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Monthly Archive for March, 2012

Are you ready for mobile primetime?

Somewhere in America a small business owner just experienced an anxiety attack that included breaking out in a cold sweat, because he had just discovered two things:

  • Half of the prospects and customers in his market cannot find his business.
  • Half of the calls his prospects and customers want to make to his business never get through.

Pretty scary, huh?! Glad that’s not your nightmare, right?! Well, hold on to that thought as you digest the following information.

Currently, about 100 million Americans own smartphones and that number is growing exponentially. That’s about half of the U.S. population who are likely to own a smartphone sometime in the near future. Here’s the math: 300 million Americans, minus children and others not likely to own a smartphone equals about 200 million, of which half already own smartphones.

So what are 100 million Americans doing on the tiny screens of these magic wands? Besides making calls, texting and sending emails, they are:

  1. Shopping online – making decisions about what they want and who to buy it from.
  2. Navigating to businesses – the one they chose while shopping, or the one previously unknown to them that pops up in their local search.
  3. Buying stuff – using PayPal, credit card, or internal charge in the case of an established account.

But in order to do all three of these things in such a way that makes it easy-peasy for the smartphone owner, the business has to be mobile-ready. That means having all of your business information and resources compatible with the smartphone form factor and technology in at least two ways:

  1. Online information is optimized for mobile search, especially local search.
  2. A mobile website option is available to smartphone users.

By now you get the picture that the anxiety attack of the small business owner mentioned earlier is because his business isn’t ready for mobile primetime. So how dry is your forehead right now?

In The Age of the Customer™, where being relevant to customers is trumping being competitive, a big part of relevance is being fully accessible and high-functioning regardless of how a prospect or customer wants to connect with you. And every day, that connection is increasingly being requested from the palm of the hand.

This will be on the test: Not all small businesses need a mobile app, but all need a mobile website.

Is your business ready for mobile primetime?

#####

This morning on The Small Business Advocate® Show I talked with Kevin O’Brien, Director of the AppConnect program at our friends, Constant Contact, about including mobile apps in your growth strategy and how to know if your business needs an app or a mobile site. Take a few minutes to click on one of the links below and listen to our conversation — the future of your business could depend on it!

Why mobile apps should be part of your growth strategy with Kevin O’Brien

Does your business need a mobile app or a mobile site? with Kevin O’Brien

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

Take this week’s poll HERE!

Small Business Advocate Poll: Who’s responsible for gas prices?

The Question:
The price of gas is going up. How much, if anything, do you believe President Obama contributed to this increase?

18% - None - Market force, not politics are to blame for gas prices.

31% - 100% - Obama’s policies have directly or indirectly caused this increase.

51% - 50-50 - Markets are in play, but presidents have ways to influence gas prices.

Jim’s Comments:
As noted in Tuesday’s post, the condition of the economy, with emphasis on unemployment, will play a big part in the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. One other component that hits every American in the pocket is the price of gasoline, which right now is very high. Our question this week was designed to find out what small business owners think about who or what contributes to such high prices.

As you can see, more than eight of ten of our respondents think President Obama has caused or influenced the high prices. If you like politics, it will be very interesting to watch the President respond to the politically charged economic element of gas prices over the next eight months.

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

Take this week’s poll HERE!

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.

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

Take this week’s poll HERE!

America needs jobs in all the Crayola colors

It is generally stipulated among political experts and interested observers of the 2012 election cycle that the presidential contest will be heavily weighted toward the condition of the economy, especially unemployment.

The unemployment metric most often cited by the media and politicians, called U-3, is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and was recently reported to be 8.3%, or just over 12 million Americans. This number does not include those who have given up looking for a job or transferred onto Social Security disability.

But there is another statistic tracked by the BLS called U-6, which covers a more comprehensive unemployment universe, including those who have stopped looking and those who are involuntarily underemployed. The most recent U-6 number came in at 14.8% of the workforce, or more than 22 million Americans. Expect to hear more about U-6 between now and November 6.

