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As an organization grows, changes are inevitable.

New employees are added, promotions are made and job responsibilities shift.

But any time you have change, you have the potential for conflict. Few people are comfortable with change, and each person will react differently in making the adjustments necessary to move forward with the company.

The most important thing a CEO can do is to be active in confronting potential conflict. Conflict goes hand-in-hand with change. Employees begin to question management, co-workers and even themselves as they are forced outside of their comfort zones. Those questions can lead to misunderstandings that can lead to conflict, and that will ultimately slow your growth.

Don’t passively avoid potential conflict. Instead, actively engage members of your organization by providing the necessary forums both for you to communicate your strategy and vision and for them to communicate their concerns back to you. An active conversation will help drive your vision for the company through the organization and will also help foster your next generation of leaders as they take a more active role.

Only when employees are challenged to think — and to challenge you — will you maximize your organization’s potential. Do you want employees who don’t speak up when they recognize what may be a fatal flaw in your grand strategy? Or would you rather have employees who are actively thinking about the big-picture goals of the company and doing their part to contribute?

Regardless of what size company you run, it comes down to a simple choice.

It’s a choice between having employees acting like robots or acting like people. If you choose robots, you will have to have all the answers. If you choose people, you only have to have some of the answers because the employees will help you find the rest.

Engaging employees in conversations, meetings and decision-making helps them take ownership and helps you create a happier work force. If they are not allowed to speak, gossip and rumors will drag down your productivity.

Actively provide two-way communication. Let employees do the talking and hear what they have to say. The results may surprise you. Those closest to the customer often know best what needs to be done to improve sales, service or efficiency.

Too many CEOs lament the lack of good people to help take them to the next level. Maybe the problem is more CEOs need to create good people rather than driving them off with a work environment that’s better suited to a good robot.

Thursday, 06 June 2013 11:36

EC=MC: The new law of marketing

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Every Company is a Media Company. It’s a phrase coined some eight years ago by tech journalist Tom Foremski to describe the impact of technology on marketing.

From the Internet to Wi-Fi to smartphones, a tectonic shift has taken place with technology forever changing the landscape of marketing, just as radio and television did before.

Only this time, it’s different. This time, the power has shifted from the hands of a few hundred powerful media outlets to the hands of billions of consumers.

At the same time, companies like yours have been handed powerful tools and an unparalleled opportunity to engage with customers like never before. It’s not just in the obvious new places like mobile websites, apps and the media. Technology has made it easier and cheaper to communicate through video, live events and, yes, even print publications.

Like it or not, you are a media company.

So what’s a media mogul like you to do? You need to do one thing: create content. And you need to do it well. You need to create content that generates interest among your target customer base and engages them with your organization.

It might sound easy, but it’s not. Most business leaders know that effective communication is one of the biggest challenges any company faces. When that communication is what sets you apart in the minds of your customers and prospects, the stakes are all the higher.

Here are a few important points to keep in mind as you set about embracing your new role as a media company.

Be where your audience is

Content comes in many forms. Most of us 40- or 50-something business executives are more comfortable reading printed material. Flipping through your brochure, newsletter or even your own custom magazine is comfortable for us. So hand us something.

But younger VPs and 20-somethings — many of whom do the heavy lifting of researching company buying decisions — are more comfortable gaining intel online. They scour videos on YouTube, mine infographics on visual.ly and peruse PowerPoints on SlideShare. So take the time to figure out which of these is the right channel to reach your target customer.

Share knowledge, not platitudes

Yeah, we get it. Your people are smarter, their customer service is better and their breath smells fresher longer. But that’s not why we might be interested in your business.

What we want to know is how you’re going to solve our problems and make our lives easier. We don’t want you to tell us you are smarter; we want you to show us you are smarter.

Thought leadership articles, white papers and blog posts showcase your knowledge of industries, issues and tactics. They differentiate you from your competitors and position you as a subject matter expert in your market.

Talk about customers more than yourself

The best communicators are great storytellers. Stories resonate. They connect us. They are, simply, what we remember.

Sharing client success stories is one of the best ways to tell your own story. The tried-and-true case study is one of the most effective forms of content in a marketer’s arsenal. If you show us how you can make our businesses faster, better, stronger, we will do business with you. It’s that simple.

And if you have particularly well known and respected clients, you get the added benefit of basking in their reflected glory. Welcome to the media business. Now go tell your story.

Michael Marzec is chief strategy officer of Smart Business Network and SBN Interactive. Reach him at mmarzec@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7078.

