As of late April 2020, there is one thought at the forefront of the vast majority of businesses around the globe, namely, what steps do I need to take to stay in business until the COVID-19 pandemic is over or recedes? There is no doubt about it, this is the “big question” of the day.
The global economic structure hasn’t seen this much uncertainty since WWII, and some would argue that we’ve never seen this level of simultaneous global economic disruption. Knowing what steps you need to take to keep your business up and running is of paramount importance.
In short, business owners must be sure that their businesses are in good shape. You should take every step possible to position yourself for when the economy is back up and running at full steam. Right now, there is a degree of chaos and uncertainty, but this will not last. As a business owner, you need to focus on getting your house in order.
Now is not a time to take a vacation. Instead, you should be focused like never before on the inner workings of your business. You should be striving to find ways to improve every single aspect. Of course, this is easier said than done. There is a real psychological hurdle, as for many people it seems as though everything has “stopped.” While customers, clients, and staff interactions have been dramatically reduced, now is not the time for you to “check out” mentally and wait for things to get better.
Rarely, if ever, has it been more important for owners to invest as much of their time and energy as possible. After all, as a business owner, you have already shown a great deal of drive and determination, as well as at least some level of out of the box thinking. You have proven that you have what it takes to get through the recent challenges.
Many will feel dejected right now. But you should pool on the same skill sets that allowed you to create a successful business in the first place. What obstacles did you overcome in life to create your business? Was your business created during a prior economic downturn? The odds are that you already have skill sets and strengths that will allow you to survive the fallout of COVID-19.
For business owners who truly want to survive the economic stress of the pandemic, ultimately, focus is key to survival. The odds are excellent that there are revenue streams and different approaches that may have been overlooked. Your job is to identify and then exploit those avenues.
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Developing Your 90-Day Plan
Those who want to make sure their businesses survive this pandemic will want to achieve a laser-like focus. It is important to realize that the forced downtime triggered by the pandemic affords you the opportunity to work on potentially neglected aspects of your business.
Summed up another way, now is the time for dynamic and focused action. In this article, we’ll address what you can do to help your business survive this unusual time period.
Reevaluating Your Business
It’s time to step back and look at every aspect of your business, including your processes. You should be encouraged to find new ways of doing things. In short, now should be viewed as a time of opportunity to reboot your business. That way when the pandemic has subsided, and your business picks up once more, it is more efficient, more effective, and more competitive.
Scott Bushkie, Founder and President of Cornerstone Business Services, recommended that business owners create 90-day plans where they look for ways to innovate. This strategic plan should focus on what they are going to do and what they want to accomplish. It is critical that there is an actual plan that achieves tangible results and not simply a list of things that should be accomplished. Listed below are a few questions you should be pondering.
- How can I outperform the competition?
- How can I innovate?
- How can I increase my use of technology?
- How can I deliver my products and services in a different way?
- How can I reduce my operational costs?
- Have I reached out to my suppliers and creditors for assistance?
- Have I applied to applicable SBA COVID-19 focused programs?
- What do I want to accomplish in the next 90-days?
It’s Time to Reboot
The main point is that businesses should not look at this pandemic situation as some sort of “miserable and stressful vacation,” but instead as an opportunity to reboot what is not working, and look for ways to make improvements in every aspect of your business. This process begins by asking the right questions and striving to find the answers.
In answering these questions and finding ways to help boost your rates of survival, you should turn to every asset at your disposal. Why not ask your management team as well as all of your employees for ideas that could help their business? Everyone should understand that owners are looking for ways to keep their business healthy while navigating the pandemic.
Now is the time for reflection, short-term and long-term planning, and tangible actions. Business owners should also consult with a range of business professionals, including, of course, business brokers and M&A Advisors. Brokers are uniquely positioned to help business owners through this crisis.
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There can be no way around it, Inc. contributor Brian Hamilton’s April 2020 COVID-19 centered article, “6 Actions to Take in the Next 90 Days to Save Your Business,” isn’t pulling any punches. Hamilton, Founder of the Brian Hamilton Foundation, believes that the next 90-days could be make or break days for business owners looking to navigate the choppy waters of the COVID-19 pandemic. His latest Inc. article provides readers with 6 actions they should take now to survive the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tip #1 Vigorously Control What You Can
Hamilton’s first tip is to “Vigorously control what you can. Vigorously ignore what you can’t control.” As Hamilton points out, you can’t control the economy; instead, you need to focus on what you can control. His view is that there has never been a more important time to focus, “More than ever, you’ll need to go to war with things within your control.” Now is the time to exercise control.
