16 Operational Norms for Service-Based Small Business

Operational Norms for Small Business

“Business as usual.”

What does even mean, right?

As a small business owner you know full-well that “usual” means “normal.” Yet “normal” hardly ever happens on a day-to-day basis in the service industry! So much so that not-normal is actually normal!

To some degree that is very normal. However, we believe that standardizing as much as possible is the single greatest factor to creating stability in a line of business that is determined by ever-changing customer demands.

At Aculign we struggle just like you.

As a service-based consulting firm for service-based businesses we face two challenges daily:

  • The tyranny of the urgent
  • The devil of distraction

They’re both crouching at the door of our offices. Each and every day. All day long. Tackling these challenges starts with thoughtfulness and commitment.

Thinking carefully about the ideal state is important to us. It allows the higher functioning part of our brain to function as our wise advocate and tell us what’s really important to us.

Then, we attempt to put energy behind staying committed to those important things.

Those important things function very much like fences or guard rails. As we envision where we want to go, we also think through the distractions that pose a risk to us not getting there.

To help us get there, we created what we call our Operational Norms. These are the guard rails that protect us throughout the day to help us get where we want to go. We recommend using them as a guide to creating your own, in order to protect your time and get your projects, tasks, and goals accomplished.

  1. Only check and respond to email a max of twice daily.
  2. Arrive at the office with a clear list of priorities. Otherwise, how the heck do you get anything done?
  3. Don’t get in front of the computer without a clear list of priorities.  You’ll get distracted.
  4. Compile a task list for tomorrow no later than the evening before.  This helps you get ahead on #2 above.
  5. Don’t permit yourself to tackle any more than two mission-critical items per day.  If everything is important, then nothing is actually important.
  6. Do NOT multitask. It is one of the deadliest lies out there.
  7. Shorten your schedule and deadlines to force focused action and prevent procrastination.  Tasks with deadlines too far in the future almost always get delayed even more.
  8. All meetings should require an agenda and produce decisions and delegated action plans with deadlines.  Too much time is wasted in meetings without a  purpose and focus.
  9. Meetings should default to a maximum of 30 minutes.  We offer a 4 hour workshop on meetings for you and your team. You will walk away with prepped agendas for your most important meetings.  Contact us to learn more.
  10. Do not allow interruptions unless it is extremely urgent. Otherwise, send an email or chat message.
  11. Batch activities to limit setup costs. Group the same type of stuff together so you can keep your mind in that zone and do more quality work.
  12. If it’s not well-defined and important, don’t do it.  Otherwise, table it and schedule a block of time later to define and plan it.
  13. Analyze tasks to discover what to eliminate.  More than likely, some tasks evolved over time to become bigger than they really need to be.
  14. Delegate.  Give work away that someone cheaper than yourself can and should be doing.
  15. Never automate something that can be eliminated from the workflow.  If there’s not really a need for it, don’t try to make your software do it for you anyway.
  16. Outsource whenever and as often as possible. If you can’t or shouldn’t do #14, that is.
  17. Establish verbal flags that team members can use in discussions and meetings to call attention back to the agenda or matter at hand.  Give your team freedom to keep each other focused.

Like us, you will more than likely experience crashing through one or more guardrails. Probably on a daily basis, at first. But if everyone on your team agrees that operational norms are necessary, and if everyone agrees on what they should be, then shared agreement means that you’ve created a context where you can help each other. It’s not uncommon for one of us to say to another team member,

“Squirrel!”

as a way of reminding that team member that a distraction or “rabbit trail” has just been introduced. And it’s common in meetings for one of us to say,

“Let’s anchor,”

as a means of re-anchoring the discussion to the agenda at hand.

Regardless of how you choose to do it, an environment of humility is important, as everyone is willing to admit their weakness and let their team member help them stay focused.

What are some of the operational norms that you feel are crucial for your business?  Share them in the comment field and help generate “aha!” moments for others who read.

6 characteristics of a Good Small Business Employee

6 Characteristics of a good small business employee: why you need PACMAN employees

Every business owner wants to hire the right employee. But what are the key characteristics of a good small business employee?

Since 15 years old, I’ve worked for over a dozen small businesses.  I work in one now.  I’ve also worked in corporate America for several years.  But being an employee of a small business is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever attempted to do. And it’s one of the most fulfilling.

Throughout my journey in this market, I’ve gained a ton of wisdom.  I’ve also closely observed employees who were able to “cut it” and those who weren’t.  I myself have worked in both those categories!  Sometimes I was able to “cut it.”  Sometimes I didn’t. Small business hiring is all about the mysterious match between the small business work environment and the employee.

So what are some good characteristics of a good small business employee?

Working in a small business requires one to be like PAC-MAN.  One of my favorites games of all time (second only to Galaga…yes, I’m a child of the 80’s), PAC-MAN success is about observing the algorithm, plotting your course, eating the cherries, and eating the ghosts before they eat you.

In a small business, ever-shifting challenges, priorities, and issues are like the ghosts, with one exception: there is no predictable algorithm. Stuff just happens.  But sometimes you get a leg up.  Your intuition senses an opportunity and being the cherry it is, you grab it, and find a whole new path to exponential success.

