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2012

TEDtalks_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.

 

Got time for a bite-size bit of inspiration? Take a look at TED Talks.

 

What started as a small conference that shared new thinking on technology, education, and design (that’s where the T-E-D comes from) in the 1980s has grown into an Internet juggernaut with videos that together have drawn nearly one billion views. Many cities in the U.S. and elsewhere are hosting smaller versions of the TED Talk franchise and a feature in The New Yorker this summer suggests TED has managed to turn “ideas into an industry.”

 

TEDtalks_PQ.jpgBut there’s also plenty of smart stuff here for small business owners. Many talks feature innovators and entrepreneurs, with savvy ideas about marketing, leadership, and burgeoning industries rife with opportunities. The clips vary in length from less than five minutes to about the average coffee run, and are engaging, fast moving, and very funny at times.

 

Here’s a look at seven TED Talks that small business owners should make time to watch.

 

Lisa Harouni: A Primer on 3D Printing (14:05)

Have you been hearing a lot about 3D printing? It very well could be the next revolution in manufacturing: technology that, layer-by-layer, assembles even the most intricate of designs. The idea and the industrial-scale machines have been around for some time, but a new focus on their capabilities—from architecture and construction use to human bones to (seriously!) a whole racecar—has engineers around the world jazzed. Some experts believe these devices could become a household norm in the not-too-distant future. Watch Lisa Harouni, chief executive of London’s pioneering Digital Forming, in November 2011 and be dazzled.

 

David S. Rose: Pitching to VCs (14:42)

Seeking capital for your growing enterprise? Better get your pitch right before you run the gauntlet of venture-capital panels. David S. Rose, managing partner of Rose Tech Ventures, entrepreneur, and “pitch coach,” has been on both sides of the investors’ table. Here, Rose gives a fast-paced rundown of 10 things you must be able to express in your presentation if you want to win over the angels.

 

Daniel H. Pink: The Surprising Science of Motivation (18:36)

If you’re running your business based on traditional thinking about carrots and sticks when it comes to incentives for your employees, you might be wasting your time and money on outdated assumptions. Daniel H. Pink, the bestselling author of Drive, Free Agent Nation, and the forthcoming To Sell Is Human, has been changing perceptions about the 21st-century American workplace for more than a decade. Here, in this video, with nearly four million views, Pink talks about what science now knows and what some businesses are still doing—to their detriment.

 

Richard St. John: Success Is a Continuous Journey (3:57)

Need a pep talk? In less than four minutes, writer and entrepreneur Richard St. John recounts his own rise to the top—and his downfall after succumbing to the perks of success. (One tip: That sports car isn’t a solution to depression.) He outlines how he lost it and lessons for everyone on the importance of keeping your eye on the ball. (And here’s another good one from St. John at TED.)

 

Margaret Heffernan: Dare to Disagree (12:56)

Arguing with your partner may be a very good thing for your business. Why? Conflict can lead to progress, while colleagues who serve as an echo chamber are unlikely to help you break new ground. That’s the gist of former CEO Margaret Heffernan’s June 2012 talk. The question is: Who has the patience and wherewithal to find, listen to, and push forward with those who challenge them most?

 

Simon Sinek: How Great Leaders Inspire Action (18:04)

It’s a common thread from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs—their popularity and success came from expressing what they believed. Simon Sinek’s mantra: “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.” How are you marketing your company? Watch his moving talk and it might lead you to rethink your business’s approach to your employees and your customers.

 

Cameron Herold: Let’s Raise Kids to Be Entrepreneurs (19:36)

Were you born to be in business? Cameron Herold believes he was—and suspects many kids who are struggling at school might be better suited for the entrepreneurial life. Here, the former COO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK and mentor to other young companies tells business people and parents to embrace the traits that might benefit them in their future careers. 

OwnertoCEO_Body.jpgby Susan Caminiti.

 

Most entrepreneurs start out with a great idea, intense passion, and a willingness to work seemingly 24/7 to make their start-up a success. But what happens when the company begins to grow and expand? Are the skills that define a successful small business owner the same ones needed to run a bigger, more complex enterprise?

 

OwnertoCEO_PQ.jpgIn most cases, experts say, the answer is no. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be learned. “In the same way that a company grows, the entrepreneur has to grow and evolve, too,” says Ed Hess, author of Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Entrepreneurial Businesses. As a professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, Hess has studied entrepreneurs and the various ways they approach and manage change. His conclusion: As a company grows, its owner has to transition from one stage to the next, beginning with doer, moving on to manager and leader, and then finally, coach or mentor.

 

Learn to evolve

While the metamorphosis sounds straightforward, it often proves to be the most complicated aspect of running a company, says Hess. That’s because the transformation from owner to leader taps into primal issues of trust, confidence, and even identity—issues not typically top of mind as most entrepreneurs go about running their companies. “Figuring out the processes of a business is not nearly as hard as figuring out the people part,” he notes. Hess recalls that one small business owner, whom he interviewed for his book, said he felt “more like a psychologist than a business person,” when trying to manage his employees. 

