Getting to Better Budgeting: 5 ways to up your budgeting game

Published by the Canadian Golf Superintendents Association in GreenMaster (Fall, 2017).

The very thought of budgeting can conjure up feelings of an abundance of effort for little in the way of outcomes.  Ask people how successful they are when it comes to meeting (or beating) their budget and many will say “not even close”.  Suggest that a budget should be prepared before getting started with a new fiscal year or venture and the response might be “we can’t predict the future, so why bother?”.  And when all else fails, there’s always the familiar excuse of “nobody looks at those things anyway”.  These viewpoints are more common than one would expect, but actually, they are far from accurate.  Why is this the case?

The simple reason is that budgeting is a learned skill, and practice makes it better.  When considered in this context, here is what the comments above actually mean:

What They Said Translation
“Not even close”

The budget wasn’t reasonable.

We didn’t pay enough attention to the budget once it was developed.

“We can’t predict the future, so why bother?” We don’t know enough about our organization to prepare a meaningful budget.
“Nobody looks at those things anyway” We don’t understand budgets.

Experienced advisors know these misconceptions all too well, and the only way to overcome the challenges of budgeting and improve outcomes is to take action.  This means implementing a sound budgeting process, upon which an organization can build over time.  Here’s how:

  • Assign the right resources: Those who are responsible for conducting the actual budget work should have relevant experience, including a professional accounting designation.  Since budgeting is a specialized area, in the event that an organization’s staff members have not previously conducted budget work, the necessary training and education should be provided in advance.  Advisors can also be helpful in this regard.
  • Have a game plan: Developing a budget doesn’t just happen, and it’s important to have an action plan that identifies all critical activities, timing, and responsibilities.  The budget should have a standard format, including an Income Statement, Balance Sheet, Cashflow Statement, as well as supporting schedules and assumptions that provide the rationale for how amounts were developed.
  • Engage the senior team in the process: A budget shouldn’t be developed in isolation, such as by an organization’s leader or the “Accounting Department”.  This approach can result in those on the senior team taking the view that the budget “doesn’t belong to us”.  In order to avoid this scenario, all members of the senior team should be involved, by way of developing the budget assumptions that pertain to their area, as well as review of drafts and finalization.  This approach gets everyone on-side, making the budget that of the organization and its team.
  • Draft, review, and revise: Budgets don’t typically come together on the first try, so it’s important to prepare a draft version, review and critique it as a team, and revise where required.  This process might take a few drafts, but it is rich in learning for everyone involved.
  • Implement and monitor over time: A budget only means something if it is formally implemented and monitored over the full period to which it pertains.  Common mistakes include developing a budget and either not formally implementing it (so people think it doesn’t matter) or failing to compare actual performance to budget on an ongoing basis.  Either scenario leads to poor outcomes.

The good news is that the work is in getting started and these efforts can be leveraged over time, through re-use and enhancement of what has already been put into place.  Starting now creates the opportunity to get on the path to making the process easier sooner.  What’s more, the good performance that can be generated will add some distance to your game.

When Leaders Get it Wrong

As a business advisor, I’m always amazed by leaders who don’t act in the best interest of their own company.  It’s something that happens more frequently that one would expect, and examples of this non-productive behavior include:

  • Ignoring obvious problems
  • Hiring people who don’t have the skills and ability to do the job
  • Needing to be the “smartest person in the room”
  • Not being receptive to advice that could help them to be more successful

And the list goes on.  From my perspective, the most bizarre of these are the last two on the list.  Both tend to be related to ego and insecurity issues that end up taking precedence over the company at hand.  People who exhibit these behaviors miss the opportunity to build a better company, which, in turn, would reflect well on the leader.  A complete disconnect!

Consider the following alternatives, both of which lead to better outcomes:

  • Surrounding yourself with the smartest, most competent people is one of the best things that a leader can do.  Not only does this significantly raise the likelihood that a company will perform better (to the benefit of all involved), but it also provides a powerful opportunity for a transfer of knowledge.  A collaborative learning environment strengthens the senior team, as well as the leader.  In my own experience, the smartest leaders I have known have never been afraid to say “I don’t understand it”, while taking steps to do so.  Why is this important?  Because even the smartest, most accomplished people know that there is always more to learn, and they are never diminished by saying so (in fact, it makes them better leaders).
  • Experienced advisors bring a wealth of knowledge that can improve almost any situation.  Why would a leader not be receptive to such a powerful opportunity?  Not recognizing a good idea when they see it?  Ego?  Insecurity?  Thinking that the issue has already been resolved (when it hasn’t)?  Poor judgement?!  Whatever the reason, this lack of receptiveness will eventually catch up with the company, often at the worst of times.  Investors and financial partners screen for this tendency, and those who aren’t receptive to advice often don’t end up on the financing list.

