Productivity. Profitability. Peace of Mind.

MARK BISHOP BRINGS SALES SOLUTIONS EXPERIENCE TO OAK HILL BUSINESS PARTNERS

Mark BishopMilwaukee, WI – June 2016 – Oak Hill Business Partners announced the hiring of veteran sales professional Mark Bishop.  Bishop adds a proven track record of helping clients improve their sales teams and revenue to a strong team of functional, technical experts at Oak Hill.  His professional background includes over 30 years of sales, sales management, and consulting experience.

“We are very excited to have Mark join our team,” said Oak Hill President and Founder Erik Owen.  “Not only does Mark bring a wealth of knowledge and experience in Sales and Sales Management that our clients need to grow their businesses, he is a smart, highly ethical, and fun guy to be around.”

As an Oak Hill partner, Bishop brings a unique business perspective, having worked with companies in a broad spectrum of industries, including consumer goods, industrial, and healthcare.  His expertise is in understanding the goals and needs of the client, assessing the problems holding back top line growth, and implementing a new plan, process, or staff to increase sales and revenue.

“I am energized by the opportunity and the Oak Hill team,” Bishop stated. “What excites me about Oak Hill is the client first focus of the whole team.”

Bishop has worked in sales consulting for over six years, where he has helped clients with interim sales management, one-on-one coaching, and sales staff selection.

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 About Oak Hill Business Partners

Oak Hill Business Partners is a Milwaukee, WI-based firm focused on growth initiatives for small and mid-sized firms needing expertise in finance, sales, marketing, operations, or mergers and acquisitions.  In addition, the firm conducts field exams for banks. Oak Hill serves the Upper Midwest with partners based in Milwaukee, Madison and Indianapolis.   For the last four years, Oak Hill was named to the Milwaukee Business Journal’s List of Top Management Consulting Firms Serving Milwaukee.

Keys to a Successful Project: Relentless Stakeholder Communication

I have led projects in several different capacities for over 20 years and have learned much about what works and what doesn’t.  One thing that is a must is strong communication to all stakeholders.  Who are the stakeholders?  Anyone that in anyway is affected by the outcome of the project.  Executive leaders, managers, process owners, outside contractors, users of the new system or process, vendors, customers, and everyone working directly or indirectly on the project.

As a project sponsor you need your project to be visible to all.  If its not visible to your employees, they will think that the project is not very important. This could spell disaster to the project if the end users don’t buy-in to using the new system or process.

Tailored Communication Plan

Every project should have a well thought out communication plan, preferably hammered out before project initiation.  The plan must be agreed to by the project sponsors and key stakeholders and suit the culture of the organization.

Here are methods to achieve robust communication and visibility to your project:

Newsletter

A simple one page Project Newsletter is always a good way to update your employees on the new things that are coming their way as a result of the project. Content could include:

  • Key dates such as the testing schedule, training session dates and system launch dates
  • Accolades and success stories for those involved in the hard work of the project
  • Email and phone numbers for users to ask questions
  • Identify the project team members and their role on the project
  • Alerts for things that will be new to the users

“War rooms”

Identify a project activity that is big and involves lots of people.  Book a conference room full time or book large blocks of time on certain days.  Staff the room with trained project personnel that can assist users with assigned tasks.  I set up a war room for users to get help writing their ad hoc reports in the new Hyperion Financial Management system.  The hustle and bustle environment generated a lot of excitement for the new system.

Published issue lists

All project managers use issue lists to manage their projects.  The key point is that all issue lists are kept current and are visible on-line to all project stakeholders.  This provides peace of mind to stakeholders in that they can see that issues are identified, assigned and cleared.

Status Meetings

A lot of people complain that they sit in too many meetings and that may be true.  But for a project to be successful, status meetings are critical.  It’s important to tailor frequency and content of status meetings depending on the audience.  I have used the following structure for a large Financial Management system implementation:

  • Sponsor meeting:  Monthly meeting to review high-level dashboard (green, yellow, red for each project workstream) and get direction on key issues.
  • Stakeholder meeting:  Weekly meeting to inform stakeholders of progress toward milestones, road blocks, contentious issues, and get input for solutions to problems that arise.  It’s often tempting to cancel the Stakeholder meeting if there is not much content.  My advice is to hold the meeting anyway.  It’s the forum that is important.  A stakeholder may have identified a critical issue and was ready to share.
  • End user update:  These status meetings are designed to keep the end users informed of project timelines and what is expected of them as the go-live approaches.

