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Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) and You: What is available to me?

29. May 2020 16:18

By: Laurie Wolff, Certified Global Business Professional

If you missed funding in the initial rounds of the CARES Act stimulus, it is not too late to connect with your local Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) for help.  Some states, for example New Jersey,  have released new grant programs for small business as they have received their own federal funds.  A variety of nonprofits are raising funds to assist business, sometimes limited to particular regions or to particular types of business owners, such as women and minorities.  These programs are usually small grants, but those that receive them often get other help such as business counseling. 

As the need continues, I’m confident new funding will get raised and distributed.  Even if nothing is available for your business at this moment, the staff of the local SBDC is likely to learn of anything new as it comes along.  In New Jersey, businesses that applied but did not receive funds because the money ran out are getting priority in the second round.   

SBDCs can also provide counsel on best practices for managing cash flow, identifying new customers and potential markets, pivoting your business and other assistance to weather the crisis even if direct grants are not available.  They are a gateway to connecting your business with a network of service providers and resources to help you grow.

To find help near you, visit https://www.sba.gov/local-assistance/find/

Too see more from Laurie, be sure to check out her sessions Trade Finance: Getting the Funding You Need and Managing Risk for Exporters and Identifying New Export Markets and Customers at the IWF 2020 Education Conference.

Reach Laurie Wolff c/o IWFNetworkNews@iwfatlanta.com   

SBA Paycheck Protection Loans Went Fast, But More Is On the Way

21. April 2020 09:43

By: Laurie Wolff, Certified Global Business Professional

Wow, that went fast. Some of you were able to obtain loans through the SBA’s Payroll Protection Program or Economic Injury Disaster Loans, but many were not. Even though the funding levels were larger than anything the SBA has done before, the needs are significantly greater than the funding provided. The SBA has stopped accepting applications unless or until the government authorizes additional funding.

My best guess is that more will be authorized this week. We have already had more people file for unemployment claims than we have created jobs since the end of the Great Recession. Independent contractors and self-employed workers have not yet been able to file for benefits even though those were authorized under the federal stimulus programs. States literally have not had the capacity to process these claims, and as far as I can tell the first of these will start hitting the system next week so expect continued historically high numbers for jobless claims for at least the rest of this month as states play catch up.

Politicians will respond to this with more stimulus, so if you have applications that were pending and not approved, keep working with your bankers because if (when) more funding is authorized, it too will be dispersed quickly. Most state and loan programs were also quickly exhausted but keep in contact with local small business assistance centers and economic development offices in case additional resources become available.

I’ll blog about what the Federal Reserve is doing to stabilize lending and the financial system soon. Some of what they are doing directly benefits large businesses, but if the Fed is able to take the loans guaranteed through the SBA program off the books of banks, that gives banks more ability to lend. Stay in close contact with your lenders. Your bank has a vested interest in your ability to survive this crisis.

I have friends that got the loans and some that didn’t. They applied equally quickly and as far as I can tell were equally worthy. It doesn’t feel fair. I’m glad for those that did get the loans and for their workers. All I can do is encourage those that didn’t to keep at it.

I plan to talk with you about exporting when we meet in Atlanta at IWF, but in the meanwhile I’m happy to answer questions and make referrals to resources, whatever will help you move forward with your business.

Reach Laurie Wolff c/o IWFNetworkNews@iwfatlanta.com   

IWF Education: Need a Survive and Prosper Strategy? Consider What Needs to Change in Your Company

20. April 2020 15:11

 

 

Christine Corelli offers 5 of her popular management sessions at IWF 2020. Learn more and register>>

» BMG12 -  Managing and Motivating Millennials - Plus Are You Ready for Gen Z?!

 » BMG13 - Are You a Boss? Or a Leader? - Would You Work for You?

 » BMG14 - Powering Up for Prosperity - A Program For Women in Leadership

» BMG15 - Business Has Changed - What Needs to Change in Your Business?

» BMG16 - How to Avoid the Family Owned Business Blues and Excel as a Family Owned Business

By: Christine Corelli, President: CHRISTINE CORELLI & ASSOCIATES, INC.

Do the coronavirus and the affect it has had on the economy have you bewildered? Feeling frustrated because there are more downs than ups in your business? 

You are not alone. Covid-19 and the economic woes it has brought about have had an impact on virtually every aspect of business. 

We hear about it all day long. Everyone is under immense pressure to deal with lost revenue, additional financial challenges, and global uncertainties. 

This situation is heartbreaking to me, not only because of the death toll, the death of a very close friend, the cancellations in my own business but also because of this: When I was presenting sessions at IWF Atlanta 2018, attendees and exhibitors with whom I interacted told me their businesses were doing great. Most were experiencing impressive business growth and profitability. 

