As we launched into 2017, I see all sorts of resolution and other feel good articles how to live a better life this year. Frankly, I wonder why we need prompting to do what should be done in the first place. For most people, there are a few top “resolutions” with simple solutions:
- Want to lose weight and get in shape? Quit eating poorly and exercise. The food that goes into your mouth comes directly from your own hand. You don’t need a gym membership to roll your carcass out of bed in the morning and take 30-45 minutes to walk/run, do some push ups, planks, and get on with your day. Get your ass out of bed a little earlier in the morning, exercise, and quit eating junk. Why is that so difficult?
- Want to make more money? Focus on what brings in revenue rather wasting time on crap that does not pay the bills. Take a look where the money comes from and increase your effort to make more. The harder you work, the luckier you get, monetize everything!
- Want to live a better life? Read 1 & 2, then organize your time:
- Each day has 24 hours and each week has 168 hours.
- If you work 45 hours per week, that leaves 123 hours.
- If you sleep 48 hours a week (8 hours a night), that leaves 75 hours.
- So that leaves 75 hours a week, 10.71 hours a day that you are not working or sleeping. Surely if you want to better educate yourself, start a new hobby, spend more time doing anything, the math above dictates that it’s possible.
Make the decision to take command of yourself and life will get better. From the Command Post (W), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
I recently attended an outstanding funeral business seminar during which my “different from the obvious” observation skills kicked in. The speakers were offering transformational information about essential elements of funeral business from addressing consumers in arrangements to profitability. As I intently listened to the content provided by experts in our profession, my focus shifted to those in attendance.
And in my innate smart-assed sense of being, it hit me; the messengers are pleading for action of the attendees. Interaction, response, nodding of heads, raising hands all to provide the speaker acknowledgement their message is resonating. A funeral seminar (or other seminars for that matter) may be just like attending church or going to a strip club. As a note, I have been in more churches than strip clubs in my life, neither of which seem to have made a difference in my life. What are the similarities?
Seminars, churches, and strip clubs all want their seats full. At most funeral seminars and strip clubs, you have to pay to get in to see the talent. Churches offer free admittance but generally collect early on before the best of the content is delivered. The talent (or presenter) does their best to get the attention of the attendees with jokes, graphics, compelling content, or some other form of mesmerizing skill.
Where the attendees sit is interesting. Those that are eager to participate generally sit up front. The front row folks interact with the talent in different forms from verbal affirmation to throwing money. They also hope to reap rewards like being called on for a response or getting some type of goodie like a t-shirt, candy, or recognition by the presenter. The front rowers also don’t mind getting heckled a bit either.
Those in the middle want to hear what’s being said, but not make too much of a commitment. The “middle crowd” dips their toes in the participation water by taking copious notes, occasionally raising their hands and show relative interest without being subject to singled out…unless the presenter is mobile and happens to venture into their “safe space.”
The most skeptical seem to sit in the back. Their modus operand (what they do for folks of non-legal knowledge) is to watch what everyone else does and not live in fear of participating or being called upon. Unfortunately, the skeptical also miss out sometimes on the true flavor and essence of the talent. This particular behavior is evident in funeral seminars, churches, and strip clubs alike. Oh, and don’t forget, rarely are photos made of those in the back and they have the best angle of a quick departure if necessary.
Lastly, and most interesting to me, the content has not changed. At funeral seminars the presenters share why funeral professionals should up their game by focusing more on the ‘business of doing business” and how to correlate the desires of the families they are serving with their P&L rather than inane subjects like the all-important matching tie debate. At church, the presenter shares how changing behaviors and thoughts lead to a better life lived. At strip clubs, the presenter shares how life may be lived differently, albeit a fantasy not reality, and it pretty much has a cost for continued thoughts usually a dollar at a time.
In closing, whether a seminar, a church, or strip club, messages are being delivered for attendees to take action. The physical location of the attendee may be a sign of whether just notes are taken, participation level engaged, or serious action may be taken. Different observations, but the correlation of reception is relevant. As long as there is a need, there will be messengers attempting to change lives, good or bad.
From the Command Post (West) and chuckling a bit about the responses, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
As a funeral business consultant, I scour internet articles and search for relevant business content that is industry specific. Interesting, but not surprising little fresh content is available for the masses regarding funeral or cemetery business. Try yourself; google funeral business news. The top of the page is none other than www.connectingdirectors.com which is no surprise. Frankly, that’s the only accessible site for daily funeral and cemetery news at one location. Everyone else in the space demands payment or a subscription. I do believe the effort necessary to create and deliver in-depth content, a fee should be charged to access the information because of the expense to produce such work. Not everything you read should be free.
But from a different angle of “how to,” let’s dig a little deeper. What if you were a funeral home owner wanting information on particular subjects, let’s say “how to reduce accounts receivable for funeral homes?” Go ahead, Google it. There are a few articles that pop up including yours truly Funeral Director Training: Failed Payment Policy is on the Owner’s Shoulders and Funeral Director Training: When is the pain too much? . Still, there is no one easily accessible collection point for professionals to conduct research or “study up.”
Wouldn’t it be great to have volumes of relevant funeral and cemetery business content at your fingertips without having to subscribe or dig thorough printed magazines for articles? What if, and this is a big one, I hate to use Dan Isard’s most hated F word, but let me state it here: THE CONTENT WAS FREE?
Of course, there is a point to this post. As a loyal follower of The Funeral Commander you know I have a purpose for my penetrating questions and provocative prose. Friends, there is good news and I’ll give you a little whisper in this season of joy: there is new innovation on the horizon. It will offer a new way of sharing business content that can be implemented to make your business better.
Yep, it’s a magical time of the year and The Funeral Commander is busy innovating and creating. Be on the lookout…more to come. From the Command Post (West) and yes, a thick fog of cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommader
If your funeral home has accounts receivable, your payment policy is worthless. The funeral director in charge of arrangements perpetuates the problem and owners are guilty of holding anyone accountable with a lack of leadership. As a funeral business consultant, I can quickly diagnose the situation by studying the A/R and role playing as a family member in an arrangement session. Fortunately, I have the solution to fix the cash flow problem; however the decision lies squarely on the shoulders of funeral home ownership.
Why is the decision so difficult for funeral home owners to make a commitment to improve their cash flow and significantly reduce their accounts receivable? By doing so it’s an admission that their arrangers care less and are unaccountable. Owners would rather scramble to make ends meet (because cash flow is suffering) than actually take charge of their business by changing behavior of funeral directors. Additionally, there is a cost for professionals to conduct adequate training. Professional training solves cash flow and other funeral home operations problems, yet owners rarely seek training as a source. Rather they create knee-jerk processes with no accountability or device to measure success or failure. Ultimately, the inmates are running the asylum.
A working payment policy is predicated on use of the GPL and offering payment options near the beginning of the arrangement session. “Talking about the money” should not be put off until the goods and services statement is provided at the end of the arrangements. Ever wonder why families must take a bathroom or smoke break when the goods and services statement comes out? It’s because the funeral director failed to do his or her job by addressing the second most important issue for a family (right behind the death of a loved one); “How are we going to pay for this?”
If a funeral home has accounts receivable, the payment policy isn’t working and neither are the funeral directors. Don’t like it? Do something about it and make a damn decision, or just continue the failure to collect the funds needed to make payroll. Sooner or later, you’ll need to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back and refreshed from cigars, libations, great food and time with my family at the Command Post (East), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
The largest expense for funeral home overhead is payroll and employee expenses. Unfortunately, many funeral home owners poorly manage this facet of their business and in doing so not only decrease profit but place themselves in peril for labor lawsuits. Some firms over-staff which puts pressure on margins and others under-staff which places the owner in violation of Department of Labor violations. Speaking of the DOL, we are only weeks away from significant rule changes that have effect on the majority of funeral homes in the United States. Below are three highlight of the changes that take effect December 1st:
- The minimum salary level an employee must earn to qualify for overtime will change from $23,600 to $47,476.
- Highly compensated employees have a new minimum earning level requirement of $134,000
- New mandatory mechanisms to increase levels of compensation will trigger every three years.
What does this mean? Frankly, in many cases it’s going to cost funeral home owners more money to operate their business. This means that the three basic tenets of running a business come into play; raise prices, conduct more calls, or cut costs. Some owners will ignore the regulations (just like the 25% violating the FTC rules) and do nothing. However, if owners choose to operate hoping that a director will not keep his or her notes regarding overtime worked without just compensation, those owners are really placing themselves in a bad position.
I have found in my practice as a funeral and cemetery consultant that many owners think they have covered their bases by having an employee handbook (which has not been updated in years), assigning “exempt” status to employees that don’t qualify, and refusing to get professional advice or council. As I have said many times, I find it interesting that funeral professionals chide families for “buying cheap” or using other services/products than what is offered at their particular funeral home. You know the, “You get what you pay for crowd.” But when it comes to hiring professional experts in subject matter other than funeral, they themselves “cheap out” and regularly fail at the “DIY” method.
Folks, these new Department of Labor changes in overtime status are serious and could have grave (yeah, deadly) consequences for funeral homes if employees are not compensated properly. If you think that having a state inspection is a big deal, try having the federal government on your ass because of an employee complaint. One way or another, funeral home owners are going to have to write checks; when and how much will only be determined based on following the regulations.
From the Command Post (West), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
It’s Veterans’ Day and I am going to utilize my constitutional right to voice my opinions. Although every American has such a privilege, I’ve certainly earned mine. Yep, I’ve turned into one of those “old crusty guys” and my uniform hangs in a closet. I’m one that places my hand over my heart standing at attention (if not saluting) when our flag passes in a parade or during the National Anthem. Today you may see many like me wearing hats adorned with ribbons and badges that to most, have no meaning.
Every Veterans’ Day I get a bit reflective and at the same time, I think about the blessing of belonging to the best fraternity in the world; people that would give their life for others. See, when we take the oath of office, we swear that we will protect and defend…everyone! I still keep that oath and I swear, I would still fight today. In fact while writing this, I get a serious case of whoop-ass.
I have been in harm’s way and witnessed the only form of the perfect society. Muslims, Jews, Baptists, Catholics, Blacks, Whites, Asians, Hispanics, Men, Women, and yes I’m sure a few Homosexuals prayed together because we knew we could die together. We were willing to die for something bigger than ourselves: a common purpose.
Our nation just completed an election, and many think it was seriously contentious. Yeah, it was a bit rough, but there were times in our history we were literally battling on our own soil, even against each other. The Facebook and Twitter cowboy bravado was hilarious because it was like watching a pillow fight at a junior high girls’ sleepover. I am actually enjoying the aftermath of watching the crying and sore losers. College students are allowed to miss class to grieve the election results and protesters take to the streets because the outcome didn’t go their way, bless their little fragile cupcake hearts.
Yes it turns my stomach, but I know it was us Veterans that gave them the freedom to display their selfish and myopic behavior. I can assure you that the men and women serving all over the world got up Wednesday morning, put their uniforms on, and did their assigned duties. Why? Because they perform their duties for something greater than themselves: our democracy. In fact, they provide the freedom for the “I didn’t get a trophy” college weaklings, the naerdowell protesters, and the knee-bending attention-seekers.
Today is our day. The 11th day of the 11th month that honors the men and women that offered to give their life for our way of life. I have generations of family (including my son) that served and hundreds of people I served alongside for the same principles. There are few like us and my salute to all.
For everyone else, just for today, if you don’t like the way things turned out, keep your pie-hole shut unless you thank those that gave an oath for your privilege to vote. From the Command Post (West) and ready to kick ass to someone that disagrees with me today, Cheers Y’all. #thefuneralcommander
Freshly returning to the Command Post (East) from #NFDA2016 in Philadelphia, I’m providing an After Action Review of what I saw, didn’t see, and my experience perspective this year. From the logistical front, the NFDA team could not have selected a better venue that provided a huge Expo floor with easy access to educational seminars and walking distance to many hotels. Also, the NFDA app was a stroke of genius! I give the entire NFDA staff a salute for a well-executed and attended event.
From my perspective, the biggest influential segment of this year’s event was Social Media and Technology. Facebook was on fire with posts, selfies, and live updates from attendees as well as vendors. Homesteaders Life and Disrupt Media sponsored a Social Media Lounge providing attendees a venue for all things social. Live feeds by Funeral Nation TV were given and frankly, the funeral world is turning a corner and starting to “get it.” Technology abounded, with website developers adding new services and add-ons. Funeral home software continues to permeate the norms of doing business and my choice of the best was Passare with their collaboration platform connecting families to the arrangement process with their easy-to-use program. There also were some “newcomers,” attempting to breach the market with very narrowly and poorly thought-out “new funeral apps;” however it’s obvious they did not do their homework, as most redundant offerings have failed to gain any traction in the past.
From a product standpoint, there was noticeably larger presence of foreign casket providers than ever before. The Sich Casket booth was full continuously and I have to give them the “win” for marketing with their surprise “God Bless America” flash mob and free coffee stands. Urns were everywhere and I’ll admit, I saw some unique designs that are “upping the game.” What struck me was the flood of “same old stuff” in many booths. (Are consumers still buying these relics or are the vendors trying to dump inventory?) Outer burial containers didn’t offer any new “wows.” I have to say the most personable was the Darby Family at Trigard Vaults. You are always guaranteed hugs and hairdos with them! At the Pierce Chemical booth I watched (and took video of) an artist bringing life to the lifeless. The Pre-Need Builders after care program was also a breath of fresh air in the service market.
