Transitioning to Working ON the Business

I meet a lot of business owners that have successful businesses as well as many that are struggling. Whether they are successful or still trying to figure it out, what most of these have in common is that they spend most of their time each day working IN the business. In other words, they are grinding to make sure their product or service is getting performed to their customers’ satisfaction. Being a business owner myself, I can testify to the necessity of doing this. Nobody can articulate the owner’s vision as well as the owner!

While a business can be successful, i.e., profitable, operating in this manner, the long-term purpose of the business owner should be to sell the business one day. This, along with the inevitable burn out that will occur from the grind, necessitates a change of approach: Working ON the business.

Now one does not make an abrupt change from working IN the business to working ON the business. It’s actually an evolutionary process. You go from working all day, every day IN the business to spending a few hours a week working ON the business and evolve from there. Doing this, naturally, requires the business owner to cede control over certain hour-to-hour tasks within the business. How does one decide where to cede?

I suggest making two lists. For the first list, the owner should answer the question, “What are the current business tasks that you most enjoy?” There are no right or wrong answers here. Simply list his/her opinion. Love making widgets? Write it down. Really like dealing with customers? Write it down. And so on.

On the second list, write down the answers to this question, “At what tasks do you create the most value within the business?” Here, it’s really important that the owner be honest and accurate. Don’t just write down a gut feel (although a gut feel might be correct). Deeply consider which business tasks will help the business grow/reduce costs/improve customer experience/increase cash flow, etc.

Now, let’s juxtapose the lists. Here is where we separate passion (what we love) from what creates value (makes someone want to pay top dollar for the business one day). Compare these two lists and see which tasks drive business value and fuel passion. The owner should absolutely keep doing these tasks. That is an easy call. On the other end of the spectrum, any tasks not on either list should be passed on to someone else in the organization. Another easy call. The challenge comes when tasks that the owner enjoys doing don’t enhance enterprise value if the owner is doing them.

As an example, in my auto repair business, I really like wrenching on cars. However, if I’m honest, I’m not very fast. Any decent technician could blow me away from a quality and efficiency standpoint. So, I quit wrenching and hired another technician. I wasn’t adding enough value. I also love working with clients, vendors and creating processes. I kept doing those things. There, I was adding value. Guess what? The year after stepping out of the shop and handing the wrenches to someone more talented, we grew 17%. I was actually less stressed, clients were happier, I was happier, the technicians were happier (they got their parts faster with me in the office). Winner!

This was just the beginning. Over time, I slowly released more activities to employees. Now we are at the point where the operation is turn-key. I am not integral to its hour-to-hour success. My trusted team handles that. I still set the tone with clear expectations on process, client care, building appearance, etc. But, I trust my team to do it right. I also leave an open channel for clients to reach out to me when their experience isn’t what they are used to. Was it scary to let go? Most definitely! Was it necessary? Also, most definitely.

When the time comes, I feel way more confident that the right buyer can be found so I can to move on to the next chapter in life. You can do this, too!!

A New Tax System

OK, I know this blog is about business.  But the issue of income taxes and the behavior our friends at the IRS impacts your business, my business and the business of our personal lives.  So, here are my thoughts…..

One evening recently, I was about to fall asleep when I awoke instantly wide awake with a new federal income tax structure.  As you read this, please bear in mind that it’s a framework.  The details of which I will leave to more talented bean counters than me.

What was rattling around in my head was something that I truly believe can make a huge impact on our government, our freedoms and our economy.   I propose a TRUE flat tax (not a FAIR tax as some are proposing.  I will let you research the differences).  Before you run away screaming, walk along with me for a bit as I summarize the framework.

Individual Income Taxes – We would all pay a certain % of our gross income.  No deductions (why should the g0vernment tell us that home ownership is better than renting, for example.  The renters get screwed).  We could eliminate the individual tax division of the IRS (or whatever it is called) and replace it with a much smaller,  computer-driven group that verifies our income as reported on our 1/2 page tax return.  The only reason for a return, at all, is to pay taxes on our passive income (our employers will withhold and pay taxes on our earned income).  Now, there is a place for debating an income floor for the truly poor.  However, even if someone can only pay $10 because of low income, they should.

