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    July 7

    As a young professional, I am constantly striving to find the perfect work-life balance! It seems like a simple concept, but in reality it can be very difficult to achieve. As entrepreneurs and small business owners, you probably face this challenge daily. You probably find yourself always asking what the formula is and how you can keep your family, clients, and yourself happy. As you try to balance your duties in the different areas of your life such as work, family, and friends, it can become extremely overwhelming. The idea of the perfect balance is different for each individual.  In trying to create that perfect balance for myself, I try to follow a few basic steps to help keep me moving towards a balanced work-life.

    Focus on the things that matter to you…. 

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    June 16

    See if you can solve this riddle:  “I will work for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year.  I will never call in sick and I am never late for work. I will even be at work while you are home and I will attract the attention of 80% of the mobile market.”  Who am I?

    If you guessed… a sign, you are correct.  This riddle was adapted from the Signage Foundation for Communication Excellence and the International Sign Association, ISA.  According to the ISA, your business sign is your handshake with the buying public.  This visual “handshake” directly impacts the success of your business. 

    Consider the information from the University of San Diego study of 187 businesses and their usage of signage.  The study indicated the addition of a pole sign will increase gross sales by 15.7%.  Even with compelling research, some business owners fail to recognize the importance of an effective sign.

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    June 8

    At the Angelo State University – Small Business Development Center, we will interact with over a thousand people each year that either want to start a business or are in business.  Of those that want to start a business, a small percentage will come in and tell us they have an idea for a business but they do not know if it is a good one and want to know our thoughts about their idea.

    It is never a simple question to answer.  There is no way to just say yes or no.  Making the decision to start a business requires a lot more than just having a good idea.  It involves a lot of research into the industry and into the market.  It involves understanding the difference between the industry and the market.

    Beyond understanding that difference is that you have to decide if the idea is an opportunity.  What is an opportunity? For businesses, an opportunity is a problem for which you have found a solution.  Ideally, you solution either the only solution to the problem.  The next best situation is when your solution may not be the only solution, but it is the best solution.

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    May 19

    In his books Borrowing for Your Business, and Borrowing to Build Your Business, former San Antonio banker George M. Dawson discussed seven questions asked in any borrowing situation. I believe these seven questions can help any business borrower better understand how lenders evaluate their loan proposal. Below are some thoughts using the seven questions.

     

    First, how much money do you want? This question seems straightforward but some borrowers have not determined how much they really need. Lenders want to know the borrower has taken the time to pin this down as accurately as they can. Remember to allow for contingencies, as the unexpected may happen. Another key is to borrow enough so you do not have to go back to the lender asking for more right away. Borrowing too little may just be enough to get you in trouble.

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    May 11

    There are many things that are great about owning a small business, but entrepreneurs say there are many aspects that aren’t as glamorous.  Running a small business requires considerable sacrifices, according to a new study from email marketing provider Constant Contact that surveyed business owners.  Specifically, 56 percent of the small business owners surveyed said they feel like they can never be away from their business, while 51 percent don’t have time to focus on themselves.  Also, more than 40 percent don’t take vacations or see family and friends as much as they would like.

    Owning a small business can also be a drain on your personal finances.  The research discovered 41 percent of owners have all of their money tied up in their business.  In addition to all the sacrifices they make, small business owners face a variety of challenges.  Because most owners are in charge of everything from sales, marketing and operations to customer relations, payroll and accounts payable, the entrepreneurs surveyed think the struggle of having to wear so many different hats is the most difficult part of their job.

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    April 21

    One day you may be able to purchase stocks in order to support a local business.  If State Representative Tan Parker’s HB 3425 continues to make headway, investors in the Concho Valley area would be able to purchase local stocks through an exchange with a name such a Concho Stock Exchange, Tom Green Stock Exchange or even San Angelo Stock Exchange.

