Recently we were approached by a magazine in an industry somewhat related to what we do, with the idea that we would be one of their honorees for the Top 20-this, Top 50-that list, whatever it was.
At first, it sounded really cool. It’s always good to be honored in some way. But the reality was, and we had to investigate in order to really nail it down, first you had to sign up for a full-page advertisement, and then they make their shortlist from those advertisers, and then their final selection of honorees. The more you advertise, the more likely you are to be honored.
This was not necessarily a terrible thing. It was still a reputable magazine, and it would still be an honor to be on their list, but in these situations it’s always important to have a fundamental understanding of what it is that’s being sold. Are you really being honored, or are you being asked to buy a full-page ad?
When push came to shove, we declined the offer because buying a full-page ad in this particular publication would not have paid off for us.
Has this ever happened to you? How did you handle it? Would you do it differently the next time?
I recently reconnected with someone I had worked with when I was with another company. I always liked his style, so we stayed in touch. Our conversation turned to a particular thing we’re dealing with at my current company, and he had a definite opinion about what we should do. I won’t get into the details; I’ll just say this is not a trivial matter.
When I brought his comments to the person responsible for this area, they let me know they had already decided their path and wouldn’t be pursuing what my friend had suggested.
The question became: Should I listen to the insider who’s doing this work for us on a daily basis, or the outsider who has the benefit of his own experience? Both people are quite knowledgeable in different ways about the subject matter at hand.
As business owners we’re often faced with these dilemmas. We constantly get unsolicited advice from all of our friends, especially those associated with our industry. We’re paying somebody to do something, and then we get a piece of advice from the outside that may contradict what they’re doing, and may even be completely out of left field.
Ultimately we have to decide as business folk which is the right approach. And I’ll say for the record, sometimes we’re going to be right and sometimes we’re going to be wrong, but it is our decision.
I don’t have the final piece of advice that you must do it this way or that way, but what I ended up doing was asking the insider to at least consider the suggestion. Any advice that sounds reasonable should be explored, even if your insider says they’ve already chosen to go another way. It’s still overall your responsibility as the business owner, not theirs.
We’ve discussed financing issues on this blog before, such as SBA loans, bonded contracts, and other alternative financing options for government contractors.
Let’s talk more about some different banking relationships to be sure and understand how to choose between them.
First, there are various forms of what could be considered purchase order financing or invoice financing. At one end of the spectrum of invoice financing is what is traditionally known as factoring. This is where you sell your invoices directly, presumably for a greater or lesser percentage. You don’t do any collection or wait for the funds, you simply sell the invoices.
You don’t have to sell every invoice. The advantage here is that if you don’t need the funds, you can wait and collect when the customer pays. On the other hand, if you’re looking for funds and have a whole different set of circumstances, you can sell or finance a bunch of invoices and move on.
The disadvantage of invoice financing is that it’s traditionally more expensive than other forms of credit, such as a line of credit. While lines of credit are much less expensive, the disadvantage is that they often come with substantial “covenants” – agreement terms you’re supposed to meet.
For example, a line of credit agreement may require you to make a profit every quarter. It doesn’t sound very onerous, but traditionally a lot of business expenses are front-loaded in the first quarter (e.g., annual bonuses or health care costs), and therefore it might become onerous.
There may be additional requirements that strongly affect how you conduct your business, for example a restriction that you can’t take a draw on the line of credit without the bank’s approval.
It’s important to understand all of the parameters, pluses and minuses of the banking relationship you’re choosing. Of course the best quadrant to be in is where you’ve made enough money so that you can self-finance everything. But most of us are not in that quadrant.
Like anything else in business, successful financing comes down to relationships. Remember, though, your relationship here might not be with your regular banker, but rather with your bank’s credit department.
(Watch for a future post about the care and feeding of your banker.)
This is a guest post by Richard Lewis, Financial Engineering Counselors, Ltd.
Securing the financing you need to grow your small business can be a challenge. Over the past decade, banks have increased lending to big business by 36%, but over the same period, bank lending to small businesses has declined by almost 15%, and loans of less than $100,000 have dropped precipitously by more than 33%.
