Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Time to Hire a Bookkeeper?

Many a small business owner faced with hiring a bookkeeper for the first time faces a frightening hurdle. Hire the wrong bookkeeper and you could end up with more problems than you had before you hired. Whether you’re searching for an employee or looking to outsource the bookkeeping function getting the right fit is critical to your success and your sanity.

But, how do you know what to look for in a bookkeeper if you don’t really understand the whole accounting thing yourself?

Do you need someone with a degree?

How do you measure a candidate’s experience?

How do you know whether they know what they’re doing?

How can you ask informed questions if you secretly feel un-informed yourself?

It’s a sticky problem and one that many small business owners face. They don’t want to end up in trouble if they hire a bookkeeper who doesn’t know his stuff. They feel out of control because they only know what the bookkeeper tells them and who knows if it’s right?

The following tips will help take some of the mystery out of finding a bookkeeper who is both knowledgeable and a good fit for your business.

1. How important is a degree?

The short answer is—not very. A degree in accounting isn’t really necessary. It’s nice but experience matters more. That being said, a person with an associate’s degree in accounting at least has the gumption to achieve a big goal and has some level of exposure to proper accounting procedures. Some people come out of a degree program well prepared to step into an already set up, well functioning accounting situation (as long as there is someone to train them). Most new graduates are not equipped to step into a chaotic or newly created position—that level of comfort and knowledge only comes with experience.

2. What about certification?

A certified bookkeeper is a bookkeeper who has passed an examination and met certain criteria. It is a good indication of two things—the person is willing to invest in furthering his or her skills and they have mastered a full range of bookkeeping topics. Unfortunately, it is not as wide spread a certification as it needs to be. Many bookkeepers may not even be aware that becoming certified is an option. A non-certified bookkeeper could be asked questions about what he or she is doing for continuing education.

3. What kind of experience should you look for?

Optimally, an experienced bookkeeper will have worked in several different type of businesses—ideally at least one like yours. Hiring someone who has handled the entire range of bookkeeping tasks with minimal supervision is critical. If you’re not an “accounting person”, you aren’t going to be able to answer your bookkeepers accounting questions. If you have a CPA or CFO working with your business, a little less experience is okay if the bookkeeper can go to him or her with questions. (Note: if your CPA charges by the hour this could get costly—so again more experience can save you in the long run.)

4. What about character?

Character is critical on two fronts. If you’re the type of business owner who likes to cut corners, hide income, and conduct business on the shady side of the street, hiring a bookkeeper of good character will only create aggravation for the bookkeeper. In the same light, a bookkeeper of weak character may perform slipshod work or embezzle. How can you determine good character? Ask questions about how they’ve dealt with a tough situation like someone asking them to do something illegal or unethical. Also, ask for character references and ask similar questions. “Tell me about a situation where Beth had to handle a difficult client or co-worker.” Asking pointed questions lead to pointed answers.

5. What about personality?

Is this person someone you think you will feel comfortable working with? The business owner/bookkeeper relationship often ends up feeling a bit like a marriage. Your bookkeeper will know your financial details, your character flaws, and how you act when you’re stressed out. Make sure you have the potential to be a good team.

A skilled and experienced bookkeeper can do much to keep you out of trouble and keep your business running smoothly. Whether you hire in house or outsource, finding the right fit is the key to a successful relationship.

Until next time,

Caroline Jordan
Get Knowledge. Get Focus. Get Results.
The Jordan Result

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

There seems to be no end to the variety of niche business opportunities. Recently, I had an email from a car recycling association in Wisconsin asking permission to use one of my articles which had run in a newsletter sent out by a California car recycling association. And today, I was interviewed by a writer for an article in a magazine dedicated to limousine services. Two very different niches—one major thing in common—cars!

When you think about that one common item—an automobile—and then, start to think of all the different business possibilities it becomes rather mind boggling.

Here are some examples of car related businesses:

Limousine service
Auto recycling
Auto repair
Collision repair
Specialized parts
Classic cars
Car sales
Used car sales
Windshield repair
Self serve car wash
Wearing apparel

The list could go on all day. In each of those areas (and many more), there are problems to be solved. Every problem to be solved is an opportunity waiting to be pounced on by some enterprising business owner.

A great way to build your business is to look at your own industry, your own customer base, and discover what other problems they struggle with. Define the problem, provide a solution, and your business grows. Digging deeper into the problems your current customers are experiencing provides rich mines of untapped opportunity.

