When looking to secure funding for your business, there is no greater asset than a winning pitch deck (and maybe a winning smile!). Pitch decks are your one chance to make a great first impression on potential investors and to position your business favorably at the same time. With funding on the line, entrepreneurs typically spend hours upon hours preparing and planning their pitch decks before that ever-important meeting. However, even a knockout pitch deck can be held back by a few commonly made mistakes.
We’ve talked a lot about what you should be doing before, during, and after a pitch, but it’s equally important to know what not to do. To that end, we’ve compiled the top five most common mistakes to avoid when preparing your pitch deck –
1. Too Long/Too Many Details
It can be exciting to finally be making the case for your business, however, it’s extremely important to respect the time of the investors and not oversaturate them with information. For many entrepreneurs, this business is their baby. And like a proud mom or dad, they may want to overshare every detail of its existence. But investors have both limited time and bandwidth. So, if it isn’t pertinent to the primary message you’re delivering, you’d be well advised to omit it. A great pitch deck will have investors excited and wanting to learn more by the end, not overwhelmed by extraneous information.
2. Lack of Clarity
The message you are communicating with investors should ring loud and clear. Remember that the investor may know nothing about your business and/or industry, so your pitch deck needs to have clear and concise points regarding their merits. Entrepreneurs should avoid using too many buzzwords or jargon, which only tend to muddle the overall message of the pitch.
3. Ignoring Weaknesses
The very foundation of investing is about evaluating risk and reward. A pitch deck that does not acknowledge the weaknesses of the plan robs the investor of the opportunity to make a proper evaluation. Your pitch should help assess the risk for them and make the case for your business despite any weaknesses. Ignoring them will only make the investor think you haven’t fully analyzed your position or have something to hide.
4. Not Revising Enough
Never present your first draft to investors. Actually, never present your second or third draft either. Your pitch deck can only be perfected over time with thorough revisions to pick it apart and put it back together again. Revision is a crucial part of creating a winning pitch deck formula and eliminating mistakes.
5. Generic/Outdated Formatting
Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of focusing too heavily on what they want to say in their pitch deck rather than how they should say it. Make no mistake, the “what” is incredibly important, but the overall appearance and formatting will be one of the first visual components investors see—making it the “first impression” to your first impression.
An outdated or generic format or appearance will automatically make your pitch deck seem outdated too. Ensure that the formatting aligns with your product, the industry you’re in, and the consumer you’re serving. If you’re edgy, then the formatting should be edgy. If you’re conservative, then it should be more conservative. You want to create cohesion between the formatting and the content of the deck overall. In this particular respect, no detail is too small.
There’s no denying just how important it is to make a great first impression to potential investors. And avoiding these mistakes will help you do just that. In such a competitive and high-risk financial world, don’t you want to give yourself the best chance to walk out with funds?
Barker Associates provides strategic guidance and outsourced CFO services to companies of all sizes. We can provide the higher level of strategy your company needs to grow. If you need assistance, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.
Every year, entrepreneurs spend countless hours planning and preparing for the perfect investor pitch. They research, practice, and pick apart every piece of their idea and/or business to find success in the form of an investment to propel them to the next level. However, all of this time spent preparing and practicing can be futile if there is not a strong foundation first; namely, “Is the business built on an idea worth investing in?”
This is not always an easy question to answer with so much personal time, attention, and energy focused on developing that idea. Saying there is a little bias may be a rather large understatement. That’s where gaining further perspective allows you to assess whether it is, in fact, a “good idea” or not. And even if it is a good idea, exactly how good is it?
To decide, you have to consider not only if it is a “good idea,” but if it is a profitable one—two very different matters. Profitability depends on many internal and external factors, only one of which is how good the actual idea is in the first place. And it can only truly be evaluated by looking at it from different perspectives. Understanding these factors from various perspectives, and how they influence profitability, will give your idea a stronger leg to stand on when under the certain scrutiny you’ll face in that investor meeting.
Seven Questions and Perspectives to Evaluate Your Idea … Before the Pitch
What do you think makes your idea unique?
Think about you as your own customer, not as an inventor and/or entrepreneur who spent months or years perfecting a product or service. Consider what specifically makes your idea unique and interesting. Why would you choose what you offer? Once you’ve identified your value proposition, use that as a baseline when considering other perspectives.
What do others think make your idea unique?
Now that you have your baseline, start asking others the same questions—family members, friends, strangers, fellow entrepreneurs. Record their answers and analyze where they fall according to your baseline. Look for any patterns or weaknesses and think about how to address them. Take the time to consider the results of your research and how they affect your baseline.
What is your competition doing?
