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By: Deanna Dydynski, marketing & public relations manager
The funeral industry, while it is incredibly unique in practice, the principals of business are no different than any other. In every industry, as businesses grow, they expand, acquire and merge. The funeral industry is no stranger to an acquisition or merger. Does the nation’s largest funeral home operator, Service Corporation International (SCI) ring a bell or the Matthews-Aurora acquisition of 2015? Whether a business is attempting to grow or survive, the development of strategic alliances and consolidation is key.
Mergers and acquisitions can be great for business as they can: create diversification of products and service offerings, increase capacity, create a larger market share, eliminate competition or improve financing and cost efficiencies by conjoining operations. As business owners, you know all too well there can be risks with any major decision. Forbes’s, Frank Vermeulen suggests that 70 percent of acquisitions and merger deals fail, whether due to clashes in culture, potential increases in debt or apprehension among employees during consolidation, there is no guarantee for success.
If you are debating on buying, selling or merging, there are several considerations you must take into account. A good friend and acquisitions lawyer of mine told me, “when pursuing an acquisition or merger, you want to get the dog but you want to make sure you get the dog without the fleas.” Meaning, if you are wanting to expand or join with a business you want to be sure you get the right one, as you do not want any unexpected surprises. A business effort such as a merger or acquisition is just that, an effort and before moving forward you will have to complete a series of due diligence and gather an extensive amount of information. After all would you really buy or sell anything without doing your research?
Let’s begin with the basics, and clarify the difference between a merger and an acquisition. While they are often uttered in the same sentence, they have slight differentiating factors. An acquisition occurs when one company purchases the business of another entity and clearly establishes itself as the new owner. A merger, refers to a mutual consolidation of two or more businesses to form a new enterprise including the integration of operations, and the sharing of control and profits. Once you have a clear understanding of how acquisitions differentiate from mergers you can evaluate how either may affect your business.
While there is an almost insurmountable amount of time, effort and research that goes into such a great business deal, here are the 7 things you need to consider before pursuing an acquisition or merger:
This is an obvious one, investigating further into the company’s financial history, metrics and targeted projections is crucial. You will want to gather financial records such as the company’s annual, quarterly and monthly financial statements for the last three to five years, as this will give you a better understanding of the performance and financial condition. Additionally, information such as any aging accounts receivables, tax returns, depreciation schedules, debt payoffs or if the EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization) has been appropriately calculated. Let’s be honest, money is what keeps a business going and whether you are looking to buy, sell, or merge, financial matters are going to be a top priority
Understanding the company’s current and targeted customer base will be key in order to maintain and recognize growth opportunities. If you are planning to acquire another business, keeping the prior company’s customer base, and keeping them happy, should be a priority. As a potential buyer you will want to know the top customers, any specific terms created, customer backlog or if there will be any issues retaining customers following an acquisition. On the flip side if you are planning to sell, you, will want to see that your customers fall into good hands. As any good business owner knows, a loyal customer base is important and if you are wanting to expand then you will make an effort to understand the ins and outs of your new potential clientele.
3. Employees and Management
You will have serious decisions to make based on the current employee base of the company you are planning to acquire or merge with. Gathering information on appropriate treatment of personal, employment and consulting agreements, incentive arrangements, bonus programs and compliance obligations will be points of focus when moving forward in a merge or acquisition. Aside from having happy customers, a happy staff is just as important, as your employees are the foundation of your business.
Before making any significant investment you need a clear overview on litigation. Necessary legal documentation you will want to uncover may include any filed, pending or settled litigation, threatened claims, consent decrees, injunctions, attorneys letters, arbitration matters or any government proceedings against the company. As you are funeral directors and most likely not experts on law, having a lawyer who specializes in mergers and acquisitions will be your best asset. Merging, selling or acquiring requires an extensive amount of legal documentation and involvement so you should be sure to engross yourself in any legal proceedings as much as possible.
