Planet Hoagie Delivers!

Operating a small business in Norristown is a thing of pride. These days, doing business in downtown Norristown is particularly tough making the pride factor even higher. Especially for those who continually make it happen day after day. "It's not easy, but we love this town and appreciate the traffic that the courthouse provides.", Said Chris Aquila, owner of the shop. "We've come to have some high expectations by our regular clients, and let me tell you, it's not easy pleasing lawyers", Chris said with a smile.

Having had a sandwich or two from the establishment, I can attest to their attitude about pride. They take the time to be sure that what they offer is of the highest quality, every time. Chris and his team never settle for less when it comes to serving his customers. The product is of the highest quality from the rolls to the meats to the service.

Located on Airy and Swede where the old Montgomery Lunch used to reside, Planet Hoagie has been serving law firms, court house traffic, and local workers for the past 8 years. "We still get the occasional couple who just got their marriage licenses", said Chris with a smile. What better way to celebrate anticipated nuptials? In addition to their local business, the shop also delivers. From King of Prussia to Conshohoken, all the way to even Blue Bell, they cover a wide service area. "Some of the law firms in this area have branch offices in nearby towns. They love our sandwiches so much they have those offices order for delivery." said Aquila.

Planet Hoagie has a daily schedule of 9:00am to 3pm Monday through Friday. What was originally just a hoagie shop, Chris saw the the need to widen the menu with all of the traffic in and around town. Three years ago they added a grill adding steak sandwiches, breakfast items, cheeseburgers and even a fryer for french fries, chicken fingers, etc...

When I went to speak to Chris about doing this article for his shop, what really resonated out of it for me was his concern for business in Norristown. It was out of anticipation for his own shop either. The guys here love the town, and they want to see it grow. "It's a great place and there is a lot of opportunity and potential", said Chris. I tell you, there's nothing better than to obtain products or services from a place that really has a passion for where they reside and do business. It shows in those products and you'll never be disappointed.

Conshy Bakery is a labor of love

I first contacted Conshy Bakery about 6 months ago to do this review. I didn't think much of it and thought I could probably write something up real quick without even speaking to anyone. I do like to talk to the owners, the employees and sometimes even customers about places I do write up's on because it gives a much deeper perspective so I decided to wait.

I finally got to Conshy last week and was met by Chris. The daughter of one of the founders. We had a pleasant conversation and a quick tour, meeting both her brother and her father. What they do there is nothing short of miraculous to bring the area the finest in bread and rolls.

First off, the tour was really shocking. I don't know why. All you have to do is think about what they do and you could probably form a concept of how much work goes into doing what they do, but I was totally surprised. First off, they get a bulk delivery of about 50,000 pounds of flour every six days. It goes into this hopper and from there is distributed via pipeline to the different mixers. Truly something to be seen and not what you'd expect from looking outside of the quaint little building in Conshohocken. Especially from looking at the little retail shop from inside the doors. It's truly a huge undertaking with ovens and proofing rooms and mixers and cooling rooms, etc. Not everything is automated either. This is truly a craft. Every Kaiser roll that has an "x" marked on top is made by hand. From the hoagie rolls to the zep rolls to everything in between all get attention by hand at some point in the process.

80 percent of their business is wholesale and the other 20 percent is retail. They make tomato pie, rolls, breads, and baked goods for every type of eatery or consumer. With 11 independent route drivers they service just about 15 counties surrounding the Delaware Valley. "We get calls from Maryland and Virginia almost on a daily basis but being a daily delivery product it's hard to reach further out", said Mike, now a partner with his father Dominic in the business.

Anyone who is anyone knows the quality of their breads and rolls and also realizes that the quality is time sensitive. Great breads from this area are no good after 24 hours. "You can freeze them, and use them later, but that's only for hot sandwiches. You shouldn't do it for cold sandwiches.", said Dominic. Obviously a sandwich connoisseur and knows his product. For what it's worth, I agree completely. Trust me, I know my sandwiches. :)

Dominic Gambone founded Conshocken Bakery in 1973 with his partner Frank Manzi. Both of whom worked at Morabito Bakery in Norristown. They bought a $12,000 oven from the closing Phoenixville state hospital at auction (which is still in use today), and got to work.

From those days it has grown into an area household name. They brand some of their rolls for customers such as McNally's at Citizens Bank Park. The "Schmitter" is made specifically for that sandwich and Conshy bakery provides it. They just don't serve sandwich shops either. Some of the best restaurants in the area serve conshy products. "Because of the independent drivers, it's sometimes hard for us gauge just who exactly we are serving at all times. The drivers like to keep their customers close to their own vests", said Chris. Can you blame them?

On any given day they average 50 employees to complete the daily orders working overnight, starting around 6pm to have orders done by 3am. Employees work around their shifts to be sure that quality remains the number one priority. Area sandwich shops wouldn't be what they are without Conshy, that's for sure. Ask Lou's, Eve's, or any other of your favorite places that uses Conshy where their business would be without them. I did. Results are obvious.

