Ask for the Right Business Resources

There is a chicken and egg challenge about finding business resources. You cannot really find the best resources at the price you can afford unless you know what that resource or service is named and the benefits will help address your need. Here are three steps to finding resources to get to a better future.

  • Figure out what kind of resources you need
  • Ask for services that meet specific need/needs
  • Select a service provider you trust to generate results and outcomes

Figure out what kind of resources you need

This is actually the hardest step because our egos as owners gets in the way. We start worrying about failure rather than the path to results and outcomes. Focus on what your business needs are and put the ego aside.

In these times, all businesses in hospitality need more sales and revenue. Then you may have gaps or out of date strategies for product offerings, marketing plans, and consistent promotions.

Other needs related to the pandemic are:

  • Securing enough inventory due to backed up supply chains
  • Managing stressed employees

Once you know the top one or two you need. Now you can identify the appropriate services you need. Then you can go to chamber of commerce, economic development depart of your city, industry groups or colleagues to get referrals to marketing, operations management, or human resources specialists. Many of these professionals are volunteering to help small businesses now.

Ask for the services that meet your specific needs.
Select at least three service providers to interview and prepare for the interview by:

  • Writing down a brief description of your business and the needs you have identified. Identify your specific needs when you contact the service provider and ask:
    • Do you work with small business owners with needs like mine?

Asking that question saves a lot of time for you and the service provider. You can also ask:

  • If you do not deal with my business needs, can you refer me to a professional who does?

If they are an experienced and ethical consultant, they should refer you to a professional, who can meet your needs.

When you find the right specialist, then create a few interview questions to ask potential services providers:

  • What is your specialty within your profession?
  • How would you work with me to address my needs?
  • Do you work with business owners on payment plans in these challenging times?
  • Can you provide referrals to prior clients?

By comparing the answers to the same questions, you should be able to decide on the best fit resource for you and your needs.

Contract with a service provider you trust to generate results and outcomes

Use the contracting process to establish the foundation for a professional relationship focused on business results and outcomes. Ask for a proposal with a cost estimate and payment plan. Read the full proposal and ask a lot of questions. Make sure you and the service provider are clear about the purpose, steps, and work effort to achieve an improvement in the condition of your business.

Adjust the agreement to describe clear steps that focus on your needs. Work with the service provider on how to make changes as conditions change over the contracting period. Work through creative ideas and suggestions to improve on the work plan and activities to achieve your results. It is important to share your work style and confirm that it works with the service provider.

If you are uncomfortable in the contracting discussions, courteously end the discussions. Improving company performance is based on trust and confidence in the owner’s relationship with the service provider. If that trust and confidence is not there, you cannot force a project to be successful.

When the contract captures the results of all these discussions, then you have increased the potential for a successful engagement. More importantly, improvements should be visible in customer behavior, operations or financial position of your company in the future.

Using these three steps should lead you to the formation of your trusted team to call on for success in the short- and long-term to make a better future.

You Can Plan Ahead!

It is possible to plan but looking backward to 2019 or 2020 business results is not going to help. Strategic planning methods that encourage executives to look to future trends like scenario planning is one of the techniques that larger and small organizations are using since the pandemic hit. Scenario planning does not start with looking for past patterns of business operations and performance. The organization researches future trends, opportunities, risks and defines many paths forward to future results and outcomes. For example, Pitzer College, the small college I graduated from, developed fifteen scenarios for sustaining the college and planning for bringing back students to campus.

Small businesses and non-profits may not have heard of scenario planning or feel they have the resources to do it. Below is a three-step approach to scenario planning for small businesses and non-profits that we introduce to all our clients.

  • Research future economic forecasts and social trends from reliable sources to create sketches of what experts expect conditions to look like in 12 months and 24 months
  • Talk to customers, colleagues and professionals in your network and ask them what they think the future will look like and ask for the sources that led them to their vision of the future
  • Create three scenarios of the future indicating the direction and level of improvement or decline in customer behavior, economic conditions and social trends
    • Scenario Plan One describes the BEST-CASE conditions under three topics and the business results you think you may be able to generate
    • Scenario Plan Two describes the WORST-CASE conditions under the three topics and the business results you must prepare for to generate sustainable business results
    • Scenario Plan Three describes YOUR DESIRED CASE under the three topics somewhere between the BEST and WORST case that you want to aim for over the planning period

Benefits of this simplified approach to scenario planning:

When clients use this approach to planning we find that they frequently meet or exceed their desired case of business results because they:

  • Invest less time worrying about achieving past results
  • Invest more energy and time into clarifying and working toward a better future
  • Learn more about business economics, local business trends so they can achieve their vision of the future
  • Work toward range of sales and operating performance objectives in the coming months rather than stressing over hitting a narrow set of objectives
  • Create backup plans to respond to changing conditions and trends that effect business results

Hold On to Customer Relationships

On Wednesday, I went to Castro Valley to see the new Cannery Kitchen and Tap restaurant. It is finally open after three years of effort. Congratulations to Debbie Pfisterer, the owner, for her persistence and determination to open!

The restaurant opened on Monday and loyal customers of the Cannery Restaurant in Hayward showed up that day to get the dishes that had been waiting for all year. It is an amazing example of retaining customer loyalty under the worst public health and economic conditions in a century.

In May/June, Debbie started offering weekly pick-up dinners of comfort food to her customer base via social media. The fixed menu of her best comfort food dinners sold out every week. The Italian dinners were my favorite! They delivered the best spaghetti and meatballs, and eggplant parmesan! Every posting included a reminder that the restaurant was coming,

Clear, consistent communication with a great product worked! The customers showed up the day the new restaurant opened.
This is an example of how business owners must reach out and stay in touch with customers and supporters all the time under all conditions. The days of waiting for foot traffic to come to your store or restaurant will not be enough in the future.

