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Monthly Archive for October, 2009

Is barter a good option for your small business?

In his landmark 1776 book, Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith called money one of the three great inventions, including the written word and mathematics. Smith’s assessment of currency was, and still is correct because the use of money has helped markets grow and expand more efficiently. But there is something still in use in the marketplace today that humans used for millennia before there was money: barter.

In its simplest form, barter is the exchange of goods and/or services between two parties without the involvement of money. Think of the prairie doctor who took a chicken home after delivering the baby. A modern-day example would be a business consultant who barters part of his fee for something a client sells.

Clearly, in the past hundred years the proliferation of money and financial tools and resources has relegated barter to the minor leagues of the marketplace. Nevertheless, it has been going on, primarily between parties who know each other and have a mutual need for what the other sells.

There are three things that have prevented barter from being more prevalent than it is: 1) that “know each other” thing, 2) the timing of the parties’ requirements, and 3) the relational value of what each party has to offer in barter. Enter a few entrepreneurs who created barter networks which become the transactional nexus between parties in order to minimize or eliminate these three barter constraints.

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I interviewed such an entrepreneur, Steve Bolles, founder and president of Merchants Barter Exchange. In this interview, Steve talked about some of the reasons that barter could be just the right tool for small businesses experiencing cash flow challenges or other issues in this recovering economy. Plus, we talked about some of the details that are required to pull off a successful barter, including through a barter network and, of course, the tax details. Take a few minutes to listen to this conversation and, as always, be sure to leave your own thoughts. Listen Live! Download, Too!

Small business victory over doubt

One of the tolls the Great Recession has taken on small business owners has been the tendency to allow ourselves to be overcome with doubt about our abilities as managers and leaders. But perhaps even more painful is doubt about who we are and what we stand for as entrepreneurs.

- When nothing seems to be working, “How could I let this happen?”

- When sales aren’t coming in fast enough, “Why can’t I fix this?”

- When there isn’t enough cash to fund the operation, “This is my fault.”

- Waking up at 2am, “Who am I fooling? What made me think I could actually be a real business owner?”

For small business owners there is a paradox inside of the emotion of doubt: If we never had doubts about our entrepreneurial intentions, excellence would not be possible. Doubt is part of the crucible effect that helps us create a stronger entrepreneurial alloy as we forge self-analysis with vision, planning and execution. Paradoxically, doubt, like fear, can be an immobilizer if we allow it to become personal. Consequently, small business owners must leverage doubt as a motivator.

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked with Brain Trust member, John Dini. John is a world-class business coach and mentor to hundreds of small business CEOs in his work with The Alternative Board organization. In our discussion, John talked about how doubt has gained some traction among business owners as a result of the tough economy. Take a few minutes to listen to this interview. Listen Live! Download, Too!

Also, a while back I wrote a poem titled “Victory over Doubt.” You might benefit from reading it today.

And, as always, be sure to leave your own thoughts.

An American small business dream: “Make a better thong”

“We wanted to make a more comfortable thong.”

This quote from Lida Orzek, co-founder of Hanky Panky, an American small business, is the answer she gave me when I asked why she and co-founder, Gail Epstein, decided to start their lingerie business. And for over 33 years, Lida and Gail have been making and selling a “better thong,” among other intimate apparel.

Only in America.

Where else on planet Earth could this happen? An entrepreneur sees a need, has an idea for how to serve that need and believes that if she actually does create this solution, she will have the freedom to make and sell her products and the liberty to prosper from the effort and risks taken.

Take a few minutes to listen to this recent interview with Lida on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, as she talks about her company and plans for the future. As you do, remember that the alloying of liberty and free-market capitalism produced the environment where the Hanky Panky dream of making and selling a better thong could come true. Oh, and by the way, Hanky Panky products are all proudly made in America.

As always, be sure to leave your comments. Listen Live! Download, Too!

A small business economic report from a unique CEO

Recently I had the privilege of interviewing Paul Sarvadi, founder and CEO of Insperity, on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, about his thoughts on the current state of the U.S. economy. Paul is uniquely qualified as an expert on this topic because he runs his publicly traded company with a small business mentality, plus all of his customers are small business leaders in their industry and markets.

Some of the things Paul said during our visit include where we are in the recovery, his conviction that small businesses will lead the economy out of recession, and his concerns for government policies hurting our recovery progress, plus other words of wisdom. Be sure to take a few minutes to listen to this interview, and of course, leave your own thoughts. Listen Live! Download, Too!

Should the Fed be replaced with the gold standard?

The Federal Reserve Board was created by an act of Congress in 1913. Prior to its creation, there had been a number of dramatic and damaging economic cycles, including depressions, and it was believed that such a body would be able to manage the monetary elements of the economy in such a way as to either eliminate or minimize these dangerous swings.

In the intervening years, the Fed has had mixed reviews: Some have proposed that since the Fed didn’t stop the Great Depression, nor prevent recessions like the serious one we’ve recently experienced, it hasn’t lived up to its charter and should be eliminated. Others say that without the Fed, the economic cycles we’ve had would have been worse.

Today, some think we should abolish the Fed and return to the gold standard and use this underlying collateral for the U.S. currency as a better way to maintain price stability. But it’s important to point out that we’ve had economic cycles with: a) the gold standard and no Fed; b) the Fed and the gold standard; and c) the Fed and no gold standard. Small business owners just want a system that provides the best chance of adequate access to credit, low interest rates and low inflation.

It seems to me that the global economy is much too complex to just rely on the price of one or more commodities to manage price levels and monetary policy of the largest economy in the world. Perhaps the best system would be to keep the Fed for monetary policy and give it some support on price stability by reinstating the gold standard.

But I’m not the expert on this issue, and that’s why I turn to those who are, including two of my Brain Trust members, Dr. Robert McTeer and Wayne Allyn Root. Bob McTeer was the president of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank and, therefore, a member of the Fed’s Open Market Committee. Currently, he’s a Distinguished Fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis. Wayne Root was the 2008 Vice Presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party and is the author of The Conscience of a Libertarian.

Recently, I interviewed both of these men together on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, where they discussed the relative merits and demerits of the Fed and the gold standard. Take a few minutes to listen to what they had to say. And, as always, be sure to leave your thoughts. Listen Live! Download, Too!

When small business dreams come true

Over the past dozen years, one of the cool things I have been able to do in my work is meet many smart people who were working on entrepreneurial ideas for a new business, a book, a service or other venture. Many times they have told me about their dream when it was literally just in their heads. I was able to watch and encourage them as they did the research, took the baby steps that preceded the launch, executed the plan, and ultimately grew the project into a success.

One of these stories involves my friend, Robert Levin. Rob wanted to produce a regional print publication dedicated to small businesses in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. In the face of a lot of competition and against all of the odds of starting any new venture from scratch, he did it.

Since 2005, I’ve interviewed Rob on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, to talk about his journey and the work he is doing on behalf of small business. This week, while attending the fourth annual New York Enterprise Report Small Business Gala in New York City, I got to see that Rob has not only created a successful publishing venture, but also a vibrant community of followers. There were over 400 excited gala attendees who were there to network and recognize a number of tri-state small businesses for their marketplace excellence. Goodonya, Rob. I’m proud of you.

As a side note, yours truly received one of the “Advocate” awards, along with Brain Trust member, Karen Kerrigan, President of Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, and one of my heroes.

Only in a free-market economy can someone first imagine and then build a business venture from scratch without having to ask permission. Only liberty provides the ability to take risks and then succeed or fail in business on your own. Only unfettered access to ownership and the possibility of financial success produces this kind of work and commitment.

In my work, I get to see this kind of behavior all the time. I love my job.