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.