Small Biz Stress : Frustration
A client called me over the weekend and he asked me, “Mike, what am doing wrong in my business?” He complained that his employees are not engaged; that they don’t care about his business. He talked about his training process with employees and that they still are not getting it after months of training. This client had been doing everything right. He had planned for the business, written a business plan, done the marketing research, and was generally prepared when he opened his business a year ago. My client continued, “Mike, I am so frustrated, I have been open for a year now and I’m not making any money yet” he exclaimed. “I though that I would be into a money-making rhythm by now, but the business just isn’t at that point. I see other business owners who are doing very well. They are buying cars, and going on vacations and I ask myself, why not me?” he said. Although he was nearly breaking even in his 6 employee restaurant, he was very frustrated and feeling isolated. “I can’t talk to my family, because they don’t understand. I can’t talk to my spouse because it ends up in a fight because she just wants me to stop all of this and just get a “normal” job. I can’t talk to my employees because they don’t care.” he said. “I just feel alone everyday. It’s very depressing. I didn’t sign up for this.”
The Stress of Owning a Small Business: Isolation and Loneliness.
It has often been said that It’s lonely at the top. There is a major paradigm shift that happens when you become the boss. There is great responsibility that is assumed when you go from signing the back of the check, to signing the front. You have become a capitalist and are working toward financial prosperity every day. Your friends won’t understand. They think that you are working way too hard. Your quest is different from the other 99% of the population. You feel alone. Guess what? You are not alone. These feelings of stress, and isolation are real and I want you to know that every business owner has these feelings. It’s normal. Many come to visit with me and they unload their stress and emotions on me. As a business advisor and entrepreneur myself, I’m one of the few people who understand what they are going through. I have considered opening a hotline: Call 1-800-GRIPE2MIKE. If I charged by the minute I could have a great business model :)
Small Business Owners Stress: Appearances are Deceiving
I often hear that everyone around the small business owner is doing great and prospering, however, that is not always true. I have to remind them that things are not always what they seem. I know many business owners who drive very expensive cars in order to present a public persona. Some of these owners are leasing these high-priced rides with monthly payments in excess of $1700. Just because they drive it, does’t mean they own it. Don’t assume that a fancy car means prosperity. I was at an event during the recent recession when one such client approached me. When I asked how her business was doing, she lowered her voice and said: “Mike, I only have $18 in my bank account and no business in process. I am freaking out on the inside - I don’t know how i’m going to pay my mortgage, or car payment this month or even pay for food.” She had a booth at the event which was paid for months in advance, yet she was there putting on a brave face to the crowd. I have often wondered how many people attend these events who are in the same situation as her; concealing eminent failure with a positive smile. It reminds me of a line from a church hymn: “Somewhere is the heart is hidden, sorrow that the eye can’t see.” The bottom line is that everyone has a different deal, even if it’s not visible to the public.
Overcoming Stress Through Collaboration
It is important that you find someone to talk to. Whether this person is a mentor, or business advisor or just a friend, it is important to have someone that you can be vulnerable to. Isn’t that the thing that makes this difficult, you may not feel comfortable being openly venerable to your employees or your family or friends. So, you need a shoulder to cry on - sometimes literally. Keep reminding yourself that the grass is NOT always greener on the other side of the fence. Meet up with other small business owners, or join a networking group. The important thing is that you don’t isolate yourself, but rather put yourself in a collaboration mentality. Remember that you see things differently than other people, after all, that different perception is the reason that you got into business in the first place. Right? And if you hit your breaking point, don’t forget to call: Call 1-800-GRIPE2MIKE.
PHOTO CREDIT: Evil Erin via Flickr, Creative Commons License, Some Rights Reserved
The minute you hire an employee, your life changes. You are suddenly responsible for a lot of things. Payroll taxes, unemployment insurance, Workers compensation. Are we having fun yet? Once you own a small
business with employees, Fridays will never be the same. As an employee, I used to look forward every other Friday to getting a paycheck. As a small business owner, every other Friday brings a sense of panic. You are constantly asking yourself: “Can I make payroll on Friday?” Welcome to Management. Managing people is a challenging task. Employees have been known to lie, cheat, steal money, etc. You probably can’t afford the best employees within your startup budget. You have to hire who can afford to take your low paying job. Additionally, No one will care about your small business venture like you do. You cannot expect employees to do so. Remember, this is your dream, not theirs. The worst thing about employees is that you have now magically turned yourself into a boss. You will probably be a lousy boss at first. Take a management class and try not to drive away your employees. Employees suck…Bad bosses suck worse.
