Author Archive for davonna

Be thankful

Americans punctuate each year with the Thanksgiving holiday as a way of perpetuating a 390-year-old tradition begun by a rag-tag group of our forebears. That first time, in 1621, thanksgiving day wasn’t the proper noun it became. It was just a day set aside by a few dozen humans who risked everything, actually lost most of it, were hard-by to any number of dangers that could cost them the rest, but still felt compelled to be thankful for what they had.

Regardless of where you live on planet Earth, let me leave you with a list of things to think about. This is not my list. When we’ve published it before in this space with attribution to Anonymous, some of my readers have attributed it to Mother (Saint) Theresa, which suits me just fine. I’m thankful I found it and have the ability to pass it along.

Be thankful for the clothes that fit a little too snug, because it means you have enough to eat.

Be thankful for the mess you clean up after a party, because it means you have been surrounded by friends.

Be thankful for the taxes you pay, because it means you’re employed.

Be thankful that your lawn needs mowing and your windows need fixing, because it means you have a home.

Be thankful for your heating bill, because it means you are warm.

Be thankful for the laundry, because it means you have clothes to wear.

Be thankful for the space you find at the far end of the parking lot, because it means you can walk.

Be thankful for the lady who sings off key behind you in church, because it means you can hear.

Be thankful for the alarm that goes off in the early morning, because it means you are alive.

And finally, here is mine: I’m thankful for small business owners — the most courageous and most important modern-day pilgrims I know.

Diaper Changing Stuff (DCS): Five critical questions for startups and veterans

Small business owners have to deal with two universes every day: the Marketplace, and what I call, the Diaper Changing Stuff (DCS).

The Marketplace is the fun place, where you buy and sell stuff. Playing in the backyard of this universe is why you became a business owner in the first place. And the good news is, most entrepreneurs are pretty good at the rules and expectations of this universe before they start their business.

The DCS represents mostly backroom, operating tasks (read: not much fun) that have to be done in order to present the business and its products to the Marketplace – accounting, cash management, banking, capital allocation, payroll, regulations – you get the picture. Just as no one has a baby because they like changing diapers, no one ever went into business because they’re passionate about inventory management or accounts payable. And yet, those tasks are as critical as the fun ones.

If you’re thinking of starting a business, don’t do it until you’ve compared my quick DCS checklist to your abilities. If you’re a business veteran, road test your DCS skills against this list to see where you might need improvement.

1. Cash and accounting

Do you know the difference between cash and accounting? Gain this understanding before you hock the house to start your business, because it’s the most imperative financial dynamic you’ll face every day. In fact, it’s the number one business issue that will wake you up at 2am. Remember, you can’t make payroll with a debit or a credit.

2. Capital allocation

Do you know how to properly allocate operating and non-operating capital? Don’t use operating cash to buy long-term assets, or borrow money to operate on. Create a capital source and allocation strategy before you crank up your corporation.

3. Banking

Do you know how to talk banker? If you need a loan, can you explain what you’re going to accomplish with the money, AND how you’re going to pay the bank back? If you make a loan request without this information, you’ll just burn a banking bridge. Bankers are easily frightened, and no one ever got a loan from a scared banker.

4. A/R Days – A/P Days

Do you understand the relationship between Accounts Receivable Days and Accounts Payable Days? If you extend credit to customers, you have to fund those accounts until they’re received, which is usually later than when you have to pay vendors. If you’re not tracking this relationship, you could literally succeed yourself out of business. And the first indication you’re in jeopardy will be a call from your banker telling you to make a deposit, or a vendor putting you on C.O.D. Sometimes these calls come in at the same time.

5. Quality Process

Do you know the difference between Quality Service (QS) and Quality Process (QP)? QS is always making the customer happy, no matter how many times it takes to get it right. QP means getting it right the first time. QS is an expense you have to pay for over and over. Having a QP is an investment in excellence that stops the bleeding and moves customers from complaining to placing new orders and referring you to their friends.