 

Evolving from a person who controls every aspect of a company into one that allows others to get things done takes time. “Leadership isn’t just a skill you pick up one day, it’s a journey,” says Suzanne Bates, founder and CEO of Bates Communications, an executive coaching and leadership development firm, and author of Discover Your CEO Brand. “The most challenging inflection points for entrepreneurs are when they realize they have to let go of some of the things that they used to do, and when they have to hire people who are better at certain things than they are. That’s a real turning point.”

 

Find complementary skills

For Michael Uytengsu, founder and CEO of Somersault Snack Co., that moment came sooner rather than later. When he was still getting the business off the ground in 2009, Uytengsu hired an executive who had worked at his family’s snack food business—National Pretzel Co.—to be his president. That decision, says Uytengsu, was made so that he could concentrate on securing financing for the Sausalito, California-based company (he worked for Salomon Brothers in the 1990s) and expanding its distribution,while his president managed day-to-day operations. “I don’t have the patience for the everyday issues and I knew that from the beginning,” he says.

 

Uytengsu is quick to add that although the decision to bring in other senior people to help him run the company was made early on, it was still a challenge for him. “I’m opinionated, but I wanted someone who had skills that would complement mine, and who still reported to me,” he explains. “It’s a difficult balancing act as an entrepreneur, but it’s the only way we could grow the business,” he says, noting that Somersault Snacks are now sold in 5,000 locations, including major retail chains like Whole Foods, Wegmans, and Caribou Coffee. Says Uytengsu: “There are some business owners who feel that they’re in the best position to make every decision about their company and they fail to share financial or strategy issues with their staff. The danger with that sort of approach is that it slows everything down. If I was the one who had to make every decision, that would create a huge stumbling block for getting things done.”

 

Know when to make a change

As a company grows, both Hess and Bates stress that business owners must also take stock of employees. “The people you have to manage when you’re running a $500,000 company are not the same people you’re going to manage when the company is at $5 million,” Hess says. As employees are brought in to handle various business functions—marketing, payroll, and IT, for instance—it’s critical that business owners step back and transition into the role of leader and mentor. “One CEO said to me that he reminds his senior staff ‘I’m not your co-pilot,’” Hess recalls. “What he means is that he’s there for the big-picture issues, not for all the day-to-day decision-making.”

 

In her own 12-year-old company, Bates says she’s tried to avoid another leadership misstep: viewing employees as family. “It’s common for entrepreneurs to feel great loyalty to the people who were there with them at the beginning,” she says. While the sentiment is admirable, the results can be harmful to growth. “As the leader of this company, I have one rule: do no harm to Bates Communications,” she explains. “I might love a person who works for me, but if I know that they’re no longer right for the company or the position that they’re in, then it’s my responsibility to make a change.”

 

Becoming the leader your growing business needs takes courage, Bates says. “Learning to delegate and to bring people into the company with skills that you don’t have is not easy, but it’s necessary to grow,” she says. Once you start down this road, “it creates the sort of positive energy that can transform a business.”

In the 1950s, Ray Kroc was just a milkshake mixer salesman, when one day while making the rounds he came across a restaurant owned by Richard and Maurice McDonald. Kroc was not only amazed by how few items the restaurant sold and how clean it Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngwas, but also by how efficiently it was run. He convinced the brothers to make him their agent for the restaurant and within a few years, he bought them out completely and had the dream of taking the concept coast-to-coast.

 

Here, though, Kroc ran into a problem. He needed a way to make it possible for the restaurant to stay successful even when operating in another place, where the support and resources available might be different or even nonexistent. His solution? Turn the business into a franchise. That is, replicate exactly how the brothers had run their successful restaurant and make the same support and resources available to the entire line of businesses.

Kroc coined a phrase to explain the concept: “In business for yourself, but not by yourself.” The idea is that with franchising, you not only are buying a system and brand, but also a built-in team to help you so that you don’t have to do everything alone. Ray Kroc hoped to show potential franchisees that by working with him and by becoming a McDonald’s franchisee, their path to small business success would be easier.

 

Small business owners, no matter the industry, have faced and will always face common issues. After all, while flipping burgers is different than, say, selling flowers, both businesses still require that the owner deal with taxes, handle employees, get customers, etc. They are not that dissimilar. And becoming part of a franchise might not always be the best solution to a problem – it’s just one of the many creative ways to look at solving any of the common issues for small business owners.

 

  Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

 

Here are five common issues that all small business owners face:

 

1. Getting the help they need: The two complaints that I hear most often from other small business owners are “not enough time” and ”not enough money.” Not surprisingly, the issues are tied to one another.

 

A lack of extra capital means that many small business owners do too much themselves. Not only does that result in the ”not enough time” conundrum, but ironically, it reinforces the ”not enough money” one too. The fact is, you can really only grow your business by spending the dough to bring in the help you need. That will create an alternate cycle where (hopefully) you can make more money and thus bring in even more help.

