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Reflections

Hold up our mirror to your business, as we share fresh Bank Your Moment® insights

Avoid knee jerk decisions that could hurt your company valuation

It’s clear that COVID is causing not just frustration, but exhaustion for many business owners. On top of this, owners are worried about what the upcoming Presidential election might mean for personal and business taxes. It’s causing a tipping point for some owners that are thinking enough might be enough and perhaps it’s time to think about exiting the business to someone else’s stewardship. This is great if your business is prepared to command the premium valuation you’ve dreamed of. But if not, this is not the time for short term, knee jerk actions.

If this is you or someone you know, here are a few tips that will hopefully help to maintain a rational mindset and avoid doing anything that could cause regret. There has been too much hard work to get the business to where it is today, don’t let COVID allow knee jerk decisions. A few thoughts:

  • Revisit what your long-term plan has been for your business and what you wanted it to mean at time of exit to you and your family financially. Reminding yourself of the initial dream and plan you had for your business might invigorate you to hang in longer and muscle through or at least get you to avoid any hasty actions or decisions without giving deep thought to new expectations from an exit.
  • Perhaps the exhaustion is being caused by all the defense you’re having to play during COVID. Could there be some degree, even if minor, of playing some offense and this might help to reinvigorate even the slightest spark in you to keep your head productively in the game at least until COVID passes and your business returns to some better days.
  • Get away for a few days and take some time to recharge a battery or two. For some owners, this could also help further develop key members of the team that should be able to operate more autonomously without owner involvement.
  • Think about your employees and remember that short term, knee jerk decisions right now might not only cause regret for yourself but could have negative impact on your team if the exit process doesn’t result in a positive outcome.
  • Leverage an advisor or a member of your Board to help keep you focused on protecting and even trying to build the worth of your company. Having this outside coach and cheer leader can help keep you rational and focused on your bigger picture plan that you’ve been working towards.

Bottom line is this….you’ve worked hard for years to build what you have. Don’t start making knee jerk decisions about your business that could harm valuation and cause regret later. Find a way to keep focused on what has been your desired end game!

Leveraging emerging technologies to create new value

We hear the phrase Digital Transformation quite frequently these days but few small to mid sized business owners and their executive teams truly know what this is. And not understanding it could be causing a future risk to your company value.

An easy way to think about Digital Transformation is it’s your company opportunity to leverage one or more evolving technologies to transform positive change in your business.  We live in an era with multiple technologies evolving and converging such as advancements in 3D printing, Artificial Intelligence, Virtual or Augmented Reality and the list goes on. What these all have in common is they individually or in some cases collectively are enabling business owners to transform their companies in ways that are building new value.

But the uncertainty for many owners goes beyond what Digital Transformation means. It then extends to understanding how to leverage these emerging technologies for the betterment of your business. I encourage business owners and CEO’s not to get lost or scared off by the technologies themselves but to first think about what their business strategic need is. Is the strategic need of your business to drive more revenue, or is the need for a more efficient and effective model for producing your products or delivering your services or might it be that you need to create a better customer experience? Digital transformation starts by first answering this question. Once you answer this, then you can move to learning which evolving technologies can serve as the enabler to your business need. Don’t think of technologies as your end game…your end game is the strategic need your business has. Then look to leverage technologies as the enabler to that end game and this then becomes the digital transformation for your business.

For many business owners, they realize their teams don’t have the experience to navigate a digital transformation. Get some external help from a trusted advisor that can guide you through navigating your digital transformation. Doing so can help your business avoid being disrupted and possibly find ways your business could be a disrupter in the market. Digital transformation could accelerate your pathway to building the value of your business in the eyes of your future acquirer. And as always, if you want to get on a phone call and get our insights to help take away your uncertainty, just let us know.

Generate new team thinking by looking at your time/cost consuming work streams

As we continue to navigate Corona-geddon, many company owners and CEO’s still have great uncertainty around what inning of this bad baseball game we’re in.  This uncertainty for many businesses means the leadership team must continue to look for how to effectively manage their costs to ensure they can maintain positive cash flow.

What I’m hearing from owners and CEO’s is that most are confident in the cost adjustments they’ve made up to this point to support the downturn in revenues. But what’s also clear is many of the cost cutting is tactical. What I mean by this is it’s reducing the cost of materials and supplies by reducing the volumes being purchased or reducing direct labor costs by eliminating overtime or even reducing headcount. And then of course there is lower travel and entertainment expenses or deferring R&D or capex investments or even deferring facility maintenance expense. All great actions to take but very tactical because none change the fundamental way the company conducts its business for the longer term.

