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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

 

Apples and satsumasMy personal mantra “a vision is only a dream without execution” is impossible without a team.  As an entrepreneur, my most important realization is I’m unable to execute without being surrounded by people that have talents beyond my capability. Finding competent expertise in areas necessary to the success of the initiative is essential, however, the ability to cast the vision or “plant the seed” effectively to a team is crucial.

A critical component of building a new business today is melding technology with the process needs of the company along with making the customer experience simple and easy.  When the “customer” is a funeral director, this is especially true.  Along with being a funeral home partner/owner, my experience over the past several years of B2B development, operations and sales of funeral related services/products has taught me this lesson.

I am blessed with a team of seasoned Funeral Directors, Scientists, Educators, Technology, Financial, Sales and Marketing Professionals that cohesively share a common desire to deliver products/services that are huge “gaps” in consumer need/demand in the funeral industry.  Additionally, at the forefront of all decisions is “how can we make this better for the funeral director to serve their families?”  Each individual entity performs it’s tasks and provides other team members relevant input that may have impact on their particular area of responsibility.  As a team we measure our success by our customers providing our services/products to the families they serve and the feed back from both funeral directors along with the end user, the funeral consumer.  Our team is literally executing visions and we are witnessing the fruit being produced from seeds planted in the past.

Communicating a vision for team execution is not exclusive to entrepreneurs building new businesses.  The same processes exist while operating a funeral home.  Each new family, each new service is technically a new business…unique; just like the life lived, the family grieving, the services selected and provided.  What vision is your funeral home team executing?  Share with us the fruit being produced from seeds planted in the past. Cheers Y’all!  #thefuneralcommander

on fireBeing “all in” means that you are going to burn your boat at the shore.  Think about it.  As an entrepreneur, I believe that either you’re in or you’re not. Earlier this week I posted Believe In Yourself encouraging everyone to believe in their own passion and determination as the foundation of starting a business or change in life.

What have you committed to that there is no turning back?  As an example, many of us are parents and being a parent provides an analogy for being an entrepreneur.  From the first second of a child’s birth, they are dependent on someone else to care for them…basically, they are an unproductive employee (but a long term investment). Food, clothing, housing, teaching, and every facet of care is the responsibility of the parents for years of commitment.  A parent is the most important entrepreneurial venture in the world and frankly one of the most difficult.  It’s also not meant for everyone.

Now think about your current position.  While teaching CEU’s for a state funeral association group at their annual convention last week, I asked “do you write the check or do you get the check” meaning is the money yours or someone else’s (owner or employee)?  How would you work differently today if you had to write your own check?  What if you had to pay for your co-workers productivity?  Would you make sure the funeral is paid for if it was your money that paid the bills including your salary?  Have you fully committed by burning your boat at the shore for the person that’s paying you?  If you believe in yourself and capabilities, even if you don’t write the check, act like it’s yours.  If not, you aren’t ready to burn your boat at the shore.

I’m blessed to be associated with partner’s and fellow entrepreneurs that have burned their boats at the shore as well.  They possess a fundamental belief in themselves; they had a vision and now they are executing.  For some reading this, I know there are thoughts that burning the boat at the shore in Aruba wouldn’t be all that bad.  However, like the old saying goes about breakfast, “who is more committed, the chicken producing the egg or the pig producing the bacon?” From the onset, the entrepreneur lives a life of sacrifice; time spent with family, “free time”, personal finances and is the last in line.  In the military as an Officer, we always ate last…the troops always get fed first because they are the most essential to the mission, without them, no battles or wars are won.  But more often than not, the troops never recognize this act.

