Monthly Archive for December, 2008

Jim Blasingame’s 2008 predictions and what actually happened

For several years I’ve been making predictions about the coming year. I have published my predictions in my own electronic publication, The Small Business Advocate NEWSLETTER, in my newspaper syndication, and talked about them on my radio show.

My predictions typically include small business issues, economic trends, political and public policy, and also international developments. My goal is to help my audience think outside the four walls of the business, give them an opportunity to challenge me, see how good of a prognosticator I am, and of course, have a little fun.

Many people make and publish predictions, but how many return at the end of the year and settle up on how accurate they were? At the end of every year I have reconciled my predictions with what really happened and, until 2008, actually had a 72% accuracy rating.

So it’s reconciling time for my 2008 predictions and it’s going to be ugly. My record this year is 7 for 15, which, if I were playing baseball, would be a .466 batting average – enough to get in the Hall of Fame. But 2008 was not up to my past standards.

Believe it or not, I predicted the beginning of the recession (Q4, ‘07) nine months before economists determined that to be the case. But no - I couldn’t stop there – I had to predict when the recession would end, which I missed, horribly.

I predicted that Gov. Bill Richardson would be on the Democrat’s national ticket, as its V.P candidate. We now know that Richardson will have a very important cabinet position in the new administration, as Secretary of Commerce. So I was close, but we’re not playing horseshoes.

Before Russia invaded the Republic of Georgia I predicted Putin would be a problem in 2008. But I also predicted the economy would absorb the credit crisis by the middle of the year.

If you would like to see my entire list of predictions and my results, I’ll offer them two ways: You can read them here, or you can listen as I discuss them on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show.

By the way, next week I’ll reveal my predictions for 2009.

Small business brand leverage in a recession

One of the things that we know about recessions is that people are more inclined to watch their cash and make more judicious purchases. We also know that for a small business to be successful, they can’t be the price leader. In fact, as I’ve said many times, the price war is over and small business lost. So don’t fight that war - even in a recession.

So how does a small business leverage its brands, maintain price levels that produce adequate gross profit and still put enough rocks in the box to keep the doors open - in a recession? Three answers: 1) Value, 2) Deliver value, 3) Deliver more value.

Someone who knows a lot about building and leveraging a small business brand, regardless of the economy, is my friend and outstanding Brain Trust member, Tom Asacker, author of the new book, “A Little Less Conversation.” Tom joined me on my show recently to discuss the whole brand/value/delivery strategy, and I think you’ll benefit greatly from our conversation. Take a few minutes to listen and, as always, leave a comment or question.

Employee engagement is a key to small business success

With so many hats to wear in a small business, and so few heads to put them on, making sure everyone on the team is committed to excellence is always necessary. But right now we have this thing hanging over our heads – economists call it a recession – and regardless of how it’s impacting your business, this is not a time for the human components of your small business machine to be less than finely tuned. Here are two important fine-tuning steps to take:

1) Make sure you’re employing people who are engaged in their work. In a good economy the negative impact of an unengaged employee is often masked or diluted by opportunity, and merely reduces organizational productivity. But in a recession, the drag of even one unengaged team member can be the difference between survival and, well, you know. Discover if you have an unengaged employee, redeem them if you can and get rid of them if you can’t.

2) Share your vision for how the business is going to address the challenges ahead. It’s not unreasonable for you to believe that your employees trust your leadership. But during unsettling times like these, a leader should reinforce the trust factor with some details.

In a team meeting (perhaps more than one) ask your team members to talk about their concerns about the economy. Ask them for suggestions on how the company can become more productive, effective and efficient. If you can, talk about your experiences in past downturns. Employees will like hearing that this isn’t their leader’s first rodeo. Explain what you’re doing to make sure the business will weather this storm, and talk specifically about what the company needs them to do.

Michael Stallard is an employee engagement expert and he joined me recently on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, to talk about this very important part of successful business management. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear from one of the best. And of course, be sure to offer your own thoughts.

He ain’t wrong, he’s just different

What if I could actually find room in the universe to allow others to be who they are, believe what they believe and do what they do, without being judgmental and dismissive? You know – tolerant.

One would think that a person who could contemplate such a question could actually accomplish the answer, wouldn’t one? Alas, as I’ve often lamented, the problem with humanity is the humans.

Being terribly flawed is one of the two immutable truths we humans know about ourselves. The other is that we can learn and, therefore, change. And therein lay the two horns of perhaps the most fundamental human dilemma: how to pursue our own beliefs and desires with the passion that is uniquely human, while learning how to simultaneously grant the same opportunity to others.

Lyrics from two songs come to mind which capture the essence of these horns. Horn 1: Mac Davis sang, “Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.” Horn 2: Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings sang, “He ain’t wrong, he’s just different …”

Here’s an exercise to consider: What if, while celebrating the obvious truth of Davis’ lyric, I always remembered to recite – out loud – the Nelson/Jennings’ lyric.

