Are YOU talking to me?

43056752I can’t count the number of times I’ve been watching TV with a friend or family member only to have them declare, “that’s a stupid commercial!” And every time I ask if they would buy the advertised product, I get a resounding NO. So…that means they aren’t talking to you! I know we think that every piece of overt commercial messaging is geared directly towards us, but if we can let go of the thought that we are not, in fact, the center of every marketer’s universe, we would realize that certain products just aren’t geared toward us…and that’s ok.

When you’re on the other side of the table, the marketing table that is, it’s imperative to keep in mind who you’re talking to. More often than we like, us marketers are sitting at the table with high-level executives who are looking to accomplish bottom-line goals and business needs through marketing tactics (only half the time do these goals even require a marketing effort, so no pressure there). It’s easy to loose site of who you’re talking to, and thereby missing the value proposition that will appeal to the customer you’re asking to lay out cash for your product.

I find the voice of the customer very often being drowned out by the voice of the executive board. But marketing seems sexy and everyone fancies themselves a Mad Man (little do they know how UNsexy marketing is with the nightmare of managing expectations, vendor relations, and trying desperately to convince everyone that all SUCCESSFUL marketing is a long-term strategy, not just a shot in the arm).

The long story short here, is don’t forget that you’re the consumer too. What’s going to convince YOU to part with your paycheck? Are you speaking to your customer in a way that makes sense and meets THEIR needs, not the needs of the boardroom marketing junkies? Keep that consumer-first focus, do the research, ask people if your strategy is resonating with them (even if you just have to invite your friends over for pizza and beer to probe them with questions). Let the data points and industry best practices guide you.

So…are you talking to ME?

10 Strategies for Improving Your Cash Flow

Contributed by: Small Business Development Centers: Los Angeles Regional Network

In a healthy business, as the cash flow cycle begins with cash used to acquire resources and ends in collection of payments, a little cash should be reinvested into the business or new resources. The effects of cash flow can significantly impact your business decisions and if not carefully monitored, could be regularly unrelenting. What can you do to monitor, safeguard, and employ your cash to work for you? Start with these 10 strategies to help improve your business’ cash flow.

  1. Plan: A 12-month cash flow forecast is highly recommended, especially for businesses in a growth stage. As orders increase and overhead with them, your forecast will convey where you can expect increases in expenses, any payments that might be due at the same time, cash receipts, loans and any other cash inflows. Plan week by week, as it will convey upcoming short term cash demands. Download this handy 12 month cash flow statement template for a jump start.
  1. Organize: Catalog your suppliers and customers. For suppliers – divide them by your “regulars” and those you seldom use. Try negotiating better terms with your “regular” suppliers and consolidate vendors that may offer the same items; ask for a discount based on increased order volume. Investigate your “best customers” – identify if they’re truly profitable and their repayment habits, then adjust your payment follow up process or invoicing methods as needed.
  1. Negotiate Terms: First, confirm that your credit terms with your current customers and suppliers are in writing. For new suppliers, establish terms upfront, an agreed upon payment method, and an acceptable repayment period. Some suppliers will allow for payment 15, 30 or 60 days after delivery or discounts for early payment. If you setup different pay periods for different suppliers it gives you some leeway for repayment while you collect your receivables. Last, assure your A/P department is paying its bills on time to maintain a positive rapport. Review your supplier terms every year and assure you are receiving a fair price for your supplies. If not, consider renegotiating prices or switching suppliers.
  1. Pay Short Term Expenses with a Credit Card: For shorter term expenses e.g. a utility bill, consider paying with a credit card. Since most credit cards have a 30 day repayment period, paying by credit card is a tool to free up cash during the month. The key is to pay the balance on the credit card before interest accrues; avoid paying minimum payments if possible. Credit card comparisons here.
  1. Create a Pricing Strategy: Are you offering your products or services below the market price? Research your competition and the rate for similar products/services. Consider increases in minimum wage beginning July 1, 2014, possible increases in supplier prices and any other increases in overhead. Then, create a pricing strategy that allows you to slowly increase your prices to offset any expected increases in operation costs. If your business renders services for different types of customers e.g. government or other businesses consider charging bigger clients upfront or on a project basis while charging in stages for other clients. This allows you to purchase some of your goods and continue operations without holding the entirety of the receivable.
  1. Review Unpaid Accounts:Create a list of all of your A/Rs due and past due, list the accounts first by largest unpaid balance and then by earliest due date. Avoid waiting more than 60 days past an invoice due date to discontinue credit and disregarding unpaid invoices after 25 or even 50 days, as these could become late. Conduct reminder calls and generate second invoices as needed.
  1. Review Your Debt Collection Process: Set up your electronic accounting system to generate invoices to customers with stronger language so they will bring their accounts current. For larger clients, call a few days before the due date and assure accounting has all the documents needed, if a group of customers tends to be late a reminder call a week before could be helpful. If you do have a consistent problem with late payments, consider an in-person visit to reiterate that if a credit limit is defied you will have to withhold goods in the future. It is also important to review how long it is taking you to resolve disputes and resolve unsettled invoices.
  1. Accelerate Cash Inflows: Ease your customer’s decision to buy, adjust inefficiencies in how you take orders (e.g. telephone, online, etc.), and if you offer monthly services, consider offering a one-month discount for paying the entire year upfront. Eliminate any unnecessary monthly or yearly subscriptions. Review your credit approvals and assure you’re checking your client’s credit history and references. When you invoice, do so with a brief, effective and accurate invoice; avoid advertising and convoluted language. Next, if you need to specify shorter repayment periods for some customers, do so as appropriate. Last, review the time it takes for delivery of payment, check clearances etc. and consider direct deposit payment incentives for your customers, if possible.
  1. Consider Opening a Line of Credit: A line for credit for emergency situations is especially helpful. Try opening a line of credit during a time when cash flow is steady, so if an emergency arises in your business, the cash is there when you need it. Don’t forget to save during high-income months!
  2. Put Your Effective Cash Flow Management to Work: Knowing where your business’ cash is tied up whether in unpaid invoices, inventory or the like allows you to potentially: reduce your dependence on loans and decrease interest payments, identify cash surpluses and potentially earn interest on cash elsewhere, plan ahead strategically in your business, spot cash gaps and act fast to reduce impact on your business.

