September/October is a particularly busy time for networking and events.
Many organizations run on a school year calendar, and there are often two or
three events to choose from on any given day.  As anyone who is running their own business knows, it is important to get out there and be very active at these kind of events - and that is what I strive to do.

September/October is also the season for high school field hockey - and that means I need to make choices.

My daughter is a senior this year and is playing on the varsity team. I made a commitment to myself to attend every game this season - that means I often miss events I really feel I should be attending but they conflict with the games.  My choices were validated when an event came up that I really wanted to attend - a potential client was speaking and I felt that I should be there. I thought to myself, perhaps I need to miss this one game and go to the event instead. But I held true to my commitment, and decided to miss the event and instead go to the field hockey game even though I felt a little guilty. 

It ended up being the best field hockey experience I think we have had to date. Not because they won or because it was a shutout, but because they are winning together and they are working as a team - and that is an amazing thing to witness. It was a very special night. The parents, the senior parents in particular, are sensing that we are near the end of this journey with our daughters and we are appreciating every one of these wonderful moments. I realized if I had gone to the event instead, I would have missed this entire experience and this wonderful evening in my daughter's life. 

Business is important. Family is more important. Our children grow up quicker than we think possible, and their time with us is fleeting. That game reminded me why I started my own business in the first place. I want to be there at 3 o'clock in the afternoon when that game starts. I might need to work late into the evening or get up at the crack of dawn to get something finished, but that is the choice that I make.

Whatever commitment you have made to yourself, in your personal or professional life, be sure that you hold yourself to it.  Don't compromise - make your choices and stick to them no matter what your inner critic or outside voices may be telling you.  To thine own self be true.

Debbie Millin is President of UpperLevel Solutions - a Boston-based firm offering  part-time and interim Chief Operating Officer services, operational assessments as a health check or as part of due diligence, and executive project leadership.

www.upperlevelsolutions.com


 
 
Fall means back to school and apple picking - and for businesses, it means the start of your budget planning season.  Here are 6 steps to build best practices in your strategic and tactical planning for 2014.

1. Start in September
Budget planning is a long process that involves strategic and tactical goals as well as budget calculations - leave yourself enough time to work through all of it with your management team and get your company on solid footing heading into the new year.  The time to start is right now.

2. Business Goals THEN Budget
The first step to budget planning has nothing to do with spreadsheets and dollars.  You need to start with a basic question: What do you want to accomplish as a company next year?  This is the time to set your goals because they will drive everything else in this process. September should be the time you have a senior management offsite session to discuss this. It is important it be offsite and away from the day to day.  If you are a large company that may mean carving out a couple of days at a hotel or conference center; if you are an individual owner it may mean sitting on your porch with a notebook.  The important thing is to get out of your regular work environment and do some big picture thinking.

Your job in this session is establishing your corporate goals for the coming year. This will drive the remaining departments as they plan their goals and subsequently the budgets with the resources to support those goals. 

     Corporate <--> Department <--> Managers <--> Employees 

Notice those arrow point both ways...goals at all levels need to feed into each other and ultimately support corporate goals.

3. Involve the Whole Team
Senior management members sometimes like to think they know everything, or maybe think they are supposed to know everything. Well I am sorry to be the one to break it to you, but you don't - and that's OK. Line managers and front line employees can identify impacts on business processes and systems better than you can because they work in the details every day. Use their knowledge and input in your budget planning process - it makes for a better budget, and a culture where everyone feels valued and aligned with the company's goals.

4. List Your Projects
One of the best things we did as a senior management team was move to a project based budget. For organizations with multiple inter-related departments, listing out all the projects you are planning on for the coming year gets everyone on the same page. For smaller companies, it's good to list out your projects to make sure your budgets support your strategic and tactical plans.


