Business Culture and Accountability

Today, HR managers and consultants talk about business culture and creating better corporate cultures. This talk often begs the question, what does it really mean to build a better business culture?

Business culture and change rarely starts top down, although the facilitation of the change is a result a discussion made from the top. If business culture is important to the top brass, here is how they ought to begin maintaining or changing the culture.

Small Team Level Ownership
What is ownership? Ownership really is accountability. Accountability really is a result of people being personally invested in the work that they do, small teams help create ownership and thus accountability.

Three aspects of accountability answer three basic questions:
What is my role and how am I doing in that role?
What are others role and how are they doing in those roles?
What is the role of our team and how are we doing?

From item 1, we should “know thy-self”. Allow for self-assessment for members of their teams, they should be able to answer on their own. This is more difficult to answer than you might realize, but let members self-assess.

From item 2, have members of teams assess others. They need to understand other people’s roles and strengths and weaknesses. But, they also need to ask others how they are doing, and understand each other’s self-assessments as well.

And finally, from Item 3 people need to understand the underling goals and abilities as a team, how are they doing as a unit. This includes teams’ assessment as well as discussions involving individual assessment.

Role of a Leader
As a leader, you should facilitate the free exchange of ideas and allow teams to assess their own status, including your own status. Be transparent, or as transparent as allowable. Do not make judgements based on the assessments, simply use it as data points and communicate with the teams to create their own goals in addition to giving them key corporate/ business goals to achieve.

This will help foster a sense of ownership and accountability. Steer the ship in a direction that is both on board with the corporate/business goals and the goals created by the teams themselves. Incorporate the team’s ideas into being a corporate idea on the small scale. Communication across teams and management that includes input from all sides will make for a culture of accountability.

Implementing Small Team Accountability
Practical implementation would consist of weekly team based assessments, leaders communicating their goals and collecting data. That data would be used in creating goals with the agreement of both leadership and teams working together. Total time spent on assessments and meetings would be 30 minutes a week. This structure could also change or replace current meeting structures in place.

Balance Tips for Small Businesses

People involved in small business get a bad rap for their workaholic ways. You know because you either know someone who is involved in small business or you are that person. Let’s look at some facts about small businesses in San Diego and then ways people involved in small business everywhere can a better create work-life balance.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 99.9-percent of the 27.5 million businesses in the United States are considered small firms with fewer than 500 employees*. According to the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, the majority of companies in San Diego County are small businesses with 50 employees or less. One out of every five small businesses in San Diego County are in the business services segment which includes consulting, engineering, accounting, research and management. The additional types of business segments in descending size order are wholesale trade, manufacturing / repair, transportation, consumer services, specialty construction, builders, retail, finance/real estate/insurance and an “other” segment (the unclassified small businesses in the county). In San Diego County, the average number of people employed by a small business is 7.3 people.

Everyone related to small business – the owners, the employees, the people who cater to and support small businesses – here are three tips for more balance in your life:

1. Schedule time off. Small business owners value the importance of sticking to a schedule and deadlines. Decide how much time you can schedule to relax, be social or spend time with family in the next week and also how much time you would ideally like to have for such activities in the future. Then, schedule time away from work. Maybe this upcoming week you can only dedicate one hour away from everything work related; block out that hour on your calendar immediately. Knowing that your ideal amount of time is two full weekdays per month, a small business owner can set aside those specific dates in February now. Once those days are on the schedule, they must be respected as if they are meetings with the most valuable client. Commit to taking the time off for the things that matter most outside of business and protect that scheduled time.

2. Turn off the cell phone. This goes for small business owners and anyone who has ever thought about work outside of the workplace. Especially when spending time with others outside of working hours, turn off the distractions of business. By removing the distractions of phone calls, text messages, instant messages, e-mails and phone alerts for a short time, you can truly relish in your time away from the office.

Do you (or the small business owner you know) feel anxiety rise up inside of you when you merely consider turning off your phone? What if you took up the challenge of turning your phone off for one hour next week? Maybe it’s turning off the phone for the hour you’ve scheduled for yourself and your family. Maybe you turn off your phone before you fall asleep or leave it off while you get ready in the morning. Another suggestion is to shut off your phone during your commute if you drive. Since you shouldn’t be on it if you are driving, turn it off and turn up your favorite tunes. Whenever you decide to turn off your phone, you are claiming that time for yourself, which is a crucial piece of the work-life balance equation.

Once you’ve turned on your phone again and realized that your business or work hasn’t imploded or exploded, your anxiety will be less the next time you cut off this type of communication. And what if your business does start to implode or explode? If you are not the sole person in your business, then someone will get ahold of you through your significant other, neighbor, friend, coworker or someone will show up where you are to tell you. If you are the sole person in your business, find another business owner in the same situation and work out a trade where you ensure each other’s businesses don’t go awry. Which brings us to the next point.

3. Appoint a second-in-command for when you are inaccessible. You will take time off whether it’s an hour next week or a full month next year, and you don’t want to worry about your work during that time. That would eliminate the balance. Select a second-in-command and let the person know in what circumstance they will be in charge and how to reach you if a true emergency arises. (You may want to clarify what you consider an emergency with this person.) Let everyone in your company and important vendors know who is in charge in your absence moving forward. That way if something comes up in the hour you are in a business meeting or at your child’s play or in the month you are on vacation abroad, all employees and important vendors will know who to go to. Your second-in-command acts like the gatekeeper to your time away and assesses when he or she needs to contact you. Finally, when setting up your away messages with the times and dates you will be out of pocket, list your second-in-command’s contact information. Your away message may be on your website, in your social media messages, in an e-mail bounce-back message, on your store’s door, and on the phones in your business. If you’d like that breath of fresh air without the worry, then take the steps needed to prevent work from finding you unnecessarily while you are claiming more life in your work-life balance.

