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.

 

Springtime for Small Business

The time around the changing of the year is commonly used for reflection and revitalization. We make promises of things that we will change about ourselves, or we set goals for the year, tough goals, that we may or may not reach. Today, I want to focus on something much more practical. With the longer days and warmer weather, you will probably be preparing to rid your house of the clutter that has accumulated over the past year. This is a great opportunity to do the same for your small business. Small business owners should take some time to perform some spring cleaning on their businesses.

What do I mean by that? Spring cleaning is all about getting rid of clutter. “Clutter” is anything that is inhibiting you from creating value for your customers.  For your business, “clutter” may be the Britannica-sized stack of papers on your desk. It may be the product line that isn’t selling. It may even be the employee who shows up late, drags their feet, is rude with customers, and adds about as much value to your business as the pen you’re fiddling with while you read this. Whatever it may be, it is disrupting processes and decreasing revenue. Spring cleaning is all about eliminating these things.

Why do I believe this is a good activity for your business? Because I’ve seen your desk. Not your desk specifically, but the desk of a small business owner. It is a desk that bears less resemblance to a desk than it does the Amazon rainforest. As a small business owner, you have a plethora of responsibilities, and when these overwhelm you it can lead to disorganization and waste. Spring cleaning gives you a great opportunity to ask yourself questions like “how much time am I wasting on everyday tasks?” and “what can I do to change that?” You don’t need to find drastic pivots to make to your business model or philosophy. Save that nonsense for New Years. The goal is to look for simple improvements to make to your business and your daily routine.

Why spring? No particular reason, just tradition. Also, with this being around tax time, you may already be getting ideas for things that need to be cut or changed. More than anything, the end of another long winter often makes for an influx of productivity from Midwesterners, who are weary of hiding in their caves to escape the cold. Now, you can obviously choose a different time to do your spring cleaning, although then it will just be “cleaning,” and no one likes boring ol’ cleaning. Whenever you do your “spring” cleaning, the important thing is that you are setting aside time to identify and eliminate the clutter in your business.

The Amazon…or your desk?

Remember, spring cleaning is not another opportunity to make sweeping resolutions about the direction of your business. You should be looking for small, tangible changes to make that immediately increase productivity or improve business processes. Most importantly, your focus should be on eliminating, not adding. This is a time to get whatever is worthless or inhibiting out of your business. So for Pete’s sake, clean your desk.

America’s SBDC Iowa: Who We Are, What We Do

America’s SBDC Iowa has been providing quality business counseling for small business owners and entrepreneurs since 1981. Still, many are unaware of the services we provide, and the benefits that clients experience. If you are unsure about receiving counseling from the Iowa SBDC, read on.

Our Mission

To support the collaborative economic development of Iowa by providing entrepreneurs and businesses with individual consultation and educational resources necessary to assist their businesses to succeed.

Brief history

The history of the SBDC can be traced back as far as the 1940’s, when some of the first University-based extension services were presented in legislation. However, it wasn’t until 1976 that the University Business Development Center, the first incarnation of the SBDC, was established at the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, CA. By 1979, the network had 16 participants, including universities in Minnesota, Nebraska, and Missouri. Then, in 1980, President Carter signed the SBDC network into law with the Small Business Development Act. The Iowa SBDC was established in 1981, as one of the first 20 centers added to the network.

For more on the history of the SBDC, click here

Overview of services

The Small Business Development Center was created to educate and support small business owners across the country through no-cost counseling. Because of the emphasis on client education, the SBDC program has been the largest and most successful technical assistance program the federal government has provided for small businesses. We provide consulting in the most vital areas of your business, including:

  • Business planning
  • Market research
  • Capital infusion
  • Legal requirements
  • Exit strategies

SBDC counselors bring years of experience in a variety of industries, and many of them have owned small businesses of their own. This helps them see things from the perspective of the business owner. Additionally, they can draw on their personal experience to help business owners and entrepreneurs avoid pitfalls that they may not see coming.

