Archive for the 'Entrepreneurship' Category

Can you make teleworking work for you?

Here’s a scenario that every small business owner fears: A key employee resigns because he or she cannot continue to come to your place of business to work for reasons out of their control, such as an illness or a family issue. Is there another answer besides accepting the resignation?

With the exciting recruiting resources available today, you might discover that the best prospect for a job opening you have lives in another state, or even another country. What if they don’t want to move? What’s your next move?

One word answers both questions: Teleworking.

New technology and evolving management paradigms make stories like these have happy and productive endings through teleworking.

A marker of the 21st century workplace, teleworking is where an employee works off-site full or part-time (aka tele-commuting), most often from home. But in order for such an arrangement to be successful, two things must happen:

First the easy part: You must have the necessary technology and tools, which you will have to provide your teleworker.

  • Computer capability and Internet connection are the minimum.
  • Your teleworker will need the right set up, like office furniture, etc., to make their off-site working environment as productive as possible. And it’s not unreasonable to ask to see how the space is organized.

Now the hard part: Can you handle such a management relationship? Consider these four ground rules to execute a teleworking relationship.

  • Find out if, and what work can realistically be done off-site.
  • Determine how to coordinate all work, off or on-site.
  • Establish expectations for scheduled communication, plus production, execution and delivery of work.
  • Talk with other employees about why this employee is being allowed to work remotely, so they can support the new plan. If handled properly, you’ll get major points for being such a cool, 21st century manager.

Execute your teleworking plan with the expectation that adjustments will almost certainly have to be made. So schedule periodic reviews with your teleworker to discuss how things are going.

By the way, if you’re still having trouble imagining having an employee who’s not sitting under your roof, add up how many hours in-house employees work and communicate without actually seeing each other. I’ll bet that number will surprise you.

It might make you feel better knowing that the teleworking model is now being implemented by thousands of small businesses like yours every day.

Write this on a rock … Teleworking can work. Can you make it work for you?

Four IP questions to tell if you get it

One of the most interesting aspects of the marketplace is the evolution of how businesses leverage assets. For most of history, business leverage came from these three categories in this order:

1. Muscle power (human or animal);

2. Tangible stuff (raw material, inventory, tools, etc.);

3. Information (intellectual property, or IP).

Historically, the strongest cavemen, the biggest horses, the fastest ships, the largest factories, all had an advantage over lesser competitors. We’ve all seen this: “Largest inventory in the region.”

But here’s the interesting part: As the marketplace has evolved, the order of importance and the value of assets has inverted. Studies show increasing emphasis is being placed on IP and the ability to leverage it with less emphasis on leveraging tangible assets.

And what about muscles? Increasingly in the global marketplace, human brawn is number four on a list of three.

The good news is small businesses are joining this global trend of leveraging IP more and tangible assets less. They’re increasingly using technology in exciting new ways, doing more virtual business and are as likely to develop a strategy for doing business across an ocean today as they did across town 20 years ago.

Regarding how essential IP is to a small business’s 21st century competitiveness, more and more small businesses get it.  The bad news is there still are far too many who don’t. As an example, incredibly, almost half of small businesses still don’t even have a website.

To see if you “get it,” consider these four questions:

1. If I gave you for free (a) a truckload of inventory or (b) a special technology that would help you serve customers better, which would you choose?

2. Do you spend more time (a) thinking about products and services or (b) finding technology to more effectively serve new customer expectations?

3. Do your employees (a) use the same technology in the direct performance of their jobs today that they did 5 years ago or (b) different technology (not just new machines)?

4. If you purchased another business, which would be more valuable to you: (a) the inventory and equipment, or (b) the digital records of their customers: names; contact info, including email; what they buy; when they want it; why they buy it; and how they use it?

If you chose (a) for any of these questions, it’s likely your business’s performance is on a declining trajectory. But if you chose the (b) options, congratulations, you get it about IP.

Write this on a rock … In the 21st century, leverage intellectual property more and tangible assets less.

An official day for small business owners

Labor Day began as an idea in the mind of a 19th century labor leader — some say Matthew Maguire, others say Peter McGuire — who cared greatly for a very important segment of the marketplace, its workers.

Regardless of paternity, such a day was first celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, when members of the CLU took an unpaid day off to demonstrate solidarity and, of course, have picnics. And ever since 1984, when President Grover Cleveland’s signature designated the first Monday in September as Labor Day, it’s been an official federal holiday.

In 1898, Samuel Gompers, then head of the American Federation of Labor, called Labor Day, “the day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed … that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it.”

