Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Time to Hire a Bookkeeper?

Many a small business owner faced with hiring a bookkeeper for the first time faces a frightening hurdle. Hire the wrong bookkeeper and you could end up with more problems than you had before you hired. Whether you’re searching for an employee or looking to outsource the bookkeeping function getting the right fit is critical to your success and your sanity.

But, how do you know what to look for in a bookkeeper if you don’t really understand the whole accounting thing yourself?

Do you need someone with a degree?

How do you measure a candidate’s experience?

How do you know whether they know what they’re doing?

How can you ask informed questions if you secretly feel un-informed yourself?

It’s a sticky problem and one that many small business owners face. They don’t want to end up in trouble if they hire a bookkeeper who doesn’t know his stuff. They feel out of control because they only know what the bookkeeper tells them and who knows if it’s right?

The following tips will help take some of the mystery out of finding a bookkeeper who is both knowledgeable and a good fit for your business.

1. How important is a degree?

The short answer is—not very. A degree in accounting isn’t really necessary. It’s nice but experience matters more. That being said, a person with an associate’s degree in accounting at least has the gumption to achieve a big goal and has some level of exposure to proper accounting procedures. Some people come out of a degree program well prepared to step into an already set up, well functioning accounting situation (as long as there is someone to train them). Most new graduates are not equipped to step into a chaotic or newly created position—that level of comfort and knowledge only comes with experience.

2. What about certification?

A certified bookkeeper is a bookkeeper who has passed an examination and met certain criteria. It is a good indication of two things—the person is willing to invest in furthering his or her skills and they have mastered a full range of bookkeeping topics. Unfortunately, it is not as wide spread a certification as it needs to be. Many bookkeepers may not even be aware that becoming certified is an option. A non-certified bookkeeper could be asked questions about what he or she is doing for continuing education.

3. What kind of experience should you look for?

Optimally, an experienced bookkeeper will have worked in several different type of businesses—ideally at least one like yours. Hiring someone who has handled the entire range of bookkeeping tasks with minimal supervision is critical. If you’re not an “accounting person”, you aren’t going to be able to answer your bookkeepers accounting questions. If you have a CPA or CFO working with your business, a little less experience is okay if the bookkeeper can go to him or her with questions. (Note: if your CPA charges by the hour this could get costly—so again more experience can save you in the long run.)

4. What about character?

Character is critical on two fronts. If you’re the type of business owner who likes to cut corners, hide income, and conduct business on the shady side of the street, hiring a bookkeeper of good character will only create aggravation for the bookkeeper. In the same light, a bookkeeper of weak character may perform slipshod work or embezzle. How can you determine good character? Ask questions about how they’ve dealt with a tough situation like someone asking them to do something illegal or unethical. Also, ask for character references and ask similar questions. “Tell me about a situation where Beth had to handle a difficult client or co-worker.” Asking pointed questions lead to pointed answers.

5. What about personality?

Is this person someone you think you will feel comfortable working with? The business owner/bookkeeper relationship often ends up feeling a bit like a marriage. Your bookkeeper will know your financial details, your character flaws, and how you act when you’re stressed out. Make sure you have the potential to be a good team.

A skilled and experienced bookkeeper can do much to keep you out of trouble and keep your business running smoothly. Whether you hire in house or outsource, finding the right fit is the key to a successful relationship.

Until next time,

Caroline Jordan
Get Knowledge. Get Focus. Get Results.
The Jordan Result

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

There seems to be no end to the variety of niche business opportunities. Recently, I had an email from a car recycling association in Wisconsin asking permission to use one of my articles which had run in a newsletter sent out by a California car recycling association. And today, I was interviewed by a writer for an article in a magazine dedicated to limousine services. Two very different niches—one major thing in common—cars!

When you think about that one common item—an automobile—and then, start to think of all the different business possibilities it becomes rather mind boggling.

Here are some examples of car related businesses:

Limousine service
Auto recycling
Auto repair
Collision repair
Specialized parts
Classic cars
Car sales
Used car sales
Windshield repair
Self serve car wash
Wearing apparel

The list could go on all day. In each of those areas (and many more), there are problems to be solved. Every problem to be solved is an opportunity waiting to be pounced on by some enterprising business owner.

A great way to build your business is to look at your own industry, your own customer base, and discover what other problems they struggle with. Define the problem, provide a solution, and your business grows. Digging deeper into the problems your current customers are experiencing provides rich mines of untapped opportunity.

"Vision is the art of seeing things invisible to others."
- Jonathan Swift

Until next time,

Caroline Jordan
Get Knowledge. Get Focus. Get Results.
The Jordan Result

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Distracted? Just Hit Clear!

