Emergencies or “Mom, why is your hair on fire?”

Is every day or every week the context for another emergency or crisis at your business? How do you and your staff survive it from week to week?

What do I mean “emergency” or “crisis”?

I’m thinking of some sort of event that causes you and/or your staff to drop everything to solve a problem that has arisen with a client, or worse, with a product or service that impacts numerous clients.

The ups and downs

While the upside of such events is small, they do exist.

  • Your team learns how they can depend on one another.
  • Your clients see your team and your capabilities at their best. Usually.
  • Your management sees what the team can handle and what it can’t.
  • Sales often discovers an opportunity.

Several things take punishment during these situations:

  • Your reputation with the client. Even when / if you quickly bring resources to the situation and resolve it, the memory of “yet another crisis” will take time to erase, particularly if you and your team were ultimately responsible. Being able to resolve a situation means a lot unless you could also have prevented it.
  • Your team’s resilience. While these situations “build muscle”, they also contribute to fatigue.
  • Your team’s timelines. If these situations are normal, then your team is likely to expect their timelines to be less meaningful because they know someone else’s crisis will intervene.
  • Costs during a crisis management are almost always higher because exceptions have to be made.

“Never let a good crisis go to waste”

You’ve probably heard this Churchill quote, but I think a better angle on your use of it is this quote:

Sometimes when Fortune scowls most spitefully, she is preparing her most dazzling gifts.‘ -Winston Churchill, 1931.

While there is no doubt that you can use the point of the “…go to waste” quote to your advantage to sell products and services that might provide preventative care, services in time of crisis or similar, not letting crisis go to waste is bigger than that. Using these situations as a lesson and example helps your staff, particularly your sales staff, grasp the value of that which your client-side product, service and delivery teams can do when pushed. The creativity and problem solving your teams provide might prompt your sales team to come up with new products and/or services that didn’t seem important a few weeks ago.

Better yet, and in a nod to Churchill, the situations themselves provide the context (and yes, a little bit of fear) that your clients may need to understand why an investment in preventative services is a good investment. At times, simply being able to show up on your client’s site a few times a year to step through their workflow and see what you can’t see every day is hugely valuable.

Programmers often cringe when they watch clients use their software because they can’t believe how the software is being used. The user’s reaction to a particular feature or user interface / user experience can be just as compelling. Until you invest in the time (even on your client’s dime) to immerse yourself in their business and experience what they experience on a daily basis with your products and services – you probably haven’t learned enough about them to help them in the best way possible. That impacts sales as well, since the lack of this knowledge can easily keep you from understanding the one powerful motivator, situation or pressure point that is the key to everything they do.

Can you prevent them?

Emergencies and crises can a product of letting products, services and/or situations fester, or of being so busy and/or understaffed that you can’t take proper care of your client relationships. However, they can just as easily happen to your company despite being on top of everything as best as you know how. A client’s own situations with their clients, equipment, staff, planning – or lack thereof – can create these situations just as easily.

For the situations you can’t avoid or easily resolve through consistent preventative maintenance, account management and client relationship care and feeding – it’s best to have a plan of attack. Your plans won’t always work out. Your plans won’t always prepare you for every situation. Despite that, having considered what you will do for the situations you’ve dealt with in the past – particularly repetitive ones – will help you and your staff deal with the new-to-you emergencies.

Focus alone isn’t enough.

If you’re a frequent reader on business improvement, you’ll undoubtedly read something that encourages you to focus. Focus on one niche. Stop multi-tasking and focus. Worry about the numbers – they should be your focus. Focus on the customer or on your employees, or on <insert list of more focus items here>.

OK, so what should I focus on?

Focus alone isn’t enough. You can’t really give the proper amount of dedicated attention to 37 different things. You’re going to have to figure out what YOUR list is and either delegate, skip or outsource the rest. Otherwise, nothing will get the attention it deserves and all aspects of your business are likely to suffer.

In the early days, this is toughest because it might just be you and no one else. So what drives your decision to let something slide a little, be it a day, a week or “forever”?

