An official day for small business owners

Labor Day began as an idea in the mind of a 19th century labor leader — some say Matthew Maguire, others say Peter McGuire — who cared greatly for a very important segment of the marketplace, its workers.

Regardless of paternity, such a day was first celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, when members of the CLU took an unpaid day off to demonstrate solidarity and, of course, have picnics. And ever since 1884, when President Grover Cleveland’s signature designated the first Monday in September as Labor Day, it’s been an official federal holiday.

In 1898, Samuel Gompers, then head of the American Federation of Labor, called Labor Day, “the day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed … that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it.”

Alas, entrepreneurs aren’t organized like our union brethren — probably because we’re too busy making payroll. There is no single Small Business Day officially decreed by the U.S. Government. No Entrepreneur’s Day set aside to honor the few who do so much for so many; a day to picnic and party down in honor of the real heroes of the marketplace, small business owners.

There actually is a small business week when the U.S. Small Business Administration recognizes the “creme de la creme” of entrepreneurs in America. But it’s not an official “Day” and it’s not always the same week each year.

Small businesses represent over 98% of all U.S. businesses and produce over half of the U.S. $17 trillion GDP.  Plus, we sign the FRONT of the paychecks of over half (70 million) of all U.S. workers.

Let’s see: Big deal on Labor Day — no Small Business Day. What’s wrong with this picture?

So, what’s the answer? Let’s celebrate Small Business Day in a way no other national holiday has been established: on a Sunday — actually, the second Sunday in August.

Sunday is preferred because that would create the least payroll expense. August is the month-of-choice because that’s when politicians are home on recess. This way they can practice casting their pearls before we small business owners in preparation for eating barbeque and sucking up to unions on Labor Day.

To paraphrase Samuel Gompers, small business owners deserve a day for which these signers-of-the-front-of-paychecks can look forward to when their rights and wrongs would be discussed; that the small employers of our day may not only lay down their challenges for a holiday, but during which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it.

Write this on a rock … Entrepreneurs unite!  It’s time we had a day to honor small business owners.

As CEO, you’re the futurist of your business

Every small business owner should display in a prominent place this John F. Kennedy quote: “Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

As the CEO, you’re the futurist of your business, and the product of a futurist’s work is foresight.

Professional futurists are neither inspired by God, clairvoyant, nor have ESP. But they do look at the world differently than the average person. They typically see things before others do, largely because their focus is influenced by the following factors:

Extreme curiosity: This isn’t first by accident. Curiosity is to foresight what oxygen is to life.

Orders of implication: Futurists imagine the impact of multiple possibilities from a single scenario that hasn’t happened yet.

Collaboration: Futurists study the work of other futurists, work together, and welcome peer reviews.

Foresight tools: Some resources are sophisticated, some not so much.

As you can see, there’s nothing supernatural about these. Nothing you don’t already have or can’t acquire, at least at the level of CEO futurist. Let me lower the intimidation factor and make foresight easier with CEO foresight tools. You’ll recognize the first two:

Curiosity: The only person who’s more curious than a futurist is an entrepreneur. Curiosity is your most powerful tool-unleash it.

Watch for implications: When you see something new - a thing, idea or a development - unfocus your eyes and imagine the short and long-term implications. Play the “what if” game with your team.

Read: Professional futurists call it scanning. Read everything you can get your hands on about your universe and your customers’ universes. Start connecting dots.

Pay attention: This is the first cousin of curiosity. You pay attention to your business every day. Now add what’s outside your four walls to your scan.

Experience: Never underestimate the foresight value of past successes and failures, especially to the implications element.

Peer relationships: This includes CEO roundtables, whether formal or informal, but also attending industry events to listen to and compare notes with other CEO futurists.

Intuition: This is the love child of experience and curiosity. You have intuition, plus experts say you can grow it. Intuition is educated by experience and employed by curiosity.

These CEO foresight tools will help you track trends for opportunities and disruptions in areas such as: demographics, customer behavior, society, production/supply, politics, technology, and global events impacting large customers.

With tomorrow, next year and the next decade in mind, use questions like these to include your stakeholders in the foresight process: What will my industry look like? What will my market look like? What will happen to my existing customers? What will my new customer profile look like? What will be their expectations? What kinds of products and services should we sell?  How will we capitalize growth? What kind of technology will I need? What will be the greatest opportunities? What will be the greatest disruptions?

