Monthly Archive for March, 2011

Abraham Lincoln on diversity

Many times in this space I have the pleasure of quoting smart people who have said something that I want you to hear. Eugene Griessman is such a person, and a long-time friend and member of my Brain Trust. Gene’s thoughts are oft quoted, but one piece he wrote caught on so much that, for almost 10 years, it continues to pop up around the globe.  It’s called The Diversity Creed, and with all of the intolerance in the world right now, I thought you would appreciate this piece of Griessman wisdom, and I offer it with Gene’s permission.

THE DIVERSITY CREED

Gene Griessman  © 1993

www.presidentlincoln.com

I believe that diversity is a part of the natural order of things-as natural as the trillion shapes and shades of the flowers of spring or the leaves of autumn.

I believe that diversity brings new solutions to an ever-changing environment, and that sameness is not only uninteresting but limiting.

To deny diversity is to deny life-with all its richness and manifold opportunities.  Thus, I affirm my citizenship in a world of diversity, and with it the responsibility to…

Be tolerant.  Live and let live.  Understand that those who cause no harm should not be feared, ridiculed, or harmed-even if they are different.

Look for the best in others.

Be just in my dealings with poor and rich, weak and strong, and whenever possible to defend the young, the old, the frail, the defenseless.

Avoid needless conflicts and diversions, but be always willing to change for the better that which can be changed.

Seek knowledge in order to know what can be changed, as well as what cannot be changed.

Forge alliances with others who love liberty and justice.

Be kind, remembering how fragile the human spirit is.

Live the examined life, subjecting my motives and actions to the scrutiny of mind and heart so to rise above prejudice and hatred.

Care.  Be generous in thought, word, and purse.

Jim Blasingame here again. This year, on the 202nd anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, I talked with Gene about Lincoln’s advice for businesses on The Small Business Advocate Show. Take a few minutes to listen to our conversation and, as always, leave your thoughts. Abraham Lincoln offers business advice

A business plan and business planning

A business plan is the result of thinking, researching, strategizing, and reaching conclusions about how to pursue opportunities. It may exist only in the head of the planner, but it’s better when written down.

Whether elaborate or simple, a written business plan is an assembly of facts, ideas, assumptions and projections about the future. Here are three ways to use a written plan:

  1. Document the due diligence on a new business or the future of an existing one.
  2. Evaluate opportunities and challenges, and compare them with your strengths and weaknesses.
  3. Assist when getting a bank loan and essential when courting investors.

So how does a static, written plan work when a business is always in motion? It works when you turn your plan into planning. A plan is like a parked car; planning is taking that car on a trip.

Planning is measuring your business motion against the baseline of assumptions and projections you made in your plan. Planning allows you to see how smart you were when the plan was written, or where your research and assumption skills need work. It also highlights external forces you face.

Written business plans often become collateral damage during challenging economic times. But you can’t allow planning to meet the same fate. Indeed, when things slow down there is even greater need to check your position than when things are rocking and rolling.

Here is a critical two-step planning activity that is the heart of a business plan and the essence of planning. Beginning with these will help you operate more successfully anytime, but especially when things are slow.

  • Build a 12-month cash flow spreadsheet in a program like Excel, so you can project and track the monthly relationship between cash collections and cash disbursements from all sources. This planning tool will provide a rolling picture of cash flow in any given month.
  • Look at the “Ending cash” number at the bottom of each month’s column. A negative number in any month means you’ll need to add cash from sales, reduce expenses, add cash from another source, like a bank loan, or some combination.

A banker once told me that if I could bring him only one financial document with a loan request it should be a 12-month cash flow projection that included both how the borrowed cash would be used and the debt service. I always listen to my banker and you should too.

I talked more about business plans and planning on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show. I’ve also talked with Tim Berry, the guru of business planning, founder of Palo Alto Software and author of The Plan As You Go Business Plan, about the difference in business planning and a business plan. Take a few minutes to click on the links below and listen, plus leave your ideas on how planning helps your small business.

Write your business plan, but practice business planning with Jim Blasingame

The difference between business planning and a business plan with Tim Berry

Wars and rumors of wars

“The problem with humanity is the humans.” That’s a maxim I coined a while back, and you don’t have to look hard to see the evidence, as humans “fight” over differences in ideology, egos and interests.

Over two millennia ago, in chapter 24, verse 6, Matthew reports that Jesus said, “… there will always be wars and rumors of wars.” Indeed, even here in the 2nd decade of the 21st century, wars are still being waged with weapons of destruction. But thankfully, one redeeming trend for humans is that most of the wars that are “Breaking News!” these days are increasingly being fought with words.

Even though there has been physical contact in the very recent conflicts in the Middle East over self-determination, the most effective weapons-of-choice have been words. In the U.S., there are ongoing wars between states over water rights, fought by politicians with legal word-daggers drawn. And for a couple of years now, from Greece to Wisconsin, wars-of-words are being fought over what to do about financial promises made with 20th century political expectations, now in conflict with 21st century fiscal realities.

We wanted to know what you think about this last kerfuffle, so last week, in the Newsletter and on our website, we asked this question: “In order to balance their budgets, some governors and legislators propose adjustments in employment terms and benefits of state employees to bring them more in line with the private sector. State employees, their unions and some legislators are protesting. Who do you agree with?”