 

So what. Now what?

Hopefully, we might think that since the economy was fundamentally strong before the Coronavirus that we’ll have a vigorous recovery once COVID-19 passes. The truth is, while I’m the ultimate optimist, no one can be sure. 

 

Doing what needs to be done

To rise to these challenges, businesses have downsized, put people on “furlough”, and retrenched. Reduced hours and reductions in wages have been put in place. These cost-cutting measures are painful but vital to survive what is often referred to as “The Perfect Storm.”  

 

The questions remain

While most business professionals have decided to “wait and see what happens” and ride out this storm, the questions remain:

  • How long will this last?
  • What else should we do now to run our businesses without going under and position ourselves for a successful future?

 

Being proactive -- the best way to go

You can’t control what is occurring, but you can control how you react to it. These situations separate the weak from the strong. They are akin to what might be referred to as Economic Darwinism—the ultimate survival of the fittest. In reality, it’s the smartest, most creative, and most proactive businesses that will not only survive but prosper in the future.

 

What else should be done? 

Because every business is different there can never be a “one fits all” solution. Nevertheless, taking the right actions will help protect your company and prepare you for future success. 

Don’t simply handle the impact of the economy by downsizing, reducing hours or wages buy looking deeper into cost control, reexamining your competitive strategy, improving efficiency and building relationships.  

 

The following actions to consider:

 

Examine your business processes to improve efficiency

Implement changes in your business processes. Analyze every function, procedure, policy, and aspect of your business. This process of pulling your business apart and giving it intense scrutiny will help you to find ways to not only cut costs but improve operations. 

For example, you might consider centralizing job functions so you can operate with fewer administrative people or fewer people overall. Work to create a highly effective and efficient infrastructure for your company that will put you far ahead of the competition when the storm subsides. Do a reality check for every single function in your company. What would be the consequences of not having that particular position? This is a tough job but, but you have to make tough choices.

 

Examine the touchpoints of the customer experience

Take the time to formalize systems and procedures that work. Determine how you can provide a superior level of service than your competitors and demonstrate a higher level of caring and professionalism. Make every effort for your customers to do business with you—now and in the long run. Create the highest standards for customer service and establish “guiding principles” for how your staff will treat customers. 

Your ultimate goal should be to provide a flawless service experience. Prepare a manual that documents everything involved in customer service so your entire staff has a playbook they can follow and get the right result every time. 

 

Renegotiate your contracts and providers

If you haven’t already done so, review your costs for insurance, office equipment, phones, uniforms, vending machines, water supply, utilities—any service or product that represents a large portion of your expense load. Ask everyone for a better deal. And that includes your banker and health-care provider.  

 

Enlist your staff’s assistance in identifying nonessential expenses and avoiding waste

Far too often, businesses have underutilized employees' suggestions and ideas. They rarely hold brainstorming meetings. You will be amazed by the creative ideas your team can come up with if you make the meeting and the exercise interesting and collaborative. 

Hold a meeting to discuss how to avoid unnecessary spending and cut costs. Help your staff to understand that, talent aside, cash flow is the name of the game. 

Break into teams and have a reward for the team that comes up with the best ideas. Let them know no detail is too small and little things can make a big difference to your bottom line. Provide a few examples such as shutting down their computers at night, shutting off lights, keeping heat and air-conditioning at a minimum, going easy on the gas pedal when using company vehicles, and avoid unnecessary driving. 

After your initial meeting, establish an internal team of “cost specialists” from different departments to make suggestions on finding ways to minimize expenses and to increase accountability. Employee involvement is the key to cost control. Providing small rewards will often elicit great ideas on cost savings that will reap impressive results. 

Another good reason to conduct this session is that is an excellent team-building activity. If you want to survive and prosper, teamwork is essential. 

 

Enlist your staff’s assistance in surveying them to answer the following questions:

  •             What, in your opinion are our strengths?
  •             What should we keep doing?
  •             What should we stop doing?
  •             What needs to change?

 

Boost your marketing and advertising 

Cutting costs is a smart move, but not when it comes to marketing and advertising. Boost your marketing and promotions efforts. Failure to do so can impede your presence in the marketplace and lower your chances of acquiring future business. Instead, consider changing the style of your ads so they are different than your previous ads. Make them more eye-catching and appealing. 

 

Redouble your efforts 

Spend more time on the phone and redouble business development and relationship-building activities. Your competitors may be asleep at the wheel and are just waiting until the economy turns around. You and your sales team should be the ones to forge ahead.  

 

Add value – but make sure it is worth it

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that throwing something in for free is adding enough value to impress customers. Create a value-added offerings package or program that will make your customers say “WOW.” 