Thursday, 06 June 2013 11:22

Dare to dream big

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When Ted Turner launched CNN, there were plenty of people who said a 24-hour news network would never fly.

But Turner saw a problem: He enjoyed watching the news, but his busy schedule typically had him missing the standard news broadcast time. That’s when he got the idea: What if the news was on all the time? He couldn’t be the only one who was unable to fit a regular broadcast into his schedule, so he knew the demand was there.

The next step was to dream big. What if the news was on all the time, not just locally, not just regionally, but nationally and even internationally? The result was the first 24-hour cable news network. It took a lot of effort to get CNN to where it is today, but Turner’s dream was realized. His big dream yielded a big result.

People need to dream big. If you never take the time to dream big, great things probably aren’t going to happen for you.

We have the power to visualize our future. A professional athlete visualizes hitting the game-winning shot so that when the time comes, he or she expects to succeed. As CEOs, we must also visualize ourselves and our organizations achieving great things. We must see where we want to be and then convince those around us to help us get there. When you can articulate the vision in a way that makes it as clear to them as it is to you, your goals will be easier to accomplish.

Here are four steps to achieving great things:

 

 

  • Have you dreamt big enough? If you aren’t visualizing your business achieving all its goals and growing the way you want it to, it might be holding you back.

 

 

  • Take time to reflect on the dream. Let it simmer as you consider the obstacles that will have to be overcome to achieve your dream.

 

 

  • When you are comfortable that you have thought it through, share the dream with people you trust. They can point out challenges you may have overlooked or offer encouragement to keep you moving.

 

 

  • Get started. Big dreams don’t happen without hard work. Lay out the steps that will get you from where you are today to where you want to be and start working toward your goal. You won’t get there overnight, so focus on taking small steps toward your vision each day. Sell others on your dream so they can help you get there.

 

 

Don’t be satisfied with small achievements. Visualize your potential and the potential of your organization. With hard work, you can turn it into a reality. Dare to dream big.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800)988-4726 or fkoury@sbnonline.com.

Wednesday, 05 June 2013 16:39

How not to paint yourself into a corner

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This column is not a how-to painting guide for business executives — I’ll leave that to the experts at Sherwin-Williams. Instead, I offer a few suggestions on preserving ideas for future exploration and innovation. Let me explain further.

Hindering creativity typically rears its inhibiting, ugly head when you make definitive statements, either verbally to others or in the confines of your own mind, and too quickly dismiss new ideas as being too farfetched. We’ve all been there. How many times have you said, “Not on my watch,” or, “I’m drawing a line in the sand on that matter,” and sometimes adding for emphasis, “That will happen only over my dead body”?

Eating your words, even years later, can likely cause severe indigestion and can sometimes result in choking that could bring on a premature demise of that next big thing. Littering the bottom of the corporate sea are concepts with promising potential that executives, with the flick of the wrist, pooh-poohed. Most times, that was simply because there wasn’t enough time to deal with the unknown or because of myopia and the lack of an inclination to push the envelope. It doesn’t take much talent to say no, but it takes leadership and creativity to take a germ of an idea to the next level. And it takes true vision to shepherd a new anything through the difficult trial-and-error gauntlet.

Close-minded responses to the unproven are not just limited to management. Politicians particularly have a unique knack of painting themselves into a corner with unlikely promulgations that frequently come back to haunt them in November after the opposite occurs. Backpedaling is probably the method most politicians use to get their exercise.

In a 1966 Time Magazine print edition feature story, this then-prestigious publication asserted, “Remote shopping, while feasible, will flop because women like to handle the merchandise and, with so much time on their hands, want to get out of the house.” Someone might want to email Time and ask the publisher how to spell Amazon.

There are alternatives to summarily stymieing thoughts, dreams or unproven methods. Certainly, there is a time and place for everything, and frequently, you or your team may not have adequate resources, at a particular moment, to pursue every idea that comes down the pike. Instead of saying no, a more fitting response is to say or think, “Let’s put that idea on a back burner so that we can for the moment focus on more conventional solutions, at least, for the shorter term.” This leaves the door open for continued research and refinement of an idea that could ultimately evolve into something meaningful.

