Small Business Advice

What Happens When Owners “Get It”

I spoke in Wake Forest, North Carolina on October 13.  Today’s October 21. I just received this email from the Chairman of the Wake Forest Downtown Revitalization group.

Jon:

“Wish you could have been here for our merchant meeting this morning.  We spent the first part of our meeting going around the room and discussing everyone’s Aha! Moment from your workshop.  It was awesome to watch and listen to everyone talk about focusing on how their business is unique, or what they wanted to to with a monument… or how they are now refocusing on the concept of time zones.  The mayor and the director of the Chamber were there and were just as enthusiastic as all of the merchants.  It was really cool.  Thanks for an awesome workshop.”   John Shoemaker

How can owners go from being seemingly apathetic and stagnant to invigorated and proactive in one week?  Here’s how:  They just have to see the upside possibilities when their business model strategically shifts and they are given the tools to increase their sales and customer traffic. It’s always exciting when business owners understand what to do next with their businesses, and they start seeing the process to take their businesses from location-dependent ones to Destinations that pulls both locals and consumers from outside their area.

When this happens, just get out of their way!  They will do the rest to change both their businesses and communities!

Thanks for sharing this, John, and for letting me share it with my blog readers.

There’s Nothing Fun About Business Reinvention

I was just in Albany, Oregon where I did the keynote speech on “Business Reinvention” for the Oregon Main Street Conference.  It’s always fun for me to get on stage and explain to business owners and community leaders the positives of reinventing a business and to show real-life examples of business owners who have done it.  But although it’s exciting to show how an owner can change their business model, and how that change can cause a community to rise up out of this economic quicksand, there is nothing enjoyable for any owner about being in this economy, and having your business not generate the sales it should, and being in the midst of it, wondering what to do next.

 

If you are a community leader or a business association director, you should realize that many business owners are at their financial, emotional, and creative-thinking limits coming into this all-important 4th Quarter of the year.

What that means is that many owners will appear as if they are apathetic towards changing their current business state.  When I say “appear”, I mean that your outside perspective will not be accurate because these owners aren’t apathetic at all.

 

They are just numb.

You should understand that by the most conservative estimates, we are entering into the third year of this recession and despite what the experts say about the recession ending about a year ago, someone forgot to post it on the General Public’s Facebook page and most consumers are still acting 2008/2009-ish.

Unless you take time to talk to owners one-on-one, and delve deeply into your questioning, you will not hear it from them, and most will not admit it right up front.  But just keep asking, and it comes out.  For example, one owner described to me that she felt like she has been in survival mode for almost two years.  One owner described how his business lost over a million dollars in sales volume just last year, what it was like to have to layoff employees who had been with his company, and how he couldn’t do anything until the economy comes back.  Another told me that no matter what he tries, nothing works.

However they describe it in their words, the end result is the same.  We as a country have hundreds of thousands of business owners who are collectively stuck in a phase of entrepreneurial powerlessness.

If you want to help these owners in your community or organization, here are four (4) pieces of advice:

1.  If you have a suggestion for a business owner, make sure it will increase their sales or customer traffic.  Period!  Frivolous, extraneous suggestions that would be “nice-to-implement” are not the type of suggestions that are needed now.  Owner need “must-implement” suggestions that will move the needle.

2.  Suggest owners concentrate on lowest risk, highest return-on-investment marketing, especially in this 4th Quarter and the upcoming 1st Quarter.  These next five (5) months are the most critical months of the last three years.

3.  Suggest to owners that their advertising becomes more targeted towards attracting their very best customers who have the most disposable income to spend.  Targeted advertising means that many owners will have to clarify, identify, and know how to reach and entice these top customers into their businesses, with the result being that the advertising dollars they expend must pay for themselves.  You will find most owners do not know how to target their top customers well.  (This is one of our most popular Destination University online webinars.)

4.  Recognize that owners have limited dollars to put at risk and even less extraneous time to invest.  Don’t expect overwhelming response if you want time and dollars committed to a project that won’t or can’t show immediate results.

