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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

11 Things I Have Learned In 11 Years at the TSBDC

I started my Tennessee Small Business Development Center career on March 27th, 2007. 

I provide free one-on-one business consulting and get to teach workshops for small business owners too.

Calling this job rewarding is an understatement.

I’ve seen the highs and lows of the economy and I’ve seen businesses come and go.

And I also learn something new, EVERY SINGLE DAY.

With that said, below are 11 things I have learned in 11 years.

  1. You always have to start with a goal.  Trying to improve a situation is pointless without a goal because you won’t know what you are striving for and what steps are needed to get there.
  2. Business plans are overrated by people that think they need one to even take step one in their business.  Business plans are underrated by people that think they should just fly by the seat of their pants and not document anything.
  3. If you don’t have a target market you don’t have a business.  If everybody is your target then will get nobody.
  4. Businesses that don’t have a distinct competitive difference are in trouble.  If you can’t tell your potential customer the difference between your business and your top competitor, your potential customer will not have a reason to use you.
  5. Joining the Chamber of Commerce can be very beneficial for your business, if you are active in the chamber and make an effort to get to know people.
  6. Business owners that read books make more money than business owners that don’t read books.
  7. Nobody can find that awesome $10-$20/hour person right now.  I think we quit making them.
  8. Don’t hire salespeople if you can’t personally sell and if you won’t train them.  That is setting someone up to fail.
  9. Successful business owners really understand their financial statements.  And they outsource their bookkeeping or hire someone to do it.
  10. I always ask someone that wants to start a business to attend a Starting a Small Business Workshop.  There I will answer most of their questions and then they will probably have 20 more questions that will pop up.
  11. You MUST create a good culture if you have employees.  Untrained employees that you don’t engage regularly will kill your business.  


That’s just 11.  There are probably forty-eleven more (yes, that’s a number I made up) that could be added to the list.

Feel free to add any you would like to add in the comments section.


Friday, March 2, 2018

Daddy, will you read me a story?



It was late, and I was exhausted.

It had been a long day. 

I made breakfast, packed lunches, worked, exercised, dropped off and pick up for dance and gymnastics, made supper, cleaned dishes, picked up EVERYTHING off the floor, etc. 

Now Lilly looked up at me with her big brown eyes and asked for one more thing, “Daddy, will you read me a story?”

Ugh.  Yep.  One more thing.

I was very tempted to tell her I would tomorrow night, because Daddy just couldn’t tonight.

But, my wife and I had made a commitment to read a story to the children every night with very few exceptions.

So I put on a weary grin and said, “Of course pumpkin.  How about Llama Llama Red Pajama?”  I knew it was a short book.

She was thrilled and it only took 5 minutes.

This is a priority in my family. 

A keystone priority.

But why? 

It’s not like reading a short book each night will be life-changing, right? 

Because we feel like reading to our children at bedtime makes a difference.

While I would like to pretend to be the perfect Dad, I’m not close. 

My nerves get shot, I get impatient, and sometimes I really don’t want to pretend to be excited because Lane drew a picture of the dog…again.

However, a book each night, lets us end the day on a good note, no matter what happened that day. 
This priority makes sure they go to bed happy, which means they wake up happy.  Not to mention this priority makes sure we spend one-on-one with them with the educational benefits.

As a result, we have happier children that read a grade level above most kids.

So what does a Llama in pajamas have to do with your business?

The really successful business owners I work with, know that having just a few keystone priorities in their business is what really matters.

Throughout each day you have your own version of things that make you exhausted.

Emails, upset customers, missing employees, late shipments, marketing, networking events, sending invoices, collecting late payments, etc.

With all of that, do you have one or two keystone priorities that you really focus on? 
Are there one or two keystone priorities that will make everything else work, regardless of the trivial events of the day?

