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Monday, September 23, 2013

Money..Money...Money


Put to the music of Donald Trump’s TV show, the Apprentice, the title of this piece provides an emotion that says…there is money to be had. I recently came across an article on Bankrate.com that addresses the major sources of money for small businesses.

The article points to Banks as the cheapest source of funding, as well as the most trustworthy.  It goes on to point out that an entrepreneur needs to be aggressive and target at least 10 banks to find those that can make the needed loan. A number of them may make proposals with unacceptable terms. So be sure to check these carefully. The key to success with banks is to show past profitability and to have a well defined and documented business plan for the future. It is harder to get larger sums of funding, so be careful what you ask for.

Another way to get a bank loan is to use the concept of a government guaranteed loan through the Small Business Administration (SBA). Check www.sba.gov. They can provide access to banks that provide loans with SBA guarantees. To make this process work an entrepreneur should contact the local SBA office for current details. Banks providing SBA loans generally put more attention on business plans, cash flow and profit forecasts. The SBA will often make referrals to a SCORE chapter for counseling and assistance.

There are also funding opportunities via on line providers. One example is Prosper.com. Usually these sources provide network links between borrowers and lenders. Most often the interest rates are higher than a bank. Some of these sites may have up front fees, others may bury the costs in the rates. If you take this approach be careful not to give away anything you consider proprietary. Remember these sites are open to anyone.

No matter which source of funding you consider, it can’t hurt to contact you local SCORE chapter for some free advice and counseling.


Steve Koenig, SCORE Counselor


 

 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Can an Advisory Board help your business?


While scanning a SCORE web site I came across an interesting article on Advisory Boards that started me thinking, and I thought it might provide some insight for all small businesses.

It is not often that a businessperson has all of the skills and knowledge necessary to be the best the business can be. So what should the smart businessperson do?

How about these options?

A consulting firm could be brought in, with its various talents, but this can be expensive, particularly for the small business.

SCORE 1-on-1 Counseling/Mentoring (these terms are interchangeable) services can be used with its wide range of experience and without cost for each session.

SCORE seminars offer assistance on specific subjects in class environments, at little or no cost.

When you have found a group of Counselors/Mentors that offer you needed value you may want consider forming an Advisory Board.

Here is the article for your consideration:

How to Form Your Advisory Board

An advisory board is an informal group. This is not a board of directors. It is a group of mentors. The group has no financial interest in your firm. This is a group of outside advisors who share their knowledge to help you be more competitive, think strategically and offer specific advice in key skill areas.

First and foremost do NOT accept any member to an advisory board who is unwilling to sign a non-disclosure agreement and a non-compete agreement. Make it formal and clear in writing that these are confidential meetings.

The benefits of an advisory board include: setting aside time to think strategically, obtain feedback and insights from outside the company, and gather information and expertise from peers who have knowledge in different areas than your own.

In general, a three to five person board will likely meet your needs.

Advisory Board Attributes:

Objective and honest.
Knowledge and expertise outside your skill set.
    A genuine interest in helping you and your business succeed.
Problem solvers who are good communicators.
Diverse in skills, work and life backgrounds.
Top or well-respected individuals in their field.
Well-connected with networks that might be leveraged to assist you.

Legalities/Ground Rules:

Require a non-disclosure and non-compete agreement.
Set expectations for the time commitment you expect & duration of appointment.
Provide a written invitation letter and spell out if there is an honorarium or not.
Let each member know the specific type of assistance you hope to gain from him/her.
Always provide a meeting agenda. This is your elite advisory team. Respect their time.
Say thank you. This is mostly an honorary role. Express appreciation.
 
Advisory Board Value:

Identify the result you want from engaging an advisory board.
Ask yourself, how will my business be different in one year, because of this board?
Think about the questions you want to ask your advisors. Prepare in advance of meetings.
How often do I plan to rotate members? Is this ongoing or just a one-time board?
 
Can an Advisory Board help you?


Steve Koenig, SCORE Counselor/Mentor


 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Mobility and Productivity


Before retiring I worked in the very progressive computer industry. One of the areas we focused on was productivity, using the technologies we and others developed. Mobility was high on our list as we understood the needs of a global 24 x 7 x 365 business. We leveraged our most valuable resources, knowledgeable people.

