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Monthly Archive for December, 2010

How’s business?

As I have talked with small business owners across the country over the past few months, the abiding topic of discussion is the economy. “How’s business?” I ask. The answers I get depend upon many factors:  Some industries are not good across the country, like anything connected to real estate, for example. Some markets are having a tougher time than others, with almost no industries or sectors escaping the local economic blight. Las Vegas comes to mind, as does Detroit.

But just as one person tells me things are tough, if I do an about-face and ask another small business owner, the news may well be very good.

We thought a good way to get a handle on what’s really happening in the small business sector of the economy would be to ask about growth plans for next year, so we asked this question last week:  “Based on what you see now, what are your business growth and investment expectation plans for the new year?” Here’s what our respondents told us:

One-in-five — 20% — said they were doing so well that they were definitely making plans not only to make new investments in their businesses in 2011, but also to hire new people. The next group, representing 45% of respondents, said business was improving slowly, but they expected to be able to make some upgrades of people and stuff next year.

So, the good news is, a plurality — 65% of respondents — were feeling at least some reason to be optimistic about
the future. The bad news is that more than one-third of respondents were still in bad shape, including 11% who are still experiencing a decline in business.

I’ll leave you with two thoughts that you’ve heard me say before: 1) This recovery has been rated by me as an “M” recovery, which stands for marathon; 2) Take a hard look at yourself and your organization to see of any failure to execute might be coming from within. You might need help from an outside observer to accomplish this step. Good luck.

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

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

Consider teleworking

What do you do when a key employee tells you that, due to circumstances beyond their control, he or she is now required to stay at home at least part of the work week? If you don’t want to lose a valuable team member, the 21st century answer to this management challenge is teleworking.

Teleworking - where an employee works full or part-time off-site, perhaps from home - is becoming much more prevalent in the marketplace. In truth, the need to be able to work off-site isn’t new, but only in the past few years have the technological tools been available to make teleworking a viable management option. Here are some thoughts on how to establish and execute a teleworking relationship:

The first step is to determine, with the prospective teleworking employee, how much work can realistically be done off-site. Then determine how the off-site and on-site schedule would be coordinated.  Anticipate the need to make adjustments, so schedule a periodic review with your teleworker, to discuss progress and modifications.

Next step - the tools. Get your teleworker a notebook computer (which will allow work to be taken back and forth) and pay for a broadband Internet connection at their home.

Finally, talk with your other employees about why this step is being taken so they can support the new plan. If handled properly, I predict you’ll get major points for being such a cool, 21st century manager.

If you have trouble imagining having an employee who’s not under your roof, here’s how to get over it: think about how many hours a week your key employees are in your building without you actually seeing them. I’ll bet that number will surprise you.

Recently on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked with TJ DiCaprio, Microsoft’s Senior Director of U.S. Small and Mid-Sized Business Marketing, about the results of a recent study on technology and teleworking. I also recently interviewed long-time Brain Trust Member, Jeff Zbar, on teleworking as part of a business interruption strategy. Take a few minutes to listen to each of these discussions, and, as always, leave your comments or experiences.

Why you should have an employee teleworking strategy with TJ DiCaprio

Making your business ready for an interruption with Jeff Zbar

Success calls for two kinds of passion

Over the years, as I have talked with budding entrepreneurs, it continues to amaze me how many have not conducted anything close to a prudent amount of research as they start their businesses. Indeed, they often act as if they must get their business going right now or they will just pop.

This kind of impatience is dangerous.

Doing my best to talk them down off the ledge, I walk the fine line between slowing them down a little and dousing the fire of their entrepreneurial passion with my tough love.

Yes, passion is important. And when would-be small business owners get that far away look in their eyes at this impetuous stage of a start-up, they have plenty of passion for what the business does. They can’t wait to sell suits, manufacture plastic parts, bake bagels or (your dream here). But while their passion for what they want to do will come in handy, without a healthy attraction for business fundamentals, passion has only slightly more value than a dream. As the Texans say, it’s all hat and no cattle.

This will be on the test: Success as a small business owner requires two kinds of passion: The first is the love of what you want to do, as described above. This is like the way a mother loves her newborn baby, and it’s the easy kind. In fact, it’s too easy.

The object of the second kind of small business passion is less adorable but not less important. This is passion for a profession that requires dedication to learn and practice management fundamentals and acceptance of a return-on-investment timeline that pushes the deferred gratification envelope. See, I told you it was less adorable. The closest kin to this kind of passion would be that which is required for parents to love their teenagers anyway, during those moments when they don’t like them very much.

It’s critical for a starry-eyed start-up to make the distinction between these two types of passion. Passion for what you sell won’t be enough when payables exceed receivables, making payroll (“Is it Friday again? Already?!”), when customers are the most difficult, when an employee becomes part of the problem, etc.

These and a long list of other abiding small business challenges will require you to deliver on the management fundamentals you became good at because you had that other kind of passion – the kind that made you become a high-performing, professional business owner, not just someone who dreamed of being one.

Small business success requires both kinds of passion.

Recently on The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked with my good friend, Tim Berry, about some of the myths of small business ownership, including his thoughts on passion and persistence. Tim is the founder of Palo Alto Software, developer of Business Plan Pro software, and author of The Plan as You go Business Plan and Hurdle: The Book of Business Planning. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to click on the links below to listen and, as always, be sure to leave your own thoughts and/or experiences.

Myth 1: You can be your own boss

Myth 2:  Passion and persistence are enough

Myth 3:  A business plan is no longer necessary

Have the terrorists already won?

Frankly, I’m surprised at how respondents to our poll question this week feel about the controversial “full-body scan” and “pat-down” practices of the TSA at airports. As of this writing, barely more than half voted these practices “go too far,” with 45% saying they are “necessary for security.”

BIAS ALERT!  FAIR WARNING!

I’m giving you this ALERT/WARNING because I have experienced both the scan and the “pat-down.”  Even though a single scan is not physically uncomfortable, it is personally invasive, as you can see from the photo nearby. And since I fly a lot, the long-term radiation exposure of the scan is a concern.

My subsequent “pat-down” - they didn’t like my scan so I got the full treatment - was VERY uncomfortable on wa-a-a-ay too many levels. Let me put it this way: I’m sure the man who frisked me was not paid enough to do what he did to me. Gentlemen, think of how weird it feels when a tailor measures your inseam while you’re wearing the pants and take that up about four notches of weird. Ladies, I have no female frame of reference, but would like very much to know what that would be.  You can click here to send an email with your thoughts.

Earlier this week on my radio program, I described in detail my recent scan/pat-down experience, including what I could have done - and therefore, what you can do - to avoid the pat-down. Click here to listen - it’s about 6 minutes long.

So, since these two practices are still not widely used (again, please forgive me for making the following assumption), I’m going to hazard a guess that some of those who voted “necessary for security” but have not yet experienced the pat-down would change their vote after they did.  In the future, I will do everything in my power to avoid the pat-down, including exposing myself to the scan.

Finally, the definition of terrorism is not committing physical harm, it’s creating a state of fear and submission.  Every time you and I have another level of liberty taken away in the name of security, a little piece of terrorism is delivered by proxy and the bad guys get one more point added to their scoreboard.

I think the pat-down and probably the full-body scan goes too far. We’ve got to find other ways to provide security.

Thanks for being part of my community. I’ll see you next week on the radio - and on the Internet!