Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tracking Your Time for Better Balance

How often do you run around all day, busier than you’ve ever been, without a moment’s rest only to look back in the evening and think, “what did I actually get done today?”. Surprisingly, this is incredibly common. Because women in general are apt to multitasking and mixing all the aspects of our lives into one task list, we feel as if we’re constantly busy but can’t quite quantify that work we do.

One of the best ways to stay on track and feel accomplished is to keep record of what we do during the day. It’s satisfying to see what we’ve accomplished or spent time on but it’s invaluable to be able to target where we’re wasting time.

There are several smartphone apps created specifically for tracking, down to the second, the activities which we perform through out the day. One of the best for iPhones is called aTimeLogger (or Awesome Time Logger). You can also search “time tracking” or “activity logger” to find what works for you. Many of these apps are meant for self employed professionals who need to keep track of billing hours but there are several (like aTimeLogger) which are designed to input and personalize our own activities. All you have to do is press the start button and you’re off. At the end of the week, the app generates a graph to visualize exactly where you’re spending your time.

No smartphone? No problem! Good ol’ fashioned paper and pen works just as well.

You’ll be surprised to see which activities creep in and gobble up the time you think you’re spending on important tasks. You will also be surprised to see how much time you’re spending on tasks you think are important but actually, in no way, contribute your goals. In fact, most of the things we do during the day can qualify as “busy work”. Think about delegating those tasks or streamlining them so that you can spend your time focusing on what moves you forward. Those who speak on success and high achievement agree that time is valuable and delegating tasks such as laundry, cleaning or simple paperwork will pay dividends in the future. For the most part, the amount that one would pay to have these services outsourced will come back tenfold in the amount of revenue producing work which can be accomplished in the free time.

So where are you really spending your time? Perhaps keeping track and getting a visual of your daily routine with prompt some change and make it easier to feel accomplished at the end of the day.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Logistics News and Trends: Due Diligence Really Does Matter

Last week some industry publications published a letter from the CEO of Trendset, a freight payment company located in South Carolina. In this letter the CEO alerted customers to an internal embezzlement by a senior executive. While the amount which has been embezzled is yet to be determined, there is speculation that it could involve many millions of dollars.

This is not the first time this has occurred in the freight payment industry. In fact, it has happened on a fewoccasions and each time, shippers have lost significant sums of money ranging from thousands to millions of dollars. What is really unfortunate, though, is that none of the shippers had to lose a dime. If they had exercised commonsense and done the requisite level of due diligence, they could have avoided these costly incidents.

The articles which highlighted the Trendset event also included some advice for shippers on how to select a freight payment company. Frankly, we think the journalists missed the boat and made the issue more complicated and complex than necessary. In fact, here is some common sense, straightforward advice for companies that are evaluating freight payment companies.
First, if a proposal appears to good to be true, it is too good to be true. Recently, we talked to a C-Level executive at a company that had been burned by a freight payment company. He acknowledged that when he saw the disparity in fees between the vendor they selected versus the other vendors, he thought, "this is too good to be true." But he went with the team's recommendation to select the lowest cost provider and the company got burned.

We have talked with far too many shippers who regard the freight payment process as a commodity. They view freight payment as a commodity; auditing and paying a freight bill, or capturing accurate data is an easy and straightforward process that any company should be able to do. Since these companies view freight payment as a commodity, all too often, they allow the transaction fees to be the most (or one of the most) important criteria in their ultimate decision.

It never ceases to amaze us that companies who spend millions of dollars on freight, ignore or pay little attention to how valuable and effective thefreight payment process can be in managing and controlling these multimillion dollar transportation budgets. So instead of looking at or emphasizing the value of an effective freight payment process and the need to control millions of dollars in transportation spending, these companies choose to save a couple of thousand dollars by selecting freight payment companies who promise the moon, but deliver bargain-basement quality.

Let's be more specific. If you are soliciting bids for freight payment and you have a company that is offering to process your freight bills for 10 to 30% less than other suppliers, the first question you should be asking is: “What am I missing?”. To the best of our knowledge, there isn’t anyone who has discovered the “secret sauce” in this industry.