Technology reliability, security, convenience and affordability has progressed to a point that small businesses are able to gain the same advantages. We are no longer a Monday-Friday, 9-5 business community operating in a single time zone.  Business can and should be conducted 24 x 7 x 365. We are in an anywhere, anytime universe. Those able to capitalize on this have a competitive advantage.

We have all heard the old adage: “time is money”.  When you enable your organization to access information from anywhere on demand, you leverage the time spent performing tasks, promote creativity, improve customer satisfaction and increase morale. Those are real profit impacts.

To make this a reality you need to determine the mobility needs of your specific organization.

Who needs access to what, when?

What are the needs for access to: Voice messaging, email, Images, Internet, Documents, Calendars, Contacts, others and how can the access be supported and kept available, secure and reliable?

What technologies are within the realm of possibility for your specific needs?  

Are the people involved trained enough to handle the mobile technologies you want to use and can you keep them current?

Do you need help in providing and maintaining this capability? At what cost?

Should you phase it in over time?

Keep in mind that simply making things happen faster, may not help the business. If the information on which an action is based is not correct, you could simply be making more mistakes in a given timeframe. Providing mobile access to information assists in not just the quantity of actions, but in the quality as well. What is that worth?

How are you handling mobility as a competitive advantage in your business? What are your competitors doing?

 
Steve Koenig, SCORE Counselor

Visit us at:  www.scoresouthflorida.net

 

 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Using Video Sharing Apps


Video Sharing Apps have given rise to new uses for small businesses. So let me outline some of them. But first let me describe what these are.

Video Sharing Apps enable businesses to create and post video clips, often with a few seconds of loop time. They can be shared or embedded in social networks such as Twitter or Facebook. There is a growing number of these apps among them is Vine and Ecograph. While there have been some issues with inappropriate early public use, small businesses may have a new opportunity with them.

Here is an opportunity to put your creativeness to work. If you had a 5-6 second opportunity to show or receive something to or from a prospect, supplier or anyone else what would it be? How about these?

Flash a new product, sale, event

Training suppliers on methods of manufacturing/packaging a product

Quality Control by having suppliers demonstrate/certify compliance

Customer Testimonials and examples of product uses

Insurance claims before and after damages reporting

Viewing material choices

Reviewing ideas for products and improvements

Verification of deliveries and product condition

Verification of testing results

Security with ID of service providers

Observation of service needed

 

What do you think about this?

 
Steve Koenig, SCORE Counselor


 

 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Customer Service Story


I was offering to take my wife on a tour of Ireland this year. She liked the idea and was mulling it over when she received an email offer from a national travel firm for a series of trips to the British Isles. The offer had to be accepted in a few days to receive the special pricing, and we were told to contact any local office of the travel firm.

So off we went to a local office of this firm, where, after waiting over twenty minutes, the agent could not find any information of this offer, and suggested we contact our membership originating office in SE Florida. (Strike 1). We called - No luck in the SE Florida office either (Strike 2). So we went on to call the HQ phone number listed with the email. The agent on the phone had no idea about this offer either (Strike 3). So now you would think the game was over, but you do not know my wife.

She had waited over 20 minutes to have someone at the travel firm HQ answer the phone and she was not about to give up. She got his direct phone extension. While holding the HQ agent on the phone, my wife emailed the offer she received to him. He studied the email, put her on hold as he spoke to a supervisor and a few other people, including the tour provider. After about ten more minutes on the phone, he confirmed that this was a valid offer. It took another twenty minutes to select the dates and book the trip. My wife even had him provide an additional discount as offered if booked on time. She was careful to tell the agent that we would not be at our Florida home before the trip was to take place and that all documents, etc. were to be sent to our vacation home. She also gave him her cell phone number as a contact point. When the confirmation was emailed to us later in the day, don’t you know it…the address information was wrong! It confirmed our Florida address and phone number. No one answers this phone when we are not there!