The long term.

It depends on your long term goals, but most of the small business owners I talk with tend to be 50+. As a result, they are seeing retirement a decade or two out. In most cases, they’re at cruising altitude with their business and have left behind the years of struggle and work to keep it open, then make it profitable and so on. They’re focused on maximizing the value of the business in the time that remains before they decide to sell.

The best have focused on building that company from the outset. “What do I focus on when it’s just me?” was answered for them years ago. Notwithstanding the random short term challenges that we all face now and then, their answer is “What can I do that is most important for my clients while growing the value of my company over the long term?”

The upside is that for a small business, it focuses you on the things that should get and keep your attention even if your plans to sell are 30 to 40 years away.

So your eyes are riveted on the buyout?

Yes, even if it’s decades away.

Building for a buyout is much different for a small company than for one on Wall Street. A privately-held company can focus on becoming more attractive to a buyer via predictable, consistent positive cash flow and profitability – with no stock price to lose sleep over. These things come over the long term through obvious accomplishments that most small businesses strive for: solid products and services, repeat business, great customer care, etc.

Obvious, right? The things that make a company profitable to the owner will eventually be the things that make it attractive to purchase. Part of that attraction is eliminating as much risk as possible from the buyer’s purchase. I don’t mean guaranteeing revenue or profits. I mean by selling a company that is inherently low risk due to the way it operates.

For example, you can reduce risk and build value by building quality, value-packed products, services and systems that produce dependable recurring revenue. You can reduce risk and build value by providing great customer care. Those loyal customers produce recurring sales and provide referrals that lead to new clients. You’ve reduced risk by structuring your company to survive the day you get hit by a bus. The same strategies will protect the company if you decide on short notice to fish Alaska for six months.

Do you feel your business is ready to sell?

When you sell a house, there’s that list of projects you have to get done in order to make it easier to sell. Once you finish the projects that seem essential to selling your home, seller’s remorse sets in a little bit. You wish you had made those improvements years before so that you could have enjoyed them. You enjoy the home a little more in your final days there – in part because of the changes you put off for months or years for whatever reason.

A business often has the same list. They make the business some combination of less risky, easier to run, more profitable, and/or less hassle. Over time, the value of these projects pay for themselves and make the company more attractive to the right buyer.

Making the company more attractive to the right buyer takes a long term view. You and your team will benefit in the meantime.

Merchandising means “Don’t forget the ice”

If you have a retail storefront, do you have a solid idea what business you lose to big online retailers vs. the business you can depend on? What sales do you lose to big box retail? Perhaps the bigger question is this: Are you selling what your clients want and need? Does your merchandising support those needs?

Let’s backtrack a bit. Yesterday was a “honey-do day”. A retail experience or two is often required to complete the day’s achievements and “level up” to good husband for the weekend.  For me, retail shopping is more like a marksmanship thing than a grazing-like activity. I prefer to get in, get what I need and get out with a minimum of time and friction.

Sell what they need to finish the job

My first stop was at a big retailer that specializes in stuff you might buy on a honey-do trip. I picked up a corner shelf for the bathroom in a section of the store where shelves of this nature (free-standing or otherwise) are plentiful. The one I selected is intended for hanging.

Despite selling a plentiful amount of “hang this to use it” items across many departments, the store had none of the hardware needed to hang something – not for the item I bought or any other. However, they had what seemed like hundreds of (often ridiculous) “As seen on TV” items that prompted me to wonder who would pay for warehouse space for such things. But I digress.

I asked one of the people in the store if they had hanging hardware. They didn’t.

Why would you sell stuff that hangs without selling stuff used to hang those things? Because you aren’t thinking like a customer.

Thinking like a customer

When a shopper ventures out into retail, we tend to have one of two missions: “browse” or “complete task”. I think it’s best to serve clients on both missions. In the latter mode, we humans are often forgetful people. We multi-task. The phone rings. We leave our list at home. We’re imperfect at times.

Smart merchandisers can cure some of that.

