Writing

Why and how to write an article?

The structure of an article follows a rather strict pattern and differs from a sales pitch, if only because they do not write from the same starting point.

To write a good article, you always must ask yourself: what added value do I offer the reader? As a result, the focus is always problem-solving. First and foremost, is the reader aware of the problem or of the potential challenge? Then: what can a solution offer? With some searching, you can find general information on the web for free. The added value therefore lies in the personalisation of the solution for the specific case.

Think outside the box

For example, consider all the models for contracts and letters that you can find online for free. They usually meet the basic needs, but often they do not correspond 100% with what you just need. Some then use the information found and do their own thing with it. They are satisfied because most of it has already been prepared for them. If one of them later needs a different model, chances are real he will end up on the same site again. After a while, he will actively look up this site among the Google results to find a custom answer. He now considers the author of the articles on this site as an expert. The site becomes his reference and he will recommend it to acquaintances and colleagues who are also looking for similar solutions. The odds are minimal that this person will ever buy anything from you and that’s okay. After all, the recommendation within his network contributes to your legitimacy that sooner or later prompts someone, who may have less self-confidence or simply does not want to spend the time on it, to appeal to you.

A sales pitch is quickly recognized and therefore often simply ignored and then the reader continues to search for solid and non-binding information. Nothing is more frustrating than to discover during an initial information search that the answer to your question is ultimately hidden behind your credit card.

A solid article respects the following structure:

What is the situation?

What is the reason for writing this article? New regulations? New technology? This is the invitation to continue reading. The reader should immediately see “this is what I was looking for!”

What are the risks / consequences?

The author outlines the whole gradation from “the unpleasant consequences” to “the doom scenario”. This ensures that the reader is motivated to effectively look further into the solution and then act. To make it more concrete and to increase the ability to identify, the situation is sketched visually. The reader then says to himself, “This is indeed what I encounter,” confirming to him that he is not losing his time. The hunger for a solution is at its highest.

The a-minima standard solution

Now it is time to reassure the reader: it is not that bad either. Now is the time to introduce the “duct tape” solution. This solution will get you started, but it often has no structural impact. However, it can help enough in certain cases. The article on the time clock judgment states that a registration sheet is sufficient to register the hours worked. Is that a feasible solution in a slightly larger structure? Most likely not, but for someone who just has 1 employee who works in the office every day, that is more than enough for 90% of the cases.

The actual added value solution

This is where the expert comes to the fore: this is the real solution that drastically gives the situation a positive turn. This solution will satisfy 80% of the readers. They then have to tinker with it to adapt it completely to their structure and wishes. The reader recognizes the added value offered: a workable answer to their question that they can use in concrete terms. Thus, the author becomes the expert who provides them with an answer to something they were looking for in a matter of minutes. They owe you psychologically.

The key

Finally, you appeal to the reader’s commitment: “Share if this helped you out”. Then just let them know that the door is open: if he needs more specific guidance, you are always available. This ensures that the communication line remains open to potentially interested customers, without obligation.

Article

Your blog and its articles will drive traffic to your site and create brand awareness. This simply grows faster when people do not have to pay for it.

As a conclusion, we would advise you to keep it short. An article that is too long will not be read to the end. Two to three A4 pages is more than enough. The average ability to concentrate online is getting shorter and shorter. Being sparingly with details and nuances helps to keep it concise. If the reader wishes, he can always ask for it. And if such a question comes up often, it could be a reason to publish an additional article to which they are referred for more information on the specific topic.

Automation: don’t fight it, be part of it!

We all hear people worrying about automation, how it’s going to take jobs away, how AI will be a danger for a lot of industries. I agree, automation will change things. But I disagree with the premise that it should be fought. I work by, is simple: if it’s getting repetitive, it’s boring and a computer should be able to do that for me.

In the past couple of years, I developed a pattern of optimising and automating tasks, which led to me having less work to do. Sometimes even making sure that my position could disappear. Did I mind? Not at all. Because I was part of the process, part of the solution. Automation is something you need to be active in. In a position where automation is possible, you are the person who knows how things work, the flow of data or processes, what key points need attention and so on. You are best suited to help develop a tool that makes your job easier, or even obsolete. You hold the key to a successful automation. You may be thinking that you are endangering your source of income, but you actually have the opportunity to become an expert.

workdesk

I have been working in companies where change wasn’t part of the DNA. When I put a lot of time in building an Excel file with complicated formulas that tried to remove as much manual work as possible, my supervisor would tell me to stop doing that and make it easier for myself by just doing the input and doing the calculations line per line. . I’d nod and still do it (I might be a little stubborn). It would take me 4 hours to build up that file, while before it took 2 to prepare. Except I knew that same question would come up again. and when the next month I had to prepare a similar report, 5 minutes later I could deliver it, because I only needed to adapt the parameters. Suddenly the extra time I put in the previous month was already more than compensated.