Celebration

It is vital to recognize the hard work of the project team frequently and not only at the end of the project.  Going out for drinks goes along way to motivate the team as the project moves forward.  It’s important for the Project Sponsor to call out success stories and say thank you throughout the life of the project.

Project closing/Lessons learned meeting

It happens all the time.  The system is in, it works, and the project team is disbanded without holding a Project Closing Meeting.  Powerful information can be gained by bringing the stakeholders together and reviewing what went well and, more importantly, what didn’t.  The outcomes of this meeting are critically important to ensure success of your company’s future projects.

Conclusion

Stakeholder communication is critical to the success of any project. As a project sponsor you must ensure that your project manager is relentless on this front.

Bob Meyer is a Partner with Oak Hill Business Partners and a seasoned finance professional.  Bob has over 25 years of accounting, financial system implementation, and program management experience in organizations including:  KPMG, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, Manpower, Case New Holland, and Johnson Controls.  Bob has focused on improving effectiveness of financial processes and implementing long-term business growth strategies.  His deep base of experience includes bringing creative solutions to business problems and fostering change where required.

Oak Hill Business Partners is a Milwaukee, WI-based firm focused on growth initiatives for small and mid-sized firms needing expertise in finance, sales, marketing, operations, or mergers and acquisitions.  In addition, the firm conducts field exams for banks.  Most recently, Oak Hill has expanded its line of services to include comprehensive enterprise project management for large organizations.  Oak Hill serves the Upper Midwest with partners based in Milwaukee, Madison, and Indianapolis.   In 2012 and again in 2013, Oak Hill was named to the Milwaukee Business Journal’s List of Top 25 Management Consulting Firms Serving Milwaukee.

When It Comes To Sales, Do Good Things Really Come To Those Who Wait Or…Does The Early Bird Truly Get The Worm?

How would you describe your company’s basic business-to-business sales philosophy: passive/reactive or aggressive/proactive?

The passive/reactive philosophy is not necessarily the wrong approach just as the aggressive/proactive philosophy is not always a required ingredient for success.  And, realistically, most businesses engage in both to some degree.  However, there are some simple criteria for deciding which approach should be the lead sales methodology for your organization.

The passive/reactive approach works when a company and its products/services are well-known to an established, static customer base that has few or no competitive alternatives.  In this scenario, the company can assemble an efficient customer service-oriented inside sales team and wait for the phone to ring.

The aggressive/proactive approach is necessary for a new company or a business operating in a highly competitive industry with a large, fluid customer base.  In this scenario, the company needs a well-trained, intelligent and highly motivated sales force to go out and “hunt” for business.

Let’s focus on new companies and businesses operating in highly competitive industries with large, fluid customer bases since these represent the vast majority of small-to-medium-size companies in existence today.  If your business falls into this category and you lack a strategic, targeted, proactive sales plan for reaching the customer base with which you want and need to be doing business, chances are you good that you are consistently falling short of your revenue goals and maximum growth potential.

Let’s peel back another layer and ask the following: do your sales people have a razor sharp understanding of who they should be calling on and why?  If the answer is no, then the logical follow-up question is “why not?”  Is it a lack of training, a lack of discipline and focus, a lack of tools and information provided to them or worse…an unfiltered overload of information provided to them?  Chances are it is a combination of those and other factors.  The reason is rarely singular or clear.

One thing that is clear, however, is that it is virtually impossible for a company to maintain an aggressive/proactive, motivated sales staff (and by extension a successful and sustainable sales operation) if it lacks a clearly-identified and prioritized prospective customer list.  Creating such a list is not always as easy as it would seem, but is critical to the success of any business.