When you go into a beer store, they have beer. They also have ice, coolers, bottle openers, snacks and other things you may need, or may have forgotten before leaving the house for a day at the lake. Sure, they are there to increase sales, but they are also there to save your trip by triggering any remaining “Oops, forgot to get ice” thoughts before they become expensive. It’s annoying to get out in the middle of the lake or settled in camp two hours back in the woods on a dirt road, only to find you forgot the ice. They understand that your needs extend beyond beer.

When you go into a fly fishing store, you can buy flies. For an expert who has what they need, a fly fishing store has local flies. For the noob who doesn’t have what they need (or the expert who forgot something), a fly fishing store has local flies, and just about any other fly fishing related item you need. They understand that your needs extend beyond flies.

Smart merchandising is good for you and your customers

At some of the best merchandised stores, you’ll find the mission completion items you need right there in the aisle with the item that took you to that aisle. These simple, thoughtful (and yes, sales-increasing) acts of merchandising save shoppers time and steps. They allow shoppers to avoid the time needed to dig around elsewhere in the store for an item. Even better, they may remind your customers to get the (in my case) hardware to hang an item so that they don’t drive all the way home only to realize they need to return to town to get the pieces and parts to finish the job.

Are these things incredibly obvious? Certainly. Obvious or not, does every store do so? No.

Be one of the stores that does.

Don’t have a retail location? Your online store’s shoppers have the same challenges. They forget the ice, or the cables, or the hanging hardware, and other little things needed to complete their mission.

It’s OK to be focused on being the best at selling the item your customers need – but don’t let them forget the ice.

Would a succession plan save your business?

What happens the day after you’re gone or incapacitated? Do you have a succession plan in place for your business?

While I suspect that most business owners have taken care of the family side of things – i.e., they have a will and/or a trust, etc. Has the business been taken care of?

We’ve talked in the past about how few businesses survive a fire, mostly because they haven’t taken care of the contingency planning necessary to continue operations when the business’ physical facilities have been destroyed.

A succession plan is different from a contingency plan. It provides a plan so that the business survives the death or incapacitation of the hands-on owner-manager, or even hands off owner in a family-owned business.

What happens tomorrow?

Going back to the contingency plan for physical business damage, look back at the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building. Despite the destruction of their facility and the loss of all but one employee on site that day, the credit union was open for business the very next day by virtue of off-site employees and redundant systems.

This required the foresight to discuss and put together a plan, which included off-site backups, training for all involved and an execution plan.

Whether or not you are ready for a physical disaster at your business, the likelihood of tragedy striking the owner is just as important – perhaps more important.

An important question starts the conversation: Do you care if the business outlives you if the worst happens? If you don’t, this seems like something your family, clients and employees should know – though I’m not sure you’d tell them if you feel that way.

If you want the business to outlive you, you have to confront that situation and discuss it with your team and your family. Who takes charge? If you don’t lay this out in advance and have agreement with your family, your death could set in motion a struggle that could destroy the company despite your wishes.

Who takes on your day to day responsibilities? It’s likely that more than one person will have to do so, depending on your role. It needs to be discussed with your executive team and documented for your family, whether they will be hands on or not. Think of it as a living will for your business.

How will things work in the first day, week, month, quarter?

Is there a documented, step-by-step checklist to get critical, keep-things-running work done? Who knows what to do? How do they know? How does everyone know that they (one person or several) have the authority to act?

Oh, they just know” isn’t the answer you want. If you don’t believe me, call your senior people into your office and tell them you are leaving for a 90 day sabbatical in the morning and you will be unavailable by phone or email. Ask them who will run things while you’re gone. Who will be responsible for x, y and z? What duties are they unaware of or untrained for?

Are you comfortable with their answers? Are they?

Can you…

  • Make payroll?
  • File payroll taxes?
  • Deal with property taxes and the state?
  • Pay bills?
  • Get the mail?
  • Write a check?
  • Deposit receipts?
  • Access online payments and transfer them to a bank account?
  • Access your bank accounts and line(s) of credit, if any?

