Checks and balances for changing seasons

Asking questions about operations keeps a business running smoothly.


As I look out my office window, the leaves are dropping from the trees and starting to cover the ground and roads with a wonderful quilt of color. The mass of leaves blanket the countryside and cover any sign of the previous season — regardless of its fortune, good or bad. Each fall, folks spend an enormous amount of time raking and bagging to clear their properties for next year’s to prosper.

The seasons change without prejudice — it is not our chore or doing — it is an ongoing cycle that we witness. Being from Maine, autumn is the season that stands out the most for me as it brings to a close the favorable summer weather and allows us time to prepare for the cold winter season that comes all too soon.

ECONOMY ON THE SKIDS

Historians will likely recall 2008 as a year that most would like to forget. Our stock market took so many turns and dives that it was hard to keep a calm stomach and your head from spinning during the nightly news. It seemed like every month another major company was in trouble, and due to reasons that seemed obvious enough.

Did no one see the signs? Fuel prices skyrocketed creating fear and uncertainty about the coming months and contributed to a slowing economy, but all the while the oil companies reported record profits? Where were the checks and balances? It’ll be years before everything gets straight for 2008 in the history books.

In many of the talks I have with people, and even my children, I always try to emphasize that asking questions is the only way to get the real answers. People have the ability to say many things, but that does not mean it is fact! It just means it was said. What is the truth, and what are we to believe? There are always two sides to a story and somewhere in between lies the truth. In our busy lives, it is often difficult to devote enough time to fact finding, so we often subconsciously settle for the message heard the most.

Hopefully, with everything in the news lately, Americans are asking more questions of those responsible in business. Are you asking questions of your own business?

WHAT'S YOUR BREAK-EVEN?

A good place to start is sitting down and refiguring your break-even. After you have the hard numbers, scrutinize areas that you can trim or clean up to lower your break-even to increase your reinvestment in the business — or your savings. Our businesses are not immune to the changing economy, so having a realistic break-even is key to adapt to those swings more easily.

Take raking, for instance. Two bags of leaves may not seem like a heavy burden at first, but carried over a long distance they will hit a breaking point. There will be a point where things have to change. And if more bags need to be picked up along the way, a wheelbarrow will prove to have been a wise investment to carry the load.

Imagine those leaf bags are small expenses added to your bottom line over the past couple of years, or that each bag represents a skip that has left your route with an outstanding balance. A single expense or a single bad debt might seem like a manageable burden. Pick up some more bags and as they start to add up, so does the burden! Left unattended, these items could be the little things that add up to bring down a thriving business.

So, having a schedule of periodic checks that monitor the health of your business is essential if you are to ever know how many bags of leaves you’re carrying and if it’s time to get a wheelbarrow. Once implemented, it will become easier to forecast needed changes and allow more time for decision-making.

Although 2008 did not seem like the ideal year economically, it could be viewed as a year of utmost importance as a reminder that outward appearance may seem fine, but questions need to be asked to secure a solid future. For the country and our businesses.

Joe Poulin is a mobile tool distributor based in Gray, Maine, for Mac Tools. Send any comments or feedback you have for Joe by e-mail to brendan@pten.com

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