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Business Contingency Planning - If Disaster Strikes Will Your Business Survive? - Sep 11, 2011

Posted by: Alan G. Lefkowitz in Articles

We are closing in on the end of 2011 and all I can say is, “what a year!”  We continue to fight through a brutal economy with a highly volatile stock market, fears of a double-dip recession and constant political gridlock.   The northeast has just experienced a very unexpected but powerful earthquake and a devastating hurricane with massive flooding and property damage.  Add to that, we are facing the 10th anniversary of 9/11 with renewed threats of a terrorist attack.  

It occurs to me that it’s a good time to step back and take stock as to whether your business is prepared to handle a disaster.  Many businesses do not recover from disasters and many of the devastating losses and related business failures could have been avoided with better planning.  Some disasters may be anticipated such as those that are weather-related.  You can track the forecasts and prepare to some degree.  Many disasters are completely unexpected.  So, it is critical to the future health of your business to be ready if the unexpected happens.

If your office were not accessible due to a natural disaster, would you and your staff know what to do to keep the business going?   If your computer system crashed today, do you know how recover the data to get your business up and running again and how long it would take, and the cost to your business?  If you lost a key employee unexpectedly, do you have a person ready to take over those key duties? 

It’s a tough sell in this economy to ask business owners to spend money to protect against events that may never happen.  Yet, the consequences of not having disaster preparedness can be fatal.  I recall an incident that occurred years ago when I was working in Hong Kong for an international bank.    We were pushing the need for contingency planning with the head of a major business unit in Australia.  They ran large securities trading business and their trading desks (and extensive computer equipment) were located directly above a floor with higher than normal risk of fire.  We were not able to convince local management of the need for disaster recovery planning.  He felt that it was a waste of money.

The head of that business unit was visiting our headquarters in New York and was staying in a hotel a few blocks from the main office.  On his way to the office one morning, he was unable to get through the police and fire barricades blocking the surrounding streets.  As it happened, a building was on fire up ahead and he couldn’t get to the office.   He soon found out that the building on fire was our headquarters and a substantial amount of assets and information were destroyed (fortunately, no one was injured!).  The business head returned to Australia, having been converted into a disaster recovery believer, and made contingency planning a priority. 

The obvious lesson to be learned is to not wait for a disaster to happen before taking action to protect your business.  Rather, it is necessary to prepare for all reasonably possible contingencies and put in place the necessary steps to enable quick recovery so that your business can return to normal as quickly as possible and at as minimal a cost as possible.

Provided below is an overview of key issues to consider in planning for, and protecting against, disasters that may occur.  You should have more extensive discussions with your outside advisors and technology professionals to develop and implement contingency plans tailored for your organization.

People often describe contingency or disaster recovery planning in two ways and they mean different things.  Many use the phrase “disaster recovery” to refer to a disaster involving the failure of technology systems (PCs, servers, computer networks).  You may also hear the phrase, “contingency planning” or “business contingency (or continuity) planning”.  These phrases refer to the plans associated with the effect of a disaster on the business in general, beyond just the technology systems.   For example, this may include the inability to access your office due to a natural disaster, and it may also include protecting your employees from security threats. 

Ideally, a business should have a broad contingency plan that considers all aspects of the business, its operations, and it’s people and key assets.   The technology systems should be considered as a key component of that plan.  Every business contingency plan should be documented and periodically updated.  At a minimum, the contingency plan should include the following:

Designated Business Contingency Officer

The company should designate ....

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How Do You Differentiate Yourself From The Competition Its All About Client Service - Jun 16, 2011

Posted by: Alan G. Lefkowitz in Articles

I filled up my car with gas the other day, paying almost $4 dollars a gallon and then paying the attendant who didn’t speak English, and who appeared to be doing me a favor by taking my money.   I remembered a time when the gas companies promised that if the attendant didn’t get to your car in under ten seconds, you’d get a free drinking glass, or if they didn’t offer to check your oil, you’d get a free fill-up.  My mind drifted further to a time when I could phone a company and a person actually answered the phone, asking something crazy like, “Can I help you?”  You didn’t have to press a series of buttons, getting automated questions that you weren’t paying attention to, and then forgetting what numbers to press.  And there it was, the subject of my next article (or is that, my next rant?).  What happened to customer service?