The question I’m encouraging owners and CEO’s to be asking is what business transformational changes are being considered that could change how you conduct your business to not only find further cost reduction opportunities but also better ways to create a stronger customer experience for the future. The tactical cost cutting is great but it’s not really helping you build long term value or worth in your business.

Transformational change can mean many things but one definition is looking at key work streams in your business to see where there is need/opportunity for strategic changes to how you conduct these aspects of your business. Are your big costs incurred on the front end of your business in selling your product/service or are they on the back end in terms of how you process and deliver your product/service? Where can you identify these large cost centers and revisit how you perform them?  Many of your company work streams were probably designed many years ago and may no longer be efficient for you or your customers.

To rethink your business work streams and related costs, identify what these key work streams are in the front and back end of your business. Take each of these work streams and flow chart the process and identify with each step in that process the total labor hours needed to deliver on that work stream. Looking at each step and the number of labor hours required to achieve may help you see areas that highlight inefficiencies. You might be surprised when you look at various work streams to see the number of labor hours your company is spending money on.

Anytime with my businesses that we looked for more than just tactical cost improvements, we looked for transformational ideas and found them in looking at work streams. Don’t let a competitor expose an inefficiency, find it yourself by thinking about transformational changes to your business. Looking at work streams and related labor hours never failed to help my teams find new ways to create new value or worth in our business.

Doing so can help build and protect company valuation.

July and August are busy times for members of company boards. Q2 and H1 are over and it’s time to look in the rearview mirror and more so look out the front windshield.

As a business owner or CEO, now is the time to challenge your advisors/board to challenge you with great questions. Especially given Corona-geddon you don’t want the usual questions, you want challenging new ones that help facilitate healthy new dialog…dialog that can help you protect and build company value, or company worth as we like to call it.

Here are some questions you and your advisors/board should be discussing now:

  • Have we managed our cash position well and if not, what lessons learned and what changes should we make for H2 given the pandemic is still ongoing?
  • Have we done sufficient cost cutting if our business has been negatively impacted…and just as important, are we addressing our fixed costs and our variable costs? Some businesses are only doing the easy cost cutting associated with variable costs, not doing the tough cost cutting measures that hit fixed costs.
  • Has our market size and market potential changed permanently? Some markets have shrunk and others have grown either temporarily or permanently as customers’ needs and desires have changed. Make sure you know which is occurring.
  • How has COVID impacted your company culture? Is it helping you to live up to your company Values or is it challenging them in new ways? Are you effectively planning for post COVID in terms of whether any of your workforce will continue to work remotely and be productive doing so?
  • Is your company value proposition still relevant or does it need to be rethought? Are your customers needing a minor or major change in value provided from you and is your dialog with them effective enough to help you determine this?
  • Have you planned for how your market and business will come out of COVID – will it roar back or will it come back slowly? Planning this well will help you ensure having the right degree of resources (materials, supplies and people) and not too much or too little which may impact your ability to stay financially healthy and meet customer demands
  • Are you having a healthy dialog around whether your company is taking necessary steps to avoid being disrupted…and are you looking for opportunities to be the DISRUPTER!
  • And for those thinking that selling their business in the next few years might make sense, are your advisors/board discussing with you how the M&A market is changing potentially in your industry? And are you monitoring how potential future acquirers might be viewing company's like yours differently now in terms of value drivers so you want to use time as a friend and be on top of this sooner versus later?

Use this natural time of year to step back and look at your business from 100,000 feet and challenge your advisors/board members to ask great new questions. You don’t want to be having stale dialog as it will hurt your company valuation…new questions will generate new thinking and potentially create great company valuation, great new company worth!

Think this through wisely

Corona-geddon has allowed many business owners to see first hand what having a small or large number of employees working from their homes looks like. In my past running of businesses, remote working was a frequent topic even without a pandemic going on. It was often a topic either for cost management reasons or even trying to provide a life balance for certain employees. Here are some thoughts to trigger a business owner/CEO's thinking about this topic for their business:

- ask yourself if a future acquirer to your business will care if you have remote working employees. In some industries, it's already not well accepted and in others it's become more the norm. So as I've pointed out in prior blogs, put on the glasses of potential future acquirers when making these types of business decisions.

- are your employees that are currently working remotely reflecting (tangibly) that their productivity is equal or better to when they worked in the office? You don't want this to be solely a "feel good" decision, see if you can determine if objectively you're seeing a performance difference. And as HR experts are currently pointing out, keep in mind that some employees working remotely are in fact more productive but it's also because the world around their homes still has businesses like coffee shops, restaurants, salons, etc still closed. Once these open, will there then be productivity distractions through the course of a day?

- can your organization be clear in terms of who can work remotely and who can't? You don't want to negatively impact your organization culture over this issue. You don't need employees complaining at the water cooler why some are offered the remote working option and others are not.

