When life gives you lemons….

Found an incredible story about a pizza kit business started in the kitchen of some local transplants (many of us have named Asheville our ‘adopted hometown’) who found themselves out of work. Tom Gallo and wife, Sue Devitt, are made of the same stuff that many Ashevillians are, and has me so smitten. The city needs a new tag line, Asheville: Home to the Creative Entrepreneurial.  Maybe we need to add ‘optimistic’ on there as well. It is amazing how far a passion can take you.  Best of luck to Gallolea, check out the full article…

http://www.citizen-times.com/article/20110529/BUSINESS/305290021/Asheville-couple-turns-unemployment-into-opportunity-pizza-kit-business

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Practice the art

 
Biz Is The Art Of by Hugh MacLeod

Networking is an important art for any business owner to practice. It is most effective when practiced in the manner in which artist Hugh MacLeod views networking.

 
Whether meek or a master of networking, here are a few tips to master the chit-chat challenge(I stole this term from a great friend):

checking in, if you are alone and don’t notice anyone in the room and would like a jump-start to your networking, ask the attendant checking attendees in to introduce you to someone in the room

-you can always bring a buddy, wingman, or pal to hold hands with you-but don’t hang on too long and miss out on the reason you are at the event-you can always check in with your friend later
 
-prepare questions ahead of time if you’re afraid of stalling, a pep talk never hurts either
 
-don’t be afraid to compliment individuals

-consider your business card, laminated cards are difficult to write on and I have seen many a person make a note on another individual’s card

-ease the awkward moment of someone joining a chatting group by introducing yourself and the person next to you, others will join in
 
-take breaks from the chatter if needed, grab a drink or some food
 
-always, always follow up-you never know when someone might lose your card plus this strengthens the newly formed bond 
 
-and always remember, you may never know in the moment, days later, weeks or years later when a contact will become useful to you or someone else you are invested in. Every contact has opportunity
 
But most importantly, never approach networking as a means to benefit yourself, you will feel more comfortable and be more effective when following Hugh’s art.
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The new face of manufacturing

Manufacturing is still a viable industry in the United States.  As thousands of jobs have been shipped offshore, the face of manufacturing has changed. America’s answer is undoubtedly advanced manufacturing.

Advanced manufacturing doesn’t look like the manufacturing many of us know from yesteryear. Employees no longer work in production lines repeating the same process over and over again.  These same employees have excellent careers, well-paying positions with room for advancement.  Employees have a range of education backgrounds, but more and more companies are requiring highly skilled works to continue operations. Facilities are clean, safer, and incorporate incredible technology. Often, full products leave the facilty, not just bits and pieces to be shipped off to be incorporated as an insignificant part in a larger product.

“Advanced manufacturing is a term that’s been used loosely to explain any number of methods that take manufacturing operations to another level not easily replicated by competitors, “says Jonathan Katz in his article Advanced Manufacturing: Where is America Today?, “Economic departments, politicians and manufacturing leaders use the phrase to describe where U.S. manufacturers need to be in the future if they’re going to remain globally competitive” (Katz 2010).

This global competitiveness often includes nanotechnology, direct digital fabrication, micro manufacturing, and precision metal working, among many more technologies. “Advanced manufacturing is most commonly referenced as the use of high-tech processes, often involving factory automation, or the development of innovative products,” says Katz. Rusty Patterson, president and CEO of the National Council of Advanced Manufacturing makes this distinction, “It’s not just robotics. It can encompass new manufacturing technologies that we’ve developed that other people don’t have; it can be processing technologies that we’ve developed that others don’t have, including automation; it even can be areas where the education level is such that it can’t be readily duplicated in Third World countries,” (Katz 2010).

Some of the processes or concepts that have offered a competitive edge in the past have included Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma and Total Quality Management (Katz 2010). To stay ahead of that edge, to define that edge, United States manufacturers will have to implement more innovative, knowledge based processes and concepts. The concept of teaming is often incorporated into the advanced manufacturing facility; management teams are dissolved and the team becomes those on the floor who will decide which orders to fill and how they will approach that goal.  They are also responsible for disciplining each other. Manufacturers have seen great success in their facilities where this has been implemented including productivity increases. But all of this requires strong educational programs. The strongest programs also required the work of a team.

“The lack of skilled workers could be one of the greatest hindrances to pushing U.S. manufacturers ahead of foreign competitors in the advanced-manufacturing race,” writes Katz. The best answer to supporting a system that fills these positions quickly, is a program where economic development groups, public policy organizations, and educators from middle and high schools, community colleges, and colleges and universities collaborate.