I was asked several years ago to consult around helping a small business figure out whether or not the potential employees they were considering were going to be a good fit for their particular environment.  There are no surveys that I’ve found that seem to do this sort of thing.  So I resorted to a simpler start by defining key characteristics.

When I listed them out, the acronym appeared plainly:  P.A.C.M.A.N.  And I can say with a high degree of reliability that a person who is not operating with some level of sufficiency in one or more areas will eventually find himself or herself to not be a fit for the environment.  Training new people is expensive and painful.  So getting it right is key.

An employee missing one of the characteristics below will become like the string protruding from the carpet.  The normal stresses and strains of small business will pull on that string and threaten to unravel a whole section of carpet.  It’s always just a matter of time.

P is for Professional

Stuff gets rough in the small business.  Very rough at times, as a matter of fact.  If you’re a small business owner or manager, you know what I’m talking about.  And when things start going rough, professionalism can fly out the window.  Being professional is about maintaining a sense of inner and outer calm at all times.  Not because you’re trying to be something you’re not.  But because you’re calm-headed.  You understand that losing your temper or sacrificing your integrity shoots a huge hole in your boat and leave others with the bailout and clean up.

A person who has demonstrated a struggle to maintain professionalism in challenging circumstances is not a good fit in a small business environment.  They will cost you current and future customers and will sabotage employee relationships.

A is for Agile

Being agile is about being nimble and lean.  Priorities can and will stack up beyond your ability to complete them in a timely fashion. Being able to recognize which priorities are bigger than others is the first step to being agile.  The second step is being able to reorganize all the priorities as necessary, based on the shift. The third is knowing right where to jump in and start working.  Fourth, you’ve gotta work in a lean fashion, understanding where you can add the most value with the amount of time you have.

A person who has demonstrated a struggle being agile is not a good fit in a small business.  They will struggle with their attitude of inflexibility and task switching in order to complete priorities.  As a result, they will unwittingly subtract value from both the project, the customer, and the company.

C is for Context

Not cookie.  Sorry.  Contextual awareness is such a challenge with small business employees.  I’m still uncertain at this point in my life if it is something taught or caught.  Small business employees must possess an internal sense that guides them to think about the impact of a thing on all the other things around it.  People, chains of command, assets, technology, processes, cash flow, customer service, training, equipment and more are all interconnected.  A decision made in one area will impact other areas.  No action is made in a vacuum.

A person who has demonstrated a struggle with contextual awareness is not a good fit for a small business.  There are too few people, customers, assets, processes, cash flow, etc. to withstand too many poor decisions.  As a result, they will unintentionally dismantle things that have taken much blood, sweat, and tears to build.

M is for Moxie

Moxie is hard to find.  It’s about building up the nerve to take initiative, to take a risk on something.  Small businesses cannot withstand a lack of initiative.  It is a key characteristic required to identify something that needs attention, seize ownership of it, conceive of a plan, and step out in faith with a risk to handle it.  Moxie is about being courageously proactive, stepping over boundaries of fear or even taboo, and stepping into a fog of possibilities with a mindset of opportunity.

A person who has demonstrated a lack of moxie is not a good fit for a small business.  The small business has no time for clock-punchers, hourly-minded employees, or those who feel they must wait on instructions before taking an action.

A is for Adaptable

Adaptability goes hand-in-hand with agile.  Agile is about capability.  Adaptable is about attitude.  An adaptable person is flexible with shifting priorities and can also shift their attitude quickly toward new circumstances with a full-on, wholehearted mindset.  Their skills, talent, and heart all shift in unison to the task in front of them and they are energized to face it head-on.  They don’t feel bothered or deeply frustrated by the things that bother other people in such circumstances.

A person who has demonstrated a lack of adaptability is not a good fit for a small business.  The needs of the small business are unique and require an employee whose focused attitude can shift with the required changes the small business demands.

N is for Nosey

Being nosey is not necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, it’s a good thing in the small business. Nosiness goes with moxie since a small business employee must be inquisitive about pretty much everything.  This contributes to the development of intuition.  I define this as the employee’s ability to “sniff” out root causes of problems or identify solid opportunities in the midst of many possibilities.

The employee working in a small business should combine moxie with nosiness by asking hard questions. Then they should ask why. Then ask others for help, and ask customers for more information.  Asking, asking, asking.  Small business owners and managers will probably get annoyed.  But they need to get over it. And fast.  Being nosey is often the sign that a person has an attitude of ownership.

A person who does not ask questions in a small business is dangerous and is not a good fit.  The small business is not an environment for people who just want to show up, check boxes, and go home.  Small business requires ownership-minded employees who are willing to poke around with questions and investigate problems, opportunities, and options. You can’t expect such a person to take action since they don’t know what’s going on. Employees can’t read minds.

Conclusion

Consider using the P.A.C.M.A.N. characteristics next time you do an employee performance review.

  1. Sketch out the characteristics on the left column of a piece of paper.
  2. Think of as many examples as possible from your previous experiences and observations of your employees. Write them down.
  3. Write down examples where their behavior or actions which may create problems or additional challenges that required your cleanup.  Be fair, though.  (If you believe you trend toward being a negative person, work hard to come up with positive examples.  If you believe you’re a generally optimistic person, look harder for honest examples of problematic behavior.)