With the majority of businesses in United States and in San Diego County operating as small businesses, work-life balance is necessary to continue and grow. By scheduling time off, turning off the cell phone and choosing a second-in-command, you can protect and freely enjoy your time away from the small business you run, work for or support. Here’s to work-life balance in small businesses everywhere!

* The U.S. Small Business Administration sources data from the Office of Advocacy estimates based on data from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Census Bureau, and trends from the U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Business Employment Dynamics.

Business Owners Have a Happy Christmas

For many people the Christmas period is fun filled and relaxing with good food, drink and most of all great company. But unfortunately for some it can be one of the toughest times of the year. The festive season is a period of celebration and for many it acts as the perfect time of year to reflect on the year gone by. Over the backdrop of endless annual top 100 countdowns on TV we reflect on personal and professional achievements and regrets whilst planning our infamous New Year resolutions. This period of reflection is a source of happy memories for most but it can also be a real source of sadness for some people. Suicide rates are believed to increase throughout the holiday season and with the harshness of the current economic climate there are genuine concerns about the mental welfare of small business owners as we head into this years this festive season.

The combination of pressures derived from the accountability of owning business in today’s tough trading condition and people’s natural inclination to reflect over the Christmas period makes the festive season prime for an increase in anxiety across the SME community. Research has suggested that the SME community has experienced a 47% increase in suicide rates since the economic downturn of 2008. There are 2 intrinsically linked contributing factors to mental anxiety within the small business community over Christmas. Investing in good accounting software and practising disciplined financial management can help keep both factors at bay.

1) Money and the financial health of the business

The main cause of distress and anxiety for a small business owner over the festive season is money. Unfortunately there are still too many small business owners that are not into the detail of their company financials. For many Christmas time represents the time of year for the annual review of the company financials. The combination of compulsory requirements to prepare yearend accounts and the natural desire to reflect over the Christmas period makes it completely understandable why many owners get their head in the books over the festive season.

Practicing financial discipline once a year rarely results in a sound set of company financials. It is all too common for owners to find financial problems in their business just at the time when everyone else is relaxing and celebrating. The lack of detailed financial understanding often results in longstanding disparities between expenditure and income left unchecked throughout the year. It is also common for business owners that haven’t maintained a detailed view of the financials to find missing payments from customers. These findings ultimately leave business owners learning about nasty cash flow problems in their business that have accumulated over time which can be devastating for the short term future of the business. The emotional extreme between the relaxed PAYE employees enjoying their pre-booked off time and the anxious self-employed small business owner that can’t leave their business is already vast over this period. Finding out about a stark cash flow problem in addition to the existing frustrations of running a small business over the Christmas period can be enough to tip existing anxiety into full blown depression.

The key to a happy and relaxing Christmas period is sound financial discipline throughout the year and a good accounting software package can be central to achieving this. Accounting software allows small business owners to stay close to their business financials in a quick and easy to understand way. A simple, cost effective accounting software package means that company financials are done and managed consistently throughout the year. This ensures that if any problems occur with expenditure management or if a client hasn’t paid an invoice on time it can be rectified quickly and easily. Small business owners that are close to their financials do not have the emotional drain of a big annual review of their company accounts. Most importantly of all they don’t have the shock and subsequent unhappiness of finding nasty surprises in the books over the festive season!

2) Relationships

One of the main reasons that make Christmas so special is having the chance to spend time with your loved ones. The problem for the small business owner is that they don’t feel like they can simply leave the business for a couple of weeks. “The business doesn’t run itself!” This is in stark contrast to PAYE friends who have no responsibilities in their booked off time other than enjoying time with their loved ones. This contrast in fortunes puts an almighty strain on the relationships of small business owners as their loved ones have to cope without them for long periods over Christmas. This can be especially difficult for the loved ones of small business owners when it seems that everyone else is surrounded by their family and friends.

It can be incredibly challenging to take time off when you’re running a small business but time off is essential to keep and enjoy important relationships healthy. Time off during this year’s festive season will be even more strained for many small business owners as they not only need to complete the usual year end admin but they are also operating in some of the toughest economic conditions known for many years. BBC news have recently stated that the total number of divorces have increased 4.9% in England and Wales in the past year as a result of the tough economic conditions.

Whilst these pressures are very real they do not exist for every small business. There are SME’s that do not worry about year end accounting because it happens to be a 5 min exercise due to their on-going management of the company financials throughout the year. Small businesses that have sound financial discipline are also more likely to have enough working capital to see out the current economic pressures. These businesses have impressive working capital due to their complete detailed focus on expenditure and income and well managed time allocation reducing non-value adding administration tasks in favour of business optimisation planning. Small business owners of these types of companies are more likely to be able to relax over the Christmas period and spend time with loved ones as their businesses are sustainably healthy.

The secret to these healthy businesses is their sound financial discipline and well-structured time management. Accounting software is a critical tool that makes sure that small business owners reallocate time away from doing lengthy manual quarterly and annual accounts to free up more time to be spent on value adding business planning. This additional planning gives the business a greater chance of directing themselves successfully through hard times. In addition but equally as important accounting software makes sure that a small business has a tight grip on their cash flow position. By having a clear vision on the direction of the business and a healthy cash flow position a business owner can ultimately be more relaxed over the Christmas period focussing on what’s important – their relationships.

Small business owners that face the prospect of finding out about money problems and living through the happy festive season working all hours to keep the business afloat are in real danger of unsustainable anxiety and depression this Christmas time. The answer is to work on embedding financial discipline and well-structured time management throughout the business. The only way a small business owner will be able to relax with their loved ones this Christmas is if their business is financially sound. Having a well embedded accounting software solution is a key step towards achieving this.

Good Reasons Why Small Enterprises

You’ll agree with me that there are so many small businesses which have contributed a lot to the growth of economy. They have created employment opportunities for many families although some remain to be small throughout their operational life.