Use focus group research to determine what your customers really want. Tap into your creativity to think of what you can do that your competitors are not doing and use it to truly differentiate yourself in the market. 

 

Assist key customers in every way possible

Work with key customers to assist them in any way you can in the downturn. Reach out to them and show them you care about them. Show them you understand how their business has been affected. For example, help them to manage and maintain their existing equipment more efficiently to help reduce their costs. Offer your assistance in every way possible. This is critical to do during tough economic times and will help you to protect your turf when competitors attack. 

These actions will help tie you closer to them when the economy rebounds. You will find that customers are extremely loyal to those who help them during an economic downturn. 

Reconnect with past customers. Make queries to find out more about their present situation. If they were customers in the past, there is a good chance that they can be customers in the future. Never give up the opportunity to bring them back into the fold. Invite them to these events as well. 

 

Show your customers you appreciate them 

Make sure your customers are made to feel important—very important. What has your company done lately to show your customers that you appreciate them?

 

Get your “house” in order 

    

Staff 

The time could not be better to get your house in order. Evaluate your entire staff. Who are your high contributors and long-term players? Who are the best “team players”? Who works best with customers, employees, and business partners? Who best fits the vision of what you want your organization to be and where you want to go? Who can “play more than one position?” 

Judge employees on how well they demonstrate your core values, how well they work with others, their technical ability, the quality of their work, their level of productivity, the level of service they provide and the attitude they bring to your customers and their co-workers. Judge your managers by their leadership skills and ability to execute your competitive strategy. 

Hard as it is, remove anyone who might hold your team back from success. Then, do everything you can to retain your top performers. Provide them with small rewards, appreciate them, and give them big recognition. You can’t afford to lose them. If need be, consider where you might transfer top performers to other departments instead of letting them go. 

 

Training

When the economy slows, it is the ideal time to invest in your employees—especially when it comes to training. Unfortunately, many businesses have taken training out of their budget. The tendency is that they look upon training as strictly an expense and not as an investment in the future. While it is important to control expenses, training is an expense that affects employees’ skills and knowledge. 

World Class dealers know how important it is to be a learning organization that learns faster than their competitors. Training builds organizations. Sales increase. Mistakes are avoided. Productivity is increased. Morale is improved. 

Make continuous learning and improvement a strong part of your strategy for survival and success. Provide training on leadership, communication, teamwork, and customer service skills to everyone in the company and make sure these skills are applied. Never assume your staff automatically knows how to handle every situation and all types of customers. It is your job to provide them with the knowledge to do so—appropriately and in keeping with company policy. There are numerous on-line programs you can utilize.

Enable your workforce through training, then empower them to make decisions to serve customers when all of this is over.  

 

Culture – Everyone is “in Sales”

Make it a major strategic initiative to radically transform your culture into one of “High Performance.” Review your core values and establish “guiding principles” on how everyone should demonstrate the values of honesty, integrity, teamwork, respect, customer focus, accountability, excellence, health, safety family, and social and environmental consciousness, and your other core values.

Set achievable and ideal goals for sales. Inspire your sales team by showing them the commissions they will make instead of the figures you want them to hit. Be accessible to them and help them to close sales. Also, ask them to identify ways the entire company can better support sales and dramatically improve customer service.

 

Leadership – Everything starts and stops with it

Remember whose job it is to keep your staff motivated through challenging times…YOURS! It all starts at the top. Through challenging times, it’s always up to the leader to keep his or her people motivated. Display dynamic leadership. Set the example for cooperation and service excellence Treat your employees as well as you treat your best customers. Demand the same of all managers. Adopt a “Zero Tolerance for Bad Bosses” policy in your company. 

As a result of this commitment to get your house in order, your organization and team will become the highest quality it has ever been. You will be well-positioned to prosper in the future. 

 

Invest in technology and equipment that reduces your operational cost, improves quality, and increases your contact with the customer.

Use technology as the driver and the tool for business growth, increased productivity, improved communication and connectivity with customers. If your software is more than five years old, it’s time to upgrade. There are new and affordable technologies being created every day that can make a big difference in your bottom line. Obtain assistance from experts on technologies that will best suit your needs.  

 

Visibility is as important as ability

 

Attend IWF ATLANTA. Take advantage of the excellent education and networking opportunities it provides to form relationships with peers, suppliers, and industry experts. Keep in mind, that often the strongest relationships are formed during tough times. Do say hello if you attend one my sessions.  

 

Change the way you think. Don’t let the economy steal your enthusiasm.  

 

With so many people worried about the future of their business (with good reason), it's no wonder so few are enthusiastic these days. Perhaps we should learn from the wise. I believe Walter Chrysler said it best: 

 

"The real secret of success is enthusiasm. 

Enthusiasts are fighters. 

