by Wayne Titus, author of “The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Financial Well-Being“
Some of the most compelling stories of the coronavirus pandemic include the those of entrepreneurs who saw a new opportunity and jumped in with both feet. Brewery owners stopped brewing beer and started brewing hand sanitizer. Automobile manufacturers went from producing cars and trucks to making ventilators. Even nail salons, unable to do manicures and pedicures, switched to making and donating masks.
Unfortunately, not every entrepreneur has been able to turn the proverbial “ship” around to keep employees working and customers coming back for more. Unable to see a quick end to the pandemic, some just chose to close permanently. And, as businesses use up their Paycheck Protection Program funds, a recent survey found that about 14% still anticipate having to lay off employees.
Often, entrepreneurs who create new businesses have a specific vision in mind for their success. But as times and circumstances change, businesses that fail to adapt may not survive. As Jenny Blake, author of “Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One“, points out, during times of crisis, the choice is to pivot, or get pivoted. Blake suggests that business owners consider four stages of pivoting: Plant, which involves determining the organization’s biggest strengths and vision of success; Scan, which entails examining people, skills and projects related to the company’s strengths and vision; Pilot, a series of small short and long-term experiments to test a new direction; and Launch, determining the one step that would make the biggest impact. Ultimately, Blake suggests, pivoting in uncertain times involves listening more than talking, exploring more than solving, and experimenting instead of jumping straight to problem-solving and providing answers.
When is it time to start the pivot process? According to the Founder Institute, some of the signs include progressing too slowly, finding there’s too much competition, a lack of progress in your company’s development, a situation in which only part of your business is successful, a lack of response from the marketplace, or when your perspective has changed.
Getting the Right Help.
If you don’t work with a financial adviser already, consider one who understands the unique needs of entrepreneurs, and who can provide a holistic approach to managing both your business and personal finances. The right adviser can help ensure adequate cash flow, direct proper strategies for investing, and make you aware of the tax implications of pivoting — for both you and your business.
For most entrepreneurs, their business is their passion. But being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you’re equipped to deal with complex financial arenas like employee benefits, strategic tax management, financial statements, cash flow, and so forth. That’s one area where a trustworthy adviser can help. In addition, it’s easy for entrepreneurs — particularly in uncertain times — to feel isolated. It can be difficult to talk about challenges, like keeping employees and customers safe, with friends or your spouse because they might not understand or be able to help.
A trustworthy adviser does everything possible to ensure that you aren’t taken advantage of, and that you don’t succumb to a quick fix. The ideal adviser provides an objective picture, filtering out the media noise about the day-to-day economy. By doing so, he or she helps you reduce your chances of making an emotional decision based on information that doesn’t apply to you.
“Eptitude” Over Aptitude.
In his book, “The Checklist Manifesto“, author Atul Gawande discusses the difference between someone with “aptitude,” (the natural ability of a person to be able to accomplish a certain skillset) vs. “eptitude” (the application of knowledge correctly and consistently). High-performing advisers demonstrate eptitude by having strong processes in place to identify and understand your needs, and monitoring those processes to make needed adjustments. Any adviser should provide a great deal of clarity about what you can expect from the relationship. In addition, he or she should be skilled and confident in connecting your business growth with integrated and holistic wealth management that includes tax, financial and investment strategies.
Often, I meet entrepreneurs who have been using the same adviser for years, but the adviser is no longer strategic, or lacks the vision to see the entrepreneur’s long-term business and personal needs. In either circumstance, undue reliance on an adviser who doesn’t know how to navigate your world can be disastrous.
The Importance of a Comprehensive Approach.
Entrepreneurs have far different financial situations than those with regular, salaried jobs; yet most advisers focus only on investments. Entrepreneurs need more. A financial professional suitable for an entrepreneur should ask about other aspects of your business, such as: What are your business’s core competencies? (Side note: Successful businesses tend to have more than one.) How has the market changed for your offering? What were your long-term plans for the company?
It’s important to understand that a good process informs strategies, which determine tactics. If tactics drive strategies, you end up cobbling together a process that eventually suffers under its own weight. That’s when you find yourself in a reactive mode, not a proactive one. In “The Checklist Manifesto“, Gawande stresses the importance of taking a proactive approach to complex tasks. That way, you’re focused on the most important things, even when the situation is complex and chaotic. A high-performing adviser can challenge assumptions, provide context, and keep you focused on the big picture.
If it’s time to pivot, don’t pivot alone. Whether it’s a single trusted adviser or an entire team, entrepreneurs — especially now — need the trust, the partnership, and the clarity that the right advisory relationship can bring.
Wayne B. Titus III, CPA/PFS, AIFA is the founder of AMDG Financial and AMDG Business Advisory Services in 2002. Before that, he worked in two large accounting firms and had Fortune 50 clients. As a fee-only fiduciary adviser, Wayne’s loyalty is to his clients. AMDG Financial has assets of more than $150 million, and integrates tax, financial and investment strategies. Wayne’s latest book is “The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Financial Well-Being“.