Speaking of the art of restoration/embalming, I heard some rumblings about the lack of embalming subject matter presented in seminars. However, this is indicative of the focus in perhaps the most important segment that needs to be addressed to funeral home owners/directors: financial health. Consumers are dictating the direction of our profession. Adapting to better business practices, understanding consumer needs, how to better communicate to and reach families, along with becoming profitable for the swelling tide of cremation, are topics that were at the forefront of the majority of seminars.
The Foresight Companies had a “free money grab” at their booth which again makes sense; if a funeral home is not making great profit at least you can have a chance to grab free cash. From the financial services segment I noticed the lack of new companies present. The representation of pre-need companies seems to have leveled as well as that of the insurance assignment firms. The largest footprint of assignment companies was from C&J Financial and American Funeral Financial (shout out to Jackie Williams and Chuck Gallagher for their new “live stardom”).
I did not see companies like Save My Ink, Trey Ganem Designs, Qeepr, DNA Memorial, The Help Card, and many others. In the competitive funeral industry product/service marketplace and although they may still be operating, the lack of presence along with top-mind advertising is pretty much a kiss of death (no pun intended)…you have to BE there!
I posted It’s about the relationships, not the productivity this week at the onset of the Convention. Truly, relationships are the defining factor of funeral business. Seeing longtime friends is a bonus for me personally at these events. Talking with clients and receiving accolades in person that our work makes a difference in their lives is irreplaceable. Conversations with prospective clients and listening to their situations of working in such a tough environment bring me excitement, because we have solutions. The bottom line is that we are all in the funeral business to serve families at one the most difficult events in life: death. How we as an industry intertwine our businesses, relationships, strengthen financial heath, and bring the most positive light to our profession is the key to long term victory.
The synopsis of #NFDA2016 is of a huge success from the many observations shared above. Watch Ryan and I next week on Funeral Nation TV for a full follow up of this year’s event. Today is the “new funeral year,” so it’s time to get back to work. From the Command Post (East) with my comrade Rat Terrier at my side, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
I was recently shocked when a couple of friends that work for a big funeral industry supplier were told by their management “relationships don’t matter, it’s all about productivity.” This is simply not true because a relationship is the only glue that binds the brand to the customer. Say what you may, the funeral profession is about relationships. I have yet to meet an owner of a funeral home that buys from or does business with someone they really dislike. In fact, in many cases it costs more to work with someone you like because of the value brought to the relationship.
As funeral home owners and directors, pause and consider that the families you serve are exactly the same. The majority choose a funeral home because they have a relationship with the owner or staff. Just below in rank of why a consumer chooses a firm is because the firm served a family member or friend in the past (notice price is not even at the top two).
Large gatherings like NFDA and ICCFA offer us a reason to arrive from all corners of the earth to commune with each other for a common purpose. These few days of the “Funeral Super Bowl” in Philadelphia provide attendees many opportunities to become better educated and access to what’s new. However, the most important aspect of the gathering is strengthening old relationships and developing new ones.
As you know, I’m all about technology, Social Media, and new sources of reaching people. But the most effective form of communication is looking into someone’s eyes, conversing face to face, and listening. A handshake, warm introduction, and genuine conversation are more captivating that “20% discount.” Of course my preferred method is Mano y Mano, with libations and a cigar perhaps even during a round of golf. I have a very keen bullshit meter and I easily separate authenticity from superficial and the Mano y Mano method tends to prove true.
Interesting that even lower costs or fees has no relevance in a positive relationship (unless you want a cheap date). Relationships are a two way street with mutual trust and respect at the forefront. If you are here in Philly, let’s connect at booth 4318 or send me an email email@example.com so we can schedule time together. I’ll shake your hand, look you in the eye, and listen. If we can get to it, I know a great spot for a libation and cigar which is always in order.
From the FOB in Philadelphia, Cheers Y’all! #thefunealcommander
I have funeral home owner clients that are astounded when the epiphany of the number of calls are irrelevant to their profit. In a few weeks, the Super Bowl of funeral service is in Philadelphia where the pontificating will be at extreme heights. One of the biggest of all is the “tale of calls” (not to be confused with the tail of a whale).
Allow me to explain. A firm touts they are having a great year tracking to conduct 250 death calls over the 225 last year. If the casketed calls this year are only 40% (100 of 250) of the total versus 50% (112 of 225) last year…is the firm really doing better? If the firm “picked up” 38 new calls this year which are non-casketed, did those calls even budge an increase to their profit margin, most likely not.
In a recent Funeral Boot Camp where attendees learn how to properly charge for goods and services as well as understand measurement of profitability, I saw something remarkable…or so it would seem. A 60 call firm had more cash in the bank and net profit than a 200 call firm. How is that possible? Revenue per call, proper pricing, and frankly they are a great client of ours (meaning this firm is making good decisions). Since the revelation or the before mentioned “epiphany,” the 200 call firm has seen the light and now on their own path to profitability with our guidance.
So the next time you hear Foghorn Leghorn “crowing” about his call volume, ask ‘ole blabby what his profit margin is…and listen for the crickets. The more you know, the smarter you are. Be smart and contact me firstname.lastname@example.org for your own epiphany.
From the Command Post (West), Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander
My last post Funeral Industry David vs. Goliath was referring to innovation in the funeral industry. From all intents and purposes, Goliaths dictate and Davids innovate. There is no greater example of this analogy in the funeral business than casket manufacturers. Just recently one of the casket Goliaths was recognized for their “innovation.” What is innovation?
Webster’s Dictionary: Innovation; a new idea, device, or method.
Have we become so complacent in our industry that throwing “old wood” on a casket is considered innovation? The definition should be expanded to include making products for less cost (Chinese hardware and cloth for interiors) and moving South of the Border for manufacturing. YES! Now that’s innovative; however with these cost saving measures why are you paying more for Goliath Company’s caskets?
There was a time when the casket peddlers led the industry with messages that their product was “the center of the world” and families would pay premium prices. At that point in history (before Al Gore invented the Interweb) funeral home owners drank the Kool Aide by selling families Bronze, Copper, Stainless Steel, and Mahogany caskets even some adorned with gadgets. Good idea, right? I mean, the profits from these transactions had to be incredible. How’s that “innovation” working out for ‘ya today? Funeral homes filled their casket rooms (later to become known as Hallmark Stores) with good, better, best, and ignoring the service side of their business. What did the Goliath’s do? After the contracts were signed and the rooms were filled, prices began swelling faster than a Krispy Creme doughnut in hot oil. Fast forward to 2016; when was the last time your firm sold a Bronze, Copper, or Mahogany casket at need? In fact, exactly what material (Gauge or Wood type) is the average casket your firm sells now? Now Goliath’s are spewing “don’t raise our prices, raise your service prices” as they hand you the new X% more casket price-list for 2017.
Interesting that the casket Goliath’s even attempt to be “business consultants,” however 90% of the road warriors haven’t a clue how to interpret a funeral home P&L, much less understand the process of operations. Perhaps I should create a “funeral home business and operations quiz” so that the next time Skippy the Casket Clown knocks at your door, you may find out just how much he knows about your business. The results of the quiz will be devastating to Skippy. But no fear! Skippy will reach into his bag to reveal that he can improve your website (with a template), increase your cremation revenue (with his company’s Chinese urns and “proven presentation strategies”) along with various and sundry useless items for sale. Innovation would be to improve the funeral home operating processes and providing solutions to elevate the positive financial posture for profitability. Wait! Maybe a trip, game tickets, or a nice meal will make everything better.
Let’s get down to the truth, shall we? Caskets are made of wood or metal (unless you get the ones made in Mexico, they are wood composite). The definition (according to my indoctrination in the cornfield) of a casket is “a container for precious materials.” The deceased (precious loved one) is placed in a casket, their loss mourned, their life celebrated, and they are buried never to be seen again. If your funeral home’s financial life depends on one of Goliath’s spawn, your business will be in a container for precious materials as well.
What would be innovation for caskets? How about finding a way to manufacture a quality product for less? The casket manufacturing Davids have already done so. A simple price analysis and side by side comparison of local distributor, small manufacturer, or offshore caskets will reveal Goliath is out of touch and David has an arsenal of rocks in his sling. Oh yeah, one more “innovation” that Goliath created: “off brand” caskets that are sold through the local distributors. Yep, the same casket you may be paying up to 50% more with a 1-cent sticker comes right off the manufacturing line as the “off brand” does.
Thanks to the itnerweb and frankly, enlightenment of funeral directors, the casket Goliaths are taking more rocks to the head from the casket Davids. The Goliath notion of treating funeral directors like mushrooms (“keep ‘em in the dark and feed ‘em crap”) days are coming to a close.
I am more than happy to further this line of factual thought with anyone that chooses to reach out to me. I challenge any Goliath representative to a public debate on Funeral Nation TV to refute these points of innovation. What the heck, its debate season so the floor is open!
From the Command Post (West), without libation or cigar for clear thinking, Cheer’s Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
David kicked Goliaths ass. Interestingly, David’s fellow warriors remained on the sidelines, huddled like a covey of quail, and just waited to see David get beat down by the giant. But David was not only brave, he was an innovator. He knew there was a simple solution to attack to win, versus the conventional “we’ve always done this way (and getting our ass kicked too)” crowd.
Guess what, fellow family-owned, small suppliers, and free thinkers of the funeral business: “Goliaths” don’t innovate. They dictate!
Think about it. What new innovation has made serious impact on the way we serve families or make our job better in the last 10 years?
Recently I was having a conversation with a funeral home owner client and he was lamenting how the funeral industry seems to be completely driven by “the big boys.” And by “big boys,” he meant publicly-traded funeral homes and casket companies, membership organizations and other funeral industry providers who seem to determine our direction.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to address different categories of funeral industry Goliaths and highlight the emerging Davids. I have a sling in one hand and rocks in another. Yeah, this is going to be fun! From the Command Post (West), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
In my funeral business consulting practice one of the most frustrating phrases I hear from funeral home owners and managers: “Oh, my local guy handles our accounting.” I take a deep breath and think, “your local guy doesn’t know a rough box from an alternative container, yet he is in charge of your business’ financial advice?” A Profit & Loss statement tells a story for a funeral home. However if your accountant doesn’t know the language it’s doubtful the next chapters are going to change and the story is going to end poorly. The average funeral home makes 7% profit; if your funeral home is at or below this average then you need to consider changing your accountant.
- If your accountant has not addressed the comparison between your current year budget/forecast (if you have one), current year actual activities, and the last few years…YOU GOT THE WRONG ACCOUTANT!
- If you your accountant does not provide you with analysis and suggestions of where to reduce cost and increase revenue (making profit) on a regular basis… YOU GOT THE WRONG ACCOUNTANT!
- Take a look at your P&L and compare it to the same month last year and the year before. If your funeral home is not making more money versus years past… YOU GOT THE WRONG ACCOUNTANT!
- If your accountant can’t look at a trocar and casket key and identify what they are…YOU GOT THE WRONG ACCOUNTANT!
So, ask yourself; am I going to keep doing the same thing over and over again because I’ve always done it this way? It’s time to raise your hand and “have the talk of a lifetime.” Save your funeral home from declining profits and let’s have a chat… email@example.com.
From the Command Post (West) and a cigar just waiting to be lit, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
As a funeral consultant, I interact with at least 25 funeral home owners on a typical week and through social media I’m in contact with hundreds of funeral directors. When I ask, “What’s the biggest challenge you face in the funeral profession?” almost on key I hear, “cremation is killing us.” Cremation is by no means the major challenge we are experiencing, it’s our failure of “doing the business of the business.”
Let me explain by asking questions.
- Cremation is a disposition. As such, funeral directors have the same opportunity to embalm as burial. Why doesn’t that conversation take place during cremation arrangements?
- Why do burial families pay full price for basic service fee and cremation families get a discount on the exact services performed?
- Why doesn’t every family receive a complete presentation for disposition of cremated remains including interment, scatter, keep, urn, and jewelry options?
- Why don’t funeral homes get paid in full or secure payment prior to signing a goods and services contract?
- Why don’t funeral directors train on their profession (not CEU) weekly to improve their skills (like the four questions above)?
- Why do funeral home owners pay accountants that give them a P&L statement and balance sheet but no advice on how to increase their profit?
Take a moment and answer these questions honestly. It’s not cremation; put some mirrors up in the funeral home and you’ll see the problem. Do you want solutions to these problems? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s schedule a time to chat.
From the Command Post (West), Cheer’s Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
In my consulting practice, I spend quite a bit of time with funeral home owners and directors providing solutions to get paid for their goods and services. For the most part, when honest with themselves (and me), their payment policy is useless resulting in increasing accounts receivable as well as pressure on cash flow for the business. However, the acknowledgement doesn’t always translate into corrective action. So my question is, “When is the pain of not getting paid for your work intense enough that you actually take action to correct the problem?”
