Posts Tagged ‘Finance’


7 Lies Entrepreneurs Tell Themselves

Posted on by Barry Moltz

Stocksy_txpd72b69c8tH5000_Small_100354In order to stay positive, entrepreneurs need to lie to themselves a lot. Unfortunately, this can get them in trouble when they have improbable expectations and surprising outcomes. Here are the 7 biggest lies and the truth about what to do instead:

  1. Sales will be better next month. Many entrepreneurs believe that sales will always increase in the future. They reason that with more revenue, there will be more profit. The truth is that they don't change their sales and marketing efforts to give their company a better chance actually increasing sales. To boost revenue, companies need to be there when customers want to buy. Only a systematic sales and marketing effort will accomplish this.
  2. The next big customer (or product or employee) will change their company forever. The belief is that the next big break will take their company to the next level. The truth is that progress in companies typically build slowly and success doesn't usually have a tipping point. Think about the essentially building blocks that will grow the company step by step.
  3. Big money means taking big risks. They read the urban folklore of the few who took big risks and made billions. The truth is that most people fail. The success in business comes from taking small steps, evaluating the results, and taking the next action.
  4. Competitors are slow. Many entrepreneurs think that their competitors are not innovative and can't react quickly. Tell that to Blockbuster and Borders. The truth is that there will always be a competitor thinking up a better mousetrap. The entrepreneur needs to know what their competitive advantage will be when that day comes.
  5. Keeping the financials in their head. Many entrepreneurs believe that they do not need to review their company financial statements. The truth is that most of the time  their expectations do not match what is actually going on. This is why it's important to read and understand these statements every month.
  6. Getting paid last in their business. They reason that they are investing in their company and this is how they justify living off of savings while running a start up. The truth is that if an entrepreneur does not draw a livable wage from their company, they have a hobby, not a business. Always include the owner's salary in the monthly budget.
  7. Being busy means being productive. Many entrepreneurs believe if they are busy at work then they must be adding to the value of the company. The truth is that with all the distractions and interruptions that can enter an entrepreneur's daily life, they need to be very disciplined that they focus on projects that will make a deep impact on the company. Pick the two things that need to get done today and complete them before starting any other task.

What lies do you tell yourself?  


Creative Ways to Get Cash to Run Your Business

There is very little that you can count on in business.  But one thing is universally true — banks and investors are the most interested in giving capital to the businesses that need it the least. Given this universal truth, how can small businesses get the capital that they need to operate and grow?  It may be time to open your mind to creative cash flow methods that can infuse your business with the money that you need when you need it.

Leverage Your Customers

One way to achieve financial fitness is by practicing what I call “cash flow yoga.”  Simply put, you need to find ways to take cash in quickly, while letting it out slowly.  Rather than making your products or deliveries up-front and then chasing down payment, why not flip that traditional formula on its head?  Move to a system where you pre-sell and then, fulfill product orders.  Or, if you sell services, ask your customers to reserve your time with an upfront deposit.

Pre-selling definitely improves your cash flow, helps you save time chasing down payments and helps to filter out deadbeats.  Moreover, it also teaches you a great deal about the popularity of your products, so that you know what and how much to produce — and what products to abandon.

If you think that customers will not welcome this approach, the right marketing can transform this strategy into a selling point. For example, I advised a woman selling organic cosmetics that using a “made to order” messaging would keep her from having to retain inventory and allow her to take payments, make the products and then, deliver them. 

Just be sure to know the laws about deposits in your jurisdictions, so that you know how long you have to deliver while being compliant.

Embrace Gift Cards

??????????????????????????????????One major gift card vendor reports that consumers spend over $100 billion in gift cards each year.  And 72 percent of gift card holders spend more than the value on their cards.  But you do not have to be in the retail industry to benefit in this way.  Many businesses can boost their up-front cash by issuing gift cards or certificates.