I recently received the following from one of my newsletter subscribers who struggles, like most of us do, trying to balance all the different pieces of running a business:

“On any given day I have roughly 50 tasks in the queue to be completed. Some are planned due to long term projects. Others pop up due to events that occur on projects that are in execution. Managing the complexity becomes an overwhelming task.”

This is so typical for business owners. We are constantly hit from all sides as we try to juggle multiple projects, deal with emergencies, and cope with constant distractions (especially the self-created ones—I stand guilty as charged on this one!) We all seem to end up feeling like we have Business Owner’s Attention Deficit Disorder (B.O.A.D.D.)

Here’s a tactic I use all the time to help me deal with the distractions of every day business life. This is a tip from Dr. Maxwell Maltz discussed in a book called Psycho-Cybernetics. I discovered the tip when I read Dan Kennedy’s excellent book No B.S. Time Management for Entrepreneurs. (Note on Dan Kennedy—sometimes (often) Dan comes across as a rather cranky man who needs more fiber in his diet, but the guy really knows his stuff!).

Okay, so getting back to the helpful tactic (see how easy it is to get me off track?). The technique is called “clearing the calculator”. Dr. Maltz says people try to focus on too many problems at once and they lose their effectiveness. He compares this to using a calculator. In order to solve a new problem you must first press the clear button to get rid of the old problem. He recommends a mental exercise of “clearing the calculator” so you can clear away the old problem to focus on the new.

Since I’m not particularly good at mental exercises of this sort, I physically hit the clear button on my desk calculator to help me to focus (or re-focus or re-re-focus). Sometimes I have to hit that puppy a number of times before I settle back into working on a project after being distracted by other things. I do find it helpful (of course, I may need a new calculator if I keep banging on the bloomin’ thing like I have been lately).

Give this technique a try when you find yourself running about trying to fight all those fires that keep springing up.

Until next time,

Caroline Jordan
Get Knowledge. Get Focus. Get Results.
The Jordan Result

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Solving the Mystery of Business Success

Several of my consulting clients are all working on one particular area of their businesses. It is the most important area a business owner can work on because it directly impacts whether your business succeeds or just struggles along. This critical piece of your business is often overlooked or brushed to the side as you go about your daily busy-ness. Yet, it is the very heart of your business—it’s the engine that drives it forward and makes everything else happen.

Would you like to know what it is? It’s so simple and so obvious that you’ll probably think it’s dumb at first. But, if you dig deeper and deeper into the way you answer this one simple question, you’ll see your business begin to change for the better.

Here it is…

Answer this simple question:

What is going on inside your customer’s head?

Initially, your answer might be, “Beats me. I have no idea.” Like everyone else, our first focus is on what’s going on in our own heads. But, to build a successful business you really have to understand what you’re selling and why your customer values what you’re selling. Your entire business flows from that one understanding.

Here are some examples…

Let’s say you sell beads to jewelry makers. On the surface you sell beads to jewelry makers. That’s certainly true. But dig deeper. Why is a jewelry maker in the market for beads? They’re looking for something to spark their creativity. They’re looking for something bold or subtle to make an artistic statement. They’re looking for something that is marketable so they can eat regularly. Understanding what is motivating the jewelry maker holds clues for you to develop a great marketing plan to reach more jewelry makers and sell more beads.

Now, let’s say you’re the jewelry maker. What is going on in the head of the jewelry maker’s customer? They’re looking for a special gift. They’re looking to draw attention to themselves by having a stunning necklace. They appreciate art and like to own things for the sake of beauty. Each is a different motivation and to attract each of those customers, you would use different language in your marketing message.

Now, let’s say you’re the company that sells wholesale beads to someone who retails beads to jewelry makers. How does the language change? The retail seller of beads is more likely to respond to marketing language that speaks to “fresh” designs, consistency of supply, no minimum order requirements, easy payment terms. It’s a completely different set of motivations.

The artist making the jewelry isn’t interested in the same things as the bead seller and the bead wholesaler. As such, each person in the equation responds to a different marketing message. How well you understand that key point and the way you match your marketing message to what your customer is interested in defines how well you succeed in the marketplace.

Spend some time thinking about what motivates your customer and compare that to how well your marketing message speaks to that motivation. The gap between the two represents your opportunity to improve your business.

Until next time,

Caroline Jordan

Get Knowledge. Get Focus. Get Results.
The Jordan Result

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Marketing for the Almighty

One of my clients asked me about the work he knows I do with my church. He was interested in the types of marketing activities we use to spread the word about the church. Now, marketing and churches might only seem to go together when talking about the so-called mega-churches but in fact it’s a critical factor for the ongoing existence of every small church. Small businesses and small churches are very much alike.