There are some prerequisites to accomplishing this task.  In order to improve their success ratio while also reducing wasted time and effort pursuing dead-end prospects, your sales people should first be able to demonstrate that they have a solid understanding of:

  • Your company’s branding and the unique qualities that differentiate your organization from the others that say they do what you do
  • Your own products and services and how they support the industry you serve
  • The competitive landscape in which you operate (i.e. the strengths/weaknesses of your competition vs. your own)
  • The reputations of the companies they feel belong on their target list (i.e. are the mission statements and/or corporate values of these companies in line with your own?)
  • The existence of the proper purchasing indicators  within the companies they feel belong on their target list (i.e. do the target companies have a history of purchasing what you have to sell or—at a minimum—are conditions present that would allow you to convince them of the need to purchase what you have to sell?)
  • The potential sales cycle for the companies they feel belong on their target list (i.e. how long will it take them to turn prospects into paying customers?)
  • The financial health and stability of the companies they feel belong on their target list (i.e. can they pay their bills?)

When your sales people can speak to these qualifiers with confidence they should, with some assistance, be able to produce a workable prospective customer list.  Once that’s accomplished, it’s time for your sales staff to kick it into high gear.  You should witness an increase in energy and confidence from your sales people as they begin working their sales plan with a proactive, aggressive, forward-thinking mentality.  It will be a beautiful thing to see them actually “create” revenue streams for your company.

Progress benchmarks and accountability standards should be established and discussed on a regular basis but, for the most part, it’s time to get out of the way and let your sales people do their jobs.  Of course, they will need your support along the way so be prepared to remove whatever obstacles you can for them and provide back-up to their efforts during key points of the sales cycle.

In my next blog we’ll discuss how to utilize the “step-stoning” method to penetrate a prospective customer even when you don’t know who the decision-maker is.  Think of crossing a river when there is no bridge. 

If you want to learn more about how well-planned, effective sales strategies can enhance your business, please contact Mike Thompson of Oak Hill Business Partners.

Mike Thompson is a Partner with Oak Hill Business Partners and a veteran sales professional with over 25 years of sales, sales management, and marketing communications experience.   Mike takes a consultative approach toward partnering with business management to develop a detailed understanding of its needs in order to provide business solutions designed to help companies maximize their potentials.  His knowledge gained from working with companies of all sizes combined with his strong communication skills establishes a rock-solid foundation to deliver effective results.

Oak Hill Business Partners is a Milwaukee, WI-based firm focused on growth initiatives for small and mid-sized firms needing expertise in finance, sales, marketing, operations, or mergers and acquisitions.  In addition, the firm conducts field exams for banks.  Most recently, Oak Hill has expanded its line of services to include comprehensive enterprise project management for large organizations.  Oak Hill serves the Upper Midwest with partners based in Milwaukee, Madison, and Indianapolis.   In 2012 and again in 2013, Oak Hill was named to the Milwaukee Business Journal’s List of Top 25 Management Consulting Firms Serving Milwaukee.

What Is My Company Worth?

I get this question a lot from business owners.  They would normally like to hear a simple answer and many times are disappointed with the answer.  I don’t make up the rules for business valuation, but I can help you understand what goes into one and how to prepare your company.

Let’s start with what valuation is not.  Valuation is NOT what the value of the company is in the hands of the current owner.  In the context of selling your company, the value of your company is based on what the value of your company is in the hands of a third party – a buyer or acquirer.  Put another way, it’s “transferable value”.

Identifying The Value (Drivers) Of Your Company

If the value of your company is determined by what is perceived as value to a third party, a business owner should always be focusing its management decisions on the drivers of value.

A value driver is a specific characteristic of a company that will either reduce an inherent risk associated with owning a company in your industry, or one that will increase the chances of continued growth and profitability into the future.

In the end, how your company addresses and performs in these areas will go a long way in determining what your company is worth – it’s selling price or transferable value.  The better you perform in these areas, the higher on the range of value your company will be.  Conversely, if your company performs poorly in these areas, the lower your company will be valued.