If your firm does not secure payment prior to conducting the service, you have a problem. If you are not getting paid within 5 days on your insurance assignments, you have a problem. If you have accounts receivable over 30 days, you have a problem. If you knew you had cancer, what would you do? Wait until the pain becomes unbearable before seeking help? Or, would you immediately seek the finest specialists to eradicate the disease?
You know you have a problem, but is the pain great enough for you to take action or are you going to wait for the lump to grow completely out of control?
If you have one of the problems above, let’s communicate. Yes, I am a specialist and I have the solution to your failed payment policy, lack of training, as well as accounts receivable problems. Email me email@example.com so we may initiate a cure.
From the Command Post (West), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander.
I was recently traveling and saw the sign providing glory for the 4th place team in the 2009 Illinois Class 4A Basketball (I don’t know if there was a championship of some sort, the sign doesn’t say). Is congratulations in order for a 4th place? What are your thoughts? #thefuneralcommander
I consider vacation a blessing that provides time for me to relax and reflect prior to returning to “the world.” I learned several years ago that just a few days off does not offer me the time necessary to “download and relax.” Therefor annually I take anywhere from ten to fifteen days off. Of course, my favorite place on the planet to vacation is in Aruba.
Relaxing from the fast pace and my own self prescribed high energy constant motion is no easy task. The beautiful beach, cigars, libations, and being with my bride creates such an atmosphere for me to completely unwind. I become introspective about my personal and work life while on this annual trek. Similar to a birthday, I believe that God provided me another year to enjoy such a time as this and I look forward to what the future has in store for me, my family along with my professional life. I am blessed.
I have returned to the Command Post (West) ready to continue leading on the battlefield of funeral industry innovation and making positive changes in our profession. I’m back…#thefuneralcommander
I posted this a few years back and continue to travel quite a bit. It’s now vacation summer season and I’d like to share this humorous look at how I see things from my view…enjoy!
I spend more time in hotel beds than I do in my own bed at home. When someone asks me where I live, I generally reply “Marriott.” For those that don’t travel regularly making their living and think it’s glamorous, well it’s simply not. I’m on a plane as I write this and I just have so share with you observations about our fellow humans at airports.
Alright folks, it’s the 21’st century and you should be able to slide your credit card in a “computer machine,” read the instructions, and touch the screen when directed…it’s something most 1st graders can do now. Anyone not aware that you must go through security prior to gaining access to the boarding gate? Why doesn’t it register with some that the articles of clothing worn, items that are packed, and the bags that are carried will affect the process of getting…
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I rarely call out funeral homes by name simply because they usually know who they are when I write particular content. However, the high and mighty at Lindquist Mortuaries in Ogden, Utah gets a special Funeral Commander shout out! Wendy Thoresen Green was interviewed by the Standard Examiner, a newspaper in Ogden, UT with title Meet ‘Funeral Lady,’ a Pleasant View woman who loves all things funeral-related. Linquist, WTF (What The Funeral) are you thinking by distancing yourself from talent within your own funeral home? Please read an excerpt from the article:
Today, Green sells funeral plans for a local mortuary. We say “local mortuary” because, frankly, her boss would prefer his company not be named in a piece about Green and her obsession. She’s been called “eccentric” and “definitely not mainstream” in an industry where eccentricity and deviation from that stream isn’t exactly the dignified image mortuaries are trying to project
Now you boys don’t get your starched underwear in a wad; the article was published and as usual, I’m just pointing out the obvious. See, we in the funeral industry are inquiring minds, we just want to know.
“Loves all things funeral related” seems to be a great headline, however this particular crowd doesn’t see it that way. Is passion and a calling into the funeral industry consdiered an “obsession?” Definition of Eccentric: (of a person or their behavior) unconventional and slightly strange. (“My favorite aunt is very eccentric.”) Maybe Wendy is not mainstream in Ogden Utah, but I shudder at the thought of what that definition may include in those parts of our country.
I have a question for the Lindquist’s Mortuary leaders: After looking at your website (with no social media links whatsoever) and seeing your staff, why are there no female funeral directors listed? Are women only relegated to pre-need sales and general staff… is that what you consider mainstream? Another question: Why you would be ashamed of someone like Wendy who projects a positive image for the funeral industry? Why wouldn’t Lindquist’s Mortuary proudly boast about such a devoted and dedicated employee? Certainly no retribution will come as a result of her sharing her heart to the community.
Ok, all you non-Neanderthals in the business, how about let’s show the value of women in our industry and teach something about social media to the “He-man Woman Haters Club” in Ogden! I implore you to comment, post, and share this story on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Unfortunately, it appears the “leaders” don’t know much about this interweb social thing. However, we can shed light on the darkness of their “mainstream.”
From the Command Post (West) and thick fog of cigar smoke along with being a bit pissed off about how backwards people try to push down achievers…Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
The answer, “We’ve always done it that way.” The question, “What do funeral home owners say when their market share is declining, profits are dwindling, and business in a downward spiral?” Really?! Can’t we agree that, by definition, this is insanity – doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results? Wake The Funeral up!
I am continuously astounded when I talk with funeral home owners and listen to their reluctance to address the real problems they are facing in their businesses. “I just don’t think I can get our directors to do that” and “It’s never worked in the past” are common laments. Both statements indicate that the Inmates are running your asylum. You may be in worse shape than you think!
At some point you are going to want to sell or transfer your business and the value is going to be less than you expect. Lackadaisical leadership (aka poor business management) is the root cause of funeral home financial failure. Even more interesting is that owners know they have problems but fail to hire professionals to resolve issues. If you are a funeral home owner and your profit margin is less than 8%, you have no Human Resources manual or consistent training for your staff, and you have any accounts receivable over 60 days: I AM TALKING TO YOU!
I find it amusing that you, funeral home owners, consistently opine, “People now-a-days just don’t plan and find themselves in a mess scrambling to pay when death occurs.” Funny thing, Mr./Ms. Funeral Home Owner, you are just as bad. Take a look at your profit margin, accounts receivable, cremation vs. burial revenues, and market share. Are you planning for what’s ahead or just doing the same thing you have always done?
Snap out of it! The first step in getting well is to acknowledge something is wrong. Congratulations if you’ve done so – you’re half way there. Now, get well! Raise your hand and ask for help…email firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s chat. From the Command Post (West) in the cigar bunker, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
I recently had the opportunity to attend a professional baseball game in Phoenix. Besides sitting in great seats in an air conditioned stadium (the only problem was the lack of a cigar bar), I enjoyed watching the preparation of the players prior to the first pitch. Guess what? Highly paid professional baseball players were taking batting practice, fielding balls and throwing to warm up. If pro baseball players practice, why don’t professional funeral directors?
I’m not talking about CEU’s where you doodle on the handout and spend most of the session on your smartphone chatting about how bored you are. I’m talking about training. The funeral industry has falsely manifested the notion that CEU’s are training. They are not. They are education. Consider the difference in reading about how to throw a strike from 60 feet versus getting on the mound and actually doing it. Do you think that you may have to spend time honing your craft? Unfortunately, I see and know of many instances where funeral directors are throwing lots of balls nowhere near the plate. Behavior modification is achieved through practice and consistent work on perfecting any particular segment of our business.
I am certain that the “you don’t know what you’re talking about” crowd is reading this with a mindset that redundancy in performance negates the need for training or practice. What if you are doing it wrong in the first place? How many of you offer the GPL at the proper time and in the prescribed fashion required by the FTC? The fact that the FTC reports annually that about 25% of all funeral homes are in some violation regarding the GPL presentation is damning proof. “We’ve always done it that way” does not reduce the fine levied on you by the Government.
We all know that when a funeral director goes into the arrangement room and closes the door, they have their own way of doing things, right or wrong. How many owners/managers take the time to sit in on arrangements to measure performance of things like presentation of the GPL, the discussion of the payment policy, explanation of products, and services? Does your firm even have a standard for the arrangement process that a funeral director should follow? I’m not suggesting “gotcha” stuff; I am asking how do you know WTF (What the Funeral) is going on in there if you don’t take the time to observe? There is a saying “expect what you inspect.” Of course, if you have no roadmap or process for the director to follow, then Mr. /Ms. funeral home owner/manager…that’s on you.
Here’s a challenge: Tell me what problem in leading a funeral home could not be solved with training and practice? Throwing even the most seasoned funeral director on the mound to pitch a perfect game is not providing the leadership necessary to have consistent success. If you own/manage a funeral home, it’s your responsibility to create a continuous improvement culture. If you are a funeral director and you don’t have any leadership in your firm, ask and take the lead. Taking 15-20 minutes once or twice a week is absolutely possible but only if leadership exists.
Our funeral directors train at least twice per week on a myriad of different subjects for the short time period I described. If you want to know more, email me email@example.com and we can discuss how to initiate a training program at your firm. From the Command Post (West) through the fog of cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
A few weeks ago I made my trek cross-country from Virginia to Arizona to start a new position with The Foresight Companies. In the back of a 10×10 U-Haul was enough furniture to fill a one-bedroom apartment, my clothes along with living essentials. My wife proclaimed that if I ever decided to leave her, the truck held everything I would have. A single day of unloading, unpacking and sorting placed me into my new digs. By early evening I was pretty much set up – even pictures hung.
The next morning, I had to go grocery shopping so I made a list to avoid wandering aimlessly in the aisles wondering what I should buy. Because of an early morning AO (area of operations) re-con, I knew of a nearly new grocery store about a mile away. Upon arriving, and since I had no coffee, I found the convenient Starbucks just inside the front entrance.
It was early morning as I had yet to adjust to the Mountain Time zone. The coffee shop was empty of patrons and I was greeted by a young, smiling gal asking what she may provide for me. As I gave her my order, I noticed on her right forearm was an unusual tattoo – a banner with Semper Fi atop a flower. This ink caught my eye because I wondered if she was a Vet; not many Marine Corps tats are adorned with a flower.
So I inquire of her, “Are you a former Marine?” She answered, “No, but my brother was.” I asked where and when he served and she told only a few years…and then shared that he was killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. Tears shot out of my eyes. I asked her to please tell me about him.
Courtney told me that Justin was killed in a helicopter crash along with several other Marines during Iraq Freedom. She went on to share that she honors his service and, as a daily reminder of him, got the tattoo. For those that know me well, there are some subjects that I become emotional over and cannot hold back tears; young people dying for our Country is one of them.
As she made my coffee we chatted a bit and I told her I’m new to town. Courtney told me where important things were located like shopping areas, good local eats and such. As she handed me the coffee, she too had tears in her eyes, making mine flow again. I thanked her for sharing Justin with me, his sacrifice for our freedom, and her kindness to an old sobbing Vet. I asked Courtney if I could share her story, and she agreed.
I wanted to share this story for a few reasons. First, pay attention and engage people because everyone has a story. Second, “those people” with ink have depth (I’m tatted myself). Finally, God has a way to let you know you are in the right place. I would have never known about Justin’s sacrifice for our freedom if I had not traveled all the way across our fantastic country, eventually finding myself simply in need of coffee and groceries that first early morning. I’m grateful that Courtney is my barista and friend.
In Memory of Captain Chris Cash. He gave the ultimate sacrifice June 24, 2004 in Baqubah Iraq. RIP my fellow NCMA Alum.
For all those that gave the ultimate sacrifice, thank you. For the rest of us, please take a moment to be grateful. Our freedom did not come for free. Happy Memorial Day.
From the Command Post (West), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
I have trained thousands of funeral directors in my tenure and hearing I don’t like to talk about money from some always gets a reply from me: “Well, then your funeral home owner shouldn’t deposit your salary into your bank account since money is so distasteful to you.” Now hear this! It’s your job to talk about the money! The FTC provides you with a document that actually has numbers on it; it’s called a General Price List. The GPL is not a general services list or a memoir of the history of your funeral home. It’s about the MONEY!
Why don’t funeral directors like to talk about the money? A few excuses come to mind. The first, “I just do this as a ministry.” No problem, I’ll donate your earnings to the charity of your choice. Another, “I don’t want to upset the family when they are experiencing such a difficult time.” It’s your job, Skippy. Do you think that families show up thinking the funeral is gratis? (That’s free for y’all in West Virginia.) Still yet, “I’m here to serve and the money will take care of itself.” Yes, you are here to serve. However, it’s your responsibility to make sure the family knows the costs of their chosen goods and services as well as what options are available for payment…otherwise, are you going to make them guess?
The FTC makes it easy for funeral directors because it mandates (not asks, not suggests) that the General Price List be presented to a family prior to engaging in the selection of services and products. Do me a favor; open up a GPL (you know, the leather bound, embossed folder with old English lettering and the dove on the front cover). Take a look at the descriptions of services and then note the $ symbol with numbers next to it. That set of symbols and numbers notates the prices; you know…how much your firm charges people for services or products.
It’s worth repeating. The FTC mandates that you share this document, the General Price List, with each and every family you serve. What makes you think that you shouldn’t talk about THE PRICES? Are you ashamed of what your firm charges? Are you scared to actually do your job? Do you think you’re doing the family a favor by keeping them in the dark? Are you making a choice to be out of compliance with the FTC? What is your reluctance? Please, help me understand!