5. Align Department Budgets
Have every department review every project, even if they think it doesn't impact them. Challenge them to think it through: If there's a new HR software planned for next year, will that require more storage or bandwidth that IT needs to plan for? If there's a new client project that requires an onsite project manager, do you need to budget for relocation of an existing employee or engage a  placement agency to find a new hire in that city? Thinking through the logistics of the projects puts you in a better position to document the costs, and have a more accurate budget.

For corporate projects that impact multiple departments, be sure you don't have duplicate charges because both departments accounted for it, or have missed something because you thought another department was budgeting for that - assume nothing.  Every department head should look at all individual department specific items as well - you may find efficiencies by combining efforts or one initiative may eliminate the need for another. Use this time to plan and do some cross referencing to save yourself time and money.

6. Get It Done By Thanksgiving
The major work for budget planning should be done before Thanksgiving break. Not only will you start to lose people to holiday vacations, you also need to prioritize your efforts and take action at the end of 2013 to get ready for 2014. Do you have new hires scheduled for January to support a new project?  You need to start interviewing for those jobs in late November/early December to have someone in place.


Debbie Millin is President of UpperLevel Solutions - a Boston-based firm offering  part-time and interim Chief Operating Officer services, operational assessments as a health check or as part of due diligence, and executive project leadership.

www.upperlevelsolutions.com


 
 
We all take a step back in the summer - students, parents, businesses - and rightfully so.  We go through our lives at an increasingly rapid pace, and we all need to take a break to enjoy a trip to the beach, a beautiful sunset, or a day of absolutely nothing on our schedules. 

Whether you are a student or not, there is a sort of 'restart' button that comes in September.  We get ourselves reorganized and refocused and head into the fall with a renewed sense of purpose.  Maybe you need to organize your desk or office and go through all those papers that have piled up throughout the summer, or enter all the receipts that you shoved into a drawer on your way out the door on a summer afternoon.  Maybe you need to pick up a project that has fallen victim to other more pressing issues, or finally send out that email campaign you have put off.

You have just over one quarter left in your year.  What were the goals you set for yourself in January, and how close are you to meeting them?  How can you make adjustments to make sure you get there?

What are you doing this September to refocus?

Debbie Millin is President of UpperLevel Solutions - a Boston-based firm offering  part-time and interim Chief Operating Officer services, operational assessments as a health check or as part of due diligence, and executive project leadership.

www.upperlevelsolutions.com
 
 
Our final reprint for the summer is a blog written for The Successful Transition Planning Institute on preparing your company for a sale.  Enjoy your last days of summer!

Preparing the operations of your business to maximize your profit in a
sale
.


I am honored to be a guest blogger this week for the Successful Transition Planning Institute. Excerpt of the blog is below, or click here for the full story.

Regardless  of what ‘operations’ means in your company, there are things you 
can do to get your operational house in order before you bring in a formal
transaction team that will maximize the value of your company and get you
the highest possible price in a sale.

There are some operational documents that every M&A professional will require.  If you have most of that completed when they walk in your door, it will save you money and time during the critical due diligence phase, and it puts forth a great first impression as a company that is organized and efficient.  There are also issues that arise during due diligence that require immediate
attention and can be quite time consuming – the more you can do in advance,
the more time your team will have to address those urgent items as they
arise.

As a general rule, you
should leave yourself 6 months to review your major processes and either update existing documentation or create documentation where none exists.  Regardless of your company’s size, you can create simple  and straightforward documentation for each of these items – never create 10 pages when 1 page will do the job.

FULL STORY

Debbie Millin is the President of UpperLevel Solutions - a Boston-based firm offering part-time and interim Chief Operating Officer services, operational assessments and executive project leadership.

www.upperlevelsolutions.com


 
 
We are posting some of our most popular blog entries through the month of August.  This one got a lot of great feedback - probably because we've all had this experience at some point in our lives.  Enjoy.

I do lots of research before I go on a vacation, mostly to find things that are off the beaten path - I don't like to go where all the tourists go. On a trip to Sedona several years ago with my husband, two children and my sister-in-law Nanci, I planned for us to drive up to the local airport on top of a plateau to watch the sunset. It was said to be breath-taking. I was excited to say the least.

