Wrapping Up 2020

Year-end is the perfect time to reflect on accomplishments achieved since January. It’s also an important time to put things into perspective as we turn the page and start a new year.

What We Learned

With so much change in 2020, the opportunities to learn have been abundant. Take a moment and contemplate the following:

  • What new skills did you learn this year that you have put to work in your business?
  • What topics did you become wiser about?
  • What situations have you learned to master?

Goals Met

If you set goals for 2020, which ones did you achieve?  Because it was a volatile year, you may have achieved a lot of things that were not planned.  Or you may have simply maintained status quo, which is an amazing accomplishment in its own right in 2020. Give yourself credit for all of that as well.

As we transition to 2021, set new goals to be achieved in your business and record the list so you can look back periodically to monitor your progress.

Gaining Perspective

The circumstances of the pandemic present a constant challenge to keep things in perspective.  Our emotions are exacerbated when we feel threatened, whether it’s about our health or our freedom. This creates the polarization we’ve seen in the news and current events.

Gain perspective by asking yourself these questions:

  • What kind of business person do I want to be in 2021?
  • How do I see my business in five years?
  • What can my business contribute to its customers, employees, and other stakeholders?

Reflect, plan, and gain perspective as we usher in 2021. And have a Happy New Year!

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The Power of Listening

Now, more than ever before, the act of listening is important. Not only is it important to listen to someone, but to effectively listen to them. Sure, we all know that in order to understand individuals, to connect with them and understand their wants and needs, we need to be alert, focused, and mindful. After all, the power of listening—effective listening—will help you get more information from clients, increase their trust and commitment in you, and reduce conflict and misunderstanding.

Below, we’ve included more information on the power of listening, and tips on how to be a better listener.

What It Means To Listen

We don’t need to give you a textbook definition of listening; you already know what it means. However, it is necessary to point out that the act of listening and actually comprehending what a person is saying can lead to strong, healthy, and thriving relationships—all very important qualities in any type of relationships, specifically a business one.

If you don’t believe us, think about the last time you were having a conversation with someone and felt as if you weren’t being heard. How did that make you feel? How did that affect the relationship? Did it make you feel valued?

According to Dr. Carl Rogers, a psychologist, active listening is a specific communication skill. Giving free and undivided attention to a speaker through active listening is the most effective way to achieve individual change and group development.

Isn’t that the ultimate goal? Whether the relationship is professional or personal, don’t you want to establish a solid, mutual ground of respect? It’s the only way for both parties to succeed.

If your listening skills are in need of a little tune up, don’t worry—we’ve got you covered! We’ve put together a list of different ways to help you become a better listener.

Tips On Becoming A Better Listener

If you truly want to become a better listener, then consider implementing these tips into your daily life.

Understand The Benefits

First, it’s imperative to understand that listening to someone is beneficial to both the person doing the talking and you. Nothing bad or negative comes from listening to another person speak, but the complete opposite. Remember, if you thoroughly listen to an individual, it’s more likely that same individual will listen to you when it becomes your turn to speak. The partnership the two of you are hoping to grow can only be successful with mutual listening.

Make Eye Contact

Next, when someone is speaking to you, always make eye contact. This tactic not only shows respect, but it will also help you focus on the other person’s words, what he or she is saying and how they feel.

No Distractions

When sharing a conversation with someone, make sure there are no distractions. Obviously, this means you need to put down your phone and give the speaker your full attention. Don’t worry about what’s going on around you; don’t think about your next meeting or what you plan to have for lunch. Listen, engage, and show the person talking that you care.

Ask Questions

One of the best ways to show the speaker that you are really listening to them, is to ask them questions. Make sure you fully understand what they’re saying by verifying their wants, needs, and/or concerns with specific questions.

Remember, nothing bad comes from listening—only good. The next time someone is speaking, consider opening up your eyes, ears, and mind just a little bit more. In doing so, you will gain the full benefits of the power of listening.

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The Personal Financial Satisfaction Index (PFSi)

How happy are you with your financial situation right now?  In other words, do you feel personal financial pleasure or pain when it comes to your financial standing?

That is what the Personal Financial Satisfaction Index strives to measure for the typical American.