Think Long Term

The beauty of asking business owners to identify and study the value drivers of their company is that whether in the context of preparing your company for sale or not, these characteristics are also key elements to any successful business.  In other words, it’s just good business practice to always be working on enhancing these characteristics.  After all, your company may not sell for a long time, and usually these are not things that can be properly addressed a few weeks or months, or even years before an actual sale.  So, it’s important to always be working on these value drivers.

Example of Value Drivers

There are several examples of value drivers, and I want to indentify a few here and I will write more about these in greater detail in my next post.

  • Consistent & Predictable Earnings (Cash Flow)
  • Reliable Financial Statements
  • Intellectual Property & Brand Identity/Awareness
  • Proprietary Items
  • Robust IT & Financial Systems
  • Contracts/ Recurring Revenue
  • Diversified Customer Base
  • Strong Management / Human Capital

Each of these value drivers has an effect on the value, and will either increase or decrease the multiples typically used for a company in a particular industry.  Identifying and mastering them will not only make your company more valuable and give you more money when you sell your company, but it will also make your company a better, more profitable company in the mean time.

To learn more about the Value Drivers and what your company is worth, contact Frank J Orlando at Oak Hill Business Partners.

Frank Orlando is a Partner with Oak Hill Business Partners and a veteran business broker and M&A professional.  He leads the Business Sales and M&A Advisory Services practice for Oak Hill.  Not only does Frank have deep experience as a trusted advisor to business deals, he has also been a buyer and seller of businesses as well.

Oak Hill Business Partners is a Milwaukee, WI based firm focused on the growth of small and mid-sized firms needing expertise in finance, sales, marketing, operations, or mergers and acquisitions.  Oak Hill serves the Upper Midwest with partners based in Milwaukee and Indianapolis.   In 2012 and again in 2013, Oak Hill was named to the Milwaukee Business Journal’s List of Top 25 Management Consulting Firms Serving Milwaukee.

Why Are Financial Statements Important?

We hear this regularly when we are meeting with business owners; especially relatively new businesses.  Some of you may be thinking, “How can you ask a question like that?”  Let ‘s see if I can answer both questions.

Financial statements are important for many reasons, but here are three significant reasons.

  • Financial statements tell you the performance and the value (sort of) of your company.
  • Financial statements are what others are using to measure your company.
  • Financial statements and other tools help you manage your company when you can no longer be hands on with all the details.

There are three primary financial statements.

Income Statement

The income (or profit & loss) statement tells you the performance of your company.  It shows the revenues earned and related expenses covering a certain period of time like a fiscal year.  This statement is designed to show you if you made a profit.

Balance Sheet

The balance sheet is designed to show you a picture of your assets and liabilities (debts) at a  point in time.

Cash Flow Statement

The cash flow statement reconciles the net profit from the income statement to the amount of cash generated for that same period of time.

How Are They Used

So how do these statements relate to the three points above?  The income statement shows the performance of your company over a period of time and the balance sheet shows the value of your company (sort of).

Why sort of?  Because current assets and debts (due within one year) are shown at their current or fair market value, but other items like machinery, equipment, furniture, etc. are shown at historical costs, meaning that machine you bought 15 years ago or the building you bought 30 years ago is still shown at the value you paid for it, not the value it would sell for today.  This is only further confused by depreciation, an accounting tool that attempts to take into account the decline of value over time.  Depreciation is subtracted every year to lower the value of the asset to help reflect a more realistic value.

A Simple Illustration

Let’s see if an illustration helps.  Your personal income statement would equal your salary less the rent, utilities, phone, groceries, and other expenses you have.   Your personal balance sheet would be filled with assets (like cash, cars, house, computer, TV, etc) and liabilities or debts (like a mortgage, car loan, home equity line, etc.).  Your Net Worth would be calculated by subtracting your debts from your assets.  Your personal cash flow statement, might reconcile between your salary and your paycheck while showing you what you spent on normal living vs. investments or loans.

Conclusion

It is important to have accurate and timely financial statements to understand and run your business.  It becomes even more necessary if you are going to get a loan from a bank or sell your business.

Contact Erik Owen (414.852.0015/erik.owen@OakHillBP.com) if you need help understanding your financial statements or using them to run your business more efficiently.

