The economic outlook at any point in time can cause confusion. Is the market bullish or bearish? What if Wall Street is happy but wages aren’t keeping pace and thus customers are tightening their belts?
One thing we can say for sure is that traditional markers of economic growth and stability show the U.S. economy is improving. Hiring is up, and unemployment is down. California just posted it’s lowest unemployment numbers in more than four decades. However, there are always doubts about the economy when debt is high and many people have little extra spending money.
What are some unconventional but beneficial moves for small businesses to make in this economic climate, then? Here are a few options.
Invest in upgrades now, not later.
Typical posts about recession-proofing your business would have you save up and hunker down for the inevitable economic downturn. While saving up is always a good thing, sometimes the best strategy to meet economic uncertainty is to grow before it arrives. Growth requires facilities sufficient to sustain increased demand. Consequently, now’s a great time for your business to invest in better equipment and facility upgrades.
Make sure you line up funding before you begin a facility overhaul or equipment buying spree, however. Start shopping around now for the best funding options. Explore bank loans, lines of credit, or other kinds of financing from different sources so you can find the most competitive terms available to you.
The types of financing available to small-business owners are increasing these days. Financial and risk-management technologies are making the extension of business credit in the form of loans or revolving lines of credit more attractive for lenders. That means you’ll have an easier time securing financing now than, say, later on, if the economy takes a turn for the worse.
Add mobile payment options.
How easy do you make it for your customers to make purchases? According to a recent Bank of America report, 46 percent of small businesses were equipped to take digital payments in 2018, a substantial increase from 36 percent in 2017.
Expanding your customer base and making it easier for those customers to make purchases is one of the soundest investments you can make in your business. Leaning into digital payment technology isn’t something that’s usually at the top of the list for most companies when times are lean. With a healthier economy right now, make sure you’re keeping up with the technological times and helping your mobile customers give you their business.
Attract top talent.
If you want your business to dominate your industry or even just a slice of it, you’ll need the best possible people on your team. Figure out ways to court the best workers in their fields for open positions.
A key strategy for accomplishing this goal is to examine what your industry leaders do. What kind of compensation packages are they offering? Where do they recruit? Do they offer college internships, and are they paid or unpaid? Adopt and adapt their tactics to suit your own business.
Plan to expand.
The crash of 2008 put a lot of business plans on hold. While the economy has certainly improved, that sense of pressure and crisis is hard to shake off. And many companies have shied away from significant investments.
Therefore, an unconventional tactic may be to dust off those expansion plans. Be careful, though. Evaluate your revenue and cash-flow projections to make sure your future earnings warrant such a move. If so, then proceed with those plans if the expansion still makes sense for your business. However, remember that goals you set years ago may not necessarily fit your business today.
Attack your debt, and build up reserves.
Pay down both personal and business debt where you can. High levels of credit card debt can rack up thousands, especially with interest rates in the double digits. If you have college student loans, pay those down as well.
Also, aggressively add more to personal savings and build up cash reserves for your business. Extra cash on hand will come in handy during a downturn.
Get a professional opinion and advice about other smart money moves. Hiring a personal or business financial planner is a savvy investment. In addition, expand your own knowledge in other ways. Read books on the economy and financial planning, take a course at your local college or online, and spend more time keeping up with financial developments through news sites and financial blogs.
Finally, set realistic yet challenging financial goals, both for yourself and your business. Goals that feel like a bit of a stretch are usually the ones that keep us fired up and motivated. Write down your goals and then figure out how you can achieve them within a realistic time frame.
The jury is out on whether corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs will one day make the world a better place. But this much is pretty clear: They’re already benefiting the companies that have implemented them. And in some unexpected ways.
Specifically, CSR has become the weapon of choice for what is known as, in corporate speak, the three R’s: Investor Relations, Human Resources, and Public Relations.
