Archive for the 'Business planning' Category

Washington’s New Hashtag: #WithoutAnySenseOfShame

Let me tell you a story.

A boss gives an employee a project on January 1st that could easily be completed right away. This project had significant financial implications for the company. Month after month the boss checks in with the employee but finds the project still isn’t completed. The employee hasn’t done his job.

Finally, in the middle of December, almost a year later, the employee delivers the finished project as if there’s been a great accomplishment, but with two pieces of bad news: There are only two weeks left for the project to contribute to this year’s business, plus the project just delivered will be useless on January 1 without being completely reworked.

No doubt right now you’re yelling, “Who keeps an employee like this?” Or perhaps you’re saying, “This is a joke, right? No organization operates like that.” Sadly, this scenario is not only true, it’s been happening in a real organization, like in the movie Groundhog Day, for several years.

The employee in my story is Congress and the employer is America’s small business owners. The projects are 52 tax extenders which Congress has chosen to reapprove annually rather than make them permanent.

Many of these extenders are key factors in growth strategies, plus cash and tax planning for millions of businesses. Perhaps the most prominent is section 179 of the tax code. Part of this section allows and sets a limit for direct expensing of capital items in the year of acquisition, rather than depreciating those items over years.

For several years the Section 179 expensing limit, and the amount awaiting re-approval, was $500,000. But if this provision isn’t renewed it drops to $25,000. And just like in my story, instead of finishing the project permanently, Congress keeps renewing this extender each year, which wouldn’t be so bad if they did their work in January. But in 2014, without any sense of shame, Congress passed another one-year extension for the $500,000 level on December 16.

The expensing provision might not change whether you make the investment, nor the price of the purchase, but it does impact cash flow and tax planning for the year of acquisition, which is a big deal for most small businesses. If you were trying to make a 2014 equipment purchase decision, you had less than two weeks – over the holidays – to get that equipment in service in order to take advantage of the expensing option.

When you’ve read my past criticism of the anti-business practices of the political class in Washington, this is but one example. Like it or not, the tax code is very much a part of business investment decisions for companies large and small. And when investment decisions impeded at the micro level of a single purchase are aggregated across millions of businesses, it has a negative impact on economic growth. It’s not difficult to see how Congress’s failure to do their job has contributed to the moribund 2% annual GDP growth we’ve been suffering since 2009.

So here we are again feeling like it’s Groundhog Day because, like last year, Congress still hasn’t renewed the tax extenders for 2015. Next time someone asks why non-politicians are polling so high in the presidential campaigns, tell them this story.

Write this on a rock … Washington’s new Twitter hashtag should be: #WITHOUTANYSENSEOFSHAME.

Jim Blasingame is author of the award-winning book, The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.

Four kinds of Vitamin C prevent professional scurvy

For centuries, prolonged service at sea resulted in sailors contracting a malady called scurvy.  Those so afflicted bruised easily, had joint pain, gum disease, tooth loss — you get the picture.

By the mid-18th century, researchers discovered that eating citrus fruit, like lemons and limes, would prevent scurvy. We now know the active ingredient in this “remedy” is vitamin C in the ascorbic acid found in these fruits. Ascorbic literally means “no scurvy” in Latin.

One of the maladies often found in business owners is a condition I call professional scurvy. This kind doesn’t cause your teeth to fall out, but symptoms do include high levels of negative energy, low levels of performance and an easily bruised ego resulting in an unfortunately high business failure rate.

The good news is, like the seagoing kind, professional scurvy can be cured with vitamin C — actually four kinds of professional vitamin C.

1.  Vitamin Courage

Challenges ignored turn into ugly problems that can bruise a business. But facing challenges with courage reduces the negative impact and provides a chance to morph them into opportunities.

Courage is being brave AFTER you’ve had time to think about it.  Catch challenges early so you can administer a dose of Vitamin Courage.

2.  Vitamin Confidence

Thomas Edison is alleged to have said failure is successfully identifying what doesn’t work. Pure success tends to build ego, which in high concentration can be professionally dangerous. But success alloyed with failure actually builds confidence, which is essential for long-term performance.

Vitamin Confidence in business is nothing more than faith in your ability to sail around present and future challenges, as well as seize opportunities that come your way.

3.  Vitamin Character

Contracts are the transactional laws of the marketplace. But like the relationship between captain and crew, it’s character that counts, not legal words or signatures on paper.

Those who demonstrate high levels of Vitamin Character —like doing the right thing even if the contract doesn’t require it — have no difficulty finding customers or crew.

4.  Vitamin Credential

This one is critical because courage without skill is the definition of foolhardy; confidence without resources is what Texans call “all hat and no cattle;” and character without knowledge is a well-intentioned commitment that may not be kept.

All the best intentions won’t help you succeed if you don’t acquire Vitamin Credentials — education, skill, experience and resources — that can back up your business plan and commitment to deliver.

Write this on a rock….

Prevent professional scurvy with regular doses Professional Vitamin C.

Jim Blasingame is author of the award-winning book, The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.

How to get a bank loan: Part Two

Since most businesses have been deleveraging post-2008 financial crisis, you could be forgiven for getting rusty at how to ask for a loan from bank. But as the economy picks up and you need growth capital, it’ll be handy to brush up on your banking skills.

Last time, I used the customer qualifying process as an analogy for how to work with your banker to get a loan, and offered the first three of six loan request factors: Who makes the decision, what do they need and how do they want it? Now let’s talk about the last three.

What motivates them?

All banks need to make loans, but all banks don’t like the same kinds of loans. Some banks make working capital loans, and some don’t. Most banks make real estate loans, but each one has its own profile of what kind of real estate they like. And all banks like to loan money for things with serial numbers, like vehicles and equipment. In your first meeting, what the banker says about your proposal should indicate their level of interest in your type of loan. But if not, it’s okay to ask.

