Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Do I need to make a business plan?

Recently, I came across an article with this title that I published in “Bee Culture” – the trade journal – in May 1996. The principles are every bit as true for the small business person today, as they were thirteen years ago. It opened: “Yes; with the emphasis on MAKE. It is the PROCESS OF MAKING the business plan that is important for the small business owner, or owner to be.”

The process is often more important than the output of the plan itself (unless required for financing by your bank, or others, for example, of course). The planning process provides focus:
1. On operations – What business are we really in?
2. On marketing – Who are our customers? What should our market be? How do we define it?
3. On the product line or services provided – Are we doing all the things our customers expect from us?
4. On management and personnel needs – Have we planned for hiring the right people when needed? Do we have a management succession plan?

These are the kinds of questions that need to asked, at least annually, in each business operation. Getting in the habit of making/updating your business plan, regularly, by asking these questions – and taking adequate time to come up with good answers for your specific situation – can better prepare you for the tough times, for example, that many of us face today. If we have done this planning well, regularly, we will be much better positioned to take on the challenges facing us as we move forward.

What do you think?

Dr. Bill – I love to share. I hope you do to. ;-)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Older workers can do it better

Liz Wolgemuth writes an excellent column, "The Older-Worker Advantage," on page 76 of the U.S. News and World Report of Dec 15/22, 2008, that mirrors an article I published several years ago. I'd like to highlight her ten points, because they are very valid, and I've been living most of them...

The article is subtitled: 10 reasons that seasoned employees can win the job hunt.

1. You understand recessions.

2. You're willing to work part time.

3. You have real-life experiences.

4. You want to be challenged.

5. You're healthier.

6. You can control your emotions.

7. Your network is bigger.

8. You're loyal and reliable

9. You want to learn.

10. You're more satisfied with your job and benefits.

Understanding recessions is clearly true. Workers in this 50s and especially their 60s have been through many business cycles and can better appreciate that life goes on... the cycles will always be there.

I decided to continue my career as a professor and department chair at a regional state university from 65 to 70. It was the right decision. These have been the best work years of my life... although changes in the past year have made this final year tougher than I would have hoped.

This points out, of course, the pitfalls of making the generalizations of the 10 points, above. You will see them differently from the low 50s than from the mid-60s or the beyond 70s. Physically, the body does begin to deteriorate, noticeably. Maintaining a decent exercise regimen becomes increasingly necessary in order to do what your mind tells you to do. I do continue to enjoy challenges, but I do want to face them on my terms. I can generally control my emotions better, but I do find I am often less tolerant of incompetence around me. What do you find?

"You want to learn" is an interesting suggestion. I think this applies more now than in an earlier time, for our age group, but I also know many older workers who still resist learning. How can we discriminate on this issue?

I have not commented directly on several of the points, I will leave that to my readers, or a future post. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Note: As I approach that actual retirement date of June 13, I will try to be more active in getting regular posts to this blog. Thank you for your patience, and I look forward to a good dialogue.

Dr. Bill - I love to share. I hope you do to. ;-)

Time Management - Goal Setting - Are they really the same?

I was reading an issue of Business Week (September 1, 2008) when this question came to my mind. I have always taught that good goal setting is one management theory, when properly applied that always, actually, works. Time management, on the other hand, has always been, it seemed to me, to be in the province of gimmicks for consultants to preach about.

Reading an article about “productivity guru David Allen” and his GTD (“getting things done”) methods* raised the question in my mind. His GTD approach** appears to essentially be applying goal setting theory to one key aspect of time management – to me, at least. It may also work for you. McGregor lists the four key ideas from Allen’s seminar as:
1. Write it down; 2. Break it out; 3. Do it now; and 4. File it away.

Goals are always to be written down, very specific, with measurable outcomes with completion dates. In “Break it out” Allen contributes an important element to the process, by insisting that the goal be the next action, that is, the next granular step, that can be reasonably specified, measured and dated. This is in contrast to the larger, more complex goals that we often try to accomplish and wonder why we fail. This also makes the “Do it now” part a lot easier, of course. The important thing is that you keep doing these granular steps, and before you know it, even the more complex goal may well be accomplished, in a timely manner. No time is allowed for stopping and thinking about how hard it will be to accomplish this larger task and putting off getting started.

What do you think? Does this work for you? Do you have other tricks that work? I’d like to hear from you. I hope to write a longer article on this subject, and would love to include your examples. Leave a comment. You may be hearing from me.