But before we dive into details, a CSR mini-lesson is in order. First off, CSR isn’t an overnight sensation. Over the past couple of decades, companies have been embracing the idea that they need to do more than just make a profit for shareholders. Do-good efforts slowly evolved from passive and limited corporate philanthropy programs—giving to the United Way, for example—to broader and more active CSR programs. Those would take on major social issues like Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women program, which in partnership with the International Finance Corporation (World Bank) has delivered $1.45 billion in loans to women-owned businesses in developing countries.
Now, they have evolved even more. Many companies are now incorporating impact-on-society considerations into core business activities. For example, Starbucks only uses “ethically-sourced coffee.” Programs like these are often focused on “sustainability.” In August, 181 CEOs of the country’s largest corporations signed a Business Roundtable statement committing to managing their companies not just for shareholders, but also for customers, employees, suppliers, and communities.
The idea behind all of these efforts is the well-worn slogan “doing well by doing good,” which means that being a positive force in the community will enhance a company’s reputation, which in theory will pay off in more sales, lower costs and over the long term, more money for shareholders.
Can you even measure something like this? Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, chief reputation officer of the Reputation Institute in Boston, says you can. He reels off a string of statistics, like “40% of the reputation of a company is related to corporate responsibility” and says his organization’s research proves that reputation is a leading indicator of stock market capitalization, or the total value of a company’s shares. In other words, he adds, “CSR has a multiplier effect” when it comes to a company’s value. But CSR can be risky. And take a little guts.
According to analysts, CVS’s 2014 decision to stop selling tobacco products cost it $2 billion a year in sales and caused the stock price to drop. (Investors took a $1.43 billion hit that year according to Martin Anderson of UNC Greensboro.) In 2010, Campbell Soup announced it was reducing the salt levels in many of its soups, a decision they reversed the following year when sales fell by 32%.
Meanwhile, in 2018, Dick’s Sporting Goods stopped selling assault rifles. On a panel at this year’s Aspen Ideas Festival, CEO Ed Stack said that decision cost them customers and employees. He notes that many of the customers who applauded the decision at the time seem to have forgotten, but those who were in opposition have not. “Love is fleeting,” he says. “But hate is forever.”
But many companies feel the do-gooder dividend outweighs the risks, both in relations with consumers and in day-to-day operations.
Brad McLane, who recruits high-level positions at RSR Partners, says, “Companies aren’t doing it just to say they have it. My clients are incorporating it into how they do business—what ingredients they use, where they source, how they design products.” Megan Kashner, clinical professor at the Kellogg School of Management’s Public-Private Interface agrees. She’s says that we’ve moved from “greenwashing programs that mimic CSR” to an era of “authentic CSR.” Greenwashing is the practice of making misleading claims that make a company appear more environmentally or socially conscious than it is, for example, when BP began touting itself as being environmentally conscious through a $200 million public relations campaign, only to have a string of environmental disasters—some of which, according to a government report, were caused by corporate cost-cutting to boost profits.
Simon Lowden, Pepsico chief sustainability officer, says, “It’s woven into how we operate as a business. For instance, we need to maintain our license to operate in water-stressed regions, so we’d better focus on being responsible stewards of water. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s important to our business.”
CSR is particularly useful in human resources. Rebecca M. Henderson, holds the John and Natty McArthur Chair at Harvard and is finishing a book on this topic, Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire. She says: “CSR has a tremendous impact on the morale of employees. Authentic purpose, which may mean occasionally sacrificing profits, accesses a whole range of emotions difficult to get at otherwise, like trust and engagement.”
In other words, it gets through. And that is a good thing. It leads to higher levels of productivity and employee retention.
CSR can also be a big factor in recruiting, particularly for younger employees, says Eric Johnson, executive director of graduate career services at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. He says, “Social impact is a big piece of the recruiting process. Probably 50 percent of that initial conversation is about what the company is doing to make the world better.”
“Beer companies used to talk about fun and sports. Now they talk about their programs to save water in the world. Social impact can tip the scales. Is a student going to choose an $85,000-a-year job over a $125,000 job because of social impact? I doubt it. But my observation is that jobs heavy in social impact often pay up to 10 percent less than comparable jobs that don’t.”
