The Simple Things in Life (aka Quickbooks Tips and Tricks)

Sometimes we take for granted the simple things in life. Recently I was meeting with a client and we were talking about fairly broad business planning topics. When the talk came around to QuickBooks he mentioned something casually about a quicker way to inactivate vendors. For the uninitiated, QuickBooks provides a very handy bank feed feature. When used correctly it can virtually eliminate data entry when it comes to recording cash disbursements. However, the detail provided in bank feeds often means your vendor names list explodes. Rather than having one vendor called “Shell” to record gas purchases we often wind up with 14 variations corresponding to the 14 Shell stations where we purchased gas during the year.

My client asked if there was a faster way to inactivate these vendors so their names do not clutter up the pulldown lists present whenever a vendor name needs to be entered. Below are four screenshots showing the steps necessary to obtain a list of vendors where you can check off the ones you would like to make inactive. This is much faster than editing each vendor record to select the inactive checkbox.

Select Vendor Center from the Vendors menu.

In the view drop down box select "All Vendors"

In the far left column of the list you will be able to place an "x" by clicking next to each vendor name you wish to make inactive.

When you are finished you can switch the view back to "Active Vendors" and the ones you made inactive will be out of your way.

Below is a short video of mouse clicks and such. I know...I know. Exciting stuff.



A New Year's Resolution for Your Business

It is a week into the new year, and perhaps you are still feeling good about your New Year's resolutions. But have you made any resolutions for your business? I would like to suggest just one. This one resolution could be the stepping stone to much greater success down the road. We know that nothing happens overnight; we know that slow regular progress is the key to lasting success. So I would like to suggest one resolution you can make this year that, if continued, will build on itself in successive years and literally change the way you do business. 

The change I propose is a simple one, but that does not mean that it is easy. What I would like you to commit to it over the next year is working a plan. I am not advocating that you build a fully fledged strategic business plan from scratch. Nor am I advocating an intensive SWOT analysis, or reams of new initiatives and ideas. I want to keep it simple. I want you to commit to run your business according to a plan over the next 12 months.

Working the plan means that you are being intentional about where you spend your time and energy and money. It is the only way to consistently move in a single direction over the course of weeks, months, and ultimately a year. It requires a measure of discipline, but not as much as you might think. What you really need is a system and a routine to follow. I'm going to give you my prescription for working a plan if you have never had one before.

Stephen Covey in his book  The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People advocates beginning with the end in mind. That is exactly where I would like you to start your plan. Think about three areas in your business where you would like to see improvements over the next year. Examples might be higher sales, lower employee turnover, higher customer satisfaction, lower inventory levels, higher average sales price, lower debt, better profitability, etc. I am sure that you can come up with more than three, and that is a good exercise to go through. But when you are done go back to your list and prioritize it. Which is the most important improvement you can make? Which is the second most important, and the third most important? The secret to developing a really good plan is intense focus. You must limit yourself to only three areas for the year.

Now that you have identified three areas for improvement I want you to identify what success looks like in each area. If higher sales is an area of focus how much higher do sales need to be for you to consider yourself successful? If you want a higher average sales price, what do you want the price to be? You must get really specific, and this is where most people stop doing the work. Don't wimp out on this part of the activity. It is the hardest, but it is also the most important.

So now you have three areas of focus, and a definition of success for each area. Think about how much progress you can make toward that success over the next 90 days. You might just divide the difference between where you are now and where you want to be into four quarters and attack it that way. But your progress is rarely linear. You will usually make a lot of progress in the beginning and things will level off toward the end, or progress will be slow initially and then accelerate rapidly toward the end. It just depends on the type of change are trying to make. How do you imagine things progressing and where could things be 90 days from now? Write down what success looks like for each area of focus 90 days from now.

For each area of focus there is going to be a laundry list of possible projects and tasks that will move you toward your goal. If this is the first time you have ever tackled this kind of business planning, you would be wise to limit your focus over the next 90 days to only two projects in each area. This does not sound like a lot, but two projects over three areas of focus equals six projects over 13 weeks. If each project has four or five tasks that means you are adding 30 things to your to-do list for the next quarter. You don't need to do any more than that.

Now it's time to get to work. The key to making significant progress in your business over the next year comes down to carrying out your to-do list on a weekly basis. I have developed a simple spreadsheet that I have used over and over again to help business owners stay focused on their quarterly projects and one year goals. I suggest that you print it out, fill it in, and keep it on your desk where you can see it every day. If your plan is staring you in the face when you arrive in the morning, and it's one of the last things you see when you turn off the lights at night you are much for likely to focus on your priorities and goals when scheduling your time.