Tip #2 Guard Morale
During tough economic times, employee morale can be a real issue. This brings us to Hamilton’s second point, “guard employee morale.” Significant drops in employee morale can lead to serious problems with your business, which is exactly what you don’t want to see right now. Hamilton notes that you have to be the general that helps his or her troops rise above potential panic.
Tip #3 Preserve Cash
Hamilton’s third tip is to “preserve cash where you can.” He states, “Right now, your motto should be: Live to fight another day.” The pandemic means that you need to keep expenses down and watch every dollar. No one knows what the next few months, or the next couple of years, could have in store.
Tip #4 Be First in Line
“Be first in line,” is Hamilton’s fourth point. Hamilton wisely pushes business owners to be the first in line for government assistance. This is very good advice, as SBA and other funds are likely to be limited.
Tip #5 Get Back to the Basics
Fifth, Hamilton recommends, “Get back to the basics…starting with monomaniacal customer service.” As always, customers, whether existing or new, are the lifeblood of your business. You can’t afford to lose customers now and for this reason, you need to have a laser-like focus on customer service.
Tip #6 Pivot your Product or Service
Hamilton’s sixth tip is to “Pivot your product or service to new conditions.” Small changes to your business can open up new streams of revenue. Even if these streams of revenue are comparatively small, they could mean the difference between sink or swim! Try to step back and look at your business with fresh eyes and strive to find ways to offer something new to your customers. Whatever you offer should be based on your existing goods and services and not require a new, large expenditure.
The COVID-19 pandemic is obviously disruptive, but it won’t last forever. Hamilton’s advice of focusing intensely on the next 90 days is sound advice. You won’t regret looking for ways to safeguard your business for the next 3 months.
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In her recent April 20th, 2020 Forbes article, “Three Keys to Engaged, Productive Telework Teams,” author Rajshree Agarwal, who is a professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, explored how to get the most out of telework. This highly timely article covers some very important territory for many companies dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s explore Agarwal’s key points so that you can help your team get the most out of telework.
Agarwal notes that people may tend to shy away from sharing personal information and feelings while in the office. But via video conferencing, the story can be different. For this and other reasons, it is necessary for employers to keep in mind that the dynamic between you and your employees may be different when you use video conferencing. This will also often be the case when your employees speak with one another.
She prudently cautions business owners from taking a “business-as-usual” approach to the COVID-19 situation, as it can make them look both unnecessarily cold and out of touch with reality. On the flip side, however, it is also important to not dwell on the negative aspects of the pandemic. Offering some sense of normalcy during the COVID-19 pandemic is a smart move as well.
How you use telework and video conferencing is, in part, about developing the correct balance. On one hand, you’ll want to acknowledge that the situation is serious and must be addressed. But on the other hand, you don’t want to dwell on the pandemic. After all, not effectively handling the work at hand could undermine your business and cause other problems for both you and your employees.
It is in everyone’s best interest to be smart, safe, and acknowledge the bizarreness of the current situation while striving to achieve business goals. The keyword here is “balance.” Agarwal states that “The combination of empathy and purpose unifies individuals, allowing team members to channel their efforts towards shared objectives and values. This is the best antidote for anxiety.”
From Agarwal’s perspective, there are three keys to making telework effective: communication, socialization, and flexibility. First, there has to be good communication. For example, people can’t simply ignore one another’s emails because they are working virtually. She points out that real-time meetings via Zoom or Skype can eliminate some communication issues, but not all.
The second factor to consider is socialization. As Agarwal points out “Engaged, productive teams also take time to socialize.” Working from home alters the typical modes and methods of socialization, but virtual interactions can be used to help people form and develop their social networks.
In short, socialization doesn’t have to end once telework begins. Used judiciously, socializing, and the bonds it creates between co-workers can still continue.
