Why A Mentor is Key to Small Business Growth and Survival | The U.S. Small Business Administration

I found this the other day on the website of the US Small Business Adminstration – it’s about Mentorship and how businesses with Mentors survive longer (about twice the average) and businesses with Mentors likely make more money and enjoy increased business growth.

According to this article 88% of business owners who had a Mentor believed that Mentor to be “invaluable”.

This is an extract – but the link to the full article is available.

Enjoy!

By presidential proclamation, November is National Entrepreneurship Month and a time for recognizing the grit, determination, innovation and contribution of America’s entrepreneurs and small business owners to the nation’s economy.

Amidst all the celebrations, however, it’s hard to ignore the fact that only half of all small businesses survive more than five years (source: SBA Office of AdvocacyDownload Adobe Reader to read this link content) and about 10-12 percent of all employee-based firms close each year.

There is growing evidence, however, that connecting your business with a mentor can change this statistic.

A mentor can be a game changer for small business

Research proves that small businesses that receive three or more hours of mentoring achieve higher revenues and increased business growth.

Even better, according to a 2014 survey by The UPS Store, 70 percent of small businesses that receive mentoring survive more than five years – double the survival rate of non-mentored businesses.

Small businesses agree. The same survey found that 88 percent of business owners with a mentor say that having one is invaluable.

“For many, starting a business can be overwhelming – it’s no longer just about exploring a passion or following a dream,” said W. Kenneth Yancy, chief executive officer of SCORE, a non-profit mentoring and business counseling organization. “A mentor can help navigate the complex challenges that often come with being a business owner, and the guidance from someone who has been there themselves can be a real asset.”

via Why A Mentor is Key to Small Business Growth and Survival | The U.S. Small Business Administration | SBA.gov.

Here’s to your business prospering!

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So your product can…

This is a follow-on from my recent article about getting what you pay for (click here) – where I mentioned the concept of product ability and product use-ability and today I want to expand on that thought. Use-Ability = Ease of Use.

You see when products or services are marketed they often talk about what the product can do – its ability. Now that’s important to the customer because he has a need or desire that he is trying to fulfill by buying your product or service.

This however is also where the rubber hits the road for a lot of people – both seller and buyer -because just because your product (or service) CAN do something (ability) doesn’t mean that it is easy or intuitive to use! (Use-ability).

Bake ease-of-use into your product from the beginning!

So as business owners we are well served by trying to ensure that ease-of-use is baked right into the product or service from the beginning!

I remember, in the early days of cellphones, looking at my sisters brand new phone (an Ericsson – do you remember those?) and while it could do a LOT of stuff it had such a complicated menu structure that unless you had a degree in cellphone operation you were entirely lost!

Contrast that to the intuitive, touch-screen devices of today. I mean put any modern smartphone down in front of the average three-year old and they are off and swiping away and downloading games like it was second nature! Now that’s use-ability!

Avoid customer frustration.

Personally I can think of few things that are as frustrating as buying a product because, on the box, it says it can do this or that, but when I get it out of the packaging it turns out that actually getting it to do what I want or need is confusing or complicated – or *shudder* both!

In other words it CAN do what I need its just not easy to get it to do it – and that’s frustrating to the buyer and bad for the seller.

So, how do you make sure your product has use-ability and not just ability? For starters, test, test and then test some more!

Then, get others to test it as well and let them give you feedback – for example if I were testing a widget and I gave it to my Mom and she could use it successfully I’m probably on the right track.

Try and simplify until even those that consider themselves ‘challenged’ in the use of those type of products or services can get the desired result – and you are probably well on your way!

Make it as simple as 1..2..3 or ‘child’s play’

Take care when creating your product or service – ‘use-ability’ trumps simple ‘ability’ nearly every time!

Here’s to your business prospering!

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Sometimes you get what you pay for

I love technology – sometimes for what it does, sometimes for what it can do for me and sometimes just because it’s cool.

I also love free opensource software and I have used a ton of it to really good effect – in business or just for fun.

