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.
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.
Online marketing is a large component of marketing for many small businesses. There are many aspects to online marketing that you’ll want to consider for your business. Here are just five for your consideration.
Content marketing is huge, and it consists of generating articles, blog posts, social media updates, white papers, videos, and other educational materials about your company’s products and services. Content marketing provides your prospects with something to read, watch, or learn from.
You can offer your content via your website, social media pages, a special landing page, in a blog, in the description portion of your profiles, via paid ads, or almost anywhere online. Your content should promote your brand as well as show your prospect how to use your product or service.
Video has become incredibly important. It’s no longer enough to generate text. Graphics are better than text, but video trumps them all when it comes to effectiveness, higher search rankings, engagement, and sales conversions.
The good news is you don’t have to hire an expensive video team anymore. A good video camera is less than $500, and you can also use your smartphone for some very decent footage.
It’s no longer enough to simply have a website. Being listed in online directories will help your business expand its visibility. Some common directories for small business include:
- Angie’s List
- Better Business Bureau
- Yellow Pages (online version)
- Your local Chamber of Commerce
- Google for Business (Google Places)
Some of these directories work best if you ask customers to post reviews. Be sure to also check out your industry-specific directories.
Including social media in your digital marketing is a no-brainer today. Graphic and video posts are far more effective than text posts, so it’s important to make this content switch if you haven’t already.
If you’ve focused on the “big 3” platforms – LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook – it might be time to try some new ones. Pinterest and Instagram lend themselves to graphic representation of your product. Google Plus is often overlooked but can help search engine rankings. And YouTube is a must because of the importance of video.
Digital public relations has been around for a while as well. If you don’t already have a Press page on your website, consider this addition. It can list contact information for reporters as well as a list of articles that your product, company, or employees have been featured in. You can also post press releases to this page.
Distributing press releases is less expensive than ever with options such as PRWeb and PRNewswire.
Make sure your digital marketing campaign has all the components above and that you have updated your content for these latest trends. Having an up-to-date digital campaign will help you generate more revenue and grow your business.
Tim Ferriss made the 4-hour workweek a popular concept in his 2007 book. But is there such a thing, and more importantly, can business owners like you and me cash in on it? As the last of the Baby Boomers approach retirement, the topic of working less while making the same or more income is popular.
Here are five ideas to help you work fewer hours while making the same or more income.
Active vs. Automatic Revenue
Some business models allow you to generate automatic revenue. Automatic revenue is revenue you can earn and leverage over time by doing something only once and not over and over again. Active revenue is earned while doing something over and over again. Showing up for a teaching job with a live audience is active revenue while producing and selling video recordings of the same teaching is automatic revenue.
A goal of a 4-hour workweek concept is to increase automatic revenue while reducing active revenue. You may have to think out of the box to do this in your industry, but the payoff can be huge.
Delegation and Outsourcing
One traditional way to move to a 4-hour workweek is to have others do the work. Hiring staff frees up your time and allows your business to become scalable. When it runs without you, it’s more salable too.
If you have a lot of distractions in your day, you can easily double your productivity by learning time batching, which is grouping like tasks together in a block or batch of time and getting them done. For example, if an employee interrupts you with questions multiple times a day, train them to come to you only once a day to get all their questions handled at one time. Take your calls one after the other in a group, and then stay off the phone the rest of the day. Do the same with email, social media, running errands, and all of your other tasks.
Automation and Procedures
New apps save an amazing amount of time. List all of your time-consuming chores and then find an app that helps you get them done faster. For example, a scheduling app can reduce countless emails back and forth when setting meetings and appointments. To-do list or project management software can cut down on emails among you and your staff. And apps like Zapier can connect two apps that need to share data, reducing data entry.
The key to working less is to embrace the concept of leverage. How can you leverage the business resources around you to save time, increase staff productivity, and improve profits? It takes discipline and change, two difficult goals to accomplish. But when you do, you will be rewarded.
If you’re looking for more ways to bring in additional revenue, then a VIP revenue stream is one option for many businesses. Here are a couple of examples:
A plastic surgeon has a long waiting line of patients. The surgeon sets up a special membership fee of $3,000 per year for patients who wish to work with her. These patients get first access to her appointment schedule. They get priority surgery dates and personal care. Her other patients that do not pay are able to see her physician assistant. She earns an extra $300K — insurance-hassle-free — for the hundred patients who join her VIP group.
