Can’t stay away from the obvious pun in the title, but the turning of the calendar to a new decade only happens once every few years! It seems the years go by faster and faster the older I (we) get. The 80’s lasted forever! - or maybe it only felt that way because of the big hair and funny outfits. At the end of the 80’s though, they represented over 70% of my living years, and 90% of my years being slightly aware of what was going on - if that’s even true today. So, that passage of time - a decade - that seemed so long in my youth, went so fast this time around, in part because it represents so much less of my total experience.
But then I take a think-back. Writing is thinking, they say, and now I’ve got me thinking about where I was in January of 2010. If memory serves, I was the Acting President of Capital West National Bank at this time, which is a fancy way of saying you’ve got the same salary as when you were VP / Senior Commercial Lender...but with the additional responsibilities of the guy we just fired, and still those of the other two guys we let go last year and the year before; but we appreciate you and trust you and really hope you don’t leave because we’re swimming in it here!
So much has happened since then, many of the seeds of which were planted in those days. We saved the bank after several difficult years and tough conversations in the early 2010’s, and I was a key content and idea contributor to a rebrand in 2012. That creative flexing and the fact that what had been a cushy and fun job now had less spiffs and way-more-annoying requirements - which led to my launch out of the safety of steady paychecks and into the great unknown. A short-lived banking consultancy (Bear Capital Advisors, LLC) that I founded en route to my (never-opened) restaurant gave sprout to LoCo Think Tank in early 2014 - next month celebrates 6 years in business for LoCo! LoCo grew on the sideline through my time operating a mobile food business (Bear’s Backyard Grill), and through a 2+ year financial services stint with Thrivent Financial. My chapter finally helped me realize the main thing I was passionate about doing was helping people through LoCo Think Tank, and I finally went full-time LoCo in January of 2018. Just 2 years later, we’ve grown from 3 to 8 chapters, with more local growth on the near horizon and plans for developing chapters in a larger regional footprint in 2020.
At LoCo HQ, we’ve just completed our budget for 2020, based on our year-end membership and our expectations for continued growth. And when I say expectations, what I really mean is our assumptions. We assume, which is always dangerous territory - if you know the old saying, and the damage sometimes done. So we’ve efforted to have grounded assumptions, justifiable assumptions - attainable assumptions. Goals, some call them, if you’re the kind of person or business that sets and attains goals often. But to too many, goals sounds a lot like hopes, which sounds a lot like dreams, which they say are hopes without a plan - and so they set their goals at a level that they cannot reasonably attain.
I see it too often (and I’ve done it too often) to overlook the fact that too many business owners set their budget for the year ahead based on goals that are just not likely to be attained. I see people hoping for 25% sales growth, with margin improvement, and often those two things work against one another. They’ve grown 8 - 10% per year in recent years, and their sales team and marketing budget are the same as before. So...9% growth is probably a safe assumption.
So, we look ahead by looking back...but it’s not just that simple! In business - we must look forward too. Profit is in the margins, they say, and it’s true - and you have to hunt for it. And to hunt, you have to look ahead - which means budgeting, and making a plan. If you assume you can grow 25% because you’ve successfully recruited a top sales representative from a larger company - so be it! - put it in the budget and build upon it. If you find a way to cut 3% from your cost of sales - figure that in. Your health insurance went up again...make sure you can find those savings elsewhere. It’s a never-ending look back and look ahead, with competing interests for your limited resources.
You can invest in more production capacity, but then can you sell it? You can invest in increasing sales, but then can you deliver? You want to take more trips with the family, but those dollars could be invested in equipment that would take 25% off your production time on a key product. You’d love to have a higher salary as the founder of a growing peer advisory startup, but isn’t it more important to build the skilled team you need to take this business to the next phase? (asking for a friend)
It’s an endless game of Choice A or Choice B - if you’re lucky. Sometimes, Choice C and Choice D and Choice E make themselves known too. All these choices make big or small impacts in the moment, but they aggregate. So, what you’re expecting/assuming you’ll be able to achieve in 2020, informs where you’ll be at this time in 2021, and that informs your 2022. The difference between growing a business at 5%, or 10% or even 20% in a year is limited - over one year - but huge over a decade if repeated.
That’s what we hope to do for our members at LoCo Think Tank - help them bend the needle up a bit, durably. Find better, faster decisions through collaboration. Share creative ideas and find accountability over their implementation. Set attainable goals, and create and discover new ways to attain those goals. Find a safe place to process the never-ending decisions that face a small business owner. Be encouraged by others through the hard times, and in reflecting on successes. Gain perspective on our assumptions - the same thing we’re looking for when we do our budgeting.
I think I’ve come up with a new motto/tagline for me and for LoCo, not just in budgeting but all areas of this wonderful navigation we call life: “Make fewer assumptions, and when you must make them - ensure they are well-informed”. You must look back and look around and listen to look ahead as well. This will allow you to keep more of your thoughts and actions focused in the present, where all the good stuff really happens. Happy 2020 all, thanks for reading all the way to the end again!
- Curt Bear
LoCo Think Tank Founder