5.  Suggest that owners look at finding cooperative networks where they can brainstorm with their peers, and send business back and forth to each other.  You might have some cooperative networks in your local marketplaces, but don’t forget about our Destination University Student Center. It is one place where owners, experts, and authors from around the world are sharing ideas with each other on a daily basis, all while watching webinars that are bringing owners up-to-speed on business improvement tactics that many have missed.  (For example, in the next 75 days, Destination University will have eight (8) live online webinars that all focus on improvement tactics that owners can use right now.)

I had one business owner (who was a realtor), say to me: “I’m experienced enough to know that I don’t control the marketplace.”  He was right.  He doesn’t control the economic marketplace.  But what he missed was this:  Though he can’t control the economy, he CAN control every aspect of his own business and EVERY response to that economy.

The most proactive business organizations and communities are gearing up to help independent owners who are ready to get out of their collective sleepwalking.  Don’t be surprised if your idea isn’t returned with some skepticism.  This economy is not the normal mode of operation for most businesses, and most have not reinvented themselves, so expect some push-back to your ideas, but don’t let up.  It takes a while to show those who are numb that there is a way out of their current situation.

(If you’d like to learn more about how your business or your organization can use our Destination University program to help your businesses, click here).

Why Business Owners’ Skills Aren’t Like Baseball Players’ Skills

A friend of mine called to ask if I’d like to go to a baseball game, and I told him that I couldn’t go.  Our Destination BootCamp is next week, and there’s a lot of work preparing for 30 business owners to arrive here for that two and one-half day workshop.

But what I didn’t share with him was if the BootCamp wasn’t next week, I still wouldn’t have gone.  You see, I’ve really never liked baseball, and that’s mostly because I stunk at playing it.  I tried to play it, but I was horrible, so that bad experience transfered into my dislike of watching it.

Playing baseball was always frustrating for me because I couldn’t hit the ball, and I couldn’t really catch it.  I was slow running the bases.  For some reason, my baseball cap just always seemed to look dorky on me and cool on the other kids.  Since none of my older brothers played baseball, I knew none of the rules, and it wasn’t too long after my parents quit signing me up for Little League teams that I decided that I didn’t like baseball that much anyway.

But I was thinking last night while drinking a Sawtooth about how not having the skills to perform a sport is different from how most business owners think about their skills to create a successful business.  For example, I readily admit I can’t hit or throw a baseball well.  But when I explain to an owner that they need help with their advertising, they’ll say things like: “Advertising in a newspaper doesn’t work.”  They don’t say: “You’re right. I am not good at creating newspaper ads and call-to-actions that get results.  I need someone to help me with this.”  Instead, they blame the newspaper.  It’s not their involvement in the ad creation; it’s that ink on newsprint that causes their customers to stay away.

That’s like me saying: “This bat doesn’t move fast enough and this glove doesn’t close over the ball!”

The most successful business owners don’t blame the ball and bat.  They readily admit that they lack business skill sets, and they find resources who can help them do what they can’t.  They delegate.  They network with people smarter than they are.  They ask for help when they’re stumped.

But out there in left field, you’ll often find the most unsuccessful owners thinking they’re doing everything they could, and thinking that they’re doing it well.  Something else or someone else is to blame for their sales decline and their customers not coming in.  And every now and then you’ll hear them yell:  “When is someone going to give me a new glove and a faster bat?”

How to Write Your Way Out of a Business Slump

One of the best parts of my job is when I get to interview an author or a business expert about their area of expertise.  I am always on the lookout for books, speakers, authors, and experts who have skills that complement my Destination Business process.

If I hear someone speak, or if I read someone’s book and their area of expertise can help business owners, I ask permission to interview them and record our conversation.  Some of those interviews end up in our Destination University Student Center.

For over five years, one author who I’ve wanted to interview has been Henriette Anne Klauser.  You might not know of Henriette, but she is the author of multiple books, including Writing on Both Sides of the Brain, Put Your Heart on Paper, and (my favorite)Write It Down, Make It HappenKnowing What You Want and Getting It.