Whether you are manually keying a freight bill or receiving electronic transmissions of freight transactions, there is not a 10 to 30% difference in cost (regardless of where those bills are processed). And if there is a big difference, you may also want to ask: Is the freight payment company using a “pre-fund” process that forces the carriers to accept a discount for prompt payment; or is the freight payment company struggling financially and using their customer balances to fund their operations? Or is the freight payment company skimping on services such as not auditing all the freight bills? If so, these companies may severely discount their fees since they may need their customer balances to keep their doors open or will not deliver the promised services.

The second thing you should do is not rely solely on the references which the company provide. Do you honestly think that the company you are considering is going to provide you with bad, or weak references? Of course not! And that is why you should talk to your carriers and ask them about the freight payment companies you are considering in your RFP process. Ask your sales rep for the name and number of the Director/Manager of Accounts Receivable (some carriers call this the Revenue Collections) Department. Ask for their input or recommendations. Ask them if vendors communicate paid information on freight bills yet the actual disbursement is not received until weeks after the published date. This is a red flag!

Since getting the carriers paid is one of the most important things you expect from your freight payment company, you should verify that the freight payment company will allow you to control 100% of the freight balances through the end of the settlement process (a.k.a. when the carriers actually get their money). Under the traditional freight payment model, the freight payment company tells you how much they are going to pay on the shipper’s behalf, the shipper gives them the money and the freight payment company effects settlement. 

However, several shippers want to control 100% of their funds. This can easily be done and shippers should closely evaluate this option. If your freight payment provider is receiving funds from you and then disbursing them, do they have a fidelity bond? Or better yet, do they have an annual review of the suitability of the design and operating effectiveness of controls within their freight payment processing system, culminating in a SOC-1 report. Remember, all these "extras" cost money, and if you select the lowest bidder, many of these protections are not available because the low cost providers do not invest in them.

Third, shippers need to validate the proposed deliverables. Over the years we have been retained by law firms and shippers to serve as an expert witness in litigation against freight payment companies. Based on this experience, we have gained first-hand an in-depth knowledge about what is included in a typical freight payment proposal. Periodically, we like to remind folks that not all freight payment companies are created equally! We know that for some shippers, every freight payment company should be able to provide an accurate freight accrual and to magically decipher whatever data is sent to them electronically. Practically speaking, this is not how things work.

So, if you are considering retaining the services of a freight payment company take our advice: look carefully; focus on the big picture; do not choose on price alone; talk to your carriers and others - vet your vendor; validate your deliverables! In the final analysis, heeding this advice will keep you from potentially losing lots of money and costly litigation.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Time for Spring Cleaning

Though the weather hasn’t quite caught up, we’ve sprung our clocks forward and dusted off our pastel clothes. Spring is officially here. As the days become a bit longer, our energy starts to wake from it’s dreary hibernation and it’s time to implement some spring cleaning.

If you get to the clutter at home, that’s fantastic, but I’d like to concentrate on spring cleaning as it applies to our business and work lives. This is a great time to take a look at some of things that are bogging you down: perhaps you’re spreading yourself thin with too many commitments; maybe you haven’t been able to spend time on the hobbies or activities which help to relax you; perhaps you’re feeling guilty about the attention you’ve been paying your family. It’s time to take a look at what you can get rid of in order to make your life a little simpler and a lot more enjoyable.
As women, we tend to have an inherent need to do it all and do it all better than anyone else. But what does that really accomplish? If it’s taking precious time away from kids, partners, or ourselves, it’s time to let it go. And while family is incredibly important, let’s take a few more minutes to focus on ourselves.

First, review your major career and personal goals. Then take a look at your schedule for the week. Which appointments actually contribute to your goals and which have you taken on from feeling a sense of obligation? Now practice using the word no and the eraser end of your pencil. Clean that calendar up and use the free space for things which bring you joy.

Spring is a great time to get out and get moving. Exercise and a little sun-inspired vitamin D can do wonders for our temperaments, energy levels and overall mood. In fact, studies show that those with regular exercise routines are generally happier and get more done. Don’t worry; this doesn’t mean you need to bust your hump at the gym, it just means you need some regular activity. Doctors recommend at least 30 minutes a day. Try going for a stroll on your lunch break (what activity can you let go in order to actually take a lunch break?), or get out in the yard after work and get that garden ready to flourish over the summer.

This time of year is ideal for readjusting and refocusing. By adding more balance to our lives, we can step back and breath in the fresh spring air. So get some clarity and start your spring cleaning today.