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Use Your Down Time to Get Ready for 2013

December 20th, 2012 ::

By Maria Valdez Haubrich

As the year winds down, some small business owners find they’re busier than ever (I’m talking to you, retailers and e-tailers). However, for other small business owners, this time of year is a welcome break from the go-go-go of the rest of the year. If you find yourself with spare time on your hands as clients and employees take time off, how can you make the most of the down time to get your business ready for an even better 2013? Here are some ideas.

Get organized. Take this time to get your files (digital and paper) in order, update your time management system, get rid of unnecessary items and generally get a grip on anything that’s out of order in your business. You’ll feel ready to take on the world when you’re organized.

Make a plan. Whether you set aside a day for your entire staff to pow-wow, or just take a day off to yourself, spend some time thinking strategically about what you want your business to achieve in the New Year and how you’ll get there. Let yourself dream big—then create a plan to make it happen.

Learn something new. Maybe there’s a software program you never quite got the hang of or a skill you’d like to get more comfortable with, like public speaking. You may not have time to master it before your business gets busy again, but sign up for a class or take an online course so you’re committed to learning the skill. Your business will be better for it.

Update your technology. Year-end bargains are to be had for all kinds of technology right now. Whether you’ve been contemplating a new smartphone or tablets for your sales staff, now is the time to take advantage of the deals available. Make sure that what you purchase will integrate with your existing systems, and work with your IT person to update software as well.

Do what you’ve been putting off. Maybe that’s writing a disaster plan or succession plan for your business, updating your business insurance or some other task that sounds unpleasant and boring. Take a first step toward accomplishing that task (call the insurance agent, for example) and you’ll find it’s a lot easier to finish the rest of it.

Take a break. It may be hard to let go of your business, but sometimes you need time off to truly recharge. This time of year, it’s easier than most to find a day, a weekend or even a whole week when you can delegate to someone else and disconnect from your business. You’ll be surprised how it re-energizes you.

Image by Flickr user dscblogphotos (Creative Commons)

Economy: Thumbs Down; Entrepreneurs: Thumbs Up

October 3rd, 2012 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

“I can’t get no satisfaction,” Mick Jagger wailed in one of The Rolling Stones’ biggest hits. Maybe Jagger should try owning a small business. The results of a recent Gallup poll found that despite economic challenges, U.S. small business owners are thoroughly satisfied with their businesses.

The percentage of small business owners saying they are extremely (17 percent) or very (38 percent) satisfied with being a small business owner—a 12 percent jump compared to the third quarter of 2010. Another 29 percent of owners are somewhat satisfied—meaning that overall, a whopping 84 percent are satisfied. In comparison, just 16 percent of small business owners say they are not too (10 percent) or not at all (6 percent) satisfied with their businesses.

Since you could expect satisfaction to relate to a small business’s success, Gallup also asked the entrepreneurs how successful they believed their businesses were. Thirty-nine percent report feeling extremely or very successful, and more than half (51 percent) say they feel “somewhat” successful. That means 90 percent of small business owners think they’re successful to some degree.

Interestingly, in separate Gallup polls, small business owners have been expressing growing pessimism about the economy in general. This quarter’s Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index showed small-business owners’ overall optimism had declined; Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index dropped too; and another Gallup poll found limited capital spending plans among small business owners.

Given these attitudes, why are entrepreneurs feeling so positive about their businesses? There are a couple reasons I can think of. First, small business owners are natural optimists—we wouldn’t start businesses otherwise. And even when we think the economy is in trouble and the government isn’t much help, we’re confident in our own abilities to get through the tough times.

Second, this attitude isn’t just braggadocio—it’s reality. We have gotten through tough times, and four years after the Great Recession hit, any small business owners who’s survived and thrived has a right to feel extremely proud of what he or she has accomplished.

However, there’s still a lot of ground to gain back. In 2007 (before the recession began), 47 percent of small business owners Gallup polled felt their businesses were extremely or very successful, compared to 39 percent today. But like the small businesses in Gallup’s survey, I’m confident that no matter what the coming months (and the presidential election) bring, America’s small business owners will stay positive about their futures.