Gift cards and certificates provide a win-win for you and your customers.  If you run a time-sensitive business like a tax accounting firm, pre-paid clients know that they lock in the knowledgeable support that they need during the busy tax season — and  if you combine the pre-pay strategy with a discount, even save money by paying upfront.  Not only does it provide a cash infusion into your business, you can better anticipate your future workload, so that you can plan resources effectively.

Before you start making these offers, however, you need to keep two important caveats in mind.  First, you need to review state and local laws to make sure that your strategy works for your business.  Additionally, pre-payments require different bookkeeping practices.  When you sell gift cards, they represent liabilities to your business.  Once you deliver the products or services, they become revenues.

“Kick Start” Some Cash

You may not know the term, “crowdfunding,” but you probably recognize the name Kickstarter, which is one of the most popular sites used by people looking for financial “backers” for their new projects and products.  Although there have been recent legislation changes around crowdfunding equity, there are many crowdsourcing platforms that allow you to seek contributions in exchange for providing perks and benefits to your sponsors.  For example, a $100 sponsor for your flying widget might receive a widget once they are produced.  $250 sponsors might also see their names on the packaging.

If you need additional cash to bring a product to market, crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo may be the right solution.  But, unless you get enough pledges, you will not obtain the funding you need, so you need to actively promote your listing.  Too many entrepreneurs think that if they build it or list it, that sponsors will just line up.  This isn’t the case- you need to take an active role to make sure that your project is fully funded. Get your friends and family involved in your project, and then make liberal use of Twitter, Facebook and other social media to let the world know where to go to learn more and sponsor your project.

Also, the more excitement you create, the more involved your sponsors become.  Consider fun and informative videos, creative perks and fun descriptions that create engagement.  If you do it right, you may get more than money- sponsors may even make suggestions on how to improve on your original concept or share new product benefits that will improve your marketing.  The advantage is that small business owners can gain financial and collaborative benefits from their sponsors without giving up ownership in their companies.

Banks aren’t always waiting in the wings to help fund small businesses, but that’s no reason to throw in the towel.  Your entrepreneurial spirit and some out-of-the-box thinking can go a long way to help supplement your cash.


Mondays with Mike: Sure-Fire Techniques For Cutting Costs

Every entrepreneur knows that minimizing expenses is essential to maximizing profit, but we don’t always know how to go about cutting costs – especially for big ticket items.  The longer I’m in business, the more I realize that paying full price for something is rarely necessary.  Here’s my list of tactics to avoid spending more than you have to:

  1. Buy generic.  Whether you’re talking about antibiotics or office equipment, insisting on a brand name will nearly always cost you more.  Shopping based on reviews, rather than name recognition will get you better quality for a better price.
  2. Borrow.  Look around your office, and I guarantee you’ll find a piece of equipment that you don’t use very often.  Whether it’s a box truck that you use twice a year, or whether it’s a fancy printer/scanner/copier that you only use to do your quarterly newsletters, examine your purchases and find someone to lend you the big-ticket items that you only need infrequently.
  3. Lease.  For seriously big-ticket expenses, especially those that you only plan to keep for a short while, or will incur significant maintenance charges, you should consider whether a lease is a good option.  If you must have a late model car, but you don’t need to put lots of miles on it, then a lease may be ideal.  Large office equipment can be cheaper to lease than purchase as well.
  4. ??????????????????????????????????????????Be patient.  We often don’t realize it, but a lot of purchases are made because of emotional, rather than practical reasons.  If you force yourself to sleep on a decision, you’re taking emotions out of the equation, and you’ll find that you frequently choose not to buy after all.  Make yourself wait, and you’ll inevitably save money.
  5. Barter.  Trading your unique skill set for talents you don’t possess is one of the best ways to save money – and strengthen community ties as well.  Trading your pizza shop’s delicious fare for business card printing services can benefit everyone involved with very little outlay of cash.  While you used to be limited to your immediate community to make bartering practical, there are now websites like TradeAway and BarterOnly that facilitate trading using sitewide credits so that you don’t have to find someone who needs exactly what you have to offer in order to get what you’re looking for.
  6. Buy used.  Products start depreciating as soon as you purchase them, and finding lightly used alternatives can save you a boatload.  If you’re savvy, you can often even find products that are still under warranty, and you may even find ones that are sold with an extended warranty that protects your investment. 
  7. Share.  Whether it’s infrequently used equipment or facilities like break rooms in your office space, if you look hard enough, you’ll find that you and other businesses are spending far more than you should on things you don’t use very often.  Working with folks in close proximity and finding the ways in which you’ve duplicated purchases can clue you in to options for making more efficient use of items you can share.  Think about negotiating a lease at a lower rate for shared restrooms on your floor, rather than several individual ones, or sharing a microwave or refrigerator with your neighbors in the office building.