It can also be stipulated that the Obama Administration has been keen to promote “green jobs,” seemingly, at times, at the expense of not-so-green jobs. We wanted to know what small business owners think about this type of economic focus, so we asked this question in a recent online poll: “Emphasizing ‘green jobs’ has been a big part of the Obama Administration’s plan for the direction of the U.S. economy. Do you agree with this plan?” Here’s what we learned:

Those who said, “Government should significantly influence conversion to a green economy,” came in at 15% of our sample. The other 85% said, “Innovation and customers should decide how the marketplace converts to green.” This topic apparently brings out strong feelings, because none of our respondents were “Uncertain.”

Another stipulation we can make is that everyone likes it when a “green job” is created. First, it’s a job. Second, it’s good for the environment. And third, well, it just makes us feel good. But right now, what America needs is for the millions of small businesses to create any kind of jobs – period! It shouldn’t matter if it’s green, brown, periwinkle, or any other color in the Crayola box; we need all kinds of jobs – and we need millions of them as soon as possible.

In America’s free market economy, jobs are a product of opportunity and a casualty of fear and uncertainty. Small businesses are telling Washington to promote opportunity for all jobs with policies that minimize fear and uncertainty.

A single-minded focus on green jobs isn’t good economics, policy or politics.

#####

Yesterday on my radio program I talked more about the focus on green jobs and why I - and 85% of my viewers - believe the government should provide opportunities for all businesses, not just green ones. I’ve also had a conversation with Ray Keating, Chief Economist of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council about why there are policies and regulations that favor green jobs, sometimes at the expense of other jobs. Click on the links below to download or listen.

Also, leave a comment and let me know your thoughts on whether the government should create specific policies for and subsidize green jobs.

What kind of jobs does President Obama like? with Ray Keating

America needs jobs in all the Crayola colors with Jim Blasingame

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

Take this week’s poll HERE!

Become a small business revolutionary

Today’s small businesses are under attack from many fronts.

Don’t surrender; attack back! Fight with your strengths, and win the day.

Watch more of Jim’s videos HERE!

Take this week’s poll HERE!

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

Managing capital is different than managing cash

There are many tasks every small business owner must handle personally, but none is more CEO-specific than allocation of capital. Because the only thing more precious to a small business than capital is time.

Cash management is also a CEO-critical task, but operating cash is not capital. Cash is for expenses and is measured daily, weekly, and monthly. Capital is for investment and, as such, is measured in years; possibly even generations.

Below are three classic capital expenditure categories.

1. Replacement and upgrade
This is not repair (that’s an expense funded by operating cash flow), it’s a bigger commitment, most often caused when repair is no longer an option, or by obsolescence.

2. Innovation
Exciting innovations in digital devices and programs are at once creating opportunity and causing disruption. Small business CEOs have to mete out precious capital for innovation in a way that maximizes opportunity and minimizes disruption. This is a tough job because 21st century innovation weaves a fine seam between the leading edge and the bleeding edge.

3. Growth opportunity
Should your market footprint be expanded with an acquisition or new branch, or should an investment be made to build-out more online capability? Should investment be made in support of a new product direction, or in a digital inventory management system connected to the supply chain?

What to invest capital in – and when to do it – is different for every business. But what is not unique is making sure cash and capital are applied properly. Here are three classic best practices:

1. Don’t use operating cash to pay for something that has a life of more than a year.

2. Leaving profits in the business produces retained earnings as reserves to be used for capital investment.

3. A bank loan can augment retained earnings when the timeline of an opportunity or unfortunate capital-eating event doesn’t match your internal funding ability.

And remember, bankers love it when you have retained earnings skin in the game.

As we move from economic recovery to expansion, there will more and more decisions associated with growth opportunities. Having a capital plan that combines proper allocation of cash, retained earnings, and banking resources will go a long way toward helping you stay relevant to customers, maintain a competitive advantage, and be more profitable.

The only thing more precious to a small business CEO than time is capital. Use it wisely.

Check out more great SBA content HERE!