 “The trick for American manufacturing is to identify what needs to be here and raise the bar on how we do it and how we train our workforce,” Steven Dwyer, a former Rolls-Royce Corp. president and chief operating officer, “If we don’t, we’re a nation without manufacturing, and we’re in for a long economic decline (Katz 2010).

Proudly located in Western North Carolina

AVLTechnologies– Manufacturer and supplier of mobile satellite antenna systems for SNG vehicles, often used by DOD

Borgwarner– builds turbo chargers for passenger, commercial and  industiral vehicles

EatonCorp– global technology leader in electrical systems for power quality, distribution and control; hydraulics components…

Jacob Holm Industries-one of the world’s leading nonwovens corporations.

Kearfott– creates guidance, navigation, motion control systems and components

ThermoFisher Scientific-Provides analytical instruments and laboratory equipment,  including centrifuges and sub-zero refrigerators

 

Works Cited

Katz, Jonathan. “ADVANCED MANUFACTURING: WHERE IS AMERICA TODAY?.” Industry Week/IW 259.10 (2010): 26-30. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 6 May 2011.

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International sales

I have been asked to answer the question: If there were a market for it, would you consider entering an international market for a product/service which you offered in your own enterprise? Why or why not?

I found this question hard to answer since I have not determined the specific product or service I hope to one day offer as an entrepreneur. However, I found a September 2010 article by Diane Ratcliff from the  Columbia Daily Tribune in Columbia Missouri very helpful in exploring this question in theory. And in short, I would always consider the option especially because of increased market base prospect. I will have to remember Diane’s guidelines in her article “Do Your Research Before Selling Internationally”.

Diane sat down with Brian Gauler, who headed an export development program for University of Missouri Extension, “Missouri’s one-stop source for practical education on almost anything”.

Brian outlined four reasons to consider international sales, the first, increased sales and higher profits. His second reason, seasonality.  Reverse seasons in other countries can help supplement off-season sales in your own country. Diane offers the example of ski supply sales in Australia in the summer months of North America, but I think this could apply in a less simple or less obvious circumstances as well.

The third consideration is diversification, fluctuations in US sales can cause headaches and result in company failure. Diversification can alleviate some of these headaches. And the fourth consideration to moving your company internationally, is to bolster your reputation. Brian claims entering the international market can enhance company image.

Brian also mentions the importance of considering selling through a distributor instead of relying on internet sales alone. Having a physical presence in the local market can help alleviate some the logistics and decrease the prevalence of fraud.

In addition to the Federal Trade Commission’s checklist, Diane and Brian created an excellent list in the following excerpt concerning logistics:

Internally, your company should develop a procedure for handling international sales inquiries, determine pricing and payment terms for international orders and make sure you’ve consulted service providers for finance, insurance and shipping concerns.

In fact, says Gauler, it’s those details that can cause big problems. Not only do companies that use their site to establish overseas distribution need to develop sales and marketing materials for foreign markets (product literature, advertising and promotional materials, translations, even packaging), they also need to consider logistics (shipping and documentation), finance and legal issues.

How will you get your product to your overseas distribution company? What kind of packing is required? How will the product be distributed once it arrives? What kind of documentation will be required (such as certificate of origin, shippers export declaration, consular invoice, etc.)?

Financially, what method of payment will you accept? Do you have banking relationships with an international bank to handle letters of credit or other methods of payment?

And don’t forget the legalities of exporting — will you need to consider international property rights to protect your copyright, trademarks and patents? Has your legal counsel helped you develop an international sales agreement or contract? (full article here )

 

These questions can be overwhelming, but there are other options as well if the international market is still appealing.  Export management companies and export trading companies exist to provide marketing support for your products in a foreign market, but there are fees associated.

I would also consider speaking with your local chamber of commerce and economic development organization in your areas.  They too will often provide resources some of which will require fees, but others could be included in the membership you may already be paying.

Other helpful links:

Diane included a great link to the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines on selling internationally. You can find the webpage here, but a wonderful checklist is available that will help those considering international sales if they are ready to jump into the market.

Here’s another great article once you are ready to make the leap, “How to Start Selling Internationally” on Inc.com

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Fraud, avoiding it like the plague

Fraud, a five letter word- but more than a $2.9 trillion cost to organizations annually worldwide.  According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners and a 106 nation survey, between January 2008 and December 2009, organizations worldwide lost approximately 5 percent of their annual revenues (Industrial Engineer).  Industrial Engineer also published the following:

  • The median loss caused by the occupational fraud cases in the ACFE study was $160,000. Nearly one-quarter of the frauds involved losses of at least $1 million.
  • The frauds in the study lasted a median of 18 months before being caught.
  • Occupational fraud is a global problem. Though some findings differ slightly from region to region, most of the trends are similar regardless of where the fraud occurred.
  • Occupational frauds are much more likely to be detected by tip than by any other means. This finding has been consistent since 2002.
  • Frauds committed by owners and executives were more than three times as costly as frauds committed by managers and more than nine times as costly as employee frauds. Executive-level frauds also took much longer to detect.
  •  Small businesses are especially vulnerable to occupational fraud. These organizations are typically lacking in anti-fraud controls compared to their larger counterparts.