The retail store is open almost everyday, and you can check their site out for hours. Stop by, grab a tomato pie, some rolls, or bread for the family. Use them for parties, but call in your orders so you know the product will be available. It goes fast! I've posted some pics below of the bakery inside, including the original oven.

Joseph Miller, CPA will do your taxes among other things

Almost a month ago, there was a collective sigh of relief from all the accountants in the area. That sigh came from knowing that they could now go on vacation. From Jan 1st thru April 15th, most tax accountants spend 15 hours a day inside their little cubbies churning out 1040's and other tax documents to help their customers hit their deadlines.

That's the idea most people get when they hear about tax consultants or accountants. However, in Lansdale, Joesph Miller, CPA does a lot more than just helping you file your taxes.

For more than 15 years, Miller has been helping the community with all of their financial and business needs as it relates to accounting, taxes, bookkeeping, billing, payroll, and even computer services among other things.

"We have a nice clientele of auto dealerships that we've done for years among other different types of corporate and professional clients", said Doug Miller, Joe's son and the lead tax preparer for the business. "But we also do a lot of personal returns as well. This year we did over 400 1040 returns. The community has come to know that we can help them get it right so that they can be sure they are getting what they deserve back and they get that peace of mind knowing that they had it done right."

Located in Lansdale, Miller started 15 years ago, acquiring two other firms along the way and moving once, literally down the street to accommodate the need for more space.

Miller's firm truly defines the success of a local business when the right tactics are implemented. Do something you love to do, engage family and friends to help with building the business, be sure to provide value and integrity for your customers, be creative in your offering, and have fun doing it.

To see how Joseph Miller can help you or your business, call them for an appointment.

$10 minimum purchase for credit cards

How often have you seen this at local businesses? Ever wonder why? If you think about it hard enough you can probably figure it out, but I'll save you the effort.

See, merchant accounts come with a fee. Those are the accounts that allow merchants to accept credit cards. Every retailer that has one must pay a percentage of the purchase price (called a discount rate) and a hard fee or a per transaction fee (or settlement or whatever other "title" each individual provider calls it). In short, every time you swipe your card at any retailer, about 15 people or entities are making money. Pennies at a time albeit, but still, that many people. There's the guy that sold the account into the retailer, the bank that underwrites the transaction, the account that settles it, the equipment company, etc... you get the point.

Some local businesses don't even accept credit cards, although that has gotten few and far between because they need to compete. I see customers these days swipe their card for a $1.03 coffee at Wawa. Why is Wawa accepting credit cards for a coffee when you can't charge a medium pie at Joe's? Well because Wawa sells a billion dollars worth of coffee a year. Joe, not so much. And every little penny eats into Joe's right to make a profit.

Then there is debit card purchases. Ever notice that most local places will almost beg you to enter a pin when using your atm card? Reason for that is they pay LESS when a pin is entered. Considerably less. Used to be as little as a quarter although today I would think its gone up to at least $-0.75 per. Just a guess, but certainly no discount rate.

Now, let's not get into the debate of whether or not people should be using credit cards for purchases as little as $10 (or $1). This isn't about debt or responsible money management. If the Fed has their way, cash will be gone as soon as yesterday.

So where am I going with this?... Oh that's right... A little bill that not too many people know about. Passed sometime in 2010 this bill, or amendment to the bill puts the burden of those expenses back onto the consumer. That's right folks. You will now be paying for it. And don't think this benefits the local businesses. They don't do enough in sales to really make that much of a difference. It's the Large retailers, the Walmarts, the Home Depots, The Safeway Super markets who will benefit in retaining billions of dollars in fees that YOU will now be paying for with the passing of this amendment.

What was called the Durbin amendment was introduced and passed the floor in 2010. Check out what I'm talking about here.... This also goes far beyond who pays for fees. This will class consumers. This is what the thought of Big Brother was really about. You will be required to keep extra money in your account to guarantee purchases. Debit card purchases could be limited based on your desire to pay those fees. The type of information and how it will be used will be affected, basically rendering everyone a walking marketing survey with every purchase. You want companies knowing how many diapers you purchase? How about cigarettes? Think that someone along the line would like to raise your health insurance premiums because they can see how many cartons of cigarettes you purchased, or bottles of Jamesons?

I think it's time we stop getting ridiculous about big business in this country because they are the ones who pay for the political clout. After all, this is what it's about. Politicians are people. they do what they need to do to keep their job. If that's voting in favor of a rule that benefits a corporation who spends thousands, or even millions on campaign funding to help that politician keep his job, that's what he's going to do. Really, it's not rocket science.

A bill of this nature is only going to add to the destruction of the middle class. Peruse the link I set forth above. Read the other news stories about it via the links on the home page. And get angry! This is serious stuff. It's not only going to add more costs onto the American public, but it's going to add more rules, more restrictions, and more, ahem* control.

