Small Business Tips

Operations Post Archive
Featuring articles on the topic of running a business including increasing value, generating income, execution, organization, stucture, management, communication, trends, pricing, employment, customer interaction, purchasing and freelancing.
Finding a Good Accountant

Ah, it’s that time of year again. Time to start worrying about getting your taxes filed. And if you own a business, taxes can be a really stressful burden. If you do your taxes yourself or have a friend/family member help, you may want to consider hiring a CPA. Having a CPA do your taxes can be much more relaxing and take some of the burden off your shoulders.

First, it may help to know what a CPA is (if you don’t already). It stands for “Certified Public Accountant,” though it may be more appropriate to call them Certified Professional Advisors, because their roles in aiding your business will often go beyond your accounting.

Continue Reading: “Finding a Good Accountant”


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By Michelle Cramer
Tuesday, October 17th, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Money, Operations, Taxes |

Broadening Your Market May Save Your Business

On November 5, 2007 the Writer’s Guild went on strike. This we all know. But prime time entertainment is not the only thing suffering from the strike. Many small businesses in the Hollywood area are beginning to go under, since they cater to the Hollywood industry, providing equipment and services to movie and television productions. And they’re having to think of other ways to make it.

History for Hire, a vintage rental business in North Hollywood that provides props for shoes like The Office, Heroes and Cold Case, has seen a dramatic drop in revenue. The owners truly saw the strike coming and started making preparations, by not replacing staff members who left, letting go of part-time positions, getting rid of overtime and cutting their personal salaries. But all of their short cuts haven’t been enough and the owners are afraid they won’t be able to keep the 22 year old business running if the strike continues much longer.

Continue Reading: “Broadening Your Market May Save Your Business”


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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, October 16th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations |

Business Instincts vs Data

As business owners, we face a constant battle when it comes to the decisions we make – should we go with our gut instinct or chose based on the facts? It’s an everyday part of keeping things running, and can sometimes cause a bit of stress if our instincts and the data don’t match up.

So which do you go with? Well, truthfully, either way you can risk failure or accomplish success. Your instincts are based upon experience, and you are more likely to feel comfortable doing something that has worked for you in the past. If, however, your instincts are telling you to go for something that has never crossed your mind before, it may be a hard step to take.

Continue Reading: “Business Instincts vs Data”


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By Michelle Cramer
Sunday, October 15th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Motivation, Operations |

Good Listening Skills Mean Success

As the holidays come to a close, I’ve been spending my weekends around the house recooping from all the travel and excitement (which can be very wearing on a pregnant woman, eight months along). Yesterday I spent the majority of the evening doing a little sewing and watching television.

What I ended up watching was a marathon on TLC of a show called Say Yes to the Dress about Kleinfeld Bridal in New York. Basically, cameras follow sales clerks around as they try and sell that perfect dress to soon-to-be brides. A chic-show to be sure, but there was something in particular that caught my attention.

There is one “bridal consultant,” Claudia, who just can’t seem to meet her sales quota. At the time the shows in the marathon aired, she had been working for Kleinfelds over a span of 3-8 months. She just wasn’t getting it, and, despite many, many attempts by the owner and manager to work with her and help her be successful, Claudia continually asserted that there was nothing wrong with her or her sales style and she just kept happening to get clients who weren’t going to buy.

I found myself continually frustrated with Claudia because she just refused to see how she was harming the business. First and foremost, the owner and managers pointed out to her that she wasn’t taking the time to listen to the needs and desires of the client. Claudia insisted that she was a great listener and they just didn’t see the discussions she had with the brides. The viewer, however, knew better, and the owner and managers were right. Claudia continued to assert her opinions about certain dresses and why they would work for the bride, even when the bride disagreed.

I wanted to take the opportunity to make a couple of points from my critique of Claudia’s sales process that any business owner/employee should take into consideration:

Continue Reading: “Good Listening Skills Mean Success”


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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, October 13th, 2017 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Customer Service, Operations |

Easy Return Policy Means Return Customers

Black Friday and Cyber Monday were a big hit this year. As usual, sales were up, despite the fact that many businesses feared that higher gas prices and the like would keep shoppers from spending as much money this year.

The unfortunate aspect of the Christmas season, for retailers anyway, are the returns. And returns are inevitable. You can’t please everyone, and gift giving is no exception. But, as an online retailer, if you want customers to keep coming back to you, then you need to provide an easy and clear-cut return policy.

According to a survey conducted by return processor Newgistics, Inc., at least nine out of 10 consumers cited a convenient return policy as important when shopping with a new or unknown online retailer. And 69% of those surveyed said that they wouldn’t use that online retailer again if the return policy is a pain or unclear.

So, what can you do to provide your customers with an hassle-free return process? Here are some tips to get you started:

Continue Reading: “Easy Return Policy Means Return Customers”


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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, October 9th, 2017 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Customer Service, Operations |

Obtaining a Business Loan – How to Write a Business Plan : Part 8 of 8

OBTAINING A BUSINESS LOAN
Okay, so your Business Plan has been edited, revised, perfected and now you’ve got your final packet ready to go. You’re ready to march into the world and present your business to lenders in hopes of obtaining funds to get your business moving.

But not so fast.

Before you walk through the doors of any bank, you need to know what else they will be looking for outside of your Business Plan in order to approve a loan.

Credit History
What potential lenders will look at most are credit records for both the individual owners of the business (the credit report associated with your social security number) and the business itself (the credit report associated with the business’ EIN or tax identification number). So, before you take your fund request to a bank, request a copy of your credit report from all three agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Examine each report for errors and resolve all discrepancies before applying for a business loan.

Continue Reading: “Obtaining a Business Loan – How to Write a Business Plan : Part 8 of 8″


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Common Mistakes – How to Write a Business Plan : Part 7 of 8

By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, October 5th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Money, Operations |

Common Mistakes – How to Write a Business Plan : Part 7 of 8

COMMON BUSINESS PLAN MISTAKES
Even with all of the information provided in the first six parts of this post series, there are still mistakes to be made on a Business Plan. No one is perfect and your Business Plan won’t turn out perfect on the first draft either (and probably not the second or third). However, there are some common mistakes to keep in mind when writing and reviewing your Business Plan that will at least aid in attaining perfection.

Failure to be Clear and Concise
The most common mistake when preparing any document is a failure to convey what you want to the reader. There are two main elements that can contribute to this error.

Continue Reading: “Common Mistakes – How to Write a Business Plan : Part 7 of 8″


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Market Analysis – How to Write a Business Plan : Part 2 of 8
Define Organizational Structure & Management – How to Write a Business Plan : Part 3 of 8

By Michelle Cramer
Wednesday, October 4th, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Operations, Startup |

Executive Summary, Table of Contents and Appendix – How to Write a Business Plan : Part 6 of 8

THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
The executive summary is the most important part of your Business Plan and, in fact, should be the first section. However, you can’t do the executive summary until you are finished with all the other sections, which is why I saved it for last.

The executive summary is exactly as it name implies — it is a summary of your entire business plan. You also need to include a brief history of your company. The entire executive summary should not be longer than four pages. Consider using a bullet system to highlight information and make a smoother read. You want to provide information, but you don’t want to bore potential investors/lenders from the start. This is what will either grab their attention or give them the urge to find a wastepaper basket.

Continue Reading: “Executive Summary, Table of Contents and Appendix – How to Write a Business Plan : Part 6 of 8″


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Obtaining a Business Loan – How to Write a Business Plan : Part 8 of 8

By Michelle Cramer
Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations, Startup |

Funding Request & Financial Information – How to Write a Business Plan : Part 5 of 8

Welcome to the second half of my eight part post series on creating an effective Business Plan. I’m sure you enjoyed the break over the weekend, but are anxious to obtain the rest of the information you need. So let’s get started.

THE FUNDING REQUEST
The whole point of your Business Plan is to request money from investors and/or obtain a business loan through a bank. So, what would the Business Plan be without specifics on what funds your business needs? It’s one thing to request a dollar amount out loud, it’s another to specify exactly why you need that money and how it will be used. We’re certainly not talking about a few dollars here, so those that provide the funds to you want all the details they can get before making such a commitment.

Continue Reading: “Funding Request & Financial Information – How to Write a Business Plan : Part 5 of 8″


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Executive Summary, Table of Contents and Appendix – How to Write a Business Plan : Part 6 of 8

By Michelle Cramer
Monday, October 2nd, 2017 @ 12:03 AM CDT

Operations, Startup |

Define Strategies, Service & Product Line – How to Write a Business Plan: Part 4 of 8

MARKETING & SALES MANAGEMENT
Without marketing your business and your product/service, customers have no way of knowing that you’re out there. While the information regarding the organization of your business is important to investors, knowing your marketing plans is equally as important, since the marketing you do will generate revenue.

Marketing Strategy
You need to define your marketing strategy. Granted, your marketing strategy will often change, as you evaluate its effectiveness and changes in your business require changes in your advertising. But you do need to have a basic strategy in mind, which includes the following elements:

1. Market Penetration
In order to obtain customers, you have to make yourself known in the market. While you need advertising to do this, you also need to have a means. In other words, you need to continually develop new products and innovations to keep the customers interested. Market penetration requires using new products in existing markets and new markets using existing products. Explain in your business plan how you intend to penetrate the market.

Continue Reading: “Define Strategies, Service & Product Line – How to Write a Business Plan: Part 4 of 8″


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By Michelle Cramer
Sunday, October 1st, 2017 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Operations, Startup |

Market Analysis – How to Write a Business Plan : Part 2 of 8

MARKET ANALYSIS

The Market Analysis portion of your business plan is a means for showing your knowledge of the industry your business is involved in. This is where your market research will come into play. And you’re going to have to do a lot of work for this portion.

Start by studying, very thoroughly, your industry market and gathering as much information as possible. Additionally, you will need to conduct market tests of your product/service and compile that information. While the data and information you collect is crucial, this portion of your business plan will only cover the highlights and conclusions of all of your diligent work. The bulk of the information, as we will later see, will be contained within the Appendix section of your business plan.

Continue Reading: “Market Analysis – How to Write a Business Plan : Part 2 of 8″


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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, September 29th, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Operations, Startup |

Overview – How to Write a Business Plan : Part 1 of 8

OVERVIEW

If you’ve started a business or are thinking about doing so, then you’ve probably heard that you need a business plan. If you in any way hope to have investors support your company growth or to obtain a business loan, you have to have a business plan. You won’t even be considered without one. It is more or less the sales pitch for your business.

A strong business plan consists of ten essential sections:

1. Market Analysis
2. Company Description
3. Organization & Management
4. Marketing & Sales Management
5. Service or Product Line
6. Funding Requests
7. Financial Information
8. Executive Summary
9. Appendix
10. Table of Contents

Over the next two weeks of posts I’m going to cover how to create an appropriate business plan, elaborating on each of these sections. Yes, it will take two weeks. There is a lot of information to cover and summarizing it into a few posts will not be helpful enough for you to put together effective business plan that will win investors and banks over.

Continue Reading: “Overview – How to Write a Business Plan : Part 1 of 8″


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Common Mistakes – How to Write a Business Plan : Part 7 of 8

By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, September 28th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations, Startup |

Connections Trump Contacts

We’ve all had them – those annoying telemarketing calls right in the middle of dinner and spending some much needed time with our families. Even with no-call-list registration, a call sneaks through the cracks occasionally. We get frustrated and often, the poor individual on the other end gets an ear full.

But have you ever taken the opportunity to put yourself in that telemarketer’s shoes? As a business owner, you should, since sales is an important part of every business. I sure do because I actually had a telemarketing job at one point. Albeit, it was only for four months, but that’s because it was horrible. I didn’t make a sale the entire time I was there. Call after call made for nothing. In a telemarketing job the focus is quantity – the more calls you make, the more likely you are to get a sale. That simply wasn’t the case for me – it isn’t for most. Just look at the turnover rate for telemarketing businesses and you’ll see the effects.

