Archive for the ‘Management’ Category

You can try to grow hair… or just buy a good hair piece!

Despite all the great advances in growing hair, some people just won’t have success. They can choose to stay bald… or just get a good hairpiece (or similar ‘replacement’). The point is that your body is your body and sometimes even the best science (or art?) can’t change it. However, there are things we can do to ‘offset’ for whatever challenge that might present. People do it all the time with artificial limbs and the such in order to gain ‘normal mobility’.

So why do some small business owners try to be somebody they are not when it comes to ‘natural personality traits’. More specifically, some owners are fabulous technicians and/or fabulous sales people who do not have the capacity to become great managers (or even great leaders). So they remain ‘frustrated technicians/sales people’ feeling like they are on a treadmill never seeming to be able to get their organizations to the ‘next level’ of growth; i.e. they take 3 steps forward and 4 steps back at each attempt. One would think they’d recognize this pattern and have the insight to recognize what they need: a good ‘business manager’ to ‘mind the store’. This happens frequently in professional practices (e.g. medical offices, CPA firm, law firms and engineering/architectural firms). It happens in business services (e.g. water testing, construction) and a host of other environments.

The owners might even acknowledge this but use “I can’t afford to hire someone for that role” as the ‘justification’. Yes, it is a bit of a ‘chicken or the egg’ scenario, but that’s where planning– and courage– come in to play. In over 4 decades of having to deal with this issue for clients, I believe there are numerous ways to overcome this dilemma — without ‘betting the ranch’. If you find yourself in this situation, drop me a line and I’ll happily take a look at your situation and prescribe some possible courses of action for your SPECIFIC situation.. at NO CHARGE. I’ll also be happy to send you a FREE copy of my new book (.pdf version) or you may wish to purchase the audiobook version at iTunes (only $9.99). Set Yourself Free-How to Have a Thriving Small Business…And Enjoy It! will give you many insights into this issue and MANY others. I hope you will take a moment to read more about it. Feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at: stan@fambizdoc.com

Changing the Water in your Fish Tank

Anyone who has ever had a fish tank (especially salt water) knows how important it is and how challenging it can be to maintain the water at the proper levels to insure a healthy and happy environment for your fish. It’s so easy to develop harmful levels of pollutants (e.g. high levels of nitrates, ammonia and such) if you haven’t learned the steps necessary to test the water and how to make adjustments to create the proper balance. Worst yet, it’s so easy for harmful levels to develop simply because you don’t adhere to a prescribed maintenance schedule. I know because I am guilty of all the above. I didn’t know what I didn’t know until I lost several fish due to my neglect in learning soon enough. Hopefully, the ‘fish Gods’ will forgive me.

How about you? Do you find yourself in the same situation when it comes to running your company? Are there areas of your operation in which you are just ‘winging it’ when you should be learning more about how to properly manage it? Are there skill sets you need to develop or activities you need to engage in more proactively (e.g. proper performance evaluation; marketing) that would help move your business to the next level? If you are like most small business owners, you brought quite a number of abilities and competencies to the job, but you would probably have to admit to yourself that you lack several that are critical to unlocking the hidden potential of your business.

Why learn the hard way when there are many resources available to develop your skills and perhaps impact your view about such things. As a coach, trainer and consultant to small business owners for over four decades, I find that small business owners often can benefit from hands on guidance in a variety of areas that they take for granted but have never really received much training. Like myself with changing the water in my fish tank, they learn ‘the hard way’. Examples are: understanding and analyzing their financial statements, negotiating financing, handle employee performance issues, learning and applying Guerrilla Marketing techniques, improving production capacity and productivity, and developing their middle-management team. Sure, many do a ‘good’ job at these, but they never get to be ‘great’ at them.
For the same reasons that great golfers have a coach, many small business owners would be wise to find the right coach to help them become ‘great’ in some areas where there is untapped potential.

