How Do I Get My Money?!

How Do I Get My Money

Are you a small business that is cash poor and receivables rich? Are you worried about how you’re going to get your clients to pay you in a timely manner without having a negative effect on your business relationship? If so, you need to take a good look at your receivables collection process, and if you don’t have one, your first step is to create one!

I once worked with a company that explained that they were very close to shutting their doors because they couldn’t pay their bills. They were a reputable small business with a number of clients and a full pipeline of work. Their problem: a very large backlog in accounts receivables. We discussed the fact that if they were able to collect all of their outstanding receivables, they would be in great shape financially. Their concern was that leaning on the clients too hard to collect the money could impact their future working relationships (i.e., the opportunity to do more business with them in the future). I pointed out that they would not be doing business with them in the future anyway if they close their doors due to their current financial issues. Bottom line, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to get the money you’ve already earned!

I recommend that everyone have an explicit process for billing and collection. For example, you invoice your client according to whatever terms you have in place. If payment is not received by the due date, you can immediately follow-up with them the day after with a courtesy reminder along with periodic reminders afterwards (you choose the frequency). When I was a prime contractor for the federal government, this approach was very effective. Typically, the government was very timely with payment. Often, when I called the day after payment was due, I found that something had gone wrong. Either the invoice had fallen through the cracks, not properly been routed, or something of that sort. Reaching out as soon as the payment was late allowed the investigation to begin quickly and for payment to be resolved with minimal delay (once they determined the issue, I often got my payment expedited).

If your reminders seem to fall upon deaf ears, you may need to take more hands on action. If you’ve been emailing, you may want to consider a phone call. If you’ve been calling, you may need to speak to a higher authority in the organization. In my personal worst case scenario, I had to threaten a stop work order on our part. We were working for a medium-sized organization (much more established than we were), and they had outstanding payments for us that were more than 90 days overdue. I had to explain that we had employees that we had to pay as long as they continued working on their projects, but as a small business, our ability to pay was diminishing due to excessively late outstanding receivables. In this situation, this dialogue resulted in action, and we received our payments without having to go ahead with the stop work order. I do not recommend this course unless you are very comfortable and prepared to execute a stop work order. In the very worst case scenario, you may have to send the bill to a collections agency which may or may not get you any actual payment.

Another approach is to outsource your receivables process either in whole or part. This could be a very good alternative if you shy away from playing the ‘heavy’ to get your money (fortunately, this was never a problem for me). There are companies out there that will handle all of your billing and collections from start to finish (sending initial invoices all the way to the collections process if necessary). Alternatively, you can outsource only certain pieces of your process. For example, you may choose to do your own invoicing but want to outsource the follow-up for overdue invoices. You could also do your own invoicing and follow-up and only outsource when there’s a need to take the matter to collections.

There are many ways to handle your receivables process, but please make sure you choose one and follow it. If you drop the ball on collecting your payments due, it will only hurt you in the end. Remember, you’ve already earned the money…go get it!

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Advisor, Consultant, Coach: What’s the Difference?

Advisor_Consultant_Coach

Advisor, consultant, coach – you can find various professionals touting these titles. But is there a standard definition or concept that highlights the difference amongst them? The reality is that each title can mean different things to different people. If you’re looking for any of these services, be sure to verify that what you want is what is being offered.

Now let’s talk definitions. What I’m about to say here is by no means the law of the land but, rather, my perspective on these roles and how I identify myself. All three roles imply some level of experience and expertise. Consultants typically provide expertise for a specific task or role. They are hands on at analyzing and providing solution options for a problem and executing the chosen solution, if desired. Coaches typically provide guidance and motivation to someone as they analyze, identify a solution and execute. Coaches try to help bring out the best from within someone to help meet their goals (whether personal or professional).

I refer to myself as an advisor. In that role, I function as a consultant and a coach switching between these roles as necessary to best support my clients. As an advisor, clients bestow a great deal of trust in me, and I strive to offer my clients the gift of T.I.M.E.:

Teach

Inspire

Motivate

Empower

In order to effectively do this, it is critical that I know how to consult and coach. It is this hybrid consultant-coach role that I associate with being an advisor.

I think I developed this concept while matriculating my PhD program. I had an advisor (as all PhD students typically do) for my dissertation work. My advisor helped me identify a viable research topic and work through technical aspects all along the way (consultant). He also encouraged me to keep going when I hit a technical brick wall or just generally felt like there was no way I was ever going to get through my research (coach). I guess I should also give my parents kudos for also serving as coaches during that time. I know I called my mom on several occasions to tell her I was just going to leave with my Master’s degree and get on with life…I thank her for talking me through it and ‘coaching’ me back.