Once you have a better understanding of your customer perspective, take a thorough look at your competition. What are they doing differently? What are they doing the same? Similarly, look at trends in the market and your specific industry. Where does your business fit in? What pain point does it solve that your competitors are missing? What are your differentiators?
If you’re not already in the market, how will your competition react when you enter it?
Getting your idea to market is one thing, but keeping it there is entirely another. Consider the impact your idea could have on the market and how competitors might respond. This is an extremely valuable perspective to have when preparing for a pitch.
What will critics say?
This is often overlooked. Why? Because it’s unpleasant! We don’t want to hear the bad feedback. It’s so much better to relish in the compliments. But this is crucial. Think about the perspective of those who have negative opinions of your idea or business. Is there any validity to them? If so, how can they be addressed? Taking in the thoughts of critics is incredibly important for ensuring you are not missing the mark. If you don’t address them, your investors will.
Do the numbers make sense?
Numbers don’t lie. There is no gray area. Either your business can be profitable or not. If the numbers aren’t there, there is no hiding it. Consider the following:
Are there holes in your research?
Was there an error in the data?
Is there any way to lower costs without affecting quality?
Is there any way to increase distribution?
Numbers are a massive factor in any investment. Ensuring yours make sense will go a long way with investors.
How much sentiment is attached to your idea?
Now that you’ve examined the perspectives of others, it’s time to reexamine your own perspective again, especially its weaknesses. One of the biggest mistakes someone can make when pitching an idea is getting too sentimental. Don’t get me wrong—you want to tell your story. It makes the most impact. But emotions and sentiment will never take the place of profitability. And if you are too sentimental, it may appear that you are trying to cover something up. It’s crucial that you are able to separate your sentimentality to the project from your logical stance on the viability of it as a profitable enterprise.
Barker Associates provides strategic guidance and outsourced CFO services to companies of all sizes. We can provide the higher level of strategy your company needs to grow, including helping to prepare for that ever-important pitch. If you need assistance, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.
Growing Wealth … It’s Not Just for Companies What We Can Take from the Office
When you’ve been acting in some type of CFO capacity for as long as I have, you can’t help it—growth strategies, numbers, maximizing revenue, minimizing expenses, and leadership are a part of your DNA. And that DNA stays with you whether you are in the office, on a Zoom call, or taking care of your personal finances.
I started thinking about the correlation between what we do in our “official” CFO role and what we do in our personal lives. I asked myself what we can learn about what we do in the office to take it home and help us build our own wealth. And the more I thought about it, the more I thought that many of the same principles apply whether we are strategizing for our companies or for our families.
Unless you’re independently wealthy or have been left a huge inheritance, you have to build your own wealth, just like a company has to build its revenue. While inflation and growing debt may make it seem like this is futile, with the right principles, strategies, and habits in place, your financial growth will strengthen. So, I’ve compiled the top five habits to help you grow your wealth … from a CFO perspective.
1. Don’t spend more than you earn
This may seem intuitive, but for many individuals, it’s anything but. It’s critical to be aware of our spending habits and have discipline to live within our means. This does not mean depriving ourselves of full lives, as some may think. Rather, it comes down to making choices.
A few tips to help along the way:
Take advantage of automated savings (i.e., pay yourself first).
Eliminate frivolous spending.
Create a budget and stick with it.
Stop comparing your spending with others (especially from social media posts).
2. It’s never to early (or late) to invest and save
Far too many younger individuals just entering the workforce think they don’t have to worry about saving for retirement or investing. They figure they have years to think about all of that. But I would argue there is no time like the present. Investing is a great tool to help build wealth, but to truly do so takes years. So, the sooner we start, the better.
Additionally, when we start younger and don’t yet have a family or other major expenses to account for, we can invest more and solidify some strong financial habits before incurring additional, often larger expenses. On the opposite side, others think it’s too late, so why bother. It is never too late. You may not have exactly what you had hoped for as you approach retirement, but at least you will have something.
Financial planning should always include both short-term and long-term goals. This includes having an emergency fund, so when those inevitable life experiences come up, our savings accounts do not get exhausted. It also includes taking advantage of matching retirement plans, such as 401(k)s.
3.Use debt strategically
Many financial experts will say to avoid debt at all costs (pun intended). However, I urge my clients to first consider the type of debt they have and also the importance of having some debt. To start, in order to build credit, it must first be established by incurring debt. This does not mean you should max out credit cards and pay insanely high-interest rates (actually an example of the bad debt we want to avoid). But if you are responsible with the debt you have, and make payments in full on time, you will build credit. With regard to the type of debt, consider lower rates on mortgages, home equity loans, and federal student loans. This can help establish credit and free up cash to invest.
