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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

 

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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

 

return

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.

happy place

Relaxing from the fast pace and my own self prescribed high energy constant motion is no easy task.  The beautiful beach, cigars, and libation 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

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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

 

 

 

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

silly

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

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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

 

Pick YP

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 jeff@theharbesongroup.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

 

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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:

  1. Take charge and lead your funeral directors with training to resolve your AR problems.
  2. 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 jeff@atneedcredit.com. 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

Remedy 2

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.

Remedy

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.

Remedy 3

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.

Remedy 4

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?

MMI

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.

 It’s all about #FNchange, #FNhustle and #FNbrand people!

From the smoke-filled Command Post; Cheers Y’all! #thefuneralcommander

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