Contrast

Contrast

Did you ever wonder how so much expansion is going on during what is supposedly challenging economic times?

In this part of the world, in fact in this part of Canada, we are experiencing economic growth that is far less than we’ve enjoyed over the last decade. Government spending has been reduced provincially, and the federal government deficit has grown exponentially; we were teased with drastic changes to our federal business income tax structure; we’re paying higher levels of consumption tax; unemployment has grown; overall confidence has declined.

And yet, we continue to see businesses growing, we see new construction in housing, commercial, and industrial levels, consumers continue to buy new cars and take vacations. On Boxing Day, my thermometer read -32 Celsius but there was a line up outside the doors of the Visions Electronics store prior to their 6am opening. How tough can these times really be?

Notwithstanding the socio-economic challenges that our society faces (none of which I am trying to discount here), behavior would indicate that the “tough times” aren’t as tough as we’re being led to believe.

Contrast the difference between 2 businesses in the same industry: both make widgets, both have sales forces, both face the same challenges of staying relevant in the sleepy industry of widget production.

Company A wants to corner the market and pursues a mission of expansion that leans hard on the idea that “bigger is better,” and expecting it to lead to greater efficiency, sales, and profits. Company A increases debt and increases cash flow spending on capital assets, technology, and marketing to fuel its expansion aspirations.

Company B recognizes the truth in the adage “Innovate or die.” While the widget production industry is sleepy, Company B knows that the status quo is not sustainable. Five years ago, Company B developed a 5 year plan to position itself to be an innovator in widget production. It carefully managed margins and cash flow so as to create a “war chest” of resources.

Which company is building a new production facility in 2018? Which company is at risk of losing not only its market share, but its best people,  to its competitor? Which company will blame the tough economic times for the decline of its business?

The best businesses, and it doesn’t matter which industry they are in, the best businesses plan. They plan for cycles, growth, innovation, and the unforeseen (like the 4 D’s: death, divorce, disability, disagreement.) Businesses that do not plan leave themselves at the mercy of the market, the fickle nature of consumerism, or “tough economic times.”

Plan for Prosperity

Planning, in and of itself, does not guarantee prosperity. Even execution of the best plan does not guarantee prosperity. But in contrast to your competitors who do not plan, who make decisions based on short term perspective and emotion, or who are happy just floating along, there is a clear and obvious line separating the grain from the chaff.

Which side of that line do you want to be on?

Reflection

Reflection

We are now bombarded with headlines, columns, and blurbs about how this is the time to pause and look back over the last year. What went well? What didn’t? Blah, blah, blah…

If you’re not doing this throughout the year, not just now in late December, I have to ask, “Why the hell not?” Do you think a hockey team plays the entire game without checking the scoreboard and the clock regularly? They would be quite surprised to have the final buzzer go off only to find they were losing the game and didn’t make any adjustments that could have led to a win…

No, this column is not like the others that suggest you look back and give thanks. That is, however, good advice and a wonderful practice to follow.

This column suggests that you look for your reflection. It can be seen in places we don’t always look until much time has past, which often leads to difficulty making sufficient adjustments (Ref. the hockey team described above.) Here are a few places where you’ll see your reflection, if you look…

Your Children

As a young man, I was told regularly that I was very much like my dad, right down to the way I walked and talked. I took that as a compliment because I really looked up to my dad. As I matured as a man, I began to see some of his shortcomings and decided I didn’t want to be a mirror of him but a better version instead. I try to emulate his virtues and learn from his faults so that I can be the best dad I can for my two young daughters.

I see strong reflections of myself in my children, especially my oldest. She has perfectionist tendencies, wants to do right by everyone, and is incredibly well spoken for her age. All are qualities I’ve been told would aptly describe me as a toddler. Those might be her worst qualities because on the other end of the spectrum, she has the most beautiful soul: caring, generous, forgiving…I could go on and on. I’ve learned that perfection kills progress and am working on improving my perfectionist tendencies every day. Now I need to learn how to teach her what I’ve learned in this regard.

