In the previous three posts, I have laid out my thoughts on why I feel having strong relationships with a business banker, lawyer, and accountant is important. These three individuals need to provide you with ideas, support, and information on topics that are critical to your livelihood and likely not within your area of expertise.
Here's the challenge though - What happens when you don't agree? The primary responsibility, or duty even, of these three individuals is to look out for your business, and they should take that very seriously. However, there will be times when you don't necessarily see eye to eye.
The problem that I have seen arise is that because we view these people as experts, we naturally want to defer to their opinion, even if it contradicts our instincts. I would argue that in some cases they may even expect us to defer to them. However, as the owner, the decisions associated with these three areas in particular, are ultimately ours to make and the business consequences ultimately fall on our heads. Let me give you an example.
Of the three professions mentioned, I think that having a lawyer that you philosophically agree with is the most critical. It is important to have a discussion early on in the relationship. Explain to him how you do business. If you don't mesh on business philosophy, it doesn't mean you have to find someone else, but it could certainly be a warning sign. Maybe you can learn from each other and work well together, or maybe you are simply going to butt heads.
A few years ago, I had a contract negotiation with a distributor. After a several days of calls, emails, proposals, legal wrangling, etc., we had agreed to definitions and terms. The lawyers wanted to meet once, face to face, to finalize the deal and ensure everything was covered. When everyone arrived at my office, the lawyer for the distributor suddenly informed us that he did not agree to the terms! The distributor's owner, someone for whom I had tremendous respect, sat there, hands crossed and head down, and said nothing. I was flabbergasted as I had thought the deal was done.
Eventually I asked the lawyers to leave, and nearly had to throw the distributor's lawyer out when he refused and told me, "I don't feel comfortable leaving my client alone." I can guarantee that if my lawyer had performed like this in front of me he would have been fired on the spot. A few days later we finalized the contract in person, without the lawyers. The repercussions of their lawyer's performance though? The new terms favored Big Bang more than the original agreement, and I lost a level of respect for our distributor.
What it comes down to, is that even though your outside professionals are experts in their fields, they are not necessarily experts in relation to your business, or your business relationships. You must filter their expertise and advice through your personal philosophy. You may not always agree with their suggestion, and that can be a very difficult thing to accept when we're paying them a tidy sum, but it's OK. Better to have to sleep with your decision than have someone else misrepresent you.
Trite and contrived though a list of things I'm thankful for may be, I wanted to contribute my top five list of things I'm thankful for as a marketer.
5. My wide-open-cookie-jar of small business marketing options
I am very thankful that I have the freedom to pursue any and all marketing strategies and tools to help increase leads and sales, and even more than that, an employer who encourages it.
4. Quality vendors and partners who work so well with us as a small business
Very often, vendors don't take the time to step into the shoes of their individual small business clients. I am thankful for several who have, and make the work we do together not only profitable, but enjoyable. A special thanks to Roy Gum at Private Social Networks, Jason Frizzell at Pardot, and Scott Yeaton at CDW.
3. Constantly developing technology
At times it might be more daunting than anything, but trying to keep up with ever-changing technology makes life really exciting. The excitement comes not only from getting to play with the latest gadgets, widgets and apps, but in determining which if any of them might be beneficial to my marketing efforts.
2. That honest content, and personal relationships with customers actually work
As a small business, one of the best feelings is to develop an honest relationship with a prospect or client. Creating a solid interaction and being able to feel good not only about the integrity of the delivered content, but that the messaging is actually effective, leads to great sales, and more importantly, a long-lasting relationship
1. That I am constantly challenged and always learning something new
I am most thankful for a job at which I am always able to learn and develop. It is extremely important to me as an individual to be challenged and know that in my place of employment, I will continuously be able to strengthen existing skills, learn new ones, challenge myself to step outside my comfort zone in any way I can, and do all these to better my ability to contribute to my work and business. I am very thankful that my employer not only encourages this, but is actively funds the technical training, trade shows and conferences, and networking events necessary for growth.
These are just my top five things I'm thankful for as a marketer, what are you thankful for?
In my previous two posts, I have proposed that having a strong personal relationship with both a banker and an attorney is crucial to the success of a small business. Whether those individuals are with large organizations or smaller boutique firms is probably a matter for debate, and certainly a matter of preference. Regardless, the relationship should be comfortable enough for you that you can share all aspects of your business with that person. And by "all," I mean ALL. I'll give provide an example or two of why at the end of this posting.
The third outside relationship that I feel is necessary, and which is often overlooked by the independent consultant, is with an accountant or CPA. I'm not talking bookkeeper here. That's a subject for a different day. I'm talking about someone who can provide you with both personal and corporate tax advice. Someone who can create and submit your state and federal corporate and personal tax returns. Someone who can point you to financial advisors or suggest retirement, pension, and savings plans. Someone who can help you legally keep as much of your money as possible!
Here's the truth of the situation. As a business owner, you have your expertise. I have commented that my philosophy is to hire people and get out of their way. That's not quite the case for your accountant, but close. His or her job is to know what has changed in the tax laws and how that will affect you. If the "Bush Tax Cuts" are revoked, what will that mean for your business, if anything? If you fire or lay off an employee, how might that affect the amount you pay into Unemployment? Is installing new carpeting a capital expenditure that will be depreciated over several years, or a is it repairs which can be expensed? So often with tax issues, we don't even know what questions to ask, let alone what those answers might be! That's what your CPA is for, and if he is kept in the loop about what's going on with your business, he can help you avoid IRS issues.