Just like a company needs more than one product or service to offer, we need more than one source of revenue to truly build wealth. Now, you may be thinking that you already work a full-time job or have a business to run, with no time for anything else. However, there are many passive income opportunities that can help generate additional revenue with little time and effort.
When we diversify our income sources, we minimize the risks associated with losing our jobs or closing our businesses. Other benefits to having additional sources include:
saving more and investing,
paying off bad debt, or
taking a long overdue vacation.
5. Remember knowledge is power
This is a leadership principle that pertains to any industry and organization, and it applies equally here. We must always make a commitment to continuous learning. While expanding financial knowledge can be overwhelming to some, continuously educating yourself is the key to becoming more financially stable—from new tax laws to interest rates to investment opportunities.
Resources can be found almost anywhere—blogs, videos, podcasts, webinars, mentors, and coaches. How you do it is up to you. The important piece is to be prepared, ask questions, and learn something that will help you navigate the path to reaching your financial goals.
Barker Associates provides strategic guidance and outsourced CFO services to companies of all sizes. We can provide the higher level of strategy your company needs to grow. If you need assistance, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.
Be the Most Positive Person in the Room From Leadership to Clients to Pitching Investors, Positivity Pays
We’ve experienced burnout and a mental health crisis like we’ve never seen before. Truthfully, we’ve had a rather bleak outlook for a long time. For business leaders and/or entrepreneurs, there are even more stressors. Not only do we have to worry about ourselves and our families, but also our teams, clients, and potential investors. Despite feeling like we’re stuck in a rut, we know there is power in positivity.
Contrary to what some may think, positivity is not the opposite of reality. You can be realistic, acknowledging challenges and struggles, without allowing them to diminish your attitude and deplete your energy. You can even be cautious, as long as it doesn’t slowly morph into pessimism.
American philosopher and psychologist William James once said, “Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power.” And what company doesn’t want to be powerful? As business leaders, we want to build strong companies, not weak ones. Positivity has the power to build energy and resilience, and improve decision-making. Simply, it has the power to create a stronger, more resilient company. Here are three ways you can be the most positive person in the room:
Positively Leading a Team
Positivity is a crucial component of leadership. No one wants to follow someone down a path of despair and despondency. Your team needs optimism. They need to feel encouraged and energized. And it is up to you to provide the impetus for those feelings. Remember, positivity is contagious (as is negativity).
There’s no doubt that it can be a struggle at times. It’s difficult to lead with positivity when you have mounting team challenges or are experiencing trying times. Here are a few tips:
Focus on resilience
Focus on what you can control
Stay calm and objective
Remember the importance of connections and relationships
Practice empathetic, active listening
Move quickly past failures
Celebrate small wins
Positivity when Working with a Difficult Client
We’ve all had clients who aren’t the easiest to work with. Maybe they’re pessimistic. Maybe they’re obsessed with control. Maybe they’re simply not nice people. However, if we focus on the strengths of the relationship, we begin to see more opportunities and less challenges. Listen to them and support their needs, where you can. Your positivity may even start to rub off on their rough exteriors. Through it all, ensure that you have boundaries firmly in place, so their negativity doesn’t start rubbing off on you.
Positively Pitching an Investor
Investors hear hundreds, if not thousands, of pitches. And if you want to stand out among all the rest, it will come down to your story and how you are telling it. When you are preparing to pitch, make sure optimism is woven throughout your story. Of course, you never want to forget about the importance of the numbers, but don’t be scared to humanize them with an exciting narrative or even a joke (where appropriate).
Yes, your nerves are probably rattling in your ears, your hands might be shaking, but try reversing your thought process. Instead of thinking about trying to win them over, think about them trying to win you over. And if you’re smiling and laughing a bit here and there, they’ll remember you long after you walk out the door.
In any scenario, one of the keys to being the most positive person in the room is gratitude. Be thankful for everything you have – the business, your team, those difficult clients, and investors and the opportunity to pitch them. Focusing on what you have and what you’re thankful for will only bring more positivity into your business … and your life.
Choose energy. Choose creativity and innovation. Choose positivity. Otherwise, you and your business may get left behind.
Barker Associates provides strategic guidance to companies of all sizes. We can provide the higher level of strategy your company needs to grow. If you need assistance, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.
“Can You Pass the Turkey … And How Much Money Did We Make Last Month?” The Pitfalls of a Family Member Investor
Ahhh the holidays are among us again (I have no idea how!). Next week, most of us will gather to give thanks for all that we have, as we sit around a table full of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, gratitude, and laughter. And if you’re an entrepreneur with a family member investor in your business, that table may also be filled with some difficult questions, uncomfortable conversations, and awkward silence.