I have burned my boat at the shore; I’ve eaten all the provisions I brought with me, learned how to shelter myself, eaten from whatever I could kill or pick, and now I can see why I came to this foreign land of being an entrepreneur.  I took the risk, I committed, and there is no turning back. Soon, I’ll share what’s been built.  I burned my boat at the shore, thank God.  Cheers y’all! #thefuneralcommander

Gotta Be MeAs an entrepreneur, I can testify that I have fundamental belief in myself and I posses a relentless passion to convert my visions into execution.  That’s quite daunting when coordinating, funding, explaining, training, developing, and forecasting is a daily occurrence. Nothing is accomplished by yourself. It’s not a matter of relying on others, but the ability to infuse those that you depend on to have the same sense of passion and clearly defining the vision in order to achieve execution.  So, if you are one that desires to make a dream reality, you must first believe in yourself.  I know many that read this will think “well, I do believe in myself, but ____________.”

Robert F. Kennedy said “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”  We all have fear of failure, but why?  Is it because we are afraid what others will say or think of us when we fall?  Some of my biggest doubters have been those that live under the blanket of security from their current position, yet they wouldn’t dare leave that blanket behind.  “Happiness is when you feel good about yourself without feeling the need for anyone else’s approval.” ― Unknown.  Do you really need permission to succeed and be happy? Yes, it’s frightening to think of the financial disaster, being ridiculed by family, colleagues and friends by “see, I told you shouldn’t have.”

I had a friend call me for advice about her son.  He is a young man that has been well trained professionally and working at a local business. The young man felt that at his current job he was unappreciated and the leadership had no sense of excellence nor appreciation for his contributions to making their brand better.  An opportunity to move to another city and a big time entity within the same brand was laid before him.  The mom explained that he was really struggling with “leaving what he knows behind for a chance that may not ultimately work out” because the offer was conditional on a 90 day trial.  I told her that if he does not think he’s good enough, then stay where he is; if he believes in himself, there is no doubt what he should do. He made the move and performing excellently.

I’m on the cusp of launching what some may deem impossible.  Nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself and surround yourself with people that accept accountability and share your passion.  Much can be accomplished if common goal is the enterprise, not the individual recognition.   You only have one life…believe in yourself and others will too…Cheers y’all. #thefuneralcommander

kiwi I want to share a few news stories profiled about the funeral industry  just last week; “FTC Undercover Inspections of Funeral Homes in Nine  States Test Compliance with Funeral Rule Disclosure Requirements,  Unlicensed Funeral Director Probed for Questionable Cremations,  Funeral Home Owner’s License Revoked After Settlement, and Family  Alleges Funeral Home Buried Wrong Baby During Service.” 

With those sorts of headlines, is it any wonder that consumers are skeptical when they walk into a funeral home?  We know that with any profession, there are bad apples and operators.  A quick internet search will reveal similar news about poor practices in financial, medical and other industries.  My point here is that the funeral industry is not leading the charge of positive news and demanding necessary change; rather we are allowing the negative news to dominate the headlines.

The FTC mandated General Price List disclosure is a fundamental regulatory tenet of our business.   Violations sit squarely in the lap of funeral home owners, period.  I have personally conducted “secret shopper” services for funeral home owners and to their dismay; some of their employees would have cost significant fines for lack of disclosure.  But why should there be surprise when funeral homes conduct no consistent training, monitoring or any regular oversight of their directors?  Our industry is predicated on people who when the proverbial “arrangement room door closes,” the funeral home owner and the family are subject to whatever information the individual funeral director provides…right or wrong.  What really fascinates me is the posture many in our industry maintain about training, “trying something new”, use of digital presentations, or changing their current operations.

There is a story I heard about the differences between a Kiwi bird and an Eagle. The Kiwi bird is short, has a long beak, and is flightless because of its lack of wing structure eating bugs, worms and such. The Eagle has large wingspans, a hard beak, with powerful talons and eats small game.  The Kiwi spends its day trying not to be eaten by predators and searching for food in fields with high grass, basically keeping their head down and only paying attention to just what they can see beyond their beak.  The Eagle takes to the sky searching for opportunity to gather its food.  So, if a field is on fire, the Kiwi keeps right on going about its business and doesn’t know the field is ablaze until its beak is on fire.  On the other hand, the Eagle circles above to prey on the food that will be running from the fire…

We have too many Kiwi’s in the funeral industry…myopic, resistant to change, apathetic and no idea that the “field is on fire.”  The FTC mandates, most States regulate, industry organizations (NFDA, ICCFA, NFDMA, etc.) offer best practices, yet the funeral industry Kiwi’s dominate the headlines.  So, how do we change this dilemma?

