Tag Archives: Small Business

The Age of the Customer Power Question: Ask it and then deliver

One hundred twenty years ago, lawyer Paul J. Harris moved his practice to Chicago. While he enjoyed the new opportunity his adopted city afforded, Harris missed the friendly relationships he knew growing up in a small Vermont town.

One fall day in 1900, while walking around the Windy City’s North Side with Bob Frank, Harris noticed the connections his friend had made with local shopkeepers and it made him long for this kind of interaction. He wondered if, like himself, other professionals who had emigrated from rural America to the big cities, might be experiencing the same feeling of loss.

2013-0504-Paul-Harris-DinnerOver the next few years, Harris couldn’t stop asking himself this question: Could such human connection activity be channeled into organized settings for professionals and business people? Today we know the answer to Harris’ question is civic groups, but at the dawn of the 20th century, this innovation had yet to be invented.

Then on February 23, 1905, Paul Harris put his connection question to the test when he and three friends founded the world’s first civic club. They named it Rotary because they planned to rotate weekly meetings between each member’s office.

Now an international success story, 33,000 Rotary clubs around the globe are still based on Harris’s founding principle of “Service above Self.” Harris’ original dream was to connect people for the benefit of all parties. He probably didn’t use this term, but his 1905 connecting formula is the modern definition of networking.

Three-quarters of a century later, Ivan Misner had a dream of creating a structured networking model when he founded Business Network International. Misner’s goal was very much like Harris’s but with the specific purpose of business people meeting regularly to help each other grow their businesses.

Though not a civic organization, the motto of BNI’s 7,400 chapters worldwide, “Givers gain,” is completely compatible with Rotary’s founding pledge. If you turned either one into an offer to someone else, you get what I call the Age of the Customer Power Question: “What can I do to help you?”

The significant international success of Rotary and BNI has revealed and reinforced two important truths: 1) networking is an essential professional discipline; and 2) putting others first is powerful.

This month Rotarians will celebrate the 111th anniversary of Paul Harris’ dream-come-true, and BNI celebrates International Networking Week. Whether you participate in a civic club, a BNI chapter, your local chamber of commerce or other group, become a more frequent, accomplished and selfless networker. Because face-to-face networking is the original social media and it’s still important.

Write this on a rock …In the Age of the Customer, you don’t have to join any group to ask and deliver on the Power Question.

Four factors that stopped the American Startup

As the financial crisis was being resolved in December 2008 I heard someone say, “Wait ’til the startups get going – they’ll end this recession and crank up the economy again.” Of course, this maxim had caught on previously because when you start a business, you create at least one job.

But as I thought about how that entrepreneurial expectation had been true in past recoveries, I considered the environment we were entering and concluded that this recovery was going to be different. Indeed, in my 2009 predictions I reckoned that there were going to be fewer startups in this recovery cycle than ever before based on two conditions I saw coming. Unfortunately, things got even worse due to two factors I didn’t forecast.

Typically, the founding of most Main Street startups are funded initially with access to the personal credit and home equity of the founders. I saw problems coming for both of these sourcesbecause:

1.   One morning in February 2008 – months before the financial crisis but with storm clouds on the horizon – millions of credit card holders woke up to discover their card issuers had withdrawn any available credit they had the day before.

2.   Then, over the next year, the bursting of the real estate/mortgage bubble – the prime cause of the 2008 financial crisis – resulted in wiping out or significantly reducing the home equity of millions of U.S. households.

The two factors I did not forecast are:

3.  The youngest – and largest – of marketplace participant groups, Gen Y and Gen X, age 20-44, apparently are not as entrepreneurial as their Baby Boomer parents were at that age. According to the Kauffman Foundation, since 2009 startup activity for those two demographics has been declining.

4.  In my half-century career, and my study of the history of the American marketplace, prospective founders of new businesses have never been subjected to the level of anti-business rhetoric and policies from the federal government as they have in the past seven years.

One of the seminal findings of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) is a direct connection between a country’s entrepreneurial vitality and its economic growth. The Great Recession ended in June 2009. But the subsequent U.S. recovery, now well into its sixth year of moribund performance (2% annual average GDP growth), has been stuck in a kind of circular reference: expansion-creating startups aren’t happening because of the four entrepreneurship-repressing factors.

Write this on a rock …Real economic expansion – more than 3% growth – will require a return to favorable entrepreneurial conditions lost since 2008.

Next week my column will reveal counter-intuitive ways the lack of startups since 2008 have been positive.

Why trust is a best business practice

Are you familiar with the term “dysfunctional family?”