And why is that? Because the people I called were simply contacts – a name and phone number filled out on a piece of paper (most likely a drawing for some type of prize) for individuals who didn’t even know what they were signing up for. The reason cold call and door-to-door sales people fail more than they succeed at a sale is because they are making contacts, not connections, with potential clientele.

Continue Reading: “Connections Trump Contacts”


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By Michelle Cramer
Wednesday, September 27th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Networking, Operations |

The Beneficial Chaos of Black Friday

Ah, the holiday season. Were you crazy enough to go out into the world and shop at the crack of dawn this past Friday? I did so for the first time. I wouldn’t exactly call it a joyful experience, but it wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. Okay, it was close.

I already had in mind that I wasn’t going to spend the entire day pursuing every store in town for great bargains. After all, I’m seven months pregnant right now, and didn’t think that would be the best idea for me, especially by myself. So, I compared ads and found one location were I could get multiple items at a great price. Most of the items I bought were for my photography business, actually.

Continue Reading: “The Beneficial Chaos of Black Friday”


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By Michelle Cramer
Sunday, September 24th, 2017 @ 12:08 AM CDT

Marketing, Operations |

Preparing Your Business for Impending Disaster

Last week, the wildfires in Southern California received top billing on the news nationwide. While many people tragically lost their homes, there is no doubt that some also lost their business in the fires.

Many of us will never have to face out of control wildfires as a risk factor for the destruction of our business, but natural disasters of every kind span the nation. Anything from wildfires, to tornadoes, ice storms (which caused some devastation in my home town last winter), to hurricanes, there are a number of possibilities that can damage to your business. And you need to make sure you’re protected.

Insurance Coverage
First and foremost, be sure that your business (just like your life, health, home and vehicles) is insured. And, be sure that your business insurance covers disasters that are common to your area of the nation. If you live in the Midwest, be sure that tornado damage is covered. If you live on a coast, be sure that hurricane damage is covered, etc. Additionally, though wildfires tend to be more prevalent in the California area, fire damage can happen anywhere, so be sure, no matter where your business is located, that you’re covered if there is a fire.

Continue Reading: “Preparing Your Business for Impending Disaster”


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By Michelle Cramer
Sunday, September 17th, 2017 @ 12:05 AM CDT

Operations, Ownership |

What Goes Around Comes Back Around

Have you ever seen the NBC show My Name is Earl? It’s pretty funny and the concept is very interesting. If you haven’t, I’ll give you a brief explanation. Earl, the protagonist of the show, used to live a very jaded life. He had committed all sorts of crimes (typically robbery) and had done all sorts of bad things to people. At one point he gets a winning lottery ticket, worth $100,000, but loses it when he is hit by a car. While in the hospital, he hears of the concept of karma and decides that he lost the ticket because of all the bad things he’s done in his life.

So, Earl starts a list of atonements he must make, starting from childhood, and, as he begins to remedy his bad deeds, his karma turns around and the winning lottery ticket is returned to him. He continues to live out of a hotel and by small means, so that he can use his new money to help cross things off his list. Thus, the entire series centers around him making things up to people he hurt in the past.

Continue Reading: “What Goes Around Comes Back Around”


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By Michelle Cramer
Wednesday, September 13th, 2017 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Motivation, Operations |

Discerning Truth From Lies

It’s an unfortunate part of everyday life. People lie. Though we’d all like to believe that every business person out there is honest and trustworthy, that is just not the case. And the lies they tell can often have a severely negative effect – not just emotionally, but also in cost to our business.

I tend to be a trusting person. I give people the benefit of the doubt and assume, until proven otherwise, that they’re telling the truth. That may be a great policy in regard to friends and family, but when it comes to keeping my business up and running smoothly, I’d be better off to be skeptical and watch for the signs that someone may be pulling the wool over my eyes.

Fortunately, there are some indicators you can watch for that will clue you in to someone who may not be telling you everything:

Actions
There are many ways that our body language can reveal our inner thoughts. Someone who is shy or nervous will keep their head pointed toward the ground. Someone who is excited will move around quickly.

Continue Reading: “Discerning Truth From Lies”


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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, September 11th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations, Ownership |

Brainstorming Motivation for Your Employees

Have you ever been to a business meeting that, though the intention was to come up with great ideas for the progression of the business, turned out to be a total flop? Attendees were bored, few ideas were shared, and everyone left the meeting feeling like it was a waste of time? Obviously, such events are a very little benefit to the development of your business, and there are few ways you can remedy that . . .

Meeting Time Equals Play Time
In other words, make the meeting fun. Don’t let everyone go wild of course. It needs to be organized play time, so to speak. For example, start things off with a game. As a suggestion, I read how one business owner asked his employees to write down something no one else knew about them prior to the meeting. When the meeting started, he passed out the responses and the employees had to guess who belonged to each, providing a little fun and humor to get things moving. Another employer brings tinker toys and tangram puzzles to get cognitive juices flowing. Not only do such ideas make the meeting more enjoyable, but they help your employees to relax and be more comfortable around each other and you.

Continue Reading: “Brainstorming Motivation for Your Employees”


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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, September 8th, 2017 @ 12:04 AM CDT

Motivation, Operations, Ownership |

Transitions are Like Remodeling

I heard something the other day that really got me to thinking: difficult transitions in any part of life are like remodeling your home. Let me explain. . .

Inconvenience
Remodeling your home is no picnic, especially if you are doing extensive work, like adding on a room or redoing the kitchen (very popular choices). There is the inevitable issue of dust all over every inch of the house – dust you can’t get rid of until the job is done no matter how many times you vacuum and wipe the place down. Not to mention having to navigate through tools, furniture stocked piled in one room to get it out of the way of the work being done, hired help (if you’re not doing it by yourself). A down right pain.

Difficult transitions in life are an inconvenience as well. Take, for example, moving to a new town, which includes searching for a new place to live, selling the house you’re currently in, packing and unpacking, finding a new job, on and on. Or, what about transitioning your business from a one man operation out of your home to a five person operation located downtown. There’s nothing convenient about that either.

Continue Reading: “Transitions are Like Remodeling”


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By Michelle Cramer
Sunday, September 3rd, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Motivation, Operations |

Saving Time on the Telephone

Many of us find that there really aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything would like to done. Any shortcut can help to make the minutes of the day go by more smoothly. Something that can often take up a lot of your time in any business are telephone calls. But, they must be made and time must be spent.

Here are few tips for saving some time on those necessary calls, and maybe freeing up time for other things:

Map It Out
When important calls need to be made to clients or investors, make an outline of everything you need to discuss before making the call. Draw up the points you want to bring up, including possible questions from the other end of the phone and your responses. Also, when the call is connected, let the client know why your calling – give them a run down of what to expect from the call. If he/she knows that you have an agenda in mind, that might help to keep them from making small talk or changing the subject.

Continue Reading: “Saving Time on the Telephone”


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By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, September 2nd, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Customer Service, Operations |

Hiring an Ad Agency for Your Business

It’s not something that every small business can afford, but those who can should give an advertising agency a chance. However, you may feel overwhelmed by the process of hiring an ad agency to market your product/service, because it’s not a eni-meni-mini-mo type of decision.

Here are some tips for finding the right ad agency for your business:

Avoid Putting Limitations on Prospects

Don’t restrict your search to agencies who are only in your area. Then you’re limiting the possibility of finding the right ad agency for you. Many agencies are more than willing to communicate over long distances, and with today’s available technology, not everything will have to be done in a person-to-person meeting. Overnight mailings, telephones, meetings over broadband… there are a number of options available for getting the job done just as well as if your businesses were neighbors.

Continue Reading: “Hiring an Ad Agency for Your Business”


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By Michelle Cramer
Tuesday, August 29th, 2017 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Marketing, Operations |

But on the Other Hand . . . (i.e. Exploring Options)

Every day we make thousands of decisions. What to wear, what to eat, when to leave, where to go, what to do first, which pen to use. . . the list goes on and on. Imagine, however, making any decision without exploring your options. Life would, first, be pretty boring if wore the same one shirt and one pair of pants every single day (what woman could survive?). And, when it comes to the more important things, it’s likely that life would be riddled with a few missteps.

Exploring your options is an important part of every decision we make. And especially when it comes to the big ones, such as how to run a business. This may seem like common sense to many of you. I know that I am an “option explorer.” I trek through the forest of who has the best price, climb the mountains of who will provide what I need, and wade the waters of what would have the best result.

Continue Reading: “But on the Other Hand . . . (i.e. Exploring Options)”


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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, August 28th, 2017 @ 12:06 AM CDT

Motivation, Operations |

Implementing a Wellness Program

The cost of health benefits for employers and employees alike is a rising concern, especially for smaller business owners. Though it can’t get rid of the cost all together, implementing a wellness program into your employees’ working lifestyle can save you money.

Many high deductible insurance programs pair their health benefits with the implementation of a wellness program in order to provide lower premiums to small business owners and employees. However, the high deductible can reach over $10,000 and, in the long run, can really cause some debt problems if an employee needs medical services.

Continue Reading: “Implementing a Wellness Program”


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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, August 14th, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Human Resources, Operations |

Professional Employer Organization Services

Many businesses, especially small ones that don’t necessarily have the man power for all of their human resources, needs use services provided by professional employer organizations (PEO). If you think you might be in need of payroll and various other services, there are some things you’ll need to think about first.

When You Need a PEO
• If you need to provide competitive benefits, such as health insurance, in order to recruit and keep employees. PEOs negotiate rates with insurance carriers for their entire clientele as a whole, which usually gets a better rate for everyone.
• When your business has strict regulation and compliance requirements on the state and federal level that would be difficult and time consuming to keep up with, such as businesses dealing with hazardous chemicals or explosives.

Continue Reading: “Professional Employer Organization Services”


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Friday, August 11th, 2017 @ 12:07 AM CDT

Human Resources, Operations |

How You Know It’s Time to Grow

Those of us that own a business know that, at some point, there will be cause for expansion. This can be both exciting and scary. Exciting because it only means that our business is doing very well and demand for the product/service we provide is growing. Scary because it is practically common knowledge that, next to tapping into the wrong market, the transition from a small business to a not-so-small business is one of the top reasons businesses fail.

There are some clear indications that it is time to expand your business, and being able to recognize those signs will help to eliminate some of the anxiety that accompanies such a change, since you will know it is necessary.

New Challenges
One of the first signs that your business is in need of a change is the fact that you are facing challenges and struggles that you have never faced before. There may be an overwhelming feeling that your losing control of the business.

Continue Reading: “How You Know It’s Time to Grow”


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By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, August 10th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations, Ownership |

A Little Relief from High Gas Prices on the Horizon

National Payment Card

Though it’s not because gas prices are necessarily going down. It’s because gas stations in Texas (with a nation-wide expansion in the works) are providing up to ten cents off per gallon with a special program. The program comes from a two year old, eight person company called National Payment Card (NPC). And all you have to do is pay for your gas by swiping your driver’s license through the credit card slot on the gas pump.

Well, first you have to enter your driver’s license number and bank account information on the NPC website. When your driver’s license is swiped, an automatic withdrawn is taken from your bank account through an e-check with the Automated Clearing House, which is typically used for direct deposits.

Many are skeptical of the idea of giving out such personal information. In fact, the Texas Department of Public Safety does not endorse NPC or any other program that uses your state issued driver’s license. But what those who have their doubts don’t seem to acknowledge is the fact that programs like PayPal (which I know, through experience, to be entirely secure) require more personal information from you than the NPC program.

