EVENTS: Speaking Tour (Distinguished Advisor Workshops)

Coming to a city near you!  Join us for the Distinguished Advisor Workshops in Vancouver (May 29th), Edmonton (May 30th), Calgary (May 31st), Winnipeg (June 1st), Toronto (June 5th), and Ottawa (June 6th).

Looking forward to sharing thoughts in the following important areas:

NEXT GENERATION CONTINUITY PLANNING

In this session, you will learn how to prepare your clients who are transitioning their businesses to the next generation of leaders and/or preparing their business for sale. Tax and financial advisors can be of significant help by guiding clients in the direction of formal business continuity planning

Learn how to address key issues your clients should be considering, including:

The transaction “knowledge gap”;

The opportunity to apply innovation to business continuity planning;

How to approach strategic business planning, and the succession transaction itself; and

How to address financial partner considerations.

Things to consider in finalizing the transaction.

The continuity of these companies could depend on your help: and, it’s your opportunity to differentiate your services from others.

BUILDING BUSINESS CONTINUITY PLANS

Every business needs a formal plan throughout its lifecycle, for focused decision making, as well as in preparation for its exit and/or transition.  This session will discuss the sound guidelines that business owners should use to develop such a plan and other value building considerations, including:

Guidelines for developing a well written business continuity plan;

Identifying and articulating your market opportunity;

The relationship between the business model, strategy, and plan;

Key planning components, including products/services, marketing strategy, and operations, and Management;

Guidelines for preparing a financial forecast for three to five years; and

An introduction to the Executive Business Builder Designation Program

Details and registration are located here.

As the lead instructor and author of four certificate courses in the Knowledge Bureau’s Master Financial Advisor (MFA) Designation Program in succession and business planning, and certificate courses in the new Executive Business Builder Designation Program, I look forward to delivering these sessions.  See you on the road!

Getting Started: Preparing for the world of entrepreneurial adventure (Finale)

Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Over the course of this series, we’ve considered a number of skill areas that are helpful to companies in the startup stage of development.  Whether they realize it or not (and many will not), startup companies need much more than technical skills and enthusiasm to build a business that will grow and prosper over the long term.  Some of the skill areas that we’ve identified include opportunity-based thinking, risk management, and the ability to handle and overcome rejection.

For those who are keen to find a young venture and start contributing, it often takes much more than skills and enthusiasm (sound familiar?) in order to find the right fit.  Startup companies can flash and burn like a shooting star in the night sky, and it can be difficult to identify which way a situation is trending until you’re on the way down.  Perspective is critical, and in order to ensure that you’re investing your valuable skills into the right situation, it’s important to understand some of the cold realities about start up companies.

  • Most will fail: Bottom line, the vast majority of startup companies won’t survive, ranging from quick failure to becoming stagnant and fading away over time.  Don’t be fooled by those who achieve quick notoriety or attention, as many a startup who graced the pages of magazines or TV screens went on to subsequently fail.
  • They consume without apology: Like a young child that relies on adults to feed, clothe, and keep them out of harm’s way, startup companies are all about consumption.  They can require (or ineffectively use) an abundance of resources, including human, financial, and time.  If you’re not careful, a startup company can consume your time and energy around the clock.
  • They often don’t know what they need: Many entrepreneurs are new to both their venture and running a business and are typically not in a good position to understand what they need in order to move forward. This is why so many advisors are able to earn a living (for those who seek help) and also why so many startup companies fail (for those who don’t).  The category that the startup  you join falls into can impact your future in a big way.
  • The work isn’t glamorous: Building anything is a “hands on”, trial and error, messy business.  Whatever the roles in a particular startup company might be, far more is required in order to keep moving forward.  Recognize that joining a young company means performing lots of less than glamorous tasks, and if you’re not willing to get your hands dirty (literally), you will likely be happier doing something else.
  • Things can change really, really quickly: Young, emerging companies require agility, in order to chase opportunities, stay ahead of market trends, and make modifications in order to get closer to customers.  What the focus is one week can quickly change, requiring the team to quickly adjust, adapt, and move forward.  Surviving in this type of environment requires comfort with constant change, as well as the ability to work within it.
  • It happens in real time: For all the planning that needs to be done in order to develop and move a venture forward, managing the business is live, not a dress rehearsal.  Teams are often small and they rely on individuals to have the ability to determine what is required and take action; there are no layers of checks and balances here.  Although this might sound exhilarating to some, the reality is that startup companies face and endure risk every single day.