You can learn more about the many areas I am referring to in my new book, Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It.
I hope you will take a moment to read more about it. Feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at: stan@fambizdoc.com

Déjà vu… All Over Again?

At a recent mastermind group of small business owners that I facilitate (www.capitalfamilybusiness.com), I had a guest who posed a question to the other owners. It went something like this (hold onto your seats!): “I’m wondering if I should hire a sales person for my company?” That certainly seemed to be an innocent enough and relevant question until he said “None” to the question posed back to him: “How many sales people do you have now?” Imagine that this 3rd generation successor to a 10-person business-to-business service company (industry not mentioned for confidentiality) didn’t even regard himself as a ‘sales representative’ for his company. He said he didn’t regard himself as a
‘natural’ sales person, didn’t care for the role and that they had no other staff people in this role but ‘made it through 3 generations strictly on word-of-mouth referrals and customer retention. That sure is impressive to hear and perhaps the answer he wanted to hear was “No, you don’t need to hire a sales person.” Then again, maybe he was hoping we’d say “Sure, go hire one.” Then perhaps he could go tell his parents that he was right and that 15 other business owners agreed with him (assuming that he was using the group to give him moral support for such a position).

However, what ensued as I watched in dismay was a non-stop ‘mindset’ of denial. No matter what good advice was offered, he had a pat answer already formulated for each seemingly valid idea or question. He sounded like he had heard these same ideas once before and had thought about them (for at least 30 seconds each!) and concocted what would appear to be a valid excuse to DO NOTHING about ANYTHING he asked us about. Sadly this is often the case with some small business owners and they don’t see the pattern of their thinking/mindset.

This mindset of ‘don’t make me do anything that will take initiative, risk, change, work effort or impose ACCOUNTABILITY on me’ reminded me why I was motivated write my new book, Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It. Prior to writing the book I had struggled with trying to define exactly what it was that I have done for 45 years to help small business owners. No, it wasn’t about the operational, marketing and financial issues that full-service consultants do. Rather, the defining element of what I did was ‘changing mindsets’ of owners and managers so they could get out of their own way!

If the young man in the above example could only have recognized his resistance to change and avoiding work and its impact on his business (having lost market share), perhaps he might have been more open to what was presented to him by some savvy business owners.

So why was did I title this particular blog ‘Déjà vu all over again?’ Because I learned afterwards that this owner did the same ‘dance’ with another similar group of owners not long before this meeting. Perhaps he was ‘shopping’ for a different answer than he was getting from each group because the most obvious answer to all of us at the meeting was: “Huh! Are you serious? Of course you need a sales person.” I wish I could tell you that he was just ‘getting several opinions’. If you were there, you would conclude (as the other attendees did) that he was just being thick-headed.

Just remember, it’s all about ‘mindset’. Learn more about that in my new book: Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It.

P.S. Few acquisitions ever get done in less than 6 – 12 months from start of search…sometimes as long as 2 years!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at: stan@fambizdoc.com

Getting A Physical For Your Business

Why do many of us still get an annual physical even when we feel perfectly fine? The answer is obvious. As the New York Lotto ad says, “Hey, you never know” because sometimes the symptoms of some problems just aren’t evident. Well, the same can be said for your business!

Yet most small business owners would have to admit that the thought of doing this for their business never crossed their mind and they probably wouldn’t spend the money anyway. It’s easy to fall into the routine of your business – especially when things seem to be humming along nicely.

I have heard many potential clients say, “Hey, I’m doing just fine” when I offer to do an independent Operational Review. Sure things can appear to be ‘just honky dory’ but you never really know what untapped potential or insidious situation might exist because you are often ‘too close to the forest to see the trees’. However, this isn’t a commercial to sell a physical for your business. Rather it’s simply a reminder to get one – at least annually—and to tell you that there are many ways OTHER THAN hiring a paid consultant to do it.