As the recession continues (yeah, it’s not over yet!), we continue to hear about cost cutting.  Every company has to cut costs to survive - that’s the mantra.  A day doesn’t go by where we don’t hear about cost cutting.  Yet, the companies I am referring to above seem to have forgotten that they are leaving strong impressions on their customers, and not necessarily in a positive way.

We now live in a world where there is an abundance of similar products.  New products hit the market and with lightening speed, similar products are on the shelves.  A good case in point is the Ipad.  Within months of being introduced to the market, the Ipad has seen competition from Blackberry, Kindle and others.  It’s often difficult to differentiate one product from another.  Companies are faced with a similar dilemma when hiring candidates for jobs.  There was a time where a college degree from a reputable university gave the recruit an advantage in the hiring process – not any more.  Now, it seems that most candidates have the university degree, not to mention similar resumes, and companies are challenged to find the right candidate.  And, candidates are challenged to demonstrate to a potential employer that they are the best candidates for the job.

So, how do you navigate through the abundance of common products or services being offered?  Whether you are a buyer or seller of those products or services, you have to differentiate yourself from the competition.  And how do you do that?  Here are eight ways you can differentiate your company or yourself from the competition.

Give Exceptional Customer Service

Customer service is lacking in so many businesses.  How many times have you heard someone say something like, “this business would be great if weren’t for the damn customers?”  Remember that you have no business without your customers and your best business is with your existing customers.  You need repeat business and referrals.  The only way to keep them and get new customers is exceptional customer service.  Meeting customer expectations is not good enough; you have to exceed expectations…every time! 

Listen to Your Customers

Really listen to your customers to find out exactly what they want or need.  Are you sure your customer feels that your product or service fills their needs?  Or do you follow the attitude that says, “if we build it they will come?”  That approach generally doesn’t work.  People are much more selective about how they spend their money.  You will differentiate yourself when your customers feel that your product or service meets their needs and they believe that you hear and respond to them.

Add More Value to Your Product or Service

The actual or perceived value of your product or service must be greater than the cost.  The corollary to that for a service business is that the customer should feel that you left the place better than you found it.  You must find a way to provide the extra benefit, feature or service that excites your customer.  If you are a recruit, you must demonstrate how the company will be in a better state (more income, less cost, better decision-making capability, etc.) than it was before you were hired.

Sell Feelings, Not Products

The car companies have understood this for years.  They are not telling you about the engine or how the fuel injection system works.  They aren’t telling you about how the coefficient of drag gives you better gas mileage.  They use whatever images they have to use to create the exciting feelings you wil....

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Financing Is Available but Can You Get The Loan - Oct 25, 2010

Posted by: Alan G. Lefkowitz in Articles

Let’s say that your company needs working capital to cover operating needs or expansion.  Or, you are an entrepreneur with a great business idea and you need the cash to build your business.  No one needs to tell you how difficult it is to get financing these days, yet it is possible to get the cash you need with some diligence.  Banks are lending.  The key is to know what the lenders look for and to ensure that their needs are met, so yours can also be met.

We are in a world where it feels like to get a loan you first have to prove that you don’t need one.  Yet, lenders will lend – it’s what they do – but they need to have the confidence that the business can pay back the loan and on time.  You have to give them that confidence.  In my many years of banking experience I have found that one good way to meet the lenders’ needs and get the financing you desire is to look at your company and its financial picture in the same way that the lender does.  If you can put yourself in the lender’s shoes and objectively conclude that the all loan payments will be made on time and according to the loan’s terms, then you will raise the likelihood of getting the financing and with more favorable terms - even in this market.

Banks are highly regulated companies and they are periodically examined using a rating system known as CAMELS to determine how safe and sound the bank is.  The CAMELS rating impacts the amount of capital a bank is required to carry which effects the extent to which banks may lend.  Banks will look at their customers and prospective borrowers using the same criteria that they are subject to when under examination.  Therefore, every borrower should be aware of the CAMELS system in order to be sure that their company meets the minimum standards that banks consider in assessing the borrower and related loan quality.  Meeting those standards will raise the likelihood that the loan is funded with the most favorable terms possible.