Take Alcoa for example (from The Power of Habit):
When Paul O’Neill took over Alcoa in 1987, he shocked investors and the board of directors with his decision to focus on one keystone priority - safety.  Not a new product line and not implementing Six Sigma.  Just safety.
But what O’Neill realized is that focusing on the company’s new keystone priority of safety would cause a trickle-down effect to the bottom line.  If employees work more safely, there are fewer injuries and production slowdowns resulting in improved productivity.
This gave the slumping Alcoa, record profits in 1988 and someone who invested a million dollars in Alcoa on the day O’Neill was hired would have earned another million dollars in dividends while he headed the company, and the value of their stock would be five times bigger when he left!
So, what is your keystone priority?
What is the one thing, which if done correctly, will make everything else fall into place?
As for me, I continue our nightly reading ritual and hoping for some new Llama Llama books to come our way soon.




Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Does Your Business Have a Love Life?



Let’s face it.

People start businesses for a variety of reasons.

You can follow your passion, make a difference, have independence, and go to work in your pj’s. 

However, the goal of a business is primarily one thing.

MAKE. MORE. MONEY!  

And more importantly, a profit.

In order to do that, you need good relationships.

Since Valentine’s Day is lurking around the corner (waiting to take all my profit), I thought it would be appropriate to look at relationships and profit.

There are three primary ways to make more of a profit, and it is more about relationships than it is accounting.

   1.  Lower expenses with great business relationships.

  • Lease – Gotten to know your landlord?  Good.  If you are comfortable where you are, the landlord may be willing to offer you a lower rate to lock you in a lease over the next few years.  Especially if you have developed a good relationship with them.
  • Vendor discounts – Most vendors will offer a 1% – 5% discount for paying within a certain period of time.  If you have gotten to know your vendor, they may do better than that.
  • Insurance – Most business owners don’t really have a relationship with their insurance agent.  You should review what is necessary in your policy, consider raising your premiums, and don’t be afraid to shop with an independent agent with whom you have established a relationship.

 
   2.  Get more business with relationship marketing.

  • Partner with another business in a different industry that has similar customers and send each other referrals.
  • Call existing clients and ask for more work or referrals.
  • Offer to do any type of speech or seminar on a specific topic (not a sales pitch) for free.
  • If you are networking and prospecting, do it several times a month.  Not once in a while as you have time.  Also, make it a point to identify other people you want to work with and give them a reason to want to work with you.  


 
   3.  Sell old assets quickly to raise capital using existing relationships
.         
  • Do you have an old piece of equipment just laying around, not generating revenue?  Sell it to another business that you have gotten to know. And yes, you should check with your accountant before selling anything to check on the tax implicaitons.




Tuesday, January 9, 2018

What Did the TSBDC at Vol State do in 2017?

One-on-one advising and training get some pretty good results.

Find out how you can get the same results at www.tsbdc.org.


Monday, January 8, 2018

Andrew Finney, owner of Perkins Drugs, wins 2017 TSBDC Rising Star Award and SBA Rural Owned Business of the Year!



Andrew Finney of Perkins Drugs in Gallatin has been named the 2017 Rising Star by the Tennessee Small Business Development Center at Volunteer State Community College.

The pharmacy has also been honored as the Small Business Administration Tennessee Rural Owned Business of the Year.

The Rising Star Award goes to a small business that has had great success utilizing TSBDC resources. Finney became co-owner of the pharmacy, along with state Sen. Ferrell Haile and Sam Rickman, in 2009.  In 2012 he became the full owner and has since grown the business by 30 percent, hired multiple employees, and is currently building a second location in Gallatin.  

“The business goes back to 1895,” said Sen. Haile. “We were approached by chains to sell, but that wasn’t the direction we wanted to go. Sam and I were looking for someone who would be loyal to the heritage of Perkins Drugs.”

Haile and Rickman approached Finney, a recent University of Tennessee pharmacy school graduate, about taking over the business. Finney soon realized he needed help with business planning.

“Andrew was one of my very first clients at the TSBDC at Volunteer State Community College,” said local director Charles Alexander. “I’ll have to say he spoiled me, because I just assumed everybody would be as driven and as passionate as he is. Andrew has embodied what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur with his hard work, focus, and the way he treats people. Everyone that knows him, loves him and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this award.”

“The TSBDC was the first step towards thinking through the process of buying into the business,” Finney said. “They provided me with invaluable counseling and education.”

