Panel Topics

CEO/BUSINESS COACH PANEL TOPIC:

In today’s economic climate,  what words of advice do you have for the owners of small to lower middle market companies with regard to running, growing or possibly saving their business?  

 

By Brad Farris, Founder, Anchor Advisors, blfarris@anchoradvisors.com

Right now it’s critical to stay close to your clients, past-clients and prospects.

Their needs are changing fast. They may tell you “there’s no budget,” but they are going to spend money on things that are helping them to get where they want to go! If where they are going is different than it was 6 months ago (and it almost certainly is) then they’ll be spending that money in a different place than they did before and they might not think you can help them.

When you find out where they are going, offer to help them with it. You might not get paid well for it right away, but get a case study out of it (if you’re good at it) and sell that to the next client.

Businesses in 2022 aren’t going to look like they did in 2019 — we need to find a way to stay with, and if possible, one step ahead of, our clients — wherever they are going.

 

By Wayne Madden, Founder, Madden Business Development, wmadden@mbd-corp.com 

Our current economy is at a crossroads and certainly leaves us all feeling a bit uncertain. It is clear that the stock market is far removed what our businesses face today, especially the ongoing challenges caused by the starts and stops of the recent pandemic. Some businesses have seen a huge rise in demand while other businesses have seen demand and revenues dwindle to near nothing.

In this short response, I want to first share one piece of advice that is actually important at all times, and even more important as you navigate through and out of this unusual period of uncertainty. My advice – focus on how these circumstances are changing your customers and what they want and need and keep doing that over and over again. Your customers will tell you where your business is going if you listen. Then, only after truly examining this, turn inward and see how you can either close (and restart as something else), change, or grow your business to meet those needs and make money in the process.

In the restaurant business, some owners knew they could and should adapt to “take out” and they “ran” towards that in altering menu items, creating new marketing, examining staffing choices, etc. – not hanging onto the old model and just waiting and hoping. Sure, they will again have dine-in options, but then again, no one is saying that the “dine out” market is going to be the same after pandemic restrictions end. I know many who are realizing now just how much they were spending on dining out and learning the benefits of cooking at home. Smart owners are examining how this may change habits, change what people want, etc., and making smart choices now about their business.

Beyond the advice I bring an opportunity to consider. Smart business owners that have some cash should look for acquisition opportunities where the current owner is running scared in these economic times and underinvesting. In other words, if you determine that some adjacent market segment (wise if it is adjacent and has some current relationship to what you do – but not necessary) is going to be a big winner as the business climate changes, then look for a business where the “cash-strapped” owner was not prepared for the downturn and is really needing to sell today. Get a bargain, keep that business idling (not spending too much) until demand starts rising again. You’ll be in a great position to get premium on your investment.

 

By Kevin Kinsella, Chair, CEO Peer Group, Vistage International, Kevin.Kinsella@VistageChair.com

In any economic climate, it comes down to these three words:  Cash Flow Forecasting.

In a small business, cash is oxygen. If you run out of oxygen, you die. If your business runs out of cash, well…

With a fair amount of certainty, every business – – especially businesses of this size – should know on a forward-looking basis where their cash position is going to be for the next 12 months. Without doing this, you:

  1. a) do not see trouble periods that may lie ahead (shortfalls of cash)
  2. b) miss out on potential opportunities (cash surpluses) In either case, the more lead time you have, the more options you can create — either for remedy (e.g., increased line of credit) or for advancements (e.g, investment in new equipment or higher-level talent).

Sometimes, it’s the opportunities that are not identified which prohibits a business from not just growing and surviving, but actually flourishing.  Businesses that have ‘cash flow clarity’ have the ability to play offense.  Those that don’t invest their time in future cash projections often spend their time ‘trying not to lose.’

The long-and-short of it… always know your current and forward cash balances… today, tomorrow, and for the next 12 months.