- are your IT systems robust enough to support remote working AND ensure security protection of your data and IP? Talk with your IT team or external IT partner and discuss your company capabilities in this area.

- do you in fact have to make this decision now or can you keep employees working remotely while COVID is still in play but communicate to these employees you're still monitoring how long this working format will last. You don't have to commit to it today because there are still many unknowns related to it. Communicate to employees that it's a good option for now but you will monitor it for making any changes in the months ahead.

Although to some making decisions about employees working remotely might seem like a tactical decision, it's not. This is a strategic decision because it can impact your team in protecting and building the value or net worth of your company both today and for the future.

Is your leadership team still effective during COVID in protecting and building your company value

I’ve been having frequent dialog recently with business owners that are seeing their leadership teams in a new light, the light of a crisis. For some, they have a CEO exhibiting the right leadership qualities and experience to navigate this crisis. Unfortunately for other business owners, their CEO that was able to lead the team during “normal” times is not exhibiting the needed leadership during this crisis. What I’m seeing with most of these business owners is they need to step up their leadership and articulate more clearly what their expectations are for their CEO’s now.

Early in my leadership development years, I had a boss say to me that true leaders know how to lead effectively during normal times and equally as well during times of crisis. But because so few have truly experienced crisis, they turn out to be inexperienced and potentially ineffective when the crisis hits. This ineffectiveness can harm your company worth for the short and long term.

If as a company owner you find yourself in this current mindset of losing confidence in your company CEO, here is the dialog you want to be having now so that your expectations are clear:

  • Analyzing the current business performance – convey to your CEO that you expect them to truly understand how COVID is impacting your business, not emotionally but through data and facts. Are they effectively using data (i.e.: new customer purchasing patterns) as a friend to help convey where your business has changed and may be changed permanently?
  • Making the tough decisions around costs – convey your expectations around your CEO making the really hard decisions to adjust the operating cost structure of the business. Are they just letting variable costs make the natural adjustments they make as a business ebbs and flows? (example: your material purchases are lower because your revenue is lower or your team is traveling less to see customers so T&E expenses are down). Or are they taking the hard look at fixed costs as well to truly protect your margins? Are they looking at indirect labor, not just direct labor? Are they looking at office positions to see which could be consolidated? Are they looking at processes to find opportunities for improvement and cost out?
  • Providing strong leadership to employees and customers – convey your expectations for how your company is communicating with employees and customers (even suppliers) during this crisis. Are you pleased with the quantity AND quality of the communications your company is providing to all stakeholders.
  • Protecting your company value proposition – convey your expectations regarding any changes your company should or shouldn’t be making to the overall value you bring to the market. How do customers view your company in terms of the value you deliver and your uniqueness versus competition, is your CEO managing this effectively during this crisis?
  • Planning and forecasting effectiveness – convey your expectations around the types of planning you want taking place now and what business projections or forecasts you want to be monitoring. Although you want your CEO looking in the rear view mirror during this crisis to understand what your customer data is telling you, you want them also looking out the front windshield and developing their crystal ball of business projections so you can be confident that your resource planning (materials and labor) are being done effectively to protect, even build the worth of your company.

If you are pleased with how your CEO is navigating this crisis, make sure you clearly let them hear this feedback. If you see gaps, especially in these areas above, show your leadership and convey your thoughts and expectations clearly. And if you don’t feel comfortable or confident having these types of dialog, turn to a member of your Board or engage with an advisor who has the CEO operating experience to be able to hear your expectations and effectively coach your CEO. As the owner, it’s also your job to protect and build the value (or company worth) even during a crisis. Decide now if you think you have the right leadership team in place to help ensure you one day receive a euphoric valuation upon exit!

Planning to the right run rate can protect and build the value or the net worth of your company

Speaking with a business owner this week, she was sharing her company revenue forecast of $95M for 2020 which included the impact of Corona-geddon. My question to her was this...."have you set your forward looking materials and supplies purchasing levels and your labor requirements to this full year forecast or have you reset them given your current run rate?" Her answer was, "we're planning to this $95M revenue rate."

My response was that if this forecast is based on looking at their year to date actual performance and extrapolating this out for the balance of the year, this may be over inflating the real run rate they should be planning to. I reminded her that her business year to date performance is clouded by the first 3 months of 2020 in which her business had a strong start and no COVID impact. It wasn't really until May that her business began to feel COVID impact and her May, June and July performance numbers are meaingfully different than the Q1 performance. If I look at the real, new run rate for her business which factors much of the early 2020 pre-COVID results out and use that as the basis for a forecast, I came up with a business closer to $85M in the next 12 months.

