Providing Services under Covid-19

It has been awhile since I have written here – mostly because I blog at www.core-acct.com/core-beliefs.   There we share lots of ideas on how condominiums can successfully run regardless of what pressure the rest of the world is under.

Today I thought I would share how we are responding on behalf of our clients.  Most of these items we have had in place for at least 6 months and were beginning to roll out to our clients.

  • zoho meeting and webinar.  The webinar approach allows us to have the board act as co-presenters and the condo owners to log in and watch the proceedings.
  • Board briefing books.  An e-book sent to the board about a week to 10 days in advance of the board meeting with all the information they will need to have for the agenda.  This includes the financial statements, committee reports, management reports and suggested motions.
  • E-Voucher system for bill payment.  Some of our association still require a board officer (the treasurer) to counter-sign checks.  Our e-voucher system automatically sends an email to the required board officers to review the documents and then e-sign their approval.  This allows us to then either pay by ACH or check without requiring a business officer to find time to meet with us.
  • Service request system.  Unit owners can go online and report an issue and our system automatically logs it and starts a workflow which takes us all the way through vendor billing.  This includes getting all necessary approvals from our team as well as the board.
  • Our HOA Fiscal system to manage assessments and owner payments.  We designed it to allocate the assessments in accordance with the CC&R’s and ensure that owner payments are easily tracked and recorded against the correct assessment.

The team tracks everything in our database.  And yes, we spent a great deal of time and energy on customizing our CRM system to work this way – but it is so worth it.  Our emails are automatically recorded as well, eliminating the need for any of us to CC another team member.  We record phone calls and can even receive text messages.  All this means that the account manager has everything at his or her fingertips they might need to know what is going on with their assigned client – which leads to more effective and timely decisions.

And we think the best part is that this is at no additional cost to our clients.  By eliminating the non-value added time wasters we can leverage our time more effectively which means more work in the same amount of time per month.  We win – we can work from home and reduce travel time: Clients win – they get superior service with no additional cost.  They can talk to any of us and know that it will be taken care of.

In short, peace of mind for the boards.  They see everything they want to see in order to make the best decision for their association and they know we are on top of everything that is going on.  And all at no additional cost to their association.

If you are a service business and are still trying to meet with clients physically and sending emails to everyone in your organization to try and find a document, perhaps you need to re-evaluate your process.  Consider:

  • Moving away from landlines to virtual phone systems which can tie into your CRM
  • Ensuring you have a project/client work management system which allows you to track the steps your team needs to take and also where you are in the process.
  • Set up a record management system where the team (and maybe even clients) can upload documents so that they are in one place.  Move away from unmanaged record storage on your local or even network drive.  Save it to the database!
  • License Zoom, Gotomeeting, zoho meeting (plug, we use zoho) or some other meeting software which allows you to set up both group meetings, classes, or on-demand one-on-one meetings.  Even within your office, it is superior as you can share documents, jointly change the document, and share screens without having to get out of your chair.  Efficient use of time.
  • Stop sending emails.  License Slack, use Teams, Yammer or the like to let people share ideas in a social way.  Zoho and RingCentral (plug, our phone system) both offer means for us to share documents outside of the database as well as simply have a free exchange outside of email.
  • And lots more.  Everything you are currently doing that takes more than one person to do should be in some sort of workflow/document management system.  Period.  If you don’t want to license something industry specific, use Access and interface with Sharepoint (if you are using Microsoft 365).  Anything but the constant extra work that your current process requires that slows down your ability to respond to clients and keeps you from scaling without extra costs.

Welcome to the new normal.  Take the time to plan and fix one area of your business at a time and you will soon be ready for whatever the future offers you.

 

Using Excel More Effectively

I was asked a question last week about Excel and how we manage all the calculations we have going on.  Doesn’t it get confusing when you can’t recall what cell BalSht!AA192 represents?

Well, we hardly ever have that problem.  We use two distinct methods to help control our Excel programmatic flows:

  • Cell Naming
  • Data and Calculation sheets

excelexamplenaming1

In today’s example, I set up a very simple payment calculation worksheet.  Here you can see where I begin naming cells; in this case I have named B7 PerPayments, which I am using as short-hand for periodic payments.  But in the function wizard, you can see where I named the cell for the Rate = APR, the NPer as Years and Pv as PresentVal.  These correspond to B2, B3 and B4.

We set it up this way for two reasons – first and foremost, we try not to create new workbooks.  We have standard templates which we use and turn over to clients to use.  To make everyone’s life more hassle-free, we think that making it easier to follow the logic makes sense.  The second is that, in some of our work, the process is incredibly involved and trying to go back to a particular sheet and cell can be time-consuming and often leads to grabbing the wrong input.  Naming eliminates both the fog of not understanding and typing in the wrong cell reference.

namemanager1

Above is a partial list of the names we have running in our projections workbook.  There are almost 200 named cells; almost all of which come from the data page we named assumptions.   Each of these names actually helps us with some basic calculation on one of the other calc sheets.  Organizing our work this way makes it easy for us to navigate through the workbook and even copy sheets with the formulae intact.

Below is what our assumptions page looks like.  Currently we have about 85 lines in 9 sections covering about 400 variables which provide the static data we want to evaluate.

assumptionspg1

ClickDYr4 represents cell E29.  We reference ClickDYr4 in about 12 calculations on both the sales and marketing calculations sheets.  When we need to update the variable, we simply return to the assumptions page, go to the correct cell and enter it.  If we are not sure, we can go to the name manager and look it up.

