Follow the Leaders
We live in an age where it’s possible for companies to thrive or die based on customer reviews. “Reviews are important for almost any small to mid-sized business,” says Chris Leone, president of WebStrategies, Inc. “These days, it’s hard to be a new customer and not see an online review at some point in your buying journey.”
And like it or not, your buyers’ journeys often begin on Google. According to Leone, prospects who search for a type of service in the search engine (e.g., “staffing company VA”) are more likely to choose companies that have strong reviews associated with them.
If a customer doesn’t know your web address and chooses to search using your business name (e.g., “ACME Supply”), they’ll quickly discover reviews of your business along with your website. A search result page littered with low-star reviews doesn’t make a great first impression. Another not-so-great look? Poor ratings on Glassdoor – a well-known site where employees can rate their employers.
To sum: Less-than-stellar reviews can impact your brand image, your bottom line and the likelihood that a star employee will come calling.
Think only B2C business owners should be concerned with customer reviews? Think again. There are myriad review websites that closely examine the services and products B2B companies provide, too – from Amazon Customer Reviews to Which? to TrustPilot. If you own a business, it’s also important to monitor your online presence on sites like FinancesOnline, G2Crowd and bbb.org (Better Business Bureau).
If you’re a small to mid-size business owner with limited resources and time, where do you begin? Leone stresses that any website visible to your prospects should be on your radar. “You can find these by doing a Google search and scanning the search results page,” he explains. “Google will show different review sites for different industries, depending on what’s out there and the intent or mindset of the person doing the search. In short, act like a prospect would and take note of what you see. Then work to improve it.”
Scot Halloran, president of Trolley House Refreshments and managing partner of Groovin’ Gourmets, has an on-staff marketing employee who monitors Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and catering and wedding-specific sites each day. “There’s quite a few areas that we have to monitor and keep an eye on,” says Halloran. “If anything positive or negative pops up, she’ll relay that back to the team. Obviously, if it’s a negative review, we attack that pretty quickly. Thankfully, that’s only happened a handful of times.”
Halloran is diligent about asking for customer feedback; in fact, he uses a local service to contact customers who’ve used his service in the last 30 days. It’s a great source for garnering positive reviews. His (thankfully) limited experience with negative reviews has taught him that folks are often quick to pull the social media trigger rather than contact a business owner directly with a concern or complaint.
Essential Steps for Handling Negative Reviews*
- Be professional and avoid getting personal
- Thank your reviewers and customize your responses
- Take the time to upload an image with your response
- Indicate you’ve taken the necessary action
*Source: Small Business Association: https://www.sba.gov/blogs/how-handle-negative-reviews
“Typically, what we find is that [a negative review] stems from not necessarily the contact you’ve been doing business with directly, but someone else in the organization that just has a beef, and rather than reaching out to us as an entity, they just go straight to social media,” says Halloran.
Halloran’s approach to reacting to less-positive reviews is based on a key core value of his business: transparency. A typical response includes an immediate acknowledgment of the concern and a thank-you for the feedback; for example, “We’ve researched the situation and found the following… Thank you for bringing this to our attention.”
Most importantly: Be diligent and vigilant, and respond quickly should an issue arise.
Leone agrees that it’s important to respond. “Do so empathetically. Your response is a great opportunity to show your human side and that you’re trying to get better. No business is perfect, and people get that. That being said, if there are recurring trends in the negative reviews people leave, you should worry less about the reviews and more about fixing the systemic problem within your business that’s causing the bad reviews.”
For 30 years, Scott Warren, Co-Founder, Owner and Director of Warren Whitney, has been working closely with CEOs. Acting as their fractional CFO, he works with clients requiring senior level business financial management or systems expertise. We recently talked with Scott Warren about:
Here’s what he had to say.
Step 1. Make sure you have good and timely input. The data needs to be submitted timely and accurately coded. The organization should have in place documented policies and procedures to ensure the data input is done correctly.
Step 2. Incorporate checks and balances into your practice. You need to reconcile your subsidiary accounts (such as accounts receivable, accounts payable, and cash) to the general ledger number. Make sure your details equal your totals. Those are the first steps to making sure that you have accurate and timely monthly financials.
First, set-up internal controls. Make sure your assets are protected. Unfortunately, the move to electronic systems has not reduced the opportunity for fraud; if anything, it has increased. Your internal controls, including separation of duties and oversight are important to the accuracy of your reporting.
Next, understand your key drivers. Think about the important components in your business or industry. Examples of key drivers are bank treasury management tools, payroll, and inventory turns. The drivers vary depending on the individual company and industry – understanding what they are has a strong impact on the balance sheet. Other key drivers may be chargeable hours, revenue per employee, sales per square foot; I could go on another hundred measures.
Then, evaluate the risks your business and industry life cycle face. Is it competition? Is it price influences? Is it a new tax law? How would a potential hurricane affect your business? What is the effect of a major system failure or breach? What should you be considering based on your position in your company’s life cycle? Delineate a list of your risks and understand the true effects they might have. Then, combine that with an evaluation of the probability of those risks. That allows you to look at the potential downfalls and impact on your business. A risk analysis allows you to reduce the impact and measure success against those risks in the future. You will also want to relate the potential impact to individual line items on the income statement, balance sheet, and understand the effect it can have on the overall financial health of your business.
