Archive for the 'Inspirational and Motivational' Category

Take on the law of numbers with grit and fundamentals

A rabbit was being chased by a hungry fox. Running for his life, he hopped over a turtle as he made haste across a small stream. Tucking himself safely inside his shell — not wanting to become collateral damage in the rabbit’s emergency — the turtle inquired about his anxious neighbor’s prospects, “Hey, Mr. Rabbit. You gonna make it?” To which Mr. Rabbit replied over his shoulder, “I GOTTA make it.”

When small business owners wake up in the morning, they often feel like Mr. Rabbit. But why are so many operating so close to the edge of survival? Why is every challenge or opportunity so momentous? Why are their circumstances so much more dramatic than for their Big Business cousins? The answer is found in the law of numbers. Let’s look at just three key examples:

Customers
Big businesses have lots of customers, so losing one is usually not a big percentage of their customer universe. A small business’s customer universe looks more like a list, on which each name represents a much larger percentage of the total. Losing a sale or customer takes a bigger mathematical bite out of the future viability of any small business.

Employees
When an employee leaves a big business, there are probably three replacements ready to be promoted off the bench to that single assignment. But even if there is a bench on a small business team, it isn’t deep. And since there are more jobs to do in a small business than people to do them, every employee is a key employee who’s difficult to replace.

Capital
Big businesses are blessed with multiple capital options, including the equity and debt (bonds) markets. A small business is the stepchild of the capital markets – sometimes more like an orphan. Other than bank loans and whatever retained earnings that can be held onto after taxes, the best way to describe other capital acquisition options is found in the names of the twin brothers of desperation, Slim and None. And even when outside capital is found, it often comes at a prohibitive premium.

With the law of numbers and perilous percentages against them, translating into limited options, small business owners survive by calling on a special kind of “I GOTTA make it” resolve. But, alas, resolve alone isn’t enough. To overcome the reality of their numbers and operate with less desperation they have to combine their grit with a focus on operating fundamentals that address the exposures. For instance:

  • Customers: Know what each expects from you and deliver that within an inch of their lives. This is part of your special sauce and one of your advantages over a big business.
  • Employees: Hire only those who could one day be promotable off of your bench.
  • Capital: Build and maintain good relationships with at least two banks, and retain earnings like your business’ life depends on it. It does.

During The Second Punic War (218 BC), Hannibal crossed the Alps with 35,000 men and a squadron of elephants. When snow blocked their progress, scouts reported the way forward was impossible. Sensing disaster in the eyes of his men, and realizing that this was a test of his leadership, the great Carthaginian general is said to have uttered those words that small business owners say to themselves, and their people, every day: “We must either find a way – or make one.”

Write this on a rock … Like rabbits and generals, small business owners GOTTA make it with a combination of grit and fundamentals.

In defense of the oft-misunderstood scrooge

This is Jim’s traditional Christmas column.

Some say I’m a scrooge. They might be right.

Here are three exhibits (some say excuses) in my defense of this indictment:

1. The early part of my career was spent in retail. Retailers know what that does to your holiday spirit. There’s a syndrome for everything else; why not one for retail survivors? Let’s call it PTHSS: Post-Traumatic Holiday Shock Syndrome.

2.  Since I don’t wait until the holidays to give someone a gift, I just don’t get all worked up about holiday giving. Not that the ladies mind getting stuff all year (let’s not lose our heads!).  It’s just that they want me to be giddy about giving at Christmas-time. Giddy? Bah! Humbug!

3. As an avowed and devout contrarian it would be antithetical for me to feel obligated to do what everyone else is doing. And if there is one thing that has become part and parcel of the holiday season, it is obligation. For example:

a) If someone gives my significant other and me a last-minute Christmas gift, “Other” feels obligated to reciprocate. I don’t. I’ll do something nice for them in March.

b) After the Christmas cards have been sent, if an incoming card is received from someone not on your list, do you rush to get a card out to them? Not me. Maybe next year. In “The World, According To Blasingame,” giving should be voluntary, not obligatory. In fact, to a scrooge, not reciprocating is endearing.

It’s not that I don’t like the holidays. As a Christian, this is an important time in my faith life. As a capitalist, the importance of holiday spending to our economy is not lost on me. But I just don’t care for what we self-absorbed humans hath wrought on the holiday season. And if that makes me a scrooge, guilty as charged.

So on behalf my misunderstood brethren (this isn’t politically incorrect – apparently, there are no female scrooges), let me clear up a few things:

1. Scrooges can be lovable, huggable, and yes, even cute.

2. It’s a myth that all scrooges are skinflints; some are actually quite generous. But their generosity isn’t obsessive, isn’t tied to a calendar, and doesn’t come with giggles.

3.  Scrooges can be quite caring and compassionate, without saying, “Bless their hearts” over and over.

In order to influence an acquittal, I offer two challenges into evidence; one for me and one for us:

I challenge myself to be more receptive to, and tolerant of, the silly parts of the holiday season, and those who perpetuate the silliness. But please, be patient; the mill of a scrooge grinds slowly.