    What make this bill so attractive to investors?  Currently, an investor in an initial public offering would be required to be a certified investor with $2M in assets and over $250K as yearly income.   It is estimated that only 2-2.5% of investors in the United States qualify to invest at this level.  The remaining 97.5 to 98% of investors are locked out of the market.

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    April 13

    Recently, Google made an exciting announcement in the way of changes to how users discover mobile-friendly websites. So what does this mean to the user and to the small business relying on potential customers accessing their information from Google searches?

    Today, more and more individuals are using mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones to search the Web for information. What this means to the user is that Google is working to provide the best results to you on your mobile device.

    The next time you bring up a search on your mobile device you might see the tags “mobile-friendly.” This designates that the page results will be easily viewed on your device. Don’t spend your time fighting with websites that require you to zoom in and out to read the page; simply choose a “mobile-friendly” website for easier use.

    How does this affect your small business’s website?

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    March 23

    A famous and humorous quote from the baseball legend, Yogi Berra, is “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” It leaves out, of course, the reality that the fork in the road creates uncertainty.

    When a business encounters uncertainty in the market, which fork to take is the question. It’s an indication of time to regroup, scan the horizon to uncover what’s happening in your environment, and look inward at your business to move in the right direction. We call this process strategic business planning.

    The first thing to do in strategic planning is to gather those in the organization who can provide information and insight. They include owners and managers as well as those closest to the customer. Revisit your mission and vision as a business. If you do not have a mission and vision, consider developing one. These can provide a guiding light for the company and help everyone understand what the firm stands for, what’s important, and how you will conduct business.

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    March 16

    When it comes to marketing and advertising your business, it is easy to fall back on colloquial phrases as justification for not being willing to try different techniques or channels.  Probably for some more established businesses or business owners, phrases like “That’s the way we’ve always done it” or “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” are tossed about to keep from having to explore other marketing or advertising channels.

    I grew up the son of a furniture and floor covering store manager in a time where there were three primary means of advertising in a small town.  Our small town (less than 10,000) had two small newspapers and one AM radio station.  So, we had print and radio advertising available. The third means was posters.  Big Posters.  These had a simple message and filled most of the large plate glass windows on the storefront.  The messages were things like “Clearance Sale,” “Recliner Sale,” or “Mother’s Day Sale,” and were always in two to three foot tall letters on white paper.

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    February 23

    Effective communication can be the single most important key to the success of your business. Being prepared for each type of communication is the foundation for being effective.

    Whether you are asking a client to pay their bill, or justifying a fee increase, it is the preparation before the call that can secure your success. There are techniques available to assist you. “Lifescripts” authors Stephen M. Pollan and Mark Levine offer guidance on “What to say to get what you want in life’s toughest situations.”

    The authors divide the process into three parts: strategy of the situation, tactics and a flow chart of probable conversations.

    Let’s explore the guidance the authors offer when asking a client to pay their bill. The strategy is that frequently there has been a clerical mistake, whether actual or pretend. Allow the client to check on it but schedule the second call. “Lifescripts” authors suggest:

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    February 16

    Email marketing fills our inbox on a daily basis, so why is it so important to incorporate it into your small business marketing plan?

    The answer is simple: because it works! Email marketing is extremely effective when done correctly. It is one of the most cost-effective marketing tools and is also highly measurable because you are able to follow exactly how many individuals receive the message and whether they engage with its content.

    The best way to increase engagement is to have a clear call to action within your email. A “call to action” encourages the reader to follow through. There are different ways to engage the audience, such as posting a link to follow your business on social media, purchase a product or call for more information about a service. A clear call to action can make the difference between gaining new customers or being sent straight into the “delete” file of their inboxes.

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    February 9

    Search engines and small business truly have a mutually beneficial partnership when it comes to accessing local information from the Internet! Most search engines offer a free listing service in which a business owner can claim a listing and add pertinent information about the business, such as location, hours of operation, contact information, and even a link to their website. The key to keeping a successful relationship between business owner and search engine alive is in the hands of the business owner. Search engines rely on business owners to help keep their information up to date, thereby making the search engine itself more credible. It is your responsibility to take advantage of this free service to help increase your online presence.

