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  • Monthly Archive for September, 2010

    What’s good for small business is good for the world

    The mid-term Congressional elections will be held barely more than a month from now and, if you’re a political junkie, it’s been a high time. This is the most interesting political landscape in my lifetime for a two specific reasons:

    1. There is an almost unprecedented dramatic line between what the two main political parties stand for.
    2. Both parties are somewhat in disarray because their political class paradigms are being shifted by influences that are threatening to upset their incumbency apple carts.

    Many people believe that this election may go down as one of the most important ones in the history of our republic.  I am one of those people.  That’s why we wanted to know how members of our audience were leaning on the election.   So last week we asked this question:

    “If the election were today, which party would you be more likely to vote for? (Note: Assume all Tea Party candidates are now on the Republican ticket.)”

    Fifteen percent said they would vote for a Democrat and 85% said they would pull the Republican lever.

    As you have likely seen, most polls indicate that Republicans will make major gains in the House and Senate. In fact, on my radio show recently, Steve Forbes predicted that the GOP would win a majority in both houses.

    It’s not a surprise to me that our respondents tip even more heavily for Republicans than the national political polls, because our audience is primarily small business owners.  Members of this sector of the electorate are tired of Washington passing laws and regulations that hurt small businesses, whether we’re collateral damage or the intended target, and right now the folks who are getting the blame for these assaults are Democrats.

    But there is one thing that’s unique about this election cycle that may water down the GOP’s apparent advantage: There is as much of an anti-incumbent sentiment among the electorate as there is anti-Democrat.  As I said at the beginning, we’re experiencing a most interesting political landscape.

    My hope is that whatever happens, it is good for American small businesses. Because I believe that what is good for small business is good for America.

    I recently reported on this issue on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show. Take a few minutes to listen and, whether you agree with me or not, be sure to leave your comment. Listen Live! Download, Too!

    To participate in current poll question, visit www.smallbusinessadvocate.com and vote.

    “No problem” is a big problem for small business

    It has happened to all of us: You are being waited on at a restaurant, buying a product or returning something to a merchant, and as an employee is delivering some kind of service you say, “Thank you.”

    Good for you; your mother would be so proud. But she wouldn’t be impressed by what has become an unfortunate response to “thank you.”

    After you say “thank you” for having your water refilled or your order completed, there is an excellent chance the employee will say, incredibly, “No problem.”

    So, from this response, are you now to think that simply allowing service to be delivered is some sort of a problem you’ve created, from which you should pray forgiveness will be granted? Should you feel relief that you’ve been redeemed by this person with “no problem” absolution?

    Clearly, American English has deviated to a level that makes many feel nostalgic for casual. And it’s difficult to pinpoint where things ran off of the rails, but somehow the sublime “it’s my pleasure” has devolved into the sub par “no problem.”

    Well, my friends, let’s get one thing straight: No problem is a problem. When small business employees say “no problem” to a customer instead of “you’re welcome,” it’s a serious problem that, over time, could be the equivalent of a business death wish.

    Think I’m overreacting? How much money do you spend getting a customer to do business with you? How much energy and resources do you invest into making sure your products, pricing, display, etc., are just right? How many sleepless nights do you spend worrying about how to compete with the Big Boxes?

    Now that we’ve established the enormity of these answers, have you checked to make sure that no employee of yours ever causes one of your customers to think - even subliminally - that the mere fact that they are doing business with you could be some kind of a problem?

    The only thing that is unique about the contact your business has with a customer is the experience they have with you - how they FEEL about doing business with you. Everything else is a commodity. Everything! So in what universe does “no problem” help your business maximize the positive emotions of a wonderful customer experience? Stop saying it, and train your employees to stop saying it.

    There must be 39 different ways in English to express your delight in serving a customer without saying “no problem.” Use one of them.

    Recently, I discussed the issue of “No Problem” being a big problem on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen, and be sure to leave your thoughts. Listen Live! Download, Too!

    Brick and Mortar Move Over

    Our most recent poll question in the Newsletter and on our website was about e-commerce. We asked this question: How much of your small business’ annual sales revenue comes from online sales? Here’s what our respondents said:

    • Five percent of respondents said online sales represented 100% of their revenue.
    • Fourteen percent said more than half of their sales came from the Internet.
    • A little more than 50% of respondents said online sales counted for less than half of total   revenue.
    • And about one fourth said they had no online sales.

