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How to get a bank loan: Know the language Aug 11, 2014 5:20 AM
You’ll have a better chance of getting a loan from your bank if you understand the banker’s sometimes arcane language. Rosetta Stone can’t help, but a good accountant can. Small business owners, especially startups, often “don’t have the right understanding of what a bank can do,” says Greg Dowell, managing partner at Bass, Solomon & Dowell LLP, a Palatine CPA firm. “The bank is your lender, not an equity investor.” That’s a huge difference. “Bankers want to lend on one of two things — receivables or inventory. Sometimes equipment. The banker is interested in being paid back.” Bankers always have wanted to get their money back, but a regulatory tightening of lending rules following the near financial collapse in 2008 has banks still on a short tether. Consequently, it’s worth paying attention to comments from Larry Jones, vice president at First State Bank, St. Charles, one of 21 locations of Mendota-based First State Bank. Business owners “don’t know how to ask for money,” Jones says. “They must understand the nature of the loan business’ requirements and be aware of how the different loans work and cost.” Among the different loans Jones lists are real estate loans, including the SBA’s 504 loan program; accounts receivable; construction loans; and work-in-progress loans. If you don’t understand the differences, which for a non-banker isn’t especially surprising, “Go to your accountant for some help,” Jones suggests. Typically, “The business owner has something he enjoys and thinks he can make money with — but he doesn’t know how to manage the business,” Jones says. “A loan officer will be able to figure out whether the business owner knows his business.” When hopeful business borrowers “come in, meet with a commercial lender, lay out their plans for the business and say, ‘I need $100,000,’ it’s the loan officer’s job to ask, ‘Why?’” Jones seeks a stronger answer than, “So I can grow.” Although a sensible presentation about the business is a logical part of a request for funds, numbers count. For example, “Your P&L (profit and loss statement) must indicate an upward projection,” says John Lafferty, president, CFO-Pro, Naperville. Among Lafferty’s thoughts on what to take to the bank: * A short business plan that describes what you’re trying to achieve. If growth is the intent, the plan should explain how you will reach that goal. * An explanation of staffing costs that will be necessary to support growth. * Anticipated revenue streams, with assumptions fully explained and market data that support projections. * Competitive factors. * Details on margins and overhead. Lafferty has more, but that’s a decent sample of the information he says bankers want to see. Dowell “will counsel (firm) clients before they go to the bank,” as will Lafferty. Illinois Small Business Development Centers are another good source of support. So is SCORE, SBA-affiliated retired business executives committed to counseling. • Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn, Twitter, and at Kendall Communications on Facebook. Jim@kendallcom.com. © 2014 Kendall Communications Inc.
How many bird houses can a retiree make? Aug 4, 2014 5:33 AM
With retirement scheduled for year-end 2015 and son-in-law Colin Murphy apparently in good position to take over management of Simmons Engineering Corp., a Wheeling manufacturer of cutting blades, a smooth transition to retirement seems a sure thing for Bruce Gillilan. Except ... “I’ve assumed that I’ll set up a small woodworking shop in my new Door County home and start doing things with wood,” Gillilan says. “My Dad was quite a woodworker, and I have a long list of projects. “Now, though, I’m starting to appreciate that there might be a limited number of bird houses that I’ll want and can give away. The point,” Gillilan continues, “is that I don’t have a plan. I should have been working on this earlier. I’ve not really looked down the barrels of this topic.” Nonetheless, Gillilan’s big picture seems OK: • The Wisconsin home was built with retirement in mind. • Gillilan and Murphy seem compatible. “I’ll be as available as he’s comfortable with,” Gillilan says, recalling that “my father-in-law wouldn’t go away.” • Gillilan has given thought to “what 40 years of work might do — maybe programs to help veterans.” Still, many entrepreneurs have a bird house issue, which led me to conversations with two thoughtful transition pros: Joel Goldberg and Harry McCabe. Goldberg is principal of G2G Strategies, Northbrook, and half of Goldberg-Heinze Business Advisors, a duo that helps business owners with transition. McCabe is ownership transference adviser, Harry McCabe Advisors, Westmont. “People end up in this predicament because they don’t think about what they’re going to do next,” says