Image by Flickr user openpad (Creative Commons)

New Kinds of Shared Office Space

July 28th, 2010 ::

As someone who has had office space in all shapes and sizes there are a few things I have learned over the years:

  • Stay flexible because you can grow out the space (that is a good thing)
  • Don’t get space based on filling it at some point in the future (not a good thing)
  • Having a fussball tables does not mean your company is hip and cool (you decide)

In the past I have been in five year leases which are great if you are an established company that understands its needs. But if you are a new company or a rapidly growing company, staying nimble is essential to growing your business. For years the concept of the “Executive Suite” was a shared office space that you paid for to get a receptionist, a conference room and a professional presence to meet with clients. It is expensive and for many small businesses that are virtual, mobile and cost conscious, not an option. Those who know me know that I am a big fan of coworking. Coworking is were people pay a membership based on usage from walk-ins to full time tenants. It creates a very flexible and collaborative space but can be noisy or problematic if you have security needs (document storage, locking an office).

One other concept in between has been the office incubator that is for new companies to grow and hopefully graduate a program to go into a regular office space. While that may work for tech companies, many other business models, like retail have been at a disadvantage.

Recently, I came across this article in Entrepreneur magazine on this company called POOL Together that is a combination of a marketplace and business incubator. Here is an excerpt on the concept:

Brad Weinstock got the inspiration for POOL Together–a combination marketplace/small-business incubator–from other popular public markets and shared workspaces such as the Embarcadero in San Francisco, the Brewery in Los Angeles, and Pike Place Market in Seattle.

At its core, POOL Together is a business incubator. It offers local entrepreneurs affordable leases in a shared commercial space, and its owners provide assistance with business planning, marketing, space customization and cross-pollination as part of a comprehensive lease agreement.

You should start to see similar things like this in a city near you and if you haven’t this might be a whole new way to expanding your business. By owning the space and creating a community of small businesses around you.

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Sweat Equity and Broke

June 30th, 2010 ::

Over the last 10 years as an entrepreneur I have taken many risks and some have panned out and well others…let’s just say that I should have looked before I leaped. Then again, that is one of the truest traits of an entrepreneur, taking risk and making something from nothing.

Recently, I was reading an article called “The Sweat Equity Myth” by George Cloutier, Founder of American Management Systems. In his article he talks about the concept of “sweat equity”:

“The idea that business owners shouldn’t pay themselves a salary while they’re building a business. I call it working for nothing and being a fool.”

I couldn’t agree more with him, because I have done it and it was one of the worst things I ever did. When I started my first business, things were great and we had tons of clients. Sure it was the dotcom boom but we thought it was a whole new world. So when the sky fell and the bubble burst, many clients went out of business so we had to tighten the belt. Instead of swallowing my pride and lay people off I sacrificed my own salary and cut it in half as a message of solidarity, or so I rationalized to myself.

He goes on to mention something that I should have noticed early on, but didn’t:

“The inability to pay yourself is symptomatic of a much deeper financial problem; it’s should serve as a red flag that your business is not working. Lack of sales or quality control, bloated overhead and other financial woes are the real reasons you’re not making a salary.”

When 9/11 happened the clients we did have froze their contracts and put any new business in pipeline on hold for six months or more. My business, like many others, had a “deer in the headlights” look and many collapsed quickly. We did have some cash reserves so we had to make a decision, go on and try our luck or shut almost everything down to fight another day. We chose the later but paying everyone’s severance left me with nothing and extra debt to boot.

Over time, I did recover from that but in another business made the same mistake thinking that it was noble of me to sacrifice my sweat for equity I already had in the first place. Bottom line: Pay yourself first.

I would like to expand on that by including George’s tip to avoid this easy entrepreneurial trap:

  • Always work to make a good salary. Then cover the expenses. Not the other way around.
  • Reward yourself (but within reason). Here’s a rough formula: Pay yourself 3 to 4 cents on each dollar of revenue for doing the job of CEO.
  • Imagine you weren’t in the picture. Ask yourself how much you’d pay a general manager to run your business if you had to go away. That’s the least you should be paying yourself.
  • Remember your priorities. Don’t lose sight of why you’re running a business in the first place–to improve your quality of life.
  • Spread pay cuts around. Take a 5 percent cut along with the rest of your staff, but don’t put a 30 percent pay cut on your own back.
  • Ask yourself this question: If your business doesn’t allow you to pay yourself a living wage, what are you doing wrong?
  • Remember: There are no rich martyrs.