Continue Reading: “A Little Relief from High Gas Prices on the Horizon”


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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, August 4th, 2017 @ 12:05 AM CDT

Money, Operations |

Helping Ensure Your Employees Get Along

In any business, especially small ones, everyone works closely together. Sometimes employees have to deal with the cubicle situation, with desks nearly on top of one another, because of limited space issues. This can cause some messy situations if you, as the boss, don’t lay down some ground rules right from the beginning.

Here are some things you may want to stick in your employee policy manual, in order to help avoid those popular cubicle conflicts:

1. Allow employees to label their supplies.
One of the most popular cubicle complaints among employees is that things keep disappearing from their desk. We all know that popular phrase from Office Space: “Has anyone seen my stapler?” Well, it happens all the time. For me, my pens are always disappearing, mostly because I sit at the front desk. Allow your employees to label their supplies, such as staplers, pens, clipboards, etc., with their name or desk number, in order to help to sway the temptation of others to snatch it.

Continue Reading: “Helping Ensure Your Employees Get Along”


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By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, July 29th, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Human Resources, Operations |

Tips for Sorting Through Overwhelming Files

There comes a time in the life of our filing cabinet when there is no room to spare for any future files, and the ones contained within are so old we don’t remember where they came from. It’s time to sort your files and weed out the ones you no longer need.

Here are some tips for sorting through your overwhelming stack of files:

1. Establish a Closing System
If you don’t start a means of closing your files when your task for that client is complete, then you will never have enough space for them all. Keep in mind that any files that contain legal documentation, whether you’re actually an attorney or just have a contract with the client, must not be destroyed (by law) until ten years after they have been closed. If you have a lot of files like that, the best thing to do is rent a storage unit to keep your closed files in, so that they don’t take space away from your actual work environment.

Continue Reading: “Tips for Sorting Through Overwhelming Files”


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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, July 28th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations |

Businesses Embrace the Harry Potter Craze

Harry Potter CrazeAre you a Harry Potter fan? I am. I love the movies, but haven’t read the books yet (I know, any die-hard fans would be appalled). My husband has suddenly gone on a “read all the books NOW” craze and has flown through the first three in a week. But I can’t say that I spend a lot of time at work discussing Harry Potter. But apparently, it has become something more than a little water cooler chatter.

According to Entrepreneur.com’s article Potter Casts Petrificus Totalus Spell on Workplace (nice title, by the way), the Harry Potter craze that has swept the nation for the past few years has escalated with the release of the fifth movie, The Order of the Phoenix on July 11th and the release of the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on July 21st. And with that escalation has come a bit of, shall we say, distraction during business hours.

Continue Reading: “Businesses Embrace the Harry Potter Craze”


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By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, July 22nd, 2017 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Human Resources, Operations |

Standing on the Job

Think hotel lobby, bars and fast food ordering counters. Or even counter-top dining tables (I have one myself, which comes in very handy when you have a dog that stands over three feet tall on all fours). So how about a counter-top desk in your office that you can stand at?

Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defense has one. And so does business owner Thomas Gimbel out of Chicago. And, unlike a counter-top table that simply has taller chairs, Gimbel (and Rumsfeld) stand at their desks. Gimbel initially got the idea when his 6 foot 6 inch frame caused him back problems no matter what chair he tried. He found relief only when he stood. So why not work that way all the time?

Continue Reading: “Standing on the Job”


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By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, July 20th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations, Ventures |

Consider This When Hiring an Intern

Today is the first official day of summer (don’t we all wish we still had a summer vacation). And, with classes temporarily out of session, college students are looking for summer internships. For them, it is an opportunity to learn more about the business they are hoping to get into after graduation, without a long-term commitment.

For you, it is a chance to test things out and see if you would be willing to hire this student for a full-time, long-term position when he graduates. You also get the opportunity to pass on what you know about “the business” and provide a hands on education that a college course won’t necessarily provide. Not to mention the fact that hiring an intern has the added perk of an extra set of hands around the office at no or very little cost to you.

Before you hire an intern, however, keep the following in mind:

Continue Reading: “Consider This When Hiring an Intern”


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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, July 10th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Human Resources, Operations |

How Department Divisions Can Hurt Customer Relations

In last week’s post Differentiate Your Business With Quality Customer Service, one of the tips listed touched on department divisions, which I would like to take the opportunity to elaborate on a bit.

When I say department divisions, I am specifically referring to the common element of many businesses, to have a department (or individual) assigned to each task related to the business, such as marketing/sales, accounting, legal, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to indicate that having departments in your company is a bad thing. In fact, in and of itself, it is not. What can lead to poor customer service is your employees’ attitudes about their specific department.

Continue Reading: “How Department Divisions Can Hurt Customer Relations”


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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, July 7th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Customer Service, Operations |

How the Bee Colony Collapse May Affect Your Business

Many people don’t realize that the honey bee population is a vital part of the farming industry in our nation. The business of raising bees is worth about $15 billion in the U.S. Worldwide, honey bees are also responsible for pollinating more than 90 types of fruits and vegetables, especially almonds, apples and blueberries.

But what has become known as the Colony Collapse Disorder is threatening to change the livelihood of some businesses. If colony losses are significant it won’t only effect the bee keepers income. Farmers who use bees to pollinate their crops will either face substantial costs to produce crops or a significant drop in production. Either way, consumers may see a raise in prices of crops in order for farmers to break even.

Continue Reading: “How the Bee Colony Collapse May Affect Your Business”


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By Michelle Cramer
Tuesday, July 4th, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Money, Operations |

Finding the Right Outsider Board Member

If your business is big enough for a board of directors, then I highly recommend you have at least one board member who is an outsider. The benefit is having someone with an unbiased opinion available to give a better perspective on issues at hand. He/she can also help to mediate when the rest of the board, who are probably directly involved in the company, can’t reach a decision.

When interviewing prospects for the outsider position on the board, be sure to address the following:

Continue Reading: “Finding the Right Outsider Board Member”


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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, July 3rd, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Operations |

What Makes Gasoline So Expensive These Days?

On the surface this may not seem like a topic related to small business, but it most certainly is. The price of gas affects all of us in tremendous ways. And if you travel for the sake of your business, it’s really hitting the wallet hard.

Last summer, when gas prices averaged $3.00 a gallon, most of us assumed that would be the worst of it. Boy, were we wrong. With gas prices currently averaging $3.20 a gallon (though it’s closer to $4 on the west coast), the anticipation of what this year’s summer will bring is a black cloud looming over our heads.

So, what’s the deal? Why can’t we keep something affordable that nearly every person in the nation is so dependent on? That right there is the problem… our dependency on gasoline for our every day lives. Now, I’m not trying to go “green” here, but the concept of supply and demand is not new to the business world. As the demand for a product increases, and the supply decreases, then the price continues to climb.

Continue Reading: “What Makes Gasoline So Expensive These Days?”


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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, June 30th, 2017 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Money, Operations |

Preparing for a Health Inspection

The Associated Press published May 4th that the KFC/Taco Bell restaurant in Greenwich Village, New York City that was found to be infested with rats will be closed indefinitely. A spokesman for the chain owner, Yum! Brands, Inc., says there are reviewing their franchises nationwide and are “determined to prevent this incident from happening again.”

My question is, how did it get that bad in the first place? Anyone who owns a restaurant is well aware of the fact that there are strict rules and regulations regarding the operation of the restaurant in order to prevent illness in customers. How unsanitary does a restaurant have to be in order to be infested with rats to that extent? And you can’t tell me that the staff never noticed one. Clearly there was a health inspector also not doing his job properly.

Health inspections are a crucial element in keeping restaurants safe to eat in. And, most of the time, your business will be severely fined and given a deadline to make changes if it does not pass inspection. If those changes aren’t made, the restaurant could, and should, be closed.

If you are a restaurant owner, or are looking into joining a restaurant chain franchise, there are a number of things you need to be aware of in order to make sure that your restaurant will not only pass a health inspection, but will be safe for your customers.

Continue Reading: “Preparing for a Health Inspection”


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By Michelle Cramer
Wednesday, June 21st, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Operations |

Online Meetings, The Board Room Alternative

As business owners, there are many, many times when we really need to be two places at once. Especially when it comes to trying to find time to meet with clients all over the country, and still keep an eye on business operations.

Fortunately there is a much simpler alternative to making a clone of ourselves: an online meeting.

I know it may sound a bit intimidating, especially for the not so tech savvy. And it certainly doesn’t have the same professional and comforting feel a client gets when meeting with you face-to-face, so it’s not something you want to replace all of your personal meetings with.

Consider the fact that an online meeting could include all the clients (or even investors) you intended to meet with individually regarding a new product/service at the same time, which would significantly reduce the time required of you to get the word out.

Continue Reading: “Online Meetings, The Board Room Alternative”


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By Michelle Cramer
Tuesday, June 20th, 2017 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Operations, Technology |

Moving from a Home Office to a Commercial Space

Working at home requires a strong ability to separate personal and business lives. A home office contains a lot of distractions, whether your family distracts you from your work or your work distractions you from spending time with your family.

But, if you work from home and are considering moving your business to a commercial location there is much more to take into consideration than whether you are too distracted. If you simply pack everything up and move without looking at every aspect of going commercial, you could negatively affect the future of your business.

Consider these three factors when deciding to move:

Continue Reading: “Moving from a Home Office to a Commercial Space”


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Monday, June 19th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations |

Tips for Adapting to the Postage Rate Increase

United States Postal Service

In 1847 the first U.S. postage stamps were released, the five cent Ben Franklin and the ten cent George Washington. And, in just a week, the rate for postage stamps will increase to 41 cents – more than eight times that of the Ben Franklin.

You may be asking yourself, why the increase, since we just did this a little over a year ago? The stamp increase is to help cover operational expenses. Last year’s increase was mandated by Congress to fund an escrow account.

While the stamp increase won’t severely effect most business owners, the U.S. Post Office is also changing the postage rates for packages and this may cause a bit of a strain. But don’t worry, there are some ways to work around the added expense.

Continue Reading: “Tips for Adapting to the Postage Rate Increase”


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Sunday, June 18th, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Money, Operations |

Expanding Your Business Overseas: Money and Taxes

When I bring up the subject of money with regard to expanding your business to the global market, I’m not necessarily referring to your profit margin. More specifically, I’m referring to the actual paper or coin used as payment for the product your provide.

Upon initial movement toward an overseas expansion, you may think that it would be obvious that you accept foreign currencies. However, you are better off not to. The conversions rates for foreign currencies fluctuate so frequently, which means you would probably lose money if you accepted foreign currency from all of your foreign customers.

If you must deal in foreign currencies, there are some options:

1. Forward Contracts – Locks in the conversion rate for when transaction/sale is finalized.
2. Options – Allows for the opportunity to convert funds, but it is not a requirement.
3. Bank in that Country – Open a bank account in the country where you do the most business so that you can deal in currency for both income and expenses there.

Most countries will gladly accept American businesses into their market, providing “special pools of tax-funded R&D money” even real estate specifically set aside for to attract foreign investment. You may even get special tax breaks in those countries as a foreign business.

The U.S. Commercial Service can help you find those countries who would welcome you with open arms. For $680-$800 per day, the Commercial Service’s Gold Key Program will set up appointments for you to meet with potential overseas partners and provide translators. Find a U.S. Commercial Service specialist in your area.

Be sure to hire a lawyer in any country you do business in that specializes in foreign businesses. You will need to have someone who is familiar with your position and that country’s laws so that he can watch your back and make sure you are aware of any changes in tax law, etc.

If you are, in fact, looking to expand your business overseas, I highly recommend that you not only check out the other parts of this post series, but also examine the resources provided at the end of each post before making that transition. Prepare yourself for every aspect of business in any country you select before making that final leap into the well spring of new consumers.

