A Christmas Carol, or not…

Image of open laptop with new blog post typed on screenAs noted in my previous blog, Santa and the Elves, at the request of a number of long-time readers, I am bringing back updated versions of two of my Christmas fables for December. In this blog, business owner Dale Wright is visited by the spirits of Business Past, Business Present, and Business Future and learns some valuable lessons. Apologies to Charles Dickens…

Business owner Dale Wright awoke from a troubled sleep to see what appeared to be his former CPA standing over him. But Michelle Lerner was a ghostly apparition, he could see right through her! Sitting up in bed, he cried out “Who are you?  What do you want?”  “Don’t be an idiot Dale, didn’t you ever read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens,” replied the apparition? “Of course,” said Dale, “and I’ve seen several movie versions. But what do Scrooge and Marley in 1843 have to do with you?”

“I,” uttered the apparition, “am part of version 2.0, the updated story adapted to your business. I came here tonight to save your bottom line, which you have squandered away after my untimely death at the age of 93. Clearly, in the 32 years I was your CPA you did not learn how to project cash flow or write a business plan! And look where your complacency has gotten you…” Dale considered this. It was true. Since Michelle had passed away three years ago he did without a CPA, using software to file his tax returns, while ignoring all the management reports that could be printed. He was running his business by the seat of his pants, or to be more correct, it was running him… around in circles!

Continue reading here.

Speaking of Business Blog by Dr. Philip R. Geist, Area Director, Florida SBDC at UNF

Santa and the Elves

No, it’s not a new rock group. Santa and the Elves are successful entrepreneurs who employ good management practices to have an effective business model. Let’s take a closer look at some of those practices:

Branding, Public Relations, and Co-Branding: Santa and the Elves have established a world-recognized brand, promoted it to families with children and to the world in general in multiple forms of media. Those include verbal stories, songs, print and motion media, and even in dreams along with sugar-plum fairies. They have co-branded products from Coca-Cola to shampoos in order to achieve greater brand acceptance. A quick scan of product announcements will show that Santa is as popular as ever. Unless you brand your business and promote the brand, you will not stand out in the consumer’s mind.

Business Continuity: As Santa and the Elves must make their deliveries on a specific day and time, regardless of weather, they have developed a business continuity plan. By investing in a Reindeer with the latest in technology, the Nose-So-Bright option, Santa has ensured that even in fog he will be able to navigate the world and make on-time deliveries. If you identify the critical functions in your business and develop an alternative or can mitigate their impact, your business will be able to function as planned when it would otherwise be impeded.

Customer Relations: Santa and the Elves have created multiple pathways for boys and girls though out the world to contact them. They employ written mail addressed to “Santa, North Pole” via e-mail, by texting, contact via multiple Facebook and other social media sites set up regionally and in large cities, in-person with local representatives in branded outfits, and wirelessly by plain old-fashioned prayers. Unless customers and potential customers can easily reach your business by the contact of their choice, they will not be able to ask questions, share ideas and place orders.

Continue reading here.

 

Speaking of Business Blog by Dr. Philip R. Geist, Area Director, Florida SBDC at UNF

 

More than the cheese is moving…

wedge of cheeseHericlitus of Ephesus (circa 535BC – 475BC) was a Greek philosopher who is credited with creating and documenting the phrase, “Change is the only constant in life.” In the Handbook of Organizational Change and Innovation, edited by Marshal Scott Poole and Andrew Van de Ven [2004 Oxford University Press; ISBN 0-19-513500-8], a number of scholars examine how organizations react to change. A number of contributors discuss how businesses that have a perspective of strategic planning that includes adaptation and champions change are more likely to be sustainable.

Change, whether natural, man-made, or coming about a result of social changes and perspectives will always affect business. The increasingly violent weather and natural events, from hurricanes and floods, to earthquakes and volcanos, both causes tragedies and opportunities for businesses. Businesses in affected areas that did not at a minimum have a continuity plan will suffer, while those that did or were fortified have the opportunity to return to the market faster.  Each disaster event will spawn new business opportunities to provide a product or service to customers that will mitigate or prevent future damage. Continue reading here.