Tele-Aide Provides Peace of Mind

Every once in a while, someone comes up with an idea that just blows my socks off. Tele-Aide is one of those ideas. The founder, Greg Firely contacted me via email about doing a quick write up on his business and I glanced over it and the other 10 I received that day without very much attention.

After catching up with Greg on the phone and talking about his product, I am really excited about it and how much help it will provide the community. It is truly unique and offers families peace of mind for their loved ones as well as themselves. Read on...

Tele-Aide was a concept born out of experience and resulting in a necessity for families to really keep an eye on their loved ones. Almost everyone has someone close to them who may be older, sick, and/or lives alone. Some may even be far enough away where daily visits are impossible, and let's face it, in today's world, daily calls are even a stretch. Families find themselves with a need for checking up on their loved ones who may need daily contact to be sure that they are safe and well.

Tele-Aide answers that need. For a relatively small fee, Tele-Aide will contact your loved ones on a daily basis making sure they are well, have taken their medicine, if they are in need of any help, or if they are generally in good shape. Tele-Aide also provides reports to the relatives on any and all activity with calls that were made, what type of activity took place during those calls, and emergency calls to family if anything should be urgent.

Once they get a client, they start a profile on the patient. That profile includes things like the nearest emergency room, first responders, etc. so that if anything is to happen, or if the patient is in need of immediate help, they can respond with the fastest course of action. It also includes a health assessment from an RN for the patient to ensure that calls will include important information.

Tele-aide is an outbound service only. Meaning, they will make the contact to the patient on a daily basis with procedures in place, usually defined with the help of the family, specific to that patient. The patient doesn't have to check in at all. All calls are made directly from Tele-Aide. If there is no response on the first call, they may wait 20 minutes to make a second attempt. If no answer they may wait another 20 and then put into action a call for help by local authorities and contact family.

Calls will be made based off of family needs. Perhaps the patient may be out a specific time during doctor visits, or a bridge league. All calls will be made to ensure the highest level of safety is reached as it pertains to each individual patient.

With families moving farther and farther away, this service is invaluable and may even pay for itself. Cheaper than the gas someone might spend making multiple visits a month, you get the peace of mind of knowing your family member is being contacted every day to ensure their safety.

I've never heard of a service like this and believe it to be the first of its kind, although I haven't researched enough to verify it. A company like this, especially being a local company, is invaluable to the community. It has the potential to provide numerous jobs and be a real asset to the community, keeping its residents safe and their families comfortable knowing that there is someone there to keep an eye on them.

Other Avenues to Get Capital for Small Business

If I hear it one time a week I hear it ten times (well maybe an overstatement there) but anyway I hear it weekly.  And if you work in the business development/economic development field of helping small business owners and future owners then you do to.  There is simply no way around it - you are going to hear it. What is it you ask?  The statements "No bank is willing to lend to me." or  "I can't find anyone willing to give me the money."

I admit we would think with the current talk of small business being the true savior of our economic recession that banks would be more willing to lend. But they are not. In fact, it seems they have tightened up thier lending criteria even more. I understand they are nervous with the mortage crisis but to help us get out of it, lend some instead of letting it sit in the bank.

When I work with a client and we determine the need for capital, I always recommend they start with the local banking system in their community. That sounds like I am talking out of both sides of my mouth but I have a reason for it. I feel this is important to help them start to establish a relationship with their business banking partner. At sometime they will need that partner and at sometime that partner will be willing to lend to them - so get to know each other early in the process.

Clients may not meet the lending criteria due to credit scores, past mistakes, poor or no business plans or do not present well during the bank interview.  If after they have shopped the local banks and they have gotten a solid goose egg, then it is time to go to the second tier of lendors I use at my center. But it needs to be said, banks are still lending - they have not stopped totally lending.  I am still getting clients funded through bank loans. In fact, this year has been better for me than the last two years. So I really think the secret is the connection you and that potential banker make during the initial interview.

The second tier is made up of organizations like community development corporations, regional planning organziations, economic development organizations and special business groups like downtown redevelopment entities. Here they want to help the local entrepreneur and often do by filling a gap in the financing or taking on the whole deal if they can afford it. So I talk to my clients and give them the listing of area opportunities and they go shopping again. I tell them this may not be as fruitful as my other lower tiers but they often know of opportunities that may exist to help. While I have not had much luck in getting clients funded here, I have found many other resources out there to help with more exact funding opportunities than I ever knew exixted in the area.

If that one goes bust, then we move on down the ladder to tier three - non traditional lendors.  Here many people may argue my placement but since I am writing I am deciding the placement. My center is a member of a few national lending networks where I take the client and post their application on the website. Just like in LendingTree, banks from all over the county review the package and then place their offers/questions for us to review and respond. So the client and myself reveiw the offers and make a decision if to take the deal or not. Of course, it is not that simple of a decision or process but we all know that. As for my center, I have posted many deals, gotten bites from out of and in state banks but the clients have all gotten cold feet at the prospect of dealing with a banker they will never meet.