I’m not going to list all the excellent free open-source software available on the internet – there is simply WAY to much to even scratch the surface. (Although I can tell you that WordPress is definitely one of my favorites!)

What I would like to touch on is the price you sometimes pay for ‘Free’. If you are a techno-guru programmer extraordinaire (I’m not that guy) you may be perfectly happy taking the time to correct something that isn’t working in the original author’s source code. Perhaps you even contribute your ‘fix’ or improvement back to the community – and that’s great.

But sometimes, especially for small business owners, we equate ‘free’ with inexpensive. Warren Buffet said ‘Price is what you pay, value is what you get’. In the free open-source software community you pay nothing – and sometimes that’s also the value that you get.

So let’s take the example where you – as a new business owner – decide to make use of free open source software because you have tons of time but little or no cash. In the beginning this may seem an excellent trade-off – and often it is – notably when what the software does is exactly what it says ‘on the box’.

The trouble starts when what’s on the box is a far cry from what the software actually does and how it does it. There is an oft overlooked factor – ability and use-ability but that’s the topic for another day.

I’m not trying to bash any developers out there – I make use of a LOT of free, open-source software that works tremendously well – and which I am grateful for and in some cases cannot do without.

But back to what happens when the problems start. Essentially you have a handful of choices, usually;

  • Fix it yourself (skill and complexity dependent) – but this takes time
  • Contact the developer in the hope that he/she has a fix or that enough people are having the same problem to justify the developer getting the fix done and done quickly.
  • Search the web to see if someone else bumped into the same problem and came up with a work-around or solution. Many free open-source software products offer a paid-for ‘Pro’ version which typically includes some extra features and formal support where the non-paid-for version either has little or no support or just the support of the community that makes use of the product.

What you cannot do is demand service, or a refund. After all you didn’t pay anything for it…

Does that necessarily make the corollary true? Do products work and is support perfect simply because you paid for a product? Certainly not. There are no doubt plenty of companies out there charging for products which don’t quite do what they are advertised to do and where the pre-sales service is terrific but where the after-sales service is downright poor or non-existent.

Generally however, great companies that back a good product from which they make money care enough not to leave you high and dry and because you are a paying customer you do have some rights on which you can rely – in fact you may even have the law on your side.

So, take the time to consider your options, do enough research to satisfy yourself and then make an informed decision remembering that you are always likely to be swapping one asset class for another, usually along the lines of:

  • Free product = potentially higher cost in your time but zero cash; or
  • Paid for product = Less of your time, more of your cash.

Remember – ‘Free may come with a price attached!’ So carefully weigh up which asset you prefer to trade with – your time or your money and then pick a ratio that works for you.

Here’s to your business prospering!

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Small victories lead to large success in business as in life

In essence the title says it all – but let me spell it out anyway.

Regardless of what you want to achieve in your life – whether it’s weightloss, six-pack abs, more loving relationships with your family or more money in your pocket you will likely find that it takes ‘years to become an overnight success’.

It’s simply unrealistic to eat less at dinner tonight and expect significant, lasting weightloss in the morning.

Just as it would be unrealistic to complete a single sit-up and expect six-pack abs or paying your loved ones a couple of minutes of attention, not doing it again for months or years, and expecting to be closer and in a more loving relationship with your family.

We cannot escape the singular reality – that the voyage of a thousand miles starts with a single step – and that reaching your destination requires that you faithfully put one foot in front of the other, over and over and over again – until your reach your destination. Your goals. Your dreams.

Business is no different – its an oft-repeated sequence of doing the right things and doing those things right.

So don’t beat yourself up that you haven’t yet ‘arrived’ in your life or in your business – be gentle on yourself. Simply resolve to do what it takes, in bite-sized chunks (little steps), each and every day and you will reach your goal far sooner than you ever imagined.

Now go take that step…and the next …then come back tomorrow and do it all over again!

Here’s to your business prospering!

