One of my favourite characters in the TV series “Friends” is Joey Tribianni. A simple and very funny character that takes things as they come and looks at life in a very simple way. One of his favourite lines when it comes to picking up girls is “How you doin’?” Whenever I meet other business owners, this is typically the first question we ask each other; “How is your business doing?”. I know this is the first question my investors ask of me!
Running a business, be that a small home based personal business or a large corporation, is hard and requires having the capability to manage multiple threads. Some threads you have a passion for, most likely the reason why you started the business in the first place, and you manage them quite well. Other threads are not things that you enjoy or would like to spend a lot of time on but unfortunately you must do them.
One of our clients is a company owned by two brothers that run a small metal workshop with some pretty interesting volume of business. They also happen to be friends of the family. One brother is a lathe machinist and the other a metal worker, from assembly to soldering. Together they have been quite successful but until recently their involvement in managing the company was mostly around client relationships and actually doing what they do best!
It was after a “How you doin’?” that they told me that at the end of the fiscal year, the box of receipts goes into the accountant and an end of year accounting report comes out. Everything in the middle is a black box. Unfortunately their bottom line was not black but red. Even though they had very good clients and kept busy most of the time (most is not an accurate unit of time – I told them) and their expenses are limited to the raw materials and tool supplies, they questioned why they are not profitable. They take home a monthly salary that is satisfactory but being business owners they don’t have much else and if the business doesn’t grow in value and become profitable, their retirement will not be an easy one.
So I sat down with them and thought of a process by which they could get a preview of their finances before the end of the year without having to spend more money or get too technical. I got a bunch of boxes and we categorize all of their expenses into certain categories like “meals”, “tools and dies”, “solder”, “rent”, “communications”, and 10 other criteria. I attempted to match things in such a way that all they had to do is throw the invoice or receipt into a box and forget about it.
I asked them at the end of the month to add each box and write on the outside the month and total. Simple and easy.
Knowing that their passion was on the hands on side of their business and not on the management side, I was not expecting them to actually use this rudimentary method and do it for more than a few days. I was surprised when almost 3 months went by and we met again and they showed me the results and they had actually summarized it into a piece of paper.
They identified numerous items from this simple exercise. They identified that they actually spend a lot of money on heating and hydro, much more than they should and compared to their neighboring businesses. They identified that one brother was not using a supply discount code when purchasing his supplies and if they coordinated their purchases they could also save over 50% in delivery charges. They identified that they could get a plan for both their company cell phones, the company land line, the fax and internet all in one contract and save an additional $120 a month.
All in all, they think that by simply having a bird’s eye view of their expenses they were saving close to $7500 a year. That’s a nice vacation…
They wanted to do the same exercise for the hours spent on each client. Being hard working folks and enjoying their work, they felt that perhaps they don’t charge or estimate their work properly and in effect they spend more time on a project than they invoice for. At the end of the week they were summing all the hours by project/client and keeping them in an ClicData. I created a small table like:
This custom table was easier than their Excel since they can create their own activity types and client lists without knowing any advanced features or programming. Simply click add and add a new client and it is immediately available in the drop down. I helped them with their first client dashboard so that they can monitor the hours they put in with the hours that they bill the client. We did this in less than 20 minutes.
I am hoping next time I ask them “How are they doing?” that they simply send me a link to a dashboard from ClicData!