Sonoma County: News and Notes

Well, my year in review piece today takes a look at the two major stories of the year. They are Water and Housing.

It seems to me that given the lack of stories on Water recently that the rains we have experienced this year have pushed us out of crisis levels. I can’t be sure of that, but the lack of discussion says we have moved on from this. There was a lot of talk about how the modernization of our water system could improve things. Well, I don’t think that will go anywhere at this point. Perhaps we can see some infrastructure money spent on this. More likely we will put money in sexier things that have lower returns to us.

Housing is another matter. We had the Rent Control debacle – and it was a debacle no matter what side you were on. I saw all the candidate literature about how they were going to encourage housing and put Rent Control in place again. Wow, talk about your overpromise and underdeliver. Let’s be clear. The cost of Housing in Sonoma County is going to wreck our economy without a solution. Many of our jobs are in Agriculture, Hospitality, and Tourism. In fact, most of our jobs. These are not high paying professions and do not have wages that a person can reasonably get an apartment to live in. This means that workers have to have a combination of multiple jobs, roommates or live with their parents. Given that these are growing sectors of our economy, we can not staff the jobs openings that we have.

I see this with my clients every week as we look to solutions to keep payroll in line with profitability and yet hire/employ everybody needed to do the jobs at hand. Here is the problem. We have to have places to build these new homes. As you recall, I estimated that we are 10,000 units short in Santa Rosa alone. We have limitations on where we can build. We have limitations on how high we can build. I am not sure that we can get 10,000 more units without tearing down single family homes and replace them with higher density housing. This is not going to go away until the economy turns down a bit. Nobody is having a real discussion on how to solve the problem. The last big developments in Santa Rosa (Skyhawk and Fountaingrove) are almost completely filled in. That is the scale I am talking about here. Not 20 homes here and there, but literally thousands.

I was hopeful we could find a commuter solution to the problem. The SMART Train is not it. It is too expensive for people making $15/hour to use, especially when they will likely have to transit to and from the train. Napa is bussing people in because they are so short handed. I don’t have the answer either, but unless we talk about real solutions to these problems the Wine economy in the North Bay could collapse under its own weight.

Finally, I get a LOT of traffic on my Stock Analysis posts. I get 10x the traffic of other posts. I have considered expanding that topic area. If anyone has any suggestions, would be happy to take them on. They do not have to be Tech Stocks. Maybe Constellation Brands? Give it some thought and have a nice Holiday!
Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Business Coaching, Executive Training, Sales Training, Marketing

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Wrap up 2016 and Open 2017

I did my Net Neutrality look back on Friday. Today, I look back at my practice and posts for this year. Many of my posts derive from things that I see happening at my customers. I want to leave you with 4 basic thoughts.

My first thought is Alignment. I find so many prospects and customers who do things contrary to their own vision. When I point this out to them they justify it over some past thinking or by being a great way to expand their business. Most of the time they don’t have a real reason it ends up being a habit. Their customers and partners are confused by the outlying behavior. By being reflective on what you do and how you do it, you can add value to your business.

My second thought is Sales. So many people don’t want to be in Sales or don’t want to admit that they Sell. It can hurt their business because they don’t have a basic structure for selling. This kind of behavior can direct potential customers that should buy from them to buy from someone else. Think about what your customer’s real interest in the transaction is. The basics of Sales and a Selling Process are available to all and can easily transform your business from good to great.

My third thought is Leadership. As people grow their organizations, they reach the limit at which they can effectively Lead their organization. This most often occurs when they step up to a level of management. An example might be when they hire their 1st employee or their 10th employee and need a middle manager. These are points which many companies fail because your job changes each time one of these level changes happen. One really hard challenge for many is that they eventually run organizations that they do not have specific skills in. They have fallen back on their technical skill all the time. This is not what makes a great leader.

My fourth thought is Planning. I know so many small businesses without a Business Plan. I am not talking about something that is extraordinary. A detailed plan for a Small Business would take 1 day and would help organize and align the organization. While you are at your plan you can explore your numbers and see what they tell you about your business and what you need to improve and change.