The CAMELS rating system evaluates the bank’s overall condition and performance by assessing the following six components:

  1. Capital Adequacy
  2. Asset Quality
  3. Management Administration
  4. Earnings
  5. Liquidity
  6. Sensitivity to Market Risk

 

Capital Adequacy

Capital is the amount available after all assets and liabilities are settled, but it is also the safety net available to cover problems, risks, and growth.  Each company should maintain an amount of capital commensurate with the overall financial condition of the company and which enables management to address emerging business risks and operational needs.  Capital adequacy consi....

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B2B CFO Named To Inc. 5000 - Aug 25, 2010

Posted by: Alan G. Lefkowitz in Articles

B2B CFO NAMED IN PRESTIGIOUS INC. 5000 LIST

184% Growth Earns B2B CFO Spot in the 2010 List of Fastest Growing Companies in America

Phoenix, Ariz. August 24, 2010 —  B2B CFO, nation’s largest provider of CFO services to small businesses, has been named to the prestigious Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies in America.

Now in its 29th year, Inc. Magazine’s annual ranking judges US-based and privately held companies by their revenue growth.  This year’s list was ranked on the percentage in revenue increase from 2006-2009. B2B CFO’s growth earned 84th place in its industry.

 "There are approximately 27 million small businesses in the U.S. today,” said Jerry L. Mills, founder and chief executive officer of B2B CFO, “It is a huge honor to be among the fastest growing and the most successful businesses in the country.  Our firm has experienced tremendous growth over the past few years and we are on track to continue expanding.  I am especially grateful to all of the firm’s dedicated Partners who continue to advocate our services around the nation.”

In a personalized letter congratulating B2B CFO on this accomplishment, Jane Berenston, editor-in-chief of Inc. Magazine’s wrote “Congratulations: your company, B2B CFO, has made the 2010 list of the fastest growing private companies in America. This achievement puts you in rarefied company, especially if you consider that over 27 million businesses are registered in the USA.  The elite group you’ve now joined has, over the years, included companies such as Microsoft, Timberland, Visa, Intuit, Jamba Juice, Oracle, and Zappos.com. I look forward to congratulating you in person in Washington, D.C.”  

B2B CFO’s growth is reflected in numerous awards this year.  The company was also recently named in ACE Corporate Growth Awards, which recognized the most successful and fastest growing companies in Arizona.  

In August 2010, B2B CFO has grown to 170 Partners across 39 states, representing 5,000 years of cumulative experience.  Each Partner is a seasoned financial executive who serves as CFO to growing businesses on as-needed basis.   Approximately 80% of the Partners have a background that includes senior executive positions at the Big Four, and all of the Partners have held high level executive finance positions in various industries in corporate America. Together, B2B CFO Partners work with more than 500 businesses in the nation with combined annual sales of more than $3 Billion.

Jerry L. Mills and many of the B2B CFO Partners regularly dedicate time to educate business owners on financial matters.   Mills is a frequent speaker and contributor and has been featured on many national media networks including FOX Business, Fortune Small Business, Smart Money and many others.  Mills is also the author of The Danger Zone - Lost in the Growth Transition, and Avoiding The Danger Zone – Business Illusions, both business non-fiction books that help entrepreneurs understand and build a strong financial strategy.

“We look forward to participating in the Inc. 500|5000 conference in Washington, DC this fall,” added Mills. “Along wi....

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Leadership The Success Factor - Jun 2, 2010

Posted by: Alan G. Lefkowitz in Articles

I was listening to our CEO, Jerry Mills, at our annual partners’ meeting and I was impressed by the clear vision he had laid out for our firm. As he provided some history, achievements and future goals, it occurred to me that the leadership qualities he demonstrated were consistent with that of other successful leaders. Jerry motivated the audience, not just with his vision, but with the same declaration that he made a year ago – that he “refuses to participate in the recession.” Those words were part of his strategy to change our thinking about our circumstances - that we have the ability to change our thoughts and therefore our experiences. In that way, we can continue to pave the road to further success and not be prone to the same negative thinking that so many people subject themselves to, particularly in today’s tough economic times. So, reflecting on Jerry’s comments, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about the key aspects of effective leadership.

Over the years, I have observed the successes and failures of many organizations. As an athlete and sports nut, I am always reminded when I watch a ballgame of the similarities between leadership and success in both sports and in business. In sports, there have been some amazing success stories: teams that defied the odds, such as the Amazing Mets in ’69, Jim Valvano’s NC State basketball team winning the NCAA tournament when they were clearly underdogs, and who could forget the US Olympic Hockey team’s famous victory in the 1980 Olympics. In business, there are companies that clearly defied the odds also, such as Microsoft, founded by a college dropout named Bill Gates, IBM, once a typewriter company that transformed into a global computer company, to such household names as Xerox and Google.