In this tier also is alternative banks who are national in scope  but do not act like a traditional bank. They offer programs for specfic industries or categories of the populations (i.e. Veterans, women, etc.). I always make a point to check on them to see if there is any programs my client may qualify for. 

The fourth tier is the true non-traditional lendor - funding sources that are willing to take the risk and the client pays the higher price.  Nothing wrong here at all, just sometimes the interest rate these companies charge are more like a credit card than a financial source. I am currently working with a client who is in a situation where he has no way to go but to this level - no collateral that is not already spoken for, no capital, in the red but yet is so close to the breakeven point.  We have submitted the proposal to the cash flow lender and will see what happens.  I make my clients aware of these lendors when we have to since their interest rate is higher and often the client can't receive the full amount they really need to move the needle.

The fifth tier is venture capital/angel firms. Yes even here in Southeast Missouri there are such firms.  Now admittingly, this tier may come up sooner depending on the needs of the client. I currently have three clients working with VC firms.  I was surprised to learn they often do not operate the way you are told. I prepped my clients for the three minute presentation, helped them create handouts, got the financials ready and even rehearsed.  When we went to the meeting, they just wanted to talk to us about the product, the client, why the money and what they hoped to achieve with it. Personally I loved it because it was so relaxed and my clients could handle it. In fact, they went in over prepared with my prep work but yet they answered all the questions dead on.

My final tier is personal capital - credit cards, the 3F plan (friends, family or fools) or P2P opportunities. Now again, this opportunity may come up sooner depending on the situation presented to the client. But I know of several businesses who maxed out one card only to pay it off while maxing out another.  Yes high interest but when that is what you have you use it.

I usually get a chuckle at the 3F plan but it is a serious opportunity but one that comes at great risk - the loss of a friendship/relationship. We have all heard of family members not speaking to each other because of a deal gone south. That does not make for a fun Thanksgiving dinner around the family table.

With the P2P (peer to peer), you can go to websites and pitch your idea and people will decide how much they want to give. I have not had any clients go this route yet but a few have looked at it since they were considering a home based business and did not need a large amount. I understand it to be safe and sound for both parties since the money is managed by a third party.

Well just know aspiring entrepreneur, there are many other avenues to the cash you need besides the local bank. Don't give up - just come see me and we will get you started.

Any thoughts or discussion. Where would you place your lending community opportunities in the scale. Let me know and let's talk.



Habits - Good or Bad - We've Got Them

Habits are a mixed breed of human behavior. Some are good and some are not so good for us. We all have habits we wish we could do away with and behaviors we would like to make habits for us. I know I do and every day I am reminded of them. That reminder serves as my change agent to work harder at changing what I can and to accept what I cannot change.

Well in the business world, we have to make changes as our customer's habits change. We don't have the luxury of staying the same all the time because our customers do not stay the same. The Model T is a prime example of how it did not change but yet today the American auto industry still seems to live in the mindset of "I have every color you want as long as you want black." The industry had to have a big jolt of reality before it could start making changes to reflect the American car buying audience.

Habits have an effect on not just large business but small business also. In fact, habits probably have a faster effect on a small business's bottom line because of how close it is to the ultimate customer. In small business, the owner is often in front of the customer while in big business, the owner is many times removed.

So how can a small business owner change his or her habits and improve the bottom line? The first thing an owner should do is make sure the inventory is in line with the customer's needs and desires. Consumers change over time and what was needed last year may no longer be needed. So if you don't update your inventory you may be selling last year's fad which is this year's junk(bad habit). So talk to your customer's - ask them what they would like to see you carry. Ask them about how they see the market changing and what their expectations are (good habit). Involving the customer in your decision making process is one way to make sure your habits on inventory are changing and you don't get caught with your pants down.

Then once you involve the customer in your store, it is easier to ask them to buy more - the second thing you can do to change habits. Many times, small business owners are happy to get the order (bad habit). Once you have the order, then is the time to ask how else you may help them and grow that customer in terms of sales. It may be a purchase of an auxillary product, something totally different in another product line - whatever but do the ask! (good habit)

The third habit to change is complacency with the competition (bad habit). We all know competition is there and more of it every day. It is surprising to me when I talk to a business owner and they say they have no competition. Bull Hockey! We all have competition. Heck even I, as a free service, have competition from for profit sources. So go out there and shop the competition (good habit). Have friends and family members go to them and shop them. Check out the customer service, inventory, policies, etc. Get to know them so you can identify their weaknesses (and yours) and build a stronger case for "why buy you."

Next recognize the value of the repeat customer and start paying attention to her. It is not a good practice to offer new customers something and not the existing ones (bad habit). It is on average nime times more expensive to acquire a new customer then to keep an existing one. So reward the repeat customer (good habit). How? Try a customer loyalty card, customer appreciation events, insider sales, preview sales, special packaging or services etc. Give them a reason to come back more often and buy from you. Many times these special services are not expensive when compared to the sales they generate.