If you are wanting to merge with or acquire another funeral home, you are going to need a legitimate outline of all physical, technological and intellectual properties and confirm appropriate steps have been taken to protect these. Intellectual properties may include confidentiality and invention agreements. Is the seller infringing on these rights or is a third party infringing on them? Does the funeral home you want to acquire have any copyrighted products or materials? What about crematory facilities, caskets, hearses, rental properties or additional real estate? If you are selling your business, the buyer is going to be extremely interested in the quality of your properties, so be prepared to encounter an extensive list of due diligence inquiries.
Knowing the competitive landscape for a business you are going to acquire or merge with is almost as important as knowing the business itself. Understanding the competitive environment a business operates in is crucial, as every marketplace is different. You would analyze another businesses’ competition just the same as you would analyze your own competitive market. Uncovering the different service offerings, pricing structures, advantages, history and customer base are all key pieces of information you will want to gather about the potential businesses’ competition.
Determining how to integrate a new company into an existing infrastructure and make a brand transition smooth is a difficult task. While marketing and sales initiatives of another company may not be a top priority during the process of a merger or acquisition, this information will be key for future endeavors. Understanding the target company’s marketing strategies and arrangements will help uncover branding and growth opportunities. Marketing includes sales, promotions, communications and public relations, ultimately making up a large part of any business. So why would you not want to have a foundation of the existing companies marketing information? Did the funeral home conduct a survey and have valuable marketing information for the target area demographic? Do you have a list of all the stakeholders and a plan to properly communicate the transition? What about sales representatives, marketing literature, GPL’s and catalogs? These are all materials that will need to be gathered and assessed before moving forward with an acquisition or merger.
While these are just a few of the necessary elements of due diligence in moving forward with an acquisition or merger, ultimately, you are going to need a qualified team to assist you in getting “the dog without the fleas.”
By: Aaron Calloway, vice president
Unless your funeral home has a never-ending supply of money or investors with extremely generous pockets, knowing exactly where to invest in your business can be a challenge. Yes, you should save money by avoiding unnecessary costs, but there are some expenses that are necessary to the growth and success of your business and knowing the difference is essential. Here are three times you should absolutely spend money to make money:
While it may seem obvious to invest in new technologies, many funeral homes nationwide are continually avoiding technological advancement costs. Time is money and investing in new technologies is essential to improve business efficiencies. Overseeing information technologies and being part-owner of a funeral funding company, I know this to be most accurate. Investing in technology to improve our online claims processing systems alone, has increased the speed at which our funeral homes are funded, not to mention all the internal processes that have improved. In business, time is measured by value and what you can accomplish in your nine-hour day, if not longer. Could your funeral home create more value in your day by investing in an accounting program, software updates, an answering service or tablets for your staff to take to home visitations? Yes, spending money on technology can vastly improve the efficiency of your staff, after all they are the life-force behind your business. However, investing in technology to improve internal business processes is only half of the equation.
While at times the funeral industry may seem to be stuck in the past, your consumer is not. Investing in technologies for the families you serve is essential. Families coming to you now to plan their loved ones service, have been immersed in technology from a young age and they are expecting you to be also. Planning arrangements in a classic showroom or selecting a casket from a book is not going to cut it anymore. Purchase the 65” television and iPad to show your families their options, invest and partner with companies that can develop unique memorial videos or purchase the sound system for your viewing room, that will create the “Rock n Roll” themed service your next family always wanted for their father. As the preferences of your families change and less are choosing to not have religious affiliated services, you must adapt. Your consumer wants the latest and greatest, and advancements in technology can provide you with that while giving you an edge over your competition.
Improve the services you provide, create a better work day for your employees and spend money on technology, you will be happy you did.
It is difficult to determine the affect a marketing campaign has on a company’s growth as there are many factors that combine to create a successful business. However, without marketing a company gets little, if any, exposure. You may offer the best services or the best prices in your community, but how would anyone know if you do not market it?
Peter Drucker, a leading expert on management theory, wrote: Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two and only two basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.
Marketing is the fuel running your business, it is not just creating costly advertisements, its public relations, creating a recognizable brand and reputation, sales, promotions and more.
Drucker continues with: Marketing encompasses the entire business. It is the whole business seen from the point of view of its final result, that is from the customer’s point of view.
