Agency Financial Management
By Rick Dennen
IT’S TIME TO REVITALIZE YOUR BUSINESS
While taking care of clients and employees, don’t neglect yourself
Why do you do what you do? I know that, at the end of the day, there’s a paycheck. But hopefully that isn’t your only motivation. I trust that what you do motivates you to get up each morning, head into the office, and be the best you can be.
We all have incredibly full plates as business leaders. We must not only balance immediate concerns such as operations, human capital management, IT matters, maintaining clients, and pursuit of new business opportunities, but we also must make the tactical decisions required for long-term success. Wearing so many different hats can make it easy to overlook current issues that lead us to continue doing the same things year after year. Consequently, stepping back and engaging in a widespread overhaul presents the best opportunities for growth and improvement.
Not only will you recharge your batteries and return to the office in a better frame of mind, but you will also understand that you really can take time away from work without damaging your business.
I know it is not easy to devote the time necessary for an overhaul. For many of us, “work” already consumes 60 to 70 hours per week, in part due to advances in technology. We often spend more time “working” than we do with our families or in pursuit of the hobbies and other activities we enjoy. And while we will always find time in our schedule to sit down with a prospect or longtime client to discuss what we can do to enhance his or her financial security, it’s much harder to carve out time to take a serious look at exactly what it is that we do every day and how it helps us reach our business objectives.
So why do we do it? Our immediate response may be that paycheck—but we know better. There’s a personal satisfaction that’s worth more than the balance in our checking account. We find value in doing what we do because we enjoy helping our clients become successful, we take satisfaction in delivering for our stakeholders, we find fulfillment in seeing our employees grow and develop, and we find gratification in being successful at our chosen profession. And sometimes, we simply need a place to go to get out of the house.
We are successful because we are good at taking care of our clients, our employees, and those around us. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t nearly as good about taking care of ourselves. We become so focused on meeting the needs of others that we end up ignoring what’s important to us again and again. As a result, we find ourselves becoming tired, bored, or, worse yet, burned out. It can become difficult to summon the energy and enthusiasm we had when we started the business all those years ago.
Fortunately, there’s a way to head off those feelings and strengthen your business at the same time. I call it taking time to revitalize. It involves reserving time on your calendar every day—even if it is just 15 minutes at the start and the end of each day—to take a deeper look at your business and to take care of yourself.
First, block out a day or two and don’t schedule any meetings or sales calls. Instead, take time to focus on what your business is doing well, what it could do better, and how to improve. Think about how to work smarter instead of harder. Set goals over periods of time—for example, three to five years. Then work backwards to set annual, monthly, weekly, and daily goals. Put in place incremental steps to help you achieve these goals.
Analyze your processes and find ways to improve to better help your people and your business grow. It is best to spend this time outside of the office so that you can think clearly and creatively without interruptions. Also, either before heading out or once you get back, clean your office and purge things you’ve kept but really don’t need.
One effective approach to revitalizing is to imagine you’re about to sell your business and examine it through the eyes of a prospective buyer. Having sold my business three times and having also been private-equity owned, I walk in to work every day with this in mind. How would a buyer view your offices, management team, processes, margins, profitability, and efficiency, as well as your book of business? Determine what would make your business more valuable and then figure out how to get there.
You may discover steps that will create new productivity and new opportunities for your business—whether that’s updating technology, moving to a new location, adding much-needed staff, or perhaps even acquiring another business in order to grow your market share. When you invest time and money in your company to evaluate and improve the way it operates, revenue results usually follow.
You’ll also likely feel reenergized, which can be contagious. If you’re upbeat and eager, your team will be too, but they must be aligned with the same vision.
It’s also worthwhile to devote time to revitalizing your relationships with your clients. You probably describe yourself as a “people person,” but when was the last time you surrounded yourself with the people whose company you truly enjoy? Whether it’s scheduling time for breakfast, golf, fishing, skiing, or whatever you and your clients enjoy doing (focus on what they like), just getting together to talk one-on-one will remind you of what you enjoy, renew your energy, and strengthen relationships. More important, when your clients believe they are important to your business, they’re less likely to be wooed away by a competitor.
Finally, take some time to revitalize yourself. Get away from the office for a week or two and do something you enjoy. Trust that the team you’ve hired is capable of running things in your absence and do your best to keep from calling or emailing them, while also noting how often you are called or receive emails and from whom. Your team will also benefit from knowing that you have confidence in them to take the helm while you are away.
If you find yourself thinking about work, do something that will distract you. While this is especially hard for founders to do, it will truly increase your Enterprise Value. Not only will you recharge your batteries and return to the office in a better frame of mind, but you will also understand that you really can take time away from work without damaging your business. And once you realize this, your stress level will be reduced, and you’ll be able to refocus on better serving the needs of your clients and employees.
Rick Dennen is the founder and CEO of Oak Street Funding, a specialty lending company that provides commission-based lending for insurance businesses. Since he founded Oak Street in 2003, under Rick’s leadership the business has experienced exponential growth and has a portfolio that exceeds $1 billion. Dennen is a licensed agent for life, accident and health products in Indiana and holds one or more of these licenses in 45 other states. He is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant in the state of Indiana. Rick holds an MBA in finance and is an instructor of venture capital and entrepreneurial finance at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Reach Rick at firstname.lastname@example.org.