Who pays the power bill that’s due three days after your death or permanent incapacitation? If you’re the only one who can sign a check, how does that work when your picture is in the paper the next day and your vendors (and your bank) keep seeing checks with your name signed on them? Sure, much of this is electronic, but there will be scrutiny on the accounts. What happens if the bank freezes your accounts?

Who takes care of things like that in the short term if you are temporarily incapacitated? Even if unhurt, but simply lost in the woods on a hunting trip for a week, the inability to sign a check or access your business accounts could create a problem.

Smaller things have derailed companies, or killed them, given the wrong timing.

But I don’t trust anyone with that stuff!

If so, you have work to do. Your attorney, accountant and banker can help, but if you still don’t trust anyone, that’s a fundamental problem to tackle. A business with no trusted senior employees is in a really bad spot. I understand that “trusted” doesn’t necessarily mean “trusted with the checkbook”, but you still need a solution if you care about the post-you business.

Buying decisions are personal

One of the challenges we have when running a business, and more importantly, when trying to make a sale – is understanding what makes our clients, buy (or not buy), run away screaming (or some such). They have their own reasons which may (or may not) relate to you and the actions you and your business have taken while dealing with them. Combined, these things are yet another complex reason why buying decisions are another angle at Business is Personal.

Personal to them, not simply to you.

Why they don’t buy

Many times, the reason they decided not to buy has nothing to do with you. It’s personal.

Business is Personal to them because their transmission went out over the weekend, or their best friend’s niece is in the hospital, because the basement flooded at home so for the next few weeks, they probably don’t have time to install and configure that software you’re trying to sell them (or it no longer seems important), or they got into an argument with their spouse last night and that RV is no longer important… until the argument is forgotten and the lure of being in the boonies (with a little comfort) is important again, or their daughter got a full scholarship to a college 2500 miles away and now your spouse is a wreck because the reality that their little girl is growing up and leaving the house has hit home and distracted everyone.

For now, that is.

Distraction is personal

The things that change your prospect’s minds, or put off their buying decisions are countless. Most of them are personal. The phone rang and their mother wasn’t feeling well. The teacher called and their son needs to study harder. Some of them are not personal. The boss emailed and they have to go out of town next week. Priorities changed for any number of reasons.

These are not reasons not to buy, or reasons to buy – but they impact your clients every day. Life is quite often more important than your products and services. You might have the best RV in town, the best service department, the best price and the best financing, but today – none of that matters and it’s not your fault. It just is.

It’s easy to get discouraged when this is going on, but that’s the one thing you can’t allow for. You can’t give up. You can’t assume that they changed their mind because your product or service aren’t good enough, or your salespeople aren’t good enough, or your price isn’t cheap enough. There may be occasions when one or more of those conditions are valid, but most of the time – that isn’t the problem.

Distraction is.

People’s lives don’t revolve around your product or service until they do, and then they don’t 19 hours later when the phone rings or that email arrives.

Why they need your patience… and your reminders

Engagement is critical. Nurturing is critical. Both play a role in your business and do far more than keep your name in front of them. They remind your prospects that something you sell was important to them a few weeks ago before they were distracted by something that was important to them at the time.

Seems like a simple thing, but the difference between re-engaging with a prospect, getting the conversation back on track and eventually completing a sale, vs. “unexpectedly” losing a formerly hot prospect is the difference between a re-engagement follow up and waiting around for the prospect to figure out that they were going to buy something that at one time or another was important to them.

It’s work. It’s marketing. And it’s the kind of re-engagement effort that is often the difference between reaching next month’s revenue goals…. or not.

What stage?

A critical aspect of your re-engagement effort is gauging where your prospects are along the buying timeline. It’s not really a timeline though. It’s more like a set of behaviors about-to-be buyers exhibit when they’re at a certain point in the process of buying. Years ago, Perry Marshall and his crew noticed that when someone searched Google for “guinea pig”, it meant they were ready to buy, vs when they searched for “guinea pigs”, they were doing pre-purchase decision research.