The next question I posed is what product and service mix changes her projections were assuming because these too could be impacted by the Q1 numbers. Sure enough, as we talked it through, she agreed that she had to rethink the revenue mix of the next several months because some of her lower margin products are potentially going to be a higher percentage of the mix. 

So although her $95M revenue forecast for 2020 may be close (because of the first few months being of no to little COVID impact), she didn't have in mind that her new business run rate may be closer to $85M and potentially at lower margins than normal. This is a very different level by which her team should be planning materials, supplies and labor.

Working with your team now to truly understand your run rate and product/service mix is critical to protecting and possibly building the value or worth of your business today and the future valuation you might one day receive. Use this time to build your company forecasting and planning muscle to ensure you're planning your business resources to the proper revenue and profit run rates. Be careful extrapolating out your YTD performance because Q1 was COVID free!

Great leaders know the power of soliciting breadth and depth of inputs

There is a lot of discussion taking place around diversity in our country and there are many parallels we can draw to our businesses. This great country was built on diversity of gender, race, culture and religion, all of which has provided a powerful, diverse range of thinking. Our strength was and should continue to be the ability to draw from and meld the best of all of these. The same holds true for every business owner and CEO. As you look to build the value or net worth of your business, are you leveraging the diversity of paradigms and perspectives from those that are and could be around you as you navigate key decisions?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to see if you're getting the benefit of diversity:

- Think about those around you that you turn to for insights on business matters (your team, advisors, lawyer, accountant, etc), are you getting a diverse range of inputs or have the inputs become narrow and potentially stale? The world continues to change, are your perspectives?

- Do you have people around you that may sometimes disagree with you as they offer different paradigms or perspectives and do you openly embrace this or look to avoid it?

- When facing important business matters, do you first ask yourself if you have the right people around you to leverage their experiences and paradigms to maximize how you process your decision....or do you just quickly jump in to solve the matter, not giving much thought to whether the right people are providing input?

- Would your employee base say that your company leadership team has good diversity represented on it or do they view you and your key leaders as lacking any real diversity of backgrounds, cultures, race, etc?

- Do you have a good mechansim internally for your team and employees to talk about diversity of thinking? Are their formal or informal opportunities for you to solicit insights and opinions from a broad cross section of your employees?

Don't let your team and your thinking go stale by falling in to a comfort zone of like minded people around you. Challenge your paradigms and perspectives on a regular basis and grow as a person but also grow the current value/worth of your company and prepare for a more euphoric exit valuation one day.

How the pandemic is changing acquisition due diligence - use time as a friend to be prepared

Even if you're not thinking about selling your company for several more years, understand that COVID-19 is going to have a lasting impact on acquisition activity and the process itself for years to come. And you don't want the day to arrive when you want to exit only to find out that you weren't prepared for these changes and the ultimate company proctology exam known as due diligence. Let's review below some of the current known impacts from COVID on the acquisition process that could take you time (months or even years) to get prepared for. Using time as a friend now could better enable you in your dream of commanding a euphoric valuation outcome at time of exit one day.

How COVID is impacting due diligence:

- The due diligence process was already onerous, this pandemic is only making it more so. In addition to acquirers needing to become intimately knowledgeable about your business before they are willing to let you cash their check, now they need to dive even deeper to better understand how you've been navigating COVID. All this simply means don't expect that due diligence somehow will be easier, it won't be.

- Data was key before, more so now. When you look at a typical due diligence check list from most acquirers, you'll see it's filled with requests for you to provide them all types of data. Now with COVID, this data scrubbing is only getting more intense. Data related to your customer buying behaviors, your cash flow, your operating efficiencies, etc. And getting your data in good shape for sharing during due diligence can take months, even years to get right.

- Customer stickiness takes on a whole new meaning now. Even before COVID, acquirers wanted to understand how reliant your customers are on your company for a solution. The more reliant your customers are on your company, generally the higher the valuation you might expect to see from the potential acquirer. COVID is exposing this stickiness factor even more. During due diligence now, you can expect to see a very deep dive by the acquirer to truly understand all aspects of your customer buying behaviors and which behaviors temporarily changed and which may have changed permanently. Use time as a friend now to be analyzing this to understand it clearly. Even if you're not planning to sell your business for several years, you'll still be asked how COVID changed your customer buying behaviors THROUGH and AFTER the pandemic. Start monitoring it closely NOW.

- The mergers and acquisition world is now using the word RESILENCE very commonly as a result of COVID. The due diligence process months from now and even years from now will still include a deep dive to understand how resilient your company products/services were for your customers through the pandemic. Most importantly, they will look to understand how quickly you felt the pandemic, how resilient your products and services were during the pandemic and how rapidly your business returned back to positive growth levels. Use time now to be analyzing this resilience and monitor it closely as the pandemic continues to play out.

