Minding My Own Business Workshop now available on video!

The Minding My Own Business Workshop attended by hundreds is now available to small to mid-sized business owners in a Power Point presentation!  Based upon the book, Minding My Own Business by the TFG Executive Director, Dirk Dieters, the narrated presentation lasts approximately one hour and allows you to learn and compare your business to the six responsibilities of the small business owner!

It is available FREE for the remainder of 2018!  Call the office 303 338 9300 or email your request to admin@tfginfo.org!

Managing Working Capital

The Fremont Group would like to share a NYT article about non-bank sources of working capital – the cash needed to run your business while wating for invoices to be paid. New online lenders are proliferating, often extending credit based on invoiced revenue. One online lender we support is The Finance Store. Bank loans cause you to lose time and waste effort filling out miles of paperwork and then they leave you hanging on for a decision. Online lenders are much more flexible, leaving you to use your time most effectively – running your business.

The Cost of Not Seeking Help

On TFG’s Linkedin page, we recently commented on a kickstarter campaign which crashed and burned violently. Worst of all, the project could easily have been a success if only a few key actions had been taken.
Summary: The project was an affordable espresso machine for the home market. Founders just wanted to crowd fund a small production run of 50 units to be made by hand. In pricing the product, the founders discounted their labor to zero. When posting their project, they did not restrict the number of units which could be ordered. In the end, they found themselves on the hook for producing 2000 units. The project collapsed because the cost of creating and perfecting a factory production process was too high. No units were ever shipped.
Their key failing was not seeking advice on their plan from trusted advisors. At the outset, it would be easy to see the project could easily spiral out of control if demand exceeded the 50 units which could be produced. Thus exposing the project’s weaknesses before anything negative happened.
No matter how long you’ve been in business, there’s no excuse for this type of oversight. If you want an honest assessment of your business or strategy, schedule a free webinar with TFG. We’d love the opportunity to earn your trust.

How do you use your Budget?

This question is asked of all of our clients.  The usual answer is a blank stare.  Sometimes the response will be something like, “we tried it and it didn’t work.”  Obviously companies need a budget.  The issue often lies in defining it.  A Budget is a financial plan designed to produce a predetermined, desirable result.  Most importantly, the budget isn’t supposed to work!  Man Plans; God Laughs!  Having a financial model of your desired outcomes creates benchmarks from which you can evaluate your progress.  Budgeting is not an annual task rather it is an on-going journey.  It is also critical in small businesses to budget percentages and not dollars.  Give us a call–we can provide a webinar on the topic.

4 Ways to Make Smarter Decisions

Erik Sherman Jun 17, 2013 Reposted from Inc. Magazine

Assumptions and biases get in the way of making better business decisions. Learn to root them out with these tips.Decision making is critical in a business, and entrepreneurs often pride themselves on decisiveness. But as Chip Heath, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and McKinsey consultant Olivier Sibony discussed recently in McKinsey Quarterly, decision making in businesses is often poor because of both personal and systemic problems.

For a smarter and more effective business, consider these four points from the discussion.

1. Bias is everywhere, including in you.

Trying to account for bias is vitally important when you make decisions. Otherwise, you could choose a solution to a problem or pick a strategic decision that won’t provide what you need. But getting bias out of the process is not just next to impossible–it’s completely impossible. Being aware of your own biases doesn’t mean you will be free of them. You need a system that will help prevent your proclivities from taking control.

No one likes to think of being biased because it has such negative connotations. Instead, look at “predictable mistakes” that people make when planning, as Sibony said. “Instead, we observe that people typically make predictable mistakes in their planning process–for instance, getting anchored on last year’s numbers.” That is bias, but the language provides another way of addressing it. Not only does it have a lower negative connotation, but it is more pointed and practical.

2. You’re not as smart as you think.

Perhaps the biggest problem with decision making is the perception businesspeople have that they are and should be the sole decision makers. But, as Heath notes, it wasn’t an individual that got people to the moon. It was all of NASA. That insight works at an ordinary operational level of a company, using such tools as continuous improvement and statistical quality control.