Pt. 1: Why and Why Not Expand Overseas?
Pt. 2: Labor Laws
Pt. 3: Protecting Your Product

Source:
• Inc.com: How to Get Started

Currency Resources:
Oanda Currency Conversion Calculator
Bank for International Settlements
Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Other Resources:
U.S. Advocacy Center


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By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, June 17th, 2017 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Operations |

Expanding Your Business Overseas: Protecting Your Product

When starting a business in America, one of the most crucial elements is to get your product or business practices patented or copyrighted. Unfortunately, when it comes to expanding your business to the global market, a U.S. patent won’t protect your money-maker, as they are not enforceable overseas. There are some things you can do, however, to guard yourself from idea theft.

What you should probably do first is file with the Patent Cooperation Treaty under the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). According to John Lanza, a Boston attorney, at a cost of $3,000 to $6,000, a PCT filing can preserve your right to patent your product in most major nations for up to 30 months. That way you can test the waters in a number of markets in order to find your niche.

Once you’ve determined where your product will be most successful, you should file a patent in that particular country. If you don’t, them moment you begin to offer your product copy-cats will begin producing competition with their knockoffs. Obviously the process for filing a patent differs with each location. For more assistance, The U.S. government provides a “tool kit” on international patents at StopFakes.gov.

International patents have classifications, in order to streamline the application process. After all, there has to be a way to determine if someone already has a patent for a particular product in a particular country. For more information of this classification process, visit the WIPO’s International Classifications page.

Danger – be aware of the fact that China is one of the leading countries when it comes to intellectual property theft. Ted C. Fishman, author of China, Inc. recommends that, in order to help protect yourself you should establish a licensing agreement with a Chinese business partner that requires him to provide a substantial upfront contribution to your business expansion. Such an investment will keep him from revealing product specifications to another manufacturer or trying it on their own and will also help to keep other Chinese businessmen from trying to tap in to your market.

Bottom line, protect your most important asset, the product you provide, whatever it may take. Though there may be some cost to it, in the end it would be more than worth it. The alternative, a cheaper knockoff of your product stealing your customers, would be detrimental.

Tomorrow I will cover the monetary and taxation aspects of owning a business overseas.

Pt. 1: Why and Why Not Expand Overseas?
Pt. 2: Labor Laws
Pt. 4: Money and Taxes

Source:
• Inc.com: How to Get Started

Resources:
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
European Patent Office
Patent Pending in 24 Hours by Richard Stim and David Pressman


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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, June 16th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Business Law, Operations |

Expanding Your Business Overseas: Labor Laws

A milestone in the growth of any business is the capacity to expand into the global market. As exciting as the looming possibility may be, you don’t want to cross the boarder blindly, especially if you are passing the internet zone and actually opening your doors in a foreign land.

As most know, the laws vary in every country, and labor laws are no exception. If you’re expanding your business to another country and plan to have employees in that country, it’s important that you know what you’re dealing with before you except any resumes.

For example, U.S. employers have basically complete control over who they hire and fire. But in other countries, that’s not always the case. But, according to New York lawyer Aaron Schindel, in the European Union and much of South America, employers are legally obligated to consult with employee representative, whether it be a union or works council, before relocating an office, conducting layoffs, or even discontinuing a product.

Labor costs may be low and appealing for expanding your business overseas, but the other financial obligations that come with being a foreign employer make the cost of running a global business fall onto a comparable scale to that of U.S. only operations.

When it comes to worker benefits, many countries require employers to provide a month of paid vacation and/or mandatory bonuses. Take the Mexican aguinaldo, for example, a mandatory Christmas bonus provided to every employee in Mexico and equivalent to 15 days wages or more.

When it comes to health insurance for your employees, things may be a little easier. Most countries provide universal health care for workers. This is often partly funded by payroll taxes, which can have high rates, but are typically more cost effective than the continual rise in insurance premiums in the U.S.

There are many other things to consider when looking to expand your business overseas. Check back tomorrow for information on how to protect what keeps your business running, the product your provide.

Pt. 1: Why and Why Not Expand Overseas?
Pt. 3: Protecting Your Product
Pt. 4: Money and Taxes

Source:
• Inc.com: How to Get Started

Resources:
The International Labour Organization
• U.S. Dept. of Labor (dol.gov): Foreign Labor Trends Reports
• Univ. of Chicago: Foreign Law


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By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, June 15th, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Business Law, Operations |

Workplace Bullies and How to Deal with Them

We all know a bully to be a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates what he/she considers smaller or weaker people (definition courtesy of dictionary.com).

Every grade school class has one. The kid that taunts everyone, calls them names, makes them feel worthless. And that doesn’t change much in high school either. But as we become adults that tormenting part of childhood usually fades away.

Unfortunately, a sort of epidemic of bullying from bosses has found its way into the work force. Truthfully, it’s probably been there all along, only now more people are willing to speak out about it.

The signs are obvious according to a survey conducted by the Employment Law Alliance, in which 44% of 534 U.S. workers felt they were being bullied by their boss. A bullying boss is one who publicly criticizes, rudely interrupts, teases, gives dirty looks, uses sarcastic jabs or ignores one or more employees. But what can be done about it?

The Target
If you are the target of a boss’ bullying, you likely deal with a low self-esteem and possibly even depression as a result. Being constantly given the impression that you’re worthless and weak can often make you believe it.

There are no laws against bullying someone. If you are the target of a boss’ bullying, a lawsuit is not currently an option. It would likely be counter-productive to go directly to that superior and tell her what she is doing is making it hard to work there. Chances are she will simply give you a hard time about it.

Before you just up quit your job, however, try going to someone higher up. If there is no superior above your bullying boss’ head, go ahead and give talking it out a shot. If that doesn’t work, a job search may be your best bet.

The Higher-Up
If you are concerned that you may have a bully under your employ, there are some warning signs to look for. Pay attention to turnovers and absentee rates. If a department is seeing a lot of either, chances are the head of that department isn’t very easy to live with five days a week and employees would rather not come to work at all then to have to deal with him.

Clearly, if there is a bully in your midst, confront him about it and give him an opportunity to change. But I would suggest making it a short opportunity. Not only does a bullying supervisor affect the success of your business, but he can also cause emotional or mental distress for your other employees and no one wants that.

If you don’t have a bully in your employ, but want to take the steps to avoid future problems, a good plan is to add bullying tendencies to your company’s sexual harassment policies. This makes all employees aware of what you consider acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and could help to avoid the problem.

The Bully
Most bullies are well aware of what they are doing, but lets say that you don’t realize that you’re bullying your employees – that you see it as just having a little fun. Pay attention to how people react when you’re “having a little fun.” If, instead of laughing along with you, they’re avoiding eye contact and evading you, then you’re probably being inappropriate and causing problems.

Here’s the thing, chances are the reason you never grew out of being a bully (because it’s likely you’ve always been one) is because deep down you don’t really think very highly of yourself either. Most bullies act the way they do because they are trying to feel better about themselves at the expense of others. If that is the case there are clearly some underlying issues that must be dealt with in order to overcome your aggressive behavior. Don’t be afraid to get help.

Regardless of where you fall in the bullying ring, even if you’re observing from the outside, do what you can to help correct the situation in order to preserve a pleasant working environment. If employees aren’t happy, productivity diminishes, and when that happens the business suffers. Efforts to remedy the situation benefit everyone at every level, so make the effort and the results may astound you.

Source:
• Inc.com: Nearly Half of U.S. Workers Feel Bullies at Work – and They Want to Sue


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By Michelle Cramer
Wednesday, June 14th, 2017 @ 12:05 AM CDT

Human Resources, Operations |

Tips for Running a Successful Seasonal Business

Spring is in full swing and summer isn’t far behind. Seasonal businesses such as landscaping and swimming pool cleaning are beginning to see a huge boost in sales. As the seasons change, their sales will creep downward, while businesses like ski resorts and Christmas stores will have a large upswing.

When you own a seasonal business, it’s important to know how to maintain an income year round to support you and keep the business alive.

Budget, Budget, Budget
First and foremost! What’s coming in and, more importantly, what’s going out? Know your capabilities. Don’t only budget for the months that business is good, but budget for the entire year. There are bills that have to be paid all 12 months, whether business is good or bad, such as utilities, taxes, maintenance, and rent.

You also need to consider how much you depend on the seasonal income for your daily life – food on the table and a roof over your head. If the seasonal business provides enough income for you to live off of all year, know what you need to get by each month and set that amount aside as soon as you can when the cash flow begins.

The Off-Season
Some seasonal entrepreneurs just take the off-season as an opportunity to have an extended vacation, and I bet it’s really nice. Others are busy bodies and need to have something to do all the time (like me). Unfortunately, however, some seasonal businesses don’t provide enough income to sustain the whole year. If you’re one of the later, then consider expanding the products or services your business provides.

If you own a Christmas store, consider selling decorations for the other holidays throughout the year. In landscaping, a job that sees little to no work in the winter? How about putting your decorative skills to use and offering Christmas decorating and lighting services. If you own a farm, expand your crop to include spring, summer and fall crops, and maybe even consider building a green house to grow crops in all year.

Another option, if you own a camp, ski resort, or theme park and enjoy your time off but need the extra income, is to have registration deadlines that include registration fees, a couple of months before the camp opens (or incentives to buy season passes several months in advance). This helps to distribute your income over a longer period of time, making it easier to get by without giving up the vacation period.

Use Time Wisely
If you have the opportunity to keep your time-off, use it wisely. Take the chance to provide regular maintenance or repairs to the equipment you use, without dipping into your work season. Also, use the down time to budget for the next season and year ahead. Another great use of the off-season is marketing your business, whether it be through fliers, direct mail, or phone calls. Whatever you choose to do with that time, be sure and budget for it.

If you own a seasonal business, do what you can to enjoy it. The off-season can provide a great opportunity to spend time with your family and pursue other passions. Do what you can to preserve that by running your seasonal business efficiently and successfully.

Related Reading:
• Entrepreneur.com: Running a Seasonal Business


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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, June 12th, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Operations, Ownership |

When You Should Consider Hiring a CEO

When you start a business, it’s your baby, your life’s ambition come true. You spend thousands of hours building it, nourishing it, helping it grow. But just like a child, there may come a time when you have to loosen the reigns a bit. It may be time to hire a CEO.

Here are some clues that it may be time to put your business in another person’s hands:

• If you’re more comfortable planning the next big product for your company, but not with delegating who does what to make that product happen, you may need a CEO.

• When you don’t feel like you provide the professional presentation that clients are looking for, it may be time for a CEO to handle them.

• If your company has had ample turnovers, internal problems and a lack of direction, a CEO may be able to help clean up the mess.

• If all of your time is spent on operating the business and other important growth elements such as customer service, business development, and marketing are falling by the waste-side, time to bring in some CEO management.

The purpose of a CEO is not only to manage and operate the company on your behalf, but to give you constructive criticism and advice. And you have to be able to take it, because it’s the CEO’s job to make sure the company runs smoothly, and that may mean some necessary changes you’re not ecstatic about.

Also keep in mind when looking for someone to fill the CEO position that he needs to understand and share your values and vision for the future of your business. After all, it is still your business, so the track it is on should stay relatively the same. The CEO may bring other possibilities to your attention, but you will make the ultimate decision and she will have to be someone who can accept and respect that.

Putting the management of your business in someone else=s hands is a scary thought and requires immense consideration. But with someone who is capable and on the same page as you are regarding values and goals, he/she can actually make the experience of being an entrepreneur much more enjoyable.

Source:
• Entrepreneur.com: Bringing in a CEO


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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, June 9th, 2017 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Operations, Startup |

Business Tips from Presidential Campaigns

Well, it has begun. The race for the White House in 2008 has started nearly two years in advance. But things are a bit different on the campaign trail this time around. The biggest difference: the candidates reliance upon the internet to develop their following. And business owners need to pay attention, because the strategy works.