 

2. The cash crunch: A declaration of “not enough money” oftentimes means there is a cash crunch, and there are all kinds of reasons for them. You might own a seasonal business that makes very little revenue at some points of the year. You might need to spend unexpectedly to upgrade equipment. Whatever the reason, there are a few smart ways to deal with this problem:

 

  • Budget better: If you know you are always extra busy around the holidays, then you simply must make that money last all year long.
  • Create additional profit centers: Again, if you’re a holiday seasonal business, figure out a way to make money during the summer as well as in December.
  • Get a loan or line of credit: Educate yourself on the best avenues to new capital. Take advantage of the financial institutions that are in business to help you get the capital you need.

 

3. Challenging clients: Back when I practiced law, we had a saying that we thought was clever but is probably said by many in a client service business: “It would be a great business,” we would joke, “if it weren’t for the clients.”

 

Look, we all have them – problem clients. The question really is, what do you do about them? One school of thought is simply to tolerate them, and that makes sense, especially if they are an important client. However, sometimes, when the bad client goes from challenging to a real distraction from other important things, the only thing to do is to cut them loose.

 

4. Recruiting and retaining top talent: One thing the best business owners know is that they are only as good as their people. The challenge for the small businessperson is that keeping great talent around can be tough when budgets don’t always allow for big raises. The trick then is to find out what your best people need and give that to them, whether it be recognition, training, a better title, an opportunity to try something new, or room for advancement.

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5. Creating a unique brand: It is incumbent upon the small business owner to give the public a reason to remember the business. As famed marketer and best-selling author Seth Godin says, these days, you simply have to be remarkable in some way if you want to succeed.

And that is the final lesson: While you may have much in common with other small businesses, you had better be unique in some memorable way if you want to break away from the pack.

 

How have you handled some of these common issues? Share your stories with us below.

 

About Steve Strauss

 

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.


QAlonghaul_Body.jpgBy Iris Dorbian.

 

When Charles Lewandowski began his insurance career at Prudential 35 years ago, it was at a crisis point in his life. He was in his 20s, had just lost his job as a painting contractor, and was struggling to make ends meet for his family. Broke but determined, Lewandowski, who emigrated to the U.S. from Brazil at nine years old, forged on, even if it meant relying on his wife’s income as a hairdresser to get him through the lean times. Venturing out on his own in 1987 to launch the Rockville, Maryland-based business—recently renamed Planning Needs Financial Group—Lewandowski has defied the odds, building a thriving independent insurance agency in an industry with a high attrition rate. Heading a staff of three, which includes his son Marc, Lewandowski recently took a breather from his busy schedule to speak with business writer Iris Dorbian about the secret behind his longevity, how he has kept pace with the new technologies, and changes in his industry.

 

ID:  When you started your company 25 years ago, did you ever think you would last as long as you have? Why do you think you have?

CL: I have thought about it at times. It’s probably some good fortune, hard work and niche marketing that kept me going.

 

QAlonghaul_PQ.jpgID: How have you leveraged that niche marketing?

CL: In the late ’70s or early ’80s, my wife met someone who worked at the Brazilian embassy in Washington. At that time, they were looking for group insurance for their locally hired employees. So she said, ‘Talk to my husband. He’s an insurance agent and he speaks Portuguese.’ I went to visit the embassy and talked about what I can do for them. I became their agent and did this all in Portuguese. And when they grew, I was able to add Brazilian consulates from different states. From that we got a lot of spin-off business, such as individuals who needed individual life insurance or temporary medical insurance for their nannies whom they brought over from Brazil. That account lasted 20 years and then the government decided to deal directly with insurance carriers. But we still have a lot of contacts from that account and a lot of Brazilian clients. Probably a quarter of our clients are Brazilian-based.

 

ID: What other tactics did you use in the early days to get the word out about your business and build clientele?

CL: We were doing a lot of cold calling in those days and sending out a lot of direct mail. We were fortunate because at the time we were able to get lists of people who got new phone numbers, which indicate a change in someone’s life. The lists were a really good source of leads. We would make calls to these new numbers to encourage people to talk about life insurance. These days it’s more difficult to do that because of the privacy issues. Also, I would go around to apartment buildings and write names off of mailboxes and once a month go back to the same apartment buildings and write more names off of mailboxes and catch new names and then send them a letter. It was hardcore.

 

ID: How have you coped with the changes within your industry over the years?

CL: My company has become very service-intensive, concentrating more on employee benefits, group insurance, and pension plans. In 2002, I became a certified financial planner so my focus has been more on financial planning, investments, and insurance.

 

ID: What do you feel have been the biggest obstacles you have had to contend with during your small business career and how have you overcome them?

CL: It’s been to keep on going and just get up in the morning. It’s a clean slate. You have no one telling you what to do. You don’t have a boss looking over you. You have no one to be accountable to except yourself and of course, your clients, who are ultimately your bosses. A lot of people have difficulty being self-motivated, going out there and doing what needs to be done.

 

ID: How have you dealt with the phenomenon of social media—like Facebook, Twitter, etc.?

