Unexpected or overlooked?

Obviously, some expenses will come out of nowhere, but, in general, it's possible to plan for most expenses or at least have a plan for those slightly ambiguous situations. Having some things in place that make a company better equipped to deal with surprises is all part of the learning process. Life will through curveballs and it's our job to try and anticipate what they'll be and maybe even when they'll hit.

What does this look like?

  • Plan for the Unexpected. Yes it's possible, it's called an emergency fund and every business should have one along with a list stating the general things for which it can be used. This will be different than the fund for the big-ticket items that help grow the business. This account should be accessible (but not readily) and at a bare minimum in a high yields savings account. That money should be working for you.
  • Big Ticket Items:There needs to be a different fund, in some shape form or fashion, that is for the big-ticket items. This doesn't have to be a separate account (although that's not a bad idea), but it does need to be listed and recorded. Again, for an account like this, the recommendation would be to have it separate from the operational account and sitting in a high yields savings account. This way the money is less readily available and earning at least a little interest.
  • Have a List. There should be a list of expenses for the year. This one should be obvious because hopefully there's a budget... if not, then go create one. There should also be a list of expenses that will come do in the near future. i.e. start saving for replacements immediately. This will require knowing the average shelf life of the product, machine, etc. The best part is that if the product last longer than the average, then the money is already there so when it does finally quit the company can pay cash.

What to remember: Do your research and get the numbers as close to reality as possible and even if you're off by a little, you'll still be closer than if you had nothing saved up.

More on the Use of Credit/Debit Cards

No more invoices. At least no more paper invoices. We've written about this many times in the past, but no matter how much evidence is presented people keep sending out and wanting to receive paper invoices as well as not accept debit/credit cards. We hear comments about the fees and the expense, but in reality this comes down to a marketing expense. If you knew that you would sell more by accepting card payments woud you switch?

What does this look like?

  • There's not only the cost to the company in labor, postage, envelopes, paper, ink, and maintenance on printers, but it's also terrible for the environment.
  • After what I just listed is completed then that invoice has to be driven to multiple locations before it makes it to its destination.
  • Emailing the invoice saves money, is delivered instantly, and, if you accept cards, can be paid instantly.
  • While there are fees associated with processing debit/credit cards, what's the cost of not accepting? What's the cost of labor, materials, time, and loss of business from not accepting cards?

What to remember: Everyone is busy, therefore any way that you can automate business operations the better off the company will be.

How are your profits?

Numbers are extremely important, but, as we've said many times in the past, they don't tell the whole story. A company could look profitable on the outside, but actually be struggling without anyone noticing. How does this happen? By forgetting to look at the whole picture. This is why we always say that every company needs a CPA and more specifically one that will be an advocate for them.

What to look for?

  • Just because sales are good doesn't mean that the company is profitable. Sales may be high, but the company may be losing money in other areas causing it to go into the red.
  • Look at the product line from start to finish. Again, just because a product is selling doesn't mean that it is profitable. Look at what it took to acquire/produce, hold, market, sale, etc. and then calculate the profit margin.
  • Dig into the margins. Knowing the details in and around your margins will help to make it clear whether or not products are priced appropriately and in a way that is sustainable. This can also help to shed light on whether or not one product line is draining the company while another is propping it up.

What to remember: Running a business is difficult and for many it's the second or even third job that they're handling to keep the company going. Therefore, hire an established CPA, ask questions (as many as they will allow...), do your research, and make sure that your accounting software is right for your business i.e. it should be giving you the whole picture.

Spam emails...

In light of the spam emails lately, we thought that it would be a good idea to send out a few reminders. 1. Always be cautious. Don't click on links unless you know the person and you're certain they sent it. 2. It's a good idea to change your password every so often. This doesn't have to be every month, but every 6 months or maybe even once a year should be good. This can also help to keep you from forgetting the password altogether... 3. Try not to use the same username and password combination multiple times. Having different combinations on different sites means that, if a site gets hacked, then only that username and password combination is compromised.

Productivity Tools: Trello

We all forget things from time to time and I'm no exception. Therefore, I started looking for a way to keep track of the things that needed to get done and I wasn't satisfied with the basic to-list. In comes Trello, which is essentially a to-list on steroids, but this tool has definitely helped in getting me more organized.

What does this look like?

  • Yes, essentially it's a to-list, but it holds much more data and has far more capabilities than the average to-list list. Labels can be added to designate where the task or project is on the timeline. Descriptions and comments can be added to further clarify a task or ask questions to the group. Collaborators can "watch" a task so that they get updates, and, of course, due dates can be assigned.
  • Jumping off the last point, collaboration is much easier. Trello makes it easy (and more organized than email...) to share task, goals, timelines, links, and resources. All you have to do is click on the task and then the attachment button to add or share the item with the whole group.
  • One of things that could be particularly helpful is the comment section. If one person is struggling to complete a task, they don't have to go out and ask everyone individually or hope that they will all check their email. There's a central location for talking about the task that can be accessed from anywhere.

What to remember: I've said it a bunch it the past, not every great tool is needed or even a good fit for the company. The key here is to research and experiment with different tools that might make our days a little easier.

Being More Productive

I try to look to those around me who are better than me at what I want to be good at and then try to emulate their process. Lately I've been looking into some people who are, to say the least, very productive. The following list are a few of the things these people recommend.

The list:

  • Make sure that there's a balance between life and work.
  • Schedule breaks into the day.
  • Automate the simple tasks.
  • Remove the distractions.
  • Focus on the most important task.
  • Develop a plan.
  • Do the least favorable task first so that you can focus on what you want to do the rest of the time.