We are all creatures of habit so reinforce your customer's habit of shopping with you with your own good habits. So I invite you to share with us some examples of good and bad habits you may have or have witnessed in small business. Let's talk about them.....

Sometimes I just have to be honest.....

I had a moment the other day that I did not like my job. This does not happen very often as I really like the client interaction, the research I do for them and overall helping to grow the economy of Southeast Missouri. It really gives me a charge when I see a new business open up that I assist in the planning stages or a client gets a loan in these times. So overall I really do enjoy my job.

But the other day, it was different. I had a client counseling session scheduled and I knew it would not go well. I had done the financial analysis of the past five years and it did not look good. I did the projections and of course they should look good but based on past historicals, I could not match the hopes of the business owners. I tried changing this number or that number or reducing this or increasing this and it always came out the same - not in favor for the client.

We met last week and I shared with them the results of the financial projections. I made sure they understood what the numbers were saying and what they would tell a banker when asking for a loan. They said they understood but the question still remained - they knew their sales projections were right.

So we talked about what were they doing differently in the business to generate this additional revenue. We got creative in their explanations and even stretched some areas. I would do a quick financial redo on the PC and come up with the same results.

The client started to see where this was headed and finally asked the inevitable question "what should I do? This is my livelihood and I need this money to keep it going."

I was in the moment where I did not like my job. I knew I had only one answer and it was not a kind one. I put on my best counselor face and told them they had only two real solutions - 1) continue to limp along and eventually go out of business or 2) get out now and start looking for a new job or new idea to start a new business.

I sat there and held back my desire to reach out and try to smooth it over. That was not the right thing to do for the client. I let the couple think it over and consider their options.

After a while, they asked questions regarding on how they could get out of the business, sell the equipment, sell the building, and how could they potentially recover some of their investment. We discussed options and methods to do that.

Surprisingly, at the end of the counseling session, the client told me they somehow felt relieved with my honesty and they could now move forward on their own decisions. They told me they had discussed the same options many times but were unwilling to admit their failure. Now that someone from the outside had said it, they knew it was the right thing to do.

So with their minds almost made up, they left the session with a clearer path for their future. I found some relief in the new facts they had shared with me but I still did not like my job that night.

What are your thoughts? Share with me.

Random thoughts for Entrepreneurs

I am sitting here at my desk looking at the sunny skies (a change for us with all the rain here in Southeast Missouri) and thinking of the recent increase in entrepreneurial traffic I am experiencing in my center. It is like someone left the tap on and the drain is clogged with the increased traffic via phone, email and in person.

As I think about the time when I had my own business - yes I got bit by the bug and became an entrepreneur out of neccessity. The advertising agency I was working for had closed down, I had no job but thought staying in advertising was what I wanted to do. So I opened shop and went after it. I can honestly say, I wish I knew then what I know now because I would have been successful maybe.

I got out there and talked to previous clients and the media about me buying their media for them. I knocked on a lot of doors, had several hours of meetings and very little results. As I look back, I chuckle at myself and think "how stupid I was."

I did not consider registering with the state, buying insurance, writing a business plan - I did not know anything other than I wanted to open my own media buying shop.

Well I did and in 6 months, I closed shop and went job hunting. Does not sound like a good example for a small business development counselor to admit to in public. It is kinda like admitting I drink in my mother's Southern Baptist church.

But I learned from that experience and it provides rich examples for my clients when we talk about are you ready to be an entrepreneur, is your house in order and the many other necessary actions you have to take and consider as you start up a business. I often think back to my personal experiences when I am working with a beginning client and relate my story and question them. Sometimes we uncover decisions that need to be made and other times, we move forward because they have done their homework.

Needless to say, as a entrepreneur, you need to be prepared to face challenges, surprises and take the turns with a roll. I know I did when I decided to close down the advertising firm because I really wanted to do it but I did not have enough business sense to do it. If I had sought out the help of a local counselor or mentor, who knows.

Now when I got involved in the bar business...well that is another story for a later blog. Send me your examples of entrepreneurial turns and let's talk and share. Until next time...

Small Business Organization - Are you ready for a system?

Gotcha - you thought this was going to be about LLC, corporations, partnerships etc didn't you!

Well it is not. In fact I won't even touch on the LLC, coroporations and partnership topic at all. How is that for you?

Actually I was reading the other day in one of my magazines and came across an article that I would really sink my teeth into - office clutter and how to get rid of it. Now I am not the neatest person and any visit to my office will attest to that but I tend to be a systems person. One of my co-workers finds my system approach to be way overboard and I fine with that because I am a "let live" person. But I know my system works for me.

Well let's on with the topic of this blog - office clutter.

I firmly believe that an organized workspace helps small business owners stay on top of their business. You always know where the project is, the invoices are or the next to do list. You are organized and the clean work environment helps you stay that way. The staying that way is probably the hardest trick.