When working with a small business client, I may perform a formal business analysis which falls more into the consultant role. I may also help identify their business and personal goals, how they connect, and what’s holding them back from reaching them which falls more into the coaching role. I help clients identify problems, solutions, goals, and fears. And through it all, my motivation is to help them be the best they can be for themselves and others they support and serve.

When seeking out someone to support you in your business or personal life, make sure you understand what is being offered. Someone else may call themselves a consultant and actually offer services that I refer to here as coaching or vice versa. Understand your needs and ensure that whatever professional you choose to work with will give you what you need to succeed.

I’d love to hear your feedback. What do you think distinguishes consultants, coaches, and advisors? Leave a comment to let me know your thoughts.

 

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Why on Earth Am I Here?

Why Am I Here

Have you ever felt like life is throwing you nothing but curve balls? Have you ever wondered why you seem to be caught in a string of bad luck? When life seems to be tearing you apart, it’s not uncommon to wonder why you’re here.

I believe that everyone has a purpose in life. I also believe that everything that happens in our lives serves as preparation for or identification of that purpose. It’s often hard for us to see that deeper meaning when we’re in the midst of life’s challenges, and hindsight is the only way to ever see it for many of us (and sometimes we never see it). We have to take time to reflect and think about what our life situations are showing and teaching us.

To effectively work with my clients, I have to (well I guess I really don’t have to, but I choose to) take on the dual role of consultant and coach. As a consultant, I may focus on business plans and strategies, career goals, and other tangible facts related to your business or career. As a coach, I work with you to understand your limiting beliefs and true motivations.

The coaching aspect of my work focuses on honing into your truth and using that knowledge to create a path and action plan that works best for you. This process can be scary, exciting, and frustrating all at the same time, but in the end it’s always beneficial and worth the effort. It’s hard for people to let down their walls and truly expose what is holding them back, but the results can help properly frame and guide the necessary consulting work to usher you to your full potential.

Recognize that you are here for a reason, and you have a lot to offer. Yes, I’m talking to you no matter what your past or present situation may be. Stay authentic to your truth and shine your light brightly—it’s the only one of its kind. The world needs you!

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Learning and Growing from Life Lessons

 

 

Learning from Life Lessons

Life is full of opportunities to learn and grow. Even situations that we perceive to be bad or unfair can offer pearls of wisdom and new perspectives. All the suffering that we face in our lives is due to our thoughts and perceptions of everything happening around and to us. If we can detach from these negative thoughts and emotions and accept what is, we are free to just be and live from a natural place of joy and peace.

We spend enormous amounts of time complaining about all sorts of things: what’s wrong with our family, why we hate our job, or 10,000 other things that are not the way we’d like them to be in our life. The reality is that complaining does absolutely nothing for us. We need to stand in our truth (no matter how ugly we may perceive it to be at that moment) and know that we are constantly being prepared for something great.

When my time in my first business partnership came to an end, I didn’t know what to think or do. I’ll admit that I did my share of complaining about various things in and about the business (my husband will attest to that). I’d spent the last 6 years of my life working to establish and grow that company. As I prepared to exit, I didn’t know what was next for me.

In hindsight, I can see how critical this part of my life was in my current role as a business and career advisor. That experience uniquely prepared and qualified me to become a Certified Advisor with the Organization for Entrepreneurial Development (OED). Experiences I had in my previous company have often served as perfect cases to share and teach for some of my business advisory clients. That experience showed me like no other how what may seem to be bitter lemons to you at one point can miraculously transform to sweet lemonade.

And so is the case for each of us. As you look at your business or current career path, what do you see? If you’re miserable, simply complaining about being miserable to anyone who will listen is not going to change your situation. Detach from your negative thoughts (I know…easier said than done). Accept that you are where you need to be at this very moment and make plans to move towards a new business goal or career. Envision your future state and use the happy thoughts found there to fuel you in your current situation allowing you to continue to do and be your best right where you are now. Be positive and keep your eyes on the prize.

Always remember that life is offering you a chance to grow into your destiny. Diamonds are made from carbon exposed to intense temperature and pressure. The tough times and experiences in your life are the intense temperature and pressure you need to transform into the diamond you are meant to be.