Here is where the bucket from my headline comes in to preserve an incomparable yet promising notion that, at the moment, might be superfluous to the task at hand but, at the right time and place, proves to be a killer idea. I use the word bucket as a euphemism for a holding place or repository for things that I may want to explore when the time is right. Certainly, one cannot investigate every idea ever pondered, but at least by retaining all such ideas in one place, they are always there for future consideration when either more is learned about the subject matter or when comments begin surfacing in the media or elsewhere touching on that similar idea you’ve kept tucked away.

Your very own bucket can also become a temporary refuge merely to take your mind off other, more thorny problems or a simple respite from the day-to-day grind when you’re looking for a new inspiration. Alternatively, at the end of the year, remove the mothballs from your bucket and review what you’ve deposited. A fresh look just might ignite a former idea, which then takes on a new life of its own.

Anyone who has ever painted a room already knows not to wind up in a corner, lest they may never get out. Worse yet, more open-minded competitors could use that bucket to throw cold water on an idea that you had earlier but never capitalized on it while they did.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises.

"The Benevolent Dictator," a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available online at: www.thebenevolentdictator.biz. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

 

Interviewed by Dustin S. Klein

Dina Dwyer-Owens has led The Dwyer Group Inc. as chairwoman and CEO since 2007 and has guided service brands — including the iconic Rainbow International nameplate— to impressive growth during tough economic times.

The company, founded in 1981 by her father, Don Dwyer Sr., operates six other franchise businesses as well that provide cleaning, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, landscaping, appliance repair, glass repair, and related services through 1,600 franchises in nine countries.

Dwyer-Owens has worked for the Waco, Texas-based company since its inception. She recently talked with Smart Business about how she grew up in the company and how she has propelled The Dwyer Group’s franchises over the past six years to success in a sluggish economy.

Q. What did you do before you came into the company?

A lot of different things. Before The Dwyer Group, my father had his own car wash businesses. So at the age of 13, I was working at his car washes. I pumped gas and sold polish waxes. Then he had restaurants he was thinking of franchising. I worked in the restaurants and did a lot of catering. I worked in a full-service restaurant, and I was the hostess and a waitress. This was all in high school. There are six kids in my family, and we all worked from the time we were 12 or 13.

Q. What made you decide that this was what you were going to do, to rise through the ranks and take over the company?

I wasn’t sure when I first got out of high school. I attended Baylor University. My father wanted me to go to school for networking. He knew education was important. Going to school full-time and working for him full-time, I knew something had to give. It wasn’t fun doing both. I wasn’t getting the best out of either one of them.

I went to him one day and said something has to change. He said why don’t you just take the semester off and come work side by side with me.

I’ll never forget the day a franchisee came up to him at a convention and said, ‘I want to thank you for the opportunity you’ve given me. It has changed my life. Our family is doing things we only dreamt of doing because of this opportunity.’ I listened and thought, wow, I get what he means by his mission statement, which was very clear. Since we were kids, he always told us what his mission was, which was to teach his principles and systems of personal and business success so that all the people he touched could live happy, successful lives.

It’s not just about business success and making a lot of money. It’s what do you want out of your personal life, and how is this business going to help you with that? Working full-time with him for one semester, I learned more than I could have ever learned at school.

Q. What franchise did you work with originally?

It was Rainbow International, our flagship brand. Today it’s a restoration and cleaning company.

Q. How did you decide which opportunity to pursue?

When I worked with my father side-by-side during that semester, I was involved in the real estate division. I was doing stuff with the franchise companies. I was teaching new franchisees how to telemarket. And I traveled the world with my father being an ambassador for the company. He was doing that on purpose. He wanted me to know all of the things he knew.

Then by the mid ’80s, I was running the real estate company. I had a team of 28 people and ran about a million square feet of real estate, and still worked closely with him in the franchising part of the business.

I got involved in franchise sales. I generated a lot of leads. I was the top salesperson in ’83. My father kept me by his side and let me have the freedom to run the real estate division. At the same time, I traveled a lot with him. I loved learning and being part of that. Some of my other siblings weren’t as interested. They preferred to stay home. I spent a lot of time with him.

We went public in ’93. I was on the board of the public company. He started to have me sell off the real estate. He said, “I really need you full-time on the franchise side. Let’s get the real estate sold.” He died of a heart attack at the age of 60 in 1994, a year after taking the company public.

Q. Did you step in right away then?

Well, I was still selling the real estate division off, and we were building properties in the Cayman Islands. Seven Mile Shops was a property we owned there. I was responsible for leasing it. It was a new business we were building. I wasn’t the right person at the time to step into the CEO-president role.