The simple definition is, a family whose members don’t work and play well with each other. Such relationships typically create emotional, mental, sometimes even physical distress, and/or estrangement.

Sadly, we humans also create dysfunctional businesses. Perhaps this definition will sound familiar: A dysfunctional company is one whose teams don’t work and play well with each other. Such relationships typically create emotional, mental, sometimes even physical distress, and a casualty list.

Someone once said, “Friends we choose – family we’re stuck with.”  Since we get to choose where we work and who we hire, why are there dysfunctional businesses?

The answer is actually quite simple, and it’s the common denominator in both businesses and families: human beings. If your family, or company, is dysfunctional, it’s because of the behavior of the humans.

Humans aren’t inherently bad, but we are inherently self-absorbed. And one of the by-products of self-absorption is self-preservation. When self-preservation shields are up, mistrust flourishes, goals go unmet, and failure is likely. When shields are down, productivity, creativity, and organizational well-being are evident. But the latter only happens if the stakeholders believe there is a basis for trust.

If your organization is not accomplishing its goals and making progress, look around to see if there’s more self-preservation going on than teamwork. Where evidence of individual and departmental self-preservation is found, you’ll also find lots of dysfunction, but not much trust.

In his book, “Built On Trust,” my friend, Arky Ciancutti, goes so far as to say that trust is “…one of the most powerful forces on earth.” He further states that the two most powerful trust-building tools are closure and commitment.

Closure is implied when there is a promise to deliver by a stated time. It manifests when performance happens or, in the alternative, a progress report is delivered in advance of the date.

Commitment, Arky says, “is a condition of no conditions.” When the relationship between two parties is built on trust, there are no hidden agendas. And while commitment may not always deliver the end product, it does guarantee a report about the progress.

Even though closure and commitment are skills that often must be learned, you’ll find willing participants in your employees, because human beings desire trust.  If your organizational culture isn’t built on trust, it’s not the employees’ fault. Trust and dysfunction have one key thing in common: they’re gravity fed. They start at the top and roll downhill.

Humans perform better in organizations built on trust.  Knowing this, successful managers demonstrate trust-building behavior and instill it in others as not only the right thing to do, but as a business best practice.


Write this on a rock — If organizational dysfunction is a poison, trust is its antidote.

Jim Blasingame is author of the award-winning book, The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.

How to get a bank loan – Part Two

Since most businesses have been deleveraging post-2008 financial crisis, you could be forgiven for getting rusty at how to ask for a loan from bank. But as the economy picks up and you need growth capital, it’ll be handy to brush up on your banking skills.

Last time, I used the customer qualifying process as an analogy for how to work with your banker to get a loan, and offered the first three of six loan request factors: Who makes the decision, what do they need and how do they want it? Now let’s talk about the last three.

What motivates them?

All banks need to make loans, but all banks don’t like the same kinds of loans. Some banks make working capital loans, and some don’t. Most banks make real estate loans, but each one has its own profile of what kind of real estate they like. And all banks like to loan money for things with serial numbers, like vehicles and equipment. In your first meeting, what the banker says about your proposal should indicate their level of interest in your type of loan. But if not, it’s okay to ask.

Banks will fight for loans, but they’ll kill for deposits. Checking account deposits are virtually free money to a bank, a portion of which they use to make loans. They like personal checking accounts, but LOVE business accounts. A bank’s motivation increases with your daily deposits if you place your operating account with them. You should know the value of your deposits to a bank and use that information to negotiate rates and terms.

How motivated are they?

You can tell how motivated a bank is by how helpful the loan officer is.  Her excitement is no foreteller of success, just of motivation.  But if she seems indifferent or unmotivated, that’s probably not a good sign.

A deal that couldn’t get through the front door of Bank A this morning, could be received with a red carpet at Bank B this afternoon. So be prepared to take your proposal to more than one bank. And be sure at least one of the banks you make a loan proposal to is an independent community bank.

What do I have to do?

Bankers love field trips. Give your banker a demonstration of the new equipment the loan is for, or take them to see the real estate you want to buy. Show them how the object of your loan request will help you grow your business, profits and deposits.

The best way to get a business loan is to do your homework, anticipate what your banker needs and get them what they ask for. And if the bank that was loyal to you when you needed them doesn’t have the best deal — but it’s a deal you can live with, “dance with the one that brung ya.”

Write this on a rock …

Understanding how banks make business loans will improve your chances of getting one.

Jim Blasingame is the award-winning host of The Small Business Advocate Show and author of “Three Minutes to Success.” Find Jim online at www.jbsba.com.