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Networking Tips for Introverts

Networking for Introverts

Networking is a critical skill for succeeding as a business owner or career professional. For introverts, the standard networking models can raise anxiety and just be downright draining. There are scores of large networking events that require us to enter larges spaces filled with people, walk up to complete strangers to find out what they do, and collect business cards that will hopefully lead to good relationships and new opportunities in the future. For an introvert like me, preparing to go into an event like this is not trivial.

Just to make sure we’re on the same page, let’s take a step back and discuss some key differences between introverts and extroverts. Introverts tend to enjoy being alone. Excessive interaction with other people can be very draining (and, for some, excessive can be a 10 minute face to face discussion with one other person). Spending time alone revitalizes them. On the other hand, extroverts are energized by being around people. The same interaction that drains the introvert rejuvenates the extrovert. Susan Cain’s book “Quiet” does an excellent job of characterizing the plight of the introvert living in an extrovert-oriented society as well as highlighting the power that introverts intrinsically possess.

My former business partners were both extroverts. If we went to a large networking event, at the end of the night I was exhausted and they were exhilarated. I knew that networking was critical to our success, so I did my part. But over time, I realized that there were ways and techniques I could use that allowed me to do my part and still honor and use the strengths of my introvert personality.

Choose small venues/groups. I began attending specialized events that were limited in attendance (no more than 30 people) but still allowed me to interact with other business owners. Examples include invitation only small business owner events hosted by our company benefits broker as well as more niche topic events (relevant to my business of course) hosted by associations and groups. In these environments, I was able to engage in deeper discussions with my peers. The more intimate settings and substantive conversations fell more in line with my introvert comfort zone.

Leverage existing relationships. Instead of attending a huge networking event and randomly hoping to meet people that align with you, why not try shaking the tree of those you already know. They say that there are only 6 degrees of separation between any of us so imagine how many relevant contacts already exist in your current network. I’ve found customers, mentors, and strategic business partners through connections direct from my family and friends. You won’t know unless you ask, so get your message out there to those you know so they can help you. You’ll be surprised what comes your way.

Allow yourself a hard start and stop. If you do find yourself in a position where you need to attend a large networking event, give yourself permission to arrive and leave at predefined times. Don’t force yourself to stay for the entire event. If you’re like me, you’ll be no good after a certain point anyway.

Allow yourself time to step away and regroup. On more than one occasion, I’ve stepped out to the restroom or a quiet foyer area during a large event just to get a moment of solitude for a little rejuvenation. There is nothing wrong with doing this. It can give you the refresh you need to go back out there and meet your future client, boss, or strategic partner.

Allow yourself time alone after the event. If you attend an event that you figure will completely drain you, do not throw yourself into additional meetings/social events immediately after. Give yourself the time that you need to recharge your battery. In order to do what you need to do for your business, career, and the important people in your life, you have to take care of yourself first.

Whatever your personality type is, be true to yourself. Trying to put on a mask that isn’t authentic to your true self will only hurt you in the end. Networking does not have to be a dreaded ordeal. Instead, figure out what works for you and use your strengths to your advantage.

Do you have any unique approaches to networking you can share with others?

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Lessons Learned as a Government Contractor

Lesssons Learned in Government Contracting

Life is full of experiences that can teach us valuable lessons. In my previous business, I was a government contractor. We worked with a number of agencies, garnered several certifications for our business, and worked tirelessly to develop and market our brand. I learned a lot about business and life, and I wanted to share some of my lessons learned during this time. Although I learned these functioning as a government contractor, their relevance extends to business in general and even life in general, in some cases.

  1. Relationships are key. This clearly transcends government contracting, but I definitely saw it in action as a contractor. Building relationships with agency small business representatives, contracting officers, decision-makers, and other business owners are all critical to success. Not to mention building relationships with vendors that currently do or potentially will support your internal operations. Every contract award we received started with a positive relationship fostered by one or more of the partners. Relationships are everything. Remember and honor that in all life activities and you will do well.
  1. Certifications are tools. There are a number of certifications available to businesses including the SBA 8(a) Business Development and Small Disadvantaged Business certifications. The problem is that some businesses are under the impression that if they get the certification, the work will magically follow (without any significant effort). The reality is that the certification is a tool. You still have to build relationships, scout and bid on opportunities, and learn when and where to leverage your certification. Certifications can be very useful, but you must recognize them as the tools that they are.
  1. Know your costs. As a contractor, the government (or any client for that matter) expects you to know your costs. You should be able to clearly define and provide supporting evidence of your General and Administrative as well as Overhead costs. It is important that you understand what goes into each of these cost categories and be able to allocate job costs appropriately. The Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) handles a lot of contractor audits for a variety of government agencies, and they could show up at your door based on your contract requirements and activity. Be prepared to answer with confidence if they come knocking.
  1. Stay in your lane. We’ve all heard the phrase “jack of all trades and master of none.” Many contractors will stretch their service capabilities and move away from what they do best in an effort to win more work. My mom was an office director in a federal agency, and she warned me not to be one of those contractors that she sees that claims to be able to do everything. As a government buyer, she found it very off putting. I used to tell my business partners that we could stand on the side of the road and sell peanuts under our business name, but that doesn’t mean that we should and that it won’t tarnish our brand. Don’t try to be the jack of all trades. Clearly define your areas of expertise and develop a plan to target and win work in those areas.
  1. Never stop learning. The world is always changing. Laws change, the people in charge change, technology changes. Never get complacent in what you think you know. You have to stay up to speed on the potential needs of your customers which means being abreast of issues confronting them. You also have to be aware of any new requirements (HR laws, accounting practices, etc.) that could affect how you run your business. Continuous learning and improvement is critical in business and life.