We were running a little late at dinner, and I was anxious to get to the sunset. As
we were driving up the road, cars were driving down. We had missed it - it
was over. We got to the top looking out over Sedona, with no sunset, and I
was incredibly disappointed. It was then that Nanci told us to turn around and look behind us....the moon was rising over a mountain. It was spectacular. It was not at all what we had planned - it was better.

Sometimes in our work, in our careers, in our lives, things don't always work out as we plan. A project doesn't get completed on time. A prospective client falls through. A job you really want ends going to someone else. Yet somehow it always seems that we end up right where we are supposed to be. It always brings you to another place, and though you may be disappointed at first, sometimes all it takes is a slight change in your position - turn around, and the thing that had been behind you becomes an even better path forward.

I have a picture of Nanci and my kids with the moon rising over the mountains hanging on my wall. And even though my son's eyes are closed, that picture was one of her favorites - it is one of mine too - because it captured that amazing moment. We lost Nanci to cancer a year and a half ago, and of the many, many lessons she taught me, this is one of the most meaningful. 

Don't dwell on the fact that you missed your sunset, or you will miss the opportunity to see you are right where you are supposed to be. Turn around - find your moonrise.

Debbie Millin is President of UpperLevel Solutions - a  Boston-based firm offering  part-time and interim Chief Operating Officer services, operational assessments as a health check or as part of due diligence,
and executive project leadership.

www.upperlevelsolutions.com
 
 
As we take a little time off this summer, we are reprinting some of our most popular blog posts of the past year....this was a crowd favorite!

With an increasing number of startups and entrepreneurs, there is an
influx of  young companies with amazing products and services...but they
are being run by people who often have little-to-no experience in operations, marketing, HR, legal and management issues. 

I have attended several 
Mass Innovation Nights - most recently I was featured in their Expert's Corner at #MIN49 -  and lots of other events in and around Boston focused on startups, rapidly growing companies, and business consulting.  There are some definite trends I have observed first-hand, including a growing number of entrepreneurs and corporate executives that have decided to leave 'corporate' behind. 

The Entrepreneurs
They start their company on a shoestring budget, oftentimes working long nights and weekends on their dream after getting home from their day job. For those that start to get some success, founders often find themselves in need of guidance in a variety of areas where they have no experience. They also find themselves in a position of being unable to hire senior level people on a full-time basis due to budget constraints. They need help in different areas of the business at different phases of the company's growth.

The Part-Time Executives
These are senior executives who have worked their way up the ladder in the corporate world and enjoyed years of success. They get to a point in their career when they want to do something different and to have more control of their work and their time, and either go into a consulting firm or start their own consulting business. These are HIGHLY experienced executives in a variety of disciplines: finance, legal, operations, marketing - you name it.  

These two groups are a perfect match.

Entrepreneurs need guidance and don't have a lot of money to spend.  Part-time executives have years of real-life experience they want to share with growing companies, and because of that experience are able to get a lot accomplished in a small amount of time. Utilizing part-time executives can get the entrepreneurs experience they couldn't otherwise afford, avoids the need for full-time staff, and gives them flexibility to bring in specialists from different disciplines as the needs of the company change. 

A recent article in
The Conference Board Review discusses a list called "The Power Part-Time 50" published by Timewise Jobs in the UK.  It demonstrates the growing phenomenon of highly accomplished executives working in
powerful part-time roles.  An article in Forbes entitled
Who's Starting America's New Businesses? And Why?  not only shares the staggering statistics of new businesses being started each month in the US, but also stresses the fact that many of these entrepreneurs are young (30% are between the ages of 20 and 34) and in need of mentorship to be successful. 

This is the new landscape. The combination of entrepreneurs and part-time executives is incredibly powerful, and a trend that continues to be very much
on the rise.