Agarwal’s third key is flexibility. Flexibility is critical, as all team members must adjust to what, for some, may be a fairly radical restructuring of their day-to-day work experience. Those who haven’t worked virtually before may find adjusting to be quite a challenge. Management should strive to be more flexible during telework caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Trying to maintain the same top-down approach could prove to be problematic.
It goes without saying that telework presents challenges. However, the challenges it represents are not insurmountable. There are benefits to teleworking, and teams can use it to generate solutions that they might have not reached in the typical work environment.
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Failure is rarely fun. But it is also a key ingredient in success. While failure can be painful, there is no doubting the fact that the lessons that come from failure can be powerful teachers that provide life-long lessons and even life-trajectory altering results. Summed up another way, failure hurts. But on occasion, not failing could hurt more, especially in the long run.
In her Inc. article, “Why Tons of Failure Is the Key to Success, According to Seth Godin,” author Sonia Thompson, CEO of Thompson Media Group, points out that most people “avoid failure like the plague.” Instead, they spend their time trying to achieve perfection. In the process of adopting this approach, people miss all kinds of opportunities because they are afraid of damaging their egos. Embracing failure is a way to experience many “transformational benefits,” which would never be experienced without the lessons of failure.
Thompson points to the work of 18-time best-selling author Seth Godin who has written about how entrepreneurs who fail more often perform at a higher level. She quotes Godin as follows, “The rule is simple. The person who fails the most will win. If I fail more than you do, I will win. Because in order to keep failing, you’ve got to be good enough to keep playing.” Godin continues that failure imparts a gift of sorts in that it teaches us how to distinguish between a good idea and a bad idea.
As Thompson notes, research supports the notion that if you want a breakthrough idea, you will need to “produce an enormous volume of ideas.” Obviously, most ideas won’t work, but that isn’t the issue. The issue is to work your way through the bad ideas to get to the winners. Sure, it would be great to have nothing but winners. But life and reality don’t work that way. Failure should be seen more as a path forward than the end of the road.
Getting comfortable with failure, in Thompson’s view, is critically important. She believes entrepreneurs should take steps that make them more comfortable with failure, such as detaching oneself from the results.
It is vital to remember that you are not the work. In contrast, the work is part of an ongoing process. Getting good at something takes time, and there will be failures. For this reason, entrepreneurs simply must embrace a “growth mindset.” Don’t think of failure as failure, but instead as part of a learning process. There is no denying that this approach will make you calmer and that, in turn, may help you make better decisions.
There will be failure in life. There will be problems and there will be obstacles. Much will happen that you can’t predict, manage or control, such as the COVID-19 outbreak. The trick is to focus on what you can control and move forward without a paralyzing fear of failure. Because in the end, failure may be one of your best tools.
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Small business owners are facing new challenges during this crisis. Communicating with customers requires more focus and depth than ever before. In Mat Zuker’s latest article for Forbes Magazine, he cites Jay Mandel who runs The Collective NYC, a marketing consulting team focusing on a customer’s experience, who underlines the importance of businesses to understand their mission statement and values in order to re-enforce marketing strategies.
Information is Crucial. Each customer purveying your business’s website needs to understand your hours of operation, any limitations to service and what is being done to ensure cleanliness. Providing this information establishes to your customer your seriousness of precautions which will be appreciated during this time.
If your financial situation allows, focus on your employees, donate to charities or offer discounted or free products. By marketing this information, your brand’s scope will bolster with the customer as well.
Utilizing the Customer’s Time. Most customers are adhering to social distancing guidelines put forth by their state and the federal government. Now, more than ever, it is important to exhibit to your customers how your brand can be utilized beyond your brick and mortar. Zuker cites how universities are beginning to offer free online classes and telecommunication companies are offering two months of free service to low-income families; King Arthur flour is promoting its library of comfort food recipes (yes, please!). Thinking beyond your storefront to put your service or product into your customer’s virtual hands is important.
Remember to entertain. By each passing day, customers are looking for new stimulation to help the time go by at home. Movie companies are making the best of the situation by sending theatrical releases to online streaming services. We don’t think it is necessary to always make your customers laugh, but it might be within your branding to aim for content geared towards warmth, humanity and empathy.