Dr. Bill – I love to share. I hope you do to. ;-)

*Getting Serious about Getting Things Done, by Jena McGregor, pp 69-70.
** David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (2001).

A Blog - Should you create and use one?

I have just created and am using this blog – is this something that you as a small business owner should consider using? What are the positives and negatives of blogs? What is the commitment required to make the concept useful?

On WordPress.com alone, for example, over 250,000 new blogs were created in the month of July, 2008. Why would any sane person consider creating a new one?!? The reason is that every single new blog is created, or should be, for a very narrow, specific purpose. This would include a specific audience, a specific topic, with a well-defined agenda and business plan model in mind.

A blog (some say short for Web Log) is one of the more useful Web 2.0 interactive technologies introduced in recent years. The person creating and using the blog can use readily available software, at no cost, and begin communicating with the world in an easy to read format in just a few minutes of preparation. WordPress.com and Blogger.com are two of the more prominent providers of the service currently. The only real requirements are an internet provider and an email account (notice we don’t even mention the need of a computer any more – that is simply assumed!). I have chosen Blogger over WordPress because I find it much more creator-friendly, since I am the creator... others will find the added features and complexity of WordPress to their liking.

The interactive aspect of a blog is reflected in the ability of any reader, in turn, to comment back to the writer, virtually as soon as the blog is published on the Internet. Now, not all blogs allow comments, but for our purposes here, we will assume that is an integral part of the reason to have a blog – interactive communications with the audience.

The audience – who is the audience? This is a primary question that needs to be considered; certainly this is very important if the blog is to be an effective marketing tool of any kind. For example, to be useful to the small business owner, a blog could be written to communicate with customers or prospective customers, and to receive feedback on issues of mutual interest. Blogs may seem most natural for a virtual small business – perhaps a business selling on E-Bay, for example. In this environment, one of the things you do know for sure about every customer is their email address. For a blog to be useful, someone must know it is there and able to read it. Sending an email to all customers letting them know the blog has been created and is now available is one way to get a readership started.

What is the topic of the blog? What is the continuing message that you want to communicate with your readers? To maintain a readership, the blog must provide interesting and useful information at least once a week, for example. This may vary considerably, of course, but the reader needs to know what expectation level to anticipate. You will want to encourage use of the RSS feed notification, of course, but you cannot depend on that. You want your reader to be satisfied when he/she checks back twice a week, or weekly, or biweekly – what ever frequency you have established as an expectation level. The reader will expect to see a new article or set of information or commentary on the specified topic. If you are providing product updates, don’t put up a post on your recent vacation trip – no matter how interesting it was; unless it relates to the expected product update directly.

As the writer, you should have an agenda of at least a half dozen topics to cover, nearly if not completely written, before you open your blog. This way, you are assured of useful information the first several times out for your readers. This also gives you time to continue to “fill your queue” with good, new writing in a timely manner in the future. If you do not have the material information ready to meet this minimum requirement, you would be well advised to wait until you have these before you create and open your blog.

Finally, as a business person, you need to have a business plan model in mind for why you are spending this time, and it does take time, on this particular mode of communications and feedback for your business. Do you have frequent product updates, for example, that your customers need to know about or be aware of? Do accessories only become available on a random basis, and you want to communicate when these occur? Letting your customers know, on a timely basis, when these kind of events occur will improve your revenue and bottom-line directly with new sales at an earlier date than without this communication method, perhaps. But, would a simple mass email do just as well? Do you need to get regular feedback from your customers on a number of different issues over time? If so, the blog may be an excellent way to achieve that interaction, which presumably will increase sales as well as follow-up services. This is also money in the bank.

So, what do you think? Is the blog something that would be useful to you? Why, or why not? What questions do you have? What did I miss that I should have included here? What examples can you provide of how this has, or has not, worked for you, or someone you know? I look forward to “hearing from you” via the comments section, below!

Dr. Bill – I love to share. I hope you do to. ;-)

Welcome to this Business Acumen site

I am in the process of transfering the contents of this Blog from Word Press to Blogger. Welcome!

I have published more than 80 articles on business acumen in a variety of trade journals. After a break to concentrate on academic writing, I am returning to small business acumen: short articles here, each week or so, perhaps with accompanying podcasts, from time to time, along with returning to writing longer articles for trade journals. I welcome your comments and suggestions on topics, trade journals and the content of the writings on this blog.

Dr. Bill – I love to share. I hope you do to. ;-)