The PFSi is a quarterly economic indicator created by the American Institute of CPAs. This specific economic indicator weighs a variety of economic factors to calculate the financial standing of a typical American. These financial standings are only computed at a high level.

The main agenda of the PFSi is to calculate the difference between two component subindexes: the Personal Financial Pleasure Index and the Personal Financial Pain Index.  These two subindexes are each created of four, equally weighted proprietary and public factors, which ultimately measure the growth of assets and opportunities in the case of the Pleasure Index, as well as the erosion of assets and opportunities in the case of the Pain Index.

In other words, positive scores of the PFSi indicate that Americans are feeling personal financial pleasure. Negative scores, obviously, indicate that Americans are feeling personal financial pain. It might sound like a subjective emotional measure, but it’s not at all; it’s based on government statistics as well as proprietary AICPA data.

The PFSi has been mostly increasing from the third quarter of 2011 to the fourth quarter of 2019. Since then it has dropped dramatically. With the current pandemic still in place, unemployment and other economic factors have contributed to the drop in the index.  You can use the score as a measure against your own financial security and for planning purposes.

Read more about the index here: https://www.aicpa.org/interestareas/personalfinancialplanning/community/pfsi.html

Or reach out to us and we’ll be happy to answer any questions.

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Being Grateful in a Less-Than-Awesome Year

It goes without saying that 2020 has been quite the year—and it’s not even over yet! Of course, any one of us could easily come up with a long list of things to be ungrateful for, a negative list of every bad occurrence that has taken place since March due to the Coronavirus pandemic. In a sense, being sad or negative or depressed is simple. Being grateful is what’s really difficult, but we want to help you achieve the feat.

Below, we’ve put together different techniques to help you see that there are many things to be grateful for, both in our business and personal lives. This is a great time of year – just before the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving – to stop and practice gratitude.

What Are You Grateful For?

The act of being grateful can lead to experiencing positive emotions. As a matter of fact, if you are experiencing negative emotions and don’t want to, the fastest way to “reset” your physiology is to start thinking of things you are grateful for.

Here are some ideas to help get you started:

Your Health 

Are you healthy? Are you able to see, to smell, to breathe, to walk? Health comes in many various forms; the idea of being healthy can mean something entirely different to two people. Consider what being healthy means to you, and then, if you do think you have your health, try and be grateful for it.

One good thing about the pandemic is that most people are eating more healthful meals and less fast food, and they are feeling better with more energy.  People are also watching their weight and even losing excess pounds, especially after some of the initial reports that overweight people were having a harder time fighting Covid-19 than slimmer people.

Friends and Family

Are you surrounded by loved ones? Now, more than ever before, it’s important to be grateful for people who are in your life. You may be facing hardships but think how much more difficult times would be if you were dealing with them by yourself. Be grateful for having someone in your life that you can lean on.

Work and Business

So many people have lost their jobs, their income, their sense of security. If you still have work or your business to keep you busy, focused, and earning a steady paycheck, be grateful. It’s a wonderful exercise to express your gratitude to your clients or boss by writing them a thank you note or leaving them a review on Google My Business, Yelp, their Facebook business page, or their LinkedIn profile as a recommendation.

Similarly, it’s the perfect time of year to ask your clients or boss to leave you a review on one of these digital assets.

Never Stop Being Grateful

Of course, there are plenty of other things to be grateful for in this world; everyone’s list will look different. Perhaps you’re grateful for a pet or something you’ve achieved. Maybe the fact that you have a special skillset or the ability to be patient and understanding during trying times gives you reason to smile.

That’s the thing about being grateful: there is nothing too big or too small to be grateful for; no right or wrong answer. And while it may feel more difficult this year compared to others, you can always find something when you look hard enough.

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The Importance of Customer Communication

Regardless of the type of relationship—personal, professional, or even acquaintance—communication is key. Specifically, if you want to have a healthy relationship with any individual, then it’s important to communicate clearly and fully.

Communication is particularly necessary when it comes to customers and building a successful business. It’s even more important this year since many businesses have gone through so many changes. We’ve put together this article to not only detail the importance of customer communication, but also to provide some tips to help you achieve better customer communication.

Are You Communicating Properly?

Effective communication helps to ensure your product or service meets the customer’s needs and satisfaction. By meeting these needs and satisfaction, you are (hopefully) guaranteeing repeat business. Start by figuring out what your customers are thinking and what questions they might have about your business.