The metric for engaging your customers is changing; moving beyond views and shares to quality feedback or social impact on your community. Do not bite off more than you can chew. Cited in Zuker’s article, Social Media Today warns of virtue signaling; meaning declaring a set of values, but not following through on the actual deeds.
Also, this is a fantastic opportunity to consider your marketing strategies for when this crisis ends. What will your business look like once you are able to open the doors? How are you able to stay relevant with your competitors? These are all questions needing answers, but today we must do our best to accomplish what is in front of us.
Read Mat Zucker’s full article here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/matzucker/2020/04/01/content-in-a-crisiswhat-brands-can-deliver/
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Owning a business and owning the right kind of business for you are, of course, two wildly different things. Owning the wrong kind of business can make you absolutely miserable. So if you are considering buying a business, it is prudent that you invest the time and effort into determining the best kind of business for your needs and your personality. In a recent Forbes article, “What is the Right Type of Business for You to Buy?” author Richard Parker explores how buyers should go about finding the right business fit.
Parker is definitely an expert when it comes to working with buyers as he has spoken with an estimated 100,000 buyers over his career. In that time, Parker has concluded that it is critical that you don’t “learn on your own time.”
His key piece of advice concerning what type of business to buy is as follows. “While there are many factors to be considered, the answer is simple: whatever it is you do best has to be the single most important driving factor of the revenues and profits of any business you consider purchasing.” And he also believes that expertise is more important than experience. Parker’s view is that it is critical for prospective buyers to perform an honest self-assessment in order to identify their single greatest business skill and area of expertise. The last thing you want to do is pretend to be something that you are not.
Parker makes one very astute point when he notes, “Small business owners generally wear many hats: this is usually why their businesses remain small. Remember that every big business was once a small business.” As Parker points out, whoever is in charge of the business will ultimately determine how the business will evolve, or not evolve. Selecting the right business for you and your skillsets is pivotal for the long-term success of your business.
All of this adds up to make the process of due diligence absolutely essential. Before buying a business, you must understand every aspect of that business and make certain that the business is indeed a good fit for you. According to Parker, if you don’t love your business, it will have trouble growing. This point is impossible to refute. Owning and growing a business requires a tremendous amount of time and effort. If you don’t enjoy owning and/or operating your business, success will be a much more difficult proposition.
Finding the right business for you is a complicated process even after you have performed a proper evaluation of your skills and interests. After all, do you really want a solid business with great potential for growth that you would hate owning? By working with brokers and M&A advisors, you can find the best business fit for your needs, personality, and goals. These professionals are invaluable allies in the process of discovering the right business for you.
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It takes preparation and focus to sell most businesses. The reality of the situation is that it can take years to achieve this goal. Partnering with a business broker or M&A Advisor is a smart step towards selling any business, as these pros know the very best tips. In that spirit, let’s take a look at some great tips for selling your business.
Getting your business ready to sell means carefully evaluating the foundation. Any significant problem can send buyers “running for the hills,” so be sure that you work out any problems well before placing your business on the market. If you have any litigation or environmental issues, you most definitely want to address those issues before it is time to sell. Nothing will scare away prospective buyers quicker than pending litigation or the specter of a potentially costly environmental clean-up.
A second key issue you’ll want to address is determining who exactly has the legal authority to sell the business. If a board of directors or majority stockholder situation is in place, then selling a business can become more complex than it would be if you were dealing with a sole proprietorship or partnership. Again, the last thing you want is for “legal surprises” to occur when you get ready to sell a business.
If you have non-negotiable items, be certain that those items are discussed upfront. Revealing your non-negotiable items at the very beginning of negotiations will save everyone involved a great deal of trouble.
Tip three involves maintaining a flexible mindset. In most circumstances, you simply can’t have everything that you want. Both buyers and sellers need to be flexible. Sellers will want to be flexible about any real estate. Buyers may not want real estate associated with a given business, and you need to be prepared for this. Sellers should also be prepared to accept valuation multiples for lack of management depth and other factors, such as reliance on a small number of customers.
At the end of the day, sellers should partner with experienced professionals such as attorneys and business brokers. You’ve put a lot of time, energy and resources into building your business. When it comes time to sell, it is only prudent to put together the best team in order to achieve optimal results.