Unfortunately, such techniques are rarely extended to the top of an organization because, the higher you go, the tougher a time people have admitting fallibility. People increasingly get rewarded for being confident and decisive, “even if sometimes it’s really overconfidence,” Sibony says. There should be recognition of how many people really should be involved and the need for mechanisms to deliver smarter decisions.

3. There is safety in numbers.

Making decisions assumes that you have choices from which you pick what you think will be best. But according to Ohio State University professor Paul Nutt, 70 percent of the time that leadership teams consider important strategic decisions, they consider only one option. That is equivalent to the team assuming that it is always right.

According to Heath, one study at a mid-sized high tech company showed that a group of leaders thought decisions were six times more effective when they considered two alternatives instead of one. Instead of asking a group for its decision, request the two top choices.

4. Small changes can be big.

You can improve the decision process with relatively small changes. For example, few decisions are truly unique. Chances are that a decision today will be like one in the past. Look at ones you’ve made before and identify lessons that could apply today.

Consider alternatives and prepare to be wrong–really wrong, not just slightly. And create an atmosphere in which people can disagree and bring up important points that might otherwise be glossed over. If everyone in a group agrees with a recommendation, they may be simply going along and not bringing up legitimate issues they may see.

You can’t guarantee good decisions every time. But address bias, understand your own fallibility, consider multiple options, learn from the past, and prepare to be wrong, and chances are that on the whole your company’s decision making will improve.

Business Boot Camp—Are You Ready?

Are you ready for 2012? Has the last year gone as you planned? Measure twice; cut once is an expression that applies just as aptly to your business as it does to construction. You may not have achieved all you thought you would in 2011 but don’t let a lack of preparation be the cause of a repeat in 2011. You can decide to do everything possible to change in 2012 or choose to just see what happens. Start off right

The Fremont Group offers their “Business Boot Camp” to all members. You will be assigned a Success Partner who, in one week, will tear your business apart and lay out a plan for SUCCESS IN 2012. They are not “yes men” so be prepared. The Fremont Business Boot Camp is not a seminar—it is an intensive implementation package designed to implement change; not talk about it. If you are not committed to change you should not enlist.

Who is eligible:

Your company must have more than 5 employees and have been in business more than two years. (Call for separate camps for start-up and small firms.)

You must be a “working owner” who is open to change.

You may not have more than 100 employees.

What you will get:

  • Your entire company will become focused and “on the same page.”
  • Obstacles to achieving your results will be aired, addressed and the entire organization will be utilized to eliminate those obstacles.
  • Employee productivity will increase through “buy in” and proper use of accountability and incentives.
  • You will have a clear game plan that is designed to “win the game.” You will no longer be the football coach with a game plan that says, “if everything goes right we will only lose by a touchdown.”
  • What the bank wants to know and how to present it.
  • You will have a foundation for long-term success.
  • Your organization will have a new appreciation of your role as owner of the company.

How you will get it (Sample Agenda):[1]

Monday

Morning: Introduction to staff and tour facility. Meet with owners and key employees and distribute Minding My Own Business questionnaires. Gather financial information.

Afternoon: Identify your goals for 2012 and become familiar with your operations. Gather questionnaires and any additional information needed to complete a SWOT analysis of the company.

Evening: Success Partner completes financial analysis and analysis of the company and analysis of company morale and organizational issues.

Tuesday

Breakfast: Success Partner and Head of Accounting

Morning: Meet with owners to review their analysis of current financial position. Present Accounting 101 to owners and financial staff (if required). Establish company budget and KPI’s. Assign Head of Sales to prepare a summary of the company’s “Sales System” for presentation on Wednesday.

Afternoon: Review the findings from the Employee questionnaires and interviews with owners. Contrast those findings with the owner’s perceptions. Identify current methods of employee accountability and incentives and develop the framework for desired methods of employee accountability and incentives.

Evening: Owners take Success Partner and key personnel to dinner—informal discussion.

