Entering Partnerships with 20/20 VisionAuthored by: Jim Stewart, Founder DocuSend, powered by MTI.
Sometimes business owners believe they are entering partnerships with 20/20 vision, but time passes, and in hindsight it seems like expectations are not fulfilled. If only we could be aware of all the pitfalls in advance!
As an example, let me tell you a great story…
A friend of mine (Austin) retired a few years ago at the age of 72. After working 35 years at the same company, he had enough of work. He wanted to replace the hours he spent working with playing golf—every chance he could get. To Austin, playing golf was not just a hobby, it was his passion. He even kept orange balls in his bag so he could hit them around on whatever course he could find open, even when there was snow on the ground. And unlike some people, his appetite for the game did not fade with time. He played whenever he got a chance and relished every minute of it. Then the unthinkable happened, and it hit Austin hard.
Although he was in excellent health at the ripe but not-so-old age of 75, he was diagnosed with glaucoma. There was no family history that he was aware of, but the blunt reality was that he was rapidly going blind. But Austin wasn’t the type to go down without a fight, especially when it came to his treasured game of golf, so he continued to play on...for a while.
At first, he did OK. Even as his vision began to fade, he could still recognize where the ball was teed up and was able to hit it reasonably well. The problem was tracking the ball down the course once he drove it. As time went on, he found it more and more difficult to find where the ball ended up.
His wife, Emma, felt Austin’s discouragement grow as the days passed. And so did her concern. But Emma knew how to fight too, and she had an idea.
She approached him carefully. “Why don’t you call your brother Oliver?” she asked him one day. “He golfs too and has excellent vision. He could be your pilot. When you hit the ball, he could guide you to where it landed so you can play your next shot.”
“What?! That joker?” Austin shot back. “He’s ten years older than I am, and all he’d do is make fun of me! Besides, he always brags about how good he is at everything.”
Emma knew when to dig in. “He most certainly would not. He’s in good physical shape, loves the game, and has eyes like an owl. Besides, I think he’d love to help you. Now you think about it and give him a call.”
Austin thought about it and knew Emma was right. It was worth a try. Besides, Emma was too stubborn to leave him alone for very long.
Austin sat down with his brother one afternoon and laid out the whole story. Oliver seemed to be enjoying the situation he found himself in. “Why, of course I’ll find the ball for you, Austin! And I’ll beat the pants off you while I’m at it. I’ve always been able to see better than you, so nothing’s really changed anyhow. Look at me. I’m 85 years young and never needed glasses. Drank straight from the bottle my whole life!” He roared with laughter.
Austin's brow furled. “This is not anything to joke about, Oliver! Here I am going blind, and you have no problem finding something funny about it? Well, just forget the whole thing!”
Oliver's voice took on a more soothing tone. “Now there, my fledgling brother. I’m just trying to make things a little less grim because you seem unable to. The point is, you won’t be giving up golf because I’m going to be your eyes. We’ll tee off first thing in the morning and with my help, you might even break 130 for the first time in your life.”
They hit the course at 7:30 on a bright and sunny morning. Austin didn’t care for Oliver’s sense of humor, but he had to admit that this might work, and if it did, maybe he could learn to tolerate his older brother’s anecdotes. As he put his ball on the tee, he sensed his older sibling staring at him. He glared back at him suspiciously. Against his better judgement, he found himself blurting out, “You’re 85 years old and look every minute of it. You sure you still have 20/20 vision at your age?”
Oliver frowned at him. “Just hit the ball, Austin. I'll be able to see it even if it goes off the fairway 200 yards from here.” Austin drew back and heard a satisfying crack as he hit the ball solidly. Instinctively he knew it was an excellent drive.
“Did you see it? Did you see it?” he cried, not able to hide his excitement.
“Of course I saw it, Austin.” Pointing at his eyes he added, “How many times do I have to tell you? 20/20 vision!” Austin ignored his bragging. “Well, where did it go?”
Oliver shaded his eyes with his hands and squinted far down the fairway. Quietly he replied, “I don’t remember.”
Finding the right match to fill your needs…
…doesn’t always produce the results you want or expect. And when you apply that in principle to running an SMB, the importance of finding the right partner is magnified significantly. Why? Because small business owners and operators are constantly challenged to fill gaps opened up by competition and shifting business environments. Making adjustments to find the right support structures is a prerequisite for any growing business.
It seemed like a good idea at the time…
…applies to things like the first time you snuck up behind your wife and pushed her into the pool. My niece once carefully replaced the filling in some Oreo cookies with Crest toothpaste and watched gleefully as her mother served them to her bridge club. If you ever trusted your older brother to help you with something that was important to you and it turned out not to be such a good idea, you might just shrug it off. But not so much when you make a decision that affects your means of support and the foundation of your business. Then it gets serious fast.
Minimize the Risk
Risks are hypothetical in that they are usually measured in degrees of probability. The severity and consequences of taking risks are unknown. But it is an inevitable part of doing business and cannot be eliminated completely. The question is how well you can manage it. And the best way to manage risks is to mitigate them. Risks for business owners are influenced by many factors including internal and external costs, competition, economic conditions, legal and government regulations, sales, and so on. My objective is not to edify you on the complexities of managing risk at these levels. There is excellent information available from the Small Business Administration that zeroes in on specifics for each category of risk taking in much greater detail than I could offer in an article like this. For that, I recommend their “Participant Guide” that can be found at: PARTICIPANT_GUIDE_RISK_MANAGEMENT.pdf
This article focuses on mitigating the risks of distributing invoices, statements, and other sensitive financial documents; something I know a little bit about, as I have run a business providing print-to-mail outsourcing solutions for many years. Whether your company mails invoices internally or hires someone to do it for you, it is critical to get paid quickly and manage your accounts receivable regardless of what accounting software you use. We spent two and a half years creating DocuSend. It was not released until a PDF file could be uploaded in less than three minutes without having to read a training manual or contact a customer service representative. Time is money.
