Monday, December 20, 2010

The 8(a) Business Development Program: What It Is and Who It’s For

clip_image002[4]This article was written by Doug Dare, Public Information Officer, Santa Ana District Office, U.S. Small Business Administration

Editor’s Note: This article is a follow-up to the article Mr. Dare prepared for the November 2010 SCORE Newsletter concerning the workings of the Federal Procurement Program. Those who are interested in soliciting business from the Government should read that article for the full background. The article can be found by clicking the November 2010 tab in our blog.

Probably the best known contracting certification program that the SBA offers is known as the 8(a) Business Development program, which was created by Congress to assist in the growth and development of socially and economically disadvantaged businesses.  To qualify for the 8(a) Business Development Program, a business must: be a small business, be unconditionally owned and controlled by one or more socially and economically disadvantaged individuals who are of good character and citizens of the United States, and exhibit a potential for success.  Last year alone, the roughly 140 8(a) certified companies in our district secured $119 million in Federal contracts.  I’ll break each of these terms down and how the SBA considers them in an application below, so please read on if you think you might qualify.

Small Business Size.  Small business size standards are numerical definitions of what constitutes a small business.  A business is considered small if it’s below the size standard for that particular industry.  For a complete list of size standards, see the SBA’s Table of Small Business Size Standards.

Ownership and Control. An economically and/or socially disadvantaged person must unconditionally control the business applying for 8(a) certification.  Control is not the same as ownership, although both control and ownership may reside in the same person.  Control includes both strategic policy setting and the day-to-day management and administration of business operations by disadvantaged individuals.

Disadvantage. Socially disadvantaged individuals are those who have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias because of their identities as a member of a group.  Social disadvantage must stem from circumstances beyond your control. Economically disadvantaged individuals are those whose ability to compete in the free enterprise system has been impaired due to diminished capital and credit opportunities.  In layman’s terms, a person’s adjusted net worth (net worth, less equity in primary residence and business, must be less than $250,000).  African American, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American and sub-continent Asian American are presumed to be socially disadvantaged and are only required to write a narrative outlining their economic disadvantage.  Individuals who do not belong to one of these designated groups (e.g. women, service-connected disabled veterans, physically handicapped individuals) are not presumed to be disadvantaged and must write a narrative outlining their social and economic disadvantage.

Potential for success. To evaluate an applicant’s potential for success, the SBA evaluates factors that include the technical and managerial experience of the applicant firm’s managers, the firm’s operating history, its ability to access credit and capital, and its record of performance.

By this point you’re probably wondering why someone would jump through so many hoops just to get a certification.  The reason for that is this certification provides you with access to set-aside contracts, the ability to receive sole-source contracts, and to enter into mentor-protégé agreements.  If you remember from the last article, set asides increase a businesses’ chance of getting a particular contract as the bidding pool is restricted to similar firms.  Sole source contracts (also called no-bid contracts), though rare, can be awarded to 8(a) firms, particularly when there is an urgent need for the procurement.  Also, the ability to enter into mentor-protégé relationships allows a mentor large business to provide technical and management assistance; financial assistance in the form of equity investments and/or loans, subcontract support, and assistance in performing prime contracts through joint venture agreements with 8(a) firms.

Applying for the Program. Before applying to the 8(a) Business Development Program, businesses should register for the following three databases (in this order):

DUNS number (Required in order to register with the Federal government for contracts and grants)

Central Contractor Registration (CCR) (Governmentwide vendor registration)

General Log-in System (SBA single login service)

The application is completed online and takes around 90 days to process after a 15-day review for completeness.  The SBA may contact the applicant to arrange an initial screening and gain more information.  After receiving the acceptance letter, the business meets with a small business representative and presents its business and marketing plans for the next year.

Participation. Companies participate in the 8(a) business development program for nine years.  During this time, they must remain eligible and inform the SBA of any factors that might affect that eligibility. As part of an annual review, each participating business must submit information to the servicing district office that includes records of payments, compensation, and distributions, along with certifications stating that it meets the program requirements and that there have been no changed circumstances that might affect its eligibility. If a participant fails to provide this documentation, the SBA may initiate termination proceedings.

Graduation and Termination. Businesses may be terminated from the 8(a) Business Development program for reasons such as falsification of information, failure to maintain eligibility, cessation of business operations, and inadequate performance on contracts. A business graduates when it exits the program after successful completion of its term.

I’d like to close this article with an example of one of our 8(a) firms that has used this program to grow.  Stronghold Engineering, a woman-owned construction firm based in Riverside, California, entered the 8(a) program in 1995 with annual revenues in the neighborhood of $1.5 million.  By the time Stronghold graduated from the program in 2004, Stronghold’s annual revenues exceeded $77 million and the company employed 185 individuals.  Of course, there’s a lot of hard work glossed over in that last statement – being in the program doesn’t mean you will be able to secure contracts, just that you will have the opportunity. In fact, many firms go through their entire nine years in the program without securing a single Federal contract because they don’t market to the individual buying activities or don’t do the research before entering the program to see if the Federal government is actually buying the products and/or services that their company provides.  We hope you don’t make the same mistakes...do your due diligence!

Which Marketing and Branding Strategy is Best For You?

clip_image002[1]This article was written by Bernard Lefson, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

If your marketing and branding strategies target low prices first, you may benefit from unbundled pricing.  This permits you to advertise and stress the best product pricing to your potential customer base.

Should your branding plan stress product quality and service, bundling prices may be the optimum strategy.  What do we mean by unbundled prices?  Think of online buying from Amazon where you find low prices and you pay extra for shipping.  Another example would by the baggage fees imposed by most airlines.  Bundled pricing would be inclusive of the baggage fee as is the case today with Southwest Airlines.  Another good example would be Nordstrom's which provides high quality goods and high service levels such as easy returns.  While both strategies work, the best for you and your company usually depends on your industry, your specific market, and your ability to meet your profit margin and sales volume goals and objectives.  For example, if your marketing and branding strategies target low prices first, you may benefit from unbundlled prices.  This permits you to advertise and stress the best product pricing to your potential customer base.  Should your branding plan stress product quality and service, combining/bundling prices may be the optimum strategy.  Your consumer base is probably more concerned with perceived quality, high level customer service, and simplicity of product purchasing, including delivery and installation.  The Pros and Cons of Both Strategies:

Unbundled pricing pros:

• Lower product selling prices

• Hide small expenses to sell, deliver, and install the product

• Offer best price possible for the product

• Clear gross profit margins on product sales

• Direct expense reimbursement for associated selling costs

Unbundled pricing cons:

• Added Customer complaints that you’re “nickel and diming” them

• Potential loss of customers, since you don’t offer anything “free” with purchases

• Losing sales to competition that combines prices to generate the

perception of convenience

Bundled pricing pros:

• Perception that your company offers something extra

• Simplified purchasing procedure for your customers

• Ability to increase gross profit margins and volume if your combined

• Selling prices are competitive

• Potential increased return customer sales, as buyers may not

• Intensely evaluate competition in the future

Bundled pricing cons:

• Competition may “squeeze” your profit margins as you lower product prices

• Forces your purchasing managers to negotiate lower wholesale inventory acquisition pricing

• Risk of being perceived as having higher prices for products

Business owners must integrate their pricing strategies with their marketing and branding plans. Building a cohesive company strategy, with no components at odds with other objectives, should result in success.  Whether you select to combine prices, the key is to integrate complementary strategies that positively contribute to your company goals.

How To Seal The Deal In Ten Seconds

clip_image002[1]This article was written by Barry McKinley, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

Can you close a sale in just 10 seconds?  You can do it even faster if you make a great first impression. Ten seconds is the average length of time you have to make a first impression.  If your first impression is not good you won’t get another chance with the potential customer.