 

Speaking of Business Blog by Dr. Philip R. Geist, Area Director, Florida SBDC at UNF

Cybersecurity: The Dark Side of Technology

shield protecting mobile phoneWith October being Cybersecurity month we have a few tips to share from our SBRN Member BoxMeta:

Email & Web Security

  • NEVER enter your password if prompted by a link from email or a redirected website, regardless of the sender.  91% of cyberattacks start with phishing.
  • Don’t trust emails from well-known brands such as Microsoft, Adobe, Google, DocuSign, Facebook, LinkedIn, Delta, Amazon, FedEx, etc.  They are likely fake.
  • NEVER accept Facebook or LinkedIn invitations from email links or accept shared documents unless you are expecting or verbally verified.
  • Use business class email, such as Office 365 or Google Business.
  • Enable Private browsing.
  • Don’t use your business email account for personal communication.
  • Keep 2 or more separate personal email accounts to isolate important email.

Mobile Security

  • Beware of Public Wi-Fi.  Wi-Fi networks are very easy for hackers to duplicate
  • Use cellular service if on a mobile device. Use your mobile device as a hotspot for your laptop.

Protect your Bank and Credit Cards

  • Avoid using Debit Cards unless absolutely necessary.  Use Credit Cards.
  • Shield the pin pad when entering your pin code (could be a micro camera).
  • Beware of Skimmers & Shimmers.
  • Use 2 Factor authentication for your bank, financial sites and email. A compromised email account can be used as vehicle to reset passwords to your financial sites.
  • Establish an isolated checking account for electronic bank transactions (PayPal, automatic withdrawals, etc.).

Mobile Security (Mobile phones, tablets & laptops)

  • Apple iOS is more secure than Android but use the same amount of caution.
  • Encrypt laptops (I recommend this be done by a professional).
  • Use webmail instead of an email program on your laptop or tablet.  Don’t select ‘remember password’.

Data Security Best Practices

  • Password Management
  • Have any of your accounts potentially been compromised as part of a vendor data breach? https://haveibeenpwned.com/.
  • Never connect an unknown USB device into your computer or network.

Business Network Security

  • Business Class Firewall
  • Monitors unusual traffic on the network.
  • Isolate Guest/Internal Wi-Fi.
  • Require a VPN/Gateway to bypass the firewall for any remote connections.
  • Intrusion Detection/Protection.  Proactive monitoring of malicious activity on the network.

Antivirus, Antimalware, Security & Software Updates/Patches.

  • Implement an internal system for automated management and monitoring of these processes.
  • Hire an outsourced IT provider to centrally monitor & manage your systems maintenance.
  • Remove access for staff to authorize or process software updates and patches. If not outsourced, assign a single person internally to approve and process software updates.

Password & Security Policies

  • Enforce Complex passwords on all systems. Complexity is more important than frequent changes.
  • Password management programs are also subject to breaches. Exclude the most sensitive and valuable passwords.
  • Create phrases instead of passwords for greater complexity.
  • Implement a BYOD policy for managing password policy and remote wipe of personal mobile devices that contain company data.
  • Use webmail on laptops instead of Outlook. Don’t select ‘remember password’.

Network Access & Controls

  • Procedure for disabling of systems and network access for terminated users.
  • Remove user admin rights from workstations.
  • Limit data, software & application access only on an as needed basis.
  • Block data transfer on USB ports.
  • Physical Security – Maintain access controls& especially vendors or guests who are unattended or after hours.

Business Continuity & Backups

  • Not all backups are appropriate: Consider
    • The type of data you are backing up (different requirements for QuickBooks, sql, etc.)
    • How long will it take to recover? Is that acceptable?
    • Where will I put it when it’s recovered?
    • Allowable downtime for each business process and application.
    • Recovery & Retention of emails that are deleted & purged, either by a rogue employee or inadvertently.

The Quadrants of Time

alarm clockOMG! Has it really been a month and a half since I posted my last blog? How did that happen? Where did the time go? Could it have fallen into a “black hole?” Somehow I had lost track of time (a cardinal sin for someone of German descent). As penance, I will focus this blog on a discussion of time and time management.

John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008) was a native of Jacksonville, Florida, an eminent theoretical physicist who collaborated with Albert Einstein, and interestingly the originator of the words “black hole” and “wormhole.” In his studies of space-time continuum, he mused, “Time is what prevents everything from happening at once.” I will propose adding a corollary to that phrase, “Lost time is what prevents anything from happening at all.”

Small business owners have many demands on their time; they usually fill the CEO (Chief Executive Office) role of planning strategy for their company, which is not an easy task in an uncertain economy. They also wear the COO (Chief Operating Officer) role of overseeing day-to-day operations. There are also the roles of Chief Financial Officer, Chief Information Officer, and they usually administer the functions of human resources, advertising and marketing as well. Then there are the needs to be a worker or perhaps the delivery driver if an employee is absent.  Continue reading here.