In the end, these characteristics are not about whether an employee is necessarily lazy, dishonest, or irresponsible.  I’ve worked with many great people in small business who simply were not a fit for the environment.  The analyst in me has desperately wanted to quantify the problem.  Sometimes it wasn’t their fault.

Small business owners and managers can be very frustrating to work with for a variety of reasons.  But sometimes certain employees are just not wired in a way that makes them successful in the small business environment.  In such circumstances, act with nobility and assist the person in finding something that is a better fit.  Be earnest in genuinely caring for their future.  Treat them well and they will speak well of you and possibly recommend your next great hire!

How to Communicate effectively with your employees

Small business communication for managers and employees

Communicating effectively takes work, intentionality, and consistency. If you are struggling with this, you are not alone. In a recent survey of 4,000 employees, a whopping 46% of employees said that they routinely receive confusing and unclear direction.

Many years ago I had the privilege of working with a young lady who served as my admin assistant. She had an uncanny ability to intuit what I would ask for before I actually asked for it.  Our brains were somehow synchronized. It was weird sort of awesomeness. I think it was as close to a superpower as reality will allow.

Having a baby took her away to more important things in life. I lost her from my team. Once upon another time, I hired another young lady to work for me in another company I helped manage. She too was a near-mind reader. I miss her, too. Then I changed companies. To date, these two ladies stand as the only examples of direct reports who could almost read my mind.

When I compare these two remarkable examples to every other work experience in the past, I personally worked hard to be just like that admin assistant for my managers. There was one big challenge, though: no matter how hard I worked for some of them, most of my manages seemed to act like I could actually read their mind. At least that was the only interpretation of events I could come up with at the time.

Over the years I’ve since discovered that the difficulty with managing people is often pretty simple. (At least, it’s simple to the manager, that is!) In short, managers often conclude that employees just don’t seem to do what they need to do. Put another way, they don’t do what the manager expects them to do.

If you’re a manager, how often have you scratched your head thinking to yourself one of the following questions?

  • Why in the world did they do that?
  • Why on earth would they say that?
  • Why in God’s name didn’t they….?
  • Why aren’t they connecting the dots?
  • Why don’t they get it?
  • Insert other why questions here that sometimes give you pause and cause you to feel crazy inside.

Listen carefully: what’s clear inside your head is probably NOT so clear to the people you lead. 

That may offend you. But you’ll be okay. You are a manager or a leader for a reason. You’re probably a good one.

However, the thing that separates most good leaders from great leaders is that great leaders don’t assume their teammates know everything we think they should.

It’s easy to give your people things to do and then assume that they have somehow magically intuited what you’re talking about, why you need it done, how it’s supposed to be done, when, how often, where, etc..

I mean, you try to hire great people, don’t you?

And they should be able to figure it out, right?

So why do we as managers think this way? Why do we treat our teammates this way? Why do managers, in particular, severely suffer from this challenge?

That is an easy answer. It’s because we’re busy! And with so much to do, hitting the bullseye means feeling like we have to be the ones to get it all done by ourselves.

But when we try to do that, we end up harming our most precious resources. How? By not taking the necessary time to educate, instruct, envision and equip them. We are naturally inclined to feel that if we take the necessary time to thoroughly explain and properly delegate, that this will…

  1. Takes precious time away from our other tasks that seem to feel more important, and…
  2. Makes us frustrated because they just ought to know how to do what we need them to do!

Can you be honest with yourself about those two things? If so, then face it. You just end up growing frustrated much of the time, right? 

As managers, we can tend to get frustrated because of two wrong interpretations.

  1. We don’t think they have enough motivation.
  2. We come to believe that they don’t want to spend the time it takes to learn and grow.

Yet in my experience, both as an employee and as a manager, both of these interpretations are profoundly ignorant! Managers believe this about their employees because they don’t consider their own failures to properly educate, instruct, and guide them.

“Make it easy for your team members to understand what you want. Be generous about answering their questions, make their understanding a priority, and foster an environment of open communication and information sharing.” (HBR)

Now, think about how your employees feel. They too just end up growing frustrated because…

  • they genuinely want to do a great job; but…
  • they don’t feel like they know enough; and…
  • they interpret from our frustration that they are doing something wrong and are not measuring up; but…
  • they don’t really know what they are doing wrong and how they are not measuring up; so…
  • they just keep trying harder and harder against the background noise of managerial frustration occupying their headspace; and…
  • they continue to not meet managerial expectations and eventually get so frustrated they want to leave.

Here’s a challenge: show that bullet list to your employees. Then ask them what they think.

Most of them will probably tell you I hit the nail on the head. How did I do it? Because I was that employee once. Well, actually I was that employee many times with many different managers. And then I became a manager and started doing the same thing. And that’s how I discovered the obvious: most managers fall into this trap.

What happens if and when we don’t fix it? We end up interpreting their desire to leave as if they never really cared for the company to start with. We tell ourselves that they never really had a passion for the vision. We conclude that they weren’t an “A” player. They weren’t a good fit for the organization.

All of those things may be true by the time they hand in their resignation. But it’s fair to ask two hard questions.

1. Did we contribute to it by managing them in unhelpful ways?

2. Is it really fair to come to those conclusions about them if we don’t do the simplest thing, like taking the time to thoroughly explain things and make sure they understand?

