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The Three A’s of Business

women on computer monitor using her cell phoneOverview

In business schools, the importance of the three P’s of marketing is emphasized. Equally important are the three A’s of business. Issues like climate change as well as international, national, and local trends can impact your business, and understanding the three A’s that businesses need to use is important to counter any effects of those changes and trends.

It is important to remember that business is a complex series of relationships that owners must manage in order to maintain profitability, create shareholder value, and ensure the sustainability of the business. The most obvious relationships are those with customers, employees, and vendors, as without those your business would not exist. These relationships, as well as all the others in your business, are not bilateral, they are all interrelated. For example, your customers want to pay the lowest price possible for your products or services. However, if you strive to only meet that requirement to satisfy the customer relationship, you will have a poor relationship with employees who would be underpaid, and with vendors who would have a low margin on their sales to you. While in the short-term your customers may be satisfied, in the longer-term employee morale and turnover, customer service, and vendor delivery and support would suffer. As a business owner, you have to manage all of these relationships in concert in order to achieve a balance that satisfies everybody.

Other straightforward relationships exist with your landlord, neighboring businesses, your support of and service to your community (they are your potential customers), and your competitors (in terms of the ethics in competition between you and them). Less obvious relationships exist between you and the local, state, and federal government entities you operate under. Legislative changes they can make to traffic patterns, parking rules, street closures for special events, sales tax rates, new taxes, minimum wage laws, additional reporting requirements, and other rules can upset some of the other relationships in your business. As a result, you must re-balance multiple relationships to keep your business viable. While business owners have to react to changes like this on an ongoing basis, it would be better if you could be proactive.

This is where the three A’s are important:

  • Awareness of the issues that may impact your business in the future,
  • Anticipating what the proposed issue resolutions might be, and planning for
  • Adapting to them in the most efficacious and cost-effective way.

You should be aware of political, economic, social, and community trends as these will all potentially affect your business. It is more important to be aware of trends and anticipate their future than to try to classify them into a single category as they can be interrelated as well. Oil prices, as an example, are driving international, national, and economic trends, and could be impacting social and community ones related to alternative energy and mass transit. Politically, election outcomes will affect taxation, health care costs, and other issues that will impact your business. Economically, the Federal Reserve’s position on interest rates will affect borrowing costs and should be considered in your plans for both long-term and short-term financing.

Socially, if you think you know how to market to the millennials, you are one generation behind. The first members of Generation Z, which has been coined the “post-millennials” will be approaching age 25. Wunderman Thompson, an international Brand Growth Consultancy with over 20,000 associates in 90 countries notes that Gen Z’s buying power in the U.S. is $100 billion versus $65 billion for Millennials. Business Insider notes that Generation Z makes purchasing decisions differently than Millennials and values brands over generic products, one-click online purchasing, app-connected products and services, and uses mobile devices for virtually all of their shopping. Stilt.com reports that 17.4% of Generation Z shoppers between ages 18 and 24 prefer to use cryptocurrency for purchases.

Currently, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has affected multiple supply chains worldwide and the Covid Lockdown in China is just beginning to have worldwide economic implications. Unprecedented weather events that may be related to climate change are affecting the insurance market, which will impact real estate values and construction costs. Talk of inflation and possible recession abounds. All of these issues are among those that will affect the relationships your business must manage.

Railroad crossing signs used to say, “Look out for the Trains.” For business that could be paraphrased to “Look out for the Trends.” Be AWARE, ANTICIPATE, and ADAPT! As Charles Drawing noted, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change!”

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Op-Ed: Hurricane Season is Here. SBA Encourages These Key Tips to be Prepared and Aware of Recovery Funding Programs

headshot of Allen ThomasAllen M. Thomas, Regional Administrator | U.S. Small Business Administration

The Southeast region is home to millions of small businesses and thousands of miles of pristine coastlines. It is indeed a beautiful place to live and work, however, we live in an area prone to hurricanes. Even our inland areas are often impacted by these storms through wind and flooding.  Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy, and many are only one disaster away from closing their doors if not properly prepared. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) helps business owners reduce the amount of risk associated with natural disasters in their homes and businesses.

The 2022 hurricane season

Hurricane season began June 1st. We need to be mindful that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted an above-normal forecast for the 2022 hurricane season. This includes a range of 14 to 21 named storms, of which six to ten will become hurricanes, including three to six major hurricanes. Businesses can and are affected by weather catastrophes; from short-term power outages to rebuilding their physical structures after a hurricane.

How do you know if you are ready for a storm?

The first key question for storm preparation is to ask, am I document ready?  Am I aware of what documents I need for insurance or recovery programs? Are my documents safe, either in a digital form I can reach online or printed and stored in a weatherproof location? Are my documents up to date?  To be considered for an SBA disaster loan, business owners need several legal documents in place at a minimum including deeds, leases, insurance records, trusts, court orders, and tax returns. Keep these documents readily available and in a digital format whenever possible. 

Are your contacts up-to-date?