What I hope for all of you is that you are successful next year. I do two things to help my clients win. First, the challenges above and the others that I have seen are not new nor are they unique. I help them implement standard solutions within their business. Second, I give them an objective perspective. I want them to win, but I am not inside the business. I give them a view of a dispassionate observer. Theoretically, people can implement systems on their own and I am simply a way to make it easier for that to happen. The perspective is very hard to get when you are inside the situation.

Have a great set of Holidays!
Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Business Coaching, Executive Training, Sales Training, Marketing

Change Your Business – Change Your Life!

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Net Neutrality Friday

So, this is my year in review for all things Telecom and Telecom Regulation. Unlike others, I will provide what I think are predictions for next year.

First, Title II was implemented this year for Residential Internet Services. People are concerned that this will be overturned by the incoming Administration as it allocates new people to the FCC Commissioner Offices. I think that Title II will stay. I know that the large Service Providers don’t like it, but there is little real push to stopping it. If ISPs were really concerned, they would have exited the residential market. There is no obligation to continue the business. But there has been no inkling of any CAPEX changes or any market exits by incumbents post the ruling. So, this time next year Title II will not be a topic.

Second, Google Fiber stopped its expansion. I think that this signals an end to the growth of overbuilders and possibly even CLECs. Deploying capital for Internet Service clearly did not do it for a company that can afford it. Where are the investors going to come from who are going to do this kind of deployment when there are so many better things to invest in. My prediction is that next year will be quiet on this front. There will be an occasional Municipal Network, but the proliferation of these carriers has peaked.

Third, there will be ongoing consolidation between the Content Providers, Internet Infrastructure Players, and ISPs. This trend is long-standing, but it is clear that it is cheaper to buy networks than make them. There are a lot of 2nd and 3rd Tier Businesses in these markets that have either interesting properties or significant revenue streams but uncertain or troubled futures. Consolidation continues to play a role in an exit strategy for these businesses.

Fourth, People will still be haggling over NFV and SDN and how to deploy them to build modern Service Providers. IT SaaS companies will continue to deploy the IT equivalent technologies and be another year ahead of the Service Providers. The Large Service Providers need to have internal incubators and have no business model for doing it. Their vendors need to think about what this means for them. They have simply been listening to their customers or at least one guy within their customers without thinking about what they will do with the technology. It causes them to develop all kind of products that nobody actually uses (see IMS).

Have a great weekend!
Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Business Coaching, Executive Training, Sales Training, Marketing

Change Your Business – Change Your Life!

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Annual Plans: Dashboards

With any planning technique, driving is often the analogy. We use navigation as the way to describe goal setting (If you don’t know where you want to go, then it doesn’t matter which way you drive). For Annual Planning, we use the car’s cockpit. There are a number of gauges available to help the driver make sure that they are driving safely and without any problems. You have the Speedometer, Gas Guage and maybe an Odometer as well as many warning lights. All of these are used to keep the driver informed about the current state of the vehicle.

So, a business needs to do what a driver does and the warning lights do for him or her. A driver needs to take action if things are wrong. So, does a business. When a car is out of gas, then the driver reacted too late. The same is true with a business owner. So, with all the planning that gets done, goals need to be set. Levels of performance to obtain the goals must be created. Measurements to determine the levels of performance must be set. This last needs to have levels for both good performance and poor performance.

I want to stop there and address something that is critical to this process. That is measurement. If you don’t measure something, then you don’t know how you are doing. This means that you can have measurements below the thresholds that you set for success. Not meeting a measurement means that you need to change. It does not mean that you are a failure or that an effort has failed. But if you don’t make a change then you will almost certainly fail. “As Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results.”

How often you check your measurements is another challenge for companies. Since I lived in the corporate world, I generally look at these things quarterly. Sales Teams often look at them weekly or monthly. Whatever your choice, be consistent. It is not okay to skip a review. Doing that lowers the value of the review, the measurements, and the process. There are so many examples of the process working that you should want it to work for you.