Good leaders are willing to consider these questions carefully. Great leaders will consider these questions with their employees. Do you want to be a great leader?

Contact Aculign today to request our 360 leadership survey. We send you the survey, you send us your results, and we give you a free executive coaching session to discover how to experience some quick wins in managing your employees better.

 

Feb News: Google Launches a Brand New Search Console

Google launches the beta version of a BRAND NEW Search Console!

In the February edition of our newsletter, we discuss some important updates from Google and Youtube. We discuss 5 updates which will impact your business. Here is a summary:

  1. Google launched the beta version of the new Google Console. The most promising feature is access to up to 16 months of historical data! Find out more about this update in our newsletter.
  2. Did you know you can now add videos to your google my business listing?
  3. Google has announced that page speed will officially be a ranking factor beginning in July of 2018.
  4. Google has updated some things within Adwords: Dynamic Search, advertiser spend and Facebook. See what has happened by downloading the newsletter.
  5. Youtube has updated its monetization policy. Small channels (less than 1000 subscribers and 4k hours of watched content) will no longer be able to get paid for ads. We go into more detail in our newsletter.

Feel free to download it today! Don’t worry, we don’t require anything to download it!

If you want to get it automatically, please sign up for our newsletter below!

 

5 Steps to Faster Receivables

Wondering how to improve cash flow for your small business?

 

Small Business Cash Flow. It’s the lifeblood!!

For service-oriented small businesses, disciplined accounting is the heartbeat. Cash flow keeps the heart beating.  Lack of cash flow causes heart palpitations. Sustained lack of cash flow causes heart attacks. Experience enough heart attacks and the business will die.

In our experience, the two biggest challenges to accounting are rhythm and resource. The small business owner must develop a disciplined rhythm of accounting: get paid on time (accounts receivable), pay your bills on time (accounts payable). The cash flows in. Then the cash flows out. And it’s got to happen in that order. Pretty simple, right? But it’s hard to develop that rhythm if you don’t have resource. Somebody somewhere must do the accounting work.

If you’re still in startup mode, you’re probably going solo. It’s all on you. The pressure is immense, and it keeps you awake at night. You’re the only resource. And you have to create and keep the rhythm. This is not a commercial or click bait for any accounting organization. So hear us when we say that the best and first money you can possibly spend on a human resource is for outsourced accounting. It doesn’t have to be a first employee. But it does need to be somebody else other than you. What should you do until you get somebody else? You should understand the top five reasons why your customers may not pay you on time, or perhaps at all. Then you should understand the best practices that will overturn each of those five challenges.

Top 5 reasons clients don’t pay you.

So why don’t clients pay you on time, or at all? We’ve found that very few clients are stubborn about paying their bill. We’ve encountered less than a handful who are truly irrational and unethical. They understand clearly that they wanted our services and are therefore, willing to pay for them. However, we’ve also learned over many, many years that customers and clients, in general, are slow to pay, and sometimes legitimately reluctant to pay, for five simple reasons:

  1. They never got a bill.
  2. They don’t know what they’re paying for.
  3. The wrong person got the invoice.
  4. They don’t know the best way to pay.
  5. They simply need a reminder.

All of these reasons are common sense. But as a business owner, you are extremely busy. So here’s a solid, dependable rule of thumb: always remember that your clients are just as busy as you are. They are facing the same challenges in their business that you are in yours. Therefore, you want to make it easy for them to pay you, and to do so as quickly as possible. Let’s explore each practice. Then I’ll offer another bonus practice or two, just in case of emergency.

How to Improve Cash Flow for your small business

It is not a 100% guarantee. It is based on common sense and people smarts. Here we go!

1. Send Your Invoice Within 24-48 Hours of Job Completion

One franchise I worked with years ago was experiencing cash flow seizures.  It turned out that he had over $700,000 in work he’d never invoiced. You can’t get paid if you don’t send an invoice. It’s that simple. He blamed it on his office person. But you can’t expect what you don’t inspect.

Our experience has shown that more often than not, invoices don’t get sent because there’s not an established workflow or process.

  • Employees may forget to completely fill out a work order.
  • It slides between the seats in the vehicle.
  • It never makes it back to the office.
  • Maybe it never makes its way to the office person responsible.
  • Maybe they don’t actually know who to give it to.
  • Then there’s the paper-based approach versus the digital challenge.

In the end, a clear workflow gets the entire company following the same plan. When this happens, one person’s action will trigger another action. The employee will complete his work and notify the right next person. That employee will enter the work into the invoicing system and notify the next person. The next employee will do a quality assurance check and send the invoice.

Rhythm comes from a process. A process is built on workflow. Workflow usually requires coaching. Aculign can help improve your cash flow.

2. Send Clear & Explicit Invoices

Many companies don’t pay on time because they simply don’t know what they’re paying for. You must be professional and clear in your invoices. This reduces and eliminates flags. This is especially true if you’ve billed a non-profit. Due to internal policies, they may scrutinize an invoice more closely.

Here are five ways that flags are raised when the AR department of your client is reviewing your invoice. The best assumption you can make is that any flag or combination of flags raised will result in your invoice being placed in the “Do Not Pay” stack. It’s not personal. It’s just business.

