Til Death Do Us Part

A fair amount of business owners are married. Some have children. And I’m not referring to the company, although the business could very well be the most demanding of all the kids. (God knows “it” gets tons of attention.)

What many entrepreneurs still fail to realize is that things happen. Partners die. Partners get divorced. Partners may want out of the company. And without a proper Buy-Sell Agreement in place, funded, and tied to a current business valuation there could be trouble.

Don’t think this is just about a male business owner and his pretty little wife. Plenty of companies are built by women. Strong, smart, independent women. So the spouse could be a man. Gender doesn’t make any difference. Spouses have rights. And they are legally entitled to assets. It’s likely those assets could very well be ownership in a business. Ownership in a business may also equate to a position in the company. What? “I don’t want that.” Few – if any – entrepreneurs do. They all enjoy control. It’s like a drug. But business owners remain serial procrastinators; they spend little – or no time – planning. Protecting.

So tonight, when you tuck yourself in bed and look over at the wonderful person you’re sleeping with… Consider a scenario where your co-owner’s spouse is now YOUR partner. Or worse yet, his or her new boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife is now in business with you. They may not have any experience, but they’ve got plenty of ideas and there’s not a darn thing you can do about it.

Yes, the whole scenario may have started with a big celebration, hugs and kisses all around, dancing, laughing, pictures, and lots of happy faces. But it may not end that way…and your next formal sit down may be in a lawyer’s conference room. No music. No cake. No smiles.

That’s when you’ll realize the honeymoon is officially O-V-E-R.

How much will it all cost?

My guess. A lot.

 

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Surf’s Up

Ten trillion dollars?

More than 2,100 leaving every day?

What will it take to help business owners recognize they need to plan their exit well in advance of the event? Every professional (who works with these individuals) should be asking the very same question. But it appears that business owners are simply not good listeners. Or don’t care. Or…maybe advisors aren’t asking. Shame on them.

There is no denying the fact that this is a once in a lifetime occurrence. A tidal wave of opportunity, money and potentially…problems. Baby boomers are saying goodbye to their companies in record numbers and will continue to do so for about the next 10 years. Whether it’s horizontally or vertically, they are leaving. And those who are fortunate enough to go while they’re still sucking oxygen need a plan. They’ll get one chance to do it properly if they want to capitalize on years of work and sacrifice.

A well-informed attorney told me, it’s all about “control”. If you ask a business owner why they started their company, it was probably because they wanted to control their lifestyle, earning potential and independence. But many individuals now find themselves in the uncomfortable position of the company controlling them. Market changes, technology, competition, government regulations, etc have exerted more pressure than they anticipated and now these entrepreneurs spend every ounce of energy working in the business. Never taking the time to work “on” it.

Procrastination is poison. And that strategy will never help them regain the helm.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/sageworks/2017/02/05/these-8-stats-show-why-many-business-owners-cant-sell-when-they-want-to/#4fd44dc744bd

https://www.inc.com/will-yakowicz/study-majority-business-owners-havent-prepared-death-retirement.html?cid=sf01001

If you look at the statistics, few business owners have taken the time to properly protect what they have worked so hard to build; and this neglect will affect lots of people. The owner, spouse, family, and employees…yes, this is the gift that keeps on giving.

If you’re involved, grab a board (aka a “plan”) and start paddling.

Ten trillion dollars. That’s a 10 with 12 zeros after it. $10,000,000,000,000.

What will it take?

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The Deep End

My 22-year old daughter is the manager at a (small) private swim club. She was a Red Cross Certified lifeguard for many years and spent countless hours swimming competitively on three different teams since she was five years old.

Last Monday, she had to take away a kid’s bracelet that indicated he could safely swim in the deep end of the pool by himself. A lifeguard alerted my daughter, who then observed him (herself) struggling to get to the ladder. She did her best to explain why but immediately removed the wristband. She later told me, “I felt badly but I had to…”

Her quick response created a bit of a public incident with the mother who believed my daughter’s action was a punishment. She was loud, animated and somewhat confrontational. Short sighted at best. Sadly, people do drown in pools every summer; even pools staffed with lifeguards. This kid was simply not strong enough to keep himself safe in the deep end.