"Vision is the art of seeing things invisible to others."
- Jonathan Swift

Until next time,

Caroline Jordan
Get Knowledge. Get Focus. Get Results.
The Jordan Result

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Distracted? Just Hit Clear!

I recently received the following from one of my newsletter subscribers who struggles, like most of us do, trying to balance all the different pieces of running a business:

“On any given day I have roughly 50 tasks in the queue to be completed. Some are planned due to long term projects. Others pop up due to events that occur on projects that are in execution. Managing the complexity becomes an overwhelming task.”

This is so typical for business owners. We are constantly hit from all sides as we try to juggle multiple projects, deal with emergencies, and cope with constant distractions (especially the self-created ones—I stand guilty as charged on this one!) We all seem to end up feeling like we have Business Owner’s Attention Deficit Disorder (B.O.A.D.D.)

Here’s a tactic I use all the time to help me deal with the distractions of every day business life. This is a tip from Dr. Maxwell Maltz discussed in a book called Psycho-Cybernetics. I discovered the tip when I read Dan Kennedy’s excellent book No B.S. Time Management for Entrepreneurs. (Note on Dan Kennedy—sometimes (often) Dan comes across as a rather cranky man who needs more fiber in his diet, but the guy really knows his stuff!).

Okay, so getting back to the helpful tactic (see how easy it is to get me off track?). The technique is called “clearing the calculator”. Dr. Maltz says people try to focus on too many problems at once and they lose their effectiveness. He compares this to using a calculator. In order to solve a new problem you must first press the clear button to get rid of the old problem. He recommends a mental exercise of “clearing the calculator” so you can clear away the old problem to focus on the new.

Since I’m not particularly good at mental exercises of this sort, I physically hit the clear button on my desk calculator to help me to focus (or re-focus or re-re-focus). Sometimes I have to hit that puppy a number of times before I settle back into working on a project after being distracted by other things. I do find it helpful (of course, I may need a new calculator if I keep banging on the bloomin’ thing like I have been lately).

Give this technique a try when you find yourself running about trying to fight all those fires that keep springing up.

Until next time,

Caroline Jordan
Get Knowledge. Get Focus. Get Results.
The Jordan Result

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Solving the Mystery of Business Success

Several of my consulting clients are all working on one particular area of their businesses. It is the most important area a business owner can work on because it directly impacts whether your business succeeds or just struggles along. This critical piece of your business is often overlooked or brushed to the side as you go about your daily busy-ness. Yet, it is the very heart of your business—it’s the engine that drives it forward and makes everything else happen.

Would you like to know what it is? It’s so simple and so obvious that you’ll probably think it’s dumb at first. But, if you dig deeper and deeper into the way you answer this one simple question, you’ll see your business begin to change for the better.

Here it is…

Answer this simple question:

What is going on inside your customer’s head?

Initially, your answer might be, “Beats me. I have no idea.” Like everyone else, our first focus is on what’s going on in our own heads. But, to build a successful business you really have to understand what you’re selling and why your customer values what you’re selling. Your entire business flows from that one understanding.

Here are some examples…

Let’s say you sell beads to jewelry makers. On the surface you sell beads to jewelry makers. That’s certainly true. But dig deeper. Why is a jewelry maker in the market for beads? They’re looking for something to spark their creativity. They’re looking for something bold or subtle to make an artistic statement. They’re looking for something that is marketable so they can eat regularly. Understanding what is motivating the jewelry maker holds clues for you to develop a great marketing plan to reach more jewelry makers and sell more beads.

Now, let’s say you’re the jewelry maker. What is going on in the head of the jewelry maker’s customer? They’re looking for a special gift. They’re looking to draw attention to themselves by having a stunning necklace. They appreciate art and like to own things for the sake of beauty. Each is a different motivation and to attract each of those customers, you would use different language in your marketing message.

Now, let’s say you’re the company that sells wholesale beads to someone who retails beads to jewelry makers. How does the language change? The retail seller of beads is more likely to respond to marketing language that speaks to “fresh” designs, consistency of supply, no minimum order requirements, easy payment terms. It’s a completely different set of motivations.

The artist making the jewelry isn’t interested in the same things as the bead seller and the bead wholesaler. As such, each person in the equation responds to a different marketing message. How well you understand that key point and the way you match your marketing message to what your customer is interested in defines how well you succeed in the marketplace.

Spend some time thinking about what motivates your customer and compare that to how well your marketing message speaks to that motivation. The gap between the two represents your opportunity to improve your business.

Until next time,

Caroline Jordan

Get Knowledge. Get Focus. Get Results.
The Jordan Result