- During any due diligence, acquirers deep dive in to your financials to understand the financial performance of your business and to do so, they want to understand the normal operating aspects of your business separated from "one offs" that may have helped or hindered your financial performance. COVID is one such "one off" that you will one day want to be able to show the acquirer your "operating results" apart from COVID specific elements. 2020 COVID financial impact from things like government funds you tapped in to such as Payroll Protection Program will be considered a one off and should be identified uniquely versus the normal operating financials of your business. Costs you incurred during COVID that are one off items such as cleaning supplies and labor used to clean your facility above your normal cleaning expense, paying HR and Legal advisors to navigate COVID, lost productivity such as facility closure, etc. Capture all these separately now because during a future due diligence the acquirer will ask for clarity of your operating results versus these one off expenses and you won't want to rely on memory in addressing their questions.

- This pandemic has been so impactful on our economy and each of our businesses that acquirers are going to come out of it assuming your company captured a playbook of learnings for use when the next crisis hits. In the recent past, we had the financial melt down of 2008, twelve years later we have COVID....fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. There will be a third crisis in the foreseeable future and acquirers during due diligence will expect to see that you've captured your playbook of learnings, what actions you took that worked well and which that did not.

- Lastly, COVID is changing how the due diligence process itself plays out in terms of a time line. Historically, the acquisition process got underway with the acquirer visiting your facility(s), having a presentation from your management team, tours and then beginning data sharing. COVID has now moved this around given facility visits have been deferred. More acquirers are getting comfortable with moving site visits and face time with people to later in the process. The process is starting with Data (see above) and only upon this exciting the acquirer, will they look to wait to schedule site visits. This raises the importance of your data even more because it's now the first taste the acquirer may get of your business versus prior to COVID they'd be able to sit with you and see your passion for your business. Now your data has to set the hook to get their interest. And also note that the first time an acquirer may want to meet you and your team could be moved to video as they begin to learn about you and your culture. Even after this particular pandemic has passed, this change in the due diligence process itself may remain in place as acquirers won't want to incur up front costs of time/travel to first sample what your company has to offer them.

Bottom line here is this, even if you see selling your business over the next few years versus now, you need to use time as a friend to be prepared to optimize your outcome. You don't want your dreams of a euphoric company sale to be dashed due to not being well prepared...start now!

To protect and build company worth

"The smartest person in the room is the one asking the smartest questions". This is a variant to the quote by Confucius and one every business leader should embrace. Given we are still well within the grasp of uncertainty due to Corona-geddon, now more than ever we need to be asking smart questions of ourselves and our teams. Here are the smart questions to be asking now (read article and do your company scoring).

Don't assume a crisis will only hurt your company value and your net worth

Even if a crisis, like COVID-19, negatively impacts the revenue, profit and cash flow of your business, don't assume that it still doesn't give you the opportunity to help build your company valuation for the long term. Specifically, building a more effective company organization culture.

A crisis affords your company the air cover to make personnel changes to reduce your cost structure. And if labor cost cutting is needed, then make changes that also help you improve your long term organization culture. Think about your culture today, and if you know that you have toxic employees that are hurting your culture and therefore company value or worth building, use the cost cutting need through the crisis as a time to make needed changes with these particular employees. And it's important to think in the opposite sense, if you know you have positive aspects to your organization culture, ensure that any labor cost cutting is minimal in those areas where you want to nurture and protect your culture. You want to avoid labor cost cutting in a way that eliminates certain employees from your organization that underpin a positive culture.

For legal purposes, you certainly have to develop a labor cost cutting plan that is fair in terms of the employees selected to participate in any downsizing, but as you develop this plan, have your future desired state of your organization culture in mind. Developing your labor RIF during a crisis could be the opportunity you've wanted to protect positive aspects of your culture and accelerate improving your problem areas. Your company culture will be a huge contributor one day to the valuation you might receive from an acquirer. Use the crisis as a time to enable your culture and enable your company value, or company worth as we refer to it!

Business leaders that build company value learn from the tough times

Early in my career, I had a boss say to me that the experience that truly separates strong leaders from weak ones relates to the storms that have been navigated. Her comment was that many leaders are just fine when everything is running smoothly, but when a problem hits the business or the entire industry, the really good leaders don't hide under their desks. They have the confidence to step up and lead effectively. And in so doing, they protect and even build the current value or net worth of their company and know how to build a future euphoric exit valuation for ownership.

COVID-19 is separating strong leaders from weak ones. And the strong ones look around them to see where there are more junior executives in their career and see a crisis like this as an opportunity to help them develop and grow from the experience to be gained. As the owner or CEO of your business, ask yourself the following question. Do I have key managers on my team that I could broaden their responsibility now, and provide them an opportunity to grow in their experience as a result of this crisis?  Could you put them on a particular project, give them a particular challenge, expand their authority, any steps that can expand their horizons and their experience? There will be another crisis, whether specific to your business, your industry or perhaps of a global nature and you want to have an even stronger team around you then. 