I’ve always admired entrepreneurs who find innovative ways to spend less, and I constantly strive to be a better penny pincher when I can.  I don’t advocate cutting corners or sacrificing quality where it matters, but I do suggest taking a look at your business and identifying areas where you’re spending more than you have to.


Are You Keeping Score?

Stocksy_txp79d51f4dtW4000_Small_126195Some business people want to prevent losing by not keeping score, by ignoring the results, or by constantly moving the targets.

When my sons were introduced to baseball as small boys, the league prohibited officials from keeping score because they did not want the children to become too competitive at such an early age. League leaders wanted to emphasize the spirit of playing the game and having fun over winning or losing.

This did not work out the way the league planned. All the children on the team who knew how to count were keeping their own score. They knew who was winning! More importantly, they understood that a key part of the game is knowing how to win and to lose.

In winning, you can celebrate with your team members. You are elated because your hard work achieved the goal. In losing, you console yourself along with the team. The next steps are to learn what to do better, shake it off, and vow to return the next time to try again.

It’s important to know the score and declare winners and losers. A recent Ohio High School Hockey championship game was halted after seven overtimes and a 1-1 tie. State officials declared co-champions which angered a lot of players and fans. There was no postgame trophy ceremony because there was only one set of championship hardware. The players took turns posing for pictures with the lone trophy. In ended in a totally unsatisfying experience for both teams.

Many small business owners move their stated targets and goals so they don’t have to admit defeat. This happens during the budgeting process. The company will set a financial goal for the year, but when they start to miss this target, they change the budget. They hate to be wrong so they move the goal to a place they can make it. Similar, objectives are established for employee bonus pay, but when the target is missed, some companies award them anyways because of effort.

Both these examples defeat the purpose of setting a budget or establishing a bonus. Business people learn quickly that winning is a lot more fun and profitable. Learning what it feels like to lose is critical because that will incent everyone involved not to repeat it.

If your company never loses, how can they really appreciate winning?


Mondays with Mike: Secret Short Cuts – Legal Aid

What’s the difference between a bad lawyer and a good lawyer?  A bad lawyer can drag a case out for years.  A good lawyer can make it last even longer.

All kidding aside, legal fees aren’t necessarily the first thing entrepreneurs think of when they’re adding up the costs of doing business.  As litigious as society is, though, you’re foolish if you don’t engage an attorney to ensure that you’re legit and covered in case of legal action.  Don’t have the $350/hour lying around to consult a lawyer?  Keep reading.

Here’s my secret for low (or no) cost legal aid.  Head to a local university and talk to the head of the legal department.  Offer your business up for use by students (under the professors’ supervision, of course) as a real-life example.  Your business and its legal needs become coursework for up-and-coming attorneys.  There aren’t many situations in business that are truly win-win, but this is one of them.  Students benefit from concrete experience, rather than boring hypotheticals, and you get your legal work done for free.  Professors love it; students benefit; you save big bucks.

????????????????????????????????????????????????Rather than trying to do it yourself with old legal documents that you dug up online (and which might be completely outdated,) you’re going to get cutting edge, custom work.  Students can draw up your incorporation paperwork, make sure your legal disclaimers are airtight, draft your employment contracts, and basically ensure that you’re covered and are in a position to head off most legal problems that could arise.