Don't get me wrong. DocuSend is an extremely complex software program. But it was designed specially to make it simple for the user. And that's what made the development so complex. Need a print-to-mail provider? There is simply nothing out there like DocuSend. A print-to-mail program so simple diminishes risk at multiple levels. Not sure about that?
Consider this when looking for ways to mitigate your A/R risks:
- Look Before You Sign that Contract or Agreement: If a service provider wants you to authorize anything resembling a contract before they will print and mail your documents, tread very carefully before signing anything. It can be an indication that they need your data to develop a customized implementation for your application. And that, my friends, is neither cost effective nor simple. Not only do they need your data to create your documents, they have to maintain them. That means doing it over again if you change software providers, or even if your current software has a version upgrade. And if a version upgrade is released they don't know about, it can affect the accuracy of the documents. This can even happen if all you want is to add a new type of document. Another risk involving contracts is your legal obligation should you be dissatisfied with the services.
- Should You Pay Before You Play with Upfront Deposits? Some print-to-mail services require deposits before they will mail documents for you. The larger the deposit, the less you pay per piece mailed. Some even require deposits from $1000 to $10,000 to achieve DocuSend’s standard unit prices. Do you get your deposit back if you discontinue services? I would certainly think so. But is it a risk that can be mitigated? Sure.
- Do You Really Need to Download that Print Driver? Some print-to-mail services require you to download a print driver. They are not very hard to develop, especially ones that create PDF files for you. And a PDF print driver is not a problem as long as what it produces stays on your system. But if you download a print driver specifically to send data to a service to create PDFs for them to mail for you, you are potentially letting a Trojan in that can unlock your computer and everything on it to a hacker. Is that online service, game, or print driver safe?
All of these are risks that can be mitigated by using DocuSend. Use your accounting software to create a PDF file, upload it to the DocuSend website, pay only for what you uploaded, and your documents are mailed within two business days. Decide it’s not for you? No problem. No contract—no obligation.
DocuSend’s services default to pay-as-you-go and do not require upfront deposits. We will certainly set up a deposit account if it fits your business model better. Just contact us. We leave the choice up to you. Why? Because it makes it simple and mitigates your risks.
How do you mitigate that risk? You eliminate the print driver. That’s why we wanted businesses to use their accounting software to create PDF files and upload them directly to the DocuSend site. It is much more complex for us to manage, but it mitigates the risk of your data or your clients’ information floating around the web. I won't go into why DocuSend doesn't require data, or how we do it, but the result makes it the easiest and most secure web invoice distribution product in the world..
Attention Accounting Software and Service Providers:Speaking of letting someone have your data, maybe you’ve thought of generating revenue by integrating a print-to-mail API (application programming interface) into your company’s software, but to you it sounds complicated and risky—and it can be. Enter DocuSend to the “riskcue.” (Pretty good one, huh?) Our simple REST API follows the same principle as our print-to-mail service: it requires only the information for the mailing, return, and remittance addresses. Why? Again, we designed it based on PDFs and not data. It makes it quicker, safer, and easier. For everyone.
Watch Out for Hidden Fees: This is a quote directly from DocuSend user Radzom Counseling LLC: " Despite being extremely satisfied after my first month with DocuSend, I let another mail-house poach me for one month with the allure of slightly better pricing. It turned out the overall cost was more than DocuSend and they were not up-front about hidden costs.” How do you analyze your ROI without knowing what you will be charged? That makes the risk assessment next to impossible. So, mitigate the risk of hidden fees with DocuSend. Our pricing is as straightforward as the service itself. Unit prices start at $1.03 cents for a plain one-page document. Add your options, and the unit costs and totals are displayed in your shopping cart for your approval. In the three years we have been offering DocuSend, we have never had a complaint about hidden charges or unpublished fees. Services like job history reports and image archiving are always free of charge.
Do Volume Discounts Penalize or Reward? Print-to-mail services offer these as a way to entice businesses with marketing tactics like: “Prices as low as $1.03 per envelope.” Only to find out you have to mail thousands of documents per month to qualify. Some services must discount larger volumes because they lack the technology to efficiently merge output documents to a single mail stream. And the businesses that mail smaller volumes pay the consequences. For regular DocuSend users, if you mail fewer than 5,000 documents per month, you are charged the same low price per unit for one document as you are for 5,000. Again, we’re mitigating your risk by keeping the product simple. Your monthly mailing is larger than that? Contact us for even more savings.
If you want to know how we accomplished all this, you’ll have to sign a nondisclosure and come to work here. But until then, let’s get back to the more important things in life. Like playing golf.
So, I bet you want to know what happened to Austin, right? Well, he simplified his golf game by replacing his brother. I won’t tell you exactly with whom, but she has four legs, a tail, and a much better memory. And Oliver? Well, he still doesn’t have the best memory in the world, but he has never forgotten what happened on the golf course that day. Austin won’t let him—ever.
What are you doing to mitigate risks for your SMB? Share it with other owners and operators in the comments.