It is obvious that those who are starting new ventures have objectives to achieve. And to mention each business has got its own objectives to achieve such as maximization of profits and sales, minimize costs, maintain a certain level of production and labor force etc.

Failing of a business opportunity is what an entrepreneur won’t want to happen. Inasmuch as we agree with the fact that there are firms which have succeeded, we should also accept the fact that a good number of them have failed even before two years lapse after they commence business.

If aspiring entrepreneurs addressed the reasons why small businesses fail, then they will not fall to be victims of the same causes of failure. This is because they’ll be in a position to identify these causes and fix them before it’s too late.

Now you may be asking yourself as to why some businesses remain to be small throughout their operational life despite some of them making profits or are capable of growing.

4 Reasons Why Small Business Remain to be Small

1.) The owners of these businesses prefer not to expand their businesses. Some sole proprietors do not want to be bothered with the challenges of managing a big business. They don’t want to employ people to assist them in running their businesses but instead they prefer to be assisted by their family members.

2.) The nature of the product/service the business is involved in doesn’t allow expansion. There are people offering products/services which make it difficult for their business to grow.

3.) Lack of capital for expansion. There are small businesses which are viable and have the potential of growing but they lack enough capital. Such businesses have the challenge of securing funds from financial institutions. Lack of capital plays a negative role in hindering the growth of small businesses.

4.) Very low demand. If the business has a very low demand for its product or service, then at the end of the fiscal financial year/trading period the business won’t realize profits, and if it does, it’s very low, therefore the chances of it expanding are very minimal. Just to mention, realization of inadequate profits as a result of very low demand hinders the growth of small businesses.

However, there must be a starting point and as such, every business starts as a small entity and it gradually grows to a medium entity and eventually it becomes a big business entity which is either a private limited company or a public limited company. Note that a partnership business can also grow to become a big business.

Reasons Why Small Businesses Fail

1.) Wrong Reasons For Commencing Business: People who start a business for wrong reasons haven’t succeeded. Just because another person is making high profits in a certain line of business doesn’t mean that you will also make the same amounts of profits as him/her if you start the same business.

2.) Poor Business Management: When there is poor management of the business it becomes difficult for such a business to succeed in its operations. Finance, marketing, purchasing and selling, planning, hiring and managing employees is what most new business owners fail to execute effectively thus making their small businesses to fail.

3.) Lack of Commitment: Starting a business requires someone who is committed in ensuring that it succeeds. Neglecting the business will cause the business to fail. Many small businesses have failed because the owners didn’t take their time in monitoring performance and in marketing them. Some business owners leave their businesses to be managed on their behalf by incompetent people who lack book keeping knowledge and the knowledge of managing a business.

4.) Lack of Finances: Small businesses have failed because of lack of adequate finances. Some of the owners underestimated the amount of capital required and as a result of this underestimation some ended up running out of operating capital thus ending the operation of their businesses.

There are those who have no reserves which has led them not to be able to take care of loses and disasters when they occur thus making them to quit business.

5.) Over-Expansion of the Business: This has led to failure of many small businesses. This happens when there is borrowing of too much money beyond what the business requires so as to expand the business. Moving to markets that are not profitable is also over expansion of the small businesses.

An ideal expansion is the one that is driven by customers due to their high demand for the products and services which leads to high sales thus the business experiences good cash flow.

6.) Location: The place where the business is located is critical in determining its success. Small businesses have failed because of them being located in areas that are not ideal for business. They should be located in areas that are accessible, populated with people and has demand for their products and services.

7.) Personal Use of Business Money: This is the biggest challenge facing many small business owners. They withdraw money meant to operate their businesses to meet their personal wants and needs. If they continue to withdraw money from their businesses without returning it, their businesses will eventually run out of finances therefore forcing them to end the operations of their businesses.

8.) Lack of Delegation: Small enterprises have failed due to owners not delegating some of the duties to their employees. They think that if they delegate them, then their employees will not perform these duties as they would personally perform them. When such owners fall sick or are away from their businesses, then the operations of some tasks will be paralyzed till they resume to work.

9.) Not Diversifying: Small enterprises which have only one product/service to offer are prone to fail easily compared to those that have a variety of products/services.

10.) Procrastination and Poor Time Management: Postponements of tasks which the small business owners feel to be unpleasant to perform has made the small businesses to fail. An example of such tasks include following debtors to pay their debts (debt collection).

Time management remains to be a challenge for many people who own small businesses. If important tasks like delivering products to customers, purchasing stock etc are not handled in the appropriate time, then the business will lose its customers.

Tips for Growing Your Small Business

Consumers have so many choices when it comes to choosing the right business for their needs. The first decision they must make is whether to go with a small or big business. Small businesses are able to focus on their mission and keep their fingers on the pulse of their customers. They are also able to offer more personal attention to their clients. But we have seen a dramatic decline in the number of small privately owned businesses these past few years.

For smaller businesses today, an important point to consider is whether they should develop an online store or website. Many experts agree that an online presence is essential for most businesses, and that there are several reasons why consumers should select a small business over a big one.

While many small companies see big companies as the enemy, their real competition is other small companies like themselves. Most big businesses already have a recognizable brand name. They also have a pretty loyal fan base. They are not worried about small operations knocking them down in sales. But other small shops must continue to fight their business counterparts to get an edge in today’s market.

Why would people choose to go with a smaller business over a larger one? Many customers enjoy the more personal and face-to-face attention they get from a small business; they’re not just talking to a voice on the end of a phone. Some people like to think that the money they’re spending is going back into the local community. You need to remember these principles when developing your website or online store.

It is increasingly straightforward for a small to medium business to establish an online presence nowadays. Successful online stores can really help small businesses increase their sales and steer their profits into the black. Before launching an online store, however, a small business first needs to learn how to make the most of its strengths.