Erik Owen, CPA is the President of Oak Hill Business Partners and has over 20 years of professional experience in Finance and Accounting, Administration, and General Management.  He has helped companies as small as $3 million up to Fortune 100 companies.

Oak Hill Business Partners is a Milwaukee, WI based firm focused on the growth of small and mid-sized firms needing expertise in finance, sales, marketing, operations, or mergers and acquisitions.  Oak Hill serves the Upper Midwest with partners based in Milwaukee and Indianapolis.   In 2012 and again in 2013, Oak Hill was named to the Milwaukee Business Journal’s List of Top 25 Management Consulting Firms Serving Milwaukee.

The Basics of Confidentiality and or Non-Disclosure Agreements for Buyers

You are an individual buyer and you’ve become aware of a business for sale opportunity and the intermediary representing the seller asks you execute a Confidentiality Agreement or Non-Disclosure Agreement (also referred to as an NDA).

  • What is a Confidentiality Agreement or Non Disclosure Agreement?
  • Why do you need to complete this intimidating legal document before you know anything about the business for sale?
  • What is the seller protecting?
  • What are the benefits to the buyer in executing an NDA?

These are all good questions that I regularly get from individual buyers, and I hope to address them from a high level on this blog posting.

What is an NDA or Confidentiality Agreement?

Confidentiality Agreements or Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDAs) are a necessary legal document used in a business sale transaction to protect both the buyer and seller.  In the context of a business sale transaction, it is often necessary to disclose certain information to another party to facilitate the transaction itself.

In other words, a buyer needs to know a lot of information about the business before it can make a reasonable judgment as to whether or not they want to pursue further discussions with the seller or the seller’s representatives.

Likewise, a seller needs to protect a lot of the information a buyer legitimately needs to review in order to make an informed decision.

In order to meet the needs of both parties they complete a Confidentiality Agreement or a Non-Disclosure Agreement to create an open and free flow of information between the parties.

Non-Disclosure vs. Confidentiality Agreement

In practice, these terms are essentially used interchangeably and for the purposes of this discussion, they are essentially the same type of document that serves identical purposes.

When to Execute a Confidentiality Agreement or NDA

Generally speaking, these documents are usually completed very early in the process.  Many times, individual and first-time buyers will ask an intermediary for the location or name of the business before agreeing to execute an agreement.  Depending on the type of business being sold, that information can be highly sensitive and a seller will want to protect that information until they know the buyer is genuine and sincere.

The goal of the intermediary representing the seller is to protect his client’s sensitive and confidential information, while still providing enough information to a potential buyer so the buyer can make a decision to learn or not learn more about the opportunity.

What is the Seller Protecting?

The seller is seeking to protect a lot of information.  For one, the seller typically wants to protect the fact that the business is for sale.  That fact alone, if disclosed openly, could do irreparable harm to the business.  Vendors, employees, strategic alliances, lenders, investors and others could view that information in a way that could do serious harm to the company.

Business methods, client information, financial information, business ideas, new products, intellectual property, etc. are all things that can fall under “confidential information”.  The legal language used in the confidentiality agreement is generally and purposely very broad for a reason.

What are the Benefits of Signing an NDA for a Buyer?

Many individual and first time buyers incorrectly view this document as very one-sided for the benefit of the seller.  While that is generally true, if the prospective buyer ultimately purchases the business they will benefit from those protections.  As I mentioned earlier, the mere fact that a business is for sale may, for example, cause a major customer to reconsider their relationship with the company.  As the buyer, you don’t want to be purchasing a company that has customers fleeing.

Also, by signing the NDA you’re letting the seller know you’re serious about considering the business.  After all, this is still a legally binding document that allows for recourse if breached.  With the NDA in place, you’re free to view highly sensitive and critical decision making information about the company.  Most sellers will not negotiate with a buyer that is unwilling to execute any form of an NDA or confidentiality agreement.

