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Monthly Archive for March, 2009

The Blasingame Small Business Banking Rules-of-Thumb

For many years, I’ve made the following recommendations to small businesses with regard to their banking relationships, called: The Blasingame Small Business Banking Rules-of-Thumb:

1st Blasingame Small Business Banking Rule-of-Thumb
A small business should have at least two banking relationships. If you’re turned down for a loan at one bank, you have another place to go where the person already knows about you and your business. One primary reason for this rule is because if only one banker knows you and your story, when he or she gets fired, promoted or otherwise leaves the bank, Murphy’s Law will dictate that it will happen when you most need a favorable banker.

2nd Blasingame Small Business Banking Rule-of-Thumb
At least one of the banking relationships should be with an independent community bank – that means locally owned and managed – and preferably your lead bank. I’m not picking on big banks, it’s just that most small businesses need to be given a little extra consideration for their character and past performance, which is typically not as forthcoming in a large bank.

Loan decisions made by large banks have two elements that may not give a small business this extra consideration: 1) The actual decision is made by a loan committee in another city, by people who probably don’t know the business owners; 2) They rely heavily on what is called “credit scoring,” which is a computer program – each bank has its own proprietary model – that receives quantifiable information and produces a “score,” let’s say, 17. If this week the bank has decided that only scores of 18 or more are accepted, this loan request will likely be rejected. I’ve never heard of a credit scoring system that includes a variable for the applicant’s character.

Over the years, my Rules-of-Thumb have proven to be valuable to many small businesses. But since 2008, with all of the problems associated with big banks, those who have followed my advice were much less likely to find themselves without access to credit, since every independent community banker I’ve talked with in the past 15 months has emphatically said they had never stopped lending to their small business customers.

Recently, I talked with two presidents of independent community banks about working with small businesses and the health of the banking industry. First, Mike Menzies, who is not only the president of the Easton Bank and Trust in Easton Maryland, but he’s also the new Chairman of the Independent Community Bankers Association (ICBA). Mike’s also a long-time member of my Brain Trust. Secondly, there is Charles Antonucci, President of Park Avenue Bank in mid-town Manhattan.

Take a few minutes to listen to what these two veteran small business lenders have to say. And, of course, be sure to leave your thoughts.
For Mike Menzies:
For Charles Antonucci:

My love for golf – and Arnold Palmer

For the next three days, we’re at the Arnold Palmer Invitational Golf Tournament in Bay Hill, Florida, which is hard-by to Orlando. I’m trying to remember what other living person has a PGA golf tournament named for them.

Let me tell you about my love for golf, and for Arnold Palmer.

If you’re a golfer, I don’t have to explain my torrid affair with this maddening game. I’ve been playing – off and on – for over 35 years. Once I got my handicap into the single digits, but now it’s mostly in the low teens.

One of the things I love about golf is how the principles of the game have remained so pure over the generations. It’s still the only game where the participants are required to call any infraction on themselves. If you watch any of the PGA tour events on television long enough, you’ll eventually see a pro invoke a rule on himself or herself. But that’s not the best part: There is a good chance that the infraction that occurred may only be known to that player. That’s right. These guys penalize themselves if they violate a rule that only they know has been breeched.

I don’t know if Nobel laureate Albert Camut was a golfer, but surely he had golf in mind when he so elegantly said, “Integrity has no need for rules.” In golf, integrity also has no need for umpires.

Now, about my love for Arnold Palmer, first: Who doesn’t love The King? And Arnold loves you. At least, that’s what you would believe if you ever met him.

The greatest man to ever play the game – well, before Tiger Woods – is Jack Nicklaus, who once described the difference between him and Arnold: “I love golf; Arnold loves people.” Nuff said.

I love Arnold because of the influence he has had on golf, especially its rich traditions. I know of no other living person who embodies all that is good about golf than Arnold Palmer. And I love Arnold because of the entrepreneurial legend he has become. Arnold Palmer is not just a businessman, he is an industry – a pretty large industry – but still, he is a small business owner. And while his accomplishments would impress you, when you realized how much he still does – at age 79 – your appreciation would grow quickly.