As an entrepreneur, starting a new business is about excitement, courage, and dreams on one hand and anxiety, uncertainty, and often, a lack of funds on the other. And when it comes time to getting those funds, some look to their inner circles first. In many instances, it’s the only viable option, and family and friends become the lifeblood of the new venture. In fact, it has been noted that over one-third of startups have raised money from friends and family – to the tune of $60 billion per year.
Family Member Investors – Some Advantages; Some Pitfalls
There are, of course, several advantages to having a family member invest in your business. First, he or she knows you personally and is likely investing in you more than your venture. This level of trust and familiarity is something you won’t have with other investors.
A family member or friend will also likely be more flexible with the terms of the deal (although, as discussed below, there needs to be strict boundaries). They may agree to a lower rate on return, longer repayment terms and a lower interest rate (if debt is part of the deal), and less equity, and/or have fewer overall demands.
While the above factors can be extremely advantageous to any start-up, issues often arise when the disruptions of an early-stage venture cause entrepreneurs to mismanage these relationships, including overpromising, undervaluing, and lacking communication overall. Additionally, the family member investor may begin to think that they are entitled to everything under the sun, including every piece of information and much more of the money.
How to Avoid that Uncomfortable Conversation over Turkey
You’ve decided to move forward with a family member or friend investor. So, what can you do to have a nice Thanksgiving? First, awareness of the potential pitfalls of having those closest to you invest in your business is key. Most of what you can do comes down to communication and keeping them well informed not only about the business decisions you’re making, but also about how you are allocating the money. With that in mind, here are some tips:
Always treat your family member or friend just as you would any other investor.
Provide a well-thought-out and strategic business plan for them to review.
Stay confident, but don’t overpromise. Enthusiasm is great; overpromising is not. They need to understand the risks (hint: put them in writing).
Set boundaries on both sides. Yes, they’re family and friends, but now they’re also investors. There needs to be some boundaries. Remember – keeping them informed does not mean unfettered access to you or your business.
Don’t take money from those who can’t really afford it (even if they want to give it to you). This investment should never come from their life savings or retirement accounts, which will create an enormous amount of pressure on you. The question should be – What can they afford to lose?
Invest yourself. Family and friends (and any investor, for that matter) want to see you have skin in the game.
Don’t take money from family to invest in your business (especially a C Corporation) and then use that money to pay personal expenses.
Set up a meeting to discuss the specific conditions and expectations of the investment. Some questions to consider:
Is the money an investment, a loan, or a gift?
Are they getting equity? If so, how much?
How are you valuing the company?
What rights do they have with regard to decisions and to information?
How is the money going to be used – product development, marketing, salaries?
Clearly agree on everything, and put it in writing (preferably drafted and/or reviewed by attorneys on both sides).
Set regular meetings to keep your investor informed (at intervals decided upon in your agreement).
Keep with the data and the facts. Don’t embellish.
Provide them with all relevant information – they should know about the struggles, just as much as the successes.
These practices will let your investors know you’ve thought things through, while giving them the satisfaction that they’ve helped make a real difference in your business. But, at the end of the day, before you decide to go down this road, consider if you want your investors asking you questions about business as you carve your turkey next year.
Barker Associates has extensive experience in investor deals and management. If you need assistance, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.
What Getting Stuck in an Elevator Teaches You There are Lessons in Nearly Every Situation
I recently enjoyed a wonderful evening with some friends and family. We had a lovely dinner and then went to a show. We had purchased tickets for Hamilton years before the pandemic changed our lives, and were thrilled to finally be able to see it.
After the show, we walked blissfully back to our cars, still glowing with the excitement and contentment of a great night out. We had all parked in a parking garage that was only accessible by an elevator. We approached the elevator and were soon joined by several other people. As the doors to the elevator slowly opened, approximately twelve of us got in.
Lesson 1: Communication
We all pushed our respective parking garage levels, and continued our respective conversations. The elevator started to ascend. Suddenly, the elevator stopped, but the door did not open. My friend was next to the elevator controls and immediately hit the “open door” button. A few of us near the doors tried to nudge at the them, to no avail. We then hit the call button and reported to the person who answered that we were stuck in the elevator. He assured us that he was sending someone to help.
What we heard in that message was that someone who was capable of fixing the elevator was in the building and on their way. After a few minutes, when no one came, we called back and asked how long it would be. The person who answered said he was not sure, as he was unable to reach the mechanic. We asked a few more clarifying questions and determined that the mechanic who was “on his way” had not even yet been contacted, and we had no idea how far away from the building this person was.