Bonus question: Can you operate the business you had the entrepreneurial vision to create? Not everyone can. Don’t start your business unless you’re ready to change the diapers on your baby.

Write this on a rock … Blasingame’s Fourth Law of Small Business: “Successful small business owners have the spirit of an entrepreneur and the heart of an operator.”

Which presidential candidate is best for small business?

As a leading voice for the small business sector, one of the factors I track and report on is public policy. In my advocacy role, I vociferously support those issues that benefit small business and pugnaciously oppose those that don’t, regardless of political party origin.

Before every presidential race since 2000, I’ve reconciled the policies of the two major party candidates with the top concerns that keep small business owners up at night. Here are those comparisons for the five small business issues that currently find their way to the top of every survey.

“We need more business”
Admittedly, this is the default lament of almost every small business. But in the past seven years, business leaders have reported that the greatest factor in their investment/risk-taking/hiring calculus has been an unprecedented high level of uncertainty. When asked about the source, the answer is invariably anti-business policies and rhetoric from Washington. Uncertainty manufacturing examples include, but are not limited to: direct expensing limits under Section 179 of the tax code; the Obamacare roll-out roller coaster; policies skewed in favor of unions; and now, the upcoming DOL overtime exemption rules.

Hillary Clinton 2008 might have been better for the economy than Barack Obama, but not Hillary 2016. She’s been pulled too far to the left - read: anti-business - to do anything that would promote business risk-taking.

In almost every way, Donald Trump will likely be more to the left than a true-blue fiscal conservative. But he does have an advantage regarding the economy in that he knows what it takes to create a job. Clinton doesn’t.

With their Big Lobbies, Big Business will do okay in the economy regardless of who is president, because crony capitalism will thrive under either Trump or Clinton. The problem for small businesses is we’re not organized and we’re no one’s crony.

On the economy, I’ve got to go with the one who’s made a payroll.

“Our taxes are too high”
Essentially by definition, the most troubling hit to the precious working capital of a profitable small business is taxes. Hillary Clinton’s vow to raise taxes will hurt small businesses. Donald Trump said he plans to reduce taxes. I don’t know if either one will be successful in their pledge, but I have to go with the one whose plan includes a downward arrow. Some say tax cuts will increase the deficit. But that belies the fact that the U.S. government does not have a revenue problem - it has a spending problem.

“Health care costs are prohibitive”
As I and many others predicted, Obamacare has become a nightmare for small businesses, and by extension, their employees. In a recent online poll I took of small business owners, two-thirds reported that under Obamacare their health care insurance expense has gone up significantly, if not prohibitively, as have the deductible level for employees. And the new enrollment period is bringing new pain.

Clinton thinks Obamacare didn’t go far enough, while Trump has pledged to “repeal and replace.” I don’t know if Donald can deliver a health care cost silver bullet, but we do know that Obamacare isn’t the answer, or what Hillary has in mind.

“Stop the regulatory assault”
According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, regulatory compliance - aka stealth tax - is beginning to take more off the bottom line of small businesses than their income tax bill. One perfect example is the new DOL overtime exemption rules, which in addition to increasing payroll without increasing productivity, will become a work schedule, record-keeping nightmare for millions of small businesses.

Again, I’m going to have to put my faith in correcting this with the person who knows what’s involved in making and administering a payroll.

“We need more qualified employees”
You may be surprised to learn that in many surveys, this is the number one concern of small businesses. In fact, economists have reported on my radio program that there are millions of good-paying jobs going unfilled due to a lack of qualified candidates. Sadly, in the past 20 years, I haven’t heard any president, or candidate, address this problem, including Trump and Clinton. It doesn’t say much about a government that won’t help small employers find qualified workers, while actively putting regulations between them and the employees they have. But I have to give a slight nod to Trump, because he has actually conducted business in the current human resources environment.