The SBDC is a group of successful small business owners helping fellow entrepreneurs start, sustain, and grow their business through low-cost workshops and free one-on-one consulting in business planning, finance, marketing, and various other specialty areas (Spanish speaking consultants available). To make an appointment call: (562) 938-5100, or email: [email protected]





Quick Tips for Veteran Entrepreneurs

Submitted by Brian Gilb of Social Publishing House.


Drink lots of it early in the morning. The point is not to get a caffeine rush, but to start your day early. You’ll find that as a business owner, having a few hours of uninterrupted work can significantly move your business forward. Normally, people are not up at five in the morning. As a former service member, you’re used to that. So drink that coffee and get to the grind.

Don’t go 100 percent

Yes, I just said that. From being a Marine, I was told to give 100% in everything that I would ever do. That’s a great idea in theory, but the fact is that if you put 100% effort into absolutely everything in your business; you’re going to burn out. Choose what to put your efforts in and manage your energy. It takes anywhere from 2 to 3 years to get your business off the ground. It’s impossible to sprint the entire time. Pace yourself.

Go back to school

Running a business is an over-time job. So why go to school? Did you know that there are community colleges that offer courses for entrepreneurship? And guess what? The GI bill will pay for those classes. If you are about to exit the military, it’s a good idea to take a few classes and use that GI bill for supplement pay so you can learn about starting your own company. It’s cost effective, and it’s a good transition into civilian life.

Zone out

Get an Xbox, or a brand new TV, or something that is completely mindless that you can do. Some would argue that you don’t have time to waste watching movies, but zoning out is extremely important. If you work all the time, you’ll go crazy. Hanging out with friends is good for you, but you’d be surprised at how taxing being around people can be. Spend time alone doing something mindless at least once a week. You’ll be surprised at how charged you’ll feel afterward.

Assume the worst

Not the most positive statement to say, but as a business owner you need to look at both ends of the spectrum. Commonly, business plans have unrealistic projections and goals. You’ll get excited about your plan and what could happen if things go well. But as you know from being in the operating forces, nothing ever goes according to plan. Ask yourself “how could this go wrong” as well as “What can this go right.” Having a grasp on both ends of the spectrum will ground your idea in reality.

Get a punching bag

I can count more times than not where running a business has brought me to the brink of absolute frustration and anger. As mentioned, things never go according to plan, and sometimes the worst will happen. In every instance there is a way around, but in the moment it’s hard not to get upset. My suggestion is to have a release, a specific task or activity that releases this anger and gives you time to absorb it. My activity is strapping on my running shoes and running as far as I can until my steam runs out. It’s safe for me to say that I’m running a great deal more than I ever have.

TECHNOLOGY: Painful Lessons Learned

Submitted by Greg Call of Patriot Move.

