How seriously are you taking your education?

We’ve just finished attending PPAI’s annual EXPO which, in a “normal” year, is an opportunity for us to meet with others in the industry, network with like-minded industry professionals, see the best and latest products available, and learn and grow by attending education sessions.

PPAI knows the importance of this annual event, and despite all the COVID-related issues, they were able to pull off a virtual event that, given feedback from attendees, was fantastic overall. Much of this praise is due to the number and variety of education sessions available to virtual show attendees. Whether it was a pre-recorded keynote speaker session from years past or it was a live Q&A or product demonstration, the quality of this year’s education was outstanding.

Why should this be important to each of us? It’s because our level of professionalism, the knowledge we bring to our clients, and the expertise we can share with others makes our industry unique. Distributors are the vital link between the customer and the supplier or product manufacturer. The distributor is the primary point person for the client and that client relies on their distributor partner to help them with branding, marketing strategy, and effective promotional programs. It’s where we add value to the customer and can become an indispensable partner.

At Vernon, we’ve always believed that ongoing education is key to our success. This is why at EXPO this year, we offered two unique educational sessions to show-goers.

The first session, which was recorded and can be downloaded here, featured a Q&A session with Jamie Watson from Certified Marketing Consultants. CMC has been providing consulting services to the industry for many years, helping guide distributors who are considering selling their businesses or are contemplating retirement, on the right path. From business evaluations to advice on how to make your business more valuable, Jamie and the entire team at EXPO are truly the experts. They’re also offering a new service for distributors to provide assistance with tax preparations, a much-needed area of education for distributor owners. Plus, Jamie is very well-known in the industry for her expertise with accounting best practices and her no-nonsense approach to business.

The second session Vernon hosted, was an exciting one for attendees, as underscored by the overwhelmingly positive feedback we received. Lauren Bailey, the founder of Factor8, the Sales Bar and Girls Club, held virtual audience members captive with her engaging and enlightening presentation about transitioning from in-person to virtual sales. Lauren is a rockstar! As a twenty-year veteran of the Inside Sales industry, she has traveled the world to launch successful Inside Sales teams, working with in-house and outsourced sales teams primarily focusing on IT, Software, and Distribution. Past clients include SAP, Sony, Waste Management, Ingram Micro, Grainger, Microsoft & Google. During our hour-long education session, attendees were rewarded with solid, actionable takeaways and tips for being more proactive and comfortable with selling virtually.

If you were unable to attend either of these sessions, you will truly benefit from watching the recordings. Fire up the laptop, get your pen and paper ready, and prepare to get your education on!

We were excited to offer these sessions to the industry during EXPO, and we definitely look forward to more engaging education to come!

Year-end checklist for distributor owners

Late December is a crazy busy time for most of us. Between the holidays, home life and, this year, mitigating COVID-19 risk, it seems like there’s hardly enough time to address the year-end needs for your business. Whether it’s tax preparation, evaluating the business, and dealing with employee issues to close out the year, the list of things owners need to begin addressing can seem overwhelming. But keep in mind that taking some time now to shore up your business can help you end the year strong and can help ensure that you start the new year off on the right foot.

The following checklist includes a few of the major tasks you should begin addressing now, before the new year sneaks up on you.

Accounting

Managing your financial records is critical throughout the year, but even more so in December. Maintaining accurate records can help you predict what the next year may have in store for your business. Plus, you’ll be better prepared for tax season. At a minimum, crucial reports to review for year-end include your monthly and annual income statements (also called a profit & loss sheet), a balance sheet, and a cash flow statement. If, like many small businesses during COVID, your profits ended up lower than you had planned, now is the time to give some thought to changes you might want to make. For more tips on evaluating the financial health of your business, it would be wise to speak to an accounting professional who is well-versed in the promotional products industry. We suggest speaking with the professional staff at Certified Marketing Consultants, https://www.certifiedmarketing.com/index.html as they’re offering new services for owners like tax preparation.