Some small sized businesses make the mistake of using their online image as a way to appear bigger. But that image may turn away the customers they would normally attract with their usual image. Building an online image that reflects the hallmarks of a small business is important. Having an email address and phone number on your website for customers to contact you is a good way help them feel more personally connected to your business. Also consider an instant chat option with customer service representatives for your customers to receive real-time responses.

Also highlight how your small business benefits the local economy. Use your website to remind customers that you are a member of the community and that you care about it. Maybe highlight the employees to give them the “face” your customers want to see. That added personal touch is what brings in the types of people who are tired of big businesses and want better customer service.

Too many small businesses try to go bigger and better when they establish their online store or website. They lose sight of their original mission and forget about the things that people value about small business. Make sure you make good use of your business’s characteristics when establishing your online presence and don’t discard your small business image. This will help your venture online be a success.

Busters of the Top 6 Most Common Misperceptions of Mobile Small Business

The trends are very telling – mobile small business apps is the smart way to reach your audience.

The latest research shows that the primary reason small business continues to place traditional advertising such as their annual yellow page listing is because everyone else does.

With the sharp downward trends of traditional advertising it’s time to go where your audience already is. Let’s examine closer where you can improve a much higher promotional ROI with your mobile apps for small business investment.

First Steps Toward Mobile Apps for Small Business

  1. Know your current ROI.

What is your yellow pages (or other print) actual ROI?

How many new customers came to you through your print listing?

What was their average purchase amount?

Does your incremental sales margins cover the cost of your print ad?

  1. Start small. Take just say 10-15% of what you are already spending and pilot some of the mobile small business apps.
  2. Leverage both. For example, use your yellow page listing to include a promotion that drives traffic to free Facebook business page such as opting in for a discount coupon.

The Most Commonly Perceived Barriers for Mobile Small Business Apps

Anything new and different always has initial barriers.

Let’s explore whether they are fact or fiction so that you can decide if this exciting and fast growing medium is right to consider for your business.

We’ll start with the most common perceptions.

  • Time – Overwhelmed business owners have little time to research new technology for mobile small business apps and consumer tastes.

Fact- Customizable templates offer turnkey solutions for even the most non-technical business owner.

  • Cost – Normal development costs for mobile apps can be costly. Typically $4,000 to $15,000. Don’t forget multiple technology formats and future software changes create additional costs.

Fact – Affordable options are now available for the smallest promotional budget.

  • Branding and Customization – Mobile app templates don’t allow me to express my unique brand, benefits and features for my business.

Fact – Menu driven templates allow you to choose which small business apps functions will engage your target audience the most. You can even choose your own logo, color, look and feel that mirrors your web site and print collateral. This custom menu approach saves you thousands of development dollars.

  • Technology – How could I ever keep up to be sure my mobile small business apps can be viewed on Android, Apple iOS, Blackberry and Windows smartphones. How about all the different tablets?

Fact – Exciting cloud based solutions mean all that back office technology stuff is done for you so your business apps are always easily accessible to your customers, no matter what device is in their hand. More importantly your information is secure.

  • ROI Tracking and Control – How do I keep up with a repeatable tracking system for my mobile apps?

Fact – You select the measurable traffic and customer conversion indicators you want to track and the system does it for you. Once you decide what you want you can maintain your system in less than 15 minutes a day.

  • Type of Business – My business isn’t about connecting with local mobile shoppers like restaurants and Realtors. I don’t see how mobile business apps would work for me.

Fact – If you have a product or service that provides additional value to help people with solutions they need there are mobile business apps waiting for you to connect to. Because of the widespread use of smart phones across all demographic groups (1 billion by 2016 globally!) every business has a sizable audience to reach.

Think outside your local market. With mobile apps it’s time to consider regional, national and even a global reach.

While this article emphasized smart phones don’t forget to include tablet users, another exploding mobile platform many small to mid-size businesses are not effectively connecting with.

With a world gone mobile the time is now to rid all the barriers in helping your mobile small business apps connect with growing your business.

Four Reasons Why Small Business

It is so widely acknowledged that a robust business plan is one of the key ingredients in small business success, it seems remarkable that anyone serious about their business could considerable it optional. For example, Business Link say, “It is essential to have a realistic, working business plan when you’re starting up a business”. A recent survey showed that small businesses were twice as likely to be successful with a written business plan as compared with those without one. The Times in their annual round up of 100 up and coming UK businesses suggest that “poor business planning” is a key reason for failure. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to find an authority that would advocate the opposite idea, a clear signal that this idea is accepted wisdom. Despite this, a recent survey shows that two thirds of small business owners run their businesses on gut instinct alone.

I had a very interesting discussion about this a couple of days ago with a good friend of mine who has run several successful small businesses in which he posited the idea of a “planning gene”. He felt that the only possible explanation for the lack of proper planning in small business was genetic.

According to his theory, the majority of people are born without the “planning gene” and this explains why so many people don’t have any written business plan, despite the overwhelming evidence of a high correlation between a robust and vigorously implemented business plan and business success. The majority of us are simply not biologically and genetically wired to plan.

This is certainly one explanation, although I have to say I have a few reservations as to the validity of his theory. I talk with small business owners about planning every day. I’m part of a small business myself. I’ve owned several small businesses over the last ten years each with varying degrees of success. In all those conversations and all that experience, this was the first (semi) serious discussion I’d had about the planning gene.

If I was to aggregate the results of the conversations I have had with actual and prospective customers on this topic, four distinctive strands emerge explaining why small business owners fail to plan. Whilst I have heard a few other explanations for the lack of effective small business planning, I am treating these as outliers and focusing on the most significant.

I’m Too Busy To Plan – More often than not, the small business owners we talk to tell us that proper planning is a luxury that only big business can afford. For them, business planning, if done at all, was a one-time event that produced a document for a bank manager or investor which is now gathering dust in the furthest recesses of some rarely opened filing cabinet. There just aren’t enough hours in the day and if forced to choose, they would do the real, physical work and leave the mental work undone, which seems to be the poor relation at best, if it is even dignified with the status of work at all.