I especially appreciate Henriette’s books because when I was stuck in a career that felt like a dead end, her books helped me through a process of writing down my goals, visualizing what kind of job I really wanted to create, and soon afterwards, her advice was the catalyst for me to leave Hallmark Cards and start my own consulting firm.

Think about this:  Without Henriette’s books to help focus my discontent and spur me into action, I might still be a disgruntled employee (like some of my friends still are), complaining about how I’m being treated unfairly and feeling unhappy each day I go to work.

Without the advice from her books, I doubt seriously if I’d be speaking and consulting with business owners today, which means there would be no Schallert Group corporation, no Destination BootCamp, and no Destination University training program.  It also means I wouldn’t have spoken in over 500 communities and to hundreds of associations, and all those tens of thousands of business owners wouldn’t have been there either, learning about becoming a Destination.  Take that one step further, and there’d be a lot of business owners who never would have gone back to their businesses and changed them, which means a whole lot of communities wouldn’t have been changed either as these business owners reinvented and transformed their businesses into Destinations.

If I sound a little excited, I am. Next week, I’m interviewing Henriette Klauser for the first time, and soon her words and advice will be shared with my clients.

In the meantime, while you wait for me to complete the interview, you can still obtain her books at your local bookstore and start learning on your own how writing can help you clarify your goals, imagine a bigger picture than your current business model, and help you find solutions to some of your biggest problems.

Her book Write It Down, Make It Happen is pictured here.  Get her books now and start using them to help you focus on achieving some higher goals for your business.

The Economy and What’s Coming, I Think

With summer in full bloom, not many people are thinking about what’s going to happen to small businesses in the 4th Quarter of this year, on into the 1st Quarter of next year. But I am. And though I am not a fortune teller, I do believe that many businesses, both large and small, are not prepared for the possibility of a second plateau in sales and consumer spending, even though the economy is stronger than it was last year.

Here are some things we do know about today’s economy:

We know for certain that bad news travels fast, and everyone’s a little jumpy about more bad economic news. We’ve seen it several times when a job report, or an earnings report, comes out and if it’s not what the economists are predicting, the media starts focusing on this bad news. Unfortunately, this news might not have anything to do with your business or your community, but it doesn’t matter because people are still a little jumpy these days. Consequently, when good things do happen in your business, you must be prepared to retell the good news to your customers and the media, and to focus on those things that you CAN impact in your business (which I will remind you, is NOT the national news).

We also know for certain that this economic recovery is uneven. It’s not just that different areas of the country are improving or stagnating at different rates. Different businesses in the same marketplace and the same industries are unevenly improving. Go to your local chamber of commerce meeting and you will find business owners talking about how sales are fine or even good, and then, walk across the room and you will find someone saying that their revenue is horribly off. The net result of this uneven recovery is that there is not one thing that can correct everyone’s woes. So if you have grown accustomed to not looking for Big Brother to save your city or town, you will not be disappointed now; Big B is still not coming.

So what do I recommend? Here are a few thoughts:

I think that these summer months give all of us a great opportunity to look at the weaknesses in our businesses, start correcting them, and to start planning a comprehensive, multi-pronged marketing plan for the 4th and 1st Quarters that magnifies our true business differences, as compared to our competitors. Look at your overall business position and assume that consumer spending and customer traffic is going to decline in your marketplace, and decide right now how you’re going to capture those who have money to spend.

For many owners, their first inclination is to focus on tactical marketing steps, like using Facebook and other social networking tools, and to gear up their use. Well, there’s a downside of focusing primarily on business tactics.

Let me explain: During our Destination Business BootCamp, I work with business owners to help them magnify 24 different aspects of their business uniqueness. If owners work through those 24 points and find that their business is average or below average in the majority of the points, no matter how much you Facebook a customer or tweet them to death, if your strategic business differences are not superior in a consumer’s mind, your primary point of business difference will have to come down to price.

Let’s talk about price discounting for a second: I just read an article the other day that suggested that it’s a good idea to give happy hour discounts of 20%. That might sound really inviting to customers and it might even draw customer traffic to your business, but if your business doesn’t operate at a 20%+ profitability level to start with (or if the products you are discounting 20% don’t have an above average profit margin already), you as the owner are just slitting your throat using this tactic. Better to focus on magnifying your uniqueness and use discounts to reward customers who you’ve previously identified as being the most profitable.