    There are many ways to go about claiming a listing. Different websites will have various procedures to follow to claim a business and add up to date information. Today I will focus on one of the most popular search engines, Google.

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    February 2

    Unless your business is in a monopolistic market, you are in competition with other businesses for your customers’ dollars. Each of you is vying to be the favored one with whom the customer will choose to spend his hard earned money. Various strategies are employed by you and each of your competitors.

    What is your — and your competitors’ — ultimate goal? The answer is obvious: to gain competitive advantage. It is to be the choice of your customers.

    What strategies are you using to gain competitive advantage? Are you offering products not available to competitors through agreement with your vendors? This is fairly common practice in local and regional markets and can be successful if it is a product or service in high demand. It can be especially successful when the product can’t be replaced by a comparable product from a different manufacturer or provider.

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    January 26

     It is a new year and now is time for tax planning for your small business. I recently attended a seminar on tax planning. The CPA who taught the course did a great job of explaining the elements of good planning for the tax year.

    She highlighted the importance of good bookkeeping. In order to do their job properly, accountants need a current and reliable set of books. In addition, they like to see reconciled bank statements, credit card statements, and note balances either in manual or software form. Completeness is necessary for your accountant to assist you.

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    January 18

    Too many small businesses decide to write a business plan only when they have to. Unless you need to seek assistance from a lender or investor, there is no plan. Don’t wait to write a business plan until you think you’ll have enough time. The advisers at the Angelo State University Small Business Development Center hear small business owners say, “I can’t plan. I am too busy getting things done.” If you are indeed that busy, it is imperative to plan.

    Writing a business plan is not the easiest thing to do and mistakes can and will be made. Let’s take a look at some of the common mistakes that are made when writing a plan and try and make this easier and more understandable.

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    January 12

    I watched as my six year old granddaughter wiped the flour off the table.  With a dish towel in hand, she approached the spill from the back side and worked it towards the table’s edge.  She then took her other hand, placed it below the edge and swept the flour off the table into the waiting hand.

    I was surprised at her efficiency and her accuracy.  I asked, “Hannah, how did you learn to do that so well?”  With a smile and an inquisitive look she answered, “Boppi, don’t you remember?  You taught me!” Talk about giving me the right answer!  It may have not been me, but the point is simply that she had been taught. 

    It could be said the ability to learn how to do a job is contingent on the ability of someone to teach how to do the job.  Getting a seasoned employee to train a new employee is usually a good arrangement.

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    January 5

    The Angelo State University - Small Business Development Center will celebrate its 25th anniversary on January 15th. As we celebrate this milestone, I thought it appropriate to reflect and give thanks to the many small businesses and organizations that have made the program a success.

     

    First and foremost, I believe the economic progress and health of our area is greatly due to the dedication, drive and determination of our small businesses and the people that own and manage them. I am always humbled by their tenacity and resourcefulness, as well as their willingness to take risks to make their dreams happen. Where would our economy be without them? I applaud their accomplishments and feel honored they allow us to serve them. They are true champions in our eyes and they are the reason we exist. I want to thank them for what they do for the economic health and quality of life in our area. As many have said before, small businesses are the backbone of our local economy.

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    December 29

    As one year ends and a new one begins, it is a time to visit with some key people that influence your business decisions.  Someone has said that success is a journey and not a destination, and I believe that to be true.  Every day that you are able to open your doors is a success.  To help insure success, it is important to visit certain individuals on a routine basis.

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    December 22

    We are all aware of the leaps and bounds technology has made over the years. There are so many great tools out there today, and I wonder why more small businesses do not take advantage of the countless opportunities.

