MEDIA: Appearance on SET for Success (680 CJOB Radio)

Pleased to have appeared on SET for Success on 680 CJOB with Richard Lannon to discuss some important areas that business leaders need to address to successfully grow and develop their companies.  Being a market leader is a goal for many, but in order to realize a company’s full potential, it’s critical to identify what that means for your business and then develop and successfully implement the plan.  This process is one that is fraught with challenges, but having the right assistance could made success much more likely, to the benefit of your company.

As a business advisor, my approach is to bring a holistic perspective, recognizing that all functional areas within a company are related and impact one another.  For a company to grow on a sustainable basis, all functional areas must be operating well, to provide the foundation for building capacity and sound operations.  Those who do this well are in a position to become market leaders, representing the choice of investors, strategic partners, high calibre employees, and customers.  Those who take a piecemeal approach tend to end up frustrated, wondering why their results are not better.

When companies are growing (or planning to do so), they must also recognize that capital is an important component; this is something that business leaders tend to discover too late.  As a former venture capitalist still active in the industry, the vast majority of business plans that I see are not investor ready; this is the case at least 95% of the time.  Investor readiness involves understanding the expectations of financial partners and investors, which differ significantly from where business leaders tend to focus their efforts.

Advisors could be helpful in a range of areas, including assisting companies with investor readiness and developing strategies for growth and implementation.  As important as planning is, the most significant failures could occur during the implementation process, which is another lesson that business leaders tend to learn too late.  If the objective is to generate sustainable growth and build value in a company so it could be transitioned to someone else in the future, market leaders would not attempt to do so without sound advice.

You can listen to our conversation hereContact us to learn more about taking the next steps in growth for your company.

When Canada Day is also Tariff Day

Happy Canada Day!  I’m very proud to live in such a beautiful, diverse, and well respected country.

This year, Canada Day includes all of the usual celebrations, but also a particular action that demonstrates our strength and resolve as a country; newly imposed tariffs on the United States, in response to those that have been in force against Canada and other countries since June 1st.  As indicated by both our Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister, Canada had “no choice” in terms of imposing these tariffs, which represent a response in equal measure, not escalation.  Our government has also taken various steps to help industries impacted by the tariffs, including export diversification, training, and business liquidity support.

Although there are various complexities around how tariffs work, the expectation is that there will be price increases on some items, for both consumers and companies, making the need to source products that are not subject these measures of particular importance.  As there is a lot being said about the implications for consumers, let’s consider some things that Canadian businesses should be thinking about:

  • Know your costs:  Too often, companies do not have a good understanding of the actual cost to deliver products and services, on a current, comprehensive, and complete basis.  Typical shortfalls include not recognizing all of the costs that should be included (such as overhead items or allocation of all labour costs) or not reflecting cost increases and other charges on an ongoing basis.  Not only does this provide a false sense of product margins, it also results in a poor basis for establishing prices.  The latter can be particularly destructive for companies, with each sale occurring at a price that is too low to support operations.
  • Identify supplier options:  Although companies might have longstanding supply and other relationships, it’s never been more important to expand the list.  Managing risk involves identifying a range of suppliers, including outside of the United States, to ensure that options can quickly be accessed, in the event that pricing or delivery terms become untenable.
  • Research market opportunities:  Tariffs can create business opportunities for Canadian companies, in situations where US goods become less price competitive.  Fulfilling market opportunities requires targeted research, and assuming that new business is no different than a company’s current customers is a recipe for disaster.  Take the time to fully understand what’s needed in order to generate success.
  • Secure necessary capital:  Business leaders don’t always remember that approaching new opportunities and generating growth require capital.  Reasons include the need to expand facilities, procure raw materials, increase distribution, hire staff, or conduct the previously mentioned research, often in advance of when sales proceeds are received.  In order to ensure a successful outcome, it’s critical to understand capital requirements, as well as the source, before approaching growth opportunities.
  • Monitor financial results:  As new business opportunities evolve, financial results must be monitored on a timely basis, to ensure that progress is on track.  In order to do so, a company must have a strong complement of fundamental systems, processes, and procedures in place, to ensure that good results and information are being generated.  This includes ensuring that the person in the senior finance role has the right qualifications, skills, and experience, particularly for a growth related company.

Putting these key areas into place generally takes longer than expected, so business leaders should be doing so now.  Advisors can be particularly helpful, including identifying market opportunities, action planning requirements, implementation options, access to partners, and tested solutions that can be fast-tracked, representing a competitive edge.  Feel free to contact us for more information during this important time in the Canadian economy.

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.

NEWS: Executive Business Builder Program Now Available!

As the lead instructor, I’m pleased to announce that the Executive Business Builder Program is now available!

This program is designed to help business leaders build a future-ready company, including building value and best practices, through courses, mentorship, and access to a powerful network of inspirational, like-minded people.  Learn practical strategies for building a company that can generate solid performance and be positioned for transfer to someone else in the future.  Value doesn’t just happen, and leaders need to take tangible steps to enhance their company.

The first course, Strategic Business Planning, is already available, and additional courses are already in development.  Don’t miss out on this opportunity to move from business leader to business builder!

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.

NEWS: Strategic Business Planning Course Now Available!

I’m pleased to announce the launch of my new Strategic Business Planning Course, the first course in the new Executive Business Builder Program at The Knowledge Bureau.

It might be news to a lot of CEO’s and entrepreneurs that most business plans are not prepared very well.  Although a company’s management might find the plan useful, they tend to fall well short of what external parties, such as potential financial partners, require in order to make a financing or investment decision.  This course provides sound business planning guidelines for both internal and external use, putting leaders in a better position to pursue the necessary capital to support the next level of growth.

Getting it right involves developing a thorough and complete business model, strategy, and plan (including a financial forecast), as well as preparing to make the approach to potential financial partners.  Gain insight into a range of important areas, from the perspective of a former investor, including:

  • The key sections of a business plan and what should be included
  • What to consider when building a business model
  • How to identify and select a target market(s)
  • How to select and position products and services
  • Guidelines for developing a marketing strategy
  • Developing an organizational structure, including identifying key roles
  • Guidelines for preparing a financial forecast, including assumptions
  • The perspective of external parties, such as financial partners
  • Guidelines for approaching financial partners

Details and registration are available here.  Stay tuned for additional courses in the Executive Business Builder Program!

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!

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

ThinkstockPhotos-180943997

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.