Traditional Planning Doesn’t Work – The “I’m too busy to plan” excuse is often supplemented with this one. I’ve heard the stories of the most legendary construction overrun of all time, The Sydney Opera House, originally estimated to be completed in 1963 for $7 million, and finally completed in 1973 for $102 million, more times than I can remember. Sometimes, this idea is backed up with some actual research, such as the fascinating study by several eminent psychologists of what has been called the “planning fallacy”. It seems that some small business owners genuinely believe that mental work and planning is a bit of a con with no traction on physical reality.

My Business Is Doing Fine Without Detailed Planning – A minority of small business owners we speak to are in the privileged position of being able to say they’ve done pretty well without a plan. Why should they invest time and resources into something they don’t appear to have missed?

Planning Is Futile In A Chaotic World – Every once in a while, we hear how deluded we are to believe that the world can be shaped by our hopes and actions. This philosophical objection to planning is perhaps my favourite. It takes ammunition from a serious debate about the fundamental nature of the universe and uses it to defend what almost always is either uncertainty about how to plan effectively or simple pessimism. This is different from the idea that planning doesn’t work as these business owners have never even tried to form a coherent plan, but have just decided to do the best they can and hope that they get lucky as they are knocked hither and thither like a steel ball in the pinball machine of life.

As with all of the most dangerous excuses, there is a kernel of truth in each of these ideas and I sympathise with those who have allowed themselves to be seduced into either abandoning or failing to adopt the habit of business planning. Most small business owners feel the same dread in relation to business planning as they do to visits to the dentist, so it’s unsurprising that so many simply don’t bother. However, by turning their backs completely on planning, they are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Taking each idea outlined above in turn, I’ll attempt to show why business planning is critical, not just despite that reason but precisely because of that reason.

I’m Too Busy Not To Plan – Time is the scarcest resource we have and it is natural that we would want to spend it doing those things that we believe will have the greatest impact. Of course, we want to spend most of our time producing, but we should also invest at least some time into developing our productive capacity. As Stephen Covey pointed out in his seminal work, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, we should never be too busy sawing to sharpen a blunted saw. Planning is one of the highest leverage activities we can engage in, as when done effectively it enhances the productive capacity of small businesses, enabling them to do more with less. Nothing could be a bigger waste of precious time than to find out too late that we have been using blunt tools in pursuit of our business goals.

If we as small business owners weren’t so busy and time wasn’t so scarce, then we wouldn’t have to make choices about what we did with our time and resources. We could simply pursue every opportunity which presented itself. However, for the busy entrepreneur, the decision to do one thing always has the opportunity cost of not being able to do something else. How can we be certain that our business is going where we want it to go without pausing regularly, scanning the horizon and making sure not only that we are on track but also making sure that we still want to get to where we are heading? I believe more time is wasted in the single-minded pursuit of opportunities that are not right than is wasted by over thinking the opportunity of a lifetime.

In short, small business owners are extremely busy and their time is precious. So much so that to waste it doing the wrong things with the wrong tools would be tragic. Small business owners that cannot afford the luxury of making expensive mistakes simply must regularly sharpen the saw through continuous business planning.

Traditional Planning Doesn’t Work, So We Need a New Approach That Does – There are some fairly large question marks over the effectiveness of traditional business planning techniques. In an age where business models are becoming obsolete in months rather than years, a business plan projecting five years into the future cannot be viewed as gospel. Nobody has a crystal ball and if they did, they probably wouldn’t be writing business plans but using their remarkable predictive powers to some more profitable end.

Dwight D Eisenhower said “plans are useless, but planning is essential”. Whilst producing a document called a business plan is far from useless, the real value lies in the process by which the plan is created in the first place. If this process can be kept alive in a business then the dangers associated with traditional planning can be minimised or avoided all together. In an environment of continuous business planning, small businesses can be flexible and adaptive to the inevitable changes and challenges they will face. Rather than quickly becoming obsolete, their plan will simply evolve with the changing circumstances.

Accepting that the plan is a living thing that will evolve necessitates a change of approach to business planning. An effective business plan is the response to the repeated asking of the questions what, why, how, who and how much. It is not a 20 – 30 page form to fill in for the benefit of a bank manager or some venture capitalist, who will probably never fully read it. A business plan should help you, not hinder you, in doing business. If traditional business planning doesn’t work for you, it’s time to embrace the new paradigm of continuous business planning.

My Business Could Do Even Better With Effective Planning – If you are one of the lucky few whose business has thrived despite an absence of traditional business planning, then I say a sincere well done. I hope that you can say the same thing in five years time.

Business life expectancy in Britain and across Europe and indeed the world are in rapid decline. A study done at the end of the eighties and then again as we marched into the new Millennium showed that life expectancy had more than halved for British businesses in those ten years, from an average of 9.7 years to 4.1 years. Just because a company once enjoyed market leadership does not mean that its future is assured. Many high street institutions have fallen victim to the recent recession. Five years ago it was inconceivable that UK retail institutions like Clinton Cards, Game, Borders, Barratts, T J Hughes, Habitat, Focus DIY, Oddbins, Ethel Austin, Principles, Allied Carpets, Woolworths, MFI and Zavvi/Virgin Megastore would all be either out of business or teetering on the brink of oblivion in 2012. Yet that is exactly what has transpired.

Any business from the smallest to the greatest is not impervious to the winds of change. A new competitor, a technological breakthrough, new laws or simply changes in fashion and consumer preference can all re-write the future of a company regardless of how bright that future once seemed. It is precisely because these risks exist that business planning is critical. To survive in business is extremely hard, but failing to effectively plan for the future or adapt to current realities surely makes it impossible and failure inevitable.