  • Unprofessional invoices

If your invoice does not look professional, it will be flagged for questioning. Nothing says “suspicious” more than an invoice that appears to have been generated on a typewriter, drawn with a pen and a ruler, or drafted like a letter on a word processing computer application.

There are countless free templates for DIY invoicing. Find a few. Show them to other people in your network who own businesses or work in accounting. Quickbooks and other online accounting tools have editable invoices. Some accounting services start at just $5 per month. Show them to any accountant friends. Ask them what they think. Pick the one they tend to agree on. If you’re using an online accounting system (which you should be, by the way), you can choose from several templates. Again, ask your network. Don’t forget to upload a professional image of your company logo. Modify other colors in the template to match your company logo. In short, make it look like something YOU would be most likely to review and pay quickly.

  • Inconsistent or inflated quantities

If you bill by the hour, then bill the time you actually spent. Does a contract or agreement your customer signed beforehand allow you to round up your billing to the nearest quarter hour? Bill the exact time anyway. (It’s just a recommendation.) Underpromise and over deliver. It builds integrity. Then later you can round up your pricing when you’ve earned that trust.

Are you billing for materials? Again, have integrity. Throwing in a few extra items in that line on your invoice that you know no one is going to go back and review is dishonest. It reflects an internal practice that will come back to haunt you in other ways. That’s guaranteed.

  • Unclear or unsubstantiated pricing

Did you give an estimate before you started the work? Then stick to the pricing. Changing up your pricing is one of the fastest ways to make sure your invoice goes to the “Do Not Pay” stack.

Also, be sure to include any required taxes or discounts. You don’t want to forget to include the appropriate taxes and then have to go back later to try to recover them. That makes you look unprofessional. Equally as important, don’t forget to include any discounts that were discussed, promised, or estimated.

  • Lack of sufficient description for each item

If your client doesn’t know what work you’ve done, they will be less likely to pay you. And the more human layers of separation there is between the person who ordered the work and the person who’s paying the bill, the more confusion is bound to occur. More often than not, the person at your client’s location who ordered the work is not paying the invoice. So reference that person’s name as well as an appropriate description of the work performed.

How much description should you provide? Remember the “Baby Bear Rule” from the Goldilocks story: not too much, not too little, but just the right amount. If you say too much, it takes too long to read and will probably get delayed. If you say too little, it seems suspicious and will probably get delayed.

  • Not saying what you mean, and meaning what you say

Do you have clearly established terms and conditions, late fees, interest fees, and discounts? State them clearly in the invoice. Don’t make the font too small. Everyone in the universe hates fine print. And don’t use “legalese.” Everyone in the universe also hates having to decipher legal-speak. Except for lawyers of course.

Now you have to follow through. If you said what you meant, then mean what you say. If you sent the invoice within 24-48 hours and they are late on their payment, include the late fee on the next invoice. Does an interest fee apply? Put it on the next invoice. Did you promise a discount? Include it.

The point is this: whether it positively or negatively impacts them, failure to follow through with what you said on your invoice creates integrity problems for you. If you owe them money via discount and don’t include it, they will think you’re trying to rip them off. If you state you have a late fee but don’t follow through, they’ll know they can use that against you later on when the time is right.

3.  Send Your Invoice to the Right Person

This one needs little explanation. It’s often the simple things we see that result in significant process delays. Sending the invoice to the wrong person is the fastest way to make sure it doesn’t get paid.  (And if you send it to the wrong person, and it doesn’t get paid on time, you can’t turn around and include a late fee on the next invoice, by the way.)

When you’re working with the person who’s ordering your services, make sure to ask one important question: what’s the contact information of the person who pays the bills? That includes the first and last name, invoice address (sometimes it’s different), email address, and phone number with a direct extension.

4. Clearly Communicate the Best Payment Method

When customers don’t know how to pay an invoice, delays are inevitable. Make sure your preferred method of payment is prominently displayed on the invoice. This draws a fine line. On the one hand, you want a payment method that puts money in your account the fastest. On the other hand, you also want a payment method that suits your customer best.

Along those lines, credit and debit cards work best for you. The money will hit your account faster with this method. But many, if not most companies still pay by check. That method is pretty standard for accounts payable processes. Talk to your client’s accounts payable department and discuss their payment options. In an ideal world, your standard method for accepting payments, and their standard method for paying invoices will align. When it’s not ideal, deciding to be the stick in the mud will raise a flag and ensure your invoice payment is delayed. Choose your battles wisely. Getting paid the way you want may not be one of those battles you want to fight.

In an ideal world, your standard method for accepting payments, and their standard method for paying invoices will align. When it’s not ideal, deciding to be the stick in the mud will raise a flag and ensure your invoice payment is delayed. Choose your battles wisely. Getting paid the way you want may not be one of those battles you want to fight.

Since credit and debit cards are a mainstay nowadays, be sure to indicate two important pieces of information: which cards you take and don’t take, and a link to go to the payment page. If you take checks, clearly indicate the address where you want the check to be mailed. E-checks are also an option these days. This allows your customer to pay you by check, but electronically with their routing number and account number. Often times this meets their standard policy while ensuring you get paid faster. Whichever method you Make it easy for them to know what to do

Do you take wire transfers or offer EFT? Again, be explicit and simple about how to use those methods. The point should be pretty clear: whichever methods you decide to take payment, make it easy for them to know what to do.