Your Business

As a solo-preneur, (that’s the phrase I’ve coined to describe me and everyone else who is a solo entrepreneur) I am my business; I am everything in it and for it, from creating and executing the marketing plan to opening the mail. If I’m not working my business, my business is idling in neutral.

In businesses with a team, be that team a family or arm’s-length employees, the team will be an indirect reflection of you as the leader. A motivated and conscientious team is a reflection of an appreciative and fair leader. An apathetic and truant team is a reflection of a harsh and impatient leader.

However, it matters not whether our business is a team or a solo, the drive towards success that is seen in our businesses is a direct reflection of us, the leaders. Our level of engagement in the moving towards our big picture, long term goals will correlate almost perfectly to the results we achieve. My engagement in my business has been challenged in the last half of 2017 as I dealt with a difficult personal issue, and the results show it.

Your Circle

People tend to gravitate to other people of their ilk. It’s natural. Is your circle of friends & contacts positive and optimistic, or negative and pessimistic? By surrounding ourselves with other just like us, we risk getting caught up in an echo chamber where our perspective is never challenged and will never change.

To Plan for Prosperity

Reflection is more apparent than we might think. Yet it is often difficult to recognize. And despite all this, typically the best tool to settle the challenges in business is a mirror.

 

**Credit Where Credit is Due
Last week we shared again that “Cash Isn’t King, It’s the ACE!” This was first heard from Phil Symchych of Symco & Co. management advisors symcoandco.com  and we didn’t provide proper citation or acknowledgement. For this, we apologize. Phil has been a great friend & advisor and we look forward to continued success.

 

Cash Growth and Misplaced Priorities

Cash, Growth, and Misplaced Priority

It’s been said many times by many pundits that “cash is king.” If you are a regular reader of my weekly commentary, you’ll know that I am not one who abides by that line of thinking because Cash Isn’t King. It’s the ACE!

However, GROWTH is King!

Growth is King and Cash is the Ace. What a tandem! It’s no wonder that in Texas Hold ‘Em poker, an Ace-King is known as “Big Slick.”

Recall that growth is not just about size and scale. Growth takes many forms; successful businesses “always grow, and grow all ways.”

The misplaced priority is when business pursues growth (expansion) at all costs, when it puts growth (expansion) above cash. I’ve seen businesses “grow” themselves to the brink of bankruptcy…

In an effort to spread out overhead costs, many businesses are driven to scale up. If rapid expansion is undertaken while in a weak financial position, the business has just been weakened further.

Cash is required to support any expansion plans. Expanding will not fix an insufficient cash position.

To Plan for Prosperity

Expansion plans must be carefully drawn up to ensure sufficient resources are available to support the goal. Expanding with insufficient resources, especially cash, can accelerate the decline of your business.

 

Top Shelf

Top Shelf

Top Shelf.

It’s a phrase best known for describing the highest quality wines, spirits, and liqueurs.  Those who produce such fine beverages are known to maintain unwavering quality in their attention to detail, ensuring that each bottle meets the highest standard for which they’ve become known. Connoisseurs know which brand is “top shelf” by its reputation.

Same can be said for restaurants. At a client reception, I witnessed great care from our service staff to ensure every order was correct, on time, and to their diner’s expectations (even better to be above those expectations.) The entertainment factor was brought into play during desserts when special coffees that donned towering flames were prepared right in front of us. Everyone had a wonderful time, and the tip showed our appreciation.

“Top Shelf” is synonymous with quality. This moniker can be applied to almost anything from cars to clothes to food or to service. We all aspire to enjoy something “top shelf” once in a while.

Of course, top shelf does not matter to all people all the time. Some things in life just need to be economical. Would you pay $5 for a can of “top shelf” soda pop from a boutique brand when you can drink Coke or Pepsi for under $2? It’s unlikely you’d get in line to pay premium rates on your electricity bill, and no one would choose to pay $15 per pound for bologna…”top shelf” or not.