Finney graduated from Vol State in 2000 with an associate of science degree. He serves on the foundation's Board of Trustees.

In 2016 the TSBDC at Vol State worked with 186 small businesses and clients, offering free and low-cost classes, and counseling and helped launch 18 new business. In all, the projects raised more than $2.2 million in capital and created or retained 129 jobs.

For more information and a list of classes contact Charles Alexander at Charles.alexander@volstate.edu or call 615-230-4780.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

4 Reasons Your Employees Are Quitting


One of the biggest issues I’ve seen over the last few years is small business owners trying to hang on to employees.

“You just can’t get good help anymore!” has been uttered in my office more than a few times.

The unemployment rate is historically low, so it’s not like there is this huge pool of unemployed people banging down your door either.

We often blame a lack on work ethic, the government, and even Millennials (because we like blaming Millennials.)

And, all of those things may play a role; however, we can’t control the rest of the world.  We can only control what we do.

The ironic part is that we want employees to just do their job, because it’s their job.

However, the job of an owner is to keep employees engaged and reasonably happy.

Most likely if you “just do your job,” they will be much more likely to “just do their job.”

Below are four reasons I see small business owners losing employees and what to do about it:

1. They don’t feel like they have the ability to make their own decisions

After some proper training, empower your employees to make their own decisions and make sure they know they are empowered.  I couldn’t tell you the number of times a small business owner told me their employees won’t take any initiative.   In reality, they haven’t told the employee they have the liberty to make their own decisions.

2. They don’t really understand how their role helps anyone

Let’s face it, the person in the office does not think their job is very exciting or really matters.  It’s up to you to explain that if the bookkeeping, phone calls, and scheduling aren’t kept correctly, the office will be in chaos and that everyone is depending on them.

3. They don’t feel like they are recognized

Recognition is the number one motivator in the workplace and it is the easiest thing for you to do.  A simple pat on the back or public thank you will go a long way.

4. They don’t feel connected or inspired by their boss

Your employees are not going to do an awesome job, simply because you paid them $12/hour.  Yes, I know that when you had that same job years ago, you were happy to do your job and make half as much, but times have changed.  Now, more than ever, employees want to be led and inspired and that’s your job!

And yes, I left out money.  

Employees don’t leave because they can make 25 cents more per hour somewhere else.  That’s how they justified the move.  They left because of one of the previous reasons listed.



Monday, September 11, 2017

2 Real-World Niches that You Need to See!



I was stumbling around confused and too afraid to go home.

I knew if I didn’t get this right, there would be problems at home!

I was in Publix with a scribbled list of ingredients for a mango salsa recipe.

I had everything I needed.  Everything that is, but one last item.  

I scribbled it in a hurry and I couldn’t figure out what it was.  

Oh, and the wife said, "Make sure you get it!!!"

Cucumbers? Carrots?  Cotton balls?

None of those made sense!

Finally, a very helpful produce guy, Joe, saw I was in distress and came to my rescue.

I showed him my list and he agreed.  Cotton balls would taste terrible.

He then whipped open his flip phone (this was a few years ago) and made a call.

I sat there patiently.  Well, I was patiently eavesdropping.  

He was asking his wife what they put in their mango salsa.

He smiled and turned to me and said, “Cilantro.  It’s cilantro!”

Joe and I exchanged an awkward high five, I grabbed my cilantro, and I was on my way.

If you are not familiar with Publix, then you are deprived.

It is a grocery store that is well lit, stocked perfectly, and has lots of helpful employees.

Their prices are a little higher than average, but they are well worth it!

Their niche is the overall experience.

Conversely, there is another grocery store around the corner. 

It’s Aldi.

And Aldi is no Publix. 

At Aldi, you have to put a quarter into your cart and return it to get your quarter back, the shelves are not quite as perfectly stocked, but all three employees are helpful:). 

Aldi has decent groceries with fewer frills and their prices are lower.

Their niche is simplicity.

Both are good grocery stores with two very different niches.

So which are you, Publix or Aldi?

There is no right or wrong answer.

Unless you say that you are a mixture of both.