Of course, it is not necessarily the absence of plans that did for these companies but the quality of their plans and most especially the quality of their implementation. Even a poor plan vigorously executed is preferable to the finest planning and research left to rot in a drawer. Continuous business planning is effective business planning because it emphasizes implementation and regular reviews of real results as part of what should be a continual process of improving company performance rather than simply attempting to predict the future and wringing our hands when our prophecy fails to come true. We believe, like Peter Drucker, that the best way to predict the future is to create it.

Planning Is Essential In A Chaotic World – We sometimes feel small and insignificant as we try against all odds to translate our dreams into business reality. It’s easy to feel all at sea when we consider some of the challenges we face. However, whilst it is true that we cannot control the direction of the wind, we can adjust our sails and change the direction of the rudder. Difficult and challenging circumstances may come in our lives, but we can control the outcome of these circumstances by choosing which path to take.

The truth is that we are fundamentally achievement orientated as human beings. When this is taken away, we lose much of the energy and motivation that propels us forward. There have been numerous studies carried out on life expectancy rates after retirement, which show that when clearly defined goals and daily action moving in the direction of those goals are removed from our lives, the result is literally fatal. The individuals studied who failed to replace their career goals with a new focus for their retirement simply shriveled up and died. The implications for small business owners are clear. Those business owners with clear goals who take action daily that propels them in the direction of their goals are far more likely to thrive and survive than those who take any old goal that comes along or move from day to day with no defined objective other than survival.

It seems to me that precisely because life is so chaotic and challenging that effective planning is essential. Without continuous business planning, our businesses and the small business owners that work in them may find that bit by bit they are atrophying and on their way to becoming another business failure statistic.

There undoubtedly exists an antipathy for business planning felt by many small business owners. Clearly, this cannot be fully explained by the lack of a “planning gene”, but it equally cannot be fully justified by the reasons most commonly put forward by small business owners to not engage in the business planning process. These reasons must be critically re-evaluated and a commitment made to a continual and never ending process of improving the condition of their small businesses. Without such a commitment, the future for small businesses in the UK is uncertain.

Small Business Project Management

Growth hungry small businesses today in the UK and indeed throughout the world face the challenge of balancing two competing objectives. Firstly, businesses must maintain and standardise current business processes in order to give your business the chance to get really good at what it does through experience curve effects. Greater business efficiency normally translates into a better customer experience and higher profits. Secondly, businesses must transform business operations in order to survive and compete in the future. How well we are able to achieve the right balance for our business will ultimately determine if we survive and go on to thrive or go the way of so many small businesses into market irrelevancy and insolvency.

You may well be thinking right now what has this got to do with project management? To understand that we first need to understand the fundamental differences between projects and day to day business operations. Whilst many of the skills required to manage your “business as usual” activities are the same as those needed to manage projects, there are some crucial differences. Amongst the most significant differences are that project work tends to be at least cross functional and often cross organisational and every project will be unique in some way rather than following the predictable pattern of business as usual. These characteristics of projects introduce opportunities and risks over and above those encountered in business as usual. In short, projects are riskier than day to day business, and therefore need a different management approach.

Projects are the means by which we introduce change in organisations. All businesses that are making any attempt to adapt to face future challenges have projects. Common examples of projects in small businesses may include setting up a company website, establishing the office in a new location, or implementing a new product but it can be any temporary activity or set of activities that have a specific output associated with it. Businesses increase their productive capacity one project at a time. Indeed, for ambitious small companies looking to grow and expand, the need to initiate the right projects and achieve the desired results is even more vital l than it is for huge national and multi-national businesses

Despite the obvious need for a project management (PM) approach, most small businesses don’t bother. This constitutes a huge missed opportunity as effective project management impacts the bottom line. For example, research by the CBP shows that project management improvement initiatives improve project performance by up to 50% for the first project and can continue for each new project if the business offers ongoing project management tools and support. We could emphasise this point further by citing the Standish Group, who in their CHAOS Report conservatively estimates that 20% of money spent on projects is wasted because companies don’t have a consistent approach to project management.

Let’s take a look at six reasons I often hear from small business owners that choose not to bother with project management and then critically address the misconceptions behind these reasons.

1. Project management practices take more time

Having a process to follow may add time to the duration of an activity. Doing something properly will almost always take a little bit more time than adopting a slapdash approach. However, if you where building a house, would you rather have a quality end result that took a little longer, or would you prefer to have it done quickly but with lots of problems? Given that poorly executed projects can be completely de-rail a small business if they go badly, doing it well is essential, and PM processes help ensure things are done well.

2. Project management eats into the cash that I need to grow my business

A common misconception is that it is hugely expensive to implement PM process. The reality is that there are many free or low-cost sources of advice, techniques, tools, templates and project management services readily available and accessible through the Internet. If done correctly, any small business can implement PM processes, techniques and tools with very little cost. The likelihood is that small business owners are already using software and other tools that can be used for project management. For example, certain email software, spreadsheets, and other common software applications offer good templates for project management, especially if used in collaboration with some of the low cost project management services available for small businesses

3. Project management requires skills that I don’t have and cannot afford to hire

Although it does require specialised skills and experience to be an accomplished project manager, these are skills that can be learned over time. To move further up the learning curve faster, it is possible to take a PM course in as little as four or five days. Most small business owners tend to possess the knowledge needed for project management, and courses such as the Prince 2 Practitioner course would build on these skills while introducing the specific theories, tools, and processes essential for project management. Whilst business owners might not emerge from a course as a project expert, they would certainly learn valuable skills to apply to their small business.

4. I don’t need the hassle or paperwork of project management.

Every entrepreneur that starts their own business will, at some point, need to do a risk assessment, a marketing campaign or apply for finance. Being knowledgeable in project management and applying associated tools such as stakeholder analysis, communication planning and risk management will not only assist in many of these tasks, but will provide your small business with a competitive edge over competitors who do not approach.