The contrast is determining where we will settle for “economical” and where we desire “top shelf.” In the commodity business, and yes if you produce grains or livestock you are in the commodity business, it is easy to get into a pattern of “everything economical.” This is because you sell the commodities you produce at the lowest price the market is willing to pay that day…because it’s commodity! And so, that thinking permeates through your entire business driving you to search for the cheapest option: fuel, fertilizer, parts, insurance, repairs, professional services, etc. You’ll notice that equipment did not make that list; somehow equipment remains the anomaly that defies the theory of “everything economical.”

Would the management of your business be considered “Top Shelf”? If it was to be rated by experts and evaluated by professionals, how would you measure up? Are you okay with “everything economical”, or when it comes to your legacy, your family and your business, should “top shelf” be the minimum requirement?

To Plan for Prosperity

If you deserve “top shelf management” in your business then elevate your skills or seek it out externally. Relentlessly adhere to consistent “top shelf” quality in your management systems, information, and decisions. Recognize where in your business you should be “economical”…but (spoiler alert) it should not be in your management.

Like top shelf booze, you too can be known as a top shelf manager by reputation…if you develop the habit of “unwavering quality in attention to detail” just like those whose product is found on the top shelf.

FOUR HANDS MALE AND FEMALE TOAST WITH MUGS OF BEER

Milestones

This is the 150th consecutive Tuesday that I have written and shared this weekly Op-Ed piece. Thank you for reading it each week. I am humbled by the number of subscriptions you have provided.

Truth be told, I almost blew right by this milestone. There is another piece I had written that was ready to be sent. It was only when preparing to load it into the emailing program I use that number 150 came to light. This gives a good opportunity to pause and reflect.

In January 2015, I was starting from square zero by going fully independent in my business advisory practice. I left behind all of the clients and prospects I had at the time to start with a clean slate and a clear conscience.

Here’s some of what I’ve learned over the last 150 weeks.

  1. Right when you think you know something, someone comes along and blows that “knowledge” right out of the water. Hence, one of the mantras I live by: Learn, Unlearn, Relearn.
  2. Success is not defined by how big your investment portfolio is, or how large your business is. As Alan Weiss says, “There Is Always A Bigger Boat™ – stop living by other people’s standards!”
  3. The greatest limiting factor in our businesses is usually ourselves. Our businesses are limited by our vision, our fears, our aversion to the right risk, or our propensity for the wrong risk. Coincidentally, this also applies to our lives.
  4. Far too many businesses continue to make decisions with inaccurate or insufficient information at best… or with emotion & a hunch at worst.
  5. Going by behavior and attitudes, the shift from farming as a “lifestyle” to farming as a “business” still has a long way to go.

What is your milestone in business? How has your business changed over that time? What is the next milestone you see?

To Plan for Prosperity

The path is never clear, there are always obstacles that will cause you to make adjustments. It is safe to say that someone else’s path may not be best for you since it’s their path, not yours, and you’re not them. Choose your path carefully, but give yourself the freedom to choose another when necessary.

  1. Clarify your definition of success.
  2. Establish specific goals that will lead you to success.
  3. Set out tactics to achieve your goals.
  4. Prepare contingencies.
  5. Execute.

I’ve revisited that simple 5-step plan more than once in the last 150 weeks. I expect I’ll revisit it several times more over the next 150. I utilize my business advisor to help me with that process; I am walking my talk…”Do what you do best, and get help for the rest™!”

Cheers to Success!

 

CEO Labor

CEO Labor

When we put autosteer in the tractor, it was my dad who said, “This isn’t farming if you’re not driving the tractor!”