First, let’s consider the similarities of small businesses and churches. Each operates on a tight budget for finances and other resources. People need to wear many hats and perform a variety of necessary work. If people don’t know about your business or your church chances are they won’t patronize it. If you aren’t visible in your community no one will know you exist. This is true whether your community is a store front (or church front) on Main Street or an online community representing a specialized niche. Then, there’s the survival factor. Many small businesses fail, and churches are susceptible to all the same challenges of cashflow, too few customers, inability to attract good employees (or volunteers), and changes in demographics and the marketplace.

The magic of marketing is that all those problems can be greatly improved by the application of good marketing principles. They work regardless of whether your organization is a for-profit or a not-for-profit concern.

Here are some of the marketing techniques we have applied at our church and some of the results we have been able to achieve:

1. Newsletter—Ours is written by a talented little church mouse named Perley. We use a simple form for people to fill out so people can sign up. Subscribers become close personal friends of Perley who gives them advance notice of our events and suppers.

2. Press releases—Our local newspaper has printed every single press release we have sent them—church suppers, work being done on the church, fundraising efforts, concerts, publicity for our church cookbook, photos. We know the paper and what they like and we give it to them.

3. Church Cookbook—Not only is this a great collection of recipes, it’s a marketing piece for our church as well. It tells our story and lets people get comfortable with who we are as a church. It’s also fun.

4. Church Suppers—Not only is this a fundraiser but it gives people a non-threatening introduction to our church—way less scary than walking in cold on a Sunday morning. So again, it’s marketing.

5. Friendly ambassadors—Small churches (and small businesses) grow because of relationships. Our church members all seem to be involved in other activities in the community, and while they don’t shove their religion down anyone’s throats, they serve as ambassadors through their service and caring.

These are just a few marketing techniques that we have in place. We’ve been doing this consistently for a little over two years. Here are some of the results:

1. When people asked about our church, they used say, “Is that church still open?” Now they say, “Oh, that’s the church that’s always in the paper.”

2. Our suppers are sold out in advance every time and we raised the price of admission so we make more each time.

3. We’ve raised enough funds (in an area that is definitely not affluent) to put in a septic system, indoor plumbing, and next month we’re putting a new roof on our historic church building. All things our small congregation could never have afforded to do on its own.

4. Our congregation has tripled. Weekly offerings actually exceed the day to day cost of running the church.

5. Our loyal workers feel appreciated and valued.

6. Our visibility in the community has allowed us to fulfill our mission of helping others.

We’ve done all this and more by simply applying good marketing techniques in a consistent way. Regardless what type of business you have marketing just plain works. Whether you’re trying to build your own business or help your local library or animal shelter raise funds, marketing is the most powerful asset you can have. Of course, having an “in” with the Almighty doesn’t hurt either!

Until next time,

Caroline Jordan
Get Knowledge. Get Focus. Get Results.
The Jordan Result

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Grocery Store Satisfies a Big Hunger

The big excitement in my area this month has been the grand opening of a Hannaford grocery story. For many larger towns and cities, a new grocery store is not that big a deal. It would barely cause a blip on the interest screen. But here, it’s big with a capital B.

Why such a big deal? At one point in time the town had as many as five grocery stores. That worked out to about one grocery store for every 500 year round residents. Retirement, acquisitions, and business shut downs left the town with only one grocery store. In typical small town small business fashion, the store was inadequate to meet the needs of the population. The store was small and cramped. The prices were high. The service was uninspired at best.

As the population increased, the need for a good grocery store increased as well. Residents routinely drove 20-40 minutes to other towns to shop at Hannaford or Shaw’s for better variety and lower prices. We would end up spending a half a day just to get the weekly grocery shopping done.

Rumors have flown around for years that Hannaford was coming to town. Finally, last year everything fell into place. A suitable site was found, permissions were granted, ground was broken. All winter long we’ve watched the progress as the store was constructed, signs went up, help was hired, and delivery trucks unloaded.

At long last, the much anticipated grand opening was held. Townspeople turned up in droves, filling the parking lot, crowding the aisles, and filling the registers. It was truly the talk of the town. I have never seen such a warm welcome for a new business as the one displayed for Hannaford. People are gushing about it. People were rushing over to the grocery store on the slightest whim—Oops! I need more paprika. Darn! Forgot to get an onion. Golly, I’ve got a hankering for….something.

Why has this grand opening been such a success? It is a simple business premise. Find a hungry market and give it what it wants. Our town has had an unsatisfied hunger for a good grocery store for years. Finally, that hunger has been fed.