It is because of the lack in controls, that small businesses are targeted, “With a small business, its easy to get to the owner, the one controlling purse strings”, said Joy Chittim, president of Flying Circle Bags (Morris 1994). Side-stepping fraud is possible for small business owners and their employees, but it will require time, training and money; however, this investment could save more than the very real potential cost. 

Several schemes  identified in Hal Morris’s article, “Fretting Out Con Artists” published by Nation’s Business in 1994, still run amuck today. A common scheme involves un-ordered office supplies that arrive at an office and is followed by an invoice. Another common scheme (and I have personally experienced this in the past year) is a phone call from a telemarketer that requests the copier type and model claiming the supplier, represented by the caller, has misplaced the information and they are fulfilling an order. Others include fake business directories or invoices that follow job listings that have already been paid for (Morris 1994). With the incorporation of technology in the office, there are more opportunities for fraud to enter the workplace.

Consider making employees aware of these types of schemes and the importance of taking time to check information. Morris suggests always checking references of consultants, and  that goes for employees’ references as well. Small business owners “… have limited amounts of assets, they’re reluctant to spend money on anything that isn’t generating revenue, and so they don’t do. Unfortunately, they get burned quite often”, said former prosecutor Robert Silbering, now President of New York City-based Forensic Investigative Associates in a BusinessWeek Online article in 2003. 

Robert Silbering also says, “ It’s like they say in business: Know your customer. Know who you are dealing with. Try to find out everything you can about the person you’re giving money to, or buying services from, or hiring, or merging with, or acquiring (BusinessWeek 2003). A business owner can go about this by going beyond checking references, sometimes those references are fraudulent as well. Call the former schools and employer, Silberings says you can sniff out a dishonest person pretty easily (BusinessWeek 2003). Also, arm yourself with information; when requested, a telemarketer must provide company name and telephone number under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (Morris 1994).

Fraud doesn’t have to exist on the level on which it currently operates, business owners can arm themselves and their employees appropriately to avoid it. Business owners will have to invest time, money, and training. In the end, this wise investment will pay off.

Works Cited

“Fraud Costs Trillions Worldwide.” Industrial Engineer: IE 42.8 (2010): 15. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 2 May 2011.

Morris, Hal. “Ferreting Out Con Artists.” Nation’s Business 82.8 (1994): 25. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 2 May 2011.

“The High Cost of Penny-Ante Scams.” BusinessWeek Online (2003): N.PAG. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 2 May 2011.

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Credit, a necessary evil

Business owners strive to add ease to the transactions of their customers and often this involves extending credit to those customers. Extending credit has proven essential for keeping up with competition and gaining customer loyalty.  According to a January 2010 article on Yahoo Finance entitled “The Dos and Don’t of Extending Credit to Customers”, credit is the number-one use of capital from business to business and is also the number-one alternative to small business loans and personal loans. ” In fact, the Small Business Administration reports that business extension of credit is the single-largest source of small business lending in the United States today” (AllBusiness 2010). Yet, there is still a risk in taking on this necessary payment. Luckily, there are methods to limiting that risk. Yahoo Finance lists the following among others (AllBusiness 2010):

  • Do establish a credit policy that will determine who you’ll extend credit to, how much credit you’ll extend, and how you’ll monitor that credit once it’s been extended.
  • Do develop a thorough credit application that includes trade references, banking information, credit-check authorization, terms and conditions, and disclaimers.
  • Do pull a consumer credit report from one of the major credit reporting agencies to determine the creditworthiness of your customer. (Read the full article here)

Companies should not take on this risk if their cashflow is low. Building a strong customer base and extending credit to those customers that give you the most business can also reduce risk and has excellent benefits.  Yahoo Finance claims an increase in sales of 50 percent is likely (AllBusiness 2010). Huntington National Bank lists the following benefits  on their website under “Extending Credit to Your Customers”:

  • Customers usually spend more money with your business
  • Customers are more trustful of you and your business and may return the goodwill
  • Customers concerns over price are reduced
  • Helps build a more financially sound customer base (webpage here)

Understanding the considerations a bank makes before extending a loan to a customer can provide excellent insight for a small business owner. Lenders use the four C’s of credit as lending criteria and those include Character, Capacity, Capital and Collateral (Murray). 