Thinking about whether or not you are ready to exit is an important question. It’s something that every business owner will have to address at some point. Importantly, you don’t want to wait until the 11th hour to prepare to sell your business. There are far too many pieces in this particular puzzle to wait until the last minute. You’ll want to begin the process sooner by asking yourself some key questions.
First, you’ll need to determine the actual value of your business. It is a harsh truth, but what you think your business is worth and what the market feels that it is worth may be two very different things.
This point serves to underscore the importance of working with a business broker or M&A advisor early in the process. An experienced broker knows how to go about determining a price that will generate interest and seem fair. Remember that at the end of the day, it will be the marketplace that determines the value of your business, but working with a seasoned professional is an excellent way to match your offering price with what the market will ultimately bear.
Secondly, you’ll want to consider whether or not you truly want to sell. It is not uncommon for business owners to begin the process of selling their business only to realize a few hard facts. Wanting to sell and the time being right to sell are often two different things.
Upon placing your business on the market for sale, you may learn that you’re not emotionally or financially ready. If this happens to you, consider it a learning experience that will serve you well down the line.
Get Your Ducks in a Row
If you have done a financial assessment, a little soul searching and have begun working with a business broker or M&A advisor to determine that now is a good time to sell your business, then there are several steps you’ll need to take. You can be sure that any serious prospective buyer will want a good deal of information regarding your company.
At the top of the list of items potential buyers will want to see are three years of profit and loss statements as well as federal income tax returns for the business. Other important documents ranging from lease and lease related documents, lists of loans against the business and a copy of a franchise agreement, when applicable, are all additional documents that you will need to provide. You should also have a list of fixtures and equipment, copies of equipment leases, lists of fixtures and equipment, and an approximate amount of inventory on hand. A failure to not have this information organized and ready to present at a moment’s notice could be a costly mistake.
Working with professionals, such as accountants, lawyers, and brokers, is a savvy move. Owning and operating a business can be a complex process, and the same holds true for selling a business. Investing the time to seek out experienced and professional advice is the first step in selling your business.
Business acquisitions are red hot, and all kinds of businesses are being snapped up. Some people are under the impression that only large businesses are being acquired, but this is far from the reality of the situation. It would surprise many to learn that so much of the “action” is, in fact, small businesses buying other small businesses.
In his Forbes article, “Take Advantage of the Golden Age of Business Acquisitions,” author Christopher Hurn explores the true state of the “acquisitions game.” His conclusions are quite interesting. In Hurn’s opinion, there has never been a more active time in the realm of business acquisitions.
If you own a business and are looking to grow, then you may want to consider acquiring a competitor in order to consolidate the market. As Hurn points out, there are many reasons that you might want to consider acquiring a business in addition to consolidating the market. These reasons include acquiring a new product or service, acquiring a competitor that has superior technology or even identifying a business that you believe is primed for substantial growth.
Yet, there are other forces at work that are combining to make this moment the “golden age of acquisitions.” At the top of the list of why now is a good time to investigate acquiring a business is demographics. According to a 2019 study by Guidant Financial and Lending Club, a whopping 57% of small business owners are over the age of 50. The California Association of Business Brokers has concluded that over the next 20 years about $10 trillion worth of assets will change hands. A mind-blowing 12 million businesses could come under new ownership in just the next two decades! As Hurn phrased it, “The stars are aligning for the Golden Age of business acquisitions.”
This all points to the fact that now is the time to begin understanding what kind of acquisition would best help your business grow. Hurn believes that turning to the Small Business Administration in this climate of rapid acquisition is a savvy move.
In particular, he points to the 7(a) program and a host of reasons that the SBA can benefit small businesses. Since the SBA lowered equity injection requirements, it is now possible to finance a staggering 90% of business acquisition deals with loan terms up to 25 years and lower monthly payments. Additionally, the SBA 7(a) program can be used for a variety of purposes ranging from expanding or purchasing an existing business to refinancing existing business debt.
Hurn truly does have an important insight. Baby Boomers will retire by the millions, and most of them will be looking to sell their businesses. With 12 million businesses scheduled to change hands in just the next 20 years, now is a highly unique time not only in the history of acquisitions but also in the history of business.
Business brokers understand what is involved in working with the SBA and acquisitions. A seasoned business broker can point you towards opportunities that you may have never realized existed.