That is the wrong answer.

That’s not a niche.

That’s the same thing everyone says, especially your competitor.
  • If you are truly the expert display it.
  • If you really serve a special market, make sure everyone knows about it.
  • If you are the most convenientfastest, or most accurate, hang your hat on it.

It’s time to take a stand.

And taking a stand will let you STAND OUT!

Otherwise, you will fade into obscurity…

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

15 Entrepreneurial Tools You Need to Start Using Today



One of the questions I get all of the time, is “What new ‘toys’ are out there for small business owners?”  

The list I’m giving you is ever changing, however, they are proven and used by some of my most successful clients.

And most of them are FREE!

Productivity Tools

Moment – We spend over 5 hours a day on our phones.  That’s way too much!  I personally use Moment, which is an app, that tells me how long I am on my phone, what I am using, and will even kick me off my phone if I go over a designated amount of time.

RescueTime - A Chrome extension that shows you how you spend your time and provides tools to help you be more productive. 

Grammarly – Autocorrect has lowered our ability to actually spell anything.  Grammarly takes that one step further by checking your spelling and grammar whenever you’re typing, no matter what site you are using.

Google anything – All of the Google tools are very easy to use and implement, i.e., Calendar, Gmail, Drive, etc.

Audible – Smart people read books.  If you don’t have time to read, use Audible and begin listening to some real books. 
And if you are looking for some books try:
  • The E-Myth, by Michael Gerber
  • Anything by Seth Godin, such as Purple Cow, Lynchpin, The Dip, or Tribes
  • The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy.
  • And a great book I just read on negotiation, Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss.  It. Really. Works! 




Marketing

MailChimp – Email marketing is not dead.  In fact, there are 3 times more email accounts than there are Facebook and Twitter accounts combined.  MailChimp is a free email marketing service (up to 2,000 contacts), that lets you send your content directly to your customers and centers of influence.  The key is sending information that is relevant and not boring.

CoSchedule Headline Analyzer – The best way to get those emails opened is to have a catchy headline.  CoSchedule has an analyzer tool that will grade your headline and even give some suggestions for you.

Canva – If you need some eye-catching graphics, but don’t have the budget or time, Canva is a great tool for doing that.  It’s free and user-friendly.

Unsplash and Pixabay – Both have high res and free images that you can use for marketing.

Facebooks ads – It’s a pay-to-play game with Facebook.  Organic reach for a business page is less than 5%, so you need to boost those posts and create actual Facebook ads.  The good news is that Facebook knows everything about everybody so you can get very targeted.

LinkedIn – If you are selling business-to-business, LinkedIn is a must.  Just saying I don’t understand how it works isn’t an excuse anymore.  Just think of it like Facebook without the cat videos.

YouTube – Okay, so YouTube is not new, but you are probably not using it either.  It’s the 2nd most searched site on planet Earth.  Oh, and it’s owned by Google.  That’s important for getting found on Google.

Hootsuite or Buffer – Either of these online tools allow you to schedule your social media posts to the most popular platforms.


Accounting

QuickBooks – QuickBooks is still the gold standard for small business accounting.  There is of course online version, however, makes sure your CPA is ready for you to make the switch.

Freshbooks – A cloud-based accounting program that is getting more popular and is easy to use.


Monday, May 8, 2017

Vol State TSBDC Celebrates 10 Years Serving Small Business


Small business owners often need help in navigating the marketplace. With 2,000 clients, 188 business starts and more than $25 million in capital formation, the Tennessee Small Business Development Center (TSBDC) at Volunteer State Community College has been providing that assistance. The Vol State TSBDC is celebrating a ten-year anniversary. Clients say they have benefited in everything from formulating business plans to advice in marketing. The TSBDC offers free workshops, classes and one-on-one help.



“I got so much great advice and encouragement from Charles and TSBDC when I started my business.  I still hear his voice in my head saying that it just takes time to build a business,” said Kristie Rigdon of My Veggie Chef. 