Study your buyers’ timelines and use what you learn to create a re-engagement plan. You’ll need communications appropriate to re-engage people at each stage of the purchase timeline.

Are you using your marketing data effectively?

Earlier this year, we discussed planning your marketing, advertising and the run up to promotions and events using a marketing calendar. Today, let’s dive in a little deeper by adding metrics to the equation, specifically – marketing data.

Got income goals?

Presumably you have a budget and as a part of it, income / revenue goals. How certain are you that you’ll hit them this month? How certain are you about hitting them seven months from now?

A few pieces of math might help, but it will require some data collection, or analysis of your existing sales / order data to get there. Keeping it simple, here’s the questions you’ll need to be able to answer:

  • How many new leads did you get last month?
  • Did any of these new leads come from special events or promotions?
  • How many of the new leads who DIDN’T come from special events or promotions have already purchased something?
  • How many of the new leads who DID come from special events or promotions have already purchased something?
  • Was last month’s lead count typical for this month last year?
  • Is your close rate from promotions and events different from other lead sources? If so, why?
  • What’s the average order amount from a lead that comes to you via special promotions and/or events?
  • What’s the average order amount from all other leads?
  • How many leads does it take to close one order, on average? If this varies substantially for leads gained through promotions or events, make note of this.
  • Can you track leads to the source of advertising that brought them in? If so, are the close rate and/or average order amount from any one lead source substantially different from other sources? (high or low)
  • What’s the average number of days needed to close a sale? Is this number of days different for “regular” leads vs leads gained from promotions and/or events?
  • Is the average number of days it takes to close a lead shorter for any particular lead source (or sources)? If any sources stand out as notably longer or shorter, make note of them

That should get you started. Gather this information and we’ll move on to the next step.

Making use of all that work

It will probably seem like a lot of work to gather (and keep gathering) all that info. It is, but solid order and advertising management systems can make it easier. Even if you’re doing it with a yellow pad or an Excel spreadsheet, it’ll be worth it.

Start with the amount of income you have budgeted for next month.

Given the numbers from the prior section, how many sales will you close next month? What about the month after?

If that number is below your budgeted revenue, how many more leads will it take to reach your revenue budget next month?

Given that number, how will you get that number of leads this month so that you can reach your revenue goals in future months, based on your close rate and the number of days it typically takes to close a sale?

Step back

Let’s change tracks for a bit and step back to why we’re doing all of this work and why you might feel a little uncomfortable at this point.

Do you regularly make your monthly revenue goals? Do you know why?

If “regularly” doesn’t describe your business’ achievement of revenue goals, I have more questions: Have you ever made your revenue goals? How did you arrive at them? Why did you make them? Do you make a push every month that sales appear to be coming in below budget? What does “a push” look like? Does that mean you advertise more? Hold more promotions and/or events? Pick up the phone and cold call more than usual?

Does it feel like you’d have a better shot at confidently predicting how next month is going to go, revenue-wise, if you were using your lead, order and marketing data in this way? Would you (and your employees) feel more confident if your achievement of revenue goals was more systematic and less arbitrary? How would it affect how your family feels about your business? Regardless of what retirement means to you, how would a systematic way of “controlling” revenue impact your ability to plan and eventually exit when you decide to retire?

Start simple, but start today.

Eliminating complexity. Except when you shouldn’t.

Business people (myself included) seem to have a habit of making projects more complex than they should be. Introducing complexity to a project often seems like the right direction to take because a simple solution can’t cover all the bases, or doesn’t seem so effective. We convince ourselves that “simple can’t do the job” and that’s all it takes to start running down the road to Complexityville.

Consider an extreme example – the recent events in Nice. Far more complicated plans might have failed due to one aspect or another of the plan not going as expected. Perhaps it didn’t go as expected, despite what happened. Complex attacks are likely foiled on a daily basis and we never hear about them because something went wrong they never made it to “implementation”, or an attack started and the various agencies caught it before anything bad happened. Yet a simple plan like “drive a truck into a big crowd and run over people” unfortunately succeeds, in part because it doesn’t require clockwork-like efficiency and accuracy, nor does it require a complex sequence of events to happen in just the right way. Any wacko who can drive can make that happen.