First, the Eagles have to clean up our own house.  The simple answer is training and behavior modification.  Create and conduct regular in-house training on relevant functions such as when to provide a family your GPL, proper body identification procedures with checks and balances, etc.  Sit in on arrangements and evaluate the information being provided to families. Of course many are afraid to do this…but who owns your business?  Even more important, who is accountable and must face public scrutiny along with paying fines for poor behavioral practices of your staff? Demand accountability, but clearly communicate through training, monitor and follow-up your concise expectations.  Training provides your team with the knowledge that as an Eagle, you set the operational tone of your firm.  Failure to do anything short, well, you’re a funeral Kiwi.

Once we have our own houses in order, let’s all engage in providing a cure for our symptoms.  How about we demand federal legislation that if a funeral home has a website, their GPL must be displayed?  By providing consumers information, they can make educated funeral decisions. The firms that fail to either have a website or comply, well too bad.  Let’s change the CEU system…attending boring classes about mundane subjects that have no teeth or relevant educational value is a waste of time and resources.  How about add exams for the CEU’s with a high proficiency rating for continued licensing?  Now, that sort of news would be much more encouraging to consumers if we are making serious efforts to “police our own.”

Okay, so there’s my two cents worth about the disturbing news last week and initiating conversation about solutions.  For what it’s worth, yes, our firm trains at least 3 times per week.  If you want to have conversation about how we accomplish this, please email me and we can chat.  As for the Kiwi’s, frankly I don’t think we’ll hear much from them…they are too busy looking for worms.  Let’s hear from you Eagles!  Cheers y’all!

1 Merriam Webster— per·son·al·i·za·tion; make personal or  individual; specifically:  to mark as the property of a  particular person <personalized stationery>.  Wikipedia-  Personalization involves using technology to accommodate the  differences between individuals. Personalization technology enables  the dynamic insertion, customization or suggestion of content in any  format that is relevant to the individual user, based on the user’s implicit behavior and preferences, and explicitly given details.  Google Image: The image shown is the first when the word search for “personalization” is entered.

I was pondering personalization and the funeral industry after recently observing yet another arrangement session with a family.  The definitions above are the results of a computer search of just the word and subsequently an image search on Google.  What I found most interesting is that nothing was mentioned about funerals.  Of course when I entered “personalization funeral”  there are some blogs, references to industry written articles, and some funeral home websites that have done a good job with SEO on the subject.  When the same caption is then moved to Google images, a barrage of photos including an embalmed guy on a motorcycle appears and throngs of products from a Budweiser casket to candles.

Why am I writing this?  Because I’m not certain the general funeral consumer population is aware of our industry view of the subject “personalization.”  I’m consistently amazed by the reactions during actual post death decision making about this and many other subjects.  The family that prompted this post wanted nothing to do with in their words “any frills” for their deceased loved one (interestingly, the deceased was a “Baby Boomer”).  The funeral director, in line with our proprietary presentation of our arrangements, provided the family with information so that they could make educated funeral choices.  On the same day, at our other location which is four hours away, the same arrangement presentation provided, and the family seemed to want everything that was available including memorial products.  Our firm has made a choice that every family receives tangible recognition of the family’s loss and acknowledgement of their grief (a Mourningcross Bereavement Pin).  Every family that chooses cremation and an urn gets a personalized name plate with date of birth/date of death (using Print-A-Plate).  It’s personal to us, so we believe we should show the way.

I’m not being critical or making judgment; I’m just sharing a few observations.  To share an outside view of personalization, take a look at vanity license plates.  You know the ones with some clever message (like mine, BURYEM).  Virginia has the largest percentage of vanity plates in the US, about 16% (according to a study by AAMVA published in 2007) of all registered license plates are personalized.  Certainly that percentage has grown since.  Another interesting but little known fact that is the amount of “personalized caskets” actually sold is also in the teen percentages (or at least it was just a few years ago).

