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6 Tips and 90 Days to Protect Your Business

There can be no way around it, Inc. contributor Brian Hamilton’s April 2020 COVID-19 centered article, “6 Actions to Take in the Next 90 Days to Save Your Business,” isn’t pulling any punches.  Hamilton, Founder of the Brian Hamilton Foundation, believes that the next 90-days could be make or break days for business owners looking to navigate the choppy waters of the COVID-19 pandemic.  His latest Inc. article provides readers with 6 actions they should take now to survive the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Tip #1 Vigorously Control What You Can

Hamilton’s first tip is to “Vigorously control what you can.  Vigorously ignore what you can’t control.”  As Hamilton points out, you can’t control the economy; instead, you need to focus on what you can control.  His view is that there has never been a more important time to focus, “More than ever, you’ll need to go to war with things within your control.”  Now is the time to exercise control.

Tip #2 Guard Morale

During tough economic times, employee morale can be a real issue.  This brings us to Hamilton’s second point, “guard employee morale.”  Significant drops in employee morale can lead to serious problems with your business, which is exactly what you don’t want to see right now.  Hamilton notes that you have to be the general that helps his or her troops rise above potential panic.

Tip #3 Preserve Cash

Hamilton’s third tip is to “preserve cash where you can.”  He states, “Right now, your motto should be: Live to fight another day.”  The pandemic means that you need to keep expenses down and watch every dollar.  No one knows what the next few months, or the next couple of years, could have in store.

Tip #4 Be First in Line

“Be first in line,” is Hamilton’s fourth point.  Hamilton wisely pushes business owners to be the first in line for government assistance.  This is very good advice, as SBA and other funds are likely to be limited.

Tip #5 Get Back to the Basics

Fifth, Hamilton recommends, “Get back to the basics…starting with monomaniacal customer service.”  As always, customers, whether existing or new, are the lifeblood of your business.  You can’t afford to lose customers now and for this reason, you need to have a laser-like focus on customer service. 

Tip #6 Pivot your Product or Service 

Hamilton’s sixth tip is to “Pivot your product or service to new conditions.”  Small changes to your business can open up new streams of revenue.  Even if these streams of revenue are comparatively small, they could mean the difference between sink or swim!  Try to step back and look at your business with fresh eyes and strive to find ways to offer something new to your customers.  Whatever you offer should be based on your existing goods and services and not require a new, large expenditure.

The COVID-19 pandemic is obviously disruptive, but it won’t last forever.  Hamilton’s advice of focusing intensely on the next 90 days is sound advice.  You won’t regret looking for ways to safeguard your business for the next 3 months.

Copyright: Business Brokerage Press, Inc.

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Improving Your Telework Habits

In her recent April 20th, 2020 Forbes article, “Three Keys to Engaged, Productive Telework Teams,” author Rajshree Agarwal, who is a professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, explored how to get the most out of telework.  This highly timely article covers some very important territory for many companies dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.  Let’s explore Agarwal’s key points so that you can help your team get the most out of telework.

Agarwal notes that people may tend to shy away from sharing personal information and feelings while in the office.  But via video conferencing, the story can be different.  For this and other reasons, it is necessary for employers to keep in mind that the dynamic between you and your employees may be different when you use video conferencing.  This will also often be the case when your employees speak with one another. 

She prudently cautions business owners from taking a “business-as-usual” approach to the COVID-19 situation, as it can make them look both unnecessarily cold and out of touch with reality.  On the flip side, however, it is also important to not dwell on the negative aspects of the pandemic.  Offering some sense of normalcy during the COVID-19 pandemic is a smart move as well. 

How you use telework and video conferencing is, in part, about developing the correct balance.  On one hand, you’ll want to acknowledge that the situation is serious and must be addressed.  But on the other hand, you don’t want to dwell on the pandemic.  After all, not effectively handling the work at hand could undermine your business and cause other problems for both you and your employees. 

It is in everyone’s best interest to be smart, safe, and acknowledge the bizarreness of the current situation while striving to achieve business goals.  The keyword here is “balance.”  Agarwal states that “The combination of empathy and purpose unifies individuals, allowing team members to channel their efforts towards shared objectives and values.  This is the best antidote for anxiety.”

From Agarwal’s perspective, there are three keys to making telework effective: communication, socialization, and flexibility.  First, there has to be good communication.  For example, people can’t simply ignore one another’s emails because they are working virtually.  She points out that real-time meetings via Zoom or Skype can eliminate some communication issues, but not all. 