 

By Dan Wallace, Partner, The Traction Group & Certified EOS Implementer, dan@thetractiongroup.com 

  • Having worked at the US Senate in the early 1980s, I can attest that the political and social dysfunction that were laid bare in the last 5 years have been brewing for decades. This is not a temporary flare-up. It’s a long-term trend. No one knows how it’s going to will play out, which means there’s no prescription. However, as ominous as this may sound, it would be an mistake to take the strength and stability of America for granted. The landing may be rough. Pay attention and be prepared to react.
  • If you haven’t already done so, figure out what recovery will look like for your company. In every recession, some industries are affected first and recover early. Others lag. Still others run counter to the larger trends (i.e., 2020 was great for trucking and homebuilding). Know where you stand.
  • The essentials of execution still matter. Run your day-to-day business flawlessly.
  • Long-term trends are accelerating. This may feel threatening, but it will also present you with opportunities. To find them, keep asking your customers (and others) what their biggest pain points are. Look for ones you can solve. Make a large number of small bets. Keep investing in the ones that show promise. Learn from the ones that don’t. This is where you’ll find new streams of revenue and profit.

 

 

INSURANCE PANEL TOPIC:

In today’s economic climate, what words of advice do you have for the owners of small to lower middle market companies  with regard to minimizing insurance premiums while not sacrificing needed coverage? Any issues they need to consider related to COVID 19 or having staff working from home? Anything else pertinent to business insurance in 2021

 

By Anna Maria Viti-Welch, President, The Viti Companies, annavw@viticompanies.com

When was the last time you had a review of your business insurance policies? If it is not at least yearly that is my first suggestion. I strongly recommend that any business owners know their coverages and expect reviews – you shouldn’t have to ask for a review.

Some types of policies and associated premiums are rated by estimated gross sales and payroll; this makes a difference if you are losing business or have increased business. If your policy renewed before the pandemic you might be able to lower them now instead of waiting for an audit.

Do you have extra coverages that are not worth keeping right now? Some of the limits might be able to be lowered at this time but check the premium differences. You should be looking at Cyber Coverage if you do not have it right now especially if you your employees are remote. Remote workers are a top target of cyber criminals, and you want to be sure you have enough coverage. Depending on how much risk you have with your website, remote employee or e-commerce coverage is not that expensive but make sure you know what coverage is included. If you already have Cyber coverage, do you know what the coverages and limits are?  Is it enough or too much right now? Ask questions and weigh the differences.

Employment Practices is another coverage you might want to look into if you have employees. This protects the employer if the employee or customer sues them for sexual harassment, discrimination or wrongful termination. In our current economic climate of rampant furloughs and layoffs, it is especially important. Just remember anyone can sue anyone and you need a lawyer to defend you. All liability policies provide you with an attorney and pay for fines, expenses, and settlements up to the limit you have. My last tip: it does not cost to get quotes!  It is better to be safe rather than sorry.

As we move steadily forward into 2021, expect business insurance premiums to go up. Economic, financial, and weather-related disasters across our country and the globe continue to affect markets of every type, and by extension, insurance premiums.  and Be prepared for a minimum of a 3% increase.

 

By Dan Weil, Sr. Vice President, Property & Casualty, Alliant Americas, daniel.weil@alliant.com 

The current commercial insurance marketplace is quite challenging for most if not all businesses, especially those with adverse loss experience, conditions or exposures. Even those companies with “pristine” experience and exposure are facing potential for rate increases solely based on market conditions. To see a summary of average rate renewals by line of commercial insurance for the 3rd Quarter of 2020 as a reference, email Dan. The 4th Quarter results, to be released soon, do not suggest market improvement:

The best ways for any business to control the impact of market conditions on their own premiums/rates are as follows:

  • Manage your exposures. Make sure you are properly valuing your properties for replacement cost (not market value). If you have an auto or truck fleet, implement robust risk control measures that are generally expected but too often ignored. Run annual motor vehicle records internally for employees who drive on a regular basis in the course of their job. Take workers’ safety seriously. Do not ignore safety measures.
  • Take any loss/risk control recommendations provided by carriers (especially ones’ incumbent providers) seriously. Respond/comply with them. For the most part, insurance company risk engineers want to lend helpful guidance. That said, if recommendations are made and leveled as “serious” or “critical”, ignoring said recommendations will most likely lead to rate increases or non-renewal notices, thus dramatically increasing the potential for increased premiums.
  • As we have pivoted to new working conditions that are Covid 19 related, increased concern over remote worker safety and remote working overall have been elevated. Whether via the CDC, OSHA, critical advisors (such as your own insurance broker) or others, there is a wealth of information and guidance available to business to help manage these new environments. Be proactive and make sure you are doing what you can to benefit your employees and your business. Don’t wait for problems to occur.

 

BANKING PANEL TOPIC:

In today’s economic climate,  what words of advice do you have for the owners of small to lower middle market companies with regard to their banking relationships and borrowing?