Whether your initial meeting is face-to-face, over the phone or via the Internet, you do not have time to waste.  It pays for you to understand how people make their first judgment and what you can do to be in control of the results.

1. Learn What People Use To Form Their First Opinion

When you meet someone face-to-face, 90% of how you are judged is based on non-verbal data – your appearance and your body language.  Only 10% is influenced by the words that you speak.  Whoever said that you can’t judge a book by its cover failed to note that people do.  When your initial encounter is over the phone, 70% of how you are perceived is based on your tone of voice and 30% on your words.  Clearly, it’s not what you say – it’s the way you say it.

2. Choose Your First Twelve Words Carefully

Although research shows that your word make up a mere 10% of what people think of you in a one-on-one encounter, don’t leave them to chance.  Express some form of thank you when you first meet a customer.  “Thank you for your interest in our products.”

3. Use The Other Person’s Name Immediately

There is no sweeter sound than that of our own name.  When you use the customer’s name in conversation you are sending a message that you value that person and are focused on him.  Nothing gets other people’s attention as effectively as calling them by name.

4. Pay Attention To Your Hair

Your customer will look at your face and hair.  Very few people want to do business with someone who is unkempt.

5. Keep Your Shoes In Mint Condition

People will look from face to feet.  If your shoes aren’t well maintained the customer may question whether you pay attention to other details.

6. Walk Fast

Studies show that people who walk 10-20% faster than others are viewed as important and energetic- just the kind of person our customers want to do business with.

7. Fine Tune Your Handshake

The first move when shaking hands should be sure to make it a firm one.  Yet time and again people offer a limp hand to their customer.  You’ll be assured of giving an impressive grip and getting off to a good start if you position your hand to make complete contact with the other person’s hand.  Once you’ve connected, close your thumb over the back of the other person’s hand and give a slight squeeze.  You’ll have the beginning of a good business relationship.

8. Always Have Business Cards

Your business cards and how you handle them contribute to your total image.  Always have a good supply, remember this is the least expensive item you can give a customer but can certainly repay you in sales and commissions.

9. Match Your Body Language To Your Verbal Message

A smile or pleasant expression tells your customer that you are glad to be with them.  Eye contact says that you are paying attention and are interested in what they are saying.  Leaning in towards your customer makes you appear engaged and involved in the conversation.  Use as many signals as you can look interested and interesting.

Customer Service Principles that Never Go Out of Style

clip_image002[1]This article was written by Jerry Margolin, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

Most customers that are lost by small businesses are lost because of poor customer service performance, rather than for any other reason.  A small business has a golden opportunity to increase their sales simply by being aware of customers needs, and responding positively to them. In fact, many of these same customers are willing to pay more for the privilege, since it happens so seldom.  Here are a few tips that you might consider.

  • Never use an automated telephone system unless you absolutely have to!

Let the big boys annoy their customers; not you.  Most people hate to be put on hold while a recorded message tells them how important they are.  It doesn’t matter how many employees you have, any time a telephone is answered by a person rather than a machine, your stock goes up.

  • If you say you will call back in fifteen minutes, call back in fifteen minutes!

If you set a time to call someone back with information, call them back at the promised time even if you haven’t received the information yet.  Too often I hear “I didn’t call back, because I had nothing to tell you”.  Yes you did have something to tell them; you had to tell them that you did not have the information yet.  Customers are almost more grateful for that, than they are for the answer to their problem.  It says that you are working on it, you haven’t forgotten, and that you are trustworthy.  They will remember that the next time that they buy a product that you sell.

  • Learn the names of as many customers as you can, and use them!

Everyone loves to hear the sound of their name.  It says that you remember them, and are important to the proprietor and that business.  If I regularly use a cleaner, or small sandwich shop, dog groomer, or whatever, and they speak to me by name, rather than asking me what it is, and how to spell it each time I go there, I feel flattered and want to recommend that business to my friends, so that they too can feel flattered and enjoy the same experience.  When I go to a restaurant and the owner stops by the table, and says “Jerry, how was the food this evening?”  It tells my dining companions that my business is meaningful to that restaurant, and theirs will be too.

  • Be flexible when dealing with problems!

If you guarantee a product for thirty days, and it breaks on the thirty-first, think of negotiating something anyway.  The big question should be “Is it defective, not when it was bought.  Giving a customer their money back once may cement the relationship with your business.  Good customers are hard to replace.  If you are unable to make that decision for some reason, at least give them a gift certificate or a decent discount on their next purchase.  You don’t win when you invoke a rule because “it’s there.”  In fact by making a concession to a rule, you may turn an angry shopper a devoted shopper for life instead.

There are lots more tips to mention, but hopefully, these will get you thinking.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Are We There Yet? The Web World 14 years Later...

imageThis article was written by Bob Bradley, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

We have come a long way from the original web world with black text on a grey background.  I have had my website, www.rjbradley.com since 1998.  It has changed from time to time and I am now considering moving it to the Wordpress platform and have begun that journey with www.rjbradley.com/blog.  This is not strategic but something that just seems to make sense right now.

However, as we look around the web we have to think, "have we really come that far"?.  Where does the WWW fit into the corporate structure with respect to budget priorities?  With marketing priorities?  Have we seen a new CEO appointed to that position in the non tech world who made their name by being a leading advocate of the WWW? We all look around the web for things.  When you become aware, you start noticing websites with hideous designs.  Information is so convoluted that you can tell it was a result of committees, everyone wanting to get their piece of the pie into the presentation, but it is not connected.  Remember the word "web" implies interconnectivity.  You want the good stuff, what you searched for, but you have to penetrate through the latest and greatest Nike shoe offering, the lowest cost mortgage, and cheap flights to the UK blinking at you just to get to it.  Sometimes a background in detective work is an asset to find the good stuff.  Many times when I look at a website I find what people include in their "about us" page to be much more relevant than what they put on their main page.  Why, I do not know.  Perhaps we have just absorbed too many advertisements in our time.

In the small business world, or micro business world, cheap seems to be the word that drives the web world.  People selling the services, sometimes forced into entrepreneurship because of life circumstances, know this.  They make their money by taking a couple of grand from a willing subject.  They sit with the client and agree with them on most things then run back to their computers and put the website together according to what they think and what would require the least amount of time, because time is money. The results is usually using a template or just plopping in a similar site as previously created.  We all know what happens after that. Here are some of my observations:

· SEO is not easy and it never ends. One trip to the gas station does not provide gas forever.

· On-line advertising is more than running a few ads on Google or Yahoo.

· Over optimized copy. Is it necessary to include the word "clothing" in all 300 products listed on a single page?

· White space is your friend! Does anybody ever ask if that image, text, paragraph add any value to the user?

· Coding-just like house painters, plumbers, carpenters, accountants, these come in a wide variety of skill sets.

· CMS, content management systems, that create more problems that they solve

· Flash hell, so pretty, yet so useless.

· Websites built on the HPPO principle, that is, the highest paid person's opinion. Generally useless too.

Thoughts for the month.  Please visit www.rjbradley.com/blog for more. Also visit the new BradleyDaily

Customer Feedback - The Silent Killer

imageThis article was written by Barry McKinley, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

A year ago I had a SCORE client tell me I was negative to their business idea. First of all I am a very positive person, heck, I still believe in the “Tooth Fairy.”  But the client asked me my opinion so I told them.  The business they were considering was in an industry that 10 years ago had all but disappeared to the “Big Box” Stores.  I felt a moral obligation to this client that they should reconsider. Instead they became offended.  Unfortunately this month they are unwinding a very unsuccessful business and contemplating filing for bankruptcy.