My wife sent the agent an email outlining the errors and left him a voicemail. It was after 5PM on a Friday with a holiday weekend ahead. Without a response from the agent by the first working day after the holiday, my wife called the agent’s supervisor. She insisted on speaking to a supervisor after someone answered the phone, and got through.  The supervisor said the agent was on a one week vacation! How about someone else covering for him or a vacation notice on his email? In any event the supervisor took the information and hopefully it will all work out.

I guess we will not use this firm again!

How well does your customer service function?

 
Steve Koenig, SCORE Counselor


 

 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Pricing Products for Profit


Here are some things to take into considerations when setting the price of your products:

  1. Start with identifying and understanding your direct costs (e.g. material, supplies)
  2. Add the labor component. This includes direct payments for labor and benefits as well as paying yourself as operator of the business. Don’t undervalue or overvalue yourself. If you worked for someone else you would get paid.
  3. Don’t forget indirect costs as well (e.g. space, utilities, services – legal and accounting, cost of money and loans, transportation, taxes, insurance, permits). Should you allocate an after-sale service cost for this product? Don’t forget to set a value for the difference in payment terms between when you pay for things and when you get paid for the product.
  4. Check competitors and/or trade publications for any pricing guidance in your geography. If this results in a price less than the total of your direct costs, plus labor, and indirect costs, you cannot stay in business with this model. Something must change to make it viable. If this analysis results in a price higher than this total, you have other decisions to make:
  5. How much profit can you make? Do you want to be a price leader? Quality leader? Can you offer something to differentiate your product and justify a price premium? Can your supply chain support your pricing decision (e.g. can you get enough volume?), will you have a multi-tier pricing strategy (e.g. retail, wholesale, online, storefront)
  6. Add a cost element in the profit margin for funding expansion of the business. Forgetting this can be fatal.
  7. If you have set the price using an explainable algorithm, your customers will be able to understand the value of purchasing from you.
  8. Remember to watch the competition and review your pricing regularly. Consider any seasonal variations that may be useful. (e.g. pricing may be higher for ice cream in the summer, sweaters in the winter, holiday items just prior to the holiday
How are you setting your prices?

 
Steve Koenig, SCORE Counselor


 

 

 

 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Fraud in the fleet


A friend recently described an interesting example of fraud in a business. It seems his company operates a fleet of rented vehicles. The rental company contractually provides a credit card and monitoring program for each vehicle keeping track of fuel utilization and service needs. They provide a monthly fleet status report. Upon a periodic review a determination was made that some of the vehicles had excessive fuel charges.

An extensive investigation over a long period of time found that one of the regular vehicle users had a habit of taking the credit cards at the end of his shift, purchasing and reselling excessive amounts of fuel on a regular basis.

An argument ensued between the two organizations about who owned the responsibility of catching this issue earlier. The employee was fired of course.

How do you monitor fraud in your organization?

 
Steve Koenig, SCORE Counselor


 

 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Doing Business with Government


Dealing with government agencies is not for all small businesses. Getting started is not easy, but if it makes sense for your business, once you get it under control the opportunities abound.

So here is an outline of where a small business should start.

If you want to do government business there are basically three choices to make and they are not mutually exclusive:

            1. Contract Directly for a specific business opportunity, and be directly responsible for all of the government requirements; 

            2. Sub Contact for a specific opportunity and be responsible for all of the “flow though” government requirements as well as those of the prime contractor;

            3. Establish a blanket ordering agreement for your product or services directly with the government. In which case you deal with the government requirement details one time and agencies simply order against this agreement.

I recommend that most small businesses start by Sub Contracting. This will allow education and support from the Prime Contractor.

Many agencies set aside certain opportunities for small business.

It is necessary to register and get a DUNS (Dun &* Bradstreet) Number. It is free.

Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) makes it necessary to register with SAM (System of Award Management) prior to a contract award. SAM is also a tool used by government agencies seeking contractors, so make this as complete as possible.

Locate the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes that apply to your business. This is needed for SAM.

If you want a GSA (General Services Administration) schedule, which is a blanket ordering agreement and allows government agencies to order your products or services, you should get an Open Ratings Inc. Past Performance Evaluation.

Dealing with government agencies is not the same as dealing with commercial customers. Among the differences are the record keeping, reporting requirements, opening all the books of the business for audit and providing the best prices available (most favored customer). Keeping track of all of this often requires someone to spend a significant amount of time and effort. If you are not prepared to deal with the government requirements, it may be best not to do government business.