Speaking of Business Blog by Dr. Philip R. Geist, Area Director, Florida SBDC at UNF

 

Use Your Head to Serve from the Heart

Headshot of Mindy Barker in suit with arms foldedMindy Barker CEO of Mindy Barker & Associates is just one of our featured speakers at our 8th Annual Nonprofit Conference on Friday, October 5, 2018. She will be speaking on financial sustainability for nonprofits.  Here’s a summary of how she will be helping nonprofits at our event: 

In an environmental context, “sustainability” generally means finding a way to use resources in a manner that prevents their depletion. For charitable nonprofits, the phrase “sustainability” is commonly used to describe a nonprofit that is able to sustain itself over the long term, perpetuating its ability to fulfill its mission. Sustainability in the nonprofit context includes the concepts of financial sustainability, as well as leadership succession planning, adaptability, and strategic planning.

In order for a nonprofit to be sustainable, the nonprofit’s leaders need to know how much it costs to deliver the nonprofit’s programs and services, so that the nonprofit can raise enough money to cover those costs. When a nonprofit is always catching up, but never has enough resources to cover its costs AND invest in its own infrastructure

This session will help nonprofits gain insight into the techniques they can use to get a handle on financial activities within their organization to help raise more money. By adapting processes and infrastructure appropriate to the size of the organization, you can effectively manage financial information.  

Mindy Barker is the CEO of Mindy Barker & Associates. In this role, she works with not for profits and business owners to empower them with tools and financial information to improve company value, profitability and cash flow. Prior to founding Mindy Barker & Associates, Mindy was the chief financial officer for OptaComp, a workers compensation company and subsidiary of Florida Blue. She also served as controller of Kemper Services Group and was principal and chief financial officer of Chartwell Capital, a private equity firm. Mindy’s diverse background also includes management positions in the industries of property and casualty insurance, distribution and manufacturing and consulting. Mindy began her career in public accounting with Price Waterhouse Coopers and Ernst and Young.  Mindy holds a Bachelors of Arts degree in Accounting from Converse College and is a certified public accountant in Florida and North Carolina. She is a member of the American Institute of CPAs, the Association of Corporate Growth, Women Business Owners and the Jacksonville Women’s Network. She also serves on the board of directors of the Children’s Home Society.  Click here to learn more and to register for the conference.

 

3 Ways to Kill the Value of your Business

Many business owners are so focused on running their business and putting out daily fires, they often don’t consider the long term ramifications of a few small decisions. What might seem like a quick fix today, could end up destroying the value of your business!

As we review small businesses (under $10M sales) to sell, here are 3 of the most common ways that business owners have devalued their business.

1. Not reporting cash.
We had a bar owner that would take the cash out of the register every night. It was his “pocket” money. He didn’t see anything wrong with this. It was “his” money. Sadly, when that is not the way the IRS or buyers look it at. When all the revenues are not reported to the IRS, a buyer become suspicious of how the seller is doing their books and starts to question what else is not being reported. A buyer will often say to us, “If they are willing to lie to the IRS, I am sure they will lie to me.” Since many businesses are valued based on a multiple of profits (or sometime revenue), when both values are artificially low from cash being removed. This reduces the value of the business and can make the business unsellable at any price turning it into a liquidation of assets, sold for pennies on the dollar.
TIP: Report ALL income in the business on your P&L and tax returns. It is better to pay the 30 cents in taxes, than loose the $2.50 that the buyer would have given you!  Continue reading here.

By Kimberly A. Deas, Murphy Business & Financial Services, Exit Stage Left Trusted Advisor

 

Getting Serious About Sirius…

If your sales are slow at this time of year, you may want to blame the “Dog Days of August,” with their heat, humidity, and occasional torrential rain. As apparent temperatures (how they actually feel to our bodies) rise into the triple digits, many businesses just bide their time until milder weather arrives and sales activity picks up again. This does not have to be the case; your business can be proactive in attracting customers during this period.

The term “Dog Days” was coined by the Romans, who called these days “Caniculares Dies,” which translated to “Days of the Dogs.” Originally the days when Sirius, a star in the constellation Canis Major, literally the “greater dog” constellation, and commonly referred to as the Dog Star, rose at sunrise. The Romans sacrificed  a brown dog at the beginning of the Dog Days to appease  Sirius, believing that the star was the the cause of hot sultry weather. The ancient heliacal (sunrise) rising of Sirius would be from July 3 to August 11. With precession of the universe, those times now correspond more closely with late July to the first week in September.  Continue reading here.