Wednesday

Breakfast: Success Partner and Head of Sales

Morning: Review with owners the presentation of the current “Sales System”

Review company goals and re-write them as required. Present SWOT analysis for discussion (Strengths; Weaknesses; Opportunities and Threats). Determine how these should be presented to the staff.

Afternoon: Company meeting. Present SWOT analysis. Review findings of the first two days. Solicit input from the organization. Conclude with the establishment of a management committee (companies with more than 10 employees) and their first meeting.

Evening: Success Partner completes first draft of Action Plan.

Thursday

Breakfast; Success Partner and Head of Operations.

Morning: Meet with Management Committee (or owner in companies with fewer than 10 employees) to identify the five greatest issues facing the company and potential solutions. Review with owner and head of sales critique of the “Sales System.”

Afternoon: Meet with owners to develop a plan to address those issues. Develop a complete Action Plan for 2010. Establish benchmarks for progress.

Evening: Success Partner prepares formal Action Plan for presentation.

Friday

Breakfast and Morning: Meeting with owners to review presentation of Action Plan to the company. Presentation of the Action Plan in full company meeting. Wrap up.

How to enlist:

Call The Fremont Group at (303) 338 9300 and tell them you are ready for Boot Camp. Registration Fee is $9995 plus $500 for non-local travel; $100 for local travel. The travel and $4,000 non-refundable deposit is required to hold a date; balance due at the first meeting. Preferred method of payment is PayPal on this site. Companies who are members receive their discount.


[1] The agenda assumes that you business has a person who is the head of accounting; head of sales; and head of operations. In smaller companies the owner may double as this person. Other “tweeks” in the agenda normally have to be made to accommodate the unique situations in each company.

Taking your construction business to the next level

This article is from Business Owner Magazine published by the management consulting firm, Global Resources.

From Entrepreneur To CEO

By Joe Polizzotti on Oct 25, 2011

It takes a certain type of mindset to lead a construction company to success.

Most construction company owners started out working for someone else, became experts at a technical skill and then decided to go into business for themselves. Their desire for independence is rarely motivated by money. Rather they are entrepreneurs who want to steer their own ship and control their own destiny. But while an entrepreneurial mindset is necessary to get a company off the ground, it’s not enough to run a successful construction business.

The entrepreneurial mindset is one of “Yes, I can.” Entrepreneurs don’t believe they can fail and see every problem as an opportunity to be conquered. They have a vision and a powerful drive to achieve it. That’s why entrepreneurs are good at conceiving and starting businesses.

But once the business gets off the ground and starts to grow, the owner has to evolve from entrepreneur to CEO. Vision and drive are still important, but operating a successful business requires a whole new skill set. In fact, entrepreneurs don’t usually make good business managers because they would rather look for new opportunities and develop new ideas. They are bored by dayto- day management chores and don’t have the patience to develop and study operational reports.

Entrepreneurs who fail to evolve into CEOs as their companies grow tend to become “worker bees,” so stressed by putting out the day-to-day fires of the business that they forget why they went into business for themselves. They wanted to be their own boss, work less and spend more time with their family. Instead, they end up as captive slaves, working in the bowels of the ship, six or seven days per week.

Another contributing factor to this trap is that entrepreneurially minded, highly skilled business owners tend to be perfectionists. Believing they are the only ones who can do anything right, they see no need to hire a good leadership team that can share the management burden. Furthermore, with a “superman” or a “superwoman” taskmaster at the helm, employees never learn to make their own decisions because they expect to be overruled if they try. They defer to the owner for every little matter, which robs him or her of the time that should be spent focusing on the big picture.

As a result, employees don’t grow professionally and cannot contribute to make the business profitable.

To avoid this vicious cycle, here are four key steps entrepreneurs need to take to become CEOs:

  1. Change the mindset from worker-bee to CEO. Owners are, by nature, “doers” who feel worthy when they are “doing something.” The problem is they may be simply spinning their wheels.
  2. Create a business plan and stick to it. Focus on executing strategies with the big picture in mind.
  3. Hire or develop an effective leadership team. This includes defining the leadership team’s roles (including the owner’s own roles) and holding everyone accountable for results.
  4. Develop minimum standards for employees. Require key people to hold employees accountable for results, not for just putting in time. Without minimum standards, employees will set their own, which are probably not going to be in line with the owner’s standards.