The surprising mistake I see again and again is the number of owners who never look at their balance sheet. There is so much information you can gain especially when you review the balance sheet in combination with your sources and uses of funds and cash flow statement. That is how you get better insight into what your balance sheet means to you.
Knowing your assets, and reviewing your balance sheet from one period to the next, is the key to truly seeing how your cash flow is affected by the balance sheet items such as receivables, inventory or payables as well as the debt obligations. In addition, the common ratios (like debt to equity) from your balance sheet, let you know your overall financial health.
Pay attention to cash flow, cash flow, and cash flow. When you are in growth mode, your business is going to be cash constrained. We talked about key drivers earlier. You need to understand the effect these drivers have on your cash flow. It is critical to evaluate how you are performing against your budget and your strategic plan. When all of this comes together, it allows a growing business to manage expectations and make smart business choices. This is the work we are passionate about; helping our clients grow to the next level to make potential happen.
About Scott Warren
Scott Warren is a co-founder and director of Warren Whitney and a senior member of the management teams for several of the firm’s largest clients. Working primarily with clients requiring senior level business financial management, or systems expertise, he brings more than 20 years of experience in helping organizations manage change. Learn more about Scott.
Warren Whitney is a trusted Sponsor of VA Council of CEOs.
Often, people equate being an entrepreneur with freedom and flexibility. They have visions of multi-week vacations, days spent playing golf, and coming into the office late and leaving early while the troops deliver superior results. In reality, it takes extreme intestinal fortitude to withstand the emotional rollercoaster of navigating the milestones necessary to achieve entrepreneurial success. Interestingly, many of the lessons I’ve learned in business also apply to my “Dad job.”
My twin boys, who are seniors in high school, have formed a band called 5 Second Rule. Running a band is a lot like running a small business: You have to work as a team to create a product (in this case, music), budget time and money, acquire equipment (one of my sons is a guitar player and has become quite proficient at acquiring gear), market to potential clients, deliver on performance expectations…and execute.
“The allure of launching a business venture often outweighs the realization that entrepreneurial success requires risk.”
One of the things I see holding back budding business owners is the actual ability to be entrepreneurial. And being entrepreneurial, I think, starts with a unique passion for what you’re doing, expressed with a conviction and authentic enthusiasm that’s captivating to others.
The allure of launching a business venture often outweighs the realization that entrepreneurial success requires risk. Great entrepreneurs, like successful parents, take calculated risks constantly: We will never see our kids or our businesses grow into what they can be if we don’t allow ourselves, our employees or our kids to take risks. Not everyone can stomach the risk of building something new, letting something go or investing in a new idea. But those with an entrepreneurial spirit thrive on these kinds of challenges and realize that each failure is an opportunity to move forward to the next experiment.
Another key attribute I see in most successful entrepreneurs is an incredible commitment and ability to execute. In business and at home, it comes down to a commitment to execution. The commitment to being a great parent or entrepreneur consistently requires placing many important things in distant second place—things like sleep, time with friends or actually playing that round of golf.
Life balance was, frankly, mostly non-existent when we arrived home with newborn twin boys—at least for a period of time. The same was true as I grew a business. Those who lack an entrepreneurial spirit may not understand or appreciate the obsession with execution being a successful entrepreneur requires. But my commitment to doing whatever it takes to raise great kids is no different from my commitment to doing whatever it takes to build a great business.
“Most see the hurdles in front of goals. I think parents and entrepreneurs see the actions needed to get around them.”
Having an action-oriented mindset is something I find critical to running our high-growth firm. As a simple example, in year two of our business, our angel investor mentioned that we should consider moving our office to another location where space was available. Before the end of the day, we had picked up our operation and moved and were back to running the business. Many business owners would get stuck on the obstacles to getting through the move. We took action. I can apply this simple example to moving into new service lines, acquiring new talent and making impactful investments in our business. Most see the hurdles in front of goals. I think parents and entrepreneurs see the actions needed to get around them.
My business partner and I have been blessed to build a great team of people, a great brand and a great business by challenging each other to be entrepreneurial, to take action on calculated risks, and to have faith in our decisions. I’m equally blessed that this philosophy has served me well in my family life, as my wife and I have raised entrepreneurially spirited kids who are unafraid to take risks. Rock on, 5 Second Rule!
About Rich Reinecke, Co-Managing Partner, Co-Founder, The Fahrenheit Group
Rich Reinecke is the Co-Founder of The Fahrenheit Group and a recruiting industry veteran with a unique blend of large corporate experience and dynamic entrepreneurial spirit. Rich works with every level of business, from emerging growth and middle-market to Fortune 500 companies, and is key in client development and recruiting talent both internally and for clients. Learn more.
The Fahrenheit Group is a valued Sponsor of Virginia Council of CEOs.
Our Members represent a wide range of industries and experiences, and they are frequently listed within the annual RVA 25 and Inc 5000 “fastest-growing” business lists.