 

By Dawn Cardin, Business Development Banker, Business Banking, Capital One Bank, Dawn.Cardin@CapitalOne.com

Being a banker since before the Great Recession I’ve witnessed many businesses face challenging economic times. Businesses that fare well generally incorporate these 4 things….

  1. Prompt Inventory of all Expenses

o   Keep pulse on what’s paid. Take time to evaluate costs and to implement cost-effective alternatives during tougher economic climates. Furthermore, consider banking tools when making a payment. (Remitting a wire rather than an ACH is more costly.)

  1. Converse with Experts

o   In my experience, owners who don’t wait until they’re in “trouble” before talking to experts tend to fare better than those who do wait. Many attorneys, bankers, accountants, and outsourced CFOs have witnessed everything from a minor struggle to bankruptcy.  Leverage these professionals’ experiences to stay ahead of the competition and to course correct. In banking, borrowing is tougher with the current economic climate. If you’re considering borrowing within the next 2 years talk to bankers now regarding requirements so you can plan accordingly.

  1. Analyze Margins Regularly

o   Businesses poised to overcome challenging economic conditions know (and study) their operating profit margin, gross margin, margins by location, margins by product, margins by employee, etc. They monitor margins monthly, quarterly , and annually. If swings occur they see it as a warning and investigate what impacted the margin. Moreover, margins are predictive of future cash flow and credit needs. Banks measure margins and if something isn’t trending properly it will likely impact access to credit.

  1. Evaluate Providers & Pricing

o   Find a creative banker. There are free, more cost-effective, or more efficient tools you might not be using.  My most recent meetings involved an accounting method eating up 30-40 hours monthly where we have a tool to alleviate the time spent on reconciliation, a wire intensive business paying 3x what we charge for domestic wires, the refinance of an owner-occupied property where we provide $7500 towards closing costs, and a merchant who qualifies for $1,000 in credits on card processing. My point is, shop around. You may save thousands because a provider has more effective, creative solutions (and ask for cost-effective alternatives you’re not already using).

 

By Pete Olsen, SVP, Group Head – Commercial Banking, Signature Bank, polsen@signaturebank.bank

Clichés all share one common characteristic, they are based in truth.  Given that, it would not surprise me if the cliché about being “just a number” was coined by a small business owner describing his or her banking relationship.

Similar to clichés, small businesses all share one common characteristic as well, they are vulnerable to external shocks.  When one of these shocks occurs, through no fault of their own, business owners can find themselves on uncertain footing with their bank.  A global pandemic is an extraordinary form of external shock.  A more common example might be a bank being sold, and more common than that is a simple change in personnel.

The point is that whether it’s a global pandemic, a bad business cycle, or simply being assigned a new loan officer, a tenuous or superficial relationship with your bank can be very risky.  I truly believe that for companies with revenues $50MM or less, a personal relationship with senior management is particularly important.  Much more than rates or terms, if a business owner’s primary contact at the bank is more than a couple steps removed from the top of the house, as far as the bank is concerned that owner is effectively anonymous, i.e. “just a number”.

Given that the next exogenous disruption is only a matter of time, being just a number can leave a business owner with no one to accurately answer questions or effectively advocate on their behalf.  As banks continue to consolidate and get bigger, the risk of becoming just a number gets bigger too.  My advice, try to determine where your primary contact falls within a bank’s hierarchy, and if they aren’t within shouting distance of someone making the big decisions, try to develop a relationship with someone who is.

 

 

SALES PANEL TOPIC:  

In today’s economic climate,  what words of advice do you have for the owners and sales leaders of small to lower middle market companies (say under $50M for a reference point)?

 

If You Haven’t Said No to a Prospect This Year You are Doing Something Wrong.

By Bryan McDonald, Partner, OnPurpose Growth, bmcdonald@onpurposegrowth.com   

 

Why would someone make such a bold statement as the title does? Some people may think that in a time like now(Global Pandemic) you would want to try and bring on as many new prospects as possible.

Well, that thought in and of itself is incomplete.

The statement should be: Let’s bring on as many of the RIGHT prospects that we can

This is accomplished by having a clear and concise sales strategy. Because the more unfocused you are the more unstable you are.

Casting a wide net to catch as many prospects as possible and do everything as possible, is a strategy nobody wins with. It may give short term wins but it will collapses long term intentions and goals. In today’s economic climate it’s now more important than ever to know what slice of the market you want to dominate, so you can acquire it and keep it.

