C. Lynn Northrup, CPA, CPIM
Building Business Value© is my new eBook that will introduce you to Tools for Success and the launch of the all new www.northrupcpa.com. We’re giving you this eBook free just for signing up to receive our newsletter.
This new eBook spells out the components of business success using Strategic Optimization. This is the foundation of my Knowledge Center and the content available from the Store. Along with this great resource, I have created several eBooks, Toolkits, and Reference Guides designed to create success and take you and your business to new heights.
Strategic Optimization is based on seven basic principles that are critical in building a successful business. Building Business Value© describes the following seven steps in detail:
- Have a Strategy
- Effective Sales and Marketing
- Create Effective Processes
- Measure Results and Progress
- Have Visionary Leadership
- Effective Change Leadership
- Effectively Utilize Technology
While these steps are common sense, it’s amazing how often they get ignored. These steps represent the foundation of every consulting project which I have used to assess a multitude of companies. I think that business owners can do their own self-assessment to get them on the track of increasing the value of their businesses. I have the tools to help achieve that objective.
The Self-assessment Toolkit is available in the Store. In addition, The Building Business Value Toolkit is also available. Combining these tools with the free eBook gives business owners a significant edge on their competition.
The New Knowledge Center is my focus for the future. Business owners and managers can gain access to Reference Guides and Training that will provide the tools needed to continue to build business value and to increase profitability.
The Building Business Value© eBook provides the foundation for effective utilization of the Tools for Success. The 10 Step Process links Strategic Optimization to the action steps required to achieve business growth:
- Get to the point of pain experienced by the business
- Scope out what needs to be done (corrective action)
- Orient the business to the reality of economic and market conditions
- Manage the scale of the business to fit current and future reality
- Structure debt to maximize cash flow
- Maximize assets to get the biggest bang for your buck
- Optimize products and services
- Improve employee effectiveness
- Improve profitability
- Change the right processes for the right reasons
Common sense tools and methods represent exactly what businesses need as they face tougher and increased amounts of competition. Tools for Success don’t represent silver bullet fixes, just common sense applications of what can work to make the difference between success and failure.
Businesses need to guard against complacency where they can get trapped into a state of denial and deception regarding the reality of the necessary action steps to get things on track. Conducting an effective self-assessment can be the difference between Success and Failure. The Self-Assessment Toolkit provides a solid framework of instruction on how to conduct an assessment combined with checklists and questionnaires.
Another area where businesses struggle is the development of effective strategic thinking to make the business vision and mission become reality. The Strategic Thinking and Planning Toolkit guides business owners through the process of defining their business future. You gain the tools to ask the right questions such as what business could we be in and what business should we be in? Also, there is the question as to what business shouldn’t we be in? You gain the tools to determine your unique strategic profile and to develop effective value propositions.
The New web site sets direction with Building Business Value©, the Knowledge Center, and eBooks provide the foundation for developing action plans. With these invaluable tools, you will receive the guidance to determine what needs to take place and the specific steps or actions needed to get there. Use these tools and take your business to new heights and greater profitability!
Remember to sign up for your copy of our FREE eBook here.
My online social presence has been pretty quiet the past few months as I stopped to re-evaluate the future of my business. The thought process has been focused and intense as I contemplated where to take my 40+ years of knowledge and expertise in today’s busy and evolving business world. It was a much needed process and I recommend it to every business owner and entrepreneur.
For most, there will come a time when one just needs to stop and decide the best direction as you travel forward in your journey of life. It didn’t seem right to be pumping out blog posts while going through the process of discovering this new direction. So, I decided to rethink the concept of the virtual CFO and Controller in a more focused and intense time of contemplation.
While I think many business owners urgently need the help which I can offer, they first must understand why they need it and to what degree they need it. Therefore, I decided that the best service I could provide to today’s busy business owners and entrepreneurs was to share my knowledge and expertise in a variety of formats and at affordable rates.
I have created easy-to-read and implement booklets, toolkits, and learning programs focused on the two most important aspects of running a successful business; accounting and business knowledge. In addition, I have packaged personal advice developed throughout my 40 years of financial management and executive business experience in accessible, simple and self-paced learning programs.