I have often asked myself, “Why do some organizations or teams thrive with apparently better talent than other organizations?” If it is not talent alone, then what differentiates the winning team from the others?  

I have found that all of the successful organizations and teams have one very important trait in common. That is LEADERSHIP. From a business perspective, leadership has been the key factor for many organizations that have navigated through one of the worst recessions our economy has ever experienced. It is the reason some companies have not just survived, but thrived for over 100 years and transformed themselves through changing business environments and technological advances. In sports, great leaders have taken what appeared to have been average ....

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Testimonial - Lockton Companies - Aug 26, 2009

Posted by: Alan G. Lefkowitz in Testimonials

"Alan Lefkowitz is one of the best construction CFO's I have ever worked with.  Please consdier this my highest recommendation.  Your client could not do better."

---------Gary Giulietti, President, Lockton Companies


Goal Setting - Jun 14, 2009

Posted by: Alan G. Lefkowitz in Articles

Set Your Goals – Get Results

In his book, “What They Don’t Teach You in the Harvard Business School,” Mark McCormack shares a study of students in the 1979 Harvard MBA class, in which the students were asked, “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?”  Amazingly, only three percent of the graduates had written goals and plans; 13 percent had goals, but they were not in writing; and a whopping 84 percent had no specific goals at all.

 Ten years later, the members of the class were interviewed again, and the findings, while somewhat predictable, were nonetheless astonishing. The 13 percent of the class who had goals were earning, on average, twice as much as the 84 percent who had no goals at all. And what about the three percent who had clear, written goals?  They were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97 percent put together.

 The Harvard study, and many other studies, supports the view that goal setting is one of the most critical ingredients in driving individual and business performance and achieving desired results. At the personal level, goals may relate to increasing earnings, developing new skills, obtaining advanced degrees, traveling, and so forth. On a business level, goal setting typically takes the form of the annual business plan broken down by divisional, geographic, and/or product revenues and expenses.

 Many small and mid-size businesses have not implemented written business plans nor utilized MBOs (management by objectives) for their staff. These companies are at a distinct disadvantage as compared to the competitors that have adopted written goals and plans. In these challenging times, that’s an advantage their competitors shouldn’t have.

 While personal and business goals may be different, both are based on similar principles. In order for goals to be effective, they should have the following....

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B2B CFO Challenges Negative Perception On Small Business Lending 616 - Jun 14, 2009

Posted by: Alan G. Lefkowitz in Articles

 The following is a copy of a press release that was printed by major news services in June 2009.

 B2B CFO on Track to Help Business Owners Secure $250 Million in Small Business Loans this Year, with Average Loan Size of $1.8 Million

B2B CFO Challenges Negative Perception on Small Business Lending  

PHOENIX (June 11, 2009) - The troubled economy and strict regulations surrounding small business lending have not been a roadblock for B2B CFO Partners working to secure loans for their clients.  To date, B2B CFO Partners have helped their clients secure more than $111 million in business loans, and the company is projecting that secured loans will total $250 million by end of 2009. 

Jerry L. Mills, founder and CEO of the Company, attributes this success directly to B2B CFO's expertise in small business finance and the emphasis that the Company puts on banking relationships.  Mills challenges the negative perception on small business lending.   According to Mills, business owners need to understand the recent changes in the banking industry.

A dynamic shift took place in business banking in the beginning of 2008.  This drastic change in the approval process means that business owners cannot approach banks in the same way they did in the past.  Not knowing what information to present when approaching banks, and most importantly not knowing how to present the information, often results in rejections of loan applications.  

"The old ways of obtaining bank loans are dead," said Mills.  "And we must adjust to the new ways."

Mills strongly believes that today's business owners are better served having professional advice before approaching the bank for a loan. B2B CFO is the nation's largest CFO firm servicing exclusively the needs of businesses with revenue under $75 million.  The Company's 121 Partners across 43 states help approximately 500 business owners around the country with finance, cash flow and growth-related issues.   Each B2B CFO Partner works as a chief financial officer for several clients at any given time. 

