Category Archives: Business Ownership

Seven ways to cut yourself some SLACC in 2015

People make New Year’s resolutions all the time. But do you know anyone who actually kept one?

OK — one person, but he’s the same guy who reminded the teacher that she’d forgotten to give out the homework.

Knowing how difficult, not to mention annoying, resolutions can be, there’s a different way to kick off the new year in your small business. I call it Strategic Look At Critical Components, or SLACC, for short. So instead of getting all bound up in resolutions, just cut yourself some SLACC. Here’s a list of seven key areas on which to focus your SLACC:

1. Financial
Give your company some SLACC by reviewing financial systems. If not already, create regular financial statements, especially a 12-month cash flow projection, and manage with them. And SLACC up on the difference between cash flow and accounting.

2. Human Resources
Take the necessary SLACC to find and keep the best people. Then cut your staff some SLACC by providing the best training you can afford, with emphasis on how their assignments continue to evolve in the 21st century.

3. Management
Business management is more complicated than ever. Use SLACC to identify your current best practices, then check your position against how 21st century ideas are impacting management fundamentals.

stress-391654_12804. Marketplace
The marketplace has always been a dynamic and evolving organism, but in The Age of the Customer, it’s being driven more by customer expectations than competition. Use SLACC to develop strategies that deliver relevance first, followed by classic competitive advantage. Remember, in The Age of the Customer, relevance trumps competitiveness.

5. Technology
More than ever before, how you use technology and new media are critical relevance expectations of prospects and customers. Cut yourself some SLACC by delivering the technology (especially mobile) and community-building media customers now expect from you.

6. Public Policy
Every small business is influenced by politics. Use SLACC to identify when to be personally involved in local, state and federal issues, like taxes, healthcare, and regulations and when to contribute to professional organizations that can deliver a greater impact on your behalf.

7. Personal
Cut yourself some SLACC by remembering the greatest small business truth: Success must be defined by more than just money and stuff.

Write this on a rock … To paraphrase the Chinese proverb, the longest journey begins with the first SLACC.

Identifying your small business global prospects

In case you haven’t heard, the seven billionth Earthling was born recently.

For the global marketplace, seven billion prospects are exciting. But for growing American small businesses, 96% of those folks live outside the U.S.

Once, small business growth meant expanding to the next county. But in the 21st century, shifts in technologies and demographics have made expanding outside America’s four-walls increasingly compelling. But it has also produced three elemental global business questions: Who are my prospects, how do I connect with them and how do I get paid? Let’s focus on the “Who” first, with these global stats from National Geographic (January 2011), plus my editorializing.

  • GlobalBusinessNineteen percent of Earthlings are Chinese, 17% are Indian and 4% are American. By 2030, the first two will invert.
  • By gender, males barely edge out females: 1.01 to 1.0. But my demographic experts report wide swings in median age among countries, which must factor in any export strategy.
  • In a historical shift, just over half of Earthlings are now urbanites. Remember, city folk use different stuff than their country cousins.
  • Here are global workplace profiles: 40% of us work in services, 38% in agriculture and 22% in industry. This means different things to different industries, but it means something to all businesses.
  • English is the international language of business, but is the first language of only 5% of global prospects. When doing business outside the U.S., be culturally sensitive and patient with the translation process.
  • Breaking news: 82% of your global prospects are literate. If you can read and write you can improve your life, which explains the growth of the middle class in emerging markets. A growing global middle class means more affluent consumers.
  • Computers are luxuries for most Earthlings. But cell phone usage is exploding across the globe and billions who never owned a PC, or used the Internet, will soon do both with a smart phone. Two words, Benjamin: global mobile.

Even though India and China are much in the news, American small businesses should consider export opportunities in our own hemisphere first, especially where trade agreements are in place, like Canada, Mexico, Panama, Colombia and Chile.

In the next article we’ll address the other two elemental questions: How to connect with global prospects and how to get paid.

Write this on a rock… Consider business growth outside of America’s four walls.

The Age of the Customer®, Part 2: The new Field of Dreams business strategy

Photo courtesy of Archer Creative

Photo courtesy of Archer Creative

In the movie, Field of Dreams, the lead character, Ray Kinsella, is a corn farmer who hears a voice that causes him to do strange things.

Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, first hears the voice say, “If you build it, he will come.” And even though Kinsella doesn’t yet know who “he” is, he determines that “it” is a baseball field, which he actually builds, and which, incredibly, attracts a bunch of formerly-dead major league baseball players.

Field of Dreams is a wonderful feel-good movie, best enjoyed by suspending all attachment to reality.

Unfortunately, some entrepreneurs believe what I call the Field of Dreams Myth, which is, “If I build it, they will come.” They think that by merely building “it,” which is a business, not only will “they,” the customers, come, but will consistently do so and in sufficient numbers to ensure success.

This will be on the test:  In the 21st century Age of the Customer, “If I build it, they will come,” is a fantasy and the business equivalent of a death wish.

Any questions?

The Field of Dreams strategy has never been an intelligent way to start a business. It’s always been prudent to identify how big the competitive pie is that’s being carved up by current participants, plus how prospective customers will accept the entry of your product or service into the marketplace. In the 20th century, it wasn’t difficult to identify all your competitors, which you could probably count on your fingers. Today you couldn’t do it with a supercomputer.

Every day of the 21st century, our customers have a virtually infinite number of purchasing options through the many competitive models in the traditional marketplace, plus the innumerable options available online. So as you develop your 21st century business strategy, the Field of Dreams voice in your head should be saying:

“If I build it, customers will only come the first time if I clearly and quickly identify what’s in it for them.  And even then, they won’t come back unless I make sure their experience is so exceptional that they choose to forsake all other options.”

There is one message the voice in Ray Kinsella’s head told him which tracks perfectly with our 21st century Field of Dreams business strategy.  When Kinsella was up against his most challenging obstacles, the voice said, “Go the distance.”

You must go the distance to determine who your customers are, what they want, why they’re doing business with you today and what they require to come back tomorrow.

Write this on a rock… Go the distance with what customers really want.

You are a CEO, but are you doing the job

The hardest job in the marketplace is the Chief Executive Officer of a small business.

So how could it be harder to be the CEO of Excel Supply, LLC, than the CEO of Exxon? Let’s look at the definition.

Investopedia says a CEO is, “The highest ranking executive in a company whose main responsibilities include developing and implementing high-level strategies, making major decisions and managing overall operations and resources.”

For every element of that definition, Exxon’s CEO has a cadre of presidents reporting to him about how they’re managing battalions of VPs, brigades of managers and armies of employees. Exxon’s CEO manages that handful of presidents who bring him performance updates.

The CEO of Excel may have managers reporting to her, but she’s never more than one degree of separation from the work, and likely the alpha member of any given task, especially things like capitalization, cash flow, business development, etc.

There is one thing that sets all CEOs apart from every other position and it’s the first item in the definition: high-level strategy. A CEO’s primary job, which can be supported but never delegated, is to determine the long-term direction of the company. Every business, large or small, must have someone doing this CEO job, whether they use the title or not.

Big business CEOs spend very little time managing and most of their time working on strategy and future direction. Conversely, and unfortunately, most small business CEOs spend too much time managing and too little on executive thinking.

Recently in our online poll, we defined a CEO and asked small business owners: “How difficult is it to budget CEO time away from managing?” Here’s what we learned.

Only 3% said they had “…found a way to balance management and CEO duties,” and 8% allowed they were “…

inconsistent but getting better at it.” Over half of our sample said they “…can’t focus on CEO tasks for putting out fires,” while one third rejected our premise with, “I’m a small business owner, not a CEO.”

Here’s a practical way for small business owners to increase their CEO activity: As often as possible – at least once a year – fire yourself from jobs someone else can do and promote yourself to jobs only you can do. This will push you toward more executive thinking and behavior and put you on a natural path toward performing all the tasks of a CEO, including charting the long-term course for your small business.

Every business needs someone doing the work of a CEO – that’s you!

Small business ethics

While talking with an attorney friend of mine, our topic of discussion was about professional behavior in the marketplace. She reminded me that attorneys have very specific ethical and professional standards that are published, plus a well developed monitoring organization, complete with sanctioning authority.

The story is quite similar for CPA’s, architects, medical doctors, or any securities representative such as stock brokers, financial planners, etc. Much of the behavioral track these professionals run on is pretty well spelled out for them. Not that the members of these groups need to be led or coerced into good professional behavior. It’s just that, when in doubt, they have published guidelines with which to refer.