As the expression goes...don't let a good crisis go to waste. Although there is much that is bad that occurs during a crisis, identify where you can create some good. And a key area of creating good is within the development of your organization. And doing so is enabling the value or worth creation of your company which at the end of the day, is your highest priority as the owner/CEO.

Periodically checking in with your key managers can protect and build company value

I learned over the years as CEO of various businesses that I should never assume that the key members of my team were fully aligned with me and eachother. Periodically, we would do a sanity check in this regard because when we were aligned, we made progress. When we were not aligned, we simply had motion and motion without progress can hinder or even hurt your company worth.

Find your own formal and informal opportunities to monitor your team alignment. Use this helpful template in checking your team alignment today to ensure you're on your way to building your company value, or your company worth as we refer to it! (Leadership Team Alignment)

Capturing your Corona-geddon learnings in your playbook

Businesses have much they can learn from the military. One key learning is to know how to maintain situational awareness while maintaining operational effectiveness. Enabling us to do so is having an effective playbook in place.

As business owners and CEO’s, having an operational effectiveness playbook in place has the following benefits:

  •  It captures our learnings from prior times of crisis so we don't repeat mistakes we've made but do repeat what worked well
  •  Helps remind us what steps we should take to protect the worth of our business and which steps to even build it
  •  It allows us to spend less time wondering what setps we should be taking, more time executing
  •  Builds our team confidence that we can handle a crisis
  •  Prepares us for a future due diligence where future stakeholders will expect a playbook to be in place

Hopefully your business has been working a playbook that you developed after the 2008/2009 financial crisis. But if not, now is the time to build your playbook that captures learnings from this crisis. Doing so will help you capture the best and worst of the steps you’ve been taking and when the next crisis hits, you will be much better prepared to act decisively.

Don’t let a crisis take your hard earned worth away. Have an effective playbook that helps you minimize or protect your losses and even help remind you of steps you could take to build the value and net worth of your business.

A Sales deployment plan is needed now more than ever

Whether it's a time of crisis or normal times, every business owner should have the confidence that they are providing deployment guidance to their Sales team. As a boss early in my career once said...."when your sales team pulls out of their driveways in the morning, make sure you know whether they are turning to the left or the right. If they decide, it might not align with your strategy and it therefore could hurt the business value you're trying to build".

During COVID-19, every business owner/CEO should have the confidence that their sales team has the right focus. Here are some steps to take to have this confidence:

1.) Have your team look at your customer sales data for the last 60 days to see if any new buying trends are emerging. Don't assume that your customer buying patterns from 2019 still apply today. Your data could indicate a change in customer buying patterns and if this is occurring, it could trigger a potential modification to your Sales team deployment.

2.) Look at your customer base and determine if one segment is of higher potential to buy from you than others through the crisis. If this is the case, modify your Sales team deployment to capitalize on this. You don't want a team stuck in an old comfort zone of who they were calling on when a change is needed soon.

3.) Determine if there is a new product or a new service that your existing customers, or potentially new ones, might need from you during this crisis. If so, deploy some or all of your Sales team to engage in selling the new product/service. You don't want them focused on selling things that customers might have little interest in during the crisis so redeploy them to the emerging opportunity.

4.) Look at your sales commission plan and ensure it's driving the desired deployment focus for your team. Your commission plan was appropriate for pre-crisis, but is it driving the right sales behavior and deployment during the crisis? You might have a commission plan that rewards revenue to existing customers and your opportunity might be with new ones. Or your sales people might be driven to sell a certain product/service due to the commission plan but during the crisis it's not desired by your customers. You may need to adjust the commission plan to drive them to sell a new product/service or to find new customers in new market segments. And continue to monitor whether any commission plan modifications you've made should stay in place once the crisis subsides or perhaps a permanent modification is needed.

Bottom line is during a crisis you want to ensure that every one of your resources is properly focused. And because cash is king and you want every revenue opportunity you can find, review your sales deployment strategy to determine if adjustment is needed now. Doing so might not only protect the value or worth of your business but it might also build it.

Financial Controllers tell you what happened -- CFO's can tell you what may happen

Whether your business is operating through a crisis or not, every owner and CEO, no matter the size of business, should always be thinking in terms of how to strike the right balance between looking in the company rear view mirror and looking out the front windshield. One without the other would indicate you aren't doing all that can be done to protect and build the value, or worth, of your company.