Had the new store been a clothing store or a hardware store it would have been nice but it is doubtful the world would have beaten a path to the door. The hunger just isn’t there. Hannaford had an easy job of selling the town on a new grocery store because everyone wanted it to happen. They had an easy job of selling the citizens on coming to the store because everyone was already in the parking lot waiting anxiously for the store to open its doors. That’s the kind of selling job we all would like to have. And it’s the kind we get when we take the time to understand what our market is really looking for—in our case the market was looking for….a market—the kind with cabbages and crackers!

Until next time,
Caroline Jordan

Get Knowledge. Get Focus. Get Results.
The Jordan Result

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What My 5th Grade Teacher Taught Me

When I was in the fifth grade I had a wonderful teacher named Mrs. Sanborn. She was one of the shining examples of what a teacher should be…encouraging, supportive, caring, and fun. And she was the best reader of stories I ever knew. She read us “A Wrinkle in Time” and used different voices for each of the characters so well that she kept a room full of ten year olds entranced and hanging on her every word.

Mrs. Sanborn told us a story once upon a time…Her son had been sick with some sort of infection. The doctor put him on an antibiotic. When the young boy began feeling better, Mrs. Sanborn stopped giving him the antibiotic. The infection returned. The doctor lectured Mrs. Sanborn and told her that her son needed to finish the full course of the antibiotic to completely kill all the infection. He said to her, “I don’t care if the boy is sick, well, or dead, he needs to take all the medication!”

Mrs. Sanborn turned this into a teaching lesson for the generations of students who entered her classroom. She would say, “Sick, well, or dead, you need to get your homework done.” “Sick, well, or dead, your project needs to be finished by Friday.” She even abbreviated when she wrote a due date on the board, “SWD”, and we all knew just what she meant.

What Mrs. Sanborn was really teaching us about was integrity. We didn’t know it at the time because like many teachers she sort of snuck that by us and lodged it in our subconscious. Teachers are tricky that way. She was teaching us that when you make a commitment to someone, you need to follow through “sick, well, or dead”.

Such is the case when you promise subscribers to your newsletter that they will receive a weekly Ezine of valuable tips and strategies to help them become more successful in their business endeavors. They entrust you with their email addresses in exchange for valuable information. It is a contract, pure and simple.

Sometimes, in the course of human events (like excessive demands of running a business) you lose sight of some of those commitments and contracts. You forget to kiss your spouse goodbye. You neglect to call your mother. Your dog turns big brown eyes to you and sighs because you forgot to play with him today. Or, you neglect to write your Ezine because you’re swamped with work. But, the bottom line is this: you made a promise and sick, well, or dead you need to keep your word.

So, here is my renewed pledge to all of my valued subscribers:

Sick, well, or dead, you will see me in your inbox every Wednesday with tips and strategies to help you create a more successful business.

(Note: If you don’t see me in your inbox, it means your s-p-a-m filter kicked me out, but my ezines can always be found on my blog at www.TheJordanResult.com.)

Until next time,
Caroline Jordan

Get Knowledge. Get Focus. Get Results.

I'm Not Responsible for This!

I have been hard at work on a consulting job with a company that is larger than my usual client. They still meet the criteria for a small business but they are big enough to have more of a corporate feel in their offices.

One word I have heard over and over again in their offices is “responsibility”. As in “Don’t worry, you’re not responsible for that.” And, “I’ll take responsibility for that.” And, “These are your areas of responsibility.”

As the owner of a small business, the whole “Responsibility Thing” really cracks me up. Imagine only being “responsible” for bits and pieces of your business:

“I’m only responsible for marketing.”
“I’m only responsible for production.”
“I’m only responsible for accounting.”

Ah, how much easier life would be. I could sit back and say, “Someone should do something about…”

I wonder if when someone is asked to handle something outside of their usual “responsibility” core, how uncomfortable that must be. The thought of being “responsible” for everything could easily overwhelm many people. Corporations are good at providing a snug cocoon for employees keeping them comfortable and safe from having too much responsibility.

Of course, the flip side of the coin is that being self employed means we’re responsible for every aspect of the business regardless of our comfort level. We have to constantly learn new skills and continuously improve how we do what we do. It’s a “responsibility” none of us can take lightly. There is simply too much on the line. And that mantle of responsibility can rest pretty heavy on the shoulders much of the time.

But when all is said and done, at the end of the day, I would still rather be the captain of a row boat than only be “responsible” for one oar on a slave galley.

Until next time,

Caroline Jordan
Get Knowledge. Get Focus. Get Results.