Congratulate yourself if you’ve sent emails or posted notices on your website that answer the following questions:

  1. Have your hours changed?
  2. Has your location changed?
  3. Can you handle drop-in service?
    1. If so, is there a protocol? For example, do customers call a number when they get to your locked door? Will you be taking their temperature? Is a mask required?
  4. Is your business by appointment only?
    1. Then, how do customers make an appointment?
    2. Do you require a covid-19 test before an appointment can be made?
  5. Are there special accommodations for at-risk groups?
  6. Has your contact information changed? With people working at home, phone numbers may have changed.
  7. Have your services changed?
  8. Do you deliver?
  9. Do you offer curbside pick-up?

If any of this hasn’t been clear in the last year, it could be part of a reason why business dropped off.  To get it back, communicate, communicate, communicate!

And this is just pandemic-related. You may have launched new products or services, changed prices, added staff, and implemented many more actions that customers should know about.

Tips on Effective Communicating

Here are some foundational reminders about communicating in business.

Connection

Communication starts with a connection. In order to give the customer what they want, you have to connect with them. If you are able to connect on a personal level, even better. Regardless, you need to convey to the customers that they—as well as their wants and needs—are important.

Listen

Listen to your customer—and listen well. Depending on the customer’s communication, you may have to ask very specific questions in order to get them to reveal what they want or need. However, intently listening to your customers will allow you to form a better relationship with them.

Not only that, but you can get some great ideas for how to improve or create new products and services so that you fulfill even more of your customers’ wants and needs.

Understand

Now that you’re connecting and listening to you customer, make sure you understand them. If you don’t understand what they’re saying, ask them to clarify. This isn’t a guessing game, but a two-sided relationship. In order to give the customer what they want or need, you have to understand what it is they are asking for.

Transparency

Be completely transparent with your customer. You cannot earn a customer’s trust or loyalty—or repeat business—if you aren’t one hundred percent honest with them. Tell the customer exactly what you are able to do for them; don’t promise something you can’t deliver.

Deliver

Make sure you can—and do—deliver exactly what your customer is expecting from you. If you promise to deliver something, whether it’s a service, product, or result, then you need to keep your word. In doing so, you will be laying the brickwork for a successful, long-term relationship.

Communication is one of—if not—the most important skill to have when it comes to pleasing your customers. After all, happy customers will come back.

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The 13-Week Cash Flow Forecast

One of the best tools to forecast cash requirements is the 13-week cash flow forecast. It can help a business owner predict what their cash balance will be 13 weeks in the future. It helps to answer whether there will be enough cash to cover payroll and bills for a particular week. If you’re having significant ups and downs in your cash balance, it’s the perfect tool to help gain clarity around your cash needs.

Thirteen weeks may sound like an odd length to select, but it’s the length of a calendar quarter. This is the length of a financial projection that is typically used when a business is in financial distress; however, it’s also useful when a company is going through some ups and downs or simply wants to get a better handle on its cash requirements.

The forecast computations start with entering cash receipts and cash disbursements into a spreadsheet. Start with actual spending and receipts for the first week, then use estimates for the remaining weeks. Include planned expenditures such as overhead, payroll, and loan payments. Add in inventory purchases. Project your receipts based on history or recent changes in your business.

Once you’ve completed your forecast, you can make changes and do what-if scenario planning.  For example, if the forecast shows that you will run out of cash in week seven, you have some time to decide what you need to do to remedy the shortfall. Options might be:

  • Accelerate the collection of 30 percent of your receivables.
  • Dip into your line of credit to cover a portion the shortfall.
  • Furlough 10 percent of your workers.

Plug your selected scenario into the forecast to see how much that relieves your shortfall.

The benefits of creating a 13-week cash flow forecast are many. You can see what actions need to be taken and when to take them well ahead of time. You can also see how much of an action you need to take. For example, instead of furloughing 50 percent of your staff, you may only need to furlough 25 percent.  Or instead of borrowing $50,000, you might only need $20,000.

The cash flow forecast can also save time when developing your annual budget. Budgets are especially useful when business conditions are volatile or when business owners need all the clarity they can get.

Try your hand creating a 13-week cash flow forecast for your business, or reach out to us for help any time.