With my prediction that the 1st and 4th Quarters could be a little rough, here’s one thing that you should NOT do right now: Now is NOT the time to clam up, quit communicating, go into a shell, get depressed, fear the future, and retreat into your own mind to single-handedly contemplate how to improve your business. Now IS the time to network with others, find out what works with others, learn from others, create strategic alliances, and start making changes to your business that will cause consumers to say: “That’s the place I’m spending money this coming holiday season.” That means, becoming a Destination business (a strategy that’s available to you if you are trying to attract consumers and you are a retail store, a restaurant, a service provider, or a professional practice.)

Just a reminder: one resource that all of you have at your disposal is our new Destination University Student Center. There are some amazing learning opportunities popping up inside those online walls! In the coming weeks and months, through the 4th Quarter of this year, through the 1st Quarter of the next, we’ll continue to fill the DU Student Center with more resources, Experts, and tools to help you get through this sputtering economy. Don’t underestimate what this tool can do for your business, all for the cost of less than one dollar a day.

Click here if you want to learn how to join the DU Student Center.

As Cities Cut Back, Some Communities Step Up to Help Their Local Small Businesses

Recently I spoke in Port Angeles, Washington to help their business community.  Their community was split between whether it was worth it to bring me in to conduct a workshop.  Some thought they could find someone locally to do the same workshop at a cheaper price.  All I can say is:  I love it when I get letters like this after I’ve spoken to a group!

The following is the email that Barbara Frederick, the Executive Director of the Port Angeles Downtown Association in Port Angeles, Washington sent me on June 11, 2010:

“Jon, I just wanted to tell you how much our community enjoyed your workshop. The participants left enthusiastic, and energized. The sparkle and dream was back in their eyes. I haven’t seen that in a long time. There wasn’t one person who left the workshop regretting they had been there, they all got something out of it that will transform the way they do business.

Our city manager and economic development director both had expected to leave at noon to be at other meetings. They cancelled their attendance at those, opting to stay at the workshop because they were so engaged and learning a great deal from it. They have both commented to our board of directors and to the city council that this was well worth the cost and one of the best uses of economic development funds in a long time.

One woman, who was skeptical of the amount we spent to bring you here, and that we could have had any number of local people do the same thing for a lot less, leaned over to a city council member during the workshop and said “This guy’s magic!”

Thank you for taking a group of people who have been beaten down by the economy and giving them back the belief that it is possible to be prosperous again by empowering them to take charge of their own business in ways they never thought of before …  Thanks again.  Barbara Frederick”

It’s all sunny outside now, but the next 6-9 months are going to be make it-or-break it for many small businesses.  Trust me:  there are coming ups and downs no one is anticipating!  Groups can either help businesses learn what they need to know right now to survive in this economy, or they can lament the errors they made later.

Click here to read more about workshops that could help your community, and call me directly if you want to learn what I presented to this Port Angeles group.

Don’t Let Customer Negotiators Erode Your Profit Margin

It’s become a new fad in this economy for consumers to try to beat up any retailer and negotiate for price discounts, even when the merchandise is fairly priced.  Part of this trend comes from discount-gurus and price negotiators who “teach” how to ask for better deals.

I’m all for getting the best price in a product, but most independent business owners are operating on single or low double digit profit margins anyway.  Giving up extra profit margin to a negotiating customer might fill the cash register temporarily, but it’s the fastest way to run your business into the dirt.

If you are a business owner, it’s important to know the techniques of a bargain buyer.  Please take some time today to read the tips from this negotiating guru, as seen in the Washington Post.  Click here to read the article now.

What are your best answers to consumers who are asking for discounts, when you have already priced the product competitively?   Share them with us!

