Archive for the 'Entrepreneurship' Category

5 year-end steps to take while you’re closing out this year

Fourteen hundred and forty - the number of minutes in a day.

Since we can make more money, arguably the greatest challenge of any small business owner is balancing the demands of the forces that compete for those minutes.

“What is the best use of my time right now?” is the constant management question on Main Street. And in no other part of the year are we more time-management challenged than in December, when we’re faced with allocating time to two very powerful management imperatives: The tactical focus on closing out the sales year as strongly as possible, while simultaneously taking strategic steps to set the business up for a fast and clean start on January 1.

In his book, Blue Highways, William “Least Heat Moon” Trogden said his Osage Indian grandfather once told him, “Some things don’t have to be remembered, they remember themselves.” It’s a natural law that the year-end sales push doesn’t have to be remembered, it remembers itself. But as we come to the two-minute drill in the last quarter of the marketplace game our business plays all year, committing precious time and energy to preparing for the future requires the discipline to remember it ourselves.

There are many areas to focus on this month to help you start the New Year clean and fast.  Here are five to get you started.

1. Throw stuff away

Even if you’re not a pack rat like me, you’ve accumulated stuff you don’t use anymore.  For example, one of the markers of a 21st century office is the digital graveyard. Unused or broken computers, monitors, etc., may have some value, so call a tech recycler and convert it into cash. If you can’t sell it, give it away or throw it away, because it’s in your way.

2. Empower producers - cut the dead wood

Year-end is also a great time to take stock of employees who’ve demonstrated leadership and engagement. Recognizing the performance of those individuals will motivate them to a fast start in the New Year.

The only thing worse than firing someone is letting an unproductive employee hold your team’s performance hostage for another year. A byproduct of identifying those who perform is it also shines a light on those who don’t. You owe productive people the most effective organization possible, which means you have to let the unproductive pursue their careers elsewhere.

3. Classify customers

Classify customers by gross profit into four groups, from the most profitable As to the least profitable Ds. Worship the As, cater to the Bs, encourage the Cs and teach the Ds about self-service. When the cost of a customer’s expectations encroaches on your profit margin too much, allow them to join your unproductive employees - elsewhere.

4. Purge inventory

As with customers, take a new look at your products and inventory by identifying the most profitable As to the least profitable Ds. Stock all the As, a few of the Bs and maybe a couple of Cs. But never let a D spend one night under your roof unless it’s paid for. Remember, profitable inventory management means just-in-time, not just-in-case. And write off obsolete and damaged inventory. Take the hit now.

5. A/R reality

Take another hit by writing off uncollectable accounts receivables now, so you can start January with a clean list. A/R write-offs are tax deductions this year, and if you wind up collecting them next year, it’s gravy. The only thing more troubling to a banker than uncollected A/R is a customer who doesn’t have the discipline to deliver a clean balance sheet.

Each New Year deserves to have the maximum opportunity to be successful, so don’t saddle it with obsolescence, waste and bad decisions. By taking these steps - and others from your own list - you’ll prove to yourself, your team you’re your banker that you have the discipline to make the critical decisions for which successful managers are known.

Write this on a rock … Have the discipline to set up your New Year for a clean and fast start.

When small business gets organized, the world will change for the better

The election is over and we have a new president-elect. When I polled my online audience in October about who they would vote for in the upcoming contest, two-thirds of our respondents said Trump, while 13% chose Clinton. After the election, when I went to the same online network to ask how they felt about the election results, six-of-ten were “thrilled,” 29% allowed they were “glad it didn’t go the other way,” with only 8% saying they were unhappy with how it turned out.
When you understand that there are approximately 100 million American voters directly impacted by a small business, responses to our polling, as well as others with which I’m familiar, make me believe small business voters contributed to Mr. Trump winning 30 states. Consequently, small business owners will be justified in watching Trump’s actions to see if he is as much of a payroll-making, job-creating kinsman as they apparently think he is.
But the small business sector has to do more than just hold someone else accountable - we have to hold ourselves accountable. We need to participate in the public policy debate and contribute to the results. Otherwise, we’ll be relegated to taking what we’re given by policy makers who can presume that we don’t care.
Engagement in public policy should be a small business priority for two reasons:  politicians and bureaucrats. These are the people with the power to levy taxes and impose regulations, both of which can negatively impact your business. The first element of this priority is to identify local, state and federal elected representatives, and make a plan to contact each one this year. Every year these individuals pass laws that spawn regulations and mandates that have an impact on your business. Unfortunately, too often that impact is negative.
It’s dangerously naïve to expect policy makers to intuitively act in the best interest of small business.  Not that they intend to hurt us, but there are at least two reasons why small businesses often draw the short straw:
  1. Too many politicians have never made a payroll, and consequently know little or nothing about the challenges small business owners face.
  2. Our message gets pushed aside by that of more organized and better-funded interest groups (read: unions and corporate America).