Finally
I know of no other election where both presidential candidates of the two major parties are as deficient in exemplifying the best America has to offer. One of the markers of a true leader is someone followers want to look up to. Who in either party can truly say they could look up to either candidate? Another leadership trait, especially in a president, is someone whom we believe we can trust. Essentially by definition, neither a pathological liar nor a pathological narcissist fits the profile of a trusted person.

In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville said of the American political system: “In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.” Whatever we did to deserve this, please join me in asking for forgiveness. Because I’m truly sorry. How about you?

#GODHELPUS

Write this on a rock … America has bigger problems than who will be the next president. But on balance, I think Donald Trump will be the best one for small businesses.

The wonderful world of small business niches

One of the things Sears Roebuck is famous for is their Craftsmen tools, especially their mechanical socket wrenches. Once, while buying one of these, I was confronted with the options of “Good,” “Better,” and “Best,” a strategy for which Sears is also famous. Asking about the difference, I was told that the Best model had more notches, or teeth, inside the mechanism, allowing for finer adjustments when tightening a bolt or nut.

For the past 30 years, the marketplace has increasingly become like that “Best” socket wrench: every year, it acquires more notches, except in the marketplace, notches are called niches (I prefer “nitch,” but some say “neesh” – tomato, tomahto). And just as more notches in a mechanical wrench allow for finer adjustments, niches create finer and more elegant ways to serve customers, which they like – a lot.

Webster (and Wikipedia) defines a niche as, “a place or position perfectly suited for the person or thing in it.” If ever a concept was perfectly suited for something, it is the niche and small business. Indeed, as one small business owner creates a new niche, another is creating a niche within a niche. It’s a beautiful thing.

Rebecca Boenigk is the president of Neutral Posture, Inc., a Texas company she and her mother founded in 1989. This small business manufactures REALLY comfortable and ergonomically correct office chairs. As a guest on my radio program, she told me they attribute their success to filling a niche: Their chairs aren’t for everyone, just those who are willing to pay a little more for a chair that promotes the best posture at work. Many small business fortunes have been made with the Neutral Posture model of being the best-in-niche, rather than trying to conquer the world.

The mother of niches is what Adam Smith called “the division of labor,” which today often manifests as outsourcing. Outsourcing is when individuals and businesses spend more time focusing on their core competencies and contract for the other stuff. For example, there are more professional lawn businesses today because folks are increasingly realizing they can earn more by sticking to their professional knitting, than it costs to hire their grass cut.

And across the marketplace, it’s become an article of faith that the best way to stay on track is by outsourcing non-core tasks to a contractor – often operating in a niche – whose core competency is that task. I’ve long said that the best thing that ever happened to small business – after the personal computer – is outsourcing, because it manufactures niches, which are pretty much the domain of small business.

As niches have increased in number, so have entrepreneurial opportunities, resulting in the most dramatic expansion of the small business sector in history. It’s difficult to say which one is the egg and which is the chicken: Have entrepreneurs taken advantage of niche opportunities presented to them, or have they carved out niches while pushing the envelope of an industry? The answer is not either/or, it’s both/and.

In the future, there won’t be more mass marketing, mass media or mass distribution, but there will be more niches – lots of new niches. Even niches of niches. And that’s good news, because more niches means a healthier small business sector, which I happen to believe is good for the world.

Write this on a rock … Most small businesses will find more success by creating and serving niches.

Six “networking thoughts” for success, plus one bonus

Networking is one of the three most important areas small business owners should focus on in the 21st century. The other two are leveraging technology and developing strategic alliances.

My definition of networking is: actively making professional relationships, developing and maintaining those relationships, and leveraging them for the benefit of all parties. But before you can develop a relationship, you first have to meet the other person and establish a basis for future contact.

Networking opportunities are everywhere you turn, but especially at Chamber of Commerce events or any venue likely to be attended by business and community leaders.

Before you enter a networking environment, it’s important to understand that successful networking is an acquired skill, like playing golf. In fact, we could actually take a lesson from those who seek the little white ball.

Good golfers address each shot with what are called “swing thoughts.” They orient their pre-swing routine - and the actual swing - around these fundamentals, which will help them make a good shot.

