Looking to Become More Efficient and Profitable?

Natalie Barranco, co-founder of Prime Business Advisory Solutions, offers her top tips for finding success in today’s changing marketplace.

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Natalie Barranco has made a successful career out of helping businesses be successful.

Barranco is the co-founder of Prime Business Advisory Solutions, a firm that provides executive-type services and expertise such as financing and accounting, internal operations and processes, marketing, and strategic planning to businesses looking for guidance.

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A diverse professional background, including positions in the tourism, transportation, retail, public health, accounting, education and construction industries, enables Barranco to identify universal business needs and priorities while simultaneously grasping the specifics of each client’s particular field.

One key past job was serving as CFO/COO of Hotard Coaches, where she helped package the company for purchase by a private equity firm and then facilitated further acquisitions and mergers, with a particular focus on software conversions and process improvements during the integrative stages. Another was as auditor at the Bourgeois Bennett accounting firm, where she also performed tax work, managed staff, and provided consultations to the variety of businesses the company served.

A West Bank native, Barranco earned her MBA from Tulane University and is also a certified public accountant. She has done extensive volunteer work, and currently serves on multiple area boards, including the New Orleans Chamber and Power of Women.

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Biz New Orleans spoke recently with Barranco to get her perspective on the challenges and opportunities that currently facing businesses, and how she recommends businesses tackle them in the present economic climate.

Q: What is something new business owners often overlook when starting out?

A: We see a lot of energy and focus on the plan for the base function of the business. They have all the key positions identified, the concept is clearly defined, but there is no budget for any marketing or advertising beyond creating a website. Even if the amount is small, you need a marketing budget to get the word out and help promote yourself. You can start small, but you need a plan for how to leverage those dollars in the best way. This could include joining the local chamber of commerce. Additionally, some financing opportunities exist with organizations like JEDCO. There are tremendous amounts of resources available if you just look for them.

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Q: What is something established businesses often overlook?

A: One thing we advise almost all of our clients is to become sale-ready. This does not mean you are going to sell today or this year, but you need to have your business in order to add value to be able to sell. This encompasses policies and procedure documents that capture how your business works in the different areas of accounting, sales, marketing, operations, etc. They would explain how to do the job in that area of the business and what guidelines are being followed. It means job descriptions for your employees. Everything cannot be in your head. That will not help the value of your company, and if something changes or someone leaves the company, that institutional knowledge leaves with them.

Q: What is one current issue facing all industries?

A: Right now [losing] workforce is plaguing every business. It hurts some businesses more than others because no one knows how to do that person’s job. All the details are in their head and nothing is documented. While this is hitting every industry and all levels of employment, we see this frequently in the accounting and finance professions. There are more jobs than there are people looking to fill them. If the position is not well defined and the role is hard in any way, the new hire will just leave and find another job. New hires must be properly trained and onboarded.

Q: Are rising interest rates A potential threat to businesses?

A: Institutions are not lending like they once were. Every institution has a certain amount of funds that are available for lending, and when that pool gets smaller, and the rates are so high, their appetite for risk is very, very small. This limits the availability of funds. You think about a business that has to do regular renovations to their facility, and their scheduled time is coming up, they may not be able to do that. Like in the bus business, you can be on a schedule where you have to turn over portions of your fleet every year, that might be harder to do. Unfortunately, if some strategies weren’t put into place a while ago, it might be very challenging. We always recommend our clients  ask for a line of credit from the bank before they need it, otherwise plans may have to be changed, altered or scaled differently down the road. Look at what’s absolutely necessary to further your business going forward and what it’s going to cost you. Some things may just have to wait, or people are going to have to invest some company funds or personal funds.

Q: What is a trending topic that businesses should be considering?

A: Automation and AI programs. Most businesses regardless of size are contemplating automation in their accounting teams, HR teams, operations teams, or marketing teams.  Automation can greatly assist companies, but the downfall we see a lot is that the business process has to be efficient before you contemplate automation. If you have an overly complex or tedious process, simply implementing automation will not solve this for you. For other businesses, adding a business intelligence product for financial reporting is top on their list. CEOs need data to make decisions and they need to see metrics that involve financial data, payroll data, and data from their point-of-sale system. A business intelligence tool can provide dashboards for different types of reports that are built once and then scheduled to run and deliver data to the correct audience. This eliminates the accounting or finance department having to put reports together all month, and gives them the opportunity to analyze and take action on the information in the reports.