Bindrup’s Advice: Be prepared before you hire! Think about Compliance, Management & Mindset.
Small Business Dreams - Inventors Build Products that Innovate
I have had many inventors as clients that come to me for marketing assistance. They all have the same problem: the product isn’t selling. They all came up with a brilliant idea, patented it, found a manufacturer,and sunk their savings into production run of their invention. Now they are broke, sitting on a garage full of their great idea gathering dust. What is really funny is that most of the inventions seem like they would
sell. They seem like wow! This is a great product! But, no one purchases the product.
Small Business Innovations That You Build won't Always Sell
Sometimes the best inventions don’t sell in the marketplace. Sometimes the best product doesn’t sell. Consumers are fickle. They are taken by fads. They are predictable in one moment and erratic in the next. Even when the product is extensively tested in the marketplace there can be unpredictable results.
New Coke Field of Dreams - Business Innovation That Didn't Work
Just ask Coca-Cola. Remember “New Coke” formula that was introduced in April 1985. It tested well in focus groups. It was abandoned 3 moths later due to 400,000 complaint letters and phone calls that Coca-Cola received from disappointed customers. Coca-Cola has big enough pockets to recover from such a disaster; Start-ups don’t.
Bindrup’s Advice: Build a prototype, protect it, and get it in front of your market. Let sales drive the production.
PHOTO CREDIT: Alex Ford, Creative Commons License, Some Rights Reserved.
My student loan payment was due, however the online site where I normally pay my bill was down on two different occasions when I went to access it. I called the loan servicer and explained the situation. The customer service agent for the financial institution told me that the site was down for maintenance, but that it would be working in a couple of hours. The agent encouraged me to pay them over the phone because it would apply immediately to my account, instead of taking 48 hours to post. This sounded good to me, so I submitted my payment to her over the phone. The next time I checked my statement - there was no sign of a payment ever having been made. So I sent off this message from inside of my logged-in area:
The bank responded saying that they were unable to show telephone transactions as well as online transactions on my account. This made no sense to me, since it should be easy to list all customer transactions. If they can tell me about it over the phone, why can they not show it to me. The only proof that it was paid is my bank statement. I sent the bank the following:
They had a chance to correct the situation, however they sent me a form letter instead. This letter said how much they value my business, right? Nope. They used the words "We truly apologize" and "thank you for your feedback" since they will be "looking into improving their systems". Not improving. Looking into improving. They continued by saying they "valued me as a customer" and are "always here to service your present and future needs". What a load of B.S.! They should have already helped me with my past need that is now a present annoyance. The final blow is that they want me to call their customer service department "at my convenience" to get my full payment history on the loan. keep in mind that the customer service department is the reason why we are here in the first place. They can't simply send me the information I need. (They could have sent it in the message 2x now) They have to send me a message to have me call a number (again). The customer service agent could have warned me against paying via the phone. "Mr. Bindrup, just so you are aware, our IT systems at our International Institution are so bad that we can't actually display to you any transactions conducted over the phone. Would you still like to continue with this phone transaction?"
As small business owners, we can not afford to take care of our customers in such a way. Large corporations should take note of this since we have begun to realize as a consumer purchasing block that our voice does matter. Big business has the resources to shine in the customer service arena, however, unfortunately, they seldom do.
With stress-levels running high and tension peaking, another creative deadline looms on the horizon. The project has progressed to this point, but, now, you are failing in the final lap of the race. You are at a standstill. Creatively drained and out of ideas, you weigh options on how to escape the black hole of this project; you embrace the horror that you cannot muster the motivation to see this project through to completion. How did I get myself into this mess…Again?
1. Relax to Harness Your Creativity
First of all, relax. The problem is not that you cannot come up with a creative solution, the problem is that the solution will not be revealed until you have overcome the stressed-out state you are in. When you are in this condition, you are not at your creative best. Besides, this is the same type of deadline that you have dealt with before. This is nothing new. You have survived difficult deadlines before and you will survive this one. Stress can be a silent killer. Your blood pressure is elevated and your body is dealing with higher hormone levels. Take a walk. Take a bath. Go to the gym. Do some yoga. You need to do anything that helps you to calm down and relax, with the exception of alcohol or drugs-we need you with a clear head, after all! Just as in golf, speed and power during a swing, can only be achieved with tension-free arms and wrists. The looser your wrists, the faster your swing will be.
