The Benefits Of Hiring A Business Coach
POS VAR Entertainment Data Solutions, Inc. (EDSI) suffered through "growing pains" until a business coach put the company on track. Today, EDSI markets to more high-end customers - and realizes larger profits - in the family entertainment center market. Can a business coach do the same for your company?
Renth is president and cofounder, along with her husband, Jim, of Entertainment Data Solutions, Inc. (EDSI). Based in Carson City, NV, EDSI sells ticketing and point of sale (POS) hardware and develops and sells its own ticketing/POS software. The company targets family entertainment centers, including ski resorts, amusement parks, water parks, zoos, and arcades. Jennifer and Jim Renth started EDSI in 1995 by developing their own ticketing software. The couple recently moved the business out of their home into a 3,000 square foot facility. EDSI has 10 employees and projects sales revenues of $1.5 million for 1999.
Banker's Referral Pays Off
"Carson City is a small town where people know each other rather well. My banker, with whom I have a good business relationship, knew of my company's 'growing pains.' He suggested I contact Kelly Bullis, a local business coach," explains Renth. She had also heard of Bullis through Carson City's Small Business Development Center.
Renth contacted Bullis. "He came to my office to deliver a free, two-hour consultation. Afterward, I signed up for a trial period and never looked back," says Renth. Bullis has been Renth's coach for nearly one year. In that time, he has helped her tackle several business issues such as time management, cash flow, and employee productivity. "He's given me advice about everything from software development to legal issues," adds Renth.
Renth keeps a schedule with Bullis. "Every Friday, we have an appointment to speak on the telephone. I can use that time to discuss a specific issue, such as a problem with an employee. Or, if I'm having a particularly bad day, he'll let me vent. The calls usually last from 45 to 60 minutes. He also sends us a 'success quote' by fax every Friday, to keep us motivated," explains Renth. On the fourth Friday of every month, Bullis visits Renth's office if needed. "Sometimes, he'll stay for a couple of hours. Other times, we'll skip the visit and talk on the phone," says Renth.
During one visit, Bullis worked on time management issues with Jim Renth and the EDSI programmers. One thing Bullis helped the Renths understand is how their employees learn. One employee, for example, is visually oriented and learns more by seeing how something is done. Other employees learn by reading instructions. Renth says knowing these kinds of things has helped her deal more effectively with her staff.
Renth's coach also has useful business contacts that benefit her company. She had been using a CPA for yearly tax preparation and more routine bookkeeping functions. Bullis steered Renth to a retired company controller who assumed the bookkeeping tasks for one-third the cost of the CPA. "Now, I use the CPA only for final tax preparation and financial advice," she says.
Coach Helps Keep Business On Track
Bullis' job is to keep Renth focused on certain goals. "He's very detail-oriented and organized," says Renth of her coach. One of Renth's more pressing goals is to establish a set of policies and procedures within EDSI. "When the company was smaller, we didn't need formal procedures. But now, as we add staff, we find that we have a need for set procedures," Renth observes. For example, EDSI support staff needed a procedure for how to dial into a customer site using PC Anywhere software.
"During a good week, I'll write 10 policies and procedures. Sometimes, when things are really busy, I'll only get one done in a week," says Renth. In either case, she reports her progress to Bullis. "He'll tell me I did a great job on the 10 procedures I wrote. And for the one I wrote, he'll tell me that's one less that I have to write," Renth explains. "He always puts a positive spin on my accomplishments, no matter how small they might be."
Renth is quick to note that Bullis' job is not to make decisions for her. Rather, he helps her realize what all of her options are. Renth appreciates the fact that Bullis is realistic. "He doesn't 'sugar coat' anything," she says. "In the end, I make the final decision." For the weekly phone calls, personal visits, and nearly unlimited advice, Renth pays Bullis a monthly fee.
Coach's Push Attracts Larger Accounts
Renth says Bullis hasn't helped EDSI land any new customers. He has, however, helped EDSI move into a higher tier of customers. When the company experienced a cash flow problem, Bullis encouraged Renth to double the price of EDSI's ticketing solution. "It took him months to convince me this was a good idea," Renth admits. "I would not have done this on my own." It was a necessary step to ensure EDSI's viability. as Renth would learn.
"Customers were not paying on time and we were not making the profit margin we needed to make," Renth remembers. Bullis explained to Renth that increasing the price of EDSI's system put a higher market value on it. Renth expected to see a decrease in business. Instead, raising the cost of EDSI's system increased business. "We are now candidates for larger accounts. If your product is too cheap, potential customers might not think it's worth buying," advises Renth. EDSI's profit margins are up and Renth admits she would again consider raising prices, if necessary.
Outsourcing Option Maximizes Sales
Another "growth" issue Renth struggled with was keeping up with installations and training. The family entertainment market is seasonal. Ski resorts buy new systems in late fall while water parks buy in the winter. January through May is EDSI's busiest time for installations and training.
With Bullis' encouragement, Renth decided to contract with a training company to supply on-site training to her customers. Installations, because they are in various parts of the country, are also frequently outsourced. "The benefit of contracting with other companies is that we can have overlapping installations and concentrate on our sales efforts," says Renth.
Knowing When To Leave Your Coach
Renth has recommended her coach to other business owners. "Any business can benefit from a good coach," she says. Bullis is helping Renth to get to the point where she no longer requires his services. "He's moving me to a higher professional level," she says.
Renth predicts that, over time, the phone calls and the visits from her coach will be needed less. She is planning to join a local networking group after EDSI's revenues increase. The networking group's members are all owners of companies grossing at least $3 million in annual sales. Until that time comes, Renth is pleased with the relationship she has with her coach. "He's helped me become more productive. As a result, our company is able to handle more customers."