5. Project management will slow me down and I need to stay agile.

Modern PM methodologies all acknowledge the importance of a tailored approach to project management. If your project requires speed, the right methodology can enable you to move quickly. Just as important, however, it will provide you with techniques to understand whether some proposed projects are worth pursuing at all. Rushing into situations without thoroughly understanding your environment is hazardous to the health of any project and potentially to the health of the business as a whole

6. I am an expert in my industry, I don’t need project management.

Most small businesses are started by a person who already has some expertise in their industry. This is unquestionably an advantage; however, project management should still be used to convert plans into reality. The main reasons for project failure tends to be poor planning, lack of capital, and lack of management. Project management, while not a cast-iron guarantee of success, will assist the small business in mitigating some of the common risks that so often cause project failure amongst small businesses.

Even a brief look at the reasons often posited by small business owners for failing to approach projects in a systematic and different way that recognises their inherent riskiness and addresses some of the more challenging aspects of project work shows them to be of dubious merit. Without question, the quality of project outputs would be greatly enhanced and the cost of and time taken in delivering project benefits using a project methodology appropriate to the scale of the project.

Dialing In on Mobile Apps for Small Business

Once our mobile apps for small business are designed smartly for our industry it is time to turn our attention to our highest priorities – fans.

These are the people who may be today’s customers. With the right strategy you can soon develop tomorrow’s prospects. You can even expand geographically if it makes sense.

Target Audience – Target Needs

There are few businesses that can meet every type of group’s primary needs. Successful smaller firms often have an innate ability to attract a particular demographic group.

One of the keys to successfully using mobile apps for small business is to know the specific profile of your strongest demographic group.

Consider age, gender, income or even race, ethnic or faith considerations.

Next, are you primarily trying to reach current customers who already know your business and equip them to introduce your offerings to others?

Or, do want to engage a totally new group from the start?

Mobile apps for small business can easily be designed with loyalty and repeat business criteria.

Most mobile apps for small business primarily lead with something fun and engaging. Just be sure to keep the most dominant felt need your target audience is likely experiencing the most frequently.

Not sure what this is yet? This will be much easier to determine from your target demographic profile.

For example, a studio photographer targets early bird specials for high school juniors for the senior portrait market. Their mobile apps for small business targets busy working parents with attractive referral discounts as well.

One felt need that is often overlooked for mobile apps for small business surrounds status. Be sure to include a social forum where your fans can share what they are most proud of accomplishing.

Examples can include recognizing local sports teams and their fans championship season with a picture gallery. How about proud grandparents sharing their favorite pictures of special times with their grand kids? Don’t forget area alumni, chamber or association groups for posting professional awards and designations.

What Zip Codes Do You Want to Reach?

What is exciting about mobile apps for small business is that with a minimal budget you can literally reach anywhere in the world. Just think of the popular social media tools today that are a growing global phenomenon. Facebook is closing in on 1 billion registered users. Smart phones are forecasted to be at 1 billion users by 2016.

At the same time you can much more quickly become a local leader in your market with the right mix of mobile apps for small business.

In fact Silicon Valley recognizes this area as one of the hottest investments in the social, local, mobile market.

Here are some tips to help you grow your footprint as big as you want to.

Local – The local audience is fleeing traditional print sources such as yellow pages in droves. Instead the explosion of smart phone use makes mobile apps for small business the ideal place for your audience to find you. Be sure to really refine your unique brand and niche. The more you make it positive and interesting the more likely your new fans will want to share it with their friends.

Regional – If you have identified an unmet need with your brand and have an exceptional level of product and service why not look regionally? Do some important due diligence on the competition. Reach out to some local affiliate partners that can help you get off to a faster start.

It is often wise to have a clean and simple front door like a welcome or offer page on a regionally branded web site or landing page. Just be sure your regional brand identify is reflected throughout what you offer.

National – With e-commerce growing fast on the web more people are used to buying products from anywhere. Build on this with your mobile apps for small business. Once again 3rd party affiliates will be important to your success. Just be sure they have a strong established national reach and your product or service brings real additional value to what they already provide their current customers.

Other important factors in choosing the right mobile apps for small business include your ability to offer a unique enough product or service at the right price that will trump local offerings.

Any major change in geographic coverage requires thoughtful planning. Always make sure you can deliver what you promise with timely delivery and service. The reward of building confidence with your customers comes with equipping them with the right mobile apps for small business that they will want to share with their friends about what benefit you provided them.

Think Globally and Grow

With select products and services on the web it’s now more common for small firms to have a national and even global presence. Simply leverage that in your unique way with the right suite of mobile apps for small business. Just be sure you do the due diligence on complying with international commerce and taxation regulations.

The Small Business Myth of Job

I have been a small business owner for my entire business career. Most of those small businesses have been real estate ventures of come type such as real estate brokerages, property management and owning different types of real estate. But I have also owned and been involved in insurance, restaurants, bars, garment factories, hotels, building and general contracting, convenience stores, food marts and gas stations. I was a partner in my first small business, a diner, at age 18. Even while I worked as an employee in someone else’s small business, I owned and operated several of my own at the same time.

I have only worked for one large corporation, and I hated every minute of the time spent there. I was employed for less than a month before I quit. I felt as if I were in prison. My boss was someone who had been in his position for many years, and he was counting the days so he could begin his impending retirement. Some of my co-workers were spending more time thinking up ways of not doing their jobs than actually performing their jobs. I was a nameless and powerless spoke in a wheel. When I realized that I had more authority and responsibility in my after-school jobs than in that behemoth of a business, I knew that I wanted to be my own boss at all costs even if it meant never playing with the big boys in the corner offices. So when you hear someone say a “mom and pop” operation, I am that business owner.