Final Tips 

  • As a buyer, don’t be turned off by a request to sign an NDA or Confidentiality Agreement.  This is a normal and standard practice used at all levels of business transactions.
  • Be aware of who you can share the confidential information with that you receive from the seller.  Generally, but not always, you’re allowed to share the information with your professionals (e.g. accountants, attorney, financial advisors).
  • This is a legally binding document.  Make sure to read it carefully and adhere to the language in the agreement.

If you want to learn more about Confidentiality Agreements and NDAs, please contact Frank J Orlando of Oak Hill Business Partners.

Frank Orlando is a Partner with Oak Hill Business Partners and a veteran business broker and M&A professional.  He leads the Business Sales and M&A Advisory Services practice for Oak Hill.  Not only does Frank have deep experience as a trusted advisor to business deals, he has also been a buyer and seller of businesses as well.

Oak Hill Business Partners is a Milwaukee, WI based firm focused on the growth of small and mid-sized firms needing expertise in finance, sales, marketing, operations, or mergers and acquisitions.  Oak Hill serves the Upper Midwest with partners based in Milwaukee and Indianapolis.   In 2012 and again in 2013, Oak Hill was named to the Milwaukee Business Journal’s List of Top 25 Management Consulting Firms Serving Milwaukee.

The Urgent Need For Clarity

By Kathryn Weber, PHR

Why are so many experienced professionals saying that the business climate today is more unforgiving than ever? It is faster paced, with shorter turnaround times, combined with demands to address relentless change. In addition, the level and quality of competition is greater than ever. The pressure to perform is extraordinary!

So how do you respond to this reality?

Enlightened leaders understand that the foundation for higher performance and achieving goals today, in any organization, is clarity. Clarity of purpose and clarity of expectations. Simply put, increased clarity almost always leads to better outcomes.

Ask yourself the following. How clear is every single person in your organization about each of the following?

  • Your corporate values.
  • Your market niche and strategy for owning that niche.
  • Current goals that are important to the strategy.
  • Your specific role and what you are responsible to accomplish.
  • How your performance will be evaluated
  • Your opportunities for growth at the company.

Can you see how more clarity will grease the wheels for more productivity and professionalism – and better results?

I submit that the best tool for improving clarity across the entire organization is a well-designed performance management strategy. A strategy that defines our objectives for the future but also supports our need for agility.

A performance management strategy ties together high level corporate decisions such as values and mission with tactical events like hiring, on-boarding, setting goals, annual reviews and even informal coaching interactions. The best plans are developed in a facilitated collaboration of the existing management team and other key stakeholders in the organization. It brings together a lot of disconnected institutional information and combines it with known best practices – but it needs to work for your industry, and it needs to work for your organization. When done right, the resulting plan may be the most important tool in your company’s management toolbox!

Implementing a performance management plan will have a cultural impact; it engages and develops mid-level managers to engage and develop their staff with more clarity and in a more purposeful way. While the timing of success will depend upon number of locations, types of tools currently in place and overall willingness to adopt a new strategy; realizing the commitment, knowledge, skill, and recognition of a new performance management plan can permeate a small to mid-size organization in as little as 90 to 120 days.

The well-designed performance management plan, properly implemented, can be fully expected to deliver:

  • Immediate productivity improvements of managers and their staff.
  • A more engaged, and professional, workforce with higher rates of job satisfaction
  • A heightened sense of URGENCY about meeting goals and team development.

Bring urgency to clarity in your company with an enlightened and updated Performance Management Plan.

Oak Hill Business Partners is a professional services firm serving small and mid-sized businesses.  Oak Hill provides Growth Management Services, Mergers & Acquisitions, and Financial Institution Services.

Kathryn Weber is a Strategic Partner of Oak Hill Business Partners and the owner of Strategic Solutions in Performance Management LLC.

How Do I Control The Cash In My Business?

By Erik Owen

If you don’t have to worry about cash flow these days, you are not only fortunate, but also in the minority.  Whether your sales have dropped or you are beginning to grow, many different factors can put demands on your corporate cash.

Here are some management techniques to help you manage your cash flow:

Manage or Reduce Expenses

Just like your budget at home, when income goes down, you need to review expenses and determine which ones can be reduced or eliminated to help reduce the cash going out of the business.  This could be as straightforward as dropping memberships or eliminating unnecessary travel and entertainment.  Or as complex as reviewing healthcare, 401(k) plans, or even compensation plans.