You’ll literally get thousands of dollars of work for free, and I strongly recommend thanking the classes who work on your case with pizza or coffee from time to time.

One final benefit from offering your business up to a college department is that you get a preview of the talent that’s emerging from your local universities.  In fact, one of the times that I approached the head of the legal department at my local college, the professor recommended that I work with his best student who was about to graduate.  The student prepared my contract, and the process served as a great extended interview.  I hired him after he graduated, and he ended up being one of my most valuable employees.

Now think a little bit bigger…let’s see how this little secret can work in other areas as well.  Are there marketing students in your area?  Students of web design, graphic design?  Think about all of the exciting, creative work you can cash in on while at the same time providing local students with exciting, valuable real-life experience – experience that they can use to get an edge on the fierce competition they’ll face once they’re out looking for work.  Don’t pass up a chance to get a great deal on the services your business requires, while fostering closer ties to your community and helping better prepare the workforce of the future.


How to Keep the Rule of 3 from Ruling your Business

Even with the best laid plans, it has become clear to me that every business project follows the “Rule of 3”: it takes three times longer, costs three times as much and is three times as difficult as it should be.  This is a universal truth, so if you can accept it and even embrace it, you can put yourself on a path toward a more successful future for your business.

Here are some ways to battle some of the Rule of 3 issues that have been frustrating business owners since the beginning of time.

Everything Takes Longer, but You Can Get There

Setting your expectations too high is often the cause of this phenomenon.  Once you align yourself with realistic goals, you can head for longer term success.  Consider the following situations:

  • Getting the big order from a new client:  New customers may want to test the waters by initially offering smaller jobs.  When you impress them by providing high-quality work on time or before deadlines, the large order will come.
  • Getting a new product to market:  Even with extensive planning, Murphy’s Law accurately predicts that something will inevitably go wrong.  Perhaps a vital part is not delivered, manufacturing becomes halted, or your entire software development team gets the flu a week prior to scheduled delivery.  One way to deal with this issue is to develop an accurate delivery date up front — and then, multiply it by three or at least add some padding to the date. The worst case scenario is that you end up delivering early.
  • Providing on-site support for clients:  The moment you lose control over the place where your work is performed or your product is installed, any number of things can go wrong.  If you need to rely on a client’s computer, you might get a defective one.  Or you may set out to install 220 volt equipment in a building with only 120 volt outlets. Make sure that your contract provides detailed requirement specs and estimates the resulting time delays if those requirements are not met.

Of course, time delays can also amount to income delays.  So, make sure that you have enough capital to ride out the extra time.

Creativity and Planning Helps Handle Extra Expense

Stocksy_txp31123075Gu3000_Small_81280Even the big business players want to bring projects in on budget, but additional expenses do not generally bring their operations to a screeching halt.  As a small business owner, you do not have the luxury of overspending, but there are some ways to help avoid — or at least deal with — financial surprises.

Just as you need to add a buffer when planning the timing for an undertaking, you have to do the same when it comes to budgeting.  After a careful analysis tells you that your new widget will cost $5,000 from design to final production, you need to plan for what you will do if the actual expenses turn out to be $15,000.  Even if you don’t have the cash on-hand to deal with the additional costs, create a Plan B so that you have a pre-approved bank loan in place or someone waiting in the wings to help.

You may also be able to manage the additional costs with some creative strategies.  For example, a vendor might be willing to barter its product in exchange for one of your products or services.  If you think bartering is not a viable way to conduct business, I recently heard of a web designer who conducts all business within a “gift economy.”  He designs and builds websites as gifts for his customers, trusting them to gift back based on what they believe is fair value for his work.  While he reports this business model has worked well for him, I’m not recommending — or even suggesting — that you take such an extreme approach to your cash flow.  But entering into a barter agreement can be valuable in a pinch.