What happens when a customer gives you feedback about your product or service?  In business I always welcomed feedback, positive or negative.  I am an outspoken person and will certainly let a company know if they have “wronged me,” but my wife is just the opposite, she won’t say a word! Of the two of us she is the most dangerous to businesses.  We will walk out of a business together and as soon as the door closes she will tell me I will never go back their again (she never has a problem voicing concerns to me!).  She is the “Silent Killer”!  As a business person you didn’t even know you had done something wrong.  There are a lot of “Silent Killers” walking around.  They are the ones who never complain – not a word.  Instead, they just never come back.  It has been said that a satisfied customer will tell 3 friends and an upset customer will tell 10 friends (or just about anybody who will listen!).

Upset one customer and you have to go out and find 9 new customers!

How do you prevent the “Silent Killers”?  First, listen to what you customers are telling you and your staff.  Be sure that your staff knows to make you aware of any upset customer or a customer complaint!  It is not fair nor is it smart business to allow your staff to deal with all the negative input.  Become a good listener when your customers are reporting concerns.  Don’t interrupt.  Be sure you understand what their problem is, resolve to the customers satisfaction immediately.  More importantly determine what the cause of the customer’s problem was and take immediate steps to remedy the problem and discuss with all staff members.  We all have a tenancy to see the world through our eyes but we must remember there are other ways to view the same picture.  Our vision or way may not be the best!

Send your customers thank you notes, with a brief survey.  I occasionally get companies who ask me to fill out a survey and it will only take 5 minutes.  My first response to them is to be considerate of my time.  In all the surveys I have used we asked 4-5 questions with a yes or no box to check, and then a space for comments.  We did not have the customer’s name on the survey card nor did we ask them for it.  All survey cards always came directly to me, “Personal and Confidential”.  This prevented employees from sheltering me from some of the problems.  Don’t be surprised if you only get 5-10% back, that is a normal response rate!

I always made it very clear to customers that without their input I was not in business.  This same message was discussed in every staff meeting.  We even had signs in the employees areas and bathrooms that said; “Our Customers Are Your Paycheck! . . . They Are The Boss!”

A business owner who doesn’t get feedback from his clients on a routine basis, is like the Ostrich that hides it’s head in the sand!  You certainly don’t see anything and you’ve got your butt in the air!

Identifying Federal Procurement Opportunities

imageThis article was written by Doug Dare, Public Information Officer, SBA Santa Ana District

Part of our mission at the SBA is to increase the participation of small businesses in Federal contracting.  The purpose for this is two-fold: one, we want to help small businesses grow and ultimately become large businesses; and two, generally speaking the Federal government gets a better deal when more parties are interested in bidding for the same project.

It goes without saying that the Federal government is the world’s largest buyer of goods and services.  The last year we have complete data for, 2009, indicates that altogether the agencies, sub-agencies, administrations, and departments that compose the Federal government bought just under $500 billion in goods and services.  What’s more important is the fact that 22.8% of those procurement actions were directed to small businesses.  Each agency has goals they negotiate with the SBA and they are graded annually on their efforts to ensure that small businesses receive a piece of the pie.

With so many different entities at the federal level, it can be confusing for a small business owner that has many other priorities and concerns to know where to look to find these opportunities.  My goal in this article is to clear some of that confusion up.

The main repository for Federal contracting opportunities is the Federal Business Opportunities website, or FedBizOpps as its commonly called.  FBO.gov has been designated as the single source for federal government procurement opportunities that exceed $25,000.  Government agencies use the FedBizOpps system to post any and all relevant procurement information on the Internet, including procurement notices, solicitations, and specifications.  You don’t need to register to use the basic search functionality, but if you want e-mail updates of contracting opportunities or to set up a “watch list”, you will need to register.  I would recommend that you click on “advanced search”, and then search for opportunities by keyword, NAICS code, or geographic location.  If you haven’t already identified your NAICS codes, you may wish to visit http://www.census.gov/epcd/www/naics.html as they will be used throughout the procurement process.  Another method to identify NAICS codes is to look up a competitor’s profile through the Dynamic Small Business Search, which is available on the Central Contractor Registry (CCR), www.ccr.gov.  We’ll look into CCR in more detail later.

The General Services Administration (GSA) manages Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) contracts, also known as Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) contracts.  Under MAS/FSS, contracts are awarded to multiple companies supplying comparable products and services at pre-negotiated prices, terms and conditions. Once GSA awards the contract, Contracting Officers and other authorized users order directly from the Schedule contractor. In particular, firms that offer IT services & components, as well as personnel & human resources related services would find it beneficial to be awarded a GSA contract.  Over 11 million different products and services are sold through GSA schedules, so chances are that your product or services is already being procured.  Even if you don’t get awarded a GSA schedule, there’s a possibility that you can subcontract with a current contract holder.  Information regarding how to win a GSA Schedule can be obtained from Pamela Smith-Cressel, Small Business Specialist for the LA area, at (213) 894-3210.

The two contract vehicles mentioned previously, FBO and GSA, represent the vast majority of the purchases made by the Federal government.  However, contracting officers can make micropurchases of less than $3,000 directly via credit card.  In many cases, contracting officials search the CCR, which is a government-maintained database of companies wanting to do business with the government, to identify qualified small business vendors.  That’s why it’s important to register your business on CCR, even if you don’t foresee a major prime contracting opportunity.  If you do find opportunities on FBO, or are interested in becoming a GSA contract holder, you will first need to register on CCR before submitting a bid.

Now that you’ve researched and hopefully identified some opportunities for your company to do business with the federal government, you should look into contracting certification programs to see if you meet any of the eligibility criteria. SBA currently administers two certifications, and they are:

8(a): For socially and economically disadvantaged businesses

HUBZone: For businesses located and employing individuals in a Historically Underutilized Business Zone

However, there are other certifications such as small business, veteran-owned small business, service-disabled veteran-owned small business, and woman-owned small business, that are self-certifying, and each will make your small business more marketable to procurement activities, as they are graded to ensure that they purchase from a range of socio-economic concerns. Some of the certifications, such as 8(a), HUBZone, service-disabled veteran even provide access to set-aside contracts.  Set aside contracts are those which are restricted to a specific pool of bidders, as opposed to full and open competition.  As an example, an SDVOSB set-aside contract would only accept bids from businesses certified as SDVOSBs.

Pursuant to the Small Business Act, large business prime contractors receiving federal contracts valued at over $550,000 ($1 million for construction) are required to establish plans and goals for subcontracting with small business firms.  Subcontractor utilization factors into the performance evaluation for any given contract in which a business is the prime contractor, so in order to ensure a favorable rating, many prime contractors maintain strong small business outreach and supplier diversity programs.  A complete directory of these firms can be found on our website at: http://www.sba.gov/aboutsba/sbaprograms/gc/cmr/casubs.html.  Subcontracting opportunities can be a great way to become exposed to the Federal procurement market and learn the ropes and language before embarking on your own as a prime contractor.

If you have any hiccups along the way, or simply would like more information about the different types of contract vehicles, look for your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center.  These are government-sponsored entities that provide assistance and training to small businesses that would like to do work with the federal government.

I’d like to close this article with a comment I overhead at one of our events.  This comment came from a man who is an electrician first and a businessman second (in his own words) that just landed a $150,000 contract at March Air Reserve Base. He said, “It took me a couple months to figure it out, but it just goes to show you, if I can do it, anyone can.”

So You Want to Open a Restaurant Or “Dancing With a Gorilla”

imageThis article was written by Tom Snell, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

You have planned, planned and planned. You have developed and tightened the concept, not only do you have your menu but all the food costing done too. You have a mental picture of the layout and all the decor and colors. You've been over your cash flow many times. Your marketing plan is great. You can practically taste the food.

Best of all, between you and your Uncle Charlie you've come up with 30% cash down on the loan you somehow got from a bank. Somehow, you've talked your wife into letting you put up the house as collateral. You are definitely on a roll!