The staff was doing their job – the right way – and looking out for the well-being of the child. Keep in mind, these lifeguards are mostly teenagers. High school kids with a whistle, training and a lot of responsibility. Everyone at the pool takes their job seriously; it’s the adult members who sometimes act like kids.

I’m sure it was embarrassing for the little boy. But perhaps the mother should have thanked the staff instead of complaining. They kept her son safe.

Identify and mitigate risk, before the real tragedy occurs.

I was thankful and proud. There are young adults among us who are not chained to mobile phones and smart enough to recognize when it’s time to take a stand.

 

 

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Down Time

Too often “life” gets bullied by work.

Work pushes us around and demands too much attention. It can easily take your lunch time – not always your lunch money. So I made a conscious effort a while ago to stop the self-imposed abuse, stand up for myself and create more down time. It fuels creativity. New ideas, new perspective, maybe even a connection with an old friend. And occasionally, you get a surprise.

Last week I was fortunate to stumble upon a talented singer/songwriter. I don’t know if he’ll ever break out but his talent certainly stands out. Budatom. A unique blend of Jason Mraz and John Mayer would be my initial reaction. You decide. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTLedSLEyDk

I found him playing outside (to no one in particular) at the bottom of an escalator that leads you into Disney Springs. I’m not a Disney World person, this evening was more about going for a walk with no specific plan except to clear my mind.

I enjoyed plenty of live music that night. Had an adult beverage or two. Meandered past restaurants and stores I never intended to shop in, and checked out the full moon. It’s always good to recognize that the best things in life are not “things” at all.

Man sacrifices his health to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present. The result is that he does not live in the present or the future. He lives as if he is never going to die and then he dies having never really lived.

Dalai Lama

Budatom made the night for me. No prerecorded soundtrack, electronic gizmos, special effects, lights, or video screens. One man, a guitar and a mic. Livin’ life.

I gave him my lunch money.

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News at 11:00. R.I.P.

Network News reporting the big stories at 11:00pm. It used to be a ritual. If it bleeds, it leads.

Now… “Dead man walking.”

There’s countless news outlets (and individuals) pushing stories all day – every day – and you can get that “news” on any device – whenever you want. You can even set notifications for the type of news you want to see. Sure, some of the content is editorial, masquerading as objective reporting. Some of it is nonsense. But when you have that many sources, you take the good with the bad. Make intelligent choices on what you read, how much of it you read and what you share. http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1860871_1860876_1861029,00.html

It’s an information tsunami; and that much incoming ordinance is bound to blow up plenty of brain cells and eyeballs. We’ve become mobile device addicts. Hypnotized by that glowing little screen. “Look at me…look at me…” No 12-step program can help.

Thus, the proliferation/popularity and absolute necessity for video sound bites. How many of us have closed a link on a story we wanted to see just because it didn’t load instantly? I did it this morning. Twice.

Short. Relevant. Video. Delivered to a mobile device. Information on demand. That’s a good place to start. And a strategy (still) lost on the traditional “big machines” that desperately need to engage with an audience – and marketplace – that is changing rapidly.

Soon enough, News at 11:00 will only be airing at the Smithsonian, if it isn’t in that time slot already.

What’s next? Network TV?

 

 

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The Pinocchio POV

“I’ve got no strings to hold me down.”

Although I’ve been immersed in advanced markets for more than 25 years, I (still) see the insurance industry quite differently. Because when you approach the subject from the perspective of the buyer, a glaring problem persists.

Advisors talk about product. Business owners (that’s me) don’t like product. Oh, they’ll get it for their cars, home, business… because P&C insurance is different. A necessary evil. But Life products…that’s a completely different conversation. And not an easy one to start.

No one wants to listen.