By the way, I have the “secret sauce” of how to talk about the money with families. And guess what? Everyone pays and we have $0.00 accounts receivable. Want to know how? Email me firstname.lastname@example.org. From the Command Post (West), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
With cash flow solutions being my primary emphasis in my consulting business for at need services, I am continually confounded when I learn that a funeral home does not utilize an insurance factoring company. As many know, I pretty much believe in the “I’m not going to tell you to go to hell. I’m going to tell you the truth and it feels like hell.” The truth: Wasting in-house resources (time, personnel, effort, and overhead) to collect insurance is ridiculous. Now, you may not feel like hell, but you may feel unenlightened and marginally distraught.
If you don’t know how this works, please allow me to enlighten you, and in the process, offer your the families you serve, you, peace and payment! When a family presents you a life insurance policy for the deceased, you may tell the family member that you will accept the policy to pay for their loved one’s funeral expenses. However, the policy must be valid, non-contestable and the beneficiaries must assign the funds necessary to pay for the expenses to the funeral home. Tracking so far?
At this point, you also inform the family that your firm has engaged a company that will confirm the viability of the policy, accept assignment, and pay your funeral home the proceeds directly. If the policy has more funds than what is needed for funeral expenses, the company will send funds to the family in about 4-6 weeks. The fee for this transaction is .0x% and that fee will be taken from the life insurance proceeds. So, by using this process, your loved one has provided you a gift of life insurance to pay for their funeral expenses and it is a cashless event…no money out of pocket.Peace.Payment.
I can hear the rumbling and grumbling from the unenlightened. “I don’t want to charge a family a fee.” Let me ask this question, Skippy: “Why not?” At best, Miss Edna is going to make several phone calls to insurance companies trying to track down your money…yes, it’s your money. Why are you going to wait the customary 3-4 weeks for your money? The family will pay for the convenience and relief of a “cashless event.” Oh, another question, Skippy:“Have you ever conducted the service, buried the casket or cremated the body prior to learning that the policy is not viable?” Brilliant. Now Miss Edna is on the phone trying to get the firm paid and guess what the family will tell you: “We don’t have that kind of money.” Miss Edna just has to become a collection agent because you refuse to use common sense and sound business practices.
Peace and payment for both you and the family. The family will pay the fee, certain they wont have unexpected bill later; you will get paid with surety and faster. If the policy is declined, you know immediately and deal with it before the service. Read what I rant and write, DO NOT SIGN A FUNERAL CONTACT UNTIL PAYMENT IS SECURED!
This is one of many steps in the business of doing business that will keep your firm in a $0.00 accounts receivable status. Want to know more? Email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Yep, I’m smoking a 6×6 Maduro blowing a thick cloud of smoke on the observation platform of the Command Post (West). Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
The funeral profession has some really quirky regulations and irregular standards that cause undue scrutiny every time one of our illustrious colleagues performs a stupid stunt. We have states that require a dual license (embalmer and director), we have a state that requires no license (Colorado). We have states where a funeral home must have at least 6 caskets in the building. Another prohibits casket sales other than from a funeral home. And even a state that requires a hearse be parked on the premises. Most fascinating is that regulations are “interpreted” just like some interpret the Bible-whatever suits personal position. The Funeral Rule is one of the clearest cut and simplest regulatory set of rules I have ever seen. Yet, nearly 30% of funeral homes inspected annually are in violation.
Who makes all these silly regulations? Funeral directors. Consider dual licensure. Does anyone think some personalities and talents are more suited for arrangements versus embalming? Bringing Igor out of the dungeon expecting a Billy Graham arrangement session is ludicrous. Why not 3 caskets in the building, or maybe an even dozen? What’s the legal definition of a hearse? Could it be a van with the respectful “landau” strip of metal on the side?
We are our own worst enemy creating barriers for success because we attempt a façade of some messed up nobility which supersedes common sense. One thing I really like about the “new generation” of funeral directors that are entering the marketplace. They don’t take your word for it, they Google and fact check. You know, actually find the regulations on their smart devices and challenging the absurd when Foghorn Leghorn starts crowing.
We are entering a new era in the funeral business where the light is being shined on the darkness simply because of information. And when you have information, you become educated. When you get educated, you have a platform to effect change. Rather than embrace “what is,” run the risk of failing scrutiny because you’ve processed regulations in a self serving way, let’s get educated and busy. Perhaps the time has come to clean up this ridiculous mess.
From the sunny Command Post (West), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
May 2nd began new era for me; I am now the Director of Marketing for The Foresight Companies. Over the last 2 months, Dan Isard and I have conducted in-depth due diligence, meetings, sharing of philosophies concluding that this opportunity is right for both of us. Learning from Dan as an understudy and gleaning from his vast 30 years of funeral consulting expertise is indeed a fantastic opportunity.
Fortunately, I am not only going to get a PhD in funeral consulting, I also broaden the platform of reach through The Funeral Commander blog as well as the Funeral Nation TV with my co-host and social media expert Ryan Thogmartin continuing to “raise the flag” for our industry. Additionally, the At Need Credit company fits nicely into The Foresight Companies wheel house especially with our Simple Funeral Payment Plan software platform to clean up accounts receivable for funeral homes.
Yes, this a significant change and commitment for both of us. Dan shaped up his intention for my future in an early email to me: “It was a story told that the young Egyptian kings would eat the eyes of the former king so that the young king would have seen all that their predecessor did. I am better today at what I do based on what I have seen for 30 plus years. I have to try to pass that on to my protegé as quickly as possible.”
So there you have it. I’m in the process of fantastic professional growth and educational experience. If you know both Dan and I , you will also know that our wit and humor are aligned (see Funeral Nation TV Episode #30 to get a flavor of how we are working together. So when you see Dan at future conferences and conventions, take a few moments to ask him what type of service dog he is training with. As for me I’m studying exactly which rum pairs well with eye balls.
From the new Command Post (west) and in dire need to find a cigar lounge that I can work from, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
I am going to admit that I will drive out of my way when traveling for a Jimmy John’s #9 Italian Nightclub with extra peppers (hot). So when the news hit (via my funeral home partner who saw it on Facebook) that my beloved sandwich shop had their mouthwatering piles of meat and fix-in’s on fresh baked bread for $1.00, I trekked on over for a treat.
My cohort and I arrived at the local eatery in a bit of disbelief that the line stretched out the doors spilling into the parking lot (see picture above). Of course you know me, I started thinking, “How can a funeral home get people lined up out the door to do business like this?” Answer: They can’t. Advertising in the funeral business is simply not the same and consumers do not respond in the same manner. A $995 cremation sale (even if you pre-need today!) is not going to bring long lines of excited consumers waiting to get the best deal in the death business.
My co-host on Funeral Nation TV and social media genius Ryan Thogmartin of Disrupt Media and I consistently trumpet branding/messaging. Jimmy John’s touts gourmet sandwiches and made or delivered really fast. They don’t sell burgers, tacos, hot dogs, keepsakes, or urns. As mentioned above, when traveling I eat at JJ for another reason: consistency. No matter where I am, I get exactly what I want: great sandwich really fast. I find value in their brand. Value: not about price (wink, wink Dan Isard).
Can I get a sandwich somewhere else cheaper? Yes. Can I get what I want somewhere else? No. Can a consumer get a cremation or burial cheaper? Yes. Can they get what they want at another funeral home? Probably. WHAT? How will they know the difference if you don’t share your brand and message? After all, a sandwich is a sandwich and a cremation or burial is a cremation or a burial…right?
Get it yet? Probably not. IT’S ABOUT YOUR #FNbrand message! I ate inside the restaurant so I could watch the operations and behaviors. Guess what? Gourmet sandwich’s really fast even with a line out the door…training anyone? What is your funeral home brand? Is it distinguishable from your competitors? What are you doing to share the message? If your funeral home message is: “We’ve been here since Sherman burnt down the South,” “We care more,” “We’re family owned, they’re not,” on the paper place-mat in the diner, I suppose all this nonsense about the interweb marketing is just gibberish.
From a completely satisfied Jimmy John’s customer in the Command Post; Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
The three “R’s” will literally poison a funeral home; Human Resources, Accounts Receivable and ‘Rithmatic. I recently attended The Foresight Companies funeral boot camp where my fellow recruits and I were provided an in-depth look at our funeral homes. During the three days of training, it became glaringly obvious that the vast majority of funeral homes are just a lawsuit, failed collection or miscalculation away from serious problems.
Human Resources: Does your firm have a Human Resources professional on staff or on retainer? If not, here is an example of the poison I’m referring to that will make you spit out your coffee this morning. Perhaps you are a funeral home owner that crowns managers making them “exempt from overtime” so that you can go to your beach house and not work weekends. Yet the manager isn’t authorized to fire the funeral director that goes to the big church replacing them with a much better intern; and/or if said crowned manager cannot give the employee under their command a raise, you are in big trouble if DOL (Dept. of Labor) knocks on your door. The classification of “non-exempt employee” according to the US Department of Labor includes several more specific parameters such as managing two or more employees (mere supervision doesn’t count), and the authority to hire and fire, or establish compensation. In fact, the DOL can make your funeral home DOA pretty quickly over an overtime dispute. There are many more facets of HR that can poison your firm; these are just a few examples. Beware.
Accounts Receivable: Unless you are mega firm and have serious funds stored away, cash flow is king at a funeral home. With the average funeral home in the US holding over $17,000 of receivables, financial failure is a real possibility. Leadership, training and accountability are the collective remedies to reverse the AR poison. However, the majority of funeral home owners simply ignore the slow death from drinking the tainted AR Kool-Aide rather than address the obvious and take charge of their business.
‘Rithmatic: Do the math. I mean conduct a complete analysis of costs/overhead structure, then pricing, monitor and adjust. I may be insensitive to those “running the ministry the grieving.” However, even churches pay attention to their books. If you and your staff are not capable or you don’t have an accountant that conducts a complete P&L review including measurement of budget to outcome, hire a professional. I know you love the families you serve, but you may love them to death-the death of your funeral home.
Yep, I’m a retired Captain and I have captioned the moniker of The Funeral Commander for a reason. “I’m not going to tell you to go to hell, I’m going to tell you the truth and it may feel like hell.” Quit poisoning your funeral home. That’s the truth. Oh, and a new one I picked up over the weekend (thanks Mark Fisher): No one gets offended by a statement that doesn’t apply to them.”
If you are offended, then you are drinking the 3R poison and fooling yourself. Want to get off the Kool-Aide? Email me email@example.com and let’s set up a time to chat. If not, plan your own funeral home funeral…but of course, that’s a post for another day. From the blurred and smoky Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
US funeral homes are owed over $300 million for services and products already provided. Let that sink in. Just this past week I was made privy to a firm that has over $500,000 of accounts receivable. If you are a funeral director that proclaims “I’m here to serve families and I don’t talk about money,” then you have an owner in dire need of a spine implant or major cajones attachment surgery.
The ridiculous notion of allowing such behavior is squarely the fault of funeral home ownership and management. Why is there over $300 million owed to funeral homes? Because funeral home owners and managers allow the inmates to run the asylum by not training, monitoring, measuring, and continuously improving their staff. Apparently the pain of not getting paid for services rendered isn’t near the pain of leadership by training and holding funeral directors accountable for their actions.
If you are a funeral director reading this and your firm has accounts receivable, then you are the problem (make sure your owner doesn’t see this post). If you are a funeral home owner/manager and your firm has accounts receivable and you are reading this, I give you two options:
- Take charge and lead your funeral directors with training to resolve your AR problems.
- Do nothing and allow your funeral directors to run your business out of business.
If number one above looks palatable and you don’t have the ability or the capacity to effect this change, then email me firstname.lastname@example.org. If you think number two is your best option, then I have a question for you: How do you stand up without a spine?
Yep, I’m clearly on the battlefield today and loving the smoke of combat. Remember, I’m not going to tell you to go to hell, I am however, going to tell you the truth and it feels like hell. For those of you that feel like hell, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
Would you buy your funeral business suit from a hardware store? (This question does not apply for the hard working directors in Montana.) Would you buy a lawnmower in an Italian restaurant? Would you buy your groceries in a proctologist’s office? How about buying your next computer at a dairy farm? Do these questions sound absurd? It’s a reflection of what we are witnessing from suppliers in the funeral industry.
Why are website developers selling urns? Why are casket manufacturers selling websites? Why are vault companies selling caskets? Why are embalming fluid companies selling jewelry? Because their foundational businesses are struggling in a market where 13 year old can create fantastic Word Press websites and burial is sharply declining! Thus, this crowd is starting resemble Mr. Haney on Green Acres selling his wares in the back of his truck.
Manufacturers and providers are facing the same problems as funeral homes: declining revenues from their core business. Suppliers keep hawking anything that can turn a profit to the DAM’s (Dumb-Ass Masses) providing no significant enhancement to the funeral home bottom line or operation. If a cornfield sticker can be put on it (you know the ones that try to disguise the country of origin) it’s for sale! Rather than funeral homes mastering what brought them to the dance in the first place by understanding the business of doing business, they continue ogle at “shiny stuff” that can be purchased or provided at a much lower cost with a quick Google search.
If you are astute enough to pay attention to the signs of how the funeral industry is in dramatic turmoil, please initiate a serious evaluation of your own business to adjust for the ongoing and future rough waters ahead. Shy away from the growing list of funeral peddlers as they are simply grasping at straws in a feeble attempt to stay afloat and try to remain relevant. If it doesn’t make your job easier, your bottom line fatter or your family experience better, you don’t need it.