Now all you have to do is dance with the 800 pound gorilla. That's what I call the collective regulatory agencies that are there to tell you what you can and can't do. When you dance with the gorilla you must understand that it leads, and you follow.

Before I call the gorilla capricious or ugly or just a bad dancer, let's make it clear that these agencies have the best interest of the public in mind. They are trying to protect all of us from our own collective screw ups.

So pull out your dance card and write in for the first dance with the Environmental Health Department of Orange County, or just the health department as most people call it. Here you must submit your detailed plan of the restaurant you plan to open. They will put it under review and let you know if it is acceptable as is, or needs the adjustments they will point out for you – ad nauseam.

This is not the last time you'll hear from the first partner on your dance card. Save another space on your dance card, because they will come back and inspect the restaurant to be sure you built it the way you said you were going to.

The next dancer is the County Clerk where you must apply to register for the name of your restaurant. Assuming the restaurant name is something besides your own personal name, they will have to clear it to be sure no one else is already using that name. If your name is cleared then you will start the process known as DBA shorthand for” doing business as,” calling for you to publish your name registration in local papers.

None of this is particularly difficult, but it does take time, and you will have fee charges along the way. You will now start to feel the time pressures of everything coming at once.

The City Clerk is your next dance. Here's where you go to get your business license – you hope. The city essentially decides if they want you in the city. For example, they could say "no thanks" if there are too many bars in the area already. Or they just don't really want a cage fighting theme bar in their city. Here also, the local fire and police have a voice, especially if you are planning entertainment or a bar.

If you are planning to serve alcoholic beverages, you must get permits from the ABC, shorthand for the Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the state of California's regulatory body for licenses for the service of alcoholic beverages. The two normal avenues for restaurants are wine and beer only, or full alcoholic beverage service. They investigate this to be sure you are an upright and honest dude .

Next, you must prepare for federal income taxes by applying to the IRS, where they will give you an employment identification number (EIN) so that you can withhold federal taxes and Social Security taxes from your employees’ paychecks. I know you just can't wait !

Other California stuff. This includes filing for your state income taxes (franchise tax board) employment taxes, if you have employees (Employment Development Department) workers compensation and lots of colorful labor laws put out by the Department of Industrial Relations and the US Department of Labor). You're certainly are going to comply with these, aren't you?

You haven't stepped on the gorilla's toes yet? There are still chances!

How about the Coastal Commission for example. No, I don't know how far inland their authority goes. If you can see water and sand from your restaurant, you're probably under their control. The individual seaside cities are in charge of enforcing the rules of what you can do under the coastal commission rules.

The gorilla has a lot of steps and knows every dance. So be prepared, because this is all a major part of opening a restaurant, in Orange County or anyplace else. Give my regards to the gorilla.

SCORE’s “CEO Forum” Peer Problem-Solving Environment Takes Businesses to a New Level

imageThis article was written by Larry Tucker, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

It was 2004, and Brian Pendarvis, CEO of Pendarvis Manufacturing in Anaheim found that the family business was growing almost too fast.  “It’s just my website and me” is how he describes his salesman-free marketing strategy.  The firm was founded by his father, Robert “Bud” Pendarvis in 1982, and Brian entered the business in 1985.  In the early days, Brian would joke to his brother that their father would call him into the office to do invoices, and there would be only two for the week!  But, by 2005, his father had pretty-much retired, the business had grown a lot and Brian needed help.  So he called on his brother, Robert, to move back from Colorado to help him run the firm.  This successful family relationship has helped Pendarvis Manufacturing reach $4 million in annual revenue.

Yet Brian realized that he still didn’t know what he didn’t know.   His total business “education” had been his experiences at Pendarvis Manufacturing, various SCORE seminars and a couple of adult education business classes. Recently Brian joined Orange County SCORE’s CEO Forum program.

CEO Forums are monthly meetings of 12 or so business owners facilitated by two SCORE counselors who use a proven process to help Forum members navigate their way through issues and problems to arrive at actionable solutions.

Brian asked his Forum members for ideas on how to successfully handle growth…how to move from a small “owner-operator” business to a larger business with key people in place to handle the daily operations.  “I have a lot of hats to wear. I needed to move from the ‘flying by the seat of my pants’ method to a process-driven business structure.”  Brian has used what he has learned in his CEO Forum sessions to guide the organization of his business, document internal processes and develop instructions to insure that he can “spend more time working on the business and less time working in the business.”

Elan Sudberg received some very different help from his CEO Forum.  Elan’s father started Alkemists Labs 12 years ago to conduct laboratory testing of natural products and herbal medicines.  His mother and sister work full-time for the organization, and his wife and brother work as contractors.  In the midst of the recent recession, Alkemists Labs needed more operating capital.  Elan had been unsuccessful in negotiating loans from his usual sources, a couple of the larger national banks.  His Forum encouraged him to look to local community banks, who are often more empathetic to local businesses.  One of the Forum members was Rick Ganulin, Chairman and CEO of Pacific Enterprise Bank.  Headquartered in Irvine, this bank is one of the leading lenders of SBA loans in Orange County.  Rick says, “From these CEO Forum sessions, I got to know Elan and was very confident in him as a person and in the strength of his organization.” Discussions that started at that CEO Forum led to an SBA loan for Alkemists Labs from Rick’s bank.

Elan’s other struggle was in trying to find the right head chemist.  His prior two hires for the position both failed.  This is a critical position for his firm.  “It’s like an arranged marriage,” he states, implying that he is entering a life-altering relationship without much knowledge about the other person.  Elan’s Forum worked with him on redesigning his application, asking better interview questions and properly checking references.  Using these new processes in their hiring activities, Alkemists Labs now has a successful head chemist.

Orange County SCORE’s CEO Forum Program serves all businesses in all industries with certain minimum revenue and employee requirements.  The heart of the program is the peer learning process that helps business owners creatively address members’ issues and concerns.  CEOs typically don’t have the opportunity to take advantage of these types of discussions with peers.  In addition, each quarter all the forums come together for a speaker presentation on a topic selected by the membership.  To learn more about this program, go to www.score114.org and click on the CEO Forum tab.

The SCORE Advisory Board

imageThis article was written by Dennis Wright, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

"It's hard to believe all of this costs me nothing"...  that's what he said after I recapped a plan to help him meet the challenges and opportunities his business was facing. 

It all started with an e mail in which this business owner asked for help with increasing sales.  When I received it I contacted him and made arrangements to meet him at his office, to get acquainted and to determine exactly what we could do to help him and who within our Chapter would be the best person or persons to provide that help. 

Of course as I was driving down the interstate to that meeting I was already mulling over several ideas, but when I arrived; when we finally sat down together I listened to him outline his situation in more detail and it became apparent there was much more we could do for him.   Much more !

I not only learned how far his sales volume had declined, but that marketing was almost non-existent, that inventory had grown, that several suppliers were becoming "anxious", and on top of that his business was housed in a facility about twice the size needed. 

So what was the end result of that meeting: a quick fix?  No, but I assembled a team of SCORE counselors - each with different experience and skills - who subsequently visited that business one at a time to address matters within their respective field of expertise and made recommendations for needed change.  In addition, one of them assumed the ongoing role of mentor. 

And what did we get out of it?   A chance to put our experience and skills to good use, and a heartfelt thanks from a business owner who needed help... and it all started with that very short e mail.   

We certainly can't make personal visits to every Orange County business in need of help, but you may be surprised who we will visit / who we do visit.  Take a quick look at our Advisory Board application using this link: http://www.score114.org/advisory.aspx  We recognize that it's hard for many business owners to get away, to come in for advice.   Advisory Board represents one of our several solutions.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Business to Business Selling

imageThis article was written by Dennis Wright, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

I looked at the Branch Visit Report and scanned the several Daily Call Sheets that accompanied it, and then asked my sales rep about a particular retailer… his answer: “I was unable to talk with him; he was away on vacation”. The next question: what had he learned when he visited the store… his response: “he’ll be back in a week”. I probably invited that one, but the silence that followed that statement was deafening.