Fortunately, small businesses can find alternative financing sources, including a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan. There are several different types of SBA loans, including:
- The General Small Business Loan,
- The Micro Loan,
- Real Estate and Equipment Loans, and
- Disaster Loans
Be sure to check which type of loan is right for your needs before beginning the application process.
SBA loans have been around for more than 60 years. These loans, which were established to promote small business growth, typically have lower interest rates and monthly loan payments.
Unfortunately, the process of applying for an SBA loan can be complicated and it can take a long time to complete the process. Once you do, there can also be an extended period of time before you actually obtain your funding. You can speed up the approval process by observing some simple guidelines. Here are five you need to be aware of:
- Your credit rating counts: Good credit is important for any loan, and that includes SBA loans. Follow good credit rules, like being sure to pay your bills before the deadlines. Obviously, you’ll want to avoid credit-killing actions like foreclosures and bankruptcies.
- Keep your financial documents up to date and organized: This includes all of your financial and accounting documents, as well as your tax records. You might consider using some good accounting software designed for small business if you don’t already to bring greater organization to your records. Having your financial records organized and accessible will move the process along more quickly.
- Spell out the purpose of the loan as clearly as possible: Lenders want to know that you’re a good loan risk, and that means they’ll be interested in what you plan to do with the money. Take the time to outline this in the clearest possible fashion, whether your loan is to add vehicles to your sales fleet or expand the size of your brick and mortar store.
- Explain how you’ll pay back the loan: You’ll need to demonstrate that you have good cash flow. You can do this through your most recent tax records. Lenders will also want to know how much other debt you have. If the loan is for a start-up business, you should pull together a smart financial plan and include credible projections which demonstrate your ability to make your monthly payments.
- Be prepared to describe your history: Lenders will want to know about your finances, but they’ll also be interested in whether you personally are a good risk. That has to do with your relevant experience, how much time you’ve been in business and the degree of professional success you’ve had.
Applying for any loan, whether traditional or through alternative financing, can be confusing. The good news is that there are experienced professionals who can walk you through the process, answer your questions and maximize your chances of success through long-standing partnerships with banks, finance companies and professional service firms.
This post originally appeared on the Financial Engineering Counselors website at http://www.fecltd.net/blog/?p=102 and was reprinted with permission.
Richard Lewis is a government contractor financing consultant. You can contact him at 703-992-8988.
A little while ago I met Irit Oz and Ron Hirshfeld, two amazing folks who were in the US to bring their concept of employee engagement and the information revolution to fruition.
At my company, we are on the cusp between small, and thinking about being “not small” pretty soon now (this “launch point” is one of my passions in the small business community). We are working with a strategic planner to write the story of our business, as a pathway to bringing out our true goals as entrepreneurs and as a business.
Preserving employee and company culture is one of the hardest things about this stage of growth, which is why our strategic planner introduced us to Irit and Ron, and why I invited them to present their concepts here for your reading and reaction.
Did Our World Turn Upside Down?
A guest post by Irit Oz and Ron Hirshfeld.
Do you sometimes feel that you are holding your business intact with your bare hands? Do you set goals that seem reasonable to you and find yourself pushing your target dates or compromising on scope continuously? Do you feel sometimes that getting things done, the way you want them, is almost an impossible task? Did you ever get to a point that you’ve asked yourself, “Did our world turned upside down?”
If you have, you are not very far off. Our world did turn upside down is some way. Sounds crazy? Let’s look at the facts.
It is common knowledge that in the last 10 years we went through a revolution which most experts call “The Information Revolution.” Did you ever stop and think, how did that revolution impacted me and my business?
Revolution is a very strong word, and it is used to describe extremely impactful events. If we look at the revolutions that we had in the last few hundred years, we can understand why.
Each revolution has profoundly changed our way of living. The agriculture revolution has enabled 90% of human kind that used to work in agriculture to change profession, while the industrial revolution brought us comfort that we didn’t know before and triggered more than 50% of the population in our world to move from rural to urban areas.