So, what is the point here?  It’s our job to provide information so that a funeral consumer can make educated decisions, and the first gesture of personalization should come from us…Cheers Y’all.

out of orderI was working a funeral service this past Saturday and experienced strange occurrences that I frankly don’t care to ever live through again. During the services, a young lady came to me to say that one of the restrooms had an “issue.”  Apparently, a roll or so of toilet paper just barely got the job done.  I proceeded to do my best plumbing expertise of using a plunger to fix the problem.  Well, it didn’t even come close…as I was sloshing away, the door opened with a man telling me that the other restroom has “an issue.”  Great…so I stopped plunging and opened the door of the other restroom and observed the same problem.

After exhausting all my best efforts to clear the hatch, I let my fellow participant in hell know we were in dire need of a plumber…on Saturday, in the middle of a funeral service.  My partner let me know that the family requested more memorial folders and the printer for some reason had decided that it also was overwhelmed for the day refusing to submit and he was up to his elbows in ink.  As the service let out, my job was to let folks know the bathrooms were unavailable due to an emergency…imagine the look of horror on some ladies faces upon hearing the news.

To add to the fun, a family of 11 walks into the funeral home to make arrangements for their mother that literally just died 45 minutes ago at the local hospital…and they really want to “get this part over with so that they can party.”  As we cleared the building of the service and initiated the arrangement session with the party family, the plumber arrived. I showed the plumber and his team the problem areas and they started to work, which included turning off the water causing all kind of alarms to start going off. On cue, the party family thought that was a sign that maybe they should take another of their six smoke breaks of the arrangement session.

My hat is off to those that serve the public in so many capacities, and especially those in the funeral service field.  We don’t just stop; we make adjustments, and carry on.  Saturday could aptly be described as a “crappy day”…but the sun came up on Sunday.  Please share some of your “one of those days” with us…Cheers y’all.

 

paying for the funeralThe subject matter of finances continues as I converse with funeral directors across the country.  As most have shared with me,  pre-need sales are stagnant or “not what they used to be.” With the shaky economy and consumers paying close attention to expendable dollars in their household budget, this should not be a big surprise.

Additionally, consumers arriving at funeral homes with life insurance are decreasing as well.  As reported by the Life Insurance Marketing Research Association; “the proportion of U.S. adults with life insurance protection has declined to an all-time low with 41% (95 million) of all adults have no life insurance at all.”

So if a consumer did not pre-pay/plan their funeral goods and services with a contract, the surviving family members that remain behind are making decisions for funeral goods and services with lingering thoughts:

  • If the deceased had valid life insurance, is the amount enough to pay for the goods and services that we desire?
  • If the insurance is not enough, should we pay the balance out-of-pocket or just spend only the amount of the policy?
  • If the deceased had valid life insurance, how much should we spend on funeral goods and services?
  • If the deceased had valid life insurance, should we use some of that money for other bills (medical, survivor needs, etc.)?

Of course, the above questions arise only in the cases that life insurance exists.  So with no pre-paid contract and no life insurance, what thoughts exist?

  • How much are the funeral goods and services going to cost?
  • We have savings, but should we dip into those funds?
  • Do we have enough credit card balance to charge the funeral goods and services?
  • What can we get for the amount we have…or willing to spend?

A funeral director must tailor the funeral goods and services to the budget that a family desires to spend.  And this is where the quandary begins with two sometimes opposing forces at work:

  • Satisfying the family’s desires for honoring their loved one within their budget.
  • Collecting funds for goods and services rendered that provide profitability for the funeral home.

Just like any other business, funeral home owners are being forced closely scrutinize their operating expenses and make decisions for financial sustainability.  A thorough evaluation of fixed costs, personnel management and cost of goods should be conducted.  Upon gaining a firm grasp of expenses, projections of revenue is essential.  As with most firms, the revenue projection process is like nailing Jell-O to the wall.