To get more details go to:

http://www.SBA.gov » Contracting » Getting Started » Register for Government Contracting

Check this site for leads to federal opportunities:

http://SBA.gov » Contracting » Understanding the Federal Marketplace » Contracting Resources for Small Businesses

Focus on FedBizOps http://www.fbo.gov
 

Steve Koenig, SCORE Counselor


 

 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Offer it, they will come...Pricing for a Loss


We occasionally see a great deal offered and understand it is a loss leader to get customers to the shop, in the hope they will also purchase other items. A Boca Raton Restaurant has been noticed for offering 50% off on certain meals during the day. They knew it was a successful offer, because they produced many more daily meals than normal, and the revenue through the business increased substantially.

This approach is often used in an attempt to grow business and increase sales. Sometimes it may help leverage underutilized resources such as facilities, employees or inventory. It may not only attract new customers, but may re-attract old customers as well.

Consider using one or more of the many daily deal sites (such as Groupon, LivingSocial, Yipit, etc.) to get the word out on your great deal.

It is critical that any such offer is backed by sufficient supply of the item offered, and note any supply limitations in the offer itself. There is nothing worse for a business than having a potential customer leave angry. Don’t let your attempt to attract customers backfire on you.

Be sure you adequately provide easy access to the regularly priced items as well. These are the items you hope to sell as a result of the special offer. These items are being counted on to offset the loss on the deal offer.

Keep in mind that it is the repeat customer that makes your business viable for the long term.

 
Steve Koenig, SCORE Counselor


 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Understanding Letters of Credit

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ON L/C's (LETTER OF CREDIT)

An L/C is issued by a bank at the rqst. of the buyer. This payment instrument sets forth specific conditions the exporter must meet to rcv. payment. Any misunderstanding in the terms of the L/ C will result in serious financial prblms. for the exporter.
Q: What is an IRREVOCABLE L/C?
A: The buyer cannot cancel the L/C for any reason whatsoever if shipment is made PRIOR to EXPIRATION and ALL CONDITIONS met. A REVOCABLE L/C can be modified by the buyer without any consideration of the exporter's wishes.
Q: How does a REVOLVING L/C work?
A: Specific amounts are paid to the exporter at specific intervals as shipments are made, however pre agreed shipping deadlines are established. If those dates are not met, that portion of the L/C is null & voided. The L/C automatically re-opens each time a shipment is made.
Q: What is TENOR?
A: Refers to DRAFT payments. On a SPECIFIC DATE a payment when must be made is defined as the: TENOR of the payment.
Q: What is difference between DATE & SIGHT DRAFTS?
A: SIGHT is payable on demand when presented to the buyers bank by the exporter. DATE stipulates agreement between the buyer and exporter on a date in the future when payment is to be made. CAUTION: This method of receiving your funds is pre requisite you have checked the buyers credit worthiness. You are urged to contact the writer for more details.
Q: What is an ADVISING bank?
A: The bank informs you that an L/C is open in your favor. Generally it will be your bank or the buyers U.S. partner.
Q: What is diff. between ISSUING bank and CONFIRMING bank?
A: The ISSUING bank is generally the customer's bank who opens the L/C. The CONFIRMING bank generally is the U.S. bank
that tells you they are pledged irrevocably to pay you IF IF IF you meet the conditions of the L/C. CAUTION: The reader is urged to contact the writer for full details.
Q: What is a TRUST RECEIPT?
A; A document signed by the buyer on strength of which a bank will retain title to the goods and has the obligation to release the merchandise only when the buyer makes the funds available. It is a form of financing the purchase with payment after arrival rather than pre-payment through an IRREVOCABLE L/C.
Q: What is STEAMSHIP INDEMNITY?
A: In the case that a B/L (Bill of Lading) is lost, the bank will provide back up funding to cover the cost of freight & mdse.
Q: What is EX-DOCK?
A: This is a unique TERMS OF SALE concept. The selling price includes all shipping costs, insurance, including IMPORT DUTY to the importers personal warehouse dock. CAUTION: Very complicated and not recommended EVER!
Q: What is TRANSSHIPMEMT?
A If the buyer is in a different location than the destination of the steamship company. Exmpl: Shipment to a customer in Macao but no cargo carrier goes there. Shipment in that case is made to Hong Kong and TRANSSHIPPED TO Macao. Such arrangements are stipulated in the L/C. Must be pre-arranged and specified as a condition of the L/C.
Q; What is difference between "ON DECK" & "ON BOARD"
A: ON Deck means on top of the ship. ON BOARD means inside the hold. Not an issue with container cargo. Only prblm. arises if goods are loose-crated. The L/C will stipulate what is acceptable. The L/C should state BOTH!
The writer urges the reader to exercise extreme caution when selling overseas. You are invited to contact us for one-on-one discussion regarding any of above, We are prepared to hand-hold you as you enter the global marketplace.