Be careful to assess both the long-term in addition to the short-term effects of any of these changes.  Taking some extra time to understand the effects of changes and communicating them well, can make a huge difference in their effectiveness.

Grow Sales

Remember, no amount of cutting will replace a growth strategy when it comes to sustainability.  The important factor here is the right sales growth.

You want profitable customers.  These customers may pay more for your product or service, they may buy more profitable products/services than other customers, or it may cost less to service these customers because there are more efficiencies.

Manage Customer Payments

If you have sales of $5M and your average customer is paying in 45 days, the extra 15 days of receivables are over $200K.  If you shorten the time in which your customers pay, you may be able to reduce borrowing, which would also reduce interest expenses and free up cash.

Leverage Supplier Relationships

Have you asked your suppliers to carry more or better inventory for you so you can reduce the inventory you carry (and therefore have to buy)?  Have you asked whether your suppliers would consider consignment of inventory (pay for it when it sells)?

Yes many are stretching their suppliers as they get stretched, but make sure you communicate well and don’t burn these relationships.  You’ll need them later.

Review your Borrowing

If you have high-interest credit cards or loans, or the wrong mix of term debt vs. a line of credit, you may be paying too much for your borrowing.  Getting your debt in line will not only reduce interest costs, it may also help cash flow significantly.

Oak Hill Business Partners is a professional services firm serving small and mid-sized businesses.  Oak Hill provides Growth Management Services, Mergers & Acquisitions, and Financial Institution Services.

Erik Owen is the President of Oak Hill Business Partners and has over 20 years of professional experience in Finance and Accounting, Administration, and General Management.  You can call Erik at 414.852.0015 or email him at erik.owen@OakHillBP.com.

Using Microsoft Excel To Supercharge Your Profits

By Lorry Rifkin

Microsoft Excel is omnipresent in the business world today. It is used to help run millions of business. Users have all levels of training from formal classes to learning from a fellow employee’s hands on training.

Because it’s so easy to start using Excel and seeing numbers result from that use, little thought is given to using these spreadsheets as a competitive weapon to drive productivity and profitability by integrating them in a company’s comprehensive business plan.

 

In my 25 years of using Microsoft Excel several reasons constantly surface, that prevent this powerful business tool from being used to develop smart systems that supercharged profitability.

  • A lack of thorough training. Excel is a complex tool. Complex tools require complex training to maximize their use. Train your people up, don’t dumb them down to the lowest level of user.
  • A focus on learning features versus learning what feature gives the most productive result.
  • The failure to integrate business spreadsheets directly into a company’s accounting, CRM and other core business programs by using ODBC technology or import export routines.
  • The fear of using VBA macros and code to automate, test for errors, and improve efficiency.
  • Knowing when to abandon a spreadsheet for a more productive or effective tool.

Consider the 2 system definitions (slightly condensed) below from Lee Thayer a leadership Guru.

 Dumb system – Output of the system is unreliable and marginally competent.

 Smart System – Output elevates the performance of competent people

How many times have you built and used a spreadsheet only to find out latter that the results were wrong?  The usual cause is you built a dumb system.

This does not mean your mission critical spreadsheets have to be complicated to deliver accurate results or improve productivity. But it does mean the process to build them must result in a smart system.

How do you build a smart spreadsheet? By using a consistent step by step process beginning with:

1.  Asking why do you need to develop the spreadsheet with questions like these below.

    • Is the information not available in another source system?
    • Is it not formatted correctly?
    • Is it not sorted the way you like?
    • Is there data but not the calculated fields that you want to see?
    • Do you want a “what if” model, that works using variable input?

2.  Determine the desired objective of the spreadsheet, the source of the core data, and where and how the results will be used.

Most spreadsheets are used as a database,  a model, or analysis of some set of data to produce some form of information, or a combination of both.

A typical model is a financial projection of some type.

One often overlooked point is to create a test case of data that delivers a known outcome so you can test the model when you are done with development.

