Summer for Small Business

This summer has been hot.  With many days climbing into the upper 80’s and 90’s, it’s hard to find motivation to accomplish any amount of work.  All you want to do is hop in the pool, or sit on your couch with a fan.  It can even be hard to run a business in this heat.  Customers may not want to walk or drive to your store to avoid the heat.  Your employees may lose productivity as they take vacations or simply daydream about being outside in the fresh air.

However, you can still improve your business in the summer months.  Here are four ideas to help you keep your business running smoothly when even the air conditioning is struggling.

  1. Take advantage of “rainy days”.

I know many people still use the adage “I’ll save it for a rainy day.”  Generally this means they’re saving some money for when it’s tight, but it also means sometime when a job can be accomplished.  Luckily for us, this summer has brought many rainy days to accomplish tasks.  However, you don’t need to watch the sky to know if it’s a rainy day.  A rainy day can be any time that you can accomplish a task.  Is your business often quiet before 10 am?  Then schedule some time in the morning to work on that bookwork that’s been piling up.  Do five people call on Tuesdays compared to 20 the rest of the week?  If so, start using that day to update your client profiles.  “Rainy days” can happen at any time.

  1. Make sure all your systems are running smoothly.

This one is especially true if your business involves a lot of outside work or has many pieces of equipment.  The summer months are the best time to fix anything that may be broken on your office building or within your machinery.  Take this one from me as I have had to set fence posts into the cold ground on Christmas Day and also demolish a building in mid-May.  I would much rather demolish buildings all summer then set one fence post in December.  Your employees will thank you if you accomplish outside tasks during the warm summer months.

  1. Plan an employee or customer appreciation night.

This one can help you express your gratitude to loyal employees and customers.  Rent a park, picnic shelter, or even just offer up your house one night (assuming it can hold all your employees).  Your customers will appreciate the gesture, and it can help build comradery between your employees.  It can also be cheap, especially if it’s an outdoor employee potluck or barbeque.

  1. Take a class

This is a page right out of your college handbook.  If you get behind on your degree, take summer courses.  Running a business is no different.  If you’ve been running your business for a long time, taking a class that is focused on your business can give you new perspective on how to attract customers, create marketing schemes, or simply get you up to date with new rules and regulations.  There are many classes for business owners offered in the summer months.  If you are interested in this, check out www.iowasbdc.org/workshop-calendar/ for different classes, workshops, and seminars offered around the state of Iowa.

Studying vs. Learning in Entrepreneurship

Students.  The children, teens, and young adults out there in the world trying to learn as much as they can in order to succeed in life.  As I am currently one of these, I can say that studying and learning is my job.  As I write this post, I am well aware of the fact that I have three to four hours of homework waiting for me at home, and I can’t say I’m excited about that fact.  Some business owners may understand my pain as you have piles of bookwork stashed away to be tackled when you have time.

But this blog isn’t for the people who already have a business started.  It’s for all of the people who are reading this, hoping to gain more information on how to be a business owner so they can become one too.  You’re doing your homework, so to speak.  Reading entrepreneurship articles for hours, trying to understand as many concepts as you can to ensure that your vision can come to fruition.

I realize that I’m still a student with very little “real world experience”, but I can say that I understand homework and studying.  It’s tedious, your hand cramps as you write yet another research essay, and you can’t cram any more accounting information into your head.  Studying is legal torture, and you cannot convince me otherwise.

I’ve also heard that you never stop learning.  But I’m beginning to realize that we have confused studying and learning.  Many students study for hours to simply regurgitate what they memorized onto a test, and then forget it immediately after.  They haven’t really learned anything, just passed the test.  Most of you are probably wondering what this has to do with business, but I’m not just talking about formal education here.  Many people have goals and visions for a future company.  They spend hours researching on sites like Forbes, Entrepreneur, and The Wall Street Journal hoping to eventually figure out exactly how they should put this idea into action.  They study, and while this isn’t bad, it’s not learning.

Growing up on a farm, I never studied how to check cattle.  There was never a website that I logged onto to figure out how to unlatch a gate, or read a magazine article on how to carry a hay bale.  But I learned a lot.  It was informal, and often painful as I would get kicked or stepped on, but I learned a lot about how to properly handle an animal and farm work that I couldn’t have learned through a book.

One Entrepreneur article says that many people have the knowledge to become business owners, they have studied so much that they have “information overload” and don’t know where to go.  They haven’t turned their hours of studying into learning.  The article goes on to encourage aspiring business owners to take action, and start the business.  You can’t fail if you never start, but you can’t succeed either.

I doubt that most of you will have to worry about stampeding cows if you open your business, but there are other things that will be difficult.  You may struggle finding loans, creating a customer base, or marketing your product.  However, I would have never learned how to jump over a fence if I never had the cattle in the first place.  Maybe it’s time for you stop studying entrepreneurship, and start learning about entrepreneurship.

If you’re ready to take the next step but are still uncertain on exactly where to go, the Iowa SBDC is here to help.  Visit http://iowasbdc.org/ to schedule your free and confidential advising appointment.