A brother-in-law of mine who had been in the business since he was 16 really knew the franchise business and the development side better than I did, and he stepped into that role with the support of my sister, me, and a handful of professional management team members that my dad had surrounded himself with. He was very entrepreneurial.

After doing that for four years, I was VP of operations. The board knew it was time for a change. The president at the time was great, but he was a real franchise developer, not the best guy to do the day-to-day business.

They did a little shifting and asked if I would be willing to come in as the acting president and CEO. I was 35 at the time, and I knew there was some risk with the shareholders putting me in charge. I accepted the position of acting president, and got some push-back from some top franchisees that I wasn’t the right person for the job. I said, “Look, I get it. I’m not a plumber. But I don’t need to be. I’m the customer. Who better to run this business than the customer who understands what we should be doing for them?”

I said, “Give me six months, and if I don’t prove myself, I’ll be the first one to step aside and say find someone else.” In six months, the one guy who kind of led the bandwagon saying she’s not the best person became my biggest cheerleader.

Q. How many brands did you have?

We had six at the time. Today we have seven brands, and a software company. We have a buying group which is a wholly owned subsidiary. And we have handful of company-owned stores.

Q. How do you look for opportunities for those brands to expand?

First of all, it goes back to our mission. We’re very clear on how we can help our franchisees achieve the things they want in life, and we make the franchise the vehicle to help them do that. We attract team members who care about the franchisee’s personal success as much as their business success. It goes hand in hand. It’s organic.

Q. Can you give us some details about the investments you’ve made in training?

When you think about the business we’re in, the competency to train is a constant. You have to keep training the franchisees to create success for them. It’s such a big part of what we do. For most of our brands, it’s teaching the business side of the business. We have a lot synergies. We have seven different brands, so we can pool the best of all those brands and bring it into one training program.

We have a training facility in Waco where we do all of our core training. I teach the very first class to all the new franchisees. All of my key team members usually teach a class the first couple days of training. We pool the talent we have, and we can do the same classes for all seven brands, and they then break out to specific things.

Q. What matrixes do you use to measure performance?

The most important matrix is the net promoter score. We have a wonderful system that we have automated where we do the follow-up with the end-user customer on behalf of the franchisee. We will make the call to the customer after the service provider has been there to find out how the service was. It’s a 30-second survey. The most important question is “Would you refer us to a friend or family member?”

The scores range from negative 100 to positive 100. Our franchisees on average score a 74. This is home service. It’s kind of like paying someone to fix your car. Our franchisees are doing a great job taking care of the customer. Some companies are higher, but the average is 74.

Q. Do you put rewards or incentives in place for the franchisees?

You bet. We have what we call our Top Gun club. It represents the franchisees that not only do the most in revenue but fit a handful of criteria: profitability, leadership, and helping other franchisees grow their businesses. There are individual awards too. If you’re awesome at net promoter score or a team member, we will highlight them. The recognition from corporate headquarters means a lot to our franchisees.

How to reach: The Dwyer Group Inc., (800) 490-7501, www.dwyergroup.com

Takeaways

Learn all aspects of your business.

Pool talent to cross-train.

Use surveys to gauge performance.

The Dwyer-Owens File

Dina Dwyer-Owens

Chairwoman and CEO

The Dwyer Group Inc.

Education: Baylor University

Dwyer-Owens on communication: I’m taking communicating to a new level now. It’s called connection. It’s one thing to communicate, but it’s another to connect with your franchisees. We have a lot of methods of doing that. The most important method is we have franchise consultants who are really responsible for helping you grow your business and achieve your personal dreams.

Dwyer-Owens on training: We have lots of training events. There’s a lot of best-practice sharing. We have a leadership summit where we go away for four days every year. We bring the top folks from all seven brands. We have the best of the best, who then go back and educate the rest of the franchise family on what we’re doing, why you need to be involved in it, and how it’s going to make a difference in your business.

Dwyer-Owens on change: A couple of years ago, we found our franchise development was slipping. We weren’t keeping pace with new franchise units. We were not hitting the numbers that we were accustomed to hitting. So we totally re-engineered our franchise sales process. We brought people in from the outside who had expertise in managing complex sales, and we totally changed our process. We really had to shake it up, and we shook up the whole franchise development team. And we have already seen great results.

Dwyer-Owens on innovation: I sometimes drive people crazy, I think, because I’m so open to new ideas and innovation that sometimes they have to tell me to wait — aren’t we doing enough already? But I love the whole creative side of the business and doing things differently. It’s really my team that innovates. I may come up with an idea or two, but the team really makes things happen.

