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Monthly Archive for March, 2011

Nature emphasizes human insignificance

An earthquake is arguably the rudest of nature’s reminders of how insignificant we humans are. And even though we’re no longer shocked to hear about one happening somewhere else, still, it’s difficult to imagine how devastating a 9.0 earthquake can be. Even though footage of the associated tsunami, further emphasizing the awesome power of nature, may take our breath away, we’ve come to expect this one-two punch when the planet’s tectonic plates shift near an ocean.

But when nature performs the hat trick by unleashing its force under, around and over volatile man-made devices called nuclear power plants, as recently happened - and is still happening - in northeastern Japan, the needle of our disbelief meter pegs off the chart.

Here in the U.S., it was looking like the more than 30-year nuclear power plant construction moratorium, created by the 1979 Three Mile Island accident, was just about to end. Now what? Is this a sign from God, or just a disastrous coincidence.

Political and environmental interests seek desperately for non-carbon energy alternatives. But in the face of what’s still unfolding in Japan, what is the nuclear energy appetite of Americans? We wanted to know what you think about this, so we asked the following question last week in our weekly poll in the Newsletter and our website. “The Japanese disasters have put the potential risks of nuclear power in focus. Do you think we should continue to build more nuclear plants?” Here’s what you said:

Those who thought we should put things on hold at least until we see how things turn out in Japan represented 5% of our respondents. Surprisingly, only slightly more, 8%, said the Japanese disaster proves that nuclear energy is not worth the risks. But a resounding 88% of our sample said the U.S. should continue to develop nuclear energy, acknowledging that no energy alternative is without risks.

We continue to live the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” It will indeed be interesting to see how the alternative energy debate plays out over the next few of years. And while thinking about where you want to take your small business, remember what a wise person once said, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” And, as we’ve come to know too well, nature is a big part of life.

On The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked with Andrew Sherman, partner at the global law firm, Jones Day and author of many books, including Be the Truck, Not the Squirrel, whether the events in Japan could have been predicted.

Japan and Middle East Black Swan events with Andrew Sherman

I also talked with Bob McTeer, Distinguished Fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis and former President/CEO of the Dallas Fed, about the global impact of the disasters in Japan.

Global repercussions from the Japanese disaster with Bob McTeer

Please click on the interviews and take a few minutes to listen to our discussions. We’re also interested in your comments, so please tell us what you think.

Working capital loans & independent community banks

Results of the The Small Business Advocate Poll from March 14:

The Question: As you grow your business over the next year, it’s likely that you’ll need a working capital loan to augment operating cash flows. If so, which of these options are you more likely to choose?

13% - National or large regional bank

31% - Independent community bank

22% - Credit Union

34% - “We don’t need no shtinking bank loan!”

Jim’s comment: For over a decade, I’ve been telling small business owners that their most reliable banking relationships, through thick and thin, would be one with a locally owned bank or credit union that practiced relationship banking. It’s good to see that of those who would currently consider using financial leverage, 80% would choose an option where relationships are valued more than a computer generated credit score.

Recently on The Small Business Advocate Show, Jim discussed the importance of having a relationship with an independent community bank with Gary Moore, founder of The Financial Seminary and author of several books, including Faithful Finances 101 and Spiritual Investments. It’ll only take 8 minutes to listen to what Gary has to say, he’s a pretty smart guy, and tell us your banking experiences - good and bad.

In praise of the independent community bank with Gary Moore

Possible titles for “The Small Business Movie”

One of the great icons of Americana is Hollywood, including all the epic movies with almost breathtaking titles, like “Gone with the Wind.”

Among my favorites is a war movie with such a title, “In Harm’s Way.” A more recent one that isn’t a war movie, but has a compelling title is, “Against All Odds.”

If anyone ever made a movie about the American small business, either of these three would be a perfect title. Creating something from nothing in a rude marketplace - often with little or no capital, in the face of entrenched Big Box, local and Internet competitors - is as close to “in harm’s way” as you can get without dodging enemy fire. And against all odds, less than half of small businesses survive five years while less than one-third of those make it to the second generation.

If your small business has come through the Great Recession and the Not-So-Great Recovery, you’ve gone in harm’s way and survived, against all odds. And based on recent surveys - the very sophisticated and the not-so-very - many small businesses still have harm to avoid and odds to challenge.

The most recent and very sophisticated NFIB Index of Small Business Optimism reported that while optimism has spent many quarters below the 100-point historical baseline, the recent 0.4% rise to 94.5% score, means while we may not like the number, we like the trend. When most small business owners report optimism about their future, the gold standard NFIB Index will hit or exceed 100.

Recently, my not-so-very-sophisticated online survey of small business owners answered this question: “With two months of 2011 behind us, how is the recovery going compared to last year?” Those who said, “The economy is definitely improving” represented 28% of respondents. Those who said “Sales revenue is better, but the recovery is still slow,” came in at 43%. And the group reporting “Sales revenue is not growing,” was 30% of our sample.

Remember my two admonitions about dealing with this recovery: 1) It’s going to be a marathon. Pace yourself with discipline and patience; and 2) If you’re in the majority that isn’t feeling the recovery, find out what the apparently very happy minority is doing.

Here’s another epic war movie title I think you’ll agree would fit that small business movie, “The Longest Day.” It’s about what it takes to avoid being gone with the wind.

Recently on The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked more about The Small Business Movie - click on the link below to listen. I also talked with Bill Dunkelberg, Chief Economist at NFIB about their most recent Small Business Optimism Index. Click on one of links below to listen to our discussion. As always, please leave your comments.