How is a customer supposed to have a point of view if they do not know you exist? According to the Entrepreneur (2016), 46% of small business still do not have a website and it is reported that over 80 percent of Americans do research on the web before selecting a company or making a purchase. There are funeral homes all across the country that still do not have websites. Not marketing yourself online or having an outdated web presence can have severe consequences. The fact is, you are losing customers.
Developing a website is just one avenue of marketing your business. As the industry evolves, you must find ways to reach your customer and if you do not know how to, then hire someone who does. My business is no exception to this, whether we are investing in expert sales and marketing staff to join the team or hiring outside website, brand management companies, we are doing it and it is working.
Invest in a new website, commercial advertising or an industry social media specialist, you must spend money on marketing, and the successful businessperson is already doing so.
Running a business aside, the most successful people in life are those who are continuously learning. In business, continuing education is crucial, there are always new skills, techniques and innovations for us to adopt and the best business owners know this. As funeral professionals you are required by your state to earn a minimum amount of Continuing Education credits, so while furthering education is not a foreign concept, there are educational opportunities you are missing out on.
Conventions, Conferences and Expos, the triple threat of funeral industry education. These types of educational gatherings are packed with trainings, speeches, events, innovative products and services and professionals eager to transfer knowledge to you! As convention season approaches, I ask our funeral home’s if they will be attending the upcoming trade shows and repeatedly I hear, “You know, I have been in the industry for a long time and have never gone to a convention, they are just too expensive.”
The costs of travel, hotel, entertainment, food and exhibit passes can add up, but these are all advantageous costs. Imagine this; you are in the hotel, heading down the elevator, it stops on the eighth floor and one of the industry’s most respected business consultants gets on. You shuffle to the left and they catch your expo badge, you begin to talk and realize you are both headed to the same seminar. The elevator stops on the lobby floor and you both begin to walk to the same hotel breakfast café, where you sit and end up discussing unique ways to merchandise your showroom to increase profitability. Just being in the right place at the right time, not only did you gain a new industry friend and try a new breakfast spot but you gained invaluable knowledge to better your business. These instances occur all of the time. When hundreds to thousands of funeral professionals are gathered in one location great opportunities will continually present themselves! Regardless if you choose to attend a convention to educate you and your staff, you must spend money on education, there is always something you can learn to improve your business.
Most funeral homes and cemeteries at this point in the year have already developed a budget and plan in mind for 2017. Hopefully yours includes investments in technology, marketing and education. If it does, your business should be able to look towards a successful 2018.
By: Aaron Calloway, vice president
From ever-changing consumer preferences, a rise in supplier costs and overhead expenses surging, funeral professionals are facing substantial financial pressures, leaving little room for error. The slightest financial mistake can cause a devastating blow to your business and funeral homes across the nation are challenged with financial management decisions every day. Learning what can hurt your business is just important as learning what can help it, so here are the five financial mistakes costing your funeral home money.
1. Poor Cash Flow Management
Cash, money, dough, call it whatever you want but at the end of the day you need it to keep your funeral home running. Poor cash flow? How do you pay your employees, your suppliers, the company that repaved your parking lot? You get the point, no money equals no business. Proper cash flow management is easily the most important factor to keeping your business running smoothly, the key however is learning how to keep the money coming.
Typically when a funeral home attempts to improve cash flow they increase their service costs, lower operating costs or cutout investment opportunities. This is the worst thing you can do for your business; increasing service costs with no true value will turn customers away, lowering operating costs will most likely cost you more money in the long run and cutting investments inhibits growth.
How should a funeral home go about improving cash flow management? Free your receivables, it is money owed to your funeral home anyway. One effortless way to free receivables, outsource a funding company. If you are filing insurance assignments in-house, you are probably wasting time and resources trying to get money from challenging insurance companies. Aside from the time consuming claim paperwork, you are exposed to errors in verification benefits, leaving your funeral home and families in financial vulnerability. Insurance assignment funding companies are experts on insurance claims, and have established relationships with leading insurance companies. Typically a funding company charges a processing fee from the family’s assigned amount, making the service free to funeral homes, meaning you get the money you are owed, all at no cost to you. Most funding companies advertise they will have money in your account within 24 hours, the key is to find the funding company that provides the fastest and easiest services.