With these components in place, the business will become profitable; the owner can focus on leading, rather then working and will have time to spend with family. Employees also will be more productive and engaged because they know they are part of the solution, not the problem.

Tools for Profit
Let’s look at some of these factors in more detail at an actual business: Onslow Stoneworks Inc. in Swansboro, N.C., which imports, fabricates and installs marbles and granites. For owners and President Mike Schott, working with stone and granite is a family tradition, going back to ancestors who came from Italy and owned granite quarries in northern New Jersey. Last year, revenues were just $1.5 million, down from $3 million a few years ago. “We were suffering terribly last year from lack of business,” Schott explains. “In addition to the sharp downturn in the construction industry, a number of other stone companies had branched out and opened up, and competition was fierce.”

Schott’s greatest worry was that a large percentage of the business came from a national chain and produced very low margins. He felt very uneasy about this unprofitable work and doubted whether his business skills were sufficient to sustain the company under these conditions. With the help of an outside consultant, he took the steps necessary to turn the business around.

One measure was to adopt a format to control inventory. “We set up a square footage matrix, which, for the first time, gave us a clear understanding of what waste meant to our bottom line,” Schott says. “In the past, we used to purchase raw material and use it as needed, and although we were careful to avoid waste, we never really saw the full picture.”

Another success strategy was to reformat Quickbooks to accommodate waste, cost and job tracking. “We’ve always been good at what we do professionally, but we were not as proficient when it came to finances and tracking our true costs,” Schott says. “Now we finally have the financial reporting tools a successful business needs to have.”

Using these new tools, Schott established how much square footage the company needed to produce per day, per week and per month.

“In the past, we did not price based on square footage,” he says. “Now, our financial tools help us understand where our line in the sand is as far as profitability is concerned. We know how aggressive we need to be to obtain jobs in a very competitive market and how much we need to produce to meet our projections. Knowing what our costs and margins are makes it much easier to price, track and stay on course.”

These new insights, in turn, allowed Schott to make the low-margin work for the national chain more profitable. “Knowing how much square footage we have to install per day to make a profit led us to change how we schedule jobs,” he says. “We consolidated trips—delaying some jobs and moving others up—to achieve significant reductions in travel time. We now make money even with low margins.”

Now, Schott has peace of mind knowing that the business is profitable. “A business owner gets up in the morning for the thrill and the excitement of making money,” he says. “As a side benefit, we love what we do. The idea is to combine both to make a living.”

“In order to do that, you must be 100 percent certain what the hard costs are, and you have to have the tools to evaluate how efficient you are so you’re not relying on gut reaction, but on black and white reports,” Schott continues. “If you don’t know what your true costs are to produce your product, how could you expect to stay alive when margins are so tight these days?”

Although entrepreneurs don’t usually start a business with the sole objective of making money, the only reason for being in business is to make money. Doing so requires more than an entrepreneurial mindset. It requires an organizational structure headed by a leadership team whose roles, responsibilities and accountabilities are clearly defined, and a system that allows the company to run without the hands-on, worker-bee involvement of an owner who has to make all the decisions and is the only one who can do anything right. The owner’s job description is to ensure enough business is being generated and then manage people to perform quality, on-time work so the company can make a profit.

The four principles of running a business are: Get the job done on time or sooner, within budget or less, without rework or overtime AND with control over material costs. Those four factors guarantee success. When one or more are absent, there cannot be a consistent profit, and the firm will wither away and eventually go out of business.

Hope is not a plan

Too often a business owner merely “hopes” that things will change. Hope is not a plan, it is a drug. We call it “hopium” and it is addictive because sometimes it works. Sometimes you do nothing and just hope and good results follow. What the owner needs to understand is that he was lucky—lucky the drug didn’t kill him. So the next time he thinks he can just “hope” away the problem again—but sometimes you don’t get lucky. For hopium addicts there is an unfortunate fact in life—if you are trying to do something you are exponentially more likely to get it than if you aren’t even trying. There is never a guarantee that you will get what you want but if you aren’t trying you have virtually guaranteed that you won’t.

