Monthly Archive for May, 2009

Happy 20th Anniversary to me

At 8:30am, on May 29, 1989, I got the call. Perhaps you know the one – where the person you work for either calls you in the office, or, as in my case, on the phone, and tells you that your services will no longer be needed. The pink slip. Downsized. Right-sized. Canned. Sacked. Whatever…

You can thank me now for sparing you the details – that doesn’t matter. What did matter was that I had two teenagers and two mortgages, so my first thought was to dust off the old resume and get out there looking for a job. Then I thought … nah … I don’t need any help screwing up my life, I can do that by myself.

At precisely 8:35am, on May 29, 1989, I became a small business owner. “Jim Blasingame & Associates, Business Consultants.” I wish I could say that I conducted a comprehensive due diligence effort to divine the most viable direction and timing of my new business, but I didn’t. Two mortgages, two kids, no job and tired of someone else determining my future. That was it.

My business model was based on becoming a consultant to small businesses, and I actually pulled that off. The combination of decades of marketplace experience helping customers solve problems in a vendor role, plus the aforementioned motivation, proved enough to provide success. All I had to add was marketing and sales – actually get someone to pay for my services – and learn how to manage the financial elements of my own business, including charging enough to pay the bills, make payroll and a profit.

After reinventing myself as a business owner, a few years later I reinvented my company from a one-on-one consulting firm into a media company that serves a mass audience. Small Business Network, Inc., was formed in 1997 with the birth of my first website and nationally syndicated radio program, The Small Business Advocate® Show. Over the past 11+ years we’ve added a number of other multi-media elements, like this blog, but in the end, all have been part of the evolution of the business that began 20 years ago.

Happy anniversary to me.

I’ve learned some things in the past 20 years. I learned what I didn’t know. I learned how and when to seek counsel. I learned more about being a small company working with big ones. I learned about making mistakes and the realities of being the one upon which the proverbial buck stops. It’s a big, hairy buck, by the way. It has teeth and claws and weighs about two tons. And I’ve learned that every time the buck lands on me I get a little bit better at dealing with it.

In celebration of this milestone, as I conducted my 3,002nd weekday broadcast, I talked about my entrepreneurial birth and life, including some of the things I’ve learned. Below are four links to that show, each with the topic, and all are between six and eight minutes long - no commercials. Take a listen, and be sure to leave your own entrepreneurial story and other thoughts.

In the beginning:
What I didn’t know:
Who should you listen to?:
Growing the business:

Slay the evil call-reluctance monster and make more sales

You’re sitting outside of a prospect’s office in your car. You know you should go in and try to make a sale, but something is holding you back. So why haven’t you gone in yet? Well, there are lots of reasons – here are four of the classic ones:

1. Haven’t you heard? There’s a recession going on.
2. Everyone’s tightening their belts; they’re not going to buy anything from me.
3. I heard they just laid off some people last month. They’re probably just holding on.
4. The last prospect I called on didn’t buy anything, so this one will be just like that one.

Actually, these aren’t reasons, they’re excuses. No, that’s not quite right either – they’re lies you tell yourself. Even though all of the information in these four may be technically correct, it has nothing to do with the experience you will have with the prospect you’re looking at through the windshield of your car. So why do we tell ourselves these lies and, worse, believe them enough that we fail to make the call? The answer is call-reluctance.

Call-reluctance is a negative and destructive state-of-mind virtually every salesperson gets into either from time-to-time or constantly. In more than 40 years of selling, the simplest explanation for the call-reluctance emotion I have found is that you presume too much. For example:

1. You presume that if you go in, they will reject you. Actually, they might reject your offer, but not you. Everyone knows an offer doesn’t have any feelings, so separate yourself from your offer, and at least go make a new friend.

2. You presume that they will kick you out of the office. In truth, they might tell you they don’t have time to talk right now, but in that event, the worst that could happen would be that you find yourself outside of the prospect’s office. Since that’s exactly where you are right now, you will be no worse off. What part of “I can’t lose” is difficult for you?

3. You presume that they don’t need what you have to sell. Here’s a flash: That decision is above your pay-grade. Who do you think you are, answering for them? Get over yourself, and allow the prospect to speak for themselves. You might be right, but until you know for sure, you’re just betting against yourself, which doesn’t sound like a very intelligent career strategy, does it?

The slayer of sales is not a recession. The killer of commissions is not budget cuts. The most potent prospecting poison is not 10% unemployment. The greatest impediment to the success of most salespeople can be found in the wisdom of that great philosopher, Pogo the Possum, who so famously said, “We have seen the enemy, and he is us.”