Mills is currently serving as a CFO for 10 growth-oriented businesses in the Phoenix area.  When it comes to securing loans, Mills works diligently not only to match his clients with the appropriate banks, but also to prepare documentation that meets the needs of the bank, increasing probability of closing on the loan. 

Mills recently turned to Alliance Bank of Arizona, a local business bank for a significant loan for one of his clients, Integrated Landscape Management, one of the largest commercial landscape management companies in the state. Co-founders Robert Clinkenbeard and John Garigen had used their personal loans to pay for a fleet of vehicles, a not uncommon situation in small business. As a result, their personal FICO scores and personal borrowing capabilities were compromised.

"I worked for Alan at Interstate Drywall Corp. for 5 years. Alan was an excellent mentor as well as the financial leader of the company. Alan has a great ability to budget and plan for the future of a company. He developed many tools and models that were very effective in planning and tracking the growth of a dynamic company. His attention to detail and his control procedures were key to the financial success we achieved at Interstate. I learned a great deal from my time working with Alan and I have implemented many of those same models and procedures at my current company."


Testimonial - Cheryl Stuart President Stuart Associates Inc. - Mar 31, 2009

Posted by: Alan G. Lefkowitz in Testimonials

Alan is a detail oriented individual that has always had a complete grasp of the entire organization and how issues affecting one piece of the operation will effect the other entities or divisions. He has a unique skill for being able to zero in on the pertinent issues affecting the company and maintain a long term view to the decision making process. I highly recommend Alan for a CFO position.


Testimonial - Mike Szot Managing Partner Cgs Technologies - Mar 24, 2009

Posted by: Alan G. Lefkowitz in Testimonials

Over the past several years of working with Alan I found him to be an exceptional executive. His attention to details and commitment to his responsibilities and honesty are the foundation on which he has built a very successful career. As a Partner of B2B CFO’s, Alan brings his exceptional talents to organizations he works with. The benefits these organizations will immediately recognize will be improved expense controls, better financial and strategic planning, profit improvement and overall increased operating efficiencies and performance. His professionalism and commitment are two assets that no organization should be without."                                                                      

 

 


Back To Basics - Mar 8, 2009

Posted by: Alan G. Lefkowitz in Articles

Back to Basics

 We are all feeling the pressure of the worst recession since the Great Depression. We see it in the news every day; we see long-established companies go out of business as we feel the effect of the Dow Jones and our shrinking investment portfolios. Many companies are in survival mode. So, what can business professionals do? I believe it is time to get back to basics. This is the time for companies to look inside and ensure that the fundamentals of running their business are strong. At a minimum, management should look at the following four areas.

 Internal Control Procedures

This is the time that companies should revisit the quality of their internal control procedures and ensure that they are appropriate for the current working environment. Strong controls ensure that company assets are protected from theft and fraud (a significant risk in today’s economy!), and contribute to timely, accurate financial reporting. As companies downsize to reduce their costs, there is increasing risk to organizations as a result of poorly designed controls and non-compliance with existing control procedures. It is important that management address areas where such control procedures should be modified. For example, there are certain operating activities that should not normally be performed by the same individual in order to avoid conflicts of interest (one example would be where the same person writes checks, signs checks, and reconciles bank accounts). In small and mid-size companies, downsizing has caused incompatible functions to be performed by the same individual or department.

 In addition, management should review the control environment to ensure that not only are controls in place, but that the controls would be effective even if they were performed as designed. An example of a control that should be performed is that a supervisor initials an invoice before it goes out to the customer. An ineffective application of that same control is that the invoice bears the initials of the reviewer, but is mathematically incorrect. The control would only be considered effective if the initials were on the invoice and the invoice was correctly prepared and recorded in the books and records.

 Management should perform a critical self review of its control procedures and make appropriate changes to ensure that the company is not susceptible to fraud or theft. Management should consider bringing in outside professionals to perform audit procedures on the internal control system to identify critical weaknesses and recommend improvements.

 Cash Management

Management should ensure that daily cash balances are reported. The balances reported should be the cash held by the bank as well as the cash balance reported in the company’s general ledger. Many entrepreneurs focus on the bank balances and ignore the book balances. They need to understand that the bank balance is where the company is at that point in time, however, the general ledger balance is where the bank....

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