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Small business a land cruiser and a jetski

Yesterday I enjoyed a lamb-curry bunny chow at Moyo’s at Ushaka in Durban. The wind was howling and only the truly brave (or stupid) had any interest in launching their craft into a restless, white-capped, wind-driven maelstorm (even the harbour Pilots helipcopter wasn’t operating and the Pilot boat made heavy weather of it as it went out to meet arriving merchant ships).

While there I witnessed a man trying to launch his brand new Yamaha WaveRunner (on a split trailer) using his Toyota Land Cruiser Prado (together almost a Million Rand worth of equipment!)

Business Lessons from a man with a Jetski

After about an hour on the beach he had managed to dump his Waverunner on the beach (unceremoniously) and then laboriously winched it back onto it’s trailer. He also appeared more than a little confused regarding the correct operation of the winch, cable and strap.

It was a classic case of top-class expensive equipment floundering horribly for the lack of an ounce of knowledge and a pound of experience!

In the end he left, disgusted and perhaps a little embarrased, having not managed to even get his waverunner into the surf!

I suspect that had be had some common sense he wouldn’t have tried to launch in those weather conditions (and if he had an absolute desire to do so weather conditions notwithstanding) he wouldn’t have attempted it alone – and knowledge coupled with experience would have prevented him from dumping his Waverunner onto the beach!

I have little doubt that had an Old Salt attempted the process, notwithstanding having less expensive equipment, he would have been far more successful at launching given that knowledge and experience are vital ingredients to the success of any venture!

Small Business Lessons

It’s in fact a perfect comparison to small business – having all the expensive equipment without sufficient knowledge, experience and a helping hand may not be enough to ensure success!

It is important to know what you don’t know – and then seek the necessary help. That’s why having a business mentor on your side makes so much sense!

He or she provides knowledge and experience to help direct and focus your actions for best results – sure you need to bring passion, energy and hard work, but your business mentor will make sure your hard work and energy are properly channelled and that you are being productive – which is far more likely to lead to success.

So, do you have your business mentor on board yet?

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Here’s to your business prospering!

 

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Should my business be on the internet?

This was a question someone asked me earlier this month – and to me the answer was so ‘obvious’ that I was astounded by the question.

But lets set the scene first so we can understand the context of the question. This chap has a small engineering works that manufacturers bespoke aluminium components – and he is only interested in orders greater than R 80 000 (Eighty Thousand Rand) – no he isn’t greedy but the cost of setup and tooling to manufacture “to-order” components makes jobs of lower value unprofitable – or do they?

Will getting my business online provide me with valuable information?

So let’s look at the question again through his lense and then let me tell you what I advised him:

1) What is the nature of the customer? Is this a once-off sale or can he reasonably be expected to buy from you again – and if so with what frequency, over what time period and what would the average sale value be?

You see, without determining the answers to this question you cannot begin to guage the lifetime value of your customer – which is of vital importance. Lets say this customer would order R 20 000 worth of product every 60 days, but in the absence of poor service or a sub-standard product (which the owner has 100% influence over) this customer could be expected to purchase from you for the next 3 years.

That makes the lifetime value of this customer significant!

6 Sales a year averaging R 20 000 = R 120 000 / year over 3 years that’s sales of R 360 000! Through this lense the once-off costs of tooling may well pale into insignificance and make this a very worthwhile customer – even though the intial order was only R 20 000 – and possible loss-making.

But does this yet answer the question ‘Should my business be on the internet?” No yet.

The following questions also need to be asked – and the answers established. If you were to put a website up for your business what purposes would it serve? What do you want or expect it to do for you?

A tremendous amount of websites (possibly 7 out of 10) are, in my opinion, not fit for purposes. That is a topic to be covered at a later time.

Back to this small business owners question. Let’s look at what it would cost him to get a website up on the internet. Realistically, if he got someone to do a basic design for him, it would likely cost between R 3500 – R 5000 once off. If he shopped around (or had the technical skills to do it himself) he could get it done for a lot less.

Nevertheless let us assume that he decides that the purpose of the website is twofold:

  1.  To market his business;&
  2. To canvass leads.

This second goal “to canvass leads” is the critical one in my opinion, certainly in the early stages. You see by structuring his website in such a way that it gathers leads (regardless if these ask the visitor to complete an online form, or ask them to call the company etc) he begins to tap a wealth of information!SmallBusinessInterest

He gets to guage interest in his products and services!