CL: I’m set up with LinkedIn and I have my webpage. I also have selected some URLs with attractive names, but my focus is not too much on that because I’m not that tech-savvy. But my son keeps pushing me in that direction.

 

ID: What are the challenges of working with a family member?

CL: You’ve got to walk a careful line. You can push to a certain extent and insist on some results but ultimately I’m not going to fire my son. You have to be more patient than if it were another employee. On another hand, it’s a wonderful arrangement: I love my son and I love seeing him every day. He has some great ideas and I can see that he wants to take the company in this new technological direction that I’m not equipped to do.

 

ID: Based on your experience, what would be your tips to small business owners when it comes to longevity? What should they do and what should they avoid?

CL: The important thing is to watch your bottom line. You can control your expenses, but it’s difficult to control your income and I think a lot of business owners get into trouble by not keeping an eye on that bottom line. You cannot spend more than what’s coming in. Many business owners have mortgaged their homes and raided their savings to keep the business going. I didn’t do anything different from that. For many years, I didn’t have any income I was able to spend. In the first two to three years of my business, I relied on my wife’s income to keep going. I think if you can get over the first couple of years and you have enough assets, savings, and an income from a spouse that can really be helpful.

 

Also, a lot of small businesses start working out of their homes to control their bottom line. I think that’s okay, but once you have enough business coming in you really need to venture out on your own and get out of that house and rent an office space and hang out your shingle. It looks much more professional to get out of the house and dress up and go to the office to do what you need to do there.

Shipping_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.

 

What happens when 19th century fashion meets 21st century technology?

 

Just ask Jim Berry. His monocle business—NearSights.com, a San Francisco home-based business started by his father—saw sales of its dandyish spectacles surge early this year. But what was driving it— the sudden popularity of “Downton Abbey,” a burgeoning trend among fashionistas here and in the U.K., or changes in the website or marketing? One thing was certain: Orders were taking anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours for Berry to complete every night, a task he describes as a “huge pain” for someone with a full-time day job.

 

Shipping_PQ.jpg“Ultimately, I decided it was something I didn’t have time to do anymore,” he says. He set out to find an order-fulfillment provider with an activity-based pricing model, which would only charge for the services performed and also provide a more cost-effective—and time-saving—shipping system.

 

Census data show more than 15 million home-based businesses are operating in the United States, with 2 million more starting every year, according to a 2011 survey by market researcher IDC. E-commerce has shifted merchants from Main Street to Your Street, bringing with them a flotilla of scales, envelopes, invoices, tape dispensers, and boxes.

 

How are these home-based businesses managing their shipping? Here is some advice from a few small-business veterans on what works, what to watch, and when to get help.

 

Think like a customer

Colleen Lloyd-Roberts has run shipping for her crystal nail file business, Top Notch Nail Files, from everywhere—a kitchen, a garage, and now a large room in her home near Charlotte, N.C. The one constant: keeping an eye on prices. “I really try to keep the costs down,” says Lloyd-Roberts, who says she’s able to ship for less than $5. “Customers cost compare, so I need to offer competitive pricing and competitive shipping. When you do a lot of these online shipping services, you’re stuck with a one-rate deal and you have to charge $5.95, $6.95 or whatever. I just don’t want to make money that way off my customers.” To keep prices down, many home-business operators also take advantage of free shipping supplies from the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, and FedEx.

 

Mind your infrastructure

How secure is your setup? Lloyd-Roberts recalls resorting to a patchwork of tarps to fend off critters that made their way into one garage workspace. Inventory is the lifeblood to any small business, and equally important is your ability to get shipments out the door. Invest in a large outdoor courier box to house returns or big deliveries and keep them safe and out of the elements.

 

The breaking point for Mike Schwarz, owner of RibbedTee.com, came when his Los Angeles undershirt business started to take over his family’s home during a rapid period of growth. He had a large amount of inventory in his garage for immediate turnaround, which required him to hire a few staffers as the operation outgrew the residential space’s intended use. With eyes on further growth, Schwarz migrated out of the close quarters and into a commercial facility.

 

Keep it simple. Nathaniel Disston, the founder of Voy Voy, an online men’s clothing brand that specializes in polo and T-shirts, aims for simplicity when his spring and summer busy season hits. His shipping operation runs out of his parents’ Florida home, where everyone follows a set plan, shipments are handled in batches once a day, and rules for packaging are laid out explicitly. A highly detailed sizing system on the website, spelling out how much a garment might shrink and a thorough explanation of what “large” really means, has nearly eliminated returns, Disston says. It’s a system that he says saves the company 50 percent on shipping costs because not having to deal with a large stream of time-consuming returned merchandise keeps the amount of work required at a manageable level for an in-house business.

 

Look at your technology

What can be automated? Most at-home shipping departments now rely on some form of software that links up label printers, postal meters, and invoice generators. Christopher Baker, president of Incubators.org, which sells machines to keep poultry and reptile eggs warm, started out doing everything by hand in his Crittenden, Ky., garage. He switched to a suite of software from DiscountWebDesigner.com to better track his inventories, and now links everything to his site’s shopping cart. “When the shipping process is taking up 10 percent of your time, you need to look to automate,” Baker says. “You need to be out generating more sales and you’re likely neglecting more important duties.”

