just kidding yourself.

So, if you don’t have a separate checking account for your business, go get one. It’s easy and inexpensive, and it will give you clarity on how your business is really doing.

If you’re looking for a confidential, trusted advisor to give you apply-it-now practical advice, learn more about my consulting service and choose the consulting package that fits your business and budget at http://cashflowrollercoaster.com/consulting-packages.

Find an Accounting System that Works for You

Your record keeping system needs to be designed so that it works for you. It should:

  • Be simple to understand
  • Be flexible and adaptable to changing needs
  • Be inexpensive to develop and maintain
  • Require little time to maintain
  • Be handy and convenient to use

If you use a computerized accounting software package like QuickBooks, all those qualifications are met. I generally recommend QuickBooks to my clients because it’s easy to use and you can also find local support for set up and troubleshooting. I don’t whole heartedly recommend QuickBooks because I think parent company Intuit is losing touch with its core customer (we, the small business owners of the United States of America). There’s too much nickel and dime-ing and poor support. But, at this point, it’s still the most widely used system and certainly meets the needs of most small businesses.

I recommend that you get professional help in setting up your accounting system, if you don’t have an accounting background. It’s a case of GIGO (Garbage In Garbage Out). A well set up system will give you the best information with the least trouble. It’s less expensive to have it set up right to begin with than it is to have it cleaned up later.

Whatever accounting system you choose for your business, the key to success is actually using it on a very regular basis. Otherwise, your business struggles and you’re in constant danger of sliding into the Cash Flow Swamp.

Are you worried about cash flow? In my do-it-yourself home study course From Chaos to Control, you’ll develop a plan to banish business cash flow problems permanently. Find out more and buy it now at http://cashflowrollercoaster.com/chaos-control/.

Do I Have to do Everything MYSELF!?!?

The air in my client’s office nearly crackled with her irritation. A scheduling snafu had left a client without important services. “I guess I just have to do everything myself,” she ranted. My calling as a small business consultant requires that I maintain objectivity in the face of a client’s frustration and anger. My calling as a human being and a small business owner myself leads me to empathize with what she was feeling at the moment.

It often seems, as small business owners, that we do indeed have to do everything ourselves. No one understands our business like we do; no one has the single-minded dedication that we do. But here is a simple truth: If you have to do everything yourself, you’re not doing it right.

Now, my client knows this, and because she does, she operates a growing, successful company. But, we all have our moments.

You see, in the beginning, your business is you. You are the president, the bookkeeper, the janitor, and the one who makes the product or performs the service. It is at this crucial time that you can best impact the future of your business. If you don’t separate yourself from the day-to-day aspects of your company, you will run yourself into the ground.

A Recipe for Burnout

Taking the approach of “I have to do everything myself” is a great recipe for burnout. How do I know? GULP! Well, uh, um…it happened to me—yup! ME. Big know-it-all smarty-pants small business consultant. I walked right up to the trap and stuck my foot in it. And suddenly, I found myself so depressed and frustrated, I was ready to walk away from the business I had spent years building.

How did it happen? Did I lose my passion for helping small businesses succeed? Not at all. I still cared very deeply. So, what was the problem? I asked myself this question over and over as I repeatedly banged my head against the wall.

The Solution

The problem was this: I was trying to be “The Solution.” I was trying to do everything for everybody and still work on my own business. What’s wrong with that? Being the solution is what business is all about, isn’t it? If my customer has a need, shouldn’t I step up and try to fill that need?

Look at it this way, I’m a consultant. My job is to teach others how to do what needs to be done. A small business doesn’t need an MBA to do the payroll. A small business needs a payroll system that works long-term. My job is to set up systems that work, to develop systems that are sustainable and workable solutions for the business at all stages of growth.

Once a system is working, it then becomes my job to teach others how it works. Then, the System becomes “The Solution.” I am merely an “Interim Solution.” I learn; I teach; I get out of the way. Only then have I truly taken care of my customer.

Apply this to your own business. Are you performing tasks that take you away from your most important functions? Are you focusing on the long-term growth of your business or are you spending all your time on activities for which you are merely an “Interim Solution?” By focusing on what is truly important, you’re better able to find the balance between what is best for your customers and your business.

If you’re looking for a confidential, trusted advisor to give you apply-it-now practical advice, learn more about my consulting service and choose the consulting package that fits your business and budget at http://cashflowrollercoaster.com/consulting-packages/.