Goldberg, who suggests planning for the post-working life should begin five years before it arrives. Among Goldberg’s considerations: • Your spouse. “You’re meeting on a different level,” Goldberg says. “Thirty years have passed, and you’re different people. Try date nights. Know that it’s OK some days for you to go one way and your spouse another.” • Inventory your interests. “Look at the things you’ve always been interested in but didn’t have the opportunity to pursue.” • Develop conversations with people in your age group. “The whole group has issues,” Goldberg says. “Join a men’s (or women’s) group. Play cards at the park district. Put together a group that gets together for lunch.” McCabe suggests a more structured “re-engagement plan — an outline, written in pencil so it is easy to change — that crafts the next chapter.” One suggestion: Use business skills to build onto a hobby. Bird houses, for example, might morph into bird baths and feeders — perhaps “donated to a cause you really believe in” that can use the proceeds from selling the products. Another McCabe idea: “Help someone. Give time, not just money. Pack school lunches” for needy kids. There’s more to discuss, of course, because McCabe, Goldberg and their emphasis on transition planning make sense — especially if, like me, you’re all thumbs in the wood shop. • Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn, Twitter and at Kendall Communications on Facebook. Write him at Jim@kendallcom.com. © 2014 Kendall Communications Inc.
Entrepreneurs offer tips for business startups Jul 28, 2014 4:58 AM
Be prepared to do some bootstrapping, which in the startup world typically means providing your own money. When you have employees, get them engaged in the business. And try not to become a bank for customers who have more resources than you do. That’s the core of advice for startups from three successful entrepreneurs who were among those responding to an email I sent asking business owners for their thoughts on a variety of subjects. Starting up was one of the subjects. The three whose comments follow are Tom Walter, chief culture officer at Tasty Catering, Elk Grove Village; Kathy Miller, president, Total Event Resources, Schaumburg; and Bob Podgorski, principal, RPP Enterprises, Hoffman Estates. One way or another, each pointed to regulation, taxes, funding and staffing as issues startups must manage. Starting up “is not easy,” Miller, an event planner, responded in her email, “but nothing good is.” However, a lack of people resources often makes startup life harder. “There are many opportunities (to grow)” Miller wrote, “but the small business owner doesn’t have the manpower to take advantage of those opportunities.” Manpower nearly always is an issue. Walter, nationally known for his approach to participatory management, suggests a blend of culture, people and marketing. “Employee engagement is the leading indicator of a company’s health; finances are the lagging indicator,” Walter responded. “The best way to build a sustainable, successful organization is through employee engagement.” One of “many steps” Walter suggests is to “Have decision-makers at all levels, so that opportunities are easily transformed into revenue.” Revenue also is an issue, especially when governments need funding. Podgorski, a career guidance specialist, noted “The unsure regulatory and legislated impositions impacting business and markets.” Walter wrote about “Government regulation and taxation pressures that limit sales and (the) resulting profitability.” Although Miller covered similar ground, her message centered on “Large corporations that expect small companies to provide longer billing cycles — billion dollar companies expecting million dollar companies to fund their cash flow.” Miller’s concern is echoed by many small business owners, especially those just starting out. In spite of the standard 30-day clause on invoices, many companies, often larger ones with the clout to pay when they want, stretch payments to 60 and 90 days. “Corporations (must understand) that we are not their bank,” she wrote. “We are entrepreneurs who can save them money in other ways.” That’s one reason Podgorski emailed that startups will “need to bootstrap in the early years, make more of less, grow (through) will, brains and muscle.” Bootstrapping may not be what most new entrepreneurs envision, but creating a product, or service, takes time and money. Finding customers rarely happens quickly; selling them takes even more time. Startups, Podgorski said, “should know they will need to be highly customer centric.” In other words, no one is going to come because you’ve built a mousetrap; you have to find customers with mice. • © 2014 Kendall Communications Inc. Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter, and at Kendall Communications on Facebook. Write him at Jim@kendallcom.com.