This model would keep the rich from sheltering income and have the low income individuals pay at least a little.  Plus, the government would save $billions with the smaller IRS (yes, the current employees would have to look for jobs, but a lot of us have survived that in our lives, including me).

Organization Net Income Taxes – You will note here, that I used the term “organization” instead of “business.”  I will explain in a moment.  Each organization will pay a certain % on the net income of the entity (similar to today).  The difference is that there will be no such thing as a tax-exempt entity.  They have to pay taxes on their NET, too.  Before all the charities have a fit, take a breath and read on.  Charities are supposed to give away their funds (after operating costs), right?  So give it away like you are supposed to.  If your expenses and “giveaways” equal your income (donations), you pay no taxes.  If, as some supposed-charities do, you hoard funds, you pay income taxes on the remaining “net income.”  This includes churches, synagogues and mosques,  too.  As a man of faith, I struggled with this, but I want my church to be missional (which we very much are) and spend on community outreach.  We give offerings to our church to be spent, not kept.  Here is the incentive to do so (in case one is needed)!

This set-up will also obviate the division of the IRS that is causing all the wailing and gnashing of teeth.  There will be no reason for any group to need tax-exempt status, so there won’t be any politically motivated abuse of those applying for it.  How much $$ will that save tax payers?

To monitor this type of entity, the IRS business division would be replaced by the department of organization taxation (or something of that nature).  Admittedly, this division might be larger than  the current similar IRS division because of the broader base.  However, I am hoping that the flat-tax environment will be simpler to enforce and make it no larger, at a minimum.

Naturally, the status quo in congress and all the tax attorneys will scoff (they will need new jobs as a result).  “You can’t do this and we have to be able to deduct that.” ….Open your minds, you fossils!   Will someone likely pay more taxes than they do now?  Of course.   But, we have to make some serious changes in this country.  We are in debt, as a nation, way over our heads and the economy is still fragile.  The tax code seems like the logical place to start (with more restructuring to follow).

What I propose is simpler, which is pretty much always better and cheaper.  It puts the rich and  poor under the same rules (special interests have no footing without deductions), which creates a more cohesive country as opposed to our currently polarized country.     We are the UNITED States of America.  Let’s set up the tax rules to encourage that.

Improve or Die

You’ve either worked for, read about or know someone who worked at a company that made a ton of money for a long time doing the same things they’d always done. Then, all of the sudden, the market/industry changed. Now, efficiency and higher levels of customer service and speed are what it takes to compete. Unfortunately, the company didn’t have some or all of those attributes. This was mostly because they spent years or even decades without any quantum changes in their processes. Now what?

It’s time to get on the process improvement band wagon. You know; the stuff you’ve been reading about for years. It doesn’t matter what set of tools you use. My personal preference is to embrace Lean Enterprise because of its common sense thought process regarding waste elimination. I’ve found that every person in the organization can grasp its concepts. There’s also Six Sigma, TQM and a number of hi-bred programs. Get to learning and get improving. Not doing so will seal the fate of your organization.

More to come on this topic.

Integrity

As I watch, with my mouth likely hanging open, at the lies, vitriol, closed mindedness and overall lack of character going on in Washington, I find my self hoping this does not pour over as normal behavior into the rest of society. Now, Washington’s behavior shouldn’t surprise me. They continue to under-perform and fail to meet already low expectations on a daily basis (just look at their approval rating). However, I’m still amazed by the behavior of people who are supposedly adults; supposedly leaders.

As you look to set the course of your business, use the Washington example of what NOT to do. Whether you are the CEO, VP or the Mail room Manager:

DO treat people with respect and dignity.
DO communicate frequently and clearly with your team and your customers (internal and external).
DO maintain calm in tough situations. Your team is looking to be led.
DO lead by example.
DO involve your team in decisions that affect their day to day activities.
DO have something else in your life more important than work (your team probably does).
DO say please and thank you.
DO have open and honest dialog.
DO be a person of good character.
DO insist on absolute integrity from your team.

Let Washington be Washington. Emulate someone better.

The Three P’s

People, Processes and Products.

Simply put, if you have excellence  in all three of these areas, your organization is bound to be successful.  If you have been around business for any length of time, this isn’t exactly a revelation.  However, it keeps it simple (a common theme of mine).   When you are wondering why your results aren’t quite what you want them to be, come back to the three P’s to re-center yourself as a leader.  Analyze each of the P’s and find out where the weakness(s) lie.