It also makes formula creation much simpler. namingexcel2

Naming allows you to simply start typing, instead of using your mouse to jump to the page where you have stored your variable, click on the cell and then hit enter.  It can speed up your work and help you make sure you have important calculations documented.

So, how do you name a cell?  This is super easy.  In the box above Column A it shows the current cell reference.  In this case it is referencing B94, which we have defined in column A as Utilities and triple net costs.

namingexcel3

Click in the box and then type the name you want.  We are naming it NNNCosts for our workbook.

namingexcel4.png

Hit enter.  Now it is named.  You can then reference it anywhere in the workbook.  In our case, we have a facilities calculation worksheet which manages the outflows for facilities in our projection.

namingexcel5

There it is, ready to be used in your calculations.  It is much easier to follow than what was originally there; =D4*Assumptions!$B$94.

By following these simply and easy to follow rules, you will make your workbooks more reusable and user-friendly.  This will make your work in expanding your workbooks easier and also make your work that much more effective.  Your team and clients – if you hand your workbooks off to others – will thank you.

 

 

 

A little Excel Excitement

The other day at a client meeting we were discussing Pareto and the concept that 80% of the revenues were generated by 20% of the customers and It was likely that 80% of profit was generated from them as well.  Management was having a difficult time picturing this, but fortunately we had prepared for this meeting by using the Excel Data Analysis add-in.

The first graph we presented was the histogram of revenues generated by their clients.

histogram1

The most telling thing for management was that 40 of their customers generated less than $1,000 of revenue.  And notice how many generated under $15K in revenue.  Suddenly, they could see new patterns by changing the visualization.  So, if you haven’t tried to graph this yet using data analysis, here are steps to consider.

First, create a table with the information you want to chart.  In this case it was the customer and revenues for 2018.  Next, in your Excel, click on Data Analysis and the following modal box pops up:

histogram2

Select histogram.  It then advances to the next pop-up which asks for the data range and the Bin Range.  A little bit about the bin range:  It is the breakpoints you want to use to group your information.  In this case, I ran a filter to determine the largest amount and set the bin increment just above it.  In this case, we want to see the Pareto effect, so click on the Pareto (sorted histogram) box and also the Cumulative Percentage box.  And then chart the output.

histogram5.png

Click OK.

histogram8

After Excel generates the histogram table file and graph, you may need to make some modifications to get the graph to look the way you want.  In this case, I wanted to sort by revenue impact of the various bins.  To do that, I multiplied the frequency by the bin amount and then sorted the table file by the total bin revenue generated.  Finally, I added a calculated percentage for each bin and the cumulative percentage.  I then set the Cumulative Percentage to use the new percentage I calculated. In this case, The impact of sales between $15,000 and $25,000 account for almost 80% of revenues, even though their frequency is less than 15%.

Consider the impact that this type of presentation can have on a strategic conversation.  What does your staffing level look like if we focused our energy on that small group of customers?  What message resonates best with that group?  Should we discontinue sales to small buyers?  We had a great conversation from less than an two hours worth of work – mostly spent in defining the table structure, gathering the data and importing it.

Raw data and numbers are useful in the right context, but if you want to stimulate an effective business meeting, show some graphs which group data in ways that make your team think about what they are doing and why.

 

 

Planning over budgeting

Somedays it feels like all we do is parse semantics, doesn’t it?

Budgeting, planning, it is all the same thing, right?  Well, no – not really.  Yes, far too often they are used interchangeably, but the truth is that planning is far more important than budgeting.  Budgeting is really about allocating your resources.  Planning identifies what you want to accomplish and how your resources can help you make that happen.

This is why the distinction is important.  I am starting to help clients plan for the next year and part of that is looking at what we have accomplished through today.  It is part looking at the numbers and part looking at the strategy and seeing if we are off target.

To me, there is nothing worse than not being able to answer the question, “How did we get here?”  Or worse, hearing the glib answer, “We performed well (poorly).”  Duh.

What was the plan?  Did we think we were going to break into a new market?  Did we succeed?  What is the acquisition cost per new customer?  Are we getting repeat business?  Can we grow in that are?  At what cost?

There is nothing harder to do than listen to someone say how profits are holding steady, while knowing that it is because money is not being spent on carrying out the plan.  Of course you have profit, we are not spending money on project X, which, by the way, two years ago we all agreed that it was going to be the flagship product within 5 years.  Why did the company plan to allocate thousands of dollars on advertising if we don’t want to spend it?

These are hard questions to listen to, much less respond.  No one likes having their parade rained upon, and yet, well, there it is. The plan drives how resources are acquired and spent, otherwise you just have a budget.

That isn’t to say budgeting isn’t a useful tool, it is.  But my experience has been, budgets are typically devoid of planning.  We spend money in that area last year, lets continue to spend money in that area.  We generated revenues selling widgets last year, lets budget to generate 5% more in sales.  There is no plan, no vision, nothing to be held accountable to until it is too late.

I do lots of budgeting for non-profits and the most fun I have is helping them rethink the budget process into the planning process.  We start by looking at the big picture and then start asking how we get there.  Then, once we get consensus, we start putting numbers to actions.  It is extremely rewarding to see these professionals see the results and understand that there is a reason for spending money, other than the satisfaction of having money to spend.

So take time, do planning.  Think about where you want to be and how you want to get there and THEN allocate resources.  You will get tremendous benefits from it, mostly from thinking about how you are going to get from A to B.  If you need help, let me know, I am always open to helping companies and non-profits think about their plans and how they translate into action and money.