As you can imagine, it has taken a considerable amount of effort and thought to bring business owners the tools they need to manage their businesses in a variety of formats such as these. But today’s world demands quick and simple solutions, and as a lifelong learner myself, I realized that the need for what I have to offer is great enough to go the extra mile in discovering the best ways in which I can offer it.
So, I have created several easy to read booklets, and I have been developing self-paced learning programs. The learning programs will be offered in the form of recorded webinars featuring accounting, financial management, and basic business skills. The new products will be affordable and will easily fit within the busy schedules of today’s business owners and entrepreneurs.
In addition to booklets and learning programs, I will be offering an online subscription site which will allow subscribers direct access to exclusive content on a much wider range of business and finance topics and at a more in-depth level of application for their businesses.
As I evaluated and analyzed what I felt should be my target market of business owners and entrepreneurs starting business, I concluded that cost effective knowledge and training was the right direction. The virtual CFO and Controller support is still there for those who need it and want it but this won’t be my primary business focus.
Charting the new course has taken much longer than I had anticipated. But, the resulting products will be cutting edge accounting and financial management information which business owners can use immediately!
The ease of use as well as the ability to gain access to my expertise at a fraction of the cost of hiring a virtual CFO or Controller will be worth the wait! So, please be patient as all these new products are introduced and made available. Subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to know when you can start utilizing my expertise for the success of your business!
My last post talked about knowledge and the transition process of providing a variety of new offerings and programs. A key element of knowledge is learning and how it is delivered. I have developed new learning programs focused on accounting, finance, and business skills that will soon be available in a self-paced learning format. This will just be the start of my new learning programs.
I have been searching for ways to convert my knowledge base into workable formats that would enable easy transfer for students. My delivery system will include a mix of power point programs, podcasts, video, interactive chat, and recorded webinars. This platform allows students to learn by using a self-paced approach that fits their schedule.
The new learning programs will cover a four week period to facilitate transferring a significant amount of knowledge efficiently over the duration of the program. Students can set their own pace for learning to absorb the knowledge being offered. I started with programs focused on the basic business tools since this is an area where small businesses and employees of mid-sized business need help. These initial programs provide the foundation for continuous learning.
Once the learning platform is launched, I will be offering more advanced programs dealing with financial statement analysis, cash flow management, and the basics of cost accounting. Some knowledge sharing will be subscription based sites. Other more advanced learning topics such as strategy, change, and risk management will be offered in course format. These topics and others will be available as the new learning modules are developed.
The development of the learning programs provides fresh new material and topics to continuously build on the established learning foundation. Students can participate in the learning program at any point with the understanding that new material will become available on a regular basis.
I will also be developing booklets that link to each new learning program. The booklets will provide everyone with a solid supplement to improve their knowledge base. These programs also establish a foundation for participation in coaching programs.
We’re excited about offering the new learning programs which will be available soon. Promotional one time offerings on the new courses will be offered in the near future, so stay tuned.
My last blog post dealt with change. Well, I’m taking my own advice and making major revisions to my service and product offerings. The big change is providing greater access to me and the knowledge I can share with you. These exciting changes will help to increase your profits and grow your business.
I’m still going to be available as a virtual CFO and controller. However, I will be offering new affordable learning courses in accounting, finance, and business skills. These courses will be available in self-paced learning formats so you can proceed at your pace and on your schedule. The format will allow direct interaction with me to answer your questions.
In addition, I have created new booklets and will be revising older content to provide you with greater amounts of information to help you solve business problems. This information will be available in booklet form, new self-paced learning courses and subscription web sites. The subscription web site resources will be a new way for me to share my knowledge and to provide you with access to specialized business information.
I have a number of training programs that were delivered in seminar fashion. Some of these programs will be converted to self-paced learning courses and others will be available through subscription sites. The subscription program will allow access to a variety of knowledge resources.
Another new feature that will be offered will be group coaching sessions using virtual webinar capability. Coaching will cover accounting and financial management topics in addition to strategic business areas. The group sessions will make coaching more affordable in a sharing environment. The webinar format allows me to provide knowledge on a more personal basis that can be accessed on demand to fit your schedule.
Individual virtual coaching sessions will also be offered to individuals demanding more personalized service. The coaching sessions will be tailored to fit specific needs and preferences. Scheduling will be arranged to fit individual client needs.
I will continue to provide virtual CFO and controller services to businesses utilizing cloud based accounting, analysis, and planning tools. These tools allow me to provide financial management support to businesses anywhere in the world.