Small business owners operate in the same marketplace as the so-called professionals. Indeed, they are often our clients and customers. We serve the same businesses and consumers as other professionals, plus we enter into similar relationships, contracts and agreements. And we often find ourselves perched precariously on the same horns-of-a-dilemma as other professionals. But here’s the difference: The Universal Small Business Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics doesn’t exist.

Small business owners, like all humans, ultimately behave according to their own moral compass, sense of fair play and inclination to deal in good faith. When we find ourselves in a quandary over how to respond to a difficult situation with a customer that is in the gray area of a contract, we’re on our own. When we are faced with an ethical issue that would challenge King Solomon, there is no sanctioning body or support group to dial up, or to whom we can email a “scenario.”

There are many ancient codes small business owners can turn to for behavioral guidance in the marketplace, such as the last three of the Ten Commandments. But in terms of a handy guide, I think philosopher and 1957 Nobel Prize winner for literature, Albert Camus, may have given us the best ethical vector when he wrote, “Integrity has no need of rules.”

Wise small business owners know that life is much simpler, and exceedingly more rewarding, when we just do the right thing.

Use the power of storytelling to grow your business

Cogito ergo sum. French philosopher Rene Descartes proposed this idea in 1637, which translates to “I think, therefore I am.” Certainly the power of abstract thought is what separates humans from other animals.

Anthropologists now believe Homo sapiens succeeded, unlike other members of the genus Homo, Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon for example, because our brains had a greater capacity for speech and language. Today Descartes might have modified his philosophy to “I think and speak, therefore I am.”

In “Wealth of Nations,” Adam Smith proposed the written word as one of the three great human inventions. But long before humans were writing we were telling stories. And these stories – told, memorized and retold over millennia – became the headwaters of human development. We humans love to tell stories almost as much as we love to listen to them.

Another thing that’s older than writing is the marketplace. Long before Madison Avenue ad copy, merchants were verbalizing the value and benefits of their wares. Surely early business storytelling was the origin of modern selling skills.

In 1965, Intel’s co-founder Gordon Moore made an observation that became Moore’s Law: “Computer processing power doubles every two years.” But in his 1982 watershed book “Megatrends,” futurist John Naisbitt posed this paradoxical prophecy: “The more high tech we create, the more high touch we will want.”

So what does all of this mean? It means that in a time of rapidly compounding technology generations, the most successful businesses will consistently deliver high touch to customers with one of our oldest traits – the telling of a story. Here is Blasingame’s Three Cs of Business Storytelling:

Connect – Use stories to connect with prospects and convert them into customers.

Convey – Use stories to convey your expertise, relevance, humanity and values.

Create – Use stories to create customer memories that compel them to come back.

Storytelling is humanity in words. And since small businesses are the face and voice of humanity in the marketplace, we have a great advantage in the Age of the Customer. No market sector can execute the Three Cs of Business Storytelling to evoke powerful human feelings more than small businesses.

And regardless of how they’re delivered, stories don’t have to be long. I just told you five different ones in the first half of this article.

The Holy Grail of storytelling is when someone else tells your business’s story to others.

Integrity has no need of rules

While talking with an attorney friend of mine, our topic of discussion was about professional behavior in the marketplace. She reminded me that attorneys have very specific ethical and professional standards that are published, plus a well developed monitoring organization, complete with sanctioning authority.

The story is quite similar for CPA’s, architects, medical doctors, or any securities representative such as stock brokers, financial planners, etc. Much of the behavioral track these professionals run on is pretty well spelled out for them. Not that the members of these groups need to be led or coerced into good professional behavior. It’s just that, when in doubt, they have published guidelines with which to refer.

Small business owners operate in the same marketplace as the so-called professionals. Indeed, they are often our clients and customers. We serve the same businesses and consumers as other professionals, plus we enter into similar relationships, contracts and agreements. And we often find ourselves perched precariously on the same horns-of-a-dilemma as other professionals. But here’s the difference: The Universal Small Business Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics doesn’t exist.

Small business owners, like all humans, ultimately behave according to their own moral compass, sense of fair play and inclination to deal in good faith. When we find ourselves in a quandary over how to respond to a difficult situation with a customer that is in the gray area of a contract, we’re on our own. When we are faced with an ethical issue that would challenge King Solomon, there is no sanctioning body or support group to dial up, or to whom we can email a “scenario.”