    In terms of the Internet age, e-commerce has been around for a big chunk of that period. But compared to the traditional marketplace, the practice of selling online is still in its infancy. So I’m actually quite pleased with the response mix we got, especially that 75% of our participants are producing some sales through e-commerce.  I’ll have more to say, including some research on this subject, next week.

    To participate in next week’s poll question, visit www.smallbusinessadvocate.com and vote.

    Small business brands in the 21st century

    There was a time when most people thought having a brand was just for big companies - you know, like the Nike swoosh. For years, I’ve been telling small businesses that they have a brand, too, maybe even more than one.

    But for small businesses, our brands are less tangible. The thing that makes customers remember us is more about the experience they have with us, including the relationship they have with our employees, the way we customize our products and services to their individual requirements and, just maybe, the fact that we remember them every time they connect with us.  Yes, my friends, these are the critical, often intangible, elements of a small business brand.

    Recently, on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked about the intangible, emotional, impressionable brand concept with long-time Brain Trust member and world-class brand expert,  Tom Asacker.  Tom reveals how your attitude about your business and behavior around customers is also part of your brand and what compels customers to do business with you - or not. You can find Tom, his many books on branding and his work at acleareye.com.

    I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen to this important conversation about what small business branding looks like in the 2nd decade of the 21st century. And, as always, be sure to leave your own thoughts.

    Listen Live! Download, Too!

    Money to lend, but no takers

    For almost two years politicians on both sides of the aisle have been saying that one of the big problems with the economy is that small businesses can’t get loans from banks. For that same period I’ve asked small business owners - and independent community bankers - on my radio program why more loans aren’t being made, and their answers have been consistent: Small banks have money to lend, but small business owners are not asking for loans.

    Since the Obama Administration’s most recent attempt to tweak economic recovery is about making more money available to small banks so they will make more small business loans, last week we asked our small business Newsletter subscribers and website visitors what they thought about this. More than 80% said they either could borrow money from a bank if they needed it, or wouldn’t borrow money from a bank even if it were easier. Only 16% said getting a loan would help them now.

    Sadly, we continue to see how disconnected many of the political class are from the real concerns of the sector that produces over half of the U.S. GDP and employs over half of all American workers. Small business owners aren’t going to take risks - which is what getting a business loan is all about - as long as they’re uncertain about the future: the future of taxes, the future of health care expense, the future of energy costs, the future of union influence, etc., etc.

    Mr. President, if you really want to know what small businesses need, you should do what I do - ask them.

    Thank you for being part of my community. I’ll see you on the radio, and on the Internet.

    To participate in next week’s poll question, visit www.smallbusinessadvocate.com and vote.

    Small business owners answer questions about retirement

    Who gets the money: the business or your retirement plan?

    One of the greatest challenges for any growing small business is the fact that, kind of like a teenager, your business will always have its hand out for more money.  Indeed, there will NEVER be a time when you won’t have real, bona fide, justified upgrades, maintenance and/or market opportunities to spend your money on.

    If you actually have the retained earnings to consider putting back in the business, congratulations; that means you’re doing something right.  But at some point you’re going to have to decide how to split that pot of money between investing in the business and investing in a non-business-related retirement plan.

    We wanted to know how you were handling this decision and asked our NEWSLETTER subscribers and website visitors what they were doing about personal retirement. Here’s what our respondents told us:

    44% said: I have a retirement plan I’m contributing to every year.
    24% said: At this stage, every extra dollar is reinvested in my small business.
    4% said: The recession is preventing me from contributing to a retirement plan.
    28% said: I’m just trying to survive - retirement seems like a luxury right now.

    It’s very pleasing to see the way this poll turned out. The largest single response was in favor of funding a retirement plan and about a third (combining the last two) were not funding retirement due to the economic conditions.   And, frankly, I was surprised to see that only about a fourth said they were giving all their money to the business.

    There is no silver bullet answer to this issue for small business owners, but just be careful to not let your “teenager” become too greedy.

    To participate in next week’s poll question, visit www.smallbusinessadvocate.com and vote.