Alas, entrepreneurs aren’t organized like our union brethren — probably because we’re too busy making payroll. There is no single Small Business Day officially decreed by the U.S. Government. No Entrepreneur’s Day set aside to honor the few who do so much for so many; a day to picnic and party down in honor of the real heroes of the marketplace, small business owners.

There actually is a small business week when the U.S. Small Business Administration recognizes the “creme de la creme” of entrepreneurs in America. But it’s not an official “Day” and it’s not always the same week each year.

Small businesses represent over 98% of all U.S. businesses and produce over half of the U.S. $17 trillion GDP.  Plus, we sign the FRONT of the paychecks of over half (70 million) of all U.S. workers.

Let’s see: Big deal on Labor Day — no Small Business Day. What’s wrong with this picture?

So, what’s the answer? Let’s celebrate Small Business Day in a way no other national holiday has been established: on a Sunday — actually, the second Sunday in August.

Sunday is preferred because that would create the least payroll expense. August is the month-of-choice because that’s when politicians are home on recess. This way they can practice casting their pearls before we small business owners in preparation for eating barbeque and sucking up to unions on Labor Day.

To paraphrase Samuel Gompers, small business owners deserve a day for which these signers-of-the-front-of-paychecks can look forward to when their rights and wrongs would be discussed; that the small employers of our day may not only lay down their challenges for a holiday, but during which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it.

Write this on a rock … Entrepreneurs unite!  It’s time we had a day to honor small business owners.

Six questions and answers on being a successful business owner

As many of you know, for almost 19 years I’ve conducted over 1,000 live interviews annually on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show. I get to ask four really smart people a lot of questions. But occasionally the tables are turned are turned on me, like when podcaster, Alan Belniak, asked me several questions about small business on his show. I thought you’d be interested in that interchange.

Belniak: What’s the biggest problem small business owners don’t know they have?

Blasingame: Too many business owners don’t realize that their customers’ expectations are changing faster than ever before. If you want to find out what your business should be doing tomorrow or next year, that information is inside the heads of your prospects and customers. Ask them.

Belniak: What advice do you have for small business owners in order to make a successful new hire?

Blasingame: Focus on the 3Ps: Be more patient, professional and proactive. Don’t make a hiring mistake by rushing to fill a slot. Use professional methods and practices to increase your chances of making a successful hire. Be more proactive by grooming employees to step up to a key assignment, so that you’re hiring for the lower position.

Belniak: What advice can you give to those who are seeking funding?

Blasingame: Strategy and forecasting. Create a capitalization strategy that includes multiple capital sources and terms. Don’t use operating cash for long-term capital expenses. Don’t finance something you can lease. Don’t use investors when you should get a bank loan. Use an electronic spreadsheet to create a 12-month cash flow projection so you can forecast beginning and ending cash. This will make you smarter and your banker happier.

Belniak: What is one way that operating a business today is the same as 15 years ago, and one way it’s different?

Blasingame: It’s Old School fundamentals and New School tech. Old School: The fundamentals never change: you still have to buy low, sell high and keep good records; cash is still King; people still want to be treated well. New School is the digital elements, and most is good news: Small businesses have handy cool and affordable tools available, but it’s not good news if you’re not keeping up. You don’t have to win the digital race, but you do have to participate.

Belniak: What are some of the character traits common among successful entrepreneurs?

Blasingame: You have to have a high tolerance for risk. If you don’t, clock in tomorrow. You have to believe in yourself. Many days all other elements of your business will let you down. If you can’t believe in yourself, there will be days when you won’t come back. You have to love working. You’ll never work harder than when you own a business. If you don’t love working, clock in tomorrow.

Belniak: What’s one thing you see small business owners failing to do?

Blasingame: They fail to set aside time at least every week to stop being a manager and assume the role of the CEO. Fire yourself from jobs you no longer have to do and promote yourself to jobs that a growing company needs someone to perform, but that only you can do.

Write this on a rock … Being successful in small business isn’t complicated, but the degree of difficulty is hard to explain.

Admiring two kinds of American heroes

Every four years, you can watch special people participate in a noble cause – the Olympics.
These heroes commit countless hours over many years to achieve a level of excellence that might somehow qualify them to represent their country in the Olympic Games.

Notice no mention of winning, medals or glory. Most Olympians find neither. And yet they train and compete.

Watching an event, we’re at once self-conscious and grateful as the camera’s lens permits us to invade that private moment just prior to competition. Self-conscious because of the intrusion, but grateful to share the moment and benefit vicariously from the Herculean effort and sacrifice.