Professor Kashner adds, “These newly minted MBAs care and they care about the type of work they’re going to be doing. Maybe previous generations drew a line between work and personal life and values, but those boundaries no longer exist.” Korn Ferry, the giant executive recruiting firm, recently surveyed the professionals in its network. “Company mission and values” was the No. 1 reason (33 percent ) they’d choose to work for one company over another.
CSR is increasingly part of the conversation with individual shareholders and investors, like the world’s largest investment firm, BlackRock, which manages $6.5 trillion dollars for its clients. In his last two annual letters, CEO Larry Fink has called on companies to do more and said that BlackRock will evaluate companies on more than just financial numbers. His 2018 letter said, “As divisions continue to deepen, companies must demonstrate their commitment to the countries, regions, and communities where they operate, particularly on issues central to the world’s future prosperity.” Many investment firms now have someone in charge of building portfolios around companies based on their performance on Environmental, Social and Governance or ESG. (Measuring which companies are woke is an industry in and of itself.)
One aggregator of ESG ratings, CSRhub.com, lists 634 data sources. They range from the very broad (for example, Alex’s Guide to Compassionate Shopping) to the very specific (for example, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety).
For public relations, CSR is both an offensive and a defensive weapon. CSR can be used to pre-empt the conversation in areas where companies have been criticized. Procter & Gamble’s “Ambition 2030 program is heavy on recycling and biodegradability.
But CSR can also be a useful defense. It not only builds up a stock of goodwill with the media and the public, but it generates good news that crowds out the bad. Large corporations are going to get a certain amount of press and awkward questions each day—better that press and those questions be about CSR than, say, worker safety or GMOs. For example, in 2018 when Johnson & Johnson was accused of knowingly selling baby powder with harmful levels of asbestos, Harvard professor Bill George wrote a stirring defense of the company, focusing not on the merits of the claim, but on J&J’s “Our Credo,” a commitment to integrity and customers written in 1943 (and likely the first CSR document ever produced.)
Still, not everyone is convinced. There are many who adhere to the late economist Milton Friedman’s argument that the sole purpose of the corporation is to make more money for shareholders, who can then choose for themselves whether or not they want to save the world.
Judith Samuelson, vice president of Aspen Institute and founder of their Business and Society Program, who’s worked with many of the companies currently leading the way in CSR, says, “The shareholder primacy viewpoint hasn’t gone away. And even if attitudes have changed, measures haven’t. Many executives, including CEO’s, are still paid in stock, and those who manage portfolios for institutional investors are still bonused on the value of those portfolios.”
Samuelson worries that “Companies may think these (current) programs are enough and not make fundamental change.” Kashner is more optimistic. She cites work that says large public companies are increasingly incorporating CSR metrics into executive compensation contracts.
Those who oppose CSR programs argue that trying to do two things at once, like making a profit and serving society, will destroy the effectiveness of companies.
Samuelson scoffs at this. “Of course companies can do more than one thing. Public companies have to manage multiple objectives all the time. No public company in the world would last a week if the only people they cared about were shareholders. What about customers? Employees?”
She believes that CSR really boils down to responsible decision making, doing what it takes for companies to succeed in the long term. Whatever, CSR is here to stay. It’s become part of the fabric of investing, company operations, and business school curricula.
It’s now being tracked and measured, and in business, what gets measured gets done.