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Building a Continuity Plan for Your Business

At the beginning of 2020, you might have thought that developing a business continuity plan was not a top priority. Or maybe you thought it was only for large businesses. Fast forward to today, and a business continuity plan has become an essential staple in business planning.

There are more business risks than ever before to consider that can affect business continuity. Businesses are being shuttered, reopened and shuttered again from the pandemic, fires, hurricanes and damage from riots, just to mention a few of the more common issues in this unusual year.

The biggest benefit of a business continuity plan is the process of developing it. It helps you think through the steps you should take if a business interruption occurs. If you have a disaster recovery plan – or even a few steps jotted down of what you’d do – then you have already started a portion of the process.

Here are some of the major pieces of a business continuity plan to consider developing for your business.

Roles and Responsibilities

In this section, all of the business stakeholders should be identified and listed. On a high level, questions like these should be answered:

  • What is each person’s role within the company, and how would that change if the business is interrupted?
  • What new skillsets should be acquired in the case of a disruption?

Potential Impacts to Your Business

This part of the continuity plan lists major scenarios where something could go wrong with your business.  It should include things like weather events, fire, riots, theft, leadership interruptions, cash flow shortages, and the long-term impact of the pandemic. For each event, an analysis should be made as to how it will affect the business and what possible outcomes could occur. This part is also called a Business Impact Analysis.

Recovery Strategies

Once you’ve identified impacts, the next set of questions covers how to most effectively recover from them.  These remedies might include seeking additional financing, selecting backup locations, checking IT department functionality, creating alternate supply chain and distribution sources, and identifying many more actions along these lines.

As we’ve seen this year, this is just as important to think through for small businesses as it is large businesses.

When owners and employees are not in the middle of an actual disaster, they can better map out a recovery strategy that’s optimal and cost-effective for the business.

Implementation

A good plan should be implemented through distribution, testing, and training. All stakeholders should read and understand the contents of the business continuity plan. The plan should be tested in drills and exercises when possible. Employees should be trained so they know their part and feel comfortable carrying it out while under high stress.

The long-term viability of your business is important, and it can be strengthened when you put a business continuity plan in place.  If we can help, feel free to reach out any time.

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Cool Tech Tools: Easy Ways to Create Video Graphics

Video creation has gotten so easy that just about anyone can do it. You no longer need professionals. You don’t even need video editing software with the long learning curve and high price tag. All you need is an app and your imagination.

There are many reasons to create a video:

  • Web pages that include video rank higher than those that don’t have video.
  • People love to watch video; it’s more interesting than text.
  • Video is often the best way to educate people.
  • Your message comes more alive when you use more senses: sight and sound

The first step is to figure out what you want to say.  Here are a number of video topic ideas for your business:

  • A customer service tip
  • Your company mission, vision, and values
  • Your company’s origin story
  • Why you’re in business
  • A product, event, or service promotion
  • A sale
  • An employee spotlight
  • A customer spotlight
  • A how-to
  • A deadline reminder
  • A new product or service announcement

The next thing you need is a rough script of what you want the video to say, as well as graphics you can use to illustrate your points.

The final thing you need is a video creation app. Animoto is a great example of an easy-to-use video creation app.  Just open your browser and go to https://animoto.com/.  There are free and paid plans to choose from.

With most video creation apps, you have hundreds of templates that can get your started fast.  Choose the template that is closest to the type of message you want to start with.  You can easily replace your text, graphics, and sound with your own items, or ones that the software provides.

Options besides Animoto include Adobe Spark, Magisto, and several others.

Don’t be afraid to try your hand at video creation.  It’s an easy way to impress your customers.

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What to Do When an Employee Is Terminated

Every company should have a strict process to follow when an employee leaves the company, no matter what type of termination it is – voluntary or involuntary. Here’s a checklist you can use to compare to your own process so that you can either confirm you’re on the right track or add some ideas to improve your current methods.

1. Collect the resignation letter.

While so many things are remote these days, you MUST get the employee’s resignation letter in writing and signed by them.  If they don’t supply one, create a form they can sign that includes the reason for termination.

If you initiated the termination, have the employee sign the notice of dismissal.