Of course for those that don’t “get it” I’ll continue to point out the obvious so at least you may have a clue when reading my posts because you aren’t going to get reality from many out in the “Funeralsphere.” Oh, and please wipe off your upper lip because no one is taking you serious with that Kool-Aide mustache.
Returning from Boot Camp energized for duty, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
Quick question: How much do you currently have in your firm’s Accounts Receivable? What could you buy right now for your business if that money was in your bank account? New computers? A new hearse? A total remodel? A new location? If your funeral home has accounts receivable, your payment policy (immune system) is broken and your firm is suffering from a serious disease. What I find astounding is that some funeral homes don’t know they are sick. People die every day because they failed to get regular check-ups and pay attention to their health. When the news strikes and depending on the stage of the disease, it is sometimes too late for any treatments or even surgery.
Funeral home owners are no different. Ignoring the very information in front of their face; accounts receivables. I talked to an owner recently with over $300,000 owed for services and products already provided! The average funeral home has $17,000 in AR’s…folks that over $300,000,000 (three hundred million for those of you that “don’t do numbers, we just serve”) that is due for hard work.
Get a financial check-up. If you have any money due over 30 days, you’re sick. It may be a cold (a small amount) or full blown stage 4 cancer. At Need Credit has the cure, you just have to take your medicine. Simple Funeral Payment Plan is easy and the technology is far better that poor Mrs. Edna sending out those letters from the book of promises every month, but few checks coming in return. It’s just that simple, why won’t you do something to make it better?
From out west in Sunny Scottsdale (yes, I’m in training), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
TFC-BS Wire: Early this morning we have confirmed reports from the Cornfield that casket sales are soaring! Funeral homes report the increased demand for full service burials are causing serious issues from scheduling of services, dwindling inventory of embalming fluids, lack of limousine/hearse stock to scarcity of high end caskets. Additionally, cemeteries report land grabs akin to “the gold rush” for spaces available to bury the masses at their final resting place.
This phenomenon has a negative effect as consumers are abandoning cremation in droves. Crematory operators are scrambling to find solutions to find revenues as cardboard container sales, urn and online cremation sales are plummeting. Cremation societies and what was deemed as “cut rate cremation” providers but the funeral industry are now facing foreclosures and bankruptcy.
Yes, it was only a dream and of course it’s April 1st. No such luck, its all a dream!
From the Command Post with a big cigar and laughing at the absurdly of wishful thinking; Cheer’s Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
Today, we’d like to a moment and share a recent interview with AtNeedCredit.com managing partner, Jeff Harbeson.
Jeff has been in the funeral industry for many years, has founded or co-founded numerous funeral-related businesses and websites and shares valuable insights from his experience.
He regularly contributes his expertise to publications, both offline and online, is co-host of Funeral Nation TV (an online show for the funeral industry) and writes regularly on his blog, The Funeral Commander. We welcome Jeff Harbeson to the CareCap blog.
Ed: Thanks for joining us today, Jeff, on the CareCap blog. So, can you tell us a little about yourself and your background? What’s your story?
Jeff: My story has many chapters and the story is ongoing. The most important chapters are my marriage to my wife Jacque for 32 years. Bless her heart, she deserves a special place in heaven! We have two fantastic sons Hunter (off my payroll) and Jackson (finishing high school).
Often folks ask what I do, and my response is:
“I am raising my daughter-in-law’s husband and my grandchildren’s father. My work is merely a support for their well-being and my habits (cigars, rum, golf and travel).”
Ed: (LOL) Well, that’s a pretty great answer, I can tell you have a healthy sense of humor. similar to my father- he served in the Navy for 20+ years, but I know you were an Army man, so I’m sure you’d still all get along! How long were you in service to your country?
Jeff: I was honored to serve our country for 20 years in the Army including deployment to the Middle East for service in Operation Desert Storm. I was trained to be a leader and had the opportunity to be a TAC Officer (drill instructor) at Officers Candidate School where I trained over 400 enlisted and non-commissioned officers to become combat leaders, some still serving today.
My official retirement papers came September 11, 2001 and I retired as a Captain. I have a personal mantra of “A vision is only a dream without execution” and a gift of working alongside some very smart people.
Oh yeah, I also don’t want to leave out that I’m not going to tell you to go to hell, but I’ll tell you the truth, which may feel like hell! J And I expect the same from those around me that I place my trust and emotional equity.
Ed: Well, that’s a no-nonsense approach to life and in doing business, one that I can appreciate. So, after your time serving in the military, how did you get started in the funeral industry and what drew you to it?
Jeff: My original start in the funeral industry was as a manufacturer providing custom made cremation cabinets in Ireland. I learned quite a bit about the landscape and was later recruited by Batesville Casket Company in sales.
As I worked with funeral home owners, I was astounded at the lack of business acumen and leadership that was pervasive in the industry.
Many times I was told by funeral home owners and directors alike “we have always done in this way” and “you can’t change that.”
So after dealing with those challenges in the funeral industry, I decided that I would create an entirely different funeral home operating platform using six-sigma methodology which is today trademarked as TouchPoints.
Later on, some partners and I started our own funeral service provider brand in Virginia from the ground up, Family Choice Funerals & Cremations.
As a partner/owner I was provided a fantastic education and training of how to develop a successful business. The funeral home operation also provided me a platform for trying new theories of service, marketing, technology and management.
I have a penchant to provide information so that families can make an educated funeral decision and our team is dedicated to continuous improvement.
Ed: After recognizing these challenges in the funeral industry and what you’re seeing on the market today, what are some of the top things funeral homes are seeing as advancements or trends?
Certainly, technology and communication has changed the funeral home operating landscape and the expectations of the funeral consumer. As a whole, funeral homes are reluctant and slow to embrace anything new. To their detriment, this legacy characteristic offers entrepreneurs like me to take competitive advantage.
Our funeral homes use computers and tablets for all operations,which eliminates waste in human resources expense, such as administrative staff. Combining technology with social media is a tremendous advancement for our industry; however, the vast majority of funeral homes have not embraced the opportunities.
Another example of keeping up with consumer expectations is an online cremation service called Select Cremation that our team developed, which allows a funeral consumer to make complete arrangements for their loved one online and the cremated remains delivered to their house without ever leaving their comfortable surroundings.
The way we communicate even within our industry is changing, for example I co-host an online show Funeral Nation TV which is viewed by over 20,000 people monthly in over 75 countries. Frankly, it’s the best FN thing going in the industry .
Ed: It sounds like you’ve got a great handle in developing a strong online presence and embracing technology to share your challenges, success stories, etc. within your industry, great work!
With so many changes in technology and communication coming at us so fast in the business world, what would you say is the #1 business challenge funeral directors are facing today?
Jeff: The lack of leadership of doing “the business of the business.”
Funeral professionals are compassionate caregivers providing a necessary service at what is considered one of the most difficult events in life; the loss of a loved one.
However, the typical funeral home is poorly managed from the business and financial standpoint. Failure of owners to take accountability and leadership of their business places many firms in shaky financial postures.
Ed: I’m sure, as you say, funeral directors face many obstacles to running a funeral business as best as they can, while remaining compassionate to people dealing with a difficult time in their lives. Speaking of finances, when dealing with consumers and their challenges at covering funeral expenses, how can funeral homes help?
Jeff: When a deceased person does not have a funded pre-need trust/insurance or little to no life insurance, survivors are placed in a difficult spot. Many families have limited credit card balances and little to no savings set aside to pay for unexpected funeral expenses.
Most people do not realize that funeral homes as well as cemeteries require full payment prior to services rendered.
At Need Credit offers Funeral Directors two payment options for consumers, for funeral homes to recover their costs for goods and services.
FuneralPayPlan (info available at AtNeedCredit.com) is an online loan company providing funeral consumers loans for funeral expenses. Simple Funeral Payment Plan, powered by CareCaps (also found at AtNeedCredit.com) is a versatile payment plan for funeral directors to bill payments over time as well as recover accounts receivable due.
Of course, funeral home owners must be proactive in training their funeral directors on how to assist families that have financial challenges.
At Need Credit offers such training that eliminates discounting and extraneous accounts receivable work. Yet again, it takes leadership to make changes.
Ed: Do you see any drawbacks to any of the payment options currently available to the funeral industry, such as At Need Credit?
Jeff: There is no downside to funeral homes offering payment plans through a program such as At Need Credit.
However, if funeral homes offer credit or payment plans that charges interest, they are most likely out of federal lending compliance. When a loan is offered (payment plan, credit or accounts receivable recovery) consumers must be provided with a Truth-In-Lending Act statement as well as calculated Annual Percentage Rates, at the time of application.
I have yet to see a funeral home in compliance of these regulations, thus a third party company like At Need Credit is their best option.
Ed: It’s clear that every business, including the funeral industry, needs to be compliant when offering financing and that by contracting with a third party to handle payment options, they can avoid the finance compliance issues. In terms of searching for a third party funeral financing or payment plan solution, what type of advice would you offer to a Funeral Director when he/she is evaluating a payment solution for their business?
Funeral directors should research what others are saying about the payment platform, the tool should offer the ability to create and modify customized payment plans, ensure that deposits can be paid out quickly and that they doesn’t aren’t charged unusually high or unnecessary start up fees.
I’d recommend they also go through a full demo of the payment system, to test out the system before implementing in the funeral home business.
Lastly, select a company that has established and updated training for funeral directors, in order to understand how to offer payment plan options during the funeral arrangement session.
Ed: You’ve owned, operated and managed many funeral industry-related businesses. What advice would you recommend for a family planning a funeral in today’s environment?
I would recommend to everyone they discuss their own end-of-life wishes with family members. Although this may sound odd, it can be enlightening and provide impetus to collect necessary documents (life insurance policies, wills, advance medical directives, DD-214, etc.) and at least know the location of these important documents, in case of an unexpected death.
Humor makes the conversation so much easier. Discussing outfits, after parties and other events often leads to more important matters.
I have personally planned my event in Aruba at the Bugaloe Beach Bar headed by my Italian Catholic, Southern Baptist and Jewish funeral director friends leading the bereaved with cigars and lots of rum. Sounds like a hell of a sendoff, huh?
Unfortunately, we cannot predict death, especially when we lose those that are younger than us. Just recently I had such an experience and shared the story on my blog: https://thefuneralcommander.com/2015/11/24/its-personal-grief-grace-gratitude/.
Ed: Your event you have planned in Aruba, definitely sounds like a hell of a way to celebrate your life!
And I definitely agree with what you recommend, that people take the time to discuss and notate what their end of life wishes should be. Too many times, friends or family members pass away and we as the survivors, face challenges and awkward moments planning and carrying out what we think are the best wishes on their behalf. Your advice of taking care of creating and managing the necessary documents is something that might be a challenge at first, but important to do so for the sake of our loved ones.
Thanks so much for your time and sharing your story and advice from your years in the funeral business and serving our country in the military; do you have any last words you’d like to share with our readers as we sign off?
I would encourage everyone to take each day as a gift and love deeply those closest because tomorrow may not come. Plan, talk, laugh and love.
Recently relatives visited us just to get together. Ordinarily such an event is simply part of what families do, but this visit was very different for me making yet another impression about how fragile life really is. Hosting the visiting family at our home, we took a ride around the Blue Ridge Mountains. If you have never visited this part of Virginia, the scenery is fantastic, so the day trip was enjoyable with warm springlike weather. Of course I can tell that I am getting older because I actually pay attention to all the landscape and mountains.
One of our relatives visiting has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease for a few years; however because of the distance of the miles between us, we have not spent time with him lately. This man is a well-respected individual with a meager start, serving at the highest pinnacles of his profession, finally retiring a few years back. I always admired his thirst for reading with a library of books spanning a wide variety of subjects. Like many of us, he lived his life working for the days that he could relax, travel and spend time on his terms rather than endure the hectic schedules in our busy work lives.
But along the way, the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s came, disrupting an otherwise fantastic life. The man that took both of my sons on trips, came to ball games, and cared for them as his own children now is in need of care himself. I was struck by his bewilderment at times, his silence during conversations and, moreover, by his private struggle of discomfort. Here, a man that at one time had tremendous responsibility over thousands is struggling with simple basics like whereabouts.
The moment that “took me under” was just prior to their departure. His wife brought me a bag of neck ties and she asked if I would tie them for her. I gladly accepted because I actually enjoy this particular part of being a man and frankly, I do a pretty good job. While looking in the mirror as I customarily do during the process, I became overwhelmed with emotion. This simple act that he performed for over 60 years of his life was now something menacing. I stood there looking at myself with his tie wrapped around my neck thinking of all the wonderful times I had spent with him, a man that had done so much for others, including me, could not tie his own tie because of this retched disease.
Although we all pitched in to assist his wife over the weekend with simple movements from place to place, this moment really got to me. I was honored to tie his ties, but also reminded that we only have today. If we are healthy, we enjoy a carefree luxury that at some point in our lives may turn into a burden. Not just for ourselves, but for those that love and care for us. I have a renewed respect and empathy for those caring for others, it’s just plain exasperating and exhausting. Literally everything that was once simple is now a challenge.