Alex Edmans talks about the long-term impacts of social responsibility and challenges the idea that caring for society is at the expense of profit. Alex is a Professor of Finance at London Business School. Alex graduated top of his class from Oxford University and then worked for Morgan Stanley in investment banking (London) and fixed income sales and trading (NYC). After a PhD in Finance from MIT Sloan as a Fulbright Scholar, he joined Wharton, where he was granted tenure and won 14 teaching awards in six years. Alex’s research interests are in corporate finance, behavioural finance, CSR, and practical investment strategies. He has been awarded the Moskowitz Prize for Socially Responsible Investing and the FIR-PRI prize for Finance and Sustainability, and was named a Rising Star of Corporate Governance by Yale University. Alex co-led a session at the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos, and runs a blog, “Access to Finance” (www.alexedmans.blogspot.com), that aims to make complex finance topics accessible to a general audience. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx
In 2017 Farzan Dehmoubed, a marketer, and his wife Jennifer, a schoolteacher, created the Lotus Trolley Bag, a set of washable bags with attached rods that can be hung inside a shopping cart. The bags, with features like secure pockets for egg cartons and wine bottles and an insulated pocket for frozen foods, quickly became the top-selling reusable bag on Amazon, and are now sold in stores like Wegman’s, Albertson’s, Kroger, and TJ Maxx. But getting to that point required overcoming a mishap that nearly sunk their startup. –As told to Kevin J. Ryan
We invested $45,000 into our first inventory. It sold out in 10 days. We were really excited. We called up our manufacturer and placed another order. We wired them $50,000–everything we made on the first batch and more.
Six weeks later a big container arrived. We had our friends and family help us unload it. We opened up the boxes and looked at the product, and it was nothing like the first set of bags. It looked the same from a distance, but when you actually looked at the stitching and the quality of the printing and the logo, it was not what we had ordered. My wife and I looked at each other and said, “This can’t be real.”
I remember thinking to myself, ‘We can fix this, maybe it’s just some loose thread.’ But it wasn’t salvageable. We placed a complaint with the manufacturer, even though we knew it wouldn’t go anywhere, since we were just a family business with very little leverage. We later learned it had outsourced the order to save pennies on the dollar.
We decided pretty quickly we couldn’t sell the bags. We didn’t feel comfortable putting our name on them. That meant we would have to take the $50,000 loss. I don’t think Jenn and I talked for the rest of the day. It took a day or two to absorb the shock.
Even though the manufacturer promised us they would do better the next time around, we weren’t going to be fooled twice. I flew to multiple manufacturers in Vietnam until we found a new one we were happy with. We hired a third-party quality check company. When the goods were ready to ship, they would go in and do an audit: open up each box and check them, and send us videos. We kicked ourselves for not doing that in the first place.
We placed a new $50,000 order, which required emptying our life savings and practically maxing out our credit cards. It was two months before the new inventory came. We were pretty upfront with our customers during that time. We told them very frankly: The bags didn’t come out the way we ordered them, the shipment is going to be delayed, and we really thank you for your patience.
I think letting your customers know you’re just like them, and that you’re just trying to provide a product that they’ll be happy with, goes a long way. People related to us. They were very understanding.
We still had a lot of orders canceled though, and we gave discounts to customers who had been patient. We were nervous when the new container came–if the product was bad, we would have lost everything. But it was exactly what we’d ordered. We sold out almost right away. Because of the discounts, we didn’t make much money at all on that order, but we had our reputation.
Not putting that product on the market was one of the best decisions we ever made. If we had, I can guarantee you we wouldn’t be where we are right now. It would have killed our reviews. It would have ruined our brand.
We now have a 4.6-star rating on Amazon with more than 700 five-star reviews. We’re on pace for $3 million in sales this year. We just launched our second product, a reusable produce bag, and those same early consumers are buying it.
As a business owner, you have to make your decisions for the long-term. For us to take that financial hit was scary, but we had bigger goals in mind. We got through it. And we made a lot of loyal fans in the process.
I’m the president of a company, a wife, a mother, and an active member of my community. I get stressed out just thinking about the commitment it takes to go to stores in my small town and shop. Truth be told, I don’t have time to do much purchasing that can’t happen on a flight or after I’ve put the kids to bed — even for groceries. If that’s the case for me, I know that it’s the same deal for your potential customers. That’s why, as business owners, it’s important to educate the community about shopping local.
I live in Sonoma County, where the Kincade fire recently devastated the region. Local businesses have been hit especially hard by the fires themselves and by PG&E power outages. The last time I was at the grocery store, it occurred to me that I shouldn’t be buying strawberries from seven states away or a different country. I need to put my money where my mouth is and shop local businesses. I love farmers’ markets, but struggle to make time to get there. I still have to buy groceries, so I’ve switched from my nearby Safeway to a store that sources food only from within Sonoma County called Oliver’s Market.