The disconnect between unemployed and businesses Jul 21, 2014 8:50 AM
Logic says the still large pool of unemployed workers should be a good source of employees for small businesses, but talks with two deeply involved employment experts indicate that’s not the case: Except among younger individuals, who apparently see more of the potential and less of the risk, small businesses are deemed too risky by many jobseekers. Fear seems to rule. “Go into a small business as an employee? Start their own business?” repeats Mayer Smith. “The white collar, middle income professional who has been at Lucent or Navistar the past 10 or 15 years, has never looked for a job before but has been laid off — well, they don’t want to work for a small business. They assume that business doesn’t have the money to pay them what they need. “And they don’t have the capital to start a business. They’re scared to do it. “We haven’t seen too much transitioning to small businesses,” Smith says. Smith is a volunteer PATH Group facilitator at Naperville’s Compass Church. PATH assists people with career changes, most not of their own choice. During the day, Smith is an employment specialist at the Association for Individual Development, Aurora, which seeks employment for the developmentally disabled. “Entrepreneurs know there is good talent out there, and I know several who have tried to lure unemployed workers (into the small business sector),” Smith says. “They’ve had some success, but they’re in the minority.” There is interest in small business opportunities, however. In the northwest suburbs, for example, Bob Podgorski sees “a continuous flow of people interested in startups and employment in small businesses.” Who’s attracted is somewhat surprising. The most interested demographic is “Younger — and almost anxious to avoid larger enterprises,” says Podgorski, principal of RPP Enterprises, a career programming consultancy in Hoffman Estates; longtime mover behind the Saint Hubert Job and Networking Ministry; and developer of an embryonic employment support center for Schaumburg Township. “We’re seeing young people out of college, living at home, don’t have a lot of expenses and see just as much risk of being laid off at a large company as working for a smaller one,” Podgorski says. “There’s risk in small business, but there’s also excitement and potential,” especially in a market where, according to Podgorski, 40 percent of the jobs are contract or part-time. Nonetheless, the aversion to risk among the unemployed is understandable, especially if you’ve walked in their footsteps. “Corporate guys can’t think entrepreneurially,” Smith says. “They have families, mortgages, tuitions, bills. They tell me, ‘I’m gonna go flip burgers or go back to school and get retrained in a new field.’” Smith does have an option for potential employers, however — if your business has the right type of project: The developmentally disabled who work at AID facilities in Aurora and Elgin. “Small assembly jobs are ideal for us,” Smith says. “Our people are very happy with repetitive work.” • Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter, and at Kendall Communications on Facebook. Write him at Jim@kendallcom.com. © 2014 Kendall Communications Inc.