    When it comes to technology, I feel sometimes we let our fear get the best of us. I hear all the time that software is too expensive and not worth it. This is true; some software can be extremely pricey. However, I have found that my time is very valuable to me, and if I can spend a little extra on a product that will help me be more efficient, then I consider it money well spent. There are also many different products on the market that are reasonably priced, as well as some open- source software that you can download for free.

    These amazing productivity tools can help you run your business more efficiently using technology. I have listed some of my favorites below.

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    December 15

    A few weeks ago I wrote about the connection between good customer service and the reduction of shoplifting in a retail store setting. Today I want to continue the discussion of customer service with tips any business can use, especially as we enter the time when many renew commitment to their business through New Year’s resolutions.

    Make your customers feel welcome. It sounds simple and it should be routine to make your customers feel welcome, but some businesses have challenges with this. Making your customers feel welcome fulfills a basic human need and it is important at every point of contact, whether it is in person, on the phone, or with email and other electronic communication. It sets the stage for everything to come with the customer relationship. This needs to be in place in order to be perceived as having good customer service. Hiring good employees who are naturally friendly and helpful at every point is a good start at insuring this is in place. In addition, reinforce to employees on a regular basis how important it is to make every customer always feel welcome. Remember to model the behavior you want your employees to imitate. When we as customers encounter a business that makes us feel welcome, we cannot help but walk away with a good feeling.

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    December 8

    To many small business owners, this is a crazy time of year.  You are pushing projects across the finish line.  Completing performance reviews with employees.  Finalizing plans and budgets for next year.  Oh, and the holidays are coming to bring even more chaos onto your over-scheduled calendar.  Some companies are not running what is called a “lifestyle business.”  They are running businesses that are being milked by owners, partners or a few leaders in order to take lots of cash and cool perks for the few.

    Most small business owners are committed to growing their businesses.  They want to create jobs for lots of people.  They are working on leaving a legacy of significance and pouring everything they have into making their business a success.  The big mistake successful small business owners must avoid is working so hard there is little time or energy to enjoy what they have achieved.  This risk is amplified during the holidays when the pressure of business can be greater than at any other time of the year.  There are opportunities outside of business hours that are more plentiful than ever and time seems to be in shorter supply than usual.  Let’s look at ways in which to make your holiday season a little less stressful and more enjoyable.

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    November 30

    SAN ANGELO, Texas - The holiday retail selling season is here, an important time of year for most retailers. A significant portion of their annual sales and profits will occur during this time.

    So how do retailers ensure they are making the most profits?

    For one, they can review two aspects of retail business that might seem unrelated: shoplifting and customer service.

    Actually the two go hand in hand to create a profitable holiday selling season.

    For retailers, shoplifting increases during the holiday selling season because shoplifters sense there is plenty of merchandise and plenty of customers, which makes it difficult for store employees to properly monitor the merchandise.

    Shoplifting is a part of overall inventory shrinkage, which is the amount of inventory lost due to shoplifting, employee theft and paperwork errors.

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    November 24

    Small Business Saturday is THIS Saturday, November 29th.  Started as an effort to focus on locally owned businesses, this day falls between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  First observed on November 27, 2010, Small Business Saturday was conceived and promoted by American Express.  AMEX supported the initial launch by purchasing advertising inventory on Facebook and then passing the opportunity to advertise on to their small merchant account holders.

    Now in its fourth year, the event has taken on a grass roots demeanor and encourages shoppers to patronize brick and mortar businesses which are small and local.  Even marketing firms have jumped on board to promote this Saturday event.

    Rhonda Abrams, USA Today columnist and best-selling small business author, uses the word “localism” to define not only this particular day, but a shopping culture. “Localism – a movement that encourages citizens to shop at local, independent small businesses.”

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    November 16

    Crowdfunding seems to be a new and unknown term in the world of business today. In reality, crowdfunding dates back to 1885 when Joseph Pulitzer launched a campaign in the newspaper, The New York World, to raise funds to build a base for the Statue of Liberty. By collecting mere pocket change from various individuals in all walks of life, they were able to fund the project with the support of the masses.