These are just a few things that I learned in my role as a government contractor. What lessons have you learned in your life roles?

 

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Five Tips to Discover Your Own ‘Road Less Traveled’ in 2015

Road Less Traveled

I often refer to my life path as the road less traveled. I use this phrase to embody the experiences and accomplishments I’ve had that would typically be considered out of the norm for someone of my race and gender. I’ve encountered many reactions, both positive and negative, along the way. I remember the jaw dropped face of the woman at the NC State bookstore when I went to pick up my academic regalia for graduation as I told her my school and degree (College of Engineering, PhD). I also remember the overflowing audience attending a session that my business partners and I held on Entrepreneurship at a mathematics conference. For better or worse, they are all a part of my journey on the road less traveled.

I believe that many of us have an opportunity to follow our own road less traveled. This could be entering a very unique occupation or lifestyle (think eating only raw foods, for example), diverging from what our family and friends may ‘expect’ from us, or taking an unpopular stand for something we believe in. In any case, the road less traveled can be a very hard decision to make and stick with, but as Robert Frost so eloquently told us “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Choosing that road less traveled can be the difference between a mediocre life and a great life. Here are 5 tips to help you discover and maneuver your own road less traveled in the New Year.

  1. Don’t let fear hold you back. The biggest stumbling block for most is fear. Fear shows up in many forms in our lives: doubt, anxiety, worry, etc. It stops many of us in our tracks as we look down that daunting road with very few travelers. It seems so much easier to follow the crowd down the ‘normal’, well-tested path. The first step is to recognize and acknowledge your fear so you can address it head on.
  2. Connect with your passion. Remember those things you did as a child that you could do for hours with sheer joy? Those are telltale signs of things you’re innately passionate about. What things or topics excite you? What can you talk about all day and night and never get bored? What activity can hold your interest for hours on end? Connecting with your true passion will take you to the edge of your road less traveled.
  3. Set aside personal time. We are all busy people. It’s very easy to get caught up in the daily grind of life and all of its demands, but you have to commit to take time for yourself. In this time, you can focus on your goals and interests as well as rejuvenating your mind, body, and soul. It is in this time that you can identify and navigate your own road less traveled. Remember, you can’t be at your best for those around you if you don’t take care of yourself.
  4. Share with your trusted circle. It’s very helpful to share your hopes and dreams with people who are truly in your corner. This could be family, friends, colleagues, or others who are a source of positive support. It’s very important to know who’s in this trusted circle to avoid being bombarded with negative and deflating feedback. You may have a wonderfully loving parent who is not a part of your trusted circle for your dream to become an actor. But perhaps your acting coach is a part of your circle. You can’t share your dreams with everyone, but that trusted circle can help you solidify a plan of action and hold you accountable.
  5. Dare to dream big. Don’t let the boundaries of your personal experiences and circumstances hold you back from greatness. Just because you’ve never run a business and none of your family or friends has either doesn’t mean it’s out of your reach. We all know that there are millions of people out there doing it every day! You may have to take extra time to learn the basics compared to the person who worked in and eventually took over their family business, but that is just your path. Everything you experience on your path will add to who you are and what you become. Don’t limit yourself…be the best you that you can be!

 

 

 

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Three Things I Love About Being a Business and Career Advisor

Three things I love imageEveryone dreams of having a career that they love and enjoy. In my role as a business and career advisor, I have found just that. My path to becoming a business and career advisor was not typical. My educational training is in mathematics which is not what most would expect from their business advisor. Ultimately, my path took a turn to entrepreneurship, and my experiences running my analytical consulting company taught me a lot about small business and career choices and transitions. As my path evolved, I began to recognize and nurture the affinity I have for sharing my experiences and lessons learned with others. Through a series of events and self discovery, this grew to my current practice as a business and career advisor, and here I share the three things I love most about it.