3.  For reliability and accuracy determine if the base data can be loaded electronically thru ODBC or an import from another system.

Determine what Excel feature or spreadsheet design can deliver the desired object with the least effort and highest accuracy.

 Many users stick to the tools they know and don’t use the tools that work best.

Ask yourself or your employees if they know:

    • When would you use a subtotal versus a pivot table?
    • How to use data filtering and sorting to quickly find data?
    • How to design a financial model’s formatting independent of the data so you can quickly change data sets and model different assumptions?
    • How to collapse rows and columns to have one model present summary and detail information?
    • The advantage of R1C1 notation for cell references instead of A1 notation?
    • How to protect cells, sheets, and workbooks from user overwrites?
    • How to test to make sure the model works?
    • How to record a simple VBA tool that marks the path on all printed documents so you can find where you saved them?

4.  Determine a consistent naming and directory structure so you can find and determine what a spreadsheet does by the name.

How much time is wasted finding where you put that spreadsheet model you built last year?

Decide on a calendar or functional schema. Develop a dictionary of abbreviated business entities, segments product lines etc. Require all documents to be printed with a path.

5.  Documentation of what the spreadsheet is designed to do and how it is to be used.

This is critical to add data reliability and the ability to audit. It is the step most often omitted. Add an instructions tab and a notes tab to document important items within the spreadsheet itself.

Created with a consistent methodology, your company’s spreadsheets can help improve workflow and make you more money. It requires teaching and training a few high power users in your organization and then having them be the trainers for others.

Oak Hill Business Partners is a professional services firm serving small and mid-sized businesses.  Oak Hill provides Growth Management Services, Mergers & Acquisitions, and Financial Institution Services.  Our deep experience allows us to work “where strategy meets execution” – our strategy and our execution are based on years of experience doing the work.

Lorry Rifkin is a Partner with Oak Hill Business Partners specializing in finance and operations.  He has more than 25 years of experience working with businesses in many different industries.  His background includes finance, operations, process improvement/cost savings, technology integration, and turnaround management.

Things To Consider Before Diving Into A Marketing Communications Project

By Terry Bolda

Previous blog postings have explained the advantages of having professional and regular communications with your target audience, whether it is a letter, annual report, blog post, printed newsletter or email newsletter. As an executive director or CEO with little knowledge of the publishing or marketing communications world, what should you be thinking about when you are looking at expanding your marketing efforts with a regular newsletter to your customers and potential clients?

  • A production schedule should be the first thing. Depending on how many pages the publication is, a designer needs a week to 10 days and a printer needs 7-10 working days to produce a 12-page annual report. Then you need to build in a schedule for writing content. The more department heads involved in reviewing and approving content, the longer it will take. This process alone could easily be a month or two.
  • Find a good printer and designer. There are a lot to chose from, so build in time to meet with several designers and view their portfolios. There can be a pretty wide range of quotes from printers. It helps to get recommendations from other contacts to see who they’ve used. Some designers have printers they work with directly which will save you time but you’ll likely want another quote to compare.
  • What is your content? What do you want to tell the reader that is not only informational, but motivational too?  Ask others in your organization, customers and associates what would they want to know?
  • Finally, who is going to put this together? Look for a writer or editor with a journalism background. Journalists know to write compelling copy that moves readers along a path. If you have an email or print newsletter, or annual report, it needs to be written for the audience and on a production schedule. A journalist not only loves to write, but is comfortable working under deadline pressure.

Oak Hill Business Partners’ Growth Management Services will work with your management team to devise and execute an overall strategy for growing your organization.  Whether it’s a refined marketing strategy or improved communications with your target audience, we have the expertise to support you so you can focus more effort on your core expertise.   For more information, Contact Us today.

Terry Bolda is a Partner with Oak Hill Business Partners specializing in copywriting, editing and marketing communications.  He has more than 20 years of experience working with businesses and nonprofit organizations. His background includes being editor of a Wisconsin weekly newspaper, state correspondent reporter for the former Milwaukee Journal, and a public relations account executive for a large Milwaukee ad agency.