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Monthly Archive for April, 2011

Nourish every part of your life

One of the things that has become abundantly clear about modern humans is that there are definite rewards and consequences for the way we live our lives.

The most obvious example is the way we treat our bodies — this stack of protoplasm that drives our spirit around. Surrounded by plenty and extravagance, our eating habits can lead to longevity or brevity. We know that smoking shortens life, as does drug and alcohol abuse. And since more and more of us pursue a sedentary profession, lack of exercise can affect our quality, as well as our length of life.

Recently, a cardiologist friend told me that over half of his practice involved treating patients who were sick because of their lifestyle alone. A sobering statement.

But that is an example of what we do to our flesh and blood. What about that thing I mentioned that is driven around by our protoplasm, the spirit?

At this stage in my life, I’ve noticed that many people my age are emotionally and spiritually adrift. When I use the word “spiritual,” I’m not talking about theology, although that could be part of the equation.

In my anecdotal observation of this phenomenon of humanity, I’ve noticed that everyone I know who fits this “adrift” category has one thing in common: They have lived their lives without having anything in it that was more important than themselves.

This group was more likely to not have an active faith life. They were more likely to have not volunteered over the years for some social, community or religious cause that allowed them to contribute to people whom they would never meet. In short, they had spent very little of their lives putting others first, including their own children.

What have I learned from my observations? I’ve learned that just as we should nourish and exercise our protoplasm, making sure we avoid things that harm our flesh, we should also nourish and exercise our spirit. And in my opinion, one of the best ways to do this is to spend as much time as possible putting other people, and worthy beliefs, above our own immediate gratification.

What does this mean for small business owners? I think it means that we should take care not to let our precious business, that we have nurtured from birth and love so much, become the single most important thing in our life. This is a challenge I make to you and I also make it to myself.

Oh, and cut back on the doughnuts and get yourself to the gym a couple of times a week.

A while back on my radio program, I talked about what it takes to be happy with my friend and long time Brain Trust member, Jim Donovan. Jim is an international bestselling author whose books include This is Your Life, Not a Dress Rehearsal and Don’t Let an Old Person Move Into Your Body. Take a few minutes to listen to Jim’s sage advice and leave your thoughts on achieving a work-life balance.

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

Reinvention or extinction - the choice is yours

If you’ve spent at least a few years as a small business owner, it’s a safe bet that you’ve discovered that you must keep reinventing your business.

All of this reinvention can never stop because every day the 21st century marketplace becomes less like a destination and more like a moving train. Indeed, the Hobson’s choice for a small business is reinvention or extinction.

Let’s talk about reinventing your business, yourself and the fact that there should also be a balance between the two.

In his book, Creative Approaches for the Cost Effective Organization, Steven Martin says there are five generations of business growth:

1. Work – the entrepreneurial stage.

2. Sell – focus on sales growth and market share.

3. Cut – focus on efficiencies to drive the bottom line.

4. Buy – quire assets to reach the next level.

5. Think – all actions are proactive.

It’s almost a natural law that a successful business will reinvent itself along these five generational lines. And since each growth step requires a different kind of manager, be sure to reinvent yourself.

Unfortunately, there is no corresponding natural law to help keep your personal reinvention matched up with, and parallel to, that of your company. Consequently, keeping your personal intellectual growth in sync with your business requires constant attention and honest self-analysis.

Personal reinvention doesn’t mean you go from being a surveyor to a surgeon. It means that instead of being intimidated by technological advancements, you actually become a visionary expert on how to leverage new capability.

It means you go from knowing nothing about how an earthquake or a military coup d’etat on the other side of the planet could affect your business six months from now, to being pretty good at identifying local, as well as global, threats and opportunities.

Perhaps the best example is when you’re able to delegate tasks that you once trusted only yourself to do to the capable staff you’ve hired.

Sometimes circumstances require you to reinvent yourself whether you’re ready or not. When that happens you can choose to be a whiny victim or embrace the change. But remember this: Only owners who lead change can run and grow successful businesses in the 21st century.

I’ve talked with several guests about reinventing yourself and your business on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate ShowClick here to listen.