A pizza restaurant always has long lines during rush hours. The owner sets up a VIP membership of $75 per year for customers who want to bypass the long lines. He dedicates one of his cash registers to the VIP line and staffs it accordingly during rush hour. He sends specials by email and a birthday coupon to the VIP members. Five hundred customers sign up, grossing an extra $37,500 with little or no additional expenses.
A consultant has a couple of clients that want to have access to her 24/7. She sets up a special retainer of $1,500 per month for these clients and provides her cell number. Since they are busy CEOs, they only call a few times a year, but when they do, she drops everything to be of service. With four clients on retainer, it’s an extra $72K per year for a few days of work.
No matter who your clientele is, there are always a few who demand extraordinary service and are willing to pay extra for it. Capitalize on this by adding a VIP revenue stream to your offerings.
What you include in your VIP package will vary by industry, but here are a few thoughts:
- Increased access to you
- Special service, perhaps via another phone line or checkout lane
- Invitation to exclusive events or sales or previews
- Free gift wrapping
- Free shipping
- Special gifts
- Friends are free
- A richer experience
- Birthday acknowledgement
A VIP offering is not the same as a points program. A points program encourages volume sales, while a VIP program is all about special perks, exclusivity, and a higher level of service.
Does your business lend itself to a VIP offering? If so, give it a try.
Sometimes, the most telling numbers in your business are not necessarily on the monthly reports. Although the foundation of your finances revolves around the balance sheet and income statement, there are a few numbers that, when known and tracked, can make a huge impact on your business decision-making. Here are five:
1. Revenue per employee.
Even if you are a solo business owner, revenue per employee can be an interesting number. It’s easy to compute: take total revenue for the year and divide by the number of employees you had during the year. You may need to average the number in case you had turnover or adjust it for part-time employees.
Whether your number is good or bad depends on the industry you’re in as well as a host of other factors. Compare it to prior years; is the number increasing (good) or decreasing (not so good)? If it’s decreasing you might want to investigate why. It could be you have many new employees who need training so that your productivity has slipped. It could also be that revenue has declined.
2. Customer acquisition cost.
If you’ve ever watched Shark Tank®, you know that CAC is one of the most important numbers for investors. This is how much it costs you in marketing and selling costs to acquire a new client. Factors such as annual revenue, or even lifetime value of a client will affect how low or high you can allow this number to go.
3. Cash burn rate.
How fast do you go through cash? The cash burn rate calculates this for you. Compute the difference between your starting and ending cash balances and divide that number by the number of months it covers. The result is a monthly value. This is especially important for startups that have not shown a profit yet so they can figure out how much cash they need to borrow or raise to fund their venture.
4. Revenue per client.
Revenue per client is a good measure to compare from year to year. Are clients spending more or less with you, on average, than last year?
5. Customer retention.
If you are curious as to how many customers return year after year, you can compute your client retention percentage. Make a list of all the customers who paid you money last year. Then create a list of customers who have paid you this year. (You’ll need to two full years to be accurate). Merge the two lists. Count how many customers you had in the first year. Then count the customers who paid you money in both years. The formula is:
Number of customer who paid you in both years / Number of customers in the first or prior year * 100 = Customer retention rate as a percentage
New customers don’t count in this formula. You’ll be able to see what percentage of customers came back in a year. You can also modify this formula for any length of time you wish to measure.
Try any of these five metrics so you’ll gain richer financial information about your business’s performance. And as always, if we can help, be sure to reach out.
The best cakes have layers and layers of different delicious flavors to enjoy. Stacked on top of one another, each layer is baked separately and becomes part of the whole. Like a layer cake, your business expenses have layers of meaning to them. When you can understand how expenses play a part in profit, you can manage them better.
Here’s how to make a layer cake of your business expenses. Let’s start with the most direct expenses.
If you have inventory you will have a balance in the Cost of Goods Sold account. It should represent how much you paid for product or inventory that you are selling. It is the most direct expense of all the expenses; if you don’t spend this money, you would not have a product.
If you sell services, you should not have a balance in Cost of Goods Sold, but you will have direct expenses that are tied to performing your services. These might include labor from wages of the employees who carry out the services for clients. Any supplies directly involved with delivering services should be included as well.
You may also have other direct costs related to selling specific products or to servicing specific accounts.
The next layer includes indirect expenses. These expenses do not make up your product directly and might contribute to several different lines of products. Indirect costs might be attributable to a group of products or projects and can be apportioned accordingly.
Although overhead is technically a form of indirect cost, it’s good to create a separate layer for it. It includes management salaries, rent, utilities, and other fixed costs that cannot be directly allocated to a product or service.
