Monthly Archives: June 2012

How Can You Ramp Sales With Limited Dollars? Six Suggestions

Situation: A company survived the recession by cutting back and using cash reserves. Business is now on the upswing with significant new opportunities. However, the company has limited resources to invest landing new opportunities. How do you ramp up sales and business development on a constrained budget?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Identify and focus on your niche market, and invest your limited resources closing qualified clients. This is a rifle shot approach, not shotgun. While seeing new business, make sure that you have sufficient production capacity to handle new business. You want your clients to be satisfied so that they will refer others to you
  • Cash is the most critical resource. Spend carefully and get the most from your investment in business development.
  • While marketing materials are important, they may not be essential if you have and can leverage excellent referral sources. Word of mouth and referrals from trusted clients are your top assets.
  • Leverage Linkedin as a free or low cost resource to identify key contacts in your top 100 customer prospects.
  • You can also use Linked-in.com to recruit additional sales resources who may be amenable to a pure commission sale. This can help you to augment your efforts so that you only pay for success.
  • Your most important current unused resource is leads and referrals from existing satisfied customers. Let them know that you are looking to grow and ask whether they know of contacts in other companies who could use your product. It is surprising how frequently they will share their contacts with you. Ask whether they would call the contact and provide a personal introduction.

Can You Metric Company Culture? Two Suggestions

Situation: A company has done a number of things to build company morale. Participation is variable depending on the activity. The CEO wants to build a system to measure employee morale. What metrics do you use to measure changes in your culture over time?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The Gallup Organization has focused on this issue perhaps more than any other organization in the world. They find that regularly conducting surveys allows you to measure and improve your culture over time. Their surveys focus on 12 questions that they have found most critical to employee morale within a company.
  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who is interested in and encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company inspire me make me feel that my job is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend or mentor at work?
  11. In the last six months, has anyone at work given me a review or talked to me about my performance/progress?
  12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?
  • Notice that not one of these has to do with compensation or benefits. Rather they focus on employee perception of how they are managed, whether they have to do the tools to do their job, and feeling that others at work care about them.
  • Another measure to watch is employee retention – particularly of your best employees.

How Do You Fit In Time For Yourself? Three Suggestions

Situation: The CEO of a high tech company has been working long hours, and has had no time for himself, or even for much sleep during the past few months. As is typical in a small company, the CEO and everyone else wears many hats. What have you done to successfully fit in time for yourself?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Take a calendar, and mark all of your time for several weeks to a month. Then look at the ways that you spend time and prioritize them into categories:
    • Life – eating, sleeping, etc.
    • Must do – mission critical
    • Must do – could possibly delegate
    • Free Time
    • See how many of the “Must do” activities you can delegate or otherwise handle and recategorize this time into Life or Free Time. You may be amazed at how much more efficiently you can use your time. Ask all employees to do this every 90 days to assure that they are utilizing their work time effectively.
  • If you have long commutes or lots of travel time, get an extended battery for your laptop. This will allow you to make travel time more productive.
  • Or, if you have a long commute, hire a semi-retired driver to drive you to and from work. Turn your commute time into productive work time.
    • Semi-retired drivers are available for as little as $10 per hour. You can pay them $1,000 at a time in advance, and the driver keeps a log of the time spent driving the client.
    • Use your car, or the driver’s car and if the latter, reimburse the driver for mileage.
    • To make this work effectively set the rule that you are the client, and not looking for conversation. You want to accomplish as much work as possible during the trip.
    • Look for professional drivers, with the proper licensing. Do an MVR check on the driver’s history as part of your evaluation process.

How Do You Structure Your Bookkeeping Function? Four Suggestions

Situation: A small company has a long term clerk employee. This individual is responsible for AR/AP, Payroll and also HR manuals and reports to the CEO. This individual has been a good employee, but doesn’t perform well in this role. How would you structure accounting and bookkeeping in a small company?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This is a key role, but there are a number of options. One is for the individual to continue reporting to the CEO, but train someone else to back them up. This will enable you to either shift the individual to another, more appropriate role within the company, or to continue with minimal disruption if the individual leaves.
  • Because of history and loyalty, this is a difficult emotional issue for you as CEO. It is important to consider what you would do if you could remove your emotions from the issue. If the answer is that you would eliminate the clerk position and hire a qualified, experienced bookkeeper at the appropriate salary, then this is your answer.
  • Packard’s Law – from one of HP’s founders – is that no company can grow beyond the capabilities of their employees. Hire the right person. This individual must be process-oriented – someone who routinely checks their own work to make sure that it is right. There is an adage in accounting that good accounting is 20% knowledge and 80% double checking the work. Hire a person who loves to do this.
  • Take care of this position in the best interests of the company, and look for another, more appropriate within the company job for the clerk.