With the growing senior citizen population crowding the marketplace, today’s working environment is hosting a “clash of the titans.” Four generations are attempting to co-exist and cooperate in the workplace. 

Personally, I would have thought that people would be counting the days until retirement, but then again, I am in the beginning of my career, so I cannot fathom what it would be like to work for more than 30 to 40 years.

While America’s population is getting older at a faster pace than ever, economic stress has unfortunately caused a delay in retirement. A Charles Schwab Older Workers and Money Survey suggests some possible reasons why:

1. They’re not ready to retire — More than 30 percent of people in their 60s say they don’t plan on retiring, versus 25 percent of people in their 50s. Flexibility may be the reason. The study shows that people in their 60s are more likely to be working part-time and enjoying the flexibility of a lighter schedule.

2. They’re still interested — More than two thirds of workers aged 50-69 consider themselves ahead of the game when it comes to job skills, and claim to be “intellectually stimulated” and still learning.

3. They love what they do — plain and simple.

4. They like their co-workers — more than 50 percent of survey participants reported that they like their colleagues.

5. Financial reasons — 10 percent claimed to be financially comfortable, 50 percent to be “OK” financially, but 31 percent feel they’re “just getting by,” and 8 percent were “falling behind.”

6. Anxious about the future — two thirds of older workers anticipate that they will have to take care of a spouse or family member in the near future. Thirty-seven percent believe they will face care-giving obligations in the next 10 years.

What is your organization like? Is there a steady generation mix among employees? How do you think leaders should manage a multi-generational workforce?

C-suite executives today are not necessarily the most seasoned company leaders, and becoming a respected CEO is no longer a job for the older, more experienced person. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google, Pete Cashmore of Mashable all founded their companies and became billionaires before their 30th birthdays.

Are your managers constantly trying to find ways to overcome communication differences, work style obstacles and technology gaps?

Here are 10 best practices for bridging generational gaps:

1. Initiate conversations concerning the generation gap at all levels of the organization.

2. Educate managers and employees on the different generations in the workplace.

3. Match different generations represented in your company with customer base.

4. Reward employees based on productivity and performance, not seniority.

5. Educate and train employees to know how to best approach and communicate with employees from different generations.

6. Offer appealing benefits that apply to employees of all ages.

7. Train managers and leaders how to lead teams and departments with men and women from different generations.

8. Present various forms of training and tuition reimbursement for employees of all ages.

9. Establish a mentorship program where older employees teach younger employees.

10. Encourage and establish multigenerational teams.

Sherri Elliott-Yeary is known as the Generational Guru and CEO of human resource consulting company Optimance Workforce Strategies as well as the author of “Ties to Tattoos: Turning Generational Differences into a Competitive Advantage and “You Can Have It All, Just Not All At Once!” She has more than 15 years of experience as a trusted trainer, speaker and coach to companies ranging from small start-ups to large international corporations. Contact her at sherri@generationalguru.com

 

In order to succeed in business you need to have inner confidence - that state of feeling certain about and trusting in yourself. You can have confidence in your goals, your team, your system and your family, but if you lack self-confidence, you are missing the main ingredient for success.

Lack of confidence makes it harder to:

 

 

  • Make sound decisions

 

 

  • Lead others

 

 

  • Perform tasks and duties correctly

 

 

  • Get a raise or promotion

 

 

Today I will provide you with 5 confidence tools that you should use on a daily basis in your business and professional life.

Let's get started!

Confidence Tool #1 - Focus

As I mentioned last month in 5 Tips for Improving Your Focus as a Busy Professional - over the years in my coaching and speaking, I have found focus to be of the utmost importance for success in the workplace. Too many professionals try to "fly by the seat of their pants" and lack any ability to direct their attention.

To use the tool of focus effectively, you must first determine the things that need your concentration and focus. Take the time to assess and evaluate them. What should come first, second and so on.

Once you have things evaluated and set out, laser-target your focus and do not allow yourself to be swayed away from the task at hand.

Knowing what needs your attention and intently focusing on those needs helps free the mind of distractions that lead to second-guessing and lack of confidence. This builds motivation that in turn leads to building a positive energy that helps you remain calm and focused during times of stress.

Focus prepares the mind for action.

Confidence Tool #2 - Mentorship

Anthony Robbins and others have talked a lot in recent years about modeling the success of successful people. The idea is to find someone who is successful in your area of work or expertise and do what they do - modeling their successful behaviors.