Can you overcome your call reluctance and prove Pogo wrong? Remember, somebody is buying something from someone somewhere - right now! It might as well be you.

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked with sales expert and Brain Trust member, Mike Stewart. Mike is one of the world’s gurus on eliminating call-reluctance and even offers a free assessment on his website that helps you identify how you stack up against the 12 kinds of call-reluctance. Check it out at this link. And take a few minutes to listen to what Mike and I had to say about call reluctance. And, as always, be sure to leave your thoughts.

Celebrating Memorial Day and America’s small businesses

Reasonable people disagree on the origins of what is now called Memorial Day. But most accept that the practice of decorating graves of Americans who died defending their country began in earnest by women of the South during and following the Civil War.

On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, Commander of the Army of the Republic, was the first to make Memorial Day official with General Order No. 11, which stated in part that, “… the 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country …”

Since then, other than Congress making Memorial Day a national holiday and changing the date to the last Monday in May, America has honored its fallen heroes from all conflicts in pretty much the manner that General Logan anticipated with the language of his order, whereby “… posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit …”

When America issued its first call to arms, before it was a country, before there was a professional army, that call went to the militia, which was identified as, “all able-bodied men.” Calling themselves the “Minutemen,” because they could be ready to fight on a minute’s notice, they were primarily shopkeepers, craftsmen, farmers, etc. Today, we call them small business owners.

From as far away as Scotland, America’s Minutemen were impressive. Writing about the colonies’ quest for independence from England in his classic work, “The Wealth of Nations,” Adam Smith predicted America would prevail thanks to its militia which, “… turns from its primary citizen character into a standing army.”

By the 20th century, state militias had become part of the National Guard. And by 1916, the National Defense Act created another layer of citizen soldiers, the Reserves.

Prior to the war with Spain in 1898, latter-day Minutemen served only on American soil. But ever since, including two World Wars and four major conflicts, America has deployed its citizen-soldiers around the world, right alongside regular armed forces. In the current two Middle East conflicts, Guard and Reserve members have accounted for one third of U.S. forces, as well as a comparable percentage of casualties.

Whenever they’ve been called, small business owners and employees have answered and demonstrated their commitment and courage. So on this Memorial Day, as we honor all who have paid the ultimate price in service to this country, let’s also remember the long tradition of America’s small business volunteers to serve faithfully, in harm’s way, on behalf of a grateful nation.

America would not exist, nor have endured, without the sacrifice of those who turned from their “primary citizen character into a standing army.”

Today, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I celebrated Memorial Day, and all who paid the ultimate sacrifice, with my own thoughts, including a poem titled, “Freedom isn’t free.” I also talked with one of America’s great business leaders, Bob Dilenschneider, author of “Power and Influence.” Take a few minutes to listen to these podcasts and be sure to leave your thoughts.

Replace worry with small business performance

In Blue Highways, William “Least Heat Moon” Trogdon said his Osage Indian grandfather, William “Heat” Moon, taught him this about worry: “Some things don’t have to be remembered; they remember themselves.”

Entrepreneurs are often justified in worrying about their small businesses. But sometimes we waste emotional energy worrying about things over which we have little or no control, or something that isn’t likely to happen.

In the movie, Bowfinger, Eddie Murphy played Kit Ramsey, an action movie star who was also famous for being a pathological worrier. He worried about really strange things that would never happen, and it caused him to lead a frightened and miserable life.

Ramsey’s greatest worry was being captured, killed and eaten by space aliens. He also worried about being crushed by a gigantic foot, and that his body might burst into flames. Pretty silly, huh?! Watching Murphy play this unstable character is hilarious. But it also makes you think about how silly we are to worry about things that, like Ramsey’s obsessions, probably will never happen.

Instead of space aliens, how much time do we spend stressing out about our businesses being killed and eaten by the dreaded foreign competition? Instead of being stepped on by a giant foot, we obsess about being squashed by a Big Box Competitor. And instead of literally bursting into flames, we wake up in the middle of the night worrying that one day our customers will abandon us and our business will internally combust and go up in smoke.

In truth, unlike Kit Ramsey’s worries, these small business analogies actually could happen. But instead of living a frightened and miserable life worrying about them, let’s put all of that brain energy into doing what we can to make sure any competitor would be hard-pressed to take our customers away.