What could my rep have done when he was in that store / what should he have done when he was there? Reload. As I mentioned in an article last month there are four levels in selling and overlooking or ignoring them is the equivalent of failing to take advantage of opportunity. Not something that successful sales people often do.

Let me put this situation though in proper context; we were selling retail financing programs (financing for customers) to a wide variety of businesses and our sales model was based largely on cold calling, which can be very effective if it’s done right.

Consider this; sales people (let’s call them Level 1) at most retail businesses, if not occupied, are generally happy to chat for a few minutes while waiting for the next customer… and they’re an excellent source through which to determine what’s going on there at that business. In this particular case my sales rep, after learning the owner was away, should have asked a sales person there - after some get-acquainted small talk of course - who the business was using for customer financing, and from their perspective how that source was performing and what program changes if any they’d like to see made.

The administrative staff (2) could have provided helpful information as well; facts about the store or stores, who the decision makers were, the best time to find the owner in the store and / or perhaps even schedule an appointment with the owner at a future date.

Talking with management (3) might have yielded information about sales volumes, the economics of the arrangements in place and how those arrangements were presently viewed… and management is also a good source through which to determine how the service provider is performing and what program changes if any ought to be made.

Of course the owner is the final stop (we’ll call him Level 4) and when that meeting takes place the information gathered earlier at one or more of the other levels would have enabled him to “personalize” his sales presentation thereby making it much more effective; insuring that it addressed the businesses needs and most if not all their wants.

Would this strategy work for you… you bet it would! Whether you’re selling goods or services taking extra time for conversation - whether it’s at Level 1, 2 or 3 - to gather information and to some extent selling yourself, your company and depending on circumstances your product or program (the three stages in selling) will indeed pay off. Doing so may even create interest and support within that business before you ever have the opportunity to meet with the owner, and a little inside help never hurts.

Executive Coaches of Orange County

imageThis article was written by Larry Tucker, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

Score114’s strategic partner, the Executive Coaches of Orange County (ECofOC), is now publishing a blog on managing nonprofits (www.managingnonprofits.org).

The blog addresses the nonprofit management issues that ECofOC most frequently encountered in its eight years of experience in coaching over two hundred nonprofit managers in Orange County, CA. Nonprofit directors, managers, board members, volunteers or discerning donors might find enlightenment from the blog’s twice-a-week postings. If you are involved with any nonprofit in any way, we hope you will visit our blog at www.managingnonprofits.org, and visit it regularly! It would also be great if you would forward this announcement to anyone on your E-mail address list who might be involved with a nonprofit, or who might have friends that are involved with a nonprofit. Thank you for your help!

If You Build It, Will They Come?

imageThis article was written by Bob Bradley, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

Having done many internet marketing workshops and counseled people on the topic, I have come to notice a curious phenomenon. Many people put a website together and launch it while knowing very little about the internet business. This is great for our workshops. Why? Because these same people attend them to find out how to make their sites do what it is they were intended to do in the first place! The reasoning is simple. People read about websites developed for $1000 that generated several thousand dollars worth of business and the owners ended up with multiple houses around the world and still were able to do business because it was all on the internet. Who wouldn't want that?

That constitutes putting the cart before the horse in my opinion. I recently had a client who admitted that he put his website up to sell stuff because it appeared easy to do -- and it was. However, he found that he got no visitors because he did not rank in search results and did little else to get people to go to his website. Build it and they will come? Not with over 250 million websites and over a trillion webpages from which to choose! My client needed to do something. He went on a discovery mission that took the better part of a year to determine just what needed to be done to get ranked and get visitors. He now has a completely different view of the world and his approach is entirely different. What he thought was an ant hill turned out to be a mountain but he was much better equipped to climb it.

We are all ignorant about many things. We were not born with knowledge. We had instincts but not knowledge. The only solution to ignorance is education. You have to learn what you do not know. Compounding the problem is that many times we do not know what we do not know. People dive into stuff with a great deal of ignorance and wonder why it just did not work the way they wanted. After all, that guy that was written up in Inc. magazine did it. Well, that guy probably represented less than .003 of the population. In other words, a long shot. If we wanted to fly a plane we would have to learn, performing surgery requires a great deal of knowledge and training, drilling for oil has to be learned. Even tying a tie properly has to be learned. 

As an old story goes, those that have been successful at something have invested 10,000 hours into it. A golf pro, a lawyer, an accountant, an electrician, a concert pianist, a plumber, an artist, the list goes on and on. Very few have put the cart before the horse. Instead of 10,000 hours spent on the right things, there are too many people who do not even spend 10 hours, much less 10,000 hours, to achieve their goals. 

Check out my blog on Internet Marketing at www.rjbradley.com/blog

What “First Impression” Does Your Business Make?

imageThis article was written by Barry McKinley, SCORE Management Counselor

There is now a top rated TV show on hoarding! Hoarders are people who live in houses they can hardly move through. Most of us don’t fall in that category but many of our businesses do!

I recently visited a friend’s business and he greeted me in the parking lot wearing a nice tailored and pressed suit. I then entered his business. What a mess! There were stacks of papers everywhere, dust on shelves, merchandise in no order piled on the floor, desks and tables. All I could think about is how quickly I could get out of this mess! Not surprisingly he told me business was terrible! Gee wonder why?

Keep in mind when you meet a new person they form an opinion of you within the first 15-30 seconds based on your dress and attitude. Your business is no different!

Look at your business from a customer’s standpoint. Does it look organized everywhere and dust free? Is everything clean including the restrooms? Gas stations learned years ago that a sign “Clean Restrooms” brought in travelers who gassed up and bought food and drinks. Are all the inventory items clearly marked with pricing with attractive displays that are appealing and help to sell merchandise?

My printer (former Printer now) did a great job BUT was always late by a day or two. I learned to lie on the due day for the job to accommodate their lateness. Every time I went into their office they had printing jobs piled everywhere, there didn’t seem to be an organization to their shop. I finally couldn’t take it anymore and switched printers. It was tough to do because I really like them personally but I could not count on them. I certainly wasn’t a big customer probably 2K a month but you have 5-10 customers like that and you lose enough of them it hurts. Unfortunately, after 15 years in business they closed, not because of the economy but because they lost so much business to their competitors. Sometimes Business Owners forget without customers you don’t have a business.

How much dead inventory do you have sitting on your shelves or in your warehouse or showroom? Many business owners can’t bring themselves to sell inventory at or below their cost so they elect to sit on it…forever. I remember a client’s store that had a large piece of inventory that was unused but at least 10 years old and very outdated. I asked the owner why he kept it and he told me someday a customer would come in and want it! I think he stood a better chance of having pigs fly through his showroom. Don’t fall in love with dead inventory. If you can’t sell something discount it until you do. Convert dead inventory into cash which you can then convert into saleable inventory that will make you money. Every business owner sometimes finds himself with old inventory that doesn’t sell. Don’t compound that mistake by keeping it or “holding out for your price”. Remember, dead inventory takes up room but even more important sends the message to your customers your business is not current with the times. Perhaps some of this dead inventory can be sold easily by giving your employees product training and paying extra incentives or commissions. Clean up the merchandise, make an attractive display, perhaps offer it at 50% off when another product in your store is purchased. Customers love bargains!

While you are doing this “Fall Cleaning” now is the time to throw a fresh coat of paint on the walls, clean up your signage, straighten up the counters, organize your files, and get rid of old obsolete displays etc. It is amazing what you can do with $300 in making your store clean and appealing. Remember if you don’t you competitors will!