The second factor to consider is socialization.  As Agarwal points out “Engaged, productive teams also take time to socialize.”  Working from home alters the typical modes and methods of socialization, but virtual interactions can be used to help people form and develop their social networks. 

In short, socialization doesn’t have to end once telework begins.  Used judiciously, socializing, and the bonds it creates between co-workers can still continue. 

Agarwal’s third key is flexibility.  Flexibility is critical, as all team members must adjust to what, for some, may be a fairly radical restructuring of their day-to-day work experience.  Those who haven’t worked virtually before may find adjusting to be quite a challenge.  Management should strive to be more flexible during telework caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Trying to maintain the same top-down approach could prove to be problematic.

It goes without saying that telework presents challenges.  However, the challenges it represents are not insurmountable.  There are benefits to teleworking, and teams can use it to generate solutions that they might have not reached in the typical work environment.

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Don’t Fear Failure, Learn from It Instead

Failure is rarely fun.  But it is also a key ingredient in success.  While failure can be painful, there is no doubting the fact that the lessons that come from failure can be powerful teachers that provide life-long lessons and even life-trajectory altering results.  Summed up another way, failure hurts.  But on occasion, not failing could hurt more, especially in the long run.

In her Inc. article, “Why Tons of Failure Is the Key to Success, According to Seth Godin,” author Sonia Thompson, CEO of Thompson Media Group, points out that most people “avoid failure like the plague.”  Instead, they spend their time trying to achieve perfection.  In the process of adopting this approach, people miss all kinds of opportunities because they are afraid of damaging their egos.  Embracing failure is a way to experience many “transformational benefits,” which would never be experienced without the lessons of failure.

Thompson points to the work of 18-time best-selling author Seth Godin who has written about how entrepreneurs who fail more often perform at a higher level.  She quotes Godin as follows, “The rule is simple.  The person who fails the most will win.  If I fail more than you do, I will win.  Because in order to keep failing, you’ve got to be good enough to keep playing.”  Godin continues that failure imparts a gift of sorts in that it teaches us how to distinguish between a good idea and a bad idea.

As Thompson notes, research supports the notion that if you want a breakthrough idea, you will need to “produce an enormous volume of ideas.”  Obviously, most ideas won’t work, but that isn’t the issue.  The issue is to work your way through the bad ideas to get to the winners.  Sure, it would be great to have nothing but winners.  But life and reality don’t work that way.  Failure should be seen more as a path forward than the end of the road.

Getting comfortable with failure, in Thompson’s view, is critically important.  She believes entrepreneurs should take steps that make them more comfortable with failure, such as detaching oneself from the results. 

It is vital to remember that you are not the work.  In contrast, the work is part of an ongoing process.  Getting good at something takes time, and there will be failures.  For this reason, entrepreneurs simply must embrace a “growth mindset.”  Don’t think of failure as failure, but instead as part of a learning process.  There is no denying that this approach will make you calmer and that, in turn, may help you make better decisions.

There will be failure in life.  There will be problems and there will be obstacles.  Much will happen that you can’t predict, manage or control, such as the COVID-19 outbreak.  The trick is to focus on what you can control and move forward without a paralyzing fear of failure.  Because in the end, failure may be one of your best tools.

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How to Connect During a Crisis

Small business owners are facing new challenges during this crisis.  Communicating with customers requires more focus and depth than ever before.  In Mat Zuker’s latest article for Forbes Magazine, he cites Jay Mandel who runs The Collective NYC, a marketing consulting team focusing on a customer’s experience, who underlines the importance of businesses to understand their mission statement and values in order to re-enforce marketing strategies. 

Information is Crucial.  Each customer purveying your business’s website needs to understand your hours of operation, any limitations to service and what is being done to ensure cleanliness.  Providing this information establishes to your customer your seriousness of precautions which will be appreciated during this time.

If your financial situation allows, focus on your employees, donate to charities or offer discounted or free products.  By marketing this information, your brand’s scope will bolster with the customer as well. 

Utilizing the Customer’s Time.  Most customers are adhering to social distancing guidelines put forth by their state and the federal government.  Now, more than ever, it is important to exhibit to your customers how your brand can be utilized beyond your brick and mortar.  Zuker cites how universities are beginning to offer free online classes and telecommunication companies are offering two months of free service to low-income families; King Arthur flour is promoting its library of comfort food recipes (yes, please!).  Thinking beyond your storefront to put your service or product into your customer’s virtual hands is important.