Have a great day!
Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching Focal Point Business Coaching Business Coaching, Executive Training, Sales Training, Marketing

Change Your Business – Change Your Life!

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Sonoma County: News and Notes

This week we talk about Autodesk’s results. Later in the post, I have a couple of comments about the Enphase transaction announced yesterday.

The numbers for the company are that it reported $489M in Revenue and a loss of $0.64 per share. These numbers and some of the other numbers were better than expected. But then the stock took a quick hit in the market. Since then it has recovered and been doing better than pre-release prices. So, what is going on here?

This is all about transparency. If you have read my columns about Autodesk in the past, you will have seen how the company is in the midst of a transition from selling software to leasing software. Because of the way that financial statements work, this looks ugly during the transition. By 2019 or 2020, the numbers “should” look great. And therein lies the challenge for investors. Do you believe what Autodesk management is telling you? If you do, then things are looking really good. If you don’t then run away.

Normally, I like to go to the scorecard (aka the financial results) for the answer. The problem here is I can not. The next best thing would be specific guidance from Management on targets that will mean that the company is on track. They have these numbers. You know that they do, because if they do not then Management is incompetent. They have a really good idea of how many of what kind of subscriptions they need to build a great company. So, why don’t they just tell us? The answer is pretty simple: Uncertainty. Given the uncertainty of the way the conversion would go and how it would proceed, Management did not want to publish these internal objectives. Suppose customers bought in ways that they did not expect? Suppose the popularity of the new model was vastly different than what they thought? On the downside, they could be vilified and the stock could crash. This way they can make comforting noises and say happy things and keep people in line.

I have no idea if things are going great or bad. But then again, nobody on the outside does either.

This week Enphase sold some field operations to a vendor already in the field. I have no commentary directly on the sale other than the numbers involved were small. How do I know? The numbers are not “material”. That means that the number itself is small enough that they did not need to release it. If the numbers are significant (either in the number of employees impacted, the value of the contracts involved, or the actual sales price), the company is required to file them with the SEC. Since they did not, then you know that the deal is small.

Have a great day!
Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Business Coaching, Executive Training, Sales Training, Marketing

Change Your Business – Change Your Life!

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What about those Initiatives?

So, last week I talked about Initiatives as part of your Annual Plan. These are new things that you are going to do in your business. If you remember my previous series, I talked about inflation and how that added to the cost of operating your business year over year. This includes normal expenses like Utilities and Insurance. More importantly, you will have headcount related changes if you plan to give cost of living increases. This will increase the cost of many benefits including 401k programs but also Worker’s Compensation.

The challenge that you face is that these initiatives must make a meaningful impact on the company. This does not imply that they need to do so immediately. But if you are talking about something that leads to a material impact on the company. Think that it must impact the top or bottom line by 10%. If it doesn’t then it probably is not worth it. Or it might be worth it but not a large enough change to the business to be considered an Initiative. Note that some of these Initiatives can be multi-year, so it may not be a new one each year.

The important thing is that S.M.A.R.T. Goals are set up to monitor the progress of the Initiative across the year. In the past, I have measured these as part of the quarterly earnings review. However, other businesses may want to measure them monthly or even weekly. Levels of performance must be set ahead of time so that course corrections can be made. I know many of have seen the delusions that can happen around this kind of metrics. “We are behind now, but we are just ramping up!” These kind of statements are almost always fictional imaginations. It allows people off the hook for having a critical examination of performance. You can declare missing the target as really meeting the target. This is the worst kind of thing that a Leadership Team can do. It solidifies that the results don’t matter to your employees. You certainly don’t want to send that message.

But even more important about Goals and monitoring is celebrating the success! When you achieve, it is time to make sure that everyone who has contributed is rewarded and recognized. This goes a long way to building great morale within the staff and can lead to even greater achievement in the future.

In any case, whatever happens, it is important that you build your business proactively through these initiatives that can transform your business into the future.
Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Business Coaching, Executive Training, Sales Training, Marketing

Change Your Business – Change Your Life!

Visit the FocalPoint Norcal Forum – We have many tools for helping your Business!