While I agree that this is helpful, I have always felt that simple modeling comes up short. When I model, I am left to my own devices. I am forced to determine just what it is that has made the person successful. In essence, I have to guess.

Mentorship overcomes this shortfall. Mentoring involves working directly with someone who can help you find your strengths and weaknesses in business. Mentoring takes the guesswork out of the process.

Find someone in your area who is a leader - someone who has achieved a level of success and ask him or her to mentor you. Work with their schedule to find times where you can meet and discuss your needs and desires related to your business.

I have found that many leaders enjoy the ability to mentor others.

Can you see how this tool can help with your inner confidence? It is powerful!

Confidence Tool # 3 - Attitude

You can become the smartest, well-trained and mentored individual with the absolute worst attitude and that attitude will lead to your demise.

Zig Ziglar said it this way:

"Attitude, not aptitude, determines altitude."

How high you fly in the world of business is determined not by how much you know, but by the power of your positive attitude.

Ziglar was a trainer and teacher for dozens of years; he was not speaking against you learning new things and being mentored by the best. It's a matter of perspective.

Truly confident people - not those who think confidence is made up of simple arrogance, are those who have a great attitude toward business, work and life. These are the ones that co-workers want to follow.

Attitude moves your action forward.

Confidence Tool #4 - Exercise

In her article: Get Ahead at Work: 5 Ways to Increase Your Confidence In Business, Kelly Lynn Adams talks about the role exercise plays in developing confidence in business.

She states:

"Exercise has been shown to improve both mental health (by releasing mood-improving endorphins) and physical wellbeing (by reducing the likelihood of illnesses) while also improving the way you feel about yourself. So, whether you prefer to dance, go to the gym, run outside, bike, take a yoga class or box, get moving. It may just pay off, literally!"

I could not have said it better!

Exercise provides strength for action.

Confidence Tool # 5 - Action

I have been hinting all along in this article that there is one very important tool that must be used in order develop the confidence needed to achieve true success in business.

That tool is action.

We must get up, get moving and get out there on a daily basis. Actual hands-on doing is a powerful provider of self-confidence. Action defines the muscle of confidence. Consistent, daily action makes that muscle strong.

When focus, mentorship, attitude, and exercise bolster action, inner confidence no longer becomes a struggle we face.

Use these tools and develop the confidence you need to achieve your wildest dreams in business.

DeLores Pressley, motivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” Contact her via email at info@delorespressley.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.

The federal financial institution regulators want to avoid a repeat of risky lending practices that contributed to the recent recession. New guidance sets higher standards for borrowers, including private equity firms and companies, seeking leveraged loans.

“This is a proactive move on the part of bank regulators to avoid some of the underwriting pitfalls that institutions encountered prior to the recessionary conditions we had going into 2007 and 2008,” says Dickie Heathcott, a partner at Crowe Horwath LLP.

Smart Business spoke to Heathcott about the guidance — which had a compliance date of May 21 — and what it means for borrowers and financial institutions.

What is the guidance, and do financial institutions have to adhere to its provisions?

Although a guidance isn’t necessarily a rule, it effectively becomes one in the field. Banks have to follow it because that’s what regulators are going to use when they examine the bank.

The guidance, issued by the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), covers transactions with borrowers who have a degree of financial leverage that significantly exceeds industry norms.

It focuses on sound, levered lending activities, including:

•  Underwriting considerations.

•  Assessing and documenting enterprise value.

•  Risk management expectations for credits awaiting distribution.

• Stress-testing expectations.

• Pipeline portfolio management.

•  Risk management expectations for exposures held by the institution.

The guidance applies to all financial institutions supervised by the agencies, but significant impacts are not expected for community banks because few have substantial involvement in leveraged lending.

Are there certain industries where leveraged lending is of particular concern?

Construction and development lending is being looked at very closely because of what’s happened in recent years. This type of lending is generally considered commercial real estate lending.

The OCC and the Fed released a white paper in April with findings from the regulators’ study of bank performance in the context of the 2006 interagency guidance, “Concentrations in Commercial Real Estate Lending, Sound Risk Management Practices.” That guidance established supervisory criteria for banks that exceeded 100 percent of capital in construction lending and 300 percent of capital in total commercial real estate lending.

According to the paper:

•  13 percent of banks that exceeded the 100 percent construction-lending criterion failed during the economic downturn from 2008 to 2011.