The tips the article gave were pretty good. I will list them here and hope for some discussion from the readers out there in internet world. I will of course provide my opinion also.

Tip #1 - Clean out/Straighten up - Here I am talking about keeping your workspace free. I find I can always work more efficiently if my desk is clear of unnecessary papers, files even pens/pencils. I can get frustrated with the lack of space when working if I have an over crowded desktop. I often do that with my PC desktop also. I decide that needs to go into the trash, be filed, or created a file for it and then file it away. To make sure I don't forget about it, I have a task listing I use daily to help plan my work. Each project I am working on is put into file and on that task list. Some days that task list has saved my behind and other days it only made for a frustrating day of never getting to the to do list.

Tip #2 - Once you find a home, make it a home - Everything on your desk, office or work environment is searching for its home. You should decide what goes here and work hard to keep it there when not in use. I find this tip to be the hardest. I am so bad for getting something out, using it and then laying it down. Only to have to hunt for it later when I need it again. How frustrating is that I tell you? Some suggestions here are lateral files, wall hanging file keepers, desk top file keepers etc. It depends on your personality but if you have to keep in the projects out front, then make it happen. Or if you are like me and prefer to do lists, keep the to do list up to date and use it.

Tip #3 - Plan for your work flow when organizing - I learned a long time ago to keep my phone on the left and my paper and pens on the right. I am right handed and when I am on the phone, I take notes. So that set up keeps me from switching hands in mid-stream each time I am on the phone. I also keep the most used office supplies close to the top of my desk so they are handy. The office items I use the least are located in the bottom desk drawer or on the left side of the desk. Just me but it works for me.

Tip #4 - PC clean up - If you keep a junky office, chances are you keep a junky PC. Clean it up. Run file clean up software to take care of the debugging, cache, formatting, etc. Each time I do it, I am always surprised at the junk I have accumulated on my PC (Yes I am a PC guy.) This also goes for security/virus updates. Nothing is more frustrating then when you are working and the computer shuts down and the circle of death appears. A tip the article mentioned that I just did recently, is bundle your power cords together. I was so surprised when I did this and my physical desktop and floor all looked so much cleaner.

Tip #5 - Consistency - Once you got it all planned out, then keep it that way. How hard is that to do? Believe me it is hard but once you get into the habit, then you start to see the improvements in your work and you keep doing it.

So tell me what your "system" is for reducing office clutter. Share some tips and what works and what does not work.

Until next time.....

Access to Capital for Small Businesses

Taking a different turn here with this post - I am going strictly with my feelings on this topic. That will probably get me in hot water somewhere in someone's office but this topic is a big one for me.

Recently, a client of mine came to me with a idea that I felt skeptical about mainly because I could not understand his small business idea. He was persistent in making it happen as he had the passion for it and had a successful model to follow. We worked on the business plan and he produced a solid one. He got it. He went to four banks and after six months, the fourth agreed to fund him. I was so excited for him.

Another client has an even stronger idea for a small business in the area and she also has a strong idea. In fact, if we can get this to happen, it will be the only retail outlet between St Louis and Memphis offering the product locally. With this client, she cannot get funded from any bank. We have practiced the pitch and interview, reviewed the business plan for weaknesses and tightened the financials even more. She finally turned to her personal retirement fund and is now moving forward. We went to six area banks and not one would even touch it past the first meeting.

So here is the question - if small business start ups provided 70%+ of the new jobs in the last 10 years, why do they have such a hard time getting financed? Yeah yeah the fact that only 10 out of 100 survive the first 5 years is a biggie but the loans are secured so the banks can get thier money. They even have the SBA guarantee option for the loans also.

I know there are many conversations starters with this topic and are started every day in my world of small business development. But why is it so hard to get an answer out of a bank?

Share with me your thoughts and opinions on this one.

Cash is the King of the Royal Family and Then Some...

We have all heard it and probably seen it to be true in some form of real life situation - Cash is King. We can either be inside the gates and enjoying life at court or we can be outside living as a pauper. Which would you prefer? I know I want to be inside the gate with all the other fine Lords and Ladies.

But on a more serious note, if you are not tending to the court of Cash in your small business, you could be in trouble. You need to be regularly checking the books to make sure you are not in the red and spend when you need to and at other times not spending to carry over the balances.

I recently came across some tips to help protect the cash balance of your business and wanted to share them with you.

1) Cash may be 6 feet under in your business - you may have extra inventory sitting around or equipment you brought and no longer have any use for in the business. Ask an employee to review the physical layout of the business (meaning places like warehouse, storage etc.) or have someone who does not work there come in and question the existence of such items. Once you find the buried cash, sell it to generate revenue and add that to your books.

2) Track your cash - monitor your cash flow reports regularly so you can better manage your small business. You will start to notice signs telling you something is going to happen and practically scream at you to make a change in the operation/sales side of the business. Make sure you ask the people who impact your cash flow what are they doing to drive it up. You may get a P&L monthly but make sure you dig into it and understand what is happening. Where did the cash come in from and where did it go?