He gets to asks these leads meaningful questions and their answers will provide invaluable information to help shape his future strategy.

Getting this information will provide him with an answer, based on results rather than conjecture, gut-feel or personal bias. He will soon know whether being online does or doesn’t have merit for his business. (Personally I cannot think of any business that wouldn’t benefit from being online – but this business owner needs his own measurable answer)

What benefits could we expect from getting our small business online?

So lets look at the likely outcomes of his online test. If he receives no interest, no leads and no data from having launched his website (launching an effective website and gathering leads is another topic for later discussion) then his initial thoughts that he would not reap real rewards from being online may be confirmed. He gets to answer his question definitively – although he would be well advised to re-test these assumptions at regular intervals as the market forces and internet penetration evolve rapidly so what might be valid today may no longer be valid 12 or 24 months from now).

If visitors to his website take the desired action – to call or complete a form etc – then he has the opportunity to engage with them and to establish inter-alia

  1. The value and frequency of his prospects purchases.
  2. What unique requirements his prospects may have – would they make larger purchases if they were incentivized to do so? Consider a discount or credit terms or preferably a value-added service (like a site survey or reduced-fee consulation)
  3. Do they have unique requirements that others in the field have not been able to offer? Would this offer a unique opportunity? Could you charge more for solving these unique problems?
  4. How many people are interested in products or services related to his core product that he could incorporate as value-adds or even a second revenue stream?

As you can see there is always value in getting your business online – provided you are clear on what you expect of your website and that your website is fit for purpose.

This exercise, executed for a small amount of money, will reveal a mountain of valuable information and will help definitively answer his question “should my business be on the internet?”

Small Business Mentorship and online courses.

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Here’s to your business prospering!

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Business underperformance and the shiny object syndrome

A lack of focus is one of the major traps that business owners (especially new and aspiring entrepreneurs) can and do fall into.

You see, entrepreneurs are typically imaginitive people full of ideas. In fact they usually have so many ideas they don’t know where to start – and more importantly – how to finish.

I have heard over and over again that the difference between an entrepreneur and a wanna-be is that the entrepreneur takes action where the wanna-be somehow doesn’t seem to get out of the starting gate, regardless of the merits of their ideas. And I agree.

Entrepreneurs do indeed differ from the wanna-be’s because they take action (often massive action) and they back themselves. They take a gamble on themselves.

This is a good thing. Actually no, it’s a great thing. Without massive action nothing would get done. however;

These same entrepreneurs who are willing to take massive action and back themselves often have many – and I mean a LOT – of ideas. Some good. Others less so. But lots of ideas nevertheless.

And these ideas can be a problem, in and of themselves, if they lead to something I call the ‘Shiny Object Syndrome’.ShinyObect

What is the ‘Shiny Object Syndrome’ anyhow?

Good question – which is easy to answer. It’s the next “big idea” the next “breakthrough” the next “big profit, zero effort’ idea.

And it distracts the entrepreneur. It causes him to lose focus. It causes him to attempt to do too many things at once.

And the consequence thereof? They either don’t complete any of the ideas or they do several (or all) of them poorly. They divide their focus and attention between too many ideas and fail to deliver properly on any of them!

It’s like a kid in a toy store – his (or her) senses are so overwhelmed by the massive choice that they run from one toy to another. Picking it up, Seeing something even ‘cooler’, dropping the toy they currently have as they run off to the next interesting, cool or fun toy.

KidInAToyStoreAnd they do this again and again leaving a trail of abandoned toys strewn across the floor – and they don’t seem satisfied. Nor did they have an opportunity to really enjoy and explore the toys they had in their hands along the way.

You can picture the kids excitement… there’s like this ‘ooooh ooooh ooooh’ – until they see the next toy and its ‘ooooh ooooh ooooh’ all over again.