I’ve long since had a theory that there are lots of business leaders who will opt out of what is in their own best interest, as well as in the best interest of their company.  Ironically, these people are the ones who tend to need the most help, not the least, and they might just have to learn this lesson the hard way.

EVENTS: The Canadian Golf Course Management Conference

Join me at The Canadian Golf Course Management Conference February 27th to March 3rd, 2017 in Victoria, BC, hosted by the Canadian Golf Superintendents Association.  I am one of the educational speakers and will be presenting Green is the New Black: Better Budgeting and Financial Outcomes

Many organizations have people with strong technical or service backgrounds, but limited finance knowledge.  This can present challenges, when finance related tasks that are part of managing any organization, such as budgeting, monitoring, and improving financial performance, are undertaken.  Leaders and their teams have an opportunity to increase their financial knowledge to make their work easier and improve results, for the benefit of all involved.

This session will provide a plain language understanding of how the budgeting, forecasting, and financial analysis processes “work”, which can then be utilized to improve performance.  Having this skillset can set individuals apart from their peer group, in terms of both ability and career advancement.

Details about the conference and how to register are located here  See you at The Canadian!

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?

Beat the Growth Curve by Enabling (and sustaining) Business Growth

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Every once in a while, something magnificent happens.  A company, through no fault of its own, finds itself in a situation of unexpected growth: that uncharacteristically large order, email inquiry from markets afar, or perhaps media coverage that yields a rush of customers.  As enticing as such growth can be, there is an important question that must be carefully considered: can this level of demand be sustained?

It’s easy to find joy in times of success, wanting little more than to sit back and savour the moment.  Having said that, it’s important to not fall into the trap of taking short term growth as a given for the future.  This is a dangerous approach that has been the downfall of many companies, who banked on the money before it arrived and made decisions on this basis, many of which involved outlays of cash.   Too often, the “can’t miss” opportunity is anything but, with the key unanswered question being whether or not the increased level of demand was sustainable or just a bump in the road.   Paired with this is often a lack of appreciation of what’s required to create sustainable growth over the long term.

Business leaders can take matters into their own hands to increase the likelihood of a better outcome, to effectively stay ahead of the growth curve and beat it.  The approach is built upon fundamental, good business practices; here are some tips to get you started:

  • Research always rules—when demand rises, it’s a great opportunity to find out why. This can be achieved by engaging with customers and keeping an eye on the marketplace for developments of interest.  Published research sources, industry associations, and economic analysts can bring information about key trends and how demand could be impacted.  Utilize this information to understand changes in demand for the short and long term and how your business strategy might be impacted.
  • Focus on what makes you special—every business must be able to tangibly articulate why customers should choose them, as opposed to the competition. It’s important to communicate what your company has to offer, not just in the present but also on a sustainable basis.  Focus on areas such as proprietary expertise, products, service levels, and other areas that set you apart.
  • Keep an eye on external developments—which includes emerging trends and happenings in the industry and marketplace where you do business. Look for opportunities to offer new products and services in your area and pay careful attention to changes in consumer preferences.  Too many business leaders focus the majority of their time on internal matters and can quickly find themselves out of step with opportunities in the marketplace, as well as displaced by savvy competitors who didn’t make the same mistake.
  • Accentuate the positive—increased demand can be tempting, in terms of quick decisions to scale up, buy, hire, and other expansion related steps. Conversely, a good strategy is to leverage what you already have and minimize new cost outlays.   Accentuate the positive by building on what you already have; longer business hours, a greater online presence, and making use of existing capacity are all options.  Strategic partnerships can also expand your product offering without significant costs.
  • Build the brand— ideally, it’s important to create an identity that positions your business as the “go to” provider of choice; this is key to sustaining demand for the long term. Most communities have such examples, so utilize your efforts to make your name a recognizable one.

Recognize these efforts for what they are: an investment; to take control and grow on a proactive and prolonged basis, well into the future.  Your business (and your bank account) will thank you for it.

Grow Within your Means? Yes, You Can!