5. Create Recurring Payment Reminders

The last best practice perhaps the most important. The employees in the accounts payable department of your customers are human beings. That means they will make mistakes. Your invoice is not the only one they are processing. No doubt you feel that it should be. But it’s helpful to ask yourself one important question: how do I pay my own bills? The answers may vary. But the premise is the same. You sort them by when they’re due. Then you set a day(s) each week to review and pay the bills. Paying those bills are, of course, just one of several financial activities you do in your household.

Paying those bills are, of course, just one of several financial activities you do in your household. Sometimes you may forget to pay a bill. Things happen. And when they do, your electric, cable, water, natural gas, the internet, or car insurance vendors are happy to remind you that you’re late. Late notices get attention. They probably get yours, right? They will probably get your customer’s attention, also.

Late notices are one way to send a recurring payment reminder. Another way is to send a monthly statement on a specific day of the month. Doing it this way adds another important layer to your accounts receivable, but in a way that standardizes your approach with all your customers.

Alternatively, you can take a more personal approach. For example, consider setting a recurring reminder to spend a few moments once a week to send a personal email note to each late customer. This approach allows you to keep a personal touch. In turn, your customers view you more as a human rather than an account number that needs to be managed.

Similarly, you can send a Thank You card to both your customer contact and the key contact who pays the bills. This can have a double-edged effect, as your customer contact not only gets the point but also communicates directly to accounts payable to follow up. Again, this establishes you in their mind as a person instead of a piece of paper.

Conclusion

More often than not, the simple things are those that will cause problems. You are a small business, service-oriented business. You already know these things well. And no doubt, the simple details about the quality of your work are above average and make you stand out. This is how you are differentiating yourself in the marketplace right now. It’s why you are still in business!

However, you are also so busy doing the work of your business that you want to refocus on the business your work produces. Sending invoices in a timely fashion, and making common sense steps to ensure timely payment and collection are keys to healthy cash flow. Don’t lose sight of these important details as well. Quality matters just as much in making sure you get paid as it does in doing the work that will ultimately pay you.

The foundation underneath any healthy cash flow is an easy-to-manage workflow. That means creating the process and steps necessary to make sure nothing is left out. It also means figuring out how much you are willing to manage manually and automatically. Aculign offers a full spectrum of help with a variety of service-sizes to fit your budget and need.

  • X-Small: Attend the next public workshop on the subject for a nominal fee.
  • Small: Request some dedicated time to help you design your accounts receivable and collections workflow.
  • Medium: Talk to us about accountability coaching. We can help you stay on track until you feel comfortable on your own.
  • Large: Meet with a team member to do some full-scale vendor discovery for outsourcing.
  • X-Large: Connect your accounting department with an Aculign team to work together on a full-scale revamp.

No matter what you need when it comes to getting paid faster, we are ready to help.

4 Important Questions to Ask Your Software Vendor

4 Questions to ask your small business software automation vendor

Is Software Automation not automating the way you want or hope? Did you think that they would make your workflow more efficient?

Are you finding out that it’s not working out quite as efficiently as you’d hoped?

Here’s the hope we all have concerning the software we buy: that it will “automagically” make us be able to do our work better and faster.

Here’s the stark reality we all discover after we’ve bought the software: we feel like we aren’t working that much faster or better.

Why does it work out this way? There are two reasons.

First, a software platform generally has a ton of features and capabilities. This means we just need to learn it. That takes time. Sometimes we don’t feel like we have enough time. So we tell ourselves that we’ll just have to make do, get by with what we know, and figure it out later.

Meanwhile, we experience anxiety and stress about how long stuff takes to do, even with our software. But we stuff it away and press on with work. Deep down it builds up. Then we get irritated with the software we bought. Then we get angry. Then we shop for a new product. We get a little smarter next time around. But in reality, it’s merely a wash-rinse-repeat-cycle of the first experience.

In short, the software isn’t doing what we hoped it would do because we don’t know how to use it fully.

Second, software gets used by a ton of people who try to make it work for their processes. When it doesn’t, they email the vendor. The vendor reads the complaint and creates a new feature request. The new feature might be put on the roadmap for a future version. When it doesn’t, they email the vendor. The vendor reads the complaint and creates a new feature request. The new feature might be put on the roadmap for a future version.

But it might not be. Until then, you’re out-of-luck. This forces you to compensate with manual tasks and processes. Yet you bought the software product to eliminate this. So what do you do?

Depending on the critical nature of the thing you want your software to do, you might need a solutions engineer. What role do they fill?

Solution engineering is centered on three primary challenges:

  • The parts of my workflow that I can automate with the technology I currently have.
  • The parts of my workflow that I will have to manually configure.
  • Making #1 and #2 work together seamlessly for an efficient business process.

How can you tackle these three challenges with your software vendors? We recommend starting with four important questions to get you heading in the right direction.

Here are 4 questions you should ask every software automation vendor:

1. What part(s) of my workflow can my software product(s) automate today?

The first step assumes that you have diagrammed or charted your workflow. If you’ve never done that before, use our infographic tool to get started.