There are many ancient codes small business owners can turn to for behavioral guidance in the marketplace, such as the last three of the Ten Commandments. But in terms of a handy guide, I think philosopher and 1957 Nobel Prize winner for literature, Albert Camus, may have given us the best ethical vector when he wrote, “Integrity has no need of rules.”

Wise small business owners know that life is much simpler, and exceedingly more rewarding, when we just do the right thing.

The ironies of small business and democracy

One of the great ironies is that while businesses flourish in a democracy, a business cannot flourish as a democracy.

By definition, stakeholders in a democracy vote on issues and the majority rules. But while this process is one of the greatest inventions of mankind with many applications, business is not one of them.

Pure democracy isn’t practical in government, either. But a group of visionary malcontents solved that problem over 200 years ago by creating something new: a constitutional republic, where an elected few represent the interests of all.

A business can be like a dictatorship in that an individual will likely make the final decision. One desk, as President Truman so famously said, where the proverbial buck stops. But here’s another irony: Even though a business may have characteristics of a dictatorship, it likely won’t be successful if the team is managed by a tyrant. The dominator management model is as old as humanity itself, but it requires subordinates to dutifully follow the instructions of superiors. As a withering vestige of centuries past, this model is no longer competitive.

The 21st century management model must look more like a partnership. Just as effective government requires that elected representation augments pure democratic principles, an ultimate decision maker in a business must be alloyed with the experience, brainpower and engagement of the team.

The Founders envisioned a nation that could be as dynamic as it was enduring, and as powerful as it was benevolent, but only if the stakeholders believed their investment in such an ideal was justified. Our republic — warts and all — essentially does this. And even though Americans outsource the management of their government, the classic principles of democracy come to bear with regularly scheduled elections to see if the majority wants to change its mind.

Employees change their minds by seeking work elsewhere. And while they always had the right to leave a job that’s managed by tyrants, past generations swallowed their pride in favor of what we now know was the illusion of job security.

Today, employees have no such illusions. And while they accept the reality that someone has to make final decisions, they also expect to contribute to the basis for those decisions.

In the 21st century, a business still can’t be structured as a democracy or dictatorship. Today employees expect to be led, not driven; they want to contribute, not just take orders, even if the last order wasn’t their favorite.

The 21st century workplace does not abide tyrants.

What’s love got to do with your small business?

People start businesses because of love.

We love to make and/or sell things: shoe laces, tires, socks, cars, soap, computers, bread, air conditioners, etc. You love your business; I love my business. Starting and running a business is a love story.

Yes, I know. Our businesses are not always lovable. Indeed, a business is like a teenager: You may not always like it, but you always love it. Which is a good thing because if you didn’t love your business you wouldn’t come back the day after it gave you the worst day of your life.

business-loveAs Tina Turner asked in her song, what’s love got to do with it? Love is an important component of being in business, but it can also be a problem. Is it possible to love your business too much? As business owners, we know how to fall in love with our businesses, but we usually don’t know how and when to fall out of love with it. Here’s a great American love story that went wrong:

In the early 20th century, the railroad industry thought they were in the railroad business instead of the transportation business. When freight trucks and better roads came along, many railroad companies failed because they loved what they did more than how they did it.

Here are two happy love stories:

In 1993, the octogenarian IBM business model was in trouble. Top leadership saved the company by realizing they weren’t in the computer business, but rather the information management. So they shifted from being hardware/software centric to adding services. IBM understood that they should only be in love with delivering digital information solutions.

Founded in 1916 in Seattle, Boeing had deep roots. But in 2001, the leadership realized their future was in aerospace, not just airlines, and moved the headquarters to Chicago. They loved what they did, not where they did it.

Both IBM and Boeing saved themselves by following:

Blasingame’s Law of Business Love
It’s okay to fall in love with what you do, but it’s not okay to fall in love with how you do it.

What do you love about your business? I’m serious; make a list. Then go back over the list and identify anything might be holding you back. You probably can’t do this by yourself, so engage your team.

As you go through this process, listen for and beware of responses that sound like: “Well, that’s how we’ve always done it.” Statements like that make a great epitaph on the tombstone of a dead business.

Love your business, but don’t love how you do business.