2. Evaluate Your Project Pressure
Have you really gone over the needed work done to complete the project. Often times, we build up a project in out minds and make it overly cumbersome. The project might be completed in a short amount of time if you haven’t fully evaluated the job. I have procrastinated projects because I thought that it would take several hours to complete, only to find out that when I truly embraced the scope of the project, I was able to complete the work in under an hour. Even if you go over some of the less essential tasks of a project, you will benefit. You might be possibly missing some key point that can aid you in project completion. Evaluate the project and you will feel much more in control of your life, which will lower your stress level as well.
3. Isolation Helps You Harness Creativity in Crunch Time
Get alone! Clear your calendar. Cancel your appointments. Shut the blinds. Put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door. Turn off your phone. Not just to vibrate, turn it off! No chatting, videoconferences, Face Time, Google Hangouts, or Skype. No web browsing. No social media. Turn it all off. You need to isolate yourself so you can really focus on getting through this project. A couple of hours of uninterrupted working can make all the difference in a project. When I work from home, this time for me is in the early morning hours before the kids are awake. I am better off going to bed at a decent hour, and getting up pre-dawn to work, because I am well rested.
4. Comfort Keeps Project Pressure Under Control
Make sure your surroundings are comfortable. Make sure the lighting is good in the room. Keep the temperature where you need it to be for your comfort. Turn on a fan if you need it. Wear comfortable shoes, and clothing. There are no expectations for you today, except to get that project complete. You are isolated today, so you wont be meeting with anyone. So it is casual Friday! Also, surround yourself with comforting music. For me, Jazz music helps me get into a relaxed state of mind. You need to do what will help you feel at ease. Eat your favorite food. Drink your favorite beverage. (No alcohol. See #1) Be comfortable.
5. Stimulation Helps You Harness Your Creativity Under Project Crunch Time
Once you have completed the project preparation, you can begin the fun part: creativity! This is after all, the reason that you are working on the project. You are a creative dynamo with unstoppable innovative ideas! It is time to get pumped up. It is time to stimulate your mind, body and soul. Whether you consume it hot, cold, or in a candy bar, caffeine is America’s stimulant of choice. Its time to get your caffeine on! Music that moves you is next. Find a tune that gets you out of your chair. We need endorphins! Have a variety of stimulating websites, design books, etc that can motivate you to do great things. I love looking at architectural magazines. I get so many creative ideas from them. Another source of creative stimulation are creative blogs. I have a dozen blogs that I read frequently that fuel my creativity. They deal with varying topics from arts and crafts to cooking. Is there a YouTube video that gets you motivated? Get some visual stimulation and you will be able to get the project done. You should feel great at this point because you are living the dream! You are completing the project. You are a proud member of the creative class.
Photo Credit: iam_photography, Creative Commons License, Some Rights Reserved
Online Video: A Small Business Owner's Friend
In December 2005, a small start-up company launched a site that allowed users to post their own video clips. By July 2006, the site had become the web's fastest-growing site, generating 100M video views and 65,000 video uploads a day. In October 2006, the company was bought by Google for $1.65 Billion. That company was YouTube.
Consider the ramifications of the following figures according to YouTube's statistics page:
Dealing with Mobile and Devices:
Small Business Owners can not ignore the huge numbers of potential clients that online video can bring to your website. One common complaint that I hear from Small Business Owners is that they don't have the resources or the knowledge to create or edit video that they can upload to YouTube. I have compiled a list of Online Video Making Resources. So, why wait? Get out there and create!
Online Video Making Resources
Animoto is a great site that turns photos, video clips, and music into stunning video masterpieces to share. It is very fast and easy. Animoto also offers commercially licensed music that is sellable with a professional license. You can make a 30 second movie for free, but has limited styles and music. You can download your movies for burning to a DVD or share the videos to YouTube easily.
Stupeflix: Stupeflix allows users to create video mixes of photos video clips and music. Some of their features include: Video theme templates, the ability to add photos and video clips from social media or a local computer. Users can also edit text, add maps and use Stupeflix's text to speech capability which makes voiceovers a snap. Users are also able to choose from over 130 licensed music tracks, or they may upload their own music as well. Pricing plans include: Personal $5/month: for unlimited videos, 360 video quality or Personal HD $8/mo.: HD720/360p video quality. Stupeflix offers a Pro version for $39/mo. which allows users to white label videos and use commercial licensing. Their Reseller package is $59/mo. and allows users reseller licensing (sell videos to clients)
Flixtime: - Allows users to create an account, upload pictures, video clips, and music. Users can add cover images for the clip and text slides. Users additionally can choose to save video in either 640 x 360 dimension, or iPod-friendly 320 x 180, and in either FLV, MP4, or DIVX formats. Videos can be 60 seconds long.