Small business lessons for Washington

There are innumerable issues and circumstances that can create obstacles to small business success. Whether internal or external, most of these factors occur naturally in the course of doing business, and dealing with them just comes with the territory.

But there is one issue that small business owners shouldn’t be threatened with: poor performance of Washington’s political class.

The marketplace is indifferent to, and unforgiving of, the poor performance of any small business. But what is the small business appeal process when government behavior compromises the greater economy?

Job-one for small business owners is to keep their financial affairs in order – cash flow, profitability, etc. Failure to do so negates positive performance of all other activity.
Job-one for members of Congress is to appropriate the funds for the short and long-term financial operation of the government. Since the federal fiscal year begins on October 1, it follows that the budget and associated appropriations should be completed by September 30. At least that’s how things work in a small business – in the real world.

Without any sense of shame, it apparently seems normal to the Washington political class to still be debating the 2011 budget and funding process with less than half of the fiscal year remaining. Without any sense of embarrassment, the political class continues to behave in such a way as to be regularly compared to a Kabuki dance.

Kabuki is a form of Japanese theater in which characters dress, dance and behave on stage in ways that require the audience to suspend any sense of reality to enjoy. Sadly, few metaphors are more apt today.

We wanted to know what my radio, Internet and Newsletter audience thought about the behavior of America’s Kabuki cast of characters, so we asked this question: “Who is to blame for how Washington is handling the 2011 budget process?”

Even though both major political parties were offered up as the first two options, the response to the third is at once dramatic and hopeful. Almost 60% of our sample chose: “A pox on both houses; both are incompetent.”

If this super-majority sentiment is representative and endures to November 2012, all candidates may be required to demonstrate that they will operate the government as a successful small business owner does – in the responsible, real world.

Perhaps it would be enough just to have a sense of shame.

Last week on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked more about the lack of statesmanship and political shenanigans going on these days in Washington, D.C. Take a few minutes to click on the links below and leave us your thoughts on how you think the political haranguing should be resolved.

Washington’s Kabuki Dance: Without any sense of shame

America’s canary in the mineshaft

Tax reform: the hot topic in 2012?

As April 15th approaches, every small business owner is all too keenly aware of the symbolism of this day. Regardless of when you actually file and pay your taxes - many small businesses file extensions or are incorporated, in which case the due date is actually the Ides of March - April 15 has become a metaphor for the government’s hand being in your pocket.

Most agree that the current system is way too complicated. Unfortunately, our Rube Goldberg-like tax code, with it’s thousands of moving parts, is too handy for politicians to monkey around with to suit their political agenda. Consequently, generations of business owners have had to deal annually with any number of new provisions, changes, updates, repeals, sunsets, delayed renewals and court rulings ad nauseum, as they attempt to develop an operating budget, pricing, etc., for each new year.

We wanted to know what you thought about the current system and two of the alternative systems that have been debated over the past 15 years. So we asked this question: “As you prepare for National Income Tax Day, do you think it’s time for tax reform?”

The first option was, “The current system is okay with me,” which was selected by a whopping three percent. The next choice was the flat tax, which was chosen by 69% of our respondents (Steve Forbes, call your office). And finally, those who said a value-added tax system would be best, but only if the current income tax system was repealed, came in at a little less than one-third of our sample.

Based on the results of our poll, it looks like tax reform could be a hot topic in the 2012 elections.

On The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked with Barbara Weltman, tax attorney, columnist, author of J.K. Lasser’s Small Business Taxes, and publisher of Big Ideas for Small Business®, a free monthly online newsletter, about small business tax tips for 2010 and 2011. Take a few minutes to click on one of the links below and let us know what you think of the current tax code and how you think it should be changed.

Listen or Download: New tax planning tips for 2010 and 2011

Listen or Download: Small business tax and filing obligations

Build strategic alliances for sales growth

There are three management disciplines which, while not new, have a heightened level of importance for success in the 21st century: Leveraging technology, networking and building strategic alliances.

No doubt you’ve become more proficient with the tech stuff. And who isn’t a better networker today than 10 years ago? But can you say you’ve nailed the partnering thing?