Large Cities, Small Towns, and Business Success

13 Generalizations on Large Cities, Small Towns, and Business Success

I’m approaching my 25th year of consulting with business owners.  After working with tens of thousands of them, here are thirteen (13) small business principles of which I am certain.  For instance, I know why many small business owners will go extinct, why small towns are better than large cities, how Frank Sinatra was wrong, and where you can find the worst marketers in the world.

1.  It’s easier to generate more sales with a business in a large city than in a small town. But, it’s easier to create a more profitable business in a small town than in a large city.

2.  The most innovative businesses in the world are found in small towns and small cities.  They do more with less.  Unfortunately, they are often not as good at telling their stories, so they often go unnoticed for long periods of time.  Sometimes, forever, when owners don’t learn to market themselves.

3.  The success of a retail business has nothing to do with the amount of drive-by traffic.  Thank, Blockbuster, for again validating this.

4.  Location, location, location doesn’t have to matter anymore. Every true Destination Business continues to validate this.

5.  Owners who have businesses in tourist destinations are the worst marketers.  Since they are spoon-fed customers everyday, many forget how to aggressively market themselves, and they neglect learning about complex marketing concepts that businesses in out-of-the-way places have to learn to survive.  Groups that aggressively market for them and feed them customers actually are enabling their marketing backwardness.

6.  For most average business owners, the level of your business performance will rise to the level of your nearest best competitor, unless that competitor is a national Destination Business, and then, you’ll likely just be puzzled with the customer traffic they’re generating.  Unfortunately, some owners get jealous of the success of a Destination Business which is really silly because other businesses could be capitalizing on their traffic.

7.  Really smart people with multiple college degrees do dumb things when it comes to opening and running a small business.  It’s too bad that when they hand out degrees at college, they don’t come with transferable guarantee that can be applied to running a small business.

8.  Owning a franchise, rather than starting a business from scratch, neither insures success nor happiness.  But it will insure that you have bought yourself a job, though.

9.  An extremely passionate business owner with little money will kick the butt of a well-financed business owner with little passion, with all other conditions being equal.  Better yet, give me any business owner who is willing to change and learn new techniques to be successful, and that person will beat out both a passionate owner and a well-financed owner when both aren’t willing to learn.  (And if you’re an owner who really wants to learn, you should be in our Destination University! Click here to learn more.)

10.  Small business owners who don’t become small business CEO’s will become extinct in the coming years.  ‘Identify your weaknesses’, ‘question your business model’, and ‘delegate if I can’t learn it’ will be the new mantras for Mom and Pop businesses that want to survive.

11.  Don’t ask your nice customers what needs to be improved in your business because they will lie to you.  They want to be nice, and they won’t tell you about the parts of your business that disappoint them.

12.  If a customer says that your parking is bad and that’s why they don’t come in your business, most are using this as an excuse.  This really means that your business is interchangeable with someone else’s business, and that your business isn’t special and unique enough for them to want to expend any effort to work their way to your business.  Using the parking excuse is the easiest way to not go into a business when you’ve found someplace else that is just as good.

13.  When Frank Sinatra sang: “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere” about New York, he was wrong.  With over 2,800 people per square mile there, it’s one of the easiest places.  Show me a multi-million dollar business in northern Maine, central South Dakota, or in eastern Oregon, and then, you can sing about it.

That’s it. That’s what I’m sure of.  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know by posting your comments.

Where to find the best small business advice

Here’s a situation that happens to business owners everyday:  You are in your business and you have a new idea to bring more customers in your doors.  You feel reasonably certain that your idea would work, but you would like to bounce the idea off someone else, to get their perspective before you proceed.

 

Your first inclination will be to ask those immediately around you in your business, like your employees.  There’s nothing wrong with getting feedback from your team, but understand that their experience and perspective will not be the same as yours.  For one, remember they don’t have the vision for your business that you do, so don’t expect them to be as enthused about your idea as you are.  You’ve probably spent hours thinking about your idea (some of them in the middle of the night, as you’re worrying about how to solve your other business problems.)  Count on employees not being able to see the full picture of where your idea is meant to take the business.  Plus, if your idea means more work for them, expect some push-back.