Speaking of Business Blog by Dr. Philip R. Geist, Area Director, Florida SBDC at UNF

Foggy Lenses and Binoculars

Binoculars

This July in Florida has been extremely humid, with almost daily rains. When I drive someplace and get out of my car my eyeglasses almost immediately fog up. On a few occasions when I tried to look over them rather than wipe them, I have stumbled over parking buffers and once walked into a mailbox. Just as I would be safer if I cleaned them before setting out, business owners who can clearly see the environment around them will enhance their probabilities of prosperity and sustainability. Additionally, if they can see what may lie ahead, as one might with binoculars, they will be in a position to react and respond faster than their competition.

Some of the factors that might cause business owners to stumble are:  Continue reading here.

Speaking of Business Blog by Dr. Philip R. Geist, Area Director, Florida SBDC at UNF

Product is Key When Scaling Your Business

hands drawing a bar graphOne of the biggest challenges for an entrepreneur is to determine if they are growing or scaling their business. Sometimes owners aren’t fully aware of the difference but there are a few key questions you can ask yourself that will help you determine which path you are on.

  1. Am I free? Do I freely control my own time and schedule?
  2. Do I regularly work on strategy for my business instead of day-to-day activities?
  3. Am I removing myself from core systems and key processes – sales/lead generation, billing, collections, product/service delivery, etc.?

If you answered NO to any of these questions, it may be time to rethink your approach to revenue generation and how your business is managed.

Though there are a number of non-negotiable factors that must be considered when scaling a business, the products and services you offer are the foot soldiers in the effort. Not all companies, and certainly not all products and services can scale, but thinking outside the box and defining yourself by the benefits you provide, not the products and services you sell is one way to help you consider additional approaches to revenue generation that is scalable.

So what makes a product scalable? The simple answer is the cost of each incremental unit you sell should be decreasing rather than increasing or remaining constant. In accounting speak – the marginal cost to deliver each additional unit must be declining.

Some products can do this relatively easily – products and services that are delivered electronically is a simple example. Once the infrastructure and platform are built, the cost to sell one or a million units declines as the cost is spread across an increasing number of units. Think Amazon and e-books.

But if your product or service does not fall into this category, how do you make this happen? It usually requires stretching your idea of what it is that you offer.

When I had an idea for my first book, I learned that it was going to be very expensive for a small business to print, pack and ship individual books to individual readers. I also learned that as a small publisher with only one title, no traditional book store would stock an individual title.

So we started doing some brainstorming. Was I really writing a book? No – I was delivering information i.e. content, and the book was only a delivery vehicle for that content. That helped me recognize that in addition to hard copies and soft copies of the book, e-versions, e-courses, audio books, online workshops, video classes, podcasts, etc. were all viable ways to deliver the same content to different audiences through different formats and media. Each has an appeal to a slightly different audience, not based on interest in the content itself, but in the way it is presented.

This is an important point to keep in mind – the preponderance of media options now available to consumers allows them to choose which medium is most effective for them. Your customers can only take advantage of this if your product or service is delivered in that format.

How many times have you had an interest in something, only to let it go and fail to pursue it further because the only medium through which additional information and content was available was in some form that you didn’t really like? Maybe you aren’t a big reader. If the information and insight you are interested in is only available in the form of a book, newsletter, magazine or online article that you have to read, you may not have been motivated enough to invest the time to learn more.

But what if you learn that the same information is available in a podcast that you could listen to as you traveled to and from your appointments during the day? Same info, different distribution channel, and suddenly you are interested again.

Product development and product innovation are truly where scalability begins, so I challenge you to rethink what you offer your customers. Customers don’t buy things – they buy what those things do for them (entertain, educate, inspire) and/or how they make them feel. When approached from this perspective, how to continue to add to your pipeline of products and services becomes a little easier to think about.

The steps in the process are simple.

  1. Define what it is that you truly offer – comfort, security, knowledge, insight, support, simplicity, peace of mind, entertainment, beauty, order, etc.
  2. Consider all the ways you might provide this offering in different formats and from different perspectives
  3. Pick one or two and try them out.
  4. Get help working through the process if it becomes too cumbersome or if you can’t get traction because you need to know or learn more.

Here at the FSBDC at UNF, both of the previous Are You Growing or Scaling Your Business? workshops have sold out. The next will be held on August 14th from 9am to noon at our UNF office. Consider signing up if you have more questions about the concept of scaling. You can read more about it and sign up here: /register-for-workshop/?workshops_id=469.

If you would like to discuss your thoughts before that, feel free to contact me at l.t.kulka@unf.edu and we’ll schedule some time to talk.

by Linda Teza Kulka, Business Consultant, Florida SBDC at UNF

 

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