While it’s an awful, terrible example, it makes the point far better than I wish it had.

Constraints

We don’t always need a highly-complex, 32 (or 320) step project to achieve the outcome we want. In fact, the more complex we make a project, the more opportunities we allow suppliers, life, business, employees, clients, prospects and (of course) ourselves to trip over the tiniest of obstacles – any one of which can prevent a project from being successful. There’s a term for this: “The Theory of Constraints“.

Constraints aren’t just things you weren’t expecting. They’re also parts of the project that don’t necessarily turn out like you expected, or when you expected. The tiniest things have a way of turning momentum at the least opportune time. Large or small, your post project reviews should analyze what you can do to prevent a particular type of step from derailing your projects – including considering whether or not these particular steps should be eliminated altogether. Pilots use checklists – and these are regularly refined as support personnel, mechanics, pilots and others learn of things that reduce or eliminate the possibility that a particular item is going to threaten the safety of a flight. Whatever works for you – use it, but eliminate what you can if it isn’t necessary.

The beauty of complexity

Complexity has its positives. Doesn’t align well with what I said above, does it? It has its moments, despite the negatives in most situations.

The beauty of complexity is that it has negative impacts on your clients as well. I don’t mean that it’s good that they have negative impacts. It’s good that you can fix those things. Complexity wastes their time and their money – and if they’re lucky, nothing else. Have you put any thought into how complexity affects them? What sort of complexity can you help them eliminate from their work processes? More often than not, you’ll learn a great deal by watching their workflows. Figure out how to improve them, or eliminate their complexity. They’ll often be more than happy to discuss them, as long as you don’t come off interested in doing little more than closing a sale. Show that you’re interested in their workflow and improving them and the sale will come.

When is complexity OK?

As with most discussions of this nature, there are exceptions. There are appropriate times to use complexity as a tool. One common use is complexity as a barrier to entry to the business you’re in. If the process of consistently delivering your products and services is highly complex, it’s difficult to mimic. If people have come to expect what you do, then replicating it is also difficult, which makes it more difficult to compete with you.

That’s why systems are critical. Complexity without a system to manage and execute it takes us back to the Theory of Constraints, where every little bump in the road, miscalculation, unexpected result, timing problem or material change introduces a chance to fail. If your systems produce consistent execution, the complexity your systems support make it a steeper climb to compete with you. That’s a positive form of complexity.

Nothing happens till you sell something

For two weeks now, I’ve been encouraging about to become newly unemployed CFalls folks to rise up, figure out the value they can deliver and start their own business. Now it’s time to sell something.

This might be the part you’ve been dreading. Sorry, but you need to get over it. Selling the right product to the right person so they can do what they need to do (or get what they want) is honorable work. That sour stomach you get about selling is because you’ve experienced so many bad salespeople inflicting the hard sell on someone who had no interest in their product. That’s not what you’re about to do.

As I stated last week, the process is not easy. One of the things often used in the tech business that can make it easier is a process called “Lean Startup”. Lean Startup uses a process that is perfect for people starting out on their own – the use of the word “Lean” is intentional: This is not a process that requires that you order stationery and business cards, have a sign installed over your newly rented office and start pouring money into furniture, advertising, and so on.

Stay Hungry

The good news is that it takes advantage of things many hungry, underfunded entrepreneurs would do anyway: Spend as little as possible on stuff you don’t need, focus on a solution customers actually want, refine it quickly with multiple interviews / discussions with your prospective customers and swallow your pride long enough to ask for the sale.

If a “Startup Weekend” happens to pop up somewhere in the area in the meantime – take part in it. These events are often focused on technology-based ideas, but this is NOT a requirement and you don’t have to be a tech person to participate. The things you will learn by starting a business in 54 hours over a weekend will benefit you greatly, as will the relationships you build. The folks that often take part in these events are usually highly connected, entrepreneurial and happy to provide feedback on your idea and make introductions for you.