Lesson 2: A Leader’s Attitude Can Change the Environment
There was no air conditioning in the elevator, and with that many people, it was very hot. Between the anxiety from learning that we were stuck in the elevator and the heat, one of the people from the other group began having a panic attack. We called the operator back and told him we had someone in distress, and to call 911. We were informed that it is against policy for them to call 911 and if we felt that was appropriate, we had to make the call ourselves. I attempted to call 911 from my phone, unsuccessfully. Thankfully, another person’s phone was able to get through.
At that point, my amazing friend Sondra (one of the strongest people I know) led us all in a standing yoga class with breathing exercises. It helped calm nerves in everyone almost immediately, and we all began to have some light conversation again. We even took a few selfies, trying desperately to lighten the mood. Even the person having the panic attack was able to relax with the breathing exercises and calm, light tone my friend used.
When the firefighters showed up, they worked diligently to get the door open. And soon, they were successful. Merely watching the doors open offered an incredible calming sensation. Unfortunately, it was short-lived. We soon discovered we were stuck in between floors. The firefighters were on the upper floor and determined they could not pull us up. They would have to close the doors to move the elevator to the lower floor.
Some of them stayed on the upper floor, and others took the tool they were using down to the lower floor. They then attempted to open the doors on the lower floor. This did not go as well. The firefighters began hitting the elevator forcefully to try to get the tool to work. One of them yelled with urgency to the team members that remained on the upper floor, “I can’t get it in. I cannot get the tool in.” The elevator was rocking back and forth, and the lights were flashing. It was pretty scary, and the anxiety levels were all back up to even higher than our pre-impromptu yoga class. I decided to close my eyes at that point, as it was all too much to process. The anxiety in the voices of the firemen, while we were rocking back and forth was overwhelming to us all. When they continued to yell the same thing, my friend said, “I think I’ve heard that before!” We all started laughing with that welcomed comic relief, and I remembered how important humor can be in stressful situations.
Ultimately, they got the door open and got us all off of the elevator.
Lesson 3: Be Grateful (and don’t forget about humor) … Always
When I got out and was finally able to get in my car to leave my wonderful evening (and yes, it was still wonderful – just with a twist), I felt incredibly grateful to be on my way home to my family. I was in a scary situation and I was ok. I wasn’t about to forget it. I also thought to myself, it was really hot in there, but I don’t stink!
Lessons learned from this experience –
Life is short. Make sure every day is full of what you value most.
You don’t have to be in a boardroom to learn valuable lessons … sometimes you’re in an elevator.
Communication is key in any situation. Ensure you are understanding what you are hearing and that the other person understands what you are saying.
When you are a leader, your anxiety or calmness multiplies when you communicate to others. Maintain an authentic calm demeaner, if possible, and you will see the effects in others.
As always, Barker Associates is here for any CFO services you may need (and is also happy to impart some words of wisdom from time to time!). If you need assistance, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.
The Pandemic’s Larger Impacts on Financial Reporting It’s About Much More than a Loss of Revenue
Many people incorrectly assumed that the pandemic’s only true effect on a business’s financials was a loss (albeit often significant) of revenue. And while that assumption is not even necessarily true of every business (many did very well), Covid-19 impacted much more—not just financial performance, but also position, cashflow, and balance sheet accounts. There have been impairments to goodwill and other intangibles, effects on inventory, a change in how and when audits are conducted, and impacts to overall company strategy and goals. And these impacts are especially challenging for a company in the growth phase.
If your company is in the growth phase, it’s crucial to think about your options, understand your needs and, more significantly, how they have changed since the pandemic, what numbers are required, and to develop a new strategy. Companies in the growth phase are experiencing positive cash flow. With this increase in cash, they have the ability to repay debt, and are in a better position to seek additional capital from investors to expand their market reach. However, if the CFO hasn’t been carefully monitoring the pandemic’s impact on all aspects of the company’s financials, they likely don’t have their reporting in order to even approach potential investors.
Changing Financial Needs Means Increased Financial Monitoring
We learned fairly quickly in the beginning of the pandemic that liquidity is key to keeping a business from closing its doors in a crisis. The question that plagued many was how to increase liquidity with revenue decreasing? But those CFOs were often only considering pre-pandemic needs and observations, not the changing needs of the company in the midst of the pandemic. Auditors have noted that many accounts, including sales, inventory, and bad debt have been affected, as well as production and distribution.