Additionally, ensure up-to-date contacts for the insurance company; employees; customers; and suppliers. Maintain up-to-date key information on inventory; machine/equipment; financial systems; and accounts receivable/payable. Having this information available can be the difference between getting funded in a matter of days versus months. 

SBA natural disaster recovery programs

The SBA has programs to assist you with recovery after a natural disaster. These include programs that provide financing to repair physical damage to businesses and residences, working capital for normal business expenses, mitigation assistance, and shortages due to the military deployment of staff. Visit the SBA’s Disaster Assistance webpage for more information.

Business emergency response plan

Keeping a business operational is a key challenge after a hurricane. It is imperative in addition to gaining knowledge; for all businesses to have a plan in place for when disaster strikes. Businesses should be either preparing or updating their business emergency response plans. If you have not done so, please visit https://www.ready.gov as your starting point. 

SBA local partners

While we are using a hurricane as an example here, other disasters related to wind, flood, wildfire, earthquake, and hail damage are also covered by SBA disaster assistance. The Small Business Development Center Network, SCORE, Women’s Business Centers, and the Veterans Business Outreach Centers are local resource partners that often offer additional training and technical assistance related to disaster preparedness. Many district offices also host webinars or training sessions on the topic. Make sure to take advantage of these training opportunities whenever they are available. 

I wish you a wonderful summer of 2022. While we cannot control the weather, we can certainly impact our preparedness and contingency plans to give ourselves the peace of mind to enjoy this great season. Any questions please reach out to us at your state office or the Office of Disaster Recovery at www.sba.gov.

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How to Tune Up Your Business?

mechanic working on a carOverview

Everything we own requires maintenance at some point in its life, something we often forget to provide, leading to an early failure of the item. Fortunately, our cars have warning lights to remind us of basic necessities like “low fuel,” safety issues like “tire pressure low,” and convenience items like “windshield washer fluid low.” Many newer ones tell us when it is time to change the oil or have other maintenance performed. Most healthcare providers remind us to have an annual checkup, to catch any upcoming issues while symptoms are minor or non-existent, in order to avoid any long-term or irreversible damage to our physical well-being. Even my home thermostat has a “replace air filter” warning to ensure that my system is operating efficiently.

Unfortunately, as businesses lack such periodic reminders, it is up to the business owner to “look under the hood” occasionally and see if the business needs a “tune-up” or adjustment in order to continue to operate with peak performance. There are many external factors that change and result in a need to adjust the business accordingly. Business owners should conduct a quarterly (best in a volatile economy), semi-annual (better than annual), or annual review of these and make appropriate adjustments in their business.

External Factors

Some examples of external factors and the types of adjustments that will result from changes are:

Customer buying habits change

Aside from any changes in sales levels, are customers buying different products or services, different sizes, or different brands? If this appears to be a trend, purchasing or service offerings will need to be adjusted.

Terms on credit card processing or bank account charges change

This should prompt a review of the current provider’s service and comparison to alternate providers. It may be beneficial to change, or at least to ask the current provider to match the costs of their competition.

Prices of components in the “Cost of Goods Sold” change

A review of sales prices, competitors’ prices, and alternate vendors is called for. The results of that review will determine potential corrective actions. While a business must remain competitive, the inability to pass price increases along will result in a lower gross margin, lower profit, less ability to service debt, and reduced capital available for expansion.

Changes in sales levels, up or down

Should prompt a review of inventory levels (carrying too much inventory will reduce profit, carrying too little may cause customers to buy from the competition when you run out). Changes in sales levels should also trigger a review of the marketing and advertising plan. One or both may need to be increased or decreased, “freshened” with a new campaign, or directed (at least in part) to different media as customers’ buying habits change.

Significant changes in sales levels

This indicates that a review of employee numbers or hours should be made. The ratio of sales dollars to employees should, for the most part, be constant. Overstaffing will reduce profits and understaffing can affect customer service and ultimately sales. It is not necessarily a requirement to hire or fire staff to make adjustments. On the contrary, that should be a last resort as current employees have skills and company knowledge that are strong assets to the business. Hiring new employees will temporarily reduce the productivity of others as the new employee will have to be trained. Downturns may be able to be handled with reduced hours and upturns with overtime. Both of these actions will allow maximum flexibility in response should conditions level out or reverse themselves.

Interest rates change

Especially if they are indicative of a sustained upwards or downward trend, changes in interest rates should encourage a review of business credit and loans to determine if this is the time to increase or decrease borrowing activities.

Annual Review

On an annual basis, a review of company infrastructure should be conducted.  Items in this review would include:

The Physical Plant

is the location of the business and the space within that location still appropriate? What is the condition of equipment and machinery including the heating and air conditioning system? Does the building need any repairs (either as owner, leasehold improvements, or landlord’s responsibility)? If vehicles are owned by the business, do they need repairs, replacement, or refurbishment (including painting or wrapping of trucks so they don’t appear old and worn)?

Employees

Is compensation, including benefits, competitive? Is your benefits provider competitive, or is a change needed? Are company policies (holidays, sick days, vacation, use of company vehicles, etc.) up to date and adequate? If ongoing employee training is offered, are the programs still relevant or do they need updating?