NFIB reports on slow job growth and weak capital spending featuring Bill Dunkelberg
The NFIB index on sales, pricing power and credit featuring Bill Dunkelberg
Possible titles for a movie about small business featuring Jim Blasingame

The Entrepreneurial Jungle (or How to Spot an Entrepreneur)

If you venture into the marketplace jungle, you may be able to observe that rare wild creature, the entrepreneur, in his or her natural environment. (Darting is not necessary, entrepreneurs are very gentle - just rub their stomachs.) As you study them, you will find levels of vision, curiosity, courage, tenacity and faith. Here’s what to look for in order to identify this elusive critter.

Vision: Entrepreneurs see things and consider the possibilities before they exist, even as the world is telling them, “It won’t work.” When entrepreneurs are deep into their vision they go into what their families call a “zone,” which is when it’s easiest to slip up on them.

Curiosity: Entrepreneurs ask questions other humans don’t. They can’t help it. If someone asks you a question and you have no idea what they are talking about, you are probably having a close encounter with an entrepreneur. Don’t be irreverent; you might be at ground-zero of the 21st century equivalent of Velcro or the microchip.

Courage: Entrepreneurs attempt things that other human species won’t. As you peer through the triple canopy at your subject, look for death-defying acts in the face of conventional wisdom. Entrepreneurs eat conventional wisdom for breakfast.

Tenacity: Entrepreneurs keep trying when other humans give up. They have a high pain threshold, which when combined with a visceral desire that can only be compared to the maternal instinct, delivers a primal display of tenacity that is often frightening to other humans. If the entrepreneur you are observing is crouching, lie down quickly. You probably aren’t in danger, but fainting is a possibility.

Faith: Entrepreneurs believe in themselves and their vision. The great writer and even greater curmudgeon, H. S. Mencken, one said, “Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the illogical.” That’s our entrepreneur! If you see someone demonstrating an inordinate commitment to an “illogical belief,” congratulations. You’ve found your entrepreneur.

Catch and release, please.

For more on entrepreneurs and surviving in the marketplace jungle, go to SmallBusinessAdvocate.com.

Dispelling the myths of ownership

As the economy recovers, you’re likely to meet a starry-eyed human babbling on about becoming a business owner.

Probing for the object of this person’s entrepreneurial infatuation will precipitate the what, where, how and when questions and, finally, the most important question: Why do you want to own a business? Answers to this last question, unfortunately, often produce what I call, “The Myths of Small Business Ownership.” Here are four:

Myth 1: When I’m an owner, I’ll be my own boss.
That’s right; you won’t have an employer telling you what to do. But you’ll trade that one boss for many others: customers, landlords, bankers, the IRS, regulators, even employees.

Modern management is less “bossing” and more leading, managing and partnering. In a small business, everyone must wear several hats and the dominator management model doesn’t work well in this modern multi-tasking environment.

Myth 2: When I own my own business I won’t have to work as hard as I do now.
This is actually true, you will work much harder. Ramona Arnett, CEO of Ramona Enterprises, said it best: “Owning a business means working 80 hours a week so you can avoid working 40 hours for someone else.”

The irony is you will actually want to work harder when you understand that everything in your business belongs to you. Even the irritating, frustrating and frightening challenges will take on a new perspective when you realize that you also own the opportunities you turn them into. You’ll turn the lights on in the morning and off in the evening not because you want to work more, but because you won’t want to miss any part of your entrepreneurial dream coming true.

Myth 3: When I own my own business I can take a day off whenever I want.
Well, maybe. However, you may find that your business has such a compelling attraction that you won’t want to take off. Indeed, it’s more likely that whatever interests you had as an employee will become jealous of your business.

Myth 4: When I own my own business, I’ll make a lot of money.
If the only reason you want to own a business is to get rich, you probably won’t be a happy owner. It’s true ¬ you actually could get rich. But it’s more likely that you’ll just make a living.

Being a successful business owner first means loving what you do. Pursuing wealth should be secondary and, ironically, is actually more likely to happen when in this subordinate role.

Find a higher level of happiness

Did you know that there is actually a level of happiness, higher than your garden variety happiness, that can be attained by knowing that you are happy, and knowing why you are happy? Consider this quote from Henry Miller,

“It is good to be happy; it’s a little better to know that you’re happy; but to understand that you’re happy and know why and how … and still be happy, be happy in the being and the knowing, well that is beyond happiness, that is bliss.”

I like that thought, but reading it made me coin a new term: happiness-squared, or H2 for short. I like that better than bliss. Bliss is such a presumptuous word, don’t you think?

Here’s the question: What makes you happy? No, really. Think about it this time. Close your eyes, take two deep breaths and think about what is most important in your life; because that is where your happiness comes from. Might be children, work, creating, faith, things like that. Not money. Not stuff. If money and stuff are what you think makes you happy, I propose that you aren’t really happy.

Here’s the challenge: Work hard, create, build, yeah, make money, too. But don’t forget where real happiness comes from. Work on attaining some of the H2.

On The Small Business Advocate Show I’ve talked with two of my Brain Trust members, Jim Ballard and Jim Donovan, on how to be in charge of your own happiness. Jim Ballard is a management consultant, leadership trainer, motivational speaker, consulting partner with the Ken Blanchard Companies, and author of What’s the Rush? and Whale Done. Jim Donovan is an international bestselling author whose books include Handbook to a Happier Life and This is Your Life, Not a Dress Rehearsal, and his latest Don’t Let an Old Person Move Into Your Body. Take a few minutes to click on one of our discussions below and leave your thoughts on what makes you happy.

The paradox of happiness with Jim Ballard

Are you able to be happy with what you have? with Jim Donovan

Are you taking charge of your own happiness? with Jim Donovan