Home remodeler Harry Headrick felt like he was walking across a bog, blindfolded. He wanted to remove the blindfold and assess his situation.
"In '08, I had several projects already signed," he said. "Four people called to cancel in one day, and I lost $1 million of work in one day. I thought, 'What do I do? Where do I cut? What cuts make sense?' "
While that day was extraordinary, Headrick said, every day can be a struggle for a business owner who doesn't have a clear picture of his cash flow. The economic downturn motivated him to work closely with his accountant, Bob Wellman, to create a system to tightly monitor cash flow.
Last year, Wellman sold his accounting firm and dedicated himself to incorporating his ideas into a computer program. Working with software developer Chris Lott, he created the Cash Flow Tool.
"It grabs your data from QuickBooks or other bookkeeping programs your open invoices, your open bills and it pulls it in along with your current bank balance into our model," said Wellman, of El Dorado Hills. "It gives the business owner a visual picture. It will be green if cash flow's positive. It will go red if it's negative. When it's red, you can see what week, what day, what month you're going to be red. Now you can start modeling within the tool. What happens if I cut back on my labor? Enter that. Can I defer a bill? Enter that. Change a date on a bill? Enter that. It instantly will tell you when you're going to be in the positive."
The Cash Flow Tool goes on sale July 15 at www.thecashflowtool.com. The $498 price, Wellman said, is about what a small business person would pay a certified public accountant for two hours of time. He figures he will recoup his investment if he sells 1,000 downloads. His partners include Headrick and Lott.
Painting the town
Placerville's business and civic leaders enlisted Facebook friends, Twitter followers and others in their effort to score a fresh coat of paint for their historic Main Street, and they did it.
They learned Monday that they had won Benjamin Moore's inaugural Main Street Matters contest, along with 19 other cities such as Flint, Mich., Hilo, Hawaii, and Joplin, Mo., and the paint manufacturer will donate paint and technical assistance to beautify the shopping district.
Mayor Wendy Thomas sees the makeover as a way to renew interest in the historic downtown district: "The way that retail patterns have shifted, people are shopping away from our downtown districts. By just the news of this win, people will start looking at us different, paying attention, watching the progress as the project moves on."
Placerville might never had won the honor if Annette Schoonover and Richard Wolf, the owners of Winterhill Olive Oil, hadn't learned of the contest and started a campaign to get the city on the list.
Schoonover told me their campaign didn't begin until two weeks after the contest had started, but they still garnered more online votes than more than 100 other cities. Martinez is the only other California city to win a makeover.
A new world for Spaans
Old-fashioned values mean a lot to the family that founded Spaans Cookie Company Inc. in Galt, so much so that they've lagged the business world in integrating e-commerce into their website at www.spaanscookies.com.
Then Rick Spaans, 38, returned to the family fold about four years ago. He'd been performing on Broadway for about 13 years in shows such as "Annie Get Your Gun" and "Monty Python's Spamalot," and he knew how many tickets were sold online.
"What we really tried to accomplish with our website was to keep it old-fashioned with the same values our company has always had, but bring it into 2013," he said. "Before, customers would have to print an order form at their home, fill it out and fax it in to us. We'd send out their cookies, and they'd send us a check. Now we're able to take credit cards and all that."
They still take orders over the phone, but now cookies can be ordered and shipped online, Spaans told me.
He's working to create a special page for local customers, one where they can place orders for pies and other treats at Thanksgiving and Christmas and then pick them up at the Galt store.
In March, he started collecting email addresses for customers who wanted to learn about specials or new products. His father, Jim Spaans, was surprised by the results.
"Dad told me, 'I didn't really think people would sign up for that. I thought maybe you'd get about 10 people to sign up for that,' " Spaans said. "I think, to date, I have about 450 people. So we joke about that. I think he let me do it to humor me."