Small businesses have to find a way to get more involved, either through our own direct efforts, or indirectly through organizations that advocate for us. Excellent ways to do this is to first find out what’s being debated and weigh in based on your position with a letter, phone call, or even a visit. Next, learn about the voting record of your Congressional delegation on laws that affect small business. Then write a letter to them and/or attend local meetings they conduct, to congratulate them if they have a supportive voting record, or express your disappointment if they don’t, and encourage them to do better.

Yes, I know you probably don’t have time to get directly involved in public policy or politics. But here’s good news: There are a number of advocacy groups that track key small business policy issues and defend and advocate for Main Street businesses at all government levels. Here’s a short list I recommend:
  • Local and industry: You should always be a member of your local Chamber of Commerce and your industry’s trade group. Both have policy advocacy efforts.
  • National and state: Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, (sbecouncil.org); National Federation of Independent Business, (nfib.com); Competitive Enterprise Institute (cei.org); National Taxpayers Union (ntu.org). There are others, and you can’t go wrong supporting more than one. Your support, especially financial, contributes to their voice at the policy table.
Regardless of your party affiliation or how you voted, as the Trump administration works with a GOP majority Congress over the next two years, many issues will be debated that impact your business. Find a way - directly or indirectly - to make your voice heard.
The choice is yours: Participate in small business policy-making, or take what you’re given by those who can rightly assume that you don’t care.
Write this on a rock … At 100 million strong, if small business stakeholders were organized, the world would change - for the better.

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.”

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.

Can you sell your leadership product?

What is a leader? A mentor once told me a leader is someone who can find others who will follow him (or her).

But as we all know, followers can be high-maintenance folks, requiring constant tending to whatever it is that attracts them; most of the time “it” is something intangible. Napoleon is reputed to have said, “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” Intangible.

Leadership, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. So we asked our radio and online audience which of five characteristics is THE most important to being a successful leader. Two of the leadership traits we offered, courage and perseverance, got the lowest ranking, each in single digits.  The highest ranking went to “ability to communicate,” with about 40% choosing this one, followed by “ethical behavior,” chosen by almost one-third of respondents,  and “vision” selected by a little more than one out of four.

At first, I was surprised that courage and perseverance didn’t rank higher, because it’s my belief that both of these are defining traits of a successful leader. But surprise turned to clarity when I realized that our poll had revealed what we all know but don’t always remember: There are two faces of a leader. One is the face leaders see when looking in a mirror, and the other is the one followers see. When seeking the definition of a leader, we have to be clear about which point-of-view is being sought: leadership traits we seek in ourselves or those that attract followers.

The face in the mirror knows courage and perseverance are definitely among the imperatives for leadership success. But to followers, these are merely raw materials used to manufacture the product they demand of leaders - that intangible “bit of colored ribbon” delivered by communicating a vision that is executed based on mutually held values.

Turns out, being a leader is a lot like being a business owner. To be successful in business, it’s not enough to offer quality products you’re proud of - customers drop the gavel on that judgment. Similarly, it’s not enough for leaders just to please the mirror - followers are the customers of your leadership product.

In order to get others to follow you, both faces of leadership must be in evidence. Nurture those traits that success requires of you personally, like courage, perseverance, faith, commitment, etc., while simultaneously delivering what followers expect: ethics, communication, vision and performance.

Write this on a rock … Are you finding followers for your “bit of colored ribbon?”




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