What Are Best Practices Hiring Out of College? Four Thoughts

Situation: A Silicon Valley company finds it difficult to find good candidates locally, and also to attract qualified distant candidates to the Bay Area. They want to explore hiring talented individuals out of local colleges and developing them within the company. What are best practices hiring right out of college?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Hiring out of college or graduate school is a good way to find long-term hires who can grow into positions. It is less useful if your need is for experienced and tenured individuals who can immediately get up to speed in a position of significant responsibility.
  • As in any hiring situation, you should review your hiring process before you start to hire. Many companies hire locally based on who applies or who’s a friend of a friend, rather than making an effort to recruit the best candidates.
    • What is your infrastructure? Do you have a system for identifying candidates who best fit your culture and needs? Do you have personnel who can mentor a new college hire, or are you willing to devote significant time to this?
    • An alternative is to hire consultants to develop a recruiting process or to mentor the new hire in specific areas of development during their first year or two on the job.
  • One CEO sponsors an annual competition at Santa Clara University for papers in his company’s field. This has won him considerable support at the school, and gives him access to promising students, several of whom he has hired. An advantage of this program is that the company gets to know the individuals and the quality of their work before making a commitment to offer them either an internship or a full-time position.
  • Be cautious using candidate assessment tools with college hires. An individual’s profile may shift significantly once they start working because there is a significant shift in priorities once an individual leaves student life.

How Can You Best Use Excess Profits? Five Suggestions

Situation: A company, an S Corporation, produced substantial profits during the first 6 months of their fiscal year. This becomes taxable personal income to the owners if it remains profits. How would you advise the CEO and owners to make best use of these excess profits?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Use some of the funds to invest in new opportunities for the future growth of the company.
  • Prepay significant costs like software licenses multiple years in advance. Make sure that you attend to your accounting so that you properly reflect the ongoing profitability of the business. Otherwise, what you may believe is profitable in future years will not reflect true profitability because you will not be accounting for all of your true expenses.
  • Is anyone in the company deserving of a one-time special bonus for performance or a salary increase?
  • It may make sense to take dollars out of the company and to diversify owners’ investments by investing in real estate, stocks, etc.
    • Check out the current rules around 401K programs that may allow you to invest increased amounts per year per person. Talk to your financial advisor about the details and regulations surrounding these programs.
  • List your alternatives and compare the anticipated ROI, on an after-tax basis, of the various options. This will help you to evaluation options including:
    • Reinvesting in the business – various options.
    • Investing outside of the business – various options.
    • Talk to your financial planner about the choices.

What are Best Practices for Employee Reviews? Five Examples

Situation: A CEO is evaluating her company’s employee review process and seeks input on alternative practices from other companies. What are best practices for employee reviews in terms of frequency, format and structure?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Company A conducts annual reviews. They ask for written input from the employee, peers, and manager. The review is a sit-down meeting between the employee and manager.
  • Company B conducts formal annual reviews, with informal 6 month reviews. The annual review evaluates the employee’s performance on 15 key variables, and is prepared by the manager. The review is a sit-down meeting between the employee and manager
  • Company C does not conduct reviews. They have tried several formats over the life of the company, but found none satisfactory. Instead the company continually monitors key metrics on a green, yellow, red scale. As soon as yellow appears on a metric for an employee, the supervisor meets with the employee to discuss the situation and to formulate corrective action. The result is that reds do not occur.
  • Company D conducts annual reviews on the employment anniversary. They request written input from both the employee, and manager. The employee, manager and President meet over lunch, off-site. The objective is to communicate plus and minus points, taking a long-term approach in a conversational setting.
  • Company E conducts annual reviews, with quarterly self-evaluations. Both reviews and evaluations include a key question: “what can management do for me to improve my performance?” The review is a sit down meeting between employee and manager. Results of reviews are tied to quarterly profit sharing.
  • All companies agreed that, generally, in evaluating the options, the most important questions to ask are:
    • Why are we doing reviews?
    • What is the objective?

    The answers to these questions help to evaluate review options.