How many times in the past 8-10 months have you seen a company struggle or fail because they tried to be everything to as many people as possible. They brought on the wrong clients before the pandemic and that only turned into problems for them inside a pandemic.

Unfocused = Unstable

Sustainable and quality growth happens when you have a clear and concise sales strategy. The strategy allows you to be crystal clear about who is it that you bring on as a client and who it isn’t that you bring on as a client. Because all prospects that look like prospects aren’t. Most people have experienced bringing on a bad client in some shape or form. So, you might just know exactly what I am referencing when I say not all people who look like prospects are.

A clear and concise sales strategy, at a high level, has clarity about who you bring on as a client, how you bring them on, and how you serve them. Your marketing, offers, sales process, onboarding process, and how you serve clients are all part of your sales strategy. They all need to be linked and work together like a well-oiled machine. The more they don’t work together, the more you are going to experience struggle. Especially in an economic climate like now.

 

Keeping Your Sales Team Moving Forward

By Kerry Cunnion, President, Cornerstone Sales Consulting, Powered by Sales Xceleration, kcunnion@salesxceleration.com 

 

At the onset of the pandemic, most companies focused on survival.  Now past the initial shock of the shutdown, they are looking for a sustainable way forward.  One challenge is how to manage a sales process that has undoubtedly changed. Previously productive teams may be struggling to adapt.

Here are three practical things you can implement immediately to help your sales team reclaim their balance.

  1. Incorporate Activity Reporting

If your sales team is struggling, daily check-ins for a period of time can create a way for your salespeople to share a high-level review of their day including successes as well as difficulties. Drop them a call, voicemail or email every few days after reviewing their daily reports to share feedback, encouragement, and ideas. The goal of daily activity reporting is to bring focus to the fundamental sales activities needed to grow results and to spot early signs of trouble, lack of alignment or to collaborate to get them “un-stuck”. Work up to a weekly report cadence once you can tell the salesperson is on the right track with activity consistency, positive mindset, and renewed clarity on how to navigate.. Recognize individual successes, help set goals, give encouragement, and address issues from a leadership role

  1. Shift from Time Management to Productivity Management

We cannot manage time, but we CAN manage our actions.   It may seem elementary, but it is time to revisit the basics of prioritization with your sales team. Walk through the basics of calendar blocking for prospecting time, ending every day with creating a plan for the following day. Let your team know where you want them spending their time and focus throughout the day.

  1. Virtually Moving Ahead

Virtual meetings will continue long after the pandemic is behind us, so it is essential to ensure your team is acclimated to engaging with customers in this format. Start by determining if your team is prepared and comfortable with adapting their sales approach. Do not take their stated confidence for granted. Consider virtual meeting training as the “new normal” format to support the likelihood that virtual selling will continue for some time, maybe forever in certain industries.  Schedule and lead training sessions using role-plays through your video platform. Your company’s digital selling experience demonstrates your company’s professionalism and will influence the customer opinion and buying decision.

 

TAX PANEL TOPIC: In today’s economic climate,  what words of advice do you have for the owners of small to lower middle market companies (say under $50M for a reference point) with regard to planning for their 2020 income taxes if not also beyond 2020?  

 

By Jason Vanden Bosch, Managing Partner, CBIZ MHM (Chicago), jvandenbosch@cbiz.com 

 

A big part of tax planning for 2020 and beyond will be determined by the results of the election.  Biden and Trump have radically different ideas on taxation, and the Illinois constitutional amendment could bring higher taxes to business owners.  Based on the outcome, if tax rate increases are likely, then the benefits of deferring income might be offset by higher rates.  You may look back and say that, in 2020, you ONLY paid tax at rates of 37% federal and 4.95% Illinois – what a bargain!  But even in the midst of the uncertainty, there are smart planning moves that owners should be investigating with their financial advisors.

Even though tax rules are sure to change, owners should look for advantages in our current system.  Maximizing the 20% qualified business income deduction (which may require entity/payroll changes), planning for maximum retirement plan contributions, and using cost segregation studies for real estate can all yield enormous tax deductions.  And if you are fortunate enough to have gains, then deferral techniques such as 1031 exchanges and investments into Qualified Opportunity Zones should be explored, albeit with the consideration of potential higher tax rates in the future.