Hank Samuel
Certified SCORE mentor
hank.samuel2@gmail.com
SCORE South Fl
Boca Raton FL

visit us at: www.scoresouthflorida.net


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Tips for Safeguarding Financial Records


 
With the 2013 hurricane season now under way and memories of tornadoes and other natural disasters fresh in our collective minds, now is the time for individuals and businesses to safeguard their tax records by taking a few simple steps.

Take Inventory. Gather all of your documents and make an inventory list. You may find everything in a single location, but more likely than not, you'll have to hunt around to find all of your documents. Don't forget to check computer files, storage boxes, file cabinets, old and new computers and laptops, thumb drives, and external hard drives and backup disks.

Depending on how complex your finances are, you may opt for a single list or choose to make two separate lists. The first list might include items such as insurance policies, mortgages and deeds, car titles, wills, pension and retirement-plan documents, powers of attorney, medical directives, and so on. The second list might contain a list of less essential documents such as brokerage accounts, loans that have been paid off, end-of-year bank statements, and copies of old tax returns and supporting documentation.

Create a Backup Set of Records and Store Them Electronically. Keeping a backup set of records -- including, for example, bank statements, tax returns, insurance policies, etc. -- is easier than ever now that many financial institutions provide statements and documents electronically, and much financial information is available on the Internet.

Even if the original records are provided only on paper, they can be scanned and converted to a digital format. Once the documents are in electronic form, taxpayers can download them to a backup storage device, such as an external hard drive, or burn them onto a CD or DVD (don't forget to label it).

You might also consider online backup, which is the only way to ensure that data is fully protected. With online backup, files are stored in another region of the country, so that if a hurricane or other natural disaster occurs, documents remain safe. Contact us if you need assistance with this.

Visually Document Valuables. Another step you can take to prepare for disaster is to photograph or videotape the contents of your home, especially items of higher value. Call us for more help compiling a room-by-room list of belongings.

A photographic or video record can help prove the fair market value of items for insurance and casualty loss claims. Store the photos or video with a friend or family member who lives outside the area, or as part of your online document backup.

Update Emergency Plans. Emergency plans should be reviewed annually. Personal and business situations change over time, as do preparedness needs. When employers hire new employees or when a company or organization changes functions, plans should be updated accordingly and employees should be informed of the changes.

Check on Fiduciary Bonds. Employers who use payroll service providers should ask the provider if it has a fiduciary bond in place. The bond could protect the employer in the event of default by the payroll service provider.

 

Managing Tax Records After You File

Keeping good records after you file your taxes is a good idea, as they will help you with documentation and substantiation if the IRS selects your return for an audit. Here are five tips to keeping good records.

1. Normally, tax records should be kept for three years.

2. Some documents, such as records relating to a home purchase or sale, stock transactions, IRAs, and business or rental property, should be kept longer.

3. In most cases, the IRS does not require you to keep records in any special manner. Generally speaking, however, you should keep any and all documents that may have an impact on your federal tax return.

4. Records you should keep include bills, credit card and other receipts, invoices, mileage logs, canceled, imaged or substitute checks, proofs of payment, and any other records to support deductions or credits you claim on your return.

Call us today if you need more information on what kinds of records you should keep and for how long.

 

Barry Eisenberg, SCORE Counselor, email: barrye003@aol.com