This is not only important for general human relations records, it’s also important this year for any Paycheck Protection Program forgiveness documentation if the employee turned down a hire-back request. There may also be a requirement to submit the paperwork to your state’s unemployment office.

2. Handle legal and benefits issues. 

  1. Collect any company advances owed by the employee.
  2. Ask the employee if they have any final expense reports to file.
  3. Remind the employee that certain legal requirements, such as confidentiality clauses and noncompete agreements must be upheld after employment.
  4. Review insurance options such as COBRA.
  5. Let the employee know how to access their 401(k) and other benefit plans.

3. Update the payroll system and cut the final paycheck.

Compute PTO and vacation balances due the employee.  Calculate severance pay. Cut the final paycheck, incorporating those items.

Review the paycheck amounts with the employee, and ask them for a forwarding address.

4. Collect company property.

The employee should turn over their computer equipment, including laptops, monitors, mice, keyboards, PCs, Macs, phones, beepers, printers, drives, and scanners. Don’t forget to ask for keys, business cards, name badges, security badges, gate and garage door openers, uniforms, and tools. Oh, and company cars or trucks.

5. Revoke computer access. 

Any user accounts held in the employee’s name should be revoked. Many passwords may need to be changed.  Their email address should either be forwarded to someone else who can answer the emails, updated with an autoresponder, or revoked altogether.

Voice mail and their phone extension should also be re-routed.  Take the employee’s name off of any internal distribution list and remove them from the About page of your website.

6. Hold an exit interview.

The business owner should hold an exit interview with the employee if they are leaving voluntarily.  Ask questions such as these:

  1. Why did you decide to start searching for a new job?
  2. Was there anything we could have done to keep you employed here?
  3. If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
  4. Could you describe your relationship with your direct supervisor?
  5. Would you consider working here again?

7. Communicate this change to your staff and customers. 

Let your staff know immediately after the employee leaves that they will not be coming back. Don’t go into detail about the termination; that information is private.

If the employee was involuntarily terminated, assure your staff that their jobs are safe (if they are) so they don’t ruminate or spread false rumors.

If the employee worked with customers, each customer should be notified and given the name of the new staff member that will be handling their issues.

Follow these steps to protect your company when an employee is terminated.

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Six Fun Ideas to Bring into Your Marketing

The purpose of marketing is, in part, about creating relationships with customers and prospects. While traditional advertising is a standard way of letting prospects know more about you, it’s not always the most creative way to connect.

To spice up your marketing, let’s explore six unusual ways to connect with customers.

1. Celebrate an obscure or fun holiday.

For example, August 27 is National Just Because Day.  It’s a day to do random things, which can be pretty easily tied to whatever your service or product is.

You can do something as small as send an email or as big as hosting a live event on the holiday you choose.

2. Feature a customer or staff member.

A great way for customers to get to know your team and for your team to get to know your customers is to feature them in a short writeup that you post or send out.

Make this fun by sharing things like favorite ice cream, activity they would love to do, country they want to visit most, most fun responsibility they have at work, favorite purchase from you, and more.

3. Highlight community work.

Does your organization have a favorite charity?  If so, share experiences with your customers.  Many customers value and prefer to support businesses that make community contributions.

Go as far as holding a volunteer day or do as little as a writeup for donations in your newsletter.

4. Take a survey.

When is the last time you’ve been asked a “deep” question?  Send a survey that asks your colleagues and customers a question like what inspires them.  Then share the results, with their permission, of course.

This type of activity can lead to meaningful conversations and a deeper connection with your customers.  It may also provide great insight into how you can connect with what’s important to your clients.

5. Provide a gift guide.

Is it close to Christmas or another holiday where gifts are exchanged?  If so, your customer might benefit from a gift guide you can put together.

You don’t have to own a retail store to benefit from this idea.  Service organizations can provide gift certificate and other ideas in their gift guides.  And you don’t always have to list only your own items. Add your customers’ and suppliers’ items and make it one big “business family” affair.

6. Tell people a story.

Do you remember your first sale?  Write a story about your first sale, the first day you opened your new location, your first hire, or another fun business milestone.

People love hearing stories about how others got started.  Don’t be so private that you miss out on this wonderful way to connect with clients.

Try these six fresh marketing ideas to create a meaningful connection with your customers and prospects, and watch your relationships blossom.

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