If this doesn’t sound like an environment for the faint of heart, that’s because it isn’t.   Having said that, the rewards are many for those who are up for the task.  Like the childhood fairy tale, you will likely have to kiss a lot of frogs until you find a prince (or princess!); that right startup opportunity.  If you recognize that this is what’s required in order to get started, the focus can be on the journey to find “the one”, as opposed to being on the setbacks that emerge along the way.

Bearing Witness to History: Eight Years Ago Today

Eight years ago today, I was fortunate to be in Washington DC for the first inauguration of Barack Obama.  How and why this came to pass is something that is known and understood by those who are closest me, but it suffices to say that a decision to be an active participant in history was a big part of it.  It is an experience that will always be with me, and is, perhaps, one of the most important things I have ever done.  Words seem insufficient to describe the magnitude of what it means to be a witness to history; it is truly humbling.

It is equally difficult to begin to describe what that sunny day in Washington was like; one that seemed less about political parties and more about people, community, and the new days ahead.  Although not everyone had voted for the incoming President, the sense of excitement and pride was clear.  I’ve never seen so many exuberant people in one place; teary eyed, with open hearts, raising their voices to be heard.

From my vantage point on the parade route, I listened to the ceremony as it echoed over the speaker system, alongside tens of thousands of others.  I remember thinking that the solemn silence of the crowd at that moment seemed almost eerie, as if in some other world, time, and place.  Maybe, they too where thinking about being in the presence of history that children would learn about hundreds of years from now.

How much our world has experienced since then.  I recently listened to the archive of a radio interview that I did on that day and was struck my comments: so much happiness was in the air; pride, togetherness, inspiration.  The call to action and responsibility for making the world a better place were met with careful contemplation.  “What’s it like to be there?”, I was asked.  “It’s great”, I said “people are so excited.  What more can I say?”, I wondered aloud.

I remember observing people of all ages connecting with one another in a way that I hadn’t seen before and haven’t seen since.  The crowd wasn’t one of strangers; it was humanity, and they were there to be humbled, to bear witness, to celebrate.  The roar on Pennsylvania Avenue was so loud as the motorcade approached, I could barely hear the reporter’s questions, but yet, I can remember it all now like it was yesterday (my time at the National Press Club moments later left me feeling equally awestruck, but that’s another story).

As an advisor, I’ve found that groups have a much better opportunity for success when they can find common ground; areas where they recognize that they are more similar than they are different.  In adversarial times, it can be difficult to find this state of mind, and I’ve been met with more than one blank stare or dead silence over the years when suggesting “why not collaborate?”, “why not talk to them?”, “why not listen?”  What’s inspiring, though, are times when those around the table see this opportunity, understand it, and are motivated to take action.  This mindset, even in some small way, reminds me of what I saw between strangers in the crowd on that special day, all those years ago.

Blue Chip Tip: Open Your Mind

As a business advisor and speaker, I meet lots of people.  Many of these are leaders; of companies, organizations, and other groups.  One of the first things that I notice about people is their receptiveness to two things: learning opportunities and good advice.  I’ve found through experience that the most effective leaders are receptive to both of these things.  Why is this the case?

Simply put, smart leaders:

  • See opportunity everywhere.  There is a way to get success in every situation, you just have to find it.  Sometimes, the answer is relatively easy, while other scenarios require more thought and imagination.  Opening your mind to the ideas of others or new ways of doing things is essential for progress.
  • Are not afraid to say “I don’t know”.  Anyone who gives the impression of knowing everything lacks credibility and is easily detected from others.  Recognizing when knowledge is needed is the impetus to learning, and being able to say “I don’t know” is a part of moving forward, turning vulnerability into productive action.
  • Recognize that every situation is a learning one.  Leaders who cast off interactions as irrelevant or beneath them aren’t benefiting from the powerful mindset that has the ability to learn at any time.  This approach recognizes that lessons could be modified to apply to a particular situation or passed along to team members who could benefit.  An open mind looks for ways to make knowledge useful, not the opposite.
  • Are not threatened by successful people.  Talented individuals bring strategies and knowledge that can accelerate progress and benefit others.  Being in the presence of accomplished people is an opportunity, not a threat, and smart leaders would never pass up a chance to learn from this type of experience.
  • See what hasn’t yet been achieved.  Leaders who rest on their laurels or think they have every base covered don’t see what is left to be done.  Taking this approach can be dangerous for an organization, resulting in a blindspot to challenges that exist, falling into complacency, or being surpassed by those that are willing to put in the effort.  An open mind seeks out the strategies and tools to climb the mountain that is on the path ahead, as opposed to ignoring it.