Inspired by the work of my friend, Andrea Nierenberg, author of Nonstop Networking, I’ve created a few networking thoughts, or NT for short. Please, try these at home.

NT #1. Make eye contact
One of the worst things that can be said about your human interaction skills is that you don’t look the person you’re talking to in the eye. Andrea says you should be able to remember the color of the person’s eyes that you just met.

NT #2. More ears - less mouth
This is an old adage, but it’s an essential NT for most of us. You’ll be more likely to impress someone by your interest in them rather than the other way around.

NT #3. Smile
Ladies are usually better at this than men. But the smile must be genuine, and is best accomplished in combination with NT #1.

NT #4. Firm handshake
Men are usually better at this than the ladies, but don’t turn it into a wrestling match. And guys, when you’re shaking the hand of a lady, it’s the opposite of dancing: let the lady lead. Ladies, that means offer your hand first and give ‘em a good squeeze.

NT #5. Elevator speech
This is your very short and concise response if someone asks what you do. And unless one of you is actually getting off an elevator, be thinking about NT #2, and follow your little speech with a sincere inquiry about them.

NT #6. Successful networking benefits all parties
Re-read the definition of networking. Enter any networking opportunity with NT #6 on your mind, instead of “What’s in it for me?” and your networking success will increase exponentially. This is also the Law of Reciprocity, which Ivan Misner, founder of BNI shortened into: Givers gain.

Write this on a rock … Bonus NT: It’s net-working, not net-playing.

What politicians, small business and mice have in common

Almost 20 years ago, Dr. Spencer Johnson wrote a legendary book titled, Who Moved My Cheese? It tells a story about four characters who ate only cheese.

Early in the story all four characters went to the same place in their world – a maze – to get cheese. The first two were not picky about their cheese or where they found it – it was just food. In fact, the current place in the maze where they found and ate cheese was literally just that. So when someone moved their cheese, they immediately started looking for the new place where cheese was being put.
For the second two characters in Johnson’s story, cheese represented more than food; they had allowed themselves to become defined by the specific cheese found in that specific place in the maze. To them, this cheese was more than nourishment, it also represented their esteem, success and happiness. You’ve heard of being hidebound. Well you might say these two were cheesebound (my term, not Johnson’s), which really wasn’t a problem until someone moved their cheese.

Twenty-five years ago, in his book (and film), Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future, futurist Joel Barker defined a paradigm as a set of rules that: 1) establishes/defines boundaries; and 2) tells you how to be successful within those boundaries. Barker says paradigms, both written and unwritten, can be useful until there’s a shift, which is what happened to the cheesebound characters in Johnson’s story. When someone moved their cheese, instead of looking for new cheese like their maze-mates, they whined and dithered so long in the old place – now devoid of cheese – that they put their survival in jeopardy.

Johnson’s cautionary tale – and the two sides of Barker’s paradigm coin – apply to all parts of life, especially politics and business.

For generations, the Democrat and Republican Parties each showed up at the same corner of their own political maze where they had always found the same cheese. Like the second characters in Johnson’s story, both parties had been nourished and defined by the cheese they found in that specific spot. But when someone moved their cheese, as the electorate is doing now, the cheesebound members whine and struggle to maintain their identity instead of taking action to find new cheese. In his book Johnson says, “Old beliefs do not lead you to new cheese.”

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are like the first two characters in Johnson’s story. Neither define themselves by the old cheese in the old location. They went looking for and, to the surprise of their party leadership, found new cheese. Johnson says, “Movement in a new direction helps you find the new cheese.”

Small business owners should watch the clinic that the Democrats and Republicans are putting on this year on the wages of being cheesebound. Like the electorate, customers are moving cheese and shifting paradigms all over the marketplace. You cannot afford to become cheesebound.

Write this on a rock … Blasingame’s Law of Business Love: It’s okay to fall in love with what you do, but it’s not okay to fall in love with how you do it.




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