Legal Structure

Given any changes in tax law, personal exit plans, family status, and the like, is the current corporate structure still appropriate, or does it need to be modified? Do contracts and other legal documents need to be updated to reflect changes in law or business activity? Are all the corporate documents up to date and in order?

Insurance

Is all coverage adequate and cost-effective? Do any declarations of assets need to be updated? Is all contact information up to date?

While examining your business, consider a financial performance review that will determine how your company’s financial ratios compare to similar companies. Are you in the top 10%, top half, or out-of-the-ballpark? Do you remember the adage, “You can’t get to where you want to go if you don’t know where you are starting from?” Knowing how your business is performing will show you what might need to be adjusted.

Business Continuity

Also, consider business continuity in your review. If your business establishment was destroyed by a storm or fire, could you restart the business fast enough to avoid losing your current customers? Replacement insurance alone is not sufficient. You will need some loss-of-income insurance to provide working capital, a pre-determined alternate site to operate from, and off-site backup of all your customer, vendor, insurance, and financial records. While considering business continuity, consider your personal importance to the business. If you were incapacitated in an accident, can others run the business until you return?

Achieving Peak Performance

Periodically checking your business’s condition and making any needed adjustments will enable it to achieve peak performance. If you fail to do so, you may be all right in the short term, but run the risk of having the business “miss fire” just when you need to “step on the gas” to remain ahead of the competition.

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How to Choose your Customer?

Customer pulling money out of their walletOverview

Most business owners choose the location for their business carefully. For retail businesses good store visibility and easy access and parking in high traffic areas is paramount. Service businesses seek locations central to the geographic area they serve, with good road access and reasonable rents. Employees are chosen from the field of applicants as well, with businesses selecting those who have the requisite skills, personality, and work ethics to fit in. Vendors are also chosen with consideration for billing policies, ease of ordering, prices, reputation, and timely delivery. Why then, simply hang out the “open” sign and wait to see who shows up? By picking the ‘right’ customers and focusing your attention on them you can increase your profitability.

“Early on in a business, most companies take every client they can get. After a time, some can afford to be more selective to ensure that they are profitable and productive. You shouldn’t get so discerning that you put your success in jeopardy by turning business away left, right, and center, but you can strive to align yourself with the right customers.” Who are the ‘right’ customers for your business? I conducted an Internet search for “characteristics of good customers” and noted that on over a dozen sites covering different types of businesses, these five characteristics appeared on each one along with other business-specific ones:

Characteristics of good customers

Communicates needs and expectations clearly

Unless a customer can express what they need and want, it is difficult to provide the right product or service and have a satisfied customer at the end of the transaction. 

Has high integrity

Honesty is at the core of every successful business relationship. Customer dishonesty takes two forms, one where the customer tries to “get one past you,” for example using a tool for a job and then returning it for credit while claiming it either was not used or did not work. The other customer dishonesty is more insidious, where they are unhappy with a product or service but don’t want to say so. Those customers will eventually stop frequenting your business and you will wonder why as they always said they were pleased.

Willing to pay a fair price for value received

A good customer understands that you need to make a fair profit and values their time as well as yours. I, for example, am willing to pay $39.95 for a 10-minute oil change for my vehicle because I know that it would take me half a day to purchase the oil, protect the driveway with a tarp, and dispose of the used oil and clean up afterward. And that is assuming I don’t skin my knuckles or break something on the vehicle in the process. 

Willing to answer questions in a timely manner

When you may have to substitute for a product not available or find in a service business either that there are two ways to proceed or that another problem has been uncovered that needs to be addressed, a good customer replies rapidly to avoid holding up their job and others you have in queue. 

Are committed to quality

A good customer will not ask you to “cut corners,” try to get you to match lower-priced products and services of lesser quality, or ask for used parts or products and then expect you to warrant them. 

4 steps to identifying the right customer

Those characteristics tell us what a good customer is like, but not who they are. Harvard Business Review has noted that firms should undertake four steps to identify the ‘right’ customers:

Step 1 – Identify the primary customer

Identify their primary customer in terms of perspective, capabilities, and profit potential. Perspective implies that the customer fits into the vision and mission of what your business does. Capability relates to matching your company’s capabilities with the customer’s needs. The focus for profit potential is on repeat sales of the same or different products and services over a long-term timeframe.

Step 2 – Primary customer value

Understand what your primary customer values. Within the same market and industry, different primary customers may value different things: Some demand the lowest possible price, others want a dedicated service relationship, and still, others are looking for the best technology or brand, or other specific attributes. You will need to interact with customers to determine this, perhaps outside of a sales function, and on an ongoing basis. A hardware store in a community with apartment dwellers, older urban homes with a mix of elderly residents and young families in their first home, and an outlying area of small working farms may have identified the farms as their primary customers. The business owner may need to visit farms and attend agriculturally oriented meetings to build the relationships that will address this second step.

Step 3 – Allocate business resources

Allocate business resources ranging from employee training to specific items carried in inventory to meet the primary customer values identified in step two as a means of creating customer satisfaction. It is important not just to meet current customer needs, but to anticipate future needs and be ready to fulfill them. This may mean stocking up on items ahead of season or recognizing that if large amounts of wooden fencing are being ordered, customers may soon need stain or paint for that fence.