For most people over 30, we probably don’t need to elaborate too much regarding the technological revolution. If we just take five minutes to think how we grew up without internet, cellphone, GPS, automatic windows, microwave, etc., we would finish these five minutes extremely grateful.
What was the impact of the revolution that we went through over the last 10 years? The Information Revolution?
One thing that most people are aware of, is that it brought us to a state where almost every knowledge that we want, we can have within seconds in the palm of our hand.
It doesn’t matter if you are a cook who is looking for a good recipe, a traveler who is searching for cheap flights, a software engineer who is looking for a particular way to implement an application, a lawyer who is searching for a specific legal case, or, God forbid, a terrorist who is looking to prepare a bomb. You can find everything you need very quickly using your computer, your tablet, or your cell phone.
That was not the situation 10 years ago. Ten years ago the teachers in school were the source of information, the managers in the organizations were the ones to teach you how to do your job, and the leaders in your country were the ones letting you know what the hell was going on.
Today, on the other hand, teenagers can learn what ever they are interested in from the comfort of their home, any employee can learn how to do their job from experts around the world, and any one of us can, very easily, check the facts that politicians are telling us.
If you look at the situations in organizations today, the information is no longer flowing from top-down. The people who are dealing with customers, production, inventory, programing, etc. are the ones holding the important knowledge.
If knowledge used to flow almost exclusively from top-down, it is now coming mostly bottom-up. This seems very trivial when we look at the facts, yet let’s take a moment to absorb this critical and astonishing concept. If the flow of information has reversed, what does it mean about the role of management? Can we keep doing the same things and succeed? As the great Albert Einstein said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
If we are no longer the source of information for our employees, how can we get them engaged? If they have the knowledge, do we know how to retrieve it from them in order to make wise and knowledgeable decisions? Did we adjust the way we conduct business to support the new reality?
If we hadn’t, wouldn’t that be a disaster? Wouldn’t that be something very noticeable, something that would possibly threaten our survival, something that would make us feel as if our world has turned upside down?
Irit Oz & Ron Hirshfeld
Employee Engagement Experts
OH (Irit Oz and Ron Hirshfeld) are two unique individuals with 50 years of combined experience and hundreds of success stories. They have ONE purpose: To help transform your organizational culture to support your business strategy and assure that your desires become your REALITY. Learn more at http://ozandhirshfeld.com/.
This is a guest post by Matt Falls.
The primary challenge of CEOs is to generate revenue with acceptable margins. Companies must develop new customers while expanding their beachhead in existing accounts. The drive for revenue growth requires that the CEO focus the whole revenue generation team – from marketing to customer service – on the goal of generating revenue.
A company focused on generating revenue works together as a cohesive unit through marketing, opportunity identification, qualification and proposal development. Here are five ways a CEO can create a culture focused on generating revenue:
1. Install a Customer Relationship Management system (CRM)
The primary reason for the CRM is to generate revenue; it is not the end goal. It is a highly useful tool to organize the revenue generation team’s activities, share information about potential revenue opportunities, set performance metrics and provide the information to better manage the company.
Businesses use the information in the CRM to reinforce the revenue culture with team revenue meetings, by creating dashboards that measure activity and performance, to inform coaching sessions that improve performance and to gauge the effectiveness of marketing activities.
2. Hold team revenue review sessions
A key part of establishing the revenue culture is to hold team meetings where the entire revenue generation team focuses on finding the path to revenue. In this meeting, each team member presents their opportunities, products and services proposed, the flow of conversation, competitors, the decision makers, objections and their strategy for winning the business.
The entire team listens and contributes ideas to help close the business. There may be new products and services to propose, a key introduction, or helpful sales techniques are passed along. The entire team works together to close the business.
A similar meeting is held to discuss open customer service cases. Business development uses the information in these meetings to find revenue opportunities and works with line managers to present a solution to the customer. Line managers have the relationships, knowledge of customer challenges and credibility with the customer. Combined with business development’s knowledge of product applications and solutions, they expand the company’s presence in customer accounts.