It’s the ASC. Advanced Sales Conundrum. If you’ve been in the business you’ve seen it.

Advisors know their products can help. Business owners don’t care.

Advisors want to talk about how their products can help. Business owners don’t want to listen.

Advisors position their products as the best. Business owners see no difference.

Advisors see risks. Business owners don’t.

The more advisors who contact the business owner… the more the business owner avoids them.

And every conversation that starts with “…our case design is the best and our products are specifically created to help business owners, blah, blah, blah…” That is what the owner hears. Blah, blah, blah. Count on it.

Been there. Done that.

Technology will have an impact, although I believe it will be mitigated in the business owner market. Their company is like another child and business owners are very protective of their baby. It’s their life. Likely their biggest asset; and it may be their only road to retirement. So…

All of that should be a positive. A great way to engage. But how?

Shake the corporate strings aka “product training”. Go back to human interaction 101. Find a way to build trust. Start a conversation and help them see problem(s).

You won’t fret or frown anymore.

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Ground Hog Day

groundhog-day

We’re about 45 days in and most companies have a truckload of 2017 goals they may still be discussing. Improve performance, raise morale, accelerate sales, digital focus, and let’s not forget the holy grail, the customer relationship. But how to get there? Training. More training.

We’ll make it better than last year. Develop expanded curriculum and lay out clear objectives. We’ll get buy-in from our employees. Every session will be jam-packed with enthusiasm, motivational speakers, new strategies, buzz words, social media, and an overabundance of tactics. That’ll do it.

There’s plenty of time, money and resources assigned to these endeavors and although the words may change a little, the 2017 objectives look a lot like 2016, 2015… Is this Ground Hog Day – The Empire Strikes Back?

Two immediate problems:

#1. Employees may verbalize their enthusiasm for the exercise, but they are jaded. They’ve seen this movie before and of course, they will fill the seats again. But when it’s more of the same, that “passion” will likely be polluted with a jumbo-sized serving of cynicism and distraction. (Enter the mobile device.)

#2. As soon as those attendees leave the room they’ll go right back to doing what they did yesterday. And most of what they heard, learned, experienced will quickly be forgotten.

“Everyone is always bragging about the power of the human brain. So if it is so darned powerful, why does it fail so often? Why do we forget 90 percent of what we learn within one week? From the perspective of a neuroscientist, this question speaks to a fundamental misunderstanding about the brain and about forgetting. Whereas most people think of forgetting as a failure of memory, “I forgot because my memory failed,” in professional neuroscience, forgetting is not thought of as a failure at all. Instead forgetting is thought of as a natural, adaptive, and even desirable activity.”

https://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/1379/brain-science-the-forgetting-curvethe-dirty-secret-of-corporate-training

Training is a process, not an event. For training to be effective, the employee has to apply what is learned on the job—otherwise, all of the time, money, and effort spent on the training is wasted. That means training doesn’t end when trainees leave the session. Unfortunately, too many trainers and managers forget an essential step—following up to ensure transfer of training.

http://www.blr.com/trainingtips/training-program-reinforcement

There’s a lot more written on this subject and the solution isn’t buried in a hole. To create effective training, you need to make it “sticky.” And stickiness is driven with reinforcement. Designed, concise, repetitive reinforcement.

I am confident that live training and the ubiquitous webinars will have their place in many ’17 calendars; they just can’t be the only methodology. Or you’ll wake up to last year’s agenda all over again.

 

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All I Want For Christmas

santa

This time of year most people celebrate some holiday. My memories are wrapped around Christmas. In an Italian family, Christmas dinner is a social/culinary event that lasts for hours; and if you’ve never experienced the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, you really are missing something wonderful!

When I was much younger, there were usually a few things I wanted. Age generally dictated the “ask” but sometimes not… I made my list and got much of what I asked for. I was a very lucky kid.

The older I get, the less I really want or need. The most valuable things have no price: health, happiness, family, friends, and peace can’t be bought in any store. Even Amazon doesn’t stock them. But this year is different. I actually would like two very special gifts. Yes, I recognize I am asking for a lot but I want them.