In recent years, I’ve been around Arnold quite a bit. He provided the foreword for my second book, and I am on the National Advisory Council for the Arnold Palmer Hospitals in Orlando. I love meeting celebrities who are as Confucius once said about how to live a good life, “Be in reality what you appear to be.” Confucius was talking about Arnold Palmer.

Today, I’m playing in the Pro-Am with my friends and other amateurs, Jason Cutbirth (Insperity) and Jean Beakey (GolfChannel.com). Our pro is Pat Perez, who won earlier this year at the Bob Hope. It’s going to be fun.

A while back, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I interviewed Mr. Palmer – face-to-face – here at Bay Hill. Since 1997, I’ve conducted almost 10,000 interviews with some pretty cool people, but this interview has to be one of the top two or three. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen to what this living legend had to say about golf, about life and about business. And, as always, be sure to leave your thoughts.

Saluting our armed forces, including those from small business

Remarking on the devotion of his fighting men, Napoleon is supposed to have said, “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.”

He was talking about an idea, a concept, vision, belief system, anything that a person values more than his or her own convenience, safety and even that person’s very life.

The men and women who serve in the military of the United States do so because of devotion to what their country stands for, and hundreds of thousands of them are currently still in harm’s way in two different conflicts, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lately the news media has abandoned most of what our military is doing in these countries, for at least two reasons: 1) Economic challenges are more compelling than war these days; and 2) just as 10,000 planes landing safely doesn’t sell papers, at least in Iraq, the recent success of our military in helping this country claim self-determination and install a form of democracy is now tantamount to all those safe landings.

But make no mistake, our armed forces are risking their lives every day in official conflicts as well as engaging in the training that prepares them to pursue a military mission if and when their government calls.

Today, more Americans are associated with small business, as owners and employees, than ever before. And since our global military commitments are increasingly being delivered by citizen-soldiers in the National Guard and Reserves, it follows that small business people are increasingly inconveniencing themselves on behalf of their country at the minimum and experiencing a high casualty rate at the maximum.

So, on behalf of all of America’s men and women in our armed services, not especially, but absolutely including our small business brothers and sisters, let’s all take a moment to stand erect, heels locked, chest and jaw out, and salute these 21st century heroes. Because when their country needed them, they said, “Send me!” And so they went. And so they still go.

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked about these special Americans. I hope you’ll take 6 minutes to listen to my thoughts and please, feel free to leave yours.

Small business conversion to a server environment made easier

One of the great moments in the life of a small business is the purchase of your first computer when you’re a start-up. Through this device, which will deliver all of the application power you’ll employ, you will find your way to the marketplace and, hopefully, success.

Over time, you add more computers and other peripherals, creating what has become known as a “peer-to-peer” configuration, meaning everybody in your organization has their own desktop computer, each complete with all of the software programs and the files that have been created by them.

This configuration works out well for many growing small businesses. With not-too-sophisticated configuring, the sharing of files, peripherals and Internet connection can take place over the local network. And while this system expands naturally as a business grows, it does come with limitations and creates problems, such as: multiple software licensing gets expensive, collaboration is clunky at best, and perhaps the most significant and, frankly, dangerous shortcoming of this kind of configuration is frequent, reliable and consistent backing up of the work at every workstation.

Of course, for a long time, there has been an effective way to minimize these shortcomings, by converting from peer-to-peer to a server environment. And even though a server configuration makes more sense for many more small businesses than actually take advantage of it, the conversion is often simply not made because it’s actually not all that simple. In truth, if you’re going to convert from peer-to-peer to a server system, you had better know a local computer/network support organization because installation isn’t for amateurs and maintenance is required.