3) Sign your own checks - nothing else to be said here.

4) Grow at the pace you can afford - growth is a cash eater and you need to be careful you don't start to grow faster than you can afford. Manage your growth to a rate you can afford while still providing adequate returns on the business to any investor like yourself.

5) Communicate to your bankers- do not surprise these people. If there is one person you don't want to surprise it is your banker. Talk to them about your situation, tell about your first sale and your last sale of the day. If you think you are going to miss a payment, get on the phone and work something out. They want you to be successful so let them help you be just that.

6) Build a stronger castle for the King - the King likes it when you build his treasury (your business net worth) so concentrate on increasing the company's net worth or equity as you grow the business. This growth in equity will allow you to borrow without increasing your debt to equity ratio which is a very good thing for a small business. So watch your equity account and help it grow by putting money aside but don't starve the business by not spending when you need to.

7) Look into new opportunities - Star Trek went where no man has gone before and you may need to do that too to keep your business fresh and growing. Don't be afraid to ask people for their thoughts on your business and what you can do to grow it. Be creative with outreach programs when seeking input.

Remember cash is king but you rule the business so plan to survive, thrive and grow and you will come out on top.

How do you manage your cash accounts? Let me know and share your thoughts and ideas. Let's talk.

It was the Best of Times...It was the Worst of Times...

The song went something like that. Today we hear the economic crisis has passed then with the next newscast, it still is present but weakening. The economy is improving but taking a very slow upward tick. Regardless of what we hear, read or speak, we have been in one of the worst recessions ever recorded and we are probably not out of it by a long shot.

But even with the improvement, it is important to learn from the past so we don't repeat it. That is something I am very conscious of as I am always seeming to learn from my repeated mistakes after I have banged my head a few times too many. So I decided to find some universal advice that would work in both bad and good times. I think I found it. Some may call it common sense but we all know that item is in short supply these days in America's business world today. But read on and let me know your opinions on the advice.

#1 - Adapt your business - don't be afraid to answer those questions/problems that are constantly there waiting - fix them and get them off your back; look to see if your business strategy is still in line with your customers; take a look at your strengths and weaknesses and address any changes; realize the correct decisions made now will make you stronger in the future.

#2 - Motivate your people - Remember your workforce is your best selling tool to the public; tell them the tough decisions you need to make and share with them the why you are making the decisions; it is important they understand your actions and can support them; if you have to cut people, try to do it one time as repeated cuts only serves to demoralize the workforce; get it done and behind you so you and your most important asset, the people, can move forward together.

#3 - Be more focused on your core - Look at your products and if something does not make sense, fix it; if it is not profitable, then get rid of it; ask yourself - what does this product contribute to the company's bottom line?

#4 - Stay True to Your Vision - Know where you are and where you want to be in the future then work towards that goal; constantly ask yourself how does this decision get me closer to my ultimate destination for the business?; look into the future and see where your business fit in.

#5 - Communicate, Communicate, Communicate - When you make a decision talk to your key stakeholders about the reasoning behind it; don't let your marketing efforts suffer either as companies that advertise during a down time consistently come out on top in market share/sales when the economy improves.

#6- Innovate on new ideas - Encourage your employees to think of new ideas, you think of new ideas; watch people use your product for new ideas; take some calculated risks in research and development and when they hit pay dirt, you could transform the industry; look for new partnerships to create win-win situations.

#7 - Remember your customer - Position your small business through marketing efforts to talk to your customer and remind them of your solutions to their needs; build on a few key themes to drive home; remember to add value instead of cutting price so you can maintain pricing levels, keep customers buying and overall increase your market share.

#8 - Retain credibility - Honesty is always the best policy; lies have a way of being found out and then cause harm to the business and you; when the news is bad news, say so, tell why and your plan of action to correct it; face the music and you will be stronger for it.

#9 - Inspire customers to be better - That sounds sickening sweet but if you can create an emotional tie to your customers you have just strengthened their willingness to purchase your product no matter what; emotions are strong influcencers for us.

Well there they are folks - some universal tips to help us in both the bad and good times. Send me your thoughts and opinions so we can start talking about these ideas.

How do I Hire an Accountant?

That is a question I am asked when a client and I talk about the business team for a small business. It seems most people wanting to start a business are familiar with accountants for their personal uses but when it comes to using one for their business, they think it is so difficult or even so diffrent. I usually ask them how they sought out the one they have now? We discuss their answers and how they like the current person doing their personal books. From there we build on the conversation.

Hopefully the following tips will help you in deciding how to hire an accountant the next time you need one for your business.

1) How long has the accountant been in business? - you want to consider a minimum of five years but that is not set in stone; you need to feel comfortable with the person first.