Upon completion of getting all the ties tied, I returned them to his wife. As I handed them to her, I knew that another task was taken off her huge caretaker list. But doing this was more than a help for her, it was a lesson for me. Be grateful for today and those that love you. Have compassion for others that love someone else enough to dedicate their life to making life better for the person they love. In the end, there is an end. Enjoy what you have now, it doesn’t last forever. From the Command Post, Cheers y’all. #thefuneralcommander
When funeral home owners and managers are challenged regarding their failed payment policy of collecting funds for their goods and services, finger-pointing begins. Often I hear “Once that arrangement door closes, there is not much I can do” and “We have a payment policy, but funeral directors are just not following it” along with other nonsensical gibberish. When statements are made like this I think about the old saying “The inmates running the asylum.”
I had the opportunity to present a Continuing Education Unit over the weekend at Tidewater Community College on the subject “Cash Flow Solutions for At Need Services.” The attendees were very engaged and truly seeking solutions to create better financial postures and processes of recovering the hard-earned revenues of their respective funeral homes. The problems can be solved with four steps.
Leadership: Step up and be the leader your funeral directors need and initiate solutions with immediate action. Any non-action to address failure is failure.
Training: Create a training program that is easily adapted, intentional and produces measurable results. If your funeral home does not have organic competence or experience (most don’t) for training, hire a professional. Interesting in the funeral profession there is much howling of directors “hire professional funeral directors” to consumers rather than use online services, “disposers” or “discounters.” Yet when the same barking ilk are in need of assistance in an area that they possess no background or expertise, they seek remedy’s that rarely produce results by non professions. Some examples: Business Management, Financial Advisory/Oversight, Marketing and Social Media Management.
Accountability: As a funeral home owner or manager, hold yourself accountable first. If you know there are problems (accounts receivable, discounts, life insurance recovery), then it’ your obligation to raise your hand and ask for help, not the funeral directors or employees. Once you initiate training, then accountability on all levels may be assigned.
Monitor/Measure/Improve: Training without monitoring the process, measuring results, and continuous refining is a futile exercise. In fact, the funeral industry has created the notion that “education/CEU” is sufficient. If that’s the case, why do 30% of our colleagues get repeatedly fined by the FTC for simple GPL violations?
After reading this post look at your YTD (year to date, you know the start of 2016 to now) accounts receivable and discounts allowed. If you don’t know how to find this data, you are in huge trouble. If this report reveals any AR balances or discounts given, you are in some trouble because your payment policy does not work. Multiply those numbers x 4 to see how bad your year is going to turn out. If you have $0.00 accounts receivable and have not offered any discounts, congrats as you are among a small few of your peers (or you don’t have a clue and in denial). Get professional help now, remedies and resources are available but you have to raise your hand (and write a check). Want to know who and how? Contact me.
Look for a BIG announcement from At Need Credit shortly regarding a strategic alliance of funeral industry financial funding leaders forming the most comprehensive solutions group for funeral homes to recover their at need revenues. It’s all about #FNchange, #FNhustle and #FNbrand people!
From the smoke-filled Command Post; Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
Is the funeral industry trying to reflect or define funeral consumer demand and trends? I was provided inspiration for this post while watching a political show recently where the moderator was interviewing a Presidential candidate. The line of questioning was how certain “Washington outsider candidates” with a combined vote count (from both parties) are receiving such an overwhelming number of votes versus the “establishment” candidates. Further, the “establishment” leaders are bewildered because the will of the people is not aligned the establishment ideals. The interviewee’s answer: “The people are rejecting the notion of we’ve always done in this way with their vote.”
As a whole, the funeral industry is in the same mired quandary. The funeral “establishment” is in full attempt defining what consumers want rather than reflecting market demand. No? Last week I posted Use a Computer for Funeral Arrangements? That’s Unprofessional! causing quite a vigorous debate between funeral directors about writing or typing. Yesterday I visited a well-established funeral home in a small town and it is the market leader (volume 250+ calls). When I inquired to the owner about what changes he is witnessing he shared with me that in this traditional, high burial church attending town, cremations are on a significant rise (not a surprise). However, he went on to say that visitations have sharply decreased stating: “I don’t know why I need all this room here, people are just not acting like they used to.” According to conventional wisdom, he should be charging more for visitations and showing more value (maybe free cookies) which would certainly turn the tide.
It’s not just funeral directors that are part of the “establishment” because vendors and manufacturers are of the guilty ilk as well. Without a doubt, the upcoming ICCFA Annual Convention & Exposition in New Orleans will have the “newest and best” line of caskets that families will love turning in the showroom like crazy making a significant difference to the funeral home’s bottom line. Yet, in 2016 cremation will eclipse burial as the consumers choice as final disposition.
Think about this: what exactly is the “establishment” vendors and manufacturers doing to address the real challenges that funeral providers face? If you haven’t a clue what those challenges are, see Serious Funeral Home Barriers to Success for a start. Unfortunately with all the R&D funds (used to find someone else that has invented something new), it’s the same people selling the same stuff to the same flock of sheep. No answers; but one can hear whispers of The Orchestra is Lovely as the ship continues to sink.
However friends, there are sunshine rays peeking through murky clouds of the funeral industry future! I actually saw a very well established, multi-location, legacy generational, family owned funeral home create their own cremation internet business to consumers in their market! I am also privy to several funeral home owners initiating deep dive diagnosis of their business for their future financial and operational health. We are witnessing some of the flock being healed from their accounts receivable and discount afflictions! PRAISE THE LORD, there is hope!
Now the serious question needs to be asked, please close your eyes. Search deep into your heart and ask yourself “Am I really trying to adapt and provide what families I serve are asking for…or am I just repeating those painful actions of “We’ve always done it this way?” Friends, it’s never too late to see the light. I urge you, repent and change your ways! You can walk in the sunshine of the future and out of the darkness of the past. Amen.
From the pulpit with a cigar in hand and preaching to the congregation in the Command Chapel located on the Battlefield of Funeral Industry Innovation, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
Training funeral directors to proclaim “We are a funeral home, not a bank” is not the solution to get paid for goods and services. Access to credit for an increasing number of consumers is becoming difficult and funeral homes are not equipped or offering funeral loans. Unfortunately, traditional lenders like banks are not offering funeral loans especially to those who are credit challenged.
The Washington Times reports that the majority, or 56 percent, of consumers have subprime credit scores (below 640), according to a report released (January 2016) by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), a nonprofit that advocates for policy changes to help low- and moderate-income households. As a result, these consumers are often locked out of the lending markets. And if they are borrowing, chances are they’re missing out on the lowest rates being offered to consumers with stronger credit. “Bad credit” doesn’t always mean that the consumer does not pay their debts. Credit is a touchy balancing act: a few missed or untimely payments (slow pay) combined with a high debt to low income ratio and the consumer will find themselves in a quick negative credit score spiral.
Yet, family members of the before-mentioned 56 percent are dying and seeking ways to pay for funeral expenses; they can pay, but not borrow money to pay. With a body in building, what do you do? I have outlined steps previously in posts Funeral Director Training: Secure Payment Before Contract Signed. and Funeral Director Training: “We ain’t got much money.” Training funeral directors in advance to understand the parameters of your firm’s policy and the tools/services available for them to create a sensible solution for payment is easily accomplished.
Denying the truth doesn’t change the facts. The truth is funeral home owners are not training staff to create solutions for consumers are struggling financially or providing the tools necessary. These facts manifest themselves with discounts of goods and services along with accounts receivable hampering the cash flow of the business. Solutions are available; take a step in the right direction by contacting us at At Need Credit Training to initiate improvement of your financial strength and take charge. At Need Credit is the only funeral industry company with funeral home leadership and the experience to change your facts. We have some big news on the horizon which will add to our strength as the at need solutions leaders for cash flow in the funeral industry, stay tuned!
From the Command Post, Cheer’s Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
I recently visited my cardiologist for my annual checkup (yes, to make sure I have a heart). The process at this practice starts with me on the scales (ugh) and then escorted into an examination room for nurses to take my blood pressure (120/82) and ask questions updating my health habits. When asked about smoking, of course I proudly shared my cigar affinity (’till death do us part) only to be met with scowling looks.
A trainee nurse was taking all the information and conducting the vital stuff with a seasoned nurse providing oversight. The trainee used software while entering my information on a tablet device. I didn’t think much of it until the cardiologist came into my little room (35 minutes later or course).
Upon entry we shook hands, chatted a bit and then he opened up his laptop (see photo above). Immediately I asked the physician permission to take a photo of him (not showing his face). I explained why, and he complied. He also showed me the software he uses providing my entire medical history and information important to him on a dashboard.
Not long ago I was part of a lengthy discussion with funeral directors regarding their opinions using computers during funeral arrangements with families. Needless to say, there were quite a few emotional responses (imagine that with funeral directors). My favorite was “Using a computer with families is unprofessional” and “You have your head down typing and can’t look the family in the eyes while talking to them.”
- “Unprofessional” to use a computer in arrangements? I suppose physicians, financial advisers, bankers, CPA’s and the “other professionals” have it wrong! Certainly the information they are entering is far less important than what funeral directors have to capture. Only the “other professionals” make so many mistakes and spelling errors that they really need to use a computer when dealing with their patients or clients. Without a doubt, the handwriting funeral directors “care more.”
- “Head down typing.” Really? If you learned how to type or truly could become advanced by sharing your laptop or tablet screen on a 60 inch TV, the family could watch as well as participate in the process! By the way, who writes without looking down? I’d love to see how that turns out.
It’s time for our industry to align with other professions by investing and training funeral directors to become proficient at basic business skills. “I can’t type on a computer” or “I’m not comfortable using a computer.” is simply unacceptable. Go to a community college, ask a 7 year old to teach you, get trained, and step up your game. Funny how fear and reluctance of change actually inhibits professionalism and service; it’s the little things that count. It’s time to #Fnchange by getting your #FNhustle on to build a better #FNbrand for yourself and your funeral home.
From the foggy cigar smoke filled Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
Depending on the zip code funeral directors serve, working with families who are financially struggling is moving from an occasional to a regular occurrence. How is your funeral home training funeral directors to successfully address “we ain’t got much money?” If your funeral home does not reside in such a zip code, then count your blessings. For everyone else, let’s examine how to address this very touchy part of funeral arrangements.
When a loved one dies, most families find themselves suffering anguish from their loss. For a growing segment of consumers, close behind the anguish of loss is the increased pressure of how they are going to pay for the funeral. Training staff for this difficult situation can be proved successful by communicating and creating a solutions .
To start, communication early in the arrangement session is key. The FTC provides us a fantastic tool to address what may be deemed “the elephant in the room.” No matter the preference of the funeral director (development of trust and assurance or collecting important information), prior to discussing services and prices we are mandated to provide the family with a GPL. In case you haven’t noticed, the GPL provides services, products, and are you ready for this; prices (you know, those numbers with a $ in front of them).
Frankly, not addressing this need early on with a family is poor service. Don’t think so? How many times have you waited to talk about money after complete arrangements have been made by sliding the goods and services statement in front of the decisions makers only then reviewing the bill? All of a sudden the entire entourage needs a cigarette and a bathroom break returning to tell you that they can’t afford what has been created. You embarrassed them and now you have to start all over again which is a loss of revenue for your time spent, just as a start. This is where everything unravels because many funeral directors will simply offer some kind of discount or claim “we’ll work something out.” If you sign a contract without securing the payment (see Funeral Director Training: Secure Payment Before Contract Signed), you own this problem.
While proving information about the GPL, consider this language: “The GPL is just like a menu at a restaurant, it has our services, products, and prices. We don’t charge any more than what’s listed nor do we charge any less. Before we move forward, do you have any questions or concerns regarding our services, products, or prices on our GPL?” From experience, the door has been opened and inevitably the statement “We ain’t got much money” or something similar is floated by the family members in the arrangement session. The response from the funeral director: “How much is not much money? What are your expectations for your loved ones funeral and your financial position to pay for those services?”
If a family states that they desire a “simple funeral” or a “basic cremation” the funeral director should know off the top of their head basic costs. For example: “Our simple funeral with our basic fees (includes staff), transfer from place of death to our care, embalming, casketing, dressing, visitation, interment, funeral vehicles, basic casket and outer burial container is $X,XXX. These costs do not include cemetery costs or cash advances like obituary charges, death certificates or flowers.” If the family chooses basic cremation: “Our basic cremation includes our basic fees (includes staff), transfer from place of death to our care, embalming, dressing, visitation, a cremation casket, crematory fees and a typical urn is $X,XXX. These costs do not include cash advances such as obituary, flowers, ME fees, and death certificates.”
At this point if the family shares that they do not have enough funds for any of the above, the next logical question from the funeral director: “Share with me your budget and funds available so I may determine what we can provide for you. Please also keep in mind we require full payment prior to us entering an agreement.” All the cards are on the table. Sometimes, there is not enough for the basics described above. When the family shares their financial position, the funeral director does their job; direct by creating services and products to suit the ability for the family to pay.