There are couple things you should remember as you start this process. First, it is unlikely that you will maintain steady progress throughout the year. There will be times when you fall off the tracks, and lose focus on your plan for days or weeks. Accept this, know that it will happen, and prepare yourself for the day when you will have to get back on track. It can be incredibly discouraging to fall behind on your plan. That's one of the reasons I only advocate three areas of focus and two projects per quarter. Even if you get distracted after six or seven weeks the worst-case scenario is that you will lose little more than a month's worth of progress. With each quarter comes a chance to push the reset button and start over. If you successfully complete all your projects for the quarter and your areas of focus show significant progress toward your year-end goals you can begin the next quarter with a whole new set of 90 day goals and corresponding projects. But if some things remain undone do not feel bad about continuing to work on those things for more than one quarter. If your annual goals were important enough to list in the first place, they are important enough to focus on until you see progress.

Second, your success rate is directly proportional to the level of outside accountability in your life. If no one knows about your plan it will be very easy to just stick it in a drawer if you fall behind. Private failure is something most of us have become very accustomed to. But public failure is a different prospect entirely. I encourage you to tell people about your plan. But be careful. If you have a team your first inclination may be to share it with key employees. If this is the first time you have engaged in a planning exercise you may want to reconsider laying all of this out to your employees. I think it is better for first timers to share their plan with fellow business owners, outside coaches, or other business advisors before they get involved in leading a team through the strategic planning and execution process. 

The reason for this is trust. A leader who develops a plan, follows that plan for a few weeks or months, then abandons the plan because things have gone off the tracks may seriously damage the trust relationship with key employees. Successive efforts to introduce business planning will be met with skepticism and halfhearted efforts. That is why I think it's better to seek accountability from outside your team. It is highly likely that at some point during your first year of planning you will fall of the tracks. It is better to have your personal accountability group rake you over the coals and get you back on track than it is to have your employees discouraged and disenchanted with the whole idea of strategic planning and execution.

There is nothing worse than looking back over the last year and realizing things have not changed. I hope to help you avoid that depressing feeling. Putting together a simple, achievable plan is the first step. Aim low. Don't get too ambitious. Get an early win in the books, and build on that success once you know what it feels like. Working a plan this next year could be the start of a whole new chapter in your business life.


"Let's Get Real or Let's Not Play" by Randy Illig and Mahan Khalsa

Last month we hosted the first Axiom Book Club lunch where we learned a game changing approach to professional selling. Randy Illig and Mahan Khalsa developed the framework for their book "Let's Get Real or Let's Not Play" from the trenches of professional selling. Their take on the sales process is built around collaboration and trust rather than manipulation and closing.

I spent about an hour walking attendees through the book and giving some examples of how the principles in this book have helped transform our selling process at Axiom. We will be doing six more of these events in 2012 beginning the third Thursday in February and every other month thereafter. Look for announcements on this blog three weeks prior to each event. Hope to see you there.

Discover the Best Sales Training Resource on the Planet from Joey Brannon on Vimeo.



When Quitting Doesn't Suck

Last month I wrote a piece on quitting and the difference between throwing in the towel and failure. Since then I've read a book that challenged my thinking in several areas. The book is Dr. Henry Cloud's "Necessary Endings: The employees, businesses and relationship that all of us have to give up in order ot move forward." For anyone that believes perseverance and sticking it out are the only ways to success this book offers a cold dose of reality.

Now, I don't think Dr. Cloud and I are miles apart in our thinking, but I did recognize that my propensity to be optimistic and hopeful is not helpful in every situation. There were three key takeaways that I got from the book.

First, hopelessness is necessary to drive difficult cheange. Unless you see the present course of action as hopeless you will keep pressing on. You will keep throwing money into a losing business. You will keep wasting time in a dead end relationship. And you will keep giving too many chances to the wrong employee. Hopelessness is your ally in defeating the status quo, in getting unstuck from the ruts of bad habit and unproductive routine.

In order to get to the point of hopelessness Cloud says we must do the exact opposite of what every self help book teaches. Rather than envisioning the future as rosy and ideal, Cloud says to play the present tape forward. Imagine things progressing along their existing path. Imagine nothing gets better and things just run their course. What kind of misery are you in for? How ugly is it going to get? See it, touch it, taste it, and feel it in all its misery and ugliness.

Seeing where your present path is headed makes it easier to embrace the kind of uncomfortable change required to start a new course. It turns out this strategy is rooted in Cloud's understanding of how the past works, and it is an integral part to the second big takeaway.