This year twenty-eight Richmond-area firms made the Inc. Magazine’s 2018 “Fastest-Growing Companies” list. Of those, fourteen of the 28 (50%) are businesses led by Virginia Council of CEOs Members. Seven VACEOs Members topped the annual RVA 25 list in 2018 as well.
Not a Member? You should be! Our network includes an incredible network of business owners ready to help you navigate some of your toughest business challenges. Visit VACEOs membership to learn more.
Congratulations to all of our nominees!
(Pictured: COLAB President Eddie O’Leary with COO Morgan Witham at RVA 25 event.)
|Canal Capital Management||Inc 5000||4200||81%||Financial Services|
|CityParking Inc.||RVA25||19||44%||Business Services|
|COLAB Multimedia||Inc 5000||3707||99%||Advertising/Marketing|
|Dietitians On Demand||Inc 5000||4116||84%||Healthcare Services|
|Dominion Payroll||Inc 5000||3362||115%||Business Services|
|Morton||Inc 5000||4413||75%||IT Services|
|Inc 5000||4830||62%||IT Services|
|Occasionally Made||RVA25||9||122%||Wholesale and
|Inc 5000||1066||462%||HVAC and
|Productive AV||Inc 5000||1222||395%||Business Services|
|Productive AV||RVA25||11||109%||Business Services|
|SHOCKOE||Inc 5000||815||620%||IT Services|
|SOLVARIA||Inc 5000||4809||63%||IT Services|
|Timmons Group||Inc 5000||4644||68%||Engineering Services|
|UrbanCore Construction||Inc 5000||303||1626%||Construction|
*RVA 25: Average Annual Growth 2015-2017
*Inc 5000: 3-year growth rate
On Thursday, September 20, 2018, Governor Ralph Northam stood before more than 140 Virginia Council of CEOs members and their guests to speak, in part, about the state of Virginia’s economy. Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball accompanied him. Governor Northam’s address marked the fifth time the sitting governor has addressed the Council. Governor Mark Warner was the first in 2003.
The Governor addressed the crowd for approximately 15 minutes before answering specific questions from an audience largely made up of small to mid-size business owners. Northam chose to take off his governor’s hat for the event, opting instead to talk plainly about “what it is we can do to help businesses start in Virginia, but also to help businesses grow and contribute to the economy and your lifestyle.”
Northam, Virginia’s 73rd governor, possesses a diverse background that includes positions as a U.S. Army doctor, a pediatric neurologist, a business editor, a state senator and Virginia lieutenant governor. He is also a small business owner, having started the Children’s Specialty Group with his wife in 1996.
“We practiced under the umbrella of Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters,” explained Northam. “We have grown that practice to about a hundred pediatric sub-specialists now. We employ about 250 people. I understand a little bit about what it is to start a business – and then grow a business – in Virginia.”
Like most CEOs, Northam is concerned about finding qualified workers for his business. That’s why he’s also interested in seeing Virginia develop a base of workers for the 21st-century job market, which he defined as jobs in science, technology, engineering, the arts, math and healthcare. “Things like cybersecurity, unmanned aerial systems, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, data collection, data analysis – these are the jobs of the 21st century,” said Northam. He also emphasized the importance of growing programs within Virginia’s community college system, with a special focus on certification and apprenticeship programs and high school vocational and technical training to “keep that pipeline open from our students to the business community.”
New business owners are often faced with a number of daunting questions – like how to navigate Virginia’s tax code, for example. Northam stressed that his administration is invested in making things easier. “I just wanted to let you know that we have your back, if you will,” he said. “We have several programs in Virginia to help startups. One of them is called VirginiaScaling4Growth. We also have workshops that we sponsor throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, and if you or someone in your presence needs help, either growing your business or starting your business, I think we have a really good economic team.”
“We work very closely with the VEDP (Virginia Economic Development Partnership), which is the economic development partnership in Virginia, and we have a number of tools in our toolbox that we can now help businesses with and also help to attract businesses,” Northam added.
The governor also spoke about the state of Virginia’s transportation system and the Commonwealth’s unemployment rate, and he expressed optimism about making Virginia agencies more efficient and the tax code more user-friendly to attract new business to the state.
Governor Northam welcomed questions from the floor after his presentation, and CEOs in the audience quickly peppered him with a range of questions on topics that included how to address the flooding in Tidewater and Eastern Shore regions, where specifically to go for workforce training program assistance, a clarification of his stance on a recent Executive Order about worker misclassification and independent contractors, and his perspective on public/private partnerships.
In closing, the governor asked the business owners in the room to help him elevate Virginia as a place to attract business, stating, “With all of us in this room collectively and the business community, I think if we keep working together, once again soon, Virginia will be the number-one state in this country to do business.”
The Virginia Council of CEOs has connected Central Virginia CEOs with local and national thought leadership since 2000. Our think tank includes award-winning companies across industries like IT services, marketing & advertising, logistics & transportation, business products & services, consumer products, human resources, finance, health services, and more. Learn about VACEOs membership.