Undoubtedly, some readers now are thinking “what if they have no money?” I have been in this business for some time and experienced these very situations. In the six years of our funeral home operations, we have had one family that could not come up with more than $600. Do not compromise. If your funeral home has a “direct cremation” of let’s say $2,000, then that is the cost. In nearly every case, from out of the blue, the funds appear from several sources but mostly other family members. Just this past weekend, a family “had no money” however miraculously, the entire amount was made available prior to engaging in the funeral contract.
Solutions exist to “we ain’t got much money” situations. However the vast majority of funeral homes fail to train their directors how to solve the problems faced with financially struggling families. If you knew that you had the cure for cancer, would you tell anyone? I have the cure for “we ain’t got much money.” You can get a start treatments at At Need Credit Training or just keep letting the cancer continue to eat at your business.
Yep, I’m having a great cigar in the Command Post and watching golf while I compose (go Bubba!). Cheers Y’all…#thefuneralcommander
Please read this heartfelt and emotional account of a funeral director’s heart. #thefuneralcommander
Today was a tough day. I cried at work and it has been a while since that has happened. Not that crying is unusual at my workplace, it’s just that I’m usually not the one doing it.
Before I tell you about today, I need to provide a brief, back story:
This past December, we were called to handle the cremation for a man whose next of kin was his sister. As we navigated through the process, I saw where she lived and mentioned that my family had once lived in an adjacent neighborhood. As we continued to chat, we connected the dots and soon came to realize that our families had been next door neighbors for a short time before we moved from Columbia to Aiken and they moved to a new home.
That period of time is a bit of a blurr…
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What are the top three obstacles funeral homes are facing that challenge their success? The seriousness of this question muddled with chatter about all sorts of unimportant blither; car model/style, which embalming fluids are best, pants, skirts or white shirts, discounters, direct disposers, the funeral consumers alliance, showing/not showing prices on websites, have a talk, talk about someone else, casket color, urn type, which organization to join, corporates, family owned, and so on. It’s time to address important matters, initiate solutions and take action.
Declining revenue and profit is placing severe pressure on the overall funeral home market. To make course corrections a funeral home has three options:
- Raise prices.
- Increase market share (conduct more calls).
- Cut costs.
Perhaps a combination of all three are necessary, however firms require a complete professional analysis of overheads, pricing and operations. Identify gaps, create new processes, train staff to follow the specific processes, and measure results. Measurement and training are ongoing, not an annual event. This is quite a simple solution; however the majority of funeral home owners lack the will and ability to make this type of commitment to hold everyone employed in the business accountable including themselves.
Embedded in the solution of re-calibrating financial stability is training. Let me be clear, there is a difference in education and training. The funeral industry plays patty-cake with training funeral directors post school and license testing. There are no ongoing or relevant pass/fail requirements once a director finishes school and national/state testing. For the most part the CEU’s offered and presented are a serious waste of time. We all know the truth: sit through the class, sign an affirmation of attendance for credit, and return to the funeral home doing the same old thing the same old way. There is not one problem in the funeral industry that could not be corrected by training. Training is behavior modification. Don’t think so? A young 18 year old man fresh out of high school is trained in the military and in a short few years work on gazillion dollar equipment leading two or three more under his supervision. In five years the same young man is leading five to ten people with multiples for the future. Training change everything, however it’s non-existent in regular funeral home operations or priorities.
Management abounds and leadership is rare. Many owners rather be liked than respected simply refusing to demand behavior modifications of the very people that receive checks from their own funeral home payroll. Most owners do not possess the ability or wherewithal to “take the bull by the horns” of their own business. They are too cheap, prideful or embarrassed to raise their hand asking for help from professionals that have the acumen to provide analysis, solutions, training (behavior modification), measurement and accountability.
A funeral home can overcome barriers by analysis, implementation, training, measurement and leadership. The seriousness of the problems above are evident in P&L statements, national statistics (consumer trends) and the continued decline or funeral revenues. I solicit comments, opinions and of course refute of the content of this post. From the smoke filled Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
The funeral isn’t over if the funeral home has not been paid in full for services rendered. I recently read a statistic that the average funeral home has around $17,000 in accounts receivable or past due money owed for services that have already taken place. I have personal knowledge of firms owed hundreds of thousands of dollars. Why?
Funeral home ownership and management has failed. Frankly, simple solutions exist however it takes leadership to change behaviors in the arrangement session and accountability of funeral directors that sign funeral contracts. How? Let’s start with no funeral contract is signed until payment is secured. Payment secured, what does that mean?
- Valid pre-need trust with enough funds to pay for goods and services.
- Verifiable life insurance-assigned to funeral home by factoring company and fees paid by the family.
- Payment in full by cash, check, or credit card.
- If any payment above cannot be paid in full, at least 80% of funds must be paid with cash, check credit card or life insurance as a down payment with an approved payment policy in place. If a family cannot pay 80% up front, it’s the wrong service offered by the director. Reduce services and products to match affordability of the family. If a family can’t pay the majority of the service, the firm will likely not collect the balance due.
- No discounts. If a family needs help, use #4.
Of course I know there are extenuating circumstances and funeral directors cry the proverbial “what if the family?” What if the owner would do their job and train funeral directors process in arrangements to properly explain the payment policy of the funeral home (above 1-5)? What if owners held funeral directors accountable to not sign a contract until payment is secured? Here’s what if for you: “What if the funeral director signed a contract without securing payment and if the payment was not collected when due, the funeral director paid out of their salary?” Let that one sink in.
If you think this is all a made up scenario and impossible, then you are wrong. Our funeral homes and cremation company conducts almost 500 services a year; we have $0.00 owed to us. Want to have the same for your firm? Contact me email@example.com and we’ll set up a time to further discuss how to lead your funeral home with training as well as director accountability.
Next week I’ll discuss steps how to recover from the failure of training and accountability of funeral directors which resulted in accounts receivable in the “book of promises.” From the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
How to Implement Change in the Funeral Home: An Interview with Jeff Harbeson, The Funeral Commander
Posted February 24, 2016
8 min read
We sat down with Jeff Harbeson, a retired military Captain and funeral home owner/partner, also known as The Funeral Commander, to get his insights on how funeral directors can follow best practices to implement change in their firm. Read on to also see what Harbeson recommends to funeral home leaders who are looking to help their staff better empathize to have greater perspective with grieving families.
Q: You have a popular blog called The Funeral Commander. Can you share how you came up with that name and branding?
Jeff Harbeson: I am a retired as Captain with 20 years of service, including deployment to Operation Desert Storm and a TAC Officer at Officers Candidate School where I taught over 400 non-commissioned and enlisted soldiers to become leaders. I began my funeral industry journey first as a casket sales rep taking me to today as a funeral industry leader operating multiple businesses within the industry.
Those businesses include two successful funeral homes, the TouchPoints Six Sigma funeral home operating platform, an online cremation service, an at-need payment company, a successful consulting company and co-host of the Funeral Nation show. I felt that The Funeral Commander would provide a perfect description of my military and funeral leadership experience.
Q: What is your advice for funeral directors who are looking to implement change? What can they do to support desired change in their firm?
Jeff Harbeson: Before implementation of any change, one has to acknowledge that a problem exists and understand where to initiate correcting the problem. When I first started this journey in the funeral industry, I wanted to learn everything I could about the processes, operations and costs of a funeral home. However, I could not find consistent or credible information simply because no real training existed to find the answers to my questions.
Before implementing any sort of change, my advice is to understand the process or problem and determine if change is necessary. The next logical step is seeking solutions to take corrective actions. Then rebuild the process, train and implement.
One factor to consider is identifying the audience that will be affected by the change. If it’s the funeral consumer, then you also must take into account that behavior modification (training of funeral directors) and monitoring of the process has to take place.
An analogy would be if you’re a baseball player and striking out frequently. You would have a coach analyze your swing so that he could teach you to take corrective measures. After modifications are made, then the hard work of practice and implementation takes place.
My team and I created a complete, alpha to omega six sigma based funeral home operating platform called TouchPoints. TouchPoints identifies every possible step that a funeral director and staff take, and we train multiple times per week to follow those processes. This system allows us to manage workflow and easily identify problems when they occur to take quick corrective measures. Again, back to the baseball analogy: there is a process in place for professionals to follow and they are in continuous improvement mode even practicing before a game.
Unfortunately, the funeral industry has hurt itself simply because once a funeral director gets out of school and gets hired to work, the general funeral home training program consists of: follow me and do what I do. The “trainer” may not have the best route to follow thus perpetuating the problem for the new director. Our system actually provides such great training that new hires, even if newly licensed, are making funeral arrangements on their own in a matter of weeks.
From a funeral industry training standpoint, we have CEU’s however in many cases are a colossal waste of time and resources. Many CEU’s have no intrinsic value to a funeral director and no “teeth.” Many times a funeral director is basically sitting in a session for an hour simply to sign off on a paper and get credit for attendance. No measurement of proficiency, just pay a fee and get credit. TouchPoints has a series of training programs so that our funeral professionals are performing to standards proficiently and are continuously sharpening their skills.
Returning to the question: you have to train to make change—just like professional baseball players take batting practice before a game. Making change takes intentional leadership effort and consistent relevant training for provide a solid foundation.
I can’t think of one issue or subject in the funeral industry that could not be corrected, addressed, or changed without training. From my point of view, training is behavior modification and it’s impossible to make corrective measures nothing is in place from the start. The majority of funeral homes have no training program or process in place to make changes.
Q: When looking at the entire experience a family has with a funeral home, it can be valuable for funeral home professionals to “see” that experience from the family’s perspective. How can we teach or train our staff to see this perspective?
Jeff Harbeson: Funeral directors meet with families during a time which most agree is very difficult. Part of our funeral director using TouchPoints for arrangements includes roll play. We actually get the funeral director to plan their own closest loved ones’ funeral. On top of that, we also have the role-playing director to make choices based on their own financial resources to pay out of pocket. It’s a valuable training session and enlightening for those that are fortunate enough receive. Without ever “wearing the shoes of the next of kin,” the anguish is only observed and not experienced.
Q: What shifts are you seeing in the funeral industry right now—and what should funeral directors know about these trends and today’s consumer?
Jeff Harbeson: Funeral home operations, in general, have not changed at all and many funeral homes are still serving the consumer the way they did 50 years ago.
However, the consumer has made a tremendous shift in several different directions. For example, consumers know more about our business simply because it’s readily available on the Internet. Twenty-five years ago, consumers had to actually visit a funeral home if they wanted information. Also, the way we communicate has completely changed. Therefore, the consumer is researching and making decisions however many providers have not adapted to using technology to reach the “undecided” consumer with relevant messaging.
In the past, a funeral home was in a community and if someone died or needed to make inquiry, they would physically visit the funeral home to get information from a funeral director. Today a consumer sits in front of a computer and conducts their own research without leaving the comfort of their surroundings. If a funeral home website or social media provides the information sought after, the consumer may then inquire. However, if the website is too “funeral-esque” (like playing piano music when you land, or funeral-wordy), the consumer moves on to other sources.
The trend of people separating from organized religion is a factor that requires attention. If a family is not affiliated to a particular faith and does not think that ceremony is necessary, that’s a problem for many funeral homes with significant investments in real estate as well as recovering revenue from funeral services, visitations, and wakes.
Another significant yet not widely addressed trend is how we are serving financially struggling families. The typical American worker earns less than $50,000 per year. Forbes recently posted a story about how 63 percent of our consumers don’t have$500 cash to pay for an emergency. As a general rule, funeral homes provide no training to their directors how to address the needs of financially struggling families.
Everything comes back to training: how do we address or how do we adapt to emerging trends? We need to know what we offer meets the demands of consumers. Identify those gaps, create a solution, train, monitor and refine.
About Jeff Harbeson, The Funeral Commander
Jeff Harbeson is Founder & CEO of The Harbeson Group which provides leadership on the battlefield of funeral industry innovation. By developing strategic alliances and relationships with other influencers to execute his visions, several successful companies were launched. Jeff is one of the Founders of Family Choice Funerals & Cremations™ as well as the Select Cremation™ brand of funeral service providers. Additionally, Harbeson and team developed a proprietary Six Sigma based funeral home operating platform, TouchPoints™. Also creating At Need Credit™, the company became the funeral industry leader providing loans and payment plans for consumers to pay funeral expenses. As a funeral industry entrepreneur, Harbeson pens the well-known blog, The Funeral Commander and he is also co-host of theFuneral Nation TV web show with social media expert Ryan Thogmartin.
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What does the recent primary in South Carolina tell us about the funeral industry? Let me start this post with a disclaimer: I’m simply providing observations and I am not endorsing or promoting any candidate who is running for the office of President of the United States. Additionally, I will note that my family (both my mother and father) come from the Palmetto State. We have deep roots since the very beginning of this nation, so I know what I’m talking about when proclaiming: South Carolina is considered the bastion of conservatism in America with a history of “sticking to their guns” with whatever they believe. It’s a state that is certainly considered “the buckle of the Bible Belt.”
My takeaway of the primary results last Saturday has relevance to the funeral industry. The winner did what most would consider blasphemous and everything that should have led to defeat. For example: calling out a much loved and revered former President (especially in SC) regarding the 9-11 attack; calling competitors liars and saying that a controversial women’s medical provider actually does have some good points. All this and more coming from a Yankee spending far less than his competitors while also using social media to resonate his message: “No more PC gibberish; let’s just call it like it is and make America great again.”