Second, Cloud asserts the past will repeat itself unless: 1) you have a different person to believe in or 2) you have radically different behavior to believe in. This sounds like common sense but it isn't the way we live. Often hope is the only strategy for underperforming sales, struggling business units and dead beat spouses. I'm not saying we shouldn't exercise mercy and grace, but I am saying it's foolish to put your faith in something that has only let you down miserably, even if that something is your own behavior.

Third, when the necessary ending involves a person we must distinguish between the person and the behavior. The ending should start with the behavior and move on to the person only if they can't get things under control. Cloud makes a great point about employers who say "David needs to change," or "Sue needs to get her act together." The truth is neither David nor Sue is under any compulsion to change. Their behavior is working out just fine for them. It's the employer or the co-worker that is suffering.

Recognizing this problem allows an effective leader to have make unacceptable behaviour the employee's problem. A conversation detailing the behaviors that are now the employee's problem should be followed by a frank series of consequences for failure to change. In short, we need to stop making these folks problems our own. Give them back their problems and give them consequences for failure to change. After that let them deal with the consequences.

This book was refreshing for me because it gave me some clarity on things in my life and business that need to reach a point of hopelessness. Our time and billing system is a good example. For six years we had been trying to do innovative, value added work alongside timesheets and it just wasn't working. Reaching a degree of hopelessness allowed me to make some bold commitments, learn a new way of managing our workflow and implement real change in a very short amount of time.

In an attempt to reconcile Cloud's book with my previous post I can say that reaching necessary endings really isn't anything like quitting. On the contrary, getting to and accepting a necessary ending is about seeing the reality of our failures. Too often these gray areas masquerade as problems in need of perseverance and hope. The reality, while stark and depressing, is that pruning through the acceptance and hastening of necessary endings is the secret many successful entrepreneurs have learned the hard way. I highly recommend Cloud's book.


Quitting Sucks

Think back to a time in your life when you quit something. Quitting sucks. I don't mean quitting something bad like smoking or drinking or watching purple dinosaurs with your kids. I mean when you quit something that's hard, something that requires more than you are willing to that moment. Quitting sucks. It sucks for you, it sucks for the people in your life when you quit and it sucks for the unseen dozens, hundreds or thousands who were counting on you not to quit.

I quit something that I have regretted for the last 16 years. When I was in college I played soccer. I was on scholarship, not a big scholarship, but it was decent enough the coach thought it justifiable to subsidize my education. But I quit. As soccer increasingly impeded my social life and ambitions outside the classroom I decided I would stop.

It took about a year, but it happened. The gnawing regret set in and now every time I think about that hastily made decision I wish I had decided differently. I wish someone would have tried harder to talk me out of it. I wish I would have paused to consider the "no going back" part of my decision. I wish I would have understood that quitting is a one-way street. There is no going back. I wish...I wish...I wish...

And that's why I quit and that's why I still regret it. I was wishing my way to an easier, less stressful, more enjoyable college career. I should have been working my way there, but I wasn't. I was wishing. And unless you're a fairy godmother (or have access to one) wishing will get you little in life.

On a lazy Sunday afternoon I caught myself watching Rudy on cable. Rudy is the story of Dan "Rudy" Ruettiger, a small football player with a big heart. Rudy earned his way into Notre Dame football history by not quitting. There is a scene in the movie at a time when Rudy has been denied admission to Notre Dame for the third or fourth time. He's sitting in a church, incredibly distraught and he asks the priest "Have I done everything I possibly can?"

That, in a nutshell, is the story of Rudy Ruettiger. It explains his success at Notre Dame and the stamp he has placed on the world. He could have blamed the admissions staff, the system of privilege, his parents inability to help, or any other of a hundred excuses. But he didn't because he knew those things were irrelevant. The only thing that mattered was whether or not he had done everything he possibly could to achieve his goal.

When you quit you stop asking "Have I done everything I possibly can?" When you quit you are usually saying something like "I wish it would have turned out better." It is OK to fail. As business owners we have innumerable opportunities to fail every day and every week. There are goals we miss, initiatives that die on the vine, projects that fall flat, employees that don't work out and customers that get upset. Quitting says "that's life and there's nothing I can do about it." I want to challenge you to ask a question instead. Ask "Have I personally done everything I possibly can to make this happen?" If the answer is yes, you might be failing. If the answer is no you are on the verge of quitting. Act wisely after you answer. Sixteen years later you'll remember your choice, and you'll remember it with pride or regret.