Character looks at the financial history of a person, Murray refers to this as the role a  “financial citizen” plays. A credit score will report available credit,  late payments, delinquent accounts, and total debt. “Capacity refers to the ability of the business to generate revenues in order to pay back the loan” (Murray). Banks consider new businesses to be riskier to lend to because of the lack of a proven track record; business owners should consider this as well in extending credit.

Capital, cash is always the best form of capital this is because assets can depreciate over time and do not offer a bank full payment if seized (Murray). Collateral refers to the personal assets of a business owner when trying to secure a loan. Often, business owners must “lay something on the line” or “put some skin in the game” and listing personal assets do just that.

Extending credit wisely to your customers can make a world of difference in your business and remember: “The failure to collect money owed can be a life-or-death issue for small businesses with balky cash flow (Bandyk 2008).  The number one risk reduction after choosing to extend credit to customers is to put everything in writing.

Works Cited

 AllBusiness.com. “The Dos and Don’ts of Extending Credit to Customers”. Yahoo Finance. 6 January 2010. Yahoo.com. Web. 3 May 2011. http://finance.yahoo.com/news/The-Dos-and-Donts-of-allbiz-1538541470.html?x=0

Bandyk, Matthew. “Collecting Debts Can Save Your Business.” U.S. News & World Report 145.2 (2008): 113. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 2 May 2011.

“Extending Credit to Your Customers”. Huntington.com. 3 May 2011. Web.  https://www.huntington.com/bas/HNB2660.htm

Murray, Jean. “The Four C’s of Credit for Business Loans: Character-Capacity-Collateral-Capital”. About.com. 3 May 2011. Web. http://biztaxlaw.about.com/od/financingyourstartup/a/4csofcredit.htm

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Pros and Cons of Doing Business Entirely Online

A cohort member has a great post concerning the pros and cons on doing business entirely online.  The perspective from the business owner and the effects on the personal life of the business owner is a consideration each company should fully comprehend. Paolo does a great job of addressing this

Pros and Cons of Doing Business Entirely Online.

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Changing how we buy

I found a great article today on MSN.com, The Ten Most innovative Companies in Retail, why are these companies considered so innovative?  The  article subtitle says it all: From Groupon to Ikea, These Companies are Changing How We Buy.  Therein lies the difference between business-as-usual and innovation, “changing how we…”.  And it pays of tremendously, Starbucks -one of the ten- is the number three United States restaurant chains.  They aren’t even selling full meals all day. 

So how did Starbucks do it?  They started listening to their customers, yes, listening (it’s that easy). Mystarbucksidea.com, generated 98,00 responses and 100 of those ideas can be seen in the action.  You may have come across a few, donating pastries, nametags for baristas, selling reusable sleeves and about 97 more (Fastcompany 2011). Think of all the traffic on that website (marketing folks are salivating).

You’ll have to check out the full article to see what the top ten are doing, but it may not surprise you who is among the top: Groupon, Trader Joes, Marks & Spencer, Amazon, eBay, Apple, Starbucks, Shopkick, Ikea, and Urban Outfitters.  They are making their way (and  tons of money) in  reducing waste and  in sustainability,  in dominating  mobile and online commerce, and by partnering with other like-minded brands (Fastcompany 2011).  

These companies have staying power because they aren’t just on the cutting edge, they are creating the cutting edge.  Staying in front of the competition, and in this case charting the course, will keep this folks on top and on the tip of the tongue.

Fastcompany. The Ten Most Innovative Companies in Retail: From Groupon to Ikea, These Companies are Changing How We Buy.” Fastcompany. Msn.com. Web. 3 May, 2011. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42805431/ns/business-consumer_news/&gt;

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E-commerce, pros and cons

Online retail sales in the United States are forecasted to reach almost $250 billion and account for 8% of total retail sales by the year 2014, as seen in the graph below. Can your company afford not to have a piece of that pie?  Despite the incredible forecast for online retail sales published by Forrester in 2010, there are many considerations a business owner should explore before moving their business completely online and many reason why you can’t afford not to be online.

Cost

First and foremost, selling  exclusively online can save a business quite a bit of money.  Consider the operational costs of manning the storefront, lighting it, renting it, owning it, insuring it, cleaning it. “Rather than augmenting bricks and mortar sales, moving to e-commerce can substantially lower business operation costs and help to automate processes”, says Matthew Nelson in his article “Changing the Rules” (though written in 1998, Nelson points are even stronger in the technology driven world of today). However, some of those costs may be shifted into the marketing and technology needs keeping your business online, more on that below.