3. Set goal dashboards to measure activity and performance
Critical to supporting the revenue culture are performance metrics that measure contribution to revenue. Dashboards track activity and performance goals for marketing, business development and customer service teams. Marketing goals such as qualified leads generated and dollar return on marketing campaigns are monitored along with activity goals such as campaigns launched. Customer service’s contribution to revenue is measured not only by cases completed, but also opportunities presented to business development.
Dashboards tell the CEO the most effective marketing channels, the size of the revenue pipeline, revenue forecasts based on probability of win, and the activities that team members are completing to convert opportunities to winning business.
4. Hold monthly individual reviews focused on improving ability to win business
Many companies use annual or twice yearly performance reviews to provide feedback on team members’ performance. Companies that are focused on generating revenue use the performance information in the CRM to provide a higher degree of guidance to individual team members. Individual performance dashboards highlight opportunities, revenue, cases resolved and activity levels.
Performance reviews can focus on improving the team member’s ability to win business, resolve cases or find opportunities. Action items can be created and assigned for follow up in the next month’s review session. With close guidance, individual performance improves and the team wins more business.
5. Measure marketing’s contribution to revenue
When the revenue culture is established in companies, marketing activities are directly connected to the practice of revenue generation. Campaigns are evaluated on the leads that are generated and the revenue that is produced from them.
Marketing makes better investments by tracking the leads and revenue that are generated by each marketing activity. Monthly review sessions facilitate a culture of continuous improvement by highlighting the activities that are generating leads and revenue and modifying marketing activities based on that information.
Highly successful companies create a revenue culture by measuring contribution to revenue, sharing information about potential opportunities and working together to win business, setting performance goals and holding review sessions that improve team member’s ability to generate revenue.
This post is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared at http://matthewfalls.com/five-ways-to-create-a-revenue-culture/, and was adapted and reprinted with permission.
Matthew Falls helps emerging companies that need a seasoned executive to fill out their senior team. He focuses on driving organic revenue, tapping the expertise of employees to reduce costs, creating innovation teams that transform ideas into highly profitable products, inspiring teams to win more business and creating internal controls and cost systems that sustain profitability. You can email Matthew to learn more.
In a previous post, Cheree Warrick shared her expert tips for how to write a bankable business plan. These types of business plans are not just necessary to raise capital, but to attract people to your company.
I asked Cheree for her thoughts about how a business plan is such a key messaging tool.
An investable business plan can articulate your competitive advantage to three important audiences:
- Customers – No matter what the size of your business, you must be able to communicate the value of your company to customers and prospective customers. It’s important to know who you’re serving and not serving – to niche yourself and dominate that niche. Too many business owners want to include everyone as potential customers rather than really targeting their message to a distinct group. A lot of times you can make more money in smaller niches than larger, more general niches.
- Employees – To get and retain the best talent, you must be able to express your vision and ensure everyone working together towards that vision. The more chaos in a company, the less profits it earns.
- Shareholders – If you’re a solopreneur, you’re the only shareholder, but for a Fortune 500 this might be an enormous group. This category also includes advisory board members who may be able to open doors for you in your industry.
Your message must always balance between making sure each of these three groups get what they want and need to be satisfied. The way you deliver the plan, or portions of the plan, may be different for each group.
Note from Bill: A good business plan is the strategic blueprint that tells you what are you focusing on, so you’re not trying to imitate another company or market to every place in the government.
Thank you again to Cheree Warrick of 1 Billion in Financing for these practical tips. The goal of 1 Billion in Financing is to help 1,000 entrepreneurs raise over $1 billion in capital for their growing enterprises by writing business plans that banks approve. For more information, please visit http://1billioninfinancing.com/.
In 2012, banks and angel investors gave 5.9 million small businesses, start-ups and early-stage companies over $228 billion in funding to grow their companies. The money is flowing. Is it flowing your way?
Cheree Warrick helps businesses create bankable business plans. She explains that there are five parts to a bankable business plan:
1. Market opportunity, where you tell them the problem you’re solving in the marketplace, how many people have that problem, and how many your company could service.