First, these changing needs require a change in financial monitoring. Cash flow projections and other assumptions used to measure financial instruments pre-pandemic should be adjusted to reflect your company’s new reality. Remember that a majority of businesses have been affected in one way or another, but if that results in their lack of ability to pay you, you’re going to incur additional credit and liquidity risks, increased bad debt, and write-offs.
Cash Flow A careful analysis of your company’s cash flow can help. Some questions to consider about revenue include:
Are accounts receivable being paid?
Are past due accounts being followed up on?
Are late payment fees and interest being charged to customers (your money should not be free)?
Do you need to offer pre-payment discounts?
Should you look at retainers/deposits?
Do you have the capability of setting up auto-payments?
Of course, we can’t consider cash flow without considering expenses. And while there will be a decrease in some, there will be an increase in others. At a minimum, consider the following questions:
How have your office needs changed?
Do you have the ability to downsize?
How much are you saving due to decreased meal and travel expenses?
Where are these savings being utilized?
How much more are you spending on technology expenditures to maintain communications with staff and customers/clients?
Balance Sheet Accounts
Additionally, other balance sheet accounts have also been affected. One issue that warrants attention if you plan to seek outside funding is inventory needs and accessibility. With productivity and supply chains being disrupted, it may be difficult to allocate costs to inventory. There is also the issue of inventory that cannot be delivered because of travel restrictions. This also plays a significant role in the larger economic impact of decreased supply and increased demand, resulting in higher prices going forward.
Goodwill, post-retirement plans, and internal controls are other accounts/issues that require an in depth look at your financials and a pivot in business strategy, as we slowly climb out of this pandemic.
If you’re still waiting for things to get back to “normal,” and analyzing your financials based on pre-pandemic assumptions, you are not doing your business justice. You may think you have enough cash on hand or that expenses are timely being paid, but without meticulous monitoring and a true long-term plan based on our new reality, you cannot forecast or grow to the next level.
This can be overwhelming. But pivoting in your financial planning and forecasting is necessary. Barker Associates has extensive experience in financial statement analysis, plans, and forecasts. If you need assistance, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.
We have collectively experienced unprecedented times. As CEOs and CFOs, we seem to be writing the playbook as we go. Over the past eighteen months, survival mode has become the norm rather than the exception, as we navigate the turbulent waters of each day. Yet, we all realize we can’t survive in survival mode for extended periods of time. In doing so, we are only looking at our immediate requirements and needs to get by, not our long-term goals and needs to thrive.
When we operate only in the day-to-day, as survival mode requires, we tend to overlook the basics when it comes to our businesses, and specifically, our financials. But truly getting back to basics is the only way to support the long-term strategic growth of the business. And when it comes to basics, you can’t get much more fundamental than a business plan and an annual budget.
Basics #1: The Business Plan
You may be thinking this is Business 101 and you’re beyond it, but you’d probably be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t be) at the number of businesses that do not have any business plan whatsoever. A business plan is much more than something that has to be checked off your never-ending to-do list. It not only helps you create an effective strategy for growth, but also helps you determine your future financial needs, including the need for investors and/or lenders.
According to the SBA, the importance is clear. “A good business plan guides you through each stage of starting and managing your business. You’ll use your business plan as a roadmap for how to structure, run, and grow your business. It’s a way to think through the key elements of your business.”
Additionally, if you plan on seeking funding, business plans play a crucial role. “Business plans can help you get funding or bring on new business partners. Investors want to feel confident they’ll see a return on their investment. Your business plan is the tool you’ll use to convince people that working with you — or investing in your company — is a smart choice.”
In thinking about the execution of a business plan, too many owners or leaders get stalled on the format itself. However, it’s important to remember there is no right or wrong way to develop a business plan. Regardless of how many pages or the font used, the most important takeaways are that it clearly lays out your product or service, identifies your target market, and details your strategy for reaching that market, including the financial needs and requirements on both a short- and long-term basis. While this past year has shown us that we cannot fathom every possible scenario that could impact our business, developing a robust plan is one way to prepare for as many contingencies as possible and help ensure the company’s success.
Basics #2: Annual Budget
While twelve months from now may feel like it may as well be twelve years from now, it is imperative to have a strong annual budget. The annual budget should also be able to be broken down into months for easier monitoring. At a minimum, your annual budget should include the following:
Balance Sheet, and
Cash Flow Statement.
Most businesses are familiar enough with income statements – they can clearly see the revenue coming in and the expenses going out. This is undoubtedly important, but it does not prepare you for your working capital needs. Essentially, you need to know how much you actually require to run your business. In order to truly understand those requirements, an accurate balance sheet and cash flow statement are needed. For example, if you have inventory on your balance sheet, you will need to project the use of cash to purchase that inventory. An income statement will not help you with that.