Nobody said owning a business would be easy Jul 14, 2014 4:59 AM
Decisions are difficult. • Will putting time and money into a social media campaign really grow the business? • Fire Mike? His family needs the income and he was recommended by an employee, but Mike can’t get a handle on his duties. How much damage will he do if I keep him on? • We need more space, but that’s more overhead. Will we be that much more efficient? • An offer to buy the business came out of the blue. What should I do? Accept? Seek other potential buyers? Talk to a lawyer? There’s no doubt that decisions can be tough, but neither is there any doubt that business owners must make them — everyday. “Step back,” suggests Gail Sussman-Miller. “Look at the big picture. Look at how the decision fits your business’ mission — and your personal mission. “If money were no object, what would you really want to do?” A conversation with Sussman-Miller, chief obstacle buster at Inspired Choice, Chicago, is at least interesting and potentially downright helpful. She won’t make your decisions, but she offers some interesting thoughts on how to approach the process. “Most people have trouble asking for help (in the decision-making process),” Sussman-Miller says. In fact, she adds, “Not asking for help is a small business weakness. Our ego gets in the way. We don’t want to appear stupid.” But, she asks with a nod to TV’s Dr. Phil, “How is what you’re doin’ working for ya?” Pause for a moment: That’s a key question. The fear of making the wrong decision can be paralyzing, but keep in mind, Sussman-Miller says, that doing nothing is a decision. “A decision to not act is one of the choices,” she states. An option, Sussman-Miller says, is to ask for help — from a mentor, specialist in your industry or professional adviser. Another is to detach. “Don’t personalize the issue,” she says. “Detach. Put on a white lab coat, pick up a clipboard and pen, and observe your behavior. Remember another time when you had to make a decision. “The mind will always over think an issue. Disconnect your mind. Find some silence to quiet your mind and sort out any emotions that are present. “Take five deep breaths. Inhale through the nose, then exhale through the mouth. That stops the chatter. That calms us, gets us centered.” Even the most uncertain decision-maker has strengths, Sussman-Miller says. “Remember the times when you did something courageous.” Sussman-Miller, who admits to a fear of heights, walked San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, which at mid-span is about 270 feet above the water. You may not have a trek across a bridge to fall back on when one of those difficult decisions must be made, but Sussman-Miller’s point is valid: if you’ve done something difficult before, call upon that experience to help you make the business decision you’re facing today. • Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter, and at Kendall Communications on Facebook. Write him at Jim@kendallcom.com. © 2014 Kendall Communications Inc.
New rules affect job application process, pregnant employees Jul 7, 2014 8:07 AM
Jim Kendall' focuses on two pieces of legislation that will change the way small businesses deal with job applicants and pregnant employees.
Learning, leveraging differences can build stronger team Jun 30, 2014 5:03 AM
I’m generally skeptical of those HR-related tests that purport to provide takers with insights about themselves, though I did learn a few things from the Myers-Briggs personality indicator test I once took. Myers-Briggs, the DISC personal assessment program and the BOSI Entrepreneurial DNA assessment tools have their backers. Yet a new entry in the genre, Entrepreneurial Dimensions Profile (EDP), is intriguing because it offers a way for business owners to make assessments that will allow them to structure their companies for maximum performance. Introduced 15 months ago by the Leadership Development Institute at Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Florida, and available locally through the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Elgin Community College, the EDP “recognizes that the differences between people can be a tremendous asset — or get in the way,” says Jennifer Hall, director of coaching and feedback at the Institute. The distinction, Hall says, “depends on (the entrepreneur’s) ability to recognize and leverage differences” into an effective team. Taken online but assessed in personal conversations with either Hall or Sybil Ege, SBDC director at ECC, the EDP gauges individual strengths and weaknesses in both personality and skills. In a team setting — a management group or the next generation taking control of a family business, for example — “understanding the strengths and weaknesses of group members can be very useful,” Ege says. Benjie Hughes would agree. CEO at Backthird Audio Inc., an Aurora recording studio-professional musician management business, his senior team numbers two — Hughes included. There are three in the office, but two carry the bulk of the responsibility, Hughes says. He and Anna Hammond, Backthird Audio’s managing director, took the EDP assessment to determine how to identify and take advantage of their different abilities. So far, so good. The EDP assessment is helping the two recognize and build on each other’s strengths. EDP “gave the two of us a common language,” Hammond says. “He’s a vision and ideas guy. I focus on the small picture. “My long-term planning is October. Benjie’s is 2018.” “We looked at our internal operations, how we get things done in the office,” Hughes says. “I generate ideas. Anna takes those ideas and connects them. ” As a result of the EDP assessment, “We’re revamping our project process,” Hughes says. “We have a freer sense of our roles. We’re figuring things out.” Among the things Hughes has learned is that “I need to leverage people who are better at execution. (That would be Hammond, mostly.) And I have to learn to be more patient.” The process and analysis “has enabled me to look ahead and not feel overwhelmed,” Hammond explains. “Now I play to my strengths (and) we’re a lot more focused” as a two-person team. Hammond’s strengths include sometimes slowing Hughes down. “I wasn’t giving pushback,” she says. Now, however, Hammond will push back when necessary and Hughes understands — a tangible result of the EDP process. • © 2014 Kendall Communications Inc. Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter, and at Kendall Communications on Facebook. Write him at Jim@kendallcom.com.