It is hard to have a conversation right now without speaking about artificial intelligence. More apps are being created everyday than any person can keep up with. My advice is to pick something and start using it to see how AI will be able to help your business. You need to be cautious with security and understanding if the AI program is one that will use your input to get smarter and to make others smarter, which could also potentially make your company’s trade secrets not secret anymore.

Q: In terms of getting started with AI, what are some options that offer an easier entry point with the least amount of risk?

A: There’s a lot coming out right now in the marketing space. AI can be used to create a log, do SEO, make a website. All of those offer easy entry points. The other space that I see a lot of testing is in productivity. Today I tried this tool for meetings that can take notes, write transcripts and pull out action items. We’re playing with that in our internal meetings.

Some people really struggle with a lot of email, so if that’s a pain point for you, I would say look at tools that can help manage your inbox. You have to pick something small, so you can get used to what it’s going to do for you and see how it’s going to help. If it’s easy to learn, and not that complex, it won’t take up that much of your time.

Again, there are still concerns with security, and you don’t want to be part of the generative AI that’s teaching other people your secrets. At our meetings we’re not talking about trade secrets or anything like that, so it’s a very low-risk area for us. It may not be for everybody.

Q: Could you offer some key insights for a few specific industries?

A: In the nonprofit industry, we are seeing a need for cultivating younger donors and getting them engaged now. Nonprofits cannot just rely on their development professionals to take on fundraising efforts all by themselves.Board members need to assist in promoting and cultivating new donors and steering committee members must help spread the word of the mission and purpose of their organizations to help engage more people. Business partners must also be called upon for help with promotion.

Our tourism and hospitality industries are back in business, but workforce issues continue to be a challenge. These industries are continuing to focus on employee retention and talent management practices. The more creative businesses can be in providing benefits that speak to their specific employee culture, the more successful these retention efforts are.

For family-owned businesses, we are often seeing the current generation of owners starting to think about retirement, but the next generation is still too young to know what they want to do. This can mean the current ownership is trying to decide if they are going to sell the business or try to keep it, but maybe find someone else to operate as the CEO or day-to-day manager in order to give the next generation a little more time to decide. If the owner can find someone to run day-to-day — an in-house person or a consultant — and transition this responsibility over, this will tremendously help either path, whether that ends up being to sell the business or pass it down.

Q: What are some current or upcoming opportunities businesses should be aware of or considering?

A: Sometimes when you can’t build a new location, or scale to another market, you can use the time to really look at your organization and get yourself ready to be able to do that. We call it sale-ready, but it could be scale-ready, it could be just growth-ready. Regardless of what you call it, it’s a great opportunity to make sure that your processes can support that next thing you want to do. If you want to build another location, or be in another city, all that back-office support has to work for that new location. I think that’s where businesses can consider some automation tools, like accounting software or business intelligence reports. Both do not always take a significant investment, which means in a time like this, I like to work with folks to make their operations as efficient and automated as they can be.

A lot of time we find that processes need to be improved in order to fit the automation. When there is an ability to put the investment in, you can build a turnkey operation and go do those things you want to do. Maybe you have also been able to add a little more profit to your bottom line because you got information faster, or with the right mix of indicators, which means you can be nimble and make quick decisions.

Q: What is the single most important piece of advice you could give to any business?

A: That’s a hard question because I always want to tell them about 12 things! I feel like a bit of a broken record, but we treat every business like they can benefit from practicing and operating with that sale-readiness in mind. If you have everything mapped out and you’re operating efficiently, you can bring an outsider in to be that CEO or that COO. This increases the value of your business overall to a potential outsider but also just in general because the business is not completely dependent on the person that’s been running it. That’s where a legacy gets built — when someone has really put their mark on a business to be in that position. That’s where we see companies that never thought they would sell, but were able to follow this process and get a price for their business that they didn’t think was possible. A business is much more valuable when you have a track record of someone else being able to sustain that profitability, and, in some case, even grow it.

 

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