It was a frustrated colleague of mine who said, “When driving tractors is more important than running the business, we’re near the end…”

My friend, Dean Robinson, published a great piece recently on how common it is in family businesses for the owner, the boss, the CEO to “regress” from being the “entrepreneur” back to being the” technician.” While this is common in family business, it seems like an expectation in farming. What I’m getting at is that successfully running a business involves thinking and acting like a CEO, while it is assumed that running a farm means getting dirty and operating equipment with the rest of the guys and gals in the operation. We all say that “farming is a business” but actions don’t appear to support that. Here is Dean’s column in its entirety; put the words in your own context to gauge how they apply to you.

Dean Robinson header

Dean Robinson photo

EDITION 67 – WEDNESDAY 3RD MAY, 2017
______________________________________________________________
TECHNICIAN – MANAGER – ENTREPRENEUR – PART 2

In last week’s edition of Growth, we talked about the evolution from Technician to Manager to Entrepreneur and how many family business owners are regressing from Entrepreneur back to Technician.

Here’s a reminder of the five adverse effects for your family business of this regression

  1. The client exposes themselves to risk if you are doing too much of the work yourself.
  2. You are not growing if you are not communicating often enough at a higher level.
  3. You put financial pressure on the business every time you hop into the rollercoaster of chasing work, finding too much of it, doing all of it, then running out of work again.
  4. Your bank is exposed to risk if the business is too centred around you and your involvement.
  5. Your team don’t see you as a leader, so might take instructions from you, but not direction and inspiration.

The five reasons I have given you above are motivation enough to have family business owners stop and think about why you are dragging yourself back into the role of the technician. However, it is not the biggest.

The number one reason why you should not do this is that I hear too many family business owners expressing unhappiness as to how their day to day life in business is panning out. They are fed up with the constant phone calls, the poor performing staff, the rushed deadlines, the lack of time to do any form of business planning. Yet, they turn up to their business every day and do the same old thing.

Here’s my message:

Stop it! Stop it right now!

You cannot grow a business that is profitable, valuable and sustainable in the longer term if you, the Entrepreneur, are operating at the Technician level.

If you keep falling back into the Technician’s role, you should seriously stop thinking about growing your business and, instead, lower your expectations as to what you want out of life and how your family business can fund that. You should revert back to being a Man (or Woman) in a Van and have a limited customer base that you focus on.

Now, if lowering your expectations is not on the cards, you need to think about what you need to do to ensure you not only put yourself back in the Entrepreneur’s role, but engage the three point racing harness and stay there.

There is an important element to locking yourself into the role of the Entrepreneur. I am yet to see a family business owner that can do this alone. As a family business owner, you need someone alongside you who:

  1. Challenges you.
  2. Forces you to think differently.
  3. Encourages you when you make progress.
  4. Pulls you back on track when you deviate.
  5. Supports you in your journey.

As the owner of a family business, you have complete control over the direction of your family business. However, because you are at the top of the tree in your organisation, most people don’t question you, the decisions you make or the direction you take. Which is why at times, the direction is forward, at others it is round and round, and at others still, it is backwards.

Having someone from outside your business perform this role creates:

  1. Accountability.
  2. A sense of reporting to a higher authority.
  3. A measure of progress.
  4. A degree of perspective.

Do you have someone in your family business life that is working alongside you so that you stay in the role of the Entrepreneur?

 

This Week’s Tip

“If you as the Entrepreneur, keep regressing back into the Technician role, your life will only get much, much busier as your business grows. More work for the business means more work for you personally. Which means less time for yourself and your family. What’s your choice?”

 

ABN 77 613 885 859
PO BOX 533, CAMDEN NSW 2570
(02) 4654 5000 – 0409 207 969
DEAN@DEANROBINSON.COM.AU
DEANROBINSON.COM.AU

 

Copyright © 2017 Dean Robinson Group PTY LTD, All rights reserved.

 

To Plan for Prosperity

The risks that Dean highlighted in his column should provide adequate reason to pause and reflect. Operating at a technician level (as labor) does not afford the CEO adequate opportunity to develop and execute his or her vision. Short term decisions get made from a technician’s perspective which have long term effects that are not given sufficient consideration because the CEO’s chair remains vacant…because the CEO is running equipment and not the business.