The competitors had the endorsements from the State party establishment elected officials, endorsements from the mainline religious groups, spent millions on trying to convince voters to follow the past “establishment direction,” and even made sure everyone knew the front runner was divorced but was now married to a “foreigner.” The competitors also had infrastructures developed with volunteers knocking on doors and making phone calls. In the State where a particular religious group reigns, against conventional thought the tactics failed and the stale messages did not stem the rising tide of change.
What are some of the similarities of the campaign in SC with the funeral industry? A few observations: the funeral establishment has long coined rivals (new business models) as discounters and direct disposers which basically means nothing to the consumer. Interestingly, some have their own little discounters and direct disposal businesses but don’t share much about them in public or funeral meetings (sort of like not claiming “that side of the family”). The rhetoric “you get what you pay for” is a back firing message because consumers are questioning the cost and see no value in what they are paying for with the traditionalists. Millions of dollars are spent on advertising in an attempt to convince consumers to hold on to tradition rather than invest in creating and seeking solutions to meet consumer demand. Pundits preach (see a blog post by funeral home owner Dale Clock The New Normal) at conventions and meetings to charge more and show more value but never address the real issues like how to serve the financially-struggling family (who are flocking to discounters and direct disposers). Value now is the ability to pay in full.
The results from the South Carolina primary offer a glimpse into the future of the funeral industry. Consumers are demanding change, rejecting the established past. They are educating themselves online and taking action on the information provided without visiting nary a funeral home. Consumers couldn’t care less about internal industry bickering and name calling; they are leaving tradition behind. The establishment’s message is fragmented and falling flat for a number of reasons including its methods of delivery (very few funeral organizations use social media or offer consumer-friendly websites). I don’t think nor do I advocate that the traditional funeral home is going away or it is irrelevant. However, the recent report, SCI saw fewer funerals, declining revenue in 2015, is news to which every funeral provider should pay attention.
The voters (funeral consumers) are speaking loudly and clearly asking for new models of service and a change in how we go about offering our services. We have an abundance of smart, talented, experienced, willing funeral industry professionals and organizations ready to work together for the betterment of our collective future. The platforms for communicating and working together are right at our fingertips. I raise my hand and volunteer, what about you?
From the smoke filled Command Post, Cheers Y’all. #thefuneralcommander
Situation: Your loved one just died unexpectedly with no pre-need trust or life insurance available to pay for the funeral expenses. You can’t use the funeral home where you work and you receive no professional courtesy discounts anywhere else. You must pay full price for services rendered, casket, vault, and all the cash advance items including the cemetery space, opening and closing fees. How would this event effect your personal financial situation if you had to pay?
My team at The Harbeson Group and I have conducted hundreds of training sessions for funeral directors over the years on subjects like FTC Funeral Rule knowledge, taking shopper calls, removal/transfer procedures and so on. A few months back, I wrote a post Wear Other Shoes about training funeral directors to role play by planning a funeral for their closest loved one who unexpectedly died. This training provides insight to the emotions people feel when arranging a funeral for someone they love and increases empathy for others in this situation. But there is another facet to the training; what if you had to pay for the funeral expenses from your current and personal financial resources?
I provide funeral director training on the topic of cash flow solutions for at-need services. Prior to starting the training, I inform the group that I have permission from the funeral home ownership (or organization leadership) to charge everyone for the training they are about to receive. The cost for the training is equivalent to the price for full burial at the funeral home including casket and vault (let’s use $8,400 for the purposes of this post). I then tell the group the full amount is due to me at the completion of the training and that I accept cash, checks and all major credit cards…and I pause to let that sink in.
I love seeing some of the reactions on the faces of attendees and to feel the uncomfortable shift in the room. I then say “If there are no questions, we shall move forward with the training.” Inevitably a hand will fly up with it’s owner asking “Are you serious?” My answer: “What’s the big deal?” “You ask the same thing of every family who makes arrangements with you, in fact for about the same amount.” Silence follows as more air is sucked out of the room.
So I return to my original question: What if you had to pay today from your own financial resources? Certainly there are those reading this who could write a check or have the credit card balance to pay, and then there are the rest of you. The majority of Americans (and let’s say a few funeral directors) don’t have the financial resources to pay for costly unexpected events in full, they need a payment plan. Sadly, just in the past few days, I read the obituary for a deceased funeral director asking for funds to be paid to help with funeral expenses. Just food for thought, if you had to pay today, would you need the services provided by At Need Credit? Take a look and decide for yourself.
From the Command Post (no cigar for now). Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
In the investment world there is a saying “Trees don’t grow to the sky.” The meaning is a warning that stock prices for a given company will not increase forever, they top out. When I thought about writing this post a few analogies came to mind relative to the funeral industry whether you are a funeral home operator or product/service provider.
First, take a look at the tree in the image above. I know there are exceptions (as I am not a tree expert), but trees tend to narrow at the top when they stop growing. If your funeral home has stopped growing more than likely it’s pretty narrow at the top with only a few branches “near the sun” failing to notice the root system beginning to weaken. The same holds true for funeral industry product/service vendors (look what’s happening in the cornfield).
We all know that trees have roots and can live for hundreds of years but the fact is trees reach a peak of vertical growth. If your funeral home has deep and a strong root system, yet peaked vertical (market) growth, what do you do? Perhaps just stand tall, firmly rooted and simply continue to serve in your sphere of ground. It’s not a bad thing at all. But your funeral home has stopped growing and perhaps vulnerable to planting/maturing of competitive funeral homes in your market. From a vendor perspective, new technology is being created in some cases before products even hit the market. Remember all the video folks? “New and improved” simply by a color or interior cloth change is basically putting lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.
Perhaps the notion of planting more trees (seedlings) from the tall and healthy (but ceased growing) tree is an option. Many funeral homes, successful, longstanding and deep rooted have planted seedlings that are maturing. New locations to serve different market areas and new models to serve different consumer segments are signs of recognition the original tree has ceased growing, but recognize the need to have a stronger presence of the brand. There few products and services in the funeral industry that are linear as well as strong enough to survive on their own. Yes, there was a time when funeral home website development, custom casket panels, “personalization” and such were revolutionary. But today many products/services are ordinary and being produced everywhere for significantly less than originally introduced into the market. Unfortunately, most new products and services are not developed from within or from the traditional industry providers, thus the analogy of the tree.
The point of this post is that trees truly don’t grow to the sky and there is a limit to growth. However, recognition by analysis of costs, market-share, real estate, market (consumer) shifts (demands), competitive landscape and growth potential should be a focal point of funeral home leadership. Unfortunately, many funeral home leaders are not equipped, possess the tools, or recognize the importance of such assessments. Conversely many product/service providers have armies of mutants in their basements providing such data, but often try to maneuver/manipulate the market rather than supply the demand. Why? Because their “tree has stopped growing” and still functioning on outdated models not understanding (or blatantly ignoring) the real needs of funeral home operators success.
As a funeral home owner or industry vendor, don’t become too busy at the top taking in the sun and assuming anything. Want to know more? Let’s connect to assess how to expand your brand for growth in your own forest at firstname.lastname@example.org. From the haze of cigar smoke in the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
I have conversations daily with funeral directors nationally about funeral payment plans and collecting full GPL prices prior to engaging in a funeral contract. More often than not I get questions from funeral directors: “What if the family?” I’m going to address some of those questions I get from the field.
What if the family does not have any money? My immediate response (and yes we have trained our staff and we actually give the same response when asked in an arrangement session): How much is no money? Not anecdotal, but I literally witnessed this same question posed to a funeral director and the family ultimately paid over $15,000 in cash for a complete funeral! Does your funeral home train how to provide a response? When a family says “they have no money” what exactly does that mean? Most funeral directors dive straight to the bottom without engaging further to better understand the financial posture of the people they “are directing.” The appropriate response is: “How much is no money?” Then, close your mouth, listen, when appropriate inquire more, and then create a solution that suits their budget. I know you’re sitting there saying “what if they have NO money?” Back at your here, what do you do?
“What if the family does not qualify for a loan at FuneralPayPlan.com?” You go back to the drawing board. The next step is to let the family know that you will accept a minimum of X% (our firm requires 80%) up front in cash, credit card or life insurance assignment. The family is required to sign up to pay the balance on Simple Funeral Payment Plan which requires them to allow withdrawal from their bank account, not just get billed and send in a check to your funeral home. By the way, if you are billing a family and charging interest (1-whatever %) and you did not provided a TILA (federal Truth In Lending Act statement) and/or their calculated APR, your firm is most likely out of federal lending regulatory compliance. No funeral contract is signed by the funeral director until the payment is secured.
“What if the family can’t come up with the X% up front?” You are offering them the wrong service and products; they simply can’t afford the current services or product selections! I wrote about this a while ago “I Only Have Bus Fare But I Want a Cadillac” and basically once you know that a family can’t afford what you are offering, then you must change their options. If not, you are part of the problem.
“What if the family gets money from FuneralPayPlan.com deposited in their account but they use it to buy something else?” Well, I guess I can only answer this one: “here’s your sign”
I have much more to say from experience and training firms to cash flow better for at need services, so this subject will continue in other posts. This post will generate enough fodder for those that #FNhustle and want to make #FNchange; so feel free to contact me to initiate training to make positive steps to build your #FNbrand. Of course, the others will simply smirk and continue upon their path of “often wrong but never in doubt.”
From the smoke filled Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander
I am the first to admit that I don’t make an A on every test. In fact, I often struggle with taking and passing tests much less reach a level of consistent perfection. Just this week I made a very visible mistake by posting the wrong word in the title because my lack of focus and self-editing. It did not take long for the “edit police” to quickly point out my error, so I corrected the mistake and then made fun of myself along with thanking the “good eye” folks.
I always find that acknowledging mistakes with an apology and humor tends to work, at least for non-life threatening stuff like spelling errors. Other more egregious mistakes (or any made as a husband or father) take an elevated/expedited response of contrite begging for forgiveness followed by some sort of restaurant visit. One recent very public mistake was made by Steve Harvey when he announced the wrong winner of Miss Universe. Steve quickly corrected the mistake and took responsibility. At Christmas, he even made fun of himself in a tweet:
During a recent funeral home training session we actually addressed the subject of correcting mistakes. Why would correcting mistakes be a training issue? How we correct the mistake is highly important simply because when errors happen in the funeral home, the reaction as well as the corrective measures make a difference. So, when correcting a mistake:
- Be accountable and acknowledge your mistake. Don’t pass blame on to anyone or on any circumstance. You did it, own it.
- Be humble and contrite in being accountable for making the mistake. Most of us are far more willing to forgive if the person asking has accepted responsibility and sincerely asked for forgiveness.
- Correct the mistake immediately. If the mistake is really bad, you may have to not only correct the mistake but also compensate for any resulting harm. Always do so, but within reason.
- Once you have completed 1-3, then train on or document how to avoid repeating the mistake.
Does your funeral home have a training program to provide guidance and a “road map” of processes to follow? Training for funeral directors and staff is essential to continuous improvement for funeral homes. When a new funeral director arrives to work (seasoned or newly licensed), what training is provided that will keep consistent performance and behaviors aligned with the company culture? Most funeral homes have the “follow me around and do what I do” training program which provides vulnerability to mistakes, some that may ultimately prove costly. For example; why are funeral homes all over the country being consistently fined by the FTC for GPL violations? Yep, we have training specific to the GPL based on the FTC Funeral Rule and I dare say that our funeral homes will never fail that particular test.
Funeral director training is not difficult or greatly time consuming but must be intentional with relevant content. If you want to know more about how to implement training in your funeral home contact the folks at G2 Funeral Group. Until next time, try to keep the mistakes to a minimum and I’ll get someone to proofread this before publishing. Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander
The issue of families struggling to pay funeral expenses is ongoing and I believe poses an increasing threat to funeral home financial health. Take a few moments and read an article posted in Forbes last month: 63% Of Americans Don’t Have Enough Savings To Cover A $500 Emergency. Now let that sink in a bit…
Depending on the zip codes your funeral home serves, regularly working with families who struggle paying for your goods and services may not be an issue. However, there is enough negative economic news to support my continued message that we as an industry need to start paying attention. Take a look at the chart below (courtesy of the St. Louis Federal Reserve and found by my fellow funeral professional Raymond Aikens):
One of the solutions for dealing with this problem is to train funeral directors how to address families in an arrangement session regarding payment options. Yes, I know that your firm accepts full payment before services rendered and you have a payment policy. So why do you have accounts receivable? Because your funeral directors sign contracts prior to securing the funds to pay for services rendered, the family walks out the door, the service is over and you have an unpaid bill. It’s your fault, period.
At Need Credit offers training and solutions of how to secure payment before a funeral contract is signed and also programs that will put your funeral home in a $0.00 accounts receivable status. If your firm has past due accounts, our Simple Funeral Payment Plan provides a program to not only collect much needed funds, but also keep your firm in compliance with federal lending regulations.
This year I will be offering CEU’s at conventions and meetings to address cash flow for at need services. Contact me for further details and let’s do something about the ongoing problem with a solution, not just talk about it. From the Command Post, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander #FNhustle #FNchange