Efficiency vs. Effectiveness – A Small Business Dilemma
Capitalism in Action: Efficiency
In business schools around the world, M.B.A. candidates are prepared to return to the corporate workplace, armed with tools to make business more efficient. Finance makes the most efficient use of funds. Marketing aims to bring the most efficient return of capital invested. Management attempts to make the most efficient use of human and technological capital of a business. Efficiency is good. It ensures that profits are maximized and that waste is minimized. It is a foundational principle of modern business analysis. We analyze operations to make them more efficient, thus making the operation more profitable. Profits keep a business growing and growing businesses need workers. The business is now a job-creating machine. Profits are re-invested into capital equipment that enables the business to reach additional possibilities of production. The business now lowers production cost which makes the enterprise even more efficient. Profits swell and are returned to the shareholders as dividends. This is capitalism in action. This is efficiency. This is the mantra of most business school programs and the desire of most small business owners.
The Harmony of Effectiveness and Efficiency
Small business owners have a dilemma: How do I balance efficiency and effectiveness in my business. Entrepreneurs need to question the purpose of the business. Why does the business exist? Is my business doing the right things? Am I strategically working in the right areas? Efficiency needs to be tempered with effectiveness to organically grow the business. When a small business owner loses sight of the purpose of the organization, efficiency takes over as the predominant theme. Efficiency alone produces less than with effectiveness combined. Efficiency needs work in harmony with effectiveness – form and function, Yin and Yang, left-brain and right-brain, etc. The balance of these two ideals for a small business creates a robust, growing business with a vibrant business culture: A business that is profitable as well as conscious of its stakeholder community. People become a focus of the small business. Without effective and efficient people, a small business will fail to produce the best results.
Ideas for Creating a Business Environment of Effectiveness and Efficiency
Review Your Business Strategy – Set aside some time every month to review your business strategy. Ask yourself: Am I working in the right business areas? Review your personal business goals. What is your exit strategy for the business?
Evaluate Profitability – Make sure that your business is making a profit. Business owners need to make sure their product and service offerings have sufficient profit margins to ensure growth. Make sure you know which activities generate the highest profit margin.
Check Your Production Capacity – How many units of a product can you make in a day? What is your maximum throughput? How many service based clients can you handle at one time? If you don’t know your production capacity, then you won’t know when it is appropriate to scale your business.
Plan for Growth – What happens if your business doubles in the next 90 days? Are employees trained to handle the additional workload, or do you need begin training now? How ready are you ready to scale your operation to capture the opportunity? Do you have a written set of procedure for your business? Make a written growth action plan that addresses these issues.
Photo Credit: MAMJODH via Flickr - Creative Commons License
Don’t get me wrong; a business plan is a useful tool. We write them for two reasons. Reason 1: It helps us as small business owners assess risk on paper so we can make an informed decision about the viability of the business. Reason 2: Financial institutions want it to assess how risky you are as a potential borrower. A business plan is fiction. It is a fabrication; a story of what could be. I often hear entrepreneurs say when pitching a business plan, “Our numbers are very conservative”. No, your numbers are not conservative. They are fiction. They have not happened yet. It is all “Pie in the Sky” thinking. By its nature, a business plan is optimistic. No one ever comes into to the bank with a business plan that shows how the business fails in nine months. Once you commence operations, all bets are off. Your business is in a constant state of flux. Customers, marketplace, and technology are continuously evolving. Your business plan needs to be continuously updated to reflect the changing business environment.