Nose to nose, toes to toes

Now is not the time to decide you need to take a college course, read the 27 books all entrepreneurs must read before starting a business, produce a detailed pro-forma for your banker, take a Udacity course on Lean Startup, etc. While the free Udacity course is good (for example) and the reading and pro-forma might serve you at some point – now is not the time for that.

Now is the time to get nose-to-nose, toes-to-toes with the people who you think are best suited to take advantage of what you want to do, discuss it with them and ask for the sale. Until you do that, get some feedback, ask for the sale, repeat (often) and start to get some feedback and reaction to your proposed offering,

It’s ok to tell them your business is new – they’ll probably figure that out anyway. They should quickly be able to figure out that you know your stuff based on how you position your offering and how you discuss how you intend to make it worth their investment.

Listen. Really listen.

One of the most valuable things you can hear during these conversations is “No, that’s not what I need.” You can either turn off and move on to the next person, or keep listening and keep asking questions. You know the process, product, solution you’re selling. It’s ok to ask them about the problems they’re having, what keeps them up at night, what makes them worry every day, and so on. If you ask the right questions and truly listen to what they’re telling you, you will find them making comments about things they invest time and money in to solve a problem. It might be a patch, but that’s ok.

They will spend time and money to get through something, solve something and/or perform a workaround simply to get some work done. Their workaround or process to get them by might seem crude or even ridiculous to you – that’s an indication that the problem is important enough for them to spend money on.

How can you make that better? Cheaper? Faster? More efficient? Safer? More dependable?

Sell that.

Independence Day for CFalls

Last week, we talked about the plant closing in Columbia Falls, MT.

This week, I’d like to talk a little more about this part:

Even though we’ve been here before, that doesn’t make it any less scary, worrisome, or frustrating. The pressure to produce cash flow to feed the family and pay the bills is on everyone’s mind.

If you’re targeted for layoff, I’ll bet you have skills, experience and knowledge that you’ve taken for granted for years. They’ve become second nature to you. I could wake you up at 2:00 am and ask you something related to whatever you do or know and without having to think about it, you’d rattle off great advice about how to deal with it, fix it and/or do it.

This is an opportunity to take control, even though you probably don’t feel you have much of that right now. You might have a dream that was always delayed by the “golden handcuffs” of a long-term job. Can you pursue it now?

There is no better time than now to start your own business. There is no better motivation than to create some control over your family’s economic future. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be yours.

It won’t be easy for you…

That paragraph of words is easy to say, but make no mistake about it: It isn’t easy to implement. Something that might make it easier to stick with it during the toughest moments: Never having to face this again – or at least, never having it be someone else’s decision.

The easy part is having the skills. In fact, it’s an advantage over many who want to start a business but aren’t sure what they want to do. If you’re struggling with this despite having marketable skills, don’t let it stop you in your tracks. The business you start today doesn’t have to be the business you’re in next year. Don’t get stuck thinking that whatever you do must be what you do forever.

Who will your clientele be? Even if you pivot (ie: change what your business does) multiple times, the thing you must have a laser beam focus on is “Who is my customer and why do they pay for what I do?” Far too many businesses seem to be a little lost on this. Knowing them, knowing their needs, knowing what keeps them up at night, knowing what they worry about during the day and what relieves them – all of this is critical. The better you know them, the more likely you are to be able to create a marketing and sales message that gets them nodding their heads and opening their wallets.

You might be tempted to have the best price around. Be careful with this. You probably wouldn’t try to start a business based on competing with Wal-Mart on the price of generic motor oil. Discounts come out of your profit – your pocket. If you can’t make a profit on what you do, you do your clients the disservice of creating a business that they need, but that probably won’t survive. Never forget to show your clients a ladder – a series of steps (good, better, best) that allows them to get more from you, get better this or that, and take even more advantage of what you do.