How to Perform a Preliminary Patent Search

clip_image002This article was written by James T. Fulton, SCORE Management Counselor

Before spending any money on a Patent Lawyer, it is useful to see if your idea has been patented by someone else within the last 20 years (which would prevent you from selling products based on the idea in the commercial marketplace), or has been patented earlier (which would put the idea into the public domain and allow anyone to sell products based on the idea).

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) sub-divide patents into classes and subclasses. There are about 1000 separate classes and at least 30,000 subclasses. Your initial challenge is to find the appropriate class and subclass for your idea. The complete index of classes and subclasses is available on the Internet, as are printable copies of all issued patents. Beginning recently, copies of all submitted but not yet accepted and issued applications are also available so people can avoid reinventing something already in the works.

Your major problems are two: finding the index and finding the appropriate class. You should know that the title of a patent has nothing to do with either the index or the class. Thus, to search the USPTO files based on words in the title is a waste of time. You must search the appropriate class and subclass for patents with similar ideas in their abstract. Then, you must read the entire patent of those that appear to describe an idea similar to your idea. To find the appropriate class, go to www.uspto.gov/web/patents/classification/selectnumwithtitle.htm . This will take you to the Index of Classes by name. You must either scan down through this list to find the appropriate class and subclass or hire a patent attorney to do it for about $1000. It is your choice. To see how the system works, click on GO next to Class 007, Compound Tools. This will take you to a list of all of the Subclasses in 007. Note the variety of title for the 70 or so subclasses. If your idea acts like a wrench, note the indented types under subclass 138. Does your idea include an adjustable feature? If so, it is probably under subclass 139, the one with one dot in front of it. However, note the two dots in front of subclasses 140 and 142. These are subordinate to 139. Does your adjustable wrench include a cutting feature? If it does, your idea belongs in Class 007 and Subclass 142, usually described as 007/142.

Click on the red P to the left of Subclass 142 and your screen will fill with the last 50 patents issued in this subclass. Only patents back to number 4,500,000 are active and protected by the government (issued after 1987). The older patents contain ideas already in the public domain. Ideas equivalent to these cannot be patented again.

Ref: Pressman, David “Patent it Yourself” Nolo Press, Berkeley California (available at most main city libraries)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Business to Business Selling

clip_image002[1]This article was written by Dennis Wright, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

“That guy could sell ice in the arctic”… “he can talk a blue streak”… “whata’ a salesman that guy would be” !

I heard those words often when recruiting to fill an open position on my sales team, but I wasn’t looking for the proverbial “blind squirrel who occasionally finds a nut” (makes a sale).  I wanted someone who was a good listener, someone who possessed a quiet self confidence and was articulate… I wanted “distance runner”.

Why?  Because experience had taught me there are basically two rules in selling that if followed dramatically improve results:

There are three stages in selling

There are four levels in selling

In this article I’d like to focus on the three stages in selling:

Sell yourself

Sell your company

Sell your product or service

When calling on a potential customer, like it or not, first impressions matter.  It’s in those first few minutes that he/she will decide if you’re someone they’d like to talk with.  So, do some preliminary research; check out their website; become familiar with their business before you visit them, look your best and try to establish a non-business common interest quickly.

The next step is selling your company. By asking probing questions and listening carefully - that includes taking notes - you’ll learn who they’re buying from, what they think of that company and how they feel about the product or service. And since everyone likes a good listener you’ll be building on what you accomplished in “step one”.   By the way, never make disparaging remarks about a competitor; it’s often perceived as a “cheap shot” and in a sense you’re telling that customer that he/she made a mistake when they chose that vendor.   Just make sure they understand what your business can and will do (your strengths) to facilitate comparisons with your competitor’s shortcomings.

The last step is selling your product or program.  You want to familiarize the potential customer with all that you have to offer, of course, but you don’t want to oversell or overstay your welcome.  Once you have a commitment there will always be an opportunity to circle back and cover what you weren’t able to initially… and it’s important to do so.

Remember this, people generally won’t buy from a sales person they don’t like or who isn’t viewed as being credible, from a company they’re not sure of; not confident that it can deliver on the commitments made by it’s representative, and a product or service that doesn’t meet their need and most if not all of their wants. Refine both your approach and your presentation with these points in mind and you should do well.

A wise man once told me that successful selling is not a “sprint”; it’s a “marathon”.

Starbucks Instant? Now Google Instant!

This article was written by Bob Bradley, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

clip_image002[1]I continually mention in my internet marketing workshops that search engine optimization is a continuing pursuit. It is like running football plays to get down field but there is no real finish line. Just yard lines to pass which are interim goals (like ranking in the top five). It is always advised that Google keeps messing with the algorithms to perfect the search experience thus changing SEO parameters. At the beginning of the year it was Caffeine, now it is Google Instant.  This is not to mention all the “expensive” real estate that Google periodically decides to use for Local Business (the 7 pack) and real time Tweets, all appearing above the fold in the SERPS (search engine results page).

Now Google Instant. You will read and hear how this will eliminate SEO. You will read and hear how this will completely alter your search rankings. You will read and hear that you should consider using only an SEO firm that specializes in Google Instant. You will read and hear about how this is some evil Google method to get more ad impressions and more clicks for their advertisers. As you know, the internet allows all kinds of conspiracy theories coupled with elements of truth. Time usually sorts things out.

Google Instant explodes Google Suggest (that drop down menu that suggest search terms). When you search for GOLF you will get the drop down menu with suggestions but you will “instantly” get the search results for golf without pressing ENTER. In fact you will get changing search results as you type the word GOLF into the search bar. When the letter “G” in entered, the search results are for GMAIL (part of the conspiracy?), when you put the ‘O” after the “G”, you get Google Maps, Google Earth (more conspiracy?), can you guess what happens when you put the “L” in? Wrong, it changes the results to “GOLD”, which Google has a lot of but there are no links to them directly. Does this eliminate the conspiracy?

Now it gets interesting. Add the “F” for the whole word GOLF. All the major players come up in the search results. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. These represent the results that have always come up. Now add the word “PUTTERS” in the search box and once again you get those results that you would have ordinarily received.  Now get creative. Add the word “FREE”  to “GOLF PUTTERS”. This provides a potpourri of results from big players to much smaller ones.

So what? Information and data always tell you something. Getting the search results as you type in letters in the search bar may result in a particular search result catching your eye during the process and diverting your attention from your primary goal which was to find free golf putters. I may have seen the results for GOL (which are gold links) and found something interesting and proceeded to click on it. Never would have done that before. So searchers may well be exposed to other links while they are typing in their primary search query and subsequently be diverted. The diversion may not be so convoluted. Search results could show golf drivers, golf courses, or anything more closely related resulting in a higher propensity to stop and click, but not on my original search topic.  When and if behavior changes, the search paradigm can change. Marketers should always be on the lookout for behavior changes.

Additionally, think what else this is telling you. One, the suggested terms in the drop down menu just may be keywords that Google knows are good ones. Two, the search results that you see when you use Google Suggested Terms, or even your own search query, mean that those results may have been optimized for those keywords. You can see the changes in search results as you add search words to your query. You may be able to better optimize your website for general and longer tail keyword phrases.

There will be fascinating exchanges of ideas, thoughts and conspiracies in the coming weeks and months. I am sure we are only days away from the first SEO promotion touting an expertise in optimizing your site for Google Instant.

Read more about Internet Marketing at www.rjbradley.com/wordpress

Employees vs. Independent Contractors – Don’t Put Your Business at Risk!

clip_image002[1]This article was written by Bern Lefson, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

All too often we find employers upset with the high cost of workers' compensation and associated employee costs who decide to employ Independent Contractors.  While the perceived incentive of lower cost is attractive, this decision can put an employer out of business.  Both the State and the IRS are seeking revenue and this area is ripe grounds for additional revenue.