Attending mastermind groups (groups of other small business owners who serve as a sounding board), being active in trade associations, having a mentor who understands your industry, getting your CPA to take a deeper look into your financials and your operations more than just a cursory chat about the P&L or balance sheet (e.g. comparing your stats to industry stats). Another way would be to step outside of your business as if you were not the owner and taking a very candid and critical look at EVERY area of your operations and asking yourself, “How could this be improved?” Even if you don’t know how, just acknowledge where the areas of potential improvement could be.

For inspiration, read Good to Great and Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins (each is available for under $6 on Amazon). Your mindset about this subject could make a huge difference in unlocking the full potential of your business as I say in my book, Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It.

I hope you will take a moment to read more about it. Feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at: stan@fambizdoc.com

Taking the Guesswork Out of Sizing Up Employee Candidates

“Getting the right people on the bus” (from Good to Great by Jim Collins) is one of the toughest jobs small business owners have. Sadly few owners are familiar with a valuable tool that helps remove much of the guess work of knowing the ‘natural personality makeup’ of candidates. Some owners think they have a knack for figuring out what type of person they are interviewing (driver, amiable… and the many labels described in the various personality profiles). While they may be close, they get ‘no cigar’ because it’s far more complex than that if you really want to make an intelligent choice among two or more qualified candidates.

The purpose of this brief blog isn’t to teach you all there is to know about ‘personality profile’ tools (manual and electronic/online) but rather to make sure you know how beneficial they can be in helping you to AVOID bad choices. Too often we (unknowingly) favor a particular candidate for purely emotional reasons and we overlook (negative) traits that are evident during the interview. Worse yet, we overlook traits that we can’t spot during the interview/assessment process. That’s a kiss of death. Even worse is NOT hiring a candidate that we incorrectly assess. For example, we might take ‘directness and a little assertiveness’ as AGGRESSIVENESS simply due to the situation or the type of question posed… or a myriad of causes. Yet the candidate was actually the right one if we understood his/her makeup more accurately.

Simply put, it takes a lot more inquiry and observation than most interviews will allow to truly figure out a candidate’s personality type. Yet, there is ample evidence that personality makeup can impact how well one will succeed in a particular role and in a particular environment. So, why do it ‘blind folded’ when there are many legally-validated tools to help nail down that one element in the selection process.

To learn more about this, you can read about some of the most common personality types and some popular profile tests in my new book (below). You can also do a web search just using ‘personality profile tests’ as the key word(s).

Some small business owners don’t want to spend the money or take the time to familiarize themselves with this concept and the tools for such. Their inaction stems from one or more factors; e.g. 1) fear of the unknown; 2) penny-wise/pound foolish cost-savings attitude; 3) skepticism about the validity of these tools and whatever!

Their mindset about this subject could make a huge difference in unlocking the full potential of their business. As I say in my book, Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It!, you must be ‘open to discovery’ and learn from experience (even if you’re certain it’s a predictable failure!) so long as you are not betting the ranch. I call it a ‘calculated risk’ – not suicide.

I hope you will take a moment to read more about it. Feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at: stan@fambizdoc.com

Cash Flow… A Cause Or A Symptom?

I wish I had more cash! My bank won’t give me the support I need. I wish I had access to more capital like the big guys have. These are just some of the complaints I hear from new clients. Yet, the solution to their problems often lies within reach. The cause of their cash flow problem is often a function of their lack of controls, reporting and being on top of their people to execute whatever controls and reporting they do have.

Would it surprise you if I said that many small businesses don’t have the right person handling their collections and that small business owners often relegate (note I did not use the word ‘delegate’) this duty when more direct involvement by the owner would have more quickly resolved the issues. Would it surprise you if I said that many owners fail to stay on top of the accounts receivable before delinquencies get out of hand?

You probably have heard that the best time to establish or increase your lending capacity (e.g. line of credit limits) is when you don’t need to. Yet I sometimes have to become a broken record in order to move some clients to take such action. It’s called ‘better safe than sorry’.