If you’ve already got this covered, head over to the support site for your product. Use the tutorials. Read the FAQs. Interact on the forums.

If you still can’t find what you want, it’s time to contact the vendor. Setup an appointment. Ask them for help. Send them a copy of your workflow diagram. Show them what you’re trying to accomplish. They may be able to suggest a way to use current functionality to get it done.

Whatever path you take, just make sure to take the time to actually do it. You’ll save yourself a ton of frustration in the long run.

2. What other software products can my current platform integrate with in order to automate my workflow?

If the vendor says that the thing you need isn’t offered in their product yet, it’s time to move on to the next hurdle. Ask the vendor if they integrate with other software products that can do the thing you need to do in order to automate your workflow.

Is the answer yes? Ask them to help you chart out the pathway to get the products integrated. Is the answer no? Move to question 3.

3. What features are on the platform’s roadmap that might address my needs in the next 3 months? 6 months? 12 months?

Next, ask the vendor if the thing you need is something that they are planning on building into their product. Remember one important thing before you get mad at their answer: there are a ton of people using the product and they have feature requests just like yours.

Deciding what to build into a software product is actually very tricky. The vendor knows that (a) there needs to be enough people asking for the same thing, and (b) there needs to be enough money in their bank account to pay developers to build it.

Is the thing you need the software product to do going to be released in the next 3, 6 or 12 months? If the answer is yes, then you’re in pretty good shape. All you need to do next is figure out how to limp along with manual processes while you wait on the new feature. If the answer is no, move on to the question 4.

4. How might I think about revising my workflow around the capabilities the current platform?

Ask this question next to your software vendor.  Put another way:

“How should I think about my workflow based on what your product can do for me right now?”

Or…

“If you were in my shoes, given the automation I need in my business right now, how would you do it with your product?”

Essentially, you’re being humble and realizing that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You’re going to have to compromise somewhere.

It’s a crapshoot as to whether your vendor has some quality business analysts or product owners on their team. If they do, you’re probably in luck. That person on their team will be able to listen to what you’re trying to accomplish, understand the business value behind what you need, and then help you get that done with their software. That will probably mean revising your workflow or business process.  Which is okay, really.  Because in the end, your process will probably be more efficient.  That will, in turn, free up the superpowers of the people who were hired to do awesome things.

Along the way it’s important not to panic. Too much, at least. Try what the vendor suggests. Give it a month. See if it works. You may be surprised. And you may, in fact, discover that the whole process so far has led you to something you never thought of before.  So what about the other stuff my software can’t do for me?  Keep scrolling.

 

What Do I Do Next?

When you have the answers to the above four questions, there are two tasks remaining:

First, analyze the leftover activities of your workflow. These will need to be configured manually. Maybe you’ll need an old-school, paper checklist. Maybe you need a sticky note. Maybe your calendar application can handle recurring tasks to remind you to do the things on the checklist. Perhaps there’s a spreadsheet solution. Then there’s checklist apps.  The bottom line is you’re pretty smart. You started a business, remember? You’ll figure it out.

Second, analyze how you will integrate the manual processes together with the automated ones. You’ve got automated tasks. And you’ve got manual tasks. They need to work together so that the whole workflow is reasonably efficient. It won’t be seamless, of course. Whatever the case, the workflow should be easy enough to train someone else to do so that you don’t have to babysit it. Take your time, though. Figure it carefully. Getting it right means getting it done faster and better.

What if I Need Help With This?

Some of this work can be tricky. Some of it is simple.  Other parts can be complex. And some people just don’t want to spend the time to work with the software vendors.  Regardless of your situation, you need to automate in order to be able to grow and remain stable.

Some business owners want to manage this stuff on their own. Others don’t want to spend their time or their employees’ time to make it work together.

Do you need help creating and documenting your workflow or process? Do you need somebody else to analyze and implement the most optimal solutions to automate your workflow? Let Aculign help. Schedule a free consult below and get started working on the workflow you’ve always dreamed of.

 

 

NonProfit Spotlight: Meet The Joy House

Looking for a GREAT charity to give/serve in 2018?

In this month’s nonprofit spotlight, we would like to introduce you to The Joy House. They are a PRIVATELY FUNDED, nonprofit organization which provides Christ-centered restorative care to teens, families, and individuals. They provide a residential program for teens who need help, provide counseling for families, and provide counseling for individuals.

I have come to LOVE The Joy House.  I have seen transformational stories which change generations! The work they are doing with their teen residential program and counseling center is contributing greatly to our community!

Teen Residential Program

The Joy House’s teen residential program is a program like no other in our community. They have a 3-part framework which helps restore the teen and family: Home Life, Education, and Counseling.

Here is a great short video about the Teen Residential Program at The Joy House:

Jessica’s story below is just one of many wonderful transformations that come from the good work at The Joy House.

The Counseling Center

The counseling center at The Joy House seeks to provide a faith-based option for anyone seeking guidance with life’s problems. They will serve anyone looking for help but focus in Georgia’s Cherokee County, Gilmer County, and Pickens County.

Check out this great video from Gary describing the Counseling Center:

Check out this wonderful story from Allie! Her experience with The Joy House’s Counseling Center transformed her life!

Why Donate?