Business ‘should’ be simple. Take the idea (the best one you have) and take massive action. Imagine it, Create it. Live it.

And remain focussed on it! Stay the course long enough for it to bear fruit. Give it the time, effort and attention that it deserves. Don’t get caught up with ‘the next big thing’ – it will only detract from your current project and will likely cause both ideas to fail (at worst) or to be executed poorly (at best).

If it cannot be measured it cannot be managed.

That is not to say you should stay married to a bad idea. Or an idea or business that is failing / not succeeding. Not at all. But how do you know if it can or will succeed if you aren’t giving it your full and undivided attention and effort? Short answer: You won’t.

So you may walk away from a great idea simply because you executed poorly as a result of your distraction.

So when should you consider abandoning your idea? That comes back to measurement. You need to have set realistic milestones for yourself in terms of where you will be, what you will have achieved and where your financials are expected to be – by when.

If you are not hitting your target re-evaluate. Are my assumptions still correct? Has the business environment changed and if so, how? Have factors worked for or against me – like legislation or rates of exchange or the competition.businessgoals

Was I realistic in my expectations? Was I too wishful?

It requires a lot of introspection and a deep sense of self-honesty to answer those questions truthfully but to do any less means you are simply deceiving yourself.

If your assumptions were incorrect or factors in the business enviroment have changed guage their impact and adjust your forecast accordingly. How do things look now? Are you closer to your goal? If yes it may well be worth pressing on, measuring, assessing and evaluating as you go.

If your initial forecasts were accurate and you still haven’t met your targets and are well short (having given it your all in terms of time, attention and effort) well then it may be time to rethink or even abandon that particular idea.

Remember: You must plan. You must execute. You must measure. For it is only through these objective measurements that you can make informed management decisions.

In woodworking they say ‘measure twice, cut once’. In other words – check, double check and then execute.

Now go and take your best idea – subect it to careful scrutiny and set realistic goals. If things still make sense and the idea appears to be worthwhile – FOCUS and pursue it. Measure and evaluate as you go.

If it doesn’t go back to the drawing board.

Whatever you do please do not get lost chasing one good idea after another – don’t get caught in that ‘Shiny Object Syndrome’!

Small Business Mentorship and online courses.

Want to learn more? Check out our cataloge of online courses or join our mentorship program here.

Here’s to your business prospering!

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Why resting is important for your business (and your health)

With Easter just passed I was amazed to see how many stores (especially the big retailers) were open for business on both Good Friday and Easter Sunday!

For those following Christianity this meant work on two of the holiest days in the Christian calendar…and it got me thinking about us small business owners too.

Rest should be part of the program for small business owners!

So often, we small business owners, just like those hapless employees working for those major retailers over Easter, don’t actually get to take a break.

The problem with this is that it hastens you on the path to burnout and despondency and aside from all work and no play making Jack a dull boy you end up at a point of diminishing returns – where despite equal or greater input (effort) you fail to get any further output.

Rest for small business owners and diminishing returns
The point of diminishing returns. Greater input (effort) without greater output.

So we slave longer and harder but not more effectively.

Which really brings me to the point of this post – you need to take time out to rest. To rejuvenate. To energise and to gain distance, perspective and perhaps a little inspiration too.

Recently CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta highlighted the effects of sleep deprivation during one of his episodes of Vital Signs. Not only is lack of sleep going to affect your productivity – its actually really bad for your health too.

One of the important take-aways for me from Dr. Gupta’s program was that even a power-nap of 20 – 40 minutes can make a big difference which includes better memory, concentation and reaction times.

So be kind to yourselves, respect your body, get some rest and don’t feel guilty about it. Your body needs some downtime so that you can return to the grind-stone rejuvenated, energized and inspired!

To your business success!

PS: I too find myself in ‘workaholic’ mode and I had intended to write this post over Easter – and then decided to take a dose of my own advice – wrote the idea down in my diary and took some time off. And the result was nothing short of miraculous!

Small Business Mentorship and online courses.

Want to learn more? Check out our cataloge of online courses or join our mentorship program here.

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