Excessive inventories are another cause of cash flow problems and I sometimes find that the person in charge of purchasing or inventory control either isn’t following or doesn’t have a good system in place to keeping inventory levels to a reasonable minimum. Sometimes they are driven by an overzealous sales manager/owner who wants to avoid ‘out of stock’ at any cost to the company.

While there are many other causes (including low profitability), I also see SBOs buying fixed assets (equipment, buildings, leasehold improvements) with cash – rather than obtaining a loan for the appropriate length of time. The reason is usually psychological but is still generally a bad move especially when getting financing is harder and takes longer than in ‘old times’ (which means less than 5 years ago!).

If you feel trapped by your cash flow situation, then you may want to learn more about it in my new book, Set Yourself Free –How to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It! because you don’t want to wait until you hit the wall on this one. The Small Business Administration says one of the leading causes of failure of small businesses is inadequate capitalization… which is impacted by your borrowing practices as well as managing accounts receivable and inventory.

I hope you will take a moment to read more about it. Feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at: stan@fambizdoc.com

Walking the Talk

Okay. I have a confession to make. I’ve been guilty of what I accuse my clients of… ‘thinking about’ but not ‘acting’ on changes I need to make. No, it’s not about my weight, but my use of social media tools. Yes, I’ve started to ‘look’ but I haven’t ‘leaped’. So after thinking about my mindset, I figured out my reluctance wasn’t for all the ‘valid’ reasons I had but more because it was like moving to another planet. I’m pretty savvy when it
comes to computers but something about this ‘social media thing’ felt different than when it came time to learn other computer tools. I think it was because I identified it with ‘the young crowd’ and felt it wasn’t something ‘an old professional guy’ should be doing. How’s that for being nuts? Well, I’m human too!

To add insult to injury, I also realized that I had to set a good example for my clients; so, I decided to follow the advice in my book (below) and change my MINDSET! I am arranging for a ‘young’ tech savvy social media guru and having her walk me, step-by-step, through the while “social media’ process (this blog is my first venture into that realm). I expect her to enable me to actually DO all the things I should/could be doing to take advantage of the technology… using ‘best practices’ to avoid missing opportunities, and wasted effort. I’m particularly interested in it more for my book than for my consulting practice because I do want to reach ‘the world’ with my book but not necessarily so for my consulting.

My main issue with social media (e.g. LinkedIn) is that I don’t want to share my contact base because every potential vendor would love to get ‘connected’ with my hard-earned contact base. I know there are some controls but I’m not 100% comfortable they will provide the level of security/control that I need and even experts have told me my concerns are not unfounded. So, I’ll proceed cautiously and limit my involvement to my book – even using a separate email account and such. I will NOT invite all my contacts to this account so as to have them ‘private’.

I’m sure that many of you can teach me more about this subject and I welcome your feedback. I hope you will take a look deep into your mindset and see what is holding you back from using the tools (whether computer related, systems changes, or people changes) to achieve your goals. We are the ones who hold the key to unlocking our potential and sometimes don’t realize it.

Wow! I feel better already. Thanks for listening :)

If you want to learn more about how to set yourself free, take a look at my new book, Set Yourself Free – How
to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It! because you do have choices.

Feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at: stan@fambizdoc.com

I don’t have time!

Yes, we’d all be millionaires if we got a dollar each time we heard this from others… or perhaps ourselves. How can one deny the reality of this when the actual workload is beyond our physical and/or mental capacity? It’s no excuse… just a ‘reaction’ to indicate that whatever else we are being asked to consider is simply not as important as what we already have on our plate.

Most times it’s a valid response, but many times it’s just a knee-jerk reaction to feeling overwhelmed. I can’t count the number of times I have offered a business owner a great opportunity to promote their business for FREE on television (15-minute spots) or attend a powerful seminar that directly addressed issues of great concern to them only to be greeted with “I don’t have time.” We all know that one. I wonder what different choices owners would make if there was a tax for not considering what was being presented before they could use that phrase. It’s almost like a person who was drowning in a rip tide saying “I’m too busy to catch that” to the person who was asking them if they could use a life jacket!