What to remember? Like any list on the internet, some of these items will help and some won't. Continue to do research, look for ideas, seek out creative solutions, and experiment.

LED Lights?

I installed some new lights recently and went with LEDs. Now I did this partly because everything seems to be moving that way, but also because they're more energy efficient and last longer. Much longer in fact. This of course depends on how the bulbs are used. They obviously won't last nearly as long if they're run 14 hours a day as opposed to 4. That said, LEDs have a few benefits that I think are worth mentioning:

What are the benefits?

  • Up to 95% efficient, meaning less power wasted and less heat produced.
  • Better light distribution. i.e. less are needed
  • They're more durable given that there's no filament.
  • Longer lifespan. You can easily find LED bulbs with a 50,000 hour life span as opposed to 10,000 for CFL or 1000 for incandescent.

What to remember: LEDs mean less waste, better efficiency, and, most importantly, money saved.

Keep the Rules Simple

There are times when we need very specific rules and guidelines, like when someone is performing surgery. Yes, I definitely want my surgeon to follow the appropriate procedures. However, if I need someone to improve the marketing for a company, there aren't a set of specific rules to follow. Sure there's etiquette and there's definitely general principles to follow, but not a step by step list. This is were having a few simple overarching rules/ideas will help to work as a guide during this process.

Michael Pollen has a great example of this idea. It's actually about food, but it works. He says "eat food, not too much, mostly plants." Now I'm not trying to get into a nutrition discussion here. The point is that anyone can remember those rules and not be overwhelmed. That’s exactly what is needed so often in business. I can't remember who originally said this, but it goes something like this: After making sure someone is qualified for the task, let them complete the task without telling them how to do it and you may be surprised by what they come up with.

What does this look like?

  • The rules should be specific to what needs to be accomplished. i.e. the marketing of a company
  • The rules should be simple. When rules are overly complex, they become difficult to remember and implement.
  • There should only be a few rules. Most people aren't going to remember pages worth of rules when trying to complete a task. They will remember some, but certainly not all.

What to remember: Having a lot of rules, especially if they're complex, will make the process less efficient. Therefore, keep the number of rules low and make them simple.

Email testing?

Numbers are everything. They, of course don't tell the whole story, but they can give a lot of insight. Checking the analytics on any test is beneficial, but especially so on email, it's the way we know that things are working. Whether it's the open or click through rate, sign-ups or unsubscribes, the delivery and bounce rates, or what type of device they're using, these numbers give insight into the success of the emails being sent. If you find something that works, by all means, keep doing it, but it's always a good idea to run test.

What does this look like?

  • Test the subject lines. Different things work for different audiences. Test various ways of structuring your subject line to see what gets the most opens. Maybe it's written as a question, maybe it has an image attached to it, or maybe it's a snippet of the intro. Get creative and start testing.
  • Try different graphics and Calls to Action. Your audience make like a straight forward traditional approach with real life imagery, they may be more enticed by an illustration, or maybe it's a unique font. To some, these details may sound minor, but font size and choice of colors can be the difference between something being readable or not. Likewise, the imagery can be the difference between whether or not your email looks professional.
  • Try out different send times.Your specific demographic has a times when emails are best received. Certain companies send on Tuesday because less companies send on Tuesdays, while others will send on Friday because of something specific to Saturday. If you have a weekend event coming up, then maybe you send an email at the beginning of the week and then a reminder email the day before. Again, try different approaches and then check the numbers.

What to remember: Look at what others are doing, at the emails that you both like and open, look at what the industry is doing, and then test by adding some of the features that you see in other emails to yours. Of course, when this is done, check the numbers.

Another spam email...

I get spam emails on a regular basis. Most of these emails are some prince that wants to send me money, but this last one was a little worse. The email claimed they had hijacked not only my email, but also my webcam (which I don't have) and had footage of me that they would share with friends and family. I have multiple email addresses coming into one inbox, so I actually received this email multiple times. Regardless, given that I don't have a webcam attached or built into my computer this email shouted that it was spam. Hopefully one day we will find a way to filter out the spam (or stop it altogether), but until then, make sure to be cautious and diligent with your emails.

Why have an online store?

Having an online store that is properly managed and promoted can be a great benefit and boost to a company, but just because you have a retail store doesn't mean that you need an online store. After all, having an online store that's poorly managed can be detrimental to the company. Running the online store on top of the brick and mortar shop can be a lot of work and in many cases require that you hire someone just to start and manage it. All that said, we think an online store is worth the investment, assuming the right things are in place.

What does having an online store look like?
For starters:

  • An online store provides better customer service. Many times a customer simply needs to reorder a product, see the spec sheet, or find the operator manual and an online store can put all of that in one convenient place.
  • Provides the option for a customer to research and purchase at any time. They may not have enough time to stop by the shop or make a call to ask questions, it may be after hours, but those aren't issues when you have an online store.
  • Sell that slow-moving stock... Something is better than nothing on an item that is collecting dust. Having an online store lets you put those outdated or slow-moving (but still useful to the right person) items on sale for every customer to see. You never know what part may sell until you get it in front of the right person.
  • Provide more detailed information, videos, and demos of the products. Some people do better reading about how a product works and some do better seeing it in action. An online store gives you the capability to help both of those groups by placing detailed information about the product as well as videos.

What to remember: There is so much more information that needs to be covered (and we will get to that), but, for now, start to think about how these ideas might help you and whether or not your team is in a place to manage this kind of project.