The most significant potential liability of worker misclassification is back federal, state and local payroll tax withholding (e.g., FICA and income tax).  The IRS has made reviewing employee misclassification a priority when conducting audits.  Other potential liabilities include overtime, benefits, and unemployment compensation.  The IRS does aid small and large businesses by posting the rules and tips on  its website. Below is one of those tips that may assist you in avoiding  fines, penalties and bad publicity.

Here are the top ten things every business owner should know about hiring  people as independent contractors versus hiring them as employees.

1. Three characteristics are used by the IRS to determine the relationship between businesses and workers: Behavioral Control, Financial Control, and the Type of Relationship.

2. Behavioral Control covers facts that show whether the business has aright to direct or control how the work is done through instructions, training or other means.

3. Financial Control covers facts that show whether the business has a right to direct or control the financial and business aspects of the worker's job.

4. The Type of Relationship factor relates to how the workers and the business owner perceive their relationship.

5. If you have the right to control or direct not only what is to be done, but also how it is to be done, then your workers are most likely employees.

6. If you can direct or control only the result of the work done -- and not the means and methods of accomplishing the result -- then your workers are probably independent contractors.

7. Employers who misclassify workers as independent contractors can end up with substantial tax bills. Additionally, they can face penalties for failing to pay employment taxes and for failing to file required tax forms.

8. Workers can avoid higher tax bills and lost benefits if they know their proper status.

9. Both employers and workers can ask the IRS to make a determination on whether a specific individual is an independent contractor or an employee by filing a Form SS-8 - Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding - with the IRS.

10. You can learn more about the critical determination of a worker's status as an Independent Contractor or Employee at IRS.gov by selecting the Small Business link. Additional resources include IRS Publication 15-A, Employer's Supplemental Tax Guide, Publication 1779, Independent Contractor or Employee, and Publication 1976,  Do You Qualify for Relief under Section 530?  These publications and Form SS-8 are available on the IRS Web site or by calling the IRS at 800-829-3676 (800-TAX-FORM).

Successful Sales Management

clip_image002This article was written by Barry McKinley, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

Most small business owners who hire sales people complain that they never know what the sales people are doing, they are costing too much and/or they are not producing.

The first step the business owner must realize that getting a salesperson up to speed is time consuming. The owner’s response is I don’t have the time to “hold their hand”. Think of it another way: Does your company have the money to flush their salary and expenses down the toilet monthly?

In hiring a salesperson you are looking for somebody that can be a long term employee. This means you don’t want to hire a part time or semi retired person, just because you can get them cheaper. You want somebody whose livelihood rides on being successful with your company. It may save some time in hiring a person with your industry experience but having good sales skills is far more important. Because they have been a salesperson for 10 years doesn’t mean that they are good! I have occasionally cooked for nearly 50 years, and I still stink!

Sales and product training is critical. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself look for help. I am glad through SCORE, along with other members to provide assistance and help develop sales programs.

In training, telling them what to do is NOT an effective way to develop staff members. In fact after just 24 hours most people retain:

7% of what they hear

15% of what they read

25% of what they learned with video or computer based training

30% of what you show them how to do

People learn by doing. They will retain:

50% of what they learn through discussion

75% of what they learn when they practice the skill

95% when they have to teach the skill to other folks.

If you are doing and they are watching you are not developing good sales people.

Tracking the sales person efforts is critical. You need to know how many contacts they make a day, how many clients expressed interest, how many ordered and the overall outcome. This can easily be tracked on different sale software programs, along with the contacts name, follow up information, and email. Sales planning is just as critical as making sales presentations.

You need to regularly meet with the salesperson to discuss their customer follow-ups, success stories, the reasons customers are not buying, what your competition is doing, and what are their short and long range goals. At the same time, you need to evaluate how the sales person is doing on obtaining their goals. Establishing sales goals for your staff is critical. Without a target we have no direction to aim. The targets need to be obtainable but they have to be a stretch.

An effective leader creates imbalance. They know for their business to survive and grow they have to constantly change the status quo. The marketplace changes weekly with new competitors, new customers, old customers disappearing and new ways of doing business. Good managers recognize what got them there won’t keep them there. The manager’s job is to create order with systems and procedures to create predictable quality, high productive, consistent results and a wonderful customer experience.

Like any other part of your business you need a plan, establish goals and methods to measure. Listen to the input of your clients and staff, they will determine how you do business.

Teamwork -Still the Champion for a Prosperous and Growing Business

clip_image002This article was written by Hillel Pitlik, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

Traditionally, business organizations establish a hierarchical structure of supervision. Unfortunately, this method can cause the organization to act in a fragmented manner where ideas are suppressed and cooperation is thwarted.  In many cases, problems which arise in everyday activities are left unsolved because the responsibility chain is not clearly defined.  I'm reminded of a visit to China when a faucet in our hotel bathroom was not functioning. We called the desk and they sent a plumber to fix it. We asked him, "Why the cleaning personnel had not found the problem and reported it?"  He replied, "That isn't their job."  Unfortunately, this happens in our organizations much too often.  While your organization has specific goals - never underestimate how much your employees can contribute to greater success.  It is the objective of good management to harness the power and ingenuity of the people.  The basic question to be addressed is.  "How do you get all the employees pushing in the same direction while keeping their eyes out for problems?"

Today's mantra for such an organizational fabric is "Teaming".  It's important and vital to any business because it is your people who best understand the nature of the problems they face in their every day activities, and they are almost always the one's best able to devise workable solutions .   A methodology that encourages these ideas is the one that will best serve the total enterprise.

Teaming is based on the premise that the whole is stronger than the sum of its parts. Each individual has something to contribute and taken together success is more frequently assured.  A simple example that comes to mind is a small manufacturing business that has lost a key manager.  The documentation for the products of the company was largely in the head of this key manager.  The workers in the shop had been there as long as the manager.  There was a critical need to recapture the lost information.  By empowering the working team that had the equivalent knowledge, the business was able to survive this information loss.  In fact, the resulting documentation incorporated many improvements that the individual employees had introduced on their own.

By engaging the team, the efficiency and productivity of the organization improved substantially, because the workers were not just automatons but part of the entire process.  In addition to solving problems, the team can establish goals for productivity that become a commitment and thus the team's success is a group objective that has a higher probability of being achieved.  The best team structure demands that the team supervisor is part of the team.  The supervisor is there to make sure that the resources the team needs for success are provided in a timely manner as well as working in the team to assure success.

Think TEAM and your business will flourish beyond your expectations.  Your employees will be happier and you will realize the business success that a good enterprise deserves.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Partnerships are Like a Marriage

clip_image002[1]This article was written by Hillel Pitlik, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

Getting into business with multiple participants requires more than vetting the business idea but a clear understanding of the personal involvement of each partner. Although the business may be exciting and potentially profitable, the partners must be aware of a major pitfall that lies ahead of them.

Before you decide on the corporate structure, the pecking order in the business, the way you’ll split the profits, you must resolve the obligation of each partner to serve the enterprise. Namely, what do each of you bring to the party, in time and resources?

This entails a frank discussion of each party’s role in the success of the business. This is not a short term matter but a long term commitment. Many a business has had problems because the extent of each member’s commitment was not defined in specific terms at the outset. In fact, the commitments defined in such a discussion form the basis for what part of the pie each member receives from the business. And further, if the member’s obligation is not fulfilled, how the remuneration is to be adjusted. Certainly, this requires the definition of the methods for evaluating the fulfillment of the agreed upon tasks.

These discussions are tricky and by no means straight forward. They demand honest discourse and will form the basis for the many decisions that must be made in commencing the business.