Yes, I know you’re probably saying to yourself, “Stan doesn’t really understand how many sales people and others would have me in a worse situation if I gave them my precious time.” True but what if I could give you a way to filter out such ‘wasters’ and look at ways to take advantage of those who could add value… to getting you out of the rut (rat race, rat trap, endless treadmill… call it what you want). Well then pay close attention if this interests you.

It’s called the ‘art of selective neglect.’ Some call it ‘prioritization’ but that implies that all things will still be on the table for consideration. I take it a step further and suggest that most people have stuff that wouldn’t make a difference in the world if they NEVER did it! They just haven’t thought it through closely enough. If they did, they would either NEVER do it or simply delegate it to someone else and hope for the best.

By doing this, they free themselves up to receive the ‘gifts from heaven’ to which they might have otherwise said “I don’t have time for that”.

If you want to learn more about how to set yourself free, MAKE TIME to look at my new book, Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It! because just might ‘earn’ some free time from it.

Feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at: stan@fambizdoc.com

Times Are Tough – Is hunkering down the right strategy?

I’ve been through enough business cycles in 44 years to know that we are experiencing one of those cycles but with deeper and longer lasting impact than any before my professional career. Yet, I’m of the opinion that tough times for some become opportune times for others. I’m told that fortunes were made even during the Great Depression. So with that theme in mind, let me suggest that the answer to the question, “Should you hunker down in tough times?” is: “It depends on your situation.” Sorry for using the old “It depends” response that so many advisors seem to rely on. However, let me give you more clarity and direction… and what we share with our clients.

In my experience working with over 300 small businesses in more than 80 industries, I see a consistent pattern: if you want to gain market share at the least cost, do it during lean times. What better lean time could there be than now in the past 50 years? If you are a solid company (i.e. strong financially, well-organized, strong team of workers and managers, good sales and marketing systems and staff, excess production/service capacity), then you definitely want to be developing a growth strategy that takes advantage of competitors who have decided to lay low. This doesn’t mean go wild and throw money and other resources into the wind. It simply means that you should develop a strategy, coupled clear focus and an action plan that takes advantage of the weaknesses of your competition and capitalizes on your strengths.

Next week: learn more about the specifics of how you go about this process.

Question: Is your company poised to go after market share in tough times?

I Can’t Get Good Help!

Who hasn’t felt the need to cry out that phrase? I was on the golf course last week when I was put into a group that included a young man (late 20s perhaps) who said he served in a military ‘special ops’ group for 4 years. He also said he owns two businesses and ‘loved his life’. He made it a point to let us know how he was ‘retired’ as a result of being shot in the neck and having suffered damage to his spinal system. Since his golf
score was 76 (after a rough start in the front 9) and he had the physique and ego of a ‘special ops’ guy, I figured his injury didn’t have an adverse effect on his golf handicap.

His demeanor during the round seemed to center around letting me know how well his two businesses were doing UNTIL he took a call on his cell phone and all that ‘life is great’ rhetoric unraveled. Within seconds, he starts to blurt out “You just can’t get good people…with half a brain,” I’ll spare you the rest of the story except to say you can probably fill in the blanks unless you’ve been very lucky or are making all the right moves to select and develop your staff.

Not recruiting (which is ONLY scouting—not hiring) on an ongoing basis AND not using all the tools available, coupled with less than stellar interviewing skills, are among the main reasons why this complaint is a plague for small business owners and managers. As well, a lack of ongoing training and development programs is sure to create a situation that will ‘trap’ you. Don’t allow yourself to become a victim. Take steps now to address these areas while it may not be a problem. Proactive effort in this area ALWAYS pays dividends.

To avoid being trapped like this, you may want to learn more about it in my new book, Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It! because you do have choices and there is an effective process to get out of this dilemma.