The TV camera moves in closer. We can actually see the color of their eyes — even imagine their thoughts.

The swimmer: “Twelve years of training and it all comes down to the next few seconds – must remember the fundamentals.”

The gymnast: “Today I will perform my personal best.”

Then the long lens captures the mouth. There’s a lick to fight the cottonmouth that only those who risk failure have tasted. The lips move ever so slightly, as if to offer a short prayer or claim an affirmation.

Every day, you can watch another group of special people participate in a noble cause – small business.
Small business owners are a lot like Olympic athletes. They commit countless hours over many years, pushing mind and body to achieve a level of excellence that might somehow allow them to merely … make a living.

Notice no mention of winning, medals or glory. Most small business owners find neither. And yet they show up, year after year, to work, compete, and contribute.

Like an Olympic race, sometimes the future of a small business’ success rides on how well the owner performs over a very short period of time. If the camera could take you in close, you might see an owner thinking: “All these years of work and risk could come down to how well I deliver this proposal in the next few minutes - must remember the fundamentals.”

The long lens would also capture the lick to lessen the cottonmouth that only those who risk failure have tasted. Then the lips move ever so slightly, as if to offer a prayer or claim an affirmation.

Olympians and small business owners are dedicated to what they love. Both work hard, in search of excellence, take great risks against all odds, and usually at their own expense.

I’ll gladly spend my admiration on that kind of spirit.

Write this on a rock … Because of Olympians and small business owners, the world is a better place.

Three important people you want to be close to you

Why do birds suddenly appear
Every time you are near?
Just like me, they long to be
Close to you.

In 1970, the brother/sister act, The Carpenters, took these lyrics and the rest of the song, “Close To You” to the top of the charts. Velvet-voiced Karen sang lead, with brother Richard contributing lyrics and sweet harmony.

Out here on Main Street, small businesses should hum that tune every day to remind themselves about the three most important stakeholders they want to be close to.

Every business, large and small, longs to be close to its customers. But getting customers to return the favor is the challenge. Time was, when a business was a critical link to certain products and services for customers. Longing to be close to us, customers – and their loyalty – weren’t so illusive. Today, almost everything needed by customers can be purchased within a few miles of your business from competitors that didn’t exist when the Carpenters topped the charts. Throw in the Internet and e-commerce and what isn’t a commodity today?

The good news for Main Street is that small and nimble increasingly trumps big and strong. With few exceptions, we can’t compete with the big guys on price, selection, or brand intimidation. But we can make customers want to be close to us is by scratching an itch the big boxes can’t always reach: customization.

If you want customers to suddenly appear, find out what keeps them up at night. And don’t expect the answer to be a burning need for your product or service. If you deliver a customized solution, customers will long for your business because you added unique value they can use. And here’s the silver bullet of customer longing: Help your customers help their customers.

The other good news is that customization justifies higher margins than off-the-shelf offerings. If it’s truly focused on the customer’s solution, they’ll pay for it and come back for more.

Once-upon-a-time, a vendor was a company from which you purchased inventory, raw materials, and operating supplies. Today, if a vendor isn’t longing to be your partner, you’ve got the wrong vendor.

Of course, we’re at once a customer to vendors and a vendor to customers. Consequently, we have to find vendor-partners as well as be one. In these roles, it’s important to understand a concept that has become part of the romance between 21st century vendors and customers: seamless.

In a world of outsourcing as a management strategy, the goal is not merely to reduce in-house staff. If outsourcing is to work, products and services MUST be delivered so seamlessly to us by our vendors, and by us to our customers, that operating efficiencies actually improve.

Small businesses have a greater opportunity today to accomplish the hand-in-glove level of closeness required for seamless delivery. And we can’t deliver seamlessly to customers unless vendors long to be seamlessly close to us.

Back when the Carpenters were belting out hits, the employer/employee relationship was based largely on the Dominator Management Model, which is to say, not much closeness. Employees longed for the perceived job security and benefits of a paternalistic employer. But in the 21st century, employees are drawn closer to leaders.

Today, employers must be able to show employees that we long for them. The best way to demonstrate our longing is to close the gap between what the company needs and what employees want. This means finding and keeping employees who become stakeholders.

If you want employees to long for you, you have to suddenly appear as a partner longing to support their professional and personal fulfillment. And no one can do this better than small business.

Write this on a rock … Find and keep customers, vendors, and employees who long to be close to you.

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