Here are some resources to help you draft your business plan:
SBA: How to Write a Business Plan
NSBDC's: Business Plans made Simple
SCORE's: Business Planning Templates and Tools
Seth Godin's: The Modern Business Plan
The Funding Roadmap: The Business Plan Reinvented
Operating Hours Sign Failure
I wanted to eat lunch at a Chinese restaurant that I have been to before. The restaurant serves its food buffet style. The food is good and so is the price; A perfect spot for a quick lunch. When I arrived at the restaurant, I was greeted by a sign on the door that said that the operating hours of the restaurant were 11am until 11pm, Monday through Friday. The time was 11:30am, clearly within their hours of operation. I was supervised to find that when I pulled on the door, the deadbolt was still locked. I looked in the tinted windows and thought at first that this restaurant had gone out of business. There was no activity to be seen. No people, no greeters - the lights were even off. Then some motion caught my eye. It was the golden lucky cat figure that the restaurant has in the waiting area. The lucky cat was waving its paw - someone had to have turned it on. Perhaps the owners of the restaurant had forgotten to open their doors or they had lost track of time. With my face pressed against the window, I scanned the interior for additional signs of life. The buffet steam tables sat in the back of the establishment and a you could note steam coming off of the heated water. There was steam, but no food. A couple standing nearby told me that they had been waiting since 11am for the anticipated opening. They had not seen anyone either. They should open soon, I thought, I sat down at an outside table under the front patio of the business. While I waited, I observed. More than a dozen potential patrons approached the restaurant in anticipation of the same quick lunch that we were hoping to eat. Each one of them did the same thing that I did: they tried the door, pointed to the sign where the operating hours were posted, and pressed their faces to the glass to see why there were incongruences between the sign and the locked door. They all saw the lucky cat just as I did. I was fascinated by the duplicate behavior and the disbelief the potential patrons had when they found the information on the door to be untrue. I decided to wait until noon to see if the place would actually get it together and open for lunch and to observe how people continued to act towards the sign on the door. Just before noon, a large family approached the door. Their behavior was identical to everyone else’s. To my surprise, a man dressed as a cook came to the door. Instead of opening the door, he made hand signals to the family that he needed more time before they were to open. The family pointed to the sign on the door in protest. They were annoyed that he would not let them in and soon left. At noon I left as planned. As I counted the people who tried to eat at this restaurant today, my count came to 15. Each of them including myself had expected to eat at the restaurant. All of us left disappointed. Those 15 people could be the profit margin for the day for that business. How many of them will post on their Facebook page a negative comment about this experience? How many will never return?
The Importance of Signs as Brand Promises
We as consumers are exposed to hundreds of signs every day. What is amazing is that we believe what we see on a sign. We take them literally at face value. We are so used to being directed that we rarely question if the information is correct. Signs are brands. A brand is a promise of an expected product or service. We all expected that the brand of this restaurant was that they were open at 11am. They were not. They lied. Their brand lied and broke the brand promise. Now the only brand promise we have is that their brand is unpredictable. Unpredictability in the marketplace does not fetch a premium price. It gets what is leftover, because that is what it deserves. No one should have to beg a business to take their money. A business should make it easy for customers to transact with them. If the business was having a problem that day, they needed to communicate that with their customers. A simple piece of paper that said "Sorry, we are opening at 12pm today" would have been sufficient. That would have preserved their brand with the 15 of us and kept their brand promise; even if we would have chosen to go elsewhere for lunch. A sign is a brand promise. Customers will hold you to your sign. It is your unwritten contract with them. Don’t break promises to your customers. This restaurant will need more than a lucky cat to help them survive if this is the way they keep their brand promise.
Photo: Steve Snodgrass, Creative Commons License, Some rights Reserved
The National Export Initiative:
Double U.S. Exports in the next 5 Years
On March 11, 2010, US President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order which formed the National Export Initiative (NEI). NEI has the broad goal of improving conditions that directly affect the private sector’s ability to export. President Obama’s plan has the goal of doubling exports from US companies in the next 5 years. The NEI calls for removal of trade barriers and advocacy assistance directed especially at small businesses to help them overcome the barriers of entering new export markets.
The National Export Initiative: U.S. Priority Markets
There are several emerging market countries that the NEI has identified as priority export targets for US products. These countries include: China, India, Indonesia, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. The NEI has put together a series of videos about doing business in these markets. All of this excellent information is contained in the Federal portal for international trade: Export.gov. Visit the International Trade Administration’s YouTube Channel for over 50 webinars about doing business in regional environments.
The Trade Information Center
For additional information or general trade questions, you may contact the Trade Information Center (TIC) at: 800.872.8723 (1-800-USA-TRAD(E)), or send an email to: email@example.com The TIC operates between 8:30 AM & 6 PM EST. You can get answers to your exporting question topics including: Tariffs, International Documentation, Logistics, Free-Trade Agreements, Country-Specific regional Information, Trade Data, and General Export Information.
U.S. Export Assistance Centers
The Commercial Service has a network of U.S. Export Assistance Centers that house export and industry specialists. These centers are located in more than 100 U.S. cities and over 80 countries worldwide. These trade professionals
provide counseling and services to assist U.S. businesses in exporting their products and services. They can assist in: Assessing market potential for your product or service, develping and implementing a market enrty strategy, and identifying potential trade partners in foreign markets.
National Export Initiative Videos
Manage your Small Business better