•  23 percent of banks that exceeded both the construction and commercial real estate criteria failed from 2008 to 2011, compared to 0.5 percent of banks that exceeded neither criteria.

•  An estimated 80 percent of losses in the FDIC fund from 2007 to 2011 were attributed to banks exceeding the 100 percent construction-lending criterion.

What does the guidance mean for businesses seeking loans?

Business owners can look for financial institutions to be very cautious in their underwriting. They will not have access to credit like they did in 2006, even though it seems that the economy has stabilized.

Regulators are being proactive; they can see that credit underwriting is loosening up. Quality deals are being priced so thin that financial institutions are looking at areas where they can make more profit, which, of course, brings additional risk.

From a financial institution standpoint, it’s becoming a very competitive environment again. That means pricing more thinly or a loosening of underwriting standards. Institutions may be willing to finance certain types of loans they would have pulled the reins in on completely three or four years ago. The guidance is about ensuring that to the extent institutions enter into leveraged financing again, they do so in a more prudent manner.

Dickie Heathcott is a partner at Crowe Horwath LLP. Reach him at (214) 777-5254 or dickie.heathcott@crowehorwath.com.

Website: For more information on regulatory guidance for financial institutions, visit Crowe’s Regulatory Reform Competency Center.

Insights Accounting is brought to you by Crowe Horwath LLP

Selling a business is challenging. From vetting potential buyers to preparing financial statements to keeping negotiations on track — all while running your company — there’s a lot that can go wrong. In fact, almost no detail is too big or too small to affect the eventual outcome of merger and acquisition (M&A) deals. However, you can reduce the odds of a mistake by knowing where similar transactions have gone astray.

“It’s important to talk to owners who have successfully completed sale transactions and to work with experienced M&A advisers,” says Brian Reed, partner in Transaction Advisory Services at Weaver.

Smart Business spoke with Reed about common M&A mistakes and key items to resolve before closing a deal.

How might sellers hurt their chances before putting their business on the market?

You risk a letdown when you make overly optimistic future earnings projections or put too much weight on variable measurements, such as the sale prices of similar companies in stronger M&A markets. If you won’t budge from an unrealistic sale price, you could drive away an appealing buyer.

Work with a professional adviser to assess your company’s value as well as estimate an offering price the market can support. The two may not match because the price depends on contemporary economic, M&A market and sector conditions.

Where does timing factor into this?

Other critical seller mistakes revolve around timing, whether internal or external. For example, selling at the wrong time, at the end of a market cycle, could mean fewer buyers and possibly lower offers. If your sector has experienced a recent wave of M&A deals, the buyer base could be depleted, and you may want to hold off.

Sometimes sales are spurred by internal circumstances, such as the retirement of a founding owner, but these situations shouldn’t rush the sale. If your company is not ready for the market, consider appointing an interim head to make preparations and screen potential buyers.

Sellers, particularly those selling for the first time, often greatly underestimate the amount of work and hours it takes to prepare for sale. Have you allocated enough time to implement strategies to maximize your sale’s value? Is your company ready to promptly and accurately respond to hundreds of specific buyer requests? If you haven’t assembled a team with the time and resources to handle these requests, it could bring your potential deal to a standstill and deter otherwise interested buyers.

How might housekeeping impact deals?

Housekeeping issues aren’t trivial. They include essential tasks such as ensuring that contracts and legal obligations are in order. Some items that can trip companies up are:

• Poor accounting. If your financial statements and records are not properly organized and presented, it reflects poorly on your management, and the due diligence process will likely take longer. Sloppy accounting errors could mean tax or legal issues after the deal closes.

• Neglecting key players. Buyers want to know that key employees will stay onboard once the sale is completed. Make sure your top performers are offered financial and other incentives to stay.

• Locking in contracts. Don’t renew an expensive vendor contract as you’re about to transfer ownership. Buyers don’t like long-term contracts they didn’t negotiate, particularly if they’ll be penalized for breaking them. Negotiate short-term contracts or push for favorable terms.

What are some common loose ends to watch for and resolve?

Leaving loose ends hanging won’t endear you to your buyer, as they could hinder integration and future profitability. Some common unresolved internal issues involve:

• Minority interests. Buying out minority investors or shareholders before a sale means the buyer won’t need to deal with their demands later.

• Employee controversies. An integration team doesn’t want to deal with open legal issues, for example, while trying to build a new culture.