2. Customer acquisition and retention, where you describe how you will: Attract prospects, convert those prospects into customers, service those customers, upsell new products/services to those customers, retain those customers, and get referrals to new customers.
3. Team, where you illustrate that your company has great leadership and a cohesive team that can not only attract and serve customers but also take care of operational issues including accounting, legal and technology.
4. Competitive advantage, where you explain what sets you apart.
5. Financial projections including an Income Statement and Cash Flow Statement
What may be the most intimidating parts of the business plan is also one of the most important. The #1 item that a bank is looking for is cash flow. You have to show that you can pay all your business expenses (payroll comes first, then rent for office space, etc.) plus your home bills (housing costs, food, etc.), plus be prepared to handle an emergency or two. On top of all that a lender wants to see that you can pay back that commercial loan, month after month, year after year.
When reviewing your financial statements and considering your request, investors must answer yes to all of these questions:
- Is this investment something that would go well in our portfolio?
- Are they asking for enough money? Too much money?
- Do we believe there’s truly a market opportunity?
- Do we believe the marketing plan will attract, convert, and retain paying customers?
- Do we believe this team can take advantage of the market opportunity and earn the cash flows and margins they state?
- Do we believe we’ll get our money back?
Seems fairly straightforward, Cheree. So how do people fall short when they’re trying to apply these recommendations?
They don’t have anyone to talk with or strategize with or review their plan. OR they bring it to the banker and expect the banker to review it and tell them what’s right or wrong. Bankers don’t have the time to do this extensive strategizing to take this information and apply it to their business. Bankers tell me they want to lend money, but entrepreneurs come to them so unprepared, they don’t believe the entrepreneur will take the capital the bank gives them and do the right things with it – or make their business grow.
Second, people want to use a fill-in-the-blank template and get bankable results. It doesn’t work that way. You must be able to speak about your business in such a way that it causes the bank to say, “Wow! What this person is doing is dynamic.” And you won’t get that from a fill-in-the-blank template. You get it from being able to speak or write about your business in a unique way that draws people in.
The final point I have is this: People only lend to you when you don’t need the money. If you’re desperate for money, there are alternate sources of funding. If you’re keeping up with your bookkeeping, you should know that a cash crunch is coming. Keep your head out of the sand. A great business owner pays attention to every part of the business, not just the new customer who’s coming through the door.
When you’re doing well and you know you could grow your business 10X with a more aggressive budget, that is the time for a bankable business plan.
Thank you to Cheree Warrick of 1 Billion in Financing for these practical tips. Cheree writes business plans that banks approve. The goal of 1 Billion in Financing is to help 1,000 entrepreneurs raise over $1 billion in capital for their growing enterprises. For more information, please visit http://1billioninfinancing.com/.
In August 2013, the Mid-Tier Advocacy presented a report to the Small Business Committee of the Senate about SBA’s methodology for setting the upper limits on how big a business can be and still be considered small. Most of these sizes are denominated in revenue, e.g., a 3-year average not to exceed $X-million. A few codes are designated in employee count, and these have almost always remained constant, since salaries track along the way.
When these were revised by the SBA most recently, the vast majority of NAICS codes increased dramatically, and many doubled. So for example, the administrative categories mostly went from $7 million to $14 million, and the same for program management. In fact, of the 38 NAICS codes increased, 27 of those size standards increased by more than 50 percent.
Information technology (IT) categories, on the other hand, went from $25 million to just $25.5 million. I wrote in an earlier post about the impact SBA’s new size standards would have on small IT businesses.
It’s not just the size standards that are working against small IT businesses. There is another factor at play. When I started in the industry 25-30 years ago, CACI (a large IT and government contracting business) had revenues of $250-$300 million. The small business size standard at the time was $21 million for IT companies. So the ratio was between 10:1 to 15:1 between the biggest small business and a decent-sized large business.