Banks will fight for loans, but they’ll kill for deposits. Checking account deposits are virtually free money to a bank, a portion of which they use to make loans. They like personal checking accounts, but LOVE business accounts. A bank’s motivation increases with your daily deposits if you place your operating account with them. You should know the value of your deposits to a bank and use that information to negotiate rates and terms.

How motivated are they?

You can tell how motivated a bank is by how helpful the loan officer is.  Her excitement is no foreteller of success, just of motivation.  But if she seems indifferent or unmotivated, that’s probably not a good sign.

A deal that couldn’t get through the front door of Bank A this morning, could be received with a red carpet at Bank B this afternoon. So be prepared to take your proposal to more than one bank. And be sure at least one of the banks you make a loan proposal to is an independent community bank.

What do I have to do?

Bankers love field trips. Give your banker a demonstration of the new equipment the loan is for, or take them to see the real estate you want to buy. Show them how the object of your loan request will help you grow your business, profits and deposits.

The best way to get a business loan is to do your homework, anticipate what your banker needs and get them what they ask for. And if the bank that was loyal to you when you needed them doesn’t have the best deal — but it’s a deal you can live with, “dance with the one that brung ya.”

Write this on a rock …

Understanding how banks make business loans will improve your chances of getting one.

How to get a bank loan: Part One

One of the markers of this post-recession, so-called recovery has been the practice of deleveraging. Across the economy, from consumers to businesses large and small, debt has become something to get rid of.

Out here on Main Street, this trend has manifested in a dramatic drop in bank borrowing by small firms. Indeed, for more than a half decade, survey after survey has shown that less than 5% of business owners report their borrowing requirements have not been met, while the majority say emphatically they don’t want or need a loan. Consequently, there’s a pretty good chance your business hasn’t made a loan request to a bank in a while.

But the economy will eventually kick into an expansion phase, and what has become no less than a de facto moratorium on borrowing won’t last forever. And since most small business growth capital comes from bank loans, even for well-capitalized firms, it’s always good to revisit a few banking relationship fundamentals.

But don’t worry. If you’ve never asked a banker for a loan, or if it’s been a while, getting a bank loan is a lot like the process of qualifying a prospective customer. For example, you want to know these three things:

1. Who decides?

You have the right to ask who is going to make the decision on your loan. Can your loan officer decide, or will it go to the local loan committee or somewhere else? Why do you care? The more people involved in the loan approval process increases the scrutiny of your deal, which means more questions and more time for you to budget from proposal to answer.

2. What do they need?

Your banker will ask for personal and business financial information. They might accept last year’s business numbers, but they could also ask for an interim report. Depending on the size of your request and what you’re using the money for, they may ask for a business plan. If the loan is for real estate, a current appraisal will be required.

Don’t give the bank more than they ask for, but give them everything they ask for. Remember, the quicker your banker gets the information, the quicker you’ll get an answer.

3. How do they want it?

Ask your banker what information can be presented verbally and what needs to be in writing, whether hard copy or electronic. Whether you’re borrowing $5000 for a computer, or $5 million to buy out a competitor, knowing as much as you can about the loan approval process will significantly improve your chances of not only getting a quick answer, but a yes.

Next time, Part Two: What motivates your banker.

Write this on a rock …

Qualify a bank like you do customers, and be sure to do your homework.

Business Growth: An Irony in the Marketplace

Here’s a scenario that plays out in the marketplace every day in Small Business, USA:

“My business is really growing these days,” a small business owner confides to his friend, “but we’re still experiencing negative cash during the month.”

And then, with that deer-in-the-headlights look on his face, he completes his concern, “I thought by now, with sales and profits up, cash flow would be the least of my worries. I used to be afraid I couldn’t grow my business; now I’m worried that our growth will collapse it.”

This entrepreneur’s lament is one of the great ironies of the marketplace: A small business in danger of failure as a result of extreme success.

Beware Blasingame’s Razor: It’s redundant to say, “Undercapitalized small business.”

This maxim is especially true for growing small companies, because sales volume growth depletes cash in two dramatic but predictable ways:

1. When the business is growing, organizational upgrades are to be expected in order to handle the new demands ­ new vehicles, staff, technology, etc. Of course, you must fund these things, often while the exciting new sales growth is merely on paper, and not yet in the bank.

2. Selling to customers on an open account - where payment for work or products is collected after delivery - is essentially making loans to customers. And while it’s true that your vendors may let you do the same, typically they allow you less time to pay them than you allow your customers to pay you. This difference between when you pay and when you collect mathematically creates negative cash.

Here’s how to manage these two challenges:

1. Growth plans must be compatible with the ability to fund that growth. Too often we think that the big growth hurdle is to get customers to say yes. But we must consider the impact of sales growth on cash flow before delivering a proposal. And don’t be surprised if the answer to this equation shows that you actually have to turn down some business.

2. Don’t use operating cash to fund acquisition of capital assets that have a life expectancy of more than 2 years. Capital purchases should probably be funded by bank debt, and the interest you pay is the wages of Blasingame’s Razor.

If you don’t like debt, or paying interest, that should motivate you to leave profits in the business as retained earnings, which is ultimately the best way to overcome Blasingame’s Razor.

3. Do a better job of collecting receivables on time. Understanding the relationship between Accounts Receivable Days and Accounts Payable Days is an “ah-ha” moment for any small business owner. Sustained growth cannot happen without continuous and regular monitoring of this ratio.

Write this on a rock…. If your business is growing nicely, congratulations. But beware Blasingame’s Razor. It is possible to succeed yourself right out of business.

The rare and wild 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 which often is 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.L. Mencken, once 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.




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