My primary focus on my web site will be CFO, financial management, accounting, and business topics. Other areas of my expertise such as retirement, estate planning, and elder care will be available in booklets and on subscription web sites. This will bring greater focus to clients and with more effective access to information. I’m always available through e-mail and telephone if clients have specific questions or issues.
The changes are underway and you will start to see the new direction over the next few weeks. I am excited about these changes and the opportunity to provide you with the special knowledge that will help your businesses to grow faster and become more profitable.
Let me know if you have any thoughts or questions.
I was asked “when do you know when to make changes?” I have some thoughts about changes and when to make them. Change is difficult, complicated, but still possible.
First, you have to feel the need for change before you can want to make the change. This is tough because you are trying to substitute new, unfamiliar behaviors, for old comfortable behaviors. You might be feeling the need for wanting to make changes, but it seems exhausting and over whelming to get things going. This is when you have to overcome your ego and face your fears.
Facing your fears takes courage, lots of it. You have to look in the mirror and deal with current reality. It boils down to the process of dealing with the elephant in the room. Change is a process that you feel. It is an invisible emotion laden process which is why courage, commitment, and considerable effort are absolute necessities for making change happen.
Change is a process. You’ll instinctively know when you need to take action. Whether it’s a personal or a business change, you have a vision of your existence and what you want to achieve. You have a purpose and a standard for what needs to be accomplished. This provides the basis for how we improve and determines what work needs to be done. These soft skills tell you the problems that need to be solved.
From this starting point you need to buckle down and face the reality of moving to something different. It will take more than just measuring, monitoring, and planning what needs to happen. At this point, it is a matter of just doing it and taking action. I hope this deals with the question of when to make change.
The first step after beginning the process is making sure you’re doing the right things. From doing the right things, you need to move to doing things better. Here’s where you are focused on creating improvement. Creation evolves into innovation and doing things different and better than your competition. It is often copying best practices or eliminating unnecessary steps.
It might sound crazy that you are trying to accomplish things that can’t be done or seem impossible. But in reality this is exactly what you need to do. You’ll never do it if you don’t begin the change process and then keep it moving forward. As I write this, I am reflecting that this is exactly what Blue Ocean Strategy is all about. It is doing something different and better than what others are doing.
Change is essential for success. It takes effort and courage to tackle the impossible. But, you will never achieve the impossible if you don’t initiate the process of change and just do it!
We have been offering weekly business tips and week 14 focused on management activities and they included the following:
- Create a vision for your business
- Select and define your market
- Select and define your service offerings
- Design an organizational structure
- Define the critical success factors
- Define the key performance indicators
- Prepare activity targets and cash flows
- Organize financial resources
- Prepare profit plans
Yes, all the above are management activities, but how many businesses do a good job of performing any of these activities or even perform all of them? When you assess the list of activities, you think, wow that’s a lot of work. Where do I start and how do I get my arms around all this effort?
The problem for many businesses is that they really don’t do a good job of focusing on any of these activities. As a result they wonder why they get into trouble and end up putting out fires. These management activities are called “working on” your business in contrast to “working in” your business. It starts with having a clear vision for your business and knowing where you want to go. This is the first step in the process and leads to development of the other activities. Without having a clear vision, it is impossible to do a good job of performing the other activities.
I think working on your vision for your business should be a never ending process. The more you focus on clarifying and developing your vision it will enhance the time and effort spent on the other activities. You’ll begin to develop a better idea about your market, your service (or product) offerings, and enhance the design of an effective organizational structure.
Understanding of the critical success factors for your business will have greater clarity and focus. This leads to more effective selection of performance indicators and creates a performance measurement system that will help guide you toward your true vision. Linked to performance measurement are activity targets, goals, and objectives.
Once good financial systems are in place, it makes it easier to effectively organize financial resources and develop accurate cash flow projections. Cash is the life blood of any business. While many businesses worry about cash flows, most of them fail to do a good job of managing it and developing accurate cash flow projections.
Finally, we get to the preparation of profit plans. Most businesses fail to create a solid foundation for developing reliable profit plans. For the most part I think businesses are winging it by putting projections together with a hope and a prayer rather than utilizing a planning system grounded on reliable data and assumptions.
