Studies support what I’ve observed empirically through my career, and what many readers will no doubt relate to when reflecting on their own entrepreneurial careers: When setting out “on their own,” these go-getters crave self-determination and independence. In some cases, the rose-colored glasses have been off for a while, and the satisfaction and meaning that they formerly derived from their jobs has long since waned.
So, it’s disheartening when you see these same entrepreneurs later, and they’re now encountering many of the frustrations that led them to going down the path of “being one’s own boss” in the first place. What is heartening, however, are the many organizations that are willing to acknowledge that they can’t go on with status quo. They recognize things need to change. They turn to me. I have had the privilege of working with nonprofits and for-profits alike, organizations of varying sizes and across a diverse array of industries, from education to health care. While each client is memorable in his or her own way, one organization stands out and, perhaps, it’s not surprising that said organization is in the real estate space.
With a finance degree in hand, I thought I would work for a bank. But I ended up working for one of the world’s largest commercial real estate firms instead, LaSalle Partners (now Jones Lang LaSalle) in Chicago. As a Nebraska native, I boomeranged back and found myself working for what was, at the time, a small real estate firm. Today, they’re part of Colliers International, a firm that at last check boasted revenue of $3.5 billion, managed two billion square feet of property, powered 70,000 lease/sale transactions, and employed more than 18,000 people across its 68 countries. Real estate just seems to be a thread that runs through my life. So, this client resonated as a small firm that should have been positioned well to take advantage of the construction boom in the metro.
Just north of three months before COVID-19 reared its head in March, the Omaha and Council Bluffs market was spotlighted by the Associated General Contractors of America as the source of the largest percentage gains in construction jobs of the 358 metro areas analyzed by the industry organization. In fact, the number of jobs increased by 20% between October 2018 to October 2019, for a total of almost 6,000 new positions. The next closest gains as a percentage were 14% and 15% for the Auburn-Opelika, Alabama and Bend-Redmond, Oregon markets respectively. You’d think with all that traction, my clients with property management expertise would be in a great place. Unfortunately, they were in a bad way.
Instead of benefiting from a flurry of activity, they were constantly in the trap of reacting rather than anticipating what was next. This was a vicious cycle of “fail to plan, plan to fail.” To clarify, there were records. But the record-keeping left a lot to be desired. Plus, sometimes poor records management doesn’t account for all of the different types of information that must be tracked and reported. There is often a combination of incomplete or duplicative records, as well as poorly-filed and inadequately-organized information. Add to that the failure to properly secure and back up critical documentation. I’ve seen and felt firsthand the financial and legal vulnerabilities that exist due to inadequate records management, not to mention the “time suck” that occurs when one is frantically searching into the wee hours for data. While we always like to hope for the best, I suggest all clients take a page from the giants – in that they need to prepare for the worst by investing in the human and technological resources that allow them to protect and recover data.
This particular client was suffering, both professionally and personally. The lack of resources funneled to develop a forward-thinking strategy was now dwarfing every aspect of their lives. They didn’t have a handle any more on the fundamentals – how money was being spent, their profits, the areas of the business that were profitable. They were also out of touch with their family, no longer able to enjoy time with their loved ones like they used to. I’m not a stereotypical “just the numbers, ma’am” type of accounting professional. It’s important for me to connect with others on a personal level. That way, I feel my clients trust me enough to share in their vision. It’s my responsibility (and joy) to empower them to achieve that vision.
So, I frankly told them, “I don’t want you to live like this anymore.” If they weren’t ready for change, they never would have embarked on this journey with me. From that day forward, the wheels were in motion to make positive change. Some of these changes involved taking a hard look at the staff that they had -- their Human Resources – scrutinizing whether their approach to managing and reporting valuable data aligned with the team’s values and vision. Instead of placing what I called a “Band-Aid on top of a Band-Aid,” the metaphorical bandage or “temporary fix,” was off – so, in this way, the organization and the owners’ lives outside of work could heal. They’re doing much better now, and can take full advantage of all the ups that come with living in a market on the rise.
Organizational consulting, where high-touch meets high-tech
This consultative approach is often accompanied and supported by technology. Now, technology can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. Sometimes, clients approach me to “clean up” a business they just purchased. Perhaps, they jumped into this new opportunity without understanding the accounting software at the heart of their operations, or they may have quickly changed software without knowing what they were getting into. QuickBooks is easily the most recognized accounting software among professionals in the field and small business owners. As a QuickBooks ProAdvisor, I’m enthusiastic about sharing my advanced knowledge of this system with other organizations.
After we’ve worked together to identify areas for improvement as well as strengths that can be built upon or refined, the technology presents the tools to help us achieve the vision established in consultation with these partners. My clients are no longer running around with their “hair on fire,” just trying to get through day-to-day tasks and functions. Intentional planning, records management and goal-setting makes an enormous difference in an organization’s long-term health and in the well-being of the people that power said organization.
In the current environment, we naturally hear so much about technology. It’s bridged the miles when we can’t safely be around others. It’s been a godsend to people who otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity to interact with their family members or friends. It’s proven to be, in some cases, more productive for professionals in sales and other areas to hop on Teams and interface with clients, rather than spend half of their day on the road or in the air traveling from community to community, or one client engagement to the next.
When we’re able to have open, honest discussions and wrap our arms about clients’ operations and financial situations, it’s then that we know how to leverage the likes of technology and to take a deeper dive into how that technology is being used and the returns on that investment. Is, for example, too much money being spent on software maintenance? Or, let’s consider, now that so many of your team members are no longer working in the office, do you need to continue to invest in so much square footage? We know the right questions to ask, and get great satisfaction from providing guidance related to those investments and initiatives that can make a real difference in the profitability of client enterprises, and in the morale of their respective teams.
A strategic and visionary connector, Annette Otteman looks forward to connecting with you. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org O’Donnell, Ficenec, Wills & Ferdig has been providing tax, accounting, assurance, and other business support services to Omaha-area organizations for more than 69 years.