 

Great Coaches, and What They Teach Us

Football. America’s most popular sport. Most of us who will watch the game on Sunday will look for big plays from stars like Rob Gronkowski, Fletcher Cox, and Tom Brady. However, we will pay little attention to the chess match occurring between the men roaming the sidelines. In our star-driven sports leagues, we often miss the valuable lessons that great coaching can teach us. The way a coach runs a team can be a great model for how a small business owner runs their organization. As Super Bowl LII approaches, let’s see what we can learn from three of the greatest masterminds in NFL history.

Vince Lombardi

“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

Lombardi’s Packers dominated the NFL in the 1960s, going 98-30-4 and winning five championships in nine seasons. From day 1, Lombardi made his players commit to excellence. He established a culture of winning in Green Bay, bringing in veterans like Emlen Tunnell to provide the necessary leadership, and jettisoning players who didn’t fit his mold. He brought attention to detail, spending hours watching film to gain an advantage, and expecting his players to do the same. More than anything, he communicated to his team that he expected hard work, dedication, and discipline from them, and embodied all of those qualities himself. The success of his strategy is plain to see.

Lombardi’s success was built on a culture of hard work, determination, and “individual commitment to a group effort.” Your small business should be, too. There was nothing innovative about Vince Lombardi’s offense. It relied on a power run game and efficient passing, just like most offenses of that era. Your coffee shop relies on great coffee and a warm atmosphere, just like most coffee shops of today. So what will make you successful? Communicating your vision to your employees in a clear way. Being the type of worker you expect your employees to be. Creating buy-in by rewarding exceptional performance. In short, a winning culture.

Before becoming Green Bay’s head coach, Vince Lombardi was the offensive coordinator for the highly successful New York Giants. He won two championships with New York in four seasons. At his first team meeting as Packer’s head coach, Lombardi famously looked around at his players and told them “I have never been on a losing team, gentlemen, and I do not intend to start now.” Sure enough, the Packers would never have a losing season under Lombardi.

Chuck Noll

“Champions are not champions because they do anything extraordinary but because they do the ordinary things better than anyone else.”

In 1969, Chuck Noll became head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a franchise that had been around for 36 seasons, and only had a winning record in eight of them. They had never won a championship. They had never even won a playoff game. However, over the course of four seasons, Noll turned the Steelers from losers into winners. He accomplished this by emphasizing fundamentals. He spent time in practice focusing on things like footwork, stances, and proper tackling, things you wouldn’t expect professional football players to need much brushing up on. He was famous for emphasizing that football is about blocking and tackling, and avoiding the media spotlight both during his career and after retirement. He also developed a defensive scheme that built the Steelers into 4-time Super Bowl champs in the 1970s. In all things, Chuck Noll was controlled, intellectual, and understated.

Noll brought a singularity of purpose to the Pittsburgh Steelers that the franchise had never known. In emphasizing the details, he focused his players on one goal: winning. Everything else he tuned out. This is a valuable lesson for small business owners. The best companies aren’t always the ones that are constantly innovating, or continuously pivoting to explore new opportunities. They capitalize on their current opportunities by focusing on fundamentals. Quality products. On-time deliveries. Customer service and retention. Consistency and efficiency. These are the things that make a business successful long-term.

There aren’t many quotes from Chuck Noll on the internet. As a coach, he wasn’t a motivator, and he wasn’t one for long-winded speeches. He didn’t give many interviews with the media. He let his work speak for itself. 23 years, 209 wins, and 4 Super Bowls later, he quietly rode into the sunset as one of the NFL’s all-time greats.

Bill Belichick

“If you sit back & spend too much time feeling good about what you did in the past, you’re going to come up short next time.”

In case you haven’t heard, the New England Patriots are in the Super Bowl again. This isn’t just the second time in two years. This is the eighth time since 2000, when Bill Belichick became their head coach. This was the 16th time in 18 seasons that the Patriots finished with double-digit wins. This nearly-unparalleled level of success can be attributed the Belichick’s simple, but profound philosophy: “No Days Off.” After winning his fifth title last year, Belichick pointed out that “as great as today is, in all honesty, we’re five weeks behind 30 teams in the league in preparing for the 2017 season.” Belichick wasn’t about to take time reveling in his massive success. He didn’t want to. He was ready to get back to work.

We all need time to rest. However, business owners simply can’t afford as much time as most people. To successfully build a company from the ground up, it takes a type of drive and work ethic that most of your friends might see as crazy. But to you, it may not even seem like work. “I don’t see this as work, this actually beats working,” says Belichick. The old adage goes something like “if you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Of course, even the most passionate of entrepreneurs have those days when running a business feels like a grind of epic proportions. But few would trade it for something else.

Belichick is preparing to coach in a Super Bowl for the eleventh time in his career, his eighth as a head coach. Over the course of his storied tenure, he has never taken his foot off the gas pedal. Most coaches would have retired by now, being satisfied with their millions of dollars and notoriety. But some live for the grind, and wouldn’t be happy doing anything else.

 

Owning a business isn’t always as clear-cut as coaching a football team. However, just like movies, sports are often a great metaphor for life. There are valuable lessons to be learned, both from playing, and from watching the great ones. For small business owners especially, many of the traits that win out in sports, win out in life. So as you watch on Sunday, don’t merely be a spectator; be a student. There’s plenty to learn out there.