Use the tools, ask the questions, uncover and prepare for the possibilities that will allow you to take advantage of opportunities and minimize disruptions. Leading change as the CEO means applying the foresight tools of a futurist in order to avoid surprises. All surprises.

Even if a surprise turns out okay, you still shouldn’t celebrate. In fact, you should be just as frightened as if it turned out badly. Because it got through your foresight filters unnoticed until it manifested in front of you. That means a bad surprise could do the same thing.

Remember Blasingame’s Law of Surprises: Surprises are for birthdays — this is business.

Write this on a rock … “The future doesn’t fit in the container of the past.” Rishad Tobaccolwala

Do you know how to load your Sales Pipelines?

Here’s an ancient marketplace maxim: Selling is a numbers game.

A maxim is a generally accepted truth and this is one because of two realities:

1.  There are hundreds – if not thousands – of things that can cause a fully qualified prospect to not complete a transaction, at least not on your time parameters.

2.  Regardless of how many bumps you encounter on the path to a signed contract, it’s still your job to produce enough gross profit from sales revenue to stay in business.

Enter the sales pipeline: a planning concept that helps managers and salespeople forecast sales for any given period – week, month, quarter or year. Think of your sales pipeline as overhead plumbing with faucets positioned at the time intervals your operation requires. And from these faucets you draw the mother’s milk of any business – sales revenue.

But there’s one pesky thing about sales pipeline faucets: they all come with screens that only allow sales from qualified prospects pass through, while poorly developed prospects are blocked. So if you’re counting on revenue pouring out of a faucet when you turn the handle on the day you need sales, you must load only qualified prospects into your pipeline to begin with.

A qualified prospect has answered enough questions – directly or through research – to allow you to determine that they will likely purchase what you sell from someone in the forecastable future. Before you place a qualified prospect in the pipeline, you must know at a minimum:

· What’s left to do for them – demonstration, trial, proposal, final close, etc.;

· Anything else that has to be done to move them to customer status.

Your appraisal of all of this information will help you forecast which faucet you should expect a particular sale to pour out of this Friday, next week, next month, next quarter. Once in the pipeline, a prospect is either on track to become a sale, a lost sale, or a forecasting mistake to be removed.

Alas, in the absence of professional sales management, poorly trained salespeople will try to forecast low-quality prospects. And any company that counts on such practices is headed for a cash flow crisis and ultimate business failure. Not because the product wasn’t good, or the price was too high, or because of Amazon. But because the sales team didn’t load the sales pipeline with enough qualified prospects.

At this point, let’s refer to The Bard. In Act I, Scene III, of Hamlet, arguably Shakespeare’s most important work, Polonius famously says to his son, Laertes, “This above all, to thine own self be true.” If your sales team is honest with each other and management about a prospect’s qualified progress to faucet-conformity, you’re setting yourself up for success. If not, well, you know.

Sales has been and always will be a numbers game. But in the Age of the Customer, it’s increasingly becoming more of a quality prospecting game. Consequently, how much revenue you draw from your sales pipeline depends on the two elements of the 21st century sales success calculus: quantity x QUALITY = your ultimate sales performance.

Here’s Blasingame’s Law of Sales Pipeline Success: Load the pipeline with enough (quantity) qualified prospects (quality) to flow through the faucets of your sales pipeline whenever you need them (success).

Write this on a rock … Load your sales pipeline with quantity and quality, and to thine own self be true.

Do you know which brain hemisphere is your nigh ox?

Watching a television program about how American pioneers trained and employed oxen in the 19th century reminded me of how our brains work.

Like a yoke of oxen, our bilateral brain hemispheres are hitched side-by-side, meeting the world head-on. But also like the bovine, they don’t always pull together.

In addition to their names, oxen are also identified by their position in the yoke: the animal most favored by the driver is the nigh ox, always on the left, while the off ox is always on the right. The nigh ox is usually the senior animal and takes the lead in pulling the load.

Brain hemispheres also have names - left and right. For most of us, one or the other is our nigh hemisphere as it seems to be the most dominant in our behavior, but we favor it more because of who we are than its location. So for effect and for fun, I’ll be referring to our brain hemispheres as our nigh ox, and our off ox.