Step 4 – Interact and adapt

The fourth step is for the process to be interactive so that as customer needs change, the business is able to adapt to them. In the fence example above, asking the customer, “how do you plan to treat that fence?” would enable to know what to have in inventory when the customer is ready for it.

It is of course, possible to have more than one primary customer. In the hardware store example above, both the working farms and the management of the apartment complexes could be primary customers. Remember that the key is having a long-term relationship with the customers. Also note that within any primary customer group, there will be individual needs. If one of the working farms was a produce farm and another was an egg farm, their needs would vary from each other. That is why having an ongoing relationship with primary customers and customer groups is strategically important. Don’t just pick your wish list of customers once.  Regularly check on your industry and market so that you can continually strategize to consistently create a profitable customer portfolio. It can also be advantageous to regularly rank your customers so that you know what ratio of your client base fits the criteria for your desired client.

The concept of choosing your customers does not imply ignoring small-order customers and one-time customers.  It recommends, however, that your strategic plans focus on those primary customers who have the highest profit potential for your business.

Once you have identified who your primary customers are, you can develop a marketing plan to attract them to your business. Stay tuned for more blogs on developing a marketing plan.

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Is it Spring Yet?

Plant in a lightbulbAstronomically speaking, the vernal equinox occurs when the Sun crosses the celestial equator on its way north along the ecliptic. This happened on Sunday, March 20th at 11:32 am in the Northern Hemisphere.

The economy, like our gardens, is starting to blossom again, with consumers reappearing in many business sectors that had seen diminished sales as a result of the Covid virus. Small businesses must nurture those consumers carefully, just as our gardens must be fertilized, watered, and weeded if we are to reap the type and yield of crop we desire. Here’s a light-hearted look at “consumer gardening.” Just as the weather has a big influence on how our gardens perform, the economy has a large impact on how well our businesses are doing. The good news is that signs of spring are here:

The Multiplier Effect

Unemployment is at historic lows and, although it fluctuates from month to month, shows no signs of rising. This is good news because of the “multiplier effect.” Every dollar that is earned in payroll will circulate more than once in the economy. An example of this is when a newly re-employed person buys lunch out several times a week. This produces additional revenue for the restaurant, which in turn buys more food products. The food supplier then purchases more from their wholesaler who in turn orders more from the farmer. Meanwhile, the server in the restaurant earns more in tips and, in spending that money, adds to the ‘snowball (rolling downhill) effect’ that results from the multiplier.  At some point, as each business’s sales increase, they will have to create new employment themselves, starting the same process all over again. While this is oversimplified, you can see how one simple act of purchasing causes increased economic activity all the way down the supply chain.

Despite the many news articles about the perils of inflation, the economy has experienced inflationary cycles in the past, and ultimately monetary policies have been adjusted to reduce and contain its effects. While inflation increases prices, it has not shown any evidence of reducing consumer demand or confidence. Given that monetary policies will be adjusted to contain inflation to an acceptable annual level, having a degree of inflation after a long flat period can in its own way stimulate the economy. Retired individuals with pensions that adjust for inflation will see an increase in their purchasing power as will those with savings as interest rates rise. The rising value of the real estate will allow some owners to realize capital gains when selling, and although some potential homebuyers will be priced out of the market, opportunities will be created for entrepreneurs and businesses to develop rental and lower-income properties, creating more jobs as a result of that process. As a result of all of these activities, the “multiplier effect” will once again increase their impact and the overall economy will strengthen further.

Along with increasing temperatures and hours of daylight are increasing numbers of festivals and events. Those events are drawing locals out of their homes and attracting both in-state and out-of-state tourists. Every dollar spent will boost the economy, even the dollar spent on cotton candy or popcorn for the children will be “multiplied” and contribute to the economy.

4 Rules to Consumer Gardening

However, good weather alone will not make our gardens grow. Gardeners must follow some basic rules that apply to business as well.  These are:

  1. Plant the right crop – In gardening, the crop planted must be a fit for the climate and for the soil. Cabbage, lettuce, oranges, and bananas all have different needs and must be grown in the appropriate geographic location. It is interesting to note that climate change is affecting where some crops will prosper. In business, the product and service mix must be a fit for the demographics of the area. Those demographics tend to change over time as the population ages and as new residents move in. Technology and social trends also influence consumer needs and want. Watching trends, surveying customers, and analyzing the competition can help you determine the right “crop mix.”
  2. Water and fertilize as needed –Seeds will not propagate unless watered and fertilized, and leads will not turn into sales without follow-up and good customer service. Just as fertilizer will increase crop yield, advertising and consumer incentives will increase sales.
  3. Weeding and pest control –Weeds will try to creep into a garden and draw off the fertilizer and water, and pests will try to eat your crop before you can harvest it. Gardeners pluck weeds at their first sign and use everything from fences to scarecrows to keep pests away. In business, the weed might be the person trying to “put their hand into the till” and draw your money away. That might be a “loose-fingered” employee, a shoplifter, or a vendor’s delivery person who shorts the order. Good internal controls will prevent those occurrences as accounting systems, processes, and security are upgraded. The pest trying to eat your crop is the competition trying to usurp your customer. Focus on having a compelling competitive advantage and good customer service will mitigate that issue.
  4. Rotate your crops at least annually –Just as the soil becomes “tired” and needs re-nourishment, so does the consumer market in general. Keeping things “fresh” and “exciting” for the consumer will increase the potential of them returning. Just as auto manufacturers, clothing companies, furniture manufacturers, and restaurants change their offerings periodically, so should small businesses. Even supermarkets and big-box retailers who have the same basic products over time will change the store layout to provide a “fresh” experience for the consumer. You can introduce new products or services periodically or offer some items on a time-limited basis. McDonald’s does not have the McRib sandwich on their permanent menu, but rather offers it as a time-limited product periodically. That has resulted in a high volume of sales and product sell-out whenever offered. There may be similar things you can do in your business.