Another often overlooked planning area is with estate planning and gifting.  Given favorable estate/gifting rules, potentially low asset values, and the ability to claim discounts on certain transfers, it may be beneficial to have conversations around asset transfers, trusts, and planning for potential estate taxes.

The real takeaway and key to this planning is open and constant dialogue with your trusted financial professionals.  A good CPA’s role should not just be to fill out tax forms or produce a financial statement once a year, but rather to give counsel and proactive advice on a range of financial and business matters.  However, in order for any CPA to be effective in this role, it takes the client being willing to spend the time and have the necessary conversations.  The clients that I have assisted the most are the ones that have regular, consistent communication throughout the year, sometimes initiated by me, and often times initiated by them.

 

By Jeffrey Newman, Director and Head of the Tax Group at ORBA, jnewman@orba.com

 

For business owners, tax planning is all about predicting and preparing for the future. If, for example, you believe that your tax rates will be higher next year, it may pay to accelerate income into this year to take advantage of lower rates. Similarly, if you expect valuable deductions or credits to disappear, it may make sense to make capital investments or incur deductible expenses sooner to make the most of more generous tax breaks.

Tax planning is particularly challenging in times of political and economic uncertainty, and there’s been no shortage of either in 2020. Not only is it an election year, but also the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy has led to extraordinary uncertainty. As Yogi Berra famously quipped, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” In light of this uncertainty, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Be flexible. Monitor political developments and be prepared to respond quickly as potential tax changes make their way through the legislative process. If possible, hold off on activities with significant tax implications — such as major capital investments — until the tax picture becomes more clear.
  • Think long-term. The current political and economic environment may dictate certain short-term strategies. For example, the pandemic’s impact on your business’s cash flow may require you to make moves that will minimize this year’s tax bill. But don’t lose sight of the long-term tax impact of your decisions.
  • Be conservative. Temper your expectations about the future. The COVID-19 pandemic has already lasted far longer than anyone could have imagined, and the end is not yet in sight. Do some modeling of best and worst case scenarios, and have tax-planning strategies in your arsenal for each potential outcome.

As you weigh your tax-planning options, keep in mind that tax considerations should never get in the way of sound business decisions. Don’t implement tax-saving strategies, for example, if their impact on cash flow would threaten your business’s short-term survival or if they would damage customer or vendor relationships.

 

HR PANEL TOPIC: Considering the impact of  COVID 19 on the workplace and employees as well as the economy and job market, what advice do you have for owners and HR leaders of small to lower middle market companies (say under $50M for a reference point) do you have for recruitment and employee retention?

 

By James Taylor, Founder & CEO, Launchways, jtaylor@launchways.com 

 

I have one simple piece of advice for leaders in the lower middle market as it relates to the talent acquisition and retention strategies as you consider COVID 19: Lean In!

This is without question, the biggest opportunity since the downturn of 06-08 for companies to increase their value of their enterprise by bringing in top tier talent to help them not only maintain but grow their organizations. Here are the 2 main reasons why:

  1. You have visibility into your current team’s true potential.
  2. You have visibility into your company’s readiness for the future of work.

Point 1: Throughout COVID 19, most companies have seen varying levels of employee productivity/success under the circumstances of working through a pandemic.  High performers in this environment have demonstrated their ability to adapt, make changes and learn new skills. This is trait that never goes out of style and is a solid foundation for growth.

Point 2: Most companies have been forced to take a hard look at all aspect of their business model (Sales, Marketing, Finance, Operations, HR) and have been forced to make changes to prepare as if the current environment became the new normal.  In some cases, organizations have found efficiencies they didn’t know they had.  In many more cases, rapid change to survive occurred.

With these 2 in mind, how do you Lean In and win the new war for talent.  Start with these 3 points and ask yourself the questions below?

  1. Change your compensation model to ensure sustainability and profitable growth.

“Do we really know my cost to keep and retain $1m in revenue?”

“Does the way we pay everyone in the organization help us achieve our top and bottom line goals?”

  1. Retool your brand as a foundation to attract the type of talent you need to grow.

“Does the experience people see online match before they start working here match what happens after they do?”

“Does everyone at the company have a strong understanding and belief of what we are all about?”

  1. Become experts in employee communication.

“What systems and tools do we have to keep everyone on the same page?”

“How do we continuously improve on this?”

While none of these three are easy to do, considering the road that lies ahead, I encourage you all to Lean In.