So what will you decide when this moment occurs in your entrepreneurial journey?

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Avoiding Critical Business Mistakes That Lead to Failure

June 24th, 2010 ::

FAILURE is the word that every entrepreneur must face head on if they are to succeed. There are two sayings that always stick with me when I speak about failure to fellow entrepreneurs:

  1. If you haven’t failed at all, then you really aren’t trying hard enough
  2. Failure is part of the process, just learn from it and don’t do it again

Now there are two types of failure – small mistakes that you learn from, move on and don’t make anymore; and critical mistakes that can be catastrophic leading to going out of business.

Recently, I came across this great article on “Eight Mistakes that Devastate Business Owners” and it really resonated with me. In the article they list eight mistakes:

  1. Keep your retirement savings intact.
  2. Avoid the lure of sole proprietorship.
  3. Read the fine print.
  4. Get insured.
  5. Get an employment contract.
  6. Protect your innovations.
  7. Don’t promise what you can’t promise.
  8. Check the books.

I know this list might seem obvious but if you are new to starting a business, think about this list for a minute. When you are in the middle of something you forget about these things or think “it will never happen to me”. All I can say is that from this list, over the 10 years I have been in business I have had three things come to bite me in the butt and while they were recoverable, if they were any bigger it would have destroyed my business and in some cases left me personally bankrupt.

They are all equally important and you should read the full article to get some great examples of when people don’t do these things. I guarantee you will be bringing these issues up at your next partner/board meeting.

5 Reasons Owning a Business in a Down Economy Absolutely Makes Sense

June 3rd, 2010 ::

There’s a certain sense that during a recession, running your own business may not be a good deal. When things aren’t great, the idea is that you want a job where someone else has the responsibility of paying you. But that’s not necessarily a more secure way to ride out a down economy — a business can be a much better bet.

  1. You can’t be fired. When a big business isn’t doing so well, one of the key methods to cutting cots is laying off some personnel. But if you’re running your own business, you can’t be fired. You can choose to take a pay cut, of course, or fire an employee (if you’ve hired any), but short of closing or selling the business, you’re guaranteed a job. There’s no employer who can offer similar security.
  2. You can choose where to make the cuts. In a business where budget cuts are made above your pay grade, the decision maker may not know enough of what’s going on in the day-to-day operations to make the right budget cuts. If it’s your business, though, you can make sure that the expenses that actually directly help you bring in money aren’t eliminated. More often than not, a big business will make cuts across the board, which isn’t actually practical when you consider some expenses are more important than others.
  3. Your personal expenses can be more manageable. When you’re the boss, you decide the dress code, determine whether you can work from home and make other choices that can reduce your personal bottom line. You can save both you and your business money. If you want to use a home office to save expenses (like transportation costs), you have that option without having to convince an employer or manager.
  4. You can implement money-saving decisions faster. Found a better way of doing things? You can roll out a new system faster when you’re in charge of the business than when you need to get the office bureaucracy to agree with you. That can mean switching to a new vendor or ending a lease. That makes an owner-driven business more agile — which is absolutely necessary when the economy isn’t so hot.
  5. You have more room to negotiate. If you’re expected to meet the needs of an employer, you can’t necessarily make agreements that can get you the lowest possible price now, such as by negotiating a longer contract. Companies with many employees typically have policies in place that are harder to change and all employees are expected to follow, whether or not those decisions make the company less able to adapt.

Of course, all of this comes down to owning the right business. Selling real estate may not actually be a good bet, as far as running your own business goes. And you’ll have to work hard to enjoy security as an entrepreneur. But you can have a more stable business during a down economy than you might think.

Image by Flickr user Coyotejack

Convincing Your Family of the Wisdom of Running Your Own Business

June 2nd, 2010 ::

When I told my family that I was starting my own business, there were some dire predictions. I think one of the nicest was the suggestion that I stock up on ramen ahead of time, just in case. And this was from a family where only one of my relatives — an aunt — was working for an employer. My family is all entrepreneurs.

Getting the Family on Your Side

While you don’t necessarily need your family’s support to start a business, it’s nice to have them on your side. It took me more than two years to convince my family that I probably wouldn’t starve without an employer. It didn’t matter how much I was earning each month (although plenty of relatives would ask, suggesting that I should never count on getting such a good month again).