The owner’s job is to lead the company. Leadership is having a plan and getting your people to focus upon their part of the plan.[1] Answer the following questions:

· How much money are we planning on making this year?

· What will be required in sales according to the plan?

· What will be required in Gross Profit according to the plan?

· What overhead level is permissible according to the plan?

· Other than money, what other results must the business generate this year?

These issues are at the top of the pyramid. These are the financial issues that must be addressed. The company must have a financial plan. The owner’s additional goals can only be met if the financial goals are met. Once those have been clarified, other goals can be fulfilled. The business is supposed to make the owner’s life better—it is not supposed to be the owner’s life. The owner must also define the other goals that they wish to achieve. Then, of course you must have a plan designed to do it.

The Plan

Imagine a football coach. We all know that he has a game plan established for every game. He would lose his job if his game plan said, “if everything goes right we will only lose by a touchdown.” This is done is small businesses every day. The financial plan of a company is their Profit Plan. How are we planning on making our pre-determined profit? What sales are required? What gross profit is required? What overhead levels are required? What is our plan for overhead absorption by profit center? Obviously your game plan must be designed so that the targeted performance produces your desired result. Once established (and the more specific the better) then it becomes the role of your Organizational Structure to focus your people on their individual results that they must produce in order to perform their part of your plan. The company’s financial reporting monitors these results so that people can be held accountable and incentives established and monitors the company’s progress in relation to the plan.

Every plan must address the following objectives: first it must assure that the business continue to function and stay in business for the next week, month, six months, year, etc. Second, the business must make money and third the business must grow. Any plan that does not address all of these objectives is fatally flawed. Business continuation is obvious but often overlooked. There are cycles to the business and the owner must be prepared to be able to withstand the “down” cycles—like the one we are in. The owner must also identify and develop a management plan that includes key management succession and a structure to shift reliance from people to systems to assure business continuation. No employee (owner included) should have the ability to hold the company hostage. Lastly the business must grow. This is vital not so much for the owner’s short-term return but rather it is required for retention of employees. A growing business offers more opportunity for employees and is more likely to retain the better people. Failing to grow eliminates those opportunities and causes the better people to leave—are reverse Darwinism—that is eventually fatal. Without retaining and challenging the best people succession of management is compromised.

You have survived a hit. The past two years have been very difficult times. If it was hopium that got you through it, maybe we should talk.


[1] “Nobody puts a proposal for a new comprehensive strategy on your desk and asks you to make a decision about it. You have to put it there yourself. And once you use your view of the big picture to formulate a strategy, you have to call on a wide range of skills to achieve a series of objectives. You must devise a business strategy tailored to your goal. You need to communicate the goal and strategy to…all the employees. You have to give greater responsibility to people at the front line and then create a secure atmosphere where they will dare to use their new authority. You must build an organization that can work to achieve the goal and establish measures that guarantee you are moving in the right direction. In short, you have to create the prerequisites for making the vision a reality.” Moments of Truth, Jan Carlzon, HarperPerennial 1989.

Changing 2011–A Goal Without A Plan Is Merely A Wish

 

As the new year begins we all set goals, however “a goal without a plan is merely a wish.” Don’t go into 2011 merely wishing for things to change—change happens because we make it happen. One of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits is “start at the end.” Our goals are often “the end” but you cannot stop there. Once you have identified the end, you need a plan to make it happen and then the focus to continually work the plan. We can’t just “hope” that things change. Hope is a drug—we call it “hopium.” It is addictive because sometimes it works and when it does we think that change can happen by just hoping it changes. But like all drugs it creates an illusion of the world that is not sustainable. Live by hopium, die by hopium. To come clean from drug addiction you need a 12 step program, the good news is hopium addiction only requires a 10 step program. Here is where you start:

First step, set your goals for 2011. Your goals should include “big picture” overall results that you want to achieve this year. Goals should include both the financial results of your business and also personal items. At The Fremont Group we preach that there is only one reason for your business to exist—and that reason is to make your life better. Take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. On the left side write down at least five ways that the business is making your life better; on the right side write down at least five ways that the business is making your life worse. Then ask yourself, “How can I build on those things on the left and get rid of those things on the right?” From the answers to this should grow your goals for 2011.