That’s just one way that I’ve found that I can give a boost to small businesses without going out of my way. In honor of Small Business Saturday, here are others ideas for how to help your area entrepreneurs this holiday season.
Challenge customers to eat local for Thanksgiving and other meals.
I already talked about how I’m doing this every day, but even confirmed local diners sometimes find it challenging for the big events.Your job is to convince your customers that it’s worth the effort.
Do you have a cracker company that would be perfect for a celebratory cheese plate? Consider partnering with a local dairy to get the word out. Whether you’re a turkey farm, are smoking up the best hams in town, or have a small business selling tamales to add variety to shoppers’ holiday tables, your community needs your flavors right now.
Dessert is easy. There are plenty of people looking for local bakeries ready to fill up a flaky crust with pecans or chocolate cream. Being mindful of where your food comes from isn’t just good for local business people, either. It’s better for the environment (bye-bye food miles) and is likely to be healthier, too.
Buy from small businesses on Amazon.
Most of us think of Amazon as the big, bad brother. I mean, it’s been accused of being a monopoly. You can’t get any further away from being a small business. But in reality, there’s more to it than that.
Amazon Sellers are small-business people. They are just using the biggest platform they can to get their products to the masses and I respect that. One user I know is Crystal Swain-Bates, whose excellent line of children’s books ensure black children are highlighted throughout stories. Goldest Karat Publishing made her an Amazon featured seller. For the holidays, I especially love Amazon Handmade, a community just for artisans to sell their handcrafted wares.
But I promise this isn’t just an ad for Amazon. I also love Etsy. You can search it by location so you can specifically choose gifts made by someone in your community. I’m always surprised by all the cool handiwork my neighbors are presenting.
Make time to go analog.
Yes, I know I said I’m too busy to shop downtown, but I can make an exception a few times a year. Heading to Main Street has many advantages. If your business is brick-and-mortar, congratulations. If not, it might be high time to get involved in a holiday market or two.
Connect with real, live people with whom you can have lasting relationships for years to come. As you get to know their likes and dislikes, you’ll help them learn to shop smarter — and with you.
Look at your own company.
OK, you’re not buying your business a Christmas present, but when it comes to shopping for yourself and your team’s daily needs, you can keep small and local in mind. For example, at my company, we use a local business for many of our printing needs. It’s harder than going to Office Depot, but well worth it. In our Houston division, we just moved offices, and we’ve made it a point to work with local designers to get everything on point.
Whether it’s candies or technology, we try to shop among the people who need us most. In my experience, that’s how you find the best gifts of all, just shop small.
Script: “Small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities. Absolutely crucial. Vital. They make it unique and they make you happy to live where you live. It brings a little flair to the towns that we have. On November 26th, you can make a huge impact by shopping small on Small Business Saturday. One purchase. One purchase is all it takes. Pledge to shop small on Small Business Saturday. It will help support your community. And that is a big deal. It’s pretty big. So, pick your favorite local business and join the movement. I pledge to shop small: at Big Top Candy Shop; at Juno Baby Store; Allen’s Boots; Sammy’s Camera. You don’t have to buy the whole store. Make the pledge to shop small. Pleeeease. On Small Business Saturday. [SHOP SMALL] [SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY – NOV. 26] [American Express – founding partner]
Pivoting is expensive, but so is making smaller changes to your business plan to address the present-day realities of your market, your customers and your company. Revising your plan and implementing those changes can be time-consuming and expensive, and it can result in considerable operational upheaval.
In a startup, momentum is everything. Growth provides the resources to continue to expand, beat the competition, improve quality and service, and increase efficiency through economies of scale.
Unfortunately, most small businesses can’t afford to simply plow additional funds into advertising in order to grow. Keeping customer acquisition costs down — and churn rate down as well — is key in the early stages for any bootstrapped startup.