When small businesses come to the end of their resources of people, assets, technology, cash and credit, they have to do something as primordial as when Og asked Gog to hold the chisel while he carved out his new stone invention that looked a lot like a donut. They have to seek alliances.

Answer these questions: Is your business growth hampered by a lack of people, capital or other assets? Would you like to bid on a request-for-proposal (RFP) that has specifications beyond your company’s ability to perform? Are you reluctant to ask a large customer about their future plans for fear that your organization may not be able to step up to the answer? ___(Your lament here)___.

If any of these – or variations thereof – are way too familiar, consider one or more of these three alliance examples, in descending order of formality.

Partner

A partner relationship is more formal and typically longer term. Regardless of how it’s structured, in general, all partners have a vested interest in the success of the entire enterprise. Think of two business owners buying a commercial duplex and sharing the space because neither has the cash or credit to swing the deal alone. Most partnerships are best organized with the help of an attorney.

Sub-contractor
By definition, a sub-contractor becomes a contractual participant you bring in to help fulfill a larger project for which you are the lead vendor. Unlike a partner, a sub expects to get paid for delivery of work or products regardless of how the project turns out.

Strategic alliance

Here’s an informal strategic alliance example. Let’s say a jeweler, florist and photographer join forces to produce a marketing/advertising campaign for brides that represents all three brands. After the campaign is executed and paid for, the participants may have no further connection.

Before giving up on a project because you don’t have the in-house resources, look around for ways to create alliances that could allow you to take advantage of that opportunity.

If Og the caveman can create an alliance, you can too.

I talked more about the 21st century business practice of creating alliances this morning on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show. Take a few minutes to listen and leave your best practices on creating strategic alliances.

How good are you at building strategic alliances? with Jim Blasingame

For more information on building alliances to grow your business, click here: Strategic Alliances.

How does a small business fund growth?

Large, publicly traded businesses have a vast array of options when they want to capitalize growth. Small businesses? Not so much.

In fact, there are only three primary sources of growth capital for a small business:

1. Equity capital from the founder(s) and/or outside investor(s).
2. A combination of operating cash flow and profits left in the business, aka, retained earnings.
3. Borrowed funds, typically from a financial institution.

Because borrowed money is the significant small business source of capital, we asked our radio, Internet and Newsletter audiences the following question: “In terms of using a loan to capitalize business growth, which of these four options are you more likely to choose?”

Those who said they would use a national or large regional bank represented 13% of our respondents. Independent community banks came in at 31%, followed by credit unions, at 22%. And those who chose the last option: “We don’t need no shtinking bank loan!” were 34% of our sample.

It’s not surprising that over half of our respondents would prefer a local capital source like an independent community bank or credit union. For over a decade, I’ve been telling small business owners that the most consistent banking relationships, through thick and thin, are with locally-owned institutions that practice relationship banking. The financial crisis of 2008-9 turned my advice into a prophecy.

That crisis shined a bright light on at least one unfortunate truth: Banks that are beholden to Wall Street analysts and the computer-generated credit score are fair-weather friends to small businesses. It’s likely that the same poll taken pre-2008 would have produced more than 13% support for these banks.

Those who chose the emphatic “no shtinking loan” option, representing the largest single group, track with the prevailing small business sentiment in other polls I’ve reported on lately. Many small businesses are just not yet ready to use financial leverage to fund growth.

This group is either among that two-thirds of small businesses that polls show are not experiencing growth, or are among the other third that are growing but have learned how to do so more organically, which is another way of saying, “We don’t need no shtinking loan.”

A small business should have at least one banking relationship with an independent bank or credit union.

I talked more about how small businesses are funding their growth in the new normal today on The Small Business Advocate Show. I also talked with my good friend and Brain Trust member, Gary Moore, founder of The Financial Seminary and author of several excellent books on investing, about the advantages of having a relationship with an independent community bank. Take a few minutes to listen and give us your recommendations of large banks or smaller community banks. with Jim Blasingame

How small business owners are funding growth with Jim Blasingame

In praise of the independent community bank with Gary Moore