Social media can help level business playing field Jun 23, 2014 6:12 AM
Sue Kirchner believes small businesses can level the playing field that the big guys dominate, but time and effort will be needed. So will some social media expertise, she says. “Small businesses need social media,” said Kirchner, president of Brand Strong Marketing Inc., Palatine. “They need to market their company, to be noticed online. They need a web presence, not just a website.” Social media isn't a selling channel, Kirchner says; instead, it's a place to build relationships that can lead to sales. That's why presence matters. “If you want clients (and prospects) to find you, you must have a presence on the web that tells your story,” Kirchner says. That presence, she maintains, comes via social media — which, in Kirchner's storytelling sense, are akin to mini websites. Kirchner is a believer that social media — a process most everyone talks about but few are comfortable implementing — can make a difference. She has some suggestions. “You want to spend your social media time where your customers are,” Kirchner says. If, for example, you have a business page on Facebook but your customers are using SlideShare (a LinkedIn unit that allows you to share content) or Pinterest, you may need to rethink your social media presence. Finding where your customers congregate on social media is a process similar to researching marketplace needs. Survey Monkey may be the tool that gets information, Kirchner says. So, she adds, might a cup of coffee with a customer or two. “Ask them 'What's up?'” Kirchner says. “Ask what projects they're working on, what's happening in their business or industry.” Assess the information you gain and you'll be able to develop a profile of your customers that includes their social media preferences. Take a similar approach on the web, where it's easier to reach a greater number of people. “Search for conversations online,” Kirchner says. “Look for LinkedIn groups that are interested in your topics. “Find a logistics conversation (if that's your focus) and join the group,” Kirchner says. “Find a marketing conversation that fits you. Join the group. “Target one or two groups on LinkedIn and spend 20 minutes a week getting into conversations, getting your name in front of people.” Another Kirchner option: Your blog. A blog, Kirchner says, “is a forum to share your thought leadership, especially in B2B sectors. Use your blog for a case story. Get your name, or your business' name, connected positively with business issues and ideas.” Once a week is a good blog frequency, Kirchner says; twice a month works if time gets squeezed Blog content matters, especially because “Google has changed its search algorithms,” Kirchner says. “Content is key.” Three hundred to 500 words is a good blog length, according to Kirchner. Of course, you'll want someone to read your blog thoughts. “You'll spend 20 percent of your time writing the blog, 80 percent promoting the post,” Kirchner says. • © 2014 Kendall Communications, Inc. Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter, and at Kendall Communications on Facebook. Write him at Jim@kendallcom.com.
Process for business’ potential sale moves forward Jun 16, 2014 6:11 AM
A small business owner shares his thoughts and experiences so other entrepreneurs thinking of selling have some information.
How to protect your business from hackers Jun 9, 2014 4:55 AM
Apparently there’s no such thing as being too small a business to be hacked. Columnist Jim Kendall looks at this trend and what to do to prevent hacking.
Decision to move business ‘was not easy,’ partner says Jun 2, 2014 5:02 AM
There are certain steps common to most business moves. Small Business Columnist Jim Kendall talks to a motorcycle dealership about his move.
Owner mines LinkedIn for connections, prospects May 26, 2014 5:00 AM
Ned Miller is a LinkedIn believer, calling the business social media site “a God send for the small business owner.” Small Business Columnis Jim Kendall looks at the issue.