According to experts, when we think more logically, rationally, and analytically, like an engineer, the left hemisphere is the dominant, nigh ox. For someone who’s more creative, intuitive, subjective, and emotive, the right hemisphere is pulling the hardest as our nigh ox. Gender also seems to play a role in our nigh/off predisposition. But I’m leaving that angle alone today as a tangent potentially fraught with peril - for me.

All of this brain stuff might be unremarkable to small business owners if it weren’t for two things: 1) As leaders, we’re called upon to perform and respond to issues that are closer to our off ox than our nigh ox; 2) regardless of our nigh ox, we have to work with those whose behavior favors the other side of the brain yoke. Let’s take a look at examples of how these two realities manifest in the marketplace and in our small businesses.

As a small business owner, you likely won’t have the luxury of favoring one ox over the other for very long. Regardless of which brain hemisphere is your nigh ox, any given day is filled with demands on both, and often simultaneously. For example, developing a marketing campaign causes the right brain to take the lead with creativity. But your left brain will be pressed into service by the cold, hard analysis of media buys, demographic strategy, and ultimately, operational fulfillment of the business your plan generated.

The good news is that as your business grows, you can look forward to delegating your off ox work to an employee whose oxen are opposite yours. But as the leader, the small business reality is that you must be able to successfully work and do business with people whose nigh ox is your off ox. For example:

If your nigh ox is right-brain creativity, you still have to employ, manage, and work with left-brain accountants and engineers.

If your nigh ox is the by-the-numbers, detailed analysis-loving left brain, you’ll have to suffer gladly the seemingly non-linear expressions of those whose nigh ox pulls from the right side of the yoke. Indeed, a critical counter-balancing trait your nigh ox desperately requires.

But all of that is inside the organization. Outside your four walls, you have to be able to quickly assess which ox any particular prospect or customer favors. For example you no doubt sell stuff desired by customers of both ox yoke configuration. Even though the two groups buy the same product or service, they likely lead their purchasing process with the side of the brain that’s nigh to them. Consequently, regardless of which ox is nigh to you, you’ll need selling skills to help you lead with the other.

Although in the minority, there are whole-brain individuals whose brain hemispheres pull together, like having two nigh oxen. Members of this group are naturally well-suited for small business. But whether by protoplasm or by practice, more than any corporate CEO, a small business CEO has to perform like a whole-brainer to deal with the bi-polar demands of the workplace and the marketplace.

Write this on a rock … Small business owners are required to behave as if they have two nigh oxen.

Are partnerships really only good for two things?

When a partnership works, it’s a beautiful thing. When it doesn’t, it defines ugly.

Once, during a conversation with a mentor about partnerships, he made this declaration: “Partners are only good for two things: sex and dancing.”

My mentor’s personal experience led him to make that indictment. My experience has led me to be more thoughtful, but I still advise anyone planning a business partnership to consider his rude but worldly comment as a handy caution to purge their plans of naivete.

A business partnership should be entered into with a healthy dose of reality about the human element involved. My friend, David Gage brings sunlight to this reality in his book, The Partnership Charter, wherein he writes, “Business people are experts in what they do, but they’re not in how to be partners.” Boy, howdy, is that true!

If you’re considering a partnership structure for your business, Gage recommends asking yourself, and your potential partner, the three questions below, which are followed by my thoughts.

1. Why do I want a partner?
Having a partner means you can share the work and the risk. But it also means you have to share the decisions and the rewards.

For a partnership to work, all parties must place a higher value on the advantages of shared work and risk than on the efficiency of making unilateral decisions and keeping all the loot.

2. Are there better alternatives to taking on a partner?

Just like in a marriage or any other relationship, both parties have to bring something of value to the table. Examples could range from experience, to skills, to contacts, to capital.

The advantages of each partner to the endeavor should be identified, quantified and valued. Then each partner must determine if other alternatives to acquiring these benefits - and there are always alternatives - are more or less valuable than those of a partnership.

3. Is my prospective partner the best candidate?
If, after thoughtful and analytical evaluation, you determine that you prefer the partnership option, remember, that decision isn’t the same as who should be your partner.

When President Lincoln said at Gettysburg that “…all men are created equal,” he wasn’t talking about business partners. The person you’re considering may not be suitable for your, or any other partnership.

Now here are three of my quick partnership questions.

4. Work ethic: Are we compatible?
All small businesses have more work to be done than people to do it. Don’t take a partner unless you know he or she understands and accepts this commitment.