Remember to entertain.  By each passing day, customers are looking for new stimulation to help the time go by at home.  Movie companies are making the best of the situation by sending theatrical releases to online streaming services.  We don’t think it is necessary to always make your customers laugh, but it might be within your branding to aim for content geared towards warmth, humanity and empathy. 

The metric for engaging your customers is changing; moving beyond views and shares to quality feedback or social impact on your community.  Do not bite off more than you can chew.  Cited in Zuker’s article, Social Media Today warns of virtue signaling; meaning declaring a set of values, but not following through on the actual deeds. 

Also, this is a fantastic opportunity to consider your marketing strategies for when this crisis ends.  What will your business look like once you are able to open the doors?  How are you able to stay relevant with your competitors?  These are all questions needing answers, but today we must do our best to accomplish what is in front of us. 

Read Mat Zucker’s full article here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/matzucker/2020/04/01/content-in-a-crisiswhat-brands-can-deliver/

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Finding the Best Business for You

Owning a business and owning the right kind of business for you are, of course, two wildly different things.  Owning the wrong kind of business can make you absolutely miserable.  So if you are considering buying a business, it is prudent that you invest the time and effort into determining the best kind of business for your needs and your personality.  In a recent Forbes article, “What is the Right Type of Business for You to Buy?” author Richard Parker explores how buyers should go about finding the right business fit.

Parker is definitely an expert when it comes to working with buyers as he has spoken with an estimated 100,000 buyers over his career.  In that time, Parker has concluded that it is critical that you don’t “learn on your own time.” 

His key piece of advice concerning what type of business to buy is as follows.  “While there are many factors to be considered, the answer is simple: whatever it is you do best has to be the single most important driving factor of the revenues and profits of any business you consider purchasing.”  And he also believes that expertise is more important than experience.  Parker’s view is that it is critical for prospective buyers to perform an honest self-assessment in order to identify their single greatest business skill and area of expertise.  The last thing you want to do is pretend to be something that you are not.

Parker makes one very astute point when he notes, “Small business owners generally wear many hats: this is usually why their businesses remain small.  Remember that every big business was once a small business.”  As Parker points out, whoever is in charge of the business will ultimately determine how the business will evolve, or not evolve.  Selecting the right business for you and your skillsets is pivotal for the long-term success of your business.

All of this adds up to make the process of due diligence absolutely essential.  Before buying a business, you must understand every aspect of that business and make certain that the business is indeed a good fit for you.  According to Parker, if you don’t love your business, it will have trouble growing.  This point is impossible to refute.  Owning and growing a business requires a tremendous amount of time and effort.  If you don’t enjoy owning and/or operating your business, success will be a much more difficult proposition.

Finding the right business for you is a complicated process even after you have performed a proper evaluation of your skills and interests.  After all, do you really want a solid business with great potential for growth that you would hate owning?  By working with brokers and M&A advisors, you can find the best business fit for your needs, personality, and goals.  These professionals are invaluable allies in the process of discovering the right business for you.

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Tackling Growth Delusions When Buying a Business

There is no doubt about it, it can be exciting to buy a new business.  However, in the process, it is very important that you don’t become unrealistic about future growth.  Keep in mind that in the vast majority of cases, if a business is poised to quickly grow substantially, the seller would be far less interested in selling. 

Richard Parker’s recent article for Forbes entitled “Don’t Be Delusional About Growth When Buying a Business” seeks to instill a smart degree of caution into prospective buyers.  Parker notes that when evaluating a business and talking to the owner, many buyers come away with a sense that enormous growth is just “sitting there” waiting to be seized.  In particular, Parker cautions those buyers who are buying into an industry that they know nothing about; those individuals should be very careful. 

When buying into an industry where one has no familiarity, there can be a range of problems.  The opportunities that you see may not have been tapped into by the existing owner for a range of reasons.  You couldn’t possibly guess what these reasons might be without more of a knowledge base.  Since you are an outsider, you likely lack the proper perspective and understanding.  In turn, this means you may see growth opportunities that may not exist, as the seller may have already tried and failed.  Summed up another way, until you actually own the business and are running it on a day to day basis, you simply can’t make a proper assessment of how best to grow that business.