Nearly every decision you make today can impact your cash flow tomorrow. For example, I once worked with an organization that had double-digit growth each year and was very profitable. The company was getting ready to launch a second product and had offered extended payment terms to customers on their entire order if they added the new product to their order. This may have been an impactful customer service move; however, it was quite the opposite for generating the cash flow needed to pay the vendor. No one had projected the impact this decision would have to their balance sheet and cash flow, so they were unaware that the plan they had in place was going to essentially stop incoming cash. We had to react quickly and manage cash just to meet payroll and other immediate obligations. Simply, this stressful time could have been avoided entirely if the company planned appropriately with a balance sheet and cash flow statement.
While the responsibilities and priorities of a CEO or CFO may vary depending on the company, the need to get out of survival mode and back to business basics is the same for everyone. The common denominator of these basics is that they require you to look ahead and make forecasts on the future of your business – the very opposite of survival mode. Barker Associates has extensive experience in developing business plans and annual budgets that are appropriate for the specific business involved. If you need assistance, or have any other questions, please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.
Leadership – The Importance of Leading Your Mental Health First
I love people. I always have. And I am sure I always will. That being said, once I became a leader of an organization, one of the most difficult things for me to grasp was that my team, made up of colleagues who previously would join me for lunch or socialize after work hours, no longer seemed to want to be with me outside of meetings or the office. I wondered what I had done wrong … until I remembered that my new title brought along more with it than met the eye, and that it can be lonely at the top.
I have grown tremendously throughout my career and, through the process, have come to understand myself better. Moving from a CFO of an organization to a consultant and business owner catapulted my self-development to a new level. I have learned more about my strengths and, even more importantly, my weaknesses. Sure, I enjoy learning more about people. I ask tons of questions, not to be intrusive, but to get to know the other person better. And yes, I am an open book, even “honest to a fault,” so I had to learn to grasp that just because another person is not an open book does not mean they don’t like me.
Through this self-discovery, I am now someone who can better understand not only my own perspectives, but empathetically, those of others. I understand how much “me taking care of me” is required to be the best leader for my own organization. And I appreciate it even more after going through COVID-19.
Leading Ourselves to Better Mental Health
Recently, I listed to a great podcast that brought these points home for me. As I listened, I could completely relate to how the guest, Nick, talked about how hard his parents were on him (as my parents were on me). While it bothered him (and me) greatly in our younger years, there is nothing but acceptance and appreciation now for the person they molded me to be. Nick also talked about the feelings of isolation brought about by COVID-19 and how exhilarating it was to have the first business dinner meeting post-COVID. He was right. I’ve had a few meetings that don’t require a camera and Zoom over the past few months, and always felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders in doing so. After I listened to that podcast, I made sure to book more in-person business meetings, and it has already made a difference in how I feel.
Another area of change for me has to do with my physical health. Pre-COVID, I loved group exercise. When the gyms shut down, it was incredibly difficult for me to learn how to work out on my own and to get and stay motivated. But I didn’t stay in that space. Instead, I found several sources to help me, and now I have many options to deal with stress to ensure I exercise when I travel or even when I cannot make a scheduled exercise class.
You Don’t Have to Do it Alone
I have come across some amazing resources that have helped me maintain my mental health through life’s (and a pandemic’s) transitions. I do not receive affiliate income from any of the links I share here. I am sharing them with you in the hopes I can help make your path to self-discovery less bumpy than my own.
Calm App – This has become one of my go-to apps. And I love sleep stories. By far, my favorite is Wander with Mathew McConnaughy. I also have enjoyed the guided meditations that I can use throughout the day. The music is great with coffee in the morning and they also have a selection of music to play to help you concentrate while you work.
Jill Coleman (Instagram) – I love following Jill Coleman, a business coach for fitness professionals, on Instagram. I also listen to her podcast FITBIZU. She offers great advice about mindset around eating and exercising. Her fitness programs helped me make it through COVID-19 with an actual workout plan. She also offers business advice on her podcast, including how to run a sales call.
Katie Hammill (Instagram) – I follow Katie on Instagram, and work with her to review my weekly meal plans. She taught me that one of the most important aspects of a healthy lifestyle is a meal plan. We have implemented it in my household, helping to maintain calm in our daily lives. We always have a plan for dinner, rather than having a stressful conversation at 6 p.m. about what we are going to do. Another helpful hint to reduce stress around mealtime – make sure you have all the ingredients in the household when you make your meal plan!