It is a new year, a great time to reach out to customers and the public with your personal message and best product that meet your customer’s needs.

Unprecedented Thinking for the Better!

For the last four years, I learned to cringe at the word unprecedented. That adjective was usually associated with a person, who shall remain nameless, enjoyed breaking norms. The meaning according to Google is, never done or known before. It was crushing to keep hearing that adjective describing decisions and actions I believed were irresponsible.

Recently, I have wondered if that word, unprecedented, could be turned around to describe emerging entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs who are coming up with not necessarily new ideas, but ideas for companies and products. These are business ideas diverse people have been holding onto for years for various reasons, but now feel this is the right time where they might actually get support and resources to implement them. There could be an unprecedented level of diverse entrepreneurship in the coming years.

Why not just call this potential trend innovation? Because the implementation of these products and services may be more about how the implementation is done to achieve not only financial outcomes and results.

How Unprecedented Thinking and Action Can Generate Unprecedented Products and Services for the Better!

The entrepreneurs I am talking with are looking at the business opportunities they are developing on multiple levels. Of course, these entrepreneurs know they must look that the potential financial opportunities for their ideas. Every conversation to date includes a desire for broader social impact by sharing ownership, better conditions and benefits for employees, and a desire to impact social conditions more broadly. Developing ideas from broader mindsets should lead to unprecedented products, customer experiences and tone in how business is done.

These entrepreneurs are also more open to examining risks. The demands of the Covid-19 pandemic have pushed everyone to clarify their risk tolerance levels for public health safety, selection of purchasing behaviors, and social life. These entrepreneurs acknowledge that risks must be surfaced and addresses. In the past, entrepreneurs might dismiss the mention of the word risk. They associated risk with failure of a startup that might just mean looking for a job, but not a threat to their health or long-term future.

The most interesting new behaviour when I talk with emerging growth entrepreneurs is their interest in understanding the survival line of their product or business. I have used this phrase in my advising services with all clients. The survival line is the absolute minimum criteria for sustain a product/business line or company. When I used this term in past programs, participants would say the words made them feel uncomfortable. My come back is that every owner must know

  • The customer behaviour their business depends on
  • The demand and actual purchasing indicators that customer will tolerate
  • All the other key indicators of business health in their specific industry

If businesses did not know their survival line indicators in February of 2020, they must know them now to stay in business beyond December 31, 2020.

This concept of knowing your product and company survival line is so important to me. In my early career in financial services as a new manager, I was involved in a large bankruptcy and operations clean ups in a rapidly growing financial product sector. My management jobs were to tackle risks and errors daily. Doing this work taught me way more about business than I every learned in business school. Business school was about seeking foundational knowledge to avoid careless and erroneous business activities and learn more about how to build great products and companies.

I am pleased to see this greater desire to understand survival and risk in business and life. The openness to seek out and address problems and risks is essential to aiming for more than just recovery from these challenging times. The balance between opportunity, risks and knowing the indicators to work toward keeps you and your company above your survival line as conditions change.

With more business owners with broader mindset skilled in this comprehensive thinking, I look forward to seeing more unprecedented products and companies soon!

Multidimensional Solutions for Small Business Sector

Just because businesses are small does not mean they are simple and easy to fix.  Small business owners, especially the vast majority that are at micro-level, are individual dynamos.  They are workers, managers, executive decision maker and frequently local business leaders.  Their businesses create jobs, hire contractors, pay suppliers for goods and services all to satisfy demanding customers.  Each business has its own ecosystem which creates value for the company and the local economy where they operate. 

To limit the loss of value in goods and services that communities will lose if we let thousands of small businesses close will require more than just loans.  Systemic solutions are needed on three levels.

  1. Help small businesses do more than stay afloat without adding further debt.  In consumer service industries like catering, hospitality, travel fundamental changes are required for these businesses to survive beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.  We need more creative use of grants, zero interest loans or forgivable loans are needed to fund business restructuring or reinvent costs to business owners
  2. Invest in the developing local business ecosystems across business districts and regions.  It is not enough to just focus on Business improvement districts and the needs of property owners and business owners.  Business owners are a vital segment of supply chains, educational systems for hiring and a source of distinctive goods and services to the community.  Now is the time to bring all the silos in local economies together to rethink the support structure for small businesses.
  3. Small business owners are people with families, not corporate entities with legal structures and big cash reserves to protect them in economic downturns, let alone a public health crisis and deep recession.  Survival of decades of commitment to operating local restaurants, retail stores, etc. are demands constant attention and drains personal assets and resources too often.  I am pleased that the Aspen Institute and the Stanford Latino Action Network is encouraging research into the condition of business owner families.  The research is focusing on financial condition and benefits like health care and unemployment insurance.  The results are that the law protects employees and owner families frequently have few benefits of their labor than their employees do. 

    Transfer of management and ownership across generations is rarely considered in small business circles.  This transfer of family power, decision making authority and  management of financial resources is a complex social, psychological as well as business and legal process.  The transfer of wealth to future generations especially in immigrant and lower income communities is vital to the health of the business district.  When we lose businesses that have been job creators for decades in ethnic communities the blow is severe.  Services to businesses need to go beyond just business, financial, operating management and formal exit planning.  Family and multi-generational wealth transfer and community health are at stake.

Multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural mindsets are needed to develop innovative and outcomes-oriented solutions are required to sustain the U.S. small business sector  which generates close to half of Gross Domestic Product with extraordinarily little support beyond loans and financial and business advising.  Imagine what the contribution of small business could be to the economy with comprehensive and multi-dimensional development and creative funding!