Business Springtime Activities

Traditionally, the vernal equinox also signals the time of Spring cleaning when people cleaned out their houses and freshened them up. Business owners can also undertake some springtime activities, for example:

Cleaning

There are both physical and cognitive activities that should be undertaken to “freshen up” the business and put it into a position where it can adapt to current market and economic conditions in a way that will allow it to prosper and grow. The physical aspects of cleaning begin with the part of the business that none of your customers see, the backroom or the warehouse where you keep your stock. Spring is a new season, and if you have either seasonal merchandise or items time-limited by expiration date or consumer demand, NOW is the time to convert them to cash. Holding onto them is of no benefit, their value to customers will decrease as the season change, expiration dates approach, or consumer desires change. You can hold sales, return items to distributors, sell them on the Internet or at a flea market, or sell them to a liquidator. The important action is to convert them to cash to invest in items that will sell in the upcoming seasons.

Planning

Once the business is in a position to grow, a direction must be set and measurable goals should be established. To paraphrase Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland: If you don’t know where you want to go, you won’t know which road to take. Worse yet, you won’t know if you are on the right road, and won’t recognize your destination when you arrive! An annual operating plan, whether a complete business plan or a few components of it like a marketing plan and a financial plan is essential if you want to be successful in 2022.

Fixing

Just like things at home that wear out and break down, components of your business may require fixing to enable you to fulfill your plan. Obviously, any equipment you own that is not up to par will fall into this category. Technology falls into this category as well. The technology category encompasses items like links on your web page. Nothing says ‘poor management as much as a web link to a catalog, spec sheet, or the like that does not work. Check your e-mail accounts to make sure they are not bouncing back customer e-mail due to full mailboxes or poorly set spam filters. Ensure that any e-mail received is promptly responded to. Your company’s image is an important part of your business as well. Updating your logo, business cards, social media postings, and signage are other ways of increasing the visibility of your business.

If you attend to the spring actions that will improve your business’s performance, you will be able to achieve higher profits which will lead to a bountiful harvest!

If you are a business owner and seeking assistance with your business with our 18 counties, complete our Request for Consulting Form, and one of our client intake specialists will contact you to schedule an appointment with one of our business consultants.

Survival to Successful in 10 Steps

Although the economy is recovering from the effects of Covid-19, it is doing so faster in some sectors than others. While many businesses are on the rebound, some business owners tell me they are still just surviving, earning enough to meet expenses but not generating a profit. If you are in that predicament, here are ten steps you can take to make your business successful again:

1. Focus on Cash

Your business runs on cash flow.  You can’t pay payroll and rent with profit from sales that are still in your accounts receivable.  You also can’t pay them with money that you used to pay bills before they were due.  Focus on collecting receivables and delaying payments until due.  If you are offered a discount for early payment, consider the effect on cash flow, not profit… in tough times you can’t pay bills with profit, you must have sufficient cash on hand at all times.  Develop a plan to build your cash on hand to a level that equals one to three months’ worth of operating expenses.  Doing so will provide a cushion that gives you time to adjust to any future conditions that may have a negative impact on your business.

2. Generate Revenue First

Redefine your daily goals and those of your employees around generating revenue.  All other activities are secondary… your business will only continue to survive if it generates new revenue each day.  Plan each day to start with, and include, every revenue-generating action you can take before moving on to other tasks.

3. It’s All About Customers

Your business only exists because customers frequent it.  Make sure that you know what they need and want as economic conditions change.  Talk to or survey your customers to determine changing needs.  Is the price of fuel enough of an issue that they would rather have you deliver?  Do you need to stock lower price brands of some items to fit their adjusted budgets?  Have their preferences for products, sizes, or brands changed? Do you need to change your hours so they can shop on the way to or from work rather than make a separate trip on the weekend?  Ask them what you can do to give them more value!  If you don’t have a referral program, consider starting one.  Your best salesperson is a satisfied customer… reward them for recommending you to new customers!