 

Don’t expect things to get less complicated though, says Fred Lizza, chief executive of Dydacomp, maker of order-management and shopping-cart software solutions for small to mid-size businesses. Mobile e-commerce is ramping up and an embarrassingly bad review by a customer can be just one botched order away—so you better get your tech side up to speed. “The Internet is an accelerator either for you or against you,” Lizza says. “If you are selling through multiple channels, such as your website and through Amazon, your shopping cart can’t do it all. Don’t create more work by having a separate process for every channel—flow all those orders into the same back-office process.”

 

Know when to get more help

Berry says he hit a wall after coming home from his day job to climb a mountain of nightly shipping work, which left him little time to do much else, like working on marketing the business or updating the website. “It wore me down,” he says. “I was making mistakes—the quality wasn’t there.” 

 

Berry did a cost analysis and realized that it was actually cheaper to outsource than to keep shipping monocles himself. And just as important, the vendor was able scale up and down easily. He enlisted Modern Fulfillment, a shipping service that integrated with Shopify, the content-management system Nearsights uses. “I can’t believe that we were shipping by hand for nine years!” he says. “It’s been a really big change for our business and it’s helped a lot.”

 

“With a lot of small businesses, it’s just about trying stuff,” Berry says. “It might be a few thousand dollars’ investment. But if you try something and it works, in the long run it’s not that big of a risk.”

Legendary Bostonian, Irish political pontificator extraordinaire and one-time Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil famously said, “All politics is local.” What he meant by that is that no matter how big you think you are (or really are), you risk falling from grace if you forget to take care of your base. You can be Speaker of the House and spar with the President, but if you fail to get that pothole on Quarry Street fixed, you may not get re-elected.

 

This is also true in business.

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

 

Even in this digital age, when so many of us do business with people across the Internet, it can be a big mistake to forget that even still, “All business is local.” After all, you bank with a local banker, you hire local people, you shop in local stores and you likely sell to the local community. So having a good relationship and establishing a solid reputation with people in your community is usually good for business.

 

  Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss.

Here are five ways to get more involved in your community:


1. Sponsor something: In this time of less funding and tight budgets, there are a few things you can do to endear yourself to the community. One good way is to sponsor a worthwhile cause. Some local sponsorship opportunities include:

 

  • A youth sports team: The tried and true option, sponsoring a team helps the team itself, helps the league and helps you get business, as parents are likely to support someone in turn who is supporting their kids. Downsides? What downsides?
  • A community event: It could be a concert in the park or the local farmers market, but whatever the case, event sponsorships are a great way to build community loyalty.
  • A show: Again, there is no shortage of options: You could sponsor the local PBS station, the opera, or anything in between.

 

2. Network: Networking groups are great because they actively encourage members to give business to one another. Your local chamber of commerce undoubtedly has a very good networking group. Additionally, you might want to check out Le Tip International, a professional leads organization, or an online MeetUp group that gathers in your area.

 

3. Start an internship program: College students need a place to gain experience and hone their skills, and you need extra help at no extra cost. Offering internships, then, can be a win-win situation. Not only does it help connect you with the interns and their friends and family, it also gives you an “in” with your local university or community college. As with many things in business, you never know Sept 18 pull quote.pngwhen that connection may pay unexpected dividends. For example, you might get the opportunity to serve as a case study for a marketing plan.

 

4. Volunteer: Volunteering is of course its own reward, but it can also help your business grow. It establishes you as a solid, engaged member of the community. By encouraging your staff to volunteer with local worthwhile causes, your business will become known as a community team player. People reward that sort of thing, you know.

 

5. Become a resource: One final way to get involved in your local community is to establish yourself and your business as a “go-to” resource. Let’s say that you own a lumberyard – if it becomes known that you are willing to donate time and materials to worthy community events, your name, brand, reputation and business will certainly grow.

 

 

Or here is a personal example: My high school-age daughter recently completed a project that required someone donating office space to her debate team every weekend. A local law firm stepped up to the plate, and for months we talked about dropping her off and picking her up at that firm.

 

Not only were all of the families indebted to the firm for their generosity, but you can bet we said the name of that law firm so many times, scheduling drop-offs and pick-ups, that we will never forget that firm’s name.

 

Doing well by doing good – that’s the value of community involvement for a business.

 

How has your small business actively participated in your local community?  Share your examples below.

 

About Steve Strauss

 

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

QAjoandetz_Body.jpgby Robert Lerose.

 

Speaking in public ranks right up there in the popular imagination with getting a root canal or doing one's taxesthat is, something to dread. The truth, however, is far rosier. Public speaking can give you and your business a distinct edge over the competition, position you as an expert, and sometimes turn into an unexpected income stream. Recently, business writer Robert Lerose spoke with Joan Detz, author of the acclaimed book It's Not What You Say, It's How You Say It. Since becoming an independent consultant in 1985, the Philadelphia area-based speechwriter, seminar leader, and coach has sharpened the communication skills of leaders in organizations such as Abbott Laboratories, Best Western, Miller Brewing, and Dow Chemical.