Technology

As we near the end of 2020, it’s a great time to look at the technology you use within your business. Back-up your essential computer data and customer and vendor contacts, download any important reports or data files that would make it difficult to do business in case of a disaster, and reorganize your paper and electronic files to ensure that you have back-ups that are readily accessible. If you’ve not yet converted your systems to paperless, it might be beneficial to find an outside vendor who can provide these data storage and filing services.

HR

Once the critical business tasks have been addressed, December is an excellent time to examine your current staffing situation. Take stock of your current staff and determine whether or not additional staff will be needed in 2021 and budget accordingly. Alternatively, you may need to address having too much administrative costs wrapped up in staff.

Now is also a great time to reward employees for a job well done and to help boost morale as you head into a new sales year. In addition, the end of the year is a good time to review your employee compensation and benefits plans to ensure they’re still competitive.

Everything else

Finally, there are a few business odds and ends you should take a look at before you start the new year. Create new business goals for the upcoming year, anticipating the impact that COVID may or may not have on your business. “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst”, has never been truer than during this global pandemic. Also, if you run any company stores or customer programs or if you operate a warehouse, you know that year-end always means that it’s time to count any on-hand inventory. You want to be sure that you’re keeping accurate records and avoiding internal loss.

Remember, it’s these back-office tasks that keep your business running smoothly and can help ensure that your business is properly situated for success in 2021.

Time for a check-up

As we approach Thanksgiving and the end of the calendar year, it is important to set aside some quiet time to review your personal and business goals to see where you stand. Today we will steer clear of your personal goals, yet we will take time to explore the business side.

How can it be that I feel five years older now than I did in January and February, pre-covid? Holy cow! The fact of the matter is that most of us began the year with goals. It does not matter whether you are an individual business owner, or you find yourself working for someone else, you had goals.

“I want to make $100,000” (Salesperson)

or

“I want to have my company sell more than $3 million” (Distributor Owner)

And then what happened? The calendar flipped to March and all of us (and I mean all), lost control of our ability to reach our goals. That helpless feeling set in. We all experienced it.

I am certain that it took some time but eventually, most owners and salespeople came to the realization that goals needed to be reset. Any goal setting training will start with the premise that “goals must be realistic and attainable”.

Our company realized that we needed to furlough people to bring our costs in line with the number of orders and amount of business that we were receiving. We were early to the game of restricting travel resulting in saved expenses since every dollar was more important than ever. We canceled some national meetings and made decisions to postpone some incentive trips. We essentially had to “right-size” our company.

Our account executives found that orders were hard to come by and since they are commissioned salespeople, they had to adjust their personal budgets to better align with their income.

All of us took whatever support we could find, but the reality is that even at the end of October, nine months later, things are different. Companies and individuals that were “supported” by PPP (payroll protection plan) and unemployment insurance and other programs are faced with a future of surviving and moving forward without that assistance.

Now is the time to look toward the future of your own business. I don’t believe that it is politically incorrect to reference Thanksgiving as a time for all to appreciate what we have as owners and salespeople that have helped us through the tough times and to identify those people and services that have helped you steady the ship and say, “Thank You”. Now is the perfect time to establish your 2021 goals and set the plan to achieve them. It is also a time to consider help and support if you need it.

Unfortunately, many business owners cannot survive heading into 2021 with 30%-40% less business. Some salespeople cannot survive if they find themselves in situations where valuable support services or employment benefits have been reduced or eliminated. These are the owners and salespeople that need to look at their options.

The message here is not intended to say that everyone needs help or doesn’t need help or that they need to make some changes. However, I do believe that everyone does NEED to assess and evaluate their situation so that they are NOT surprised when we turn the calendar to 2021. It is always prudent to review your personal situation at the end of a tax year. It has never been more important than this year due to the current situation.

P.S. If your self-analysis reveals that you should explore some options to change, we might suggest that you request our White Paper titled “Is the Grass Really Greener” which outlines important questions to ask during your due diligence process.

The Vernon Company is recognized as one of the largest and most successful promotional product firms in North America. Founded in 1902 by F.L. Vernon, we serve more than 40,000 customers from our Newton, Iowa corporate headquarters.

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