Have you seen the testimonials above?!?! If that doesn’t help, here are two more reasons you should donate to The Joy House!:

  1. If you are looking to find a great nonprofit partner, The Joy House is a wise investment. Not only are they a debt-free operation, they are also a PRIVATELY FUNDED nonprofit. What does that mean? It means that they don’t get any money from the state or public institutions. They rely 100% on private donations from individuals, businesses and other organizations. Would you consider contributing to their operational fund? This helps The Joy House “keep the lights on.” If so, you can donate here.
  2. They have a HUGE demand for teen girls. They are trying to build another girls house. They NEED YOUR HELP to do that. Our teens are in trouble in Cherokee and Pickens Counties. The Joy House is making a difference but are having to turn families in need down because they simply don’t have space. Would you consider donating to their capital campaign to make this a reality? Their goal is to raise enough money to begin construction in August or September of 2018. If you want to donate to the capital campaign, please do so here!

Sharing is Caring!

We can’t do this alone! Please share this post, donate, and tell friends/family! We can do this together to help The Joy House!

 

Want to nominate an organization for our nonprofit spotlight?

We want to know about other GREAT nonprofit organizations who are making a difference in your community. Please tell us and nominate them to be in our next nonprofit spotlight by completing the form below if you on desktop OR click here if you are on mobile!

  • Your Information

    We would like your information in case we have any questions regarding your nomination. We would also like to inform you if we have decided to spotlight your nomination.
  • Date Format: MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • About your Nonprofit Nomination

    Please tell us about your nominated nonprofit organization.
  • Please tell us about the organization.

 

Do this ONE thing to GROW your Revenue in 2018!

Wondering how to Grow your Small Business in 2018?

Many business owners are energized by the beginning of the new year. Big Goals, new P&L, and big hopes and dreams. While goal setting is extremely important, many business owners forget and/or don’t understand one critical component:

Understanding your Customer!

Who buys your products and/or services? Your Customer! Who doesn’t buy your products and services? Your Customer! The reality is, your customer is out there searching for and assessing your products/services. The question is, how are you going to reach them and get them to buy. As consumers become more aware of marketing techniques and increasingly picky, your customers want more than just your product/service, they want to FEEL that YOUR product/service will resolve THEIR PROBLEMS. If you can connect the dots between how your brand is best positioned to solve their problems, you will see your revenues and brand awareness increase!

Companies focus on their products and services, BRANDS focus on their customers and solving their problems!

Want to win in 2018? Change from promoting products/services to promoting your ability to solve problems.

FOCUS

Just like in any relationship, it takes time to get to know them and what makes them tic (buy). It is critical to get laser-focused on figuring this out. That’s why we recommend you FOCUS this year to help grow your revenue. This is so critical that at the end of our Customer Value Proposition exercise, we find a picture that represents the customer, name, him or her, and then print out a picture, frame it and hang it on the wall in our client’s office. What does FOCUS mean?

Follow One Customer Until Success!

Some may say, “but I serve so many different customers, that is impossible.” We hear this argument all of the time. We agree with you but just from a different viewpoint. It is impossible to sell everyone on your product/service. Think about it, everyone doesn’t own an iPhone, do they? In fact, Apple does such a good job marketing to their target audience that others outside of their target market buy their phone.

When you FOCUS, plan for collateral impact!

When I was in the military, they use a term called “Collateral Damage” to describe any damage surrounding the desired target that was unintentionally damaged. In the marketing world, Aculign calls this Collateral Impact. Think about it.  Do other people buy an iPhone that is not within their ideal customer profile? Yes! For example, my father-in-law is a 65-year-old former farmer who spends most of his time fixing equipment and walking on his property. Apple didn’t market to him. They did market to me and my wife who attracted him to buy one. My Father-in-Law has been affected by Collateral Impact by speaking our language, not his. Now, I must admit that I now use a Google Pixel and love it much more than the iPhone.

Once you get your model right, expand and continue to differentiate!

Once you experience the power of FOCUS and have succeeded. EXPAND your product/service to help solve similar problems. Take that model as a starting point to drive value to a different product/service. This will help you continue to DIFFERENTIATE. And yes, we have an acronym for you to help you remember to EXPAND and DIFFERENTIATE. You guessed it! You must stay FOCUSED!

Follow One Customer Until Success, Expand and Differentiate!

Are you willing to FOCUS this year to grow your REVENUE?

We spend thousands of hours each year working with businesses to help them speak the language of their customers. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of our job is watching the “light bulbs” come on as they better understand their customer. Speaking their language is the most critical part of business growth. Companies don’t grow by just offering their products and services, they win by positioning their brand to solve their most pressing problems through their products and services. Want to get started? Here are 3 things you can do today to get started:

  1. Download our FREE Brand Catalyst Guide. All it will cost you is an e-mail. Yes, we do want your e-mail so we can send you other things that may help you!
  2. Schedule a 2-hour Customer Value Proposition Exercise with our professionals. You and your team will come to our conference room or online and meet with our team to walk you through our 7 part framework that will help you grow your revenue by getting ridiculously clear on WHO you are serving.
  3. Websites are critical to your brand message. We are offering a FREE website audit. Get your report today!

There is no better time to start than NOW. Regardless of where you are in your business journey, if you do not have a clear vision of your customer, doing so will certainly increase your revenue in 2018!