Kathy’s Table – Kathy’s Table provides individually proportioned meals that are healthy and gluten free. We include these in our weekly plan at least two nights a week. After two minutes in the microwave, you have a healthy, and delicious, well-balanced meal. And, maybe even better yet, clean-up is fast and easy, which also eliminates daily stress.
Our mental health is impacted by much of our daily lives, especially with all that we have been through in the past fifteen months. And as leaders, we must also recognize our own impact on the mental health of our employees, who are looking to us to lead with more confidence and less stress. We must rid ourselves of the thought process that if we work harder and longer, without any care for ourselves, we will be more effective leaders. In fact, the opposite is true. Without taking care of ourselves, we will eventually burn out, leaving our team without a leader at all.
Leadership requires accountability not only of your subordinates, but of yourself. When you are overwhelmed with so many day-to-day responsibilities you may put self-care on the back burner. If you need a leadership coach to help you with this important aspect, and you are serious about the accountability to do so, click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100. We will work out the right coaching plan for you, and I will apply the $100 toward the package.
Acquisition Integration – After the Ink Dries The “3 Ps” of Integration
Last week, we talked about defining your corporate strategy, and that oftentimes, those strategies include acquisitions of other entities for your company to grow to the next level. Whether it’s to streamline operations, introduce new products or services, or both, many companies define their corporate development strategy within the parameters of an acquisition.
There has been a shift in our global economy. And in that shift, acquisitions have become the norm, not the exception. Yet, according to Harvard Business Review, historically, 80% of companies that have been involved in an acquisition fall victim of the plethora of moving parts essential to the process and ultimately fail. Combining not only two companies, but two sets of stakeholders is fraught with potential landmines.
This week, we take the acquisition strategy a step further. The inevitable questions surface after the ink dries on the legal documents … How do we increase the chances of success? What exactly happens now that we’ve acquired another business? The due diligence is complete, the documents are signed, the lawyers have left – so, what’s next?
Acquisition integration is the process of combining the systems, process, operations, and personnel of the acquired company into your own by maximizing synergies and efficiencies. Logistically, the integration itself should be focused on what I like to call the “3 Ps” of Integration – Personnel, Plan, Practices.
Acquisition Integration – Personnel Issues
Appoint an Integration Manager and Team. The integration manager should have seniority and experience with your company, and be able to hold the team members accountable. The integration will be his or her full-time responsibility for as long as the process takes. The team should be made up of those with expertise in the various areas of integration, including information technology, operations, finance, and marketing.
Communicate the Good … and the Bad. Meet with those you plan on bringing onto the new team from the acquired company as soon as possible. Without some reassurances that they are staying, they will soon look elsewhere for career opportunities and may consider offers from competitors. For those who will not be moving forward, let them know quickly. This is for your own benefit, as much as their own. Indecision will lead to rumors, which inevitably paves the path to a lack of morale – no way to start a new venture.
Focus on Cultural Integration. Decide how much of the acquired company’s culture you are bringing into your own. Will they mesh? Are their conflicting values? What are the priorities on each side? Culture will have a huge impact on the new relationships going forward.
Acquisition Integration – Plan Issues
Develop and Follow a Conversion Plan. The conversion plan should incorporate all of the changes that need to be effectuated, as discovered during due diligence pre-acquisition. Additionally, understand who is responsible for each task and goal, along with applicable due dates. The manager and team must be held accountable to the conversion plan.
Modify the Plan as Needed. Through the integration process, additional opportunities may be discovered. Modify the plan accordingly to adjust for these opportunities, including the required resources, and communicate any changes to the team.
Use Metrics Consistently to Measure the Plan’s Success. Measure everything you are doing as it relates to the integration. Compare actual results to those anticipated, including timelines.
Acquisition Integration – Practices Issues
Identify Best Practices. Determine if the acquired company had practices that worked well and could enhance your own operational practices. If they bring value, develop ways to incorporate them into your own. Then, as always, communicate these Best Practices to the rest of the team.
Evaluate Practice Similarities and Differences. What services, products, and operations are the same? Which ones are different? Are there overlapping vendor practices or relationships? Which parts of the accounting and marketing are complementary? Which are contradictory?
Provide and Receive Feedback. Ask yourself the following: What went well with the integration? What didn’t? What are the expectations moving forward? Provide this feedback to the team. Additionally, accept any feedback provided to you and use it for improvements going forward.
Focusing on the “3 Ps” in acquisition integration is crucial for the long-term success of your business post-acquisition. Barker Associates has extensive experience helping companies with acquisition integrations. If you need assistance with yours, or have any other questions, we can help. Please click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation at a rate of $100.