It May be Difficult, but You Don’t Have to Go it Alone

There is nothing better than the power of people.  Every small business owner should find a support group of other business owners that they can use as sounding boards for business challenges.  The Web offers many ready-made groups that you can turn to, or you can form your own group.  Often, the experience of expressing your concerns out loud is enough to help you find solutions.  And the chances are that others in your group have worked through the same issues and have found successful solutions.   At a minimum, they can provide you with some comfort when things are inevitably more difficult than you expect them to be.

Dealing with the Rule of 3 can be one of the most frustrating aspects of running any business, but you can lessen its effects with creative thinking and a few good friends. And for those times when you feel overwhelmed by these issues, remember — there’s always ice cream.


How to Get In Bed with Your Banker

Stocksy_txpf799c772Ea3000_Small_104560Most small businesses still need banks. They provide valuable financial services daily for companies. Banks can still be a major source of capital for the promising business. How do you make sure that they are there when you need them? Get your business in bed with your banker! While this many not conjure up a pleasant image, it must be part of the strategy. Getting the banker to know your company’s capital requirements must be established far in advance of when you may need them. Here is what to do and why it works:

Establish yourself as a customer. Open checking and money market accounts at the bank. Use their merchant, ACH and wire services. Pay fees to use their services. Why it works: Bank employees are trained to help customers and you want to part of that group as soon as possible.

Go into the bank weekly. Be seen at the bank and get to know the branch manager and key staff. Visit at least a few times a month. Talk to them about the bank, their family and your business. Why it works: People do business with other people they know, like, and trust.

Participate in common community events. Go to the events that the banks sponsors locally. Show support for their causes. Get on joint committees. Why it works: You can demonstrate what it is like to work with you and share a common goal.

Share the progress of your company. Sit down with loan officers before capital is needed. Show them your sales and profit projections. Impress them with your knowledge of the financial statements. Revisit them when you make progress toward your goals. Why it works: Numbers are power. They are easy to take to a loan committee. Bankers trust business people that understand them.

Get a small loan. This may be a home equity loan (or similar secured asset) to be used by your company. Pay the loan back on time and then try to increase it. Why it works: This builds a reputable track record the bank can reference.

Keep your personal credit score high (as well and Dunn and Bradstreet number). Bankers like numbers that increase. Why it works: A high credit score will show that you can be trusted to borrow money. They believe that past performance predicts the future.

Bring more customers to the bank. Everyone loves referrals. Be responsible in helping the bank grow their business. Why it works: If you help them, they are more likely to help you.

Go for the big ask: It’s time to apply for the bigger loan for your company. This can be a term note or line of credit. Why it works: Because the bank now trusts you and your company.

How have you got a banker in bed with you to get a loan?


3 Ways to Sink the Sale of Your Company

??????????????????????????????????????Many small business owners dream of selling their company for a huge profit. After many years of hard work, they finally found the right buyer to acquire their company. After negotiating business terms, they signed the letter of intent (LOI). Now comes the tough part: collecting all the due diligence information and having the lawyers on both sides negotiate a final purchase agreement.

Here are the three ways that sink the sale of any company:

1. Pressure from external parties. This can be from overly aggressive lawyers arguing over largely irrelevant legal terms on the purchase agreement. One lawyer in a deal I was involved wanted to know what the seller’s responsibility would be if “the sun exploded”. Remember, in the sale of most small businesses, the only terms that really matter are the upfront sale price, sale payment schedule, representations and warranties. Many times, the seller’s accountant insists on charging added fees to give financial statements to the perspective buyer. One accountant even wanted a lump sum “research fee” for the client to collect all their historical records. It is common for the landlord to approve the transfer of any leases. They sometimes charge a steep “transfer fee” for their approval. Regulatory agencies with licensing requirements can also mean a delay of months. The remedy: Make sure that to have a lawyer that is familiar with small sale transactions. Collect all the information from the accountant up front for due diligence. Seek outside regulatory agency approval far in advance of the completion of any transaction.