Debbie Millin is President of UpperLevel Solutions - a Boston-based firm offering  part-time and interim Chief Operating Officer services, operational assessments as a health check or as part of due diligence, and executive project leadership.

www.upperlevelsolutions.com
 
 
I am from Boston - that means I was raised to love sports and Boston teams. At our house, it is all about hockey and the Boston Bruins. A Stanley Cup Final with Boston and Chicago is pretty much a hockey fan's dream (unless you're from Pittsburgh...but I digress). 

I can relate almost anything to hockey, but here are a few lessons that businesses can take from the Bruins' recent playoff run:

Put pucks on the net
You aren't going to score if you don't shoot, and you aren't going to get business if you don't go after it.  Have you been networking as much as you should?  Have you been sending out proposals? You may have some misses, but the more shots you take, the better your chances of getting more business and achieving your goals. 

Keep your head up
First, to look for opportunities on the ice. The original plan for your business may need to be adjusted, and by keeping your head up and your eyes open, you'll be in a better position to see opportunities as they arise.  Second, to avoid getting checked into the boards.  Keep an eye on your competition so you aren't caught by surprise.

You don't need a team of superstars
Pittsburgh has arguably some of the best NHL players on their team right now...and yet, we swept them in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bruins have a team of great players with diverse skills and an environment where they are all supportive of each other's roles and are all focused on one goal. That is pretty powerful. You don't need a roster of Ivy League graduates who have careers in Fortune 100 companies - you need a team of hard workers with the right mix of skills focused on making your business successful. As a leader in your organization, you should be looking to get the right people in the right positions, and make sure they all understand what they're working towards.

Never give up
I will admit, I turned off Game 7 against Toronto in the first round of the NHL playoffs for a while. The Bruins were down by 3 goals in the final period of the game - but they never gave up, and they were able to send the game to overtime and win it. Regardless of your position in your company, you have probably had days where you want to give up. DON'T. Amazing things can happen when you want something badly enough.



Debbie Millin is President of UpperLevel Solutions - a Boston-based firm offering  part-time and interim Chief Operating Officer services, operational assessments as a health check or as part of due diligence, 
and executive project leadership.

www.upperlevelsolutions.com

 
 
I do lots of research before I go on a vacation, mostly to find things that are off the beaten path - I don't like to go where all the tourists go. On a trip to Sedona several years ago with my husband, two children and my sister-in-law Nanci, I planned for us to drive up to the local airport on top of a plateau to watch the sunset. It was said to be breath-taking. I was excited to say the least.

We were running a little late at dinner, and I was anxious to get to the sunset. As we were driving up the road, cars were driving down. We had missed it - it was over. We got to the top looking out over Sedona, with no sunset, and I was incredibly disappointed. It was then that Nanci told us to turn around and look behind us....the moon was rising over a mountain. It was spectacular. It was not at all what we had planned - it was better.

Sometimes in our work, in our careers, in our lives, things don't always work out as we plan. A project doesn't get completed on time. A prospective client falls through. A job you really want ends going to someone else. Yet somehow it always seems that we end up right where we are supposed to be. It always brings you to another place, and though you may be disappointed at first, sometimes all it takes is a slight change in your position - turn around, and the thing that had been behind you becomes an even better path forward.

I have a picture of Nanci and my kids with the moon rising over the mountains hanging on my wall. And even though my son's eyes are closed, that picture was one of her favorites - it is one of mine too - because it captured that amazing moment. We lost Nanci to cancer a year and a half ago, and of the many, many lessons she taught me, this is one of the most meaningful. 

Don't dwell on the fact that you missed your sunset, or you will miss the opportunity to see you are right where you are supposed to be. Turn around - find your moonrise.

Debbie Millin is President of UpperLevel Solutions - a  Boston-based firm offering  part-time and interim Chief Operating Officer services, operational assessments as a health check or as part of due diligence,
and executive project leadership.

www.upperlevelsolutions.com
 
 
Our last blog post was about the rise of part-time executives and how they can be a fantastic and affordable resource for startups and entrepreneurs. The other end of that spectrum is how part-time executives can help the ever-growing number of baby boomers who are ready to exit their business.