I talk with my accountant regularly, and meet with him a few times a year. He gets all our bookkeeping backups monthly. Our bank statements actually go directly to our accountant. Why? Because I want to be confident that our taxes are correct.
Now, is it always the case? Honestly, no, because there are grey areas. We as the business owners are ultimately responsible for understanding our books and our taxes. But when the IRS wanted to audit me for our 2009 taxes, while I was understandably nervous, I was also confident in our books and taxes. Because of that organization, our IRS audit took an hour. What did they find? They decided I had erroneously expensed $15,000.00 in landscaping instead of depreciating it. I felt it was repairs as we had to have sewer work done, so I was comfortable in our justification, but they disagreed. The end result? A$5,000.00 bill from the IRS, all of which I will get back in the next few years through depreciation. I have now gone through two audits, neither of which caused me much anguish nor cost me much cash. That is entirely because John Noggle, my CPA, knows my business so well. Had I wanted him to, he would have even handled the audit directly.
You have likely noticed by now that I firmly believe in keeping my people in the know, and your lawyer, banker, and CPA really need to know EVERYTHING. The best example I can provide is the $2.4 million bill I received from the IRS. Imagine my surprise! What happened is that in late 2008 and early 2009 I decided to play around a bit in the stock market, doing some day trading on margin. Overall, I lost a couple thousand dollars. Because I lost money, I didn't tell John about it, figuring that I couldn't write off losses, which was true.
The problem was that ETrade provided a 1099 to the IRS. In and of itself, this wasn't a problem, except that all they provided was the information for the individual sales done. None of the purchases were actually included! So, in addition to our 2009 1040 tax forms, the IRS received a 1099 statement from ETrade showing I had sold several million dollars in stocks. And with no purchases associated, the IRS correctly surmised that I had not included this income on my return.
Of course, had I told John along the way what I was doing, he would have asked for all the necessary paperwork, included the loss on my taxes, and life would have continued on. Instead, we have now been dealing with the IRS for a few months, and the case still isn't finished. I wasted my time and money by not keeping my advisors in the loop. Don't make that same mistake!
Finally, after writing this three part story, I realized there will need to be a fourth part. I have not always agreed with my three advisors, nor have they always agreed with me. I think it's worth taking some time to discuss how those relationships should work.
Last month I attended the Direct Marketing Association's Annual Conference and Exposition in Boston, MA. The DMA is the leading global trade association of businesses and nonprofit organizations using and supporting multichannel direct marketing tools and techniques. The DMA has been driving direct marketing innovation since 1917.
The Annual DMA conference is, as far as I know, the largest direct marketing event in at least the US. It was my first time attending this show, and I must tell you, I was pretty impressed.
The quality and diversity of the sessions was tremendous. Prior to leaving for the show, I plotted out which sessions I was going to attend. The show offers several tracks depending on one's focus, Acquisition & Lead Gen, Retention & Loyalty, Cross-channel Strategy, Mobile, Creative, etc., but the concurrent sessions could be easily attended mix and match. Let's just say that I wish there were three of me, because I had a really hard time choosing between sessions.
I attended a few of the keynotes, including the one in which @biz was supposed to present, but his wife was pregnant and due soon, so he presented via skype. The other keynotes were decent, but the learning sessions were so good that I didn't want to miss any for a less pertinent mass-presentation.
The expo floor was cool. I'll admit that when you are a marketing guy, and are used to standing in your company's booth working for leads, being on the other side as the attendee, with marketing guys actually marketing to you the marketing guy, is pretty fun. I spent quite a bit of time on the show floor, partly because I was looking for a few specific solutions, but also because it was really great to see all the emerging marketing technology.
The overall organization of the event was stellar. I had so many options, but never so many that I felt overwhelmed. And all the while, the layout, floor plan, session schedule and planning were very clear and easy to follow-definitely took a lot of the stress out of attending a show.
I also enjoyed that the conference included pre- and post-conference intensives. I chose the pre-conference focus which included four tracks of four sessions each. Very good stuff.
Let's just say that I came back with some amazing, concrete tools and ideas to incorporate into my marketing strategy that will improve our branding, advertising, content and ultimately increase sales.
So for what it's worth, I will definitely be attending next year, and I might even bring a colleague with me just to absorb even more quality information. If you have any questions regarding the show, or need greater detail, please leave a comment and I will answer them as best I can.
Hope to see you at next October's DMA 2012 show in Vegas.
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|About Adam Murphy -
Adam is the President and Owner of Big Bang LLC and espouses a pretty progressive small business philosophy based primarily around hiring the right people and getting the hell out of their way.
|About Nate Bauer -
Nate is the Marketing Director for Big Bang LLC and pretty much spends his days tip-toeing on the pinnacle of how to most effectively implement strategy given the wide open cookie jar of small business marketing possibilities.
|About Kelley Burian - @kelleyburian
Kelley is the Sales Director for Big Bang LLC. Responsible for everything from GSA contracts, resellers and international customers, she has her hands full doing whatever she can to make sure our valued clients are thrilled with our fantastic products.