You might ask, “Is this the first priority?” Absolutely! The partners are best able to agree on these matters well before the big bucks cloud your views.

Just as in a marriage, the partners must agree on the methods available for detaching themselves from the enterprise (divorce).

The result of all of the above discussions should be a legal agreement, prepared by an independent legal counsel and signed by the partners. Now you can get on with the business at hand and count the shekels with confidence that your venture will proceed with all parties moving in the same direction.

FORM I - 9 ELECTRONIC STORAGE

clip_image002[1]This article was written by Bern Lefson, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

Dep’t of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division issued a final rule on electronic storage of Form I-9, replacing an interim rule that’s been in place since 2006.  The final rule takes effect August 23 and a complete copy of the final rule is available at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-17806.htm.   Some of the questions addressed in the rule are:

1.     Time frame for completing Form I-9?  Within three business days (not calendar days) of the date employment begins.

2.     OK to use a combo of electronic and/or paper storage systems to retain copies?  Yes.

3.     OK to change electronic storage systems, as tech evolves?  Yes, so long as new system meets stated requirements.

4.     OK to store in electronic system with no option to produce a hard copy of the record?  No.

5.     OK to store ancillary docs (i.e., copy of proof of identify and/or authorization to work in U.S.) electronically?  Yes.  Not required to keep them at all but if you decide to, do it for all employees to avoid discrimination claims.  It’s really everyone or no one.

6.     OK to store I-9 with employee’s other records?  Separately?  Yes to both.  OK to keep I-9 with individual employee’s record, or put all I-9s together in a discrete file.

7.     Required to store the entire Form I-9?  No.  You do not need to store the instruction pages, only the pages with employee or employer data entered.

8.     Must required audit trail on each Form I-9 track every time file is accessed, even when record not modified but only viewed?  No.  Audit trail should track each time file is “created, completed, updated, modified, altered or corrected.”

9.     Must employer supply a receipt of transaction to every employee who completes an I-9?  No, only if employee requests it.

10.   Can I have a license or contract restriction on my electronic storage system that limits or prohibits access by U.S. government agencies?  No.

Take Care of Your Current Customers!

clip_image002[1]This article was written by Carl Woodard, SCORE Orange County Chairperson

Keeping your current customers happy is as important today as ever….perhaps more so. Analyze the cost to gain 10 new customers and you will realize that keeping ten current customers is far cheaper. And, you already know their buying habits, preferences, payment history and how to attract their business. How do you keep them, given today’s business environment? First, keep supplying them with top quality products and personal service. And follow up with them to see how they think you are performing….but be careful how and when you ask for that opinion.

Recently, I entered my local bank and found the usual long line of customers waiting to be served. I became line member number 17. The line moved slowly and I noticed that there were eight teller windows at the long counter, but only three were occupied. After several minutes, a well dressed employee moved down the line and, with clipboard in hand and a smile on his face, asked me “How can we help you today?” I suggested that he count the number of people who were backed up, drop his clipboard, go behind one of the open windows and start serving customers. His response was, “I wish I could” ….and he moved to the next in line….and asked the same insincere question. The result was a few dozen customers being vividly reminded that they were not being helped very well.

Customers know good quality in products and services which they receive. It is expected, appreciated and leads to loyalty. Loyalty can give you the edge even though your price may be higher and your store smaller than competitors. And, when you ask your customer how you can help them, be ready to demonstrate that you mean it by taking some action. Now, that will impress them.

At SCORE Orange County, we like satisfied customers. We first try to determine exactly what help you need for running your business. Do you need a business plan, or tips on how to improve sales? Do you need to understand your cash flow or learn how to use social networking to introduce your business to an expanded customer base? SCORE offers workshops throughout the county, most at no charge. Then we follow with personal, confidential, one on one counseling either in person or via the internet, always at no charge. We are well stocked with experts on finance, marketing, sales, human resources and other specialties. And you can receive these services free. Simply call us at 714-550-7369 and arrange an appointment or visit us at www.score114.org and sign up for a workshop or reserve an exhibit table at our next Women in Business breakfast meeting.

You will find that, when SCORE asks you, “How may we help you?” we really mean it. Try us!

Reinvent Your Business

clip_image002[1]This article was written by Stan Lewczyk, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

The market keeps changing, the competition keeps changing—are you keeping up? If you have been in business for several years, you need to re-invent your business at least every five years or less to make sure you are prepared for the future.

Is your business growing? Is it profitable? If you are not satisfied with your answers, these are additional reasons to review your current strategy and business model. Some broad steps to take:

  • Review the market-what business needs are you fulfilling today, how are market changes impacting your “reason for being”, what additional future changes do you expect, how can you respond to these
  • Do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis for your business and the key competitor(s)
  • Re-affirm where you want to be in 3-5 years, what are your new goals
  • Review steps 1-2 if you need to expand into new business opportunities
  • Determine what changes will be needed to get there--business scope, personnel, operations, investment, sales and marketing, etc
  • Develop a step by step plan to get there—including a new, updated business plan

How do you do this? Get help from SCORE!

This approach doesn’t mean that you will need to make major changes in your business model. Perhaps all you need to do is to focus on your key strengths and determine how you can improve on them to solidify current business and to gain new business. The key here is to set aside time to re-think and re-invent your business model.

Another suggestion, read a good book on business strategy for new ideas. An example is “Blue Ocean Strategy” by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne.

SCORE’s Advisory Board program is available to help established businesses address issues such as these.

When Does the “Other Shoe” Drop?

clip_image002[1]This article was written by Ben McCulloch, SCORE Orange County Business Counselor

Interest rates, credit crunch, employment, stock market, real estate, retail sales, gas prices, inflation …

Your business environment sends you many signals. Some may be noise; interesting perhaps, but affecting ‘the other guy’. Other signals may be loud and clear, and worth paying attention to. Sense-making is difficult, and responding even more so. Yet, to succeed – and even survive – you must navigate your business environment. So, where do you get your environmentals?

Locally, we have several excellent authorities for regional business and economic activity, trends, observations, and even an occasional ‘outlook’. Follow the links below to see some examples. As you do, you may notice two things: that business news – about specific companies, industries, and events – is reported more frequently than economic news and, as you might expect, economic news and analysis can require a more careful reading:

  • The OC Register Small Business section is now found in their ‘Money’ section. Jan Norman’s small business column has been moved to her very active blog, giving her opportunity to report on a greater range of business and economic topics. Be sure to bookmark her site.
  • Orange County Business Journal (OCBJ). Published weekly, the Journal provides a comprehensive report on business news and events around the county.
  • The LA Times Business section features small business news every Monday.
  • Cal State Fullerton Economic Forecasts. Every six months, the Mihaylo College of Business and Economics issues a ‘Midyear Economic Forecast’. Here is their spring 2008 update.
  • Orange County Public Library and city libraries. The reference section of your library is an excellent source of authoritative business information. At the Fullerton City Library and Yorba Linda Public Library in particular, their business librarian can help you find – and interpret – the information you need.

In the current economy, a deeper awareness and understanding of what might be going on can be helpful. Jan Norman points us to The National Federation of Independent Businesses’ (NFIB) report of small business economic trends. Their analysis – reported monthly since 1986 – provides an index of small business optimism, as measured across a variety of such operational factors as sales, prices, wages, inventories, and credit. Although their analysis is not specific to any region of the country, it may help you understand the relationships of the factors that drive your business. You won’t be surprised to learn that the optimism of small business owners is waning, but you may find what they’re experiencing may sound familiar.

Business planning is an on-going process, especially since your business environment changes around you. As you navigate your business through this slowing cycle, remember that a SCORE counselor is standing by to help you steer toward opportunities – and around the hazards – in your environment. We look forward to working with you.