Blogs
Nearly every candidates website has some sort of blog post in which the candidate expresses his/her thoughts on a certain issue. John Edwards announced his participation in the race on his website one day before the press conference where he did the same. This gave his followers a feel of somewhat “privileged information,” not to mention brought in a little extra press coverage.

The candidates that keep a blog going throughout the campaign trail have caught on to the fact that the largest benefit of a blog is making your supporters/clientele feel like a part of the team. Keeping them informed with the daily issues at hand, whether that be how a candidate’s visit to a factory went that day or the new product that your company is releasing, help them feel like a part of your company, or in this case, campaign.

Video
Leave it to Hillary. Senator Clinton launched her campaign for the presidency in a webcast on January 20th. Talk about tech savy. She continues to have weekly “HillCasts” in which she addresses various aspects of her campaign and her position on various matters. The idea is to appeal to the younger generation of voters out whose resource for news and information is the internet.

As a business owner, consider using video to announce the launch of a new product or a promotion. Posting such videos to YouTube as well as you’re own website can definitely generate some response. And let’s not forget that a video of someone like the CEO helps the customer to feel like there is actual person behind the business. It helps provide a sense of comfort and security.

Social Networks
Senator John McCain has invited supporters to sign up for their own “McCainSpace” site, to help them feel more involved in the campaign. Now even those supporters who may have little to no experience or knowledge base for helping on the campaign trail can feel like they are making a difference for the candidate they believe in.

Gov. Bill Richardson invites his supporters to join what is deemed his “grassroots campaigns” on sites like MySpace, Facebook and Flickr. Supporters can link their sites to Gov. Richardson’s as well as post their own blogs on the candidate and his issues.

Businesses can follow suit by developing social networks centered in their company’s ideals and benefits. Allowing customers to post their own reviews or blogs through your website allows them to feel involved. The loyal customers become part of the marketing concept for your company.

In all of this it’s important to remember to stick to the truth. Falsehoods will find you out, especially when you are inaccurately promoting a product or service you provide, or the statistics about your company.

Also, keep in mind that, along with the good comes the bad. If you open yourself up to the community, there will be people out there who are not pleased with your company, whether it be the service/product, the customer service department, or the charity you donate to. You can’t please everyone, and those that you don’t will definitely make themselves known. This is a risk you take when opening yourself up to the public, so be careful and stay on guard.

Source:
• Entrepreneur.com: Business Trick from Presidential Campaigns


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By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, June 8th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Marketing, Networking, Operations |

Aprils Fools Day Office Pranks

I know I am one of the many who are guilty of dreaming up fabulous pranks that would have everyone in the office rolling… but I never have the nerve to actually follow through with pulling them off.

Entrepreneur.com’s Top 10 Office Pranks Exposed reveals some very inventive and hilarious office pranks that were pulled off, including the culprits. My personal top three from the list are:

• Placing a sticky-note on the bottom of a co-worker’s mouse that says “April Fools.” It may take a few minutes for her to figure out why his mouse doesn’t work, but it will sure produce a good chuckle.

• All the employees band together and call in sick the same morning about an hour before report time (particularly if a new hire is to start that same day). Then, everyone shows up to work at the same time, maybe with breakfast in tow.

• While the new technical service representative was out of the office, some employees of a printing company sent all of his equipment, including the computer monitor, through the shrink wrapping machine.

A sense of humor in the office is a must to get through the day, but be careful when planning a practical joke, because your job could be on the line. Be sure to think through all possible reactions from your co-workers and the consequences of such reactions. Also, be sure not to do anything that might hurt someone’s feelings or distract the rest of the work day.

And, above all else, be sure you know your boss and how he’ll react well enough before pulling a practical joke on him. Anything that embarrasses him or undermines his authority will quickly cost your job.


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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, June 2nd, 2017 @ 12:06 AM CDT

Operations |

Tips for Dealing with Calls from Upset Clients

Unfortunately we can’t please everyone and many times those who are unhappy in any way want to express it. I know because not only do I receive the calls, but sometimes I make them when I feel the customer service I received is lacking in some way.

So, what should you do when you’re on the receiving end of a call from an upset or irate client? There are many tactics to keep in mind, and though some may should cheesy, they can be very helpful in making the call end positively.

• First and foremost, listen and take notes. If you have to relay the situation to someone else, it’s important that you don’t get any of the information wrong.

• Stay positive, both in your tone and in your head. Thinking that the caller is being ridiculous will translate into your tone and will definitely not help the situation.

• Don’t talk down to or berate the client – always remember that their complaints are important to them and you should express an understanding of that.

• Do not take their complaint personally or become defensive. If you do you’re opening the opportunity for the conversation to quickly escalate to a bad one.

• Do not interrupt to defend yourself or the business. Only interrupt to detour the conversation back to a positive level if the client’s emotions begin to escalate.

• Express empathy to the client’s situation. Put yourself in their shoes and try and see their perspective. Not only will it make them feel better, but it will help you to discover the best solution to the problem.

• Take responsibility for your actions and apologize assertively when you personally have made a mistake (do not apologize for other employees, because that is admitting their fault in the situation when you’re probably only getting selective facts and perspective).

• Thank the client for sharing his concerns with you and try to find a solution you can both agree on, even if that means talking it over with other staff members and calling the client back with options.

There are always exceptions, but sticking to these simple guidelines will help you to turn the conversation with upset clients in a productive direction that will hopefully guide you to a resolution that everyone is happy with.


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By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, June 1st, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations |

A New Way for Employees to Get Paid

Some say that there will soon come a day when checks are no longer in existence. Well, how would you like to get paid by your employer with a debit card? Sounds a bit strange, but it’s catching on and here’s why:

Many businesses have employees, such as minors or new U.S. immigrants, that don’t hold bank accounts. When those employees receive their paycheck, they will pay up to 10% of the check in order to get it cashed. A recent alternative is providing employees with a payroll debit card.

Basically, the employer deposits funds in a payroll account and then distributes payroll debit cards to his employees. Each card has an amount attached to it that is equal to that of the employee’s paycheck for that pay period. The funds can be withdrawn from an ATM or the card used as a debit card at any retailer.

Not only does it save employees without bank accounts the expense of getting a check cashed, but it also saves the employer the expense of printing paper paychecks. Checks typically cost $1-2 to print, while it is only about twenty-cents to provide a payroll debit card.

There are still a few bugs left to work out, however. Most state laws require that employees get their entire paycheck on pay day. This could be a problem if the ATM machine has a withdrawal limit that is less the the employee’s paycheck amount. The employer may to have to pay extra ATM withdrawal fees for all of the funds to be accessible at once.

Not to mention the fact that changing over to a payroll debit card process (in addition to direct deposit) can be time consuming, as most employees would be wary of such a change at first. It would take some time to reassure them that the process is secure and efficient.

Payroll debit cards are clearly one of the first steps in the extinction of checks. Despite the wrinkles that remain in the process, it is definitely something that makes things a bit easier for the employee, and requires less paperwork for the employer, which is always a good thing.

Source:
• CNNMoney.com: The End of the Paycheck


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By Michelle Cramer
Wednesday, May 31st, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Money, Operations, Technology |

Business Structures Help Fight War on Terror

That’s right, small businesses have what it takes. And the U.S. military is finally starting to see that. Recently, the Pentagon has been passing around The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom, a book originally written for businesses.

The basic idea of the book is that “centralized organizations are like spiders and can be destroyed with an attack to the head . . . decentralized organizations transfer decision-making to leaders in the field [and] are like starfish — no single blow will kill them, and parts that are destroyed will grow back.”

Sound familiar? That’s because our war with terror is against organizations that are decentralized. We can take out leader after leader, but until we understand their mentality completely, we won’t get very far because there are leaders all over the place.

How does this connect to small business? Well, actually, many small businesses across the national have long embraced the “starfish” mentality. Only now is the U.S. military catching on to the fact that they could learn a lot from fellow citizens on the home front.

A great example of a centralized organization (a “spider”) is Enron. The CEO went down, and took everyone with him. That wouldn’t be the case with a decentralized business. Employees are split into parts of the whole unit based upon their task, given goals to achieve, and then all given equal opportunity to achieve them.

Everyone is trying to be the best, so everyone is doing their best, which results in a well-oiled, fit business machine. Each person is equally important to the best possible function of that machine. Granted, occasionally someone will malfunction, and may even slow the machine down a bit, but it quickly repairs itself.

And, yes, there is someone to answer to, but the idea of CEO is a bit different. Instead of always looking over your shoulder and giving orders, he is more or less there as a guide. What he tells you to do is more like a suggestion, and, out of respect (not fear), you take his advice.

Decentralized businesses don’t always work, however. As you might expect, there are instances where things get out of control… one or more people trying to take over, etc. It just depends on the number of employees and the personalities you’re dealing with. Decentralized businesses are for those who want to share the glory, not hoard it all for themselves.

It’s those weaknesses that our military intends to focus on in the war against terrorism. Taking hints from The Starfish and the Spider is a good start. We may just be well on our way to a victory… not to mention some rocking places to work.

Source:
• USAToday.com: Can Small Business Help Win the War?


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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, May 29th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations |

Avoiding the Courtroom: Tips for Deterring Litigation

It’s a risk every business owner takes the moment he/she opens their doors – being sued. And there are a lot of reasons your business could be pulled into court – everything from unpaid bills to outrageous claims of fraud against your company.

Anything from the substantial and justified to the frivolous can come against your business at any moment, and if you want to avoid the long, tedious court process, you’d better make sure you’re ready.

CONTRACTS
Attorney Fees Clause
Every contract you have should contain a dispute resolution section. Within that section, it’s a good idea to state that, should any dispute proceed to litigation and you win the case, the client would be responsible for your attorney fees.

This would make any client who doesn’t really have a case against you think twice before filing a lawsuit. On the other end, should you need to sue a client for an unpaid balance, etc., they will probably refrain from fighting you much if they know they will have to pay attorney fees for you.

Limitation of Liability Clause
In addition, consider adding a clause in your contract that limits your liability and damages, should there be a flaw with the product you provide, etc. For example, if you provide a product or service on a regular basis that is worth $5,000.00 then put a clause in your contract that limits your liability to $5,000.

This covers any defective products you may have, avoids needless court proceedings to determine an amount for damages, and keeps you from losing the shirt of your back to pay for non-economic damages.

Arbitration Clause
Another option is to put in the contract that any disputes that cannot be immediately resolved are to be conducted exclusively through Arbitration. More or less, arbitration is another form of mediation.

One party files a form requesting Arbitration and provides the fee up-front, which can be in the ballpark of $750. This sounds like a lot, but can be much less than a trial in court would cost with attorney fees and the like. And, whatever is decided during Arbitration, is held with the same regard as a judgment in court. More information can be found on the American Arbitration Association website.

INSURANCE
It’s important to be aware that your business insurance may cover your liability if there is a dispute. If something comes up, the first thing you should do is check with your insurance company to see if such matters are covered under your policy.

If the situation is covered, the insurance company will take over negotiations on your behalf and, hopefully, settle the matter. Be aware, however, that the insurance provider will only pay out to the extend of the policy limits. You are responsible for anything above that (but they will always try and settle below the policy limits if possible).

Another smart move, before any threat of lawsuit even comes close to your business, is to purchase additional liability insurance through your provider. A typical business policy will, unfortunately, only cover minimal disputes.

There are additional provisions for matters that would be more likely to occur for your specific business – from employment practices liability coverage to advertising practices liability coverage and the like. Be sure to talk to your provider and be aware of all of your options.

Though these steps cannot guarantee that your business won’t go to court over something, they will help to avoid it as much as possible. Keep in mind that the best thing to really do is protect your business and your customer. If you do both honestly and efficiently, then the problems should be minimal.