This week, at least for a half hour, I conducted this exercise. On Christmas day, while broadcasting my live small business radio program, I invited one of my Jewish friends, Andrew Sherman, to join me. We had a great time observing Hanukkah, celebrating Christmas, and in the process, advanced the notion that I’ve been proposing here.

Andrew and I celebrated what we have in common and the power of tolerance, plus how to maintain balance in our lives. We offer this record of our time together to you here. Hope you enjoy it. And of course, we look forward to your comments.

In defense of us scrooges

Some say I’m a scrooge – they might be right. But here are three exhibits in my defense:

1. The early part of my career was spent in retail. Retail is tough on the holiday spirit. There’s a syndrome for everything else; why not one for retail survivors? Let’s call it PTHSS: Post-Traumatic Holiday Shock Syndrome.

2. Since I don’t wait until the holidays to give someone a gift, I just don’t get all worked up about holiday giving.

Not that the ladies mind getting stuff all year (let’s not lose our heads!) ­ it’s just that they want me to be giddy about giving at Christmas-time. Giddy? Bah! Humbug!

3. As an avowed and devout contrarian, it would be antithetical for me to feel obligated to do what everyone else is doing. And if there is one thing that has become part and parcel of the holiday season, it is obligation. For example:

a) If someone gives my significant other and me a last-minute gift before Christmas, “Other” feels obligated to reciprocate. I don’t. I’ll do something nice for them in March.

b) After the Christmas cards have been sent, if an incoming card is received from someone not on your list, do you rush to get a card out to them? Not me. Maybe next year.

In The World According To Blasingame, giving should be voluntary, not obligatory. In fact, to a scrooge, not reciprocating is actually endearing.

It’s not that I don’t like the holidays. As a Christian, this is an important time in my faith life. As a capitalist, the importance of holiday spending to our economy is not lost on me. But I just don’t care for what we self-absorbed humans hath wrought on the holiday season; and if that makes me a scrooge, guilty as charged.

On behalf of my misunderstood brethren (this isn’t politically incorrect ­ apparently, there are no female scrooges), let me clear up a few things.

1. Scrooges are lovable, huggable and, yes, even cute.

2. It’s a myth that all scrooges are skinflints. Some are actually quite generous, but their generosity isn’t obsessive and doesn’t come with giggles.

3. Scrooges can be quite caring and compassionate without saying, “Bless their hearts,” over and over. As proof ­ and to influence my acquittal ­ I offer two challenges into evidence; one for me and one for us:

I challenge myself to be more receptive to, and tolerant of, the silly parts of the holiday season and those who perpetuate the silliness. But, please, be patient; the mill of a scrooge grinds slowly.

I challenge us to be more generous, loving, thankful and spiritual all year long, not just during the holidays.

Imagine what would happen if we all practiced peace on earth, goodwill toward everyone, every day. It might sound something like this: “Let’s help those people right now, in the middle of July!”

Peace to you and yours. Shalom. Salaam. Que la paz este con ustedes.

Small business and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP)

Almost 10 years ago I told the audience of my small business radio program that when broadband Internet connections – in those days we called them “the big pipes” – were diffused in the marketplace, the world will change. And so it has. Today, broadband Internet is everywhere, and it accounts for more than 75% of all Internet connections, including more than half of U.S. households.

But the news is not just how we connect – DSL from the phone companies, cable modems, 3G from the wireless companies, etc. – but also the connectivity applications that are a productive reality today and exciting possibilities for tomorrow. And these applications are creating paradigm shifts that are changing the world.

One very interesting 21st century technology is Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP). In its simplest form, you make a regular phone call with a classic phone set, but instead of using the 19th century technology of twisted copper phone lines, you connect over an Internet connection and conversion application offered by providers such as Vonage, Magic Jack, etc. Now take this to the next level by converging your contact management application, a microphone/headset and VoIP, and you’re making voice calls to customers by clicking a mouse instead of dialing and holding a handset. And of course, the quantum leap is not having any kind of phone set on your desk – all calls are routed through your computer and broadband connection. That would be a paradigm hat trick, wouldn’t it? A competitive shift, a cultural shift and an ergonomic shift.

Even though we already have computer-based Internet voice connections with Instant Messaging applications and, of course, there’s Skype, which I use a lot, VoIP is really just now coming into its own. In the very near future watch for the complete shifting of all of our telephony paradigms to take place right in front of our eyes. And for small businesses this will be an exciting time because these shifts will create opportunities for lowering costs and increasing capabilities.

Someone who is an expert on the topic of VoIP and related applications is Leslie Ferry, V.P. of Broadsoft. Recently she joined me on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, to discuss what we can get out of VoIP today and what we can expect in the future. I think you’ll learn a lot from our conversation. And leave a comment about your thoughts on VoIP.

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