Second step, review your written goals to be sure that you have goals in each of the following categories: (1) cash flow; (2) profit; (3) control of critical financial operating variables; (4) staffing; (5) business assets; (6) cash retention; (7)business liabilities; (8) personal mental and physical health; and (9) your family. Again, the reason your business exists is to make your life better.

Second step, after you have your goals you need to revise your goals. Revise them into a functional format we call SMART. Is your goal specific? Is your goal measurable? Is your goal achievable? Is your goal realistic? Is your goal timely? In other words, at the end of the year will it be clear whether or not you have achieved your goal? Rewrite each goal using the SMART rules.

Third step, once you have SMART goals, you need to share your goals. You need a person that you trust not someone who will simply agree with you but someone who will challenge you. This is often the appropriate function of a consultant or trusted advisor. Show them your goals and ask them to critique each goal by answering each of the SMART questions. Then ask them if there are goals that they feel need to be added to the list or if your goals are comprehensive enough that if achieved, you will have had a successful year? If necessary, revise the goals again.

Fourth step, comes the part where the new year’s resolutions are set up to fail—follow through. Talk is cheap—we aren’t what we talk; we are what we do. You must become committed to your goals. Write down the following phrase ten times—“Success if achieving my goals; failure is not achieving my goals.” You must make this your mantra. You must convince yourself that not achieving the goals that you have established is the definition of failure and that you will get to choose whether or not you are going to succeed or fail in 2011. You have already established that your goals are attainable and reasonable and you have had that verified by a trusted advisor—to succeed you must achieve those goals. Are you going to succeed or fail in 2011?

Fifth step, write each of your goals on a separate sheet. Below each write the months of the year. Under each month write the result that must be achieved at the end of that month for you to achieve success—the accomplishment of your goal. What has to be done each month? Place this sheet in the front of your daytimer. (If you are under 35 and don’t know what a daytimer is, just put the goals in a binder and put them on the top of your desk.) You need to have a constant, visual reminder of what will define success and what will define failure in 2011.

Sixth step, compile those monthly goals and have a meeting at the start of each month where those goals and the monthly progress required is the sole topic. That meeting again must be with someone—it could be your management team, it could be your advisor, it could be your spouse—but it must be with another person. In your monthly goal meeting you evaluate, revise and rededicate. You evaluate the performance of the previous month and determine if the month was a success or a failure. You then revise your goals—up or down—based upon your new reality. You then rededicate yourself to achieving success in the next month.

Seventh step, do a weekly assessment. Look at each of your goals and their monthly achievement breakdown and ask yourself, “what needs to be done this week to be a success?” Set these weekly “goal steps” into your mind and communicate them as much as possible with the people who you need to help you achieve success.

Eighth step, relates to your weekly revision of your cash flow forecast. Although technically it is outside your goal setting process, without cash there is no company and there are no goals and there is no success. Every Monday (or at least weekly at the same time) you must revise your cash flow forecast. If you do not have a cash flow forecasting system that shows you projected cash position at the end of the next six weeks, get one now. Use this weekly snapshot to review your cash flow goals.

Ninth step, remember that “man plans and God laughs.” The purpose of a plan is not to expect it to work—it won’t. Rather it is to clearly identify when you are off track, where you are off track and to alert you to what changes need to be made immediately so that you can appropriately revise your course. I have been told by intelligent people that they no longer make a budget because by February so many things have changed that it is useless for the rest of the year. Planning is a process. The benefit of planning is not when the plan works, it is in identifying when it isn’t going to work (positively or negatively) and being able to make immediate adjustments rather than just watching the train wreck happen.

The tenth and last step is to start your year over every quarter. Redo the entire process every quarter to incorporate what will be the new realities.