If you’re in a leadership position, or aspiring to get there, how open is your mind?  Are you learning everything that you can or falling into the trap of not being open to opportunity?  Smart leaders know there is only one answer.  Do you?

Getting Started: Preparing for the world of entrepreneurial adventure (Say Yes!)

Ice splashing in cup of water

Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

It’s been said that some people see the glass as half empty, while others see it as half full.  Some people don’t even see the glass, much less believe that it actually exists!  Related to this idea are people in the business world who assume the role of naysayer; nothing is good enough, no idea will work, the road ahead is a minefield of challenges and despair.  This is perspective that the last thing that a startup business (or any company, for that matter) needs.

People who hold this “no glass” perspective are focused more on why things won’t work instead of why they will.  While it’s true that startup companies, rich with new ideas and ways of doing things, might face more challenges than the average business, it doesn’t mean that that success can’t happen.  It can, does, and there are startup companies out there who find success every single day.  The key is bringing the right perspective to “get to yes”, and in doing so, make the world your oyster.  Sounds a lot more interesting than doom and gloom, right?

Why it Matters

Since there is no shortage of people who can tell you why things won’t work, those who see otherwise are of real value.  What’s more, people who can find practical ways to advance an initiative or resolve a problem are extremely valuable.  Any seasoned executive, who’s been there and done that, recognizes just how true this “getting to yes” skill set is.

Think about the last time you were in a situation where good, or at least, interesting ideas were put on the table, only to be quickly shut down by others.  What could have been the outcome if even one of those ideas had been further investigated to find a workable solution?  Even more compelling is a situation where you see a competitor move forward with an idea that you had considered, but didn’t invest the time to make something of it.  Your competitor ended up with money in the bank, while all you were left with was a missed opportunity.

Get Started

Startup companies need people who can apply creativity, ingenuity, and a positive attitude to make things happen.  Seeing the glass as excitingly half full takes practice, something that can change your mindset over time.  Getting started is as easy as adding these approaches to your to do list:

  • Let every new idea have a life: Make it an unspoken rule that any idea that can be clearly articulated has a life; even 10 minutes of time will do.  Talk about it, consider who could utilize the outcome, what success would look like.  Keep track of the concept, so that you can rank it in priority in rational terms, as compared to other things that could be pursued.  If you can’t make this change in your current workplace, try doing so on a personal level.
  • Practice seeing the other side: Every good debater knows that there is more than one side to any situation, and solely focusing on the position of personal choice won’t advance the argument.  Have an opinion, but take the time to thoroughly understand alternative viewpoints, as this can be valuable to finding solutions to move forward.
  • Take on a project: In situations where others dump an idea, consider exploring it a bit further on your own.  You might be surprised what you find, resulting in the opportunity to take a more fully developed concept forward at a later date.  Don’t be surprised if others are impressed by what you’ve been able to achieve.
  • Learn how others get it done: Successful entrepreneurs and executives are skilled in finding ways to get things done, as they understand how valuable it is to be able to do so. Work closely with them to learn what they know; it will be some of the best experience you ever receive.

In a world that so many see as stacked against them, you can set yourself apart by shedding light where they see nothing but grey.  Even better, once you have some examples of initiatives that have been successfully advanced, despite the odds, others will begin to take notice.  “Yes” is the word, indeed.

Leaving a Leadership Legacy: Big Skills in the Leadership Space

ThinkstockPhotos-479188196

Published by The Canadian Society of Club Managers in CMQ (Winter, 2016)

Most people recognize that leaders have the ability to impact many aspects of an organization. One of the key areas is people, including staff and management team members at all levels.  There is a perception that leadership involves guiding the masses, who, if not for the leader, might never find their way forward.  This is a concept that is quite dated.

Leaders have the ability to create an organization that is empowered at every level, in terms of continuous learning, improvement, advancement, and dare we say, independence. Envision a place where staff members understand their role, take steps to perform it efficiently, apply innovation and improvement where it makes sense to do so, and strive to take on and learn more.  Staff members know what to do and how to work well with others, putting their hand up only when help is needed.  Micromanagement isn’t practiced here.

Instead, managers are able to free themselves from mundane and repetitive tasks that consume far too much time in a given day: the questions of what to do, who should do it, and why. Instead, they are able to focus on things that actually improve how a club functions, is perceived in the marketplace, and perhaps most importantly, where it’s going in the future.  If this sounds like an elusive place that doesn’t exist, think again.  It’s all a product of what empowered leadership can do.