Alleviate unnecessary financial pressures, improve your cash flow and hire a funding company, your business will thank you.
2. Devaluing Your Brand
Building and establishing a recognizable brand is about increasing the value in the minds of your customers. The more value your brand holds, the more customers will be willing to use your services, remain loyal and refer their friends and family members. Take a company like Apple for example, in 2016 Forbes reported that Apple was the world’s most valuable brand. Apple has built its brand on having the most innovative products, they are not cheap and people will pay for them.
Apples CFO, Luca Maestri explains the success of the brand, “We have tremendously satisfied and loyal customers who are engaged with our services at a fast growing rate. All of this provides us with an unparalleled foundation for the future of Apple business.”
If you devalue your brand, you lose your business. Many funeral homes are devaluing their business every day and do not even realize it. Lowering costs or providing too many service options are just a couple of ways you may be devaluing your brand.
Did your competitor down the street just lower their service costs to gain more business from the bargain shopper? Let them and do not lower yours. In 2016 NFDA, reported that while consumers want a funeral director to be sensitive to their budget, price was not among the top determining factors when choosing a funeral home. Perception is reality and the perception of low cost is typically paralleled with poor service. Lowering your costs depreciates the value of your brand, after all you are providing the same resources, staff and facilities to complete each service, so why give families an altered perception?
Customers are demanding more from funeral homes today in terms of service options. Providing a truly unique service for their loved one is becoming increasingly important, leaving many funeral homes with an overwhelming amount of service options. While it is important to provide a range of services, you must find balance. Sheena Iyengar, one one of the world’s leading experts on choice notes that, our brains cannot categorize and choose with too many options, leaving us to stall and avoid choosing. Not only will this hurt your sales but it will leave consumers with a confused perception of your brand, ultimately devaluing your funeral home.
Establishing a clear brand within your community is crucial to your success and depreciating the value by lowering your costs or providing too many options with cost your funeral home.
3. Not Asking Questions
Yes, you are funeral directors not salesmen but your funeral home is a business not a play house. Every business owner must have a foundation of sales knowledge and as funeral directors you need to finesse a delivery that does not compromise the trust of your families. Over the past decade, the median cost of an adult funeral has increased 28.6 percent per NDFA, reporting a median cost of $8,505. There are many factors that can contribute to this increase, including a rise in supplier cost, however with the rise in cremation and families choosing less religious based services many funeral directors are still challenged on how to improve their bottom line.
While consumers want funeral directors to be sensitive to their budget, they also want to know what services you can provide to make their loved one’s service memorable. Yes, you have a GPL that shows all of your services, but most of your GPLS are pieces of paper stapled together in black and white with no pictures. My point is, your GPL is unappealing and families are not going to read through every sentence, the fact is most of the services you offer are going to get overlooked. You must ask questions, how will the family know you provide dove releasing ceremonies or transportation services if you do not tell them?
One key question losing funeral directors money, is not asking families paying with life insurance policies: Would you like us to fund your entire policy amount? This simple question, if answered yes, could provide a tremendous amount of financial help to your families, while potentially increasing your bottom line. Chances are, you are already charging a percentage of the policy funded for the funeral bill so why not ask the family if they want their total policy amount. If your funding company can advance complete policies in 24 hours, why not offer the service? If the family chooses not to advance their funds, at least you have not missed an opportunity to ask.
As business owners if you can properly train your staff to remain sensitive to the family’s budgets and ask pertinent service related questions, your bottom line will increase tremendously.
4. Not Investing In Marketing
As business owners, it can be challenging to know where to invest money, but if you are not investing in marketing, then you are not investing in your business. You should think of marketing as an umbrella, as it covers: sales, advertising, public relations, promotions and more. While it can be difficult to determine the effect, marketing has on your business, without it, your company will get little to no exposure. Without marketing, you will have less sales and in the wise words of Mark Cuban, “No sales, no company.” With marketing, you will increase awareness and build trust within your community. Would you trust a complete stranger? Probably not, so creating exposure for your funeral home is critical for building a trustworthy brand.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, a company doing less than 5 million a year in sales should spend at minimum of eight percent of your budget on marketing. Marketing drives revenue and if you are not investing in marketing then your business is suffering.