They have fortitude. 

They have staying qualities. 

Enthusiasm is at the bottom of all progress. 

With it, there is accomplishment. 

Without it, there are only alibis." 

 

With this in mind, how about taking Chrysler's advice? Regardless of your circumstances, make every effort to stay afloat and refrain from losing your enthusiasm for your business. Is it easy? Of course not. But if you lose your enthusiasm, your customers and employees will sense it. When the economy is down, you need to be up. If you are exhibiting a “survival” mentality, change it to a “positioning for prosperity” mentality. 

 

The Bottom Line 

You will agree that business has changed. There is no “business as usual.” Execution… taking action on smart decisions must be a strong part of your survive and prosper strategy. It will give you the staying power you need to meet the current challenge…and come out ahead. 

 

To see more from Christine, register for one of the sessions she will presenting at the IWF 2020 Education Conference. Check out more about Christine and here sessions here.

 

 ©Copyright, Christine Corelli & Associates

Christine an author, speaker, and consultant. She has been a popular presenter at past IWF events. To learn more, visit www.christinespeaks.com or call (847) 477-7376

Getting Business Finance and Help at Your Local Level

6. April 2020 10:38

By: Laurie Wolff, Certified Global Business Professional

So far in my blogs we’ve focused on small business resources available at the national level through the CARES stimulus package. Where else can you get help? Almost certainly your state has programs available to assist small business. Many states are offering zero interest or low interest loans to businesses that qualify. There are funding pools available in some metropolitan areas or parts of states.

For example, the state of Illinois has several programs for businesses, some limited to Chicago, some to outside the Chicago area. California has state wide programs, and specific areas such as Sacramento and San Francisco have their own programs.

I live in St. Louis and our local tech incubator, which does lots of small business development, is networking and sharing links for a variety of regional programs. Your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) or economic development office will have the best information about programs available just for firms in your area as well as state wide or national programs.

If you haven’t made a relationship with them before, now is a good time to get networked with other businesses in your community. I’m sure District Export Councils and Chambers of Commerce are also trying to identify and share resources with their members. Local business communities and business assistance centers are pulling together to help get us through this pandemic induced economic crisis.

Private lenders, both traditional and the “fin tech” nontraditional lenders, are also offering help. Our new era of “fin tech” where nontraditional lenders and payment mechanisms have grown rapidly is both good and bad—there are new sources for funds and new abilities to move them rapidly, but there is also more possibilities for fraud and for nontraditional intermediaries to have liquidity issues. Exercise caution.

Do due diligence before you agree to anything. And, don’t forget that the government resources may be grants, which directly contribute to your bottom line, even if they might take longer to access.

I plan to talk with you about exporting when we meet in Atlanta at IWF 2020, but in the meanwhile I’m happy to answer questions and make referrals to resources, whatever will help you move forward with your business.

Reach Laurie Wolff c/o IWFNetworkNews@iwfatlanta.com

IWF Education: What is slippage and how does it impact my bottom line?

31. March 2020 10:00


By: Marc Sanderson, Owner: INNERGY

We are all in business to make money. What we do determines if we fall short, meet or beat industry average profitability. It’s our actions, decisions and behaviors that define our organization’s performance. I regularly ask the following question when I speak before large, industry gatherings: “What would happen to your business’ profitability if you could consistently (a) release clean, complete shop drawings, (b) provide 4-6 week lead time, and (c) have all material ready in inventory awaiting production?” 65% of the industry responds that achieving this trifecta would cause profitability to more than double! What would you do to double your profitability?

Most of the industry focuses on the sawdust producing portion of the process. Production is viewed as the holy grail to incremental profitability and operational effectiveness.  And this belief makes sense given that ~90% of the capital employed is on machinery and production activities. 50-75% of our staffing is also on the shop floor and thus warrants managerial attention.  However, what prevents clean drawing, reasonable lead-times and raw material availability?  It’s not the shop floor. The factors that can double one’s profitability are defined prior to release, prior to sawdust production. Problems manifest themselves on the shop floor, but their genesis is in the office.  How do we think through and structure the office workflow towards the trifecta?

I am excited to be with you at IWF 2020 and grateful for the opportunity to present.  There are many things that impact and prevent us from achieving the conditions that would double our profitability.  The big questions I will address are, “What is slippage?” and “How does it impact my bottom line?”

Together, we will explore:

  • What slippage is
  • Both positive and negative examples of slippage
  • Causes of slippage in the architectural woodwork industry
  • Tools to impact slippage
  • How to reduce/prevent slippage
  • How to create your own Slippage Action Plan

I’m excited to be with you all and explore how we can mitigate slippage in our businesses during the "How Does Slippage 
Impact Your Margins?", session at IWF 2020.