 

QAjoandetz_PQ.jpgRL: Why should a small business owner care about public speaking? How can it benefit either their business or reputation?

JD: Giving a good speech—improving your own communication—is the single most cost-effective way to let people know about your business. If you buy an advertisement or if you hire a public relations firm, that costs money. But if you speak to local business organizations or trade associations, you are able to reach a lot of people and it doesn't cost you any money. You're getting fifteen minutes of an audience's undivided attention, and the credibility factor is very high because people see you and form that respect for you right there on the spot.

 


RL: What's a big mistake that many speakers make?

JD: You can't just be giving speeches to fill slots at a meeting. Every time you give a speech, you should have a goal. What is that goal? To get people to know how you work? To get people to know what makes your products different? To get them to come into your offices? To get them to use your services? Once you have that goal, it makes writing the speech a whole lot easier.


RL: Okay, I've decided that public speaking is good for my business. What's the first step to take?

JD: Start soon. Don't wait until you're perfect. No one is ever perfect. The sooner you get your first speaking engagement, the better. It can be a very small venue, but get out there. It gets you on your feet. You get to hear how you sound and you get to realize what parts the audience seemed to like and what parts they didn't.


RL: What about training? How should I prepare, especially if I haven't had much experience?

JD: Try and get feedback from a relative, from a co-worker, from someone at a related business—someone who’d be willing to watch your presentation for fifteen minutes and give you feedback. Consider going to Toastmasters. It's all over the world. It's a very inexpensive way to improve your public speaking skills. Flip on C-SPAN when you have fifteen minutes and see what's interesting in [a particular] speech or what's boring. Then think about how you would do the best job.


RL: How do I decide what topics to speak on?
JD: Speak on something that you know inside and out so you don't have to spend a lot of time doing the research. Speak on something that you know that other people might not know. For example: I went into a printing company just a couple of weeks ago and they had a sales piece on the front counter called "10 Ways You Can Cut Your Printing Costs." I thought that's very clever because they know what they can do and they found something that would interest customers. That's an example of [how to come up with] the kind of topic that you could talk about.


RL: Some speakers write out their entire text, while others use a card with keywords that remind them of points they want to make. What's your take on these methods?

JD: Do what works best for you, but again—get someone else's opinion. You might think that a 3x5 card is great. But if the audience thinks that you're wandering or that you took forty minutes when you should have been done in twenty, then a 3x5 card is not a good choice for you. You might do better when you have a full manuscript. It doesn't mean that you read it from the front of the room, but the preparation of writing a full manuscript might help you be more persuasive and more interesting because your material is already there.

 


RL: What's your secret for handling nerves?
JD: The more comfortable you are with the content of your material, with the audience, and with the venue, the better you will be. Get to the speaking engagement really early so you can walk around, check it out, meet the people when they come in, shake their hands and say, "Hi, I'm your presenter today. What brought you here? What are you interested in?" All of that will help keep the nerves at bay.

 


RL: How do I get media coverage for my speech?
JD: Give your speech a really terrific title that's appealing to audiences and easy for the media to use. Then put it on your website. If you have a blog or if you're a member of LinkedIn, put it there. Write a letter to the editor of a trade publication [that your audience might read] about your speaking experiences. Go to your college's website and send an update on your activities. It takes very little time and it's a great way to let people know how you're expanding into presentations. One speech will be able to generate recommendations.

 


RL: How so?

JD: As soon as you do that one speaking engagement, ask for a letter of reference or a recommendation from the person who [hosted it]. Now you have a little blurb that you can attach when you seek other [speaking opportunities]. Get the business cards of [audience members]. That's critical. Then follow up with them afterwards and ask whether they're members of any other organizations that might be interested in a presentation.

 


RL: Should I charge for giving a speech?

JD: When it's your first couple of speeches and you are asking to go somewhere, you're going to be offering those gratis. However, most organizations would cover your travel expenses. Even though you might not be earning money, you would certainly have your expenses covered.

 


RL: What if organizations contact me first about speaking?

JD: If they're seeking you out to come and talk, then I recommend that you remember this line: "How wonderful to get that invitation. I'll have to check what my calendar looks like. How do you handle an honorarium?" And they might say, "Well, we can't pay much. We can only pay $200." But you know what? That's $200 you didn't have. But you have to be an expert. You can't just go out and fill time. You have to really know something about your business that customers would benefit from. As you become more accomplished, you will readily find organizations quite willing to pay in the thousands for people who have a message that the audience would like and [who can] present it with a lot of style.