I ended up doing this for a lot of reports working with Access and Excel, helping colleagues out with their tasks by showing them how to use the tools they had. A couple of months later, a job that used to be more than a full-time position, turned into something that took less than 30 minutes a day, and could easily be spread out between my colleagues. and my contract was terminated because the position was no longer needed. You could argue that by my actions I made myself useless, and that’s exactly what made me interesting for my next positions. . I was someone who could help companies safe money by rethinking the way they worked. . It is one of the aspects that make me an asset. Do I regret it? Not at all! ! It gives me the opportunity to tackle my job in a way that is more challenging and entertaining, than having to be a mindless robot doing input.

human and robot hand

This experience can be transposed to a lot of people, in different roles. To the people who have that kind of jobs: try to think about how you can make your life easier, sometimes it gives you more time and makes your life easier, sometimes it allows you to get a new perspective on your job. To the people managing that kind of jobs: don’t try to prevent people from thinking like that, you should encourage it. Try helping people by training them in using those tools, invite them to question why things are done a certain way (and answering “because we always did it this way” is not a valid answer). But most of all: accept that things are bound to be more and more automated so ask yourself: would you rather wait for the moment that you are obsolete, or would you prefer being one of the people who get to enable these changes elsewhere?

Be an actor, not a victim!

How to apply Taylorism to problem solving

Picture this example: a client needs to get from a sole proprietorship to a corporation in order to comply with the obligations to open a branch. He is thinking about buying a company from a business partner who works in a connected field, where there is still an argument about the value of said company and whether he’s selling his shares or his activity. At the same time, there is a question about the organisation of all the activities and companies within each other. For my client: it was one big problem where he couldn’t see a solution to fix it.

The solution lies in an old principle from the 18th century: Taylorism.

1. Identify the different sub-problems

For my client (and lots of other people), there is one huge problem. Instead, there are actually four problems:

  • The need for a corporation for the new activity
  • Are they going to buy the shares or found a corporation and buy the activity?
  • At what value to buy the company and what negotiation strategy to apply How to organise the structure between several companies?
  • How to organise the structure between several companies?

There are two different approaches that work into identifying the sub-problems, are either to see what the different solutions we are looking for are, either to try and divide it in so many parts possible that still make sense.

2. See if there is a predefined order

Sometimes, you need to solve a sub-problem before you can start another one. This kind of problems are the ones that make it feel even more that a problem is too complex. In this example, the structure comes in last, as first we need to solve the problems that relate to the elements that will make up the structure.

You can compare this with a construction work: first you need to lay the foundations before you can put the roof on the building. Figuring out the order is important, since you might have to rework some things or you might get stuck because some parts are missing.

3. Prioritise

Sometimes, an order isn’t obvious or is irrelevant for a couple of sub-problems. The point here is to set priorities.

4. Solve the different problems

And there you are: you have a set of manageable problems to solve. You’ll notice you won’t feel as overwhelmed anymore and you won’t be demotivated any longer.
Don’t forget however: it’s not because you have a certain order pre-set, that you can’t deviate from it. At times, you get in a flow that fits something better, or certain things change that make you rethink certain steps.

Things rapidly change, and so do situations. Be flexible enough to change with your environment as well. I can’t repeat this enough though: a lot of principles in the business world, like this one, have applications in different fields, but can also be applied outside of the business world. Don’t be ashamed to apply the rational processes you have as a professional in your decision making or problem solving in your private life. You’ll see, it makes life easier!

Do you have other tricks you use? Share away in the comment section!


Rough guideline to start controlling and cost accounting

cost calculation

In simple business situations life is easy for cost calculation. There is a simple process, following a single axis. Think of a baker for example. He knows how much of each ingredient he needs to prepare his bread, knows the price, and knows how much rent he must pay per month. But most businesses are not that straightforward. Here is a quick guide to how to properly start costing and controlling in a company.