Stop worrying about fighting a price war with the Big Boxes. Remember: That war is over, and small business lost. Don’t make price a bigger issue than it needs to be. Instead, deliver so much value that price becomes a non-issue.

Stop obsessing about foreign competitors. They may have what your customers need, but they don’t know the one thing that only you know: what your customers want.

Your goal should be that when something a customer wants pops into their heads, if you sell it, your company, as Trogdon’s grandfather would say, should remember itself.

Don’t live a frightened and miserable life. Replace worry with action and performance.

Celebrating my 12th consecutive Small Business Week in D.C.

Here I am, in Washington, D.C., at my 12th consecutive celebration of National Small Business Week. Since 1998, I’ve been supporting the U.S. Small Business Administration as America honors its small businesses. Each year, like this one, the recognition includes over 50 small business champions from across the country.

Karen Mills, the new SBA Administrator, is my fourth one to work with, going back to Aida Alvarez, with the Clinton administration; and as I write, Ms. Mills is delivering her keynote speech at the SBW celebration. Among her first comments was to announce the American Recovery Capital (ARC) program that is a new loan program for viable businesses that need some short-term capital assistance during this recession.

ARC is designed to guarantee 100% of a loan made by a local lender, like a bank or credit union, to a qualified small business. The loan amount is up to $35,000, there are no fees, no interest or payments for 12 months and up to 60 months to repay, plus a few other details.

I think this is a great program - and much needed - but my concern is one that I’ve had for a long time: Not enough small business owners know about the SBA, what it does, how to access SBA resources, or how to coordinate the small business’ requirements, its bank and the SBA. Alas, the greatest program in the world won’t succeed if it isn’t widely distributed. One of the challenges Administrator Mills faces is getting the SBA airing in prime time on Main Street.

The Administrator also talked about health care reform. As you may know, I do not support more government involvement in the health care industry. We need more market-based solutions and less government. I look forward to an honest debate on this issue with Administrator Mills over the next few months on the radio.

Speaking of which, earlier today I talked about Small Business Week on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show. Take a few minutes to listen to my thoughts and, of course, leave your own comments.

Don’t feed the small business alligators

Small business owners always have more than their share of alligators chomping on them. If you don’t like the alligator metaphor, how about “ubiquitous stress companion”? Don’t worry; we’ll use USC for short.

Regardless of which you prefer, the fact remains that we have them in spades: They eat away at our performance and create impediments to achieving balance in our lives. Best-selling author, Marc Allen, offers a way to deal with allig … er … USCs. He says whenever he has to tackle a difficult challenge, he repeats the following affirmation: “I will deal with this (cash flow problem, difficult employee, life decision, etc.) in an easy and relaxed manner, in a healthy and positive way.”

It’s also a helpful affirmation to start the day, and it fits right into a prayer. Clear your mind of other issues except the USC at hand. Then close your eyes, breathe deeply and repeat Marc’s affirmation with emphasis on the key words: easy, relaxed, healthy and positive. Saying it out loud seems to improve focus. Perhaps when your ears actually hear the words it helps them sink in.

If you’re going to survive in small business, let alone succeed, you have to learn how to manage USCs for the following two important reasons:

1. Your business
You are where the proverbial buck stops — the Alpha Member of your business. If you don’t make it, nobody in your organization makes it. And even if you’re worried that you might not make it, you still have to convince your Beta Members that you’ve got your corn flakes together.

Your business depends on the ability to keep your head, as Rudyard Kipling once proposed, when all about you are losing theirs. To put a fine point on it, it’s your job to manage USCs.

2. Yourself
Specifically, we’re talking about your spirit — the force that drives your protoplasm around. You know, the only thing that’s different about identical twins. Everybody has a spirit; and, like navels,
they’re all different. (Not sure about identical twins’ navels.) Anyway, you probably take care of your protoplasm: healthy diet, exercise, all that. But are you feeding your spirit?

This part is very important because USCs love an undernourished spirit. It’s their favorite food, and they’re voracious eaters. If you feel stressed-out and spiritually undernourished, check your USCs. You’ll probably find they’re fat, healthy and ready to go best-two-falls-out-of-three with your spirit.

One of the best ways to nourish your spirit is to learn how to define success in terms other than money and stuff — like family, friends, (your idea here). Definitely not just stuff. The good news is feeding your spirit starves your USCs.

You can’t kill all the alligators, but you don’t have to feed them. Remember: easy . . . relaxed . . . healthy . . . positive.

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