5. Not Outsourcing
Believing you can do it all will stunt the growth of your funeral home. Outsourcing back-office tasks allows your staff do to what is most important, serve the families in your community. Many small businesses believe that outsourcing should be reserved for large businesses but that could not be farther from the truth. Improvements in technology have made outsourcing more accessible for small businesses because it allows professionals to work from anywhere in the world. Trying to complete all aspects of your business in-house can end up costing you a lot of time and money. Time is money and the more value you can create in the time you have, the more successful your funeral home will be. Every business is different and there are times when everyday tasks do not warrant outside help, but as funeral directors there are certain times when you should outsource.
You would not hire a salesman to be your lawyer. While a salesman may have great negotiating skills and a general understanding of law, they are not going to provide you with the expertise an actual lawyer would. The same theory can be paralleled with your family’s life insurance assignments. Yes, you may have staff that are competent in funding assignments and can coordinate with insurance companies to get policies funded, but is the time they are investing worth their efforts? Insurance companies can be challenging, confusing and time consuming. Funding companies have established relationships with insurance companies and are experts in providing accurate, fast and easy assignment funding. You have probably had to call families back into your funeral home weeks after a service to complete additional insurance forms and it is probably something you do not enjoy. Insurance assignment specialists can alleviate many of the frustrations with in-house assignment funding, ultimately saving you time and money. Because funding companies typically charge off of the policy amount, funeral directors do not pay to use their services. So, no cost to the funeral home, saves you time, resources and frustration, maintains constant cash flow to your funeral home and your families will not have to worry about claim accuracy, why wouldn’t you outsource a funding company? Many funeral homes do not know services like this exist or they have worked with a funding company in the past that was not able to live up to their claims, no pun intended. The key is to find an insurance company that can provide you with the fastest and easiest services and that has great customer service!
Every funeral home is different and therefore will require different outsourcing strategies, the point is you should not run every aspect of your business in-house. Outsourcing provides so much value to your time and can have a powerful impact on your bottom line.
Part of being a business owner is taking risks and sometimes you fail. If you can better prepare for potential errors than you will always be a step ahead. As funeral directors, you may sometimes lose sight that you are businesspersons at the end of the day. Before you make a financial mistake that could cost your funeral home, analyze every aspect of your business and develop a clear plan of action.
By: Deanna Dydynski, marketing & public relations manager
A successful business truly rests on maintaining proper financial management. Without a solid financial foundation, it impossible to predict the success and future of your funeral home. For many funeral professionals, keeping your “business hat” on can be difficult when serving grieving families, but preserving consistent financial stability is crucial to the success of your business. From outsourcing professional accountants to simple cash flow management practices, these are the top five financial suggestions to keep your funeral home’s finances in order:
1. Outsource An Accountant
Have you ever looked up the definition of funeral director? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of a funeral director is: One whose profession is the management of funerals and who is usually an embalmer. As funeral professionals, this is probably insulting, after all this definition hardly describes the multitude of services you provide. You do not just manage funerals and embalm bodies, you are an event planner, a community leader, a therapeutic support system, the list goes on. The point is that you are already wearing an array of hats, so when it comes to your business finances, let a professional take on the task.
Accountants have been trusted and respected allies to small business owners everywhere for centuries. They provide an infinite amount of financial and tax knowledge that can save you money. While it can be tempting to want to cut costs by managing your own finances, hiring an accountant will be more cost effective in the long run. As you invest your lively-hood into serving families in your communities, accountants invest their lives into helping business thrive by maintaining financial records, finding deductions and keeping you penalty free. Financial management is the pillar of any successful business and should truly be left to the experts.
2. Free Your Receivables
Now that you have an expert to manage your accounts, you need to free your receivables and to maintain cash flow. It seems easy enough, you provide a service and you get paid, but in the funeral industry receiving payment can be difficult. Often, payment for funeral services is a sensitive topic, funeral directors do not want to stress grieving families any further and grieving families want funeral professionals to be sensitive to their financial situations.