Always consult with an attorney before changing or developing your business contracts to make sure your business is fully protected under the law. The statements in this article are not to be taken as official guidance, but, rather, as an informational supplement to the legal aspect of your business strategy.

Source:
• Entrepreneur.com: 5 Litigation Secrets


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By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, May 25th, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Business Law, Operations |

Should You File a Patent on that Great Idea?

These days, as new businesses continually pop up on every corner of every freshly constructed commercial street, there are bound to be some duplications and similarities along the way. One way you can protect your business practices from being copied by another company is to patent them.

According to the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO), a patent is: a property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.

In other words, a patent keeps other businesses from making money off of your ideas. This is not simply limited to a product you have come up with, but also business practices and strategies. This also includes combining two or more products/strategies that have already been patented to form a better and more useful product or service.

For example, in Breakfast in a Whole New Way, I discussed breakfast restaurant owners who were getting patents on what kind of mix-ins could be combined with cereals, such as M&Ms and skittles, in order to keep competitors from adopting the same options for customers.

The patent process is very long and loaded with paperwork. And it is difficult and expensive to enforce a patent if someone else tries to infringe on it. So, before you sort through all the red tape, ask yourself these questions:

Has someone beat me to the punch?
Before even considering a patent, you need to make sure that no one else has already beat you to it. There are a number of online searches available including USPTO’s and Google Patent Search, which are both free. Other searches such as Delphion require a fee.

Is it worth it?
If there isn’t a patent like yours out there, then you need to determine if it is actually worth the trouble to pursue a patent. In order for it to be worth while, your business should center around the product/service you want to patent.

If someone where to copy your invention and it would result in the demise of your company, then a patent is definitely worth your time. However, if the patent is for a side product that doesn’t bring in as much revenue as your big seller, then it’s probably not necessary.

Do I have the resources?
It takes a lot of time and money to enforce a patent if someone is tapping in to your creativity. It can also be extremely expensive to defend yourself if someone else sues for patent infringement. Be sure you have the resources available to protect your company if you were to face opposition on either side.


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By Michelle Cramer
Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Business Law, Operations |

Why Small Businesses are Gullible to Scams

What’s this world coming to that so many people are scamming others for money . . . and we’re falling for it? It really blows me away that so many people fail to do their homework and check out what their told by a random nobody who calls them up and says, “You owe us money.”

Granted, some of these scammers are good… too good really, but most of them prey on the gullible. And, unfortunately, small businesses can be far too gullible. They’re targets. New small businesses are hit by scammers because they have less experience in the ways of the business world and will probably assume everyone’s who they say they are.

Also, most small businesses are too small to afford a full-time legal staff to check out offers or claims. And many are in desperate need of investors and will jump at the chance of “free money.” And that’s what the scammers are hoping for.

There are endless scams out there, but if you own a small business, here are three common scams to look out for:

Overpayment
With this tactic, scammers order a product from you and mail in a check for payment, but they write the check for more than they owe, making look as though it was simply a misunderstanding, such as sending a check for $950, when the bill was $750, and claiming the seven looked like a nine. Your company sends a refund of $200 with the shipment of the items purchased.

But, a couple weeks later, the check bounces because the account is closed or doesn’t exist. And you’ve just given away your product, been stuck with the bill for a bounced check, and are out $200.

What makes this work is the fact that the small business owner is gullible enough to trust that the check will clear, and that should never be the case, not even with your regular customers, and MOST ESPECIALLY not with a new customer. Give the check 7-10 days to clear the bank before you even ship the product. And, if the check is written for too much, return it and require the correct amount. Make it part of your payment policy and you’ll avoid the scammers.

Disappearing Act
A common example is a fax received asking if you are interested in selling your business. If you are and you contact the company, they charge you several thousands of dollars (we’re talking $5-10K) for that company to determine what your business is worth. The problem is, you pay them and they never return. Poof, they disappear.

The best way to avoid this type of scam is to check out any business, whether you hear of them by fax or word of mouth, before giving them your money. Check their registration with the Secretary of State and the Better Business Bureau. Ask around and see if anyone else has heard of them. Even do a Google Search. Chances are, if they’re scammers, you’ll find out real quick. And unless you can find a solid gold list of references and validation, don’t even both.

Directory Listings
Fake invoices have been around for awhile, but an added twist to this fraud is that many scammers are claiming to be directory listings, whether in print or online. They typically call and tell you that your listing is about to expire and convince you to renew. Then they send you a bill for several hundred dollars.

Generally, however, there is no directory to begin with and you’ve just paid to have your company name listed nowhere. As a rule of thumb, if you’ve never heard of or even seen the directory, it probably doesn’t exist.

A great way to throw the scammer for a loop is, when they call for your renewal, ask for a copy of the previous directory so that you can make sure you like they way your company is listed before it’s renewed. They’re sure to hang-up at that point.

Again, always check to verify the true existence and good standing of a company before you do business with them. I have listed helpful resources below. Don’t give the benefit of the doubt — that’s what makes you gullible in the scammer’s eyes. I guarantee, anyone who is a legitimate customer will understand your skepticism and wait patiently for you to verify their company or funds.

Resources:
National Fraud Information Center
Better Business Bureau
BBB Online Reliability Seal Program
Federal Trade Commission
Internet Crime Complaint Center


Related Readings:

• Entrepreneur.com: Common Small-Business Scams
• Systematic, Inc.: How to Steer Clear of Internet Scams


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By Michelle Cramer
Friday, May 19th, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Money, Operations, Technology |

A Newer Way of Avoiding High Energy Bills

Warmer temperatures are anticipated for the year (the groundhog didn’t see his shadow this time, which means early spring). Inventories abound for natural gas and prices are falling. Things might actually be at a good state right now, and it’s time your business took advantage of it.

How? By tapping into (no pun intended) fixed rate natural gas contracts. Basically, you are locked into a fixed rate per therm (a measurement of natural gas) and pay the same amount each month.

The contracts last up to three years and are provided by companies such as Xcel, IDT Energy, Accent Energy and CenterPoint Energy. Basically these and other firms come to an agreement with utility companies to deliver natural gas to consumers through a pipeline. The utility company makes a profit off of the transmission charge, so they are willing to contract out the supplying of the gas, as long as the transmission charge is paid.

Using fixed rate natural gas contracts can save you money, but it can also cost you more. It simply depends upon whether gas prices go up or down. Right now, they’re down, which means it would be smart to get in on this opportunity now, with a lower fixed rate, and pay less later.

Another advantage of these contracts is stability and consistency in your bills. A fixed energy bill will allow you to budget the expenses of your business more easily, causing less stress come bill paying time.

They’re worth looking into for any business owner. Anything that is easier or cheaper over the long term is usually worth it.

Sources:
• CNNMoney.com: How to Avoid Sky-High Energy Bills
• StarTribune.com: Fixed-rate Gas Plans No Bargain for Some


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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, May 15th, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Money, Operations |

Finding the Right Price for Your Product or Service

The price of the product or service you provide determines whether your business succeeds or fails. If the price is right (as Bob Barker says), then your business will produce profits and grow, but if it’s wrong, your business could be destined for bankruptcy.

Far too many businesses choose the price of their product/service based upon only one calculation, when there are actually a number of elements you should consider together to come up with the best amount.

When determining a price for your product/service, considering the following:

Cover the Costs
The price you come up with should include enough to cover the cost of manufacturing the product or providing the service your business has to offer. If you travel, include the cost of mileage and expenses. If you provide mass quantities of a product, divide your costs to determine what it costs to make only one. If you can’t cover your overhead in the price of a product, your company will never break even or even make a profit.

Consider the Competition
And when I say consider, that’s exactly what I mean. Don’t price your product/service to be cheaper than the competition, just in the hopes that you’ll get all their business. If consumers trust your competitor more or like his product more, they will still go to him, even if he is more expensive.

However, when determining your prices, keep your competitors’ prices in mind as a range, since you don’t want to set your prices gobs higher (or too much lower). Also, look into how much business they generate and how that relates to prices they provide. Supply and demand really comes into play here.

Calculate the Value
Determining the true value of the product or service you are providing by looking at what consumers are paying others for it. eBay is a great example of how every person values things differently. Ask people you trust, such as friends, family and employees, what they would be willing to pay for your product/service and what they would expect would be included at that price.

Find out what clients would do if your product/service wasn’t offered. Also, ask them how your product/service is helping. If Bob tells you that you are saving him tons of money because your product is so inexpensive and delivery super fast, then you should probably be raising your prices a bit and charging more for a speedy delivery (while still giving Bob a great deal, of course).

Make sure you are looking at all of these elements when determining what your prices should be. And don’t worry about changing your prices if what you currently charge isn’t working. Most consumers won’t even notice, and you can simply explain to the ones that do that you really weren’t making it on the previous prices. If they are loyal to your business and like the product/service you provide, they’ll understand.

Supplemental Information:
The following questions are things you should take into account when establishing your prices–

1) What are the direct costs of your product or service?
The direct materials and labor associated with your offerings.

2) What are your business’s indirect expenses?
Often referred to as overhead and include expenses such as insurance, advertising, rent, office expenses and more.

3) What is your breakeven point?
Breakeven is where your costs and your income are equal–meaning, there’s no profit.

4) How is your competition pricing their offerings?
Compare your products to the competition. Adding value enables you to promote your products more profitably.

5) What is the state of your industry?
What was hot last year may not be this year. Understanding the market landscape will help you make better business decisions now and in the future.

Set your prices accordingly, but don’t be afraid to adjust them to your business’s need and market changes.

Source/Related Reading:
• BusinessWeek.com: Pricing – The Magic Number
• Office.Microsoft.com – Set the Best Price for Your Product
• BusinessWeek.com – Setting Your Product’s Price
• Wikipedia.org – Pricing


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By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, May 13th, 2017 @ 12:04 AM CDT

Operations |

Fire Bad Clients to Increase Profits

Are your profits being hindered by deadbeat clients?

Examples of client bad-habits you should consider cutting loose:

• Non-paying or Low-profit Clients
If they’re not paying you for your services, then they are obviously not worth working for. There is, of course, an exception to this rule. If a client is generally appreciative and can’t afford their entire bill, make payment arrangements that work for both of you. If they still won’t pay, even after you’ve given them a break, then drop them and consider suing them for the unpaid balance.

Continue Reading: “Fire Bad Clients to Increase Profits”


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By Michelle Cramer
Sunday, May 7th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Money, Operations |

Relating to NBC’s “The Office”

If you haven’t seen NBC’s “The Office yet, and you’ve ever worked in an office, then you should definitely catch an episode. Its Nominations for two golden globes this year are not surprising, as the show just keeps you rolling. It’s one of my favorites and I think the appeal is not only in it’s humor, but that at least one of the characters on the show reminds each of us of someone we’ve worked with.

Angela from Accounting
I think I can probably generalize that everyone has unfortunately had the pleasure of working with someone like Angela. There have been too many to count for me.

The woman is tiresome. Her holier-than-thou complex is just down right rude, not to mention obnoxious. She is absolutely convinced that no one can do anything as well as she can — that everyone in the world but her is a moron. We could all do without the “If I were you” statements that continually spill out of the mouths of the Angelas in our office.

Inevitably, however, everyone puts up with Angela, doing nothing about her behavior. Despite the fact that we couldn’t help but feel relieved if the soda machine tragically fell over on her (or is that just me?).

Face it, when it comes to the Angelas in our office, we all just roll our eyes, mumble obscenities to ourselves and move on. We don’t say anything because the boss clearly sees something in them that keeps them around and we don’t want to risk losing our job by pointing out the elephant in the room. Say la vi.