 


RL: Final advice for small business owners making the leap to public speaking?
JD: I really encourage every small business owner to look at what they can gain from giving a presentation. It was instrumental in me building my business. I would go anywhere when I first started, just so I could tell people what I knew about communication, about public speaking. By giving those presentations, it just built my business. I know how we are all limited by budget, but this is an area where you don't need a budget. This is a way to distinguish your service, your business, or your product from every other one.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

It is a fact of modern life that, for an ever-increasing number of professionals, being uber-busy is the norm. It seems like everyone these days loves to lament about how busy they are reading emails and attending meetings all day, with, of course, the standard rejoinder: “Well, better too busy than not busy enough, right?”

Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

I guess.

 

So it is no accident that the business book of our times is a step-by-step guide on how to work more efficiently, called The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris. Just last week I was at a conference where attendees brought up Ferris’ book, and many people remarked that the idea of a four-hour work week bordered on ludicrous. After reading The 4-Hour Work Week I agree that the book’s title does seem to offer an unrealistic promise, but I can also say I learned some great tricks from it that have made me more productive and less time-crunched.

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss.

 

If you want to get more out of your day, here are 9 steps that can definitely help:

 

Step 1: Get up a little earlier: Starting your day even 30 minutes earlier has tremendous benefits. Mornings are a great time to exercise, read, write – whatever behooves you and your schedule – with little interruption.

 

Step 2: Get to work early: Part of the value of getting up a little earlier is that it allows you to get into the office or shop a little earlier too, and that in turn affords fewer interruptions, allowing you to get some work done before your colleagues and customers arrive.

 

Step 3: Create a daily goal: A day can easily get away from you if all you do is react – take the call, attend the meeting, clean out the inbox, etc. Instead, after you wake up and start your day early, a great next step is to set a realistic goal for the day – finish the PowerPoint, make 10 sales calls, whatever. Having a daily goal helps make sure that your day is the day you plan, and not the day you respond to.

 

Step 4: Prioritize: Aside from your daily goal, the other smart way to start organizing your day is to put your to-do list in priority order. Aside from your goal, is there one task that you need to get done today? Then put that at the top of the list.

 

Step 5: Get the drudgery out of the way early: It is so easy to put off the boring stuff for later in the day, except that later in the day becomes tomorrow, and tomorrow becomes later in the week, and then that important, albeit boring, stuff either never gets done or sneaks up on you when you can least afford to devote the time to it.

 

To avoid this, consider adding the drudge work to your priority list and getting it out of the way early in the day when you have the energy to handle it most effectively.

 

Step 6: Slay the email monster: As you may have guessed, this is my own personal demon, but I am not alone. Email can consume a day when you end up constantly checking it. Instead, set aside a certain amount of time twice a day – in the morning and afternoon – and leave the inbox closed otherwise. This simple step frees up a ton of time.

 

Step 7: Delegate: I recently interviewed a dozen very successful entrepreneurs over the course of a day (yes, it was a very long day – but a productive one) and they had two things in common:

 

  • They all said having a great culture and clear corporate values was critical to their success
  • They all said that learning to delegate was a significant step in their growth as a leader and entrepreneur

 

You can’t do it all yourself, so get some help.  Use that extra time to do things that are more important.

 

Step 8: Stop wasSept 11 Pull Quote.pngting time (or at least waste less of it): Whether it is getting sucked into the YouTube vortex or checking out Huffington Post one more time or watching another episode of “Gilligan’s Island”, the blessing and curse of being your own boss is that you get to do what you decide to do, when you want to do it (usually). So I am forced to tell you that if you want to be more productive, then you probably need to be more self-disciplined.

 

Step 9: Have a check-in day: An efficiency expert I know creates a day once a month where he and five other people check in with each other via conference call every hour. They make hourly commitments and yes, it is very difficult to be anything but very effective that day.

 

Do you have any strategies to improve your daily productivity? Share them with us below.

 

About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

SeasonalBusiness_Body.jpgby Jen Hickey.

 

Despite the lingering heat, many owners with small businesses tied to vacation and recreation are winding down operations before closing for the season. But that doesn’t mean they can put up their collective feet until next spring. Even if your doors are closed, your business is still “open” as far as the state in which you operate and creditors are concerned. So, it’s important to manage cash flow in those peak months to be able to cover expenses in the off-season. And you want to stay connected to those far-flung employees and customers, so they are more likely to come back when you re-open.

 

SeasonalBusiness_PQ.jpg“If you have a physical location that lies empty, the liabilities don’t stop during that five to six-month period,” cautions Tripp Watson, whose Birmingham, Alabama-based Watson Firm advises entrepreneurs on legal and contractual matters as well as on business strategy. “You have a legal duty to inspect and maintain the property. If someone is injured, even if they’re trespassing, you’re still legally liable.” Watson recommends investing in a monitored security system to help protect your business from litigation. “It always helps if there’s video of someone getting hurt or breaking in,” notes Watson. “Just factor it in as the cost of doing business.”



Beware the off-season budget busting expenses

Cash flow management is especially critical for seasonal businesses, as they may only have three to six months to generate enough revenue to cover expenses throughout the year. “Your costs don’t go down to zero when your doors are closed,” Watson points out. “You should map out expenses throughout the peak and off peak months as well as the off-season.” If it’s your first season, Watson advises doubling those costs. “Things you didn’t think about will crop up and can cut into your margins if you’re not prepared.”