I hope you will take a moment to read more about it. Feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at: stan@fambizdoc.com

NEW NEWS: The Kindle version of the book is now available at Amazon.com ($9.99) and iPad/iPhone versions are available at iTunes. As well, you can get the audio version at www.SetYourselfFreeOnline.com.

Is Your Sales Staff Holding You Hostage?

NOTE: This is part 1 of 2 for this topic. Look for 2 of 2 next week.

When you have a small sales force, as do many small businesses, it can be a scary thing if you lose even one salesperson. Consequently, many small business owners continue to put up with poor productivity in the name of stability. We often rationalize our inaction with reasons such as, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t” or “I’m only paying them commission for the sales they make.” Or we keep underperforming salespeople because we fear the perceived repercussions of holding them accountable – that they will quit and take their customers with them.

Do you notice a common theme here? All of these reasons have to do with our mindset as owners rather than what our sales staff is – or isn’t – doing. In other words, our sales staff isn’t holding us hostage – we are!

In my experience working with over 300 small businesses in more than 80 industries, most salespeople don’t lack the selling skills necessary to do their jobs more effectively, although there is always room for improvement. And while they “talk the talk” about wanting to prospect for new business and close more sales, the real issue is whether their activities and activity levels are adequate to achieve their sales goals.

Are you familiar with the saying, “Inspect what you expect”? As owners, we have to know the true story of what each salesperson is doing vs. what they say they are doing. If you’re not getting specifics and tracking actual behaviors, you’re a sitting duck for all the “BS” some sales staff will throw at you to convince you they’re working hard or are just victims of a tough economy. (In a tough economy, you have to work even harder…not just complain more loudly!)

Tune in next week to my blog on what small owners can do about this.

Selective Neglect… Sometimes a wise choice

Perfection is not easily achieved, and if we tried to make all things perfect all the time, we’d probably drive ourselves crazy. I’d like to introduce a
concept that might surprise you but which should make some sense after you read what I have to say.

I like to teach small business owners (SBOs) the art of ‘selective neglect’ to make sure they get the most important/valuable things done without unnecessary distraction by those things that have less/no value and which may have developed along the way. I use the term ‘selective neglect’ to describe ‘living with imperfection’ and I preach it all the time. It’s more than just reestablishing priorities or ‘picking your battles’. It’s almost a way of life for many overachievers within the SBO community if they are going to maintain their highly productive and ‘driven’ work habits.

Now mind you, I’m not advocating negligent or shoddy work habits. What this is about is the fact that most SBOs habitually take on more than they can reasonably handle – whether by wise conscious choice or subconscious compulsiveness. It’s just in their nature and that can be a
good thing. Likewise, I am not advocating for the almost disorder-like folks who can’t stay focused on any one thing for very long and have an insatiable appetite for ‘too many things at one time’.

Productive SBOs have to revisit their ‘backlog of duties’ and determine which opportunities could/should be delegated
or simply ‘canned’ in order to create a healthy balance between what is retained and what is ‘canned’ or delegated. There is nothing wrong with
replacing one good idea (or a terrible idea) with a better idea so long as it’s not a constant dynamic that looks like a never ending game of ‘musical chairs’.

Selective neglect enables the SBO to make a choice and remove the distraction of ‘unfinished business’ that can linger in the back of their head and be a distraction or source of unnecessary stress.

If this notion of selective neglect seems a bit ‘out there’, you may want to learn more about it in my new book, Set Yourself Free – How to Have A Thriving Small Business… And Enjoy It! because you don’t have to have that ‘nagging feeling’ in the back of your head that does nothing good for you.

I hope you will take a moment to read more about it. Feel free to call me at 518.369.7101 or email me at: stan@fambizdoc.com

P.S. If you’ve been faithfully following these blogs, you might have noticed that I ‘selectively neglected’ doing blogs for the last two issues.

My conciously-decided reason is a ton of other work that had higher priorities — including visiting my new grandson (first grandchild) – thanks to my son and his wife! :)