First thing you need to know: what is the process flow in the company? What is required to produce your end product, what are the steps it has to go through, when does every component have to get in, how is production planned, etc. You need to be able to put into what we will call a “resource flow chart” every single step on the road from raw material and human labour to collecting payments. You get this done? Great, you can go to the next step.

analyse

Now starts the part where you get to understand your data flow. Here you are to go over your resource flow chart again but looking at it from a data entry perspective. Who needs what document, at what time, who fills it in, how and where is the data stored, who has to validate, etc.? You should end up with a “data flow chart” that creates a layer above the resource flow chart, giving you a perfect and complete view of your activity from a data point of view. This step is critical because it is what will help you find the numbers you need to make your calculations and identify bottlenecks and issues.

The important aspect of these two first steps doesn’t only lay in being able to find who you need to ask questions when something doesn’t fit, but it is what will give you a true understanding of the company’s functioning at its core. Without this understanding, you won’t be able to put the essential relations between the numbers in accounting and what causes these costs, therefore making it impossible to correctly analyse where you can try to cut costs.

Once these two steps have been done, things get easy. You can associate costs (or the percentage of them that you found statistically) to whatever you want to calculate its cost from, and you can go into calculating ratios and net margins.

Time is precious, maybe, but it is worth investing in the process. Would you rather have your car fixed with the right piece or with duct tape? If you choose for the right piece, you might grunt about having to pay more, but you accept it because you want your car to work and be safe. Do the same with your time.

What’s ERP software?

Earlier this week I was mentioning some things to someone I thought could be interesting to implement in the whole ERP software sphere (if you want to know more about them, just hire me). There was this question: what’s ERP anyway? Then I realised it was again one of those fancy fashionable words that we are used to get sent our way, but where little know what they actually mean.

ERP stands for Enterprise Resource Planning. Not that useful actually. I felt like a doctor who just explained the meaning of a medical acronym, but where the patient looks back at him wondering if he is supposed to have understood anything more. So I figured after explaining it, that I could just as well write something about it and see if I could enlighten more people with it.

There are different ways to look at it, but I like to see it as a “simple” translation of a company into a software. Let’s work with an example: a tomato producer who sells tomatoes on the market. This type of sale is not just about selling a tomato, but has implications and ramifications that can get pretty complex, and that is what an ERP program is supposed to help with: to keep all these things together and to exploit the links between different aspects of the company.

Selling a tomato

So, you are a farmer that just sold a tomato. You give the tomato to the customer, he gives you money in return. Looking at the bigger picture of a company, this is more than just a sale. First you needed the land to be able to produce tomatoes. You purchased it, which creates a long term asset. To buy this land, you needed a loan, which would create liability to the bank. Once you had this, you needed to buy seeds and equipment, you had your overhead costs, etc. Of course, you didn’t just produce one tomato, you grew a few more of them and to pick them all, you needed to hire people to help you. Afterwards you reached the market where you sold the tomatoes and saw your stock reducing, but this by filling your cash reserve. A disadvantage to this is that you have to pay taxes on your sales, file your income statements and profits, and so on. Are you starting to have a headache yet? Let’s just have a look at all that was behind selling this one tomato:

  • Managing fixed assets (your land)
  • Budget planning (your loan)
  • Equipment and its maintenance
  • Purchasing
  • Inventory
  • Overhead costs
  • Human resources
  • Marketing
  • Tax
  • Accounting
  • Treasury

But you could easily extend this with things such as product management etc.

More than just tomatoes

Of course, realistically speaking you’re not going to sell only one tomato. Hopefully, and you’re also going to sell other products too. When you see all the topics tackled by this tomato, you can imagine it gets trickier when you do this with a mix of products and customers. You need to go into production planning, managing your customers, check your costs,… In short, you need to have a global look of all the aspects of the company cycles.

That is exactly the point of an ERP software. It is going to take, for example, this sale and not just put it into accounting but also link it with a marketing module where you can track your best customers, look at what your best selling products are, linking it with your cost accounting where you can see if selling tomatoes are profitable for you or not. It will also be linking it with your asset management, seeing how intense you are using your land, calculating several possible ratios and indicators. And so the list continues.

Why they are useful

The point is that ERP software is there to help keeping the bigger picture in perspective on a company, seeing the link between different aspects and making things more effective. You used to have marketing people who would have their software, tracking sales etc, while accounting had their software where they booked them. Production would have their own too, and so on. And there you see quickly how there is a lot of redundancy and loss of efficiency. Instead of putting in the same data in different programs, repeating the same action, an ERP software will make sure that you only need to do it once. This way when someone adds an operation in one module, the data will automatically be used to complete the one of other modules.