#1. Texting and driving has to stop.

This is not an age related problem. What the heck is so important an individual feels the uncompromising urge to read or respond to whatever is on that device at that very moment? Ignoring the fact that they are piloting a large weapon, often filled with gasoline and going 60 mph or faster…along side other people doing the very same thing in similar – potentially destructive – machines. I’m not certain which emotion bothers me the most. Fear, anger or frustration.

#2. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are No Fly Zones for Phones.

When I’m spending time with family and friends, I’d like everyone who comes in to put their phone in one big box; we can stuff it under the tree. What!? No texting at the dinner table? That can’t be right. How will my friends on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Smitter, Flitter know what kind of food is on my plate! They’ll worry. They might try to call to see if I’m OK. It’s too much… The truth is, a whole bunch of holidays came and went for many generations and we all lived to talk about it. It’s sounds Precambrian but it wasn’t that long ago.

Although I don’t think Santa will be bringing these gifts to me or anyone else (for that matter) I’m going to keep asking.

Either one would be treasured by us all.

 

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Strong Women – M.I.A.?

8143161041_f83d57242f

What happened to the strong, independent women in this country?  The ones who would offer a generous drop kick to a man’s “danger zone” if he decided to touch, grab or go where he was not first invited?

This is not political, although I have a very strong opinion there as well. My issue is with the media and how they (now) make women out to be these defenseless little fawns. Lost in the wilderness. Helpless.“Oh that big naughty man said dirty things about me…he made me an object.”

I raised my daughter to be strong, independent and loaded with self worth. Nobody. Celebrity, athlete, or pretty frat boy is gonna make her an object in any way. Thankfully, at almost 22 years old, she doesn’t need her Daddy, friends, the internet, Facebook, politicians (God forbid), or the ubiquitous TV Bubbleheads (who pollute the fragmented broadcast outlets) to tell her otherwise.

Maybe, just maybe, if the media didn’t pound their agendas and simultaneously canonize actors, sports personalities or anyone else who’s face gets plastered everywhere for their 10 seconds of fame…we might have a little less of this mindless noise and a bit more common sense.

It’s SELF-IMAGE 101. Women really can take care of themselves and demand respect, often without saying a word. (Even if they’re not a professional boxer.)

Round One begins with the parents.

Ring the bell.

 

 

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Kiss Goodbye

kiss

Working with insurance and financial services companies for over 25 years I have come to understand one thing. The bigger the organization, the slower they react and/or make decisions. In the past, that may have been OK. They were/are big enough to withstand market pressure and have comfortable revenue streams. The same can be said for the agencies in their distribution channels.

Today, I don’t think that strategy will be successful or sustainable. There are new players emerging, fueled by technology, venture capital and a good idea. Venture capital people are not dumb…they’ll invest where the see (big) opportunities, and insurance/financial services is certainly a very attractive opportunity.

One of the most compelling new kids on the block is Lemonade >> lemonade.com. Yes, they’re just in NY State right now but they’re already making bold statements. I got this email today with a nice company photo. “If you are excited as much as we are about changing insurance forever, and haven’t already done so, we invite you to join our massive social wave that will go live in 24 hrs! ”  Team@lemonade.com

Property Casualty companies have experienced pressure on margins because they are essentially commodities. (Like many others.) But I believe the thing that exacerbates the problem here is that most traditional P&C agencies have not built value with their customer base. They’re spoiled. They collect premiums from long-standing clients and hope that claims are minimal.

Well, when the marketplace starts drinking the Kool-Aid – or should I say Lemonade – margins, business, people… are gonna pack their bags. Life insurance companies, do you see similarities?

There’s still hope. But it will demand a bold, new course of action from the established insurance machines. They must find creative ways to help their distribution channel (and the agents who are in the field) deepen relationships with existing customers.

Give them a “kiss” once in a while. Before your customers kiss you goodbye.

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