…but make it easy for them

If you’ve ever struggled to do business with a company, you know where I’m coming from. Some businesses seem determined to make it hard to give them your money. Don’t be one of them. Make it easy to do business with you. Easy to pay. Easy to get what was purchased. Easy to get service. If you don’t make it easy, they will eventually find someone who IS easier to deal with.

Easy to pay is an interesting one. Some clients will prefer a credit or debit card, some a check. Some businesses may want 30, 60 or even 90 day terms and will use that as leverage when closing the deal. Be very careful with these, as some of them like to use small businesses as a free bank. Not a good thing.

Create your own Independence Day

If you do, a decade from now, I promise you that you’ll remember the day you made the decision to take control – no matter how hard you had to work to get there.

Columbia Falls is not a redundant facility

We’ve been here before.

We’ve listened to a major employer who for decades said one thing and often did another. We’ve heard whispers and listened to double talk about what’s in the ground (or isn’t) and about plans to reopen and what the future holds. Our future is not our past.

We’ve seen Plum Creek as a solid community supporter and employer for a long time. Yes, there have been layoffs and temporary closures, but the company continued to support local causes and invest in CFalls – such as the MDF plant and technology infrastructure.

Yet buyouts change things.

We’ve been here before.

No matter what a company says they’ll do after the buyout, companies have a fiduciary obligation to shareholders. No matter what they feel obligated to say, redundant facilities are ALWAYS on the short list for elimination. It’s common sense.

It’s unrealistic, if not wishful thinking to believe that a company says that “closure of (your local) facilities isn’t planned” after buying out a massive competitor.

Columbia Falls knew better. We understand companies have to say those things. The officers have a responsibility to protect the company. That includes not inciting panic, drama or worse by telling staff in that area that “closures are possible but we don’t anticipate closing anything here”.

In this situation, a company’s thought process has to include something like “If we tell them what’s planned (or what we think will happen), people will leave (including some we want to stay), and those who stay will be distracted (or worse). The speculation will negatively impact the attitude and performance of the CFalls team.

When buyouts happen, people worry about feeding their family, much less being able to take care of a house payment, the bills, college expenses, etc. You expect that. Professionals take care of business, even when worried about their families – no matter what the press release said.

I’m losing my job, now what?

Even though we’ve been here before, that doesn’t make it any less scary, worrisome, or frustrating. The pressure to produce cash flow to feed the family and pay the bills is on everyone’s mind.

If you’re targeted for layoff, I’ll bet you have skills, experience and knowledge that you’ve taken for granted for years. They’ve become second nature to you. I could wake you up at 2:00 am and ask you something related to whatever you do or know and without having to think about it, you’d rattle off great advice about how to deal with it, fix it and/or do it.

This is an opportunity to take control, even though you probably don’t feel you have much of that right now. You might have a dream that was always delayed by the “golden handcuffs” of a long-term job. Can you pursue it now?

There is no better time than now to start your own business. There is no better motivation than to create some control over your family’s economic future. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be yours.

Redundant Facilities?

It’s easy to say the phrase “redundant facilities“, isn’t it? Who would want such a thing? Sounds wasteful.

When you say “redundant facilities“, you don’t have to think about 200 families who are wondering how they’ll pay their bills. It lets you sidestep the economic effect the job losses could have on the community. Say it, and you don’t have to wonder about the impact of families who leave the valley in order to meet their employment / financial needs. Saying “redundant facilities” allows you to ignore the impact on the CFalls real estate market, schools, charities and businesses.

If you’re wondering who will come riding into town on a white horse and rescue Columbia Falls, don’t. We know that no one will do that, and that’s OK. Columbia Falls doesn’t need someone to rescue it.

Columbia Falls is not a redundant facility.

As always, the people of Columbia Falls will make do, find or create new careers, recognize market opportunities, and find a way to manage the economic risks we all face. When you see a new business pop up in town, take a chance on them – and keep visiting our existing businesses. They feed Montana families right here in town.

Columbia Falls is open for business. It’s a great community with awesome, welcoming, kind people and to me, the only place that feels like home. Come see us.