Maybe if farm CEOs spent more time in the office and less time in equipment their equipment costs wouldn’t be so high…?

 

Strategy

Strategy

In the last two issues through prose, we’ve contrasted two differing approaches to managing growth opportunities in a farm operation. “Fictional Fred” shot from the hip, taking more of a “ready, fire, aim” approach to business. That style has a time and place, and even if it isn’t your core modus operandi, there may be situations where you need to act fast to take advantage of an opportunity before it’s gone. In most businesses, however, a gunslinger approach such as this does not make for a long term sustainable enterprise.

By contrast, “Imaginary Harry” ran his business with more precision. He understood that the best way to improve profitability in a commodity production business was to stringently manage all that he could control, recognizing that there is so much that cannot be controlled.

Fred wanted to get bigger, but he overlooked being better. Harry wanted to get bigger only if it made him better.
Harry has a defined strategy that he is acting on, and he is making more money because of it.
Fred’s strategy, if he even has one, is loosely put together, and like that of a sweater of similar description, would come apart completely at the first snag.

Define Your Strategy

A business operating without a strategy is eventually caught up in “the spin-cycle.” Like a clothes washing machine, around and ’round it goes: daily tasks and routines repeated each day, weekly repeated each week, monthly repeated each month, yearly repeated each year. As days, weeks, months, and years go by, without direction and strategy the time marches on and business results fail to meet expectations. Then who is to blame? Let the finger pointing begin!

If your strategy is to be the biggest, then declare it. Make it your success criteria.
If your strategy is to be the least indebted, then declare it. Make it your success criteria.
If your strategy is to continue the family legacy and take over the family business then declare it. Make is your success criteria.

To Plan for Prosperity

The point is not to tell you that your strategy is right or wrong; the point is to HAVE a strategy.
Having no strategy is like shooting targets with a shotgun: you’ll hit something, but it might not be what you wanted.

Fail to Plan

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

Fred* wants to expand his farm. He feels he’s getting left behind when he hears about each land acquisition made by some of his neighbors. It’s not like Fred hasn’t expanded his acres; he’s doubled up since 2005 when he farmed about 3,000. But he knows he can handle more. And by all accounts he needs to increase his acres to spread out his equipment costs; at least that what he hears at all the seminars and reads in all the farm publications. His banker keeps telling him that his costs are too high as well, but she wouldn’t give him a combine loan a couple years ago and the dealer’s financing program did, so what does she know…?

Drawing up plans to seed just over 6,000 acres this spring, Fred can’t let go of the notion that he needs to be at 10,000 acres. There are a couple of neighbors who’ve hinted that they might not put a crop in this spring, and if Fred could take on both, he’d be at 10,000 acres. That would feel pretty good driving through town letting everyone know he was now a 10,000 acre guy! Heck, he might even put it on the side of his truck like some companies do with their safety awards. They’re proud of their accomplishments and show them off, why not Fred?

As he goes over his crop plan, he starts wondering about where he’ll procure his inputs. If he maxes out the lines of credit at both input dealers in town, and the one at the bank, he’ll be able to get everything seeded, fertilized, and sprayed. “No problem,” Fred thinks to himself. He gets on the phone to get prices from each input supplier so he can decide what to buy from whom.

About a week into April, Fred gets the word he was hoping to hear: both neighbors who were considering retiring will not be seeding a crop this year and will be renting out their land. Fred immediately gets in the truck to pay his neighbors a visit to see if he can secure a rental agreement with each of them. To establish good-will and earn the opportunity, Fred offers each $5 per acre cash rent above what they were asking. They shake hands, and Fred excitedly heads home.

Upon sharing the news with his hired help, Fred is too excited about his “accomplishment” to recognize that his lead hand is not happy about what Fred is telling him: the seeding rig will have to run 24 hours since there isn’t time to buy another air-drill and get it field ready. Fred heads back to the house to update his crop plan and to secure more crop inputs.