Most funeral homes offer a variety of payment options to families, from cash and credit cards to payment with life insurance policies. While accepting life insurance policies as a form of payment can be extremely beneficial for both the funeral home and family, many funeral homes are decreasing their cash flow, because of their poor insurance policy payment retrieval procedures. Along with time consuming claim paperwork, challenging insurance companies and potential for inaccuracies in verification, funeral directors are leaving themselves and famlies vulnerable to errors with this method of payment. Not to mention, some insurance companies can lengthen payment retrieval for several weeks, even months, depending on the nature of death. As business owners you cannot afford to wait a significant amount of time to get paid for services you have already provided, resources you have already utilized and time your employees have invested. You have overhead costs, supplier charges and unexpected expenditures you need to pay for as well.
The best way to free receivables and benefit from accepting life insurance policies as payment, is to outsource to an industry funding company, that can provide fast and easy services. Utilizing a funding company that can eliminate claim paperwork, accelerate the insurance verification process and get you and your families money within 24 hours frees your receivables and improves your cash flow instantly.
Freeing your receivables by utilizing a funding company to complete life insurance payments provides immediate cash flow. Imagine, having money on hand to: avoid late charges on overhead costs and take advantages of trade discounts, to pay your employees, give bonuses and pay yourself! There will always be challenges when running a business but if you can eliminate financial risks you will see great reward.
3. Keep Personal Expenses Separate
While it may seem obvious to keep personal expenses separate from business expenses, many business owners suffer from financial management challenges due to combining accounts. If you own a funeral home, most likely your life revolves around the business, making it easy to combine personal finances with your business finances. Sure, you can pay back your business for a personal expenditure or the other way around but combining expenses can get complicated fast.
Aside from creating complex financial confusion, legally it is recommended to keep your business as a sole entity. What happens if your business is sued? If you are set up as sole proprietorship, all of your assets are fair game when someone decides to sue you, leaving you in financial term oil.
How should you separate personal and business expenses? Create a separate business checking account, open a business credit card, pay yourself a salary and utilize your accountant, to inform you of further opportunity to create division of your finances. Your personal future and business success depends heavily on the stability of your finances. Taking the effort to separate your finances now can help you to avoid potential financial problems in the future.
4. Measure Performance
While it is extremely beneficial to hire an accountant and/or financial adviser to manage your funeral home’s finances, it is important to stay current and engaged with all financial reporting. You cannot improve or change your business if you do not measure or track results.
Measuring the performance of your funeral home will help you to adapt to changing consumer preference, create competitive strategy and realize growth potential. Tracking the performance of your business allows you to see what is successful and unsuccessful. You would not continue to use a lamp if it was not working, right? You would replace the bulb or get a new lamp. So, why would you keep investing in extravagant burial package offerings if the families in your communities are choosing cremation services? Well, if you are not measuring performance and tracking where your business is creating its greatest revenues, then you will never know. Analyzing key business insights also allows you to track expenses and project cash potentials. There are numerous reasons to monitor and keep track of your funeral home’s performance. Whether you monitor on paper or invest in a financial management software, you must analyze your business and measure performance for financial success.
5. Keep A Reserve
While your funeral home may have a solid foundation of financial order, a business owner should always keep a cash reserve. Unexpected costs and accidents occur all of the time, it is a part of life. Imagine, your funeral home gets completely swept away in a natural disaster that your insurance plan does not cover, or an employee makes an accidental error costing your funeral home thousands in a lawsuit? You may recover eventually but your business is going to take a hit, and it is going to take a harder hit if you do not have any cash on reserve.
Cash reserves can help you pay employees and suppliers during slow times and it can help your business take on new growth opportunities. While it is unwise to keep more money on hand than is necessary, your reserve should still provide enough cushion for security. Some experts recommend having three months expense, others six months, there are a multitude of varying factors. Speaking to a financial expert can help distinguish the amount of cash reserve you should have but the first step is realizing your business needs one.
As a business owner you will encounter challenges, so developing a strong financial plan and safety net is essential to maintaining a successful business.