“We are so grateful to Charles Alexander and the Tennessee Small Business Development Center for helping us successfully launch our new venture, Pour Vous Wine, Spirits and Beer Warehouse,” said Evelyn Bonds. “What an awesome resource they were to us for developing and implementing a marketing plan appropriate for our industry, location, and size.  The research and free seminars were invaluable and represented huge cost savings.” 

TSBDC clients come from a wide variety of business types, have including restaurants, recycling companies, and insurance companies.

“This has been a very interesting ride,” said TSBDC Director Charles Alexander. “When we started this TSBDC 10 years ago, social media wasn’t really a thing and the big concern for entrepreneurs was spending money on the Yellow Pages.  Since then we’ve had the Great Recession and a local economic boom.  This has been so much fun that I can’t believe I get paid to do it.  I get to selfishly see the help we provide, make an immediate impact on our community.  However, the real credit goes to the business owners.  It’s their hard work, risk, and determination that allows me to have this career.  I’m especially thankful to my supervisor Hilary Marabeti, our local donors, and my sidekick, Dave Jose for making this center thrive.”


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Increase Revenue with Storytelling


With three kids ages, 8, 5, and 4, we tend to watch a lot of Pixar movies.  I mean, A LOT of Pixar movies.  

And, I have noticed a very familiar theme throughout all of them.  The main character always has a problem, they are helped by an advisor with a solution, and there is a happy ending.  
The roles are interchangeable with talking cars, toy cowboys, or a clown fish.
Speaking of clown fish, take Finding Nemo for example:
  • The Main Character - Marlin (Nemo’s dad)
  • The Problem - Nemo was captured by scuba divers, so Marlin has to find Nemo
  • The Advisor - Dory, the helpful new friend
  • The Solution - Dory helps Marlin swim to Australia through the East Australian Current to find Nemo
  • The Results - Marlin and Nemo are reunited with the help of Dory and they all live happily ever after.  Or, at least until the sequel.
This story is very similar to the way you help your customer.  They have a problem, you help them with a solution, and there is a happy ending.  

Stories connect and sell.   

By the way, stories sell 118% better than facts!


You want to increase sales, and the way to do that is through better storytelling.  
Make the customer the star of the story, and you help them get a happy ending.
Now let's consider you.  
  • Does your elevator pitch tell a story?
  • Does your website tell a story?
  • Does your email marketing tell a story?
  • Does your video tell a story?  If it does, whose story is it; yours or your customer’s story?
  • Does your print material tell a story?
  • Do your employees tell a story?

If you are still telling customers about your features, advantages, and benefits, it is time to make a change to storytelling.

Friday, February 10, 2017

My Personal Valentine's Day Massacre and Your Business

On this exact day 15 years ago, I proposed to my beautiful wife, Sarah. 

I had it all planned out too.

I was working in San Diego and I would fly her out and propose in the most romantic restaurant in La Jolla (for reference, La Jolla makes Brentwood look like Detroit.)

I made the pricey reservation and let them know my plan.

Then Murphy’s Law arrived before Sarah did.

Southwest had a long delay in Atlanta.  I mean, of all airlines too.  I would expect that much from one of their competitors, but not them!

Sarah arrived much later that night.  The reservation was long gone and her Valentine’s spirit was dampened when her luggage decided to hang out in Atlanta.

So it was on to Plan B.  
Unfortunately, there was no Plan B, so I improvised.

After the luggage finally made it, we went to Jim Croce’s Restaurant.  It was no George’s on the Cove, but there was “Time in Bottle.”  Get it?  Time in a Bottle?  No…ugh, Google it then.

I thought I would be able to propose there, however, they sat us right next to the front door.  And in San Diego, they don’t close the front doors.  Ever.  And the wind that night had Sarah’s cute, little black dress whipping all over the place.  She was less than thrilled.

On to Plan C.

It was already very late, so I told her we would go back to the hotel and exchange gifts on the rooftop, which overlooked downtown San Diego.

As we entered the lobby, a couple was exiting the bar and stumbling up the steps to the rooftop with a brown bag in their hands.  And they were loud.  And friendly.  And loud!

Now Plan D.