    Crowdfunding has come a long way since the initial project. There are now two types of crowdfunding campaigns: The first is crowdfunding for equity, which just recently became approved in the state of Texas and allows participation for most Texans, not just accredited investors. The other is crowdfunding for rewards, which is the most popular because anyone can participate in rewards-based crowdfunding. Below is a brief discussion of crowdfunding for rewards.

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    November 9

    Market research is one of the most important activities that someone wanting to open a small business can do. A lot can be learned about a given market and when analysis of the research is properly done, the prospective business owner can make that go or no-go decision.

    There are two overall types of a market: the total market and the target market. The total market is everyone in the market area that has a dollar to spend. Not everyone with a dollar to spend is a potential customer, though. The target market is that portion of the total market with a need or a desire for your product or service.

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    November 3

    October 1st began a new program year for the ASU Small Business Development Center since we operate on a federal term. For us it is a time of recommitment to those we serve, the small business owner. As a team we will get together and revisit our values of integrity, excellence, service, and innovation to make sure our team is still aligned with these important values, which are the guiding lights for us. We will recommit to each other as teammates and then recommit to those we serve and make sure we are still aligned with their needs as our customers.

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    October 27

    The advisors here at the Angelo State University · Small Business Development Center have discussed how important cash is to a small business.  We have written articles on the need to analyze and manage cash flows.  Today we are going to take a look at building a budget for your small business.  For many business owners the process of budgeting is limited to figuring out where to get the cash to meet payroll this week.

    Business budgeting is a very powerful financial tool available for any small business owner.  Maintaining a good short and long range financial plan enables you to control your cash flow instead of having it control you.

    The most effective financial budget includes a short range month to month plan for at least one calendar year.  The long range plan should consist of a quarter to quarter plan and cover a period of at least three years.  

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    October 13

    As a small business owner, have you been asked lately, “What do YOU need?”  If not, then let me say that there is a Texas group who wants to know.  The Texas Small Business Needs Assessment Poll is a partnership between the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas’ Community Development Department and the Texas Small Business Development Center Network. They are looking for your input!

    In reviewing the 2013 results of the Poll, 66% of business owners expected overall business conditions to improve.  The percentage of business expecting sales and revenue to increase was 71%.  Most of the businesses responding were small businesses with one to five employees.

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    October 5

    With millions of emails sent each day we sometimes forget the major role it plays in our daily business communication.  According to the McKinsey Global Institute report the average interactive worker spends approximately 28 percent of the work week managing email. Knowing that email already has 28 percent of your potential client’s attention on a weekly basis, wouldn’t you like to make the most of it? 

    One key component of email that seems to go by the wayside is the email signature.  In the world of online communication, it is key to take advantage of the many tools available to help you better communicate your company’s message and enhance your small businesses brand. Use your email to the best of its ability by always including the company’s email signature in every outgoing email to insure that your information is always available to contacts and potential clients. 

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    September 29

    Many entrepreneurs make the leap to business ownership without a clue about what is involved in opening a business.

    For some, it is an easy process requiring little effort. For others, it is an arduous journey through governmental red tape, financial land mines and logistical roadblocks. And when these entrepreneurs get their business open, sometimes the first word they utter is “Finally!”

    Their intent is: Finally, we are open! Or, finally, the hard part is over. Either way, the implication is that something was completed and a goal achieved. However, the word finally is wrought with danger for the new entrepreneur.

    When people achieve certain goals, they are inclined to relax and enjoy the laurels of their hard work. So what is wrong with that? In general, nothing. However, we must examine our definition of success. Is it just to get our business open? Is it to achieve a certain revenue or income level? Alternatively, is it to operate a growing business for an extended period of time so that at the end of that time we can sell it for a profit or retirement?