 

Your second inclination is to ask your partner, your spouse, or someone who’s emotionally close to you.  While it’s a great to seek counsel from those you trust with other aspects of your life, unless that person has a full understanding of your business, don’t expect a revelation coming from them.  I’ve seen many people who you’d trust with your life not give good advice at all when it comes to business.  I remember one husband who always told his wife whenever she had a business problem that she should go ahead with her solution.  Unfortunately, for this owner, a “Yes Man” was not what she needed, and despite her husband’s best intentions to support his wife, his perspective was often faulty when it came to business tactics.

 

Another inclination might be to ask another business owner in your same industry.  Some owners have access to an association website or a group list serv, where owners with the same type of business can ask others for advice.  A word of caution here though:  If your idea is really revolutionary, do you really want to be giving your brainstorm of an idea to hundreds of other owners who can copy it?  And if your idea is so unusual and out-of-the-box that no one has ever thought of it, don’t expect a lot of creativity from this group of like businesses.  It’s more common for owners in the same industry to recycle the same ideas again and again (causing the consumer to grow more and more immune to them).

 

A fourth thought might be to walk next door and ask a business owner who’s nearby what he or she thinks of your idea.  If you plan to do this, take my advice on this one:  Avoid those owners who have all the time in the day to talk about your business, but who rarely put into practice anything new in their business.  Another owner-type to avoid are the negative ones.  For many owners, the opportunity to interact means they’ve been given another time to complain about everything that’s wrong in the world.  Count on these owners to offer very little helpful advice, while generally making you more depressed and less-focused on the positive action you are planning to undertake.

 

So who do I think is the best person to offer you valuable perspective?  Here are my favorites:

 

A Mentor:  Do you know someone you trust, you value their advice and you admire the business that they’ve built?  Try to get their perspective on your idea.  The one problem with these people is that they are generally busy, and you might have to schedule time to get in front of them.  Successful people aren’t likely to be sitting in their office just waiting for your call, but if you can get some time with them, in a short, focused session, explaining your idea to them might lead to an entirely new perspective.  Just remember that after getting their advice, though, that you look for opportunities to reciprocate and share something valuable with them in the future.

 

A Mastermind group:  You might have never heard this term but a Mastermind group is a collection of like-minded individuals who share confidential ideas about their business successes and failures in a small group setting.  Most of the time, these groups operate somewhat under the radar, and usually, you have to be invited to a group to become part of it.  If you are ever invited into one, evaluate the members in the group, and understand that their sometimes harsh, brutally honest perspective doled out on a regular basis can be just the ticket to improving your business, but you better have a thick skin.

 

A group of experienced owners outside of your industry:  I’ve found that this can be one of the best resources, if you can find a group of owners who don’t have the same type of business as yours, who are likewise successful, who are wiling to share ideas and offer their perspective.  We see this positive effect at every one of our Destination BootCamps:  business owners who have different businesses from different parts of the world, who seem to have nothing in common sharing their ideas across different industries becoming great resources for one another.  (One other hint here: next month, our new Destination University program will be forming an owner group that will be available to all of you where owners can share information online and from their smartphones, while also interacting with authors and business experts.  Click here if you’d like to learn more about this when it launches).

 

A Business Coach:  Sure, you saw this coming, considering I consult with business owners myself on how to make their businesses and communities a Destination.  But forget about the fact that I do this as part of my consulting business.  Regardless of whether you ever hire me or use any of my services, there are great coaches out there in the world who can help owners with specific business problems that they’ve seen before with other clients.  It makes no sense not using a coach’s experience to avoid the same mistakes as others, and to draw on their years of consulting with other businesses.  Just make sure you get a list of references before you begin any relationship with a coach, so you can check out what successes they’ve had for other clients, and be wary of the coach who has answers to everything.  When interviewing for a business coach, ask them to tell you what they don’t know and in what areas can’t they help you.  There are a lot of areas in the business world on which I’ll readily admit I am not the person to be giving advice.

 

So there you have it.  My four worst people to seek advice from, and the four best.  This should help keep your better ideas from getting shot down before they have a chance to shine, your worst ideas from becoming a major mistake, and help your best ideas to be even better.