Despite my family’s feelings about the likelihood of my success, they were generally supportive. My dad sat me down and gave me the benefit of his many years in business, as did my grandfather. I got a few connections for clients — although I’m still not sure if most of my family actually understands what I do, aside from banging on a computer keyboard all day. I even got some hand-me-down furniture. All in all, my family did their best to make sure that my business was a success.

Getting family on your side is a very different matter, though, depending on the family you belong to. With my family, it was a matter of discussing the pros and cons, being willing to consider potential problems and generally showing that I wasn’t a starry-eyed idealist. In other families, though, showing your passion may be a necessity for winning them over.

Convincing Your Family You’ve Succeeded

There will always be a few relatives who don’t think that my successes so far actually mean that I have a thriving business. I’ve come to the conclusion that their opinions are lost causes. But I’ve slowly shown my family that I am doing well. For some, that was landing a name-brand client. For others, it was seeing my name in print in a big name publication.

But the big difference seemed to be the fact that I’ve just kept on working, pushing through — the longer the I’ve stuck with the business, the more that folks have taken me seriously as a business owner. Sticking with it has convinced them that I’ve made the right choice, at least for me.

If you commit yourself to your business, more often than not, other people will come to understand that you’re in things for the long haul. It’s not a sure bet — there are always some people who are bent on being negative. But as you achieve milestones, you’ll find that folks will realize the importance of your business to you. They’ll come to see your business as the right choice for you.

Image by Flickr user knmurphy

Women in Business: Striking a Balance Between Entrepreneurship and Motherhood

May 19th, 2010 ::

If you’re lucky, every once in a while you meet someone who totally changes your life.  Staci LaRue is just one of those people.  As a holistic nutritionist and personal trainer who specializes in Pilates, Staci helps lots of people change by helping them live healthier, more balanced, and less stressed lives.  She changed mine in a big way after a consultation this past winter.  After 17½ years of being a vegetarian, I did a 180˚: I started eating meat and stopped eating soy and wheat (not as hard as I thought it would be!).  Because LaRue Wellness is such a niche business, and because Staci manages to balance the demands of running a new business with being a wife and mom to a toddler, I wanted to share her story with you.


Staci LaRue

Staci LaRue

As 2009 was coming to an end I realized that as much as I was enjoying motherhood, I also enjoyed my career as a fitness and nutrition professional.  My former office space only allowed me to hold nutrition appointments, and I really wanted to add the personal training component back to my client programs.  I needed to expand, and the only way it made sense financially was to do it on my own.  LaRue Wellness unofficially launched in January 2010, but thanks to Mother Nature’s snow generosity things didn’t really get going until February.  

I like being in control of my client relationships, scheduling, and having everything I want and need in my space to create the perfect atmosphere for wellness.  As great as being your own boss is, it also adds some extra pressure and schedule demands, even more so for a one woman operation like mine.  It is always a challenge to find time for client emails, accounting duties and maintenance, along with all the requirements of mommy hood.  It’s a hard balance but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I love the challenge and being my own boss keeps me busy and I think makes me a better mom and role model.  

Spreading the Word

Thus far I have done a little social networking on Facebook, but the rest has been word of mouth. I have been blessed with some great clients who have helped me spread the word about my new business.

Growing and Changing

My goal is to maintain the balance of being a mom and wife while continuing to help my clients become and stay healthy.  In the immediate future, I would like do more corporate and group wellness programs.  So far I have only had one corporate client for a 5 week weight loss workshop, which was a success.  I have also hired an evening trainer who can utilize my facility while I am home being mom, which will help LaRue Wellness grow.

Advice for the New Business Owner

Set realistic goals, make time for your home/personal life, and don’t forget to pack a lunch!

As told to Monika Jansen via email

Do You Have the Entrepreneurial Mindset?

May 3rd, 2010 ::

My people want to become entrepreneurs and some even feel that they are hard wired for it. In a recent post on the blog “What’s Next Gen Y”, Carol Roth wrote a post on the entrepreneurial mindset. She poses some interesting questions and makes you ask yourself why do you want to start in the first place?

Many will say “to make more money” or “to have more freedom” but in the end it is about seeing a customer need, wanting to fill it and believing that you are the person to fill that need and build a company to serve that need.