Access

With an online presence, your customers will have unprecedented access to your product.  They will also have unprecedented amount of information about you, your company, your mission, your product etc. “…When those customers do find you, you have an unique platform to share detailed information to your customers about your company not available through any other method,” says Vernon Keenan, a senior analyst at Zona Research, in Redwood City, Calif(Nelson 1998).  All of which is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; not even 24 hour Walmarts can measure up to that access.

 Not only will your customer have unlimited access to you, you will have unprecedented amounts of information about your customers available to you through data mining called web analytics. Web analytics allow you to track things like the click-throughs of customers, you can see how often a customer accessed a page and its components.

Play Internationally

Businesses selling online have the luxury of entering the international market more easily since the customers don’t have to come to you; however, they do have to find your website. “The biggest problem is having somebody hear you scream in cyberspace, because once you go online the buyers have to find you. That’s truly the challenge for the small commerce website,” said Keenan (Nelson 1998).

Demand

Now that you are, in a sense, available to your customers 24 hours today, you need to meet their expectations. In 1998, Nelson noted the demand for special services included in company website like shopping comparisons capabilities, messaging with a customer service representatives and personalized shopping carts; this is even more important now that more customers are shopping online more frequently.

And don’t forget your competitors, one down-side to selling exclusively online,  the biggest players in your market (now much larger since you can reach those outside your drive market) are providing the same service still have a leg up on you because they are pouring money into their sites (Nelson 1998).

The Five Senses

Before moving to selling online exclusively, consider your inability to control the customer experience as far as the five senses are concerned. If you product needed to be touched, smelled, tasted, heard and even arguably seen (consider difference in monitor color settings or picture quality), you are no long able to give your customer that experience without the commitment of a sale. Many customers would shirk from this shopping experience because of the hassle of a return in the case of disappointment even with the addition of customer reviews available on many retail sites.

Works Cited

Nelson, Matthew. “Changing the rules.” InfoWorld 20.24 (1998): 88. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 1 May 2011.

Shonefield, Eric. “Forrester Forecast: Online Retail Sales will grow to $250 Billion by 2014”. techcrunch.com. 8 March 2010Web. 2 May 2011.

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Why are large firms so slow to change?

Large organizations and businesses offer many different benefits to employees and managers alike, room for advancement, higher pay in most cases, better health benefits and more.  Large organizations and businesses can fall prey to change. Change is often slower in a larger business than a small one, the larger the business, the slower the change. What causes the disrupt in managing change?  There are several factors to consider.

Culture

While employees and their leadership can find solace in the mounds of manuals for procedures and protocal for those procedures, this sort of-by the book, don’t ask any questions- mentality can be the downfall of large business; this is similar to the physchological phenomenom known as groupthink coined by Irving Janis in his 1972 book, Victims of Groupthink.  Without true ownership or understanding of the best practices in introducing or adopting an idea,  paralysis can ensue. Ideas die on the desks of upper management because there wasn’t an established path to follow. This sort of blind following can also result in paralysis long before the idea is dying forgotten on a desk, it can die before it’s conception.

Leadership

In large comapanies and organization you will often find an hierachical organization structure where change and ideas are passed down to employees.  Often the flow of communication is one way. Upper management passes along directions and employees follow those directions. This flow of communication does not breed innovation nor does it allow for the few ideas that manage to survive to flow upward.  Even if the organization encouraged innovation, often there are too many degrees of seperation from the employee with the idea and the decision maker.

Sheer numbers

A final factor that cannot be ignored, and is almost implied, is that big business and organizations have to contend with the numbers. Implementing change within a larger organization, especially when training is concerned, is more cumbersome.  It can also be more costly and slow productivity to throw employees into training. Gaining momentum given the sheer size of the organization is even more difficult after the training is completed than in a small business.

The most detrimental factor can be the limitations introduced by culture. Since it involves the perception of the employees, this can be the hardest to address and transform. Scott Johnson and Richard Weaver, in their article on groupthink in the classroom offer encouraging information adding critical-thinking skills, decision-making skills, small group communication skills, and conflict management skills can eliminate groupthink in the classroom (Johnson 1992). Companies that encourage those four skill areas and hire employees that demonstrate those skills can help eliminate groupthink in their company and help facilitate change and innnovation as a result.

Works Cited
 
Janis, Irving. Victims of Groupthink. Boston, Houghton, Mifflin. 1972.

Johnson, Scott D., and Richard L. Weaver II. “Groupthink and the classroom: Changing familiar patterns to encourage critical thought.” Journal of Instructional Psychology 19.2 (1992): 99. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 1 May 2011.

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