Lessons from The West Wing #3

Andrew Jackson, in the main foyer of his White House had a big block of cheese…. I am making a mental list of those who are snickering, and even as I speak I am preparing appropriate retribution.”- Leo McGarry, Chief of Staff, The West Wing


In the episode, The Crackpots and These Women, the character of Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry, introduces us to the origins of the Big Block of Cheese.  In 1837, President Jackson had a 1,400 lb. wheel of cheddar brought into the main foyer of the White House, and the public was invited to partake of the cheese and discuss the events of the time.  In the TV program Big Block of Cheese Day was a colloquial reference to a tradition of granting access to interest groups which would not ordinarily get the attention of White House staff.  In this episode, the Press Secretary, C.J. Cregg, had to meet with environmentalists who were interested in obtaining funding for a highway strictly for wolves’ use.  Deputy Communications Director Sam Seabourn met with UFO conspiracy theorists.  There were also groups such as the Organization of Cartographers for Social Equality and Citizens for DC Statehood.  The staffers somewhat begrudgingly enter into these meetings but come away having gained new perspective from passionate members of the public.


One of the reasons I like The West Wing is that actual events often follow the story line of this 15-year-old program.  President Obama actually implemented Big Block of Cheese Day following the State of the Unions, though the discussions were on social media (which didn’t exist when the TV show was made).  The public shared questions via the (curiously casein-free) hashtag #AskTheWH, and various officials responded throughout the day to questions on policy issues such as education, immigration, climate and energy, economic opportunity, foreign policy, and healthcare.


The Big Block of Cheese Day is actually an interesting idea for engaging a wide range of voices around important issues.  In business and in the not-for-profit, clubs and associations, it is often difficult to gauge a wide range of views but it is vitally important.   There is a paradigm shift in marketing from seller-centric marketing to buyer-centric selling.  Part of buyer-centric selling and inbound marketing is understanding who your market is and where they are on the buyer journey.  A key concept used to do this is by building personas.  This goes far beyond understanding and identifying who you market is but who they are as a person, and what is important to them at that particular time.  Look no further than the Youi insurance TV advertisements for great, quick examples of personas and how Youi have tailored their policies to each person.


There is also a case whereby the Big Block of Cheese Day could be used internally to gain a better understanding of the issues and insights of the staff.  Another TV program, (and not one of my favourites), that explores this idea is Undercover Boss, where a senior executive put on a disguise and spent a day with various parts of the operations of the company.   I’m not advocating deception but I do think it is important that there is an avenue whereby all voices can be heard within the organisation.  As part of ANZ Bank’s Breakout cultural transformation program all staff were given the permission to voice their opinion, views and ideas with anyone in the organisation – right to the then CEO Andrew McFarlane.  Not everyone did avail themselves of this opportunity but feeling empowered to do so gave the staff a sense that they were being heard.


I cover both inbound marketing and sales, and the impact of business decisions on others in my new book “Run Your Business Better – Essential information every business owner should know” which will be available in print and eBook towards the end of June 2017.

Stephen Barnes, Managing Director, Byronvale Advisors

Reconciliations – the right way

Reconciliations – the right way. Often we find that reconciliations aren’t being done, and when they are being done not always the right way

Ten-step end of financial year checklist for small businesses

Directors of small businesses are advised to ensure their businesses bite the bullet today and start taking tiny steps to get their houses in order for 1 July.

Indeed, MYOB CEO Tim Reed cautions them to avoid the long hours and late nights of cramming months or an entire year of paperwork into a last-minute dash ahead of the end of financial year (EOFY). They should also ensure they are up to date with changes   in the laws and regulations that apply to their   businesses.

MYOB provides this EOFY 10-step checklist for directors:

  1. Do not wait for 30 June. Record transactions regularly as you go and before 30 June, including all sales, purchases, payment and receipts. It may sound obvious, but logging your transactions can be very time-consuming if left until June or July. If you’re not quite there yet, perhaps block out time in your diary for recording each week or fortnight.
  2. Whether you’re working on your accounts in the cloud or on your desktop, you need to make a point-in-time backup outside your accounting system that creates a data file for the 2016-17 financial year only. Carefully save and store your 2016-17 financial year file elsewhere in the cloud or This will help streamline the transition from June to July and ensure the file is easily accessible in future.
  3. Get ready to stocktake.  A stocktake will allow you to write-off any obsolete stock and investigate any theft or shrinkage.
  4. Reconcile your bank
  5. Reconcile your accounts receivable and accounts payable.
  6. Take advantage of deductions, write-offs and rebates before June 30. Contact your accountant to discuss the deductions, write-offs and rebates available to your Take action to scrap worthless stock, plant and equipment before June 30 by reviewing your asset register (which keeps track of your company equipment including items purchased, sold or disposed of). Remember, the small business instant asset write-off has increased to $20,000 to help you equip yourself with what you need.
  7. Review accounts and reports.  This should be one of the last steps you complete before handing everything over to your accountant or book keeper. If the previous steps have been completed correctly, then reviewing your accounts and reports should be a simple matter of ensuring everything matches up and you have the required supporting documentation. Ensure your business activity statement and superannuation guarantee charge statements are lodged and paid by 28 July, and be sure to pay your super guarantee contributions for the fourth quarter of 2017 by 28 July 2017. If you miss this deadline, you must submit a superannuation guarantee charge statement to the Australian Taxation  Office.
  8. Provide all necessary financial information to your accountant or bookkeeper.  There are several options – for example, have them make a point-in-time copy from your data file in the cloud or provide them with a secure copy of your backed-up files. Check what best suits them.
  9. Your accountant or bookkeeper may want to make a number of adjustments to your reports or statements. Once changes have been updated, lock all accounts relating to that year so that data remains accurate. This will help ensure an easy transition into the new financial year.
  10. Prepare for the new financial year.