Assembling the Layers
A wonderful exercise is to classify each of your expense accounts in your Chart of Accounts as direct, indirect, or overhead. In that way, you can see how each account contributes to the costs of running your business. Some questions to ask yourself:
- What is my gross margin before indirect costs and overhead?
- What is my gross profit after indirect costs and before overhead costs?
- How can I cut down on any of these categories of expense?
- What is my breakeven volume in sales before overhead is factored in?
- Can my profit margin be changed if I spent less in a certain area?
This layered view is just another way to view the financial aspects of your business and can help you make better decisions down the road.
You can also break the layers down even further by classifying the expenses as critical and non-critical. This will help you determine where best to invest while maintaining the level of profit you desire.
You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Layering your expenses will help you have your cake and eat it too. And if we can help, just reach out as always.
Running a small business is often about taking and managing risks. Market risks are normal but business and tax risks are another thing altogether. Most business and tax-related risks can be managed as long you know about them. Here are seven small business risks you will want to make sure are covered.
1. Best Choice of Entity
Are you operating as a corporation, limited liability company, partnership, or sole proprietor? More importantly, is the entity you are operating under providing you with the greatest tax benefits and separation from personal liability? If not, you might want to explore the alternatives to make sure you’re taking the amount of risk that’s right for you.
2. Employees or Contractors
Are your team members properly categorized when it comes to the IRS’s rules about employees versus contractors? Unfortunately, it’s not about what you and your team member decide you want. If you decide to hire contractors and the IRS determines they are employees, you could owe back payroll taxes that can cripple a small business. So you’ll want to do the right thing up front and make sure you and the IRS are in agreement, or be willing to take a future risk.
If you’d like to protect yourself from possible losses through a disaster, theft, or other incident, insurance can help. There are a lot of kinds to choose from, and you’ll likely need more than one. At the minimum, make sure you’re covered by:
- Business property insurance, renters insurance, or a homeowners rider to protect your physical assets.
- Professional liability or malpractice insurance, if applicable, to protect you from professional mistakes including ones made by employees.
- Workers compensation insurance, to cover employee accidents on the job.
- Auto insurance or a non-owned policy if employees drive their car for work errands.
You may also want personal umbrella insurance, life insurance, and health insurance. Check with an insurance agent to get a comprehensive list of options.
4. Sales Tax Liability
Are you sure you’re collecting sales tax where you should be? As the states get greedier, they invent new rules for liability. For example, if one of your contractors lives in another state, you may owe sales tax on sales to customers who live there even if you don’t live there or have an office there.
Nexus is a term that describes whether you have a presence in a state for tax purposes. Having an office, an employee or contractor, or a warehouse can extend nexus so that you’d need to collect and file sales tax for those states. If you’re in doubt, check with a professional, and let us know how we can help.
Most small businesses make the mistake of underpricing their services, especially when they start out. If you started out that way, it’s awfully hard to catch up your pricing to a reasonable level. Knowing the right price to charge can make the difference between whether the company last six months or six years. You can mitigate this risk by getting cost accounting help from your accountants who can help you calculate your margins and determine if you’re covering your overhead and making a profit.
6. Legal Services
Legal services can be expensive for a small business, so sometimes owners cut corners and take risks. Attorneys are needed most when it comes to setting up your entity, reviewing contractual agreements such as leases and loan agreements, settling conflicts, advising on trademark protection, and creating documents such as terms of service, employment agreements, and privacy policies. Just one mistake on any of these documents can cost a lot, so be sure it’s worth the risk.
7. Accounting Services
Doing your own accounting and taxes can be risky if they’re done wrong or incomplete. You could end up paying more than you should if you leave out deductions you’re entitled to. Worse, if you do your books wrong, you could end up overpaying taxes without realizing it. A common bookkeeping error results in doubling sales, and while it might look good, you certainly don’t want to pay more than what’s been truly received.
How did you do with these seven risks? If you need to reduce your risks in any of the areas, feel free to reach out for our help.
Two very important skills for entrepreneurs to master are marketing and finances. Combine them by understanding the numbers behind marketing, and you have an even more powerful understanding of exactly what makes your business tick.
Key Numbers – Cost Per Client Acquisition
Do you know how much it costs your business to bring in one client? The technical term is “Cost per customer acquisition,” and it’s computed by adding the total marketing and sales costs excluding retention costs and dividing them by the total number of clients acquired during a period of time.
Cost per customer acquisition is important to know because then you can compute how long it takes before your business begins to make a profit on any one customer. In software application services with a monthly fee, the breakeven for a client can be around ten months.