2. Inconsistent financial numbers or other changing “facts”. All financial statements tell the company’s story. If during due diligence, this story changes, and then it will raise questions from the buyer.  Weaker numbers (specifically profitability) that differ from those provided in the LOI will always result in a price reduction. Additionally, changing “facts” may get the buyer nervous. This can be in the form of profiles of customer concentrations, revenue trends or employee status. The remedy: The small business owner always needs to know what story they are telling with every fact disclosed and explain any difference in the narrative.

3. Sellers or Buyers changing their mind. This happens very often. The seller decides that they don’t want to sell their company. The reason they give now is the sale is not enough money. More than likely, they are afraid what they will do with their time a day after the sale. The buyer sometimes has a change of heart on how the new business will fit into their company or “what they thought was true now isn’t”. The remedy: As a seller, the small business owner must determine what they will do the day after the sale of the company before they decide to sell it.

Barry Moltz helps small businesses get unstuck. His new book, “How to Get Unstuck: 25 Ways to Get Your Business Growing Again” is available in March. Barry can be found at www.barrymoltz.com


Mondays with Mike: The Sure-Fire Plan For Killing Your Business

2014-02-27_1405I’m sure you’re wondering if I’ve lost my mind.  Why on earth would you want to read an article telling you exactly how to kill the business that you’ve worked so hard to build, nurture, and grow?  The answer is that it’s useful to take a step back from all the hard work we do to make sure we’re not inadvertently doing things that damage our companies.  Here’s a look at what not to do:

  1. Turn your hobby into a business.  Just because your friends tell you that your spicy barbecue sauce is the best they’ve ever tasted, that doesn’t mean you have to find a way to profit from it.  There’s a difference between a hobby – something you do to relax and release energy – and a passion – something you do to create energy.  While successful businesses thrive on passion, they can also destroy the pleasure that we take in our hobbies.  Not everything you enjoy needs a business plan.
  2. Get rich quick.  You may be thinking, “Isn’t that the point?”  The fact of the matter is that the best way to get rich is by investing your time and energy in your passion and organically growing your business, rather than chasing what you think is the next trend in an attempt to cash in and get out.  Isolate your passion and nurture it, rather than trying to work in a field just because you think it’s the next big thing.
  3. If things are going south, work harder.  By the time most businesses fail, the entrepreneurs who started them are absolutely exhausted.  Instead of trying to add hours to the day or taking time away from family and friends, spend you time finding ways to work more efficiently.  If you can automate aspects of your business, you’ll be working smarter, rather than harder, leaving you time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. 
  4. Nurture the weak.  I’m constantly amazed by how many companies cater to the least lucrative (and most difficult) clients, at the expense of building business with the big customers – you know, the ones who keep the lights on.  Rather than trying to squeeze an extra few bucks from the reluctant spenders, commit to cultivating your heavy hitters and providing them with excellent service.  You can’t please everyone.  Why not please the ones who are the most valuable?
  5. Measure revenue from the top line.  Yes, it’s essential to bring money into your business, but that’s only part of the equation.  You could land a million dollar contract tomorrow, but if your expenses eat up $990,000 of it, your bottom line is only $10K.  Focus on what’s left after you’ve paid your staff, covered your other expenses, and paid yourself.  That’s what you’re really earning.
  6. Focus on your wallet.  When you realize that every single business decision you’re making is based on money, it’s time to take a step back.  Successful businesses make money, but they do it by working with passion and ensuring that their customers are satisfied.  Steve Jobs didn’t build innovative products just to make money (though he certainly did profit.)  He wanted to introduce elegant, functional solutions for everyday problems.  Remember why you started your business and work to leave a positive impression on your community.

There will never be a shortage of businesses in trouble, and savvy entrepreneurs will learn from the mistakes of others.  Make sure you’re not sabotaging your own success.   




 
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