“The end of financial year shouldn’t be all reports and numbers,” says Reed. “It’s also a good time to reassess and tweak your business plan and ensure you’re on the right path for next financial year. Familiarise yourself with regulation and law changes and implement these business changes before the start of the new financial   year.”

Lessons from The West Wing #2 – Parable of the man that lived by the river

In the episode ‘Take this Sabbath Day’, President Bartlett is being is being asked by his senior staff to consider commuting the death sentence of a convicted drug dealer whose appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court.  The advisors seek their own advice from various sources including a rabbi, and a Quaker campaign adviser.  President Bartlett, a devout Catholic, requests his parish priest, Father Tom Cavanaugh, come to the White House for his guidance on the matter.

President Bartlett had his advisers look for a way the public would find palatable to commute the sentence.  But in the end, he said “I’m the leader of a democracy, Tom. 71% of the people support capital punishment. The people have spoken. The courts have spoken.”  Father Cavanaugh asked if president Bartlett had prayed, and the President replied that he had, and prayed for wisdom.  “And none came?” Father Cavanaugh asked to which the President replied “It never has. And I’m a little pissed off about that.”  Father Cavanaugh then told the President the parable of the ‘The Man who lived by the river’ (above).

So, put aside the underlying reason why Father Cavanaugh told this parable (I’m not going to debate capital punishment) and let’s focus on the message of the parable.  There are actually two messages to me and these relate to business too.

The first message is this parable makes me think about our expectations and how we sometimes miss the blessing/missed being blessed because we are too focused on it appearing the way, or by the means, we want or expect.  Sometimes we don’t even realise our prayers have been answered because it didn’t happen the way we had in mind.  One reason people leave good paying and secure jobs and go out on their own is they think they’ll be richer and better off.  More often than not they are disappointed and frustrated that this hasn’t eventuated or is taking a lot longer than they expect.  What they don’t see though is they have greater flexibility and freedom as to how to spend their day and prioritise both their work and home life.  There are only three reasons to be in business – to make money, to ‘fun’ have, or to make money and have fun.  I think a lot of new business owners get into trouble because they feel they don’t meet their own expectations or goals.  I have never been asked by a client what my business goals are – it’s not important to them and they are your goals.  Be nice to yourself and manage expectations.

The second lesson is simple and is that focused, successful people are often myopic.  The parable asks you to think about the messages, signals, factors that you might be missing by being so myopic.  To change from ‘buying a job’ to ‘building a business’ the blinkers need to come off and you need to focus working on the business and not in the business.

Both these topics are addressed in my new book “Run Your Business Better– Essential information every business owner should know” which will be available in print and eBook towards the end of June 2017.

Stephen Barnes, Managing Director, Byronvale Advisors

Do you have a business or a job?

One of the most common questions you might ask when you meet someone new is what they do for a living.  The response is always correct – I’m an electrician, or a web designer, or a hairdresser etc..  However, a large portion of these people would also say that they are small business owners, which makes me wonder why thy tell people about the job and not the business.

So, what is a business?  To me a business is a living, evolving entity which I contribute my expertise to meet the customer/client’s needs.  I am creating something sustainable that can exist and operate without me – if that is sitting on a beach in Bali, or departed this earth.  I have some freedom and flexibility, and I’m rewarded for my expertise.

A job however might be something I create, but it is really trading your time for money.  The enterprise is dependent on you doing all the work.  If you’re not there then no work is done and no money generated.

Now there is nothing wrong with creating a job versus owning a business, and most businesses start with someone first creating a job.  Buying a job works when you are interested in an endeavour that’s shorter term, more predictable or less draining.  Building a business is much longer term and visionary, and require you to pace your energy and seek out support that will expand your capacity. 

So, how do you transition from a job to a business?  Well it takes time and like most things is hard at the start but gets easier over time.  Four quick tips: –

  1. Identify and then develop your niche – if you’re a plumber are you a residential plumber, or just work for volume builders, or a commercial plumber, or target retirees? Don’t try to be all things to all people.
  2. Be aware if you’re trading time for money – if you’re pricing jobs based on time it will take you to complete the job, then you’re not rewarding yourself for your true expertise, experience, or overheads. Consider looking at the pricing for a job as how is your expertise worth, and how much you want to make from the project.  This will change the way you view the relationship with your client and make you aware that you provide the client is more than just time.
  3. Diversify your revenue stream – Now I’ve been guilty of this so I give you this tip with firsthand experience. When you start a business, you might end up with an ‘anchor client’ – a client that say makes up the majority of your revenue.  They are great as it gives you a sense of stability, and you are exceedingly grateful for their business and support.  However, anchor clients can be dangerous.  It’s easy to become dependent on a single client and think they’ll be there forever.  It can lead to apathy when it comes to prospecting for and developing new clients.  With anchor clients, the relationship is different and can become more akin to that of an employee/employer relationship.
  4. Systemise – I think most people know that if they systemise and document things then the process becomes more efficient and effective. Most people however will not put a little effort into systemising their business.  But without systemising your business you will never transition from buying a job to building a business – that I can guarantee.  And if you want another incentive to systemise your business then in doing so you’re create an asset in your business than can be worth far more than the value of your time spent systemising your business (and also systemising will enable you to have that relaxing holiday in Bali!).

Feeling overwhelmed now about transition from buying a job to building a business?  Contact us at Byronvale Advisors – we’ll have an obligation free chat with you about your business and how we can assist with the transition process.  Chick here to connect with us.