In that case, growth might require jettisoning — or at the very least de-emphasizing — some products to focus on more profitable products. (See Steve Jobs when he returned to Apple in 1997.) That may require you to shift employees into new seats: sales, service, operations, etc.
Do this and the result might be a ripple effect of positives: Shifting employees provides opportunities for them to learn new skills, demonstrate new talents and learn about other functional areas. Moving a few employees into different roles can help re-energize and re-engage a number of other people.
Growth could also require introducing new products or services, especially when they complement existing offerings. Complementary offerings are a great way to re-engage existing customers as well as to bring in new customers who may then purchase other products or services.
In short: If your growth has stalled, what you planned to offer may not be sufficient. So how will you know what changes to make?
Ask your customers. They’ll tell you.
2. The needs of your “ideal” customer have changed.
Every business plan includes information on the target market: Demographics, interests, needs, pain points, etc. Over time, those needs can change (or maybe they never actually existed, at least on a sufficiently broad scale).
If you’re a tech company, evolving technologies can change the way customers interact with your service. If you’re in the restaurant business, today’s hot trend can be tomorrow’s outdated fad.
More likely, as your business has grown, so too has your infrastructure — meaning the level of one-on-one service you planned to provide is no longer necessary. (Or even desired.)
A great business plan lays out a blueprint for meeting customer needs and solving customer pain points. A great business constantly evolves to ensure those needs are met and those pains are eliminated.
Stay on top of metrics like return, service calls, churn rate, etc. to keep up with changing customer needs. Talk to your customers to find out how their needs may have changed.
Then revise your plan to make sure you provide not just what your plan says, but what customers really want and will pay to get.
3. You need full-time people in freelancer seats
Early on you may not have needed — or maybe couldn’t afford — to hire full-time people to perform certain functions. Wisely, you turned to freelancers. Freelancers are great for completing specific tasks, especially when sufficient expertise or specialized knowledge is a necessity.
The problem with freelancers is that they can only perform specific tasks. They can’t step into other roles. They can’t step into other functions. Because they aren’t a part of your company, they can’t learn and grow and develop with your company.
At some point it makes sense to hire a full-time employee. While they might not currently possess every drop of skill and experience they need to succeed in the role, when you hire people who are adaptable and eager to learn, they soon will.
And then they will help create an outstanding foundation upon which your company can grow.
Tutorial starts at 1:20 Whether you’re starting a new business or just trying to get your existing business a bit more organized, writing a business plan is the perfect way to clearly outline how your business operates, declare goals, and set out a strategy to reach those goals. In this video you’ll learn about the six essential pages every business plan should have, what to record on each of those pages, and also how to write your business plan as quickly and easily as possible — even if you’re a complete beginner! 🔹 Download the FREE Six-Step Business Success Plan: https://www.gillianperkins.com/downlo… // WHAT TO WATCH NEXT Six Ways to Earn Six Figures Working from Home https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1i8x… How I (actually) Got My First Client Online https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AST3P… How I Created Multiple Streams of Income for Myself https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfaH_… How to Decide What Business to Start https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mid_A… // LINKS Learn more about Gillian and find resources to build your online business: https://www.gillianperkins.com Join our private Facebook group! https://www.facebook.com/groups/start… Follow Gillian on Instagram to get a BTS look at what it’s like to be a digital entrepreneur: https://www.instagram.com/gillianzper… // MAIL Gillian Perkins International P.O. Box 13573 Salem, OR 97309 NOTE: This description may contains affiliate links to products we enjoy using ourselves. Should you choose to use these links, this channel may earn affiliate commissions at no additional cost to you. We appreciate your support! KEYWORDS how to write a business plan, free business plan, do i need a business plan, #entrepreneurship, #gillianperkins, business plan how-to guide, business plan step by step, business plan tips ,gillian perkins, gillianperkins, do you need a business plan, How To Write a Business Plan To Start Your Own Business, how to write a business plan step by step, business plan for beginners, simple business plan, business 101, business plan template, business plan example, how to write a business plan for beginners