People – We all want to hire the best people.  While it’s not easy and we do make mistakes from time to time, having a thorough and systematic hiring process will limit those errors.  Beyond hiring, we have to be aware that our business is changing.  Are our people keeping up with the changes?  Can they still handle the new environment?  Has the business outgrown them?  These are some of the things to consider to ensure that the three P’s stay in balance.

Processes – If you have great people, but the processes within which they work are not up to snuff, the opportunities for failure increase significantly.  Conversely, you can be successful with air-tight procedures and some average people.  Now, I wouldn’t recommend a whole staff of mediocrity because that’s asking for trouble.  However, the power of an excellent process multiplies every team member’s ability to succeed.

Products – This is where the rubber meets the road.   Do you have products/services that customers actually want to purchase?  Do they see enough value in your offerings that they will pay a profitable price or are you selling a commodity?  You can make money either way, but a commodity product requires a low-cost operation with a much smaller margin for error.  In my experience, a high-value product is a lot more fun.  You can afford a few more key people and the helps prevent your team from burning out.  Again, this is something that needs to be monitored.  What used to be a high-value product, my become commoditized one day.  It’s important to recognize this and be ready with new high-value offerings or be prepared to adjust your cost structure rapidly.

Our mothers used to tell us to mind our P’s and Q’s.  Keep it simple and just focus on the P’s.

Is Your Sales Team Really Selling?

Like any business leader, you probably watch your sales figures like a hawk.  You know full well that sales are your company’s life blood.  Undoubtedly there have been times when you have been unhappy with the sales figures.  You’ve probably wondered what in the heck your sales team is doing!  And why not; you have a great product, great service and you are competitively priced.

Have you and/or your Sales Manager ever spent the time to understand how your sales team is spending their day?  Are they really out there filling their pipelines or are they serving their existing business?  Worse, are they dealing with administrative issues or scrambling to cover for poor service?

Think about this:  In the rest of your operation, do you have people who specialize in what they do?    You have manufacturing, maintenance and shipping departments (if you are in a manufacturing business).  Do your shipping people go and run the production equipment?  Do your manufacturing people go into the office to do accounting?  Of course not.  Why?  That would be incredibly inefficient.  So, why does your sales team sell, serve and trouble shoot?  If you think that’s inefficient, you are right.

Take heart, however.  You are not alone.  This is a common problem throughout multiple industries.  Sales people work hard early in their tenure to build their book of business; selling and serving along the way.  Eventually, they become order takers and stop generating new business.  Now, I am not telling you to ignore your existing customers.  They are way too expensive to replace.  By all means, make them happy and loyal!  However, you don’t need to use your sales team to do that.

Take a good look at your sales team and how they spend their day.  Look, also, at their skill sets.  Are they hunters or farmers?  If they still can hunt, let them hunt.   Set up the sales organization so it feeds the service side of the business.  Let the service oriented farmers take outstanding care of existing customers.  In other words, use each person’s best and highest purpose.

This change won’t be easy.  There are compensation issues and you may even lose someone.  However, you’ve got to utilize your team the best way possible and keep the pipeline full.  Even before doing this, you can probably find a lot of administrative busy work that can be eliminated, streamlined or re-located in order to let your sales team sell.

Dig in and sort it out.  Make sure that Sales is what they are really doing.

What Happened to Courtesy?

Is anyone else tired of people hiding behind their email?  It was bad enough when voice mail was created (yes, I was there when it all began).  With voice mail, we were pretty sure they got the message since we recorded it ourselves. If they said they didn’t, it was a safe bet they were lying.

With email, they can always tell us, “I never received your email.”  It’s tough for us mere mortals to disprove.  What a bunch of baloney.

Have some courtesy and respond when someone emails you.   I’m guilty, too, so I’m not on an I’m-better-than-you-are kick.  Just send a few words to acknowledge receipt.  If you don’t want what they are peddling or you simply don’t have time to address what they are inquiring about, TELL THEM.  Put on your big boy/girl pants and respond with the facts.  Be humane, but factual.  If they can’t handle that, then they need to put on their big boy/girl pants and get over it.

Stop being a coward and treat people with a little common courtesy.  You can’t possibly be THAT busy.