• Copyright confusion. Make sure all patents, copyrights, trademarks and other intellectual property holdings are in order. If you’ve failed to verify and document ownership, you may risk the deal’s value.

Brian Reed is a partner in Transaction Advisory Services at Weaver. Reach him at (972) 448-6936 or brian.reed@weaverllp.com.

Blog: To stay current on audit, tax and advisory issues that may impact your business, visit Weaver’s blog.

Insights Accounting is brought to you by Weaver

When you go to the dictionary to look for the definition of focus, you will see such lofty things as:

the point where the geometrical lines or their prolongations conforming to the rays diverging from or converging toward another point intersect and give rise to an image after reflection by a mirror or refraction by a lens or optical system.”

or:

a point at which rays (as of light, heat, or sound) converge or from which they diverge or appear to diverge.”

Luckily, for those of us that are not physicists, I did find one definition that makes sense when trying to understand the meaning of focus:

“a point of concentration or directed attention.”

What do you concentrate on the most with your business? Where do you direct your attention? These are the questions of focus. Over the years in my coaching and speaking, I have found them to be of utmost importance to the success of those in the workplace.

Let's look at 5 tips for improving your focus as a busy professional.

1. Stop doing what you are doing.

If you struggle with focus on a daily basis and you continue to think and act in the same manner – you need to stop and stop right now.

The quote that is often attributed to Albert Einstein speaks to us here: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Stop. Breathe. Assess. Evaluate.

This leads us to our second tip.

2. Determine what needs your concentration and attention.

In the workplace, too many people “fly by the seat of their pants” when it comes to what needs to get done. In most instances, it is pure laziness that sustains this way of doing things. It takes work to stay focused and be successful.

As I said above, you will need to assess and evaluate in order to determine what needs your directed attention. Hopefully you have goals in place for yourself and your team. Let those goals be the defining line for your focus.

This leads us to our third tip for improving your focus as a busy professional.

3. Clear all unnecessary distractions.

Once you have determined the areas and actions that need your concentration, it is time to laser target your focus. In order to do this, you must clear away anything that would disrupt, distract or lessen your laser focus.

Things like:

 

 

  • Cell phones

 

 

  • Television

 

 

  • Email

 

 

  • Social Media

 

 

  • Instant Messaging

 

 

  • Coworkers

 

 

  • Tasks that could be delegated

 

 

Make a list of all the things that you must stop doing in order to stay focused. This is the opposite of the normal to-do list.  It will make clear what needs to be cut out from your daily routine.

Some distractions are going to be hard to give up because they have imbedded themselves as habits – and habits take time to change. Development of laser-targeted focus does not happen overnight, but it must be practiced daily in order to achieve its mastery.

4. Work in 60- to 90-minute blocks of time and provide yourself a reward.

Do not expect too much from your focus. Saying that you are going “to work until it's done is an overload for most of us. It is also too vague and not goal-oriented.

Set aside a specific amount of time for a designated task. Studies have shown that we do well when we block off 60- or 90- minute time frames. This allows you to see the light at the end of the tunnel and know that a break is coming.

As we work, our alertness drops off, increasing the lure of distractions. Set a timer and take a break at the end of each cycle.

How about a reward? We all like rewards in one form or another – even if we are the one giving the reward. Say to yourself, “After this 90 minute session of work I am going to take a 10 minute break and walk around the building.”

Other possible rewards are:

 

 

  • A snack (be careful not to overindulge and get sleepy)

 

 

  • Text messaging

 

 

  • Fresh air

 

 

  • iTunes

 

 

5. Learn to say no.

I mentioned delegated tasks earlier. Many busy professionals struggle with delegation. We tend to hold the old attitude of“if you want something done right, do it yourself.”This might be true in the here and now, but in the long run it will lead to lack of focus and, ultimately, exhaustion.

Learning to delegate is a form of learning to say no. “No, not me, not now.” When we learn to say no, we are truly saying yes to our focus.

There are many other tips that one can use to stay focused. These are the five that I have found to be the most useful. Take the time today to try one, two or all of them. Your goals deserve your focus.  Your team deserves your focus. You deserve it as well.

DeLores Pressley, motivational speaker and personal power expert, is one of the most respected and sought-after experts on success, motivation, confidence and personal power. She is an international keynote speaker, author, life coach and the founder of the Born Successful Institute and DeLores Pressley Worldwide. She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life” and “Believe in the Power of You.” Contact her via email at info@delorespressley.com or visit her website at www.delorespressley.com.