Here is a excerpt:

“Unfortunately, most of the reasons that people start businesses are myths based on a gross misunderstanding of what it means or what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

So, what are some good reasons to start your own business?

There’s a customer need! We have more products and services available to us than we would ever want or need, which makes today’s entrepreneurial landscape very different than it was just 50 years ago. If there is a gap in the market that customers are desperate for a solution to and willing to pay for, that’s a darn good reason to start a business. Remember, Ray Kroc didn’t start McDonald’s because he was bored or unfulfilled; he did so to meet a customer need!”

You can find the rest of the post at http://www.whatsnextgeny.com/good-and-bad-reasons-to-start-a-business/

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The Entrepreneurial Mindset — Good and Bad Reasons to Start a Business

April 21st, 2010 ::

by Carol Roth

She made a lemonade stand and even though we told her no one would be buying lemonade in November she managed to make $6 in less than an hour on a dead end street. Donald Trump would be proud.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/booleansplit/ / CC BY 2.0

You may wake up one day with an amazing idea for a new business. As the days go by and you realize that you are smarter than your boss, that your co-workers smell like bologna sandwiches and that your desk has gum underneath it circa 1972, you may actually really think about pursuing it.

If you read a magazine or talk to your friends and family members, you may hear some of the hype on entrepreneurship (nobody likes to tell you the dirty little secrets) and you may start to believe one of more of the following:

  • Your idea will get you rich;
  • Your idea will get you rich quickly;
  • You can escape the corporate grind;
  • You can be your own boss and have the freedom to do what you want, when you want;
  • You can work shorter hours and have more free time for your hobbies, families and other passions;
  • You can do more of what you love to do; and/or
  • You will “do it better”

Unfortunately, most of the reasons that people start businesses are myths based on a gross misunderstanding of what it means or what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

So, what are some good reasons to start your own business?

There’s a customer need! We have more products and services available to us than we would ever want or need, which makes today’s entrepreneurial landscape very different than it was just 50 years ago. If there is a gap in the market that customers are desperate for a solution to and willing to pay for, that’s a darn good reason to start a business. Remember, Ray Kroc didn’t start McDonald’s because he was bored or unfulfilled; he did so to meet a customer need!

You are THE person to meet that need. Having a customer need is great, but why the heck are you qualified to meet those needs for your customers? Maybe you have unparalleled industry experience, knowledge and/or contacts that make you the ultimate candidate to make a difference in this market? If so, bingo – you are on the right track! If you don’t have anything to bring to the table, go get something before showing up for dinner, if you catch my drift.

You want to RUN A BUSINESS. Everyone thinks that if you love to do something, you will get to do more of it when you run a business. Wrong-o. When you run a business, you have to do and oversee so many functions, from marketing to accounting to employees to customer service and more, you actually spend less time doing whatever it is you enjoy doing. Your job as an entrepreneur is not to do one thing, it is to run a business. So, if you love to wear multiple hats and are jazzed by the idea of managing all aspects of a business, plus you think that is a good fit for your skills and experience, you are headed in the right direction.

And finally…Is it worth it? Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should, that you will be successful, or that it is the best choice for you given your goals, circumstances and opportunities. You have to look at the rewards of your opportunity and see if they justify the risks – and I am talking both financial and qualitative risks and rewards here. Far too many people trade their salary and risk their savings for an opportunity where they are making the same or less money, working more hours and have more stress. In the game show world, they call that trade a “zonk”. Don’t get zonked – make sure that the risk/reward tradeoff makes sense for you and that you have the opportunity to significantly improve upon your current situation or do better than other situations that could be available to you.

Carol Roth helps businesses grow and make more money. An investment banker, business strategist and deal maker, she has helped her clients, ranging from solopreneurs to multinational corporations, raise more than $1 billion in capital, complete hundreds of millions of dollars in M&A transactions, secure high-profile licensing and partnership deals and more. Carol is a frequent media contributor on the topics of business and entrepreneurship, including as recurring/featured guest on Pittsburgh Business Radio’s Women Mean Business show. She blogs about issues affecting entrepreneurs and their businesses from her Unsolicited Business Advice blog and is the author of The Entrepreneur Equation, a book about evaluating the realities, risks and rewards of business ownership, coming out late this year. She holds a BS degree from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.