Some of the businesses I had were out-and-out financial disasters. Others became very lucrative. Most, though, just allowed me to make a decent living. I never started one in my garage that ended up being an Apple Computer. All of my businesses were just small operations. A few times when I felt the business was becoming too big, I either sold it or cut back. I wanted to know everything about the operation. Even if I did not possess the skills to do every job myself, I wanted to be able to at least understand what was needed to succeed in performing that particular job in my shop.

Why does someone like me decide to toil as an owner-operator and chief bottle washer than pursue a career with IBM? There are several reasons for taking the plunge into a life of entrepreneurship. When I was growing up most of my family, including my parents, were owners or employees of small businesses. My father went from owning a bar to being a bartender for someone then owning another bar again sometimes within weeks. That is why today I understand that failure is not defeat if one learns and tries again. We were a working class first generation and immigrant family looking to earn a decent living. For someone without skills or fluent in English or familiar with American customs, owning your own small business is the only way to grab for the brass ring. Small business ownership is in my genes. Even though I went to college and could have gone a different path, my personality and characteristics nudged me toward entrepreneurship.

Small business ownership is not for someone who doesn’t want to sweep the floors or carry out the trash. It is not for someone that wants to go home after their shift and leave business worries on their doorstep. It is not for someone that wants a guaranteed two week uninterrupted vacation each year or a pension or health insurance. It is not for someone who doesn’t possess a little of the dreamer in his soul. To be a successful small business owner, you need to be a romantic pragmatist, with a strong ego who can get out of bed in the morning day after day, week after week and year after year. You need to be self-motivated and confident that whatever happens, you can handle the day’s problems.

During this crazy political season, the four candidates for president and vice-president are extolling the virtue of small business people as job creators and the backbone of the United States’ middle class. They poetically tell the electorate that this policy or that policy is what is needed. It would be nice if one of them had ever owned a small business. The only person that states he had a job in a small business is Congressman Ryan. In high school, college and for a short time after graduating while waiting to be employed by the federal government, young Paul toiled at McDonalds, as a waiter and a trainer.

Mitt Romney at least made a fortune in the private sector. I guess you could call his boutique firm, Bain Capital, a small business. But I bet he never swept the floor trying to save the money on a cleaning person. He may have built that fortune but it wasn’t with the proceeds of his house being mortgaged to the hilt to allow him to pursue that dream. He had contacts and referrals from his father and mother. Governor Romney went to Harvard Business School and Law School. He worked hard and diligently for everything he accomplished. But Mitt is certainly not one of the guys from the neighborhood who made good. I doubt he can understand what it is like to be sweating out collecting what is owed to you so you can pay your employees that week.

President Obama apparently didn’t even have a job while in high school or college. Harvard and Yale is where he learned about private enterprise. He never experienced being a stock clerk at the corner hardware store or the kid that delivered the pies from the neighborhood pizzeria. His knowledge of small business comes from being a customer. He never invested his savings into opening a dry cleaner or even a law office. While his running mate, Joe Biden, might speak as if he knows how it is to work the factory line, he has been in politics his entire adult life. His greatest financial risk is if the Republicans shut down the government and he misses his paycheck.

The myth, we hear from our candidates, is that as small business people we are going to add jobs to the economy, that we are the job creators. It has and continues to be my firm belief that hiring additional employees is the last thing any smart small business person wants to do. I would much rather work harder and keep that person’s salary. I would much rather spend money on technology to be more efficient. A robot or computer program never walked out or didn’t come into work. Small businesses are not Fortune 500 companies. A small business owner has no bruised ego with not having thousands of employees under him. It might sound good to say I own a company that has 10 employees but I would rather have 5 employees and have more money in my pocket. That is the only way I will ever have a raise.

That is not to say that I don’t hire additional employees. I am not going to lose business over staffing issues. Additional employees have to have a benefit directly to me… not the macro economy of the U.S. It is true that small businesses hire the bulk of American workers. It is also true that small businesses jettison the most workers because most small businesses fail. The great thing about the United States is that failing is no barrier to trying again. Small business people get up, analyze why they failed and open a new business.

Another myth is that small businesses will expand by hiring more employees. That may be true for a very few business startups like Microsoft, but for the vast majority growth is measured in increases of one or two employees not hundreds. If I open a 24 hour a day 365 day convenience store no matter how successful it is, I will only employ so many workers. Even if I buy another store a mile away and staff it; have I increased the number of people working? The answer is probably not. Because if I hadn’t open that convenience store someone else would have. Sometimes, especially for small businesses, it really is a zero sum equation.

Our politicians need to stop making scape goats and heroes and concentrate on facts. The first fact is, Mr. President, I did build that business by my own ingenuity and hard work. However, Mr. Romney, I needed to count on the government to provide security, infrastructure and the rule of law to be successful. When I opened my first business more than 40 years ago, I never worried what I would pay in taxes if successful, I only worried about success. The tax rate never stopped me from going into business. Going into business is what I do just like an actor acts and a clergyman prays. What I so need of my government is consistency in laws, and tax rates and regulation. For my planning purposes I want to know what I can expect, today, tomorrow and next year.

I don’t mind being regulated. I’ve been a New York City property owner and building manager, I have lived with the stupidity of rent regulation. I’ve succeeded and prospered in spite of it. What I want to see is smart regulation. Any regulation or law that requires thousands of pages to explain its meaning becomes meaningless. Simplicity is the key to enforcement. It is not productive for the economy to have lobbyists, congressional staffers and attorneys writing arcane laws and regulations. That only ends up employing people in those nonproductive occupations. At the end of the day, it adds no new products to the American economy.

I think most Americans and the majority of small business owners agree with my sentiments. I would like my elected officials to reflect the American electorate. Perhaps we need fewer graduates of Harvard, fewer lawyers and career politicians running for office. Harry Truman was a farmer, a citizen soldier and a failed small business man before turning to elected offices. A little practical world experience would make for a better president.