Two days later, Fred’s world comes crashing down:

  • he is unable to get any more credit to acquire crop inputs for his additional rented land;
  • he has been denied a new cash advance because he was late paying back the old one;
  • he has lost his new rented land because he can’t get inputs and because the cheque he wrote to each landlord for upfront rent payment has bounced;
  • his lead hand just quit to go work for a neighbor who provides a “better work environment.”

To Plan for Prosperity

They key is in the heading title: PLAN

Fred doesn’t plan; he reacts. He is not able to expand his farm even though he thinks he is. He is not as financially strong as he thinks he is because he cannot get more credit when he needs it. He is now short on help to get seeded on his own current acres. Fred wants to be bigger, but he’s overlooked being better.

At risk of “over-flogging” this issue, Fred’s challenge has been lack of working capital. And it is that lack of working capital that has not only directly cost him an expansion opportunity, but indirectly cost him his lead hand.

It’s been said that “if you fail to plan, you’re actually planning to fail.” Fred has become the embodiment of those words. The ramifications of this story go farther than we have time to discuss.

You can avoid falling in with the likes of Fred by enacting control over your future: implement strategic growth using sufficient resources with discipline.


*Fred is a fictional character. The story portrayed above is fictional. Any similarity to a real person or situation is purely coincidental.

 

Complacency

Complacency

You may recall the anecdotal story of an old fisherman sitting on a pier casting and catching all morning. With each catch, he’d pull out a small ruler to measure it. Some fish he’d keep, while others got thrown back. Upon closer observation, we learn that the ruler is broken and only measures to 9 inches; on top of that, any fish that measures more than 9 inches is thrown back while the smaller fish are kept. When confronted, the fisherman admits that his frying pan is only 9 inches in diameter.

When I was farming, on a number of growing years we put up some huge yields, bigger than my dad ever grew. His feedback was, “It’s too much (crop). What are going to do with it? There isn’t enough bin space!”

In both stories, we see examples of where there is a lack of interest or intent to be better, bolder, etc. And if something did not fit the narrow view, it was discarded as being more work that it was worth. Yes, progress brings about new challenges that differ from those we are familiar, but the opposite (meaning status quo) will eventually lead your business into its death-spiral.

Complacency is an incredibly dangerous business condition. You can’t always see it coming. It may be contagious. Treatment is sometimes difficult if sufferers refuse to consider they may be affected. Complacency causes your business to stop growing. It creates an environment where too often heard around your farm are the 6 deadliest words in business: “We’ve always done it this way.”

To Plan for Prosperity

  1. Know what you do best, and keep striving to do it better and better.
  2. Acknowledge what you don’t do well and get professional help with it so that it doesn’t become your Achilles heel.
  3. Recognize that GROWTH is not just size and scale. Seek out multiple ways to grow.

“Do what you do best, and get help for the rest™” is one of the cornerstones of my advisory work with clients. Complacency can be dealt with quickly with the right help, positive results can be had, and the “habit” can be broken.

Focus

Results Focused or Activity Focused

Most farms will be receiving their year end financial statements from their accountants by now, if not already. Those with fiscal year ends of January 31 or later might still be waiting for their year end to be finalized.

How did your last fiscal year turn out? What were your financial results? If you are results focused, you’ll be paying attention to metrics like:

  • Net Profit
  • EBITDA
  • Gross Margin
  • Return on Equity

Activity focused operations typically don’t review financial reporting, instead directing energy towards:

  • Greasing
  • Shoveling
  • Driving
  • Anything else…

To Plan for Prosperity

There are some who will say that “money and profit aren’t everything.” Don’t listen to them. They aren’t focused on results. Yes, health and family are more important than money because money cannot buy health or a happy family, BUT without profit no one will be happy.

Profit is the fuel for your business. And like the diesel in your tractor, if you’re not making sure you have enough, things are going to stall.