So, fine tune your vision and one good action will lead to another. More importantly, set aside the time and the resources to perform these management activities. Learn to “work on” your business as opposed to “working in” your business. If you can achieve this level of focus, I think the results will speak for themselves.
Change creates uncertainty. When you don’t know what’s going to happen it creates an uncomfortable feeling. Overcoming this reaction and sense of discomfort isn’t easy, but is part of coping with the change process. Most people will prefer to remain stuck in misery than move head long toward some unknown destination. Change creates a feeling of over what you are doing or where you are going. Decisions that are imposed on you or sudden surprises allow very little time to prepare or adjust for the consequences of what is or will be occurring.
Any decision that is imposed on you with no time to adjust or prepare will meet with resistance. It is easier to resist and say no rather than say yes to a change or new initiative. The instant reaction is what are we doing rather than why are we doing something. Digging deeper to get closer to why a change is being made why something is occurring makes for an easier transition process.
People are creatures of habit. They don’t react well to having their cheese moved. Things are going to be different, but how much different? New differences jolt us into an uncomfortable awareness that things aren’t the same and never will be again. The ability to overcome surprises and change requires a focus on what’s important and avoiding making changes for the sake of change.
Change creates something different. Anytime things are different there will be resistance because people feel a loss of face. The people responsible for what happened before the change have a perception that they were doing things wrong. This makes starting new initiatives very difficult. In these situations it is critical to provide dignity for people by celebrating elements of what worked in the past. It is also essential to facilitate a transition to the future by helping them understand that the world has changed.
Another reason people resist change is a concern about their ability to successfully make the proposed change. People will stick to what they are good at, even when they know that it is no longer relevant. Deep down they are worried that their skills will become obsolete. It is essential to invest in providing them with reassurance, ample information, education, training, mentors, and support systems to get them past resisting progress.
Change requires extra effort and more work. Recognition is the key to successfully addressing this issue. This frequently can be overcome by allowing people with time to focus exclusively on the change effort. Further, providing additional recognition with rewards and extra perks for the additional effort required will help make the transition easier.
Making changes often brings true pain. New technologies displace old ones, jobs are lost, and investments wiped out. In these situations, honesty and transparency is usually the best course of path to follow. While you can’t always make people feel comfortable with change, it might be possible to minimize the discomfort. Digging to the bottom of the sources of resistance should always be the first step toward finding good solutions. In the final analysis, what really matters is the change in people behavior and how systems are either enhanced or detract from the changed behavior.
Everyone and every business experiences times when things aren’t going well. You feel like you’re treading water. It is comparable to a sports team or an athlete that hits a slump. It’s a frustrating feeling. You feel like you need to be doing something but it seems like you’re going backwards or standing still. This is a normal situation that happens to everyone at one point or another. The big question is how to get things moving again in the right direction.
Here is what works for me. I am big on lists and notes. When I hit the wall, I sit down with a blank piece of paper and start making a list of all my thoughts and ideas. I try not to be in my office when making these lists to create neutral territory. I outline my thoughts and concepts without regard to whether they are good, bad, crazy or whatever. My next step is to brainstorm the list and expand on it where appropriate. This includes considering the pros and cons of each idea.
Another step is to research each idea that I feel might have some merit. This often leads to checking on what others are doing, especially competitors. During this process, I reflect on what’s working, what’s not, and why. Just engaging in this sort of activity often will jar loose new thoughts and ideas. Often an old idea turns out to be a good approach after a little tweaking.
I am careful not to allow any knee jerk or panic reactions. It is important not to overreact. Take some time and let things settle in and contemplate various possibilities. Also, this might also be a good time to take a break. You would be surprised how this can rejuvenate your thinking. All of a sudden fresh new thoughts and ideas pop into your head.
Often just checking your data and numbers can get you pointed in the right direction. Actually, all small businesses should be checking their numbers and trends each month. This process doesn’t need to take a lot of time. This could maybe take an hour each month. Having a virtual coach or CFO can be a great catalyst in performing this step and a source for some fresh ideas. This approach gives you feedback and an objective point of view.
I’m big on lists and to dos. It helps keep me from procrastinating and putting off things that need to be done now. Procrastinating will get you stuck every time. That’s where my lists and to dos provide the motivation needed to keep things moving. Writing things down helps to reinforce your ideas and concepts and keep your thought process active.