Too often, small to mid size businesses have financial managers or controllers that are very good at maintaining company books. They are qualified and ready to deliver monthly financial statements and answer questions that arise about prior performance of the business. But where there is often a gap is the experience to take the company performance, and not just coach the leadership team about where to focus in finding opportunities to improve the P&L, balance sheet or cash flow, but to be able to build models that project the impact of how past performance will play out for the future performance of the business. Doing so will enable ownership and the leadership to see specifically where inaction based on addressing an issue from prior performance will play out negatively going forward.

A good financial partner (whether he/she be on your staff, at your CPA firm or as an advisor to your company) can take your historical company performance and build models to project out in to a future period what actions or inactions might look like in your financial performance. If your company has been experiencing increasing material or labor costs as a percentage of your revenue, you will want to see what this continued trend might mean over the next 6 months in terms of monthly performance. Your inventory may be growing more rapidly than revenue would normally dictate or your accounts receivable may be changing in its aging, both putting new strains on the working capital requirements of your business. You may be weathering this fine today but as it continues or even worsens, what will the impact be? A good financial partner should be able to project these types of issues for you in a way that you see what's coming as you look out your front windshield.

As you think about how to protect your company value or worth today and look for ways to build it to one day receive a euphoric exit valuation, ask yourself if you're getting the right blend of looking backwards with your business performance and looking forward. If yes, you're already taking great steps with your company but if not, now is the time to rethink this part of your business. Doing so can pay great dividends for your business and you personally in the years ahead.

Ensure you have the right decision making muscle in place

A great way to think about your business is it represents today the outcomes of all the decisions you've made up to this point. The greater the performance of your company, obviously you've made some great decisions. And now most importantly, the future valuation or future net worth of your company is reliant on the decisions you're making today and tomorrow so you want to continue to fine tune and sharpen your company decision making muscle. Here are a few steps you could consider taking now to help build this critical muscle in your company:

- Before focusing on making a decision, first ask yourself if you have the right people helping you make the decision. Too often ego drives decisions and leaders feel it will reflect poorly on them if they turn to others for insights before making a decision. The first step great leaders take in making a decision is asking themselves, am I the right person for making this decision and if so, who around me perhaps has experienced this issue before and I can quickly learn from them to avoid making mistakes they might have made?

- Learn to size up the magnitude of a decision and then assign appropriate time and energy to it. For those decisions that are not of great financial magnitude, low impact on customer experience and little or no impact on the future worth of your company, either delegate it or give it little time. But for those that are of higher magnitude, ensure you are giving it due attention it merits. Doing so can help you Bank Your Moment.

- Build the muscle of running certain decisions through models. Think about a decision in terms of running the potential impact through a model of your P&L and even your weekly cash flow projection tool. Doing so in my past helped me make a lot of important business decisions as the models helped me and my teams think through our various scenarios and the impact on our performance.

Great leaders know the power of great decision making and know the value of building the decision making muscle of their team. Sit with key members of your team and brainstorm the decision making model for your company. Even the smallest of improvements could build great future value and the net worth of your company.

Read the story to protect and possibly build company worth

If you're a business owner who is fortunate to be listed as an essential business and remaining open during this pandemic, make sure you are looking closely at your incoming order book for the last 60 days because it's telling you a story that is worth listening to and it could be a different story than it was telling you just 90 days ago. Here are some things to think about doing:

- Make sure you are looking at new order "dollars" and "units". If you supply a widget of some sort to your customers, don't just evaluate your incoming new business as it pertains to dollars, also make sure you are fully understanding what is happening with widget units being sold. If you're just looking at dollars you are only giving yourself and your team just one important dimension. Your revenues may be down like so many are experiencing, but are all your widget units down equally? Perhaps some products of your portfolio are up or are down much less than others, make sure you know what's behind this because knowing this could give you opportunities to take steps to either minimize the negative results you're seeing or it might give you ideas for how to identify some offsettng growth opportunities.

- Evaluate what combinations of products your customers are buying. if your product line is such that people buy various SKU's from you, make sure you monitor how this has changed in the last 60 days. And if your customers often buy combinations of products from your portfolio, evaluate whether these combinations are the same now as they were back in February. Customer's buying new combinations could be strategically meaningful for your business and you won't see this if you're simply monitoring dollars.

- Because cash is king, look closely at what is also occuring with gross margins of your product offering as this is a critical dimension to add to monitoring dollars and units. Are unit sales and gross margins trending together or is there a new story being told that you need to understand?

- Monitor your customer credits and returns to add to the story your order book is telling you. You may be analyzing your dollars, units and gross margins but also make sure you're looking at what credits and returns you're experiencing that may be very different than you were seeing just 60 days ago. You don't want to analyze the sales of your widgets to think you're gaining strategic insights only to realize what's being returned has it's own message that you need to factor in. 