2) What are the credentials the accountant has? - you do not want a person who has no professional training besides the degree he got 10 years ago. If they are fresh out of college, your call but if they have been in business for multiple years and no further professional education, then you may want to consider moving on. What kind of image does that send to you, as a customer, when they say "none" and you know the world of taxes, bookkeeping and financial matters is constantly changing - just in the part you have in managing your business.

3) How familiar is the acocuntant with your industry? - the best case situation is when you can find a person who knows your industry or at least has a client or two in your industry. You want your accountant to know the specialized industry practices you have to follow - you don't want to pay and train him at the same time.

4) How will the person track your financial changes? - you want the future accountant to encourage you to meet with him to go over your financials and help you avoid any surprises; you don't want him to tell you at the end of the year, "if only you had done this..., you would have avoided paying that....."

5) What are the fees and what do they cover? - ask upfront and don't be shy; you want to know what you are getting; nothing worse is when you thought you brought something only to find out later when you need it, it is not there. Specifically ask about phone calls for quick questions or the travel time from his office to yours - does he charge for them?

6) How does the accountant guarantee his work? - will he go with you to an audit and defend your business?

If the person you are talking to promises unrealistic financial management or the know how to get around taxes, feel comfortable to get up and walk out the door. You don't want to end up in tax court or find out you owe the Federal Government money you were not planning on paying to them.

Let me know your stories about choosing an accountant. Remember to check in and also give me your comments on this topic also. As always, if you have questions or concerns about your small business, call me at 573-243-3581 or email me at

Until next time.....

Measuring the Health of Your Business

The SBA says that in the last decade, the small businesses of America employ over half of all private-sector employees and created up to 80% of all new jobs annually.  Hats off to you, the small business owner for that accomplishment. We certainly need you in today's economy.

But yet in the same breath, being a small business owner is very risky. In fact, government data says in recent years for every 10 companies with payrolls started in the U.S., eight close. The question is why do so many close? I suggest we should provide more support to American small businesses in form of training, financial incentives and access to capital from our banking system. But also small businesses need be aware of what big business is aware of - some basic business trends they can watch to help monitor the health of their own business.

Most small business owners monitor the cash of their business, the numbers. This is a good thing. I hate to hear one of my clients say at the end of the year, "where did my money go?"

Business owners need to pay attention to the numbers but there are other pointers they should pay attention to also. These indicators are not as easy to track as the money but are no less important.

One area is employee morale. This indciator can be a very important one for small businesses as they depend on their employees for first impressions with customers, work quality and performance. If you have unhappy employees, eventually you will see a dip start in your sales. As a business owner, you can talk to your employees about how they feel about the work environment. Typically, as the owner, you are not that far removed from all of your employees and having a conversation would be a good thing. But if you are uncomfortable with this method, try watching them and seeing what their actions tell you - look at body language, listen to the informal talk going on and check on performance.

You can't afford to have poor employee morale because it spreads to other employees and like an infection, you have to treat it sometimes in a not so pleasant manner. Research shows employees want to do a good job and work in an environment that empowers, engages and trains them. So take some time and have all staff discussions, show them where you want to take the business and the role they play in it and where necessary, encourage them to participate in trainings and create a culture of customer focus where both the person buying and person selling are seen as your business's customer.

The second indicator to watch is how is the marketplace changing. We all have been told to change with the times. I know I often talk with my father about how times have changed and why I do what I do when he did not have to at my 46 years of age. As a small business owner, you need to be consistently looking for information leading you to make the right decisions on your customers, changes, products and your business's future.

Also doing some internal looking is good. If you notice your referrals are down, it could be a sign of customer dissatisfaction. So go talk to your customers and find out why. Check into your competition to see what they are doing differently and then make changes to your plan. You know what happens when you assume - so don't do it. You might look into your customer service policies and make changes there from what your own customers tell you or your competitive intelligence tells you. Don't be afraid to change things up in your business.

A third area is to revisit the business plan you hopefully wrote when you started your business. This is a living document and should be revisted and updated annually or more often depending on your business. As humans, we tend to stick to plans once they are written down. If they remain in our heads, they don't seem as real to us. For example, I wanted to start this blog several months ago but it never happened until I put it in my to do list and now I work hard to have a new entry every week - but not before I wrote it down.

Also a business plan helps you see what is important and not get lost in the every day hustle and bustle of just running a business. You don't want to be quilty of spending 50 hours a week doing day to day operations and spend less than 10 hours a week trying to steer the business, attend to employee needs and think about the future of the business. You have always got to stay looking at how you can improve and plan for changes.

The final area to watch is your attitude as the business owner. You went into the business because you had a passion for the business. Have you noticed it slipping, you not enjoying the customer interaction as much or do you bury yourself in your office to avoid dealing with employees? Your attitude is what sets the example for your employees who interact with your customers who provide you with a reason to be in business in the first place. Do a look at yourself and see what could be improved? Heck if you are still as passionate about your business now as when you started it, then you found your calling and share that passion with others. It is good for the soul.

Well let me know what you think. Share your thoughts and opinions and let's get talking about small business in Southeast Missouri.