4. Update your Marketing Plan

Economic change brings changes in consumers’ buying ability, habits, and needs.  You will need to adjust what you market, how you market it, and where you market it to changes in the marketplace.  Consider who you sell to – the demographics of your market. Younger generations are not responsive to the same marketing approaches that their predecessors were. As existing customers age, their needs change. They may favor different products, sizes, services, and convenience. Product delivery, assembly or installation, and long-term care or maintenance are services that are popular as customers age. Make sure that your marketing plan relates to any changes in consumer demographics that affect you.

5. Stick with what you do best

Don’t try to attract customers who differ vastly from your core customers, and don’t try to add non-related products.  Both of these can be costly mistakes as you build up slow-selling inventory and incur the costs of marketing to an entirely different market demographic.  I’ve seen pool supply companies try to add toys and outdoor playsets to their business, only to have to sell them below cost at some point to regain some cash and floor space.  They were unable to stock the variety of items available at ‘big box’ stores, couldn’t match the prices of those stores or online sellers as their purchasing volumes were too low, and never bothered to notice that the majority of their existing customers did not have children living at home.

6. Update your Business Plan

If you don’t have a business plan, this is a good time to create one.  Don’t try to manage your business day by day as you go along.  A plan will match your resources to your needs, allow you to track actual performance against projections, and let you see the “big picture.”  The Florida SBDC at the University of North Florida provides no-cost consulting to assist you in this task.  There is no excuse not to have a current business plan.  Needless to say, 6a would be “Follow your Business Plan.”  It will not do you any good sitting in a drawer.

7. Manage by using your Financial Reports

Most accounting systems and all bookkeepers and accountants can provide you with monthly reports that show accounts receivable aging, cash flow, inventory turnover, sales trends, expenses as a percentage of sales, and other data that will help you manage your business.  Ask the SBDC or your accountant if you are unsure of what these reports are indicating.  They are the gauges of performance, just as the gauges in your car tell you how the engine is performing; your financial reports show the condition and trend of your business.  They will let you know if you need to make any adjustments before conditions become critical.

8. Protect your Credit

Your business and your personal credit ratings are important for future loans, new vendor accounts, and may be reviewed by a larger company that is considering placing an order with you.  Many people tell me that they “let their personal credit go bad” in order to pay business expenses.  They think that because the business credit is good, they can get loans.  Not so; for small business loans, banks will consider both business and personal credit standing.  If you are running into difficulty making payments due to a drop in cash flow, don’t just avoid making payments, instead renegotiate terms with your lender.  Having a current business plan that shows adjustments you will make to improve cash flow will help you present your case.

9. Turning “O’s” to “S’s”

Remember the SWOT analysis… Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats?  You should perform a SWOT analysis on your business and on your major competitors.  Their weaknesses should present opportunities that you can turn into strengths.  That can give you competitive advantages (by being better or different than the competition) and you can expand your customer base, sales, and cash flow by acquiring some of their customers.

10. Look for New Opportunities

Keep networking, pay attention to new trends (one source is www.trendwatching.com), and look for new ways to add business and control costs.  Your trade association, if there is one for your business, will be a good source of information about what similar companies throughout the nation are doing.  General business publications like Florida Trend, Inc, Entrepreneur, Forbes, and Fortune magazines all have articles about how businesses are employing new ideas to boost sales and what they have done to overcome difficulties.  There may be some action, process, or thing already tested and proven that you too can implement.

Employing these 10 steps can help you pivot from surviving to successful, and are also instrumental in helping already profitable businesses become more so.

If you are a business owner and seeking assistance with your business with our 18 counties, complete our Request for Consulting Form, and one of our client intake specialists will contact you to schedule an appointment with one of our business consultants.

The Importance of Good Bookkeeping and Showing a Profit

More often than not, when I try to help a small business with various issues, I get stymied.  Why?  Because the business owner thinks they can keep the books themselves, or they do not keep records.  Without good business data, a business owner (or consultant) cannot make good business decisions.  Good business decisions are made using the right data at the right time in the hands of the decision-maker when they need it.  Making a good business decision is hard enough given the level of business competition these days and given faulty or bad data it is a recipe for failure.   

Bookkeeping

The computerization of accounting software allows many business owners to perform the job of “bookkeeping” themselves.  But there are some major issues with doing this incredibly important task yourself.  Accounting software is tricky and setting it up wrong will lead to using bad information which leads to bad business decisions.  First “setting up the books” takes skills only a certified bookkeeper or CPA has.  Hire a qualified bookkeeper or CPA to set the system up for you.  Second, unless you have accounting training, hire a qualified bookkeeper or CPA to look at and adjust your books at least once a quarter (monthly is preferred).  I recently went to help several small business owners and never got very far with them as their books were a mess.  For example, a current asset is a cash, accounts receivable, stocks, and other items that can be turned into cash within about 30 days.  One client had a bulldozer listed as a current asset.  Nope.  Sorry.  A bulldozer is not a current asset.  It can take months to sell a bulldozer and turn that asset into cash to pay your bills.  Cash flow is critical and running out of cash means your business will fail long before you can sell that bulldozer.   