As we look to protect and possibly build our company worth during this pandemic, monitoring our order book is essential but doing so should include dollars, units and gross margins because one without the others could mean you're only getting a partial story.

Protect and build your company value and your net worth even during a crisis

At a very high level, we should think about our company's operating in one of 3 phases. There is a Normal phase, a Crisis phase and a Catch Your Breath Phase. 

The Crisis phase is when you feel your business is in an out-of-control free fall, you're faced with more uncertainty and unknowns and surviving is the focus.

The Catch Your Breath phase is what I call the period following the free fall and although it's still a time filled with much uncertainty and a fuzzy forward looking crystal ball, it's a time where you feel the free fall has been stemmed even if just for a brief period of time.

Then there is the Normal phase, or in the case of COVID-19 it will be a time of a New Normal for most businesses. This is a time when stability is returning and you feel as a company leader that you have returning certainties for your company and industry.

For many business owners now in the latter part of April, 2020, most are now in the Catch Your Breath phase of the business cycle. Now we don't know if this is simply an eye of a bad storm and more free fall will start again or whether we've seen the economic worst the pandemic will create and we will start to move toward better times but at an unknown pace. Whichever it is in your mind, being in this phase is an opportunity to step back and assess what you just came out of and what it could mean to your company worth going forward. Here are a few recomendations to be taking during this Catch Your Breath phase:

- Learn from your customer purchase data over the past 60 days. Analyze your customer data specific to the last 30 and 60 days because what you knew about your business at year end 2019 may be very different now. Look for any new customer buying trends by product/service type and look to see if your customers are buying a different mix of your products or services. This short term change in their buying behavior needs to be understood in terms of whether it will have longer term implications for your business.

- Revisit your company proposal/quoting strategy. Is the strategy you used prior to COVID-19 hitting still effective now? Perhaps your customer proposals focused on delivery prior to COVID-19 and now your customers care more about about price and cost savings. Or perhaps your company proposals focused on you being the low cost supplier and now customers are more concerned about getting the products than they are the cost.

- Revisit your lost proposals since earlier this year. Don't assume the company that won the award is still able to fufill on the contract given how COVID-19 has hit them. Reach out and see if you can re-engage on work that you thought you had lost.

- Start asking new questions of your partners, suppliers and customers. Now is the time to make sure you're getting a broad view of the market and your industry and what changes might be temporary and which may become permanent. Some companies have stale dialog with their outside partners and customers so they don't learn any new insights. Rethink the questions you're asking of suppliers and customers to see what new insights you can gain during this uncertain time.

If you're in the Crisis phase as a business, then there are survival related steps you should be taking to protect the value or worth of your business. But if you are like many business owners in late April, you may not like where you are year to date but you at least feel like you're catching your breath. Use this time to think about steps to be taking to not just protect the value and worth of your company but to see opportunites to build it so one day you too can be euphoric with the exit valuation you receive.

Capture the costs now before you forget them

When the day comes you want to talk with an investor or an acquirer, a key question asked about your profitability will pertain to the costs your business incurred in recent years that won't repeat once the new owners take over. This is what helps you arrive at the Adjusted Profit number for your company and it's often this number that the investor or acquirer bases their purchase valuation on. These costs are often referred to as "one off costs", "owner benefits" or "addbacks". The concept is that these costs get reflected in your net profit at the end of a year but because the new owner won't incur them, they should be added back to your historic profit performance to arrive at a higher or adjusted profit number. You don't want to find yourself having to think back over the prior few years to try and recall what these one off type costs were because you will forget some and this will only serve to help the investor or acquirer since the profit of your business is higher when adjusted properly but they won't be basing their valuation on what should have been a higher profit amount.

Now is the time to be remembering and documenting the costs your business is incurring due to this pandemic. This is a one off or perhaps once in a many year event so you don't want a few years to go by and having a dialog with an investor or acquirer and forgetting to adjust your 2020 profit to separate the one off COVID related expenses from the normal operating expense of your business.  Here are a few ideas to get your thinking started:

- Lost productivity due to work stoppages (staffing shortages, employee meetings to discuss COVID matters)

- Purchasing of supplies (extra cleaning supplies above the norm, masks or gloves for employees)

- Cleaning staff (expenses above the norm in terms of more staff, overtime hours)

- Pricing discounts offered to help key customers thru the difficult time

Brainstorm with your controller/CFO to ensure you capture all COVID costs now and if you need ideas, speak with your accountant. Don't put yourself in the position of having to think back a year or more to capture every COVID related cost. Capture them now while fresh on your mind because doing so can mean receiving a higher exit valuation for your business when that exciting time is upon you. When it does, you want it to be filled with euphoria and not regret.

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Sample Question 02

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