Those who said they “agree with the protesters, this is just union busting,” represented 18% of our respondents. Those who think “state employee pay and benefits should be more in line with the private sector,” were in the extreme majority at 82%.

Wisconsin has become ground-zero for these intrastate conflicts. Indeed, what happens there in the war between the new governor and government employee unions will likely become the tipping point for how the conflict of centuries mentioned above will play out across America, including in Washington.

In times like these, the words of that great opossum philosopher, Pogo, continue to ring true: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Recently on The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked about the issues in Wisconsin  as well as the current unrest in the Middle East with my friend and Brain Trust member, Rich Galen, publisher of Mullings.com and talking head of the Republican persuasion. Click on the links below to listen to our conversations, and leave your thoughts on what should be the outcome of either issue.

State budgets realities vs public employee unions
What’s the political and economical future of the Middle East?

Let customers read about your authentic side

Adam Smith, the father of modern economics and author of The Wealth of Nations (1776), identified writing as one of the three most important inventions of mankind – the other two being money and economic tables.

More than two centuries later, the Internet has powered the written word to levels unimagined only a generation ago, let alone during Smith’s era. Indeed, it is the driving force behind a handy new-media maxim, “Content is King.”

Today we’re consumers of many kinds of online content, including streaming audio and video. But even in the face of such multi-media majesty as iTunes and YouTube, most of the kingly content is still in the graphic form so highly regarded by Smith.

So what does all of this mean for small business owners? It’s simple: In an era when content is king, if you want to connect with customers competitively and stay connected, you have to produce more written words than ever before. But not just any words – authentic words.

Since 1999 – long before blogs and social media – two of the things I’ve encouraged small business owners to do is: 1) develop better writing skills and 2) publish more of their own words online that communicate to and connect with customers.

In the 2nd decade of the 21st century, prospects and customers want to read about the stuff you sell before they meet you. But they want more than marketing messaging; they want authentic, straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth information that delivers three things that are increasingly a big deal to customers: the voice, vision and values of the human beings behind the stuff, as unartful and unscripted as they may be.

So don’t worry if you’re not a professional wordsmith. When you need fancy words for strategic marketing messaging, online or otherwise, hire a pro. But you must become comfortable with conveying your vision and values online, in your own words – the voice – about a variety of issues from explaining how to use a product you sell to a local cause you care about to your philosophy on serving customers. And it’s just fine if some of these authentic words come from employees.

In the Age of the Customer™, now armed with as much information as the businesses they patronize, customers expect to be treated more like insiders. The good news is that no one makes this connection as effectively and authentically as a small business.

Recently on The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked more about using language to reach and connect with your customers. Take a few minutes to listen and leave some ideas on how you connect with your customers.  Authenticity through the written word

Making hard financial decisions

Congress and the Obama Administration are in a great debate over our current financial condition of deficit spending. For several years, the U.S. government has been spending more than it takes in, which for governments, businesses and households alike, is a scenario that cannot go on forever.

In order to appreciate the budget balancing task, it’s important to understand that the federal budget is made up of two key financial commitments:  discretionary spending, which Congress has to renew each year, and mandatory spending, which renews automatically. Social security, Medicare, Medicaid and certain national defense items comprise mandatory spending.

The mandatory stuff amounts to about 60% of the annual federal budget, with about 35% for discretionary and 5% to pay interest on the national debt. But about half of the discretionary budget is discretionary defense spending, which only leaves about 18% of annual federal spending for everything else.

So, there you have it:  The easiest part of the debate is over less than 20% of the federal budget. Since all of this piece of the pie can’t be eliminated, you should be getting the picture that in order to move the deficit cutting needle enough to reverse the current deficit trend, hard decisions will have to be made in defense and entitlements. And that’s the hard part of the debate.

But debate it and fix it we must. Because, while the U.S. still has more assets than liabilities, that won’t last long if we continue to spend more than we take in.

We wanted to know what you thought about this issue, so last week we asked this question in the Newsletter and on our website: Funding for “entitlements,” like Social Security and Medicare, are a major part of the U.S. government’s unsustainable long-term budget deficit. Would you be willing to include changes to these programs to reduce the long-term deficit?  The results were impressive.

Those who believe everything should be put on the debate table represented 83% of our respondents. Those who think entitlements should be off the table came in at just 11%, with the remaining 6% saying they were not sure.

One thing is for sure: The question is not whether difficult financial decisions will be made - that is coming, sooner rather than later. The question is whether Americans can gin up the discipline and leadership to make the hard decisions ourselves before our non-American creditors have to do it for us.

Based on our poll results, the electorate seems to be more disciplined than our political leaders.

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

Recently on The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked with my friend and Brain Trust Member, Rich Galen, publisher of Mullings.com and talking head of the Republican persuasion,  and Ted Fishman, author of China, Inc. and Shock of Gray, about our current budget crisis. Click on the links below, take a few minutes to listen and leave your thoughts.

Who caused America’s current budget crisis? with Rich Galen

Has the U.S. debt become a national security issue? with Ted Fishman




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