How to get a bank loan: Part One

One of the markers of this post-recession, so-called recovery has been the practice of deleveraging. Across the economy, from consumers to businesses large and small, debt has become something to get rid of.

Out here on Main Street, this trend has manifested in a dramatic drop in bank borrowing by small firms. Indeed, for more than a half decade, survey after survey has shown that less than 5% of business owners report their borrowing requirements have not been met, while the majority say emphatically they don’t want or need a loan. Consequently, there’s a pretty good chance your business hasn’t made a loan request to a bank in a while.

But the economy will eventually kick into an expansion phase, and what has become no less than a de facto moratorium on borrowing won’t last forever. And since most small business growth capital comes from bank loans, even for well-capitalized firms, it’s always good to revisit a few banking relationship fundamentals.

But don’t worry. If you’ve never asked a banker for a loan, or if it’s been a while, getting a bank loan is a lot like the process of qualifying a prospective customer. For example, you want to know these three things:

1. Who decides?
You have the right to ask who is going to make the decision on your loan. Can your loan officer decide, or will it go to the local loan committee or somewhere else? Why do you care? The more people involved in the loan approval process increases the scrutiny of your deal, which means more questions and more time for you to budget from proposal to answer.
2. What do they need?
Your banker will ask for personal and business financial information. They might accept last year’s business numbers, but they could also ask for an interim report. Depending on the size of your request and what you’re using the money for, they may ask for a business plan. If the loan is for real estate, a current appraisal will be required.

Don’t give the bank more than they ask for, but give them everything they ask for. Remember, the quicker your banker gets the information, the quicker you’ll get an answer.

3. How do they want it?
Ask your banker what information can be presented verbally and what needs to be in writing, whether hard copy or electronic. Whether you’re borrowing $5000 for a computer, or $5 million to buy out a competitor, knowing as much as you can about the loan approval process will significantly improve your chances of not only getting a quick answer, but a yes.
Next time, Part Two: What motivates your banker.

Write this on a rock … Qualify a bank like you do customers, and be sure to do your homework.

The Blasingame Translator for Small Businesses and Banks

Once upon a time, a storm caused two ships to sink in the same area. All on board were lost at sea, save one from each ship, and those poor souls were alive only because they swam to a small island nearby.

As luck would have it, the two men hauled themselves up on the beach at the same time and within sight of each other. But survivor’s elation soon became pensive as they realized that each spoke a language unknown to the other.

Immediately both men had the same unspoken thought, “I don’t know this man or the language he speaks, but if we’re going to survive, we have to find a way to communicate and work together.”

In many ways, this tale actually plays out every day. But instead of on the high seas, our story takes place in the marketplace. And instead of mythical shipwreck survivors, our real life players are small business owners and bankers.

Female banker sat with investor

Like the survivors in the first story, the excitement of the latter-day castaways about their future prospects turns pensive when they both realize that: 1) they need each other in order to be successful; and 2) they don’t speak each other’s language very well, if at all.

With so much common interest and so little mutual understanding, can these two create a successful survival story?  Absolutely, but only if they have The Blasingame Official Translator for Bankers & Small Business Owners. Here are a few examples of how The Blasingame Translator works.

For small businesses to understand banker, they must:

  1.  Identify their banker as a success partner and their business’ best friend.
  2. Stay close to their banker when things are going well, and even closer when things aren’t going so well.
  3. Believe that an uninformed banker is a scared banker, and a scared banker cannot, and will not, behave like a partner.
  4. Pay attention to what motivates and impresses a banker, like attention to detail.
  5. Understand pertinent bank rules and regulations, so you don’t ask for something that can’t be done.
  6. Reward banker loyalty with small business loyalty.

For bankers to speak small business, they must:

  1.  Understand Blasingame’s 1st Law of Small Business: Starting a small business is easy, operating a successful one is not.
  2. Understand Blasingame’s 2nd Law of Small Business: It’s redundant to say, “undercapitalized small business.”
  3. Understand Blasingame’s 3rd Law of Small Business: A small business is not a little big business.
  4. Explain bank rules and regulations, and recommend services and products.
  5. In the credit scoring process, always find a way to give small business owners credit for character, past performance and best efforts.
  6. Reward small business loyalty with banker loyalty.

Write this on a rock … To avoid becoming marketplace castaways, small business owners and bankers must speak each other’s language.

Jim Blasingame is the author of the award-winning book, “The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.”

Leave the Age of the Seller behind for the Age of the Customer.

Your customers kn

The gold mining tool of professional salespeople

A few decades ago a 27-year-old, shiny, new Xerox sales representative was minted.