Today, the small business size standards have gone up to $25.5 million, which is a roughly 20% increase. CACI saw $3.8B in FY 2012 revenue, a 10x increase. And so now the ratio between CACI (a big business, but not a giant) is not 10:1, but 100:1, and that’s an enormous magnitude of difference in size. Mind you, the issue is not that CACI has grown (as a former employee, I’m proud to see their success), but that the small business size standard has not kept pace.
So we have two factors that are having a negative impact on small IT businesses: First, the SB size standard didn’t change at the same pace as all the other codes, and second, large IT businesses are growing at a far faster pace than the size standard is growing. These two things put tremendous pressure on companies that graduate.
It’s one thing for any of us small business owners to imagine our business going from earning $20 million to $200 million, but to see a path from $20 million to $2 billion is just not as easily in the cards. That’s why when so many small businesses graduate by growing beyond the size standard, they divert and sell out because they can’t see how they can compete with the big guys.
That’s what Mid-Tier Advocacy is committed to address. Visit their site to find out more you can get involved and make a difference for your business and all mid-tier businesses.
On December 19, 2013, I gave a presentation with my wife Louisa L. Jaffe, TAPE CEO and President, for the NCMA Small Business Virtual Conference. It was a topic close to our hearts, since we ourselves have experienced the reality of growing beyond the shelter of small business set asides, and being forced to compete with very large companies in our industry.
Here are the key points we shared in our presentation:
What it was like
In the past, when small businesses graduated, they often received five-year contracts that extended beyond their eligibility, often called “graduation gifts.” This is no longer the case – today’s small business environment has been affected by changes which impact that process:
- The rules on “novation” (technical term for when a new company takes over a contract) affect the small business contract size standard
- Recertification rules (due to these, assets are worth less and the larger business becomes less interested because they may not be able to win task orders and/or the work is now less valuable)
What gives small businesses the edge
- It’s about your local relationships
- Your advantage is your history and relationship with your customer – he/she knows you!
- You know your customer’s hot buttons
- You have a one-on-one relationship
- You are familiar with your customer’s budget, pricing, and strategy
- You may be able to shape and grow your Statement of Work (SOW)
- The big companies have no advantage over you in terms of one-on-one relationships, except that they can talk to 10,000 people at the same time
The requirements and expectations of a small business
- The small business advocates are required to be 1102s (contract people)
- It is to your advantage to develop relationships with small business advocates
- Local/potential small business persons
- This community influences the small business size standard
- Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR)
- This community sets requirements for the work
- They can answer your questions
- Prepare your company
- Adapt to the way IDIQs are structured
- You need to be prepared to be a good sub as a now large business
- As a graduated or mid-tier business, your place at the table is that of a sub. The reality is that you simply aren’t big enough to win the task orders which are typically reserved for big jobs
- This is the small business edge that continues after you graduate
- Adapt to the way IDIQs are structured
- The last few contracts you won over the past few years give you momentum to carry you forward into the full/open world
- When you become a bigger small business, smaller businesses are your friends – cultivate these relationships
- Little businesses should also become friends with other small businesses
Keeping customers in the LPTA world
- As we discussed earlier on this blog, you can help encourage customers to develop appropriate, technically acceptable criteria to ensure that they get what they want and what they are looking for
- Ensure those standards are reviewed and discussed between all stakeholders
- Speak up about LPTA, when appropriate
Sub vs. prime – Help make everyone a success!
As a sub, the relationships you have to build are with potential primes and government agency customers. There is a lot you can do to be a good sub.
When you’re the prime, identify subs as stakeholders, and be sure to remember that small businesses are your friends.
There are advocacy organizations that exist which recognize advanced small businesses and the growing gap of those who have graduated, but are not yet big businesses, to address issues such as:
- There is no glide path after graduation (the government will not help)
- The whole world of IDIQs exists because task orders take 20% of time of regular competition
- The way multiple MA-IDIQs are currently structured, mid-tier businesses lose out to big businesses on the IDIQs
Louisa and I thoroughly enjoyed presenting this material at the NCMA conference (if you missed it, you can purchase a downloadable recording of the entire event). Stay tuned for news of other upcoming presentations about small business issues in the federal contracting world.