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Generating growth in the business world can be a tricky thing.  Companies do whatever they can to grow, but many find themselves unprepared when success happens.  On the other hand, some businesses take mighty steps in advance of growth: hiring staff members, moving to a bigger location, and buying new equipment, only for increased sales failing to materialize.  Business leaders often struggle with which road they should take: forward, back, stay put?  Sometimes this indecision can be a good risk mitigation strategy, and at other times, it leads to opportunities being missed.

Growth, however, does not always have to involve adding significantly to a company’s expenses.  This might sound surprising, but by applying some careful thought and creativity, it is possible.  The potential is compelling, as in situations where revenues increase and expenses decrease, profits can multiply in ways that you might not have thought possible.  There are ways to generate growth by getting the most out of what a company already has and is likely still paying for; and however you look at it, it’s a great time to grow:

  • Utilize your existing workforce to the fullest—hiring staff members is a long term commitment, so ensure that you are not using it to resolve a short term problem. Each and every staff member should be fully utilized with a meaningful workload, so identify inefficiencies and work smarter.  Using cross-training and reassignment of tasks across departments and hiring part time/contract staff during peak periods can all help.  Standardized procedures, templates, and documents can be used repeatedly and eliminate the wasted time associated with “reinventing the wheel”.  Ensuring that staff members have the right technology to increase productivity is a must, recognizing that more is not always better.
  • Take a fresh look at your premises— consider reorganizing work schedules, adding shifts, or servicing customer markets that could be accessed during off hours. Ensuring that your online and social media presences are as robust as possible also represent opportunities to spur growth.
  • Take things in stride—turbo speed growth isn’t always the best approach, as it can be difficult (and risky) to service and maintain. Long term success is often better achieved by taking a gradual approach, raising the likelihood of profitable growth that is also cash flow positive.  View this as creating the basis for the next level of expansion.
  • Look to fill product and service gaps—identifying partners who have products and services that fit well with your own, or would be of interest in your marketplace, can be a great way to grow. Each partner works within their own resources, but benefits from offering products and services to each others’ customers.  It’s also no secret that groups who work together can generate additional productivity, simply by collaborating and working smart.
  • Take a short term focus—view growth as a series of small steps or advancements. Stay away from long term facility commitments and equipment loans, as they are expenditures that remain well into the future.  Generate growth that has a likelihood of being sustainable over at least a moderate period of time, such as a couple of years, before committing into the long term.  This approach can be repeated over the years, resulting in managed growth that mitigates risk.

Much of what is required to achieve success in this regard is not glamorous, but rather, represents good, fundamental business practices.  Take stock of what you have, make it run like a charm, utilize it to the fullest, and monitor, measure, and refine.  Do it well and be prepared to welcome the kind of growth that will be with you for years to come.

Blue Chip Tip: Just Show Up

After observing some of the worst service providers I have ever seen over the past year or so, either directly or hearing about the experiences of my clients, I’m reminded of what should be a simple rule for anyone in business: Just Show Up!  It’s amazing to see the number of businesses that can’t seem to perform the most basic of tasks: return a phone call or email, demonstrate interest in a customer’s needs, or deliver on what they said they would do.  What on earth do these companies think they are in business to do?

Smart business leaders can use these awful examples as a reminder of what’s important to do every single day: Just Show Up.  Here are five tips to live by:

  • Every customer is important, so don’t treat the “small jobs” as anything less.  You don’t know who your client knows; their personal network could include business leaders, professionals, and those who need your services, and you will never get referrals if their experience with you is poor.  Speaking from experience, you can trust me on that!
  • Do what you said you would do, and don’t think that your customer won’t know the difference.  Map out deliverables in advance and deliver.  Don’t change the plan unless there is a compelling reason to do so, and only with sign off from your client.
  • Meet timelines, as your customers are depending on you to do so.  Too many businesses act like they’ve got nothing but time; newsflash: your customers don’t have time to waste.
  • Get it in writing, in advance of starting the work, so everyone is on the same page from the beginning.  Treat every customer engagement in a professional manner, otherwise your efforts will look like more of a hobby than a business.
  • Be accountable, especially if something doesn’t go as planned.  Customers will be more understanding if you take responsibility for getting the job done, as opposed to making excuses, deflecting concerns, and pulling other distractions.

Think that this list is too basic to be of use?  Experience says otherwise.  By showing up and doing the job right, you’ve already left over half your competition in the dust.  Now, just think what you could do if you really put your mind to it!