A disconnect: What you say, what employees hear May 19, 2014 5:07 AM
Aargh! The strategic approach you described to your sales team on Monday became five different approaches on Tuesday, though each sales person believed he, or she, was in step with the program.
One question every start up entrepreneur must answer May 12, 2014 7:49 AM
Regardless of the product or service, every starting-up entrepreneur must answer this question: Will someone write a check — actually buy the great idea you’re planning to bring to the marketplace?
Owners could be missing out on retirement dollars May 5, 2014 4:56 AM
Business owners could be leaving mounds of retirement dollars behind, simply because they don’t know all the options.Small Business Columnis Jim Kendall looks at the topic.
Senior creates senior services Web company Apr 28, 2014 5:54 AM
Mark Snow has introduced two cloud-based document storage services based on his own needs, which may turn out to be a nice happenstance for others as well.
Try selling your solution, not your product Apr 21, 2014 9:01 AM
Not quite random thoughts about small businesses: • Remember what you’re selling, which for the more successful among us most often is a solution to a customer’s problem. If you run a hardware store, you’re helping customers solve plumbing problems or lawn care issues. If you’re a sales consultant, you’re selling a way to help your prospect’s sales team improve its numbers, not a sales training package. Selling a solution to a problem is different from pitching a widget or other product — and requires a different selling approach. You have to know what’s bothering your prospect; the glories of your widgets aren’t enough. I like the question manufacturing sage Paul Heinze (Paul M. Heinze Co., Barrington Hills) asks early in his conversations: What keeps you awake at night? • Form strategic alliances. Own a restaurant? Offer the most popular flavors sold by the local ice cream parlor for dessert; promote them with a tent card on your tables. In return, the store can put up a poster for your restaurant and each week hold a drawing for a free dinner at your place. If yours is a breakfast stop, work a similar alliance with an up-and-coming local bakery. • Know your referrers and treat them like the important people they are. For many of us, especially service providers, our referral base is the key to success. That means a thank-you note to the accountant who referred one of her clients to you; the same to a municipal economic planner who suggested your services to a potential new business in town and to the consultant who brought you in on an assignment. Treat your best referral sources to lunch. Remember, however, that the best thank you is a return referral: If you have a client looking for IT help or a reliable auto repair shop, think first of the folks who’ve helped you. • More mothers are staying home with the kids, although 71 percent of all U.S. mothers work outside the home. And, perhaps sadly, a growing number of Moms are home because they can’t find a job — six percent today compared to one percent in 2000 according to the Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. Still, if Moms are your market, there might be an opportunity in, for example, Mother-and-baby exercise classes or baby-sitting services. With annual household incomes of about $130,000, working mothers not surprisingly have more money to spend. Trying offering many of the same services evenings or weekends. • Know your market, not only so you can provide the products or services your customers want but so you know how to reach them. Sell to seniors? Provide senior-oriented services? You likely can reach the 65-plus crowd on the Internet. Pew says that almost 60 percent of seniors use the Internet; more than 70 percent are on every day. Slightly more than 25 percent even use social networking sites. Ideas perking yet? • © 2014 Kendall Communications, Inc. Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter, and at Kendall Communications on Facebook. Write him at Jim@kendallcom.com.
The Millennials are coming. Will we be ready? Apr 14, 2014 5:00 AM
More than preceding generations, maybe even more than the Baby Boomers, Millennials will impact how we manage our businesses. Small Business Columnist Jim Kendall looks at the topic.
How one entrepreneur is selling his business Apr 7, 2014 6:04 AM
Small Business Columnist Jim Kendall evaluates how one owner is selling his business.
Business owners become social media marketing believers Mar 31, 2014 5:04 AM
Small Business Columnist Jim Kendall looks at the topic that social media could be one of your business’ most effective marketing tools.
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