I decided to head to our room until the rooftop cleared out.  After an hour or so, we headed up, only to find out the rooftop closes at midnight.  Ugh!!!!

Plan E😒

I called downstairs to see if they would make an exception. 

They would not.

At this point, it was late, and I had decided that the hotel room would have to do.  As I was preparing myself to get on one knee, the phone rang.

“Is this Charles?”

“Yes!”

“You’re the guy that flew a ring in to propose today, right?”

“Yes!!”

“We’ll have the rooftop opened if 5 minutes!”

“Yes!!!

Back to Plan D😃

As we wearily went to the rooftop at 1 a.m., Sarah gave me my Valentine’s gift, which was a very nice watch.

I then got on one knee and gave her a ring.

And she said yes.  Whew!

I did not have a contingency plan.  I got by, but as the cliché goes:

“Failing to plan, is planning to fail”


In your business failing to plan, will NOT sound like a cute, long-winded proposal story.

For instance:

  • Do you know what you will do if a disaster strikes your location?  Do you have all of your data secured, backed up, and have you inventoried all of your stuff?
  • What happens if a key employee leaves?  Can you or someone else handle their duties, until you get that person replaced?
  • Are you prepared if your killer digital marketing guy flakes out?  Do you have a grip on the content marketing plan or calendar?
  • How will you make payroll, if you don’t collect all of your payments this month? Is there an emergency fund, line of credit, or rich uncle somewhere? 

Take the time think about the future now, because at some point, your Plan B will be your Plan A.


In my case, it was Plan D.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

And the Foolish Man Built His House on Sand

Recently, my 4-year-old Lane wanted to get a treat all by himself.  After all, he is 4 years old now.
The Skittles he wanted was on the top shelf in the pantry.  Yep, Skittles.  Not the apple or banana he passed in the fruit bowl on the way to the pantry.

So obviously, he couldn’t reach it.

  • At first, he tried to stand on his bean bag to reach them.  His bean bag is pretty old, so it is really just a bag at this point.  That didn’t work.
  • Then he tried blocks.  He came tumbling down like a bad game of Jenga.  
  • Next, he tried a chair, but it was still out of reach.
  • Lastly, he asked his dear old dad for a little help.  I picked him up, he grabbed the goldfish, and life was good.  

Lane needed a solid foundation to achieve his goal.

The same is true with your business.

You need solid foundations for your solutions.  There are no quick fixes.

  • If you are having cash flow issues, you may need to dive deep into the numbers.  Getting a loan may only be standing on a bean bag, especially if you don’t address the source of the cash flow problems, i.e. accounts receivable, having too much payroll, not charging enough.
  • If you are having personnel issues, continuing to hire the same type of person, may be like standing on a set of blocks.  It may be time to review the set of qualifications needed for the job you have, such as the attitude and translatable skills versus just having experience in the industry.
  • If you want to have a consistent marketing approach for your business, you need to have your own content and a calendar to keep you on track.  Just dragging up a chair to stand on, every time revenue dips will only get you close to your goals.

While you will have to be patient, building your business on a solid foundation will always beat sand.

Or a bean bag…or blocks…or a chair.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

5 reasons you will be successful in 2017

Yes, I know that you are preparing to swap gifts, travel way too far to see family, and eat enough to put you into a sugar coma, however, a brand new year is right around the corner.


Below are 5 reasons you will be successful in 2017:
  1. You will find a qualified CPA who can assist you and your decision making year-round, set a fixed amount that you will pay them, and use their advice.  They will save you more money than they cost.
  2. You are going to perform a cash flow projection for 2017 and identify potential shortfalls today, not tomorrow!
  3. You are going to raise your prices, because you offer a premium product/service!  You will have a better profit, better customers, and sleep well at night.
  4. You are going to delegate some of the roles that you currently perform in your business, so you can grow the business, i.e., bookkeeping, digital marketing, payroll, and anything that someone else can do as well as you, for less money than you!
  5. You are going to schedule an appointment with your local TSBDC counselor to get a jump start on your 2017 goals!
Go ahead and visit Aunt Edna, attend Christmas Eve services, and hang on to those gift receipts and we will see you next year!