Already a sales veteran, it wasn’t his first rodeo. Indeed, he worked his way through college selling on commission.

Commissioned salespeople, like entrepreneurs, work the marketplace high wire. Observing this act, a salaried employee once remarked that commission selling was “living by your wits.” In the vernacular, business-to-business sales professionals know, “You eat what you kill.”

Starting out this salesman received rubber-meets-the-road sales training from the small business owner who gave him his first commissioned sales job. Then there was a six-year stint with Sears, where he first received sophisticated sales training.

But in those days, Xerox Professional Selling Skills was recognized globally across all industries as the sales training gold standard. Consequently, becoming a Xerox salesperson wasn’t easy and, once achieved, was a big deal at that career moment and an invaluable influence for the rest of your life.

Not long out of the Xerox classroom, our young salesman called on the local installation of a national manufacturing firm. His head was packed with product, pricing and strategy. Plus, he was now a fully converted, Kool-Aid-drinking disciple of the world-class Xerox sales fundamentals. And so it was that on this particular day, sitting in the office of Mr. Keener, the plant accountant, any listening skills and probing techniques he had learned were no match for the cargo of content that was determined to be dumped right there on Mr. Keener’s desk.

Mr. K was a tall, stern and stoic journeyman manager whose gray hair was not premature. He suffered no fools – gladly or otherwise – and took no prisoners. But for longer than most would have expected he allowed himself to be the victim of what was no less than a sales assault. Finally, he stood up and stretched his arm toward the Xeroid in front of him as a way to move the proceedings toward the door, whereupon he demonstrated his rapier wit with, “Well, Jim, you’ve certainly given me the business.”

Now you know, I was that sales assaulter. And my memory includes standing outside Mr. Keener’s office with his words detonating in my brain. In a career-defining moment of self-analysis and clarity I turned and knocked on Mr. K’s door again. Assuming my most contrite and chastened countenance I said, “Mr. Keener, I’m sorry about what just happened. May I please start over?”

To which he said, “Hello, Jim – come in and let’s talk about business.”

Those two sentences – one to haul me up short and one to redeem me – are the ones I remember more often than thousands of selling interactions since. By the way, Mr. K and I did business for years afterwards.

Write this on a rock … The gold mining power tool of successful professional salespeople is the ear, not the mouth.

It’s never too early to greet your customers.

Have you said hello to your customers-2

Does your business use lights or gauges?

Trick question: If your business were a car, would the dashboard have warning lights or gauges? The correct answer is gauges because they provide incremental information, while a light is either on or off.

Business gauges are financial statements, numbers and ratios that anticipate attention; warning lights often don’t reveal a problem until it’s too late.

Let’s take a look at these two different dashboards addressing the same three issues:

Inventory warning light: Check Inventory!

This light flashes when you’re out of stock. Oh, you’ve got plenty of inventory, but it’s poorly distributed across lines and you don’t have what customers want now.

Inventory gauge:  This is your balance sheet, which helps you see inventory creeping up in any month so you can immediately check stocking levels to get them back in line.

Inventory is cash you can’t spend until a customer pays for it. Can your cash flow wait for a light to flash before you make inventory adjustments?

Payroll caution light: High payroll!

A payroll light only comes on when this expense is already too high. By then you may have made hiring and compensation commitments you can’t justify.

Payroll gauge:  The needle on the payroll gauge identifies the payroll-to-sales ratio including a breakdown of how much you should pay sales, management, production, etc.

Payroll is likely your largest operating expense. Do you want to wait for a light to flash or manage it with the incremental movement of a needle?

Growth danger light: Excessive speed!

This light blinks when your working capital engine has reached redline operating levels. By that time, either your internal systems are over extended, you will have grown yourself out of business, or both.

Growth gauge: Certain financial ratios and a cash flow projection are the growth gauges that indicate if you have the working capital to expand or if you should slow down until you’ve acquired the capital to grow successfully.

With sustainable success depending on sound growth decisions, you need the incremental immediacy of a gauge, not the vagueness of a blinking light.

Business gauges are the numbers on your financial statements and the ratios they produce. Like gauges on a car’s instrument panel, when displayed accurately and checked regularly, they move in small increments to show positive trends or alert you to a specific dangerous direction.

Astute business operators not only manage the movement of their operating gauges but also understand the cause-and-effect relationship each gauge has with another.

Write this on a rock …

Businesses that survive long-term have gauges on their dashboard, not warning lights.

Jim Blasingame is the author of the award-winning book, “The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.”