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Funeral Director Training

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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.

Back and refreshed from cigars, libations, great food and time with my family at the Command Post (East), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

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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

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? From the Command Post (West) and a cigar just waiting to be lit, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

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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.

From the Command Post (West), Cheer’s Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

At Need Payment Training

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.  From the Command Post (West), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander.

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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. From the Command Post (West) in the cigar bunker, Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

 

 

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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 road map 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.  From the Command Post (West) through the fog of cigar smoke, Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

 

TFC GPL

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.  From the Command Post (West), Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

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