Michael, The Manager
Incompetent is the word that comes to my mind. How the man obtained the position of manager, I’ll never understand. How did he kept a job at Dunder-Mifflin long enough to even be considered?

I have most definitely had managers like him, especially in the food service industry. You’d be surprised how many managers in a fast food restaurant stand around dumb-founded most of the time (well, maybe you wouldn’t).

I’ll have to give it to him though, he tries. Well, he doesn’t try to do the job, he tries to get everyone to like him. Granted, his attempts are often ridiculous, but the occasionally margarita party would probably bode well in any office.

Michael is genuinely concerned about what people think of him. He lacks the self-confidence that most stereotypical managers thrive on. He’s a rarity in that regard, at least in my experience.

Dwight, the…. Uh…
What does he do again? Besides brown-nose, that is. Much like the Angelas, we could all do without the suck-up Dwights of the business world. When was the last time we heard anything about Dwight’s actual job on the show? While he deems his position “Assistant Regional Manager,” Michael is often quick to correct him, noting that he is “assistant TO THE regional manager.”

The basic scenario is all too familiar — Dwight’s desire to be more than he is requires him to spend too much of his time at the bosses beck and call to get anything done. And guess who is stuck with picking up the slack, while the Dwights try and take all the credit? But we keep on doing the work, with the meager hope that someone will notice.

Pam, The Receptionist
Now she is the type of co-worker that everyone could get along with. The co-worker we all wish sat next to us. And she is a rare jewel. Pam is sweet, caring and even funny. When Michael is down, despite the fact that she often loathes him, she will help to pick him back up. She even covers him when he’s messed up (as usual).

If we all just strived to be like Pam, work would be much more bearable. The reality is, however, that there will always be someone you work with whose personality clashes with your own. That’s just how it is. The best way to cope is to watch “The Office” and find some laughter in the familiarity.

Related Readings:
• Entrepreneur.com: Is Your Office Like “The Office?”


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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, May 1st, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations |

How Changes in Congress Could Affect Small Business

Small business owners were glued to their televisions last week as election ballots were tallied. In the end, 51 Democrats had seats in the House, compared to Republicans 49 seats. The House currently has 230 Democrats and 197 Republicans, with eight elections still determined ties.

Based on a pre-elections survey done by Wells Fargo and Gallup, approximately 75% of business owners believed the congressional takeover by Democrats would have a direct effect on small businesses nationwide. Various issues are expected to come into play.

Trade Promotion Authority
President Bush has ambitiously been seeking renewal of the Trade Promotion Authority, which will lapse in June. Created in 1974, TPA allows the president to negotiate trade agreements. Congress can approve or squash the agreements, but cannot amend them, which protects the agreements from gruelingly being picked to pieces once they were made with the U.S.’s trading partners. The shift in power is expected to slow the President’s progress on getting a renewal approved prior to the lapse, if at all.

Taxes
Estate Tax/Death Tax have been a long time reformation agenda for small businesses. It is a taxation of 30-50% on assets that are transferred from one generation to the next upon death. In other words, if dad dies, and leaves son a business and property worth $20 million, it will be taxed up to $10 million. If an asset is left to a spouse or a charitable organization, the tax usually does not apply.

A repeal of the tax was on the table, but it is expected to fall to the wayside. There may be a bipartisan approach, but it is not expected to be anything immediate, as the estate tax is not currently a congressional priority.

Healthcare
As far as healthcare, small businesses have been pushing for some sort of reform that will allow them to provide affordable health insurance to their employees. One such hope was association health plans, which would allow small businesses to band together on one insurance policy, even across state lines. The idea is highly supported by Republicans, not as favored by Democrats. It is expected that some option will be extended to small businesses, although association plans will probably not be utilized.

Minimum Wage
The national minimum wage has been $5.15 per hour since 1997. Based upon calculations, someone working a full-time job at this rate would make just over $10,000 a year, which is the national poverty line. In last week’s elections, six states approved raising the state minimum wage. There are now 29 states, plus Washington D.C., whose minimum wage is higher than the federal.

Raising the national minimum wage is a top priority for Democrats coming into a new congressional year. There is speculation that an increase in minimum wage would harm small businesses and increase the unemployment rate. However, a study by the Center for American Progress found that employment in small businesses grew in states where the minimum wage has already increased. Inflation is another concern for critics, but, truth be told, the pressures and struggles for small business under an increase would be marginal.

Iraq
The war in Iraq was the number one issue on voters’ minds, according to exit polls. Though it may not be directly connected to small business, it deserves mentioning. The Democratic takeover of Congress and a new Defense Secretary, combined with the people’s dislike of the way the war is being handled, will likely lead to a change in approach and policy.

Democrats want the Iraqi government to take more responsibility for its development and the war on terror in their country. The plan for doing so is to start pulling our troops out of Iraq and handing over the reigns. There have been requests of President Bush to convene an international conference on Iraq. Other suggestions presented may be regional dialogues with our adversaries in Iran and Syria for assistance or developing three sectarian states of the country.

The replacement of Donald Rumsfeld has led most to believe that President Bush is more open to these suggestions. In his address to the country regarding Rumsfeld’s resignation, Bush stated, “Secretary Rumsfeld and I agree that sometimes it’s necessary to have a fresh perspective.”

Changes are inevitably upon the horizon. Whether those changes are positive or negative depends entirely upon perspective. I would like to close with a statement made by Todd Stottlemyer, CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB):

“Small-business issues transcend party lines and we want to work with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to create an environment where businesses can flourish and grow and strengthen the American economy. That’s what NFIB is all about, promoting and protecting the right of our members to own, operate and grow their businesses. The key is providing a climate within which to do that.”

Sources/Related Readings:
• NFIB: Midterm Election Results In
• Business Week: Small Biz OK With New Congress
• Inc.com: What Does a Democratic Takeover of Congress Mean for Your Company?
• San Francisco Chronicle: Changes From Election May Weaken Bush’s Trade Agenda
• Reuters Election 2006: Economic Impact of Likely Minimum Wage Rise Unclear
• International Herald Tribune: Elections, Rumsfeld Exit Open Door to Change


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By Michelle Cramer
Tuesday, April 4th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Business Law, Operations |

Internet Search Advertising: Google vs. Yahoo

The idea was simple and logical. If an individual searches for golf clubs on the internet, it only makes sense that vendors selling golf clubs should advertise on a search engine to bring in more customers.

The recent demand for search advertising has produced serious competition between the two main internet search engines, Google and Yahoo.

Currently, search advertising is an $8 billion global industry, and its worth is expected to sky-rocket to nearly $22 billion in the next five years. No wonder the two major search engines are both still going strong. Both Google’s AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing (YSM) offer search advertising by allowing advertisers to bid on space identified with keywords and adjacent to search results. The key to the development of their head-to-head lies within the differences in their network connections and business philosophies.

When Yahoo’s top executive, Terry Semel, joined the company four years ago, he brought with him a long list of Hollywood contacts, and Yahoo has recently starting building a headquarters in Hollywood. Semel is a no-nonsense businessman and doesn’t play around, implementing tough discipline in management into the company. Yahoo is beginning to lean more toward being a media company, rather than an innovator of technology. Their focus has, therefore, shifted to traditional, handholding partnerships with ad agencies.

Google, on the other hand, focuses on the individual potential of their staff. They depend on their engineers to come up with innovative ideas for the company, and therefore expect them to spend one day a week on a special interest project of their own. Google has some of the top engineers in the country under its belt, and continues to attract them. Their focus is technology and innovation, and the Google executives are well aware of the fact that they must remain innovative to stay on top.

Recently, as most know, Google acquired YouTube in an effort to expand its advertising market to video advertising. Now Google again expanding its borders and upping the ante. They are currently in the test phase of an online marketplace that will allow advertisers to bid on print-ad space in more than 50 major U.S. newspapers, including The New York Times and Denver Post, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and the Chicago Tribune.

And Google’s leaps forward are beginning to leave Yahoo in the dust. Though Yahoo had maintained an edge for some time, a Web tracking firm recently showed Google forging ahead of Yahoo as the number one search engine. Google’s stocks are currently only ten percent below their all-time high, while Yahoo’s stocks have plummeted nearly 40 percent this year.

Advertising agencies tend to lean toward Google based on the fact that Yahoo has a tendency to be a late-bloomer when it comes to innovations, such as blogs and video. For example, Yahoo’s much anticipated new search technology for advertisers, dubbed “Panama,” was due to take flight this summer, but has already been delayed with an unspecified release date.

Critics expect Google to eventually hit a rough spot as their innovations begin to dwindle. However, considering recent and upcoming developments in Google’s advertising industry, I don’t foresee that happening any time soon. If you’re seeking search advertising as a marketing option for your company, it appears that Google is currently the way to go.

What’s your experience with Google and Yahoo search advertising? Please share your experiences and comparisons.

Sources/Related Readings:
•News.com: Google vs. Yahoo: Clash of Cultures
•CNNMoney.com: Yawns for Yahoo, ga-ga for Google
•Business Week: Google’s New Frontier: Print Ads
• Forbes.com: Google vs. Yahoo!


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By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, April 1st, 2017 @ 12:03 AM CDT

Marketing, Operations |

Stronger Business Through Honest Communication

Employers often expect honesty from their staff, but usually don’t provide the environment in which employees feel like they can be honest. It is more likely that an employee will simply tell you what they think you want to hear.

Unfortunately, this attitude does not provide a stable work environment and can often harm your business in the long run. You can’t be everywhere at once, so you depend on your employees to tell you when something is wrong. If they do not feel comfortable being completely honest with you, then there is a lot of information you could be missing.

One of the key elements to maintaining a successful and growing business is to create an honest workplace environment by implementing the following as a part of your business structure:

Define

Provide your employees with your definitions and expectations of honest communication in the workplace, such as:

• Always state the facts, without attempting to interpret “why.”
• Take a deep breath and don’t let emotions cloud your judgment.
• Don’t point fingers or place blame.
• Talk to the person you have a grievance with about the situation.
• Ask open-ended questions to stimulate productive conversation.
• Work together to determine possible solutions.

Clarify

Make the vision and goals of the business clear. Have monthly staff meetings to set those goals and determine the strengths and weaknesses of the business over the last month. Encourage your employees to participate in determining what those strengths and weaknesses are.

Clarify your expectations for your employees, providing a structured environment that they can depend on to be consistent and reliable.

Encourage and Motivate

Tell your employees that you value them. When someone does a great job, let them know that you appreciate their hard work. Don’t assume that they realize it on their own.

Show your employees that you value them. Compensate them for a job well done by providing a deserving salary. Also consider performance bonuses and annual or semi-annual raises when they have showed themselves loyal and productive.

Provide a comfortable working environment by developing relationships with your employees. Don’t treat them like your subordinates, make them feel as though they are part of the team.

Ask for both positive and negative feedback. Let them know that their thoughts matter to you.

Set an Example

Be reliable. Consider your employees’ best interests and provide a structured and consistent environment.

Be attentive. When your employees come to you and have something to say, give them your full attention (schedule a meeting if you have to) and hear them out. Don’t make any decisions before hearing everything they have to say.

Be authentic. Practice what your preach. If you expect honest communication from your employees, then you have to provide the same to them on a regular and consistent basis.

Be inspiring. Convey your passion and dreams for the business. Let them see that you enjoy your work. Show them that every aspect of your business is important to you, especially your staff.

Providing an environment in which your employees feel as though they can be honest with you will allow your business to develop a solid foundation. If the atmosphere behind the doors of your business is not positive, then it will be hard to develop that atmosphere outside them. Honest communication within plays a vital role in building a business that will obtain its goals and succeed.