The seductive lure of growth shouldn’t be the determining factor when you are looking for a business.  A far more important and ultimately reliable factor is stability.  The real question, the foundation of whether or not a business is a good purchase option, is whether or not the business will maintain its revenue and profit levels once you’ve signed on the dotted line and taken over.  You want to be sure that the business doesn’t have to grow to remain viable.

As Parker points out, the majority of small business buyers will buy in a sector where they don’t have much experience, and that is fine.  What is not fine is assuming that you can greatly grow the business.  Of course, if new buyers can achieve that goal, that is great and certainly icing on the cake.  But don’t depend on that growth.

In the end, everyone has some ideas that work and some that don’t.  You may take over a business and, thanks to having a different perspective than the previous owner, are able to find ways to make that business grow.  But realize that many of your ideas for growing the business may fail completely. 

A professional business broker will be able to help you determine what business is best for you.  A business broker will help keep you focused on what matters most and steer you clear of the mistakes that buyers frequently make when buying a business.

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A Closer Look at 3 Major Factors to Consider When You Buy a Business

The simple but undeniable fact is buying a business is one of the single greatest financial decisions a person can make.  Buying a business can lead to great financial success or great financial failure.  This fact helps to underscore why it is so important to work with an experienced broker who can help guide you through the often labyrinthian process of buying a business.

In a July 2019 article from Smallbusiness.co.uk, author Kyle Carins explores three key factors that everyone should consider before they buy a business.  The first factor covered in Carins’ article, “3 Things to Consider When Buying a Business,” is appeal vs. viability. 

Appeal Vs. Viability

Not surprising, the most important variable for most prospective owners is that the business is indeed viable.  Not being able to differentiate between an appealing business and one that is viable can lead to financial disaster. 

As Carins points out, “Do you want to make money or do you want to fulfill a dream?”  Sometimes those two variables can intersect, but not always and not often.  In the end, it is vital to know whether a given business is, in fact, potentially lucrative. 

However, as Carins points out, it is also important that you choose a business that you will enjoy.  Nothing can be more spirit crushing than running a business that you truly hate, even if it is lucrative.  Selecting the right business for you is something of a balancing act that must take in a variety of often competing variables.

Considering Hidden Costs

The second factor that Carins looks at is the issue of “hidden costs.”  One of the key reasons that it is so important to work with a business broker is that a business broker understands these kinds of factors that you might otherwise overlook.  Due diligence is amazingly important.  For those who have never bought a business before, working with a business broker offers substantial protection against making a potentially serious mistake.

Second Opinions

The third factor examined in Carins article is “Getting a second opinion.”  For Carins, getting a second opinion is actually linked to due diligence.  He feels that additional opinions regarding a given business should go beyond working with professionals and should also include talking to friends and family who know you well.  Additional opinions can help one see angles that might otherwise be missed. 

Again, buying a business is complicated and will take up a good deal of one’s time and mental energy.  Your friends and relatives, understand your personality and your wants and desires.  Their input can be particularly beneficial.

Finding an experienced business broker can help you do more than simply establish whether or not a given business is a “good deal.”  Brokers with years of proven experience can also help you determine whether or not a specific business is a good fit for you and your lifestyle.

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Do You Know What Kind of Business Owner You Really Are?

Does your business have real, long-lasting longevity or is your business a temporary entity that will vanish the second you stop working on it?  In his insightful article in The Business Journals entitled, “Are You Living for Today as a Business Owner or Building Value?” author Kent Bernhard asks a very important question of readers, “Are you a lifestyle business owner or a value accelerator?” 

Many business owners have never stopped to ask this very important, yet basic, question regarding their businesses.  So, let’s turn our attention to this key question that all business owners must stop and ask at some point.

As Bernhard points out the core issue here is how a given business owner defines the idea of success for him or herself.  As Chuck Richards, the CEO of CoreValue Software notes, “At the end of the day, a lifestyle business is just a job.” 

Richards goes on to note that this is fine for many people.  But if this is the case, it is a choice that one is making.  Therefore, lifestyle business owners should be aware that they are, in fact, clearly making a choice.

Business owners who are lawyers, consultants and accountants often fall into the category of those with a “business as a job.”  They fail to accumulate enough assets for their business to really be more than a job.  Summed up in another fashion, the business generates enough revenue to provide a comfortable lifestyle.  However, it does not have the infrastructure or equity to remain profitable, or even in existence, once they walk away.  As the owner and operator of the business, they are vital to its very existence.  This means that the business only has value so long as the owner is working in the business on a regular basis.  As a result, the owner may never really be able to exit the business.