But there is good news on the server conversion process in the form of something generically called an “appliance.” This is a “black box” that houses a server but also other key network elements that, together with on-line automatic diagnostic and updating capability, seriously reduces the time, expense and brain damage of making the jump to a server configuration. More and more, hardware providers are doing exciting things with appliances to help small businesses make the server conversion a lot easier.

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked with server appliance expert, Caleb Barlow, who is with the Lotus division of IBM (LotusFoundations.com). Caleb first explained in a generic way how a server appliance works, and then how his offering works, the Lotus Foundations appliance.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen to what Caleb has to say. This could be the missing productivity and efficiency piece to your business’ growth puzzle that you’ve been looking for. And be sure to leave your thoughts.

Successful small business succession planning

Statistics show that nine out of ten small businesses are family owned and operated; no big surprise there. After all, isn’t a start-up virtually by definition a family business? Indeed, what small business can be founded without some involvement, if not a lot of sacrifice, from the family members?

But when the founders ultimately decide to take their leave, orderly transfer of management and ownership to next generations breaks down significantly. In fact, less than one third of small businesses are transferred to family, and that number includes those that work and those that don’t.

In a past career as a business consultant, often working with families who work together in their businesses, I discovered at least two important small business succession planning truths:

1. The only thing harder than founding and growing a small business successfully is transitioning management and ownership successfully from the founder to the next generation of family.

2. The percentage of succession success increases with any combination of these three elements: higher management sophistication; high degree of respect among the parties; counsel from a family-business transition professional.

One family business transition I’ve observed, merely as an interested party, is the company founded by my friend, Tim Berry, a member of my Brain Trust and founder of Palo Alto Software, the makers of Business Plan Pro. All of his five children have worked in the company to some degree over the years, and earlier this decade he turned over the management reigns (not sure about any ownership transfer) to a middle child, daughter Sabrina.

From what I can tell, this transition is making all parties happy. With regard to my second point above, I’m not sure how much professional assistance they’ve sought, but I do know that Tim and Sabrina clearly fit the other two criteria of sophistication and mutual respect.

Recently, Tim joined me on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, as we talked about some of the key elements of succession planning. He’s been the world’s top business planning guru for a long time, but he has become a family business transition expert in the last few years. Take a few minutes to listen to his words of wisdom. And, as always, be sure to leave your thoughts.

2009: The throw-away year for small business

This isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been in the marketplace during seven recessions, counting this one. The one in the middle ’70s was a mean one. The next one, in the early ’80s, was a bad one too because it was actually two recessions back-to-back.

This one – the one that began in the fourth quarter of 2007 and has progressively gotten worse – will go down in the books as the worst since the Great Depression. Based on my decades of experience and my professional marketplace observations, here are a few thoughts on where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going.

1. Anything prior to 2009 is ancient history with regard to the marketplace and the way we will do business in the future. This recession includes all of the scary and dangerous things that happened in 2008 but, on Main Street at least, most of 2008 was pretty much like 2007.

2. The year 2009 is merely the transition year between how we used to do business and how we will do business in the future. An awful lot of what we have done and will do to survive 2009 won’t be all that relevant in 2010, so don’t fall in love with it.

No one will ever look back on 2009 with nostalgia. We’re likely to look back and see it as the “throw-away year” - a lot of bad news without delivering much value for the future.

3. After 2009 the marketplace will enter a new era with more government involvement, less risk-taking and new influences, such as new technologies, the growing influences of social media, and the increased influences of Gen X and Gen Y, which are now about half of the U.S. population. The next expansion will begin with more new paradigms than any other in history, which means that recent history will be less relevant than it has been in past recoveries.

My reason for saying all of this is because as we’re dealing with the survival realities of 2009, we have to simultaneously look for how things will be in 2010 and beyond, which will be a lot different. Wouldn’t it be a shame if we survive 2009 and find that we’re uncompetitive for 2010?

Recently, I talked about the year 2009 on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show. Take a few minutes to listen, and be sure to leave a comment.