 

For proof, just ask Tom Lawless and Tina Oddleifson. When this husband-and-wife team took over the Pilgrim’s Inn and Whale’s Rib Tavern on Deer Isle in Maine’s East Penobscot Bay in October 2005, they had to put in a new septic system right off the bat. “We were slapped with a big unexpected expense without having any revenue,” recalls Oddleifson. Thankfully, the pair had purchased the business when some late-season revenue was still coming in; coupling that with the working capital they started with, they were able to cover the cost of the repair and then replenish their coffers when they opened the next spring.

 

Typical off-season expenses for the inn and restaurant, though, are things like utilities and insurance payments. “Deposits, which start coming in January, help with cash flow during the months we’re closed,” she explains. And she also taps this early infusion of cash to fund renovations and repairs, which usually don’t happen until the spring.

 

 

Know your costs; watch every penny

When Duane Greenawalt, who runs his own CPA practice in Bennigton, Vermont, bought Hathaway’s Drive-in Theatre in North Hoosick, New York in 2009, he saw it as a vehicle to teach some life lessons to his children, all four of whom work there along with his wife. And while running this seasonal side business has been fun, it hasn’t been easy, he admits.

 

“Not only is it like running two distinct businesses, but we can only do business at night and when the weather is nice,” explains Greenawalt. “Cost control and knowing your margins are critical.” As they only bank a fraction of every ticket they sell after the film companies and state take their cut, Greenawalt instructed his eldest son on how to run a cost analysis to identify waste at the snack bar, which serves both hot and cold food. “Not unlike McDonald’s, which knows the cost of each French fry, everyone’s now more aware of the need to control portions.” Greenawalt points out. “Not that we’re giving our customers less, but we’re giving them what they pay for.”

 


Recruit staff for the long haul, and then stay in touch

Aside from the limited window to generate revenue, staffing is a major challenge for seasonal businesses. “A bad hiring decision can be costly,” cautions Watson. “Even if there are costs involved to maintain an employee from season to season, typically those costs are worth it when you factor in the costs of finding a replacement and training.”

 

“We have about an 80 to 90-percent return rate for the kitchen and 70 percent for the inn,” notes Oddleifson. “But it remains a challenge with our student staff, since our season overlaps with the academic year. My husband and I are putting in a lot of hours and juggling many roles during those months.” Oddleifson keeps in touch with employees during the off-season with periodic emails. “If people don’t know what’s happening with your business, rumors can start, especially in smaller communities,” cautions Oddleifson.

 

For Greenawalt, staffing is mostly a friends-and-family affair. His drive-in’s eight other employees are his children’s friends and siblings of the previous owner’s former employees. “While we lose some of the older kids when they go off to college, training usually takes no more than a week for most jobs in the snack bar, though there’s more of a learning curve for running the projector.”

 


Think strategically as the season’s end nears

Oddleifson has been able to structure the business’s mortgage and most ordering to pay during peak season. “We pay our biggest expenses when we’re making money,” Oddleifson points out. “By law, we have to pay for alcohol on delivery and we order food as we need it.” Then, as the season winds down, so does ordering for the restaurant. “We start paring down our wine list in the fall and don't offer as extensive a list as our high season,” she explains. “We shorten our menu for the last two weeks we’re open and run lots of specials until the food is gone.”  Any fresh goods left over are distributed among their employees and canned goods are stored. “We have become better at ending with very little inventory each season.”

 

As the drive-in officially closes after Labor Day weekend, Greenawalt begins winding down some purchases by mid-summer. “We have a lot of food inventory—you never know when you’re going to get hit with a big night,” says Greenawalt. “But you reach a certain point where the risk of running out is lower than the risk of getting stuck with inventory at the end of the season.” Greenawalt has typically stopped purchases for candy, popcorn, and ice cream by late July or early August, as the vendors require minimum purchase orders and he would have to buy a lot to get the reduced rate. “While we’re not going to run out of popcorn, we may run out of a few popular brands of ice cream and candy, though we offer a wide variety of both.”


Structure your business for a seasonal pace

For entrepreneurs thinking of starting a seasonal business, how it’s organized legally can help protect the owner’s assets from the risks associated with running a business. “Because they’re only open for part of the year, seasonal businesses don’t always think about how they’re structured,” says Deborah Sweeney, CEO of Calabasas, California-based My Corporation Business Services, Inc., which helps entrepreneurs with legal and contractual filings. “Seasonal businesses still need to take the same steps and make the same filings necessary for any business to operate.”

 

For example, Hathaway’s Drive-In is structured as an LLC. Greenawalt owns the land and equipment, which he then leases back to the LLC. “The LLC is insured as the operator,” notes Greenawalt. “The public is dealing with the LLC, not Duane Greenawalt. The only bills coming due in the off-season are insurance, real estate taxes, and the monthly mortgage payment. I make sure there’s enough set aside to cover these expenses when we’re closed.”

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