Sources/Related Readings:
• Smart Business Network: Solid Leadership
• Entrepreneur.com: The Truth?
• NewsWise.com: Honesty in the Workplace Sorely Lacking


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By Michelle Cramer
Saturday, March 25th, 2017 @ 12:04 AM CDT

Operations, Ownership |

4 Ways to Keep Up on Industry Trends

In order to keep your business in top form it is imperative to be aware of emerging trends within your competitive marketplace. Peronsally, I try to stay ahead of the curve so that I am prepared when change happens.

Sometimes curveballs are thrown but if you do your homework you’ll find that you can win the guessing game.

Here are 4 tips to help you keep up on industry trends:

1) Set specific investigative times.
Set a time for yourself in order to research your sector for new trends. Industry is constantly evolving with every day that passes, are you aware of the leading edge?

2) Make trend spotting part of your daily routine.
Get into the habit of researching every day at the time you chose. Each time you research you are bettering not only your company but also yourself. Stay disciplined, stay on track and you will succeed.

3) Persistently investigate competitors.
Disect their offerings and compare it to yours. Do they have an advantage that you can meet or beat? If so, a change in plan might be needed. If you’re already ahead of the competition, maintain what you’ve got and think of ways to expand on your advantage.

4) Utilize the power of the Internet.
Use Google Alerts to notify you by email when a story featuring your industry is published. Keep track of the authors and other related stories they may cover. There are other powerful ways to use Google Alerts, but I have to keep those a secret.

Turn your research into an asset by applying what you learn to improve your business and create new products and services. This learning process will help you use your time effectively and take action with conviction.

Related Resources
• PCWorld.com – Tech/Industry Trends
• RileyGuide.com – Employment & Industry Trends
• ComputerWorld.com – Sleuthing Out Industry Trends


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By Chris Brunner
Wednesday, March 15th, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Operations |

Elements of a Successful Business

Yesterday I covered the elements of a winning brand. Today I’ll take a look at what ingredients go into creating and maintaining a successful business.

Despite the bad news we so often hear about the number of small businesses closing or moving, a good percentage of small companies have learned what it takes to survive the early startup years.

• Company Culture
• Customer Service
• Attitude
• Business Strategy
• Discipline
• Risk
• Financial Roadmaps
• Business Processes
• Information Technology
• Marketing
• Sales
• Training
• Team of Advisors
• Work/Life Balance


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By Chris Brunner
Sunday, March 12th, 2017 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Operations |

Product Stickers and Respect

Jason Fried over at Signal vs. Noise made an excellent point yesterday about respecting products you make and the customers who buy them.

Does this company respect me? Try the sticker test.

For instance, those pesky information stickers that come on just about everything, including INSIDE of a tea-kettle I bought recently.

• Are they easy to remove?
• Do they leave a sticky residue when removed?

Here is this great product I purchased and the manufacturer insists on sticking something on that completely mars the surface.

When these stickers are included, I can discern that the manufacturer probably has not tried to remove one of these stickers from their product themselves. They stick it and forget it.

This tells me that they don’t care about the product, or me.


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By Chris Brunner
Saturday, February 25th, 2017 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Operations |

SBA Hurting Small Business?

BusinessWeek Online has posted a very interesting interview with Lloyd Chapman, founder and president of the American Small Business League (ASBL), a federal small-business policy watchdog group based in Petaluma, Calif.

… last year he filed two lawsuits against the Small Business Administration for information pertaining to contracting fraud, and he’s gearing up to file two more.

Mr. Chapman speaks with Stacy Perman about what he views as a hostile environment toward small businesses as well as loopholes that give large corporations small business contracts.

Read the entire interview at BusinessWeek.com
Read SBA Administrator Hector Barreto’s response


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By Chris Brunner
Sunday, February 19th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations |

Adding Value to Your Business

I believe that there are two types of entrepreneurs:

1) The owner who plans to keep their company in the family, often passing it down to children or a trusted protege.

2) The owner who envisions selling the business for a large profit to another entrepreneur or to a larger corporation.

I will focus on entrepreneur #2, the seller.

In order to sell your company at maximum profit, you have to provide a maximum value to the buyer. After all, who wants to spend a ton of money on a company with financial woes offering shady products labeled with a terrible brand?

While there may be a few rogue investors out there who might jump on board, chances are you won’t get even close to the offer you hope for.

What can you do now to add value to your business?

1) Take care of the finances. Hire a professional to audit your books for three years worth of accuracy. Audited financials are golden and can bring a quicker close to the sale with limited investigation.

2) Reposition your reputation as the owner to emphasize the reputation of the company. A brand can be worth more than the business itself! (See #18, Louis Vuitton – bottler of Moët champagne and Hennessy cognac, producer of designer fashion and luxury cosmetics… a brand worth more than giants like Honda, Ford, Dell, Pepsi, Sony, Nike, etc.)

3) Brainstorm new proprietary products or services that fulfill a need of your customers. Even if they are not released, the raw data for these new ideas could serve as extra incentive for a buyer.

4) Build extensive customer lists and operation manuals if you do not already. Customer data can be a goldmine for someone buying your company. Operation manuals ensure the next person will have an idea of how everything works.

5) If you contract anything, make sure that it is short-term and does not require your involvement once the sale is complete. If long-term contracts are already in place, make sure they are fully transferable to the next owner.

These steps take time to execute which is why a decision to sell should be made long before the actual sale takes place.

Bottom line: prospective buyers want to see profit and value. With a strong combination of both, you will get closer to selling for what you really think your business is worth.

Recommended Reading:

• Entreprenuer.com – Growing a Business to Sell
• Powerhomebiz.com – Selling Your Small Business
• About.com Small Business – Selling Your Business Nest Egg
• Business Info Zone – Adding Value to Your Business Before You Sell It


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By Chris Brunner
Friday, February 17th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations |

Independent Contractors

While running a small business, there may come a time when you need a job done, but you don’t want to bring someone on full time to do it. This is where an independent contractor steps in.

The definition of an independent contractor has recently been disputed in a Utah courtroom. Read more about this story and the results of the charge and appeal in the Salt Lake Tribune.

For more help in determining whether a person who works for you is an employee or independent contractor, read IRS publication 15a.

Recommended Reading:
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By Chris Brunner
Friday, January 20th, 2017 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Operations |

What’s Your Business Model?

Quite simply, the business model is an explanation of how a company will generate revenue to meet your expenses and earn a profit. It also explains the sources of the company’s revenues, how much these sources pay and how often.

Is your sales product or service based? Based on this question, here are several types of business models that you could implement or enhance to further your income.

Fee for Service Models:
1) Day Rate
2) Project Fee
3) Monthly Retainer

Product-Based Models:
1) Flat Fee
2) Subscription
3) Bait and Hook

If you aren’t earning as much as you would like through your business, the marketing plan may not be at fault. Take a look at your business model and determine if changes are needed.

Source:
GetClientsNow.com


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By Chris Brunner
Thursday, January 12th, 2017 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations |

Avoid Legal Trouble

Being a new small business owner, I was recently forced to re-evaluate my company’s legal position. As a sole-proprietor, I learned that ALL of my personal assets were at risk of being taken if there were ever a legal dispute against my company.

Immediately, I visited a lawyer and formed a Limited Liability Company. Taxes are figured exactly the same, but now the assets I’ve worked so hard for are better protected.

“Operating a business as the sole proprietorship puts the owner in a vulnerable position. A better choice would be to start your company as a limited liability corporation. This means your company is a separate entity that must deal with its own legal issues and you are not personally held liable.”

Source:
WebProNews.com


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By Chris Brunner
Monday, December 26th, 2016 @ 12:03 AM CDT

Operations |

Telephone Etiquette Tips – Handling Client Calls

I carry many hats working for a law firm. I am a legal assistant, billing clerk and also the receptionist. A couple of weeks ago I attended a seminar called “How to Be an Outstanding Receptionist.” Not that I wasn’t any good at my job, but in recognition of the fact that no one is perfect and we all need improvement.

Most of the seminar was a refresher course, if you will, but there were some interesting topics and point that I thought useful for any business owner, not just the girl up front. One topic in particular was dealing with clientele over the phone.

Regardless of your position in a business, there are some things everyone should know:

Screening Calls
One key element for screening incoming calls is to avoid asking questions that can have a simple yes or no answer. For example, instead of asking, “May I tell him your name please?” which can result in “no” as response from the hostile client who feels her calls aren’t getting returned, simply say “What is your name?” or “Your name please.” You still may have hostile clients, but their options are much more limited. As long as you remain assertive and in control, you shouldn’t have many problems.

Fast Talkers
They’re out there… those people who can’t seem to talk slowly enough for you to understand them, let alone take down and name and number. One way to try and get them to slow down is to subtly slow your own speech. Many people will subconsciously catch on. Another option is to simply state that what they have to say is important to you and you want to be sure and catch everything so you would appreciate if they could talk a bit more slowly.

Chatters
Every grandma wants to talk about her beautiful grandchildren, it’s just that some of them want to tell you when three other phone lines are ringing. Try talking fast so that they get the impression that you’re in a hurry. Don’t asked open ended questions such as “What happened next?” Instead ask “What can I help you with today?” or “What is the issue at hand?

An interesting statistic that the seminar leader threw at us is that 93% of communication is tone and body language and only 7% is that actual words. So always remain positive and talk with a smile (clients can tell) and the majority of your calls will have a positive outcome.


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By Michelle Cramer
Sunday, December 18th, 2016 @ 12:00 AM CDT

Operations |

Expanding Your Business Overseas: Why and Why Not?

At some point in the self-owned business timeline, an entrepreneur will inevitably face the question of whether or not to jump in the deep end and go global. Some entrepreneurs, like myself and the photography business I started, don’t necessarily have the means or desire. I want to stick with my local market. Others, however, especially businesses who provide a tangible product rather than a service, could easily stretch their boundaries beyond the shining seas.

Why Not?
To some these may be excuses, to others, legitimate reasons to evade a risky venture:

• Language barriers.
• You may be unfamiliar with cultural practices and etiquette.
• You may be unfamiliar with local law and politics.
• Limitations of foreign labor laws.
• Time consuming and complex.
• Difficult to find a partner you can trust.

Why?
A list of reasons to overlook the risks in order to help your business grow:

• 95% of the worlds’ consumers reside outside the U.S. (according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative) – those are all potential new customers!
• Possible untapped market.
• Because if you don’t, your competition will.
• You don’t have to actually move overseas to do business there – the internet is your gateway to expansion.
• The risk, reward and challenge are appealing.

Whatever side you teeter toward, remember that going global doesn’t have to be a “right now” sort of thing. It’s always a possibility that you should consider, simply because you’re a business owner. If you are considering such an expansion, then there is a lot of work to be done before you begin. Be sure to check back the rest of the week as we continue discussing Expanding Your Business Overseas.

Pt. 2: Labor Laws
Pt. 3: Protecting Your Product
Pt. 4: Money and Taxes

Source:
• Inc.com: Gone Global (Inc. Magazine April 2007 cover story)


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By Michelle Cramer
Thursday, December 15th, 2016 @ 12:06 AM CDT

Operations |

Revitalize Your Stagnant Business

When you first started your business, the excitement was raw and tangible. With every step forward everything in you wanted to jump for joy, though you contained yourself (most of the time). Your dream was becoming reality. Your business was seeing success. Life was just plain good.

Fast forward a few years. Same dream, same business, but with a different feel. You’re still making money and still a success, but the excitement is all but gone. So, what’s the deal?

When a business is in its first years, you are establishing a structure. The problem is, once that structure is established, everyone thinks that it shouldn’t change — to stick with what you know (because that’s the easiest way). It becomes a comfort zone and no one wants to depart from a comfortable location. Besides, very few people deal well with change.

Continue Reading: “Revitalize Your Stagnant Business”


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By Michelle Cramer
Monday, December 12th, 2016 @ 12:02 AM CDT

Operations, Ownership |