It’s essential to understand this dynamic for pricing and volume planning purposes. If your services or products are priced too low so that your acquisition costs are not recouped in a reasonable period of time, it can play havoc with your cash flow as well as your profits. If you don’t have enough volume to cover overhead and acquisition costs, then your company will be in trouble in the long term.
Customer Lifetime Value
There is a simple and an academic formula for customer lifetime value. You can estimate it by multiplying the average sale of a customer by the average number of visits per year by the number of years they remain a customer. That’s the easy version.
The more difficult version of this formula takes into account retention rates and gross profit margins. The formula is: Average customer sales for life times the gross profit margin divided by the annual churn rate.
Once you know and track these numbers in your business, you’ll be better able to make smart decisions about your marketing investments and your pricing. And if we can help you, please reach out as always.
A 2014 Global Fraud Study conducted by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) estimates that the average business loses five percent of their revenues to fraud. The global total of fraud losses is $3.7 trillion. The median fraud case goes 18 months before detection and results in a $145,000 loss. How can you avoid being a fraud victim?
The first step is to become more aware of the conditions that make fraud possible. The fraud triangle is a model that describes three components that need to be present in order for fraud to occur:
- Motivation (or Need)
When fewer than three legs of the triangle are present, we can deter fraud. When all three are present, fraud could occur.
Financial pressure at home is an example of when motivation to commit fraud is present. The fraud perpetrator finds themselves in need of large amounts of cash due to any number of reasons: poor investments, gambling, a flamboyant lifestyle, need for health care funds, family requirements, or social pressure. In short, the person needs money and lots of it fast.
The person who commits fraud rationalizes the act in their minds:
- I’m too smart to get caught.
- I’ll put it back when my luck changes.
- The big company won’t miss it.
- I don’t like the person I’m stealing from.
- I’m entitled to it.
At some point in the process, the person who commits fraud loses their sense of right and wrong and their fear of any consequences.
Here’s where you as a business owner come in. If there’s a leak in your control processes, then you have created an opportunity for fraud to occur. People who handle cash, signatory authority on a bank account, or financial records with poor oversight could notice that there is an opportunity for fraud to occur with the ability to cover the act up for some time.
Seventy-seven percent of all frauds occur in one of these departments: accounting, operations, sales, executive/upper management, customer service, purchasing and finance. The banking and financial services, government and public administration, and manufacturing industries are at the highest risk for fraud cases. (Source: ACFE)
Once you understand a little about fraud, prevention is the next step. To some degree, all three points on the triangle can be controlled; however, most fraud prevention programs focus on the third area the most: Opportunity. When you can shut down the opportunity for fraud, then you’ve gone a long way to prevent it.
While we hope fraud never happens to you, it makes good sense to take preventative steps to avoid it. Please give us a call if we can help you in any way.
If you want 2016 to be better than 2015, you have to do something differently in 2016 than you did in 2015. It’s a simple but profound realization. Change brings the opportunity to make things better; it can be scary yet exciting at the same time.
Ask yourself what you are going to do differently to have your best year ever. Here are some questions and exercises to consider:
Clarify Your Vision
What does the world look like after it’s consumed your product or service? A vision statement for a company helps to keep everyone on track and seeing the bigger picture of what they’re accomplishing day after day. How is the world smarter, more beautiful, happier, healthier, or wealthier after they’ve left your business?
If you haven’t written your business vision and mission statement, consider this exercise for 2016.
Create New Habits
What habits are holding you back? Which ones are propelling you forward? Choose one habit that’s costing you the most and make a commitment to drop it from your 2016 repertoire. Conversely, identify the habit that is brining you happiness and wealth and multiply it.
Sometimes we need to let go before we can move forward. What do you need to let go of? Are there customers or employees in your life that sap your energy or your bank account?
Build Your Support Structure
Are you short-staffed? The way you manage your time has everything to do with your success or the lack of it. If you are taking up your time with a lot of low-dollar tasks, it’s going to be hard to boost your income and get ahead. Surround yourself with support to do everything that can be delegated, including personal tasks such as grocery shopping, housekeeping, cooking, and lawn maintenance as well as tasks such as filing, bookkeeping, appointment scheduling, and routine customer service.
Make a list of areas where you could use support, and fill these gaps. In today’s world, you don’t need to hire full time people to fill these slots; you can simply get responsible contractors, other small businesses, and virtual assistants to build your support team.
What project or task would make a huge difference in 2016 if you could pull it off? Focus on the high payback projects and commit to one, even though it might be out of your comfort zone. Imagine the difference in your business once it’s completed, and get inspired to get started.
Choose just one of these areas to start your 2016 out with hope, intention, and excitement.