I challenge us to be more generous, loving, thankful, and spiritual all year long – not just during the holidays. Imagine what would happen if we all practiced peace on earth, goodwill toward everyone, every day. It might sound something like this:

“Let’s help those people right now. Yes! In the middle of July!”

Write this on a rock … Peace to you and yours. Shalom.  Salaam. Que la paz este con ustedes.

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.

Arnold Palmer was in reality what he appeared to be

Golf legend, Arnold Palmer, is dead. No ordinary man: He was called “The King,” he had an army, and he was beloved by all.

Twenty-five hundred years ago, Socrates said the greatest way to live your life is to be in reality what you appear to be. That was Arnold Palmer. The charismatic person you saw on television - the impish smile, the twinkle in his eye, how he treated people - wasn’t a persona. That was the real Arnold.

Arnold and I weren’t BFF (best friends forever), but over almost a quarter century we had many different interactions: helping him as a driving range volunteer at a pro golf tournament; interviewing him more than once while broadcasting my radio program from his Bay Hill Golf Club in Orlando; as a member of the National Advisory Council of his beloved hospital; and he provided the foreword for my second book. Whenever I was around him I thought of Socrates, because Arnold Palmer truly was in reality what he appeared to be.

Someone else warned that you never want to meet your heroes, lest you come away disappointed. If you were a member of Arnie’s Army, once you had the privilege to meet him, any subsequent reappraising was to increase your emotional investment in him. People idolized Arnold because his golf game and personality were both blue collar: straight up and unpretentious.

When asked to briefly compare himself to Arnold, longtime friend and frequent nemesis on the tour, Jack Nicklaus, said, “I love golf. Arnold loves people.” Clearly, no one loved golf more than Arnold Palmer. But seeing how he interacted with others, all the way down to a member of the gallery he was in front of for seconds, anyone could see how much Arnold loved people. Jack is known to never autograph a golf ball. Arnold signed whatever you handed him, and he always told young pros, “Sign your name so people can read it,” as he always did.

The only thing about Arnold that saddened me was something many people didn’t know: For probably the last third of his life, he had significant hearing loss, even with hearing aids. When you saw Arnold deliver his patented thumbs up response with those massive hands, that was his way of coping with the fact that he heard someone addressing him, but didn’t hear what was said. It was troubling to me that someone might think he was being arrogant or dismissive by not answering, when nothing could be further from the truth. For the most notoriously approachable living legend on the planet, who truly couldn’t get enough of people, his hearing loss was the cruelest disability.

Everyone wanted a piece of Arnold and he never disappointed. A couple of years ago, my wife and I were in attendance at a dinner celebration prior to the Insperity Invitational that Arnold had promised to attend. Even though he was obviously struggling with back pain, he fulfilled his promise. As people came by his table during the evening, old friends and not-yet-friends, with great difficulty Arnold stood up to shake the hand of every one. Years before, in one of our interviews, Arnold quoted his father, Deacon, about that: “Son, whatever you do in your life, turn the table over and treat others like you want to be treated when you’re on the other side.” Treating people like they mattered ran very deep in Arnold Palmer, sometimes even at his own physical expense, whether you were a big deal or a bus boy.

The Orlando hospitals that bore his and his first wife, Winnie’s names, were extremely important to him. Once while Arnold joined several of us for a tour of the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, a doctor was describing the new and expensive, life-saving device of which they were so proud. Literally in the middle of that demonstration, I heard Arnold say, “Isn’t it great that it doesn’t smell like a hospital in here?” That detail was important to him, because he believed the antiseptic smell of medical facilities was frightening to children who were already under stress. By the way, one of Arnold’s edicts for the hospital was that no one would ever be turned away because they can’t afford the care. Arnold wasn’t just a golf legend, he was a human legend.

The story is legend of successful golf pros who failed trying to replicate their on-course success in business. That wasn’t Arnold’s story. He made a good living playing golf, but he became rich in the marketplace. In one interview I asked him for a success tip for business owners and he said, “Be trustworthy, be frank and straight-up.” I’m calling that Palmer’s Business Razor.

As “The man who saved golf,” and “The man who reinvented professional golf,” every touring pro in the modern era should thank Arnold Palmer, because they stand on his shoulders. And everyone who values sportsmanship, good manners, kindness, graciousness, humility, and class should thank Arnold Palmer. More than anyone else, Arnold not only demonstrated those values whether he won or lost, but you were inspired by him to demonstrate them yourself, if for no other reason than you wouldn’t dare risk disappointing him.

Clearly, Arnold Palmer lived a charmed life, but he also charmed our lives. For seven decades, wherever Arnold traveled around the globe, the world wanted a piece of him. I never met anyone who had so much to give, and who wanted so much to give it. The truly great human beings have one thing in common: They stand for something greater than themselves. During one of our interviews Arnold told me, “The reason I started traveling internationally was to promote golf as an agent to help make nations to be more friendly.”

The King is dead. Long live the King’s legacy.

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.

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.




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