Trouble in the Club

One of the realities of being a leader is that the higher you rise, the more people you have reporting to you. Although many might represent indirect reporting relationships that don’t actually interact with you on a daily basis, rest assured that they are out there, keeping a keen eye on how you lead.  When leaders operate on a basis of insecurity, indifference, or a lack of purpose, a wide range of negative outcomes can result.  Regardless, there is a missed opportunity to “leave the place better than you found it”, in terms of advancing the capability of staff and management team members and how they approach their roles.

Believe it or not, some leaders have a strong need to be “needed”; to be the referral point for all the questions, the one who provides all of the directions, and is the proverbial “smartest person in the room”. This type of approach misses the opportunity for staff members to stand on their own two feet and creates an unhealthy dependence on the leader (for both the organization and its people).  Looking sharp in this type of environment actually doesn’t make you valuable; rather, such leaders are a barrier to an organization’s ability to grow and make progress.

Leading Large

One of the most powerful things that leaders can do is put everyone in the organization in a position to do more.  Development can be fostered well when it starts at the top, as an example of how all staff and management team members should operate.  Here’s how to get started on the empowerment path:

  • Focus on the bigger picture. Insecurity can arise from scenarios where people feel that they are “giving up” something to someone else. Delegating some of your tasks to a member of your senior team shouldn’t create feelings of insecurity, such as “what if they do a better job?”; rather, it should increase the level of organizational performance overall, a goal in which you should find comfort.
  • Establish professional development plans. Performance management shouldn’t just focus on what a staff member did in the past or where they currently are. Include an action plan of two to three items that are to be successfully learned over the next six-month period, such as taking on a new area of responsibility or completing a training program. This approach helps to keep the focus on progress that can be applied, measured, and built upon.
  • Be a learning organization. Make it a requirement for all staff and management team members to commit to learning on an ongoing basis. Approaches could include taking on new responsibilities, completing courses or training programs, or mentoring a peer. Remember that teaching and transferring knowledge is also learning.
  • Don’t settle for less. Seek to replace those who aren’t on board or don’t consider development to be part of their job description. Negative attitudes and opting out of what’s expected don’t just harm the role at hand, they also hold back the rest of the organization. Effective leaders can’t afford to carry this type of baggage.
  • Reinforce the vision. Remind staff and management team members that your organization is a place of excellence where everyone can soar. Show them how this behavior fits with where the organization can go in the future. An environment where people see the opportunity to make progress in their role and are empowered to do so is a great place to be.

Developing and empowering staff and management team members to a level of independent competence represents an opportunity to create a lasting legacy. If you think that sounds powerful, that’s because it is!  Those who have the courage and ability to make it happen differentiate themselves in the leadership arena more than they know.

Getting Started: Preparing for the world of entrepreneurial adventure (Discipline)

ThinkstockPhotos-482728759

Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

The word “entrepreneurial” is often associated with a freewheeling, zig-zagging, devil-may-care, caution-into-the-wind type of attitude. Although it’s true that the ideas and new ways of doing things that are typically associated with startup companies require some creative thought, this is not all that’s needed.  In fact, one of the things that is surprising about young companies is just how much discipline they need in order to be successful.

Startups are focused on building: new companies, new products and services, new markets, new ways of doing things. Like any construction project, this is best done by building on solid ground, starting with the site, a good foundation, and using tactics that are tried and true.  Although this particular house might include some new features or ideas (think geothermal heating or windows that provide privacy with the flick of a switch!), most construction fundamentals still need to be in place.  Why is this the case?  Simply because it’s important to put evolution into practice within a stable environment, as combining too many new things at once can cause the structure to come tumbling down.

This type of balanced progress (or evolution under control) resonates well with early stage investors, as it raises the likelihood of overall success. It also serves as a means to manage and mitigate risk, which is something that we have already explored in this series.  Understanding that the sound business practices and discipline that are learned in the corporate world shouldn’t be abandoned; but, rather, leveraged and built upon, is a key area of opportunity for anyone entering a startup company.

Why it Matters

When something is young; be it a child, a puppy, or a company, it needs more structure, not less. Think about the last time you learned how to do something: in order to understand the task, your role, and the implications of doing it right (or wrong!), it was necessary to pay careful attention to the lesson, understand what needed to be done (and how), practice, and perhaps take corrective action (or refer back to the manual) in order to get it right.  Startup companies really aren’t much different than these examples.