Business Credit

For some reason, many small business owners feel they need to hide their business income.  This is a bad strategy.  Creditors only lend capital to a business that can prove it is making money and showing a profit.  If you are not showing that your business is profitable and you cannot prove it is profitable, then the creditor will think you cannot repay the principal on the loan nor the interest and thus you have no chance of getting a loan.  No creditor is in the business of giving away or losing money, that’s a bad business model and no one will do that.   

Virtually everybody and every business runs on credit.  A decision by a creditor to lend capital largely depends on your personal credit score.  If you have a business and you are growing it, it will take capital to grow the business.  Know what your credit score is and work constantly to improve it.   

Business Exit

Another reason to show a profit has to do with your business exit.  A business exit is about selling or shutting down your business after you have been managing it for years.  To shut down a business means paying off any debts and closing the doors.  The business ceases to exist.  Why do this?  If your business is showing a profit, you can sell it!  The value of a business is determined by a multiple of the annual cash flow.  The multiple varies according to the type of business you have but let’s say your personal IRS income tax shows you making $100,000 per year for the previous 10 years.  If there are no changes in the industry for your business then as an example, let’s say the multiple is 5 so the asking price for your business is $500,000.  Wouldn’t you want the $500,000 instead of closing the doors and walking away?  You can sell a business if you can prove it’s profitable.  Live the American dream; start a business, grow it, and then sell it!   

By Rick Paul, Business Consultant
Putnam County’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC)
To sign up for our no-cost, confidential, one-on-one, business consulting, please complete our Request for Consulting Form.

Are You Ready to Start and Manage a Small Business?

Are you ready to start and manage your own small business?  Increasingly the average person is thinking that they are indeed ready to try.  That’s great because you do not need a Ph.D. in Business nor a Masters’ degree or a college degree to do well in business.  Many highly successful businesspeople either did not attend college or dropped out of college to start a business.   

You do need certain skills to be successful in starting and running a business.  These skills can be learned so that you do not have to learn them the hard way, by trial-and-error costing you time and money.  So here are eight skills you need. 

First, you need to be a self-starter type of person. 

If you wait around to be told what to do, you will not take the right action at the right time to make a business happen.   

Second, you will always be your business’s number one salesperson and cheerleader. 

If you cannot sell your products or services, how do you expect others to sell them?  You must be very good a convincing your customers that your solution to their problem is better than your competition’s so that your customers are ready, willing, and able to purchase your goods or services. 

Third, be a great networker. 

That means getting out and about “selling” everyone you meet about your business.  Join business organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and actively participate in their events.   

Fourth, be an innovator. 

Look at trends and innovative products and services.  Be ahead of the curve in knowing the trends of your customers’ demographics.  Pull ideas from other businesses and different industries and combine them in a unique way so that what you provide is fresh and enjoyable to your customers. 

Fifth, be a people person. 

A smile and a hello go a long way.  You are solving customers’ problems by providing a needed product or service, at the right time, at the right place, and at the right price.  You must be ready, willing, and able to help them through the process so that they are satisfied with the result. 

Sixth, take a risk. 

Bounce your ideas and business model off a mentor to make sure the idea is solid.  Be prepared with the skills, capital, and assets you have and are ready to invest to make your business a reality.  Success favors the prepared.   

Seventh, constantly update your management skills, we are all weak in certain areas. 

No one is an expert in everything.  Admit it and find a way to improve your management skills.  Turn your weakness into strengths.   

Eighth, math. 

Yes, math.  You need to be able to add, subtract, multiply, and divide.  That’s it.  But you got to know when to do it and what the results mean.  As a business owner, you must know your numbers because you make business decisions based upon the results of those numbers.  Not knowing your numbers and what they mean always leads to business failure.   

And there you have it, the secrets to business success.  Eight skills to be successful. Eight skills that are taught every day and if learned will make your business successful.   

By Rick Paul, Business Consultant
Putnam County’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC)
To sign up for our no-cost, confidential, one-on-one, business consulting, please complete our Request for Consulting Form.

2022!  A New Year!  A time to sow… a time to reap…

January CalendarThe calendar has changed… the economy has changed… later this year some of our elected officials will change, and along with the governmental policies will change.  Will you be ready? If you operate your business the same way you did last year, status quo, you will miss some new opportunities and may become “stuck in a rut.” Here are some thoughts on New Year’s Resolutions…

  1. K. Chesterton (Gilbert Keith Chesterton, 1874-1936), one of England’s preeminent authors and philosophers, made two statements about New Year and Resolutions that I think may be appropriate. Firstly, he said, “Many people look forward to the New Year for a new start on old habits.” That was perhaps his wit as he is often viewed as the ‘English Mark Twain.’ A bit of his philosophy shows in his next statement which was, “The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.”

While a few people make personal New Year’s Resolutions, I have not found any who admit to making business-related ones. Yet, I believe that this is a good idea. Unless you approach the New Year with a fresh viewpoint, you will not be able to recognize and respond to the many changes that will affect how you do business. For example, changes in the economy mean consumer buying habits will change. If you do not adapt accordingly and your competition does, you will be at a disadvantage.\

To help make New Year’s Resolutions that are business-related, I offer the following twelve suggestions:

1. Learn what business you are REALLY in.

For example, if you sell bicycles you are in the recreation, transportation, and exercise business. For example, because people who buy bicycles for exercise could also buy a treadmill or join a health club, stores that sell treadmills and health clubs are part of your competition, not just other bicycle shops.