  1. Serving Others. Above all else, I love being of service to others. I firmly believe that to give is to receive. It brings me absolute joy to help another person grow and succeed. Education Reformer Horace Mann said that “the highest service we can perform for others is to help them help themselves.” As an advisor, everything I do is about helping my clients learn, grow, and evolve to be the best they can be in their business or career. My service to others is a source of bliss for me!
  1. Diversity and Learning. As an advisor, I work with clients with a variety of backgrounds, businesses/careers, and challenges. Every client is different, and it makes my job very interesting. Every client offers an opportunity for me to learn something new, and I appreciate everything that they teach me. I do my best to help my clients get to the next level, and sometimes they expose me to tools and techniques that are new to me. These are amazing moments that help me grow and be even more prepared for future clients. My days are never boring!
  1. Making a Difference. If I have information or tools that will help someone else, I do whatever I can to pass it on and make a difference. My clients’ success is a genuine reward that I cherish. When my clients reach a new milestone in their business/career, I am there to celebrate and encourage them to reach even higher. I empower them to dare to be greater than they ever imagined. Their successes make a difference not only in their lives, but in the lives that they touch through their businesses or within their organizations. There’s nothing better than making a difference in someone’s life!

Now it’s your turn. Can you name the three things you love most about what you do?

 

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What’s Holding You Back from Your Entrepreneurial Dream?

Holding you back image

Many of us dream of being an entrepreneur—working for ourselves, creating our own schedules, living by our own rules. For some, this is just a pipe dream based on an overly glamorized image of being an entrepreneur. For others, the motivations and talents are there, but they are never mobilized. Why not? What keeps us from pursuing our entrepreneurial dreams.

For many, the dream is never even birthed. Not due to a lack of ability, creativity, or drive but rather a lack of exposure to even ‘dream the dream.’ The ‘normal’ route that most of us are taught is to finish some level of schooling and get a ‘good job.’ No one actively showed us why or how to start our own business. When I started my first business and officially started working in it full-time, I felt like a secret curtain was lifted exposing a huge private world of people successfully running their own businesses. As I networked, I met more and more business owners at every turn. I remember thinking, ‘Where have these people been all of my life? Why didn’t I know people were doing this?’ It was a huge awakening. As an African-American woman with a STEM background, to me it was akin to why many underrepresented minorities and women don’t go into STEM fields—they don’t know or consider it a viable option for them. The same is true for entrepreneurship—it is never presented or viewed as a viable life path for many.

For those who do develop the dream, the biggest show stopper is something we all know and experience—fear. Fear of failure, fear of leaving the comfort and security of our job, fear of criticism (just to name a few). To overcome fear, you must face it. Identify exactly what scares you about starting the business. In many cases, you can mitigate your fear with research and planning. For example, if you fear the security of dropping your steady paycheck, develop a plan to start off part-time (while still working the steady job) and transitioning once you have some traction.

Another roadblock to entrepreneurship is that we don’t know where to begin. For most of us, starting a business is not something we’re familiar with. Often, family and friends can’t offer advice because they’ve never done it either! That leaves many of us scouring the web looking for information on a host of topics such as how to choose a legal entity type, where and how to find clients, how to set up a website, and how to find and get funding. The internet is full of useful information, but it can be overwhelming! There are resources such as Small Business Development Centers and SCORE counselors (both affiliated with the Small Business Administration) that provide free advice and consultation to business owners.

Another huge concern for many is a lack of support from those closest to us (family and friends). As previously mentioned, a lot of us don’t have people in our circle that own a business. Many people that we know can’t relate to leaving (or never entering) corporate (or government or nonprofit) to risk winging it on your own. When those closest to us are introducing fear (or validating our already existing fear), it intensifies our hesitation and doubt in pursuing the dream. One thing I’ve learned from experience is that your consistent focus and drive can impact the outlook of your circle. My parents were very hesitant and cautious when I first began talking about starting a business. The more I pushed forward with planning and action (and telling them about it), the more at ease and supportive they became. Now, they are among my biggest supporters!

In the end, the only thing holding you back is you. You have the power to dream beyond perceived limitations, push past your fears, find the information and answers you need to take action, garner support from a host of people, and quiet the naysayers with your success. What’s holding you back?

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