For more on the services provided by the Iowa SBDC, click here

Impact

The Iowa SBDC has consistently provided a significant positive impact on small business since 1981. In 2017, the SBDC impacted Iowa in the following way:

  • 293 New business starts
  • 1,845 Iowa jobs created
  • 4,044 clients counseled
  • $108,668,237 in capital infusion
  • $111,807,427 in increased sales

For more on the impact of the Iowa SBDC, click here

 

Testimonials

Clients have a lot to say about the SBDC. Here are some words of praise from Iowa small business owners just like yourself:

“Having access to the resources to help turn our idea into a business was a vital part that got us where we are today. How much interest the SBDC has in every business just goes to show how much they care and want us to succeed, which means a lot.” – Mikayla Sullivan, Kinosol SBC (Ames)

“We always met wherever and whenever. Communication was always great. They helped me with 3 year projections before I purchased the business. Within a short amount of time, they were able to help me with the foundation of the business. I don’t know if we would even be in business without the help of the SBDC.” – Theo Ramsey, Ramsey’s Market (Lenox)

“The SBDC is a great asset to rural communities that need help to build businesses in their communities.”- Jessica Kannegieter, Mud on Main Coffee Shop, Café & Roastery (Aurelia and Cherokee)

“The SBDC is a great resource to help put together a loan application and financial projections for securing a bank loan. They are there to answer questions and to bounce ideas off of, and are not afraid to ask you (the owner) tough questions to make you think about your business decisions.”- Terry Schnack, C.A.R.S. (West Burlington)

For success stories about the business above, and many, many more, click here

Whether you have a new business idea and don’t know where to start, or are an established business looking to grow, America’s SBDC Iowa has the expertise and resources you need to find success. Contact us today to schedule your first session, and just see how far you can go!

To request counseling from America’s SBDC Iowa, click here

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.

The Value of Small Business

Where did you spend your time growing up? What are your favorite memories of your hometown? For many of you, the answers to these questions will involve a local business. I was fortunate enough to grow up working in a family coffee shop. I saw firsthand the benefits a small business can provide to a community, and they go far beyond your morning cup of coffee. They give your town personality, provide superior service, and make a greater economic impact than chain stores.

 

Identity

Small businesses are often the defining aspect of your community’s identity. Whether it’s the coffee shop where you and your friends meet every weekend, the bookstore where you buy your kids’ Christmas presents, or the thrift store where you design your wardrobe, local businesses create the environment that is your town. They give the community places to gather, they provide goods and services from trusted sources, and they probably gave you your first job. Almost every town has “their spot,” the place to which you immediately refer visitors to show them what your community is all about, and some lucky towns even have more than one. These businesses give their communities life, and occupy an important place in our hearts.

 

Personalized Service

In a similar vein, there is something special about supporting a business owner that you know. This is even more true when you know you are going to receive personal, sincere service, something that superstores and online outlets just can’t match. The tailor-made service you receive at a local business comes from real relationships forged between the owners and their customers. My parents used to sit down and talk with customers for extended periods of time, showing genuine concern for what was going on in their lives. The relationships they forged with their customers were irreplaceable. While this may violate one of Don Corleone’s most important rules (“It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.”), it ultimately means a better experience and a better product for the people in the community.

 

Local economic development

For every $100 spent at a local business, an average of $68 stay in your community, compared with $43 out of every $100 from non-local businesses. This local spending includes wages, local supplies and services, and community donations. Additionally, small businesses are likely to be the first job for many of the kids in your community. This gives the added benefit of providing work experience in what is likely to be a friendly environment. I remember working with a lot of my friends from high school at my family coffee shop. In addition to economic benefits from supplies and wages, small business owners are more likely to support local booster clubs and events, providing additional value for the community.

 

Small businesses and the people who run them are irreplaceable in a community. That’s why America’s SBDC Iowa’s mission is “to support the collaborative economic development of Iowa by providing entrepreneurs and businesses with individual consultation and educational resources necessary to assist their businesses to succeed.” If you need help growing your business, or have a new idea you want to test, let us know. Consultations are free, and we have 15 centers conveniently located throughout the state. Let us help get you off the ground.

 

iowasbdc.org

iowasbdc@iastate.edu

515-294-2030

 

Special Thanks: Leah Pitts