What runs against the grain of what early stage investors know to be true is when young companies do the opposite (remember that devil-may-care attitude?), applying good business practices just about nowhere. If the intent to is make a new way of doing things work for the long term, it has to be supported by the fundamentals; business planning, financial management, implementation monitoring, and defined roles and responsibilities are just a few examples of the discipline that should be in place.  In many startup companies, an investor would be challenged to find any of these practices!

Get Started

Benefit from the established fundamental business practices that are typically present in large companies by learning how to incorporate them with discipline into a startup environment:

  • Dust off that textbook: Although it might have been a while since you’ve held the student viewpoint, recognize what is part of good, old fashioned fundamental business practices and undertake the discipline to learn how to put (and keep) them in place. Areas to think and learn about include planning, budgeting, assigning tasks, monitoring performance, documentation, and roles and responsibilities.
  • Practice recognizing where business fundamentals can be applied: Regardless of the environment, there is a place for good business practices. Learn how to transfer what you have observed and worked with in a corporate environment to that of a startup business. Resist the temptation to fall into the “it can’t be done” trap; experienced investors know that it can be done.
  • Learn more about what you don’t know: While in the relative stability of an established organization, take the time to learn more about areas with which you are less familiar. Research, courses, and new job responsibilities are all strategies for learning.
  • Test your ability to perform on a disciplined basis: What sounds simple “on paper” is typically much more of a challenge when it’s put into practice. Pursue opportunities to take learning to a practical level and be sure to take note of how performance could be improved.
  • Think in both the short and long term: Short term thinking tends to equate with getting things done, while a long term mindset is more about putting policies and procedures into place. Recognize that investors expect to see both: the track record of what has been achieved and established practices in a business to demonstrate discipline and ongoing value.

When you take the time to think about a startup company in the context of other things that are early in their developmental stage, it is blatantly obvious that much structure and attention are needed in order to shepherd a neophyte safely into the future. By separating the creative process of generating ideas from the disciplined approach of building, it’s possible to fully recognize the stark differences between the two.  This is what early stage investors see every time.

Speaking Tour, Day 4

DAW traveled to Toronto for the fourth and final stop on the Fall, 2015 speaking tour.  We were greeted by sunny, warm weather and an enthusiastic group; a great way to end our tour.  The mix of participants in the room, the services they provide, and their client experiences always make the sessions interesting and unique.  Recognizing that a real opportunity exists to build a growing client base for the long term is an exciting prospect!

Key thing to think about for Day 4: It’s been raised on every stop of this tour that some clients tend to fall into the same difficulties time and time again; why is this the case?  Much of what needs to be learned represents a mind shift, a new way of thinking, and although these concepts might be understandable, they can be very difficult to put into practice.  This is just one reason why advisors have an important role to play in supporting and coaching their clients to meet and beat the challenges they face.

Thanks everyone who came out to see us, participated, and stopped by to share experiences and tell us that they enjoyed the day.  It means the world to us!

Speaking Tour, Day 3

Our tour travelled to Calgary for the third day of the Distinguished Advisor Family Business and Yearend Tax Planning Workshop  Another great group, with lots of interesting questions and experiences.  It’s always a privilege when advisors share their experiences, with the goal of identifying how and where they can better help their clients.

Key thing to think about for Day 3:  Identifying the right role for a business leader to take on as a company grows is critical, as time is a precious resource that needs to be channeled effectively.  Advisors can play a key role in helping their clients understand where they fit best, setting the stage for bringing in the right resources to build growth capacity.  Too often, clients make the wrong choice, resulting in costly setbacks for the company.

Thanks, Calgary, for the participation and hospitality. Next stop: Winnipeg (to take in some Halloween festivities!), and then on to Toronto!

Speaking Tour, Day 2

The second day of the Distinguished Advisor Family Business and Year End Tax Planning Workshop was in Vancouver; thanks to everyone who participated!  I’m always interested to hear the questions that are raised, as well as the experiences that advisors have with their clients.  This active, in the field interaction helps to keep my presentations practical and real, as I believe that this experience puts advisors in the best position to help others.

Key thing to think about for Day 2: Investor ready business planning isn’t just for start up and early stage companies; it is also extremely important for growth stage businesses, as well as those that are considering succession. As I’ve raised on every stop of this tour, the vast majority of business plans I’ve seen in my career are not investor ready (most are nowhere near ready!), and this is a significant problem for those seeking capital.  I’ve developed an approach based on my years in the venture capital industry, so if you’re going to invest the time to develop a business plan, do it the investor ready way!

Thanks to the Vancouver Club for their hospitality.  Up next: Calgary

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