As Bernhard points out, “To build a business as an asset, you have to become a value accelerator who looks beyond whether the business’ profits are sufficient to maintain your lifestyle.  It means looking at the business as an entity outside yourself.”  Those who fall into the value accelerator category, focus on figuring out creating value for the business as a financial asset that can operate independently. 

Making sure that your business can continue on without you means that you have to build it, and that involves having a coherent and focused plan.  Plan in advance and know how you will exit your business.  To ultimately create value for the business entity itself, a plan must be in place that allows for your successful exit.

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Business Buyers Can Leverage SBA Lending

Finding the money to start your own small business can be a challenge.  Over the decades, countless people have turned to the Small Business Administration (SBA) for help.  A recent Inc. Magazine article, “Kickstart Your Business Dreams with SBA Lending,” by BizBuySell President, Bob House, explored how SBA lending can be used to the buyer’s advantage.

The article covers the basics of an SBA loan and who should try to get one.  House notes that the SBA doesn’t provide loans itself, but instead facilitates lending and even micro-lending with a range of partners.  The loans are backed by the government, which means that lenders are more willing to offer a loan to an entrepreneur who might not typically qualify for one.  The fact is that the SBA will cover 75% of a lender’s loss if the loan goes into default. 

Entrepreneurs can benefit tremendously from this program.  In some cases, an SBA loan even means skipping the need for collateral.  SBA loans can be used for those looking to open a business, expand their existing business or open a franchise.

House points out that getting an SBA loan has much in common with receiving other types of loans.  For example, it is necessary to be “bank ready.”  By “bank ready,” House means that all of your financial documentation should be organized, clear to understand and ready to go. 

Next, a buyer would need to check that he or she qualifies, find a lender and fill out the necessary SBA forms.  In order to be eligible for an SBA loan, it is necessary that the business is a for-profit venture and that it will do business in the United States.  Once the necessary forms have been submitted, it can take between 2 to 3 months for an application to be processed and potentially approved.  

The simple fact is that the SBA helps thousands of people every year.  If you are looking to buy a business or expand your current business, then working with the SBA could be exactly what you need.  Of course, business brokers are experts on what it takes to buy.  Working with a broker stands as one of the single best ways to turn the dream of owning a business into a reality.

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How Employees Factor into the Success of Your Business

Quality employees are essential for the long-term success and growth of any business.  Many entrepreneurs learn this simple fact far too late.  Regardless of what kind of business you own, a handful of key employees can either make or break you.  Sadly, businesses have been destroyed by employees that don’t care, or even worse, are actually working to undermine the business that employs them.  In short, the more you evaluate your employees, the better off you and your business will be.

Forbes’ article “Identifying Key Employees When Buying a Business”, from Richard Parker does a fine job in encouraging entrepreneurs to think more about how their employees impact their businesses and the importance of factoring in employees when considering the purchase of a business. 

As Parker states, “One of the most important components when evaluating a business for sale is investigating its employees.”  This statement does not only apply to buyers.  Of course, with this fact in mind, sellers should take every step possible to build a great team long before a business is placed on the market.

There are many variables to consider when evaluating employees.  It is critical, as Parker points out, to determine exactly how much of the work burden the owner of the business is shouldering.  If an owner is trying to “do it all, all the time” then buyers must determine who can help shoulder some of the responsibility, as this is key for growth.

In Parker’s view, one of the first steps in the buyer’s due diligence process is to identify key employees.  Parker strongly encourages buyers to determine how the business will fair if these employees were to leave or cross over to a competitor.  Assessing if an employee is valuable involves more than simply evaluating an employee’s current benefit.  Their future value and potential damage they could cause upon leaving are all factors that must be weighed.  Wisely, Parker recommends having a test period where you can evaluate employees and the business before entering into a formal agreement.

It is key to never forget that your employees help you build your business.  The importance of specific employees to any given business varies widely.  But sellers should understand what employees are key and why.  Additionally, sellers should be able to articulate how key employees can be replaced and even have a plan for doing so.  Since, savvy buyers will understand the importance of key employees and evaluate them, it is essential that sellers are prepared to have their employees placed under the microscope along with the rest of their business.

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