These are things that work for me to keep myself on track and from getting stuck. Hopefully they will be helpful to you as well. Give them a try and you might be surprised on what new thoughts and ideas come to light.
I provide my small business clients with a road map to success by helping them solve problems. Having said that, here is what I think are the three biggest problems:
- Business Planning
- Financial Management
- Managing Business Processes
Based on my experience these are the areas where all businesses have issues. However, smaller businesses struggle more with them because they lack the necessary resources and expertise.
All businesses plan at some level but do a poor job of it. They fail to do it in the depth that’s required and don’t address the strategic elements needed for success. Planning takes patience and time to carefully pull together all the necessary components. Leaving out strategic and competitive analysis combined with strategic thinking is a recipe for failure.
All businesses, especially small business, should get help to coach them through the planning process. They could gain the benefit of skilled expertise and objective insight that will increase their sales and profits. Well conceived strategies make the difference between failure and success.
Financial management is another problem area. Accounting and finance is like a foreign language to most small business owners and yet it is one of the most critical components of building a successful business. Cash management and good performance measurement are often neglected or done poorly. Business owners should consider having a financial pro assist them in monitoring this data on a monthly basis.
Monthly diagnostic analysis is affordable using cloud-based tools and is money well spent. My approach is to track trends against goals for all the key financial indicators. This is a simple straightforward approach that most small business people can grasp. This process will take less than an hour each month and is a critical step to help keep the business on track toward achieving its goals.
Every business has processes that can be improved. Process improvement gets neglected because of the tendency to get caught up in day to day details. Objective assessments can quickly identify processes and areas for improvement. A skilled business coach can zoom in on problem areas overlooked by business owners who are too close to the action. Just having the support of an advisor can significantly improve profitability.
Narrowing small business problems down to the top three was a good challenge for me. It got me thinking about the multiplicity of problems facing small business. I think that addressing these top three will develop solutions for 80 percent of all small business problems.
This focusing process emphasized my conclusion that small business owners should seek help in dealing with these three problem areas. They need to overcome the resistance to spending money on a coach or a financial pro since it represents an investment in their successful business future.
If you can’t measure it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t manage it and improve it. Businesses are flooded with an overload of information and data. So what should we measure?
My approach to performance measurement is to keep it simple and focus on the indicators that matter the most. Measurements should be action oriented to help businesses make better decisions and at the right time. This requires an accounting and financial information system capable of providing the right information on a timely basis.
Measurement starts with a strategy, goals, and plans. Knowing where you are going and what’s needed to get there is critical. This is where most small businesses fail to do a good job. They need help with planning and making sense out of measurement. A good coach combined with CFO support can be a difference maker.
Metrics that matter should include:
- Cost of Goods Sold
- Gross Margin
- Quick Ratio
- Debt to Asset Ratio
- Days of Sales in Accounts Receivable
- Payroll/Number of Employees
Tracking trends on these top 10 metrics and comparing performance against forecast and goals is the key to small businesses survival and success.
All the above measurements matter, but cash is king. Cash starts with converting more sales leads into sales because it is critical to increasing cash flow. Once you make the sale, it’s time to get paid, and the faster the better. Since many businesses sell on terms of 30 days, closely monitoring accounts receivable and the number of days sales outstanding is one of the key components of cash conversion efficiency. The faster or fewer number of days sales outstanding, the better.
You need to purchase materials or goods that are recorded into inventory before converting them into sales. The more effectively you turn your inventory into sales by reducing cycle time is crucial. Your cash conversion is determined by combining the average number of days cash is tied up in accounts receivable plus the average days cash is held in inventory less the average number of days of payables. The fewer number of days contained in the cycle the better.
The faster your cycle time, the faster you will convert your sales into cash. A component in achieving faster cycle times is to reduce the number of days required to send out your sales invoices after goods have been shipped or services rendered.
Monitoring profit margins is another element of keeping your business healthy. Tracking the trend of sales, expenses, and cash using diagnostic dashboards is something every business should be doing on a monthly basis.
Virtual CFOs can be a big help to small businesses in measuring and monitoring performance because they know how to use cloud-based dashboard tools and charts to point out the areas where improvement is needed. They also understand the relationship between key measurements and how they impact performance. Having monthly performance measurement reviews should be a ritual for every business as they can represent the difference between success and failure.