5. Vision: Is ours compatible?
Your views on the development, growth and ultimate dissolution of the business don’t have to be identical, but they must be compatible.

6. Values: Do ours align?
If you had to rank all the considerations for forming a partnership, most of the factors could be moved around, depending on the circumstances. But the issue of shared values is always going to be the numero uno, default, go/no-go factor. No exceptions. Immutable. Non-negotiable.

If your values are misaligned, all the money and success in the world won’t result in a successful partnership. Believe me - I’ve seen more than one misaligned-values train wreck. It’s as ugly as ugly gets.

Value factors to consider include, but are not limited to: devotion to ethical behavior; how to treat employees; is regard for customers transactional or relational; intellectual honesty and sense of fair play.

Last two points: Don’t begin your partnership without a plan - in writing - of how it will be dissolved. If you read my recent column about neurotics and character disorder, never go into a partnership with someone who has the latter. Every problem will always be your fault.

Write this on a rock … Do the same due diligence on acquiring a partner as you would a business.

Business ownership — everything is not always as it seems

Whether you’re dreaming of being a business owner, or are actually working that dream right now, one thing is the same: You don’t want your dream to become a nightmare. And one of the best ways to accomplish this is to learn as much as you can about how this dream will play out.

Of the many motivations that would cause someone to have a business-owner dream, allow me to introduce four that are common to all of us. And just below each one, I’m including a counter-balancing reality following a quote from a popular movie. In “The Karate Kid,” reluctant sensei, Mr. Miyagi, imparted the following broken-English wisdom to his protégé, “Daniel-san,” when he said: “Evry’ting not always as seem.”

Reason 1: Achieve financial independence, if not wealth
Good for you! Who could have a problem with this business-ownership motivation? The pursuit of financial independence is a primordial motivator, and business ownership is an excellent and high percentage way to achieve it.

“Evry’ting not always as seem”
Do you know how much most small business owners take home in a year? Most make less than they could earn as an employee. And even though you could hit that financial homerun, there’s a much greater chance you’ll just make a living. But if you truly love being a business owner, that’ll be OK.

Reason 2: To have more control of your life
This is an absolute possibility. As a business owner you can focus your energy and time in the direction you want your life to go, rather than hitching your wagon to someone else’s star. Plus, you should be able to get away to attend your children’s school events. That was a big deal for me.

“Evry’ting not always as seem”
Even though business owners don’t punch a clock, most work harder than they ever did as an employee. A thousand things - including customers and even employees - will combine to demand more of you than any former boss. But here’s the good news: You can work half days whenever you want, and you get to choose which 12 hours. Being responsible for everything your business does, or fails to do, will fight you for control.

Reason 3: Status
It’s true, owning your own business provides, as Frasier Crane would say, a certain je ne sais quoi - a difficult-to-describe feeling that you’ve arrived. You’re at the top of the heap. It may be a small heap, but it’s your heap.

“Evry’ting not always as seem”
Congratulations on the first thing you’ll be in your own company - the president. But before you get too full of yourself, you’ll also be the first salesperson, receptionist, accountant, janitor - you get the picture. Status is mercurial. If you ever achieve it, remember this: The status god giveth and the status god taketh away.

Reason 4: Ego
In the chemistry of entrepreneurship, one of the active ingredients is ego. It’s like ambition, except more about you than your goals. In its positive form, ego manifests as perseverance and determination, two things you definitely need to succeed in business. Indeed, many of the great innovations from which we benefit today were born of ego.

“Evry’ting not always as seem”
As a small business owner, you’ll snatch crumbs of ego food where you can find it. On the same day your beautiful new website is launched, your best customer will change vendors. When sales are down, expenses are up, and your banker’s on the phone about an overdraft, your ego will feel more like a beagle than a lion. I have it on good authority that Mr. Murphy (as in Murphy’s Law) was a small business owner. Out here on Main Street, ego is a mercurial emotion.

As you consider starting a business, or taking the next step in the one you have, remember Mr. Miyagi’s wisdom and seek out the “Evry’ting not always as seem” factors. You may need help from those who’ve been there/done that. And if someone does help you, listen closely - they’re likely giving you advice they learned from a lesson they’re still be making payments on.

Write this on a rock … Dream about your business with eyes wide open so it won’t turn into a nightmare.




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