Some people still consider these programs more as a combination or merger of several ones. I believe this is a very restrictive and out-dated view, not only on the software, but also on companies. A company is not just the sum of several department, it is a combination of them where they all need each other. Blame it on my more holistic and generalist approach on things, but the way I see it, ERP programs are just a complete set of modules meant to help companies not overlook certain aspects by having a general overview.

I hope I helped some more people understand ERP software a bit more.

About cost calculation

I”m someone who loves mathematics: it’s perfect since there is no such thing as maybe, approximation is only decided, and it is universal. Being able to play with numbers has always drawn me to cost calculation. You set up a model, you try to be as accurate as possible and you figure out what accounting is not clearly telling. And yet I am often frustrated by it.

Maybe my favourite cost calculation system is the ABC-method, or Activity Based Cost Method. You try to figure out which are the cost drivers for the different generators, this to be able to best match consumption by the different business units or products. Then you make a matrix in order to try and figure out which are the cost drivers that are common between different cost generators so you can get fewer cost drivers to work with. After that, it’s just a matter of knowing how much is used by each centre.

Here is what bothers me: why do we work with this matrix? I understand that when we are to calculate on a piece of paper at school or for an exam, it is faster and easier, but we are in a world where we talk about data mining, about “big data”, where we have almost limitless storage capacity and huge calculation capacity and software that are more and more sophisticated and can be customised at wish. So why do we still approximate?

I would assume that we would have a more accurate way of evaluating costs that would bypass the classic reservations that are issued on the traditional methods where we always point out that there is a margin of error, with the example of business units being profitable with one method, and in deficit with another.

The concern that used to be true, where we wanted to be able to have a quick approximation of what to bill customers based on a simple cost analysis is outdated. It is not much of a stretch to add a module in an ERP program to have a quick estimate being given based on the data. When I talked about it earlier, I heard the argument that you would need good and quality data to be able to get this result, but isn’t that already the case in the first place with the classic methods?

Processes are getting more and more complicated, with value chains that combine a lot of different activities, resources and sometimes even industries, making a simplistic calculation with just a handful of indicators a dangerous gamble. It might be time to revisit the way cost controlling is being taught: of course, we need to know the basics, the traditional methods can still apply for small entities, but we might need to consider learning how to use the data that we collect and end up not knowing what to do with.

I hope I can get a discussion starting here, one that might change the point of view of some who might not necessarily be aware that there are ways to do it differently. Let’s not forget, disruptive innovation is the word of the day.

failing man

Why failing is important and why it isn’t really failing

I remember something one of my teachers taught us in one of the first International Entrepreneurship courses in Worms: the difference of perception between Germans and Americans on failure. He told us that while failing in the business world in Germany was something really bad for your profile, especially when looking for funding of a new venture that in the US, it was the complete opposite: nobody would trust someone starting a new venture who never ever failed anything before.

The logic behind it was that if the person never had failed failure before, how could investors know how he would get back on his feet? Would he even be able to recognize an upcoming failure if he never experienced it himself? I found this way of thinking amazing, then again, I was biased, I had tried something before that hadn’t worked out, but I found it interesting nonetheless because I tried something new, I saw how the process of creating goes, I knew that I was able to admit when something isn’t going to work, and more importantly, was able to move on easily.

I am someone who really likes those quotes from great people , I find them interesting, they are something like catchphrases. And when you look at the number of quotes addressing failure and actually almost glorifying it, you come to wonder: why do people still look at failure as something bad? Instead of explaining it in paragraphs and paragraphs, I will just give a top 5 of my favourite quotes addressing it:

5:

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

Albert Einstein

4:

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal : it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Sir Winston Churchill

3:

“You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.”

Wayne Gretzky

2:

“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”

Theodore Roosevelt

and my personal favourite:

1:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Thomas A. Edison

(though I sometimes heard a similar version credited to Alessandro Volta about learning 100 ways not to make a battery)

It is one that I find really great, because it shows that someone who is known for his most important invention, the first (commercially viable) incandescent light bulb, but who also had to struggle to find it. And let us not forget that he is the one who created General Electric (under the name Edison General Electric Company), which still exists more than a century later. Not bad for someone who failed “10,000” times To wrap this up, I’ll end with another quote from Sir Winston Churchill, who was quite proficient in quotes (or at least got them accredited to him):

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

On a final note, humoristic of course, I am inviting the Oxford Dictionary to modify the definition of failure accordingly. I hope you enjoyed the read!