There are a staggering number of business owners now preparing for retirement and a sale of their company. Exit planning specialists to support this growing market are also on the rise, and they generally recommend the following approach: establish a team of experts to look at different aspects of the business and the transaction. You don't want an accountant doing your legal work, and you don't want a lawyer running your operations. You want specialists in each area to tap their expertise and get you the most value for your business, coming in just when you need them for short-term support - another perfect synergy with part-time executives.

According to Transfer2020.org, the conservative number of boomer-owned businesses that will be available for sale (with owners 57 years old and older right now) in the next five to ten years will be between 1.3 million and 2 million firms. All of those firms need succession planning, operational support, and transaction specialists as they prepare to exit. 

In our recent blog, Getting Your House In Order for the Successful Transition  Planning Institute, we outlined the benefit of doing some operational organization before you formally enter the due diligence phase. Investing a small of amount of money and time in the 6 month period before you begin your transaction can lead to better operational efficiencies, a higher value for your business, and a smoother transition for the company and the owner.

The exiting business owner gets the highest possible value for their company, and is actually a perfect candidate to become a part-time executive themselves. A second career to help the next generation of business owners achieve their own success.

Debbie Millin is President of UpperLevel Solutions - a Boston-based firm offering  part-time and interim Chief Operating Officer services, operational assessments as a health check or as part of due diligence,
and executive project leadership.

www.upperlevelsolutions.com







 
 
With an increasing number of startups and entrepreneurs, there is an influx of  young companies with amazing products and services...but they are being run by people who often have little-to-no experience in operations, marketing, HR, legal and management issues.

I have attended several Mass Innovation Nights - most recently I was featured in their Expert's Corner at #MIN49 -  and lots of other events in and around Boston focused on startups, rapidly growing companies, and business consulting.  There are some definite trends I have observed first-hand, including a growing number of entrepreneurs and corporate executives that have decided to leave 'corporate' behind. 

The Entrepreneurs
They start their company on a shoestring budget, oftentimes working long nights and weekends on their dream after getting home from their day job. For those that start to get some success, founders often find themselves in need of guidance in a variety of areas where they have no experience. They also find themselves in a position of being unable to hire senior level people on a full-time basis due to budget constraints. They need help in different areas of the business at different phases of the company's growth.

The Part-Time Executives
These are senior executives who have worked their way up the ladder in the corporate world and enjoyed years of success. They get to a point in their career when they want to do something different and to have more control of their work and their time, and either go into a consulting firm or start their own consulting business. These are HIGHLY experienced executives in a variety of disciplines: finance, legal, operations, marketing - you name it. 

These two groups are a perfect match.

Entrepreneurs need guidance and don't have a lot of money to spend.  Part-time executives have years of real-life experience they want to share with growing companies, and because of that experience are able to get a lot accomplished in a small amount of time. Utilizing part-time executives can get the entrepreneurs experience they couldn't otherwise afford, avoids the need for full-time staff, and gives them flexibility to bring in specialists from different disciplines as the needs of the company change. 

A recent article in The Conference Board Review discusses a list called "The Power Part-Time 50" published by Timewise Jobs in the UK.  It demostrates the growing phenomenon of highly accomplished executives working in powerful part-time roles.  An article in Forbes entitled Who's Starting America's New Businesses? And Why? not only shares the staggering statistics of new businesses being started each month in the US, but also stresses the fact that many of these entrepreneurs are young (30% are between the ages of 20 and 34) and in need of mentorship to be successful. 

This is the new landscape. The combination of entrepreneurs and part-time executives is incredibly powerful, and a trend that continues to be very much on the rise.

Debbie Millin is President of UpperLevel Solutions - a Boston-based firm offering  part-time and interim Chief Operating Officer services, operational assessments as a health check or as part of due diligence, and executive project leadership.

www.upperlevelsolutions.com