I have been anxious to get a few minutes to put down some notes about the perils of developing technology for all the aspiring vetrepreneurs out there.  I have learned some very painful lessons and hope this blog prevents a few of you from making the same mistakes.  When I founded PatriotMove, I had ZERO tech knowledge and thought I would just “figure it out” or find a tech-savvy co-founder.  I am sure some of you are of the same mindset.  If so, stop what you are doing and read this blog.

After 18 months of grinding with my startup, I have been through three separate development teams and had to buy-out a CTO.  Each transition cost me tens of thousands of dollars and precious time.  Most importantly, it cost my company momentum.  And with a startup, momentum is EVERYTHING.

Anyhow, here are six DON’Ts from my experience building a tech platform as a non-coder:

1)     DON’T listen to people who say “Building a website or app is cheap these days” or “You can do it yourself.” They are wrong.  If you are trying to do anything innovative or expect any real traffic to your site/app, it costs a significant amount of money and requires a dedicated team of people who live technology.

2)     DON’T assume your tech platform will be built quickly.  Depending on your requirements, plan for 1 month of pre-development, 2-3 months of development and 1 month of testing and content build-out before you can even consider launching your platform.  That’s roughly 4-5 months from signing the contract to launching.  And that’s if you are lucky.  So, if you have a payroll, plan accordingly.

3)     DON’T assume you will find a tech-savvy co-founder.  CTO types are more difficult to find than seed funding.  Why?  Because they are mega-valuable to non-coder businessmen and they are often getting paid good money by a company or have a venture of their own.  More likely than not, your beta product will be built by a contractor.

4)     DON’T confuse developers with designers.  A web or app developer is NOT a creative type.  Developers build the requirements for your tech platform.  You will get exactly what you ask for.  It most likely will not have any style.  That is what a designer does.  And guess what…..designers cost additional $$$.  So, if you would like something other than a cookie-cutter site/app, plan to pay a designer on top of your development team.  Otherwise, set your style expectations low with a straight development team.

5)     DON’T just have a lawyer review the tech development contract and then sign it.  Talk to the development team thoroughly about the scope of work, requirements, deliverables, timelines and contingency plans.  Push for a performance based contract where you pay when requirements are built and tested.  Not an hourly based agreement.  Get EVERYTHING in writing and monitor progress closely.

6)     DON’T just become stupid because you don’t know technology.  Do some research.  Apply some logic.  Follow your gut.  If you think something is wrong or sketchy, it probably is.  You probably didn’t know much about your area of operations when you left for deployment but I am guessing you learned fast on patrol.  Same principle.

The good news is that tech development can be very rewarding too.  Most founders dream big and development is when that dream becomes a reality.  It is your vision coming to life.

Anyhow, just a little after action from the frontlines.  Keep fighting out there.

Inspirational quote for the week:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”  - Teddy Roosevlt

Eat Something

Written by Brian Gilb of Social Publishing House.

I was irritated.

“It’s not letting me in again. It keeps saying ‘denied accesses’”, said my editor. I scanned my website to find a tab or key or button to push to give her access to post on the website. I couldn’t find anything. I sighed.

“I’m sorry. Should I call back?” she asked.

I looked at my schedule. I was behind because of this error message. I still had 2 hours of my part time work to do, three rough drafts to edit for my company blog, and I was behind on my reading for classes. Nothing was going right today, even with all the work I had already done.

“Let me find some time later,” I said. I hung up without a goodbye and I pounded the keys on my computer to send a nasty email to my web designer.

Before I pressed send, I got a text message from my girlfriend, Laurel. I unloaded a barrage of text messages, blowing off steam about how nothing was going right. There was a long pause between texts.

“Honey, what did you have for breakfast this morning?”

“What the hell does that have to do with…?” I began to type. But I stopped. Did I have breakfast this morning? I got up early and left for class, and then I decided to read my text books instead of going to the cafeteria. I went straight to the library after that to work.

“And did you forget to eat dinner last night? Again?” she said.

I put the phone down and stared blankly at the wall trying to remember. I wrote all last night, and then fell asleep while reading. Did I even eat lunch yesterday?

Laurel didn’t wait for my response.

“Brian. Close your computer and go eat something NOW.”

All told, I went over 36 hours without eating anything.

As an entrepreneur, your business is something you are passionate about. It’s easy to get caught up with work and do nothing else. As a result, the simple things start falling to the wayside.

For me, it was the simple task of eating.

It’s important as you move forward in starting your own business to take care of yourself. Whether that’s exercise, spending time with family, or getting yourself a greasy steak burrito from the Mexican place around the corner from your house for lunch, the important part is to make sure that you come first in some scenarios.

That, and a full stomach make you more effective at work. Who knew.