2. Learn more about your competition than they know about you.

Knowledge is power, what you don’t know CAN hurt you. Spend time to research your competition and conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threat) analysis on them. Think about business as a chess match, where strategy and knowing your opponent can give you the advantages to win.

3. Understand customer needs.

These extend beyond the need for your product or service. The right hours, locations, and services like assembly, delivery, and training can set you apart from the competition and get you the sale. Customer surveys can reveal unfilled customer needs you can meet to retain and grow your customer base.

4. Treat employees as assets.

They ARE your business, your customers may never meet you, but they will have to interact with your employees. Make sure that your employees are invested in the future success of the business, and that working for you is more than just a ‘job.’ Don’t be concerned that this necessarily means higher wages – flexibility, recognition, and respect are highly valued by employees.

5. Develop time management skills.

As an entrepreneur, you have to be involved in all aspects of your business. Being efficient makes it easier to balance those business needs and your home life. Don’t be afraid to delegate – you don’t need to do everything yourself.

6. Get the details right!

Wrong information, poor spelling, too many apologies for mistakes will create the wrong image for your business – do it right the first time. Make sure that your employees are trained for the tasks they may face.

7. Network, network, network.

Everybody either is or knows, a potential customer, supplier, investor, or supporter. Join and become active in business, community, and trade organizations.

8. Focus on the bottom line.

If you’re not focused on profit, you have a hobby instead of a business. Remember, you are in business to make as much money as you can so you can provide a livelihood for yourself and your employees, and by giving back, support your community.

9. Get “wired.”

Use technology to make your business faster, more efficient, and easier for customers and potential customers to access. Keep up to date on the latest automation, apps, software, and other technology that can be used.

10. Stay in the spotlight.

Use advertising, social media, and public relations to keep your business in the mind of customers, potential customers, investors, and supporters. Remember to give back to your community as well, which will keep you “in the public eye.”

11. Improve your security.

Improve physical security in your business to protect yourself, employees, and customers. Improve your data security: backup data often, change passwords for 2022, lock up critical files and records. Employ cybersecurity training for yourself and employees and cybersecurity software and tools.

12. Take time for yourself and others.

To paraphrase Ben Franklin, “Work to live, don’t live to work.” Don’t be a ‘workaholic.’ Make sure you have time for yourself, family, friends, and for making a difference in your community.

The key to resolutions having value is your willingness and ability to implement them. I suggest that you add any ideas you have to the above list and then pick the ones you feel are important and can be implemented. It would be better to pick three and follow through with them than to pick ten and not accomplish any of them.

Your specific resolutions and the number of them you have are a personal choice. But let it BE a choice. Don’t operate status quo and leave the success of your business in 2022 to fate!

Shop Local, Shop Small for 12th Annual Small Business Saturday

J Malcom RichardsBy J. Malcolm Richards, District Director, U.S. Small Business Administration North Florida District

Approximate Word Count: 442

As the Agency whose primary mission is to support our nation’s entrepreneurs, we at the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) celebrate small businesses daily.  When our small businesses thrive, our communities thrive. As part of our annual tradition, we are asking you to join millions of Americans and shop small on Small Business Saturday, November 27th, to complete your holiday shopping.

Small businesses represent the dynamic markets of the United States, encompassing everyone from your family-owned small restaurant to your neighborhood’s recently opened specialty boutique or traditional manufacturer. Shopping small allows your community to support your local small businesses that are adding jobs and diversity to your neighborhood’s main street 365 days a year.  While you are supporting your local small businesses for Small Business Saturday, dine small, too – visit your local eateries and independent restaurants.

As the North Florida District Director, I’ve seen the impact small businesses make on our economy and our diverse community. For example, Dennis Chan, Owner of Blue Bamboo Canton and Bar has worked with the SBA and our resource partners for many years to grow his business. Mr. Chan currently has over 30-employees and has been able to expand his operations into a bigger space.  Our office stands ready to help you access the SBA programs and services, so please reach out via phone (904) 443-1900 or email NorthFlorida_DO@sba.gov.

When we shop and dine small, we’re contributing to and saluting our unique local small businesses, raising their small business potential. This is crucial especially as we recover from the pandemic.  Small businesses are the engine of our economy, creating two out of every three net new private-sector jobs. Small Business Saturday, now in its 12th year, significantly empowers our small business owners. Last year, shoppers came together to support their local communities by spending a record high of over $19 billion.

 

I know I’ll be shopping and dining small with my friends and family on Saturday, November 27th, so gather your neighbors and colleagues to SHOP SMALL on Small Business Saturday.

And while you’re at it, take part in Small Business Saturday on social media using the hashtag #Shopsmall to amplify your support for America’s small businesses, the backbone of the U.S. economy.  Be sure to follow us on your shopping day @SBA_NorthFL.

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