What is abundantly clear to most funeral home owners is that many consumers are making significant changes how they choose to provide final rites for their deceased loved ones.  “Traditional” burial is decreasing and cremation is increasing…no surprise there.  However; competition of getting the attention of consumers for how they can better budget their “funeral dollars” is rampant…within our industry along with outside of the funeral industry influences.

What does a firm offer for the growing demographic of funeral consumer that has little to no life insurance or limited funds for goods and services?  What strategies and training are in place to increase revenue along with cash flow from these consumers that meet the financial needs of the funeral home?  What are the messages and how are they sent to attract this growing market segment?  Are these conversations even taking place…or is the firm ignoring what the marketplace is telling them?  Times and consumers are changing.  The good old days are long past the funeral industry.

ShhhThe funeral industry is slow to make changes in its operations and customs.  Consumer’s views about death and funerals are challenging funeral directors to make adjustments to their demands.  It’s rare now not to find a funeral home without a website; something considered “out of the box” 15 years ago.  With the popularity of cremation, many funeral homes have been forced to change their offerings to funeral consumers.  Some cremation funeral services are indistinguishable from burial funeral services; with the body present complete with all of the other traditions such as a wake, visitation, services, use of hearse, etc.

However, there is one underlying and very important fact that has not been regularly disclosed to funeral consumers by funeral providers; the cremation process obliterates all medical and genetic DNA, and the process is irreversible. That’s right.  Once a body is cremated, there is no traceable medical or genetic DNA that can be harvested from cremated remains.

Why would someone want their deceased loved ones DNA? If you are not aware, Angelina Jolie recently had a double mastectomy because she found through DNA testing that she possessed a mutation in her BRCA1 gene.  This discovery indicated that she had a 87% chance of developing breast cancer. Angelina found the DNA testing to be important to her health and future.

I also have a personal reason for the collection of DNA. My wife’s father and Jim “Catfish” Hunter are brothers.  If you don’t know the name “Catfish Hunter,” he was a Hall of Fame Baseball Player, Cy Young award winner pitching a perfect game as well as a pitcher for both the Oakland A’s and New York Yankees during some of their World Series wins.  “Jimmy” died of ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) or “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” in September of 1999.  Unfortunately, my wife’s first cousin and Jimmy’s nephew, Gary Hunter died in April 2006 of ALS as well.  I have two sons Hunter, 22 and Jackson, 15…DNA of our deceased relatives Jimmy and Gary Hunter would be important for my son’s future.

For some people genealogy is important and becoming more popular for search of family history.  So the collection of DNA of a deceased family member has several practical applications that surviving family members may want to consider.

Wikipedia explains “DNA Genetic testing, also known as DNA testing, allows the genetic diagnosis of vulnerabilities to inherited diseases, and can also be used to determine a child’s parentage (genetic mother and father) or in general a person’s ancestry. In addition to studying chromosomes to the level of individual genes, genetic testing in a broader sense includes biochemical tests for the possible presence of genetic diseases, or mutant forms of genes associated with increased risk of developing genetic disorders. Genetic testing identifies changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins.  Most of the time, testing is used to find changes that are associated with inherited disorders. The results of a genetic test can confirm or rule out a suspected genetic condition or help determine a person’s chance of developing or passing on a genetic disorder. Several hundred genetic tests are currently in use, and more are being developed.”

As science continues to progress our eyes are continually opened through information.  In the funeral industry, we know the fact that upon conclusion of the cremation of a person, all physical genetic and medical DNA are obliterated.  Funeral service professionals have an obligation to provide this information to a family so that they may make educated funeral decisions.

Funeral consumers should conduct research prior to making funeral arrangements and ask their funeral director what happens to their loved one’s DNA after cremation.  The cremation process is irreversible and so is the decision not to collect the DNA of their loved one.

THG LogoThe Harbeson Group http://www.theharbesongroup.com provides the innovate development of partnerships, products and services in the funeral industry. As part of our strategic development, we are now seeking independent funeral industry sales professionals to offer unique solutions to funeral home owners.

If you have established relationships in the field providing services to a current funeral home customer account base, have an interest in adding relevant services and products to your firms; please send your resume with a cover letter to jeff@theharbesongroup.com

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